Steve Hofstetter shuts down a heckler

Someone in the audience didn’t much care for a bit in which this comedian talks about a woman announcer calling a baseball game…for the first time in 2015. So he shouts his disapproval. Then Hofstetter puts him in his place.

You’d think people would figure it out. Heckling puts you in the sights of a trained professional who will skillfully make fun of you.

Get out of our way, Elon Musk

We at UMM are having our yearly HHMI-sponsored summer research program. In addition to having undergraduates working away in our labs, we also have some more social activities — and yesterday we joined with the science students at the Morris public schools for a bottle rocket launch.

No, not that kind of bottle rocket. In this case, they using two liter plastic bottles, filling them up with some water, and then pumping them up with air pressure. Then…whoosh, off they go. The rockets were also assembled with fins and nose cones and those traditional bits. The elementary and middle school kids had to deal with various constraints — they had “budgets”, and had to “pay” for every bit of cardboard and duct tape they stuck on their bottles, and also for the water fuel and the amount of pressure they put in the bottles. They also had specific goals: distance traveled, time aloft, that sort of thing. Our HHMI students had no constraints, so it was a little unfair. They weren’t part of the competition, though, and the kids whose rockets outperformed the college students’ got extra points on their victory, so it was OK.

The UMM rockets did pretty well, but yeah, some of the kids’ rockets with their minimal approach did do better.

[Read more…]

Richard Carrier’s blog

One of our writers, Richard Carrier, has been banned from Skepticon for “his repeated boundary-pushing behavior”. This is, obviously, a serious accusation, and we’ve been investigating further. We now have several first-hand reports of persistent, obnoxious sexual behavior in defiance of specific requests that he cease. We believe his accusers.

Here at Freethoughtblogs, we are sex-positive, but we are also committed to the principle of consensual sexual behavior. We go further, and beyond demanding that there always be consent, we also insist on respect for your partners. No means no, not just because it’s held as a dogmatic rule, but because it reflects a sincere appreciation of the autonomy of other people. We cannot tolerate violations of this essential principle.

While Dr Carrier has been a valued contributor to this network, we have to demand support of that principle in actions as well as words. After a review of the evidence so far, Richard Carrier’s posting privileges have been suspended, pending further evaluation, and all comments on his blog have been closed.

If you wish to make a testimonial, pro or con, about Dr Carrier, you can send them to me in confidence. We will consider all the evidence before making a final decision on his case.

We also support Skepticon and their commitment to equality and justice. If you do too, donate.

Tell me again that it’s a Muslim problem

It’s a homophobia problem. It’s a problem of conservative theology that uses gods as an excuse for heinous crimes.

This particular news program goes out of its way to get liberal ministers to oppose the hatemongers, but they’re just as bad: rationalizing your behavior as “this is what my god wants me to do” is just as fallacious when it’s supporting humanist views as when it’s supporting murderous views. How about suggesting that we not kill, because they are fellow human beings, or that we should be tolerant, because human beings have diverse views, and behavior that does not harm others ought to be accepted?

Most useful paper I’ve read this week

I’m teaching our science writing course in the Fall, and I’m also one of the instructors in our teachers’ workshop next month (we still have room for more participants!). And now I’ve found a useful, general, basic paper that I have to hand out.

Motulsky, HJ (2014) Common Misconceptions about Data Analysis and Statistics. JPET 351(1):200-205.

What it’s got is clear, plain English; brevity; covers some ubiquitous errors; will be incredibly useful for our introductory biology students. You should read it, too, for background in basic statistical literacy. Here’s the abstract.

Ideally, any experienced investigator with the right tools should be able to reproduce a finding published in a peer-reviewed biomedical science journal. In fact, however, the reproducibility of a large percentage of published findings has been questioned. Undoubtedly, there are many reasons for this, but one reason may be that investigators fool themselves due to a poor understanding of statistical concepts. In particular, investigators often make these mistakes: 1) P-hacking, which is when you reanalyze a data set in many different ways, or perhaps reanalyze with additional replicates, until you get the result you want; 2) overemphasis on P values rather than on the actual size of the observed effect; 3) overuse of statistical hypothesis testing, and being seduced by the word “significant”; and 4) over-reliance on standard errors, which are often misunderstood.

I can probably open any biomedical journal and find papers that commit all four of those errors.

“these are the kinds of details that make or break a movie”

And now for something cheerfully entertaining. When I go to the movies, I freely admit to being obsessive about the biology, which is often completely ignored by most movies — although something like the X-Men movies really has me climbing the walls and moaning and gritting my teeth. But what happens when a typographer watches a movie? Every movie has letters and logos on the screen somewhere! So go read this obsessive, fanatically detailed analysis of Bladerunner. Everything he points out completely sailed by me when watching it.

You get to hear about every font choice on signs and labels, and somehow, it’s entertaining. There’s a bonus discussion of Letraset, which I remember well (every science lab I ever worked in was typographically consistent, at least: they all used Futura. Had to be Futura. None of those fiddly serifs, and besides…the name. Perfect. If only we’d known about Eurostile).

It’s interesting mainly because it’s mostly foreign to my perspective, but there’s another intersection, when he discusses image “enhancement”. I’m a video and image processing guy, so that scene in Bladerunner where he zooms in on one tiny reflection of a reflection in what looks like a holographic polaroid always bugged me. Here is that entire sequence with just the enhancements to show the magnitude of what the movie was doing.

Another bonus! A collection of “Enhance!” scenes from TV and movies.

I’d sit here all day reading Typeset in the Future articles, but now I have to go to work. And then I have to download the Eurostile Bold Extended font set for my laptop so I can make my work look futuristic.

There aren’t enough facepalms in the world for this


Here’s a story of a gun-fondling nitwit compounding mistake upon mistake.

First, he thinks his hobby of shooting bullets at things very fast is fascinating enough that he brings along someone to record his manly bang-bangs.

Secondly, he has a target: a lawnmower. Why a lawnmower? Does he just hate yardwork? Maybe it was an evil lawnmower.

Thirdly, the lawnmower is not sufficiently exciting, so he packs it with three pounds of high explosives.

You know, lawnmowers on their own can be dangerous: when running, they can send rocks flying; I once had a lawnmower blade break in normal operation, and a chunk went flying and imbedded itself in a tree. But at least this guy didn’t have it running. I don’t think. Then, of course, there’s the problem of firing a rifle at a solid metal object, the engine. I would think there’s some risk of ricochets there.

But no, all that is irrelevant. He packed it with explosives. All the other safety concerns become moot.

He shot it, it exploded, sharp pieces of metal went flying everywhere (surprise!), and shrapnel severs one of his legs.

He did something incredibly stupid, but didn’t deserve maiming. Maybe someone will learn that demolishing stuff with firepower isn’t entertaining or clever, though.

You probably shouldn’t read this

I read the news today, oh boy, and there’s nothing reassuring.

  • This big name hacker, Jake Appelbaum, has been using his reputation to harass, stalk, and abuse women. I’ll spare you the details, but jeez does this ever sound familiar.

    This didn’t happen because we’re broken as a hacker culture, or because we’re hackers and thus too undeveloped to comprehend empathy. People like Jake can be found in other places; priests and churches, Hollywood, the porn industry, and more. Wherever power imbalances, hero worship, and secret-keepers intersect. People like Jake are found in hacker culture, too, and it’s past time for hacker culture to deal with it.

    Know any other organizations with “power imbalances, hero worship, and secret-keepers”?

  • A boy writes a graphic letter describing how he’d rape and murder girls at his school, and hands it to a girl with a smirk. Again, I’ll spare you the ugly details. What’s shocking is that despite a clear school policy, administrators did nothing to punish him or assure the girls that they were safe, only requiring that the boy take his exams in isolation.

    “The principal and school staff didn’t do a thorough investigation and were negligent in ensuring protection of students, and school staff against a potentially violent person,” said a parent of one of the girls. The Sentinel is not naming the parent because it would identify the minor girl.

    Another parent of one of the girls said, “I am in complete shock and disbelief at the principal’s response to this dangerous situation. I felt like the school was protecting the perpetrator and ignoring the possible threat to the victims. I am at a loss of words that a person who would write such a descriptive rape and kill list would be allowed to stay on campus at all.”

    No one thinks there might be something deeply wrong with a student who writes explicit, violent pornography about fellow students and hands it to the subject of his fantasies?

  • Don’t worry, though. Someday, Earl Erhart will be there to defend men like him accused of rape.

    Earl Ehrhart is worried about his sons. Both boys attend Georgia public universities, and Ehrhart, a state representative from the Atlanta suburbs, has heard all about the college sexual-misconduct hearings in which young men are presumed guilty until proven innocent. The proceedings are flawed, he says, they’re like “kangaroo courts.” And their rulings are so biased against the accused, Ehrhart fears that his boys—as with male students across the state—could end up expelled based on a false accusation of rape.

    Somehow, these guys are always far more worried about men being accused of rape, then of women being raped.

    I went through fraternity rush once, way back in 1976. I attended one frat party — it was all about alcohol and getting women drunk enough to go to bed with you, and was an evening of crass jokes and boorish behavior. I never went to another frat party, but when people say some aspects of a university encourage rape culture, I can say yes, they do.

    But Earl Erhart will be there to protect it.

  • I wonder how some jobs get to be so male-centric. Masonry, for instance. That’s highly skilled labor, and in a competition, Shania Clifford excelled at it.

    Judges in the masonry program, a field usually dominated by men, originally awarded Clifford first place by a whopping 72 points.

    Larry Moore, her instructor, said the scores of the top performers usually vary by only a couple of points, but Clifford’s column for the state competition was exceptional.

    “She had the best plumb there,” Moore said. “Two or three corners were perfect.” Plumb refers to how straight a vertical edge is.

    And then later the competition officials retracted the win and gave it to the guy who finished third, instead.

    I wonder how some jobs get to be so male-centric?

  • Laila Alawa wrote “9/11 changed the world for good“, where “for good” is a common English idiom meaning “permanently”. Unfortunately, the usual gang of professional illiterates and idiots, like Pam Geller and Milo Yiannopoulous, seem to have had to run it through Google Translate to get it from English to their native tongue of Hate, and it garbled it to “for the good”, and they then announced to the world that Alawa is a Muslim who thinks 9/11 was wonderful.

    On Tuesday, June 14, 2016, I woke up to a hell that even I could not have predicted,” Alawa wrote yesterday in a post on The Tempest, an online publication she founded and runs. “Hundreds of people were tweeting at me, the vitriol, hatred and fury in their messages each worse than the last one.

    It’s remarkable how often stupidity and hatred go hand in hand.

  • The latest scandal out of Australia is that a wealthy radio presenter and football team president joked on air about paying $50,000 to drown a woman football reporter. He apparently doesn’t like her, comparing her to a spider, which makes it OK. I really don’t understand where he gets his casual sexism.

    This is a promotional ad for his radio station.


    Nope. Nothing unusual about that picture. Nothing at all.

I really should stop reading all this stuff people send me every day. It’s not good for my mood.

Oh, heck. One more.

  • Another college football player flushes his career and life away.

    An ex-Vanderbilt University football player will serve at least 15 years in prison after he was convicted by a jury Saturday of encouraging three teammates to rape an unconscious woman he was dating, and filming it in his dorm room.

    It’s not just the rape that was awful. On what planet is it considered fun to invite your friends to join in a rape, and to record it? Planet Privilege, I guess.