Archive for December, 2008

Resolute

December 31, 2008 - 2:28 pm Comments Off

I don’t do the New Year’s resolution thing. I think in essence, it’s a generally good idea; view the new year as a clean slate, view yourself as something that can change for the better, then make changes for the better.

However, I don’t generally view the best time to undertake this process whilst in the middle of a national hungover spasm of guilt with the massive grey wall of the previous night’s debauchery combined with finally facing up to the new year’s load of credit card bills looming over you. There’s just something about that maudlin state of self-loathing as a motivator that doesn’t quite jibe with me as the best motivator for self-improvement. If you have reasonable self-respect, the resolution doesn’t take because most of the time, you don’t hate yourself, and therefore the motivator disappears. If you don’t, then a cheerful little cycle of shame and self-flagellation can arise regardless of whether you succeed (grim perfectionism that can never be satisfied) or fail and retreat into whatever nasty habit gives you comfort.

My blueprint for self-improvement goes roughly as follows: identify the problem. Assess to what degree it is, in fact, a problem. Assess to what lengths you’re willing to go to remedy it, and what would be an acceptable timetable. (For example, if you really don’t want to live on steamed vegetables and prudent portions of fish and chicken whilst working out six days a week indefinitely, “toned beach body by June” is neither a reasonable goal nor a reasonable timetable.) Then, proceed with the plan. If you fail on a small scale, continue to proceed with the plan. (Minor periodic indulgences are not failure. Everyone needs a bit of vice.) If you fail on a large scale, reassess the plan and analyze why it fell apart. Develop a new plan. Continue as needed.

Every day of the year. However, if you enjoy the traditionalism of New Year’s and would like to start tomorrow, it’s as good as any- but I recommend waiting until the hangover wears off first.

Never to be performed live by Stingray…

December 29, 2008 - 6:45 pm Comments Off

Apropos of nothing in particular, the following sprang to my mind. These are the thoughts that kept me out of the really good schools.

With apologies to Dennis Leary, sung to the tune of his song “I’m an Asshole”, I offer the following.

Folks, I’d like to sing a song about the Internet world. About folks who aren’t me, who aren’t you, but are clogging up our tubes. Down in the bottom of our ‘net about the special feeling we get, maybe below the application layer. Maybe in the session layer, or network layer. Hell, maybe even on the wire itself.

They’re just some regular dorks,
with some really lame jobs,
just your average dumb-ass ethernet clods,
They like cheetos and porno and books about war,

They think their rigs are great,
though they’re just commodores.
Their wife left ‘em, their job sucks,
their kids stole a car,
Their feet on the keyboard,
they think they’ll go far!

But sometimes that just ain’t enough
to keep the dolts like them interested

(Oh no, no way, uh-uh)

No they gotta go out and screw up someone else’s e-turf.

(Yeah yeah, yeah yeah)

They’ve ill thought-out screeds that sound really inane,
that drive bloggers and readers stark raving insane

They’re the blog-trolls
(They’re the blog trolls, what a blog troll)
They’re the blog trolls
(They’re the blog trolls, what a blog troll)

They can’t spell for shit, and their grammar is splotchy,
If you call them on their crap then they’ll call you a nazi,

They’re the blog-trolls
(They’re the blog trolls, what a blog troll)
They’re the blog trolls
(They’re just plain dipshit blog-trolls)

In real life they’ve no friends, for obvious reasons,
If they make us mad then they think that makes the world even,

They’re the blog-trolls
(They’re the blog trolls, what a blog troll)
They’re the blog trolls
(They’re the blog trolls, what a blog troll)

Maybe I shouldn’t be typing this screed,
Acknowledging them just seems to give them their feed,
Maybe they bring valid opinions to share…..

Nah.

They’re the blog-trolls
(They’re the blog trolls, what a blog troll)
They’re the blog trolls
(They’re the blog trolls, what a blog troll)

You know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna get me a whompin’ stick, and a stack of internet tools. A couple of quick tracerts and a few busted kneecaps at the telco offices and hell, I bet those guys there are sick of these fucktards too and will come along with a sack full of doorknobs to help with the ass whuppings.

We’re gonna find these dumbasses that think “lol” is punctuation and that because it’s the internet you don’t have to bother proofreading or even activating the useless and withered stump of ganglia they’re trying to pass off as a brain and can just spew whatever pointless drivel they want all over other people’s blogs just because their mothers were a lousy shot with a coathanger and we’re gonna finish the job.

We’re gonna round all these fuckers up, and we’re gonna put the assholes that call everyone a nazi in with the real fucking nazis and let ‘em just have at each other and I’m gonna put stadium steating up and sell tickets. The old days of the Roman collesuem are going to look like a finger painting class by the time the 9/11 truthers and the homophobes get done tearing through the womynists and mall ninjas and out in the lobby I’m gonna have a kill-your-own-steak stand and

(Hey)

and I’m gonna get Gunkid out of the slammer so he can stomp around the battleground

(Hey!)

like The Humungus until he’s taken down by a pack of screaming catgirls and

(Hey, you know they’re really just lonely losers on the internet ’cause nobody will put up with their shit offline.)

Why don’t you just shut up and help me type the post.

They’re the blog-trolls
(They’re the blog trolls, what a blog troll)
They’re the blog trolls
(They’re the blog trolls, what a blog troll)

B-L-O-G-T-R-O-L-L-S
B-L-O-G-T-R-O-L-L-S

They’re the blog trolls, and they fuckin’ suck.

Busy Weekend Filler

December 28, 2008 - 9:08 pm Comments Off

As the weekend was occupied in projects such as giving the Nerd Ranch a much-overdue thorough cleaning, bottling beer that’s been sitting lonely in the fermenter for weeks more than it should have, and attempting to give our metabolisms an equally needed boot in the ass to help mitigate the holiday-feasting damage, I have not had time to sit down and compose something actually interesting. (Any allegation that my usual posting method involves desperately trawling through Science Daily and roaring “THAT’S NOT NEWS, DAMMIT!” will be met with a firm “Not always!”.) So here’s what’s been entertaining me lately.

Congo Memoirs. One source of perpetual entertainment is dropping the relentlessly logical science boffin of varying types into the relentlessly illogical Africa, and this series of posts about a biological anthropologist’s adventures in Zaire is no exception. Apparently, what you really need to make a recipe for sure-fire entertainment is a mixture of scientist, natives who have no idea why the white guy is so relentlessly interested in animal footprints/bones/bugs/whatever but are willing to make a living off it, and animals that really are contemplating making them all lunch.

Dave Barry’s Year In Review was always so relentless funny that he apparently still does them even after retiring from his Miami Herald weekly column. Go read, and see if a little of the pain that has been 2008 is purged through the catharsis of it all.

Badass of the Week. This was linked to me in gunblogger chat (which is a totally awesome way to deal with boredom, by the way) and was quite possibly the most wonderful web find of the week. This is a perfectly endless source of inspirational material, and written by someone absolutely hilarious. Badasses of all sorts are included, among them my new personal heroine. Stingray was greatly pleased that his own personal hero was already in the rosters.

More Adventures In Science And Religion

December 26, 2008 - 5:20 pm Comments Off

Some experimental psychologists have done a study that leads to the truly shocking conclusion that a belief in the explanatory powers of science or the explanatory powers of God leads to more negative feelings about whatever the “opposite” explanation is. In other words, psychologists conclude that science and religion are fundamentally incompatible in the psyche. Oh no!

Well, they certainly are in the design of the experiment. Quoth the researcher:

“It seemed to me that both science and religion as systems were very good at explaining a lot, accounting for a lot of the information that we have in our environment,” she said. “But if they are both ultimate explanations, at some point they have to conflict with each another because they can’t possibly both explain everything.”

Science: you’re doin’ it wrong. Science DOESN’T “explain everything”. It’s not designed to. It’s a collection of methodology for the study of natural law, the underlying principles on which the universe runs. Science cannot do ANYTHING that falls outside this mission- science can tell you, to pick an incendiary example, when a fetus has a heartbeat or fingerprints or brain activity, but it can only be silent on when it becomes a person or whether it is wrong or right to kill it. There are certain people that certainly WISH it did, and ACT as though it did, but that does not make it so. You can do your level best to drive in a nail with a screwdriver, but that doesn’t make it a hammer. Likewise, science can never explain what makes one novel great and another trash, how to conduct your love life to the best benefit of yourself and your partner (if you want to take sex advice from science, try the deep-sea squid method and let me know how that works out for you), or what makes a kickass tune. Science can *inform* our understanding of subjects outside its purview- one example being whether sexuality is biologically determined or chosen and actively malleable, as that changes the exact moral landscape- but it can’t, ultimately, explain everything.

Religion can’t generally explain everything either, which is why we have science at all despite the vast majority of humans being religious for the vast majority of our history. There is no religious doctrine or document in the world that is of any sort of remote help in attempting to determine the optimum way to plow a field, construct a building, predict the weather, or generally do anything that requires more knowledge and planning than slopping together a clay pot. (Even then it is generally helpful to have some consistent body of knowledge on temperature control- take up potting for awhile and just see how intuitive it is.) Some anthropologists are even beginning to argue that monotheism was a necessary cultural precondition for science-as-we-know-it; once you have your epistemology narrowed down to ONE God instead of a bickering pack of them (or a nebulous array of spiritual forces), you can then reach the conclusion that this God does things in a certain consistent fashion- and that humans can work it out for themselves based on the world around them that said consistent God presumably created. Polytheist pantheons tend to micromanage- single creators tend to set it up and let it run with only occasional miraculous interventions to the natural order*.

The design of the experiment that inspired this round of carping on the subject was fundamentally this: the researchers would offer an explanation of some event or phenomenon in terms of “science”, or of the exact same thing in terms of “God”, and then measure the subjects’ warm or cool feelings toward words related to “God” or “science”. They found that the two classes of “explanation” were in direct opposition- of course they were, the design of the experiment makes sure of that. Science and religion do conflict when religion makes concrete claims about EXACTLY what happened exactly when, and then rules that the authority of the religious text depends upon this being literally true. (As for whether or not the ridiculously intelligent creator God can use metaphor or simplify things when talking to tribes that haven’t gotten around to metal yet, this is the point of major internal disagreement.) They also conflict when someone using science as a justification for a moral position they’ve taken asserts that science has a moral authority that overrides someone else’s sacred text’s opinion on the subject. However, there is absolutely nothing contradictory about believing God to be the author of natural law and natural law being a discoverable and understandable thing that reliably explains the way the universe works.

Both certain sorts of the religious and certain sorts of the aggressively secular would really like there to be a fundamental war between science and religion, because that implies the possibility that their own side may WIN someday and they’ll never have to deal with the smug assholes and their shit from the other side ever again. The secularists know that they have a massive advantage because their side has a rigorous, correctable, and testable method for understanding reality without any recourse to doctrinaire squabbling (or unchallengeable dogma) necessary. The religious know they have a massive advantage because their side offers a comprehensive structured system for negotiating human life that offers emotional and intellectual satisfaction for all those pressing questions for which science is limited or completely unsuited to address**. The real problem is that they’re both right, but admitting that would require a general restructuring of their entire worldviews- which would involve some very uncomfortable reassessments, like having to have real faith in their beliefs rather than faith that they can eventually PROVE all their beliefs objectively correct.

A few final quotes from the article:

Similarly, those who read the statement suggesting that the scientific theories were weak were extremely slow to identify negative words that appeared after they were primed with the word “God,” Preston said.

“It was like they didn’t want to say no to God,” she said.

Well, no, no they don’t. And as long as those advocating for science and against anti-intellectualism frame the debate as this being a necessary step to fully embracing science, they will always lose- most people believe, most people want to continue believing because it gives them so much structure, comfort, and guidance, and most people will choose that belief over what they imagine to be a chilly universe whose answers to the “big questions” boil down to “irrelevant”.

And, lastly, proving that they DO get it at least up to a point:

The most obvious implication of the research is that “to be compatible, science and religion need to stick to their own territories, their own explanatory space,” Preston said. “However, religion and science have never been able to do that, so to me this suggests that the debate is going to go on. It’s never going to be settled.”

Well, YES. For all the reasons I’ve outlined above. That doesn’t mean it’s remotely helpful to continue to frame the debate in those terms- to either side.

*Yes, I know, I’m generalizing like a madwoman. This is meant to represent the general trend of human myth and religious thought, especially in times that were very much pre-modern and in which science as we understand it now really did not exist. Pagans, Hindus, and Shintos, please don’t kill me.

**You may have noticed at this point that I’m making this point as an atheist. I merely don’t confuse science with philosophy and try to use the one as the other.

A Christmas Story (with extra pork)

December 24, 2008 - 6:32 pm Comments Off

If you’re in the mood for holiday storytelling, have a trip in the wayback machine of our archives to my recounting of the Christmas disaster pig.

Holiday Safety Reminder

December 24, 2008 - 5:00 pm Comments Off

From both of us, may you and yours have a wonderful seasonal festival of choice.

But remember, it is still technically illegal to pour superheated radioactive coolant on carolers.

Swing And A Miss

December 22, 2008 - 4:24 pm Comments Off

As microbrews and other non-giant efforts in the realm of tasty alcoholic carbonated beverages have been cropping up, the super-giant breweries like Anheuser-Busch and Coors have noticed some erosion of their market share. Strangely, it seems more and more Americans are looking for beer with actual flavor rather than just fizzy yellow water. As such, they’ve started branching out into other styles and smaller batches to see what catches on, and I support that. I don’t think there’s any good reason to punish a company for trying something new to bring in business. We’re actually rather fond of Shock Top Belgian White from Anheuser-Busch, and frankly we were damn surprised to find that they were responsible for it. It’s not the greatest beer on earth, but it’s pretty good and at a good price point. That’s a win in my book.

Going a bit farther into the realm of craft-style brewing, AB has issued something called “Budweiser American Ale.” In the commercials (and packaging) they even reach out to beer enthusiasts and homebrewers specifically as they name the actual type of hops used (cascade, though obviously they don’t list the alpha concentration). Being adequately charmed with the Shock Top, we figured it would be worth checking to see if they managed another decent macro-microbrew and picked up a six pack.

The color is darker, but it’s definitely a Budweiser.

Adventures in Travel

December 21, 2008 - 5:21 pm Comments Off

…or “Why we hate going anywhere.” Every time we try to travel, there is at least one, usually several incidents along similar lines to the following. Today’s exercise in frustration was booking a hotel reservation for this coming May to, among other things, visit LabRat’s mother. To this end, we were attempting to take advantage of the reasonably priced and located Super 8 hotel in the link above.

This confused the shit out of the staff of the Super 8.

I called the number listed, with the confirmation number for the block of rooms in front of me. I then made the mistake of speaking. As most families are this time of year, the nerd ranch finances are undergoing the annual holiday “We spent HOW MUCH on WHAT?! For WHO?!” reaction, I wanted to verify that no charges would be forthcoming until the actual dates we’d be in Phoenix. With an audible sizzle and pop, several of the desk monkey’s precious few neurons fizzled. Not helping matters, the desk-monkey had apparently learned English only moments before answering the phone. The accent was some bizarre hybrid of Middle-Eastern, Indian, and hare-lip. Eventually we muddled through this verification, and I began the process of trying to get one of the special rate rooms.

“This is for a group thing. I have a confirmation num -”
“You have number? *pop* Then you *fizzle* *sputter* don’t need reservation?”
“No, I’m trying to make a reservation on the group rate.”
“We rooms do have not rate group should can am reserve!”
“What?”
“*fizzle* *pop* Reservation? What dates?”
“Ok, we’ll sort out the group rate in a minute.” I provided the dates.
“Ok so yes you check out want to on [date I want to check in]?”
“No, that’s backwards, and would involve time travel.”
“*pop* *FIZZLE* *BANG* *sssssss*”

Finally, we got the dates worked out.
“Name what under should *fizzz* room doubt?”
“S as in sierra. T as in tango. I as in India. N as in November….” and so forth.
“Ok, that name S-t-i-k-f-g-l-a?”
“No, S-T-I-N-G-R-A-Y.”
“S-T-I-K-F-G-L-A?”
“Yeah, close enough.”
“Ok ams paying you how room this ares card should what?”

I began to suspect that the hotel was actually short staffed, and the manager had simply dragged a hobo off the street. The poor hobo was still coming off the paint thinner, and wasn’t quite sure what was going on yet. LabRat was looking at me during this phone call with increasing incredulity. Both of us were beginning to question the wisdom of staying at this establishment, especially since I was no longer convinced it was in the correct town, or even the correct continent. After what is possibly the most glacially paced and certainly the most frustrating conversation I’ve had in recent memory, billing information was exchanged* and the reservation was made. I prepared to tackle the difficult part.

“Now, about this group rate. I’m supposed to mention confirmation num – ”
“Group what is rate this room you hello should harry potter abacus? *fizzlesputterPOPOPOPOP*”
“I’m part of the group for number – ”
“Wait I get manager.”

I heard an exchange in the background. Apparently both desk-monkey and manager suffer hearing loss, as the entire exchange was perfectly audible. The manager, fortunately, spoke with only a slight drawl and could be understood clearly. The desk-monkey, well, I’ll do my best to reproduce what I heard.

“Now what?”
“Guy this reservation group rate says number?”
“Jesus Christ, lemme talk to him.”

“This is the general manager, what’s the problem?” As this was spoken in the tone of one who suspect I am the problem, this feller was a winner right off the blocks.
“Well, I just made my reservation. I’ve got a confirmation number for a group rate for the NRA conven-”
“Buddy, you got the wroooong place.” I honestly wish I was making this up. That was, in fact, a verbatim quote from the man identified only as “General Manager.” I guess his parents didn’t have much in the way of hope for him when they named him.
“Wonderful. Let’s just cancel that reservation, yes?”
“It doesn’t look like it even went through the first time.”
“Good. Now just to make absolutely certain, there is no reservation for me at your establishment, correct?”
“Nope.”
“Thank you. Good bye.”
“Ye-”

Eventually, we did wind up with a reservation somewhere in Phoenix. The folks at the Holiday Inn Express number listed in the originally linked source were certainly orders of magnitude both more friendly and more intelligible, though thanks to the popularity of the dates we’ll be in town, no less confusing. Presumably we’re at the right hotel. I think. Maybe. Oh well, if not there are still a few months to try and straighten things out. If not, driving in Phoenix is not the worst thing in the world, and I am certain we’re at least in the right town now.

Currently scheduled for late May 2009: machine gun nests and sending unpleasant computer viruses to anybody suggesting we go any place more distant than Albuquerque.

*Yes, I will be watching very carefully for unauthorized activity on that card. In fact, I’ll be surprised if there isn’t any, given the overall situation.

"Threepers"

December 20, 2008 - 8:31 pm Comments Off

Since everyone of actual merit has already weighed in, it’s about time for me to show up to the party. I will not self-identify as a member of either the so-called 3%, nor will I self-identify as a member of the “prags” or whatever other terms are out there for either group. Instead I have a question:

Do you think D-Day would’ve gone better for the allies if the Germans were given copies of the battle plans first?

Horrible New Species Discovered

December 18, 2008 - 5:21 pm Comments Off

Via Zooillogix, an expedition to the Greater Mekong River region in southeast Asia has turned up many new species, and nearly all the ones that National Geographic felt it should provide pictures for are terrifying or awesome but more often awesomely terrifying.

totally awesome sweet Laos liquidsnake

Gumprecht’s green pit viper. This bad boy looks even more striking than the emerald tree boa I have on my arm. Nothing of it is mentioned in the article, but I imagine the thing is also outrageously poisonous.

this thing needs its own guitar solo

Shocking pink dragon millipede. Yes, that is its real name, and no they didn’t paint it. I’d need at LEAST two adjectives to name something like that, too. The best part? When threatened, it squirts cyanide. This thing was BORN to be on some rock band’s album art. For that matter, along with the green pit viper, maybe it was born to be on someone’s flesh. Is it a taste violation to have more than one green snake tattoo?

JESUS CHRIST IT'S A METROID GET IN THE CAR

It’s a cave spider! A cave spider that’s a fucking foot across!

I’m never going in a cave again. That thing is large enough to LITERALLY attach to my face and lay eggs in my brain.

NO WAI

He looks familiar…

ALL GLORY TO THE HYPNOTOAD

Shit. Has anyone checked on the researchers lately? Fly budget gone way, way up, recently?