Thursday, January 31, 2008

AWFUL news in Chesapeake

Radley Balko is covering awful news going down in Chesapeake, Virginia. I hope justice prevails in the end, but this is going to require all kinds of work.

Facebook's favorite books and SAT scores

So this guy came up with a graphical representation linking what people list in the "favorite books" field on Facebook with average SAT scores of the schools those profiles represent.

This is interesting by itself, but the comments around the blogs are quite entertaining as well.

Recurring themes among the comments include pointing out that it's interesting that the "African-American" literature is at the bottom, as well as The Holy Bible. The Holy Bible is even below the Bible, but both those fall below "I don't read." The dude who created the chart amusingly categorized Lolita under "Erotica," which infuriated some people. Also, lots of the comments center around how Ayn Rand and Objectivism has penetrated college campuses, which is probably the only sphere of influence where Objectivism exists, at the point where rebellious college kids pick up on Rand's ideas, before they outgrow her kooky pseudo-philosophy.

Take a look. This is fascinating stuff.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Welch on McCain

This short little comment made me howl with laughter, and I must say, describes my thoughts exactly.

The Democratic Republican | January 25, 2008, 12:14am | #

Welch's hatred of McCain is awe-inspiring and, I must admit, has single-handedly prevented me from getting suckered into voting for the man.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Disdain for The Tipping Point

I never realized there was such disdain for Gladwell's hypothesis in The Tipping Point. When I read it, the concept was fascinating enough, and didn't set off any skeptical alarms for me. Of course, Gladwell writes well, in a conversational tone that exudes authority, so I'm guessing most people reading it would not immediately take such issue with it. I found The Tipping Point to be a good read, but both his books at times seemed more like a collection of cool facts than and idea to bring about earth-shattering change.

Gladwell just started blogging again after a long hiatus. He's been working on a new book, and even if some academics take issue with his work, his books are undeniably both entertaining and thought-provoking. I wouldn't reread the book with a critical eye, but I plan on watching this debate bubbling to the surface. The original subject matter is so fascinating that a debate about it is sure to be just as enthralling.

On a related note, Science Friday last week covered Milgram's famous experiment, mostly debunking it, but also touching on why people psychologically want to believe in the "six degrees of separation."

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Healing powers?

My letter to the editor was published in the Cavalier Daily, but it's currently unavailable online. It looks like no letters to the editor are being published online right now, but here I'll present to you my submission. They didn't edit anything, aside from adding parenthetical context. Also, note that the editors themselves choose the titles for the letters. The one they chose for this was, as you may have guessed, "Healing powers?" This was in the edition on January 12, 2008.

Laura Hoffman's article on a University study of magnet therapy serves as an embarrassment to the University community and the good, evidence-based science being practiced here. The evidence for the efficacy of magnet therapy is at best, inconsistent, and at worst, downright lacking. The token skeptical sentence in her article addressed not the actual efficacy of this pseudoscience, but rather, ineffective products in a legitimate market. No product in the magnet therapy market is legitimate. Scientists don't understand the mechanism for how this therapy works because it doesn't work and there is no such mechanism.

Some say that even if the magnets don't work, the placebo effect is worth it for the remedy, and at least such therapy isn't harmful. The harm comes from people wasting their money on a pseudoscience rather than seeking legitimate, effective, evidence-based treatments for their pain.
If it ever gets posted to their website, I'll link to it on this blog.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

How to create a good playlist for your podcasts

In iTunes, if you listen to a lot of podcasts, or even just a handful of them, you might want a playlist that sorts your podcasts neatly for continuous consumption in chronological order. Here's what I've found is the best way to go about doing this.

Podcast is true
Kind does not contain video
Kind does not contain movie
Play Count is less than 1

Live updating
Then, sort by release date. Just a few days ago, I found out that iTunes had added the option of sorting any list by release date a while ago, when I was looking for it last year. I had settled on having the feeds be checked every hour, and sorting by date added. That always had its problems with podcasts that release multiple items simultaneously, because iTunes's default behavior is to download the most recent first. As far as I can tell, there's no way to download the oldest episode that hasn't been downloaded and then the next to oldest, and so on. From what I've observed though, sorting by release date works like a charm, and even if you download the different podcasts not in chronological order, they will still sort correctly. Even if multiple items were released on the same day, and you download them in the wrong order, it seems that iTunes still understand what episodes were published in what order during the day, even though the column only displays the date, and not the time. Maybe it's actual information about the time from the feed, or maybe it just goes by the order of the items in the feed. Either way, it works beautifully.

This configuration obviously filters out video podcasts, if you have them. For those, I created a separate, similar smart playlist. Just as before, sort by release date.
Podcast is true
Kind does not contain audio
Play Count is less than 1

Live updating
Another cool thing about this is that once the podcast has been played, it disappears from the list, and then you can go to the main list for podcasts and delete them if you want, or keep them, or whatever. As far as these playlists are concerned, a podcast, or any media in iTunes for that matter, only adds 1 to the play count if the file is playing and hits the end. Playing a little bit in the middle of the track and then skipping to the next or previous track doesn't add 1 to the play count.

That makes these playlists great for an iPod on the go, provided you've set your iPod to remember playback position, and I think that's default for podcasts. This way, you can always just go to the start of the playlist and you'll know that you're listening to everything in order. Of course, if you're trying this for video on the iPod, remember to seek out video playlists specifically, or else you'll just get audio. I still haven't found a way to get video playlists to play on the iPhone, but I'm sure Apple will be all over that in a future update.

By the way, the video playlist I've described here seems like a perfect alternative to Miro. If I'm using my playlist, Miro just doesn't appeal to me. Of course, this was something that I made from scratch, and while I believe my playlist is universally appealing for those that would want this kind of thing, Miro is pretty cool too, and does all this from the start. It's also got a ton of other cool features, like Bit Torrent, but for me, the video playlist I've described here is sufficient.

Friday, January 18, 2008

"I have a dream..."

Listen again to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech.

High Dynamic Range (HDR)

High dynamic range photography uses a technique to capture a greater range of color, and makes for deep, rich pictures. Here are some examples, great pictures of Japan, with HDR.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Is Clinton Flick?

Is Reese Witherspoon's character in Election like Hillary Clinton? You decide.

This was found via The Playboy Blog.


It's snowing.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Monday, January 14, 2008

Discrimination against nonsmokers

An employer fires nonsmokers for being disruptive with their lack of smoking. This is awesome!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Old posts to Usenet

I found a good way to rediscover all my old posts to Usenet, back when I was deluded enough to think that posting to Usenet was cool. Man, are those things embarrassing. I was just a stupid kid. That's my excuse. Not only did I spout forth sophomoric nonsense that my present self would directly pounce upon, but the stuff wasn't funny, wasn't readable, and flat out deserves to be deleted. Alas, this is the Internet though, at least now it is, where things live on forever. I am calling attention to it here so that I may totally purge my name and record of that garbage. I would back up pretty much nothing I said in those threads. I mean, most of them were sarcastic or trolling, and I don't even remember my intent with them, so the conversations are irrelevant to any meaningful discussion today. That's assuming of course, that there was ever meaningful discussion on alt.religion.kibology, and that's quite a claim. It really was just a bunch of geeks goofing off. That's totally cool to me, but the nonsense where I was just writing just to write needs to be disregarded. I think this happens to everyone though. Writers examine their earlier works and often find they have evolved, for the better. This happened to Alvin.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Attack on Ron Paul from the New Republic

So The New Republic ran this scathing article about Ron Paul being this terrible racist, from these newsletters attributed to him by one of his ghostwriters back in the early nineties. Maybe this is why he's getting all the support by all those neo-Nazis. Most of the folks at Reason have given their thoughts; the issue has taken over the Hit and Run blog in the past few days.

Penn Says

Penn Jillette started a video project yesterday. He'll rant from one to three minutes, alone, on anything that he likes, with interactivity from people who can post videos and responses and things back to him. He'll provide the "nut point of view," covering atheism, libertarianism, and skepticism.

I had read that he was doing something this month, but I figured it would be a resurrection of sorts of Penn Radio. This is an entirely different thing.

I'm a bit disappointed. This doesn't occupy the same sphere as radio, or podcasting in general. Not only is there much more content there, in an hour daily show, as compared to a few minutes per day of raw video, but these short daily videos aren't substitutes for being able to queue up a podcast when on the go, injecting a great hour of conversation into your life. Visually, there's nothing there other than looking into Penn's face, and that's not where the appeal comes from. It comes from his ideas, and an hour radio show gave that. Regarding interactivity, Penn Radio had that too, if you were in the right cities. Here, I suppose it's a step up since anyone with a broadband connection to the Internet can participate in an equal way.

Maybe this will grow on me. After all, it's Penn!

Could this be symptomatic of the greater changes in the media landscape today? Entertainment is becoming shorter and shorter. People used to listen to the radio. Now they watch short clips on YouTube. This is different though. The demand for Penn Radio hadn't decreased when it ended. I digress. Check it out. What do you think of it?

Monday, January 7, 2008

China's growth not hugely dependent on exports

China's exports to GDP ratio is not what it would seem from all the protectionist hysteria.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Bad news regarding drug policy

Government officials have caused an increase in drug overdoses.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

More evidence that the mainstream media distorts the truth

As if you didn't already know that most of the garbage fed to you by your 24-hour news networks is distorted if not outright false, here's more evidence that they distort the polls.
It's Facebook's "Election Pulse," tracking how many supporters there are on Facebook. It's a good test to see who would support whatever politician, those concerned and politically involved enough to post their opinion to Facebook. Granted, this is primarily the demographics of college students, but I wonder if preferences can change that much among demographics.