Thursday, December 29, 2005

One Week to Skeptics' Circle

There's about a week left until I post the next Skeptics' Circle here at the Saga on January 5th. If you have an article to contribute, send me a link. You can get more information about the circle, it's history, and what kinds of articles are appropriate by visiting the homepage, Circular Reasoning.

Monday, December 26, 2005

WoW: Cat People

Yes, I did have a Merry Christmas. Among the things I received was a new headset for my computer. Naturally, I had to try it out as soon as I got home from East Tennessee. Alas, the TeamSpeak server for my guild seemed to be down, but the sound on the headphones is quite good, and they feel better than the little earplugs that I was using before.


As you might guess from the picture, I spent some time playing with Gullveig, who reached level 20. At this level, she qualifies to learn the Cat form. Alas, learning Cat form is absurdly easy compared to learning Bear form or Aquatic form: you just buy the ability from a trainer. That's something of a let down. I suspect that Blizzard wants learning Cat form to be a quest, but they haven't gotten around to completing it yet. C'est la vie.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Star Wars in 30 Seconds

Angry Alien has finally published Star Wars in 30 Seconds! Heh, heh... wait for the "out-takes" at the end... Han shot first!

Skeptics' Circle 24

The Twenty-Fourth Skeptics' Circle is now up over at Immunoblogging. Come to think of it, the circle has been up for a couple of days now, and I'm just behind the times.

The next Skeptics' Circle is going to be hosted right here at the Saga on January 5th, so you have a little under two weeks to demonstrate your wit, wisdom, and skepticism in a good blog article and send me a link. You can get more information about the circle, it's history, and what kinds of articles are appropriate by visiting the homepage, Circular Reasoning.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Open Letter to NPR

I did something unprecedented today. I wrote a letter of complaint to NPR News. They aired a commentary by Joe Loconte supporting the teaching of the "Theory" of Intelligent Design in high school classrooms, and it contained a completely absurd comparison of ID to the Big Bang Theory. You can listen to the original commentary at the NPR website.

I don't know if NPR will actually air my remarks, so I thought I'd share them with my readers here, as well. I wrote...
With all due respect to the commentator, Joe Loconte has no idea what he's talking about. His comparison of the "Theory" of Intelligent Design to the Big Bang Theory is completely off base. True, the Big Bang Theory did meet with strong opposition when first proposed, but its proponents didn't try to gain acceptance by rail-roading it into high school science classrooms. They defined their theory, stated what it predicted, and then gathered data to either prove or falsify their predictions. They took their research to peer-reviewed scientific journals and let the evidence make their case instead of trying to manipulate an uninformed public into legislating their beliefs. The Big Bang Theory gained the acceptance of the scientific community before it filtered down to high school science classes. The tactics of the ID lobby are nothing like those of real scientists trying to promote a theory. NPR should be exposing the duplicity of the ID movement instead of pandering to them.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

WoW: Gone Swimming


Yes, after travelling all across the World of Warcraft, searching at length along the bottom of the ocean (and drowning a few times in the process), travelling back across the world, and consulting an assortment of characters for directions and such, Gullveig has finally learned how to turn herself into a seal.

Actually, I'm a little bit disappointed by the aquatic form. Seriously, look at the fangs on that beast, and then explain to me why a druid in aquatic form isn't capable of a bite attack! I don't expect the seal form to be able to perform as well as bear or cat form in combat, but it shouldn't be totally incapable of defending itself. Oh, well... complaint isn't likely to get me anywhere.

If you're on the aquatic form quest, you may have trouble figuring out how to find the two pieces of the Aquatic Agility pendant. You have to talk to the flight masters in Moonglade; each gives you directions to a different half of the pendant.

You can get complete details on the quest from the WoWWiki.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Unexpected But Amusing

As any regular visitor knows, I check my Sitemeter records fairly frequently to see where my visitors are coming from. I find it amusing to see the Google search terms that lead people to my weblog, and if someone actually linked to me, I like to go see the context and even drop a comment if the site allows.

Well, I followed one of those links to Ex Cathedra, the weblog of Bob Crispen and family. He's apparently a pretty devout Christian, although religious content doesn't seem to actually dominate his posts. I was curious how someone had found my site from his and was looking for a link to one of my posts within one of his, but I found the actual link in the sidebar. He's got me in his sidebar of blog links under the heading "Heresy".

I guess I'm not in much of a position to deny it, but I wonder what prompted him to categorize me there. There seem to be a lot of anti-ID bloggers under that heading, so I can only guess that he put me there on some kind of creationist impulse. Am I growing beyond "small fry" in the blog pool?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Himalayan Salt Crystal Lamps

My quackery of the day is the Himalayan Salt Crystal lamp. I’ve seen these a couple of times in New Age stores, and I saw them again in the local Black Lion while Christmas shopping. These lamps come with an extraordinary claim that they can improve your health. I’ll be using Natural-Salt-Lamps.com as one of my primary claim sources, so let’s look at what they have to say.

Our Natural Salt Crystal Lamps and Crystal Rock Salt wellness products will have a profound effect on your health and well-being. You can breathe easier, feel better and live healthier…
That’s a pretty significant claim. Fortunately, they have a Health Benefits link that we can follow to get details on how these crystals can improve our lives.

Salt Rock Crystal Lamps create an environment rich in negative ions that has a wonderfully positive effect on your physical, emotional, mental, and even spiritual health.
Supposedly our air (especially indoor air) is full of pollutants that carry a positive electrical charge. The Himalayan Rock Crystal is going to “neutralize” these positive ions floating in the air by releasing negative ions. According to the site, this effect is related to another documented treatment.

For many years, people suffering from asthma and other symptoms have gained tremendous relief from underground asthma treatment Speleotherapy, in salt mines, where negative ions are plentiful.

Another source -- SaltLamps4U.com -- tries to explain how the ions from salt crystal lamps improve air quality…

Ionizing machines emit negative electric charges into the air, and this supposedly causes airborne allergens to cluster and fall to the ground.
Supposedly? They aren't even pretending to have supporting evidence for this claim.

Here’s the problem that I see: one of these lamps is just a hollowed salt crystal with a 15-watt light-bulb inside. How is it supposed to release negative ions? If it’s not getting a steady supply of electrons from somewhere, it can’t be releasing negative ions because it would be giving itself a positive charge that would attract negative ions, thereby defeating itself. Electrical current flowing through that light-bulb is not going to be leaving a surplus of electrons, since the electrons have to keep flowing through the circuit in order to actually work, so where are the electrons coming from? The websites have no explanation, although Natural-Salt-Lamps does try...
…the heated salt crystal attracts the water molecules from the ambient air to its surface. The salt goes into a solution as it mixes with the water molecules. Sodium, as the positively charged ion, and chloride, as a negatively charged ion, becomes neutral and are emitted back into the environment.
Yes, salt will dissolve in water, but the positively charged sodium ions and negatively charged chloride ions don’t “become neutral”: they just float around in the solution, which remains neutral overall because it has a balanced number of positive and negative ions in it. The chloride ions won’t magically float out of the solution into the air, because the attraction of the positive sodium ions won’t let them get too far away. You could possibly get both positive and negative ions into the air, but not negative ions alone. In reality, though, you generally get water vaporizing back into the air and leaving the salt behind, and that's exactly the result you should expect with a heated crystal.

Putting aside the physical problems of getting these rock crystals to release ions into the air, we still have to determine whether such ions would be beneficial. According to SaltLamps4U…

It has been researched scientifically that the amount of ions in the environment, that is acceptable by human is ca. 1000-1500/cm3. And normally in closed rooms were electronic appliances are utilized, this amount as low as 200/cm3. So to increase the number of negative ions in the environment, air ionizers are used. These air ionizers generate the negative ions and balance the atmosphere of the room.
Naturally, their website doesn't include a reference to these studies. Machines that demonstrably release ions into the air do exist, though, and they’ve been tested. The Division of Respiratory Medicine at University Hospital Basel in Switzerland reviewed studies of alternative asthma treatments conducted since 2002 and published their findings in 2004. PubMed has a summary of their findings:

Studies do not support the use of homeopathy, air ionizers, manual therapy, or acupuncture for asthma. These methods bear some risks to patients related to undertreatment and side effects.
Apparently releasing ions into the air has no health benefits, at least not for asthma. So, once again, we have an alternative medicine claim that doesn’t hold up to scientific scrutiny. If you buy a Himalayan Salt Crystal Lamp (or any other kind of salt crystal lamp, for that matter), you’re essentially paying $60 to $100 (or more) for a decorative night light.

If you really want a device to release negative ions into your home atmosphere, though, don’t despair: you probably already have one or more. Contrary to what SaltLamps4U.com says, television sets and computer monitors are negative ion sources (the Cathode Ray Tube inside a TV is specifically designed to spew electrons), and you can see how much effect they have on your air quality. They certainly attract a lot of dust. Assuming that a 15-watt salt lamp has any effect at all, it will be dwarfed by a 40-watt television set, so there's no need to buy a salt lamp, anyway.

Monday, December 12, 2005

More About Saltare

As I mentioned before, Saltare is coming up on January 14th, 2006. Saltare is the Meridien event for teaching dance, and it culminates in a big ball on Saturday evening. The Shire of Tal Mere seems to have come up with an exceptionally nice place to hold that ball. Fjorleif found a website for the Maple Street Mansion, which is hosting the ball.

I'm not sure what the class schedule is going to look like, yet. I've offered to teach a class, but I'm not sure what I'll teach. I can cover a pretty wide range of dances, so I'd prefer to fill a gap in the schedule, if possible. I do know that Lady Tsire is going to try to attend, and if she can make it she'll be teaching Bouffons.

I'll have to see what I can find out about the class schedule and the ball list.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Skeptics' Circle 23

The twenty-third Skeptics' Circle is now up at Circadiana. Nothing in it from me this time (I guess my submission got lost in the mail), but there's still plenty of evidence-demanding goodness to read.

WoW: Progress with Druids and Warlocks

I managed to find a bit of time to play World of Warcraft during the week, and I managed to tie up a few quests with my druid character, Gullveig. I think when I last mentioned her, she had just completed the Bear Quest series, but I hadn’t actually used the new ability yet. Well, Gullveig has seen quite a bit of action in bear form since then.


Bear form is basically “warrior light” for druids. You get a substantial increase in durability, some special attacks for extra damage, and a few abilities to focus the attention of monsters on your character. Gullveig tends to start a fight with ranged spells like Wrath and Moonfire, cast a heal over time spell as the target approaches, and then switch to bear form as the enemy gets into swinging range.

She has completed several quests in the Darkshore area, and she’s ready to start a rather complicated quest to acquire her aquatic form. She’ll have to go to Westfall before that quest is complete, so I may be making yet another run through the Deadmines before too long.

I also played with Dagran a little bit. He has moved up in pets, relying primarily on a Voidwalker now instead of an Imp. He’s completed all of the Elwynn Forest quests that I know about, and he’s just made the journey into Westfall. I guess that’s actually two more trips to the Deadmines in my future.

I’ve found that a warlock can easily accumulate a vast horde of soul shards without too much effort. Granted, the things are required for various summonings and some other spells, but I do need room in my bags for loot. I’ve got a bunch stashed in the bank, and I try not to accumulate more than one bag of soul shards while questing. Hopefully I’ll be able to get hold of one of the special, high-capacity shard bags before too long.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Saltare 2006

The almost-pure-dance event of the Kingdom of Meridies is schedule for the weekend of January 14, 2006, in Carrollton, GA. I've been wondering for some time whether Saltare was going to happen at all this year, but apparently a plan has finally come together.

The Shire of Tal Mere has put up a website with details.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Gall of This Guy!

According to an AP report on Yahoo News, Shane Stant wants his criminal record cleared of his conviction for an assault he committed in 1994.

Is he out of his mind? This is the moron who whacked Nancy Kerrigan in the knee with a police baton to try to keep her from competing in the 1994 Winter Olympics. What makes him think that society should just forget that he signed up to be Tonya Harding’s personal knee-capper? I think he should count himself lucky that American law didn’t permit breaking his leg!

"Oh! Woe! The Navy SEALs won’t let me in if I've got a felony criminal conviction!"

Tough, Shane! You should have considered your "dream" of joining the SEALs before becoming a criminal. You don't deserve to be a SEAL, and I don't see why any SEAL would want a treacherous scumbag who tried to cripple an American Olympic athlete at his side when he ventures into enemy territory.

Congratulations to Judge Julie Frantz, who gave him a big "Heck! No!" for an answer.