There are always those guys


Jeffrey Cranor is a writer for the podcast, Welcome to Nightvale (I listen to it, it’s entertaining). And he gets messages.

I was just about to listen to Episode 3. If you continue to advertise “trigger warnings”, I will no longer listen to your podcast and will advise every person whom I know not to listen.

The clarification that the podcast contains a description of someone being assaulted is pathetic. Stop it or lose listeners.

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A word of warning about Hits & Mrs.


I’ve read Karen Stollznow’s new book, Hits & Mrs.. It’s fiction, a novel about a skeptical detective. But I need to warn you about two things.

It’s got sex in it. Not the kind of explicit recounting of urological details you’d find in pornography, but the characters are boinking regularly, and enjoying it.

One thing it lacks is reverence for organized skepticism — many skeptics are portrayed as jerks. It’s almost as if the author’s insider familiarity with the skepticism movement has disillusioned her.

Gosh. I imagine every one who reads this site is now horrified and is going to avoid the book.

It’s like the author read my mind


Or maybe it’s just that the situation is so obvious. This past weekend, I gave a talk in Minneapolis about how messed up higher education in general was becoming, and specifically about the problems facing science education. And then this morning I run across an article from a couple of years ago that basically says many of the same things. I should have just phoned in How Higher Education in the US Was Destroyed in 5 Basic Steps and spared myself all that thinking and planning and preparing stuff.

Here are the 5 steps in the article:

Step I: Defund public higher education.
Step II: Deprofessionalize and impoverish the professors (and continue to create a surplus of underemployed and unemployed Ph.D.s).
Step III: Move in a managerial/administrative class that takes over governance of the university.
Step IV: Move in corporate culture and corporate money.
Step V: Destroy the students.

Dang. I talked about all of those things. Now you can just read the article to get the gist of my discussion.

World’s most popular spot for racists, creationists, sexists, homophobes, transphobes, and Christians


You know what I like about Twitter? Everyone lets it all hang out. It’s humanity without the filters, where people say precisely what’s on their minds without trying to second-guess whether it might offend someone. And it reveals the ugly truth: a lot of people actually are world-class assholes.

Take the announcement that Harriet Tubman will be honored on the $20 bill. As expected, some people on Twitter are raging over it. Cynics, rejoice: the ugliness of humanity is on naked display in one easily accessible place. I mean, look at this:

That’s the kind of thing you wouldn’t normally see outside of Twitter, or a Ku Klux Klan rally, or Thanksgiving with your relatives, or some such similar venue outside the bounds of civilized society.

Here’s another example. I am not a sports fan, but even I have heard of Curt Schilling, but not because of baseball — it’s because he’s an astonishingly ignorant jerk on Twitter. He’s a creationist, he’s a homophobe, he’s simply a disgraceful human being. Without Twitter, though, people might still think of him as a guy who was really skilled at playing with a ball and stick. But no, he happily exposed the rotting, maggot-filled black pudding that constitutes his brain to everyone, and now ESPN has fired him. ESPN has never been at all coherent on their policies on these things — they suspend contributors over far more trivial offenses than Curt Schilling routinely committed — but he made some sneering transphobic comment about bathrooms that finally was enough, and the just plain fired him. About time.

So he wasn’t humane enough for a sports network, but you’ll be pleased to know that he still has his Twitter account, where he’s currently representing Christianity and weeping over his martyrdom. Twitter has no expectations of decorum or intelligence.

Amazon supporting scammers

I subscribe to Kindle Unlimited — I’ve found it useful, and I’ve found several books that have been helpful. I downloaded a couple of camera tutorials, for instance, that were straightforward and direct and coupled practice and concept very nicely (for example, this one by Al Judge) that explained apertures and f/stops well (I already understood the concepts) by showing me how they were implemented in my camera.

Unfortunately, Kindle Unlimited turns out to be extremely exploitable, and there are scammers taking advantage of it. Follow that link for all the details, but the short summary is that a) all authors divvy up a pot of money from KU subscribers, b) the author’s share of the pot is determined by how many of their pages are “read”, c) Amazon has an awesomely stupid algorithm for measuring pages read, so that if someone downloads the book and just zips to the last page, the author is credited for the whole book read, d) so people are creating garbage books and getting co-conspirators to download it for free and jump to the end.

Would you believe people can earn $60,000/month with this game? I am not endorsing this. Do not leap into the action thinking you can make some quick bucks fast. It’s unethical, and at some point, I hope, Amazon will wake up and crack down on these thieves, at which point it will hurt the perpetrators.

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A little long-form reading for your weekend

I’m going to be doing a little traveling this weekend, for some R&R in the Twin Cities and also to do a public lecture on Sunday, so you need some good stuff to read. I recommend:

  • The Wetsuitman. A couple of bodies in wetsuits wash ashore in the Netherlands and Norway. Who are they? And the pursuit of that information leads to a tragic story about desperate immigrants, so desperate that they tried to swim across the English channel.

  • The Sugar Conspiracy. How an agricultural system that is really good at making immense amounts of sugar persuaded the world to ignore what it does to our bodies. Also includes bonus examples of scientists behaving badly.

  • We don’t know why it came to this. Did you know there is an epidemic of white women between 25 and 55 dying prematurely? The cause: economic disparity, poverty, and despair.

    White women between 25 and 55 have been dying at accelerating rates over the past decade, a spike in mortality not seen since the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s. According to recent studies of death certificates, the trend is worse for women in the center of the United States, worse still in rural areas, and worst of all for those in the lower middle class. Drug and alcohol overdose rates for working-age white women have quadrupled. Suicides are up by as much as 50 percent.

  • “Free, white, and 21”. There’s a phrase that has happily faded away into obscurity…until you start watching old movies and discover all these people in Hollywood proudly announcing their skin color as a triumph.

There. You should probably be able to find something to talk about in all that.

The internet does not forget

We all remember this event, in which policeman John Pike casually hoses down students at UC Davis with pepper spray. Not only is it memorable, but if you google “UC Davis” the story is going to pop up on the first page of results.


The administrators at UC Davis are a bit touchy about the whole incident and wanted to do something about it. So what did they do? They hired one of those shady ‘reputation management’ companies to somehow expunge the story and image from search results, at a cost of at least $175,000. Those things never work, and you’re a fool to try them.

Except…maybe they did accomplish something.

Now when you search for UC Davis, the first results are all about the university’s dodgy, clumsy, ill-planned, and wasteful attempt to whitewash their reputation.

The lesson you should learn is that trying to cover up your sins with worthless SEO is going to only change your search results to a) remind everyone of the bad thing you did, and b) let them know that you’re desperate to cover it up.

Good work, administrators at UC Davis! You’re working hard to further stain the reputation of a very good school.