Tuesday, December 20, 2005

F#*k the Creationists

Thanks to John Rogers and Ed Brayton for spreading the good word: Judge John E. Jones III of Pennsylvania has ruled that "intelligent design (ID)" may NOT be taught in Dover's public schools.

Rogers calls it "[a] breathtakingly thorough judicial smackdown"; Brayton says "we won really, really big. This decision could not be any better for us or any worse for ID." Amen to that, brothers. Upon reading the news this morning, I shed tears of joy. That's not an exaggeration.

And here it is, from the horse's mouth (my emphasis below):
The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.

Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.

To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions. The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.

With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.

-- Conclusion, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District et al.
Score one for the good guys. Read all about it (PDF).

Monday, December 19, 2005

the bad taste of del.icio.us

Today's error message:
Due to the power outage earlier in the week, we appear a number of continued hiccups. [sic] We've taken everything offline to properly rebuild and restore everything. I apologize and hope to have this resolved as soon as possible. Thank you for your continued patience.

Updates will be posted on our blog as we have them.
Now, as I said before, I wish to imply absolutely no causative relationship between del.icio.us' recent service problems and their new owner, Yahoo!. As del.icio.us themselves said when the power went out on December 14th: "we are obviously not yet on the Yahoo! infrastructure, and this is exactly the kind of stuff they can do a lot better for us (and you.)"

I'd just like to restate my earlier observation: Yahoo! has bought del.icio.us, and del.icio.us now sucks. Leaping to conclusions is left as an exercise for the reader.

I hope it gets better soon.

(On a related note, we also had a power outage at home this morning, around 0700J. D said she heard some kind of noise outside, and then our three UPSes started beeping the running-on-battery-power symphony. After shutting everything down, we went outside to check the breakers, and our neighbor two houses down pointed out a red light on the transformer atop our nearest utility pole and said that it usually takes PG&E a while to get to it after a storm, since it only feeds five or six houses-- not even the whole block. One of our cats spent about an hour exploring the unusually silent house.)

Friday, December 16, 2005

Scott Adams should stick to drawing comics

So the guy who draws Dilbert has written a book called God's Debris, which you can download as a PDF and read for free, and in doing so has crossed the border into the land of crazy old men-- jumping the shark, if you will, and losing most, if not all, credibility outside the field of cartooning. IMHO.

The book is basically a retread of Richard Bach's Illusions, but much more didactic and concerned with the physical nature of the universe-- not a bad thing to consider, but it's unfortunate that Adams clearly has no deep understanding of probability, quantum mechanics, gravity, or electromagnetic theory, instead setting them up as paper tigers which he attempts to supplant with his own theory of "God-dust" (yes, it is as kooky as it sounds). It's pretty embarrassing, actually.

I also disagree with the assertion, in the introduction, that "[p]eople under the age of fourteen should not read [this book]." Any real science fiction fan will tell you that he or she had already churned through most of Adams' ideas by that age, and probably knew a hell of a lot more actual science than he seems to.

And any high school debate team would have serious problems with his critical thinking skills-- he selectively chooses evidence to support his goofball theories, conveniently ignoring the bulk of evolutionary theory while accepting the Big Bang as gospel truth. WTF?

As a counterpoint, I offer this list of much better books and other media which provide perspective on the same philosophical issues:
  • Inherit the Stars by James P. Hogan, which deals with evolution and extraordinary evidence;
  • anything by Philip K. Dick, but especially Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, for ideas about memory and perceived reality;
  • Albert Einstein's Relativity, which should be required reading for any college-level physics student;
  • A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (also available in movie form), which will-- no kidding-- blow your mind;
  • Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, because really, nothing beats primary sources;
  • the movie Mindwalk, in which characters actually understand quantum phenomena, even though their discussion is still lightweight; and
  • the Showtime series Penn & Teller: Bullshit! (also on DVD), which demonstrates that not all skeptics are irrational cultists, as Adams claims in his book.
Provoking thought is never a bad thing, but there are better ways to do it than pimping your own wacked-out philosophy and claiming that it's "the most compelling vision of reality you will ever read." Not even close, dude. I've got an entire bookshelf that makes you a liar.

I just hope Adams isn't trying to start his own religion here.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Marketing Gone Wild

So I'm reading The Onion today, and I click through to one of their stories and have to endure an interstitial ad that asks "Are you a loser?" I skip it, of course, but after I read the story, I notice that there are more banner ads for the same thing.

Loath to actually click on a fucking animated banner ad, I instead enter the URL which is displayed therein: www.loserloserloser.com. This gets me to a web site claiming to be "A Space For Losers, By Losers". The layout looks a bit like modernhumorist.com, but it's got Maxtor ads all over the place-- and only Maxtor ads. Strange.

So I check the domain registration, and whaddya know?
Maxtor Corporation
2452 Clover Basin Drive
Longmont, CO 80503


Administrative Contact, Technical Contact, Zone Contact:
Maxtor Corporation
Web Team
2452 Clover Basin Drive
Longmont, CO 80503
303-678-2182 [fax]

Domain created on 14-Nov-2005
Domain expires on 14-Nov-2007
Last updated on 17-Nov-2005

Domain servers in listed order:

Now that's just not cool. I mean, the web site claims to be "Issue 12 | December 2005", which is clearly a lie because the domain was only registered last month. And all the content is designed to steer the reader toward buying a Maxtor backup product. That's downright evil.

There's advertising, and there's marketing, and then there's propaganda. I'm reminded of an interview in the documentary The Corporation, where the CEO of a "stealth marketing" company talks about how consumers can be influenced by marketing messages disguised as real-life interactions. That's insulting to both the consumer and the product, because you're admitting that your product isn't good enough to sell on its own merits, and you're trying to trick the consumer into buying something. What's that saying about a fool and his money?

Anyway, to bring it all back full circle, this week's Onion also includes the story "I'd Love This Product Even If I Weren't A Stealth Marketer". America's Finest News Source, indeed.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Donald Duck's Family Tree

Just in case you were wondering: yes, Donald Duck appears to be of Scottish descent. Though there is also some weird inter-species shit going on to the far right of that tree. Ewww.

This guy has diagrammed family trees for many Disney characters. (And you thought you had no life.) It's interesting that the Duck family tree seems to be the most extensive-- is this because he did the most research on it, or because Disney produced the greatest amount of source material based on Donald Duck?

Try not to let that keep you awake tonight.

del.icio.us not so delicious anymore

You know, I've been using the del.icio.us online bookmarking service for a while. And while it's been slow sometimes, it's never spewed system errors like I started seeing this week:
System error
error: Can't call method "prepare" on an undefined value at /www/del.icio.us/comp/user/get line 13.
9: my $usedb = 'master';
10: my $ret;
12: if (!$auth_user) { $usedb = 'user' }
13: if (!exists ($db->{$usedb})) { $usedb = 'master' }
14: $user_name_q->{$usedb} = $db->{$usedb}->prepare('select * from users where user_name = ?');
15: my $query = $user_name_q->{$usedb};
16: $query->execute(lc($user_name));
code stack: /www/del.icio.us/comp/user/get:13
raw error

Can't call method "prepare" on an undefined value at /www/del.icio.us/comp/user/get line 13.

Trace begun at /usr/share/perl5/HTML/Mason/Exceptions.pm line 131
HTML::Mason::Exceptions::rethrow_exception('Can\'t call method "prepare" on an undefined value at /www/del.icio.us/comp/user/get line 13.^J') called at /www/del.icio.us/comp/user/get line 13
HTML::Mason::Commands::__ANON__('dbh', undef, 'user_name', 'sparckl', 'auth_user', 'sparckl') called at /usr/share/perl5/HTML/Mason/Component.pm line 134
HTML::Mason::Component::run('HTML::Mason::Component::FileBased=HASH(0x1d323e0)', 'dbh', undef, 'user_name', 'sparckl', 'auth_user', 'sparckl') called at /usr/share/perl5/HTML/Mason/Request.pm line 1069
eval {...} at /usr/share/perl5/HTML/Mason/Request.pm line 1068
HTML::Mason::Request::comp(undef, undef, 'dbh', undef, 'user_name', 'sparckl', 'auth_user', 'sparckl') called at /www/del.icio.us/site/dhandler line 194
HTML::Mason::Commands::__ANON__('dbh', undef, 'auth_user', 'sparckl', 'items', 100, 'tagview', 'list', 'tagsort', 'alpha', 'bundleview', 'show', 'cookies', 'HASH(0x1d81370)', 'browser', 'ff') called at /usr/share/perl5/HTML/Mason/Component.pm line 134
HTML::Mason::Component::run('HTML::Mason::Component::FileBased=HASH(0x1d23730)', 'dbh', undef, 'auth_user', 'sparckl', 'items', 100, 'tagview', 'list', 'tagsort', 'alpha', 'bundleview', 'show', 'cookies', 'HASH(0x1d81370)', 'browser', 'ff') called at /usr/share/perl5/HTML/Mason/Request.pm line 1074
eval {...} at /usr/share/perl5/HTML/Mason/Request.pm line 1068
HTML::Mason::Request::comp(undef, undef, 'dbh', undef, 'auth_user', 'sparckl', 'items', 100, 'tagview', 'list', 'tagsort', 'alpha', 'bundleview', 'show', 'cookies', 'HASH(0x1d81370)', 'browser', 'ff') called at /usr/share/perl5/HTML/Mason/Request.pm line 760
HTML::Mason::Request::call_next('HTML::Mason::Request::ApacheHandler=HASH(0x1ed82a0)', 'dbh', undef, 'auth_user', 'sparckl', 'items', 100, 'tagview', 'list', 'tagsort', 'alpha', 'bundleview', 'show', 'cookies', 'HASH(0x1d81370)', 'browser', 'ff') called at /www/del.icio.us/site/autohandler line 110
HTML::Mason::Commands::__ANON__ at /usr/share/perl5/HTML/Mason/Component.pm line 134
HTML::Mason::Component::run('HTML::Mason::Component::FileBased=HASH(0x1af7990)') called at /usr/share/perl5/HTML/Mason/Request.pm line 1069
eval {...} at /usr/share/perl5/HTML/Mason/Request.pm line 1068
HTML::Mason::Request::comp(undef, undef, undef) called at /usr/share/perl5/HTML/Mason/Request.pm line 338
eval {...} at /usr/share/perl5/HTML/Mason/Request.pm line 338
eval {...} at /usr/share/perl5/HTML/Mason/Request.pm line 297
HTML::Mason::Request::exec('HTML::Mason::Request::ApacheHandler=HASH(0x1ed82a0)') called at /usr/share/perl5/HTML/Mason/ApacheHandler.pm line 134
eval {...} at /usr/share/perl5/HTML/Mason/ApacheHandler.pm line 134
HTML::Mason::Request::ApacheHandler::exec('HTML::Mason::Request::ApacheHandler=HASH(0x1ed82a0)') called at /usr/share/perl5/HTML/Mason/ApacheHandler.pm line 793
HTML::Mason::ApacheHandler::handle_request('HTML::Mason::ApacheHandler=HASH(0x1ab5610)', 'Apache=SCALAR(0x1efda90)') called at (eval 43) line 8
HTML::Mason::ApacheHandler::handler('HTML::Mason::ApacheHandler', 'Apache=SCALAR(0x1efda90)') called at /dev/null line 0
eval {...} at /dev/null line 0
Now, without implying any sort of causal relationship, I'd also like to point out that Yahoo! bought del.icio.us last week. Perhaps the del.icio.us servers just weren't ready to withstand the onslaught of new users and gawkers attracted by the publicity. Perhaps del.icio.us should have expected and prepared for such an eventuality.

Yahoo! bought del.icio.us, and now del.icio.us has begun to suck.

I'm just saying.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

I hate wikis

I have to maintain documentation on wikis as part of my work, and I hate it. And earlier today, as I was spitting expletives at my computer screen, I realized why I hate editing wikis so much: for the same reason that no one speaks Esperanto.

Every damn wiki system has its own peculiar formatting syntax. MoinMoin uses ''double quotes'' for italics and '''triple quotes''' for bold. TWiki uses _underscores_ for italics and *asterisks* for bold. Similarly (or, rather, dissimilarly), one uses ==double equals== for headings, but the other uses ==the same syntax== for bolded, monospaced font. (Figuring out which is which is left as an exercise for the reader.)

Don't even get me started on indentation.

There is no clear advantage to one wiki's formatting syntax over the other. It's a standards war (read: pissing contest), and nobody wins, especially not the user who has to work with multiple, different wiki installations and keep track of which nonsensical syntax he needs to use to just get some damn text on the freaking page.

Yes, I know this wouldn't be a problem if I was editing wikis all the time. But I don't. And the fact that simple text formatting-- not hyperlinks or tables, which are even more absurd-- is so damn unusable violates the purported simplicity of wikis for casual users. They're not simple. They're not easy. They are annoying.

Just let me write the damn HTML myself, so I can learn one standard to apply to multiple sites, or give me a WYSIWYG "compose" mode like Blogger does. Please.