Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Relationships are stressful.

For most people, this probably isn't something noticeable, but I'm not used to caring what other people think. I've always just done what I thought best, without worrying about others' impressions. I'd be nice and polite, but if someone was offended by, say, my going barefoot, I didn't care. Now all of a sudden there's someone whose opinion of me matters.

I've always been bad at catching subtle cues. It never seemed important before; if someone couldn't be bothered to tell me I'd done something wrong, I couldn't be bothered to care. This isn't true anymore; I'm always worried I said or did something wrong and didn't notice.

My fears are probably groundless, and I know that... but that "probably" is a killer.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

If you can't trust yourself, who can you trust?

Your brain lies to you. It does it all the time. It's for your own good, really, but you have a more accurate picture of the world if you take into account the fact that you can't really trust your own eyes.

Your senses take in huge amounts of data every second, way more than you could consciously deal with, but most of it gets thrown away. If I'm looking at my computer screen, many other things are in my field of view. I can see my keyboard, the wall, my mouse, the speakers, the brand logo on the bottom of the monitor...but I don't notice any of these. The light from them hits my eyes. My brain does just enough processing to determine that they aren't moving. It decides that they are uninteresting, and throws the information away.

Your brain is doing this sort of thing all the time, and is really pretty good at it. It's pretty rare that you're looking for something and not finding it, and it turns out you were looking right at it. I mean, it happens, but it's unusual when it does. Unusual enough to be remembered.

Which brings us to another area where most of the information gets thrown away: memory. You don't remember most things at all well. If there wasn't strong emotion involved, you'll forget an event pretty quickly. If it was memorable, your brain makes a story out of your experience, and remembers the story, and maybe a few important details. When you remember it later, most of the details are reconstructed (made up) to fit the story. This results in amusing stories, but also in reliability issues in eyewitness reports.

Magicians make good use of these little shortcuts and assumptions our brain makes all the time; you do much of their work for them. The same goes for magicians' dark-side counterparts, psychics. There's a lot of money to be made by fooling people, and it's not that hard if you know how.

They way the mind works causes a number of cognitive biases that make it difficult to know whether something is real, or if you're just fooling yourself. Don't worry though, people have come up with a way to work around this problem. We've been using it (and refining it) for a few hundred years now, and it seems to work pretty well. It's called science.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Security worries

I won't be installing Service Pack 3 for Windows XP on my computer due to the EULA, which says it can periodically tell Microsoft all about my computer "to prevent piracy". Screw that. I spend enough effort keeping spyware off of my system; I'm not going to have it in my OS. I didn't allow WGA onto my system, and I'm not allowing SP3 either if it's going to do the same thing. I am kind of worried, though, that this decision may make me vulnerable to security holes. This may lead to my switching to Ubuntu.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Land of the Free*

Miscarriages of justice make me furious. I'm too mad to talk.

*Offer not valid in case of technology. Some restrictions may apply.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

That tube is for tube-related science, not tube-related fun!

Cool sciency links:
  • The coolest optical illusion I've ever seen, with the possible exception of random dot stereograms ("Magic Eye" pictures).
  • Nobel laureate Richard Feynman explains quantum theory. No math; it's aimed at laymen.
  • The husband of a fantasy author decides to find out just what it would take to make that werewolf-killing silver bullet.
  • You're familiar with lolcats, right? Well, cross it with Star Trek and you get LOLTrek.
  • Theodory Gray decided to collect samples of all the elements to put in his Wooden Periodic Table.
  • A list of very old sites (the list is from 2002 - that's like 1950 in internet time) fitting this theme, most of which are still up. The LOX barbecue is the only cool one that's died of link rot; check the bottom of George Goble's Wiki page instead.

Not-quite-current events

  • The best election headline
  • I don't know if I believe this or not, but apparently Sarah Palin didn’t know Africa was a continent. I mean, Sarah Palin isn't the sharpest crayon, but I trust the McCain campaign as far as I can throw them. If McCain himself said it, I'd buy it; he's been struggling to hold on to his honor and integrity all campaign. In fact, that's part of why he did so badly. You can win with a clean campaign, and you can win with a dirty campaign, but there's not much hope for "clean — no, dirty — no, clean — no, dirty — but not that dirty!"
  • A comic on the banking crisis

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A sense of scale

If you shrunk the earth down to 1 meter in diameter, the difference between the highest mountain and the deepest sea trench would be 1.5 mm. The International Space Station is 1.2 inches up, and the Space Shuttle can't go higher than about 3 inches. Geosynchronous orbit is 9.2 feet from the surface. The distance to the moon becomes 100 feet, give or take about 5 feet depending on where it is in its orbit. Mars never gets closer than 2 2/3 miles, and the sun is 7.2-7.4 miles away (we're closest Jan. 3, and furthest Jul. 4). The nearest star, Alpha Centauri? It's more than 8 times the (actual) distance to the moon.

Welcome to the internet, where the men are real men, the women are real men, and the little girls are real FBI agents.

chain linksLinkety-link-link-link.
  • is a collection of funny (often NSFW) quotes from IRC users.
  • lets you loan small amounts of money to would-be entrepreneurs in third-world countries. You don't get any interest, but these days that's better than the stock market.
  • I wanna be a Sesame Street Martian for Halloween next year. I won't get around to making the costume, though, so I won't.
  • Using your TV as a radar. Awesome.
  • Just how unlikely your vote is to matter, and why (pdf) you should vote anyway.
  • When restaurants are more clever than clean.
  • A crazy pastor has a crazy plan to keep Obama from becoming president.
  • Fundies Say the Darndest Things is a collection of other crazy religious people being crazy.
  • A silly song about believing silly things. Could be offensive, as you may believe in one of the things deemed silly.
  • Finally, an odd glitch in most text editors.

Friday, October 31, 2008

On having a blog

I find that, now that I have a blog, I feel obligated to post stuff in it periodically. The fact that I know very well that nobody but me reads it has little effect on this. This results in my putting up posts that are just lists of links, out of a lack of anything worth saying. This does have a nice side-effect, though--now I can find that cool link I saw the other day, even if I've forgotten where I found it.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

They're doing something right.

Have you considered moving to Iceland?

Here's to Mississippi

I just saw this which led me to this which reminded me of this.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Science is cool, but mad science is even cooler.
  • Dr. Horrible is a 45-minute musical by Joss Whedon (of Buffy, Angel, and Firefly). It will probably get its own post later.
  • Narbonic is a (finished) comic strip about the adventures of a mad scientist and her henchmen.
  • A Miracle of Science is a (finished) graphic novel: She's a psychologist, and a member of a group mind. He's a detective, hunting down mad scientists and bringing them to justice (or at least therapy). Together, they fight crime! 435 pages of mad science, space battles, robots, and true love.
  • Girl Genius is a (ongoing) graphic novel set in a steampunk Europe. The artwork is just beautiful.
  • Wikihistory is a short short story about time travel, in the form of message board posts. It doesn't quite fit the theme, but what the hey.
  • Casey and Andy is a (finished) comic strip about two mad scientist roommates who periodically die. It's not really up to the standards of the rest of this list, but it is funny.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Blogging irritations

I don't know if this is Blogger's fault, or if it's in the HTML spec, but I can't seem to nest lists, or put multiple spaces between words.

Link dump

Some cool links:

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Guess Sarah Palin's mother's maiden name, win her email!

So, someone broke into Gov. Palin's Yahoo email account. A good summary of the incident is here. Apparently, nothing particularly scandalous was found, other than the fact she was doing government business on a non-government email account (this sort of thing is one of the reasons that's a bad idea).

The cracker apparently got access by asking for a password reset, and guessing the "secret question" using her Wikipedia article. I hope the media report on this bit, leading to companies abandoning this terrible, terrible  idea.

He also apparently wasn't careful enough covering his tracks, and will likely be arrested soon. If it was anybody else's account, he would be free to go and would be the new owner of the account, with nothing the original account holder could do about it.

Thanks to Evolved and Rational.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

On the dangers of pyramid schemes

Apparently, Albania almost underwent a civil war a decade ago when several large pyramid schemes collapsed. Financial regulation in the US may not be perfect (viz the credit crunch), but it could be worse.

I heard about this, oddly enough, on [WARNING! This site is a worse time-suck than even Wikipedia! I "lost" an hour and a half reading it this morning, and was almost late for a job interview.]

Saturday, September 13, 2008

New comment system!

Commenting is nice now, thanks to Intense Debate Comments. Unfortunately, I seem to have accidentally erased my existing comment while upgrading. I think I could get it back, but it would be a bit of a pain, and it's only the one. Sorry David.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my CPU.

The last few days I've noticed my laptop making a rattling sound when I move it, like a small bit of plastic had broken off and was loose inside. It was bugging me, so I opened it up today to remove whatever it was. When I got it all apart, I found an inch-long metal straight pin (think a small needle without the eye) on the motherboard. So, I'm very thankful my computer is still working properly. It couldn't have been on the motherboard before I took it apart, or else I would have seen worse symptoms than a rattling sound. I can't imagine how it got in there in the first place. In short, I don't know if I'm very lucky, or very unlucky. I'm just glad my computer still wor+σéQRPÿ

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Frist post!!!!1

So, I have a blog now. Just sort of on a whim. It's awesome that you can do that now: anyone with a couple minutes to spare can, for free, start publishing their own little newspaper column. No effort required.

Don't expect me to post often.

If you don't understand the title, I envy you. The internet contains far too many people like this.