Is this the 21st century, or what?

I got an email ad from the Mary Sue shop. I am very disappointed in them, and think they should be ashamed. It was an ad for this:

Jesus fuck. Cupping “therapy”?

This Premium 32-Piece Massage Cupping Therapy Set by Onetify contains high-quality plastic cups that can be used to treat several various ailments. Aiding in moving static blood, relieving pain, lymph, and toxins that are present in the body, these premium cups promote relaxation and healing from injuries and improves digestion, blood circulation, and respiratory issues. These massage cups provide you natural relaxation and healing at the comfort of your home.

• Massage & improve the treatment of several different ailments
• Promote relaxation & healing from injuries
• Improve digestion, blood circulation, respiratory issues & carpal tunnel syndrome detoxifacation
• Relieve pain, lymph & toxins that are present in your body

Note: The purpose of this unit is for relaxation and NOT for medical treatment of any kind. Please consult your doctor for medical advice, if needed

Madness. The first line says can be used to treat several various ailments, and at the end it says NOT for medical treatment of any kind. Make up your mind, you quacks. It’s for moving static blood…what the hell? That’s an imaginary ailment. If you’ve got static blood, cupping ain’t gonna help. I am also interested in the fact it relieves pain, lymph, and toxins. Is lymph now considered a bad thing?

Just the fact that it mentions toxins and detoxification tells me it’s garbage.

I think I once bought a USB flash drive from them — it was a good deal — and now I’m on their bullshit mailing list. I’m beginning to wonder if that drive is at all trustworthy.

No, I’m not going to spend $44 on your crap pseudoscience, The Mary Sue. You should be ashamed.

Dramatic wars begin with a grievous setback that makes everyone desperate to fight back, right?

I isolated myself in a coffee shop, buckled down, and pounded straight through my grading. I got it done! Early even! The students…well, umm, there were some rough spots. The mean was about 65%, brought down by one specific page where they had to do some math, and it was a massacre. I was imagining that page soaked in blood, with more pouring out of my wicked pen, and was getting a little uneasy. I know what we’re going to be going over in the next class!

Now, though, I get to go home, where my wife has some chore involving the picket fence I’m supposed to do, but once that’s over, I’ve got to honor the completion of one onerous task (if not the outcome).

I’m thinking I’ll sit back and read the new Joe Abercrombie, A Little Hatred. It seems appropriate, very grim-dark, with lots of close-fought bloody battles. For that 65%, you know, which is barely passing and means half the class is getting Ds or worse so far.

(The title does not reflect my feelings towards the students, who are my brave compatriots in the struggle to master cell biology.)

Neither Jewish, nor Christian, nor Western. Ben Shapiro is just full of…

I hate reading essays that I mostly agree with, but are poorly written and completely miss the most important point. I opened up this one because of the title: Ben Shapiro Is On The Wrong Side Of History. Then I find nothing but shallow nitpicking and a tendency to overlook the big flaw.

Here’s his summary of Shapiro’s recent book, which he promises to examine from a philosophical standpoint.

Ben’s proclamation at the start of the book is essentially this: reason alone, absent of God’s moral law — and more precisely — the absence of Judeo-Chrisitan [sic] moral law dooms our world to live in a meaningless abyss. Ultimately, he thinks without this it means the doom of society.
He also wants to argue our toxic political climate and divide can be boiled down to our societal rejection of these Judeo-Christian values.

Nowhere in this essay does he evaluate those critical words, “Judeo-Christian values”. What are they? Why is Islam excluded from the Abrahamic tradition? How do we decide whether a society is actually following these ill-defined moral laws? Shapiro just thoughtlessly assumes that his definition of what is moral is universal and historical and right and proper, and this essayist just goes along with him and assumes “Judeo-Christian” is a real thing. It’s infuriating.

He quotes from Shapiro something he says “essentially sums up his reasoning”.

“The USSR rejected Judeo-Chrisitan[sic] values and Greek natural law…and they starved and slaughtered tens of millions of human beings. The Nazis rejected Judeo-Christian values and Greek Natural law, and they shoved children into gas chambers.”

But he doesn’t follow through! Is not killing millions actually part of this fiction called “Judeo-Christian values”? The holy book they share praises war and slaughter, and has many examples of the same. The people who are historically Christian, and that belong to that similarly vaguely defined concept of “the West”, also murdered millions. Was King Leopold of Belgium “Judeo-Christian”? How about the British in the Opium Wars, or during the conquest of India? How do you then justify excluding Nazi Germany from the ranks of “Western Judeo-Christian” nations?

I wouldn’t argue that the Nazis were moral in the slightest, but they were definitely part of Western Civilization (is Shapiro going to argue otherwise?), they were definitely Christian, and the Germans are definitely rooted in Western/Christian philosophy — in fact, contributing largely to it — so how does that ignorant twerp get off claiming that Nazi philosophy was a rejection of the social values of a culture they were strongly part of?

Maybe a better approach would be to note that being Christian, Jewish, or Western does not make one good, by any means. That is the deep hole in the middle of Shapiro’s assumptions.

Casting The Princess Bride

There are rumors going about that someone wants to remake The Princess Bride, and some people are going batshit, as if this is some grand heresy that should never be done. You know me, I’m fond of breaking sacred cows, so I’m going to go the other way — the movie should be remade, it must happen, to the point where I’m willing to help them with ideas. I have some casting suggestions that will make sure this is the very best Princess Bride it can be!

Buttercup: Paris Hilton.

Westley: Tommy Wiseau.

Inigo Montoya: Nicolas Cage.

Fezzik: Steven Seagal.

Vizzini: David Spade.

Prince Humperdinck: Kirk Cameron.

Count Rugen: Rob Schneider.

Miracle Max: Shane Gillis.

Valerie: Jenny McCarthy.

I’m torn on who should direct. Uwe Boll or George Lucas?

Anyway, I’m sure this movie, with the right talent, will be a glorious success. I wish the studio the best!

(See, when I get a good night’s sleep, I get all cheerful and optimistic and positive and all that crap.)

A shocking development

I went to bed at 9 last night, and woke up this morning at 7:30. My whole body is staggered at having gotten a full night of sleep and waking up feeling rested. My schedule for the day is wrecked, but I don’t know…I could get to like this.

Alas, I seem to be well rested for a long day of nothing but grading exams and labs. I expect this strange feeling to be demolished in short order.

Why is my name so hard to spell?

I just gave the first exam of this semester in cell biology. I have a tradition of making the first question of the first exam an easy, obvious gimme…and here’s the first question this year.

I skimmed through the exams and quickly discovered that several students gave the wrong answer.

I’ll assume that they grossly overanalyzed the question — I said it wasn’t a trick question, which obviously means it was, or that there was some subtle twist hinted at in the phrasing, or something. Or that my last name is some arcane mystical phrase that shifts in the eyes and minds of its beholder, and that if any ever perceived its true nature they would go mad.


Over the past week, I’ve watched the 8-part Netflix series, Unbelievable. It’s a truly harrowing account of a serial rapist, and how one of his victims was not only disbelieved, but pressured by the police to recant her story — something to keep in mind when people try to argue that women lie and make false accusations. After seeing it, I learned that it’s based on a true story, and is remarkably faithful to that account, and has been validated by the victim, Marie. If you read that, you can skip the show, and you’ll just miss some excellent performances.

There is one thing in the written account that I didn’t see in the series.

Marie left the state, got a commercial driver’s license and took a job as a long-haul trucker. She married, and in October she and her husband had their second child. She asked that her current location not be disclosed.

Good. If you read her story or watch the series, though, I warn you: the happy ending does not salvage the horrible process.

Now I’m making housecalls

I got a call from campus Medical Services today — they’ve been invaded by spiders lately, and were wondering if they should be concerned. So I scurried over, because I’m wondering what exciting kind of spider they’ve found…although also I predicted exactly what it would be, and I was right.

They had a squashed specimen, and it was Agelenopsis, a grass spider, just like the one captured here in the science building the other day. I told them they were perfectly safe, these aren’t going to bite anyone, and they aren’t at all venomous to humans, but I guess they need to keep on smacking them, since they are a medical clinic and it wouldn’t do to have spiders everywhere. The problem is that this time of year the males are horny, and they’re wandering everywhere looking for mates. Also, they had an exterminator come by yesterday and spray all the vegetation outside, so all the nearby females are probably dead and they’re getting desperate.

I also checked out ceilings and corners, and I’m sorry to say our medical services office is stunningly pristine, with no cobwebs anywhere. Darn.

There’s a reason they call software ‘viruses’

Also acutely relevant to the problem I just described is this article by Bruce Schneier, who explains how the problems of computer and software security are very similar to those in biological engineering.

Programmers write software through trial and error. Because computer systems are so complex and there is no real theory of software, programmers repeatedly test the code they write until it works properly. This makes sense, because both the cost of getting it wrong and the ease of trying again is so low. There are even jokes about this: a programmer would diagnose a car crash by putting another car in the same situation and seeing if it happens again.

Even finished code still has problems. Again due to the complexity of modern software systems, “works properly” doesn’t mean that it’s perfectly correct. Modern software is full of bugs — thousands of software flaws — that occasionally affect performance or security. That’s why any piece of software you use is regularly updated; the developers are still fixing bugs, even after the software is released.

Bioengineering will be largely the same: writing biological code will have these same reliability properties. Unfortunately, the software solution of making lots of mistakes and fixing them as you go doesn’t work in biology.

In nature, a similar type of trial and error is handled by “the survival of the fittest” and occurs slowly over many generations. But human-generated code from scratch doesn’t have that kind of correction mechanism. Inadvertent or intentional release of these newly coded “programs” may result in pathogens of expanded host range (just think swine flu) or organisms that wreck delicate ecological balances.

We can’t release “gene patches” to correct errors introduced when tinkering with genomes! I can imagine that someday being an issue — by analogy, going in for dialysis is kind of like a routine software management problem. But no one likes having to do dialysis, it’s a symptom of an underlying problem that is just being patched superficially, not fixed, and modifying genomes can introduce new concerns. I wonder how often software updates create new problems that weren’t present in previous versions? 100%?

I don’t think we think enough about the potential for disaster in genetic engineering, because we are enthusiastic about the potential for great good. We need a balance. It would be helpful for those most optimistic about gene modification to have more consideration for the dangers by, for instance, talking to software security experts.

Opportunities for mischief and malfeasance often occur when expertise is siloed, fields intersect only at the margins, and when the gathered knowledge of small, expert groups doesn’t make its way into the larger body of practitioners who have important contributions to make.

Good starts have been made by biologists, security agencies, and governance experts. But these efforts have tended to be siloed, in either the biological and digital spheres of influence, classified and solely within the military, or exchanged only among a very small set of investigators.

What we need is more opportunities for integration between the two disciplines. We need to share information and experiences, classified and unclassified. We have tools among our digital and biological communities to identify and mitigate biological risks, and those to write and deploy secure computer systems.

I’m optimistic about the future of genetic engineering, but I still cringe when I see some ‘bio-hacker’ inject themselves with some home-brewed cocktail of gene fragments that they think will improve their genome, but is more likely to do nothing or make them sick. I get the same feeling when I see someone stick a flash drive into the USB port of some random public terminal. I hope they’re going to practice good data hygiene and quarantine that widget before they put it in their work computer! (They probably won’t.)