Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Re: Your Brains

Tomorrow is the beginning of October, so I figure that a good way to start off the Halloween season -- particularly when it's going to be a month with not one but two zombie movies coming out -- is to share this video from Dragon*Con TV.

Bon appetite!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Warehouse 13 Finale

Warehouse 13I’m sure everyone who reads the Saga knows by now that I watch SyFy. One of their better offerings of late has been Warehouse 13, a show about collecting supernatural artifacts and stuffing them into a giant warehouse for safe-keeping. So far, it’s had good characters, continuity, and writing.

It would certainly be unreasonable to expect this show to never have a bad episode, but there are different ways a show can go wrong. A good idea with a bad execution, for example, is different from a bad idea with a good execution.

I think that the Warehouse 13 finale was more of the latter. The actors and directors are doing great, but the script resorted to handing out idiot balls to the leads in order to railroad them to the cliff-hanger conclusion. I’ve seen this pattern repeatedly in Heroes, too.

So, Warehouse 13 writers, get some science fiction buffs who’ve read the Evil Overlord list and its counterpart for heroes to vet your scripts for stupidity before implementing them, eh? Smart people can still get into trouble, but they don’t have to walk into it foolishly, ok?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Syfy Original Movie "Lightning Strikes"

So I found myself watching Lightning Strikes on Syfy over the weekend. It's a Syfy original movie, so you know it's going to be bad. I don't want to go into too much detail, but there was just one stand-out-stupid incident that won't let me rest until I share my pain.

I suppose this could be considered a spoiler, but it's the first scene of the movie, so it's not spoiling much. A couple of people are driving down a road when the Lightning Storm of Evil breaks out. The lightning strikes are obviously targeted to threaten the car, but that's to be expected in a movie like this.

Then a prolonged lightning bolt strikes in front of the car, and as the car drives through it, the lightning cuts the car in half.

I kid you not: it cuts the car in half. But it's unnatural lightning, so that -- in itself -- wasn't what really bothered me.

For the rest of the movie, no one calls attention to the fact that lightning should not be able to do that to a car. When people say that a car is the safest place to be in a lightning storm, they aren't far off the mark. A car functions like a Faraday cage: the metal frame conducts electricity around anyone inside and grounds it through the tires. If you are in a car that gets struck by lightning, you may get blinded by the flash and deafened by the thunder, but you won't get electrocuted, and the car definitely won't get cut in half.

Would it have been all that hard for just one character, like one of the three storm-chasing scientists, to point out that this event was distinctly unnatural? Everyone acted like the only strange thing was that the lightning struck the car, not what happened to the car as a result.

Creationist Cut-and-Paste

I'm a part-time lurker at Ray Comfort's weblog, which is a haven for creationist idiocy*. Occasionally one of Ray's sycophants will post something they think is a real shocker that will instantly convert someone from “evolutionism”. Poster "Quasar" left just such a little jewel in the comments there around the beginning of September.

Just for fun, I'm going to see if I can find the answers to these “devastating” questions.

Students, give this test to your teachers. When they fail it, ask them why they are teaching this nonsense!

Teachers, give this test to your students if you really want them to know the truth about evolution!

1. Which evolved first, male or female?

I don't even think any research is necessary for this one; the nearest earthworm is a clue. Genetic information exchange actually evolved pretty early in the history of life on Earth; sexual differentiation evolved later, and both genders evolved together.

2. How many millions of years elapsed between the first male and first female?

Zero. That was easy.

3. List at least 9 of the false assumptions made with radioactive dating methods.

I get it! This is a trick question, right? There aren't any false assumptions made when using radiometric dating, if you're doing it correctly.

Here's a starter article on radiometric dating. It's obviously a pretty complex subject, so I wouldn't take the word of a creationist who knows nothing about it on what “false assumptions” are made.

4. Why hasn't any extinct creature re-evolved after millions of years?

Marsupial and Placental mammal convergenceBecause that's not how evolution works. Species diverge like branches of a tree, each one evolving from different starting materials to adapt to a different set of circumstances. If you prune out a twig, you won't ever get the exact same thing again, since anything new evolving to fit the same niche will have a different starting point. That said, there's a surprising amount of convergent evolution: similar forms evolving to adapt to similar environments.

Questions like this one make it obvious that the questioner really has no understanding of the principles of evolution.

5. Which came first: the eye? the eyelid? the eyebrow? the eye sockets? the eye muscles? the eye lashes? the tear ducts? the brain's interpretation of light?

Oh, dear... not the evolution of the eye thing again. Darwin himself was able to answer this question back in the 19th century. Without doing any research, let's eliminate the eyelid, eyebrow, and eyelashes right off the bat: have you ever seen a fish with any of those? Me neither.

What you really need first is a light-sensitive cell, and almost any cell can react to sufficiently intense light. From there, it becomes a matter of specialization for light sensitivity, then development of light-sensitive cells in clusters, then an organ to start focusing the light.

It goes without saying that scientists have answered this repeatedly for over a century.

6. How many millions of years between each in question 5?

One scientific estimate predicts that you could go from eyespots to sophisticated eyes in about 350,000 generations. The amount of time would depend on the reproductive cycle of the species evolving the eyes, but it could realistically take less than a million years.

7. If we all evolved from a common ancestor, why can't all the different species mate with one another and produce fertile offspring?

I know that the writer has no clue about biology, but this one is just so pathetic. By definition, speciation requires populations to become so dissimilar from each other that members of one group don't mate with members of the other to produce fertile offspring.

8. List any of the millions of creatures in just five stages of its evolution showing the progression of a new organ of any kind. When you have done this, you can collect the millions of dollars in rewards offered for proof of evolution!

Kent Hovind never had millions of dollars to offer as a reward (in fact, his offer was only $250,000). Unlike the James Randi Educational Foundation, who make the account information for their Million Dollar Challenge public, Kent never offered any proof that he could actually pay a reward. Further, Kent made himself the arbitrator of what would constitute proof, and his standard of evidence would have required time-travel. Kent's now in prison for tax fraud, so... yeah.

But I got side-tracked. An organ in five stages of development. Trying to find something with illustrations took some work, but let’s look at whale flukes, shall we?

  1. Pakicetus: An aquatic mammal with four legs and a thin tail.
  2. Ambulocetus: An aquatic mammal with shorter legs and a stronger tail.
  3. Rhodocetus: An aquatic mammal with a still stronger tail and legs diminishing toward flippers. This species would have little or no mobility on land.
  4. Durodon: A large aquatic mammal with limbs utterly incapable of moving the animal on land; the tail is flattening and spreading into flukes.
  5. Aetiocetus: A large aquatic mammal with distinct flukes; the hind limbs have diminished to nothing, and the forelimbs are purely flippers.
  6. Modern whales
9. Why is it that the very things that would prove Evolution (transitional forms) are still missing?

Archaeopteryx? Tiktaalik? Australopithicus? Ambulocetus? Have you really never heard of any of these? There are all kinds of transitional fossils. I suppose you're one of those who thinks there should be "crocoducks".

10. Explain why something as complex as human life could happen by chance, but something as simple as a coin must have a creator. (Show your math solution.)

First, the Theory of Evolution does not say that life happened by chance. In fact, it doesn't address the question of how life started. It only addresses the question of how life diversified into the many species that we see today after it started.

Second, life is the result of chemical reactions. Many complex chemical reactions occur spontaneously.

Third, we know exactly where coins come from, since we make them ourselves.

EDIT: I should add that the simplicity of a coin actually helps distinguish it as something designed by humans. Human engineers typically make things as simple as possible to reduce the number of things that can go wrong. Nature, on the other hand, often produces things that are needlessly complicated because of all the ancestral baggage they carry.

11. Why aren't any fossils or coal or oil being formed today?

Umm... what makes you think they aren't? It'll just be a long time before the “fossil fuels” forming today finish forming.

12. List 50 vestigial or useless organs or appendages in the human body.

50? Damn... that's a tall order. Sure, the appendix isn't doing much, nor is the tail bone, but 50? I'm not sure that we actually have that many that are seriously vestigial (which isn't necessarily the same as “useless”, btw).

13. Why hasn't anyone collected the millions of dollars in rewards for proof of evolution?

Because there's no evidence that the money exists, maybe? Or because the evidentiary standards required by those offering the supposed “reward” are unrealistic?

14. If life began hundreds of millions of years ago, why is the earth still under populated?

What's your definition of “under populated”? There are plenty of people claiming that the Earth is currently OVER populated (at least by humans).

15. Why hasn't evolution duplicated all species on all continents?

Why is that something you would expect? It's certainly not something that the Theory of Evolution predicts. Would it really be that much of a burden for you to actually learn the theory before you propose all these questions? (But what should I expect? This is just another cut-n-paste routine.)

*I'm not saying that all creationists are idiots, mind you... they're mostly just disinformed, but it's hard not to throw labels at people when they pass around long-refuted garbage that someone probably sent them in a chain letter. The content of this Quasar's post is idiotic, even if Quasar isn't.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Dragon*Con 2009

I have returned from Dragon*Con and managed to figure out Picasa well enough to have a LOT of pictures uploaded. You can view the main album there, but here are a few highlights.

Warhammer 40K CharactersDoing the time warp
Sauron and friendYou don't know Jack
Insert key here to windOh! Behave, baby!

And I also managed to attend the Arc Attack concert at the Mad Scientists' Ball on Sunday night. We control the Lightning!