Archive for September, 2010

The Units

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

About 30 years ago, back in the days when record stores still existed, I was browsing the bins and was intrigued enough by this cover art to buy, ears-unheard, the first LP from an unknown-to-me band called The Units:

I ended up listening to that record a lot. It’s probably safe to say that I went whole weeks listening to nothing else. The Units never made it big, I never saw them perform live, and a few years later they disbanded. But that record remained (and remains) one of my favorite recordings. In the second half of the 80s I unloaded my vinyl collection, and The Units passed out of my life. I expected I’d be able to replace Digital Stimulation on CD, but it was never released.

Fast forward to today, last night, in fact, when it suddenly occurred to me that even though previous searches had come up empty, maybe things had changed. And they had! Huzzah!

Five minutes later I was downloading an MP3 from Amazon of History of the Units: The Early Years 1977-1983. It’s amazingly wonderful, of course, but it bugs me a little that a few of my favorites are different versions than what I remember. I prefer the Digital Stimulation versions.

Not to worry, though. Thanks to a global information network and a particular intellectual-property-disdaining YouTube user named VinilOldSchool, the entire original Digital Stimulation album, complete with real analog surface noise, is available for listening:

Here’s the whole thing. Listen while you can!

Lest you think that YouTube’s Units collection is entirely derivative, I’ll leave you with this: briangainey’s awesome (and hilarious) self-made video for “High Pressure Days”:

Richard Wiseman at TAM 6

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

A few years ago psychologist and author Richard Wiseman gave a fun talk at TAM 6. I just came across a reposted video of it courtesy of the fine people at the JREF:

Richard Wiseman Spoon Bending at TAM 6 from JREF on Vimeo.

It includes a discussion of Wiseman’s cool “Colour Changing Card Trick” video, which I apparently missed the first time around, though it’s been viewed about 4 million times on YouTube. Anyway, here’s that; it’s only about 3 minutes long, so if you haven’t seen it and don’t want to commit to the full 46 minutes for the above talk, at least check this out:

UFOs Spying on Our Nukes, Airmen Claim

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Barbara Tomlinson brought this fun item in Discovery News to my attention: UFOs Spying on Our Nukes, Airmen Claim.

“This is real. It’s not science fiction. It’s not movie theater stuff,” Capt. Robert Salas told Discovery News.

Gotta love that eyewitness testimony.

CNN’s Abbie Boudreau on James O’Keefe’s Would-Be Pickup

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

James O’Keefe comes off as quite the putz in this write-up by Abbie Boudreau of O’Keefe’s would-be video sting operation, in which he would have “seduced” her in his floating “pleasure palace”: Our Documentary Takes A Strange Detour.


Given my recent series of posts about telegenic blondes, I especially liked this observation by Boudreau:

They don’t know anything about my work ethic – my history – my dedication and commitment – and my love for reporting. They just saw my blonde hair. And the ironic thing is that I’m really a brunette.

I Have a New Car

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

I’ve been thinking about cars more than I usually do, and I wanted to share this item I came across: My Car, My Crutch.

When I opt to use my car for transportation, it is easy for me to control my experiences and keep them uninterrupted by the vast, unimagined plethora of possibilities that otherwise wait for me in relatively safe Canadian cities. Instead of using my mind to assimilate and conduct unexpected, interesting stimuli into equally unexpected and provocative thoughts, I wait for lights and sit in traffic. Head in hand, elbow resting on the door’s window ledge, I fill the time by pondering my achievements, my assumed obligation to fulfill those achievements, or the nagging belief that I haven’t or won’t or can’t fulfill them. Perhaps my subconscious propels me into this space partly because of the monetary pressure my vehicle exerts on me. Or perhaps, since I never have to think about becoming waylaid by the irregularities of public transit, this car gives me the sense that I have temporal invincibility in my task-oriented approach to life.

A little over 10 years ago, I carpooled to work one day with a freelance programmer who was working on the commercial website I was building. When I picked him up in my then-new 1998 Accord, he commented, “Ooh, nice car.” I thanked him and observed, without really thinking about it, that it was “probably the nicest car I’ll ever own.”

He was shocked that I would say that, at least in reference to a sensible 4-door family sedan. His response reminded me of something I frequently forget: that there is this whole Cult of the Car that I’ve never been part of, with roadsters and Ferraris and all that stuff.

My prediction (that our ’98 Accord would be the nicest car I ever owned) had a chance of coming true up until a couple of days ago. But after 250K miles of ridiculously long commuting it was time to buy a new one.

I go into the car-buying process afraid. In the past I’ve tried hard to avoid being scammed, but the best I can usually do is to avoid being scammed in the particular ways I’ve previously been scammed, while being scammed in completely new ways that I don’t recognize until later.

This time was different, thanks in large part to Zag/Truecar, a reverse-auction site that has dealers bid for your business, and to salesman Mike Daegetano at Honda of Hollywood, who actually ended up selling us the car. I feel badly about how I treated Mike. I owe him an apology.

It’s a fairly long haul down to Hollywood from where I live, so I wanted all the numbers buttoned up before I went there. Mike gave me his out-the-door price over the phone, including the breakdown for tax, license, etc.

I told him, “Look; I don’t want to get down there and find out that there’s something extra being tacked on. This is the price, right?”

“Absolutely; I don’t do that kind of thing. I’m being straight with you.”

Yeah, whatever, I thought. “Fine,” I said, and hung up. But when I went over the numbers he’d given me, I saw that the California sales tax was $19.25 too high. That is, it looked like we were paying the 8.75% sales tax on $220 more than we should have been. I went over the numbers a couple of times, but couldn’t figure out why that money was there.

Until I thought, oh, of course. Car dealers. After all this, they’re going to pull this on me, and for a measly $20. But even with that, Honda of Hollywood’s price was still more than $1K less than any of the other dealers I’d been talking to, so I decided to just eat the $19.95, while keeping my guard up to make sure it wasn’t the first step in some ploy to get me to pay an extra $220. Which I assumed it probably was.

Mike called me the next morning. “Mr. Callender? I wanted to let you know there was a mistake in that price I gave you.”

Uh oh, I thought. Here it comes. “So you’re saying it’s going to cost us more?” I could feel my blood pressure rising.

“No, no. I made a mistake in the sales tax, because I took off the price of the window etching, like we agreed, but then I forgot to take that cost out when I figured the tax. So your actual out-the-door price will be $19.95 less than what I told you yesterday.”

There was a long pause.

“Mr. Callender? Is that okay?”

“Yeah, it’s fine,” I finally said. “It’s just… unprecedented.”

“Hey, I said I was being honest.” He sounded hurt.

“Yeah, I know. But you guys always say that. And until now it was never true.”

But it was. I was in and out of the dealer in 15 minutes, and am now driving what I’m pretty sure is the nicest car I will ever own. And if you are shopping for a Honda in L.A., you really should talk to Mike at Honda of Hollywood.

Diogenes, I’m sure, is spinning in his grave.

Colbert Testifies Before Congress

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Stephen Colbert testified before Congress today. In character:

I feel like we’ve crossed some sort of boundary here, and I’m not sure I’m completely happy about it. But then, I kind of am (completely happy about it).

I especially liked the way the guy in the gallery just left of Colbert’s head never cracked a smile. I’m curious what that guy thinks about what he just saw.

Colbert got a little more serious in response to questions. (Interesting how for him, “getting more serious” means “smiles and loosens up”, since his character is normally so bombastic.) Here he is giving his take as a committed Christian (which I understand the real Colbert actually is) on why he chose to speak out on this issue in particular:

Mooney on Condorcet on the Explosion of Reason and Rationality

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

I’m interested in how the Internet serves to amplify human perceptions, to the point where we can instantly google up the information to prove or disprove factual assertions. Surely, this will have ushered in a brave new era of enlightened thought and rationality.

Or not. It turns out that the net is just as happy to serve up confirmatory swill to feed into our confirmation bias, and help us organize with like-minded loons to disseminate The Truth about lizard people or faked moon landings or geocentrism or whatever. More here and here.

This recent item from Chris Mooney tells an interesting story about the last time someone thought a revolutionary communications medium was going to usher in a new era of truth and rationality. It was Condorcet, back in 1794, talking about the Internet of his day: How the Printing Press Ensures Eternal Enlightenment (Or So They Thought in the 18th Century).

Sigh. Technology only gets you so far. The wetware remains a problem. PEBKAC, as we used to observe in tech support.

Does God Care about You, Personally?

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

ZOMGitsCriss does not think very highly of people who claim that they know God exists due to personal experience. But then, she’s just a telegenic blonde, so what does she know? Warning: she gets pissed at the end, and uses a bad word.


Friday, September 17th, 2010 is an interesting list of ways that some commercial websites intentionally hose their users. As someone who works for a commercial website, I think about this issue a fair amount.

Steven Novella on the Unreliability of Memory

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Skeptic and actual neuroscientist (and target of the previously mentioned intellectual mancrush) Steven Novella has an interesting writeup of some recent research demonstrating the frailty of human memory: More Evidence Our Memory Stinks.

Our memories are not an accurate recording of the past. They are constructed from imperfect perception filtered through our beliefs and biases, and then over time they morph and merge. Our memories serve more to support our beliefs rather than inform them.

Dealing with a Creationist Science Teacher

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

If you’re the kind of high school science teacher who thinks Biblical versions of our origins are appropriate for inclusion in the curriculum, Dale McGowan probably is not the parent whose kid you want in your class: Science, interrupted.

Connor (15) came home on the second day of school and collapsed on the sofa with a defeated look I’ve come to recognize.

“Uh…good day?”

“No.” He looked up at me. “Science.”

There’s a whole series of posts, which I’m actually finding really interesting. I’m looking forward to hearing how it ends.

How Deep the Climate-change Denialism Rabbit Hole Goes

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

I think he attributes too much influence to the right-wing noise machine in terms of eroding respect for institutions generally, but I liked the conclusion of this piece by David Roberts: The right’s climate denialism is part of something much larger.

Consider what the Limbaugh/Morano crowd is saying about climate: not only that that the world’s scientists and scientific institutions are systematically wrong, but that they are purposefully perpetrating a deception. Virtually all the world’s governments, scientific academies, and media are either in on it or duped by it. The only ones who have pierced the veil and seen the truth are American movement conservatives, the ones who found death panels in the healthcare bill.

It’s a species of theater, repeated so often people have become inured, but if you take it seriously it’s an extraordinary charge. For one thing, if it’s true that the world’s scientists are capable of deception and collusion on this scale, a lot more than climate change is in doubt. These same institutions have told us what we know about health and disease, species and ecosystems, energy and biochemistry. If they are corrupt, we have to consider whether any of the knowledge they’ve generated is trustworthy. We could be operating our medical facilities, economies, and technologies on faulty theories. We might not know anything! Here we are hip-deep in postmodernism and it came from the right, not the left academics they hate.

How Barack Obama Is In Fact a Tiny Pony

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

Barbara of Spasms of Accommodation is no longer a hermit in the Georgia swamp, it turns out. Now she’s a support engineer in Austin. But then, Thoreau didn’t spend all that long at Walden Pond, either.

Anyway, courtesy of her latest posting, I was led to this item by Frank Chimero: There is a Horse in the Apple Store.

This part totally made me think of Onan/Conner (who is as famously opposed to reproduction as he is committed to Apple products):

But there are no children in the Apple Store, for the same reason you would not see a child in a jewelry store: things are small and fragile and expensive and shiny. And if you have a child, you probably can not afford Apple products.

I also liked this part toward the end:

Since then, John and I have a term called a “tiny pony.” It is a thing that is exceptional that no one, for whatever reason, notices. Or, conversely, it is an exceptional thing that everyone notices, but quickly grows acclimated to despite the brilliance of it all.

Cell phones and the ability to make a phone call to anyone from anywhere is a tiny pony. The instant gratification provided by being able to have almost any question answered immediately is a tiny pony. Airplanes are tiny ponies. A black president, whose father is from Kenya and mother is from Kansas, being elected President of the United States is a tiny pony.