Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Dan Akroyd is a Nut

Dan is a member of the club of celebrities who believe silly things for no good reason. This might not surprise you about a man involved in movies like Ghostbusters and Evolution, but it surprised me that he actually takes such things seriously. He has apparently been a believer in the paranormal for a while, and now he’s introducing a DVD, Dan Aykroyd Unplugged on UFOs.

Here are some of the juicy quotes from the Reuters article from which I learned about this development.
"My recommendation is to skip through me and get to the film footage, the digital images."

"This is where the whole thing starts to become more credible."

"This is the real stuff. I'm not alone on this. There are many, many people interested in UFOs."
Apparently Dan doesn't understand that the truth of an idea isn't defined by its popularity.

The DVD contains film footage of alleged UFOs along with Dan’s conversations with a “UFO expert” named David Sereda and some other "experts", including a NASA astronaut.

Dan even claims to have had a couple of close encounters himself. Once, near Martha’s Vinyard, he saw…
“…high altitude, glowing magnesium discs traveling at 20,000 miles an hour at 100,000 feet (30,480 metres). ... wing to wing, edge to edge.”
Sure, Dan. How were you able to tell it was magnesium from almost 20 miles away? Come to think of it, how could you tell that there was more than one at that distance if they were "wing-to-wing"? Furthermore, how did everyone else on the eastern seaboard miss the atmospheric shockwave from objects traveling at 25 times the speed of sound?

An unidentified expert told him that what he saw must have been a meteor shower, but that’s far too mundane an explanation for Dan.

He also had a close encounter in Canada…
“The second was a telepathic experience. I was asleep with my wife and I woke up about 3 a.m. wanting to go outside into a field and look at the sky.”
She kept him inside, but the next morning, newspapers and radio reports from across the region were supposedly filled with eyewitness accounts from some of the estimated 12,000 people who saw a pink spiral in the sky. According to the article, the military later said that people in the region had seen a Chinese rocket, but again, Dan requires an explanation that boosts his ego.

This is a classic case of the Wizard’s First Rule in action. Dan ignores the most plausible explanation for phenomena in favor of an unsupportable claim that he wants to be true.

The sad part is that Dan will be regarded as a pseudo-expert by many people, and his credulity will be grounds for many other people to believe ridiculous UFO stories.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The End of the World As We Know It

the doomsday comet To be honest, this is the Bad Astronomer’s topic, but I can’t help chiming in. It seems that this Thursday, May 25th (Skeptics’ Circle day, no less), a comet fragment is going to smack into the Earth and destroy Western civilization. The villain in question is Comet 73/P Schwassmann-Wachmann, and the warning of doom comes from Eric Julien, who says…
I have received information psychically, which is corroborated by scientific data, according to which on May 25, 2006 a giant tsunami will occur in the Atlantic Ocean, brought about by the impact of a comet fragment which will provoke the eruption of under-sea volcanoes. Waves up to 200m high will reach coastlines located above and below the Tropic of Cancer. However, all of the countries bordering the Atlantic will be affected to greater or lesser destructive and deadly levels. This site is dedicated to life, to civic responsibility and to information. There is still time to save lives. Thanks for participating in the world-wide alert!
According to the source site, Eric is the author of The Science of Extraterrestrials, which isn’t exactly a strong recommendation for him. He thinks that space aliens aimed this comet at Earth because they consider us some kind of threat.

If you’re reading this, the crisis has probably already passed without so much as a whimper. I’m vaguely reminded of the Y2K scare of the late 1990’s, during which so many people assumed that the Y2K bug in computer software would bring modern civilization to a crashing halt when all those machines and programs with two-digit date fields flipped from 99 to 00. Phone networks, electrical grids, bank systems, and everything else ever touched by a computer was going to fail. The lights would go out all over the world; it would be a heyday for undeveloped countries, I suppose.

At the time, I tried explaining to people – as they stocked up on food, bottled water, batteries, and other apocalypse supplies – that the water was not going to stop flowing over the dam when the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2000, and sure enough, nothing significant happened. Institutions world-wide had, in fact, seen this coming years ahead and taken steps to make sure life would go on.

Institutions have been on top of the 73/P Schwassmann-Wachmann situation, too. Astronomers determined that the nearest pieces of the comet will still be millions of miles from the Earth when it passes. If there were a real threat, they would have issued a real warning.

So if you’re reading this on or after “doomsday”, you’ll no doubt see some new documents when you follow the link to the “save lives in may” site. Eric will cook up some excuse for why the space aliens decided to spare us; it’s the only way for him to save face, and he’s probably already got the explanatory document written and ready to post.

I just hope that millions of people haven’t wasted money on water wings.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Our Little Arwen is All Grown Up

Bachelor's of the world lament. Lady Juliana Eileen ingen David (normally known as Arwen, once Garrett, now Wagers) is now all properly married. I realize that I'm not really one of her parents or anything, but she did live in our house for several months, and we did introduce her to her future husband, so we're glad to see this relationship come so this happy stage.

The ceremony took place at her Episcopal church (seen at right during the receiving line), and I think this was the most traditional wedding that I've ever seen in my life. Nothing wrong with that mind you, I've seen some customized services and heard some original vows that were dreadfully corny in my time. This ceremony was very solemn and cultured, except when Arwen got nervous and flubbed her lines (I just can't help picking on her about such things; it makes her blush, and that's just too cute).

Following the ceremony, the reception was held in a tent in the field behind the church. The reception was accompanied by a huge thunderstorm, which prompted the irreverent remark (from me -- I'm such a heathen) "Thank you, Lord, for reminding us to be humble on this, our day of joy." Still nothing really unpleasant occurred, and it was amusing to see many ladies in dresses walking around in the wet grass with their shoes off; the slight slope of the field allowed the ground under the tent to get soaked, even though the rain didn't actually fall there. Several ladies found it easier to deal with wet feet than have their heels sink into the ground. It was fun.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Slow Night at Dance Practice

At dance practice this evening, we had the usual suspects, except for Lady Francesca, who got caught up in some family issues. Of course, she would have to drive three or four hours to get there, and I count myself lucky when she does make the trip, especially with today's gas prices.

Not a lot of new dances taught this week. We're still reviewing and drilling on Contrapsso and Parson's Farewell, with some other things that we already know pretty well thrown in from time to time.

We'll be going to the wedding of Lady Juliana and Lord William this weekend. With any luck, she'll gratuitously throw some period dancing into the reception. If not, it'll still be a good time, I'm sure. I shall endeavor to remember to take pictures. If possible, I'll also look into getting the proposal video up somewhere and link to it, since it's just abominably cute.

Two weeks until the combined Kingdom Art & Sciences and Royal University of Meridies event. Lady Francesca is dancing Contrapasso with me for the A&S competition, and I'll be teaching a 16th Century Italian Dance class, as well. This event will be at the Georgia Southwest State University campus, so if you happen to live out that way and find all this period stuff interesting, come on out; we'll find you something to wear.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Babylon 5 Geekery Revisited

As I mentioned in my previous, more political post on Babylon 5 geekery, the staff of the Babtech on the Net website have been revising some of the material (long overdue, really). I'm happy to announce that we have completed and published a couple of new pages on the Earth Alliance.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the hate mail to start rolling in. We're fanatical fans of the show, of course, but there's a different sort of fanaticism that generates our hate mail. The sort I'm talking about think that a 40 terawatt laser beam (that's 40 followed by twelve more zeroes, folks -- comparable to a 9 kiloton bomb detonating every second) is insufficient. It will get worse, too, when we revamp some of our pages on the more advanced cultures of B5.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

SC34: Crystal Clear

The 34th Skeptic's Circle is up at The Second Sight. Go harmonize your energies and attune your chakras with the healing power of crystal. Or better yet, just read the insightful articles.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Wizard’s First Rule

You can make people believe anything if they either want it to be true, or they’re afraid of it being true.
Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind

The creationists and ID advocates are obviously familiar with the rule, if not Terry Goodkind’s book, since their talking heads totally rely on appeals to the audience’s fears about evolution and desires for their religious beliefs to be upheld. Their fundamentalist Christian fans want life to be too complicated to have evolved, because they want to be God’s special creations. At the same time, they fear that those evil Darwinists are just trying to lure kids down the road to Hell with this Evolution scam. Those are the claims that creationists push on their gullible constituency, and you almost have to be a fundie to buy into their lies.

Real scientists don’t want any particular answer, and they aren’t afraid of any particular result, so they’re largely immune to the effects of the First Rule. The requirement for falsifiable theories subject to repeated testing and peer review weeds out the exceptions: no matter how much a particular scientist wants or fears a particular observation or experimental result to be true, there will always be other scientists who want the opposite or -- better still -- don’t care. In a nutshell, the scientific method is designed to negate the First Rule.

So ask yourself, do you believe creationists because of their evidence or because you want their claims to be true? Do you reject evolution because you’re afraid that all the things creationists say about “Darwinists” are true? If so, you should probably try to stop letting charlatans manipulate you with carrots and sticks.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The Great Flood

No, it's not a creationism post. It's much more personal.

Wednesday morning, at 4am, one of my dogs comes upstairs to wake me. That usually means she's desperate to go outside, so I get up to oblige. Better than stepping in a wet spot later, right?

No such luck. There's already a wet spot. In fact, there's a broad soaking area. No, the dogs had nothing to do with it; the water heater had broken, and they just came up to let us know something was wrong.

So, we shut off the water to the house and took stock. Before, when we had small leaks, we would go over the area with a wet/dry vacuum and turn some fans on it to remove the dampness, but we had not needed to deal with tens of gallons of water before.

So, we've ripped up the soaked carpet, and we have an industrial dehumidifier working on the areas where water wicked up the drywall. What started with a broken water heater is turning into a massive redecoration of the lower floor. There will be no carpet when we're done; it was pretty impractical, anyway. It'll be tile, laminate, or some other easily moppable surface, and we'll lay rugs anywere that cold feet becomes a problem.

Of course, now I have to deal with the total rearranging of the house. I hate that kind of thing, but it's probably a boon to Fjorleif, who gets tired of a given furniture arrangement every few months, anyway.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Is Nothing Sacred?

Hollywood executives baffle me. Really! I have no idea what bizarre motivations cause them to do idiotic things like flush Firefly down the toilet yet dump funds into an idiotic project like Bloodrayne. Now, they're going to tear down Scooby-Doo even more.

As if Enterprise wasn't enough of a fiasco, the same network (the newly-merged UPN/WB network) is going to start airing Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get a Clue on Saturday mornings. How is that bad, you ask? Let me fill you in...
  • They live in the "blinged out" mansion of Shaggy's Uncle Albert,
  • The Mystery Machine is a transformer, and
  • Scooby-snacks contain "nanotechnology" that gives Scooby superpowers.

Just knowing that some Hollywood exec green-lighted this show has caused me about 900 Coulters of brain damage.

I weep for our species.

Update: In case you're wondering, a Coulter is a unit of brain damage proposed by Coturnix in the comments of the Pharyngula post linked above. One Coulter is equal to one dead neuron.