Tuesday, May 22, 2007

New logical fallicy: Argument ad Linguistics

One thing I keep seeing pop up in internet debates that is incredibly stupid is the use of linguistics to make a larger point where it is totally irrelevant. For example at Pandagon there was a debate over abortion (who woulda thunk it). In any case in the course of the argument at one point went to if pregnancy was active or passive and someone named Dan wrote this gem:

If pregnancy were an action, it’d be a verb, not a noun.

Now as someone pointed out this is especially stupid because the verb gestate works just as well in this context, but this is a prime example of using artifacts of language as points in an argument. Language is a pretty handy thing, and linguistics is interesting, but these types of arguments basically are useless in every way. Making a point based on the part of speech (or the etymology) is not giving evidence, or even a logical argument, it's just an extra bit of useless information that is intended to muddy the debate. So I guess it's not really a new logical fallacy, it's just a red herring, but it's a particularly annoying type of red herring. I'm not sure if people using these sorts of arguments actually believe them or not, but they must either be pretty dumb to not see how stupid they are, or incredibly disingenuous and desperate. It's also pretty common, seeming to come up at Language Log all the time.

Actually it reminds me of an attitude that I was hearing this morning driving to work, I was listening to NPR and they were reporting on the whole immigration bill debate. The main argument used against the "amnesty" provisions were that we would be rewarding people who have broken the law, ignoring the fact that everybody has broken the law. I break the law every day by speeding (and I don't drive particularly fast), and I know very few people who didn't drink while they were underage. It's not about laws, it's about racism. The whole argument, like the linguistic ones, is based on a petty legalism used to make cheap points at the expense of real argument.

Friday, May 18, 2007

food friday

so I was at Pandagon and saw this hilarious video:

I'll have to eat Kitten Mcnuggets instead.

Monday, May 14, 2007


So Daniel Davies at crooked timber is defending cheap American beer. Specifically Budweiser.

It is not the worst beer available, it's drinkable and bland, and that's really the main problem: like other big name American beers it has no flavor. Bland is OK, the whole point of lagers is that they are a bit on the bland side, but there is a big difference between subtle flavor and no flavor, and beers like Budweiser tend to come closer to the no flavor side of things. On the other hand it's really cheap, and is refreshing on a hot day. I just don't really drink enough to really justify the savings (plus for about the same price, in philly I can get Yuengling, which is much better).

Another thought: I just recently tried brooklyn brewery's Monster Ale. It has a good, strong flavor, not the kind of beer you drink a bunch of, but one is very enjoyable. Also: I had one after lunch, and was surprised how strong it was, but that is to be expected since it's about 3 times stronger than regular beer.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

My only post on religion

I am an atheist, but I don't want this to turn into an "atheist blog". I'd rather it be a science, music, or even technology blog because those are things that interest me, and so this is the only post I shall ever make regarding my views on religion (though I reserve the right to mock it at any point in time, for any reason).

The whole problem of religion is that there are many things people mean by the word "god", I can think of at least 3 that seem to cover most cases:

  1. Abrahamanic style god: this is what most people in America believe in. He (noticeably is usually a he) is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, but likes to take part in some mass genocide from time to time.

  2. The philosopher's god: this is what is believed by everything from deists to pantheists (those that aren't atheists anyways). This entity is kind of fuzzy and ill defined, and is totally untestable with science, but doesn't cause miracles or care about what goes on in your underpants, and as a matter of fact does just about nothing by design.

  3. Pagan gods: for example the greek gods, or shinto gods or the goddess of the wiccans. These are really just beings fantastically more powerful than us, but not perfect, or all knowing (much less all powerful: considering how much they fight they would have done serious damage)

Gods in the sense of 2 are totally untestable, and while I'm technically an agnostic when it comes to these ideas, I find them totally unmoving and useless, but I can't prove that they don't exist. Gods in the sense of 3, I don't think we have ever seen any evidence of, but they aren't out of the question, there could be a race of aliens so powerful so as to be like gods to us (the whole stargate movie and tv show are based on this idea), but I can say pretty confidently that we've never run into them. Gods in the sense of 1 though, the sense most common in much of the world, I think are proven to not exist (we would expect a very different world from the one we see if a giant guy in the sky was in charge of everything), and as a matter of fact are probably a logical contradiction.

Religions based off of gods in the first sense I think are absolutely harmful to humanity (I think the examples usually given aren't the best, sure the crusades and basically the whole history of the middle east kind of suck, but people always find an excuse to kill each other, the fundamental area where religion has hurt people has been in the field of women's rights). Religions based around 3 are similar to those based around 1, but tend to be less virulently bad. And there are no real religions based on 2, mostly because they are an intellectual exercise meant to keep the person believing in them able to call themselves a theist, while cutting down on the cognitive dissonance from the blatant disagreement with science.

To summarize: I'm a strong atheist in the sense of 1, and agnostic in the sense of 2, and a weak atheist (we just haven't seen them) in the sense of 3.

Monday, April 30, 2007



work work work

So now I'm working on co-op, and as a large part of what I do is wait for long simulation runs to finish, I might as well start my blog back up...

I'm working for the Upenn vet school as part of the MIDAS project, which basically is to model the spread of disease. The Upenn vet school is the only group modeling the spread of animal diseases, and that's the group I'm with. So I spend my days running (and mostly debugging) simulations of right now mostly avian influenza.

So what is a physicist (well physics student to be completely accurate) doing working for an epidemiology lab? Well... if there is one fact in the sciences, it is that physicists are the best with computers, and this is a job that is 90% programming.

Friday, February 09, 2007

So... another manufactured controversy

So am I the only one who never got why the whole Marcotte/Mcewan thing got to be a big controversy? First it was the duke case thing. Oh she criticized the lacrosse players? Poor babies. Then she criticized the catholic church and made a joke about aborting jesus. Can't we all just get past obvious jokes and take them as they are meant. The usual criticism placed against the left by the right is how PC we are. Who is complaining about using bad words, though?

Meh, anyways my thought was good for edwards for holding on to them, but pooh on him for not being more supportive over what is basically a stupid made up controversy.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

John Edwards is consuming good bloggers at an alarming rate

by that I mean he's hiring them. And it's a good thing. He seems to be courting the feminist vote, what with hiring Amanda Marcotte and Shake's Sis. I've always liked Edwards, and I think this speaks well for him. I have grave reservations about Hillary Clinton, mostly because I think she's just too much of a politician, too much about compromise, and making a deal, and not enough about standing up for the issues. I also like Obama, but I think it's a bit early to put him on the ticket, maybe when he's got some more experience under his belt (though I would probably forgive him that if he weren't so pushy about religion).

Of course none of the candidates are perfect, but Edwards it at least worth consideration in a race most consider to be between Hillary and Obama.

(neurotic note: I call Hillary Clinton by her first name to avoid confusion with Bill Clinton, but call the other candidates by their last names because other than Barack Obama, all of their names are nondescript)

I've just realised

google owns the internet.

That is all.

hmm... this could be bad

so my computer is making strange noises, and the power supply fan is not running. The power supply isn't hot, but as that is where the noises are coming from I am going to replace it (with a really beefy 550w one).

In other news, I need a job, if anyone in the Philadelphia region is looking to hire an undergraduate physics student for six months drop me an email

Sunday, January 28, 2007

a qualitative comparison of music websites

I have found 4 relatively new music sites. All offer free music listening, 3 offer music downloads, 1 for free and 2 for money. The sites are:
  1. Magnatune, a music store that offers free streaming as well as cheap ($5) album downloads, with no DRM (you can get a plain mp3).

  2. Mindawn, a music store that offers free demos that self-destruct after 3 plays, and not quite as cheap downloads ($6.99 for a lossy format, 8.99 for a lossless format, or pay by minute) without any DRM either.

  3. Jamendo, a free music site that offers streaming music and bittorrent downloads. It also has the prettiest website I've ever seen.

  4. iRateRadio, a java app that runs on all the major platforms and streams music from a variety of free sources, and tries to determine what you like from how you rate the music.

I liked Magnatune the most, the music is all very good, the interface is good, and the downloads are cheap. It seemed to be the most developed, having the largest number of download options. Oh, and it has Amarok integration. Jamendo is also good, the music is a little bit more iffy, and lots of the "albums" are very short, more properly EPs, but the interface is very nice and offering free bittorrent downloads (which are always well seeded) is very nice. Jamendo is a Luxembourger website, so the music is very Europe biased, whereas the others seemed more American biased, so it was a nice change. Mindawn seems to have a very large selection, but requires its own client to listen to music, and is more expensive than magnatune. One thing that is nice about it (for someone like me who is an amateur musician) is that all the artists get at least 55% of any profits, and 75% for Mindawn exclusive content. Magnatune splits all profits 50-50 with the artists. iRateRadio is a promising idea, but I found the client clumsy and slow (it is java, so these things are to be expected), and I listened to 3 songs that I didn't like before I gave up. It might be nice if you give it a chance, and maybe I will, but be prepared to listen to some stuff you don't like first.

Nonlinear Dynamics: what is it?

So I'm taking a course in nonlinear dynamics this term, and its really cool. Nonlinear dynamics is the study of chaotic systems in physics. So what does that mean?

Chaos is a technical term in physics meaning that something is deterministic (follows knowable laws), but unpredictable. Weather is chaotic, we understand a lot about how temperature and air pressure affect the weather in the short term, but long term prediction is almost impossible, very small errors in the measurements of the weather now leads to very large errors later on, and since there is always some error in any measurement we are stuck.

That doesn't mean that things are hopeless, however. There is quite a bit we can learn about chaotic systems, especially by studying simple mathematical chaotic systems. One of the simplest is the logistic map. Basically given some value x, you can get a new value x' by x' = λ * x (1-x). Given suitable values of λ x will stay between 0 and 1, no matter how many times you iterate it. It is used to model populations in biology. I you iterate this a whole bunch of times (like 10000) one of three things will happen depending on your value of λ: 1) x could diverge off somewhere, these are what we would consider unphysical solutions, these values of λ are not interesting, and we do not study them. 2) x could settle on one (or more) stable values, we call these orbits. 3) x could be chaotic, essentially be randomly distributed within a certain range.

One very cool thing about this, is that if you start with a stable orbit and increase λ by a certain amount, you will have 2 orbits, increase it by a smaller amount and you will get 4 and so on, we call this a period doubling cascade and it goes on until the number of orbits is essentially infinite and the system becomes chaotic (the picture from wikipedia is a graphical representation of this). The interesting part about this is that if you take the ratio of the amounts you have to increase λ by to go from the start of the orbit to the end of the orbit, and the same for the next one you get a number that is constant for lots of similar types of systems. This is called quantitative universality.

OK, that's enough for now, maybe I'll post some more on this in the future.