Friday, June 29, 2012

Please do not feed the animals

A friend posted this on his Facebook page which some people commented agreeingly with and others energetically against.

Of course the point of the post is to make the comparison between the dependency of animals on the humans that feed them and the dependency of humans on the government that feeds them (though the intent is probably to attack government dependence in general and not just the food stamp program).

The question is whether such a comparison is reasonable? This is where I think most people fall prey to the cognitive bias known as the false dilemma (black & white thinking). They believe that the comparison has to be either all true or not true at all. From there, throw in a little confirmation bias to see what we want to see and voila, we have a one sided way of looking at a situation.

Of course some people will become dependent on government programs to their own detriment. Others will not. Of course some people really are in desperate need of help while others only lazily take advantage of such programs. Unless you have restricted yourself to knowing only a small social, ethnic, economic portion of the population you will have met people of differing levels of motivation, intelligence, creativity, morality, etc. My point is simply this. Humans are complicated creatures and usually our overly simplistic heuristics are not suited to answer deep questions about such things.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The return of virtual reality?

When I was younger, I remember playing with a virtual reality system which at the time I thought was pretty amazing.  Though many people thought that VR was going to be the next big thing, it never really took off and eventually fell to the wayside.

But now it looks like there may be new interest in the technology.  Next month, Canon will start selling it's mixed reality system.  Surprisingly, the technology doesn't look all that different than the gaming systems from my youth.  Though I am enthusiastic about the renewed interest, I am a little bit skeptical as to whether or not it will take off.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The "We only use 10% of our brain" myth.

A couple of weeks ago I was talking with a friend about humans with extraordinary abilities such as Scott Flansburg, the so called "human calculator".  Casually he said, "Well, they say we only use 10% of our brain, I guess we could all do it if we could figure out how to use the rest".

This myth has been part of pop culture for as long as I can remember.  According to snopes, "one reason this myth has endured is that it has been adopted by psychics and other paranormal pushers to explain psychic powers."

Perhaps another reason is the prevalence of the sci-fi/fantasy genres in TV and movies.   The idea that we all have some hidden unlocked potential to do superhuman things makes for some good stories and most people are a lot more exposed to these genres then they are to the pseudoscience community.

More obvious, as one of the articles below points out, is that there are people who want to sell you something, either secret information or a pill, that will unlock this hidden potential.

Whatever the reason for this meme's continuance, there is now available, via this amazing new invention called the internet, plenty of science articles to refute it.  Since it is usually best to go to an expert when you want to know something about a particular subject, I had bookmarked two articles that I thought were pretty good.  The first one is by Barry Beyerstein, who prior to his death was professor of psychology at Simon Fraser University, and the second by neuroscientist Steven Novella.  Bellow are links to the articles but here are some highlights.

"Why would a neuroscientist immediately doubt that 90 percent of the average brain lies perpetually fallow? First of all, it is obvious that the brain, like all our other organs, has been shaped by natural selection. Brain tissue is metabolically expensive both to grow and to run, and it strains credulity to think that evolution would have permitted squandering of resources on a scale necessary to build and maintain such a massively underutilized organ." - Beyerstein

"What is more, observing the effects of head injury reveals that there does not seem to be any area of the brain that can be destroyed by strokes, head trauma, or other manner, without leaving the patient with some kind of functional deficit." - Beyerstein

"The past hundred years has seen the advent of increasingly sophisticated technologies for listening in on the functional traffic of the brain...Despite this detailed reconnaissance, no quiet areas awaiting new assignments have emerged." - Beyerstein

"No one claims that the entire brain is working at maximal capacity all the time, or even at any time. A certain amount of the brain is working just to be conscious, and then different parts of the brain, collaborating in different networks, will become active during specific tasks. But you cannot do a complex mathematical problem, compose a poem, engage in abstract reasoning, listen to music, identify an odor, and examine a complex visual puzzle all at the same time. But that’s what it would take for most of your brain to be active at one moment." - Novella

"Do we really use only 10% of our brains?". Barry Beyerstein.

"Reviving the 10% myth". Steven Novella.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Knight Waltz

Here is a quick & dirty (pun intended) Batman fan film featuring Batman & Catwoman.  Created in 2010 by Chris Notarile, the video might be the best four minutes of your day.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Fan Film: Grayson

Ok, since Batman isn't even in this one, I guess it technically isn't a Batman fan film.  But it does take place in the D.C. universe and Batman's death is the central point of the plot so I think it is fair to include it.

Grayson is a 2004 fan film made by John Fiorella.  It is presented as a trailer to feature film but in actuality, there is no such film, and as far as I can tell, nor was there ever any intention to make such a film.  The plot, I believe, is meant to be foggy, leaving it up to the viewers imagination to fill in the gaps.  What is apparent though is that Batman has been murdered and his former side kick Dick Grayson (a now retired Robin) is unhappy with the investigation and is determined to solve the mystery surrounding his death and to bring the perpetrator(s) to justice.  Along the way he is confronted by various super villains and heroes in the D.C. universe.  An impressive effort given that it was produced with a budget of only $18,000.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Batman: City of Scars

City of Scars is a Batman fan film made in 2010 by Aaron & Sean Schoenke.  Though it is a little high in the cheese factor, it really quite impressive, especially when you consider that it had a budget of $27,000 and was shot in 21 days!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Batman: Dead End

With the opening of The Dark Knight Rises only a few weeks away, I thought it might be fun to look at some of the better Batman fan films that are out there.  My only criteria is that they have to be better than the feature film Batman & Robin, which leaves a lot of room in the badness department.

First on my list is Batman: Dead End, a fan film created by Sandy Collora which premiered in 2003.  Though it is almost 10 years old now, I think it is still one of the best fan films out there.  Also, if you haven't seen it before, the crossovers are surprising and fun.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Brain Teaser 9

Brain Teaser from

Grandma has an old-fashioned refrigerator with a very small freezer compartment which can hold up to seven ice cube trays stacked, but there are no shelves to separate the trays. You have fifteen trays, each of which can make a dozen cubes, but if you stand one tray on top of another before it's frozen, it will sink into the lower tray and you won't get full cubes from the lower tray. Without using anything but water and the ice cube trays, what is the fastest way to make full ice cubes in seven trays?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Pareidolia Peppers

Saw this on Richard Wiseman's blog and that it was pretty funny, so I set out to find some more pepper pareidolia.  Here are a few good ones.

Cthulu pepper found here

Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon involving the perception of meaning in abstract stimuli.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Designed by Safdie Architects, the Marina Bay Sands features 2,561 hotel rooms, casino, convention center, shopping mall, two theaters, six celebrity chef restaurants, eight fine dining restaurants, a slew of casual eateries, two floating Crystal Pavilions (one housing a world famous lounge, the other a fashion designer's store), artscience museum and a ice skating rink.

Though it is a massive playground for well-to-do vacationers, it is the architecture that I find most fascinating.

Image from Flickr by Williamcho

At 650ft high, the infinity pool is three times the length of an Olympic pool.

The Lotus inspired ArtScience museum.
Image from Flickr by awee_19

Image from Flickr by Tim Gage

The Helix Bridge
Image from Flickr by Dem Romero

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Trucker's face shows effects of sun

From the New England Journal of Medicine website.   The picture depicts a man who had driven a delivery truck for 28 years.  Being close to the window, the left side of his face received more exposure to ultraviolet rays than the right which seems to have resulted in a startling difference in the level of skin damage.

This of course is being reported as a cautionary tale of the dangers of too much sun exposure.  I wonder though, is this a common problem with truck drivers, or is there something about this man which makes him more sensitive than others?  There are a lot of truck drivers out there.  Anyone know of a similar situation?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Response to Big Pay Checks, Tiny Tax Burdens

My response to this silly article from abc news.  I originally submitted this in the comments section of the article but for some reason it never posted.

What a bunch of crap. It is obvious that the purpose of the story is to manipulate people's emotions by massaging the facts. First off, Hendrick's company switched from a S corp to a C corp. She might not have paid state income tax at the individual level but the company certainly paid tax at the corporate level. Also, if the company pays out a dividend to the owners then the will have to pay tax on that at the individual level, the so called double taxation of C corps.

As far as how the top 3 percent "finagle" their income tax burden down to zero, the reporter says that the majority of them donate to charity, invest in local and state governments, earn money overseas and write off doctor bills. So lets look at each of these. 1) Donating to charity means that you actually had to send that money to a charitable organization which means that the wealthy individual gave it away. They didn't buy a new car with it or invest it in the stock market, they gave it away. To me this seems like a good thing. Should we penalize Bill Gates when he donates $3 billion is one year to his foundation because it didn't go to the government but instead went to an organization which feeds the starving, educates children and provides healthcare to the poor? 2) You don't pay tax at the state level for investments in that state because, well, you invested money in that state. States want you to buy their bonds so that they have money to spend on their various projects. If you buy a bond for a state you live in, you usually don't have to pay tax on the interest you receive from them. 3) You might not have to pay tax on overseas income because you had to pay tax to the country where you originally made the money and so you get a credit or a deduction to offset that tax. 4) You can deduct medical expenses as an itemized deduction but to do so the expense must first be over 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. This means that a wealthy person who has a lot of income for the year would have to have quite a lot of medical expenses to be able to use this deduction. Also, it is not like the wealthy are living it up when they have to spend money (out of pocket money) on medical expenses. They don't sit around trying to show each other up by seeing who has the biggest scare on their chest after dishing out money for heart surgery.

Friday, June 1, 2012

BBC - The Human Mind

Interesting series from the BBC on the human mind.  It is old, originally airing back in 2003, but is still relevant and entertaining.

Episode 1 - Get Smart

 Episode 2 - Personality

Episode 3 - Making Friends