Thursday, November 27, 2008

Linking the blatantly funny

I feel low - linking to something everyone already knows about. Then again, Dilbert is buried so deep in the business section that I have barely read it in years. OK, that makes me feel better. Go read Dilbert and have fun!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Probability, Statistics, Evolution, and Intelligent Design

Probability, Statistics, Evolution, and Intelligent Design

By Peter Olofsson

Posted November 24, 2008

In the last decades, arguments against Darwinian evolution have become increasingly sophisticated, replacing Creationism by Intelligent Design (ID) and the book of Genesis by biochemistry and mathematics. As arguments claiming to be based in probability and statistics are being used to justify the anti-evolution stance, it may be of interest to readers of Chance to investigate methods and claims of ID theorists.

[See the full article at Talk Reason]

I'd like to give this article more attention, but not today because I'm packing for vacation!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A poorly considered URL

Oh the many joys of word-play:

I am told their new URL has a hyphen in it. [Thanks Scott!]

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Internet Anagram Server

For anyone who likes having fun with words, Wordsmith.Org offers this, the original Internet Anagram Server. Enter any short text you like, and the Anagram Server will twist it around and spit out a list of anagram for you to peruse. Some of these can be quite entertaining. Here are a few from their Hall of Fame:

Dormitory = Dirty Room
Dictionary = Indicatory
Elvis = Lives
Listen = Silent
Clint Eastwood = Old West Action
Western Union = No Wire Unsent
Evangelist = Evil's Agent
Postmaster = Stamp Store
The cockroach = Cook, catch her
Desperation = A Rope Ends It
The Morse Code = Here Come Dots
The Great New York Rapid Transit Tunnel = Giant Work in Street, Partly Underneath
Tom Cruise = So I'm Cuter
Mother-in-law = Woman Hitler
A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss = Stroller on Go, Amasses Nothing
The Check is in the Mail = Claim "Heck, I sent it (heh)"
Software = Swear Oft
Christmas tree = Search, Set, Trim
The Earthquakes = That Queer Shake
Barbie doll = I'll bare bod / Babe I'd roll / Liberal bod
Statue of Liberty = Built to Stay Free

Much more, and you can always make your own. Go see!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

More Goodreads SPAM

I had previously given a mini-rant about Goodreads and their inexcusable SPAMming practices. Today I received the monthly newsletter from them, which I certainly do not recall agreeing to, much less requesting (by habit I never accept these). My curiosity stirred up, I did some minimal research:

From the Goodreads Privacy Policy:
Do you send unsolicited emails or direct mail?

Goodreads absolutely, positively does not use the emails it collects as a source for unsolicited emails.

"Liars" just doesn't seem to cover it. "Liar liar pants ablaze with thermonuclear fire"`is a little closer to the mark. Consider: Does the screen capture below look like an invitation to SPAM everyone in your address book?

[Image from Microformats Wiki, which has a related discussion.]

Can you read the small text at the bottom that reads:
*This feature is entirely optional and is only used to allow you to access your address book. You can select which friends to invite on the next page. We do not store your password.
LIARS! No sooner had an acquaintance signed up than her entire address book was SPAMMED. This being a trusted friend I started to sign up to see what was so interesting. I got suspicious when Goodreads asked for my password. A little internet searching quickly revealed numerous complaints about Goodreads and its practice of address book SPAM. While I also find some indications that Goodreads is working to improve their practices, I remain suspicious. Very suspicious.

Good News: OAUTH may be the answer needed to better protect our privacy.
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Thursday, November 13, 2008

What Makes People Vote Republican?

In my political wanders heading up the the election, I came across a true gem of an article on Edge: WHAT MAKES PEOPLE VOTE REPUBLICAN?
...the second rule of moral psychology is that morality is not just about how we treat each other (as most liberals think); it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way. When Republicans say that Democrats "just don't get it," this is the "it" to which they refer.

To briefly summarize: It is an amazingly well written article, it's not going to turn me into a Republican, but it might help me understand their position a little better. Understanding is a good thing, and we could all do with a bit more of it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

ID Gets Spanked Again

Zachary Moore, a contributor to Goose The Antithesis write about a recent four-way debate in Fort Worth, Texas.
"The Great Debate," as it was billed, was sponsored by St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Fort Worth, Texas. It featured a four-way roundtable format, with a participant from each quadrant of the atheist/theist and pro-ID/anti-ID axes. I was there along with some fellow members of the North Texas Church of Freethought primarily to see Dr. Lawrence Krauss (atheist/anti-ID) and also, somewhat guiltily, to see Dr. David Berlinski (theist/pro-ID) in action. The field was rounded out by Dr. Denis Alexander (theist/anti-ID) and Dr. Bradley Monton (atheist/pro-ID). The debate was held at the Will Rogers Memorial Auditorium, and I would estimate about 1000 people in attendance.
Click through for the full post at Goose The Antithesis

This sort of debate is getting to be a bit predictable, as rational and coherent arguments do well in any rational and coherent discussion, and the ID proponents end up frustrated.

While I'm on the topic, PZ Myers gives anti-evolution arguments based on the second law of thermodynamics a swift kick in the shorts. AND [update] Jason Rosenhouse follows up with a complete depantsing.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

High Tech Pranks

Computer pranks are always fun. I used to have great fun with a DOS keyboard macro program that let me remap keys and (ahem) record keystrokes. These trick have never really gone away, in fact there are probably more now that there ever have been before. Here a list The 25 Best High-Tech Pranks - use only on very good friends, or people you will never see again! ;-)

[typo edit: don't use them on people you will ever wee again either]

Monday, November 3, 2008

"Hey, get your hand out of my pocket!"

After seeing someone post on FaceBook this obviously misleading graph ...
[edit: link removed, picture inserted, incomplete sentence left as-is]
...presenting a comparison of McCain and Obama tax plans. I didn't think too much of it at the time. I did, however, post this note on my wall in response to an anti-Obama sermon someone else had posted (No kidding, the present "The Parable of the Talents" as an argument that Obama's tax plan is not biblical!):

Dan Eastwood is fairly certain the world will not come to an end when Obama gets elected, but snickers a bit at the people who whine about it so.

To which a good friend of mine replied:

"I, too, am pretty sure the world won't end... Of course there's a bit of distance between "world ending" and "hey, get your hand out of my pocket!"

I was about to write back something about "hands in pockets" and that hands of taxation are already in everyone's pockets, so I searched "tax plans" for ammunition, and how this article from Freakonomics: Competing Tax Plans: Two Perspectives.

Voila! The same misleading graph appears again, along with two other ways of presenting the same data that look very different, and a nice discusion. A little real information is better than a pointless argument any day. Rather than repost all that here, I urge you to go read the the Freakonimics article, it's short and well worth the effort. Or, if you are ambitious, go read this newly released report by the Tax Policy Center.

And who IS John Galt, anyway? (Thanks Matt!)


Edge has an essay by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan.

Statistical and applied probabilistic knowledge is the core of knowledge; statistics is what tells you if something is true, false, or merely anecdotal; it is the "logic of science"; it is the instrument of risk-taking; it is the applied tools of epistemology; you can't be a modern intellectual and not think probabilistically—but... let's not be suckers. The problem is much more complicated than it seems to the casual, mechanistic user who picked it up in graduate school. Statistics can fool you. In fact it is fooling your government right now. It can even bankrupt the system (let's face it: use of probabilistic methods for the estimation of risks did just blow up the banking system).
Indeed! Woe unto those who assume all events are independent, and distribution well known. Click through to Edge for more. There is a technical appendix too.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

538 Widget

FiveThirtyEight is now offering a widget to display the most current posts - admittedly a bit late in this election season. I have added it here until the elections are done, after which I will probably remove it, or at least push it down the sidebar.

It really was not my intention to put many political topics on this blog, but with the current election fever it's just hard to avoid. 538 does have some really nice statistical model though, perhaps I can dig into those and post about them when the current fuss is all over.

Aggressive Sales Rant

Is it just me or do others find many sales people becoming more aggressive? I prefer to buy something because I need it not because it was forced on me. I like to make my own choices and decisions. Lately, whether I am out shopping or working at home I find myself being annoyed by sales.

The sales pitches start out innocuous enough. This is your local police and you have always been a supporter of ours. Would you donate to our domestic violence fund? Well, that is a cause I support. Sure. I would be glad to make a donation. Can we put you down for $500 then? Wait a minute, I teach college. I don't have that type of money. How about $20? OK, we will send you a $20 bill in the mail but you may not deduct this off you taxes as a donation. Was I just fleeced?

Then came the endless calls with the robovoice, "This is the Replubican National Committee calling to tell you why you should not vote for Barack Obame." Wait a minute, I am on the no call list and this is my private phone number. Why am I getting 5 or 6 of these calls a day. I am trying to work. I am not going to pay extra money on my telephone bill to make sure who is calling me. I have phone calls I need to answer so I am not going to take my phone off the hook. I guess I have been fleeced again.

Then I went to the mall. Something I avoid doing at all costs. But I had an item I wanted. I went straight to the store I like. Enjoyed my shopping there. Then headed to my car. The next thing I know a salesman has grabbed by hand and started buffing my nails. Well, this is certainly a new version of sticking your foot in the door. I was stupid and ended up buying a Seacrest Nail Care Kit. The original price was $59. But when I balked at that, the price dropped to $29 and then when I balked at that it became 2 for $29. I figure this was still overpriced but I would be free. I paid and the next thing I know my hand is grabbed again and I have mud slathered on my arm. I was getting upset now. I said I have a doctor's appointment I have to go. Oh, this will only take a moment. Some 20 minutes later and endles products applied to my arm I was offered 3 small boxes and 1 free gift for only $529. No Way! Well, just for me the price was dropped to $279. No way! Then 4 boxes were piled up and 2 other boxes placed on the side. You can get all this plus 2 free gifts for only $279. This is less than 1 dollar a day for you very important skin care. No way! Well let me show you something. Here, finally he made a mistake. He left my side. I was out of that mall so fast.

And I wondered why I don't like to go to the mall. At least at home I can hang up the phone.

Skin Care: Expensive. Privacy: Priceless.


Saturday, November 1, 2008

My Technorati Debut

My Technorati Rank debuts at 4,978,471. Only 4,978,470 to go!
My other blog starts off with a ranking of 2,620,513, probably because I linked to myself.

Also, DTA now has a co-author. You should be hearing from her soon.


Whoppers are chocolate covered malt balls made by Hersheys, and if you get me around these things I stat popping them like popcorn (chocolate-covered malty popcorn, minus the popcorn). I actually had something else in mind though*; Lies. has a nice article about the biggest political lies and misrepresentations of the campaign year, and also an update to that article here.

The Whoppers of 2008
The Whoppers of 2008 -- The Sequel

My search to find something that resemble honest political news seems to be making slight progress. Of course, now it's only 3 days to the election and it hardly matters. Oh well. I already voted too. Oh well again! has been added to my (Newly Reorganized) blogroll.

* The complete non-sequitur at the beginning of this post is a function of how my mind works. I find this sort of thing amusing and you can expect more of the same if you visit here regularly. ;-)

Honorable Sewerage

If a group of people wanted to named a sewerage treatment plant in your honor, how would you react?

My first thought was "well that's pretty sh*tty crappy thing to do", but then I thought a bit harder. A sewerage treatment plant performs a necessary and valuable function to the community. It protects the public health from disease and the environment from pollution, so maybe it's not such a bad thing after all. But now look what some folk in San Fransisco want to do:
Group seeks Bush sewage 'tribute'
A citizens group in San Francisco wants to pay an ironic tribute to President George W Bush when he leaves office - by naming a sewage plant after him.
I would be honored to have such a facility named after me. No ... really, I think it would be cool! This plant would be performing a great public service to the entire community for years, probably even many years after I am gone, and I would be well remembered for generations to come.

My concern is this really isn't an appropriate tribute. After all, President Bush has demonstrated far greater ability to create messes than ability to clean them up. Therefore, I would like to suggest some alternate tributes:

George W Bush Marine Salvage Service (for those sunken ships of State)
George W Bush Roller Derby Arena and School of Foreign Policy
George W Bush Plumbing (specializing in economic bail-outs)
George W Bush Memorial Landfill, so the last eight years can be buried and forgotten.

Please feel free to add to the list! [and thanks to Christian for the tip!]