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When in Halifax, I was amazed at the number of pseudo-science....ummmm....outlets. I actually lost count of the number of homeopathic, accupuncture, chiropractic, naturopathic, reflexolgy, crystal healing, etc, stores I saw.

In one of my most profound through-the-looking-glass moments in recent years, I went to a small little science-museum (primarily for kids) to pick up some sciency-type stuff (such as a poster of the periodic table of the elements, a large chart of the night sky), but particularly looking for a meteorite. The store didn't have one, but recomended a place just up the street that did. So we went.

It was, for lack of a better term, a store for witches. They did indeed have a selection of metoerites (which the clerk insisted you could really feel the "energy" coming off them), as well as an impressive collection of geologic minor-wonders that I was legitimately impressed at. But for VERY different reasons. I was impressed at the many millions and billions of years and incredible forces and chemical reacions and pressures required to make such intricate designs in amazingly colourful rocks and gemstones. I felt incredibly humble to think how insignificant my life has been in comparison to the scale of the journeys that these stones took.

The clerk said that you could feel the energies, and told another customer that if you rub this one particular piece of amber (but not the other piece!), you would increase your wealth.

I bought my meteorite and got the fuck out of that embarassing temple of bullshit. There was only so many books of spells I could see, and only so many overheard conversations involving the word "energy" that I could take before vomiting my appendix (because the fish was so delicious there'd be no damn way I'd vomit that up!).

Anyway, of all the pseudo-science stores in Halifax (there are many), I only managed to snap a picture of one of them, and here it is:

It's nice to see "traditional" Chinese mysticism capititalize on the whole Apple company's "i" craze.

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I've just seen a face...

H'okai so

The trip to Halifax yielded me over 700 photographs,and I will on occasion post some. Today, I will post the most skeptic-themed picture I could get, and it's a doozy.

The story, as it was told to me by my gracious host, is as such:

During the 1917 Halifax Explosion, a priest in a church on Granville Street was in his office doing....I dunno...priest things (I can only presume that these things weren't little children). The explosion went ka-blamo, this this priest lost his head. Literally. Ever since then, the ghostly sillohuette of his visage has been forever emblazoned onto a certain window. Apparently, no matter how many times the church has tried to clean the window, or change the glass, the image remains. And, the image is only visible from the outside.

Here's the image:

Now, I'll admit that the image looks human-shaped. But only just....I mean, It looks more like a cartoon-man head than an actual if someone were to crossbreed (or draw) Dagwood Bumstead and Bazooka Joe, his sillohuette would look something like that.

And it's easy to investigate too! They say that no matter how many times they change/clean the window the image remains? Look into how many times they actually tried to change the window (I suspect none), or what kind of cleaners were used. And then I'd ask if I could clean the window...from both sides.

Sadly, methinks that this is clearly one of those "the locals are fucking with you" kind of things. It's frankly not needed. Halifax is a lovely city whose inhabitants are at least a gazillion times more friendly than those who live out here in the Great Lakes. Is it not enough to have a lovely city and people without having to believe (or try to trick people into believing) that there are magical faeries pulling the strings?

The only thing magical about Halifax is the seagulls. Nothing could get that humongous and gross by any natural forces.

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It's my last day in Halifax. I haz a sad.

Peggy's Cove, Lunenberg, fish-fish-fish! I'll be driving back to Ontario tommorow morning, and it's a 20-hour drive (as I learned on the way here), so I'll post some pictures when I recover. I even found some local "woo" that is certainly investigatable (Kimbo, I'm looking at you here). I don't want to leave. Correction. I want to go home...but I don't want to drive for 20 friggin hours again and have to pass through Quebec where no one understands a damn thing I say and vice-versa.

Tune in soon for pics and stories.

Halifax: you've made a seafood-hater from the Lakes crave haddock right now as I type. Trust me, that is no small feat.

And don't worry, I'm not so obnoxious as to go home thinking like I've earned some sort of right to call myself an honorary Haligonian or any other similar claim to lame. I'm a Lakelander through-and-through (specifically, one who hails from Georgian Bay, which for my money is as-beautiful as Halifax),

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John Lunman

You were loved, you are mourned, and you will be missed.

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Halifax: Day one, and how I learned to stop worrying and hate my friggin computer.

1) The USB ports on my laptop are busted, so there is no way for me to post the pictures (badass picture, I must say) that I've been taking until I get home to upload these onto the desktop computer. I'm likley leaving on Thursday, and as it will probably another 20-hour marathon drive, I won't have the energy to post anything at least until friday/saturday.

2) Halifax: Nice city. We Were kinda rushed a little today, but saw a good chunk of downtown, and it´s hella-cool. Weird roads, and lotsa snow (which I understand is a little rare), but I still managed to find some neat sciency-toys and nerd-posters for my apartment which I will likely to embarassed to let people see when they visit me. Also, I had some encounters with the "woo" as well. I went looking to buy a meteorite, and was directed to a store which specializes in....well, crystal healing crap. $6.00 later I had my space-stone, but I felt way sheepish just walking around the place with their huge library of witches spells and healing stones. Also, I noticed a store called "I Stop Pain" was a store that specialized in accupuncture and chinese herbs. It made me giggle. Picture to come.

So yeah, Halifax, good time so far. Glad I chose to come east and not west, and despite that the city got a relatively rare dump-on of snow, there was just enough of it, and it's still early enough in the season to make sure that it's still pretty, and not hideously ugly, like every Canadian city in February.

Tonight, I hope to do some astrophotography over the Atlantic Ocean. I giggle with joy at the prosepct.

*update* The pictures didn't take...too much light pollution. It's terribly endemic in Canada that since oceans/lake/river front properties are so desired, nearly every coastline that is remotley accessible has been gobbled up by rich people, and they don't like to share. I might get a few more chances, but I'm not holding my breath.

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I´m in Halifax now! Wo0t!

Oh, just a message to the city itself: WIDEN YOUR STREETS AND FLATTEN THEM while you´re at it! It´s a really lover-ly city, to be sure, but the city planning advances during the 20th century might do you and your citizens well.

I don´t know if you know this, but Canada is REALLY FREAKING BIG! I live in Peterborough, Ont. Drove here and it´s barely 1/3 of the country in one direction. So Canada is like....a ridiculously big country. So yeah, I drove 20 hours today....aside from the odd pee-break and get-lost-in-Halifax-break, this was a non-stop drive.

I am my new driving hero, and I hope to be yours too.

Pictures and tales of fish´n´chips to come.

Hey Halifax! What´s with the drive-thru beer store? I remember comedians in the 80´s making jokes about how absurd drive thrus are, and how absurd that one day we´ll have drive-thru beer stores! You understand, this is crazy to a lake-lander like me!

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Remember when I went to see PZ give a talk in Toronto hosted by the Centre for Inquiry? (CFI) Well I remebered that I forgot (you heard me) to mention something in the previous posting that I think deserves attention.

After the talk, there was a meet-up at a near-by bar (Fionn MacCool's). About 20 minutes after I arrived, PZ showed up. He was about to sit down when the CFI brass went over to him and said (as best as I could hear and remember) "The CFI has a table set aside for you with the organizers". PZ flatly said "No, I'm going to sit where I want to", and proceeded to sit two chairs down from my left.

Anyway, I just thought that was pretty cool and down-to-earth of him.

That's all. Carry on my wayward son.

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Hmmm. Well, it looks like I'll be visiting Halifax. Very soon.


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You know what I want? I want to see a documentary where the filmakers are not content to just be heavily biased, but even go so far as to make shit up, and convince cancer patients to not bother with their medical doctors, chemotherapy and surguries.

If only there was a movie that would promote a pseudo-scientist that said that everyone could be cured of cancer with an easy, delightful, noninvasive treatment. Say, drinking fruit juice, fresh veggies and vitamins. To make it a little more believable, he should tell people to shove coffee up their butts.

WOAH! My wish came true! With any luck, cancer patients won't see their doctors, family-members of cancer patients will try to convince them that their doctors are trying to make them suffer for a buck, and the general public will think that every doctor, nurse, pharmacist and researcer, everywhere knows how to easily treat cancer, but is keeping a lid on it because they're all on the take.

At last, we have an "Expelled!" for the health sciences.

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Stargazer Steve

Stargazer Steve is an astronomy colum for The Arthur

A Bunch of Things you didn’t know about Moons

This week I’d like to divert your attention to the often unrecognized bodies in our solar system: Moons. What is a moon? Interestingly, the scientific community has yet to come to a consensus on this matter, since moons come in an extraordinary variety of sizes, shapes, compositions, and origins. Some moons are huge bodies bigger than Mercury and can hold onto an atmosphere; other moons are tiny potato-shaped rocks just a few kilometres in length. Some moons are made up of multiple layers of rocks and metals, while other moons have the consistency of cork. Some are icy, some are dusty. Some moons were born out of colossal collisions with their host planet, other moons were formed at the beginning of the solar system, and others still were captured asteroids just passing by trying to get a better look at the sun. So lets look at a few of the moons in the Solar System, and hopefully you’ll appreciate their diversity as much as I do.

Firstly, there’s our own moon, Luna, which was formed about 500 million years after the Earth was formed. You see, back then the Earth was a little smaller than it is today, and it suffered one of the biggest impacts the solar system has ever seen, when an object the approx. size of Mars slammed into it…the jerk. The Earth’s ejected material shot far into space, and over the course of just several thousand years(some models estimate it even as short as a single year), the detritus coalesced by the gentle, yet inescapable pull of gravity. The Earth, meanwhile, was made a little bigger, as most of the Mars-sized object merged with the Earth’s mass. While the moon may appear to be kinda bland, and the Earth may seem to get the short end of the stick in the “how many moons do YOU have?” game, remember that in proportion to its host-planet, our moon is the biggest. Some astronomers have even started to call the Earth-Moon system a binary planet system. So although the moon may be dusty and dry and largely devoid of complex materials that we could later use to build a base on, being part of a somewhat binary system is kind of cool.

Next, the Galilean moons of Jupiter: Io, Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto. Discovered by Galileo in 1609, anyone can see these little gems orbiting Jupiter with a pair of binoculars and some steady hands. Io is closest to the gas giant, and constantly gets tugged and yanked by Jupiter’s massive gravitational force, as well as the pull of the other moons. This causes the interior of the moon to heat up to extraordinary temperatures, building up the core pressure so much that the moon is covered with active volcanoes that can spew lava at up to 500 km into space! The entire moon is constantly being resurfaced by lava flows, making it, in some ways, the youngest body in the solar system (complete with teenager acne…ewww…).

If Io is the pockmarked teenager, then Callisto is undoubtedly the wrinkled old-timer. The farthest out of the four Galilean moons, poor Callisto has had to endure the bulk of the impacts which strike the family of four. Its surface is the one of the most heavily cratered objects in the solar system. Being so far out from Jupiter, its interior cannot generate the heat necessary for volcanism, nor does it have any water to support plate tectonics. So it just sits there, taking a beating, and yelling at you to keep your ball off his yard or he’s keeping.

Ganymede is the giant moon of the solar system. Bigger than Mercury, Ganymede sports an impressive array of stunning surface details, an ionosphere, and a magnetic field (the only moon currently known to have one). Meanwhile, tiny Europa is one of the most likely locations for extra-terrestrial life, as its entire surface is a 100 km thick layer of water-ice, and scientists suspect that beneath it lay a massive water-ocean. On top of that, Europa even has a tenuous atmosphere consisting of mainly oxygen, which is a highly reactive element, easily permitting the formation of more complex molecules. Numerous projects are currently underway to send ice-melting probes to Europa to swim around and look for microbial life. Maybe there Aqua-man could be considered cool and useful.

Next on our moon-hopping trip is the Saturn-system. Saturn has the other object in the solar system (after Europa and Mars) as an ideal candidate for life: the aptly named, Titan. Once thought to be the largest moon in the solar system (it was demoted when astronomers learned that they were measuring from the peaks of its thick atmosphere, rather than its surface), Titan’s atmosphere of 98.4% nitrogen makes it the only other body after the Earth with a nitrogen-rich atmosphere. The remaining 1.6% consists of methane, helium, argon, and complex hydrocarbons. Indeed, the atmosphere of Titan isn’t all that different from that of the Earth, aside from the amounts of the trace gases, and the pressure. The Huygens probe that landed on the surface of Titan in Jan/05, revealed a complex network of liquid methane and ethane lakes (one of the largest is about the same size as Lake Ontario and was creatively-named “Ontario Lacus”). Titan’s complex chemical arsenal makes it a very likely candidate for life, as there are life-bearing places on Earth whose conditions are not entirely unlike those of Titan.

Saturn has a vast array of bizarre-moons: Its 2nd largest moon, Rhea, has a set of rings like its parent planet. Mimas is shaped a lot like the Death Star thanks to a colossal impact (if you’re reading this online, do an image search right now and marvel at the resemblance). Enceladus is a tiny snowy world which constantly explodes volcanoes of ice to re-seed the rings of Saturn. Iapetus has a huge ridge that completely bisects it at the equator, making it look like a giant walnut. Tiny Hyperion is extremely low-density and potato-shaped, and is more porous than it is solid, making it resemble a wasp-nest or a sponge. Even tinier Pan is a moonlet, which orbits Saturn within the rings themselves, acting like a ring-sheppard, clearing the path of material.

The largest of Neptune’s moons, Triton, zips around its parent in the opposite direction of the rotation of Neptune. While this is slightly unusual (it does happen elsewhere), Triton’s sheer size means that it collects the majority of impact craters on one of its sides (the side it’s traveling in), and over time the material has been building up on one side, making Triton more egg-shaped than it was when it was formed (which was spherical). Eventually, this retrograde orbit will continue to slow down Triton and it will crash into Neptune. Thanks a lot, conservation of angular momentum…asshole!

That’s all the space I have for now, which is woefully insignificant to capture the massive array of diversity of the various moons that add a little bit of spice to our solar system. I sure hope you now appreciate the little planets that never were.

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I can haz Saturn?

Here's yet another picture I took. This is Saturn. It's always been a bit of a point of scientific embarassment that I've never seen the rings of Saturn. As I got better and better astronomical gear over the summer, Saturn snuck out of sight from the northern hemisphere. It has recently re-emerged in the night sky (currently, it's about 30 degrees in the eastern sky at 5:00 am, when I took this), allowing me to finally see it. The rings are edge-on right now, and will be for a while, making them slightly less awe-inspiring than I was hoping. But still, I saw it, and it was damn satisfying.

This was taken with aCanon Rebel XT, hooked up to my 8" Reflecting scope. It's not much, but that's almost entirely because my scope is on a dobsonian mount, which can't track. More the point, I finally saw Saturn, and here's the proof.

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New fools

I think I may have to give up on Bill Maher.

Today, I listened to the season finale of his HBO programe, "Real Time". I typically listen to this show for two reasons: 1)I loves me the stand-up comedy, and 2)It's primarily a comedy show which centres on politics....and as I've said many times before, if I could claim to have an expertise in any field, politics would be said field.

First, I feel it neccessary to give some props to Bill: 1)Bill's atheism may turn off a lot of people for a very good reason: it's obnoxious and derrisive. Truth be told, I think I'm just the sort of jerk to specifically like those aspects of it. 2) He puts conspiracy theorists in their place, especially 9/11 "truthers" who have resorted to the "I can scream louder than you" tactic of debate. 3)When it comes to free-speech, I am in complete agreement with Bill: you should be able to say any damn thing you want, and anyone has the right to respond in the same fasion. 4)I liked Religulous well enough.

Now, here's where he usually sticks in my craw: 1) He's an avid, vapid supporter of PETA, and his nose is so far up Ingrid Newkirk's ass that I can't tell where she ends and he begins. I'm for animal rights (I was once a member of the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada), but PETA's activism utilizes nothing short of naked domestic terrorism, sexism and some of the most manipulative and hypocratic fear-tactics I've ever seen (and remember, I've studied politics!). Bill is smarter than PETA, and he can't seem to see the incredible bullshit they always pull. 2) While not strictly an anti-vaccinationist, he nonetheless espouses the argument from nature logical fallacy when it comes to medicine and diets, acting as if just because something is 'natural' (whatever the crap that means), it's better than the processed food and medicines that we shovel into our bodies.

Like a star being held in careful balance between the inward pull of gravity and the outward push of nuclear fusion, so too was my patronage of Bill Maher. On his season finale, one of his guests was nobel-prize-winning Punk'd scholar, Ashton Kutcher, who cried like a whiny little bitch that in order to save money, we need to stop sending things to Mars. After all, how much more is there to learn, right Ashton? It's super-duper expensive and we need that money to buy mosquito-nets!

Hey Ashton, rather than try to dictate scientific research on the grounds of what the payoff is going to be and how much it costs, why don't you take 5 fucking minutes and learn about the scientific discoveries that lead to television and radio signals to be produced, which later launched your career of artistic mediocrity? Scientists didn't set out to invent the radio or television, but rather they were fortunate by-products of scientists pursuing science for it's own sake, and Maxwell discovered the interconnectedness of electricity and magnetism. And if it's money that is your battle cry, how about you complain about the cost of a single Apache-class attack helicopter ($18 Million each, with 1048 built), an F-18 Hornet ($41 Million each, with 1,428 built), or the military dicretionary budget of 2008, which exceeded $600 billion. (just for clarity's sake, a dicretionary budget is basically a huge lump of sum to be distributed without conditions as to how it's's to be used at the discretion of the recipient. So if the military wants to build new fighter-jets at mile-high prices from Boeing, they're going to do it....and they do....thanks, military-industrial-complex!)

But no, the Pheonix Mission's cost of $457 Million is way too much. We should have spent that money on mosquito nets instead, right, Ashton? Seriously, just what do we expect to learn out there? Why, I heard that scientists are up in the shuttle right now trying to make water out of urine! What POSSIBLE use could that serve?

Ashton Kutcher, no one has ever accused you of being a genius, but you have betrayed incredible intellectual laziness and sloth that night. And Bill Maher sat by and agreed with every thing you said. Adding "Who are these missions for? The only people that care about them are those groups of scientists in crowded rooms who give each other high fives when the thing touches down"

Teh stoopids. Dey hurts mah braine.

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Recently, Prime Minister Stephen Harper named his new cabinet. Among them, one Gary Goodyear (Conservative-Cambridge), was named Minister of Science and Technology. A relative political newcomer (he was first elected in 2004), Mr. Goodyear's prior experience was not in a relevant scientific field, as one might hope. After all, it seems that to be Minister of Science and Technology, it should be required that one have a background in, say, science and technology. Sadly, Mr. Goodyear's prior experience was as a doctor of chiropractic.

I'll repeat that: Canada's new Minister of Science and Technolgy was as a doctor of chiropractic.

Oh my.

His education is actually almost half-respectable. As near as I can find, he has his undergraduate degree from the University of Waterloo (a fine, respectable school with a great reputation for science research). However, more than half of his education leaves much to be desired:

"Goodyear was educated at the University of Waterloo, in Biomechanics and Psychology. He attended the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College, where he graduated cum laude, was class president, and valedictorian. Goodyear then received fellowships in clinical acupuncture, physiotherapy and sports injury. He started his full-time practice in Cambridge in 1984 where he was Clinic Director, Director of Patient Services and Past President of Future Recovery Canada. He was a co-designer of the three year post-graduate Sports Fellowship Program. He also co-authored “Practice Guidelines” and was Public Relations Director and Past President for the College of Chiropractic Sports Sciences in Toronto. He was also the health columnist for the Cambridge Times newspaper from 1986 to 1996, and has taught at the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College and the University of Waterloo.(This is from the Wikipedia entry on Mr. Goodyear, as the various official sites say very little...if someone has more detailed info, please leave it in the comments section)

Well, phrases like "cum laude", "fellowship" and "valedictorian" do sound impressive, but remember, these are accolades from the chiropractic college, not the University of Waterloo. While I do indeed have much respect for the discipline of physiotherapy (having benefited from it in the past, when I was refered to it by my medical doctor), being an expert in accupuncture and chiropractic does much damage to his repuation, me thinks. I don't, in any way, respect these fields, and as far as I'm concerned, he may as well have an M.A. in voodoo, and a fellowship in crystal-healing.

Again, a chiropractor, with additional education in accupuncture, is in charge of our science policy.

Remember friends, although chiropractors in Canada are legally allowed to be called "Doctor", they got that right not for evidence reasons (the way your family physician or emergency-room doctor has), but for petty legal reasons surrounding slander/libel allegations. In the United States, a bunch of chiropractors got sick of being called quacks, and sued under the auspices of slander laws. After many years of unrelenting rhetoric and funding, the legitmate medical community gave up. The chiropracters then took their fight north, and the battle was won here too.

Chiropracters are only nominally regulated in this country (admitedly, more regulted than in the United States). But when a chiropractor hurts someone, he/she doesn't loose their practice/licence. The chiro-community locks arms in solidarity in order to support their industry of pseudo-science.

And one of their own is in the highest science office in parliament, and not a single media outlet has so far batted an eye at this.

We need to expose this, friends. This is dangerous.

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Death from this Guy’s (blog)!
A review of “Death from the Skies!” by Dr. Philip Plait (a.k.a. The Bad Astronomer)

First off, my apologies for putting this off for so long. Since I don’t have a decent excuse, I’ll just say that I got in a knife fight with a cage-fighting baboon which ended in tears, a loving embrace and a 13-episode deal with TLC.

That said, let’s quit the jabberin’ and get to the reviwerin’.

Before I really begin, I offer a bit of a disclaimer. Far too often in the skeptical community, there persists the problem of sycophantic hero-worship. With that in mind, I feel the need to expose that Phil is a bit of a skeptical hero of mine. Without his first book (Bad Astronomy), and his blog, (see: first book), I sincerely doubt I would have taken to amateur astronomy and the incredibly rewarding hobby of astrophotography (some of the pictures I’ve been taking are on this site) the way I have. I owe Phil for being a first-class spokesperson for skeptical activism, but I mostly owe him for instilling in me a love of the natural sciences that was nearly beaten out of me in my younger days. So bear in mind, there is no way for me to completely unbiased in this review. But hey, my education is in the social sciences, and I’ve written more reviews (academic and otherwise) than I can remember, so I still have SOME skill. So, onwards and upwards!

The greatest lesson that I hope readers of his book will take away with them is that real science doesn’t need to be stogy and boring, and Hollywood needn’t be so intellectually ignorant when it comes to science. Phil begins each chapter with a fictionalized account of the various ways the universe wants to kill us, and it’s written with the kind of flair and suspense (brief though it may be) that I might expect from the likes of Cory Doctorow or Greg Egan (at least in form if not content). Phil’s love of the sci-fi genre bled through these chapters preambles clear as day, and I sincerely hope that he seriously entertains the idea of writing some science fiction of his own (if even a short story).

As Steven Novella (of the Skeptic’s Guide the Universe) said, it’s hard not to read this book without hearing Phil’s voice in my inner monologue while reading. The style was truly written in Phil’s spoken voice, which allows the reader to treat this less like a science book (which it is), and more like a radio-show or a semi-informal lecture. Phil’s voice acts in concert with his characteristic sense of humour to make this a surprisingly readable book. This is extra-important because of two reasons: 1) The inherently sad content of learning how insignificant and fragile humanity is, bumbling around an insignificant star, utterly at the mercy of cosmic forces too powerful to understand except mathematically, and b) This book is, from an educational standpoint, a bit more difficult than Phil’s first book: its concepts and explanations may be enough to scare some people off it had been written by someone with a little less love of science, and the accompanying flair common to Phil’s writing style.

Some of the chapters required a little more concentration. Well not some chapters. One chapter. The chapter on Black Holes did a number on me, filling me with more cognitive dissonance than my frontal-lobe is used to. But with a little bit of re-reading, black hole physics makes a lot more sense to me than it did a month ago. Einstein’s general (or was it special?) relativity was invoked to explain the different perspectives of a person falling into a black hole, as well as a person watching that person fall, and it was like a candle in the dark was lit, and I literally went “oh. OHHHHH!!!!” in the coffee shop I was reading it in. Furthermore, I appreciated the plebian-friendly term of “spaghettification” to describe the stretching of matter towards a black hole.

Also, I know a Douglas Adams reference when I see one, and aside from the naming of Vogons, I especially appreciated one of the sub-chapters titled “The Best Bang since the Big One” (a reference, if memory serves me right, to Hotblack Desiato….I’ve not looked this up, but I’m fairly certain I’m right). Nerds know nerd-speak. And we like to see it, because we think the author is winking to us personally. So nice touch, Phil.

So to wrap this up, we need more science books like this. Science is a scary place to a lot of people, and many people in my academic circle(s) treat both the method and the findings of science with ignorance and hostility. However, science can be incredibly empowering, and reading this book is like arming yourself with knowledge. Any science-writer can provide the interpretation of the facts. But only the best popularizers of science can perform the duel task of information and inspiration. After reading any science book, the reader should walk away with not only the knowledge contained therein, but the drive to learn more on their own, and to further spread the love of science, and the true empowerment it can bring. With this in mind, I think that Phil is well on his way to follow in the footsteps of Carl Sagan.

Buy this book.

Thanks, Phil. Now go write some science fiction short stories!

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To my American friends,

Thank you for electing Barack Obama as your next president. The world has had a vested intrest in the election turning out in his favour, and we're ready to heal our splintered relationship after 8 years of uniliateralism.

But beware:
Although it truly was a historic moment in America, demonstrating that racism of the older generation was defeated by the younger generation which has learned from the a)mistakes of their parents b)gross inaction from the all-talk, no-bite 60's generation, you need to not polish all your laurels just yet.

The book of bigotry in America was not closed last night. At best, a singular chapter on racism in America has been completed, only to open to the next ugly chapter. Voters in Arkansas, Arizona, California, and Florida have demonstrated the hatred and bigotry of the new nigger in America: the homosexual. Antiquated religious dogma, backed by millions of dollars to spread blatent lied designed to appeal to people's lower-natures (fear, anger, and more fear) have truly stained what should otherwise be a great day for America. On the one hand, the United States has lived up to its creed, and the other hand delivers a stranglehold on basic human rights for another group of people.

I have no doubt that this irrational fear and hatred of homosexuality will one day pass, and that silly, antiquated notions of marriage and parenthood will fall by the wayside to join it's fallen (or falling) brethren: racism, religious persecution, genocide, and lynching. In the end, these kinds of bigotry always loose. But bigotry was not defeated last night. Not by a long shot.

Still, it was a fantastic victory in the right direction. Hopefully, the example set by Obama and his supporters will spread, and the bigotry and hatred demostrated by those states will one day reverse the decisions made last night, and this can be done by increasing the secular push in the government. North Carolina demonstrated to religious zealots like Elizabeth Dole can't get away with acting like being "godless" is a smear. So the rest of the country: keep secularizing your government, and the 'promised land' of Martin Luther King Jr. will be just around the next corner.


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I can haz Fyooterama?

H'okai, so,

The new Futurama movie is out, and it's clear that this episode was heavily written with nerd-lore in mind. Aside from the oodles-n-oodles of D&D material, a nice bit of skepticism gets in there. I won't spoil any of the plot, but I have to share this line by Professor Farnsworth, who takes a jab at a certain pseudo-scientist-guru-fraud:

"As Deepak Chopra teaches us, quantum mechanics tells us that anything can happen at any time for absolutley no reason"

I nearly applauded.

Oh, and Farnsworth also puts lipstick on a pitbull in on scene.

Okay, so I wrote that first bit before watching the whole movie (I guess this is a sort of running commentary with lots of skepticism), and here's another great line by Farnsworth:

"Oh yes, this world is dreadfully real. But instead of science, we believe in CRAZY's like Kansas"

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I can haz PZ?

I admit that I've never really taken to the dressup'd fun of halloween that many of my friends (skeptic and otherwise) have. Rather than spend all the time and money on a costume to go to one party and then only to have to throw out all my handiwork (or have it sit around only to lamely wear it again the following year) when I got home. For an occasionally grumpy-person like me, I'd really rather go to a lecture in Toronto...

Oh! There was one! And I went there!

This year, famous atheist/science/skeptic blogger, PZ Myers came to Toronto to give a lecture hosted by the Centre for Inquiry. It being halloween, it was impossible to find anyone willing to forgo their urge to dress up and go with me, so I went alone (though I did meet up with a new skeptic-friend).

His speech was about what I expected: witty, passionate and dripping with PZ's tendancy to be laid-back, but still managing to be equally venomous and human. Unafraid to say things like "Religion is silly", and "Religion is more like mastrubation", yet still I could sense that he had no disdain for religious people themselves, just their silly beliefs.

The religious hold on education in this country (okay, PZ's country, but it's becoming increasingly applicable to Canada....thanks a lot, Alberta!) has been fighting tooth-and-nail to gain not only a foothold in science education, but a damned fortress on the beach, firing salvos of creationism and Noah's Flood into the halls of the academy, and high schools. PZ really helped to re-impress upon me the truth that religion and science are NOT compatitble, because they are inherently competing ways of understanding...not just different ways of understanding (as say, art and philosophy), but in direct competion. Science and religion can get along, (in that there is no reason a scientist can't go to church with his family, or a rabbi can't read Stephen Hawking), but they cannot be be reconciled. And those of us who accept that very basic fundamental understanding of the two, need to stand up for not just science education, but for science in the culture as well. Aside from fantastic victories in the court-system, we are losing the culture war. And yes, it is a war. We didn't fire the first shot (no matter how much as the religious right claims that Darwin was that first shot), but as my mother would say, by Merciful Minerva, we're going to fire back!

The centrepiece of the talk was the importance of being unafraid to reveal ourselves as atheist/agnostic...unafraid to engage in dialogue that has long been discouraged because religious people get offended; What about us atheists, who have to deal with god-talk on an epic scale, have god in our national anthem, and in the preamble of our constitiution? I don't recognize the supremacy of a mighty creator, and I should feel free to express that without being portrayed as bigoted, small-minded, and that I should just learn to accept that because this is a christian country.

Bullshit. This is a secular country. There may be christian culture, but the state is secular (which should be, as PZ pointed out that his classes reflect as well, that secular different is to be distinguished from atheist...we're not trying to take people's god away from them....we're trying to get their ubiquitous god out of our faces and our government).

Afterwards we went out for drinks and conversation at a bar which was terribly understaffed for halloween. It was terribly refreshing to be around people of like mind: people unafraid to say what they really think about religion, while still not having to explain that it's the beliefs, not the people, we're talking about, and that is perfectly okay in my books. Religous beliefs don't get a get-out-of-ridicule-free card just because many people take it far too seriously.

*sigh* See what just happened there? I felt the need to qualify what I said about religion, because I know how many people will take it in the entirely wrong way. Well, back to the point I was making: the people at the understaffed bar were of like-mind when it comes to skepticism, atheism, and pseudo-science. We all knew our shit, and names like Sylvia Browne, Kent Hovind and Ken Ham were as equally familiar as homeopathy, astrology and i.d.

I felt great being around these people, and as I left the bar I felt energized that this is a community no-longer restricted to, as Ted Stevens would say, "A SERIES OF TUBES!!!". These are real people that exist in real life, and I can drink alcohol with them.

Then, I drove back to Peterborough, and immediatley I felt the life sucked out of me, as I remembered the culture in which my university sits, and strives to expand.: a culture driven by post-modernist relativism that treat atheists like PZ and myself as not people, but loud-mouthed bigoted jerks who should just learn to shut up, take it, and get along.

At least I got a picture with him.

And if it looks like PZ was rudely interrupted mid-conversation by some sychophant wanting to grab a's just pareidolia.

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