Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Watch Revisionaries Online

In case you missed it on PBS or won't be at your local viewing, the full documentary "Revisionaries" is now available online at PBS.

If you haven't heard of it, it follows the drama of the Texas textbook controversies when Don McLeroy tried to rewrite both science and history in public schools around the country.

Texas is the second largest single adoption state in the nation, but with California having budget issues they are the single largest buyer of textbooks in the nation. As a result, textbook publishers are unlikely to release books that do not conform to Texas standards. This gives the Texas board of education almost unilateral control of science, health, and history education for the next few decades.

Watch The Revisionaries on PBS. See more from Independent Lens.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Nothing Ever Changes

After the election in November, we saw glimmers of hope for the GOP. Despite my liberal leanings, I really do want the GOP to be a viable party that has a decent chance of winning fairly. Our two party system has a lot of problems, but one of the greatest benefits is it requires compromise, negotiation, and intelligent debate.

Unfortunately, that's not what we have right now. The Republican congress has made it their priority to prevent Obama and the democrats from getting anything done. It's gotten so bad that McConnell even filibustered his own bill.

And to the very end, they believed they were winning. The addition of the Rasmussen Poll to the mix eliminated any chance of reality splashing them with water.

Then the election happened. Reality became undeniable. Even then, they still tried to deny it. Watching Karl Rove speed through the first 4 stages of grief in 8 minutes after Ohio was called was priceless. Bill O'Rielly lamented the loss of the white establishment.

But we also saw glimmers of hope. Republicans started blaming the far right (correctly) for losing them the election. Bobby Jindal called for change in the party (without being specific but hey). Republican leaders have talked a lot about reaching out to Hispanic voters and addressing their issues.

More recently, some phoenixes have started to emerge from the ashes of November 7th. Chris Christie is my favorite, breaking the unspoken taboo of criticizing the GOP from within over the outrageous way the lame duck congress handled Hurricane Sandy. I hope that Christie and those like him take over the party within the next 4 years. While I fundamentally disagree with him on some issues, he is at least willing to talk about it and have a reasonable discussion. That is exactly what we need now.

I watched all of this unfold with hope and anticipation of a time when congress's approval ratings soared into the double digits.

But then I read this article from Huffington Post.
On Wednesday, Virginia's Republican-controlled legislature became one of the first to advance a bill that would allocate electoral votes by congressional district. Last week, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus endorsed pushing through similar proposals in other states with Republican legislative majorities. 
The strategy would have states alter the way they translate individual votes into electors -- thereby giving Republican candidates an advantage. Had the 2012 election been apportioned in every state according to these new Republican plans, Romney would have led Obama by at least 11 electoral votes. 
Nothing has changed. Republican strategists have seem to have looked at how bad the election turned out for them and said "Hey, that's not right! Our guy was supposed to win in a landslide, but he lost big. The election system must be flawed and liberally biased. Let's fix that!"

Here's how the new strategy works. In states that Obama won (specifically Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia, and Wisconsin) Republicans in the state legislature are proposing the removal of a winner takes all electoral college, adopting the Maine/Nebraska model of proportional distribution. The trick is because they are only doing it in large Democratic states, combined with redistricting votes are only moving away from the Democrats. This gives voice to Republicans in Democratic majority states a more substantial vote but leaves Democrats in red states without the same consideration.

Here's the actual election result: (Obama 50.5% to Romney 48.0% of popular vote)

Here's how the election would have looked under the proposed redistricting:

The winner takes all system is broken and should be replaced, but moving to a system that is intentionally designed to give one party an advantage through manipulation of an archaic election scheme is not a step forward.

An what's more, the solution to losing a popular election is not to rig the vote next time. The solution is to become more popular. 

I really want to like the GOP. In fact, I am a registered Republican. But I cannot abide by, much less identify with, a party that stoops to these tactics again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

My Computer Annoys Me

I'm struggling to get my computer back in working order. This is a reaaally lousy thing to be breaking down on me since all my work and play are centered around this machine. Waiting for my new backup disk to arrive before taking...drastic measures.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Times Square Tracts

While in New York last weekend, I was astounded by the combination of religious extremes present. Pictures being worth 1000 words, this will probably be my longest post ever. In times square we were waiting in line for broadway tickets, I was handed this tract by a guy just going down the line.

 Right across the street I picked up this tract.


And then the advertisements! Here's one for (fortunately way above eye level)

I didn't get a picture but there was a full video ad for Scientology that read:
"Are you a seeker of knowledge?<Transition>Dare to think for yourself.<Transition>"
Over the course of the day I also saw street advertisers for Scientology, Jehovah's Witnesses selling watchtower magazines, and a Watchtower building.

In the end I got a couple new propaganda pieces for my collection and a renewed appreciation for how publicly visible these cults actually are in our metropolitan centers.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Just Monkeying Around

This Gibbon is either really stupid or really clever. It's hard to tell.
Either way, it's good for a laugh this Monday.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Tim Keller's No True Christian Sermon

As I mentioned earlier I attended Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC today, and Dr. Tim Keller was actually there to give the sermon. I've always liked Keller's style, voice, manner, politeness, and tendency to tailor his sermons towards skeptics and acknowledge our existence.

But today he struck against one of my few remaining triggers: "You were never a true Christian."

I haven't told my full story before and I should do that someday, but the short version is I was heavily into apologetics, Youth for Christ, theology, worship, and really did believe what I was being taught outside of a few details.  I intentionally put myself through so many unneeded struggles because of my faith and actively sought Jesus out. I wanted him to be a part of my life. I was a believer.

So when someone explains away my entire tumultuous journey with a meaningless platitude I have a tendency to lose my shit.

I've lost count of how many times this verse and others like it have been offered as a complete explanation of my conversion.
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools -Romans 1:18-22
This is more than just a fallacy, it's a personal attack on my integrity, honesty, and intelligence. I cannot abide by someone calling me a liar so blatantly.

Usually Keller is good at making at least intellectual sounding arguments that require some thought to process and unpack, but this was not one of those days.

Keller kicked off the sermon by challenging skeptics directly. Painting with broad strokes he described skeptics as people who never really "got it" in the first place (people who claim they were Christians because they went to church, said they believed in Jesus, and such). He asked the skeptics in the audience "Were you really a Christian? Have you actually tried it? What is a real Christian?"

He describes the beliefs of Christianity (Apostles' Creed, Bible word of God, etc) to be necessary but not sufficient conditions for being a true Christian. After explaining exactly what that means, he enumerated four necessary and sufficient condition for being a Christian in his mind.

  1. "Serving God consistently, especially during suffering."
  2. "Know God deliberately (John 17:3)"
  3. "Experiencing God periodically"
  4. "Exhibiting God generously"
1."Serving God consistently, especially during suffering."
This means that when troubles get tough, a true Christian turns towards God not away from him. To prove his point, he turned to everyone's favorite out of context story of a patient suffering servant: Job.

Here follows a synopsis of Job according to Keller (paraphrased):
Job was a great guy going above and beyond the call as a Christian (though Christianity didn't exist yet). Then Satan comes along and says to God: "God, you know he's just in it for all the benefits you give him right? Make the cost higher and the rewards lower and Job will turn his back on you." God takes away everything Job has, but while Job still questions and is very upset with God he is still taking his problems to God and not turning away from him. Job passes the test and is greatly rewarded for his trouble. God vindicates Job because he went to God in his time of need.
If that was actually the story contained in Job, it would indeed help Dr. Keller's case. As Keller tells it, Job is "vindicated" for sticking with God through thick and thin. However, Keller left out some crucial details. Here's my take:
Job was an upstanding man doing everything God told him to. Then Satan comes along and says to God: "God, I bet if you kill Job's kids, family, cattle, and everything else in his lands he'll be pretty mad at you." God says "You're on! Go kill his family for me, we'll see who wins this thing." Satan goes and kills his family, gives him boils, and does all kinds of horrible stuff with God's explicit permission. Job says "WTF God? What did I ever do to you?" Job's friends alternately try to convince him to curse God or blame himself for just punishment. Job insists he's innocent and demands an explanation from God, because God must have a good reason. He's God after all. God comes down and says "Who do you think you are coming and asking me to explain myself to you? Did you make all this happen? I don't have to explain myself to you." Job is a little frustrated but gives in and stops pestering God. As compensation, God gives him a bunch of new kids (because having another kid exactly makes up for another one being killed right?).
Job is the story of God slaughtering an entire family and more over a bet with Satan and when confronted about it responding with "Why? Because I'm God. Don't ask questions, just take it like a puny little man."  If God was Job's husband, would we praise him for sticking with God through all this abuse? HEELL No.

To me, the story only serves to illustrate why I wouldn't worship God even if he did exist. According to Keller though, you're not a real Christian unless you stay with  God even after he beats you. I hope he doesn't give the same advice to women and men in abusive relationships.

2. "Know God deliberately (John 17:3)"
This segment was the embodiment of the No True Scotsman Fallacy. According to Keller, if you ever left Christianity you only ever had a 2nd hand experience of Christ. If you had only been a real Christian and had a personal relationship with Jesus and really understood that he died for you and you are washed in his blood you would still be with us today.

I agree with Keller that I never had a personal relationship with Jesus, but then again I don't think anyone has.

But if you can look at my friend Jerry DeWitt or Dan Barker or Matt Dillahunty or Seth Andrews or most of the atheists in the US and honestly say that their experience, belief, and commitment was "insufficient" then no "Christian" I have ever met in my life could possibly be a real Christian.

3. "Experiencing God periodically"
Point 3 articulated the unspoken notion in Keller's interpretation of Job that we are here to serve God and our own concerns are secondary to that. You are in it for God's sake, not yours. God NEEDS and DESERVES your praise and adoration, and if you won't give it to him you are being selfish.

Now all of this is completely Biblical. I completely agree with Keller on this point. Where we differ is that I see this demand of worship to be abhorrent, not praiseworthy.

4. "Exhibiting God Generously"
I could barely keep my jaw off the floor with how openly Keller used his final point to beg for money. I couldn't get over my shock fast enough to record the exact quote, but he was only a couple words away from saying "real Christians give generously to the church. Are YOU a real Christian?"

The impact of this shameless guilt trip was made even greater by the inclusion (and in sermon emphasis) of this chart.
The Redeemer operating fund goal is $11.4 MILLION dollars and they just exceeded their goal for 2012 by 8% (a 16% increase from 2011), and already they're asking for more money. By itself, asking for money is nothing to be ashamed of. Buildings cost money; staff costs money. Even tax free organizations need capital.

But Keller didn't ask for donations. He essentially said "thanks for all your money last year, now give us more or you aren't a real Christian" Of course not 2 minutes later the offering plates went around.

Telling me I was never a true Christian is insulting and irritating, but saying the same thing to a professing Christian who believes in eternal torture is nothing less than a veiled threat.

Coming into the service I had a great deal of respect for Keller due to his ability to make direct critiques of atheism that required some thought on my part (at least compared to some). I left this service with a much lower opinion of not only his arguments but his character.

Friday, January 18, 2013

I can't believe this actually exists!

Why does Australia get all the coolest animals?

This is the Lyrebird. Not only does it have beautiful plumage resembling its namesake, it is an incredible vocal mimic. To attract it's mate it gives the most elaborate vocal performance possible, recreating all the sounds it hears in the forest, from other birds like the the kookaburra call to camera shutters, car alarms, and chainsaws. You have to watch the video all the way through to believe it. If it wasn't narrated by David Attenborough, I probably would think this is a fake.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Redeemed in New York

Back when I was a Christian my best friend and I were very in to a New York megachurch pastor named Tim Keller. He's the author most famously of The Reason For God which I still hold to be one of the more thought provoking (if not convincing) apologetic works in existence.

I became an atheist a couple years ago now about the same time that my best friend did a summer long training camp with the Navigators and redoubled his faith. We've had a couple interesting conversations since then but haven't seen each other much.

But this weekend we're getting together in New York with his fiance and another friend from high school and as part of the trip he suggested that we go to Redeemer Presbyterian Church for Sunday service. Not exactly the first thing on my mind during my first day in New York, but it should be a very interesting experience.

Apparently Keller rotates which service he leads, so hopefully we'll get to see the man himself.  I'm strangely looking forward to the experience.

I'll be sure to share my experiences afterwards. Maybe I'll even take notes.

Former Anti-GMO Crops Activists Turns to Science

One of the issues I have been frustrated with in the past is GMO crops. Because environmentalism and the organic/natural/local food movements have been traditionally left wing, I tend to hang out with people who are diametrically opposed to genetically modified organisms. I puzzle at why so many pro-science people can be against scientific improvement in this one area.

No matter which side of this debate you fall on, please watch this video of formerly anti-GMO activist Mark Lynas about his discovery of science.

07 Mark Lynas from Oxford Farming Conference on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Pre-Blessed Food

This was waaay too funny not to share:

"Includes Two Tickets to Heaven. Share them with your family and friends, so they go upstairs-when they fall down stairs."

Monday, January 14, 2013

This Isn't the Post You're Looking For

The petition forum has not been the most successful platform for social change, but it has generated a lot of...umm...interesting petitions.

Take this recent example:
Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016.

Those who sign here petition the United States government to secure funding and resources, and begin construction on a Death Star by 2016. 
By focusing our defense resources into a space-superiority platform and weapon system such as a Death Star, the government can spur job creation in the fields of construction, engineering, space exploration, and more, and strengthen our national defense.

This petition received over 34,000 signatures which is enough to require an official statement from the white house in response.

The response is now up and I absolutely love it. It was just too good to not share the whole thing so here it is. (Emphasis added for my favorites)
OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE RESPONSE TO Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016. 
This Isn't the Petition Response You're Looking For
By Paul Shawcross 
The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn't on the horizon. Here are a few reasons:
  • The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We're working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
  • The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
  • Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?
However, look carefully (here's how) and you'll notice something already floating in the sky -- that's no Moon, it's a Space Station! Yes, we already have a giant, football field-sized International Space Station in orbit around the Earth that's helping us learn how humans can live and thrive in space for long durations. The Space Station has six astronauts -- American, Russian, and Canadian -- living in it right now, conducting research, learning how to live and work in space over long periods of time, routinely welcoming visiting spacecraft and repairing onboard garbage mashers, etc. We've also got two robot science labs -- one wielding a laser -- roving around Mars, looking at whether life ever existed on the Red Planet. 
Keep in mind, space is no longer just government-only. Private American companies, through NASA's Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office (C3PO), are ferrying cargo -- and soon, crew -- to space for NASA, and are pursuing human missions to the Moon this decade
Even though the United States doesn't have anything that can do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, we've got two spacecraft leaving the Solar System and we're building a probe that will fly to the exterior layers of the Sun. We are discovering hundreds of new planets in other star systems and building a much more powerful successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that will see back to the early days of the universe. 
We don't have a Death Star, but we do have floating robot assistants on the Space Station, a President who knows his way around a light saber and advanced (marshmallow) cannon, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is supporting research on building Luke's arm, floating droids, and quadruped walkers
We are living in the future! Enjoy it. Or better yet, help build it by pursuing a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field. The President has held the first-ever White House science fairs and Astronomy Night on the South Lawn because he knows these domains are critical to our country's future, and to ensuring the United States continues leading the world in doing big things. 
If you do pursue a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field, the Force will be with us! Remember, the Death Star's power to destroy a planet, or even a whole star system, is insignificant next to the power of the Force. 
Paul Shawcross is Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget
The force is strong with this one.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

No Cenk, Men can be Harassed

Usually I love The Young Turks, and their analysis of politics in the US is usually spot on and very insightful. I also have greatly enjoyed some of Cenk Uygur's speeches in the past including his acceptance of the humanist of the year award.

But I could barely even finish watching this clip.

The news story was how the Department of Homeland Security is facing lawsuits because some men are alleging that their female superiors are creating a hostile work environment.
The issue received broader attention this week when reports emerged about two separate suits filed by federal agents alleging that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has created a hostile work environment for men. The two suits complete with colorful details about a “frat house” workplace where female supervisors played “sexually charged games” “intended to humiliate and intimidate male employees,” shaming them and passing them over for promotions—came amid a spike in sexual-harassment claims under Napolitano’s leadership.-Link
This is an unusual case not because it's women creating a hostile work environment; it's unusual because men are actually reporting it. Usually when things like this happen men are pressured to keep it to themselves that they feel uncomfortable or risk appearing weak. While women historically have taken the brunt of the disparity, gender inequality and double standards do affect males in these more subtle ways. Workplace harassment is a serious problem no matter the culprit's genitalia.

Cenk takes a much less charitable approach.
"Let's keep it real. Is it unacceptable? Of course you shouldn't do it, right? And you know, if a guy complains about it he's got all the right in the world to complain about it, etc. But as a guy, I think like if I had a really hot boss who kept wearing, like, kinda tight clothing and kept coming on to me when I was single, and made me being uncomfortable by cornering me in the office it might not be so bad. Right?"-Cenk
Wrong. No Cenk, you're not answering as a guy. You are answering for YOURSELF and no one else. You don't get to decide what level of sexual interaction other people are comfortable with. You can say they should be as comfortable as you clearly are, but each person needs to be able to draw their own line. That's what matters in cases of harassment.

But that's not the objection he anticipates:
"Now, of course not all the bosses are hot, I know I know I know."-Cenk
It makes no difference! What are you saying, that if the boss is ugly and hits on you that's harassment but if she's hot, hey, win win? He goes on to clarify his position.
"Seriously it's not about actually coming on to you, cause that's way crossing the line as it is anyway. But if you're kidding around about sex and it creates a 'hostile work environment' <shrug> bad Cenk is gonna have his double standard. What you couldn't take a joke about sex? And you're a dude?"-Cenk
 "And you're a dude?" The implication being that guys should be able to joke about sex anywhere. I realize that at TYT you talk about sex all the time and "watch porn at work for research" as Anna points out later, but not every work environment is like that. Some businesses try to maintain an atmosphere of professionalism, where it's not appropriate to talk about personal issues, joke about sexuality, or similar activities. Stop taking your preferences and your environment and applying that experience across the board.

Anna fortunately called him out on this a bit later (not hard enough in my opinion but still).

"I don't think you're putting yourself in their shoes. Let's say for instance that you're not an employer you're an employee and you are a lower level employee and you're looking to get promoted. And the place is run by women...and you hear them openly talking about like 'ah did you see Chris?...So much better looking than Cenk right?...We're going to give Chris Mathews the promotion. They don't say it explicitly but they imply it."-Anna
"Look if they're using it as a form of promotion etc and they discriminate against you because of that, Ya of course that sucks right? But if they're playing like ass slap football and then saying 'ah ya I was having sex with that guy' or whatever and I happen to hear it I'd be like 'So what, have at it'"-Cenk
 Again, YOU would but not everyone is you and not every work environment is TYT. Cenk seems completely oblivious to the existence or acceptibility of any other attitude towards sexuality in the workplace. The next exchange doesn't improve my assessment.
"What if it's an everyday thing and it's distracting"-Anna
"Oh come on, how distracting could it be?"-Cenk
"That's not distracting? I can't think of anything that's more distracting than that."-Anna
"...If that's your boss and she wants to tell you about it...I mean it could be weird and a little creepy but it's not something I would take to management saying I'm really uncomfortable. Now if you do, I get it. You know, of course I'll apply the same standards to men and women. I'm not going to hate on you for it. I'm just going to go <incredulous shrug> reeally? That's all. I'm allowed to say that aren't I?"-Cenk
If it's creepy and weird, that is something you should be telling management. It's the definition of what you should bring to management. Imagine the opposite scenario where a male boss comes up to a female employee and wants to tell her about who he's had sex with and in what position, that would be instant grounds for dismisal. I fail to see how this kind of double standard fits into the mind of someone so progressive on equality issues.

Anna again comes to the rescue explaining exactly my point about the TYT sex bubble, and Cenk doubles down on his inability to understand how anyone's preferences could be different from his own.
"I mean I think we might live in a bubble here at TYT. There's sex talk all the time <slap wink thumbs up from Cenk>, we watch porn for research every day <slap wink thumbs up from Cenk>. But at a different workplace like you're doing're crunching those numbers."-Anna
"Look I know, last thing on this. You're crunching the numbers? Are you kidding me? The sex talk is going to be a million times better. Do you have any idea how bored you are crunching numbers? 'Oh wait, you're talking about orgies? Sorry, I'm busy crunching numbers.' That sentence has never been said. If one of the guys walked up and said to me 'I felt really uncomfortable about that' I would say 'dude, man up.'"-Cenk 
First of all, as an engineer most of my job is crunching numbers and I'm excited to go to work and do it. In fact if someone was talking about orgies while I was working on a robot, I would probably keep working on the robot. Secondly, the "dude, man up" mentality is a huge part of the problem we're trying to address here.

This idea that "manliness" requires that you shouldn't feel uncomfortable talking about sex in a professional setting or should always be flattered or welcoming when someone makes sexual advances on you is complete and total bullshit. Think of how ridiculous that argument sounds flipped around. Try telling the uncomfortable woman who was told by her boss that she had a great ass and perky tits that she should just take it as a compliment and feel good about it.

But the end of the video finally got to why Cenk feels justified in the double standard. Women get raped, men don't.
 "If a woman compliments your appearance, says something like 'Cenk's ass looks good in those tight jeans' is that allowed?"-Anna 
<Cenk Nods and guys backstage whoop and say yup>
"Keep it real. Women have a rightful concern when someone says you got a tight ass. Issues of sexual assault blah blah blah. All those things are absolutely real. If a woman says to a guy, you got a tight ass 99.5% of the time the guy's going to be like YESS! I've never had a woman complement my looks in a way that made me uncomfortable. It's the most comfortable I've ever felt."-Cenk
True, women are at more risk of physical assault which is why they get the short end of the stick (so to speak) in cases like this. But that is no justification for ignoring the concerns of men or their emotional well being, comfort level at work, ability to focus, or desires to avoid unwanted attention. Cenk is displaying the exact same attitude that Dawkins did with his infamous "Dear Muslima" comment.

I would never say the two situations are exactly the same, because there is a more serious danger to the women involved. But that is never sufficient justification for ignoring the concerns of men.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

I Miss My LEGOs now

Someone has seriously made a humanoid hand completely out of LEGO Mindstorm parts. I know I get to work with real robots now, but this still makes me ache for my childhood.

I especially like the crossbar design for finger flexing. It allows grasping and very human like closing motions with just two motors for all 4 fingers. Very clever mechanical design.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Fox News Fails at Math (Again)

I know Fox news had some serious math problems when it came to election night, but I had just attributed it to confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance.

But turns the problem was even simpler: they never had a grade school level education in math.

 A 3rd grade school worksheet about the distributive property of multiplication with the title "distribute the wealth" is apparently pushing a liberal agenda.

What. The. Fuck?

It gets even better. Host Eric Bolling used this as an example of how liberal indoctrination is deeply embedded in education.
“So it starts in third grade and guess what happens?” Bolling remarked. “Through their whole educational experience, they continually get indoctrinated, even through college.”
Greg Gutfeld jumped in with his own foot lodged deep in his mouth.
“Everybody has anecdotal evidence of this,” co-host Greg Gutfeld agreed. “I think the only way leftism can survive is through indoctrination because its number one adversary is reality. So you got to get them young and it’s perfect for kids. Paul Krugman’s logic is child’s play: Share your stuff… A lot of this comes from the teachers. They get their news from The Huffington Post and their antiperspirant from a health food store. This is the way they live.”
 They also accused history books of being biased for talking about the Bush presidency as it actually happened.
Bolling advised parents to read their children’s history books because his son’s textbook addressed the Iraq war “and they were very, very liberally biased, saying George Bush went in there because he heard there were weapons of mass destruction and they were never found. It was a very liberal bias to the history books.”
And as we all know, reality has a liberal bias.

(Via Raw Story)

Nao Robots helping with Autism

I was rather surprised to see this application of Alderbaran's Nao robot. Considering the previous research that shows people are less comfortable interacting with robots, putting robots with autistic kids that have trouble interacting at all seems counter-intuitive.

But it turns out that having a humanoid shape that can talk without any facial expression, complex interactions, or difficult to learn social cues, shallows the learning curve for autistic children. Also, robots don't judge when you screw up or make you feel bad which allows these children to become a lot more comfortable with holding a conversation and maintaining eye contact.

Once the children become accustomed to basic conversation and eye contact, their teachers can move on to more complicated human interactions without as much anxiety.

Just one more way robotics is improving all our lives.

What makes a prank funny?

I just watched two drive through window pranks perpetrated by the same guy. The first left me gasping for breath from laughter and the second made me sick to my stomach. Then it occurred to me that because so many of the variables are kept the same in both videos (drive through, unsuspecting late shift workers, prankster, etc) that we have a semi-scientific experiment here. What are the key variables that make one prank hilarious and the other cruel and inhuman?

Prank number 1: Expertly crafted car seat costume that makes car appear driverless.

Invisible Driver Prank: Hilarious

Prank number 2: Static shock generator zaps the worker followed by the driver either passing out or going into convulsions, usually driving the car in the process.

Static Shock Fainting Prank: Cruel and Inhuman

What's the difference? I see two big ones.

The first is the role of the prankster. In the invisible driver prank, the prankster merely sets up the situation and watches the action as a passive observer. In static shock, the prankster is an actor who creates the illusion of a very serious problem. In this case, the prankster actively misleads the victim (and they are truly victims in this case) into thinking they have caused serious harm and possibly killed a man.

The second is the response the prankster is hoping to illicit. The response in the invisible man prank is the hallmark of a good prank in my mind: confusion. The staffers are shocked, confused, question their state of mind in some cases, but always end up laughing at themselves and bring other people in to enjoy the moment.

But in the static shock prank, the emotions inflicted are fear, terror, distress, shock, and anguish. There's no moment in which he reveals the prank, he maintains the illusion that he's in great distress caused by the victim throughout the video. He leaves the scene with the victim still believing he/she has seriously hurt someone. I find no humor in this whatsoever.

This isn't to say a prank shouldn't scare someone, but if the prank creates a victim rather than a participant it should never have been perpetrated.  The best pranks leaves everyone involved laughing.

Louie Who?

When I heard that Louie Giglio was invited by the president to pray at the inauguration, I said to myself "self, where have you heard that name before."

And then it hit me: LAMININ!

This is the same moron who got excited that a protein in our bodies kinda looks like a cross, and he gets invited to speak at the president's inauguration.

Not just speak, pray.

Fortunately, he has reportedly removed himself from the role following some controversial anti-gay statements he made years ago. Including the gay movement is aggressively taking over the family:

 We must lovingly but firmly respond to the aggressive agenda of not all, but of many in the homosexual community. … Underneath this issue is a very powerful and aggressive moment. That movement is not a benevolent movement, it is a movement to seize by any means necessary the feeling and the mood of the day, to the point where the homosexual lifestyle becomes accepted as a norm in our society and is given full standing as any other lifestyle, as it relates to family. 
You weren't born gay and it's more like alcoholism or addictive behavior.
I would refer you maybe just to the article “Born gay?” by Joe Dallas, who is the president of a ministry that helps with homosexuals in “recovery.” It was found in Christianity Today in June of 1992. It really unfolds for us that the evidence that they say is there, that the media wants to tell us is there really isn’t there at all. But I want to tell you this tonight. Even if it was there… How do you respond to that? How do you respond to the news reports that we’re hearing in the last few months that there is a genetic tendency to be an over-eater and it’s been supposedly proved by the scientists? That there is a genetic tendency to addictive behavior. Alcoholics by and large have a genetic tendency to addictive behavior. I predict in our lifetimes and not a very long period of time from now, scientists and geneticists will have found a way to prove a gene theory for every malfunction in sinful society. And do you know why? We talked about it the very first week—because we do not want responsibility for our choices. 
And the only way to cure the gay is to pray it away with Jesus today.
As the church of Jesus Christ, we cannot sit on the sidelines, we cannot sit back inside our churches, but we must reach out and we must aggressively move toward the homosexual community because we have a message and we’ve got something to say… our message is we know Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ is powerful enough to do anything and to do everything. And the only way out of a homosexual lifestyle, the only way out of a relationship that has been engrained over years of time, is through the healing power of Jesus. 
While it's extremely discouraging that this paramount of Christian love was invited by the White House, I take heart in the fact that these statements are now considered so controversial that even evangelical Christians are shying away from it.

Think about it, would Louie have declined the invitation 10 years ago because of these statements? 15? 20? Sure there would have been plenty of people calling foul and being upset about it, but you would never have seen him withdraw himself from consideration due to public pressure. Reading his official statement it's clear that he still holds his anti-gay views, so why is he backing down on the issue? Because it would "distract from the things we focus on."

Making anti-gay statements now generates enough outrage to derail the ministry of a very popular evangelical mega-pastor. That's change I can believe in.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A New Semester Begins

Today is the first day of the Spring 2013 semester here at Penn, and I'm looking ahead to a full range of classes and opportunities.

The downside is I'll have less time to dedicate to the blog, so my posts will be fewer and far between. At the same time there will be so many more robotics new items that cross my metaphorical desk (I'm not important enough to have a real desk yet) and will try my utmost to pass them on.

I intend to keep going strong as long as I am able, it's just going to be tough for the next few months.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Chocolate Eating Cyborg

Researchers at UMPC have tested a brain-computer interface (BCI) that allows a woman with spinocerebellar degeneration to feed herself using a robotic arm. Her first meal? A chocolate bar.

We still have a long way to go before we can replicate these results without invasive brain surgery, but we are inching closer to sophisticated cyborgs every year.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Just wanted to say happy new year everyone, and thanks for sticking with me thus far.