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04/01/07

  11:37:07 am, by Nimble   , 571 words  
Categories: Reviews, Books, Religion, Science

The Counter-Creationism Handbook : Mark Isaak

Link: http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/0520249267?ie=UTF8&tag=thecerealkill-20&linkCode=as2&camp=15121&creative=330641&creativeASIN=0520249267

I was moved to pick this up when I saw a book-signing in the front of the bookstore I was walking into, and got close enough to realize they were peddling mystical garbage. I ended up in the science section just to shake off the willies from such close contact :)

This is a book by Mark Isaak, the editor of TalkOrigins' "An Index To Creationist Claims".

In fact, the book is essentially a very slightly pared-down list of the claims and their rebuttals in book form, though with a few more images. When you have it laid all out in paper format, it's a substantial amount of material. It can be used as a reference for specific claims, it's true, but you can do that on the web site. I enjoyed it most just reading it from cover to cover. Creationist claims are pretty colourful, so they and their rebuttals don't get dry all that quickly :)

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03/22/07

  07:05:02 pm, by Nimble   , 626 words  
Categories: Reviews, Games

Bad Day LA : American McGee

It was a game that looked mighty silly on the shelf, and amazingly cheap (I picked up my copy for $15 at Electronics Boutique). Given previous American McGee Presents releases like Alice (they're making a movie out of that!? Holy crokinole!) and Scrapland, I knew that it might not be an Age Of Empires or Half-Life, but expected that it might be fairly well-written and pretty darned quirky.

I have not been disappointed :)

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03/18/07

  06:00:28 am, by Nimble   , 2012 words  
Categories: Reviews, Books, Science

An Introduction to Genetic Engineering : Desmond S. T. Nicholl

Link: http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/0521004713?ie=UTF8&tag=thecerealkill-20&linkCode=as2&camp=15121&creative=330641&creativeASIN=0521004713

This was a pretty interesting book. Note, though, that it is in no way an introduction to biology at all. As a matter of fact, if you don't have at least the highest level of high school biology or equivalent hobbyist reading under your belt, you might as well skip to the short discussion chapter right near the end of the book :)

The most surprising feature of the book is that it's a surprisingly practical book. If you wanted to clone a fragment of DNA, or sequence it, or determine which bacteria took up the segment of DNA that you wanted them to, there's enough practical information in here to do it. However, lest you think this be some cookbook of doom for armchair geneticists, it's pretty unglamorous hard work to do such things, including very strict matters of cleanliness (if you're trying to amplify DNA, for example, you can imagine how anything containing DNA getting in contact with your work could prove to be a problem), hours of chilling, heating up, growing, mixing just the right dilutions of enzymes to chop things up into the right pieces, running gels, working with radioactive phosphorous (just for marking things! this isn't even about creating radioactive creatures!)...

...I'm not saying that it's not nifty, just that I'm glad I'm not doing it.

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02/19/07

  07:26:29 pm, by Nimble   , 164 words  
Categories: Thoughts, Common Sense, People, Politics

More McCain Tiremarks

What the hell happened to McCain? He has pulled such a hard 180° that the undercarriage has scattered bits for miles.

Now's he on the attack against Roe versus Wade?!

SPARTANBURG, S.C. - Republican presidential candidate John McCain, looking to improve his standing with the party’s conservative voters, said Sunday the court decision that legalized abortion should be overturned.

“I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned,” the Arizona senator told about 800 people in South Carolina, one of the early voting states.

You, sir, are a charlatan, and I'm ashamed for ever having respected you. Seriously.

McCain is trying to build support among conservatives after a recent rebuke from Christian leader James Dobson, who said he wouldn’t back McCain’s presidential bid. Conservatives question McCain’s opposition to a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. He opposes same-sex marriage, but says it should be regulated by the states.

Oh yes, Dobson. Belly up to that tit, why don't you?

  07:02:34 pm, by Nimble   , 307 words  
Categories: Distractions, Thoughts, Ethics

Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Link: http://www.canadianmuseumforhumanrights.com

Of all the strange places to find support of the future Canadian Museum for Human Rights, I must say I wasn't expecting to see that at one of our favourite odd haunts, Princess Auto, a nifty and very miscellaneous tools and surplus (all kinds of surplus, from industrial fans to glowing antennas to thumbprint scanners) store.

They are really supportive of this. From a news item earlier this month:

“The reason I so strongly believe in this museum is that I believe in its power to transform,” said Bob Tallman, owner and CEO of Princess Auto. “Our team members will be sporting pins that say, ‘Imagine a world without hate,’ because we all believe this museum, with its innovative student program, its compelling journey of hope and its universal reach, is a vehicle by which we can imagine what is now unimaginable."

Tallman and his wife Cathy earlier donated $1 million to the museum.

It will be located in Winnipeg, Manitoba in the apparently very nice area known as The Forks.

It's intriguing to me that in addition to addressing racism, sexism and discrimination, bullying is being added onto the focus. There's been quite a public awareness campaign on bullying of late, but I hadn't thought that it would be added to the purvey of a human rights museum.

I wonder if it will focus on torture, too. That would be a highly appropriate finger to wag these days.

I hope the messages will be positive as well (for empathy, multiculturalism, etc.). Going to the genocide memorial in Kigali... it was a very impressive center, serene and sedate, and a stark reminder not just of what happened in Rwanda, but in Cambodia, Germany, and elsewhere.

I'll probably donate, actually. Human rights are a concern of mine, and this is certainly a much higher grade than a bumper sticker.

  06:23:58 pm, by Nimble   , 387 words  
Categories: Reviews, Movies

Ghost Rider

There's always a risk to going to a movie before good, accessible reviews come out. Not Rotten Tomatoes reviews, though; there are few people I would disagree with more than your average newspaper movie reviewer. It was a nice long weekend, though, and comic book movies have been relatively kind to us, overall, though Daredevil and Elektra nearly scarred us for life.

After a semi-cheesy introduction to the legend, the movie starts by following a father and son carnival motorcycle team through to the son's love interest and plans to elope, news of his father's terminal illness and the son's deal with the devil that turned out to be rather less in his own favour as it should.

The Ghost Rider is the devil's bounty hunter, and the devil informs the young Johnny Blaze to expect him to come to collect on the bargain at some point.

Through some horrible aging process over the years, the son grows up to look like Nicholas Cage (I think they should have found someone more like him for the younger years, really *laugh*), still doing stunts, getting more and more daring and elaborate in the stunts, never really sure whether it's his skill... or the bargain.

When the devil's children come loose in the world, the devil comes to collect.

I enjoyed Ghost Rider more than I objectively ought to have enjoyed it, since there were a number of things that were silly in retrospect, but likewise my wife and in-laws really enjoyed it as well. Maybe Nicholas Cage really is that charming; we often enjoy him in movies. Maybe it's that the aftermath of the first night of transformation was so spectacular, or that the effects were great (besides some definite unevenness in the animation of the skull, they were pretty good). Maybe it was all the little touches (blowing out the neon on the "GARAGE" symbol... leaving "RAGE" was cute, or what Johnny Blaze does when surrounded by cops). Maybe giving the devil some comeuppance is fun.

There were definitely some weak points. The relationship with Roxanne was unevenly done, some of the baddie were excessively flat and the explanation for the continued curse at the end was weak.

Still, all in all, a fun romp and I'm at a loss to explain why.

Recommended for semi-mindless fun.

02/15/07

  07:14:52 pm, by Nimble   , 314 words  
Categories: Reviews, Movies

Pan's Labyrinth

An intriguing movie that's pretty hard to categorize. The movie winds its way through the Franco-led fascist period in Spain's history, following a mother late in her pregnancy and her daughter off to see the captain that the mother is now wed to in the revolutionist-bordered frontier. Through this a fantasy story is woven around the girl protagonist, which you could clearly categorize as hallucination or overactive imagination if you wanted to, but which seems to leave more than a zero trace in the "real world" story.

The movie is done entirely in Spanish, and is subtitled, which I was not expecting. It's rated 14A for good reason: there is some very personal violence in it.

The fantasy component is utterly amazing in how seamless its transition with the real world is. Things are still muddy, going down dark stairwells is dark and rainy, pressing a chalk outline rumbles open a small stone door, and getting at the stomach contents of a giant frog is suitably disgusting. The understated and very well-done special effects extend to the best portrayal of patching up a cut face and then using liquor for antiseptic I think I've ever seen.

The interwoven stories are each interesting in their own right. Things go from okay-bad to worse in each, though hope seems tantalizingly close. The ending is either very sad or quite happy, depending on which take on reality you've been ascribing to the movie elements all along.

The only real trouble I had with the movie was the fantasy feast scene. I don't get the motivation for eating in the first place. If they'd starved her a lot, maybe I'd understand.

Not much in the way of easter eggs, but at some point in the credits, if I managed this bit of translation right, the fairies that got chomped were named 'Cheech' and 'Chong' :)

A very good movie.

02/07/07

  10:49:09 pm, by Nimble   , 363 words  
Categories: Thoughts, Internet, Spamming

Spam Suicide

While looking into new users who had joined my forum, I would find plenty that had joined up with many blogs over the past little while. Others were nowhere else to be found on the web, but when I went looking for the domain name in question, I got a pleasant surprise. I discovered the Spam Suicide site.

Right on the very front page, there is a warning in front of the link to the forums on Spam Suicide:

Warning! DO NOT register on the forum unless you are one of those nasty automated spambots who do nothing but annoy legitimate forum users and make forum administrators' lives a complete nightmare.

SPAM ONLY > > > > >forum< < < < < SPAM ONLY

If you are a real person please DO NOT join the Spamsuicide forum

Spambots cannot resist a forum. In particular, they cannot resist trying to automatically join a forum run by the popular PHPBB2 (PHP Bulletin Board 2).

(I guess, sadly, that MWForum is on the list that bots will join - ah well, I won't move to manual approval unless I start getting inundated)

The reason why Spamsuicide is such a nifty idea is that automatic registrations have to be done by clicking through a link that is sent out by the forum. This means that there has to be at least a real e-mail address of some sort used to collect the registration message and 'click' the verification link contained in it.

The registered forum account will then typically lie fallow for a short time before spam messages start getting posted through it.

With a great bloody big message up front saying "Don't join!", only spambots and the very occasional dum-dum will create accounts on Spamsuicide. So if you see an e-mail address or an entire domain listed on Spamsuicide, then you can rest 99% assured that if you have a user join and it has one of those addresses as its e-mail address, that you can delete that user without hesitation.

(The 1% caveat is that the web site author solicits spammer addresses from others, and there's a possibility someone innocent might get trapped in there)

Nice work :)

  10:32:23 pm, by Nimble   , 152 words  
Categories: Thoughts, People, Religion

Haggard Now "Completely Heterosexual"

Oh, this is rich... Haggard's been cured...?

"He is completely heterosexual," Ralph said. "That is something he discovered. It was the acting-out situations where things took place. It wasn't a constant thing."

Fortunately, they do also address the issue of infidelity, which I'm glad they're taking as not being overshadowed by the gay factor:

Ralph said the board spoke with people close to Haggard while investigating his claim that his only extramarital sexual contact happened with Mike Jones. The board found no evidence to the contrary.

I'm still savouring the schadenfreude after him doing the sermons he did with a straight face. (Someone also provided a transcript of Dawkins meeting Haggard here... the aftermath was particularly odd)

Is it a tendency for the zealous to lose a spring and come completely unwound like this? It is pragmatic that they are considering a move elsewhere. In what capacity, I guess we will see.

02/06/07

  12:17:26 am, by Nimble   , 235 words  
Categories: Announcements [A], Thoughts, People

Incident On Calgary LRT This Morning

At around 9:55 (just before 10:00 am) on February 5, 2007 (this morning), an incident took place on the Westbound City Centre LRT in Calgary on the left hand side of the front part of the last car in the train, from just before the 1st Street station until the 4th Street station.

The perpetrator, a foul-mouthed young woman with very short hair, attacked a young long-haired woman on the LRT who dared speak up about her. I did not get to witness the start of the incident, but based on where people were sitting, the short-haired young woman got out of her seat to attack the other woman, also threatening a beating if she were to leave the train.

The short-haired woman had blood on the bridge of her nose; it is likely that the blood was not hers. The long-haired woman who was attacked had her glasses broken. Other passengers endeavoured to break up the fight, but the damage was already done.

I managed to get an unfortunately blurry picture of the perpetrator and the friend that she was travelling with, who both left the train at the 4th Street station:

Perpetrator/Friend

If you have any information, such as recognizing the person involved (based on her over-reaction, this is unlikely to be her first attack on someone else), please provide the information in comments; I will endeavour to pass them along if I am contacted in this case.

02/05/07

  11:53:37 pm, by Nimble   , 603 words  
Categories: Thoughts, Internet, Spamming

Yet Another Phishing Scam

More bullshit designed to bilk people out of their money:

Dear Western Union Customer,

We regret to inform you that your account will be suspended due to concerns we have for the safety and integrity of the Western Union community.

Per the User Agreement, Section 9, we may immediately issue a warning, temporarily suspend, indefinitely suspend or terminate your membership and refuse to provide our services to you if we believe that your actions may cause financial loss or legal liability for you, our users or us. We may also take these actions if we are unable to verify or authenticate any information you provide to us.

...

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02/03/07

  02:03:58 pm, by Nimble   , 223 words  
Categories: Distractions, Thoughts, Common Sense, Science

TAM 5

They just finished the fifth Amazing Meeting put together by the James Randi Educational Foundation last month, and it sounded like a real blockbuster, with Adam and Tory from MythBusters, Matt and Trey from South Park and Julia Sweeney on the celebrity side, and nifty skeptic folks like Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy and Robert Lancaster of Stop Sylvia Browne fame.

Robert Lancaster had a particularly interesting time there, as his site got an explosion of coverage and interest (including a possible interview on Fox?) from a New York Times article while he was at TAM 5. In trying to keep up with the onslaught, he ran up quite a internet café bill, with which people helped him out. Interviews and a call from James Randi rounded out the few surreal days.

Phil also reported from TAM5.

(He also has a bit of a retrospective with Penn and Teller with a video wherein his amazing ability to stand still (is this common to all astronomers?) is exhibited for all to see, interposed with some good skepticism and a lot of swearing by non-Phil people :) )

I think I might keep an eye open for TAM6. Dare we indulge our skeptical nerdy side with something like this? :)

EDITED: The original Stop Sylvia Browne site's domain was scooped, so I've repointed it at its new home.

01/28/07

  03:14:02 pm, by Nimble   , 30 words  
Categories: Distractions, People

Scott Loses A Lot Of Bets

Someone did us the honour of posting the video of our dear coworker and sometime bet-loser doing his strangely-appropriate imitation of William Hung's "She Bangs".

Scott, you're a good sport :)

  03:30:37 am, by Nimble   , 758 words  
Categories: Thoughts, Politics, Religion

Musings On The Far-Right-Wing/Fundamentalist Connection

A thought struck me when deep in good conversation with a friend of mine the other day that the seemingly strong association between right wing philosophy and fundamentalist Christianity is one of a particular match-up with philosophy.

This is partly conjecture on my part, but I'm willing to predict that there's a kernel of truth...

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01/23/07

  07:29:39 pm, by Nimble   , 171 words  
Categories: Thoughts, Science

Sloan Digital Sky Survey Queries?

I had no idea that the data in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey was open to the public, but it is, and you can put your astronomy and database smarts together to help them find things, as well.

Because of the way their program has been put together, it's great at finding many kinds of objects, but sometimes does not recognize larger objects properly. So they are asking for help in finding HII regions, regions filled with ionized hydrogen.

There's a tutorial on how to put together database queries for the data, here's the SQL query tool, and the schema browser lets you look at the table structure, which has tables for ROSAT information, measured spectra, etc.

There's also a sky navigation tool that you can explore the sky with, and where you can input some of the coordinates from your queries to try a visual identification.

I'm impressed with the accessibility of the tools.

If my brain were less addled, I could certainly help them out in their HII quest :)

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