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Goodbye, Facebook. Supporting anti-gay marriage, anti-human rights candidate was finally too much.

After all Facebook has done, there’s only so much a person can take.

And kittehs. Can’t forget about the kittehs.

By now, anyone who has been paying attention is well aware of Facebook’s general user-unfriendly shenanigans, with the possible exception of Facebook’s support for net neutrality, to say nothing of all the minor aggravations users put up with on a daily basis…continually refreshing advertisements, live video popping up in the news feed, a news feed that doesn’t show you everything you mean to see, a newsfeed that occasionally reverts to Top Stories in spite of your every wish and command. Oh, but hey, there’s kittehs!

What kind of user-unfriendly shenanigans, one might wonder?

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CATEGORY: ScienceTechnology2

Amanda Marcotte moves the goalposts. Is a little consistency too much to ask?

Goalposts moved. GTFO.

Amanda Marcotte had me right until the end of her article. As a writer who occasionally *ahem* goes a bit off the rails, I think I’m qualified to notice when another does the same. She had such a compelling case, then derailed it by essentially lambasting all conservatives on the anti-science front and establishing a pattern on the left predicated on two examples. That was just silly.

Even though these arguments get derailed and digressive with various people moving goal posts and refusing to stay on-topic (because they know they will lose the argument if they do), the fact of the matter is that the willingness of liberal thought leaders to stay firm about science in the face of panics that are based on deep-rooted but irrational fears about “purity” and “nature” demonstrates a real integrity that the left has that the right is simply missing.

Now, didn’t she just moments ago suggest that when someone moves the goalposts, it’s argument over, GTFO? Why, yes. Yes she did.

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Renewable-Journal-1

Is the Nissan Leaf fun to drive? – Renewable Journal for 7/14/2014

Electric motors provide instant torque. So yes, the Leaf is one hell of a lot of fun to drive.

leaf-dash-display-610.jpgFor more posts in this series, please click here.

FAQ #1: Is the Nissan Leaf fun to drive?

Hell yes. In fact, it’s by far the zippiest car I’ve ever owned. Able to go 0-60 in 6.2 seconds, it is more than capable of getting out of its own way merging into traffic, unlike some cars I’ve driven and/or owned in the past.

Having a car that could accelerate into traffic was important for me. At this point there’s so much road construction on my commute every day that I wanted to be able to put my foot down and fit into traffic going at 55+ MPH even when contending with a short merge lane. I had to do that this morning, in fact, since I got stuck behind two big trucks and needed to get out and around them and then up to highway speed quickly.
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Drones

Drones—threat or menace?

Wait, what drones? Well, for starters, the ones that Amazon is testing, which have a 50 mile range, and a five pound payload. All so you can get that book faster. Of course, in the US this needs approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. Not only that, it requires that the FAA provide Amazon with an exemption from a bunch of regulations that currently prevent private companies from unmanned vehicle testing. Now, these might strike you as the kind of sensible regulation that you actually might want governments to enforce. The FAA, on the other hand, is currently preparing new rules that will loosen things up a bit, apparently. And if Amazon gets the approvals it wants? Get ready for “Amazon Prime Air.” Although five pounds doesn’t really seem to be a very large payload of books, or coffee, or lawn furniture, or whatever it is that’s so desperately needed from Amazon.
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CATEGORY: Climate

BBC wises up on Climate Science

Last year we bemoaned the fact that the BBC, which we do love dearly in spite of its occasional faults, was consistently blowing it on its climate change coverage. This has been, in the past, for reasons of “balance.” It may also have been the direct or indirect result of the political and “scientific” views of David Jordan, the BBC’s head of editorial standards, reputed to be a climate change “skeptic.” At least this was the theory put forward by Guardian commentator John Ashton. Whatever the case, it was embarrassing, and starting to compromise the BBC’s reputation for scientific coverage.

Hah. It turns out some folks at the BBC Trust seem to feel the same way as we do. And The Telegraph, in a story that Science Correspondent Sarah Knapton obviously enjoyed writing, and that the headline writer had a fun time with as well, provides us with the scoop: “BBC staff told to stop inviting cranks on to science programmes.” 200 staffers are now going to training on issues where the scientific consensus is settled, and to learn “not to insert ‘false balance’ into stories when issues were non-contentious.” And the BBC trust was not alone. In April, the British Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee came to a similar conclusion—the BBC’s coverage of climate change science was lamentable. As Jim Meyer over at Grist points out, the British Government has long accepted climate science, and the BBC was out there looking foolish.

So we’re glad to see that the old regime, if that’s actually what it was, will longer be acceptable, at least at the BBC. This has led to more hilarity, of course. Nigel Lawson, who used to routinely make an appearance to challenge climate scientists, is now complaining that the BBC not inviting him around any more to prattle away is censorship, dammit. Really, just shut up, Nigel, you old crank. You’ve still got The Mail.

CATEGORY: ScienceTechnology2

An insight into Libertarianism? George Packer’s Unwinding, Peter Thiel and techno-Libs

In their fascination with technology, are Libertarians really just seeking certainty?

I just finished reading George Packer’s remarkable, if not especially uplifting, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. One of the people he considers in his biography of the modern US is billionaire entrepreneur Peter Thiel.

Thiel is, among other things, a diehard Libertarian. Packer is … not. But the author doesn’t let his decidedly progressive perspective get in the way of telling Thiel’s story and representing the man’s perspective.

Toward the end, in a discussion of Thiel’s belief in the power of technology to free us from the innately limiting drag of politics, something occurred to me. Continue reading

NissanLeafBA

Why I chose the Leaf over the Jetta TDI – Renewable Journal for 7/4/2014

Tax credits and rebates, low cost of operation, and reduced air pollution all made the Leaf the better choice for my family.

[MotorTrend]For more posts in this series, please click here.

I know I’m going to get asked why I spent over 30k (before all the crazy tax rebates) on a car that only goes 80 miles. My father especially will ask at some point, and he’s already called it a “toy” car.

He’s not entirely wrong, either. I’m in my 40s now, and it’s actually quite a bit of fun to drive around in a car that can go from 0 to 60 in just a tad over 6 seconds. I’ve never had a car that has this kind of acceleration. Continue reading

Internet and Social Media

Facebook tramples human research ethics and gets published by PNAS for the effort

Facebook may have experimented with controlling your emotions without telling you

I start out an angry bastard on most days, but that’s just before coffee. After that, I actually lighten up and quite enjoy life and laughter. I’m really not the bitter old curmudgeon I tend to unleash when I write. Even much of my political ranting is spent more tongue-in-cheek and facepalming than actually risking a real aneurysm.

But this pisses me right off. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Hugh Howey’s Wool: Utopia for lovers of Dystopia

Wool is a smart, interesting take on the dystopian novel. It’s also kind of frustrating in that “wait for the next book to find out” way….

Wool by Hugh Howey (image courtesy Goodreads)

My local library, a vibrant place of reading, thinking and culture in my community, which I support wholeheartedly in spite of reassurances from the likes of the Google boys and Jeff Bezos that such places are no longer necessary, has been having its annual community read during the month of June. This year’s read has been the bestselling dystopian epic Wool by Hugh Howey.  (Yep, I’m off the 2014 reading list – and its revision – again, though I keep adding the books that come across my desk to that ever expanding list so that’s not strictly true, I guess.) One of the neat things associated with this community read has been community “read-alouds“; groups have been meeting in different spots across the area to read from the novel and discuss the action. I participated in a read-aloud last evening. The nicest thing about the group was the age range – from middle schoolers to a crusty old writer/professor. We had a great time doing a  dramatic reading of the events from one section of this sprawling work. This is wonderful stuff in a rural community like ours and the mix of younger and older readers both sparks hope for the future in this particular reader and, I hope, provides those younger readers with role models and will encourage them to develop a life-long love of reading. Continue reading

Beer

How to drink without getting drunk: does the yeast method work? (Food & Drink Week)

Esquire blog discusses a famous brewer’s secret for staying (relatively) sober. We test it out.

You may have seen Aaron Goldfarb’s recent Esquire blog entitled “How to Drink All Night Without Getting Drunk.” Great headline, and how cool would that be, right? I was skeptical, for obvious reasons, but it turns out that what is proposed is an idea developed by Joseph Owades, who Samuel Adams co-founder Jim Koch calls “the best brewer who ever lived.”

I figured I’d test the method myself, and not just because it would give me an excuse to drink too much.

First, how does it work? Continue reading

Food & Drink Week

Seven rules for healthier eating

The food we eat is killing us, but there are simple steps we can take to improve our health.

“Eating is an agricultural act.”—Wendell Berry

I have been depressed by, and disturbed by, the increasingly obvious American reluctance to accept science. That’s a pretty broad generalization, of course, but we all know where it comes from—we see manifestations of this every day, from vaccines, to global warming, to, well, whatever. If there’s a plausible scientific explanation for something, and a completely loony one, you just know that a certain percentage of the population is going to be chomping at the bit to accept the loony one.

How did a nation that constantly refers to itself as The Greatest Nation on Earth™ get populated by a surprisingly large number of dopes? Continue reading

Wired article gets basic probability wrong

It may seem like a small thing, but if you write for one of America’s premier tech magazines, you have a responsibility to understand how probability works.

Earlier today Wired published an article on how a new Quantum theory could explain the flow of time. Great stuff, and really interesting. Definitely give it a read.

But in the course of the article the writer makes a mistake that I see more often than I’d like. Here’s the graf, and I have boldfaced the problem section.

Consequently, a tepid cup of coffee does not spontaneously warm up. In principle, as the pure state of the room evolves, the coffee could suddenly become unmixed from the air and enter a pure state of its own. But there are so many more mixed states than pure states available to the coffee that this practically never happens — one would have to outlive the universe to witness it.

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WordsDay: Literature

The oyster climbs the Great Chain of Being: Eleanor Clark’s Locmariaquer

“…But thilke text heeld he nat worth an oyster….” – Geoffrey Chaucer

The Oysters of Locmariaquer by Eleanor Clark (image courtesy Goodreads)

Anyone who reads Eleanor Clark’s classic The Oysters of Locmariaquer will come away from the book convinced of two things: 1) cultivating oysters is a complex and difficult task that might well suck the life out of one foolish enough to try to do so; 2) if the people from any place are up to the task of cultivating oysters, it is the Bretons. Clark’s book falls into that interesting category of nonfiction made famous by the great John McPhee. That is, Eleanor Clark, like McPhee, combines meticulous research (there is more in this book than anyone this side of an ichthyologist would want to know about the biology of oysters and the history of human/oyster relations) with personal narrative (there are stories of the lives of Breton villagers who are tied to the oyster industry – or to Brittany – that can move even the most jaded soul).

Of course, Clark antedates McPhee, and perhaps he owes her a debt for combining the scientific and historical with the personal in ways that can engross the reader and make one learn in spite of oneself. After all, Clark won the National Book Award for Nonfiction with this tale of Belon oysters and the Breton people who raise them in 1965, the same year McPhee published his first significant workContinue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Nature in Focus: Sharp Eyes by William Hamilton Gibson

Once upon a time readers actually wanted to learn from books…

Sharp Eyes by William Hamilton Gibson (image courtesy Goodreads)

After a spate of book reviews for new found writer friends, this essay takes a look at a book from the 2014 reading list Sharp Eyes: A Rambler’s Calendar of Fifty-two Weeks Among Insects, Birds, and Flowers  is a series of descriptions and discussions of weekly nature walks. It’s one of those wonderful late 19th century “educational” works that does its best to disguise itself as entertainment.

The book is an interesting relic of the late 19th century’s “naturalist” movement inspired, in part at least, by Henry David Thoreau. Naturalist, illustrator, and writer William Hamilton Gibson offers his observations of the New England woods around his Connecticut home. Sharp Eyes is heavy with mini-lectures in botany and entomology (one wishes for more about birds since those are for this reader the most interesting chapters) but Gibson writes in the literary journalist style of late 19th century American magazine work, so even the most tedious science lessons are larded with references to poetry and philosophy that leaven the scientific descriptions and explanations…. Continue reading

Kids today aren’t like we were

You know how schools sometimes have assemblies where outside speakers or entertainers put on a show for an hour? Right.

Well, when I was in first grade my school, Wallburg Elementary in sleepy little Wallburg, NC, had a musician come in. I don’t remember much about the show, except for this one thing. He said he was going to do something amazing. Then he draped a blanket over the piano, put on a pair of boxing gloves, sat down and went to town on a rag of some sort.

Holy hell! How did he DO THAT?! Continue reading

CATEGORY: World

Japan and the whaling court ruling: not a great victory, but better than expected

Several months ago we posted about in interesting case in front of The International Court of Justice at The Hague—about whaling. Specifically the Australian government had petitioned the court to prevent Japan from whaling in waters designated as a protection area for whales by the Australian government in the Southern Ocean. Japan has been continuing its whaling practices for several decades under the guise of “scientific research” in spite of a formal ban on whaling adopted by the International Whaling Commission in 1986. Well, yesterday the International Court of Justice, in a strong opinion that probably surprised even the most ardent supporters of Australia’s suit, essentially called bullshit on Japan’s policies. Continue reading

In an alternate universe, life sucks for Manchester United but is AWESOME for me

Speculative journalism and Quantum Mechanics provide us all with a vision for a better life.

The other day I was lamenting to one of my online sports groups that the place would be a lot more fun if we had a couple of vocal Manchester United supporters on board. Normally I don’t long for the company of muppets, but this year is special for us Manc haters. See, the once-mighty Red Devils, having seen legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson retire over the summer, find themselves in a really disappointing mess under new head man David Moyes. Disappointing for United fans, that is – the rest of the world can’t stop laughing.

Manchester’s supporters have gotten accustomed to winning, and not winning isn’t settling well. As sports fans everywhere know, few things on Earth are bitchier and whinier and altogether more entertaining than the entitled backers of a dynasty run aground. Hence my longing for the wailing of Mancs on the list. (The place hasn’t been totally unrewarding, I should note. We do have a couple of Arsenal fans, and they’re generally easy enough to stir up, especially after a 6-0 pasting at the hands of my beloved Chelsea.)

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CATEGORY: Climate

Climate Illogic: Poisoning discussion is easier than countering climate science

If you can’t dispute the facts, attacking your opponent may distort the debate before it even starts.

Model performance vs. measured global average surface temperature (IPCC AR5)

Model performance vs. measured global average surface temperature (IPCC AR5)

For more posts in this series, please click here.

Debates can be difficult. This is especially true when you’re arguing against subjects that are nearly indisputable, such as evolution or industrial climate disruption (aka climate change). When faced with this situation, it is nearly always easier to create a distraction than it is to argue with either the science or the data underlying it. If the distraction is successful, then you don’t even have to debate the science or data at all – you get to focus on something that you choose and that may be totally unrelated to the argument at hand.

In discussions of climate disruption there are a number of common distractions. For example, the term “catastrophic global warming” is a straw man – a claim that scientists don’t actually make that’s easier to debate than the actual nature of climate change and model projections. Similarly, the argument that the supposedly missing tropospheric hot spot disproves greenhouse gas-driven climate disruption is another straw man, in this case because it’s not the hot spot that demonstrates greenhouse gases, but rather the heating in the troposphere and the cooling in the stratosphere.

Sometimes, however, deniers of industrial climate disruption try to derail any discussion of climate science before it even starts. One way they do this is by using a tactic and logical fallacy known as “poisoning the well,” and it’s the focus of today’s Climate Illogic. Continue reading

CATEGORY: TunesDay

From The Raveonettes to Belle & Sebastian? Streaming music algorithms shouldn’t suck this badly…

Predicting bands a user is going to like isn’t easy. But surely Spotify, Pandora and iTunes can do better than this.

I’m a freak for new music. Always have been. In a given day I’m usually listening to whatever cool stuff I have discovered recently, backtracking and catching up on bands I haven’t listened to lately, and trying to find new artists to fall in love with and suggest to my friends.

Finding new music is a different challenge than it used to be. Once upon a time you could turn on the radio and hear the latest and greatest. It’s been a long time since that worked, though – now radio is the last place you look for cool tuneage. Continue reading