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Topics - Sawyer

Books / Favorites Books of 2023
December 14, 2023, 11:17:50 PM
I haven't been contributing much to our review thread so I'll throw all the good stuff in here.  Any must-read books you've discovered in the past year?  Here's most of my 5 star picks from the last 12 months:

Sawyer's Terrifying Tour of Post-Reconstruction America
Freedom's Dominion - Jefferson Cowie
Wilmington's Lie - David Zucchino
How the Word is Passed - Clint Smith

New-To-Me Fiction Authors
The Doll Master - Joyce Carol Oates
Kafka on the Shore - Haruki Marukami
All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr
Gentleman in Moscow - Amor Towles
The House of the Spirits - Isabel Allende

Old Favorite Authors
Great Bridge - David McCullough
The Big Myth - Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway
Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut

Honorable mention to Sound and the Fury, which went from being perhaps the worst book I've ever read to extremely entertaining by the Jason chapter.  Would have been my favorite fictional asshole of the year until reading Allende.   :cool:

And the Towles book has tricked me into reading Tolstoy over the holidays.  Nobody ever took me up on my challenge to lose their mind reading Reconstruction books with me, so here's a 2nd opportunity.  Just a mere 1200 pages of War and Peace ...
Quote from: arthwollipot on June 12, 2023, 08:16:34 PM[MOD]This is a good time to remind everybody of the Forum Rules. I would particularly like to draw your attention to the sections titled Conduct and Forum Disruption and Verbal Abuse.

You agreed to abide by these rules when you signed up. Please take the time to re-familiarise yourself with them now.[/MOD]

I'm sorry this gets put on you as a new mod Arth, but how the f are we supposed to response to posts like that then?  Ricky did an absolute weasel move here in implying that the only issue at stake is some sort of neutral "regulation of medication for children".  He either KNOWS that there's been a massive upswell in anti-trans sentiments in the UK over the past few years and that this moral panic has had a measurable influence over NHS policies - in which case it's a LIE to frame it as a purely objective and ethically robust medical decision, or he does NOT know that blatant transphobia has been rising in the UK - in which case he has the media literacy of a 7 year old.  There is literally no way to respond to posts like his that aren't insulting to him in some capacity, either morally or intellectually.  I spent about 10 minutes just trying to figure out how to word that second option so it wouldn't break the rules and I clearly still failed. :/

If playing nice actually worked in situations like this, the "cheerier" members of this forum would have threads like this wrapped up in 3 pages.  If you need to give people warnings because rules are rules, then okay ... but let's be clear that this isn't going to fix a damn thing.
Books / Favorite Books of 2022
December 21, 2022, 08:48:03 PM
Yup, I'm doing another one of these self-indulgent threads.  It's either that or bump our "forced diversity" thread just to piss certain people off.   8)

Mayocide When? American History and Social Justice
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabella Wilkerson
Allow Me to Retort by Elie Mystal
The Cruelty is the Point by Adam Serwer
And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts
Reconstruction by Eric Foner

Other Nonfiction
Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes by Stephen Jay Gould
The Power Broker by Robert Caro
Illness as Metaphor by Susan Sontag

Sci Fi/Fantasy
The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
final run of Discworld books, Wintersmith to Shepherd's Crown  :'(

And none of them would make the cut as my favorites, but I'm glad I finally dipped my toe into "cli fi" this year.  Everyone should just read the first chapter of Ministry for the Future.
Books / New Podcast - If Books Could Kill
November 04, 2022, 12:51:03 PM
Michael Hobbes (the person whose Twitter feed I cite here ten times a week)

The Law Boy (aka Peter from 5-4)

An hour dunking on crappy books that in some cases were reviled by the skeptic community, and in other cases probably embarrassingly adored.

First episode is about Freakonomics.  It has graced the lower corner of my bookshelf long after I kicked out the Gladwells, but ...  wow, you couldn't ask for a better blueprint for how to be a shoddy intellectual.  I'm very curious why the publishing industry couldn't crank out a dozen GOOD versions of this kind of book in the mid aughts, because it doesn't seem like it would have been all that difficult.  I also can't stop thinking about how this book let the one right-wing guy I knew in college paint himself as politically independent, just because he believed every word of the completely bullshit abortion chapter.
I've made no secret that I now find most of our COVID threads utterly exhausting because of the armchair expertise on display.  Practically everyone involved has just enough basic biology knowledge to sound reasonable, but no one actually has the credentials to give reliable answers about the more complicated aspects of COVID.  I was curious what another skeptic community might look like so I wondered over to IS forums and ... hoo boy.  They have a couple full-fledged quacks who are flirting with some of the dumbest COVID conspiracies possible.  And it really does seem like they deliberately pick out arguments that they know will fail, just to aggravate other forum members.

So who is more frustrating to deal with - the quacks, or the moderately competent people who oversell their expertise?  The one very clear upside having a handful of kooks around is that it does appear to instill a bit of comradery among everyone.  I don't want to recruit some anti-vaxxer just to dogpile on them, but I do wonder if we had one around here they'd absorb some of the acrimony.
Books / Favorite Books of 2021
December 26, 2021, 06:26:28 PM
Post your favorite books, new or old, from year two of the 'rona.

Before the Storm, Nixonland, Invisible Bridge, and Reaganland by Rick Perlstein.  Forget Marvel movies, this is my MCU.  The .... Megalomaniacal Conservative Universe.  All must-read books to understand the current state of US politics.  I suggest starting with Nixon instead of Goldwater.

Autobiography of Malcolm X - Maybe we should leap frog the phony debate about CRT and see how uptight parents respond when little Susie brings this home from school?

Toms River by Dan Fagin - An okay book as a pure scientific exploration of industrial pollution, but mostly worth reading because of how it exposes the *limits* of careful, scientific skepticism when going up against both giant corporations and economically struggling small towns.

The Plague Year by Lawrence Wright - Almost certainly better than any of the other cash-grab anti-Trump books.  I have yet to go wrong with Wright.   ;)

The other two new politics books I read were Kill Switch and Supreme Inequality.  Good primers on the US Senate and Supreme Court, but I feel like I got way better mileage from my lefty podcasts on those subjects.

This Is How You Lose the Time War - Hard to top my sci-fi pics from last year, but this comes close.

The Only Good Indians

pretty solid Discworld streak, peaking with Going Postal


Meant to get to the new Lindsay Ellis book this year so that's on the docket for January.  Also got Adam Serwer's new book and the Spencer Ackerman book on 9/11 for Christmas, which I'll look at after a breather from US politics.  Here's to eternal COVID helping me remain anti-social in 2022 and keep reading.  8)
Just watched a great Rebecca Watson video about this.  I don't think that much has changed about the underlying science on false vs. recovered memories, but apparently the legal fights around this issue are way messier than most of us here would like to admit.  The False Memory Syndrome Foundation, which is strongly associated with Elizabeth Loftus and generally considered the "good guys" in the whole Satanic Panic era ... well maybe they aren't always the champions of justice we'd like them to be.

I think several years ago I cautioned people here that they should maybe think twice before automatically imposing the model of 1980s SRA/false memory stories onto any of the trickier cases of the #MeToo movement.  I stand by that recommendation; there doesn't seem to be any "pure" skeptical take on this issue, because either the creeps or the con artists are going to use you as their shield.
Books / Favorite Books of 2020
December 17, 2020, 11:45:58 AM
After being cooped up most of the year from the pandemic, ya'll better have some good book recommendations.

Three Body Problem and its sequels are hands down the best thing I read all year.  My favorite science fiction series since reading Dune.

Reamde is one of the better Neal Stephenson doorstops, although it makes me wonder if I should start just reading trashy thriller novels.

After a weak start my Discworld selections for the year ended strong with both The Fifth Elephant and The Truth.

Came up a bit short in the nonfiction category, although there are numerous authors I discovered through eye-opening interviews that sufficiently summarize their work.  Both P.E. Moskowitz and Corey Robin showed up on some of my favorite On the Media segments this year, along with Vincent Bevins on some of my explicitly lefty podcasts.  It's hard to call any of their books enjoyable, but they should be required reading for any of our skeptical friends getting sucked into certain ideological rabbit holes.  Despite the intimidating title, The Case Against Free Speech is probably the easiest one to absorb.
Figured we could have a thread for this.  If your brain is beginning to atrophy from isolation and watching the same youtube playlist 20 times, might I suggest taking some free courses on infectious diseases, viruses, or other related subjects?

I found this today and figure I'll watch the lectures:

Fighting COVID-19 with Epidemiology: A Johns Hopkins Teach-Out

I've taken a couple medical courses from Coursera of varying quality, if I can find some of the better ones I'll post them here.  Not sure how many are free but you can usually watch the videos regardless.

I mean Thomas the Tank Engine is one thing, but does ^ this thing even have a gender?  Are we comfortable with all the trains propaganda that our kids our exposed to?  I've seen LITERAL GUIDEBOOKS on how to convince kids that trains are more environmentally and economically efficient than automobiles.  How are car manufacturers going to survive this onslaught of perversion?

For real though, let's slowly kill off automobile companies and build more trains.  Maybe people more knowledgeable than me can turn this thread into productive discussion about train tech.   ;)
Books / Who is Your Favorite/Most Read Author?
December 24, 2019, 10:24:19 AM
I'm bored over Christmas.  Someone post a terrible answer like Orson Scott Card so we can get drum up more drama in this section of the forum.   >:D

Anyway I started another massive Stephenson tome and was curious who my most read authors were.  Extracting data from Goodreads (they used to have a most read authors option but unfortunately it has disappeared) it looks like I've read 8 books and ~6700 pages by Neal Stephenson.  Terry Pratchett is close behind with a similar page count spread out over 20 books.  For non-fiction I've read 7 Stephen Jay Gould books and ~2600 pages, and I think at this point he qualifies as my favorite science writer.  The whole LBJ series by Robert Caro is 3300 pages, but I'd guess like 700 of those are probably footnotes.

Obviously you don't have to post hard data here on your reading stats, I'm just curious if there are any die-hard devotees of particular authors.
Michael Chabon has a very touching piece in this week's New Yorker about his relationship with Star Trek and a dying father.  If you're unfamiliar the original series I don't know how much will resonate, but there's is a giant kick in the feels towards the end for anyone that has seen the episode "Devil in the Dark".

My exposure to the story of the Horta comes from the SGU podcast itself - I recall Jay in particular, wistfully talking about the shock of suddenly feeling empathy for an otherwise disgusting creature.  I also couldn't help connecting Chabon's story of his father's love for Star Trek with the in memoriam segment they did after Joe Novella died.  I wouldn't feel comfortable forwarding this to the Novellas out of the blue, but if anyone here has close contact with them and feels like it's up their alley, feel free to send them a link.

(I'm also a sucker for Michael Chabon's writing, so that may be why I liked this even as a Star Trek novice)
Since my review of Mismeasure of Man failed to bait any of our lurking race realists, maybe this will do the trick.

I haven't listened to Point of Inquiry in ages but was thrilled to see that this week they are reviewing a new book on the unsettling legacy of race science.  I'm fascinated by this topic, particularly in how some supposed paragons of skepticism and rationality can completely fall for it, so I'm excited to see an updated take on how racist crackpots have fared in the information age.  The author, Angela Saini, has another book about sexism and science that might be work checking out as well.  If anyone has read either of them I'd love to see your thoughts.  I'm finishing up my third book in a row about racism so I doubt I'll get around to this one until winter.

Oh and big surprise - I see several excessively negative reviews magically make it to the top of the Amazon page.  Surely that is the result of a fair, democratic, and rigorous assessment of the book, and not the consequence of internet edgelords reflexively review bombing the book.  /s
I will not rehash all of the reasons why I'm asking this question because it will simply take too long and be filled with profanity.  The short version is that iTunes seems to go to incredible lengths to delete old paywalled podcasts off my hard drive, and just generally has an awful user interface for a company that has spent literally billions of dollars on overall software design.  Some of this is probably a function of planned obsolesce for their own products (and certainly to cause more headaches for Microsoft devotees like myself), but I'm curious if they have any sort of financial agreements with premium Podcast/Audio Streaming companies.  I have never heard anything good about Stitcher, but since Apple actively deletes old content I may have to eventually give in and subscribe to listen to any of my favorite Earwolf shows.

I have no real morale leg to stand on here - if companies feel the need to paywall older content in order to produce new stuff there's no reason why I should get to keep listening to it just because I was savvy enough to download it years ago.  It just seems like Apple is an active participant in this process, despite the fact that they drive people off to *other* services.  I don't understand why this happens without them getting something in return.

Books / Favorites of 2018
December 06, 2018, 08:38:15 PM
Started a book that I won't finish until January, so I think that means it's time for another favorites list. 

Golem and Jinni by Helene Wecker
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Wyrd Sisters and Moving Pictures were my favorite Discworld novels so far, out of 1-12.

General Non-Fiction
Annals of the Former World by John McPhee
Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
a few really good essays in The Flamingo's Smile by Stephen Jay Gould

Aneurysm-Inducing Books on Politics and Current Events
The Burger Court and the Rise of the Judicial Right by Michael Graetz and Linda Greenhouse
One Person, No Vote by Carol Anderson
Crash Overdrive by Zoe Quinn

And an honorable mention to Sean Carroll, Terry Pratchett, and Neal Stephenson, who along with Jonathan Blow almost broke the part of my brain that understands time and causality last March.
I put this in General rather than Politics because I'm interested it on a psychological level.  Why do some people that immigrate to the United States and had a terrible uphill battle making it in this country want to extend those hardships to the next generation of immigrants?  Is it just spite?

For context, I was talking with a rather conservative uncle yesterday and he was droning on about all of the "wonderful" people he met on vacation in Florida.  One of them was an Italian American who came here in the 50s or 60s, struggled in school initially because of language and culture barriers, but eventually had a very successful career.  Rather than feeling empathy or understanding for the current generation of American immigrants, he apparently is completely fed up with them ruining our country.  My uncle insisted that this man's anger was squarely aimed at illegal immigrants, but I'm having trouble believing someone raving about the dangers of ESL classes is basing their values purely on a rational distinction between legal and illegal immigrants.

Setting aside the selection bias aspect (ie wealthy people are utterly convinced that their success story is typical), why do people that came here a generation ago want to create *more* hardships for this generation of immigrants?  They are not in the same labor pool anymore.  What is truly really bizarre is that this sentiment seems to be more common among ethnicities (Irish, Italian, Polish) that should still have enough cultural memory of what it's like to be the least desired immigrants in the country.  I think there's clearly some denial of the 50s postwar boom involved here as well, but I'd like this to not just be a F*$# Boomers thread.

Somewhere in the bitching thread I shared a similar story about an Irish guy I overheard at a restaurant insisting to his children that Middle Easterners were bad and his ancestors were "good immigrants" because they weren't coming from a time and place "beset with violence and crime".  I'm not interested in plumbing those depths of self-delusion.
Books / Russian Literature - Yea or Nay?
May 12, 2018, 03:43:34 PM
So I somehow came across the musical Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet* recently, which is based on part of the book War and Peace.  I was intrigued by the bits of the story I could piece together, and thought maybe I should finally buckle down and try some Russian literature.  Then I discovered War and Peace was not merely a 700 page behemoth of a book, but is nearly twice that size.  Should I put myself through a summer of pain?  Are there other Russian authors I should try instead before tackling Tolstoy? 

I have a few other torturous books on my reading list I should get input about, but I'll just stick with this question for now.

*Clearly it was not a result of a butterflies-in-the-stomach schoolboy crush on Phillipa Soo.
Books / Favorites of 2017
December 24, 2017, 01:11:31 PM
New-ish books
March Graphic Novels - John Lewis
The Sellout - Paul Beatty
Norse Mythology - Neil Gaiman
We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy - Ta-nehisi Coates

Other Stuff
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay - Michael Chabon
The Song Of The Dodo: Island Biogeography In An Age Of Extinctions - David Quammen
Discworld 1-5 - Terry Pratchett

Most Evil Character Encountered
Lewis Strauss and his sick vendetta against Oppenheimer in American Prometheus by Kai Bird

My mission to read more books by women failed miserable this year, but I managed to inject a little more diversity into my reading list.
Games / What Games Have You "100%-ed" ?
December 21, 2017, 10:39:14 AM
Browsing Steam this morning waiting for the winter sale to start, and decided to glance through my achievement checklist.  What games have people here gotten all the Steam/X-Box/PS Achievements on?  For games that don't have official achievements/badges, are there games where you can beat the "ultra hard mode", or have discovered every single secret?

100% Steam Achievements
Half-Life 2 / Episode 1 / Episode 2 (although some of them got reset)
Spelunky (thank god there's no eggplant achiement)
The Witness (a whopping 2 achievements, found maybe half of the environmental puzzles)

Portal 2 (single player achievements only)
DOOM 2016 (single player achievements only, have barely make it through the foundry on ultra-nightmare)

Pre-Achievement Games Mastered
Lemmings - I beat all 120 levels by age 11?  Probably still have solutions memorized for almost every level
Might and Magic IV/V - World of Xeen quest completed, Megadragon dead, Dungeon of Death, etc.
I want to say I've done every quest/dungeon in Oblivion, but that's probably not true.
I've done solo Hell runs in Diablo 2 with at least a 20 different character types.  At least one for each class before respec was introduced?

For someone with no life, this list turned out shorter than I expected.   :'(
This video was a science pick from This Week in Virology.  Several girls turn "My Shot" from Hamilton into a rap about vaccinating your children.  Some of the lyrics line up really well, and I can't believe they manage to cram in stuff about memory B cells and macrophages without losing the beat.  I do feel a little guilty laughing at the fact a little girl in a French beret somehow looks like a leukemia patient.   :-\

This may belong in politics but I thought I'd post it here, considering where I read about it:

I'm unfamiliar with research on the broader effects of drugs like this one on curbing the opiate epidemic, but the rule of thumb seems to be any properly managed resources and compassion given to addicts helps them in the long run.  I'm doubtful if there's a single heroin addict in the country shooting up because they know they will be "bailed out" by a medical professional when things go wrong.

And know I should be more annoyed at the police force, but glutton for punishment that I am, I had to look at the comments on the local Ohio new website .....

People that leave comments on local news sites are perhaps the worst people on the planet. >:(
Tech Talk / Google/Facebook/Amazon/ISP in Cahoots?
June 08, 2017, 05:38:50 PM
Several times when I've been at my parents house, I've logged into facebook on my laptop and seen an advertisement for a product I have zero interest in.  I've later realized it was an item that my mother googled and purchased* on her desktop computer.  How exactly is this data being tracked, and how does it end up influencing ads on my computer?  The simplest explanation is that Google tracks IP addresses and visits to Amazon or other stores, and repeats google ads on the same IP address for several days.  I'm curious if this requires cooperation from either the ISP or Amazon though.  I'm also curious how many young children now see their surprise Christmas presents popping up on their own computer, or better yet, ads for the sex toys their parents purchased.   >:D

*In what I hope is a creepy coincidence, the most recent example was an ad for charcoal chimney starter that my family did NOT purchase online, but was instead purchased at Ace Hardware (with cash) after googling.  Facebook reported "so and so (not a family member) likes Ace Hardware", with a picture of a charcoal chimney starter beneath it.  Glad I don't suffer from any kind of clinical paranoia, because this would have completely broken my brain.
Books / Feel-Good Graphic Novel of the Year ...
March 07, 2017, 10:41:16 PM
... or not.

Someone decided to make a graphic novel based on the US Senate 2014 report on torture.  I had a hard enough time making it through the March graphic novels that featured civil rights leaders getting their faces bashed in, so I'm not sure I'll want to put myself through these.  Interesting idea though.
It should go without saying that this question is 100% inspired by the recent US presidential election.

Last summer I finally took the step of unfriending someone on facebook who was a rabid Donald Trump supporter, something I've never done before.  My motivation was not to isolate myself from the world of alt-right politics, nor to punish a friend for his supposed indiscretions, but simply that it was too exhausting to see him posting hateful bullshit every single day.  I'm not even that active with social media to begin with but I feel awful unfriending someone, mainly because I perceive that they are probably not that socially adept to begin with, and might even have some mental health issues exacerbating their current situation (that might be my own unfair characterization of a Trump supporter though).

Anyway I still have a handful of friends that post bullshit from Brietbart way too often, and I'm debating whether to cut them loose as well.  The thing is I want to have a *tiny* window into their world and political outlook.  I just can't deal with it on a daily basis.  When is it appropriate to pull the plug on a friend?  Do you use different criteria if it's someone close compared to some random jackass that happened to go to your high school?

Books / Favorites of 2016
December 24, 2016, 10:53:34 AM
Looked through my Goodreads record for the previous year and decide to post my 5 star books here.

Better Angels of Our Nature      Steven Pinker
Master of the Senate (and the whole LBJ series)       Robert Caro
Eight Little Piggies      Stephen Jay Gould
Ratf**ked        David Daley
The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets     Simon Singh
Gene       Siddhartha Mukherjee      (still reading but very strong so far)

Heretics of Dune (and other odd # Dune books)       Frank Herbert
Seveneves       Neal Stephenson
The Comedians     Graham Greene

Graphic Novel-ish
Thing Explainer       Randall Munroe
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage     Sydney Padua
Most of the Saga Series      Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Read lots of solid non-fiction books published within the last two years that didn't quite make the cut - Pandemic, Lab Girl, Pacific, Grunt, Between the World and Me.

Anyone else have "must read" recommendations from the last year?

Browsing reddit this morning I stumbled across a wishy-washy article on the placebo effect.  Even if the research is top-notch the general conclusion that it supports - that "the" placebo effect is a single, quantifiable, physiological effect that can be flipped on and off in the brain - is almost certainly incorrect.  The folks at ScienceBasedMedicine have written a lot about this and I don't understand why the medical community does such an awful job talking about the complications with measuring placebos.

Article in question:

Plenty of scrutiny in the comments, but none of it is really focused at the central idea behind a single placebo effect.

It seems like even if even if anti-vaxxers and the worst of alternative medicine loses traction in the public's eye, there are still really awful ideas in medicine that are going to be adopted regardless of how hard we push back.  This leads me to wonder what battles the skeptical community is going to ultimately lose, or suffer a constant stalemate.

I have a pretty big mental list already but I'll see if others have input before posting it.
Normally I don't pay much attention to the ongoing controversies with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome diagnosis or treatment, but this one was next level bonkers.  Apparently the "PACE" trial for CFS, which a lot of doctors are using to justify normal exercise and CBT therapy as standard treatment for CFS, is complete garbage.  If you want to hear a story of exactly how to NOT design a clinical trial in medicine, I highly recommend reading up on how the researchers defined inclusion criteria and successful treatment.  The Lancet has also got wrapped up in this controversy by stalling on retracting/forcing a thorough review of the paper.  I heard about this on an episode of TWiV but I assume there are other outlets that have covered it at this point.

For those that don't want to listen to an hour long podcast, the main takeaway is that someone did a study where the starting points and endpoints for patients were basically equal, so you could have CFS, show zero improvement, and be counted as a "success".  This has fed the narrative that CFS is relatively easy to overcome and is largely psychosomatic, whereas other research has shown it is clearly a genuine physical ailment.  I've thought for years that the whole CFS/ME problem was overblown, but I'm now very uncomfortable to see how awful the research supporting that position is when you take a closer look.
If anyone has two hours to kill and wants to hear a really good explanation of the role of failure in driving scientific discovery, I highly recommend checking out this TWiV episode from a few weeks ago:

I have no clue if either of Stuart Firestein's books are any good, but I really enjoyed hearing this behind-the-scenes look about how science is performed, funded, peer-reviewed, and frequently misrepresented in the halls of academia. It's really sad how far someone can go in their science education before finding out how messy and unreliable scientific experiments are in the real world, and scientists are doing both themselves and the public a disservice by promoting the image of a genius scientist that is always successful.  I also really liked the discussion about the latest replication "crisis" that has been making the rounds, and how it's being blown out of proportion by people that should know better.  Some good points about the value of philosophy as well.

Don't worry, very little virus talk in this episode if that's not your cup of tea.
Thanks to library book sales, I've been nabbing really cheap literature for the last few years.  This has helped me build an extensive library without hitting my pocketbook ... until now. I ran out of shelf space a month ago.  Rather than finally bite the bullet and buy a Kindle/Nook, I headed off to the hardware store and blew $55 on lumber, stain, and polyurethane.  And after about 6 hours of labor (I'm a slow carpenter) I now have a pretty new bookshelf!  Here it is unstocked, and with most of my science and sci fi books:

Unfortunately I also discovered how much basic engineering knowledge I've lost.  I forgot that tall structures are not as stable on soft carpet as they are on a concrete floor, and since I used full 1x10s on the back instead of thin plywood it easily tips backwards with a slight push.  If I'd stopped and thought about where the center of gravity was I would have seen this immediately.  Definitely not safe during an earthquake.  I now feel like I need to make another shelf just to overcome this minor mistake, thus wasting even more money and fossil fuels.

I know I should stop murdering trees and get a Kindle, but then how will I decorate my room to let everyone know I'm a pretentious nerd? 
If anyone here has read Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life, this course is right up your alley:

Looks like the course load is pretty light so I thought I'd sign up.  Should be a nice insight into the beginning of our chordate cousins.  As usual it's free unless you want to shell out for a shiny certificate.
Books / American Gods TV Show?
March 02, 2016, 06:07:41 PM
I guess this has been in development for a while, but I just heard about it today:

I hope they manage to stick to the original storyline, but I wouldn't be opposed to Wednesday buying a bar and berating newer gods for being dirt-worshipping, hoople-head cocksuckers.   :laugh:
Podcasts / New Presidential History Podcast
January 18, 2016, 05:45:17 PM
I probably should listen to an episode before giving it my stamp of approval, but I came across an interesting podcast about American Presidents:

I always like hearing David McCullough talk and I see he's on the John Adams episode for obvious reasons.  Bob Woodward is on the first episode.  One week per president, which will obviously culminate in a celebratory Donald J Trump episode on November 6 2016.   ;D
Books / What's On Your 2016 "Must Read" List?
January 07, 2016, 09:02:05 PM
Wasn't much activity on last year's book tracking thread so I'll forgo making one for now.  Instead, I'm curious if there are any "must read" books at the top of my fellow skeptic's reading lists. 

What's on my list-
- assuming hell freezes over and pigs fly, The Winds of Winter by George R. R. Martin
- Thing Explainer  by Randall Munroe
- Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
- Pacific  by Simon Winchester
- finishing the last 2 books in the Dune series (Frank Herbert only)
- finishing the last 2 books in Robert Caro's giant biography of Lyndon Johnson
- either The American Plague by Molly Crosby or The Great Influenza by John Barry .... or something similar if another infectious disease strikes my fancy
- finally making a dent in the dozen WW2 books on my bookshelf I can stop merely pretending know something about WW2
- I seem to always fit a book of Stephen Jay Gould essays in at some point

I tried browsing Amazon looking for new releases and all I found was adult coloring books.  Goodreads various 2016 anticipation lists are all trashy romance.  #Americaisfucked
So this problem has been bouncing around in my brain for a while and I thought I'd seek input.  How exactly are future historians going to do research on things happening within the 21st century? 

The electronic age is supposedly increasing the knowledge base we have accessible to us by leaps and bounds.  Think about what is NOT accessible though.  One of the primary sources that you run into whenever reading a biography or history book is personal diaries.  These are particularly important when studying public figures like politicians, whose speeches and policies do not necessarily reflect their true feelings and beliefs.  Private diaries have long been used as a sort of seer stone to decipher all of the noise and half-truths about events of the past.  Is there a modern version of this?  Are historians going to have to compare someone tweets, private facebook messages, and selfies to figure out the "real" person, and the "true" or "important" events of their life?

I'm not even talking about how exactly modern electronic records are going to be maintained and organized in the future, which is a topic worthy of its own discussion.  I'm more interested in how the traditional categories - primary versus secondary sources, private versus public, mass media versus specialty publication - will evolve and inform our supposed knowledge of the past.  Will people ever be able to write the "definitive" history of a person or event, or will it all turn into a big murky mass of conflicting information?
Browsing Coursera today and I thought I'd post some potential classes SGU fans might find interesting.  I still have no clue how many people take this stuff seriously if it's on your resume, but a lot of the offerings are fun just to take for general knowledge. 

Medical Neuroscience (Duke)

Our Earth: Its Climate, History, and Processes (U of Manchester)

Introduction to Philosophy (U of Edingurgh)

Gorebull Warming Science (MIT)

Introduction to Probability - The Science of Uncertainty (MIT)

I'm taking part 2 of an immunology course starting in a couple weeks.  Don't know if it's doable without part 1 but someone can always take it with me so we'll both be confused together.
Podcasts / New Evolution Podcast
December 21, 2015, 02:38:58 PM

I haven't listened yet so I can't vouch for the quality, but all of the other biology podcasts by Vincent Racaniello are top notch.  Unlike a lot of science news programs that give an oversimplified version of the topic at hand, he usually will go into the literature in depth and discuss the underlying mechanisms at play.  Should be interesting to see who they get as guests.
Saw this on r/skeptic:

Scientific American is apparently now giving pseudo-intellectual Matt Ridley a platform to spread his dismissive attitudes about modern climate science.  I suppose some editor noticed citation to the IPCC and naively assumed that Ridley's opinion was backed by real science, but this is just inexcusable for a magazine that claims to be on the forefront of scientific reporting.  I hope there's a huge "WE F*%#ED UP LAST ISSUE" next week.

If there is someone that can offer a valid criticism of "worst case scenario" predictions of climate science I'd be happy to see it in Scientific American.  Ridley is not that person though.

So I ran across a post about this on reddit, and my gut reaction (along with a back of the envelope calculation) told me that it was BS.  However, upon further review it looks like their may be some valid points in this paper.

My first piece of advice is don't even bother reading the WSJ article.  Just click on the original paper and look at their Table 1.  There's a weird thing that happens when examining probabilities with small data sets, that apparently previous examinations of the Hot Hands phenomena didn't account for.  When this is corrected for, it looks like there may be a real signal within what was previously considered noise.

This doesn't resolve the debate by any means, especially since it's only showing that players with supposed hot hands would only be shooting equal to their overall averages, rather than regressing to the mean.  The question of how to measure streaks may never be answered objectively.

Better explanation of what's going on:

If you want to feel better about your own intelligence, read the WSJ comments though.  They are the equivalent of their comments on political articles.
Podcasts / Good "Hard Science" Podcasts?
August 15, 2015, 01:22:43 PM
I'm curious if SGU fans have any favorite hard science podcasts.  I don't mean "hard" in the normal scientific sense, ie physics and chemistry versus psychology and anthropology, but in the more general sense of being challenging and in-depth.  I've found that a lot of my favorite popular science books and podcasts tend to cut short discussions right at the point where I start getting really engaged.  The two biggest offenders on my subscription list are Science Friday and Radiolab, but almost every skeptical podcast I listen to falls into this trap from time to time.  I've discovered that having your ignorance revealed from time to time ultimately makes the world science more interesting.

Any recommendations?  I particularly like This Week in Virology and its spinoff podcasts because they tend to venture a few steps beyond my level of knowledge.  I also listen to Mark Crislip's podcasts from time to time but they are a bit too technical for a casual listener.
Books / "Quantum Biology"? Is this book legit?
August 07, 2015, 06:11:22 PM
I noticed this book on Amazon's editor recommendations for this month, and the title sticks out like a sore thumb:

I'm not in the mood to investigate this right now but I've seen this book pop up in several different places.  Is this a serious science book, or some washed up has-beens trying to cash in on pseudoscience?  I can't possibly see how biologists can be getting anywhere close to linking quantum effects to physiology at this point.

Books / Hugo Award Politics?
April 19, 2015, 01:16:56 PM
So I was dimly aware that there were some political shenanigans regarding the Hugo awards in the past few years, but since I'm not an avid sci-fi reader I had no clue about the details.  Today I heard a segment on On The Media about the Hugos, and wow, this is f'ing crazy.  I was under the assumption that right-wing science fiction authors were just mildly annoyed with the changing cultural trends.  I had no clue of the underhanded methods they were taking to manipulate awards and polls.  While I doubt he represents the attitudes of most right wing sci-fi fans, John C. Wright appears to be flat out mentally ill.

OTM Piece :

Anyone have more details about the transformation of the Hugos?  The Gamergate whining appears to get inevitably get latched onto this issue, and I'd prefer to steer clear of it here.
I noticed Paul Offit's course on vaccines popped up on Coursera again.  Starts next Monday if anyone is interested.  Looks like a nice introduction to the topic with a fairly light time commitment (2-3 hours per week).

Some other possible courses that might appeal to SGUers:

Free to audit, usually $50 if you want proof for your resume.
TV & Movies / Emperor of All Maladies on PBS
March 29, 2015, 02:00:04 PM
Wanted to let everyone know that PBS is showing a new Kens Burns special on the science and history of cancer this week.  It's based on the eponymous book by Siddhartha Mukherjee, which is an excellent starting point to learn about many of the misconceptions people have about the disease(s).  I'm looking forward to this documentary mostly based on what it WON'T do, ie drown you in mawkish personal stories and overhyped future cures.

Airs at 8pm on my local station.  I'm guessing you can watch it online any time during the coming weeks.

EDIT:  book link
Books / Books for 2015 - List
January 07, 2015, 10:54:40 AM
If you don't read at least one book a month this year, ISIS has officially won.  Don't give them the satisfaction!

The Path Between the Seas  by  David McCullough         10/10
What If?      by  Randall Munroe           9/10
Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe   by Simon Singh         8/10
Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, #1)   by Neal Stephenson        9/10
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania  by Erik Larson        8/10
Phantoms in the Brain  by V. S. Ramachandran         7/10
A Dance With Dragons (ASOIAF #5) by George R. R. Martin        9/10
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out  by Richard Feynman        7/10
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time  by Mark Haddon     9/10
The Alchemy of Air   by Thomas Hager              8/10
Spin (Spin #1)   by Robert Charles Wilson           7/10
The Ancestor's Tale    by Richard Dawkins             9/10
Axis (Spin #2)   by Robert Charles Wilson           6/10
The Physics of Imaginary Objects    by Tina May Hall         5/10
The Bully Pulpit        by Doris Kearns Goodwin             8/10
Scientific Feuds        by Joel Levy             6/10
Galapagos        by Kurt Vonnegut         6/10
Stiff        by Mary Roach                 8/10   
Americanah        by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie       9/10 
Spillover     by David Quammen         10/10
The Confusion (The Baroque Cycle, #2)    by Neal Stephenson        9/10
Is That a Fact?: Frauds, Quacks ...    by Joe Schwarcz              6/10
The March of Folly    by Barbara Tuchman             8/10
The Wright Brothers    by David McCullough            7/10
Wonderful Life     by Stephen Jay Gould          10/10
Vortex (Spin #3)     by Robert Charles Wilson           7/10
So You've Been Publicly Shamed     by Jon Ronson            9/10
Collapse    by Jared Diamond            7/10
Big Science     by Michael Hiltzik          8/10
The Youngest Science     by Lewis Thomas         6/10
Trigger Warning      by Neil Gaiman                8/10
The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes      by Neil Gaiman        9/10
The Sandman, Vol. 2: The Doll's House      by Neil Gaiman           10/10
The Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream Country      by Neil Gaiman           7/10
The Path to Power (Lyndon Johnson, #1)    by Robert Caro            10/10
The Sandman, Vol. 4: A Season of Mists      by Neil Gaiman          8/10
The Sandman, Vol. 5: A Game of You        by Neil Gaiman          8/10
The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat     by Oliver Sacks               7/10
Children of Dune (Dune Chronicles, #3)     by Frank Herbert            9/10
The Sandman, Vol. 6: Fables and Reflections     by Neil Gaimain          7/10
The System of the World (The Baroque Cycle, #3)         by Neal Stephenson        8/10
Mountains Beyond Mountains      by Tracy Kidder       7/10
Mother Night     by Kurt Vonnegut                  9/10
God Emperor of Dune (Dune Chronicles, #4)     by Frank Herbert      7/10
Avenue of Mysteries    by John Irving        6/10
Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science-and the World      by Rachel Swaby       6/10
The Sandman, Vol. 7: Brief Lives      by Neil Gaiman             7/10
The Sandman, Vol. 8: World's End      by Neil Gaiman          8/10
The Means of Ascent (Lyndon Johnson, #2)    by Robert Caro      9/10
The Sandman, Vol. 9: The Kindly Ones      by Neil Gaiman    9/10

Final edit for 2015.  Fifty books if I'm counting all the graphic novels; otherwise 41.  A few clunkers in the mix but nothing that was out-and-out bad.
Coursera, a website that offers free online classes from numerous universities, has several offerings over the winter that I thought might be of interest to SGU fans.  Here's a short list:

Our Earth: Its Climate, History, and Processes
Develop a greater appreciation for how the air, water, land, and life formed and have interacted over the last 4.5 billion years

Galaxies and Cosmology
An introduction to the modern extragalactic astronomy and cosmology, the physical universe, big bang, formation and evolution of galaxies, quasars, and large-scale structure.

Introduction to Genetics and Evolution
A whirlwind introduction to evolution and genetics, from basic principles to current applications, including how disease genes are mapped, areas or research in evolutionary genetics, and how we leverage evolutionary concepts to aid humanity.

Medical Neuroscience
Explore the structure and function of the human central nervous system. Learn why knowledge of human neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, neural plasticity, and new discovery in the brain sciences matters for clinical practice in the health professions.

I signed up for the cosmology course.  The evolution was appealing as well, but from the course description I'm not sure if it offers the level of depth I'm looking for.  I doubt any of these classes are going to give you the level of understanding you would get from taking a semester long course at a university, but they should be a step up from podcasts or pop-sci books.  If anyone else finds courses that would be appealing please share!
Books / Favorite Books of 2014
December 06, 2014, 02:22:21 PM
I don't feel like typing out all my books for a third time, so this seems a little more sensible - what are your favorite books you have read in the last year? 

The Code Book by Simon Singh - awesome book on cryptography
The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee - a book about cancer that talks about actual science instead of sob-stories
Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes - definitive history of the bomb
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin - Lincoln bio
The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson - everything you ever wanted to know about cholera and the birth of modern medicine
The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett - everything you didn't want to know about dozens of other infectious diseases

A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin - seems to be everyone's favorite ASoIAF book
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
The World According to Garp by John Irving - glad I sold my stick-shift car this year