Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Wine Jip

I initially heard about The Wine Clip through the James Randi Educational Foundation. It is a device that -- according to it's advertising -- "can enhance the taste of wine, making it smoother, less bitter and more refined". Supposedly this occurs because..."When wine passes through a magnetic field, a physical change occurs. The magnetic field has an effect on tannins which are suspended in the wine. The tannins are broken down into smaller tannins. We believe that the taste of many small tannin molecules is smoother than the taste of fewer large tannin molecules." The advertised price on the Wine Clip website is $49.95 per clip.

I wrote a letter to the company to ask for a better explanation, since I saw no reason to think that a magnetic field would have any effect on the flavor of wine. A very nice fellow named Tony, who is an expert on magnets, wrote back to me saying "The way I understand it, there sometimes is very loose coercive bonds between Tannin molecules that get dispersed through the magnetic fields." Tony expressly stated that he was not an expert on chemistry and that he would be referring my question to one of the company's chemists, but I never heard from any chemist working for EA Magnetics, the makers of The Wine Clip.

Let's just say I didn't flunk chemistry in high school or college. None of the company explanations made any scientific sense, but I still figured there was an outside chance that tannins had some peculiar properties that might come into play. I therefore looked up a biochemist, Dr. Ann Hagerman, who specializes in tannins, and asked her about it.
"Tannins are not 'loosely bonded' --whatever that means--but are normal covalent molecules. Tannins are chemically reactive by normal processes including oxidation, conjugation and hydrolysis. During normal wine aging and processing, the tannins found in the original grapes are chemically changed, in some cases degraded and in some cases polymerized with other components of the wine.
"There is no evidence that putting samples in a strong magnetic field will chemically change them--nmr and epr are typical examples of using high magnetic fields to examine the structures of molecules without chemically changing them."
So, in a nutshell, making wine "smoother, less bitter and more refined" requires a chemical reaction in the wine, whereas the makers told me that "There is absolutely no chemical change and nothing is introduced or taken away from the wine. It's the physical change which accounts for the enhanced flavor and bouquet." They just told me that their product does not have the effect that is known to "improve" the flavor of wine as it ages.

Does anyone else see a problem with this?

To put it succinctly, my PhD source said, "I would certainly not buy this device nor recommend that anyone else buy it--it is harmless sounding but also useless sounding."

A quick look at the Wine Clip website will quickly show two dubious characteristics of their advertising: lots of testimonials and lots of pseudoscientific jargon. Testimonials are easy enough to obtain whether a product really works or not; you just need to find people who are reasonably suggestible. Likewise, scientific language is easy to imitate without actually saying anything of substance. There is a video clip of a taste test, but it's not the kind of controlled, double-blind test that would actually produce meaningful scientific results. In short, they present no real evidence that the Wine Clip has any effect on wine at all.

The JREF has already said that they will pay their $1 million prize to the makers of The Wine Clip if they can just show that the use of the wine clip is detectable in a controlled, double-blind taste test conducted before neutral observers. So far, the company has refused to accept the challenge. Personally, I think that being able to claim the JREF prize would be a huge advertising coup with a $1 million bonus, so I can't see any legitimate reason for the company to pass up the opportunity if the product actually works.

The Wine Clip certainly isn't the only company to use tactics like these. These days you can buy "energized" water, Kabbalah capsules, homeopathic remedies, and a host of other products and services that cost money but don't deliver any results. The Wine Clip is probably one of the least offensive such products on the market; what it fails to deliver is something you didn't really need, anyway. The tactics are what you need to learn from this example, before you spend precious resources on a really important product, like a disease treatment, that has no basis in reality.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A Moment of Hysteria

I found this comment while browsing Yahoo News:
"It's easy to think of fish as swimming vegetables but of all the places in the country where fish should get a fair shake it's an aquarium," said Karin Robertson, manager of the Fish Empathy Project for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Let me go on record as saying that the first place I want to go after visiting a big aquarium is a good sushi bar. The fish are nice to look at, but I don't feel any "empathy" for them, and seeing them in an aquarium environment does nothing to diminish my desire to eat them. The radicals at PETA are completely out of touch with the natural order, in which animals eating other animals is completely normal.

I have eyes in the front of my head. I can also observe that our closest primate relatives, chimps, are hunters as well as gatherers. We're obviously predators, omnivorous though we may be. Fish are food; deal with it PETA.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Border Raids Aftermath

I spent most of the day at Border Raids fencing, and my muscles won't let me forget it. Most of the day I sucked pretty bad, too. This is what I get for letting practice slip so often recently.

I had a pretty good time during the flag battle, though. Someone stabbed me in the toe, leaving me in a perfect position to observe the battle lines around the flag. I just stayed put and directed traffic, sending our reserves to appropriate places and watching for enemy flank attempts. It was kind of a pity that the battle got cut short because of the heat.

I also got to fight beside the Queen of the Midrealm during the interkingdom rapier practice in the afternoon. I was pretty much "on" during that practice, and we had a good record of success. I always like to see royals on the fencing field; it's unfortunate that so few of my own kingdom's royalty take any interest in rapier.

Dance was a bit difficult, since we were outside the hall with very little light, but we did have at least twelve people dancing at one point, so I call it a decent revel.

Hopefully Cumberland Centre will have made enough on this event to pour a concrete floor in their main hall. The new showers house is very nice, but it's going to need hot water before they use it in any season but high summer.

WoW: Smackdown

I had a fairly amusing encounter playing World of Warcraft last night. As I was walking out of the inn, I met a mage who -- without preamble of any sort -- challenged me to a duel. I saw no reason not to accept, and I sicced my wolf on him as soon as he went hostile. A second later he had turned me into a sheep, which kept me out of the action for a few moments. When I became myself again, I couldn't see my adversary anywhere. Shortly after, I discovered that my overeager opponent had fled out of the duel area. Evidently he was no match for my wolf alone, let alone me and the wolf together.

Some other fellow invited me to group with him. I accepted to close the popup window while we discussed it, but he promptly ran off. He evidently expected me to follow him around without even a discussion of what quest he was trying to complete. Rude... very rude, so I dropped out of the group without further adieu.

Point of etiquette, folks. If you're going to invite someone into a group, explain the mission, determine everyone's role in the group, and don't just run off expecting someone five levels higher than you to do whatever you want.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

11th Skeptics' Circle

Anne's Anti-quackery & Science Blog is now hosting the 11th Skeptics' Circle. I've got two articles in it, and there's plenty of other good bloggery there, too, so check it out.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

This is just Too F'ing Stupid!

But quite frankly, it's the sort of behavior I've come to expect of Creationists.
Pressure from ultraconservative religious groups has prompted some theaters equipped with the high quality panoramic IMAX screens to cancel showings of several movies which refer to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.
-- Yahoo News

Please note that most of these theaters are in science museums. Yet again, the Creationists not only want to bury their heads and hide from the evidence, they want to heap dirt on everyone else as well.

Related bloggery:

Monday, June 20, 2005

Insanely Indulgent

I spent the weekend in the Shire of Nant-Y-Derwyddon helping my parents (who have nothing to do with the SCA, I just wanted to give the shire a free link) empty out a condo that sells at the end of the month. I conveniently also got to be home for Father's Day, too. We got all the big stuff out of the condo; what's left will be going to auction. Some things went to my parents house, but quite a bit of nice furniture also came home with us.

You'd think that providing all this home furnishing goodness would be enough for my parents, but no. My father decided -- on Father's Day, no less -- to buy me a new computer. For the briefest instant, I considered declining, but far be it from me to refuse my father a chance to display his generosity. I therefore altruistically accepted his kind offer (really, the fact that I desperately want a new, state-of-the-art computer had nothing to do with it).

So, by the end of the month I expect to have a gaming behemoth of a computer (which should handle the installation of a MySQL database pretty well, too). I should be able to play in prime time, engage in PVP, and go to major cities whenever I want. I should even be able to manage the Zepplin crossing without any trouble.

I would therefore like to take this opportunity to loudly and publicly thank my father and mother for all they have done for me over the years and continue to do. I love you both!

Friday, June 17, 2005

A Full Night of Dance

We had dance class last night (for a change), and I was surprised to find that I had four new students. These are people with no SCA affilication (yet) who learned about the class through the newsletter published by Cohn Adult Education Center, where we have our classes. If that doesn’t make sense to you, you need to know that, technically, the SCA activities at Cohn (both the dance classes and our fighter practices) are Cohn Community Education classes.

So, last night I taught Ballo del Fiore, Black Nag, Black Alman, and Official Bransle. All are rather common dances in the Kingdom, there’s a good spread among English, Italian, and French. I rather like that format, so I shall endeavor to come up with a lesson plan by next class (which should actually be July 7th; I need to update everyone on that).

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Politics: Conservative Republican Sense

I love it when a conservative Republican says something intelligent...

Intelligent Design/Creationism is not "Conservative," it is a religious agenda, dressed up as pseudo-science, trying to push a religious belief in public schools. You got a religion you want to promote? Fine. Do like the Jehovah's Witnesses do, and go sell your magazines door-to-door. You have a new scientific theory? Fine. Get out and do some field work, lab work, and publish some papers; there is NO "evilutionist" cabal that will silence you. No scientific advances have ever been made by state education boards changing standards; that's politics, not science.
You'll scroll down the original blog to read the rest. The article title is "Creationists on the March."

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

WoW: To Build a Better Boomstick

I find that I'm enjoying my hunter character more than my older characters lately. Maybe it's because I had a better idea of what I was doing when I started him. Maybe it's the active and supportive guild that recruited him early in his career. Maybe it's the joy of taming and training pets. Maybe its the accomplishments in his professions. I don't know for sure, but Grimbor has been taking up more and more of my WoW time.

He has completed every quest I can find for him in Dun Morogh; it's time to go to Loch Modan. He has a pet wolf named Freki and a pet leopard named Brindlefaxi. I love Norse names. I think I'm going to let the cat go, though, and try to tame one of the big bears in Loch Modan. The cat doesn't seem to have any special abilities to learn and pass on to other pets.

With regard to the title of this article, Grimbor has learned the designs required to construct a Rough Boomstick, which is an improvement over the gun he currently wields. He just needs to smelt some copper ore to get started. That will be his first priority when he arrives in Thelsamar.

Appreciation for the Ancestors

I’ve had some time to think about the scientific method in recent days, and not just because of the ID flap in Kansas that set the blogging world all aflutter. Strangely enough, I find that I can tie some of my SCA experience to this subject.

I recently did a very simple Arts & Sciences project on making charcoal, and in the course of my research and work I was struck by just how scientifically minded some of our ancestors must have been. Someone in the ancient world was a razor-sharp observer who noticed that the coals left behind by a fire would actually burn again and burn hotter than the original wood fire. This person realized that a hotter fire could be useful, set out to make charcoal on purpose, and figured out how to do it.

There was no book of knowledge available to the first charcoal-maker; that inventor had to discover the secret. I can see that this person had a scientific mind; he or she figured out that wood left burning in open air would leave nothing but ash, while wood kept from air would leave charcoal. In all likelihood, this person used the scientific method: take a guess at what’s happening, then test to see if the guess is right. As history has shown time-after-time, this method gets results.

The inventor of charcoal passed the knowledge on to others, and they found uses for it. Charcoal burns hot enough to melt copper, tin, and iron. At some point, our observant ancestors noticed that such a hot fire could extract metal from rock, and they set out to do it on purpose. They must have tried different kinds of rock and different methods of keeping it in the fire until they knew which rocks to heat and how to extract metal efficiently. They built on the knowledge of their predecessors and passed their discoveries on to their descendants.

Make no mistake, modern civilization runs on the innovations of our ancestors. To quote a phrase, “We stand on the shoulders of giants.”

So I have to wonder why we want to kick the legs out from under some of our giants today. That’s what the Creationist/ID movement is trying to do. They don’t respect the success record of the scientific method. They don’t try to discover how life works; they don’t make observations and test guesses; they’re not attempting to do any real research. Someone told them what to believe, and they like what they were told, so they’re just attacking anything that contradicts that belief.

It’s not a new phenomenon, but it’s a frightening one. Thanks to modern communication technology, virtually anyone can shout claims across the world, regardless of whether they contain a grain of truth, and the number of voices spreading the truth is unfortunately small compared to the number of voices spreading comforting lies. Welcome to the disinformation super-highway.

Think hard about what you what you want to teach your children. Your descendants will be standing on your shoulders someday. Those who have learned the scientific method will be giants. What will your descendants be?

Monday, June 13, 2005

Ask for a Prediction

That's what I think should be the standard response to "Intelligent Design" advocates. In order to call "Intelligent Design" a theory, in the scientific sense, its advocates need to start telling us what the theory predicts. The Theory of Evolution, for example, predicts that any feature you find on a modern animal will be a variation on a similar feature of the animal's ancestors. The important point about the prediction is that it gives you a way to test the theory.

In our previous example, you can test the Theory of Evolution whenever you discover a new species. You just try to place the species in the evolutionary "family tree" by comparing its features to those of other species (both modern and extinct) to identify its "relatives". Evolution predicts that every species will have its place in the tree, so discovering a species that has no "ancestors" on the tree would be evidence that something else is going on.

One of my internet acquaintances, who is an engineer, has written an essay on "Intelligent Design theory", which he has taken to calling "Incompetent Design theory". He argues that an intelligent designer would fix obvious problems with living organisms. For instance, in all land mammals, the trachea (your "wind pipe") and esophagus (the tube you swallow food down) meet at the back of the mouth. Why is that a problem? Have you ever choked on something? Have you ever heard of someone choking to death on something? Having those two tubes connected is a potentially lethal design flaw, and it's a flaw that exists in every vertebrate land animal.

Why bring that up? It goes back to predictions. What is the predictable response of an intelligent designer who discovers a flaw in one of his designs? What does it say about "Intelligent Design theory" that such a flaw is so widespread among modern species?

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Strange Ways to Get Visitors

I have a hit counter at the bottom of the weblog, and it can tell me how my visitors found me by back-tracking the link they used to get here. It seems that several people have been trying to get a list of the jokes that WoW characters tell when you use the "/silly" command. Because of my "Silly Discoveries" article, Google has been returning my weblog as it's top result. Apparently there is no listing of the jokes...

WoW: This is my BOOMSTICK!

In fact, it's a "Hunter's Boomstick" that I purchased in Thunder Bluff right after learning how to use firearms from the weapon master. Yes, at last, Gondul is proficient with firearms. She how has what I would consider a perfect "pulling" tool (until she learns to make a better one), as well as a handy way to finish cowardly monsters that run away.

An undead mage who happened to also be in town enchanted some of my equipment for me, but then he started to get a little creepy. Maybe he doesn't realize that the gender of a character is not necessarily the same as the gender of the player, but he got more than a little "fresh" with Gondul (yes, I realize the irony of that, since Gondul is a walking corpse). I got sufficiently weirded out to use my hearthstone, which carried me many leagues away. Gondul is now working quests in orcish territory, which should keep her occupied for a while.

Meanwhile, on another server, Grimbor completed his pet-taming quests. Now he has to go visit someone in Ironforge to get his pet-training quests. That will have to wait until morning, as Ironforge is lag hell (unlike Thunder Bluff, which I was able to move about in prime time).

Central Cohort War Practice Report

This was an event that I would have to call... under attended. In fact, there were only two fencers present, and maybe a little over a dozen heavy fighters. Maybe people are resting up for Border Raids. Maybe they were afraid of the hurricane. Whatever the reason, there weren't a whole lot of people present. Mores the pity.

Well, I can't pity them too much. Or the people who daytripped and didn't stay for feast. They lost out big time. That feast rocked! Venison pies, honey-orange chicken, mushroom tarts, carrot tarts, salad, rice pudding... all good! What's more, due to the low attendance, we got to fill our coolers with extra food. I will dine well for a week or more. I'm looking forward to Loch Cairn's next event.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Central Cohort War Practice

I'm off to Royal, AL for the Central Cohort War Practice this weekend, where I shall be the marshal in charge (note to self, print out the necessary paperwork). The Border Raids schedule doesn't actually show anything in the way of melees for fencing, so I guess an emphasis on tournament dueling would be a good idea for the practice.

In unrelated new, I've got some kind of internet connectivity problem, so I'm gping through WoW withdrawal.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

WoW: The Long March

Gondul woke up in Orgrimmar this morning with low enough lag to actually accomplish something, so she created a few auctions, picked up all the secondary professions, and started the long journey on foot to Thunder Bluff. An assortment of Fleeting Striders and related beasts lie dead in her wake. Somewhere I've got to pick up a recipe for Strider Meat.

Anyway, Gondul made it all the way to Camp Taurajo before my play time was up. She's resting in a hammock at the inn there.

You always forget something, though. In this case, she forgot to check in with the Wyvern master in Orgrimmar, so she'll have to take another long walk to get back there. At least I reset my hearthstone to Crossroads.

I guess the downside is that I'll have to give up all the quests I took on in Lordaeron. There's no way I'm attempting another zepplin ride until I get a better computer.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

WoW: The Curse is Broken

Wee logged in to my account and walked Gondul off the zepplin today. I think she'll be staying on the Kalimdor continent for a while, given the difficulties inherent in making the sea crossing. Didn't get much done with her, unfortunately. Walked into Orgrimmar and was in lag hell again, I shall endeavor to accomplish some things there in the morning.

I did get some good hunting done with Grimbor. I teamed with a couple of other hunters, and we blazed through about four quests. Grimbor reached Level 10, so he's ready to start working the Pet Training quests.

And there was much rejoicing...

Do you hear that, Mr. Anderson?

"That is the sound of inevitability."

Or irony, in my case, since it seems inevitable that on the day I get my act together to be at fencing practice on time with all of my equipment, no one else shows up to play. Corbin was there, mind you, but he wasn't particularly enthused, so we just waited until the official start time and then gave up.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Time to Melt the Pewter

My lovely lady got me a dedicated pot and ladle for pewter casting yesterday. As soon as I can set up a workstation, it will be time to cast some test runs.

Back to the Fighting Field

I'm getting off my duff and getting back out to fencing practice today. Given what I've seen in weather reports, I daresay we'll be playing inside Cohn's small gym this evening, which means it will be very hot and stuffy. Oh well, so will Border Raids. I would say it's time to practice for melees, but the Border Raids website doesn't actually list any fencing melees on its schedule, which I find quite strange.

WoW: Dull Morning

Nothing happening in the World of Warcraft this morning due to some rather extensive server work that's underway.

Monday, June 06, 2005

WoW: Whacked on the Head

Darzun spent a little time in southern Loch Modan trying to score his count of Splinterskull Seers and Splinterskull Skullthumpers. I made the Seer quota, but there seems to be a shortage of Skullthumpers willing to lurk on the outskirts of their camps, which makes it hard to get a one-on-one fight going. Darzun's not yet tough enough to easily handle more than one of these rather nasty troggs, but there didn't seem to be anyone else around to back him up. He's therefore haunting the cemetery at Thelsamar until I get back to him.

Grimbor took up Mining and Engineering after arriving in Kharanos. He also received and invitation to join the Sons of the Maple Leaf, which I accepted. Maybe he'll have an easier time finding help on his assorted quests in Dun Morogh, now.

Kingdom A&S Aftermath

Final score for the Laccio d'Amore entry was 18/20. Based on the score of 4/5 that it received on the difficulty portion of the judging sheet, this particular dance will never score a full 20/20 in competition, so it's time to start researching something harder. We had a good time with it, though, and Fjorleif made a short video of the dance during the competition which I hope to have available through the shire website shortly.

Final score for the charcoal project was 11/20. This was not really a disappointment: I knew up front that the documentation was thin and that it was really a very simple example of charcoal burning; I just entered it for fun. I got some very good feedback on how to develop a more robust project for future A&S entries.

Also, at the event, Sebastiana received a well-deserved induction into the Order of the Argent Comet.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Kingdom Arts & Sciences

I'll be heading out to Montgomery Bell Park for the Kingdom A&S event this afternoon. I think I'll be there early enough to find a good place to practice dancing Laccio until I'm sick of it, which I need to do to get back into shape for a performance.

According to the event website, all entries needed to be submitted three weeks in advance, so I may be wasting time taking my charcoal, but its not a huge exhibit, so I'm taking it anyway just in case (Fjorleif figured that they just might be short on entries, since the three-week deadline is a fairly new thing).

Leon is going to be at the event doing some pick-up fencing. My equipment is going, but I'm not sure I'll have time to actually play. Fjorleif probably will, though.

This of course means I won't be doing any more WoW-ing until at least Sunday.

WoW: Not So Fun

I had a somewhat -- disappointing experience a night or so ago. I was playing Escovar, who's running quests against the Defias Brotherhood around Westfalls these days. I needed to go to the village of Moonbrook to rack up a body count of Highwaymen, Knuckledusters, and some other Defias type. Escovar was level 15 at the time, and these Defias rogues tend to be level 16, so I requested some help on the "Looking for Group" channel and soon had a dwarf hunter grouped with me.

Things weren't going to well in the early stages because I was experiencing a lot of lag; I got ambushed and killed twice while lagging. Nonetheless, we persevered and whacked some Defias rogues.

Then some of his guild buddies joined the group. These were a level 40+ paladin and druid. You can imagine how things went from there; Defias dropped so fast that Escovar couldn't even complete a fireball, and his shares of experience and loot were minimal. Yeah, I got a quest finished a lot faster than I would have otherwise, but it lacked any feeling of accomplishment.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Me and My Plaster Cast

No, I'm no injured. Last night I spent a couple of hours carving an Argent Comet design into a chunk of plaster. Given that tonight is gaming night (and the party will ALL DIE! HAHAHAH... whoops, did I say that out loud?), I doubt that I'll get around to melting and pouring pewter until at least Thursday (upon which it looks like I won't be having dance class... again).

WoW: New Digs

Since Gondul is at least temporarily out of commission, I took a little time to start a new character over on the Earthen Ring server. Grimbor is a Dwarf Hunter, which gives me an entirely new style of play to tinker with.