Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Waw An-Namus: Libya

Waw An-Namus is an extinct volcano located in the Sahara desert of south-central Libya. It's caldera is 4 km wide and 100 m deep with a central cone surrounded by three small salt lakes. Surrounding the caldera is 20 km of dark-black deposits of ash which causes Waw An-Namus to starkly standout against the light yellow sand of the Sahara.

Image of Waw an Namus taken from the International Space Station
A somewhat common phenomenon in the Sahara is the occurrence of reasonably potable (drinkable) water close to, and at nearly the same elevation as salt lakes. Due to the presence of this scarce source of water, Waw An-Namus was historically an important watering point for caravans travelling through South Libya.

Over the past couple of decades, Waw An-Namus has become a somewhat popular tourist attraction for travelers visiting this part of the Sahara. Unfortunately, this has led to negative impacts on the landscape as well as the rare plant and animal life. Tour guides often drive there vehicles down the caldera so the tourist can picnic by the lakes. A few years ago, some careless visitors caused a fire burning a large area of reeds and date palms.

Libya Herald: Waw An-Namus: A prehistoric volcano and natural heritage attraction

Viralnova: There's Something Very Different About This Crater In The Desert. When You Go Inside... WOW.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Thinking Skills

Thinking Skills (Average Joe Addition)

The following is my attempt to organize my posts related to clear thinking, problem solving and decision making into a coherent, easy to use format. As the title suggests, I'm just an average guy trying to get a better understanding of these topics and as such, have no doubt oversimplified or misunderstood some of these concepts. Hopefully they may be of some benefit to someone out there but please do your own research.

I. Basics of Logic & Argumentation
  A. Argumentation
    -Arguments and Argument Analysis

  B. Two Types of Inference
    1. Deductive Reasoning
      -Deductively Valid & Deductively Sound Arguments
        a) Term Logic / Syllogistic Logic / Aristotelian Logic
        b) Propositional Logic / Sentential Logic
    2. Inductive Reasoning
      -Inductively Strong and Inductively Cogent Arguments

  C. Logical Fallacies
    1. Formal vs Informal Fallacies
     -Ad Hominem
     -Ad Populum (Appeal to Popularity)
     -Argument from Ignorance
     -Begging the Question/Circular Reasoning
     -False Analogy
     -False Dichotomy
     -Guilt by Association
     -Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc
     -Red Herring
     -Tu Quoque
     -Straw Man

II. Cognitive Psychology
  A. Dual Process Model of Thinking
  B. Cognitive Bias
     -Confirmation Bias and Positive Test Strategy
     -Dunning-Kruger Effect
     -Framing Effect
     -Gambler's Fallacy
     -Outcome Bias

III. Problem Solving
  A. Problem Solving Process

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Name a Star... and lose $54 bucks

Over the last few weeks, during my drive to work, I've been hearing those commercials on the radio where, for $54 dollars you can name a star after someone. Yep, that's right. For the low price of $54 dollars, the very official sounding International Star Registry will provide you with a beautiful, full color parchment certificate personalized with the star's name, date and coordinates along with a detailed star chart showing your star circled in red.

The commercial goes on to say that since 1979 the International Star Registry has named countless stars for celebrities, dignitaries, royalty and Joe Schmoes just like you. The star name is recorded in the Astronomical Catalog which will be registered with the U.S. copyright office.

With Christmas right around the corner, you might be thinking this would be the perfect gift. In this ephemeral world that we live, who wouldn't want something which would provide a sense of permanency. A star in our name, something that would be there long after we are gone. A small reference to our existence, immortalized for future generations to see.

Yes, it would indeed be the perfect gift, if it wasn't largely a scam.

Though the International Star Registry sounds very official, in reality they are not recognized or used by any scientific institutions. They are a private, for profit company which is simply finding a star, labeling it with the purchased name and recording it in their catalog. That's it. The catalog is simply a company database. It is not used by the scientific community. In reality, it seems the International Astronomical Union (IAU) "is the internationally recognized authority for naming celestial bodies and surface features on them. And names are not sold, but assigned according to internationally accepted rules."

It should be noted that there is nothing illegal with what International Star Registry is doing. When I said earlier that it was a scam, I didn't mean that the company was breaking the law, only that what they are doing is deceptive. And while it may seem like a largely harmless deception, there are people that experience a heavy emotional disappointment when learning the truth. As Stuart Atkinson wrote on his blog Cumbrian Sky "I feel very strongly about, I don’t mind admitting. Why? Because I am tired of having to disappoint and upset people who come to me as star parties and astronomy meetings, asking me if I can help find the star they “named” after their deceased mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, fiance, wife, husband, grandmother, grandfather or pet. These people “buy” stars in good faith, thinking, genuinely, that a way out of – or to at least ease – their grief is to buy a star for their dead loved one, thus immortalising them and preserving their memory. They are led to believe by the advertising blurb that “their star ” will be on view in the sky for all to see… so they come up to me at a star party, ask me to point out the star they bought, or, if it’s cloudy, point it out to them on a star chart or in an atlas. And I feel sick to my stomach when I have to tell them that the star they “bought” and “named” only bears that name in that company’s star registry database, and that you need a telescope to see it."

So save yourself $54 dollars and get a present your loved one will really enjoy. Or, if you are still not dissuaded, send me the money and I'll provide a star for you to name. I'll write it down in a book and keep it safe for you. After all, it isn't much less than what the star naming companies do.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Categorical Syllogisms

Term Logic / Syllogistic Logic / Aristotelian Logic

Originating with Aristotle, term logic was the dominant form of logic used till the the late nineteenth century.  It reasons on the basis of the relationships between categories (referred to as terms).

I. Categorical Terms
The basic unit in categorical syllogistic logic is the categorical term. Categorical terms are simply the placing of things or concepts into distinct classes based on some specified characteristics.

II. Categorical Propositions
With categorical terms we can build categorical propositions. A Categorical propositions is a statement with two categorical terms which asserts some relationship between them.

There are four parts to a categorical proposition. In standard form, the first term in the statement is referred to as the subject term (the term which we are saying something about) and the second as the predicate term. The relationship between the subject and predicate terms is described through the use of a copula and quantifier. The copula (also referred to as quality) denotes either an affirmative (inclusive) or negative (exclusive) relationship. The quantifier provides how much of the subject term relates to the predicate term by use of universal quantifiers (all, none), and particular quantifiers (some).

A model categorical proposition can be represented as:
Quantifier [subject term] copula [predicate term]

So with the example All men are mortal; the word All is the quantifier, men is the subject term, are is the copula and mortal is the predicate term.

There are four types of categorical propositions:

A: Universal Affirmative
All S are P

E: Universal Negative
No S are P

I: Particular Affirmative
Some S are P

O: Particular Negative
Some S are not P

Here are the four categorical propositions illustrated with Venn Diagrams:

III. Categorical Syllogisms
Combining categorical propositions, we create categorical syllogisms. A categorical syllogism is a syllogistic argument consisting of three categorical propositions (two premises and a conclusion) and three categorical terms, each of which is used twice.

There are a total of 256 possible varieties of categorical syllogisms but only 15 are valid (per Boolean logic). Two important valid categorical syllogisms are:

1. All M are P
2. All S are M
3. Therefore all S are P

1. All M are P
2. Some S are M
3. Therefore some S are P

Here is a link to a page which lists all 15 valid categorical syllogisms along with their corresponding Venn diagrams.

The validity of a categorical syllogism can be determined by either applying a set of rules or through the use of Venn diagrams. Here are two links which expand on the subject"
-The six necessary conditions for valid categorical syllogisms
-Testing validity using Venn diagrams

Santa Barbara City College: Philosophy-111 Critical Thinking And Writing: The 15 Valid Syllogistic Forms

Society for Positive Philosophy and Interdisciplinary Studies (SPPIS): A Classroom Introduction to Logic: Nature of Proposition

Philosophy.Lander.Edu: Philosophy 103: Introduction to Logic Quantity, Quality, and Distribution of Standard Form Categorical Propositions







Tuesday, November 4, 2014

FCKH8's Insane New Video

I recently watched the controversial (and by that I mean vile) video by T-shirt/activist company FCKH8. It features little girls dressed as princesses angrily shouting about how women are mistreated and abused by our patriarchal society. It does it's best to shock the viewer by making sure the little darlings say the word fuck as often as possible. If you are easily traumatized by offensive language, here is a link to a bleeped version, but I suggest you watch the actual video below to get the full effect.

Even if you agree with its message and accept its controversial statistics (more here and here), there is still plenty to hate this video for. It's implied message is that people who may be offended or critical of the little girls' indignant swearing really have no right to feel that way because of the much bigger gender problems it seeks to address. This type of rationalization seems to me to be a form of the fallacy of relative privation or what is sometimes referred to as the not as bad fallacy. The form of the argument goes something like:

B happened, and is worse then A.
Therefore A is justified.

The obvious problem with this sort of thinking is that the existence of the worse thing does nothing to change the fact that the less bad thing is still bad. Hence the existence of gender inequality or abuse toward women does nothing to change the fact that little girls shouldn't swear and T-Shirt companies shouldn't make vulgar videos which exploit children to push their ideology. I mean any moron should be able to see how completely inappropriate it is to force these young children (the youngest of which was 6) to confront serious adult issues such as rape. I can only hope the backlash FCKH8 receives is enough to keep them from producing future repulsive videos.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Paradise Ghost Town of Varosha

Beautiful sandy beaches adjoin dilapidated high rise hotels making Varosha one of the more intriguing ghost towns. To understand why it was abandoned we have to start with a quick history lesson.

Varosha is a section of the city of Famagusta on the east coast of Northern Cyprus. Cyprus is a Mediterranean island whose population consists of two ethnic communities: Greek and Turkish. The island was under the control of the Ottoman empire from 1571 to 1878 and then under British control from 1878 to 1960.  During British rule there was a growing nationalist movement by the majority Greek Cypriots for union with Greece (enosis). The British opposed the enosis movement which lead to numerous protest, riots and acts of violence. In the late 1950's, Turkish Cypriots responded to the enosis demand by calling for partition (taksim) of the island. In an attempt to deal with increased violence between the two ethnic groups, the London and Zurich Agreements resulted in Cyprus gaining its independence from Britain in 1960. Almost immediately the new government began to fall apart as cooperation between the two sides could not be achieved.

In 1974 there was a coup d'├ętat of the government by the Cypriot National Guard assisted by the military junta which at that time ruled Greece. Then President Makarios III was replaced with a pro-Enosis nationalist dictator named Nikos Sampson. In response to the coup, Turkey invaded the island, taking control of the north. Just hours before the Turkish and Greek Cypriot armies met in Varosha, the entire population fled. Once Turkish forces gained control of the area, it was fenced off and became part of of the Green Line, which is the present day border between the two communities.

To this day the area remains barricaded and patrolled by the Turkish military. Though most items of value were stolen long ago by Turkish soldiers and other marauders, the majority of the areas buildings still exist in various states of decay.

Here are images of Varosha before the 1974 invasion.

Allegedly secret video taken during a U.N. patrol (starts at 1:35)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sci-Fi Short: Yardbird

A really solid sci-fi/paranormal short film from Australian director Michael Spiccia.  Though it doesn't have the most unique story line (with obvious parallels to the classic horror film Carrie), Yardbird is a really put together short with solid acting and beautiful cinematography.

Yardbird from Bridle Path Films on Vimeo.