# New Tricks

Charles Daney has been trying some new things for the Philosophia Naturalis blog carnival. You should go and scope them out.

# Down-Home Cyber-Pulp Baggage

The following is the first chapter of a novel my father began about fifteen years ago. He never finished it, and thanks to the way the Endless are, he never will — but at least it provides evidence that I come by my expository style naturally.

Reading it now, after all this time, I can’t help but feel that Joe Bob worked for the Discovery Institute.

CHAPTER 1

BAMM!!! Then, again, BAAAAMMMMM!!

Then, one more time, hard, BAAAAAMMMMMMMMMM!

The echo pounded back and forth off the walls of the dingy little hotel room. And damn near made my ears bleed.

Finally, I’d done it. That asshole Joe Bob was downright dead. But it wasn’t over.

I smelled as much as heard the other one, off to my right. I didn’t think. I just dropped down on my right knee and swung the barrel over on a shape hunkered in the corner…. But — even in the evening shadow — I could see the body language didn’t say “ambush.” It was more like cowering.

I know. I shoulda just blown that other muther away, too. Those two lowlifes had given me every reason to blow them both straight into dogshit heaven.

There were four rounds left in my fist. And the sick hate boiling up in my gut — and the adrenaline rush — wanted to flat out kill the other one too.

But she just looked so damn pathetic.

So, I’d regret it later. That’s how it always seems to go.

She just moaned: “Ohhhh, shit! Ahhhhh… heeeey…. whyja havta do that fo’ … Whoa…. ”

Like I say. Pretty pathetic. Right?

I’ll grant you, that cheap little room was quite a sight. Impressive ugliness. Well, \$12.50 a night doesn’t buy much to begin with. A 10-foot by 12-foot worn-carpet space with a saggy twin bed, a beyond-scuffy dresser and a dirty two-foot-wide window view of the brick across the street. And now…

# How Not to Abbreviate “Wikipedia”

Or, “Pet Peeve #3,007.”

Please, please, for the love of knowledge and factual accuracy, don’t abbreviate Wikipedia as Wiki. That’s like saying “Look in Book for more to read” when you really mean, “See the relevant article in volume 17 of the Encyclopædia Britannica.” A wiki is a general type of website, an idea of how to edit material collaboratively, and this general idea has been implemented many times, in many different programming languages: MediaWiki (PHP), Instiki (Ruby), Twiki (Perl), etc.

Remember, even Conservapædia is a wiki.

(Image: an irate Wikipe-tan at Wikimedia Commons. Conservapædia has one, too.)

# Currently on the Reading Queue

The arXivotubes have delivered unto me A. James and M. J. Plank’s “On fitting power laws to ecological data” (4 December, arXiv:0712.0613).

Heavy-tailed or power-law distributions are becoming increasingly common in biological literature. A wide range of biological data has been fitted to distributions with heavy tails. Many of these studies use simple fitting methods to find the parameters in the distribution, which can give highly misleading results. The potential pitfalls that can occur when using these methods are pointed out, and a step-by-step guide to fitting power-law distributions and assessing their goodness-of-fit is offered.

The classic in this genre is Clauset, Shalizi and Newman’s “Power-law Distributions in Empirical Data,” but more correctives are always appreciated.

# Teh Burning Stupid: Relativity Edition

To put the “moral” at the beginning, let’s summarize. If you want to raise my blood pressure, one good way to do it is to write a completely wrong, back-to-front absurd tirade against all of twentieth-century physics. Anyone can slip a few errors into an essay, or even a few “fundamental” errors, but if you want the brass ring, you need at the very least to misrepresent the special theory of relativity, the general theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, the use of mathematics in physics and the scientific method. Bonus points if you confuse general relativity with quantum physics; a woop-woop-woop special prize for taking a non-true assertion and calling it a “fundamental premise” of quantum mechanics; and an extra cherry on top if you take three famous observations which support general relativity, lie about two of them and forget the third.

The story so far:

I might write an actual, non-linkfesty post about this. . . but then again, other corners of the Network are calling to me and reminding me of overdue obligations, so I might leave it to my colleagues.

UPDATE (6 December): gg now has Part 2 out on the blogonets.

UPDATE (16:47 o’clock): Tyler DiPietro dons the asbestos and joins the fun, followed quickly by Mark Chu-Carroll.

UPDATE (9 December): Flavin of the St. Louis Skeptical Society offers an essay.

# Quote of the Moment

The quark gluon plasma studied at RHIC is the least viscous fluid known to man.

Just how non-viscous is it? Well, the folks in the STAR Collaboration tell us that for the quark-gluon plasma, the ratio of shear viscosity to entropy density, $$\eta / s$$, is more than one hundred times smaller than that of water.

Barton Zwiebach has some videos on this subject which may serve as a good introduction for those with a moderate physics background.

# Dawkins’ Book Endorsements

I just noticed that RichardDawkins.net is now advertising books in the left-hand sidebar, below the quotations and links to other skeptical and freethinking websites. These include Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell (2006), Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World (1995) and The Varieties of Scientific Experience (2006), E. O. Wilson’s The Future of Life (2001), A. C. Grayling’s Against All Gods (2007) and Michel Onfray’s Atheist Manifesto (2007). This sampling is significant for two reasons: first, if your reading has been limited to American glossy media, the latter two names will probably make you go, “Who?” Second, the implied endorsement of Sagan’s work is interesting, since many people (even some who should know better) have taken to canonizing Sagan as the anti-Dawkins of science advocacy. The same goes, to an extent, for E. O. Wilson.

The list of books is generated anew with each page load, just as with the other sidebar information, incidentally.

# Wikipedia and Creative Commons

This is pretty big news: Wikipedia, which has so far been licensed under the GFDL, is moving towards integration with the Creative Commons system. Two days ago, the Wikimedia Foundation requested that the GNU folks modify the GFDL to allow “mass collaborative projects” developed under the GFDL to migrate to the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license.

A time of troubles awaits in the near future, when Wikipedians will be asked to decide: relicense the encyclopedia under CC-BY-SA 3.0, or not? Even if the community says no, the new version of the GFDL will allow other content developers to mix material from Wikipedia and CC sources much more easily than was possible before.

(Via Peter Suber.)

# ED The Future

A growing number of older children are rejecting the doctrine of “parentism,” the idea that gifts could be left under the Christmas tree by Mom and Dad. Now, at ED The Future, Lacie Cuskin takes us into the new, alternative paradigm of “External Delivery.” Can gifts be arranged under a tree by random chance alone? Is “parentism” merely another tool in the War Against Christmas? Only Lacie Cuskin tells it like it is!

# Anti-Matters

Starting your own journal is a time-honored way to make pseudoscience and outright antiscience look more respectable. Known loonball Paul Cameron did it in order to bolster his homophobia, and the walking dishonesty generators known as “creationists” have done it several times. (Ad hominem? Sure, if you like. But creationism is the morally bankrupt pursuit of the factually wrong, and I lost patience with it quite some time ago.) Now, Jason Rosenhouse reports, they’ve gone and done it again.

These journals invariably founder on their inability to find any scientists willing to write for them. Remember Proceedings in Complexity, Information and Design? It’s been moribund since November 2005. Or how about Origins and Design? That one went belly-up around the turn of the century.

The latest representative of the genre is Anti-Matters. It bills itself as â€œA quarterly open-access journal addressing issues in science and the humanities from non-materialistic perspectives.â€

Apparently, “non-materialistic” science means attacking evolutionary biology with — wait for it — the Second Law of Thermodynamics! Some bad arguments just never die.

Man, I’m on an emotional roller-coaster here. “Ooh, Jason Rosenhouse has a new post! Joy joy. I wonder what it’s about.” Then I read, and: “Oh. Creationists blathering about the Second Law.

# Sleep Tight!

All things considered, the antics of my government are still higher on my list of oh-god-we’re-all-gonna-die than quantum Zeno effects with dark energy. To illustrate why, I quote David Leppard in the Sunday Times:

A senior lawyer for the American government has told the Court of Appeal in London that kidnapping foreign citizens is permissible under American law because the US Supreme Court has sanctioned it. […] Until now it was commonly assumed that US law permitted kidnapping only in the â€œextraordinary renditionâ€ of terrorist suspects.

The American government has for the first time made it clear in a British court that the law applies to anyone, British or otherwise, suspected of a crime by Washington.

Yep. This is all gonna end well.

Via Warren Ellis.

# Citation Needed

Sigh! One day, I too will be famous enough to have a Wikipedia article which is attacked by vandals and quickly reverted.

You know, once I had a dream about a wiki. If you edited the wiki, you changed the world, and not just the way the world is now, but the way the world was and has always been. And I was the only one with access to the revision history. . . .

No more Borges before bed!

# Good News

Having complained at some length about how the Philosophia Naturalis blog carnival seemed to have died, I am pleased to report that another installment has arisen. Volunteers are needed to host the next edition (sign up before Christmas).

Before you ask, “If you complain so much, why don’t you put that energy into hosting one yourself,” let me say that I’d be happy to run one of these shindigs, but given all the other blog-related stuff I’ve somehow committed myself to doing, you’d better not ask until mid-January. Lay a guilt trip on me the next time ’round.

I’m also curious if anyone has ideas for a different way to get multiple science bloggers to collaborate. I mean, a blog carnival isn’t much of a “collaboration” â€” it’s all retrospective, put together by somebody who’s more a secretary reading the minutes than an editor. Cosmic Variance recently had an open thread for cosmology questions, and Aaron Bergman did a similar thing for string theory. I wonder if this could be made into a regular affair, sort of an â€œAsk Professor Science!â€ tradition in which each month (or every N days, whatever) a different scientist-blogger hosts an open thread. If the event were well-advertised, each occasion could easily attract informed responses from many scientists other than the host, too.