Cui bono?

The Trump campaign is flaming out spectacularly. His campaign financials have been released, and, much as I hate the way politics is priced out of reach for most people, he’s a loser.

Donald Trump’s campaign is almost broke, and is paying an unusual amount of money to Trump-owned businesses. That’s according to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s FEC filing, details of which were released Monday night.

The report provided a number of rather shocking facts, including that his campaign raised just $3.1 million in May compared to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s $27 million.

Even worse, you might wonder where that small sum of money is going. It’s going to Donald Trump, of course.

He’s also paying himself a salary, which is really weird for a billionaire running for president, and one of his biggest outlays is $208,000…for hats.

This is a joke candidate, right? Either that, or it’s the ultimate end game of capitalism: a guy paying himself to promote himself to become president of the US.

At least I’m becoming less worried that an inflamed orange hemorrhoid will be elected president.

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.