War never changes, but it gets a bit more saturated

FALLOUT 4. Now in Technicolor! It’s going to take place in Boston, because we don’t have enough New England as yet in the Fallout lore. *snrk*

I am so happy this is not an MMO. That would have been a monumental mistake, I think. And I really hope they don’t fragment the content the way Rocksteady just did with Batman: Arkham Knight and the pre-order bonuses.

For the uninitiated, the Fallout universe is not, actually, about an alt history with the Cold War resulting in the apocalypse, believe it or not. It sure looks that way, though, with its 1950s arrested development. Instead, in this universe, nobody invents the transistor during WW2, and instead we invest all our tech development on the vacuum tube. The Great War happens in 2077, over resources, because humanity never gets away from the larger and more resource-consumptive technologies. For some reason, culture is slowed drastically, and by the time of the Great War, America is roughly in the 1950s, only with a Mr. Handy helper robot in every kitchen. After the apocalypse — when India, China, Russia, North Korea and America all nuke the living fuck out of each other (and everyone else, for funzies) — the only survivors are those who went underground into Vaults. They emerge to a wasteland that is populated by mutants, ghouls, raiders and the very dregs of humanity.

I’m happy with this incarnation of the Wasteland. It is significantly closer to Fallout 1 and 2 in looks than 3 ever was, and at the moment, during my replay of Fallout: New Vegas, the only way I can stand to look at it for any length of time is with the Imaginator plugin that offers different colour palettes. (I am presently using the Trek Vaseline Cam palette, which makes the Mojave look a lot like that planet where Kirk fights the Gorn. You know the one.) So I’m looking forward to scavenging the wastelands with more varied landscapes, and with my dog inevitably named Dogmeat at my side.

The only way they could have made this better — at least in my mind — is to have the generic character at the end be a woman, because it’s *just* a generic character, and there’s nothing holding you to picking that specific dude they showed. Could you imagine the outrage from certain quarters? The only way I could think of to make hateful antifeminists lose their shit more than that, though, would be to force the character creation to only allow you to create women. In either case the resultant rage could power me for centuries.

The Riddle of Randomness

Cross-posted at Geek Girl Con’s blog!

Last year at Geek Girl Con, I had the privilege of participating in the Do-It-Yourself Science Zone teaching kids about probability and randomness.

GeekGirlCon 2014 at Washington State Conference Center in Seattle, Washington, on Saturday, October 11, 2014.

GeekGirlCon 2014 at Washington State Conference Center in Seattle, Washington, on Saturday, October 11, 2014.

However, being The Riddler, I had a secret agenda in mind while doing my demonstrations — I have a trio of ten-sided dice that I use to gamble with my fellow super-villains, and I wanted to figure out which of them, if any, had a bias for or against any particular number. What better way to find out, than to offload the boring task of rolling those dice over and over again onto unsuspecting passers-by?
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Glenn Beck: enemy of humanity

How else can you explain someone faced with empirical evidence that children are being infected with a preventable disease, thanks to anti-vaccination anti-science, claiming it’s all a hoax?

Damn it all. Maybe we deserve our fate, as a race, to succumb to some pandemic or other humanity-endangering event, because of certain humans spreading misinformation in order to line their own pockets. When the stakes are human lives, how can we as a species continue when we’re willing to throw others’ lives away for our own enrichment?

Busy, busy worker bee

You might have noticed that most of the work I’ve put into the blog lately has been to the end of promoting Geek Girl Con. This post is no different, save for a bit of complaining.

Honestly, I haven’t had much time for blogospherics lately, as work has had a series of disasters that I’ve had to mitigate, so I’ve been working my ass off. I’ve been venting my frustrations about current real-world events on Twitter in short form, because that seems easier to handle in the midst of jumping from one crisis to another with work, but the blog has lain fallow for too long, so I decided to cross-purpose a bit of work I did today. Why use something you’ve done once, when you can use it twice?

At Geek Girl Con, I’m going to be working in the DIY Science Zone, teaching a thing or two about randomness, especially as pertains to dice. I’ll be performing a few demonstrations of how humans don’t really grok randomness, including one where I’ll get people to draw fifty random dots on a piece of paper. I’ll then compare them to a better (though still not perfect) pseudo-random generator, a computer.

Then I’ll go on to talk about how this universe is deterministic and randomness really isn’t all that random no matter what we do to generate it, and pretend to be all smart and stuff. We’ll see how that works out.

I’ve written a little Python script to help with the first demonstration I mentioned above. Here it is. It uses the fairly standard Pygame init > run > terminate main loop you might see in other examples.
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Science sneaks up on squirrels: a reenactment

Scicurious (alias: Bethany Brookshire, alias: Squirrel Terrorist) reenacts a scientific paper’s methodology about squirrels’ ability to detect predators, as her Act of Whimsy (read: forfeit) for Geek Girl Con fundraising.

Remember, if we get to $5000, I’ll be playing Battletoads, beginning to end, with infinite lives, on twitch.tv. Surely you’ll want to see me get progressively more and more frustrated as I replay sections of the game over, and over, and over again. Donate now to punish me!

(We totally did not coordinate the silent movie thing in advance, I swear.)

CONvergence 2014 panel audio: Alien Conspiracy Theories

It took a bit of wrestling with my own damn operating system to get this to work, but here it is: Alien Conspiracy Theories, starring JD Horn, Nicole Gugliucci, PZ Myers, Scott Lynch, and yours truly.

Come join us as we talk about some of the alien conspiracy theories that have entered into popular culture, what’s implausible, what’s impossible, and what’s just good OBEY clean family STAY ASLEEP fun.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

(or download the Alien Conspiracy Theories mp3 – 24.2 megs)

The specific gravity of cold-press coffee

Okay, a bit of a misleading title, but I like it nonetheless.

I just had a minor bit of unpleasant SIWOTI, only in meatspace instead of On The Internet. I don’t think I handled it entirely appropriately but that’s mostly because as a nerd, these things do matter to me. But interacting with other people also matters to me.

Caribou Coffee is a local answer to Starbucks that falls about halfway between Tim Horton’s and Starbucks on the scale of fancy-fancy frou-frou (which is a scalar value, obviously). They have a trivia question on a chalkboard next to their menu every day, and getting it right will knock ten cents off your order. It’s not a big deal, but it’s a fun little thing. Today’s question was: “What is Mars’ gravitational pull (relative to Earth’s)?”
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The Constitutionality of Abortion Policy in New Brunswick – cover

Tia Beaudoin, a recent Political Science Honours graduate at University of New Brunswick, has kindly offered her thesis as a series of guest blog posts on the subject of the abortion policy in NB, with particular regard to the laws that have resulted in abortion being virtually inaccessible for much of the Maritimes.

As it’s very long, I’ve broken it up into multiple posts:

Cover / Works Cited
Chapter 1: A Social and Legal History of Abortion in Canada
Chapter 2: New Brunswick: Openly Defying the Canada Health Act

As an editor’s note, I should point out that Dr. Henry Morgentaler died last May, and after his death, the clinic he founded in New Brunswick — which he’d been fighting to force the government to cover the costs of the procedures done there in the courts over the last 11 years — was forced to close for lack of funding, despite the Canada Health Act requiring funding of abortions. The provincial government, thanks to Regulation 84-20, only covers funding for abortions recommended by two doctors as “medically necessary” — a law that makes it nearly impossible to obtain the two doctors’ sign-off during the mandated first twelve weeks of the woman’s pregnancy. Those two facts essentially make it impossible to get medical funding, and the clinic under Morgentaler had mandated to never turn away a woman in need. As a result, it has lost close to $100,000 over the past ten years.

Worse, the lawsuit was dropped in the wake of the ongoing backlash against Regulation 84-20.

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Skeptech Gameathon Fundraiser – March 22nd!

Last year, the first Skeptech conference was, entirely unsurprisingly, a big success. With some big names talking about some big topics in and around the intersection of science, technology and skepticism, they’ve got a tough act to follow this year.

And yet, they seem to have managed just fine on the speakers front, with Jesse Galef, Tim Farley, and Debbie Goddard, to name a scant few.

They’re still in a drive for fundraising though, since the rocket packs they’re strapping to all these cats don’t come cheap. So, I’ve agreed to host a twelve hour gaming fundraiser telethon, with games broadcast via Twitch TV while we concurrently run a Google Hangout On Air. Brendan Murphy and Chelsea DuFresne will be the real hosts, while I play video games and run tech and probably get more than my fair share of screen time regardless. Stephanie Zvan will visit in person, as will Brianne Bilyeu; we’ll have a number of guests join us via the Hangout, including Rebecca Watson, Scicurious and Surly Amy.

From the teaser:

On the 22nd, this page will be outfitted with a Google Hangout, Twitch Stream & Chat, and an easy way to donate to the Skeptech conference (paypal).

Here are some initial incentives (more will be added):

$5 to be a member of our Organ Trail team.
At $200, we’ll buy Super Meat Boy and fail horribly.
At $1000, we’ll buy Amnesia, and play it at full-volume in the dark. You’ll be able to watch our horror on the hangout.
We hope you’ll join us! Stay tuned for a rough schedule of what we’ll be playing, who will be joining us, and when.

I don’t have this rough timeline myself, but I can reveal a few other incentives we have on tap. For $20, you can jump into the Hangouts for 15 mins and try to go all debate-club on us, while we try to multitask and out-debate you while also staying on the course on Rainbow Road in Mario Kart or some other such outlandish gaming stunt. Wanna talk about gaming handicaps, there you go.

For $100, I’ll write the blog post of your choice — you get to pick the topic, the side you want me to argue (and I’ll even steel-man some positions I’d otherwise never take or even strongly disagree with!), and you can even give me a specific phrase to work in. Minimum of 1200 words, to boot, EXCLUDING blockquotes. This is a quote-miner’s goldmine, and it could be yours for a mere hundred clams.

Or for $50, you can point me to a post by anyone on any topic, and let me blog whatever I’d like about it, taking whatever angle I so choose. Minimum 1500 words — a better value, but you don’t know necessarily what I’ll argue or how!

And I’m sure if you come up with specific gaming stunts or bounties, we could come to some arrangements. It’s interactive entertainment, all to serve a higher cause: dispelling the demons of ignorance and delusion while talking about the science and technology that proves our side is the side of angels.

See you there!

“Smokey Joe” Barton’s long history of antiscience propaganda

Remember how Joe Barton apologized to British Petroleum for the government’s mild reproach and slap on the wrist after their oil spill destroyed the Gulf of Mexico and created a dead zone that will last for decades? Turns out he was one of the bigger names involved in the disinformation campaign waged by the tobacco industry.

Those of us who weren’t old enough or politically aware enough might not have known this fact about Barton, or might have let that information slip into the memory hole; we might otherwise think that this antiscience campaign waged by the oil industry against climate scientists is a unique phenomenon. Spreading this information about Barton’s and others’ tactics is therefore vital.

Normally, ad hominem is a fallacy. However, establishing a pattern of behaviour and modifying one’s treatment of or trust in another person based on such patterns of behaviour is entirely reasonable and rational. Seeing this man (and others, like Boehner) repeat the same tactics that worked so well in forestalling public acceptance of the truth behind tobacco’s deleterious health effects, used in a fight with vast and far-reaching consequences about the deleterious effects we as a species are having on our environment, is rather galling, but definitely useful information. It means we are forearmed against these tactics and can counter them. It means we are aware in advance of the fact that the people with their hands on the levers of political power in this country are not principled actors, and that they are more than willing to lie about reality for a quick buck to everyone else’s detriment.