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02/18/09

  01:00:30 am, by Nimble   , 1111 words  
Categories: Thoughts, Common Sense, Science

Theory and Evidence

The phrase "it's only a theory" is bandied about in some circles these days, but it's inappropriate when it comes to talking about a scientific capital-T Theory, in particular one whose sesquicentennial takes place this year.

Cries of "prove it" and claims of "never been proven" seem to miss what is at the heart of the matter: evidence, not "proof". I hope that a simplistic analogy might shed some light for those who wonder why we constantly need to make scientific discoveries and why the evidence can approach certainty but never attain it.

With the prevalence of legal dramas on screen, despite the liberties they take with techniques and technology, the analogy with evidence in a court case is instructive:

Full story »

02/09/09

  01:07:26 am, by Nimble   , 590 words  
Categories: Common Sense, Science

Christopher Booker - Welcome to Twit Club

In this, the 200th anniversary year of the birth of Charles Darwin, some people feel obliged to weigh in on the subjects of Darwin, or evolution, or what have you, and show themselves to be right twits in the process.

Take a look at Christopher Booker's article for the Spectator (or even his more recent article for the Telegraph).

I don't know what the phenomenon is... people who are not creationists on the face of it but who seem enthralled by thoughts of conspiracy; enjoy feelings of superiority as they imagine scientists bumbling around like Clouseau?

Let's see what Mr. Booker has in store for us:

Full story »

02/07/09

  01:31:57 am, by Nimble   , 185 words  
Categories: Distractions, Thoughts

Law of Equivalent Toddler Badness

One thing I have noticed about our toddler - your toddler may vary - is that if he is ever up to anything bad - say, for example opening DVD cases and ripping the inserts out of them, and we STOP him - he will proceed onto things of "equivalent badness". For example, he will move on to pulling out shelves, or pulling out glass bakeware, or tipping a TV tray with things on it, spitting his food out on his lap or teetering dangerously on top of something. It takes him quite a while to get out of this pattern: that seems to require either actually getting away with something on his laundry list of toddler evil, a change of scenery or on rare occasions, a feeding.

I don't know how else to phrase the "equivalent badness" aspect other than to say it consists of activities that require the same amount of parent alarm and intervention.

So here's my homegrown "law" - I'd like to know if it applies to the toddlers of other parents:

A toddler thwarted from an activity will shift to another activity of equivalent badness.

01/26/09

  01:05:21 am, by Nimble   , 3000 words  
Categories: Journal, Thoughts, Religion, Science

PZ Myers' Calgary Talk

With the kind babysitting services of mom-in-law, we were able to make our way up to the university in pretty decent time, all the while forcing the TomTom to continually update its trajectory - we're not about to make some annoying merges to save a few putative minutes.

We found a glorious parking spot, but it cost the earth. Unlike City parking, no discount for Sunday here, so we shelled out the money and walked right into the doors of university's ICT building. We found the room in an instant. There were two lists to sign: a petition, and a "more information about the Centre For Inquiry". It would have been nice if the actual wording of the petition was boldly displayed somewhere.

Half an hour before the show, there were about 15 people in seats and a young guy working desperately on a patch to the speaker system. There was an endless loop going on a small TV which looked like it had some interesting snippets from Richard Dawkins and E. O. Wilson, but the volume was turned down, so it was difficult to tell what they were on about.

PZ was up on stage from time to time, looking not particularly menacing, getting the MacBook set up. My wife and I regarded amiably from the third row, whiling away the time whilst wondering what we could name our future other children using capital letters with only straight lines, as turned out to be the case with the first child. I noticed that PZ's e-mail seems to be set up to tell him when there is a comment on his blog... given his blog comment volume, is he crazy?

There was a steady influx of people. We did not suspect the audience would grow to nearly completely full, save the odd seat or two, by the time things got started.


Things started a bit after 2 o'clock.

The president of CFI (Centre for Inquiry) Calgary got up on stage. He was passionate, but just nervous enough that he ended up forgetting to introduce his own self, something he either figured out or was told after he finished speaking.

He's Cliff Erasmus, and he has a son in school in Cochrane, and with the population of literalist Christians in Cochrane, he is understandably worried. The Mitford Middle School, which I ran across in looking up whether there were public school/creationism issues in Alberta, gets 100% funding for their (by their faith statement) literalist Christian program, and that will drop to merely 70% after the pilot is finished.

At that 70% funding, they have to teach the Alberta curriculum, but they get 15% of the course time to teach whatever else they care to, which is where the creationism comes in. He did not mention that creationism is being taught at a grade level where evolution has not yet been encountered, much less taught, but was livid about the funding level of what should have been a private school private program.

One unconfirmed rumour floating around Cochrane is that the program was sponsored or started or somesuch by two Texans belonging to a Baptist Seminary.

Cliff talked about plans to turn CFI Calgary into CFI Alberta with the Calgary branch as merely a head office, and implored people to join.

After pleasantries and passing of the microphone to PZ Myers, we were treated to an interesting and stark yet humorous presentation...

Full story »

01/19/09

  12:33:48 am, by Nimble   , 647 words  
Categories: Announcements [A], Religion, Science

PZ Myers Coming To Calgary

The indomitable and unapologetically controversial Paul (PZ) Myers of the Pharyngula blog is coming to the University of Calgary next Sunday afternoon, January 25th (date confirmed!) in the ICT building (see here for maps of the campus), room 102 as the guest of the Calgary branch of the Centre for Inquiry and the University of Calgary Freethought Association.

The topic for the talk is Evolution vs. Creationism in Public Schools.

Here is the poster for the event.

It might be easy to think that unlike south of the border, creationism is not much of a problem here in public schools. It is certainly easy to think that is the case in our larger cities. Yet just outside of town to either side of Calgary, we have some counterexamples, as in the case of the pilot program in Cochrane's Mitford Middle School. As per a CBC article:

Cochrane's Mitford Middle School will launch a Christian program this fall. Christian beliefs, including instruction on creationism in science class, will be taught to 50 or so elementary aged students as part of a two-year pilot project.

Bill Bell, Mitford's principal, said Christian beliefs will be woven through every subject in the new Christian program. Creationism will be taught in science class, he added. "The first teaching will be from a Christian point of view and then there will be an acknowledgement that there is another theory."

Utter garbage. That's not just Christian, that's literalist Christian. From their Statement of Faith:

The Bible is the inspired, only infallible, authoritative, inerrant Word of God

Whenever you see inerrant in this context, you will often find denial of any conflicting modern knowledge at all costs.

There are apparently similar programs in some schools in Chestermere and the Elk Island, Pembina Hills and Red Deer Public school districts, but how literalist these programs are is a topic for further research.

Provincial testing is marked only on the provincial science program, so no marks will be given for creationist answers, so far as we know, but that's of little comfort.

Now granted, the students would otherwise end up in private Christian schools, but creationism excludes large tracts of Christianity and programs like this send a "you're not a REAL Christian" message.

Additionally, given that creationist materials of various flavours (e.g. Icons of Evolution, Answers in Genesis) often lie about evolutionary theory and what scientists believe, the materials used in these classes should be checked to be free of such deceptions. Much as I dislike creationism, teaching caricatured lies about what science says on top of that is particularly immoral.

One particularly worrisome thing is that evolutionary theory is part of the Biology 20 curriculum here. That's typically grade 11, and it's optional - minimal requirements for a diploma are one of the sciences to a 20 level, and that can be Chemistry or Physics.

The Mitford Middle School is grades 5-8, and covering creationism at a period when there's not a lick of evolution in the normal curriculum. Words fail me.

(Now, the regular curriculum in grade 7 does have mention of plant breeding in Plants for Food and Fibre, and geological time and change in Planet Earth, but that's about it. Biological diversity is covered in grade 9, introducing many concepts like heritability and species that can be used later for evolutionary discussion, but that's grade 9, and it still does not cover evolutionary theory. All I can see that would mix it up for the 'Christian curriculum' is geological time, if they are Young-Earthers of the Earth-is-6,000-to-10,000-years-old variety, which seems likely.)

PZ has popped north of the border on a few occasions. I am not sure whether an Alberta-local perspective is going to be expounded anywhere in this talk, but it sure to be an interesting talk nevertheless.

There is an admission charge to this event: $10 for the general public, $5 for students and free for "Friends of the Centre (CFI)".

01/01/09

  04:22:36 am, by Nimble   , 117 words  
Categories: Journal

Embarrassingly Poor Local New Years' Coverage

It's getting down to about ten minutes to midnight, so we stop our movie and go hunting for some local flavour of celebration on the television with which to count down to midnight.

We looked around, and we found...

...nothing.

Not a thing! City TV was broadcasting footage from Toronto, two hours earlier. CBC just gave us time-shifted The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos... also from Toronto. The stateside stations from the west coast were still quivering in anticipation of the midnight an hour and a tick yet hence.

Flicked all the way up the dial. Nothing.

Was there a reason for this? Were there no cameras pointing at Bright Night New Year's Eve downtown?

What the hell?

12/02/08

  12:02:00 am, by Nimble   , 751 words  
Categories: Thoughts, Religion

Stephen Butterfield Takes the Alpha Course

You may have seen the ads for the Alpha Course floating around your town, perhaps saying "Is There More to Life Than This?", though you might wonder that if the person who climbed the mountain in that picture has that question, you might not need to ask the question for a while.

The ads typically make no mention of this, but it's an "introductory course" in Christianity, with an eye towards evangelizing it more so than, say, historical critical analysis.

Have you ever wondered what would happen if an atheist took the course?

Stephen Butterfield took the Alpha Course in the UK, and blogged the entire experience.

Full story »

10/25/08

  01:58:24 am, by Nimble   , 346 words  
Categories: Religion, Science

AronRa's Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism

For a thorough treatment of the assumptions, presumptions and myths underlying creationism, you can hardly do better than to take in the scruffy-but-erudite AronRa's series on the Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism.

His expositions on transitional fossils, scientific hoaxes popular with creationists and beneficial mutations are top notch. The series is informative even if you are otherwise "in the know" on this topic.

You will also marvel at the pace and how long a sentence he can speak on a single breath. I envy the ability to roll this off the tongue (from #10 in the series):

For example, “Primates” are collectively defined as any gill-less, organic RNA/DNA protein-based, metabolic, metazoic, nucleic, diploid, bilaterally-symmetrical, endothermic, digestive, tryploblast, opisthokont, deuterostome coelemate with a spinal chord and 12 cranial nerves connecting to a limbic system in an enlarged cerebral cortex with a reduced olfactory region inside a jawed-skull with specialized teeth including canines and premolars, forward-oriented fully-enclosed optical orbits, and a single temporal fenestra, -attached to a vertebrate hind-leg dominant tetrapoidal skeleton with a sacral pelvis, clavical, and wrist & ankle bones; and having lungs, tear ducts, body-wide hair follicles, lactal mammaries, opposable thumbs, and keratinized dermis with chitinous nails on all five digits on all four extremities, in addition to an embryonic development in amniotic fluid, leading to a placental birth and highly social lifestyle.

My only complaints: a little too much in the way of Willy Wonka interludes and #13 in the series is of a lower volume than the rest.

Apart from that, highly recommended.

Favourite quote:

Demanding an “ape-man” is actually just as silly as asking to see a mammal-man, or a half-human, half-vertebrate. How about a half dachshund, half dog? It’s the same thing. One may as well insist on seeing a town half way between Los Angeles and California. Because the problem with bridging the gap between humans and apes is that there is no gap because humans ARE apes –definitely and definitively...

...So where is the proof that humans descend from apes? How about the fact that we’re still apes right now!

08/30/08

  03:47:36 am, by Nimble   , 1354 words  
Categories: Thoughts, Religion, Science

Evolution, Alberta and Headdesk Denyse - Part II

The Calgary Herald gave Denyse O'Leary an "in rebuttal" column (entitled "Theory needs a paramedic, not more cheerleaders") to rebut Breakenridge's article.

From what I can gather, Denyse is ostensibly a journalistic defender of Intelligent Design.

Now, you could get the print copy from the Herald, but Denyse has also posted the article on her own blog and it includes the sources she used, which are revealing.

Full story »

08/20/08

  01:38:29 pm, by Nimble   , 341 words  
Categories: Programming

IIS6 to IIS7 Handler Migration

We had one big hiccup moving from IIS 6.0 to the 7.0 version.

In the Web.Config, IIS 7.0 no longer likes to have an httpHandlers section. We had:


<system.web>
  <httpHandlers>
   <remove verb="*" path="*.asmx"/>
   <add verb="*" path="*.asmx" validate="false"
   type="System.Web.Script.Services.ScriptHandlerFactory,
   System.Web.Extensions, Version=1.0.61025.0,
   Culture=neutral,
   PublicKeyToken=31bf3856ad364e35"/>
   <add verb="GET,HEAD" path="ScriptResource.axd"
   type="System.Web.Handlers.ScriptResourceHandler,
   System.Web.Extensions, Version=1.0.61025.0,
   Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=31bf3856ad364e35"
   validate="false"/>
  </httpHandlers>
</system.web>

A very good guide to IIS 7.0 migration issues is located here, and we used that to help guide our transition, though it missed a couple of issues.

We had to put in a <system.webServer> section. We moved the <httpHandlers> code into there, but instead of <httpHandlers>, the section should now be called <handlers>.

One thing that is not mentioned is that your handlers should have names now, so we tried changing things like this:


<system.webServer>
  <handlers>
   <remove name="asmx" verb="*" path="*.asmx" />
   <add name="asmx" verb="*" path="*.asmx" ... />
   <add name="scriptResource" verb="GET,HEAD" ... />
  </handlers>
</system.webServer>

Trying the web server yet again, we ran into another error, "unrecognized attribute 'verb'" on the "remove" line.

Well, it turns out that the remove syntax has changed, such that you only need the name. We had been fooled by the IIS 6.0 similarity between the add and remove syntax and thinking it still applied.

Changing the remove line to just:


   <remove name="asmx" />

...worked just fine.

This did not come up in our searches for "unrecognized attribute "verb", so hopefully, this saves someone else a bit of time.

  12:10:54 am, by Nimble   , 1885 words  
Categories: Thoughts, Religion, Science

Evolution, Alberta and Headdesk Denyse - Part I

Rob Breakenridge wrote this article for the Calgary Herald, entitled "What is it about evolution theory that Albertans don't get?" in response to this Angus Reid poll. On the third page of the poll results, there is a percentage, by region, of the percentage of people surveyed whose views came closest to one of the following statements:

  • Human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years
  • God created human beings in their present form within the last 10,000 years
  • Not sure

Alberta was the embarrassing outlier in this poll, with only 37% of respondents going with the first option (the next lowest was Atlantic Canada with 56%) and 40% going with the second (almost double the 22% of the next highest three regions).

Breakenridge mulls over the problem and, apart from the general pro-evolution point of view, says something that is sure to bring a certain type of folk out of the woodwork:

Furthermore, although Alberta's model of school choice is commendable, is may also be a source of the problem.

Alberta taxpayers should not be subsidizing pseudoscience and religious dogma masquerading as legitimate curriculum.

The government recently announced an increase in per-capita funding to private schools, providing those schools meet a specific set of criteria. That criteria should include a ban on the teaching of creationism and its gussied up offspring, Intelligent Design.

Full story »

08/10/08

  04:20:35 am, by Nimble   , 154 words  
Categories: Thoughts, Common Sense, Religion

Tim McLean's Funeral Unmolested

Tim McLean, the victim in the horrible stabbing/beheading incident on Greyhound, was being targeted by the clan at the odious Westboro Baptist Church of "God Hates Fags" fame as a protest site against Canada in general that the grisly murder was an act of retribution by God.

One of the purported two groups of the church's members attempting entry into Canada was stopped at the border, which was alerted to the group's intentions, and turned back. Another was, if Shirley Phelps-Roper's claims are true, able to make it into the country by couriering their protest signs in separately.

That said, they were either unsuccessful in making it all the way there, or they had second thoughts about their safety in a familiar-looking but foreign country. It looks like the service started without protest.

Kudos to the 250+ people ready to shield family members from any such crass protest, and for mourning with the family.

08/02/08

  01:43:05 am, by Nimble   , 172 words  
Categories: Announcements [A]

Upgraded Blog Software

I finally got a little headspace to upgrade the b2evolution software from 1.8.1RC all the way up to 2.4.2. The upgrade scripts worked impressively; kudos to the b2evolution team for not leaving out those of us who were 21 versions behind :)

It certainly looks niftier from the administration and author side. There is not quite as much new in the regular user interface, but I have pulled down a few more new skins for you to play with.

The new version of b2evolution also had some sample pages for accessing the blogs more directly, which will be nice if any of us want to post just their personal page. Instead of using the blog ID, which can change, I have three direct links for my, Dena's and Adam's blog.

Let me know if you trip across anything not working as advertised!


Hmmm... the blogroll seems to be fouled up; I can't find anything in the forums that gives very good instructions on how to clean it up... I'll try again tomorrow.

07/23/08

  12:14:05 am, by Nimble   , 225 words  
Categories: Reviews, Games, Programming, Science

FoldIt!

For a fan of biology, as well as of puzzle games in general, this is one of the most amazing things I have seen in a long time.

Now, we already have things like Folding@Home, which is a distributed project that attempts to find low-energy conformations for proteins. Basically, the proteins that we are interested in are just chains of amino acids that get spewed out when DNA is transcribed. The protein "backbones" have side chains, which are just the side bits of the particular amino acid, and they vary in their love of or repulsion to water.

Proteins will settle into shapes that are lower-energy. Finding what those shapes might be so that we can deduce a bit about their function has been the aim of projects like Folding@Home.

Well, what if you took that whole concept and turned it into a game?

Not just a half-arsed game, either, but one with tutorials, warm-up puzzles, online teams and a pretty good interface to boot. It comes in Windows, Mac, and now Linux flavours as well.

That's just crazy nifty. Kudos to the folks who came up with that!

(One note: the link to the Windows version just after I signed up was pointing to the wrong place. I had to get the setup from this link. It's correct on the main page)

07/21/08

  01:06:30 am, by Nimble   , 308 words  
Categories: Reviews, Toys

Baby Einstein Colour Kaleidoscope

This is just an awesome baby toy.

We bought this when Axel was seven months old. It was not too long after moving into our new house, and we thought that perhaps having some toys that were specifically "crib toys" might help occupy him when he was going to sleep. We went through the Toys 'R' Us with an eye to letting Axel poke at the toys in question. This was one toy that he figured out and in which he seemed interested, so home it came.

Now, he didn't actually warm up to it as a crib toy for quite some time, but within a couple of months, he would occasionally play with it in the crib when he was just a bit too jazzed up to go to sleep. He also plays with the toy in the morning.

It does have to be said that it is a slightly noisy toy, but not horribly so. There are three handles on it, coloured yellow, red and blue with slightly different textures on them. Squeezing a handle will speak out its colour, play one of the few tunes (like William Tell Overture) and flash that colour on and off in the dome on top.

I get a kick out of some of the other features: squeezing two handles will do the secondary colours (green, purple, orange), and other switches will change the language in which the colours are spoken.

No, we tried squeezing all three handles at once - that doesn't do anything :)

So we have to put up with a little "red... red... red... red.. (music..cut off) yellow (William Tell Overture)", but it really helps him get to sleep when he's a little jazzed up.

Plus, he looks at us with a bemused "what the...!?" face when we say "red... red..." and hum one of the tunes :)

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