30 May 2008

50 Sci-Fi "Classics"

For Christmas 2007, someone who shall remain nameless gave me a box set of 12 DVDs that contain 50 movies labeled Sci-Fi "Classics." The quotation marks in the title are very necessary due to the stunningly low quality of these films. I have attempted to watch several of them. With one possible exception, I concluded that they were all worthy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K).

For those who do not know, MST3K was a television series that feature a human and several robots trapped on a satellite and forced to watch bad movies. The human (Joel or Mike depending on the season) and two of the robots mock the movies as the view sees their silhouettes in front of the theater screen. Since the cancellation of MST3K, the creators and actors have launched several similar projects: The Film Crew, Cinematic Titanic, and RiffTrax.

I have done enough research to prove that my claim about these films is not hyperbole. Sixteen of them have been featured on MST3K or one of its progeny, as you can see in the table below.

Title Commentary
The Wasp Woman Cinematic Titanic (rumor)
First Space Ship on Venus MST3K #211
Gamera the Invincible MST3K #302
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians MST3K #321
Teenagers From Outer space MST3K #404
Hercules Unchained MST3K #408
Hercules Against the Moonmen MST3K #410
Hercules and the Captive Women MST3K #412
Crash of the Moons MST3K #417
Eegah MST3K #506
The Atomic Brain MST3K #518
The Amazing Transparent Man MST3K #623
The Phantom Planet MST3K #902
Horrors of Spider Island MST3K #1011
Killers From Space The Film Crew
The Wild Women Of Wongo The Film Crew

The remaining films are listed below. If the MST3K alumni need any suggestions for new films to redeem with their humor, here are 34.

Assignment: Outer Space
Attack of the Monsters
Battle Of the Worlds
Blood Tide
Bride Of The Gorilla
Colossus and the Amazon Queen
Cosmos: War of the Planets
Destroy All Planets
Devil of The Desert vs. Son Of Hercules
Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon
Kong Island
Laser Mission
Lost Jungle
Menace From Outer Space
Mesa of Lost Women
Moon of the Wolf
Phantom From Space
Planet Outlaws
Prehistoric Women
Queen of the Amazons
She Gods of Shark Reef
Son Of Hercules: The Land Of Darkness
The Astral Factor
The Brain Machine
The Galaxy Invader
The Incredible Petrified World
The Snow Creature
They Came From Beyond Space
Unknown World
Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women
Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet
Warning From Space
White Pongo
Zontar, The Thing From Venus

Death in Iraq and Flaws in the Human Brain

A friend of mine sent me an article recently that questions the reliability of some estimates of the number of civilians killed in the War in Iraq. Entitled "Body Counting," it appears in the April 2008 edition of The Atlantic Monthly. I have three quick responses.

  • As the author states, even if the death toll in Iraq is 150,000 rather than 600,000, it is still a high price. We must honestly asses our answers to some very difficult questions. Have the results been worth this mortal cost? Could better planning could have saved some of these people? Should the US have invaded at all?

  • I am often disappointed by the fallibility and insufficiency of the human brain. Our brains are prejudiced by irrelevant for false information. They let our emotions overpower our reason when facts contradict what we believe or want to believe, and we become emotionally entrenched in positions that should not be very emotionally stimulating. They are "terrible at dealing with uncertainty," which is critical to understanding the results of any scientific study. Given all of these flaws in our mental capacities, I am sometimes surprised we have managed to build this civilization.

  • Since no other adequate resource is available, all of the flaws of the human brain must have been discovered by people using their brains. We posses sufficient meta-cognition to understand the imperfections of our own brains and attempt to overcome them. This gives me hope. If we are aware of these imperfections, can discern when we are betrayed by them, and learn from these experiences, perhaps we can make better decisions. Perhaps we can do a better job with the next war.

18 May 2008

Environmental Weekend II: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

On the Saturday after Earth Day (Apr. 26), I volunteered for Free Geek Columbus at the "shop" as I usually do and spent an hour at their advertising booth at the Earth Day Festival at Goodale Park. While at the shop, I obtained a cable that allowed me to place the emphasis on the second "R" in the title of this entry.

One of my undergraduate textbooks from the University of Minnesota came with a 5.25" floppy disc, which was ludicrously outdated when I bough it in 2002. I have not seriously used these discs since grade school. However, I have often wondered what was on that disc, and when I found a TEAC FD-55GFR drive in a computer at Free Geek, I took it home.

However, I quickly discovered that the ribbon cable needed to connect the drive to the mother board had a different connector than the one already in my desktop. When I was in Free Geek on the 26th, I found the proper cable, which was probably the one I had removed from the drive when I originally extracted it from an old computer. I installed the cable and drive, as you can see in the photograph above. After a bit of frustration, I carefully read the instructions and realized I had to tell the computer's BIOS chip about this new drive. Once that was done, I was able to insert and read the old floppy with no problem.

The contents of the disc are a Read Me file that begins by instructing the user to make a backup copy of the disc and a series of programs, written in Pascal source code, that were intended as examples for the book.

With that mystery solved, I had time to contemplate the evolution of portable digital storage media since I was in grade school. The PDF version of the users guide for this drive, which I credit TEAC for still having online, uses 643 KB of memory, which is more than the 345 KB capacity of the disc! The black drive immediately above the 5.25" floppy drive is a DVD drive, and DVDs can hold more than 10,000 times as much data as this floppy.

In the second photograph, you can see a small black chip to the left of the floppy disc. It is a SanDisk 512 MB microSD card that I use in my mobile phone. It holds approximately 1520 times as much information as the floppy. Already, 8 GB microSD cards are already available, and their capacity just keeps growing.

13 May 2008

Busy Saturday (May 10)

Morning: I was a judge for the Outstanding Physics Project Award at the Ohio State Science Day.

We judged two age categories. I was a judge for grades 10 - 12, but most of the other judges examined the more numerous projects from grades 7 - 9.

At the 10-12 (high school) level, the winners were:

  1. Keith A, Hawkins, "Correlations between supermassive black holes and intergalactic light shed on galaxy collisions in compact clusters," Glen Oak HS, Canton
  2. Nathan J. Bryant, ".22 LR: Cost vs. precision," Xenia Christian HS, Xenia
  3. Mary L. Stuhldreher, "Does your timber have timbre? Finding the best wood for marimba bars," Wadsworth HS, Wadsworth
I was very impressed with all of these projects; they gave us renewed hope for the future of science in Ohio and America. Most notably, Mr. Hawkins is doing active astrophysical research with scientists at Ohio University. He seems to have a good start on his Ph.D. thesis, and he is still in high school!

Several of the projects were from Christian schools throughout Ohio, which I find encouraging. They were required to have a "Biblical Application" as part of their project. The most common applications I saw involved Biblical exhortations to be patient. As a fifth-year Ph.D. student, I can attest to patience being an important part of science. Mr. Bryant instead chose Matthew 7:16-19, which is about knowing false prophets by their "fruits." In this case, he was referring to ammunition manufacturers and the cost of their .22 Long Rifle shells. I had never considered this passage in that particular context before.

At the 7-9 (middle school) level:

  1. Benjamin M. Pifher, "Why winglets," Mechanicsburg HS, Mechanicsburg
  2. Lisa N. Guo, "How the magnetic field strength affects the speed of a motor," Solon HS, Solon
    (tie) Aarti Kumar, "Variables that affect natural battery output," Mason HS, Mason
  3. Elizabeth A. Bancroft, "Effects of temperature on tennis ball bounce," Lial School, Whitehouse

Early Afternoon: I drove to Target using a car from Zipcar. It was the first time I have every driven a hybrid. The experience was different from driving a car with only an internal combustion engine. Specifically, it was usually quieter, and the regenerative braking made the pedal feel spongier than plain disk breaks. At Target, I finally spent most of the gift card my sister gave me for Christmas.

Late Afternoon: I rode to the house of my friend and colleague Joe, who recently defended is Ph.D. To celebrate, he bought a large charcoal grill and invited us over for its inaugural Bar-B-Que. We had seven courses: appetizer, bratwurst, mettwurst, hot dogs, cheeseburgers, chicken, and chocolate cake. It was all good, and we were all very full.

Evening: The final event of the day was a birthday party for a friend. I arrived a little late with a stomach laden with BBQ. I gave him a birthday card that I had purchased at Target. We played a few games on their Nintedo Wii, which was a first for me. The motion sensing technology was quite good, but it required some adaptation. It also burned a few calories from the BBQ and birthday cupcakes.

09 May 2008

Selling Out

This is my latest response to Gore v. Science, at Echoes in Eternity. I have placed this on my blog because I have taken so long to respond that it is buried under many new posts by now. I know my response times are often not fast enough to compete in the blogosphere, but I hope I make up for my slowness with quality.

Close. I would say that the pro-AGW scientists AT THE FRONT LINES of this battle are guilty of what you said above (some incompetence, definitely fraud, or at least capitulation). MOST of the scientific community that still knows what it means to be a TRUE scientist (skepticism, etc.) at least are willing to admit that the evidence is not clear either way. It's merely a few loud obnoxious sell-outs, combined with power-hungry politicians, who are saying that debate is over.
While I concede that many scientists have their loud and obnoxious moments, that does not make them wrong any more that you would say Rush Limbaugh's do. Your accusations of fraud and selling out are much more serious, and I suspect they are more serious than you realize.

Outright fraud is among the worst (if not the worst) act a scientist can commit. Consider the case of Hwang Woo-Suk. He was a well-respected scientist and a national hero until his fraud was exposed. Now, he scientific reputation has been reduced to that of a bad example, and he is facing possible prison time. Science cannot function without honest and free exchange of information. A scientist can work for the Nazis, kill his own son, or be otherwise extremely unpleasant, and his or her reputation will still be better than that of a true fraud.

The seriousness of the crime and its consequences mean that scientific fraud is rare and that your accusation is equivalent to accusing your pastor of selling his soul to the Devil. To say that a large group of scientists has engaged in global fraud for decades is a grave accusation that requires equally powerful evidence.
What the data (and the subsequent disagreement among scientists) show is that we really don't know what caused the warming trend up until 2001 (since which we have not continued to warm, which has BLOWN the models out of the proverbial water). But since those models have been PROVEN to be so unreliable, we have to hazard a guess that the other hypotheses might indeed be more accurate (sun rays, natural cycling, etc.).
One of the articles you cite for the claims in this paragraph is from the New Statesman. Another article provides a blunt and effective correction.
As to the purpose of claiming that AGW is real, in the scientific community the reasoning is mostly different (yet related) than the political motives. As Dr. Gray and others have pointed out, it's a lot easier to get federal grants if you tell the politicians what they want to hear. Politically, yes, what you summarized above is pretty accurate; politicians like Gore want to consolidate power. Meanwhile, other politicians like McCain want to show that they are concerned over AGW, so they capitulate on the issue.
Contrary to your accusations, some scientists are so determined to collect accurate and comprehensive data on Earth's past and present climate that the have risked their lives in pursuit of that data. I find it unlikely that Prof. Lonnie Thompson would risk falling to his death off of a glacier to perpetuate a fraud when he could sit in his office collecting $10,000 per paper for proclaiming what you claim is the truth.

If scientists are selling out, to whom are the selling at and what price? All of the contributors to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report were volunteers! They did not make any extra money for their contributions. In general, this accusation does not make sense because scientists usually do not enter research for the money. I realize that I could make much more money with an MBA than I will with a Ph.D. in physics. This seems a rather low price for selling out, especially given how much various think tanks and the petroleum industry are willing to pay for a prominent scientist who refutes global warming. You should be well aware of the disposable income available to petroleum companies because I doubt you have ever worked on an oil stadium named after the IPCC.

08 May 2008

Last Chance to see Luke in concert at Ohio State!

You are invited to a concert featuring:

  • The University Band (with Luke on Tuba and Kelly on Clarinet)
  • The Collegiate Winds
May 20, 2008, 8:00 PM Weigel Auditorium

The U Band half of the concert will include

  • "Esprit de Corps"
  • "Variations on a Korean Folk Song (Arirang)" by John Barnes Chance
  • "Toledo"
  • "As Summer Was Just Beginning (Song for James Dean)" by Larry Daehn

Ticket Prices:

  • $6 general public, senior citizens, OSU faculty, staff, students;
  • Free for OSU School of Music faculty, staff, students with ID.
I hope to see you there.

07 May 2008

01 May 2008

Environmental Weekend III: Hansen, DeWitt, Gore

  • James Hansen of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies will give two lectures today (May 1)
  • I helped organize a Creation Care Symposium featuring Cal DeWitt that is sponsored by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and the OSU College of the Arts and Sciences on Saturday (May 3)
  • Al Gore will be speaking at the Schottenstein Center on Sunday (May 4)

I apologize for the "Environmental Weekend" entries being out of order.

Environmental Weekend I: Walkability Study

On Saturday, April 19, 2008, I participated in a walking tour of my neighborhood, Weinland Park. The purpose of this tour was to document how the physical environment of the neighborhood encouraged or discouraged people from walking or bicycling. I was very grateful for the opportunity to combine my desire to care for creation with my desire to be a caring and contributing citizen of Weinland Park.

We documented cracked or crumbling sidewalks, poorly placed utility poles, jaywalkers, metal subs where signs one were, and two community gardens. As I understand, the final product of this and similar walks will be a report to the Columbus city government on how the "walkability" of Weinland Park can be improved.

One of the participants on this tour was a little boy who became quickly attached to me. This provided much amusement for fellow walkers when my inexperience carrying small children quickly became obvious. After a few position changes and sore arms, I decided to carry him on my shoulders, where he remained for most of the walk, as you can see below.