Thursday, February 9, 2012

Wooly mammoth spotted in... video

I just ran into an article in The Sun about a land surveyor who spotted a woolly mammoth while on the job. Not only that, he took a video of it. Let's take a look at that.

Some people are saying it's a bear with a fish in its mouth. Since the resolution of most eyes is better than that of this video, that would mean that our vidographer is a liar, which is a possibility. I don't think it's a bear at all. In the zoomed-in (cropped and enlarged) you can see the suggestion of tusks. Not only that, if you look at the non-trunk part as a bear... well it doesn't look like a bear. It doesn't move like a bear. 

My first thought was, "Why is it dragging its trunk in the water?" Elephants breathe through their trunks, I thought, so it should be holding it up. It turned out I was wrong.

Still, though, I don't believe that the first video is an actual mammoth. Is it because I'm a Polite Skeptic? Maybe. Is it because I don't think sightings of mammoths in Siberia are genuine? Well, they've only been dead 10,000 years, and stranger things have happened. There are two things, though, make me disbelieve the mammoth video.

1. Seems fake. This doesn't hold much weight in court, but it just seems fake. Its movements remind me more of bad animation than a breathing flesh-and-bone animal.

2. The vidographer's disinterest. It's the attitude of, "Whoa! Is that a mammoth! I will take a ten second video of it from a distance." I've taken longer videos of my kids blowing out their birthday candles. And he knows his camera isn't high quality, but he decided to record from the other side of the country. 

All this, to me, seems like someone grabbed some nice footage of a creek, threw in a cgi mammoth, and then hit blur a few times.

If I wanted to fake a mammoth from a distance, I would throw together a costume not so different than Snuffy from Sesame Street. I'd get one guy for the back legs, and one for the front legs and head. Then, even from a distance, it could look pretty convincing, and have very natural movement that did, after all, come from an animal (the guy in front).

If it is a fake, it's a somewhat good one, and I'm sure this guy got his upvotes he was looking for. 

edit 2018: It does look a lot like a bear to me now

Friday, September 23, 2011

My thoughts on irreducible complexity -or- What good is half an eye?

Sometimes I go to church with my dad. Not because I love church, but because I love my dad, and we don't have a lot of things in common. He's very religious, and it means a lot for him to have me there. I'm fine with it.

A few nights ago, he invited me to a seminar that the people of his church were attending. I had joined him for something like that last year, and my night was free, so I accepted.

On the way in, I was required to get a barcode card that I would use to check in. I would later learn that if you attend for so many nights, you'd get a free family Bible. The signup for the card asked my address and other contact information, which I gave slightly altered versions of, pretty sure that the host would ever need to contact me at my home. We got seated, and I watched a woman play organ music on a keyboard, wondering about the business plan of the speaker, and if he would end up selling the contact info he was gathering. I realized how much more cynical I had become over the years.

Before the speaker came out, an image of Charles Darwin popped up on the twin projector screens, and I tensed. I could listen to a man preach about sin, or hell, or the ways to please God, but evolution is a subject that I'm fascinated by. It excites me to think about it. I did not want to hear a man talk about how evolution was wrong for an hour.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Seat of the Soul, first two pages review

Today's post is a cheap one. I'm going to point out an easy target, and pick it apart like it's an important thing to do. I guess you could call this post a book review, but I'm only reviewing the first two pages. Let's get on with it.

Gary Zukav is a popular new-age author. I became familiar with the name a couple of years ago, when a friend of mine reccommended to me the book Dancing Wu Li Masters. She said it was amazing. You may know, by the title of this blog, that a book called "Dancing Wu Li Masters" is not really my cup of tea, unless maybe, it was in the fiction section. But probably still no. I was at the used bookstore one day, a place I really appreciate, and I glanced through the five-foot-wide New Age section, and I saw Seat of the Soul. It was "The New, Innovative and Thought-Provoking work by the Author of Dancing Wu Li Masters." I gave it a try.

I'm going to admit something. I did not read this whole book. I actually got as far as the top of the second page, I think. How can I tell anything from a book after one and a half pages? "Not much," I would have told you before starting this book. Afterwards? "Enough."

I'm not a mystical guy, but I truly don't belive that my discarding of this book had much to do with me not being a mystical guy. If I read a skeptical book that said something very ridiculous, I would send it right back to the bookstore. Likewise, if I read a mystical-themed book where the author seemed to have a grasp on simple scientific ideas, I might read the whole thing.

Excerpt from page 1:A fish is more complex, and, therefore, more evolved than a sponge; a horse is more complex, and, therefore, more evolved than a snake; a monkey is more complex, and, therefore, more evolved than a horse.

My immediate thoughts: This was right out of the gate, the fifth line down on the first page. Mr. Zukav sets up evolution like a linear journey. To read this, you might expect that one main species has been evolving throughout the millenia, from a sponge, to a fish, to a snake, to a horse, to a monkey, leaving behind species, frozen in progress, every step of the way. Of course, this doesn't happen.

Is a monkey really more evolved than a horse? It's more intelligent, but it's a common mistake that, over time, species are developing to become more intelligent, and more human-like. What if you valued speed and size, instead? The horse would be more evolved. What if you valued poison, and the ability to eat no more than once a month? The snake is now our most evolved animal, leaving even humans in their dust. Humans have big brains, but we're largely feeble in every other way.

In reality, none of these creatures is more evolved than the others. Evolution doesn't just stop for a species, whether it's a sponge, or a snake, or a monkey. And if we're all descended from a common ancestor, then we've all had the same amount of time to evolve. Some of us evolved into sponges, some into snakes, some into people. Snakes aren't waiting for the cosmic force of evolution to turn it into a monkey. Being a snake works great for snakes. That's why they're snakes. And they're perfectly as complex as horses.

Page 2, near the top: This definition is an expression of the idea that the organism that is best able to control both its environment and all of the other organisms in its environment is the most evolved.

Wow. This paragraph following the other one was like a one-two punch. The kind of thing that can make me choke on my own spit. The kind of thing that can make me exclaim out loud in the library.

The more a species controls (not effects, controls) its environment, the more evolved it is. That makes things simple. Humans are most evolved. Beavers are second most evolved. Everything else comes in third.

In general, animals don't go out of their way to control their environment. Woodpeckers peck holes, which are surprisingly big inside, but I'd hardly call that trying to control their environment. Horses poop all over the place, which... is... pretty irrelevant.

Nonsense. A trend of nonsense.

I could go on, but I think I've made my point. This is how I can, must, for better or worse, discard a book after two pages.

I don't want to be a dick to Gary Zuckov. He's a successful author. But I can't honestly not call his explanation of evolution garbage (ooh! A double-negative). A garbage understanding of evolution is, of course, only to be expected in today's environment of garbage-science in films and television, and our population who go to work and go to sleep and make the kids dinner and do just fine without any deeper understanding of the world. But it should not make it into a non-fiction book, and, it should not make it through the editorial process, the fact checking process, and past all of the people that a book has to pass before it ends up in print.

If I read a paper, or a book, by, say, Dean Radin, I might not agree with his conclusions, I might take issue with his experimental setup, but at least I know that he's very intelligent, and he does know what he's talking about. When I pick up a book like Seat of the Soul, though, and I feel like the author is counting on me to be ignorant in order to make his point, I get sad that this is landing in front of thousands (millions?) of people, some of whom haven't given the subject of evolution enough thought to notice the incongruancies in the writing.

If you don't understand the science, don't write it as if you do. And if you do, don't make it fake in order to screw a few people out of a few dollars.

I should read the rest of that book sometime.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

My response to "Scientists cure cancer, but no one takes notice"

I stole this
According to my friends on Facebook, we've cured cancer. Not only that, but nobody took notice. Except for everyone that's on Facebook.

I've barely read the article, and am naturally skeptical about it, but I want to give it a closer look. I figured I would write this blog post while I gave it this look.

(I open the link)

The first thing I notice is the nice HubPages banner across the top. This is not a step in the right direction. Hubpages is one of the many websites where anyone can write anything, and the layout of the site makes it look legit. Some of the articles are legit, of course. You can't forget, though, that I could get on right now, and write an article called, "Guinea Pigs Beat Humans to Mars!" and have it up within an hour. What the Hubpages banner tells me is that one man (cqull8m) is responsible for this article, and he's not backed up by editors, fact-checkers, or anyone else that makes you more confident about the information you read. Like me, I guess.

So far not good. I'll now read the article.

There are two links close to the top. The one that's supposed to link to a "little ripple in the news" takes me to "" It takes me to the homepage, rather than an article. I typed "cancer" into the search bar, and it's currently trying to load my request.

I now realize that the original article that was linked to is now a 404. Let's keep moving.

"Canadian scientists tested this dichloroacetate (DCA) on human’s cells... It was tested on Rats...The drug is widely available and the technique is easy to use"

Two things come to mind. Firstly, this is like saying, "This has never been tested on humans," except it's worse than saying that. It's avoiding saying that. It's hiding information between the lines. I also wonder if people who take this drug for metabolic disorders (as noted in paragraph 2) are cancer-proof. Let's see if any of this is answered in the rest of the article.

"In human bodies there is a natural cancer fighting human cell, the mitochondria, but they need to be triggered to be effective."

Red alert! Red alert! He called the mitochondria a cell! That's like calling a kidney a human. The mitochondria is a part of the cell. I remember this stuff from middle-school science. I don't know much about mitochondria, but I know at least that much. I will tread carefully through the rest of this article.

"Scientists used to think that these mitochondria cells were damaged and thus ineffective against cancer."

Random image of cells
Scientists thought that mitochondria were damaged? All of them? What in the world is this supposed to mean?

"You can access the original research for this cancer here."

Thank goodness! I suddenly like this guy a lot more. I will do just as he suggests, and look at the original research. Let's finish this article first, though.

"This article wants to raise awareness for this study"

Mission accomplished. This article has overtaken my newsfeed like malignant cells.

"hope some independent companies and small startup will pick up this idea and produce these drugs"

I thought this was an existing drug that is already used for metabolic disorders.

So, most of my gripes in this article are with low-quality writing, and a misunderstanding of the facts. I can't hate on this author though. Like he said, I believe he's just trying to spread the news, and if someone isn't a good writer/researcher, and doesn't have the money to hire a freelance writer, at least he tried. And succeeded.

So let's get to the meat of this. The research. (I click the link)

I was hoping this would link to a horribly dry scientific paper. The kind of scientific paper that can make an anti-gravity device sound as exciting as a new type of foam-rubber. That's not quite what I found. This format is a little more like a blog post.


"DCA is an odourless, colourless, inexpensive, relatively non-toxic, small molecule... causes regression in several cancers... [used] to treat children with inborn errors of metabolism due to mitochondrial diseases... [mitochondria] have been connected with cancer since the 1930s... [DCA] as a way to "revive" cancer-affected mitochondria... mitochondrial function resulted in a significant decrease in tumor growth... [DCA] did not have any effects on normal, non-cancerous tissues... However, as DCA is not patented, Michelakis is concerned that it may be difficult to find funding from private investors to test DCA in clinical trials... launch clinical trials on humans in the spring of 2007 pending government approval."

This is very, very interesting. Basically, this existing drug revives the cells' mitochondria, and the mitochondria of the cancer cells kills them.

One of the main themes of the Hubpages article is that nobody took notice of this discovery. I'll test this by Googling "DCA" with "Cancer."

2007, ABC NEWS, "DCA: Cancer Breakthrough or Urban Legend"
2007, Toronto Star, "Molecule Holds Cancer Hope"
2007, CTV News, "Health Canada approves first human trials for DCA"
2007, Newsweek, "A New Way to Fight Cancer?"

I could keep going, but it's painfully boring. Let's just say that the media did take notice. More research needs to be done, but it seems to be in the same pipeline that any drug goes through on the way to becoming something that the pharmacists push at us.

Whether DCA is a wonder drug, I don't know. Let's give it some time, and let results come in. I think a more important question is, since it is an existing pharmaceutical, should cancer patients buy the stuff online and self-treat? There are anecdotes online from people who claim to have done just this.

The easy answer is no. Taking drugs without your doctor's approval is like playing Russian Roulette. Hell, taking drugs with your doctor's approval can be like Russian Roulette. DCA does have side-effects, which sometimes include nerve-damage. Self-prescribing and self-treating illnesses is a reckless move, and one that many people have regretted over the years.

But let's cut the bullshit.

It's fine to be afraid of nerve damage if you've got a sty, or acid reflux disease. That's when you need to sweat over the side-effects. When you have a tumor in your brain, though, or in your lungs, and it's growing like a snowball rolling down a hill, and you're not supposed to be alive by your next birthday, caution can be fatal. It's easy for the authorities to tell you to wait for the clinical trials, because they don't know you, and, in their eyes, people die of cancer every day. But you only get to die once, and then you're out of chances. No more pizzas, no more smiles from attractive strangers, no more petting kittens. No more peeing or breathing or sleeping in.

I have an uninsured friend with brain cancer, and if he started popping these pills, or snorting them, or shooting them up, I wouldn't even say a word that rhymes with caution anywhere near him. At some point, what was reckless becomes reasonable. At some point, you've got to jump out of the burning building, even if you might break your leg.

I would do it. I would do it and I would blog about it.

Further reading

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

My reaction to the Geek Zodiac

A couple of Facebook friends posted the Geek Zodiac. Being that I'm 1/4 geek by birth, I checked it out. What was my reaction?

"Astronaut! I knew it!"

Looking at my own reaction only a few seconds after the fact, I couldn't help but be amused. Putting stock in a "normal" zodiac, the one that's primarily used today in the United States, is one thing. It's been around for a while, and there are whole books and websites out there that preach the word wholeheartedly. Believing in that is generally viewed as a normal thing to do.

But to look at something that a couple of guys made over a weekend, and to say, "It makes so much sense now!"... Well, that's just absurd. And that's what I did, for the better part of a second.

Even if you love horoscopes yourself, you should be able to admit that, even if horoscopes were actually just motivational messages that applied to human beings in general, they would still be popular. People would still follow them. Look at mine for today:

"You might be surprised by how clever and creative you are today. Just for fun, you may decide to pick up a paintbrush and try watercolor painting or perhaps writing some poetry. Whatever you attempt, you can be fairly sure that it will work out favorably. Your creative muse is there on your shoulder and waiting for you to make use of her!"

I'm not a painter, at all, but if I was into horoscopes I might take this advice, and it might be fun, and I might approach it with more confidence than I would without the stars backing me up. Nothing wrong with watercolors. But it would be the same outcome whether I was Capricorn, Aquarius, or Cancer.

Suddenly curious about the shared etymology between the two main meanings of the word "cancer."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why are UFOs stupid?

People see lights in the sky. Lights that aren't stars, or airplanes, or meteors. Little bright points that wander around in a totally un-aircraftlike way. While they remain unidentified, they will be called unidentified flying objects.

At some point, people started associating these lights with space aliens. I guess once people started thinking of travel through the sky as a thing that happens, they maybe started to figure that they're seeing individuals traveling through the sky. Maybe traveling to see us, from some other planet.

I don't believe that these lights are all weather balloons, or misidentified planets, and I really don't think they're spaceships. I'm not sure what they are, but nature is complex enough, and still holds enough mysteries, that I don't think it's quite time to start narrowing it down.

To someone who does believe wholeheartedly that those lights occasionally seen in the sky are spaceships, I have some questions, or at least things to consider.

1. What's with the light? Why would a flying saucer, or some flying ship, that's presumably made out of metal, give off light? Especially light that's visible from the ground?

2. Why is it moving like that? If you were in a ship, up in the sky, would it make sense to drift in every direction, like a firefly in a field? If you're traveling, it makes sense to go in a straight line. If you're waiting, or watching, it makes sense to sit still. I can't think of why anyone in an aircraft would behave that way.

3. If there is someone in there, observing us, why don't they go up a bit higher? We have satellites that can see the ground in fancy resolution from orbit, and I'm sure some of our space telescopes can do better than that. What's keeping our UFOs in the clouds?

I don't have all of the answers, but I do have a wealth of the questions, and, with a lot of these subjects, they're questions that don't seem to have a simple answer.

If anyone asked my opinion (I'll assume that by reading this bog, you are doing just that) I'd say that the little balls of light in the sky are some kind of electromagnetic thing. Something that we may not know about, or have thought of, yet. Something that is centralized, gives off light, and wanders around in the sky, sometimes shooting off at speeds and angles that would be improbable for something with mass.

It's not that I disbelieve in alien life. I wouldn't be surprised at all if we found out that there is complex life elsewhere. I just don't think it's come to earth just to hang around our clouds and act like an idiot.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Proof of a new method of search engine optimization

Here it is: Write the word "proof" in the title of your blog post.

In September, last year, I wrote a post called, "Proof that 2012 will happen!" I wasn't trying to be sensationalist, just silly. The joke ended up being that of course 2012 will happen. Whether or not the end of the world will happen during 2012 is a different story.

Well, you can see that, on my "top posts" widget to the right, that post is ranking at number 1. But that ranking doesn't tell the whole story. Not at all.

If you give the number of visits that the #5 item in that list (Gerson Therapy) has gotten in the last month a value of 1, as a baseline, the bottom three items all have a value of about 1. They've gotten about the same number of visits as each other. Then, the #2 item (Proof of Time Travel) has a value of about 2. It has about double the visits of any of the lower three items.

The number 1 item, though, Proof that 2012 will happen!, has a value of 12. That means it has approximately twelve times the visits of any of the bottom three, and it even has six times as many visits as the second one. It's a wide gap.

Note: PornOH, I now know, is a
pornography website. In a search
for that keyword, a link to my blog
is on the second page.
I noticed this trend in early February, and it bothers me a bit, because I realized that the people who are actually looking for proof of the end-of-the-world scenario are not going to find it at my blog. The bad part is, I didn't even present evidence against it in that post. Just a perspective of what I think of it. So, those people are getting no value out of that search.

This didn't stop my from my next experiment, though, which you can see above. I wrote a post about a time-travel related video I'd seen, and stuck the word Proof in there, not so innocently this time. Very very quickly, Proof of time travel! -or- Giving your hoax a makeover, climbed up the charts, and now, as I said, has double the hits of the three lower results. Neither of these posts are particularly interesting, in the scheme of things, but that silly word, proof, makes them popular.

The Google searches for proof do have a skeptical basis, though. It's a plea to cut through the BS, get away from all of the conjecture, and just please prove it to me. Unfortunately, there is no proof to be found online. You can find videos that can be faked, stories that can be made up, peer-reviewed scientific papers that are, nevertheless, ever-debated. You can find theories and hypotheses and absurd certainties. But no proof.