Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

The skeptic black hole

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

When Neil deGrasse Tyson spoke at N.C. State last month, he gave his usual riff on science literacy:

For me, science literacy is “what is your capacity to ask questions?”

Questions, they’re kind of an inoculation against people telling you stuff and having you believe whatever they say. That’s not science literacy.

When someone says “I have these crystals and if you rub them together you’ll be healed” and you say “oh yeah, great, gimmie!”

Ok? No, that’s not science literacy. But you know what else isn’t science literacy? Saying “that’s bunk, get it out of here.”

Each of those requires no thought, the rejection or the acceptance.

I thought of Tyson’s words today when I tangled online with some hard-core skeptics. The anger and derision shown by some skeptics reveals a surprising lack of balance. Many tend to shout down others who don’t share their opinion.

This is what drives me nuts about skeptics. It’s what Tyson has called “lazy brain,” dismissing something out of hand before one knows the facts. It is wrong for a believer to assume something without evidence, yet is equally wrong for a skeptic to assume something without evidence. Both require no critical thought. Both predispose a result. Both are blinded by their own bias.

True scientists follow the evidence wherever it leads them. True scientists accept experimental results if those experiments can be shown to be solid and reproducible. True scientists maintain open minds. “Prove it to me” is the mantra of a true scientist.

It seems to me that no matter what the issue, the louder one shouts is inversely proportional to the truth of one’s statements. If you maintain that you know all the answers, you don’t. That’s not called science, that’s called zealotry.

Security theater

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

In the early morning of April 20th, a 15-year-old kid named Yahya Abdi causally hopped a fence at San Jose International Airport and later climbed into the wheel well of a Boeing 767 bound for Hawaii. Miraculously, he survived the five hour trip at altitudes of subfreezing temperatures and thin air. Usually this doesn’t happen.

The press seems to have moved on but I can’t help thinking of the implications this incident has on air safety. This kid only wanted to see his mom in Somalia, but what if he had more sinister plans? What if the kid had left a backpack of explosives in the wheel well?

All the baggage screening, pat downs, and porno scanners are powerless against a kid leaping over the airport fence. Think about that.

Plane truths

Friday, April 18th, 2014
The Manhattan skyline appears in the windshield of a Vamoose bus.

The Manhattan skyline appears in the windshield of a Vamoose bus.

Last week I was booking a flight for my upcoming business trip to California when I discovered to my surprise that Southwest Airlines, long my airline of choice, offered fares twice as expensive as the lowest airfare. My company’s travel booking system actually wouldn’t let me book a Southwest flight because it was too expensive. I never thought I would ever get in trouble with my boss for booking Southwest, but it’s reached that point.

We’re on the road today to New York City by way of bus from DC. The bus is less than a year old, it’s quiet, clean, comfortable, and there are AC power outlets under each seat. Free WiFi, too, and we can make mobile calls anytime we want. I didn’t know what to expect when we began talking about a bus trip but I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

Putting these two ideas together, I mused to Kelly how perhaps these bus lines owe at least part of their renewed success to Southwest’s decision not to be the “bus of the skies” any more. Or perhaps travelers have simply gotten fed up with the unbelieveable hassle of air travel and have sought out more civilized means of travel.

Yes, I’d never thought I’d say it but traveling by bus may be more prefreable than travel by air. Are the high-flying days of air travel over?

Snapping up talent

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

I just heard that a certain open-source software company based in downtown Raleigh sometimes takes six months from when it gets a job applicant to actually hire that applicant. That’s crazy. How can a company think that a top job applicant has that kind of time to spend for a potential employer to get their act together? What makes a company think that an applicant is still going to be around six months later?

I spent three months between losing my job and getting a job offer and you know what? It sucked. It was three months of suck. When someone wants to make a move, they often don’t have the luxury of spending half a year for a potential employer to get going. I appreciate being thorough and making sure things are a good fit, of course, but six months is an insult to any job applicant.

I contrast this with my most recent job search, where the HR “talent acquisition team” always responded promptly to my questions and treated me as if I was important to them. That’s the way it should be done. Any company that doesn’t make a priority of hiring good people will soon find itself in trouble.

Nothing spotted by planes searching remote patch of Indian Ocean for missing Malaysian jet | CTV News

Friday, March 21st, 2014

The continuing search for signs of Malaysian flight MH370 remind us of two things: it’s a big ocean out there and there is plenty of debris in that ocean.

Search planes scoured a remote patch of the Indian Ocean but came back empty-handed Friday after a 10-hour mission looking for any sign of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, another disappointing day in one of the world’s biggest aviation mysteries.

Australian officials pledged to continue the search for two large objects spotted by a satellite earlier this week, which had raised hopes that the two-week hunt for the Boeing 777 that disappeared March 8 with 239 people on board was nearing a breakthrough.

But Australia’s acting prime minister, Warren Truss, tamped down expectations.

“Something that was floating on the sea that long ago may no longer be floating — it may have slipped to the bottom,” he said. “It’s also certain that any debris or other material would have moved a significant distance over that time, potentially hundreds of kilometres.”

via Nothing spotted by planes searching remote patch of Indian Ocean for missing Malaysian jet | CTV News.

McCrory thinks taxes stifle startups

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

Gov. McCrory just came back from Silicon Valley with supposed tips about how to foster startups.

Says the Governor:

“Our tax code is not conducive to the first-round investors for venture capital, for high-risk, first-round investors,” he says. “If they make an investment, they often move (the startup) to a no-tax state, with the profits. That means we lose that money and we lose that sweat equity. We want that money to be reinvested in North Carolina.”

Oh really? Venture capitalists are seriously going to uproot the founders of their investments and risk losing them just so they can save a few bucks on their taxes? I have been deeply involved in startups for over 20 years and I have never heard of this happening to a North Carolina startup.

Russia and Putin

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

I sure wish America could wag its finger at Russia’s Vladimir Putin and shame him into withdrawing his forces from Crimea (and, perhaps, Ukraine). Sadly, America has squandered any moral authority it once had regarding invading countries on the flimsiest of pretexts thanks to our misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus we are now faced with the biggest foreign affairs crisis in decades with few options.

The European Union is addicted to Russian fossil fuels and will stop short of angering Russia for fear of having these fuel supplies cut. That doesn’t leave the West with many diplomatic tools.

The only way to get Russia’s attention is through the pocketbook. Perhaps Putin’s own pocketbook would be a good place to start. I’ve long suspected the new Russia is owned lock, stock, and barrel by the Russian mafia. I believe Putin is thoroughly corrupt and has long been helping himself to Russian riches. I remember watching an Al Jazeera documentary that hinted at the massive wealth Putin has been quietly amassing during his presidency.
His wealth has been rumored to be in the tens of billions, with some claiming that he may be the world’s richest man. Putin’s massive new Black Sea residence, dubbed “Putin’s Palace,” belies the image Putin has cultivated of being a man of the people.

The world needs to treat Putin as the gangster he is, and target the sources (and locations) of his wealth. Perhaps there is still time to rescue the Russian people from having their country subjugated by mobsters like Putin.

Air Force nuke crew failings are worse than reported | The Salt Lake Tribune

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Knowing what I know about nuclear mishaps from reading Eric Schlosser’s book Command and Control, I find the lack of integrity of those entrusted with our nation’s nuclear force absolutely terrifying.

The Air Force initially called the overall March inspection outcome at Minot a "success," reflecting the fact that the 91st Missile Wing as a whole was rated "satisfactory." But after The Associated Press learned in May about the "marginal" performance in the missile operations sector of the inspection, the service disclosed that 19 officers had been forced to surrender their launch authority in April because of performance and attitude problems. That was an unprecedented mass sidelining of launch control officers, reflecting what the 91st’s deputy operations commander at the time, Lt. Col. Jay Folds, called "rot" in the force.

Until now, however, it was not publicly known that of 11 crews tested on a launch simulator for the inspection, three were rated Q3, or "unqualified," which the Air Force defines as demonstrating "an unacceptable level of safety, performance or knowledge." Five of the 11 earned a top rating and three got a second-tier rating.

via Air Force nuke crew failings are worse than reported | The Salt Lake Tribune.

Oakwood files bogus DMCA takedown notice

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

I sympathize with neighborhood listserver moderators. I know what they deal with, having moderated a handful of East Raleigh neighborhood lists for several years. It’s not easy keeping certain topics from exposing strong opinions and blowing up into a major snit. This is especially true with the listserver of a nearby neighborhood, Historic Oakwood, full of very passionate citizens.

Recently it came to light that someone was reposting snippets from this neighborhood’s listserver onto a Twitter called OakwoodListserv. The listserver moderator complained that the account violated the listserver’s terms of use and so the account should be removed. These terms, adopted in October 2013, prohibit reposting list content in other forums without the author’s permission.

These rules are prudent and understandable. Listserver moderators have the right to regulate what goes on on their lists and to expect list members to abide by certain standards. I get that because I’ve done it myself for years. I’ve regretfully had to kick certain members off my lists because they couldn’t behave.

It’s what I didn’t know until today that gives me pause. On March 4th, someone representing the neighborhood filed a DMCA complaint against the mocking Twitter account, claiming copyright infringement. Twitter subsequently deleted the account and there would be no trace of it today save for the DMCA abuse-tracking website Chilling Effects. Here’s the complaint as posted by Chilling Effects:


Putin’s real fear

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Russia has occupied the Ukrainian province of Crimea for over two weeks now. So far nothing’s seemingly able to stop Putin from taking over the whole country. Certainly the war-weary U.S. is not up for taking on yet another armed conflict, and the Ukrainian military is barely holding out.

As the sun soared over my head this afternoon, I realized the one thing that could pull the plug on Putin’s military adventures: the spread of renewable energy. Russia’s military, while formidable in comparison to Ukraine’s, is not Russia’s real strength. Russia’s real strength is the country’s economic might. As the largest supplier of oil and natural gas to Europe [PDF], Putin knows he can get away with just about anything. All it takes is for Putin to merely threaten to withhold these energy sales and the European Union will cave.

Don’t believe me? How else can you explain why a secret briefing document spotted in the hands of an advisor on the way into #10 Downing Street states that the UK will oppose economic sanctions on Russia for it’s Ukraine escapades? Not only are we not talking about a military response but even something as tame as economic sanctions are off the table.

But one thing can shift the advantage to the EU: renewable energy. If the EU invests in solar, wind, and hydro energy it could make natural gas an afterthought and sap Russia of much-needed funds. Renewable energy shifts power from giant energy companies like Gazprom to local control.

Energy independence is what keeps Vladimir Putin up at night because the energy card is really the only card he has to play.