dionysus1999: (tick)
There and Back Again is nominally a science fiction novel by Pat Murphy, and her imaginary friend Max Merriwell.  What it really is: a retelling of the Hobbit in space.   It's silly and fun, almost seems like an experiment by the author, and turned out so well she decided to have it published.  While Pat got some of the oddity of traveling near the speed of light right, there is also much that is scientifically improbable/impossible.  

However, if you ever were irritated that there are no female characters in the Hobbit, this does fix that, since the majority of the characters are clones of one woman.   Now a more thorough exploration of the idea of a community of clones and the ramifications of being a twin to everyone around you would have been more interesting from a speculative fiction angle.  Ms. Murphy barely scratches the surface here.  And one could also set a whole novel on the planet that stands in for Lake Town, the inhabitants having descended from a mixed group that included clone members.

While entertaining, unless you're a super fan of the Hobbit and want to read everything even remotely related to it there's not enough here for me to recommend it, other than as a pleasant diversion.   On the other hand, perhaps there is value here I'm dismissing, since I've read plenty of novels which where poorly done rewrites of other novels.  This has the charm of the Hobbit and is well written.
dionysus1999: (tick)
PZ Myers is a cantankerous biologist who has become famous for defending atheism, debating various religious figures and regularly doling out criticism on his blog Pharyngula.    Last I was reading the publishers of a conservative (and free) rag at his university were accusing him of stealing their papers, because some twit thought he smelled something sciency.  Stealing student papers isn't PZ's style, he uses his erudition to criticize the religious to (hopefully) make them think.   Seems like it's conservatives, not wacky liberal biology professors who engage in this type of censorship.

The Happy Atheist is a series of short chapters in which PZ discusses some aspect of religion in regards to atheism.   Parts are scathingly hilarious, others are merely chuckle worthy.    He takes his atheist viewpoint and skewers many sacred cows.  I recommend this book for anyone who is an atheist or anyone who is curious on how atheists view all the religious craziness surrounding them.    PZ does not pull any punches, so if you're easily offended I might recommend skipping this one.   Like him, I don't find coarse language as offensive as the stupidity and justifications that the religious use for their abominable behavior.

The religious are not the only group in PZ's cross-hairs.  He also takes on wishy washy apologists and other scientists who make asses of themselves.   Did you know one scientist thinks God exists in the quantum realm?  Poor Yahweh, he's gone from making the universe to existing in Planck level spaces.   
dionysus1999: (tick)
Went to Penguicon again this year.    Was nice to see some of the same people we see most years in additional to lots of new people.  There was a record amount of participants, apparently they had exceeded all time attendance by Friday afternoon.   I can report lots of attractive women, some in amazing costumes.  

This got really long )We're considering exploring other Midwestern cons so we have a home base to explore other areas.  Madison and Minnepolis both have interesting conventions, might have to check them out next year.   There needs to be a good fan run con in Florida in February, that would be sweet.

Really?

Apr. 1st, 2014 11:10 am
dionysus1999: (tick)
I find it sadly amusing so many people are fired up about a tweet (TWEET, for fuck's sake) Stephen Colbert posted.

If we could take all this outrage at Stephen and redirect it at a real asswipe, say someone who's first name rhymes with flush, then it might do some good.   Colbert has consistently "punched up" and I think based on years of behavior in which he mocks conservative commentators we can give him the benefit of a doubt.

Or we can all be ANGRY over a TWEET.  Your choice.
dionysus1999: (tick)
I was looking up the Carnotaurus based on a TV show I was watching and noted it has characteristics that make it a good example of the limits of scientific knowledge.

Carnotaurus knowledge is based on one specimen found in Argentina.  And check this out, it was inside a hematite concretion.  I didn't know that hematite, a form of iron ore, could be formed by sedimentation.  But it happens around springs and other areas with suspended minerals.  And thanks to the relatively unique preservation of Carnotaurus we also know the texture of its skin!

I couldn't explain how a dinosaur fossil was preserved in iron ore if I didn't know that iron ore can be formed by sedimentation.   Loons probably use this as an example that paleontologists don't know what they are talking about.

Scientists can also make educated guesses on basic morphology of related species, which is the case with Carnotaurus.  This does not rule out revisions based on new fossil evidence.  The more specimens we have of this critter the more accurate our educated guesses become.

There's nothing better than primary evidence, like bones.  Geological stratification is a complex topic,  but while the rocks can be confusing, they don't lie.   Opponents of evolution have only to find fossils in the "wrong" strata to disprove evolution.  Unfortunately for those opponents, over 200 years of paleontology has yet to find this type of inconsistency.

Science is structured to be self-correcting.   Yesterday's Lysenkoism is today's Evopsych and tomorrow's Psychohistory.    Without the controls of peer review and criticism we get stuck with propaganda.

Lysenkoism wasn't science, it was ideology.   Any evidence that refuted Lysenkoism was suppressed.  Eventually the science of genetics was allowed to be practiced in Russia again, because otherwise they'd have continued to fall behind the rest of the world.

Similarly, evolutionary psychology is a current darling among some who enjoy the comfort of its' 1950's version of reality it values above all others.   Evolutionary psychology is a valid subject of study, but in my mind seems to fall in the same field that anthropologists study.

Anthropologists study current and past human civilizations by either direct observation or digging.  Evolutionary psychologists poll college students.  Which of these forms of data would you suspect has more validity?

Evopsychs like twin studies, even though we know much of the twin study data is faulty.  Evopsychs love gender differences, but their research seems to get lost in the static of cultural relativity.  They spend time trying to show that rape is a valid reproductive strategy without considering the ramifications of their research.

Evopsych folks attempt to explain gender and racial differences through evolution.  They then get branded as misanthropes and racists.  Why are we picking on them?  Evidence, or the lack thereof, is the main problem, along with models of behavior.  One of the tasks of a researcher is to illustrate you've ruled out other hypotheses that have better fit for your subject.

So when you start with a hypothesis that men make more money than women because they are more evolutionarily fit, you better do your homework.  By which I mean sifting through the mountains of data collected by anthropologists over centuries.   I'm still not convinced much of what evopsych tells us is inherited isn't just cultural bias.  In fact, it's obvious to many that most evopysch research starts with a cherished opinion and the researcher merely cherry picks evidence to support discredited opinions on the poor, women and minorities.  Social dogma, similar to the religious dogma we see with creationists.

I don't see any evopsych people working closely with primatologists, which to me seems an obvious place to start to tease out cultural versus inherited characteristics.  If I was a department chair I'd challenge the evolutionary psychologists to go back to first principles.  You can't bake a cake without flour.  You can't call youself a scientist when the evidence you claim supports your theories is suspect.   And like that sad lump of material that people try to pass off as gluten free cake*, evopsych isn't well respected.  Something's missing, and all the college student polls in the world aren't going to correct it.

I'll even throw a "bone" to the evopsych folks.  Take a good look at the research that says that women were the primary cave painters.   You've got primary evidence in the form of artist hand impressions.  Just don't go out beyond what your data suggests.   This still doesn't explain gender pay differences, for instance.

* I've had some decent gluten free desserts, just don't call it cake. :)
dionysus1999: (tick)
Taking away options is un-American.   Could the soft drink companies sue the university for unfair practices?   First cigarettes, now our sugary pop.   What's next?   Per Penn State we already have forced exercise.  This stuff ain't funny anymore.

http://www.uofmhealth.org/news/archive/201310/new-healthy-beverage-initiative-all-umhs-locations
dionysus1999: (tick)
S picked up Existence by David Brin from our local library for me.   There's at least a book's worth of future prediction and another of examination of the "where's the aliens" Drake equation in this 550 page monster.   The plot starts with an astronaut finding an alien artifact and moves on to explore near future Earth and it's reaction to the discovery that we are not alone.

Packed with exposition, this book will appeal to the classic scifi reader, less so for anyone who finds exhaustive analysis tiring.   I found Brin's solution to avoiding cultural stagnation interesting. 
dionysus1999: (tick)
In regard to this.

The asshole's name is Theodore Beale, and he's a toxic shithead.   I'm making a exception to my pacifism if I ever meet him.   If you happen to meet him, please kick him in the balls, hard as you can. 
dionysus1999: (Default)

The mighty queen surveys the kingdom of the three season's room.

dionysus1999: (tick)
Now that we've created extreme longevity in mice and created all kinds of great meds to cure their cancers we can download into one and complete the process.   Ok, maybe not, but it's a fascinating time to be alive.   I think I'd want a swarm of rats that could duplicate my mind as a group.   Rat pack to the rescue!
dionysus1999: (tick)
Author [livejournal.com profile] jaylakerecently mentioned on his LJ having a friend being upset with him for not being available.  Jay's been in the middle of the modern horror story we call cancer treatment now for many years, beating the odds, though he's running out of treatment options. Listening to a patient's caregiver berate her for something rather trivial reminds me that we need to be kinder to those of us who are ill.  Stress does no good for anyone, even more so for the loved ones who are healing or at the least surviving.  Cut those less fortunate some slack, they are doing the best they can under the circumstances.
dionysus1999: (tick)
Dear white Chrysler Army vet:

Keep driving like that, you'll kill yourself sooner than later.  The rest of us would appreciate it if you'd just drink a bunch of booze and take some pills rather than take us with you, fuck ass.
dionysus1999: (zombiedepp)
Police officers need better screening and training.  Too many people are dying at their hands.   When most people have cop horror stories it's time for something to change.
dionysus1999: (tick)
I am planning a GURPS campaign set in David Brin's Uplift universe.  System is simple, as advertised, and books are well indexed.  I generated a random character that will be one of the villians already.  He's making a guess appearance from Snowcrash, but fits in since he's a water kinda guy.
dionysus1999: (tick)
Decided to track the books I read to 2013 and post brief reviews.  What I finished in January.

Across Realtime is actually a two book omnibus that are loosely bound together by one character who by the second book is very very old.   First book, the Peace War is set in the near future in which a device is created that can trap a section of the world into a "bobble", a silvery sphere which is impenetrable. One faction of humanity controls the technology, basically enforcing peace by exile into one of those bobbles.   Turns out the bad guys didn't know important things about the bobbles.   Marooned in Realtime is set in the far future, though Vinge pulls one character from the first book and another from the same universe who showed up in a prior story.   If you like Vinge you will enjoy these novels.

Journey to the Center of the Earth, which I listened to on audiobook was enjoyable, though wince-worthy for some of the science that Jules Verne extrapolated on.   Anyone with a geology background will find it annoying, and the main character is a somewhat unsympathetic coward.   The lack of female characters and the chauvinism and racism were annoying, but the story was amusing from a history of science fiction perspective.  If Edwardian adventure stories are your thing, though, it will be right up your alley.   If the idea of characters floating on a petrified wood raft over a lake of lava seems a bit over the top you might want to skip this one.

In an attempt to broaden the authorship of the novels I read I picked up 100,000 Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. Dark fantasy is not my favorite genre, but N.K. was able to pull me in anyway with her interesting main character, a "biracial" woman who is summoned by the King to be a possible heir to the throne.   Whenever an author personifies gods they take the risk of a reader not being able to suspend disbelief, like making the gods just super-powered humans.  She does a good job of avoiding those pitfalls, though the one I think she does fall into is the romance angle.  If you're looking for a novel were the main protagonist is not a typical WASP and don't mind some dark fantasy and romantic elements you might like this book.
dionysus1999: (zombiedepp)
Just finished reading an interesting analysis of the Coso Artifact.   I'd heard of this before, a spark plug supposedly found inside a geode.   Turns out it wasn't a geode, though the original artifact has disappeared we still have x-rays of it.   It was identified by spark plug collectors as a 1920's Champion spark plug.

Why anyone would expect a spark plug  from an ancient culture to look the same as modern ones, or that they would even need spark plugs in their ancient vehicles is another mystery.  Typically archeologists would search the same area for other evidence, like ancient steering wheels.  Must be a real let down to find out your ancient spark plug isn't that ancient.

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