Tuesday, February 21, 2006

More Psychic Uselessness

Following the Westminster Kennel Club show, a champion whippet by the name of Vivi (short for Champion Bohem C'est La Vie) escaped from her travel crate and ran off into the marshes around Kennedy International Airport. As of Tuesday, February 21, she hasn’t been found, although some droppings consistent with a dog her size were found near an airport cargo building on Monday.

Enter the self-proclaimed psychics.

"They are telling us that she is alive and they are telling us she is warm," said a friend of the dog's owners. "They are saying she's in a building — but there are hundreds of buildings."

Yeah… it takes a psychic to figure out that a thin-coated dog like a whippet is going to head for a warm building during winter in New England, especially when droppings have already been found in the area. This is typical psychic uselessness; make an educated guess and call it psychic intuition. You’d think that a real psychic would just go straight to wherever the dog is hiding, pick her up, turn her in, and walk away with the $5000 reward. Instead we get the usual optimistic health reports and useless vagaries regarding location.

I hope that Vivi turns up alive and well, but the psychics certainly aren’t doing a thing to help find her.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Steed Exchange

The exchange that my Lady Fjorleif arranged has taken place this weekend. In return for two
Arabian mares, we are receiving one Arabian colt. My Lady shall mold his little equine mind to her will.

In addition, we have started a new batch of beer. This one is fairly simple, a medium-bodied amber ale which I hope won't be too bitter. This is the first beer that I've made using only a spray-dried malt extract; we'll see how well that works. If it finishes soon enough, it will be going to Gulf Wars with us. I'll not go into the fine details of beer making in this post, as Lord Tadhg macAedain uiChonchobhair has already done so quite well.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Spreading Lies

It's both amusing and depressing when conservative talk radio personalities demonstrate their gullibility on national radio. I was listening to The Savage Nation (yes, I like to torture myself that way) on my way home from dance practice tonight, and Michael Savage actually shared the contents of a chain letter that he received as if it were the truth.

The gist of the letter is that during the Senate hearings over the Iran-Contra scandal in 1987, Al Gore asked Oliver North why he bought a $60,000 security system. Oliver supposedly answered that he needed it because he needed to protect his family from Osama bin Laden, who he said was "the most evil person alive that I know of".

This story is BS on many levels.

For one thing, Al Gore was not on the United States Senate Select Committee on Secret Military Assistance to Iran and the Nicaraguan Opposition, so he never questioned Oliver North on the subject. The questioner was actually the committee counsel, John Nields.

Second (and relatively insignificant), Oliver North did purchase a security system with money acquired from his Iran-Contra activities, but it cost only $16,000.

Third, while he did claim that he needed the security system to protect his family from a terrorist, the terrorist that he named was Libyan terrorist Abu Nidal, not Osama bin Laden, who was an American ally at the time fighting with the Muja-Hadeen against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Savage was also peddling the equally false story that the US insisted that the Israelis free Mohammed Atta from prison, allowing him to mastermind the September 11th attack. There was some confusion, but Mahmoud Atta, the person extradited to Israel in 1990 is a different person who is still serving a life sentence in Israel.

It took mere seconds for me to do a basic fact-check on these stories through Snopes.com, but Michael Savage apparently wasn't inclined to do a pathetically easy fact check on information he received from a chain letter if it seemed to back his anti-Islamic rhetoric.

Another Time Waster

I'm genuinely surprised by the results, but I have absolutely no complaints.

You scored as Serenity (Firefly). You like to live your own way and don't enjoy when anyone but a friend tries to tell you should do different. Now if only the Reavers would quit trying to skin you.

Serenity (Firefly)


Moya (Farscape)


SG-1 (Stargate)


Babylon 5 (Babylon 5)


Galactica (Battlestar: Galactica)


Deep Space Nine (Star Trek)


Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)


Nebuchadnezzar (The Matrix)


Andromeda Ascendant (Andromeda)


Bebop (Cowboy Bebop)


Enterprise D (Star Trek)


FBI's X-Files Division (The X-Files)


Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in? (pics)

created with QuizFarm.com

Skeptics' Circle 28

The 28th Skeptics' Circle is now up at Unused and Probably Unusable. Go seek enlightenment.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A New Lie Detector?

A company called Nemesysco is now marketing the GK-1 Security Access Control System, a device that supposedly uses “Layered Voice Analysis (LVA) technology” to determine whether an individual is lying based on analysis of the person’s voice.

Well, they don’t claim it detects lies, as such, but they do claim that it will identify someone’s “overall emotional state” so that you can “single out potential harmful intentions”.

This is supposed to be a rapid screening system that you can use in places like airports. A subject answers three to five questions that take no more than a minute, and the system responds with a red or green result. I can only guess that a red result means you should take the person aside for more intensive questioning and searching.

While I don’t think such a system is necessarily a bad idea if it works, I have a couple of problems with it. For one thing, where did they find a broad sample of people who really had “potential harmful intentions” to use as the baseline for calibrating their machine? Do they have recordings of dangerous criminals that were made shortly before they committed their crimes? That’s about the only potential source of comparison data that I can conceive, but Nemesysco doesn’t say anything about how they determine what data in a person’s voice will “reveal their real intentions”.

They also say that one of three algorithms their device uses to detect threats is a “polygraph-like analysis”, which sets off my alarm bells. A polygraph test is a trick, not a legitimate test. The polygraph machine is, at best, a stress indicator, and the test can only work if the tester can ask a legitimate control question on which he knows the subject will lie. Furthermore, it’s pathetically easy to create false stress readings on a polygraph, so an informed subject can easily beat the test. If the GK-1 is using similar principles, I wouldn’t expect it to be any more reliable.

Maybe there is legitimate test data for this machine somewhere in the archives of Nemesysco, but I wouldn’t be inclined to trust the thing without seeing the results of some well-designed performance tests. Nemesysco’s website provides nothing of the sort, so I consider their product to be a dubious investment, at best. It may catch the spontaneous offenders, but I expect that determined intruders will find ways to beat the test, meaning that Nemesysco clients will be -- to some extent -- buying a false sense of security.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Midwinter A&S

We are recently returned from the Midwinter Arts and Sciences event hosted by the Barony of South Downs. Both my Lady and I found this to be a fine event, and we congratulate the Populace of South Downs (including Their Excellencies, of course) for their great success.

This was my first event as an Arts and Sciences Judge. As I progress in apprenticeship, I expect that I shall be acting as a judge quite often. I shall have to develop something in the way of largess to share with A&S contestants (back to the pewter casting projects with me, I think). As I only judged one entry at this event, I think I managed to get by.

Being the generous sort of individual that I am (cough... cough), I valiantly offered to sacrifice myself by volunteering to judge any brewing and vinting entries offered at the event. As it happened, there was one entry in the brewing and vinting category at Midwinter A&S. This was a fairly simple but extremely nice Blackberry Wine. I'm afraid that I was unable to give it a very high score, as the documentation was not very complete and it wasn't a difficult wine-making project, but I gave it a top score on execution without a second thought. I spoke with the vintner after turning in my judging form, and I was pleased to find that she wasn't actually expecting to receive a particularly high score on that entry. Her wine entry was something of an afterthought, and she actually won the category with her other entry.

As some of my readers might expect, I entered the competition myself in the performing arts category with Contrapasso, a 16th-century Italian dance written by Fabritio Caroso. Marks from the judges on this dance were 19, 21, and 23 (out of 25). I was actually rather surprised at these scores: I wasn't expecting to do so well with a partner I'd just found the night before (shame on you Francesca for not making it to Midwinter!) and a dance that I don't consider very difficult. The judges' ratings for difficulty/complexity were 4, 4, and 5; I was personally expecting a 3, since I received ratings of 4 for Laccio d'Amore, which was much more difficult to master (I swear that Caroso deliberately tries to mess you up with that dance). I'm obviously going to have to come up with a 16th-century Italian Renaissance outfit for these dances that I'm researching, as every single judge commented that our garb was not appropriate to the time and nationality of the dance.

I also found time to consult Her Majesty regarding the Meridien Ball at Gulf Wars. We now have a finished dance list, and I hope to make it an exceptional evening for dancers.

I would like to say a special thanks to Viscount Rhame (my apologies if I've mis-spelled that) and Viscountess Gwynna, who made this event all the more special with their hospitality.

Our next planned event is the Convivium Collegialis on February 25th.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Time Waster du Jour

Woe is me. I followed Reiblue’s link to a Star Trek character quiz, with the results you see below. I suppose there could be more embarrassing results, but I’m hard-pressed to think of them right now (I'd almost rather be the Red Shirt Expendable).

Your results:
You are Will Riker
Will Riker

An Expendable Character (Redshirt)

James T. Kirk (Captain)

Jean-Luc Picard

Geordi LaForge


Mr. Sulu



Beverly Crusher


Leonard McCoy (Bones)


Deanna Troi

Mr. Scott

At times you are self-centered
but you have many friends.
You love many women, but the right
woman could get you to settle down.
Click here to take the Star Trek Personality Quiz