Stir-Fried Random Ep 03: All I Want for Christmas Is…

A thanksgiving themed 'buy stuff' advertisementThanksgiving = Shopping, evidently. Anyway, since this is about the time of year when the vast population of my devoted fans around the world begin demanding to shower me with gifts and asking what kinds of gifts they should give me…this episode of Stir-Fried Random has some suggestions. Enough suggestions, in fact, that I didn’t even have room to include a Nerd Word, Emprical Observation of the Week, or Microbiology Microlecture. Therefore, while this episode will probably be slightly less interesting to the microbiology and computer-nerd focussed listeners, it should be of special interest to members of my immediate family, secret admirers, cultists who worship me as a living embodiment of divine spiffitude, and agents of the NSA, FBI, CIA, USDA, and Federal Department of Blog Enforcement who are busily profiling me. There is some other stuff though – please give it a listen, pass copies along to your friends, play it over the Public Announcement system at school, turn it into a techno-dance remix video on YouTube®, whatever.

As usual, direct download links for mp3 and ogg versions, plus <audio> tag support for those with really new browsers to listen in place, and embedded Flash-based mp3 player for everyone else who wants to listen in the browser instead of downloading and singing along during your commute or whatever.
(UPDATE 20081126: I’ve REMOVED the embedded player for now – it seems it ignores me when I tell it to wait until it’s told to before it starts playing. Autoplay annoys the heck out of me, and this seems to insist on it. The embedded player will remain gone until I get it to behave properly. Meanwhile, you can double-click or “right-click -> save as:” on the ogg or mp3 download link to get the audio files to listen to. Apologies to anyone ambushed by the unwanted auto-playing of the sound…)

Show Notes:
Continue reading Stir-Fried Random Ep 03: All I Want for Christmas Is…

Was I abducted by aliens? Or am I just full of $#!+?

You’re not going to believe what happened to us. Last night, we were sleeping in our trailer in Albuquerque, NM, minding our own business. Then, towards morning, this bright orange light came up over the horizon. I remember later being transported in some kind of metal craft. Next thing I know, it’s four hours later and I’m standing hundreds of miles from where I was the night before, near a place where a UFO was previously reported!.

I want to emphasize here that I’m not just making this up – everything I said in that paragraph is completely true…

Yes, today we found ourselves mysteriously transported to the “Dairy Capital of the Southwest”.

A vending machine in Roswell, New Mexico, showing a space-alien drinking Coca-ColaYes, the one from the Futurama episode. Though they didn’t talk much about cows in that one.

Besides, for some reason I get the impression that milk isn’t necessarily the most popular beverage here. Indeed, I get the impression that the dairy products around here are more industrial in nature. Heck, if you ask Google Maps for “cheese in Roswell, NM”, all that comes up is mass-market manufacturer “Leprino Foods”. What, not even any stores selling “moon cheese” to cash in on the whole UFO/Space-alien thing? Perhaps they only keep the cattle around to give the space-aliens something to practice their probing on.

With no prospects for sampling the apparently nonexistent famous regional cheeses, there was only one thing left to do. Yes, I admit it, we went to the UFO Museum (“and Research Center”).

I feel compelled to give them high praise on at least one point: they have signs which declare cameras and other recording gear to be explicitly permitted. A refreshing change after visiting the otherwise impressive Museum of Wildlife Art a few weeks back in Jackson, WY, which loudly forbade “cameras and cellphones”. Because, heaven forbid a blurry image taken by a cellphone of a painting which escaped copyright several centuries ago be seen on the internet without paying an additional fee. This would certainly cause the museum to collapse in bankruptcy within days.

But I digress…

Built into what appears to have once been an old single-screen movie theater building, it was well worth some touristy amusement. Ironically, I didn’t see a whole lot that I actually wanted to take pictures of. I did derive a certain amount of amusement from taking a picture of the framed photograph they had of a sign from Area 51 saying “no photography in this area”…but, appropriately enough, it came out too blurry to be verifiable. I suspect interference to my digital camera due CIA mind-control rays reflected from my Aluminum Foil Deflector Beanie.

It was actually kind of like a text-heavy art museum. Virtually all of the displays were framed photographs or copies of documents, though they do have, for example, what is apparently an authentic 1950’s USAF falling-from-great-heights test dummy on loan from somewhere. They still have lots of open space left, which is probably why they went ahead and filled one section with someone’s exhaustive and yet still laughable display on “crop circles”. Oddly enough, the portions dedicated to the actual “Roswell incident” aren’t bad. As you can imagine, I thought the presentation was still a bit overly credulous, but it was nowhere near what I had expected, which was a “balanced” presentation as favored by our mainstream media – that is, something along the lines of “could it be a crashed alien spaceship covered up by a secret government conspiracy, or merely this ridiculous story about a weather balloon?”. Instead, it looks like they’ve just collected as much as they could in the way of newspaper clippings, photographs, affidavits, reports, hypotheses (including, yes, the whacky ones) and so forth, and tried to present them all.

There was one really spooky thing I saw in there though:

This map near the entrance is for visitors to mark where they’ve come from. I immediately noticed the odd clustering that seems to run from New Mexico, curving up through Texas, and up to Illinois. I mentioned this to my Minister of Domestic Affairs, who happens to be a geophysicist with a Ph.D. “Tornado Alley“, she immediately recognized and pointed out to me.

You all see, dear readers, where I’m going with this, don’t you? It’s so obvious:

  • Tornadoes love trailer parks, right?
  • What’s the stereotype of the kind of person who sees UFO’s or is abducted by aliens? The kind of people who are assumed to live in trailer parks, right?
  • All those blurry photos of UFO’s come from devices for recording visual images, like, say, camcorders. Right?
  • And, finally, it is a scientifically documented fact[1] that the occurence of tornadoes can be correlated to the combination of camcorder sales and trailer park presence.
  • THEREFORE

  • This proves space-aliens cause tornadoes, perhaps to flush potential abductees out of hiding.

I eagerly await further research on my groundbreaking hypothesis.

Meanwhile, what’s a museum without a gift-shop, where fine and tasteful products may be purchased?

space-alien-head golf balls
Uh…or maybe not.

Unattended Children in the Museum and Gift Shop will be picked up by THE NEXT PASSING UFO!! YOU are responsible for your child's activity while here!

On a final note, I must say I approve of their unattended-child policy, though I have to admit I like the “free puppy and an espresso” one better.

[1] Wu F:”TORNADOES AND TRAILER PARKS: A STATISTICAL CORRELATION” Ann. Imp. Res.; Jul/Aug 1995 (1:4); pp 26-27 (also available online here).

Superman is Homeless!

Two weeks of midterms, and now it’s finally Thanksgiving Break week.

In honor of this celebration of my second most favorite deadly sin, I was going to do a food post, but I’ll save that for later.

Instead, I want to share a shocking and surprising fact that I’ve discovered: People are Stupid.

Actually, that’s not true, it’s really more like “People are Lazy, and Thinking is Work”, but “people are stupid” is easier to say.

Today’s illustration of this principle includes a visit to the former town of “Metropolis, Nevada” (link goes to Google Maps image, centered in front of the hotel. Should pop up in a new window.).

Composite image of the ruins of the Metropolis Hotel

Yes, evidently a bunch of developers from New York thought it’d be a great idea to build a big city in the barren deserts of Northeastern Nevada. This is where the “stupid” comes in.

Check out that map, zoom out and look around. What do you see? Yes, that’s right: sand, sagebrush, and dead grass.

There’s something downright appalling about the way people in the Western United States (where I’ve lived, in various places, for the last couple of decades) romanticize living in the middle of a desert, while at the same time trying desperately to pretend that they’re NOT living in a desert.

Here’s the story of Metropolis, as I understand it, in short form: Bunch of New York developers decide to build a big city for Mormon settlers. In order to pretend they’re not living in a desert, they figure they’ll just dam a spot on the small river to the northeast somewhere so that can stop enough water to keep themselves running.

Now, plunking down in the middle of the desert and pretending there’s nothing odd about building a large water-demanding city in it is a time-honored tradition of the American West, so why didn’t it work here?

Apparently, it’s because somewhere in the Lovelock, Nevada area a bunch of people said “Hey! We were here using that river’s water to pretend we’re not living in a desert first, so you can’t take it away from us by damming the river up there! So there!”. And the courts agreed.

You might think the teachers at the local school would be educated enough to know that “desert” means “lack of water”. I went over to ask about this, but…:

The ruins that once was the Metropolis, NV high school.

I guess school’s out for the moment. I wonder what their sports mascot was. “The Metropolis Dustbunnies?”

I was reminded of all of this by a recent story that was going around about some developer who thinks it’d be a great idea to build a 100,000,000 gallon-per-year water park in Mesa, Arizona. Which, for those unfamiliar with the area, is a desert just like Metropolis, only substantially hotter.

He’s not the first one though. Palmdale, California – out on the edge of the ‘Los Angeles area’ of California, appears to have the aptly-named DryTown Water Park. Palmdale is in the area of the Mojave desert. I have no idea how much water it uses up. I’m certain there are numerous others in the Los Angeles area alone.

It’s something to think about if you find yourself wondering why the Los Angeles area continually induces the shunting of water from other parts of the country to itself, like a cancerous tumor inducing blood-vessels to form in order to feed its own growth.

It’s probably obvious that I’m tired of living in deserts…

#1 on Google!

Over on scienceblogs.com’s The World’s Fair, the author has started an amusing meme.

It goes like this: the challenge is to find 5 sets of search terms for which your own blog or site is the #1 hit on a Google search. Note that it is acceptable to quote specific phrases but of course it’s more impressive if you don’t. Here are 8 that (as I type this) for which this blog is the #1 hit (links go to the blog address that is the hit):

There was at least one other which I’m having trouble remembering at the moment. Perhaps I’ll update later if I remember what it was.

Going to have to re-examine Socrates…

Figuratively speaking, of course, since he’s dead and all…

Man, Descartes so far is a serious disappointment. He seems to have an almost Dickensian tendency to verbal puffery (though thankfully the Descartes “Meditations” are much smaller than the big sack of tedium that was “David Copperfield”). It’s like he’s developed an unwholesome lust for his own thoughts and can’t keep his metaphysical hands off of them.

You’d think a guy clever enough to come up with “The Cogito” could do better.

When I heard Descartes described years ago, I’d heard he started with “I think, therefore I am” and then from there proved the existence of The Supreme Being somehow. While I didn’t expect an unquestionable Proof, I did at least expect to see some spectacular theological philosophy taking place.

Instead, I (metaphorically, of course) show up at Descartes’ intellectual feast expecting some unique and exotic fare, only to see Descartes rummage around in his kitchen to come up with an old, freezer-burnt old package of leftover AquinasAnselm (oops), which he spottily defrosts in the consumer-grade-microwave of his argument. Bah. Not even worthy of dirtying my mental spork on. (There, do I sound arrogant enough to be an old-school philosopher myself yet?)

In other news: Celebration time! I’ve advanced all the way from 1st loser to 3rd loser! WOOHOO! It’s a bit of a jump to get up to the next tier (blogs getting an average of around 50-100 votes/day) but I can make it…

Calling on the entire internet to study for a Philosophy exam…

I’ll probably do two posts today, but only because this one is a preview and an attempt to gather opinions…

I find writing helps me think, and we’ve got a Philosophy exam day after tomorrow. We’ve got a “study sheet” with eight concepts and fourteen potential essay questions that might come up on the exam. Is anyone reading this particularly interested in any of these (some of these have been addressed in earlier posts, but here’s the whole list)?

Concepts: “valid argument”, “sound argument”, “a priori knowledge”, “a posteriori knowledge”, “epistemology”, “metaphysics”, “doctrine of recollection”, “Objective reality/formal reality”

Essay topics (in short):

  • Describing the “Socratic Method” and contrasting it with the sophist method.
  • Discuss some of the Socratic philosophical positions that might call into question the view that what is right for a person is whatever that person believes is right.
  • Discuss Socrates’ claims that evil harms the evildoer and that “the unexamined life is not worth living”, and whether or not he’s justified in these claims
  • Critically discuss Socrates’ claim (at his trial) that he could not have been knowingly and willingly corrupting the youth
  • Discuss Socrates’ arguments in the “Apology” that death is not something to be feared
  • Discuss the “Learner’s Paradox” in the “Meno” (roughly – is it possible to “learn” something without being “taught”, and if so, how can this be?)
  • What was the point of the “slave boy” portion of the “Meno” (Socrates’ attempts to demonstrate that someone who doesn’t understand Geometry can come to have knowledge of geometry without being taught.)
  • Discuss Meno’s definition of “virtue” and Socrates’ objection to it
  • Discuss the distinction (in the “Meno”) between “true knowledge” and “opinion”, and how it relates to the question of whether virtue can be taught
  • From “Euthyphro”, discuss the issues around whether or not whether something is “pious” because The Gods love it, or if The Gods love it because it is “pious”.
  • State clearly and describe Descartes’ three levels of doubt
  • Discuss Descartes’ contention in the first Meditation that he cannot know if he is not dreaming
  • Discuss The Cogito (“I think, therefore I am” and why Descrates couldn’t instead say (for example) “I walk, therefore I am”
  • Discuss: “I hear a noise, I feel heat. These things are false since I am asleep. Yet I certainly do seem to see, hear, and feel warmth. This cannot be false.” (A quote from our translation of Descartes’…)

That’s what we’ve been given to work with. What are the odds that any of that is interesting to any of you? If so, please comment (no login required, and go ahead and put a fake email address in the comment form if it bothers you – as long as it doesn’t appear to be spam I’ll post it.). Come on, you’ll be doing me a favor, and you’ll automatically sound like a genius because we’re discussing philosophy.

Followup post later today…