It’s Florida, what do you expect?

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Ok, stumbled onto this as I was trying to relax and get to sleep, but it’s too stupid to pass up.

The legislators in Florida are trying to pass a bill intended to allow students to sue professors who claim Evolution is real.

Read it here.

The absolute best part of the article is this:
“Students who believe their professor is singling them out for “public ridicule” – for instance, when professors use the Socratic method to force students to explain their theories in class – would also be given the right to sue.”

Ok. I’m all for people believing whatever they want. BUT, and this is a HUGE BUT, if you are claiming your beliefs are a valid scientific theory (Creationism) your better be willing to argue it as such. You cannot claim your belief is a real theory and then when asked about it say “I don’t have to prove it, or debate it, it’s a religious thing.”

Stuff like this seems to be happening every day. The religious zealots in the Republican party have taken their new-found power and are going full tilt now. I’m actually more worried about the future of the US now than I have been in a long time. Did you know that IMAX theaters are now censoring out movies who put forward scientific facts that may agitate religious zealots? It’s not just the volcano movie mentioned in the article. There were 2 others, including one about space exploration.

The great Indian adventure

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I will be offline (hopefully) for a bit over a week, so won’t be able to post. If we get stuck in an airport for a while and there’s an internet terminal maybe I’ll post some info on our travels so far.

My wife and I will be travelling up north in India to Delhi and Agra. Then we start heading down south again by train to do some safaris and visit some historical sites.

Then we end up in Goa for the last few days, which will be nice because it’s more of a relaxing beach vacation spot.

After that whirlwind tour it’s directly onto the plane for almost 2 days of travel to get back to Austin. It’ll be nice to be back in my own apartment, since I pretty much forget what it’s like to live there now, after being here for almost 2 months by the time I leave. I can’t believe how badly I want to cook a meal, rather than having to eat in a restaurant 3 times a day.

Since I’ll be offline for a while, please post any interesting articles in the comments to this post.

Some science, and would-be science

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13 things that don’t make sense is a nice collection of unsolved scientific problems. Give it a read if you’re in the mood for some science – mostly physics.

Campaigning against television

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This is somewhat interesting. It’s called White Dot – the international campaign against television. I don’t necessarily agree to the extreme of eradicating it, but I definitely don’t like what it’s become.

It’s such a hard problem because it really is just pandering to what people want, and happens to provide it in a way that lets us be even more lazy. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s bad. What I think is bad is when people begin to use television for everything. If it’s used a sane amount as entertainment, that’s fine.

I think the root problem is that parents now often use television as a babysitter. This not only gives kids a really bad message and education, but it teaches them to rely on television. When these kids get to be 25 or 30 years old the television rules their lives. They then think it’s ok to sell yourself and your dignity just to get on TV for a few minutes, like most “reality” shows. They think it’s OK to cheat on their spouse because it happens so often on TV. They might even think it’s OK to take out a gun and shoot somebody because they’ve seen this on TV many thousands of times so far in their life.

But what could be done? Censor TV more? Doubtful. It still comes down to the fact that people still watch this crap. But, how much of that is due to the shows really being good, versus using television as the default provider of entertainment and being excited at any glimmer of something new on the screen?

Weekend travels in India

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This weekend we went travelling to the east of Bangalore. We went to a city called Ooty which is at the top of a mountain and then to Mysore.

Ooty is a bit of a vacation spot mainly because of its cooler climate. It’s about 2700M above sea level and was much cooler than at the bottom of the mountain. The economy of the area seems mostly based on tea plantations, which was interesting to see. The tea there was obviously very good. My new favourite tea is “Masala” tea, which is standard black tea with a bunch of spices.

Mysore is much more of a tourist trap. It has several big attractions like a large palace and an old temple on the top of a hill. We also saw the palace lit up at night. It has 65,000 light bulbs strung all over it.

A few strange things happened though. At a lookout point at the top of a mountain in Ooty we were asked repeatedly to have our picture taken with some of the Indian people there. They were tourists as well, but I have no idea from where. I find it hard to believe they had never seen a white person before, so couldn’t see the point of it.

The next thing was in Mysore. The locals who peddle the crap at the tourist attractions almost ruin the experience. I had experienced this before, so knew how to deal with it somewhat, but it’s still very agitating. They make their living by being very persistent, and they are very good at it.

The basic scenario is this: You exit your car at one of these attractions and immediately there are about 5 people in front of you. They are literally putting things into your hands and then asking for money. These guys will be talking at you the entire time, pushing things into your face to smell, etc. The only way I’ve found to get through this while retaining any kind of sanity and calmness is to politely say no a few times and then ignore them. If you keep talking to them, even if you’re saying no, they will keep it up. It’s the common sales tactic: keep the person engaged as long as possible.

Now, you’ve managed to get past this first barrage. You start walking towards the attraction and you see ahead of you some vendors and generally a lot of people. They keep very close watch on the incoming people and it’s very noticable when they see a foreigner. Thus begins the second wave. This was especially bad at the temple on the hill in Mysore. At the palace the vendors aren’t allowed inside the palace grounds. At the temple the only place they can’t go is directly inside the temple. You really can’t experience this temple with any kind of peace.

Also, at the temple it suprised me who was willing to beg for money. We saw a woman who was running one of the vendor stations with her husband over by the toilets. When she walked by us she was holding her baby and saying “Money for baby?” She has a job but she’s still begging…

At the palace we had to wait about 45 minutes for it to be lit up, so we were sitting by the entrance. There were at least 20 people in this one small area selling stuff and each one came by. The frustrating part was that about 15 minutes later all the exact same people came by again. Some of them came by 3 times. It’s really frustrating to stand out so much. At most places in Bangalore we stand out in a way that the locals think we’re helpless or lazy so want to do absolutely everything for you. I realize it’s their job and they do see a lot of rude and lazy foreigners, but it’s frustrating to be treated that way when you’re not. It’s still for money, because they’d like a tip, but at least they do take no for an answer as opposed to the vendors at the attractions.

Who cheapens marriage?

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According to most conservatives, it’s gays who cheapen or threaten the institution of marriage in the US. I’ve never even come close to understanding this argument, a big reason being stuff like this:

“A recent survey conducted by the Indiana Marriage Research Institute (IMRI) found that 79% of men who are engaged to be married worry that their marriage will end in divorce and they will be ruined financially.”

From this article: More engaged men are setting up divorce nest eggs.

Let’s be clear here. This is absolutely and positively the reason that marriage has been cheapened – or at least a symptom of it. Why are these 79% of men (and I’m sure the number for women is close) engaged? Why would you get engaged and promise to marry someone when you were already beginning to plan for divorce? It’s because marriage has been cheapened already. The north american public has been watching celebrities get married and divorced within a week of each other for decades.

The current batch of kids watched as Brittany Spears got married and divorced in the same day (or whatever the stupid event was.)

I just wish the gay-bashing branch of the conservatives would take their heads out of their butts for a minute to look for the real issue, rather than making one up and aligning their homophobic agenda to it’s cause.

Do you like being lied to by auto manufacturers?

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Look at This ad claiming modern vehicles are “virtually emission free”. Granted – they are much better than 30 years ago, but I don’t know where they get “virtually emission free”.

If it’s just air coming out of there, I think we could put these fine people from Auto Alliance into a sealed room with a running car and see how long it takes for them to agree that vehicles are not emission free.

Send these auto makers some feedback that you don’t like being lied to.

Biodiesel and peaking oil production


A city in Colorado has this year switched 25% of it’s bus fleet to Biodiesel. Aside from Biodiesel being good as a renewable fuel, they’ve also seen up to a 31% decrease in emissions. If they deem the results of this test “positive” they will switch their entire fleet next year. Cheers and good luck. The article is here.

That same website has a bunch of other good information on it too. I ran into this article that looked rather important:

SAIC Report for DOE: Mitigating the Effects of Peak Oil

The report doesn’t give date forecasts, but is good in that it looks at what will happen when we get there, and what some of the warning signs will be. It’s scary to think how close we are, and the recent price shocks are one of the warning signs.

I did find something interesting in the report, though, in this paragraph:

“Improved fuel efficiency in the world’s transportation sector will be a critical element in the long-term reduction of liquid fuel consumption, however, the scale of effort required will inherently take time and be very expensive. For example, the U.S. has a fleet of over 200 million automobiles, vans, pick-ups, and SUVs. Replacement of just half with higher efficiency models will require at least 15 years at a cost of over two trillion dollars for the U.S. alone.

The highlighted sentence gives me the creeps. I can just see naive people all over saying “well if it’s going to cost that much we just won’t do it.” What these people don’t realize is that we don’t have a choice. Whether or not you believe in the reduction in use of fossil fuels to stem global warming, I hope there really aren’t people out there who still believe we aren’t running out of oil, and very quickly.

The math is very straightforward. Oil discovery peaked way back in 1962 and has fallen very quickly since then, except for one small blip. This isn’t the opinion of some hippy-lefty scientists. The oil companies are living this reality. Take this in conjunction with demand, which is increasing very quickly worldwide as the population grows and huge countries like China and India become industrialized. It doesn’t take a genius to see that this is a problem.

This site, Life After the Oil Crash, is a bit extreme in it’s message for my tastes, but it has all the data. Look at the chart of oil discovery and production. They do bring up some interesting points and interpretations of what the oil companies are planning for the future. For instance, oil consumption in the US is still increasing, the current refineries are at capacity, but no new refineries have been built since the 1970s. Do the oil companies believe they’re not going to need that much capacity because the supply of crude is dropping? Or do they hope to cap supply of gas to drive prices up? I don’t know, but either way it’s not good for our wallets.

Congrats to Germany – Focus on a real hero


Germany has dedicated this year to Albert Einstein.

Here is a great article called Idealist and realist about Einsteins more hamanitarian aspects.

Why don’t more kids around the world have posters of Einstein in their rooms instead of Eminem or Christina something…?

One thing that makes me feel better is a portion of Stephen Hawkings forward to the second edition of his book “A Brief History of Time.” It was something like “I do feel better about the state of the world knowing that my book on Physics sold more copies than Madonnas book on sex.”

I don’t know if that would be true anymore. Which would sell better today, a good new book by Hawkings or a photo essay of Paris Hilton making an ass of herself around the country for TV?

Why software patents are bad


This is a wonderfully crafted argument for why software patents are wrong. The article is What if patents applied to literature?

His comparison comes out very clear and is the best concise argument I’ve heard.

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