Monthly Archives: April 2008

Real Trekkie Tricorder Invented

Real Trekkie Tricorder Invented – Yahoo! News

Forget the hyperbolic title, what’s there is cooler stuff anyway.

The researchers took a look at what you need for doing something like ultrasound and used good old reductionistic reasoning. You need a transducer, data acquisition, data processing, and image display components. By coming up with a transducer and data acquisition components that plug into a cell phone, they were able to offload the data processing part to a remote central computational facility. The cell phone’s LCD display itself provided the image display part.

What this means is that being able to use ultrasound in the field can come down to a relatively inexpensive (more like ~$1000 than ~$70K), portable plugin device, plus I’m assuming some recurring charge for use of the central computing facility, and you can use this and get results wherever one has cell phone access.

There are rather a lot of diagnostic techniques that could be provided using this model, that given a generic audio-visual communication device, one can leverage that capability to provide specific services in remote locations. Going back to the Star Trek analogy, think back on how many of the plots depended upon depriving the protagonists of the use of their “communicators”. That’s a hint of just how important instant, reliable communication can be for even hypothetical situations. I think we’re just beginning to realize the real-world benefits that the technology makes possible.

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Flunked, Not Expelled: Anti-Evolution Film Misappropriates the Holocaust

Expelled Anti-Evolution Film Misappropriates the Holocaust

The Anti-Defamation League weighs in on “Expelled”, and they don’t buy Stein and Berlinski’s arguments at all.

Anti-Evolution Film Misappropriates the Holocaust

New York, NY, April 29, 2008 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today issued the following statement regarding the controversial film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.

The film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed misappropriates the Holocaust and its imagery as a part of its political effort to discredit the scientific community which rejects so-called intelligent design theory.

Hitler did not need Darwin to devise his heinous plan to exterminate the Jewish people and Darwin and evolutionary theory cannot explain Hitler’s genocidal madness.

Using the Holocaust in order to tarnish those who promote the theory of evolution is outrageous and trivializes the complex factors that led to the mass extermination of European Jewry.

The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world’s leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.

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Florida: The Press Conference Video

Thanks to Skip Evans of Big Sky Penguin, I’m able to host the video of the press conference held on April 14th. This is still critical information to spread as the Senate considers the two antievolution bills before it.

Ann Lumsden, biology professor at Florida State University, makes opening remarks and then introduces the rest of the speakers. Vic Walczak of the Pennsylvania ACLU and attorney in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District then notes how the legislation proposed will be a lawsuit magnet. Maryann Fiala of the Florida AeA talks about how failing to treat science seriously in Florida’s schools will make it harder for businesses to find talent in Florida or recruit it from elsewhere. Sir Harry Kroto, chemistry professor at Florida State University and Nobel laureate, also speaks to the issue of business and specifically the biotech industry being put off by anti-science getting a privileged entrance into the science classrooms in Florida. I then talk about how the terms “academic freedom” and “critical analysis” are misuses and how they each have a known history of such misuse by religiously motivated antievolutionists.

The video itself was taken handheld on a consumer camcorder, so the video part is shaky. The audio is mostly good due to the amplification of the PA system used. Here’s the about 20MB version in WMV format. (I’ll look into embedding and a getting a larger version up later.)

Florida Citizens for Science/Florida ACLU Press Conference, 2008/04/14

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The Transmigration of ERV

Abbie Smith is the latest blogger to switch over to ScienceBlogs, taking her ERV blog there.

Of course, there’s a tale there. ERV was formerly hosted on “Blogger.com”. Some time ago, Blogger was snapped up by Google. It’s still a large, free blog hosting site. Abbie was already planning to switch over to Seed’s ScienceBlogs, but was planning on doing so at the end of the semester so as to have some free time to devote to handling the inevitable little problems that crop up.

The schedule got advanced because last week “ERV” at Blogger suddenly disappeared from the Google search engine, and this morning the blog disappeared entirely, with a cryptic message as to how the weblog had been deleted and its name was no longer available for use.

Mark Chu-Carroll of the “Good Math, Bad Math” blog looked into the situation, found out that somehow Blogger’s administration had come to a determination that the “ERV” blog there was supposedly webspam, and vouched for Abbie’s good character. The “ERV” blog at Blogger is now back up.

Abbie is rightly indignant, though, that someone else would have to intercede on her behalf. She was given no notification, no opportunity to rebut a charge that her blog was webspam, no opportunity to collect her data, and — most importantly — no apparent way to contact anyone about the problem.

As I’ve gone over before, Google does have to balance the existence of web security problems against the information that it reveals to legitimate webmasters. However, in my opinion they’ve gone way too far toward the paranoid extreme of choking off communication with people running websites. Maybe it is arguably the correct thing to do with third parties who simply rely upon Google’s ubiquitous search engine to direct people to their sites, and who could be bad guys. I’d argue that there is still some need there for a bit more outreach. But in the case of someone like Abbie Smith, who is using a service provided by Google, there is more responsibility inherent in the relationship than simply sometimes providing a weblog host, and arbitrarily abrogating that relationship without communication and without means of arbitrating the outcome of those decisions. Google needs to figure out if they have what it takes to provide a service to bloggers, and get out if they decide that’s not the role that they want. It is not ethical to use the content generated by bloggers to bolster their bottom line without at least providing some minimal level of interactivity between the blogger and those who administer the blogger’s web presence.

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Celebrity Scapegoating

A news report says that actor Wesley Snipes gets a three-year prison sentence for tax evasion.

Tax evaders, like Kent Hovind, should do the time their cases indicate.

But there’s something extra to the Snipes case, according the the report.

“This case cries out for the statutory maximum term of imprisonment, as well as a substantial fine, because of the seriousness of defendant Snipes’ crimes and because of the singular opportunity this case presents to deter tax crimes nationwide,” prosecutors wrote in a memorandum to the judge, as quoted by the AP.

Uh, no. It corrupts our system of jurisprudence if individuals are sentenced based upon “opportunities” and not upon the specific facts of the case. If this advice were followed, obscurity ought to let offenders out on the street, because no one pays attention to them, and anyone with name recognition would have to beware any brush with the law. If the government wants people to know that tax evasion doesn’t work, it should develop a reputation for assiduously tracking down and fairly prosecuting each such case, not taking the cheap route of nailing the occasional celebrity.

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Michigan: Falconry Bill in the News

Falconers hawk bill to let them continue capturing raptors – Capital News Service – MLive.com

It looks like a bill aimed at dropping a 2009 sunset on a falconry law is getting general support. Getting rid of the sunset provision means that falconers in Michigan can continue to trap birds from the wild under provisions of the law. This is especially important for apprentices, who are barred from using captive-bred birds during their apprenticeship here in Michigan.

In general, statements from Audubon Society representative Thomas Funke were supportive of the bill and falconers. Perhaps the following was not intentional on Funke’s part:

Funke agreed, “Today, falconers are committed to the conservation of their species.”

The use of the qualifier “today” sends the wrong message. Falconers were in the forefront of organizing conservation efforts for falcon populations pushed to the brink of extinction by indiscriminate pesticide use, and continue to be conservation-minded. I’m a bit sensitive on such usage coming from other conservation groups who should be allies, for there is a history there of short-changing falconers on the credit for the recovery of raptor populations, even though falconers contributed their time, money, effort, and often their own birds to captive breeding programs right from the start of the problem being noticed.

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Florida: Open Letter on Learning from History

The “academic freedom” and “critical analysis” bills currently being considered by the Florida legislature are old stratagems borrowed from antievolution efforts in other states. Ronda Storms and Alan Hays have been asked whether “intelligent design” could be taught in science classrooms. Storms and Hays steadfastly refuse to answer the question posed. You have to look at what has been done in the name of narrow religious antievolution and not what is said.

Storms and Hays are treating this as a rhetorical shell game, that if they consistently claim that religion has no part in their bills, then they are being put upon when the issue comes up. For antievolutionists, the essential viewpoint revolves around this simple argument: creation can only have happened by evolution or by God, and one must choose one or the other. The simple — and erroneous — conclusion they make is that arguments made against evolutionary science are thus also arguments for their preferred narrow religious viewpoint, the one that denies that God could possibly have used the methods science is discovering in creating life and its diversity. They don’t have to mention their religious stance explicitly, or so they believe — if enough of their favored arguments against evolution are taught as if science to students, the students will make the “right” choice in rejecting evolutionary science and accepting their particular interpretation of God as creator. Their choice of this narrow religious doctrine does not have to be named, it is implicit in the ensemble of arguments that they wish to permit teachers and students to bring into the science classroom without oversight, interference, or rebuttal.

This is where the history becomes useful. Following World War I, religious antievolutionists took up the obvious strategy to make sure only their view was heard in science classrooms: exclude evolutionary science. That gave us the Scopes trial and about forty years in which textbooks excised or de-emphasized instruction in evolutionary science. In 1968, the Supreme Court decided in Epperson v. Arkansas that scientific concepts could not be excluded from the science classroom to privilege a specific religious doctrine. And religious antievolutionists made the needed adjustment: they now claimed that what they had to offer was just as scientific as evolutionary science. The new stance was called “creation science” and it repeated all the same arguments as plain old creationism before it, except that it dropped those arguments that made direct reference to scripture. It was during legal battles over twenty-five years ago about “creation science” that antievolutionists began to misuse “academic freedom” as a convenient rhetorical tool to press their view. Those came to an abrupt end with the 1987 Supreme Court decision in Edwards v. Aguillard, where the court correctly called “creation science” a sham and an illicit attempt to sanitize the narrow religious view of their brand of exclusionary creationism.

This setback famously led to the use of “intelligent design” as a reference to a non-existent field of study, accomplished simply by changing references to “creation science” in the drafts of the “Of Pandas and People” textbook to the new label, “intelligent design”. All the same arguments made against evolution under “creation science” would now be taught as the content of “intelligent design”, except for those that made explicit mention of a young age of the earth and a recent global flood. Along the way, they made an incomplete change from “creation scientists” to “design proponents”, giving us the delightful verbal transitional fossil of “cdesign proponentsists”. In 2005, the Kitzmiller v. DASD decision in Pennsylvania found an “intelligent design” policy to be an establishment of religion and that “intelligent design” itself was not science.

Ohio adopted new science standards in 2002, and it incorporated a compromise urged by “intelligent design” advocates, that evolution be the subject of “critical analysis”. A lesson plan that implemented “critical analysis” went through a first draft with open use of many arguments from creationism and those most closely associated with “intelligent design”. The second draft again chose a sanitized subset of arguments, but they were recognizably part of the religious antievolution ensemble of arguments. In 2006, the Ohio state board of education finally realized that it could not trust antievolution advocates when they asserted that no “intelligent design” would be taught, and removed the “critical analysis” language from their standards.

The arguments comprising “intelligent design” and other labels for the same old religious antievolution are meant to knock down more than “Darwinism”. They also stand for a rejection of the views of Christian denominations that have made their peace with the progress of science, such as the Catholic church and many mainstream Protestant denominations. The methods of deception and subterfuge consistently chosen by religious antievolutionists should earn the scorn of Christians everywhere.

Florida will make a choice soon. Florida can repeat the lessons of history by adopting the narrow religious doctrines that are implicit in the current mislabeled “academic freedom” and “critical analysis” bills, guaranteeing that students across the state are inculcated with a view that science and the scientists who practice it are untrustworthy. Or Florida can benefit from the experience of other states around the country and avoid a morally and legally indefensible adoption of a narrow religious doctrine dressed in secular language.

Reminder: This stuff is on the agenda for the session today. See Florida Citizens for Science for more information.

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Expanded Horizons and Hugin

Over the past weekend, I got acquainted with the Hugin panorama program. This is an open source free application that pulls together several overlapping images and creates a single image as output. It’s best to show an example, I think. Here’s four images from the right-hand side of the output panorama.

And here’s the full panorama:

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Flunked, Not Expelled: Watch for the “Mandatory Field Trip” Bump

Expelled Remember the “GetExpelled Challenge” kickback scheme? If that is working, we should see some mid-week action in the gate statistics, since weekdays are the likely times for mandatory school trips.

My prediction: Christian private school administrators are likely in general not as stupid as the “Expelled” promoters think, and won’t be significantly bumping up the so-far dismal returns “Expelled” has been getting: nowhere close to the 2 million tickets or the $23.9 million opening weekend figures fantasized by the “Expelled” producers.

Update: It doesn’t look like Monday was a “field trip” day for “Expelled”. Here’s the data for Monday the 21st:

$238,804

-68.8% / -

1,052 / $227

$3,209,652 / 4

Tickets down over two thirds… yes, weekdays aren’t a patch on weekends for movie going, so I decided to look at what other releases show.

Here’s the stuff for “Forbidden Kingdom”. It was released Friday, like “Expelled”, but it’s in Number 1 position now. Its sales slacked off by 70%.

$1,692,767

-70.1% / -

3,151 / $537

$23,093,888 / 4

Let’s not forget “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”. It’s down almost 66%.

$1,679,100

-65.6% / -

2,798 / $600

$19,404,430 / 4

Those bracket the slack-off “Expelled” experienced. There doesn’t seem to be any sign here of a “field trip bump”.

Update: Tuesday’s numbers are out, and “Expelled” again neither falling nor rising faster than the rest of the recently released movies. Its decline is slightly less at 4.8% than the 6.6% average of the top ten. I’m estimating that difference from the average amounts to a bit over 500 tickets. So if that represents a “field trip bump”, it’s pretty anemic.

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Flunked, Not Expelled: Now Cribbing Answers from Creation Science

Expelled Troy Britain has a pair of terrific articles showing the parallels between the “Leader Guide” for “Expelled” and pre-Johnson “creation science”. So when Ben Stein tells you “Big Science” is keeping “new ideas” out of the discussion, ask him, what exactly are these “new ideas”? There seems to be a lot of recycled content to “Expelled”, and very little in the way of “new ideas”.

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Florida: Steve Gey Sidelined by ALS

John Barry reports that law professor Steve Gey of Florida State University has stepped down from his teaching duties because of the progression of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

Gey was involved in the McLean v. Arkansas case in 1981, and has continued to be a staunch advocate of effective science education in public schools. Along with Matt Brauer and Barbara Forrest, he wrote an influential law review article, Is It Science Yet? Intelligent Design Creationism and the Constitution. I was privileged to speak on the same program with Gey at the 2006 Carolina Law Review meeting on first amendment issues. I am saddened by the news that Gey’s illness, diagnosed early in 2007 IIRC, has progressed so quickly.

dscf2307 ws

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Flunked, Not Expelled: Not Even David Springer Buys the Darwin-Leads-to-Hitler Rhetoric

Over on William Dembski’s “Uncommon Descent” weblog, there is an uncommon moment of dissent as weblog moderator David Scott “DaveScot” Springer actually disagrees with weblog owner Dembski over the “Expelled” argument that Darwinism was a necessary element for Nazi genocidal policies. Springer has engaged the claim with a number of criticisms and is not, so far, backing down. I usually wouldn’t have anything positive to report about Springer, so I think that when I do, I ought to take advantage of that.

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Flunked, Not Expelled: Tickets and Ethics

Expelled William Dembski is complaining about the people who have stated publicly that they would attend a showing of Expelled at a multi-screen theater, buy a ticket for a different movie, then just slide into the theater showing Expelled instead. Bill has a point, as that does deprive the producers of money from their share of the ticket price and also reduces the reported number of seats sold as a measure of performance of the film. I won’t bother to engage in any relativistic stuff about how such ticket purchase shenanigans are less wrong than lying to people to get them to participate in a project.

Myself, if I do go to see the film, I’ll just buy a ticket for it straight up. That’s the right thing to do. I may wait a couple of weeks, though; by all indications, it is pretty transparently propaganda to all but the IDC cheerleading contingent, who would never find fault with it anyway. Of course, I’ll be running a big risk that there will be no theater within a reasonable driving distance showing it after a couple of weeks. I may just have to wait for it to appear on DVD. I’m assuming that would give me a delay of an extra couple of weeks.

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And Now for a Word from Our Sponsor

We’re watching one of these reality-TV shows with someone doing a survival stint in the Australian outback. Our hero was discussing the lack of water, and just before the commercial break announced, “I’m going to have to drink my own pee.”

The scene faded to black, and the first commercial came on. It was advertising for some brand of beer.

I think the beer brewer should get a refund from their agent.

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Flunked, Not Expelled: Train Wreck in Progress

Expelled With the revelation that the producers of Expelled did not obtain permission to use a short segment of John Lennon’s song “Imagine”, the premiere of this movie appears to be a train wreck in progress. Given that they reportedly used the snippet about “imagine there’s no religion” with various nasty visual content from Communist China, it seems unlikely that they will manage to work out a deal with Ono to license the song at this point. Premise Media (PM) is arguing that the snippet meets the requirements for a “fair use” exclusion, or that they have an “educational” movie, or whatever in order to set aside the issue.

Let’s assume that Expelled does actually open tomorrow at a thousand theaters across the country. (We’ll set aside the very real possibility that Ono will seek an injunction against PM.) Given that the Wall Street Journal has raised the issue that the rights clearance procedure at PM is at the least sloppy if not completely incompetent, there will be lots of observers looking for other potential copyright infringement for photos, music, and video clips. Will it stand up to that sort of scrutiny? Will theater owners stand firm with PM as accessories to infringement as further claims are made? I think that we are likely to have an interesting weekend, and not just like the IDC cheerleaders were hoping for, either.

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Someone Was Really Expelled… Chris Comer

So what if the expelled premise worked, but in the opposite direction of what the movie claimed? Turns out that’s what actually has happened. In response to all the fake “lost their job” sob stories in the movie, NCSE has produced a video on YouTube that discusses a real firing, but of Chris Comer of the Texas Education Agency for not “staying neutral on creationism”. The antievolutionists play hardball.

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Flunked, Not Expelled: The Expelled Paternity Test

Expelled The folks over at After the Bar Closes just keep coming up with great stuff. Here’s an instant classic from “midwifetoad”: The Expelled Paternity Test. It presents a number of graphical representations of kinesin moving a vacuole around a cell and asks which seems to be the daddy of the view seen in the “Expelled” movie. Check it out.

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Another Upgrade

I’m somewhere near Dade City, and I just got email that Diane’s weblog had been cracked. So I just upgraded WordPress there and figured I might as well upgrade it here.

The upgrade worked without a hitch there. Here, I had a hitch. My customized theme doesn’t play nice with the new WordPress, and my battery is just about dead, so until I get back to somewhere with 110 volt power, it’s just going to be using the default theme.

Picture banner and other features to return later.

Update: Apparently I hadn’t gotten around to copying the theme, which goes a long way to explaining why WordPress wouldn’t work with it. There was a further bit with most of the sidebar disappearing due to the “sideblog” plugin; I’ve removed sideblogging, which I hadn’t been using lately, and it looks like the rest of the theme is doing OK.

Update 2: OK, I didn’t notice that my pre-2.5 widgets didn’t transfer to 2.5. That may have to wait a bit.

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Florida: Press Conference to Oppose False “Academic Freedom” and “Critical Analysis” Bills

My part of the day’s events here in Tallahassee is done; I had about three minutes to say my piece at a noon press conference on the capitol steps (just in front of the dolphin sculpture). Vic Walczak of the Pennsylvania ACLU was up first, then Mary Ann Fiala, then Sir Harry Kroto, Nobel laureate in chemistry, and then me.

For those of you in or near Tallahassee, there is a panel discussion tonight at 7 PM at the Challenger center featuring Walczak, Kroto, and David Campbell (a Florida science teacher).

The text of my bit is below the fold.

Continue reading

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