26 October 2008

The road to insanity is in trying to use the ISP's email "features"

They say that one of the signs of insanity is where you keep doing the exact same thing over and over, and expect to get a different result.

What do you call it if you, say, hit the exact same button on Comcast's new SmartZone emailer multiple times and can never get the same result twice? Or, you think you've put the settings one way, and it even says the settings are that way, but they really aren't - so you have to repeat doing them three or four times and then obsessively check that they stay that way?

And have I mentioned how much I hate seeing ads on a service that I'm paying for? Especially if they're extra pushy and reduce functionality?

Comcast email, folks. It was basically nonfunctional when I first signed up for High Speed Internet, and I could only check it from a third-party website (mail2web.com FTW!). Then it was most of the way functional (if slightly irritating) for a good long while. Now it's back to being nonfunctional.


(On the bright side, Comcast is still more functional than Bellsouth's offerings. Over there, they had something like three slightly different glitz-covered websites overlapped on top of each other, and you couldn't find anything, ever, and neither could their phone support.)

23 October 2008

One of my favorite odes

An ode has a three-part structure: strophe, antistrophe, and epode. The strophe is a theme statement, and the antistrophe is a response to it. Within an ode, it might go back and forth between strophe and antistrophe several times before everything meets up in the middle and ends with the epode.

It turns out that my favorite Billy Joel song, Leningrad, is in the form of an ode. There are stanzas about Victor who lives in Leningrad, followed by response stanzas about Billy Joel growing up in America. They are set to very different musical themes. Then, the very last of those is about Billy Joel visiting Leningrad and meeting Victor - and it's set to the Russian theme. The epode has no words. Its music is completely different from either the strophe or antistrophe.


In general, I'm not a fan of poetry. But that may be because so little of it is as masterfully crafted as this song is.

20 October 2008

Summary of the Debunking of a Crank

So. There's this brand new shiny particle accelerator in Geneva, known as the Large Hadron Collider. There are also some concerned citizens who think that it might make black holes that will destroy the Earth. Two of these, Luis Sancho and Walter L. Wagner, filed for a restraining order against it in a court in Hawaii (note: Hawaii is nowhere near Geneva). It got tossed out of that court recently, but rumor has it that they're planning to file an appeal.

On what grounds is Mr. Wagner making these claims about black holes? How does he know? Well, he says he's a nuclear physicist. After a lengthy foray into researching his credentials over at John the Scientist's blog, however, it has become rather clear that he's not. The discussion there is longwinded and goes around in great big circles, so I'm making a clear summary of it here. Specifically, let's go line by line through the affidavit he filed with his restraining order in Hawaii...

I, Walter L. Wagner, affirm state and declare, under penalty of perjury of the laws of the State of Hawaii, as follows:

1. I am a nuclear physicist with extensive training in the field. I obtained my undergraduate degree in 1972 at Berkeley, California in the biological sciences with a physics minor, and graduate degree in 1978 in Sacramento, California in law.

a) The second sentence actually contradicts the first. "Physics minor" != "extensive training in the field of nuclear physics."
b) It turns out that his law degree is a JD, not a PhD, and it's from an unaccredited institution, the University of Northern California Lorenzo PatiƱo School of Law. Not only isn't he a nuclear physicist, he's also not a lawyer. He is not and has never been a member of the California Bar, the Hawaii Bar, and probably not any other state bars either.
c) His only actual degree is a BA in biology. (We think. So far we've not had reason to check whether he has even that...)
d) Despite the fact that he calls himself "Dr." everywhere, he doesn't actually have any right to claim that title.
2. Commencing in 1973 I worked extensively in cosmic radiation research at UC Berkeley, Physics Department, Space-Sciences, and am credited with discovery of a novel particle only previously theorized to exist [by Nobelist P.A.M. Dirac], namely a magnetic monopole. That discovery still remains controversial as to the identify of that novel particle, and numerous searches for magnetic monopoles are still currently underway, or proposed, including at the Large Hadron Collider [LHC].

a) The scientists who published the 1975 paper claiming it to be a magnetic monopole later retracted their claim in a 1978 paper.
b) He was a lowly lab tech that was hired to be a scanner. He was told what to look for by the real scientists, and had no part in the actual scientific conversation surrounding the unexplained particle. This is borne out by examining the authorship and acknowledgements of the papers in question. When he says "credited with", what he means is "mentioned in the acknowledgements for assistance." He also fails to mention that he wasn't the only hired scanner in the lab at the time.
c) Nowadays the discovery is viewed as a historical curiosity, not a controversy.
3. Commencing in 1979 I began employment as a federal nuclear safety officer with the US government, from which I am currently retired, though I remain in frequent contact with my former duty station. My federal duty station was with the US Veterans Administration, and I managed an extensive program of nuclear safety involving usages of ionizing radiations from machines [X-ray, CT, etc.], and from a wide variety of radioactive materials produced by particle accelerators, in nuclear reactors, or extracted from nature [principally uranium and its radio-daughter radium]. This work involved enforcement of the regulations of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the US Department of Energy, and the US Department of Transportation. Essentially, my job was to look for and root-out the safety flaws overlooked by scientific researchers as it pertained to nuclear physics, as a protection not only for the researcher’s own health, but for the visitors and population at large.

a) A nuclear radiation safety officer is a type of lab tech and bureaucrat. They do some simple labwork and lots of paperwork overseeing safety regulations. They don't do nuclear physics or any other kind of science.
b) They don't practice nuclear medicine, either. Not even if the job in question is in a hospital.
4. Following retirement from federal employment I embarked on teaching science and mathematics for many years to grade school and college students. I was noted for having obtained the highest test-score on the basic teacher credentialing examination in California [CBEST] where I initially began teaching. I am presently likewise retired from that field, though I still engage myself in formal programs for science education, including the Journey Through the Universe educational outreach program hosted annually by the Big Island astronomy community, where I live. Such
educational endeavors included periods of time as an instructor at Punahou, Iolani, and several other schools in the Honolulu district.

a) He successfully passed a standardized test for grade school teachers. (This, also, does not make him a nuclear physicist.)
b) Educational outreach likewise does not make one a nuclear physicist. A bachelors degree in biology would qualify him for the stuff he mentions.
5. I have remained active in the field of theoretical nuclear physics, and serve as a science editor for Wikipedia, having numerous articles and revisions in nuclear physics to my credit, and I am very familiar with the editing procedures and processes, and with the nuclear physics editors at Wikipedia. I have been active in the field of theoretical micro-black-holes being created by advanced colliders since publication of my work in Scientific American in July, 1999.

a) Becoming an editor at Wikipedia is approximately as difficult as becoming a member of Myspace. Signup is an automated process of choosing a name and password. Anyone can sign up and edit anything, and if they're sneaky about making themselves look authoritative and intelligent, they can insert all kinds of spurious, wildly inaccurate claims that go unchallenged for a very long time. This is why Wikipedia is not highly regarded as a citable source for in-depth information.
b) His claim for being active in the field of "theoretical micro-black-holes being created by advanced colliders"-ology appears to be based on the educational outreach mentioned in 4.
c) Scientific American is not a peer reviewed scientific journal.
d) His "publication" in it in July 1999 was a letter to the editor.

After two weeks of arguing with Wagner and his faithful minions, the general consensus among the UCF is that the man is mentally defective, possibly clinically insane.

As for the other guy, Luis Sancho, it doesn't take much of a look at all at his website to know where his sanity stands. If he was worldbuilding for some kind of cyberpunk story with sentient AIs in an alternate universe, that would be a great site, but, uhhh. I think that's all anyone really needs to say about that.

Meanwhile, has the Large Hadron Collider destroyed the world yet? Click here to check on the status of that.

Update: courtesy of Nathan, there's also this bit of excellently useful data:
song chart memes

One final note. Comments on this post will be heavily moderated because I don't want the arguments to wander over here, too. This article is meant to clarify things, not make everything all muddy. John is the official host of this particular circus, if you want to say something significantly in disagreement, do it over there. I will update this as things continue to progress at Refugees.

19 October 2008

American Voting

Traditionally, Americans vote by going on a certain day to a prearranged place in their general neighborhood. It might be an actual government building, a public school, or even a church. It can't be some other place than the assigned one, which is decided by home address, and it has to be between certain hours.

Once there, we might stand in long lines if we go at the same time as everyone else in the neighborhood. Then we are confronted with lots of names that we may have never heard of,* vying for obscure governmental positions that we may also have no clue about.** And at the end there are usually a bunch of questions about referendums, propositions, initiatives, constitutional amendments, etc. that are worded as confusingly as possible so that we have no idea what any of them would actually do if enacted.*** In Georgia, these tend to be about taxes. Shall we tax this group of people if they meet these particular qualifications? Shall we give tax breaks to this other group of people if they don't? etc.

But now we have the Internet! Furthermore, at least here in Georgia, we no longer need a reason to apply for an absentee ballot - we can get one for fun if we want. And since I want, this year I did. So I could look stuff up while I'm filling it out. Then send it back out in the mail at my leisure. It's working out a lot better this way overall. I'm not looking up as much stuff as I could,** but I like having the option. :)

* Seriously, the only time I ever got non-"vote for me!" pleas in the mail from a candidate at less than the federal level was 20 years ago back in Indiana. Her name was Vi Simpson, a state rep, and I kept voting for her simply because she actually tried to keep me up to date on what she was doing. Hers is also the only name I remember. Likewise why I vote for U.S. Rep John Barrow now - I get mail from him several times a year. (Well, that and the fact that up until this year, the other guy was this crazed rabidly anti-gay wacko...).

** This year there's tons of judges and assorted bureaucrats running unopposed. I'm too apathetic to figure out who they are or what their positions do.

*** To wit: just take a look at what the second one for this year says: "Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to authorize community redevelopment and authorize counties, municipalities, and local boards of education to use tax funds for redevelopment purposes and programs?" To which I ask the obvious question, community redevelopment purposes such as ...? Now read the explanation under it. Does that clear it up at all? :p It sounds like they're saying "we should let developers steal tax money meant to run our public schools" to which I'd have to go with "no."

(But see also this blog post, which breaks it down a lot better than the official government-run site and also provides links to actual documentation. Where would we be without the Internet?)

11 October 2008

Open House 2008

Every year, the institute where I work has an Open House, wherein we let the general public mob the place. Allegedly they're there to learn what the institute does to deserve taxpayer money, and maybe some basic marine science too. In practice it's more a place for small children to get their faces painted and do crafts and run races and play inside a giant inflatable whale. We have a jazz band, and in some years people walking around in costumes of marine creatures (and from Spongebob Squarepants).

Even so, every year we try. This year I made a poster:

(click to read)

It was as dumbed down as I could get away with. The institute faculty don't seem to know how to explain things to the average carnival-minded layperson of casual non-interest, and the other posters were pretty technical. Mine had people standing in front of it longer than the others, so I call it a success. :)

10 October 2008


Sometimes it's better just to look at the world around you, enjoy it for what it is while it is, than to try to capture it on film.

This is especially true when you're armed only with a basic, automatic-everything point-and-shoot camera.

01 October 2008

My take on the ongoing total economic collapse

The people who have lost houses need houses.

The banks have lots of houses that they don't need or want.

The houses need people to take care of them, lest they fall apart and start losing in value.

So ... the banks should sell the houses back to their original owners at a fraction of the cost, and/or put them on sensible mortgages. The banks will probably lose lots of money if they did that, but since it was their greed that caused the problem in the first place, I don't see that as a problem.


Me : complex financial stuff :: Nathan : non-geometry math

(alternately, I like Jim Wright's plan.)