Thursday, December 04, 2014

Old Perry Mason show becomes reality for Cops

What's up with all these Perry Mason style Grand Jury hearings being used to acquit police officers?  The latest case in New York is just nuts, where the accused officer was even allowed to testify, just like in the old Perry Mason show.  How are these Prosecutors allowing any defense at all during the hearing, let alone 2 hours of testimony by the accused without cross-examination (as in the Ferguson case)?  The cops are not being acquitted because of following the process. They are being acquitted because the Prosecutors are gaming the system to support the accused officers.  If a regular citizen is pulled up in front of a grand jury, they cannot present a case, they cannot challenge the presented evidence and they certainly don't get to testify for two hours without cross-examination.  Looks like it's time for other accused people to demand equal protection under the law, for equal treatment to these officers are getting during Grand Jury trails.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Reason why I'm skeptical of Skepticism

There is a plague on modern science and Skepticism.  That plague is over reliance upon research reports.  Research report is a gathering of pre-existing data (the "re" in "research"), repurposed to find patterns.  The problem is that many research reports are created to find correlations in support of predetermined conclusions (assumptions).  Research reports are often formatted as scientific studies and published in science journals along side scientific studies that use the Scientific Method.

What is the Scientific Method?  First, wonder about a phenomenon and ask a question.  Conduct research on that question.  Then, construct a hypothesis (a proposed explanation for the phenomenon). A hypothesis must be formed in such a way to be tested for being  false (falsifiability). The subsequent test must be done in such a way as to try to disprove your hypothesis.  Only after all of this can you analyze your data and form a conclusion from that data.  The final step is to share your results for others to review and check, often in the form of their own studies.  For a study to have value, its results must be replicated by others.1

The Scientific Method is valuable because it helps eliminate incorrect explanations for a phenomenon.  For example, say someone as a hypothesis that lemons are yellow because someone paints them with yellow paint.  You can test this in any number of ways.  You can go to an orchard and watch the lemons grow, changing color as they mature.  You can buy a lemon at a store and cut it, looking for a layer of paint.  You can peel the lemon and send the skin to a lab to search for significant amounts of paint.  Any of these tests would prove the hypothesis false.  Someone else could create a new hypothesis about why lemons are yellow, knowing that the cause is not paint.

The limitation of an unscientific research report is that it only requires you to visit a grocery store to see that the lemons are yellow in order to confirm your assumption that they've been painted yellow by a person.

Research reports often lack several crucial steps compared to Scientific Method.  First, the purpose of a research report is often to collect data in support of a pre-existing assumption.  An assumption is different than a hypothesis because an assumption is not a proposed explanation for a phenomenon; rather an assumption is that there is a phenomenon ("someone is painting those lemons yellow", instead of asking "why are lemons yellow?").  Second, no test is performed in support of this assumption.  Data is unscientifically collected from different studies, reports and other sources rather than being the results of a direct test.  There is certainly no falsifiability test.  Third, the results of the collected data are often correlated to the original assumption rather than standing on their own within the conclusion.

What's wrong with correlation between data sets?  Correlation is an indicator, but it is not a identifier. The common phrase is "correlation is not causation."  It is extremely easy to correlate unrelated things.  There is a website dedicated to just this.  This is why the Scientific Method requires a falsifiability test.  It eliminates the reliance on correlation.

Now, this is not to say all research reports are bad.  A research report that uses the Scientific Method to analyze data in a way that can be demonstrated with falsifiability does have value.  But, it is very hard tell good reports apart from bad reports using quick Twitter or reddit title links.  You have to read the report to know if it has value or if it is pseudoscience.  You have to read the whole report because the report's title and conclusions often do not even match-up the data within the report.

This is where I run into issues with Skepticism.  Skepticism tends consider any conclusions of a published research report (in support of presumed consensus) to be the same as studies using the Scientific Method.  Opinions regarding concepts outside the presumed consensus are immediately rejected (even if they are published) without regard to the quality of the report or study.  I cannot count how many times I've read a promoted research report, only to find that the evidence in the report is based correlated cherry-picked data.  Blind acceptance of research report conclusions is a big problem with Skepticism, especially as it grows in popularity among Atheists and other non-religious folks.  I've seen seen sources such as "skeptic" magazines that site unscientific research reports as though they are undeniable fact.  It is a problem being exacerbated by the ease with which (mis)information flows on the Internet through various social media and various other media outlets.

Other reading

In researching this topic, I found a very interesting "study of studies" about the flaws in most studies, Why most published research findings are false. Nothing in my article here is based on this study, so take this as a completely different source.  It is worth the read, and more fuel for the fire to be skeptical, not just of Skepticism, but of anyone trying to use a "study" to promote a notion.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Bits of wisdom: Leftovers

Leftovers Laws #12: If you remember your leftovers, they are still good. If you've forgotten about them, they've gone bad.

Dead Plants

Winter is here,
Oh my dear.
My plants are dead
"I'll see you again,
next year."

Sunday, November 09, 2014

The shooting star shower [Dream]

I arrived a some tower apartment building with a large grassy field to the right, forest behind, parking lot to the left and a road along the front.  Beyond the grassy field was an industrial park.  I had just arrived, meeting some people near the apartment building.  It was very late evening.  The sky wasn't completely black just yet.  The area was lit by street lights, and the color of the plants lit up by those lights where vivid greens.  As I was just hanging around, there was a bright light that flickered from behind me.  I turning around just in time to see a second burst high in the sky in the direction of the forest.  There was a large meteor streaking downward at a very steep angle.  It was bright, with a long multiple trails and pieces breaking away.  Then there was a large flash as the meteor exploded.  Moments later, I heard a big boom. Then pieces of the meteor started hitting the ground.  Everyone ran for cover in the closest building.  No one was hit.  But, as soon as it began, it was over.  I went out to to find meteorites all over the ground.  As soon as they cooled enough to grab, several people went for them.  I was able to get a few good sized pieces.  The odd thing about them is that they where all smooth, as though they'd been on a riverbed for months.  Their color was the red side of brown, with dark greyish speckles.  I marveled as to why these rocks from the sky would be so smooth after hurtling through space and slamming in the atmosphere with an explosion.

 

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Lower turnout at polls isn't apathy, it is dissatisfaction with the choices

In the US, it is tradition that if you are dissatisfied with government, you don't vote, as noted by the low 37% turnout in this month's election. That 63% of no shows don't like there choices, so they don't bother making any choice, instead of making a difference choice (Non-democratic/republican). Unfortunately, the Constitution doesn't account for non-voting as non-support for government.   I think we need a minimum voter turnout (quorum) in order to count the voting results as valid.  Let's say, 75%.  You want to know how hard politicians would work for your vote in that case?  A lot!  They might listen to the average person and take action to support their needs.  Imagine that!

Monday, October 27, 2014

I learned a little bit about travel this weekend

Allie and I went to the Southern New England AAA Travel Show this weekend at Twin Rivers Casino.  I learned that for some types of trips, it pays to plan early but book late.  Other types of trips, it pays to book early, period.  Balancing flights with the rest of the trip seems to be a bit of an art form.    We didn't go to the expo to book a trip.  We just went for ideas...and ideas are to be gained!

There were a lot of travel vendors at the expo, and a lot of AAA agents available for booking trips immediately. One lacking thing I noted is that most of the vendors didn't have swag.  The ones that did pretty much just offered candy.  A couple offered pens.  Eh.

Some people have goals or accomplishments where they've been/plan-to-go to every country.  My sites are not so grandiose.  I simply want to at least visit each of the continents.  So far, I have Asia, North America and Europe.  That leaves South America, Africa, Australia and Antarctica.  


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Caesars Head lookout over South Carolina

A short drive from Greenville, SC and you may find yourself up on Caesars Head, a mountain in upstate South Carolina.  The view is amazing.














Friday, October 10, 2014

Greenville, SC

Greenville, SC is a great little city in the Northwest lobe of South Carolina with a great downtown area and revitalization.  I've been experiencing the area as best as possible with just the evenings free.  On Sunday, I checked out the downtown.  There are lots of interesting shops and restaurants.  I ended up at Blue Ridge Brewing with funny faced beer mugs and vats at the entrance.  Monday late afternoon, I visited the BMW museum at the BMW Manufacturing Plant.  Hmm, there wasn't nearly as many BMWs in the employee parking lot as I think there should have been.  That evening, I ended up at Smiley's Acoustic Cafe for open mic night.  Somewhat suprizingly, the artists were good.  Thursday evening, I spent along Reedy River and visited the Falls Park, including the Liberty Bridge.  Then, I had a great dinner at the slightly more expensive Larkins on the River (good view of the river and great ribeye!).

Here's some photos!













Friday, October 03, 2014

Quick view of the Bible's anti-"pro-life" stand

In the case of abortion, the bible isn't clear at all. What is does say is that the fetus/unborn/still birth (however translated by the various attempts), is worthless and never experiences anything at all. This is not one of those "therefore" attempts to get the bible to say something that it doesn't. This is actually what the bible says. No deduction or interpretation needed. In fact, the bible considers this as such a fundamental matter of fact, the bible uses it as justification to espouse a whole other point. Then, there's the law that allows parents to request to have their children (presumably all the way into adulthood) killed just because that cannot handle them. Oh, yeah, there is that one law that treats the accidental killing of an unborn by someone other than the husband in a completely civil matter...not murder all at, but rather a small fine paid to the husband, on par with what we would pay for a traffic fine these days. The presumes that it is indeed the husband's right to end the pregnancy himself, since he is treated at the owner of it, much as he would have to right to kill his sheep for the next meal. Here's the best part of all, the bible does in fact actually mention abortion directly! And you know what? The bible not only doesn't ban abortion (nor call the act murder), but the bible actually provides rites (the procedure) for how abortions should be conducted. The bible is completely conflicted on this whole idea of "abortion", especially when someone tries to falsely argue that the bible somehow forbids them.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

The Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line Improvement Project

Getting into Boston by car isn't a horrible experience on the weekend. It is just really bad, and expensive to park. So, travelling into Boston is often best by mass transit. However, when trying to casually plan a journey into Boston today, I discovered that they shut down the only commuter line in my area of the state, the Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line.

Trying to get into North Boston from the Highway 2 corridor using mass transit is impossible while the Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line is shut down for maintenance until late November 2014. ‎MBTA‬ didn't even setup replacement bus service to replace the rail line. There was already 1 to 3 hour intervals between trains. Seriously, how hard would it be to have a limited bus service on a similar schedule to those stations?

Thank you to the MBTA for thinking about your riders؟

Thursday, June 12, 2014

reddit, the poorly organized and nearly unsearchable appendix of The Internet...but Yeah me!


Ah, reddit, you allusive self-proclaimed front page of the Internet.  Instead, I would prolly characterize reddit as the Internet's poorly organized and nearly unsearchable appendix.  However, there is something addictive about its format and engagement.  You may have the intent to only check reddit out for 5 minutes, but that 5 minutes can easily turn to 2 hours.  I enjoy redditting from time to time.  Not often enough to really know how to game the system for karma, but often enough.

The other day, I finally was able to do something amazing.  A link that I posted actually made it to the "front page" and even the top spot of a major subreddit called /r/funny.  I also made it all the way up to page two of the reddit home page with default categories.  If you don't know what that means, don't worry about it.  It's just something that is hard to do on reddit.  The Holy Grail is to actually make it to the "front page" of reddit's home page with default categories.  I missed that mark ever so slightly.  Oh well.  What does this matter?  Well, you know, Internet points!  Anyway, I'm just here chronicling this achievement in my journal.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Article 1 section 2 paragraph 3 of the U.S. Constitution and why you aren't being represented!

Constitution of the United States
Here's what a source says about our House of Representatives, "In the original constitutional debates there were pro-federalist delegates proposing that a House member could represent up to 50,000 constituents, while more anti-federalist framers sought one House member up to 20,000 citizens.  The debate, therefore, was over the people wanting smaller Congressional Districts and not larger. In September 1787, they settled on the language, "The number of representatives shall not exceed one for every 30,000," thus limiting a Congressional District minimum size to 30,000 citizens. No Congressional District maximum size was included because the framers believed both the members of Congress and their constituents would inherently want Congressional Districts as small as the constitution would permit."1

Another source states, "The Constitution says that the total number of representatives shall not be greater than one for every 30,000 citizens. During the ratification debates over the Constitution, opponents argued that such a ratio was inadequate to properly represent the country. But even using the original ratio in the Constitution, the House of Representatives would have consisted of about 9,400 members after the 2000 census. Faced with the ever increasing size of the House, Congress voted in 1929 to limit the number of representatives to 435."2

Needless to say, our current Congress has not been keeping the size of Congressional Districts in-line with the intent of our Constitution's framers.  Today, Congressional Districts have 710,767 citizens. This is way over the original expectations of roughly 50,000.

Can you imagine a House of Representatives with 9400 members?  How would business get done?  Well, maybe that's the point.  There would be so many representatives, that votes would have to be made based on what the person feels is right for their 30,000 voters, rather than how much money they can collect from lobbyist for their next campaign. 9400 Representatives would make it a lot harder for lobbyist to sway the will of our elected officials.  It would make pork barrel projects almost nonexistent because districts would be too small to gather enough support for the most silly of funding requests.  It's a lot harder to buy off 9400 people than it is 435.  Particularly if each of those 9400 people have to go back to talk directly to just 30,000 people several times a year.  Representatives' support would really have to come from the local grassroots level.  They might even vote per their constituents desires!  Imagine that!

The one problem with a number of Representatives being so large is that bill introduction may become a bit unmanageable. If we keep to the current system of making huge bills with tons and tons of legal code, things would be unmanageable.  However, that doesn't necessarily need to be a roadblock. Maybe we shouldn't keep the current system of bill introduction!  Maybe our Representatives should really just submit succinct laws that apply to very specific things.  We would still need a huge bill from time to time to address social and other national issues, and the national budget, but we would pretty much end riders that plague the current system.  We can even use 21st Century technology to make such bills easier to process.  (Anyone hear of this Wonder called The Internet?)

More meaningful and useful laws might actually get passed because they wouldn't be tied up so frequently in political maneuverings.  Political Parties couldn't hold our government hostage with standoffs, because their members would be so easily replaced.  We would actually be able to hold our Representatives accountable!

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Kelowna, BC


Due to a quirk in my planning, I found myself in Kelowna, BC for a couple of days.  Kelowna is in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia on the shores of the Okanagan Lake.  When planning my trip, I had no idea that this is the place from where the stories of the Ogopogo lake monster originate.

A great place to watch the lake for signs of the beast is at Summerhill Pyramid Winery, dinning outside on the deck of the Sunset Organic Bistro.  I wasn't able to spot any lake monsters, but my waitress said with a sly grin that she did indeed have some recently recorded video of something in the water.

View from the deck of the restaurant

It's called the Summerhill Pyramid Winery for a reason.  The wine is made is under this pyramid.

I only discovered that wineries are thing in this region after I arrived.  Had I known ahead of time, I might have planned accordingly.  Another winery I briefly visited was Volcanic Hills Estate Winery.  For tasting, they only offered a few whites and unimpressive blended reds this early in the season.  Had I planned on coming to Volcanic Hills ahead of time for the purpose of wine tasting, I would've been disappointed.

Kelowna has a relatively active downtown area with several restaurants and bars for the diners and revelers alike.  It was here that I finally spotted the lake monster.

This guy was posing for photos all day.

 Wandering around downtown, I ran into this Futurama-esque robot looking machine, who appeared to be a silent sentry guarding a bygone time.


"Halt!  You may go here, but no farther!"

There is a rather nice resort here too.


To commemorate the trip, I got this T-shirt that is all kinds of awesome!


Here's the town and lake from the nearby Knox Mountain.