And speaking of Tom Cruise … 1

who really is NOT a scientist, his success in pulling the latest South Parkepisode off the air just drove the ep onto the internet. Strangely, no one in the South Park production crew seems too upset by the copyright infringement. The episode not only pokes fun at Tom’s chosen religion, Scientology, but also cracks a joke about his animated self “coming out of the closet.” The real Tom threw a fit and threatened to sue. Comedy Central pulled the episode from distribution. Resourceful fans, however, immediately posted the episode on the internet. Tom’s going to have a tough time tracking all those links down. At the risk of bringing the wrath of Tom and the “Church” of Scientology down on me, as a public service, here’s a link to the controversial episode. And links to South Park DVDs (hover over the images for the titles):    South Park:Complete Seventh Season

Google fights off the feds

Internet superpower Google is fighting off a US Dept of Justice attempt to obtain a week’s worth of search terms and visited websites. The DOJ wants the data as part of its defense of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), which the US Supreme Court has blocked, citing constitutionality issues. Google’s competitors, like Yahoo, have already rolled over and handed over what the DOJ wants. Apparently, the DOJ wants to have some evidence that search engines are used to find pornographic sites, presumably by minors. Seems like a no-brainer to me, actually. Google, meanwhile, says divulging the information would reveal trade secrets and weaken its users’ trust in the company. I say, bully for Google! Someone needs to stand up to Washington’s efforts to whittle away at online privacy and personal first amendment rights. I fail to see how the Google data could possibly support an already questionable law. To see a news account about the issue from a non-US source, click here. For a brief review of the COPA controversy, check out Wikipedia. Author Judith Levine has an interesting take on children and sexuality. Her book, Harmful to Minors: the Perils of Protecting Children from Sex is available from ...

What if Tom Cruise were a scientist?

Scientists still have an image problem. According to a recent survey by the Science Learning Centre in London, kids aged 11-15 value science, but do not see themselves as contributing as scientists. The BBC has an article about it here. Researchers Roni Malek and Fani Stylianidou are completing their research in April but have analysed around half the responses so far. They found around 80% of pupils thought scientists did “very important work” and 70% thought they worked “creatively and imaginatively”. Only 40% said they agreed that scientists did “boring and repetitive work”. Over three quarters of the respondents thought scientists were “really brainy people”. The research is being undertaken as part of Einstein Year. Among those who said they would not like to be scientists, reasons included: “Because you would constantly be depressed and tired and not have time for family”, and “because they all wear big glasses and white coats and I am female”. The article goes on to relate the belief in the stereotype to the decline in A-level exam takers and A-level test scores. (A-levels are advanced exit exams for UK learners, by the way.) Similar attitudes prevail here in the States. The popular image of ...

GPS-enable your child

I guess since moms don’t really have eyes in the backs of their heads (pending genetic engineering breakthroughs), technology had to come to their rescue. There is now a wristwatch-sized cellphone with builtin Global Positioning System (GPS). Parents can now locate their children within 100 m (300 feet) of their actual location — still a pretty large territory (the local mall, for example), but better than searching an entire neighborhood. The phone includes speed dials for “Mom,” “Dad,” “911,” and 5 others, and comes in a reusuable lunchbox package. The idea is actually not all that new; cellphones sold in the US now have to be GPS-enabled so emergency officers can locate the owner. What’s new is the packaging and the ease-of-use for the average mom or dad. It would probably allay some parents’ fears that their children may turn up missing or lost, although children have been known to misplace their cellphones, among other items. Maybe it’s just me, but the technology also adds a little “Big Brother” paranoia to the whole parent-child relationship. Some parents may go a little overboard tracking their kids (like the dad on the latest cellphone commercials). I also wonder whether other parties might ...

The Hubble for kids (and grown-ups)

While some are trying to dismantle the instruction of biology in the schools, others are actually trying to educate school children. Check out this site, sponsored by the Hubble Space Telescope team. The link will take you to a story about the ultra-high detailed image of the Orion Nebula, a “stellar nursery.” Aww, aren’t they cute? Check out these related products at Amazon. Hover over each image for descriptions.     

No end of debate on ID vs. Evolution

As a newbie to the world of blogging, I am amazed by the number of prolific writers out there in blogspace. SF writer Orson Scott Card has written a critique of “Darwinists” (his term) at his site that has apparently stirred up a hornets’ nest in the other camp. Check out these responses to Card’s essay: At Scienceblogs and at Pandasthumb.org. The trouble is, everyone seems to be preaching to the choir. Those who accept evolution spend their time criticizing the IDists as non-scientific and dogmatic, while the IDists spend their time calling the evolution proponents materialists (read, godless) and dogmatic. It’s a shame that the majority of the US public can’t see but a tiny bit of this lively debate, assuming they either cared or understood the arguments. In the world of physics, the last time science had a debate this heated was during Galileo’s lifetime, when scholars debated the earth-centered vs. the sun-centered model of the universe. Which reminds me of a question. Why is it that IDists and creationists don’t insist that alternative models of the solar system not be taught in the schools alongside modern ones? After all, the Bible does imply that the sun and ...

The War on Science

Here’s an excellent discussion on how the present administration in Washington may be conducting a War on Science.

Does God play poker?

Einstein once said that God does not play dice with the universe. He was critical, at the time, of the emerging quantum theory, which states that we cannot know everything about the motion, position and energy states of subatomic particles. So I wonder if God may be a poker player. The creationists/intelligent design folks discount the role chance might have played in the evolution of life. Now the main problem is, “how much time did the designer/universe have available to try all these different combinations of CHONP?” The theory of evolution suggests that life took about 1 billion years to form from simple organic molecules. Creationists and ID folks use a much shorter time span, since they tend to believe the earth is much, much younger than the accepted 4.6 billion years. As a crude analogy, suppose God had an honest deck of 52 and dealt out five cards every second. According to Mathworld, the odds of dealing a royal flush (KQJ10A) is 1 in 649,739 deals. In other words, roughly speaking within every 649,739-second time block one hand has to be a royal flush. Now 649,739 seconds is about 7.5 days (hmmm, God got lucky on that 6th day!). ...

Is Washington getting ready to play ball with Cuba?

The US Treasury Dept. is going to allow the Cubans to play here during the inaugural World Baseball Classic. This news is like hearing Nixon is going to China! The US has been maintaining a cold war against Fidel’s Cuba for almost 50 years. Is the anti-Fidel sentiment beginning to thaw? Or is Washington just planning ahead for the day when the old man dies? Cubans do love their beisbol. Either way, it’s good news for the game. Sixteen nations will field teams to compete against each other in the first international contest involving professional teams. Some of the games will be played in the States, which prohibits commercial transactions with Fidel’s government. So, there was some question that Cuba would be barred from the US, effectively killing the whole event. For more details, see here.

Vatican nixes “intelligent design”

While the statement doesn’t come directly from the Pope, the official Vatican newspaper this week denounced “intelligent design” as unscientific, proving that not all religious believers are complete ninnies. Intelligent design (ID) is the model favored primarily by U.S. Christians of a more conservative stripe over the predominant theories of evolution and the Big Bang. Proponents of ID hold that living organisms and the universe in general are too complex to have developed by mere chance. Rather, they insist that a designer of some sort arranged the universe to favor such complexity. “If the model proposed by Darwin is not considered sufficient, one should search for another,” Fiorenzo Facchini, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Bologna, writes in L’Osservatore Romano. “But it is not correct from a methodological point of view to stray from the field of science while pretending to do science,” he continues. “It only creates confusion between the scientific plane and those that are philosophical or religious.” Or in other words, if you do not like or accept a scientific theory, don’t go around inventing new explanations from whole cloth, and calling them “scientific” when there is no scientific evidence to support them. ID ...

Hot rod to Pluto launches successfully

NASA launched the New Horizons probe today on an express ride to the Solar System’s last outpost, Pluto. While most recent interplanetary probes have taken the slow and easy way to their destinations, taking long, looping trips around way-station planets, New Horizons is taking the Metroliner approach — short and fast. The probe’s launch vehicle, an Atlas 5 rocket, will accelerate the Pluto probe to almost 16 km/s (36,000 mph), quick enough to pass the moon’s orbit (384,000 km or 240,000 miles) in just nine hours. In contrast, the Apollo missions, with a top speed of 11 km/s (25,000 mph) took a week to reach the moon. New Horizons will reach its icy, remote destination, 30 times farther from the sun than the earth is, in 2015, just nine years from now. That’s about 500,000,000,000 km/year! Pluto remains the last known planet in the solar system to be visited by an interplanetary probe. Its physical properties resemble a comet’s more than the rest of the planets, leading some astronomers to say it should no longer be classifed as a planet. IMHO, it’s a planet, so I’m going to call it that. For more details about New Horizon, visit the official ...

The resurgence of Ma Bell

Now is it just me, or does it seem like the Bell Telephone Company is slowly reassembling itself? Back in the day, kids, there was only one phone company in the USA. It manufactured its own equipment, which you rented from it. It also handled long distance traffic through an associated company, AT&T. In the 1980s, the US government broke up Ma Bell into separate parts: seven Baby Bells (like BellSouth), AT&T and Western Electric. The research and development branch, Bell Labs, also got pulled away from Ma Bell. Since then, the splintered parts of the Bell monopoly seems to be magnetically attracting themselves into larger and larger units, as Baby Bells buy up cellular companies, AT&T reconfigures itself several times over, buying up cable companies and cellular companies, and Baby Bells merge. So I wonder, will we once again see a bigger, more powerful Ma Bell, controlling land lines, cellular traffic, cable TV, broadband internet and long distance, too? If you’re worried, like me, that Bell is getting too big again, protest with your wallet and switch to a different carrier. I am using Voice Over Internet Protocol now over my cable broadband connection and paying just $25 a ...
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