Digital Chum - Virtual fish guts and other nonsense

February, 2010:

Mrs. Mulverhill discovers Libertarians

In the Iain Banks book Transition, where the characters can evidently shift, at will, to alternate realities (I gotta read this book!), one of the main characters, Mrs. Mulverhill, defines one of the forms of government she has encountered.

Libertarianism. A simple-minded right-wing ideology ideally suited to those unable or unwilling to see past their own sociopathic self-regard.”

I find that amusing, mostly because I know some people who claim to be libertarian who fit the description. I also know some who don’t. As with any attempt at group labeling, the bullet points don’t always apply.

…but sometimes they just do.

(via Pharyngula)

The Pale Blue Dot

About twenty years ago, Voyager 1 looked back toward it’s launching point and took the now famous “Pale Blue Dot” photograph. The arrow points to us. That’s Earth… from about 3.7 billion miles away, which is just a little bit outside our solar system. In the grand scale of the universe, that’s hardly any distance at all. Given that our sun is one of about 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy which is, in turn, one of an estimated 125 billion galaxies in the universe, Voyager 1 was sitting virtually on top of Earth when it took this picture.

We live on an mind-bogglingly tiny speck of dust.

Voyager 1 - Pale Blue Dot

Carl Sagan was much more eloquent than I, of course. His words in 1996 (from Wikipedia)…

Look again at that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

A very small stage, indeed.

The Cuddle Recliner!

We just purchased some new furniture this past weekend and my favorite piece is now comfortably situated in front of the big TV just inviting me to come watch movies until… well… until I fall asleep, actually.

Here it is, swamping Megan in its giantness.

The Cuddle Recliner

It’s doubly awesome (no pun intended) because it will easily hold two people (hence the name), so now when Megan and I want to watch My Neighbor Totoro again, we don’t have to fight over who gets the comfy chair.

The only problem is reaching the remote on the side table.

Satire is a beautiful thing

Amazingly enough, there are still people who claim to understand the science behind global warming, yet make the mistake of thinking localized cold temperatures, such as the recent snowstorms in the Eastern United States, are somehow a refutation of global warming. It’s almost as if they don’t understand the meaning of the key word “global.”

Jon Stewart captures it (and mocks it) perfectly in this Daily Show clip.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Unusually Large Snowstorm

That bit makes fun of the “local versus global” aspect of global warming denialism and it is amusing, but at its heart is a serious issue… the denialist combination of ignorance and arrogance fueled by political and/or religious ideology. It’s a combination that inspires deniers to manufacture evidence, take evidence out of context, twist and distort evidence, and cherry pick evidence in their attempts to bolster their cause.

What makes it worse is that the denialist propaganda seems to be having its intended effect. Despite overwhelming evidence showing that our planet is warming faster than what natural cycles would indicate and that the warming is strongly affected by human activity, fewer and fewer people accept the science. What makes the denialist position so successful? Is it because their “evidence” is valid? …because their position is somehow warranted? Or is it, perhaps, that climate science is complicated… and therefore boring to a lot of people? Could it be that it takes too much effort to research the basics in order to gain a modicum of understanding of the science? …that real science is hard?

Here’s a hint. It’s not because denialist “evidence” is valid (and yes, the scare quotes are warranted).

Certainly, it’s far, far easier to look out the window at an above-average snowfall and conclude that no warming is occurring… and if that nicely-boxed conclusion is spruced up by your strongly-held ideology or by a level of (perhaps understandable) apathy that makes you susceptible to the loud voices of denialism, then it’s fairly easy to consider the matter closed and ignore any further evidence to the contrary.

That’s the scary result of politics trying to invalidate science… or religion trying to invalidate science. People get bad information and then they get the idea that there’s a controversy (where none should exist), or they start to think that scientists are full of crap, or that a biologist is the same as an astrophysicist (ie… a scientist is a scientist is a scientist), or that politicians have some sort of special “in” when it comes to the truth. People start to think that the scientific process is broken, or that a single mistake invalidates years (or even decades) of research, or that a scientist in a bitchy mood indicates that scientists are corrupt, or that scientists should be automatons who never get cranky when quote-mined by some junk-science-peddling politician.

The denialists’ position against global warming science is political, pure and simple. It can be summarized by the idea that, because the fix would be a hassle (or expensive), they want nothing to do with it. On that foundation is built their structure of misinformation… with twists, distortions, and lies… that only continues to stand because they yell loudly, they yell repeatedly, and they yell authoritatively. They do it with a self-righteous arrogance, implying that anyone who disagrees is not only wrong, but unpatriotic and stupid… perhaps socialist, too. They set up towering straw men to burn to the ground with their trite arguments, paying no mind to whether the argument is scientifically valid.

Despite all the denialists’ blustering, the thing they lack is truth. Perhaps truth isn’t important to them as long as they get their way, but truth is the intended destination of science.

The scientific process is self-correcting. Mistakes are sometimes made, but through the process, those mistakes are found and corrected. Science moves on, leaving behind an understanding of our world that is just a little bit better than before. That’s what science does. It moves. It progresses. It refuses to settle. It refuses to stop.

…and all the denialist blustering in the world won’t keep it from moving ahead.

Death Bear removes your bad memories

Oh, Death Bear… you’re ever so helpful to those in need!

MSNBC - Need to get over your ex? Call Death Bear (image courtesy of MSNBC)

Orca pack hunting

Jerry Coyne, of Why Evolution is True, linked to a video today of a pack of orcas hunting together and working cooperatively to get a seal off an ice floe. There’s more info at his article (and the info originally came from the book Here Be Dragons).

I imagine that seal is a bit freaked out.

Foxes playing on a trampoline

Lori showed me this video the other day of some foxes playing on a trampoline. One of them obviously likes the bounciness!

BioShock 2 looks… AWESOME!

I played BioShock and was completely enthralled with the entire game… the playability, the graphics, the interface, and most dramatically, the atmosphere. The creepy, art-deco look and echoing underwater sound was so immersive that the already-engaging storyline was transformed into what was, if you’ll pardon the cliché, an experience.

The trailer for BioShock 2 (which I have already pre-ordered) looks like the game will perfectly continue the legacy of it’s predecessor.

Zero miles remaining

I drove to work this morning with my car running mostly on fumes. I think my “miles you can drive before you have to call your wife to come bring gas because you’re stranded like an ass on the side of the highway” were around nine when I stopped to put two gallons of gas into my tank… plenty to get me home to the gas station where I could get a huge discount (and pay only $1.29 per gallon).

After work, I hopped back in my car, expecting my “miles left” estimate to be somewhere around fifty but, to my surprise, it was at nine.


Didn’t I add two gallons this morning… about a mile from the office? I started to doubt that the morning’s brief fuel pump stop had actually occurred, but then realized that yes… yes, it had. The fuel gauge needle looked suspiciously higher than it would if the “nine” was justified.

So I started to drive to the gas station near my home (about thirty miles away), secure (somewhat) in the knowledge that I had put enough gas in the car to get me home. To my amusement, the mileage estimator counted down dutifully from nine… to zero… while I was driving. Sadly, it didn’t go negative.

So here’s a chronological series of photographic evidence, proving beyond doubt that my car, having sat in the cold, office parking lot for eight hours, had somehow found the time to partake in some form of computer-system-altering chemicals of a dubious nature.

First, the early warning sign when I started the car.

Fuel Level Low - Oh no!

My car, through its obviously distorted view of reality, estimates that I can go zero miles before running out of gas. Note the odometer reads 75585.

Down to zero... but I'm still moving!

When I got to the gas station… five miles later… the estimate still read zero. It was actually at zero for longer than five miles, but I didn’t want to take a picture of my dashboard while driving sevent… umm… within the legal speed limit down the highway.

Still zero... five miles later

After the fill-up, the estimate seemed to be more in line with reality. Hooray!

Ah! That's better!

Let’s not speak of the lamb.

Oh, for the love of bacon!

How the heck do I sign up for this job!?

We taste-tested pounds of bacon from the grocery store to find the sizzling winners.

The folks on Rachael Ray’s website have got it made!

Every Day with Rachael Ray: Big Bite Taste Test - Bacon

The winners?

  • Best Oddball: Mountain Products Smokehouse Country Sliced Chipotle
  • Best Turkey: Oscar Mayer Turkey Bacon
  • Best Thick-cut: Jimmy Dean Thick Slice Premium Bacon
  • Best Sweet: Beeler’s Uncured Apple-Cinnamon Bacon
  • Best Original: Ozark Trails Hickory Smoked and Peppered Bacon

I’m a big fan of thick-cut bacon, but I’d be more than willing to try the others, though turkey bacon holds a lesser appeal. It’s not real bacon. As we all know, real bacon comes from magical pigs.

Hint: All pigs are magical.