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Jun 28 2014

Saturday Storytime: Toad Words

Ursula Vernon has, among many other things, won a Hugo for her graphic novel Digger and created the lovely, wonderful Morally Ambiguous Honey Badgers. This week, she did this.

Frogs fall out of my mouth when I talk. Toads, too.

It used to be a problem.

There was an incident when I was young and cross and fed up with parental expectations. My sister, who is the Good One, has gold and gems fall from her lips, and since I could not be her, I had to go a different way.

So I got frogs. It happens.

“You’ll grow into it,” the fairy godmother said. “Some curses have cloth-of-gold linings.” She considered this, and her finger drifted to her lower lip, the way it did when she was forgetting things. “Mind you, some curses just grind you down and leave you broken. Some blessings do that too, though. Hmm. What was I saying?”

I spent a lot of time not talking. I got a slate and wrote things down. It was hard at first, but I hated to drop the frogs in the middle of the road. They got hit by cars, or dried out, miles away from their damp little homes.

Toads were easier. Toads are tough. After awhile, I learned to feel when a word was a toad and not a frog. I could roll the word around on my tongue and get the flavor before I spoke it. Toad words were drier. Desiccated is a toad word. So is crisp and crisis and obligation. So are elegant and matchstick.

Frog words were a bit more varied. Murky. Purple. Swinging. Jazz.

I practiced in the field behind the house, speaking words over and over, sending small creatures hopping into the evening.  I learned to speak some words as either toads or frogs. It’s all in the delivery.

Love is a frog word, if spoken earnestly, and a toad word if spoken sarcastically. Frogs are not good at sarcasm.

Toads are masters of it.

Keep reading.

Jun 27 2014

“39 Unconvincing Arguments for God”, August Berkshire on Atheists Talk

How many bad arguments are there for the existence of god(s)? Well, there are probably a lot more than 39, but that’s the number that Minnesota Atheists past president August Berkshire addresses in his latest publication. Inspired by his interactions with students over the years he’s been a guest lecturer on atheism and humanism, he’s been building a list of common lay apologetics and their counters. These are just a few of the topics he covers:

  • God Is Intangible, Like Love
  • The Argument from Motion
  • The Argument from Embarrassment
  • Free Will

This Sunday, he joins us in the studio to talk about the kinds of bad arguments people make and the ways that they’re flawed.

Related Links:

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to [email protected] during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Follow Atheists Talk on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. If you like the show, consider supporting us with a one-time or sustaining donation.

Jun 26 2014

Find Me at CONvergence

I’m not sure why everyone is so excited to get their CONvergence/SkepchickCon schedules up. I mean, the con is a whole week away! (Eek, it’s only a week away!) (Yay, only one more week to CONvergence!)

All right. Here’s where I can be found over the Fourth of July weekend:

Thursday, July 3

When Science Isn’t Your Friend 8:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m., Plaza 1

When has science hurt people in reality and what has that taught us about how science should be practiced? We’ll discuss everything from the Tuskegee experiments and Henrietta Lacks to continuing issues like surgery on intersex babies. Panelists: Stephanie Zvan (mod), Caleph Wilson, PZ Myers, Mary Brock, Debbie Goddard

Saberhagen’s Dracula10:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m., Atrium 3

Fred Saberhagen wrote a series of books from Dracula’s point of view, including The Dracula Tape, Old Friend of the Family, and more. We’ll discuss his work, particularly the more complicated moral portrayal of vampires. Panelists: Paul Weimer, Stephanie Zvan

Saturday, July 5

Organizing Online to Make a Better World: Do We Need to Tear the Old One Down? 8:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m., Edina

Criticism and even rage blazing across social media has proven remarkably effective in getting complaints heard, but what are the downsides? How do we maintain communities when anger and volume get things done? Panelists: Miri Mogilevsky, Jason Thibeault, Beth Voigt, Stephanie Zvan, Debbie Goddard

Sunday, July 6

I’m starting Sunday morning at 9 a.m. by interviewing Dr. Rubidium for Atheists Talk radio about, among other things, using pop culture to communicate science.

Evaluating Scientific Claims 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m., Plaza 1

You’ve just heard or read about an amazing scientific claim. Where do you go to start vetting the claim or the study, especially if you’re not a scientist? What are the signs that it might be hyped, misleading, or false? Panelists: Caleph Wilson (mod), Siouxsie Wiles, Stephanie Zvan, Shawn Otto, Heina Dadabhoy

Science of Group Differences 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m., Atrium 6

Men are from Sirius; women are from the Pleiades. Am I right? Let’s talk about all that research on sex and racial differences and what it means in day-to-day life. Is there any significance beyond the statistical? Panelists: Will Robertson, Stephanie Zvan, Betsy Lundsten, Desiree Schell (mod)

Science ‘Fiction’ Journalism 3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m., Plaza 1

When more and more news outlets are dropping their dedicated science staff, what happens to the quality of the news coverage? How much of what we read is just plain wrong, and what can we do about it? Panelists: Rob Callahan, Shawn Otto, Debbie Goddard, Stephanie Zvan

I’ll also be in the FtB party room each evening.

Then I collapse and hope I haven’t gotten con crud or can get over it before the Minnesota Atheists and Humanists of Minnesota All-Star Conference the next weekend.

Jun 26 2014

TBT: Specialist Envy

This was originally posted in June 2008. I still feel a bit of this, even though my new job is an object lesson in what a good generalist can accomplish. I can’t be the only person who feels this way, can I?

I am not a specialist. I’m a generalist and a good one. My primary skill is learning. I break unfamiliar tasks down quickly and optimize and mechanize processes. I read material aimed beyond my knowledge because I can mostly fill in background from what’s implied as well as what’s stated, and I know how to spot what I’m missing and have to look up. I synthesize and project ridiculously well. Drop me into unfamiliar chaos, and I start tidying, building a coherent whole from the scattered pieces, even while my hindbrain screams in panic that the task is impossible. It’s just what I do.

But oh, I must admit to a bit of the generalist’s envy of specialists. I sit down with someone who knows their field inside and out and I feel like an unschooled child. Following along suddenly seems like faking it. Not having that kind of command of anything, I feel just a wee bit useless.

I could make myself feel better by changing the subject, talking about things I do know, where the specialist would be the one having to follow. I don’t lack options for other topics. But I never do it. The generalist in me can’t let these opportunities pass (knowledge, resources, ooh!), no matter how uncomfortable they are.

I try to tell myself I shouldn’t be uncomfortable. I remind myself, in between moments of paying very close attention, of everything I said above. Under the envy, I do know my strengths and that they’re not inconsiderable and that they’re not really compatible with the dedication being a specialist requires. I know I’m a very good generalist.

But oh, why can’t I be a specialist too?

Jun 25 2014

Tell Us What You Want to See at FtBCon3

In case you haven’t already seen the news, July 22 is the deadline to submit your panel proposals for FtBConscience3.

Graphic of call for proposals. All information included in the link above the image.

Don’t want to run a panel but you still have ideas about what you want to see? That’s okay too. While proposals that come with a moderator and participants baked in save us time and energy and are viewed with gratitude, your con runners are happy to do some recruiting for topics you particularly want to see. Read the rest of this entry »

Jun 25 2014

The Reading List, 6/25/2014

I share a lot of links on Twitter and Facebook that I don’t blog about because I don’t have much to add. The reading list is a periodic feature where I share those links with my blog audience too. Of course, you’re still welcome to follow me on Twitter.

Around FtB

The Wider Web

Jun 24 2014

The Problem with Physics

Sean Carroll has a pair of posts up, one of which is aptly titled “Physicists Should Stop Saying Silly Things about Philosophy“. Both posts are concerned with the reasons physicists often give to dismiss philosophy as a discipline and why those reasons are wrong. Both are worth reading.

It is also worth pointing out that Carroll is not focusing on physicists simply because he himself is a physicist who relies on the work of philosophers. It’s a problem common to a lot of physicists and more common among physicists than it is among scientists of other disciplines. Think of three well-known physicists, then check Carroll’s list of dismissive big names. Look at the amount of overlap between the two lists. Now come up with another group of people educated in a single topic who are similarly dismissive of philosophy.

As I said elsewhere when James Croft pondered the proper response to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s comments on philosophy.

I’m not even so sure I see it as *his* failing as much as I see it as a common failing of a physics education. Modern U.S. physics education at the college level and beyond is notorious for producing scientists who can’t manage the complexities involved in biology, much less the social sciences. Bob Park once told a physics professor friend of mine that there is no pseudoscience so ridiculous you can’t find a PhD physicist who will support it. (Though in retrospect, I’m guessing he would have made an exception for the crankery that gets mailed to physics departments all the time.)

There is a simplicity to physics, in the sense of limited variables, that there isn’t in most of the rest of the world. In many places, that simplicity is embraced as scientific superiority, and that sense of superiority is passed on with the basic knowledge of physics. It is entirely unsurprising that we continue to see physicists saying silly things about philosophy.

Not that this tells me anything about how to address the problem.

Holler if you have any ideas.

Jun 24 2014

Nick Cave: A Long Wait

It was 2001, September. I had tickets to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at the end of the month for my birthday. Then something a little bigger than a concert happened, and air traffic into the U.S. looked (rightly) like a very bad idea. The U.S. tour was postponed.

Those of us with tickets were told we could get a refund then or hold our tickets to be exchanged when the show was rescheduled. I chose to wait, though I had no idea how long it would be. As it turned out, it was a very long time indeed. Oh, it was only another six months before the rescheduled concert, but I was never notified of the new date. Being busy with my job, I didn’t stumble across the information on my own. I found out about it by reading a review in the paper the day after it occurred.

I thought about that recently, when I received the confirmation that I had press credentials to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds June 21, 2014 at the State Theater. It felt like righting an old (if petty) wrong.

I thought about it again when we stopped at the box office last night to pick up our tickets and no one could find them.


I reviewed Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds for the Twin Cities Daily Planet over the weekend. It wasn’t the easiest concert review I’ve written, though not for anything like writer’s block. You can read the review here.

Jun 23 2014

Counting Down the Days

Do you live in the Los Angeles area? Are you a woman looking for for an atheist group that you don’t have to worry will be unfriendly to women or to feminist viewpoints? You only need to hang on one more week.

The Los Angeles Women’s Atheist and Agnostic Group (LAWAAG) is a group for people who primarily identify as women who live a secular lifestyle or are in the process of leaving religion. LAWAAG focuses on building community and friendship among freethinking women and organizes activist and community outreach art projects. We welcome new members at our monthly meetup.

LAWAAG was formed in 2014 by multi-media artist, Amy Davis Roth with the goal of fostering a safe and supportive space for those who primarily identify as women, who are leaving faith, or who already live as part of a secular community.

Our group meets the first Tuesday of every month at 7pm at  The Center For Inquiry, Los Angeles. Along with regular monthly meetups, the group also organizes art, activism and outreach projects and works towards building community and support for women without faith.

In order to foster a safe space that acknowledges and can focus on the specific issues women encounter and deal with in a secular community, we currently only accept members who primarily identify as women. However, we often participate in and sponsor co-ed events. We welcome new members at our monthly meetup and welcome all to attend our publicized co-ed events. Please go to our events page for a list of upcoming and current events.

The group is free to members but has costs to run. Amy had a sale over the weekend to benefit the group and, being Amy, she’ll probably have another. Still, you can donate at the group’s site to help them fund their activities.

Jun 23 2014

Meeting Users Where They Work

When I told friends I was starting a new job automating data processing, they wanted to know what language I’d be using. When I told them I’d be working with Visual Basic for Excel, I received more than one funny look. When I told them what kinds of problems I’d be solving, several people told me that Access or an SQL database was designed for doing those things.

Yes, this is absolutely true. I’ve used databases extensively for just these sorts of things. However, that’s missing the point entirely.

Not everyone who has to work with data is a data person. Read the rest of this entry »

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