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Angry Astronomer

A blog about on science and science education/communication in a world increasingly filled with pseudoscience.

Updated: 2018-03-02T10:48:16.410-06:00


House passes "DARK" Bill


Although I don't write about it nearly so much anymore, I've watched a LOT of pseudo-science in my day. While much of the most pernicious comes from the right wing, the left has its own variety often centered around the naturalistic fallacy. That is to say, "if it's 'natural' it must be healthy and if it's not, it must be un-healthy".

This has expressed itself most notably as the anti-vaccine movement, but more recently as the anti-GMO movement. When I first heard about this, 3-4 years ago, it seemed quite plausible to me. Companies have a long history of putting profits before people when it comes to safety. So could we really trust the safety of genetically modified foods?

But very quickly, I started reading up on the claims of those that opposed GM foods. The arguments simply fell apart. Shoddy science with poorly designed experiments and weak data. Logical fallacies. Fake experts. Massive collusion and conspiracy necessary to pull it off... It was no different than any other pseudoscience.

Which is why I have to say I fully support the ominously nicknamed "Deny Americans the Right to Know" or DARK bill that passed the house recently which, if it passed the Senate (unlikely), would prevent states from requiring labeling of GM foods.

While advocates say this would allow consumers to know what they are consuming, this isn't true at all. Saying something was genetically modified gives absolutely NO useful information because the term is uselessly vague. It is as informationally useful as saying your food contained yellow. Not yellow 5 dye which has been much maligned. Just something yellow. GM crops are so diverse that painting with such a broad brush says nothing worthwhile.


There is one thing that labeling would do.

Imply that the foods are dangerous and in need of a warning label.

Which seems all too familiar. It's the tactic the Creationists tried to use in Cobb County Georgia in 2001 where they deemed Evolution too flawed to teach without putting a warning label in textbooks stating that evolution is JUST a theory. It was true, but presented out of context gave no useful information and the only thing it did was attempt to spread fear through sleight of word. This tactic didn't work in Cobb County. It shouldn't work anywhere else.



My girlfriend and I went to see Disney's new movie Tomorrowland last night. Hands down, this is one of the worst movies I think I've ever seen. As a warning, this post is going to be spoiler heavy so read no further if you don't want to have things ruined for you. The first problem I had was the main character, Casey. She was a throwaway. I don't think it's a huge spoiler to say that she finds a magical pin that teleports her to a marvelous futuristic world, but that's where the motivation ends. It was really cool so she wants to get back there. Despite freaky robots trying to kill her, a cryptic little girl that supposedly gave her the pin refusing to answer any questions, and a jerkface George Clooney who also answers no questions and just tells her everything is awful. Who cares! She still wants to go. Just cuz. So, Casey won't be dissuaded. She is, as we find out in the very first scene, an optimist. To a fault. And that's about her only defining characteristic. It amounts to a paper thin justification for Casey being led around by the nose for the vast majority of the film to solve someone else's problem that they won't even tell her about. She lacks agency as a character and the audience is supposed to forget this because of the bright shiny distraction of "Ooh! Shiny futureland!" After the film ended, my girlfriend and I agreed, Casey could have been written entirely out of the movie. It would require some reengineering of the structural details such as a revelation on the part of Clooney's character, Frank, on the solution to the supposed problem (more on that in a minute) instead of letting Casey pop in to figure it out in the matter of a single scene as a cheap workaround of pulling a strict deus ex. Writing her out would have made the main story much tighter and potentially a more triumphant story as Frank solves a problem of his own making. But I just like redemption stories so maybe that's just me. Now, about that problem. While it is ultimately revealed and its solution proposed all in a very short time, vague hints are given several times prior to the big reveal stating that "someone invented something that should not have been invented". An engaging teaser to be sure, but the reality is a big let down. As a second warning, this is one of the key reveals of the whole movie, so if you're wanting to avoid spoilers, this is where you should stop. The thing that should not have been invented is... a device that shows the future. And it's not painting a pretty picture. In 59 days* from Casey's present there will be simultaneous disasters: icecaps melting suddenly flooding everything, major terrorist attacks, raging fires destroying the world's forests, etc.... How is it all supposed to happen at the same time? I'm going to go with "Disney magic" because they don't explain this at all. This of course should beg the question of why all these horrible things shall come to pass at all? After all, knowing that something bad is in the future gives us the opportunity to change it. Except the main point of the movie is that we don't. It treats humanity as a proverbial deer in the headlights. Hugh Laurie's character, Governor Nix (a not at all subtle reference to the Greek goddess of darkness, but then again, making Casey's last name "Newton" wasn't subtle either) gives a speech about this stating, with some truth, that when we learn of impending doom, instead of trying to solve the problem, we repackage it into cheap entertainment. Apparently Laurie's character had been trying to warn the mundane Earth about all these bad things for years, but no one would do anything except tip their glass to the oncoming train. Defeated, Frank and Casey are about to head back to Earth when suddenly Casey has the deus ex realization that Laurie's character constantly blasting Earth with warnings was the problem; it planted the negative outlook in humanity's mind that was what caused all these problems in the first place**. It hearkens back to a proverb told back at the beginning of the movie about two wolve[...]

Playing With Data - Quadratic Cameos


I haven't been blogging much the past few years in large part due to being somewhat removed from the science/skeptic/education scene. The past 3 years I've been working in estate jewelry and am currently functioning as an inventory manager. While it is certainly far afield of my main background, I do frequently find ways where I'm applying my scientific background. Today was a good example of that. One of our buyers has a fondness for cameos. Unfortunately, cameos just don't sell well anymore. There's some rare exceptions, such as the one pictured here. This one happened to be an 1800's piece in a 22k gold mounting that was in spectacular condition. But most aren't. The most common ones are cameos carved from shell that I refer to as the "profile of the homely young lady". They often come in a 10k gold mounting and if we try to sell them at auction, they often sell for roughly the value of the gold in the mounting. Then, after auction fees, we've made less money than if the cameo was simply pulled out of the mounting and the mounting melted. Thus, when buying, it's important for our buyers to know roughly how much of the weight of a piece is shell, and how much is gold. I've been collecting the cameos that we've pulled out of the mountings for several months now and have a good collection, so I put some data together today and figured that this could be a good project for a math class, looking at a few types of functions. From each piece in my collection, I took 3 pieces of information: The height, the width, and the weight. Ideally, I'd have taken another, the thickness, but this is somewhat harder to get at since, in a real world application our buyers would be facing, they would likely not be able to easily measure this. Additionally, I make a weak assumption that this doesn't really change much. After all, even for small cameos, they'll still need to be fairly thick, or risk breaking. So I felt ok leaving this out. My first pass I tried putting together equations from just single pairings of the height vs weight, or the width vs weight. Before graphing it and letting Excel do the fit for me, it bears some thinking about what the plot might look like. It certainly wouldn't be a linear equation because what we're really looking at is an increase in volume which is length x width x thickness, which would mean it should scale towards the 3rd power. But because the thickness probably stays more or less constant, ad the length and width increase proportionally to one another, this means I should be looking for the data to fit a second degree polynomial, or a quadratic function. And sure enough, when I plotted everything up, it ended up coming out pretty well. The thing I really like about data like this is that there's lots of little things you can see by looking at it. The first thing that I noticed (I actually noticed it while taking the data) is that there seems to be several somewhat standard sizes. You can see this borne out on the graph because there's several little vertical groups. I hadn't really considered this before, but there's probably a good reason for this. As with many things in jewelry, there's often a sort of "mix and match" that goes on. Customers could pick the carved cameo they wanted, and then separately pick out the mounting they liked. If there were standardized sizes, this means that jewelers can insert them fairly easily. Another thing that jumped out at me, this time from the graph, is that there is more scatter towards the larger cameos. If this were something like astronomical data where this was a plot of the recession velocity of galaxies as a function of distance, I would expect that the larger scatter would be due to larger uncertainties in the measurement at larger distances. It would look about the same. But that's not the case here. In fact, the uncertainty in measurement should actually go down as you get to larger heights. I was measuring in mm, so if I were 1mm off, this would be a large error for the small cameos, but becomes ra[...]

That's Not How Engagement Works


Let's say I'm a website designer for a company. I'm hired to produce a new website, a better website. It's hard to say exactly what defines a good website and I don't want to have to put together a huge poll of users asking for feedback. I just want to work with what I have available. Namely the analytics my ISP or Google or some other company provides.

One of those can be loosely defined as "engagement". Are users staying on the site longer? Are they clicking things? Do they visit more than just the homepage?

In an ideal situation, you'd hope the answer would be "yes" to many of these things. However, just because the answers are "yes" doesn't mean that it's a good website design. Rather, it could imply a very bad design; a website that is too confusing causing people to have to hunt for the information, making them click on more things for more pages and staying longer.

So simply looking at a situation in terms of a metric like this doesn't give the whole picture.

And the same applies for education where student "engagement" is often used as a proxy for good education. There's good reason for this. If students are engaged, studies show they retain more of the material. However, if the material is poorly constructed, then "engagement" may be more of a desperate attempt to rectify this. Worse, if the material is downright wrong, the students will likely still retain it thus, being a net negative on their education.

It seems several teachers in Louisiana don't understand this concept. In a stunning letter unearthed by Zach Kopplin, teachers state that a law passed in 2006 which led to "...students invariably get more involved in the lesson which leads to better discussion and in turn to a higher level of achievement...".

Sounds good, right?

The only problem is that the law has opened the door for Creationism, climate change denial, and any other pseudo-scientific trash politicians want to sneak into the classroom which is what these teachers are championing.

But this isn't how engagement, at least as a meaningful metric for academics, works. I recall a discussion in which I and many of my classmates were very involved in in high school. The teacher (thankfully not a science or history teacher) was explaining why she thought the moon landing was a hoax. Oddly enough, this was one of my first big encounters with pseudo-science and it was what led me personally, to do more research. It's what introduced me to Phil Plait's "Bad Astronomy". So in this one case, it ended up being a positive. However, a few years later in my American History class we had to do presentations. I did mine on the space race and moon landing. Wouldn't you know it, there were questions about whether it had been faked.

Although my History teacher wasn't the one espousing moon hoax nonsense, I recall other spirited discussions in his class regarding the Kennedy assassination. This teacher was a big fan of conspiracy theories regarding this event. And students knew it. Thus, many times students would try to get him off topic, wasting valuable class time, by engaging him on this topic. This is another example of how student involvement can be a poor metric.

Thus, it is quite disappointing that so many teachers would defend bad science by perverting what can be a useful metric. But as the computer geeks say, "Garbage in - Garbage out."

HST's 25th Anniversary and Documentary


This week marks the 25th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope. This Wednesday night, PBS will be featuring a documentary, Invisible Universe Revealed which will look at the history of this amazing instrument. I'm looking forward to seeing this documentary, not just because I love the HST, but because a post I wrote in 2007 that mentioned the Hubble caught the attention of those working on the documentary. In particular, I noted that the HST added tremendously to our understanding of stellar formation and evolution and they wanted details. I passed along several thoughts, but I doubt that the hard science will be making the final cut (no, I haven't gotten a sneak peek). So to celebrate Hubble's 25th, here's some of the thoughts I passed along. Before I start though, I should give my normal caveat that the discovery process is often muddled in modern science and astronomy in particular. One group using one telescope may note something interesting, another using a different instrument does follow up observations, another group does the math, more observations are made by other people, and while it supports the hypothesis, not everyone is convinced and it takes years or decades to form a scientific consensus as more and more results pour in from multiple teams an instruments. Thus, it is nearly impossible to say "Hubble discovered X". Rarely is astronomy so cut and dry. Rather, we should approach the question from the opposite direction and ask, "What observations might be needed to build and/or support stellar formation theory and has Hubble contributed to any part of that process?" In particular, there are several things I consider as observational evidence that the theory is correct: For a cloud to collapse to form a star in the first place, it will have to surpass what's known as the Jeans Mass (essentially having enough mass in a small enough space with the right conditions). While it's good sound physics, if you really want to confirm the models that rely on this are correct, you'd need to not only demonstrate that the necessary conditions of mass, density, pressure, etc... are being met, but that clouds that meet those conditions are actually collapsing. This can be done via spectroscopy by noting that the edge of a proplyd closest to you is redshifted (i.e., it's collapsing towards the center which is further from you) while the more distant edge is blueshifted (i.e., it's collapsing towards the center which is closer to you). Indeed, Hubble did just this. Once a larger nebula has begun to fragment, proto-stars should develop inside the proplyds. Hubble was not the first to observe propylds. In particular, the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) launched in 1983, had previously discovered them (for example, here is a paper on them from 1989 although the term "proplyd" had not yet been introduced). However, it was Hubble observations that really did the heavy lifting on proplyds that things seemed to take off from the HST observations. In particular, visual observations from the Hubble seemed to be what determined that these weren't just clumps, but were flattened which is a sign that they're rotating and forming disks as predicted by stellar formation theories. A major paper on this was published in 1994 by O'dell and Wen. For stellar formation to work, forming stars will need to find a way to overcome the conservation of angular momentum which requires that as a cloud collapses, it would "spin up" and would result in it flinging itself apart (like a child on a merry go round spinning to fast). Several methods are proposed to do so, but one of the most pronounced is shooting out excess material at high velocities through jets perpendicular to the disk. Such jets have been known since the late 1800's (they're quite large and relatively bright in an astronomical sense since the ejected material slams into the larger interstellar cloud around it at high velocity). The jets themselves are kn[...]

Archon and the Fan Community


I was beginning think I might get away with only one post this whole year. However, local convention drama has blown up. It spans several hundred facebook comments and in an effort to clean things up, if only for my own sanity, I feel compelled to put my thoughts into writing. The convention in question is Archon, which I've attended for the past 7 years. Many of those years as an attendee, then as a panelist, the past two yeas as an invited Guest. I'm not really all that big of a classic sci-fi/fantasy fan which puts me somewhat at odds with the primary purpose of Archon, but they also do hard science panels. This is a nice change of pace for me since I usually have to force my science through the lens of anime or Japanese culture or whatever else. Not to say this isn't fun, but I don't get many chances to just science. It's where I first did my "Why Everything You Know About Quantum Mechanics is Wrong" panel. It's where I first did my "Modern Astronomy" panel. So Archon has been a convention I've tended to look forward to every year. But the past year has made it hard to want to have anything to do with the convention. Last year, under pressure from attendees, the convention added a harassment policy. However, it was bungled big time. Before I get into how, let me first do some explaining of the broader context of harassment policies and conventions. The most important thing to understand is that harassment policies don't actually effect much in the way of policy changes. Harassment of all sorts is typically covered in the general rules of conventions and as such, harassment policies are largely redundant from a convention standpoint. Their real purpose is to send messages. They send a message to potential victims and aggressors that they feel this is an important enough issue to address specifically. This makes people who may be victims feel safer. It puts aggressors on note. Good policies also specifically address behaviors that constitute harassment and thus also serve to educate. So harassment policies serve a lot of purposes and are important to have if, as a convention, you want your attendees to feel safe. But it's also possible to have a bad policy. This is the case for Archon. The reason is that Archon chose to have a ridiculous addition to their policy that essentially torpedoes everything I just listed above. Archon chose to have their policy specifically address false reports of harassment. While this sounds reasonable, when analyzing the practical effects of this, it becomes counter-productive and absurd. Studies show that false reporting is not the problem. Under reporting is. Having a policy that gets that exactly backwards sends a clear message that the convention doesn't understand this. It sends a clear message to victims that they aren't likely to be taken seriously if they choose to report, thereby compounding the original problem. It sends a clear message to aggressors that they are more likely to get away with it, which makes potential victims less safe. When Archon implemented this backwards policy, they were immediately called on it by numerous people, myself included. Instead of addressing the problem, none other than the then security head of the convention doubled down, insisting that harassment wasn't really an issue and that he thought it was all people with vendettas trying to get people they didn't like kicked out. The person in charge of making attendees feel safe, pre-emptively told every potential victim he didn't believe them. At that point, I wrote to the con chair at Archon stating that I would not lend my name to a convention that was so backwards. Quickly, the convention removed the security head and I took this as a step in the right direction and agreed to attend. The counter-productive "false reporting" line was still present, but I took it as a good sign that those in charge understood the issue and were listening, even if only a little. Fast[...]

The Discovery Institute Misses the Mark


Yesterday, Phil Plait pointed to a post at the Discovery Institute's dishonestly titled "Evolution News and Views" blog. It certainly has a lot of views, but no real news. Not unless you count Fox News whipped to a incoherent froth news at least. Regardless, the article in question was titled :Why Censorship Works: The Case of Zack Kopplin". While it briefly mentions the recent and well researched article by Kopplin which demonstrated that private schools have been getting tens of millions of dollars in public funds to teach outright lies, it doesn't really say what this has to do with censorship. Nor does it dispute any of the facts. Rather, the main thrust of the article is about trying to create a personality profile of.... people that respect the law? No. Really. That's what it's all about. To try to insist that Kopplin is wrong, not because of the fact that the money spent doesn't violate the law, but that Creationists are somehow being noble in violating the law because it's "an act of civil disobedience". Their analogy they draw comes from Rush Limbaugh. Sorry. I should have warned you that was coming so you could grab a bowl or something to vomit in. If you managed to keep it down, take a moment to reconsider grabbing one as I explain their analogy. In a radio broadcast, Rush, "railed against a law in South Florida that prohibits turning on the lights after dark in your beach-side backyard for eight months of the year. The rationale, which he finds questionable, is that the illumination endangers sea turtles, luring them to shore instead of out to sea where they're supposed to be." So, to the Creationist, this is the definition of "civil disobedience". Breaking the law because you find it a personal inconvenience. The reality is that we don't react with disdain because "You have insulted the law!". Instead, we react because you have done a shitty thing with unreasonable provocation. Let's take an example of real civil disobedience. In fact, let's take the quintessential one: Rosa Parks. Contrary to the Discovery Institute's claims, those that fight Creationism would not oppose this act of honest civil disobedience because in this case, it highlighted a problem with the law; that a tired person be forced to give up their seat to another person due only to the color of their skin. Returning to the case of turtles and beaches, we can ask the question: How is the law being unfair? Because you have to turn your lights off for a few hours? The Discovery Institute is really going to have to spin hard to make the case that this is such an imposition in a broad sense as to honestly compare to racial discrimination or other acts of legitimately harmful laws as to prompt warranted civil disobedience. Coming back full circle to the point of the main article, that using public money to teach Creationism is really a good thing because it's "civil disobedience", we should be asking the same question: How is the law being unfair? This fundamentally important and central question is answered nowhere in the article. And it's no surprise that they wouldn't want to get deep into this. Because this isn't some law about turtles on the coast. It's not even a regional law about busses. This law is the Constitution of the United States of America. Let that sink in. If they're going to claim civil disobedience and claim it virtuous, it's to state that the law is unjust. Creationists are claiming that the US constitution is WRONG. That's one hell of a claim and they'd better have one hell of an argument to back it. I presume the Creationists will then jump straight to the same silly talking point they have been lately; academic freedom or some other such buzzword. I'm not going to waste my time thoroughly deconstructing this but a quick response would be that while academic freedom is a legitimate topic, there are times where one freedom bumps up against another. In this case, i[...]

Some Pokemon Math


With all the travelling I do with my job, portable games are great for me. Last month, the new Pokemon games came out and I decided I needed to do some catching up. I'd played the original Red and gotten White 2 last year, but there were still several games I'd missed. So I've been working through Soul Silver.

One of my biggest frustrations thus far has been that the progression isn't smooth. There's been several notable instances where I need to challenge a gym leader to advance, but there's no areas with wild Pokemon of comparable levels to help me get ready. At present, I'm getting ready to face the Elite Four. Their pokemon are all level 40-50, but the highest level wild ones are only in the low 30's. So I'm now grinding XP off enemies 15 levels lower than me. And it's taking a long damned time.

But I'm the kind of person that wants to know just how long.

This is an annoyingly tricky question to answer. In part because I'm trying to level 6 pokemon, the amount of XP isn't consistent per level, and not even consistent across all pokemon. Fortunately, online resources list how much it takes based on their leveling speed.

So I could look up the total amount of XP needed per pokemon to go from a current level to a desire one and total it all up to get the total XP I needed to.

The question then becomes how much XP I'm gaining per battle, on average.

And now there's another trick: Different enemies give different amounts of XP, and have different probabilities of showing up. Again, these probabilities can be found online. A few test battles tells me how much XP each enemy offers, and I could then use a weighted average to determine the overall average.

I'm not going to go through all the numbers here, but I will say I've already been grinding for about 3-4 hours and I've got a long way to go to where I want...

Paid in Full?


Posting an idea for a mini math project so I don't forget it and to let other people play with:

In the recent lawsuit of Apple v. Samsung an urban myth has sprung up that Samsung decided to pay a 1 billion dollar fine with a bunch of 5 cent coins. Why the article is calling them 5 cent coins instead of, you know, nickels, I dunno.

First off, let's ask if this is a realistic number. I started by looking at how many nickels are minted annually given I don't know what other 5 cent coins they could be talking about. It fluctuates, so I added up the past few years and took an average to try to get a rough idea. Between 2007 and the data they had for 2011, it averaged out to about 750 million a year. Glancing back a few more years that looks like a pretty decent average so I stopped there. But if that's the case, you'd be looking at 100% of the nickels minted for 13 years being entirely dedicated to this payment. Sounds pretty sketchy.

But let's go with it. Let's say someone dumped off what was supposedly a billion dollars worth of nickels and you're in charge of making sure you've been paid in full. A lot of commentors on the article are saying to weigh it and divide by the weight of a single nickel. Doesn't sound so hard but there's a few catches. The first is in the sensitivity of instruments. Getting devices that can weigh several tons with a precision of tenths to hundredths of grams is not likely.

But for the sake of argument we'll pretend everyone has such a device and it's no problem. Another issue is that due to wear some weight of coins could be lost. Due to gum or other residue, the weight of the coins could be increased. Thus, unless the coins walked right out of the mint and into the supposed hands of Apple, weight will have some small variance to it. Small, but multiplied by 20 billion, small numbers tend to get rather large.

So here's the project. Get a bunch of nickels and weigh them up, build a histogram, fit a bell curve to it and determine the standard deviation. For a few standard deviations in either directions, determine how much you may have been over or underpaid.

Other ideas: The article states it took 30 trucks to deliver the supposed coins. The amount this would actually weigh would far exceed the capacity of any trucks out there, even split 30 ways. So estimate how many trucks it really would take.

Archon Schedule


Archon released its schedule today. Unfortunately, they didn't end up taking one of the talks I'd suggested so instead of doing 3 solo talks I'll only be doing 2: Anime Mythbusters and Modern Astronomy - Reading Our Cosmic Library, a new talk that should have a distinct "Cosmos" feel to it.

I've also been placed on two discussion panels. The first is quite exciting to me. "Space Weather: The Latest Forecast". This is a topic I've written about some in this blog but haven't gotten to talk too much about elsewhere. So being asked to talk about it will be fun.

The second is on "Galactic Cannibalism: Who's on the Menu" and will be exploring interacting galaxies, primarily the Milky Way. This isn't a topic I've had a lot of direct exposure to, but two of my advisors at KU did a great deal of research on identifying stellar streams around the Milky Way that were the telltale signs of a satellite galaxy being tidally disrupted.

I also anticipate bringing my telescope and doing some public viewing when I'm not otherwise occupied.

Brother Jed to Get His Own Reality Show


I'm weird. Everyone says that you're supposed to miss school. I don't. At least for the most part. But one of the things I do miss is getting to hear Brother Jed. It's been awhile since I've even given him much thought, but he used to pop up on this blog enough that he has his own post tag.

If you haven't been around long enough to have seen my posts on him, he's a campus preacher that pushes Creationism and has an autobiography that illustrates his lack of higher level thought.

So I suppose that it's indicative of the state of American media that Brother Jed is going to be the focus of a new reality show.

It will depend on how the show is done, but this could be absolutely horrible or absolutely hilarious. Given how painfully Jed shoves his foot down his throat and how exploitative reality shows tend to be, I suspect it's going to be the latter.

The Universe Verse Cont...


If you've been following my blog for a few years, you might be familiar with Jamie Dunbar's amazing book series The Universe Verse. It's a rhyming comic that details the development of... well, everything. Book 1 was the universe itself, starting with the Big Bang. Book 2 covered abiogenesis and the evolution of life. Book 3 was higher life to humans.

Now, Jamie is looking to combine all 3 books into a single hardback book. He created a kickstarter to fund the project and has already gotten his full goal, he has some stretch goals that include things like redoing the illustrations for the first book.

If you haven't checked out his work before, he's made a PDF of book 1 available for free until the end of this month. So make sure you check it out. And donate. That's important too. And there's very reasonable prizes for pledging. For example, It's only $30 to get the hardback copy of the book once it's complete. This is barely more than any other hardback book on the market but has the added benefit of containing science!

Can This Die Now?


If you're not familiar with Anita Sarkeesian, she's done a recent series of youtube videos deconstructing tropes in videogames that have sexist components. She first rose to notoriety when a rampantly sexist and not at all small portion gaming community tried to get her kickstarter to create this series, shut down. It ended up backfiring and she grossly exceeded the requested amount.

In response, those against her have continued to vilify her saying that she's defrauded donors for falling behind with her production schedule, sending her death and rape threats, etc....

But the newest tactic I think is the most pathetic yet. It's to declare that Anita isn't a real gamer because during one of her lectures, she said she's not into that games and had to do a lot of research.

Do I really need to explain context to people? That, perhaps when giving a lecture to an academic community, playing up habits that are generally thought to detract from academic focus would be frowned upon? Or that when trying to raise money to perform a through enough analysis or a large genre, she might be inclined to stress the background she does have?

And these aren't mutually exclusive. It can be fair to ask to what degree she may be a gamer, but any degree of gamer is still a gamer. I generally don't consider myself much of a gamer; I do play World of Warcraft casually, and I've played many of the major console titles (albeit usually several years behind the curve). But ask in the right crowd and that absolutely qualifies. The difference is that I'm not being targeted by a smear campaign for daring to point out the sexism in video games (even that benevolent sexism where video game women get treated as objects because guys are so totally in love with them).

It's absolutely the same trope that has been thrown around at conventions with increasingly regularity as "nerd culture" becomes pop-culture; that all these people (usually women) aren't "real geeks" and are just wearing costumes because they want attention. It's incomprehensible that a female would wear a costume because they actually appreciate the character. Yeah right. It's not.

The whole meme of "not a real ______" is a pathetic attempt to change the context of the discussion and isn't even a legitimate objection in and of itself. I seriously doubt that any "hardcore" gamer is going to walk into a job interview and when asked about their hobbies, declare that they spend every waking hour playing first person shooters. Just like Anita, the context determines how vocal they may be. But without a sexist axe to grind no one would bat an eye. Anita is a real gamer and people that think that people that aren't "hardcore" can't do their research, are just jerks.

Dragon*Con Post Con Report


And so ended my first Dragon*Con. For several years now, everyone has told me what a wonderful and amazing experience D*C is. I've said for several years now that I'd attend and after finally doing so, I can confirm everything everyone has said about it. I headed down Thursday for the Atlanta Star Party. My intent was to stop by the hotel, drop off the supplies for my friends, get changed into more formal clothes, and head to the star party, but a 2 hour jam on I-75 less than an hour from my destination killed those plans. Instead, I headed straight to the star party, dropped off my scope, had a quick bite, and listened to the talks. Pamela Gay's was the first talk and very well done, talking about her work with CosmoQuest and the funding crisis she's had. I forget the name of the second speaker, but recall he was an amateur, from I believe Florida. His talk looked at people that contributed to astronomy but have largely been forgotten. It was a mildly entertaining talk, but not well executed. The style was very much "There was a guy. He did a thing." The third talk was Nichole Gugliucci. She's big on demos, so she tried doing some little examples of how supernovae work. Unfortunately, they didn't work well. Sadness. Phil Plait was the last talk and he recapped his Zen Pencils. There was supposed to be observing on the roof, but with the high temperatures, humidity, and poor seeing, I skipped out since my friends were upset I was holding their alcohol I'd brought (they'd flown) captive. So I met up with them and we ran around to check out the costumes. Friday my only panel was my Anime Mythbusters. D*C is nice enough to leave 30 minutes between each panel, so I arrived 20 minutes early to get my computer set up. By the time I arrived, the room was already packed and they were turning people away. I was somewhat worried giving the talk this time, because it had been 6 months since I'd really even looked at the material and I'd pulled in a few segments that I hadn't used in a few years. Fortunately, it went exceptionally smoothly. Saturday I participated in a panel on "Fact, Figures, and Google: Is Teaching Dead?" It was meant to look at teaching in a society drowning in information (much of it very poor). I originally volunteered for this panel early on when no one else had been joining, but by the time of the convention, we had a total of 6 panelists most of them who had been teaching for 30+ years. I think this thinned out discussion too much and things never stayed focused. It was by no means a bad discussion, but not very on topic and without anything ever really coming to a conclusion. My Sunday had me on two panels. The first was on Creationism/Intelligent Design. It was moderated by the Skeptical Teacher (Matt) and also had Massimo Pigliucci. Matt did a wonderful job moderating and while we didn't disagree on much of anything we had some really great conversation covering a surprisingly large range of topics for such a short time period. They ranged from the factors contributing to the entrenchment of such bad ideas, to current tactics from the ID crowd, to recent skirmishes such as Eric Hedin at Ball State University. The audio of this talk can be found here. Shortly thereafter, I gave my talk on quantum mechanics which explored what the field is really about to how it's used in Sci-Fi. This was again a room that was packed well prior to starting and I was told that they had to turn away nearly as many people as they let in. This is easily the most challenging talk I've ever created for myself due to how loaded it is with technical information, names, dates, etc... To make it easier, I keep my notes on my kindle, but somehow slides got rearranged and I lost my plac[...]

A Great Before/After of Nova Delphini


A user or Reddit today by the name of avdhoeven posted a wonderful picture of the recent nova in Delphinus. It looks like the "before" image is from the Digitized Sky Survey taken in 1990 and the "after" was taken by avdhoeven.


It's a very nice picture to begin with, demonstrating just how drastic of a brightening this relatively minor explosion was. But as with many pictures, I'm always interested in all the other cool bits in the picture.

The first thing that my eye caught was the object to the right. It's slightly bluish and round, so my first though was "Neptune". But the ecliptic doesn't pass anywhere near Delphinus which pretty much rules that out. Then I noticed that there were small "handles" to either side. While these handles were very similar to what Galileo reported when he first looked at Saturn, but again, this couldn't be a planet.

What made it obvious at the end was that there is a small star in the center of the object. Obviously, this was a planetary nebula. Which makes it pretty clear how they got their names. And those small handles? Not rings, but jets. Other redditors already caught that it was NGC 6905.

I also find it interesting because it seems like the "after" image has a longer exposure. Nearly every object is brighter. There's definitely some variable stars that are fainter, but overall, NGC 6905 is also fainter. It's hard to say if that's a consequence of the nebula itself fading and dispersing over the past 2 decades, or different stretching on the image processing.

But perhaps one of the cooler things is a very faint object that someone caught in the upper left. It's a small, red object that moves a tiny bit. I'd completely missed it, but there it is. Once I saw it pointed out, I immediately thought "asteroid". However, that's far too little motion for 23 years apart. An asteroid would be long gone. Instead, it's a high proper motion star.

Upcoming Events - Dragon*Con & Archon


This year has been an odd year for me as far as conventions go. So far I've only been to two, Ohayocon and Naka-Kon. I seemed to have missed all of the local and other nearby ones this year.

But there's a good reason for this. I've been saving up my time off to finally attend Dragon*Con this year! I've been saying I intend to go every year for the past several years and just never quite made it. But this time it's settled. Funds are set aside. Tickets are bought. And if we're going to go to one of the biggest and best conventions, I might as well do it right, and jump on some panels!

So far I've been confirmed for 4 panels. As usual, I'll be doing my Anime Mythbusters talk. I'll also be joining a discussion panel entitled "Facts, Figures, and Google - Is Teaching Dead?" which looks to explore how technology is changing the classroom which will be on the Science Track. As a joint talk between the Science and Skeptics track, I'll be joining a panel on "Creationism and Intelligent Design - Debunked Ideas that Just Won't Die". Somehow I've gotten thrown on this panel with Massimo Pigliucci and Dr. Michael Shermer, so this should be a fun one. Lastly, I'll again be going through my talk on Why Everything You Know About Quantum Mechanics is Wrong. For readers of this blog, you may fare better than the average con-goer, but this talk explores how sci-fi and metaphysicists abuse quantum mechanics and what it's really about, when you get right down to it.

I'll also be returning to Archon this year. Since Archon shares a demographic with other regional conventions, I always try to do something new for them. Although I haven't gotten confirmation, I've suggested two new talks that I'm currently working on. The first is entitled "Modern Astronomy: Reading Our Cosmic Library". This talk is meant to explore how, since the beginning of the 20th century, our understanding of nearly every aspect of astronomy has been rewritten with a focus on the events and evidence that shaped our current understanding. The second is "The Top 10 Misconceptions of Big Ideas In Science". It's obviously going to be heavily weighted towards physics and astronomy topics since that's what I know best and what tends to irk me the most. Anime Mythbusters will likely get a showing there too.

Overall, the next few months will be quite busy for me, with a lot of my free time going towards preparing these new talks, although I'm excited to be doing them.

Stellar Evolution: Identifying Supernova Progenitors


It's been a pretty long time since I've written anything about stellar evolution, but a few weeks ago, a paper on arXiv caught my eye regarding the identification of the progenitor of a recent supernova. Supernovae are one of those events that get everyone excited. With ever advancing technology, astronomers are discovering hundreds of them a year, but they are such rare events for any given galaxy, that we very rarely get to study them in any great detail beyond perhaps their light curve or a bit of spectroscopy. The best example we have where we've been able to study a supernova up close an personal was the well publicized SN 1987a. With this, astronomers were not only able to study the morphology of the resulting debris, but sufficiently high resolution images of the region were available to pin down the progenitor star. While '87a was a bit of an oddball in that it came from a blue supergiant which were not thought to be supernovae, it did confirm that at least this type II supernova come from a high mass star, an important bit of observational evidence. It's been 26 years since that historical supernova, and while it still holds the record for the nearest supernova to us since the development of the telescope making it one of the best for study, our telescopes have improved greatly since then. In particular, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990 giving an unparalleled view of galaxies even further out. So with this advance in technology, have we pinned down the progenitors of other core collapse supernovae? Most certainly. To date, over a dozen additional supernovae have progenitors that have been identified. So what have we learned? For the most part, the notion that type II supernovae should come from red and yellow supergiant stars has held up exceptionally well. Of the 13 supernovae for which progenitors have been identified since '87a, 12 of them have had progenitors identified as red or yellow supergiants. Only one, SN 2005gj, stands out as an exception. This star appears to be Luminous Blue Variable (LBV) much like SN 1987a was. However, this supernova defies the typical type II classification. One of the reasons astronomers give a type II designation to supernovae is when they see hydrogen emission lines in the supernova's spectra, indicating the star still has its atmosphere as opposed to being a stripped down white dwarf that is pushed over its Chandrashekar limit by having mass dumped on it from a partner. While the presence of hydrogen in the spectra was the case for 2005gj, it also exhibited all the telltale signs of a type Ia supernova. As such, the interpretation is that 2005gj was a type IIa supernova surrounded by a very dense cloud of hydrogen, perhaps of its own making. In other words, the star may have been pushed over the limit, becoming a supernova, before it completely shedded its outer layers as a planetary nebula. Confirming that type II supernovae come from these massive, highly evolved stars is a powerful test of our understanding of stars. In particular, the mechanics of what drives a supernova are all buried deep within the star's core, a place that is quite difficult to probe to confirm theoretical models. While there are still many questions to be answered (such as the amazing diversity of energies of these events) the core predictions of models made decades before we ever identified a single supernova progenitor, that core collapse supernovae come from highly evolved, massive stars, has been confirmed in over a dozen cases. For those interested, I've put some information below on articles related to identifying these progenitors. 1993J - Red sup[...]

Cosmo Quest Hangout-a-thon


Breaking my broadcast silence here to promote a good cause. If you haven't heard, the recent budget cuts in the US have had some pretty devastating effects for the astronomy community. Perhaps the largest cut was the effective zeroing out of all of NASA's education and outreach programs pending review. This doesn't mean the programs are cancelled, but funding is temporarily suspended which basically leaves those that rely on that funding in a lurch until their programs are reviewed and their budgets reinstated, if they are at all. In the meantime, those that are dependent on this funding may have to find something else to do which would mean they might never come back. One of the groups that is being especially hard hit is the CosmoQuest group led by Dr. Pamela Gay at SIUE. Even if you don't know CosmoQuest by name, if you're interested in the astronomy community or even astronomy in general, you have likely seen something they've been involved in. In particular, CosmoQuest works very closely with the Zooniverse project. This project is an attempt to crowdsource data processing from many of Astronomy's biggest projects to make amazing discoveries. The most popular has been the Planet Hunters project which uses KEPLER data to allow users to search for planets and has been wildly successful. CosmoQuest has helped in shaping these programs and maintaining them, allowing ordinary people to directly access real astronomy. Although I'm not teaching right now, these are programs that I would love to bring into the classroom and I'd hate to see disappear. Aside from these fantastic projects, CosmoQuest also helped organize the amazingly successful 365 Days of Astronomy, a series of daily podcasts that was originally produced for the International Year of Astronomy in 2009, but was so successful that it's still going. The podcast has thousands of listeners and is only possible thanks to the full time work by the CosmoQuest team getting everything organized. And it's all in danger. Back in April, Pamela put a post in her blog detailing the crisis she's facing and pledging to try to find some other funding in the interim. This very real fear was echoed by one of her assistants, Nichole Gugliucci. This weekend, they, along with many others, will be doing a donation drive. Instead of being done on TV, it will be broadcast live through Google's Hangouts on Air. It was originally slated for a 24 hour drive, but there has been such an outpouring of support from people that want to talk about the citizen science and other projects that CosmoQuest drives, that it has been extended to 32 hours of straight talks on these projects! To watch is free, but as previously stated, the purpose is to raise funds to continue their work. So if you can, DONATE. Remember, this isn't just a group that tells people about Astronomy. It's a group that allows people to get directly involved and do real science. Without your support, these amazing projects that have literally discovered new worlds may disappear.[...]

Being a Better Speaker


Immediately after saying I probably won't post much, lookit! A post! I have a really bad habit of leaving tabs open in my browser. Some will stay there for months. I've gotten somewhat better as I've started using Pintrest and just shove a lot of things in there, but sometimes there's tabs that just sit there. One in particular that I need to close out comes from all the way back in October. The post is from the TED blog, and is on how scientists and engineers can be better speakers. While I don't think it's a bad post, I certainly don't think it's a good one. First off "Be aware of your audience". Really? I don't think I'd ever heard that before. No. Certainly wasn't something that I've had hammered into my head since elementary school on every topic in which communication was being discussed. Sarcasm aside, I think it's a fair point to make, but it's also one that should be so obvious that it doesn't need to be said. What needs to be said, is how to find the right level for your audience. And that's not something that can be reduced to a platitude. Fortunately, the author of the post does do some good at that by at least saying that scientists shouldn't "dumb down" the science. This is something I've definitely done in my history as a speaker. In my most popular talk, I've never shied away from bringing out calculus in front of a crowd that's mostly high school students or people that aren't mathematically inclined. Why? Because sometimes, the details aren't important. One of my focuses as a communicator of science is to remind people that science isn't a collection of facts; it's a process. And even if people don't understand that process, they need to understand it's there. Hiding it away and skipping straight to the conclusions because your audience won't get every detail changes how our culture perceives science. And pseudoscientists play on that. Think of how many times you've heard the Creationist ruse that scientists supposedly engage in circular reasoning when they "date fossils by the rocks and date rocks by the fossils". That's not at all how it works. We don't just make up a paradigm and engage in that sort of specious reasoning. There's a lot more to it. Reminding people of the complexity makes those sort of over simplified strawmen of science be seen for what they really are. The second point is also a trope. "Show the Relevance". While again, I don't think it's a bad idea, it's really not necessary. Again, pointing to my Anime Mythbusters talk, there is absolutely no relevance to any of it. I can't justify why you need to worry about the UV exposure someone will receive from a fictional Pokemon. Because you really won't need to. And you shouldn't. Additionally, I think there's a serious issue with the demand that science always be immediately rationalizable. Most of the biggest discoveries, advances, and inventions haven't come because people were out to discover the particular thing they did. To put it another way, science doesn't progress as a series of "Eureka!" moments. It progresses as a series of "WTF?" moments. Stating that science always have a clear purpose with obvious and immediate application betrays the way science works. Ben Franklin was not experimenting with static electricity to power light bulbs. So what's the take away? Science doesn't need to be relevant. It needs to be interesting. I'm willing to bet that most readers here can think of at least one scientific subject that's wholly boring to them, either because it's just not big enough for them to care about, or they know it so well that hearing it aga[...]

Welcome to 2013


It's a new year now. Judging by the general trends on other blogs, I think that means I'm supposed to look back over 2012 in a reflective manner and make some goals for this year. As a blog, I did pretty miserably last year. I've been dropping pretty heavily every year lately. Every year I tell myself that I'm going to write more, but the drive to do so has been pretty much gone. I've grown pretty burnt out on even my pet topics that were the foundation for this blog, which were Creationism and skepticism. It's not to say that I don't think Creationism is a worthwhile topic to discuss anymore. It's just that playing whack-a-mole with idiotic Creationist arguments gets old and causes migraines. It's not to say I don't think skepticism isn't important either. If I did, I wouldn't attend Skepticon annually. But I've definitely hit a turning point with that too. A few weeks ago I got into a religion debate with a friend of a friend on facebook. He insisted that my arguments were irrelevant because I was talking about how people used to think about religion, but there were all these fancy pants new religious scholars that changed everything and if I'd only read a pile of books, I'd understand it. In years past, I'd probably have done some research on each book and responded, but as he was making that argument, I had one of the strongest flashbacks I can remember in my life. I remembered an argument from way back sometime around 2006 in which I was still tearing Creationism apart left and right. On one particular occasion I had someone tell me that my arguments were invalid because some fancy pants new researchers had amazing new evidence for Creationism that was changing everything. I'm pretty sure they were trying to point me to the Institute for Creation research or some other such gibberish factory. And here we are six years later now, and the ICR, AiG, the DI, and all the other Creationist "think tanks" (scare quotes obviously since there's very little actual thinking that goes on there) still haven't come up with a new argument. At best, they slap new names on things, but there's been nothing new. Suddenly, engaged in the facebook debate, I realized that this was the same argument. I was supposed to buy into something because it was about to be big. And if you believe that, I'd like to sell you some serious stock in my patented wibblets because everyone's going to want one. I promise. Or not. I've gotten tired of that type of debate tactic. The Skeptic community tires me too, but for pretty much the exact opposite reason. Whereas debating idiots has turned into a dull monotony, the skeptic community has exploded in the past year or two and is going so many directions at once, I just don't have the energy to get excited by all the directions it's going. To use another analogy from 2006, I went to San Diego Comic Con. There were so many things to do and the crowds so large, it simply became overwhelming. It was one of the first 5-10 I'd been to and I didn't know how to manage it. Instead of really enjoying the convention as I would do now given that I have a lot more convention experience under my belt, I just sat in the dealer's room for the bulk of the con. That's about how I feel with the proliferation of topics the skeptic and secular community has been taking. I've grabbed my new pet topic, and I stay pretty up to date with that one, but while I recognize the others are important, I can't summon time time and energy to truly engage in them. The topic that does occupy the vast majority of my time now is runnin[...]

Super Flares from the Sun


It's been a long time since I've written anything on super flares. My last year at KU, this was my research topic, in which I was looking at some really big flares on some stars very similar to the Sun.

The thing about those flares is that, in the 200ish years we've been watching the Sun, we've never seen anything that's even close. So can the Sun do anything like those, because if it can, we should be worried. Very worried. A coronal mass ejection or flare of that size would wipe out the entire electrical grid of the world in minutes.

The biggest solar flare we know about, was the "Carrington event" in 1859. This one was large enough to cause currents in telegraph wires strong enough to start fires on the desks of the operators. Even when the batteries that powered the system were disconnected, telegraphs could still be sent. With a much larger system carrying much more energy that is much more stressed today, we'd be in far bigger trouble if that happened again.

So ideally we'd like to know more about how the Sun acts over a longer timescale. The professor I was working with on this was Dr. Melott, and this week he released a paper that looks at a way to look through the historical record for signs that other flares may have hit us.

One of the effects we'd expect is that we'd see a sudden spike in C14, the isotope of carbon used for radioisotope dating. This is created when high energy protons from the sun hit our atmosphere. Usually this is pretty stable, since the Sun is pretty stable on longer timescales.

Drilling ice core samples and looking at the C14 in air bubbles trapped in the ice provide a way to see how much C14 was being created. It turns out that there is just such a spike around 774-775 CE.

While it can't be confirmed that this was absolutely caused from the Sun (a nearby gamma ray burst could similarly irradiate our atmosphere causing the formation of C14, but it highly unlikely), it's still a good bet. If it was the case, it would have been an eruption with some 2x1026 J of energy!

This is still a bit shy of the super flares that were the focus of my research, but it's getting close. So it's not unrealistic that the mechanism that produced those flares could also happen to us. If so, it's not so much a question of if, but when.

Indiana Lawmaker Tries to Give Students Rights They Already Have


Over in Indiana, Sen. Dennis Kruse (obviously a Republican), recently failed to push through a bill to Creationism. I guess it's too much to expect that a guy that writes laws would know something about them. Like that the Supreme Court stated that teaching Creationism in public schools was unconstitutional in 1987. Fortunately, other people knew and that didn't get passed.

Not deterred, Kruse is trying a new typical strategy. It's been the ID/Creationist strategy ever since they got their asses kicked at Dover. They realize they can't teach the non-existent controversy, so instead, they try to get people to question evolution so they can push non-existent criticisms assuming that the teacher is sympathetic to Creationism, or if they're not, enough students can harass the teacher and disrupt the class that the teacher will be forced to give the section up due to the prohibitive amount of time it would take to address every single false "question".

The new bill basically ensures that students are free to question the teachers. Which in truth, they already are. Students are encouraged to ask questions. Teachers can and should be ready and able to answer them.

This bill is new in that the teachers would have to cite the research to support their answer. This is where the trick lies and takes it from simple questioning to harassment. It doesn't say, simply the "evidence", but the "research". So teachers would be forced to have a library of specific research that was done for every given topic. Which often is contrary to how science works, especially on the big topics.

See, the deal is that it is very rare that a single bit of research establishes an entire field. So saying "what piece of research proves common descent" is a question that a teacher can't given an answer to. Because it's not a "piece" of research. It's a body and teachers would now be required to provide, on demand, massive amounts of research.

Thus, all a student would have to do to disrupt an entire week of class, would be to ramble off a Gish Gallop of dishonest Creationist "criticisms" of evolution, and the teacher would now be required to answer every one of them, in detail. That's not conducive to teaching. That's not conducive to learning.

Which is precisely what Creationists want.

Things Like This


A lot of people don't seem to understand how male centered American society is. It's so pervasive that we take it for granted. Before really starting to "get" such things, I was always told that once you do, it will be everywhere.

Browsing reddit tonight, one example just smacked me in the face.


This particular image at present has 1384 upvotes. Apparently it's only guys that play video games and the entire goal of Target is to further what guys want (meeting girls). It couldn't be that women make up 40% of PC gamers. Because everyone knows that girls only care about makeup. Right...

The War on Women


I've been hearing quite frequently from right wing pundits that the "war on women" is a fabrication of the left, that it's a distraction from real issues. However, the Republican party's own record makes it very clear that it's not a side issue; it's one that they have been very focused on. So I've put together a list of recent attacks on women from the Republican party. Keep in mind I'm limiting this list to just instances by official party members serving in the government. Not their advisers, not radio hosts, not congressional aides. If I did, this list would be much, much longer. Texas Republicans have banned Planned Parenthood or any other service even associated with abortion providers, from receiving funding to do cancer screenings.The Alabama GOP has submitted a bill to deny licenses to abortion providers that are too close to schools in a specific attack on a center in Huntsville, AL.In a discussion over legislation to prevent rape, Republican Mike Bocchino of Connecticut said that seeing a woman get raped is indicative of a "really great party".Senate Republicans are delaying confirmation of Loretta Lynch as US Attorney General unless Senate Democrats accept anti-abortion measures in a bill on human trafficking.South Carolina Republican Tom Corbin refers to women as a "lesser cut of meat".Utah Republican Brian Greene doesn't think rape should count against spouses or others in a relationship.Republican state senator Steve Martin thinks that pregnant women are nothing more than "hosts" devoid of any rights.Republican Vito Barbieri of Idaho thinks that women could swallow cameras to have remote gynocological exams prior to having an abortion. He then proceeded to impose new abortion restrictions.Will Infantine, Republican from New Hampshire, states that women don't deserve pay equity because they're lazy in contrast to men who "don’t mind working nights and weekends. They don’t mind working overtime or outdoors in the elements."Republican Russell Pearce stated that he thinks women on medicaid should be sterilized.One of the first things the Republican led House did after winning a majority in both chambers of congress was introduce a bill limiting abortions in a similar manner to what many states have tried, after 20 weeks, which directly contradicts many federal court rulings as well as the Supreme Court's rulings.A Missouri Republican wants to give men control over women's rights to their own body by requiring women to have permission from fathers to have an abortion. Note that this politician has a history of idiotic bills including Creationist nonsense.Virginia Republican says pregnant women are just hosts.Missouri Republican Vicky Harltzer says that women should be denied abortions because it robs men of their rights.Republicans in Louisiana are attempting to force a woman to wait 30 days before having an abortion."Missouri Republicans are attempting to force a woman to wait 3 days before having an abortion.Kentucky Republican Joe Fischer is attempting to redefine abortion as domestic violence.Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte has insisted that women should lose bodily autonomy and be denied abortions because it's good for jobs.North Carolina Republican Chris Christie has vetoed a law protecting victims of domestic violence.Republicans in Texas have passed a voter ID law that disproportionately effects women and may disenfranchise as much as one third of women voters. Michigan republica[...]

Archon 36 Recap


Archon has now come and gone for yet another year, although I'm still feeling it. My body's still angry at me from the lack of sleep.

I think all my panels went very well this year. Friday evening was my "Anime Mythbusters" panel which is always a fun time. I haven't changed it any since Naka-Kon this year, but I rarely look over it again once it's been put together. I glanced over the slides to remind myself what topics I'd included, but beyond that, did absolutely no preparation. Yet giving the talk, I felt perfectly comfortable and never missed a beat. One of my goals is to always know the talk well enough that I can say things before putting that information on the slide, so I don't have people trying to read the same thing I'm saying.

This is especially true for things where I'm doing math, where I want to walk people through what I'm doing, such as in segments like this one in which I'm deriving the geometry necessary to figure out how close the comet came to hitting the planet.

My intention was to be that well prepared for my new Quantum Mechanics talk I delivered Saturday morning. The challenge is even harder in this case since there's so much technical information that builds on itself. If I forget even a single sentence, often times, it will come back to haunt me since I rely on that information having been passed on later.

Unfortunately, that was too large of a challenge for me this time. Friday, as the con started, I think I only had the first 50% of the talk memorized perfectly, and about another quarter memorized in rough format. So I cheated more than normal and had my outline on notecards, as well as the full script downloaded on my Kindle. I had to pause a few times to figure out where I was again, but after the talk, people told me they didn't even remember me doing so. I'll take that as a sign that the rest of the material was of sufficient quality that it distracted them.

I'd meant to get a video of this talk, but left my camera sitting at home. I know a few segments were recorded, but I'll wait until I have the full thing before posting anything.

My last talk Saturday was the "Sexism in Anime" panel. For whatever reason, I feel like I prepare a lot less for this panel. Even the first time presenting it, I knew what I wanted to say, but I allowed myself to deviate far more than I usually do. Perhaps it has something to do with still being relatively new to this field. I have a lot of information still kicking around in my head that's all still shuffling around, trying to find a good and appropriate home in the talk. Until it does, sometimes it just jumps out at odd moments.

Archon is well known for its parties and this year was no exception. Since I just live across the river, I went home nightly, but I didn't make it to bed until Sunday morning at 4:30am. I did go back Sunday, but had no panels and was just saying goodbye to friends.

In the meantime, Go Cardinals!