Reimagined and Revamped. Fighting the spread of nonsense often feels like a Sisyphean task. However, the joy is in making the information available, not the hope of conversion.

Sorry Bill, I'm not overly impressed

This post take a very circumlocuitous route to get to my point. Sorry.

Interaction with many of my Facebook friends is often similar to the greater scope of debate. If economy is in the news, some of us talk about what is better to do. If illegal immigration comes up, we talk about that. Turns out I have a relatively diverse group of friends.

Economics needs a skeptical eye pointed at it
Anyway, I have one friend that posts article after article of doom and gloom about the economy. One of them even predicted that come October we wont even be able to recognize our country. I searched for 5 minutes and found another economic article that explained how things will be getting better, and perhaps the housing market will take longer.

Another recent one, a friend posted that the stimulus is killing us, and I found another article about how we actually didnt do enough spending and need to do more despite the debt and budget deficit (I'm sure his article was from a respected economist, and mine was from another, Paul Krugman who won a nobel prize).

When it comes to economics, I hereby proclaim I am as in the dark as most people when it comes to biology, medicine or quantum mechanics. Pointing a skeptical eye towards all these economic claims, on both sides will take a lot of time, and I hope to do a blog post on it one of these days. I can fully sympathize with people who are confused when Joe Mercola says Vaccines are bad, and then the CDC and other people say how good they are.

The key is to verify the claims and see which side does more lying and stretching to make their point. This is what I hope to do in my future post.

Do increased taxes mean economic or personal doom?
But until then, here is the way I see the economy and taxes. They are not as related as most people think. There are a number of times when taxes were higher than now and debt and deficit dropped (post WWII and Clinton years among others. In those very times the economy expanded very well. There are other times where the reverse happened.

So it is demonstrably wrong to say "the economy will shrink and people will leave if we raise taxes", that causation is not concluded. There are obviously more variables in that equation than that. For example, in 1999, 4-7 million people have left this country for countries with higher taxes (these are non-governmental Americans). Further, the US is the only country that still taxes you if you are living abroad. Some certainly left because work sent them there, but for the most part its because they prefer benefits of living abroad.

The point is the taxes-economy relationship is not as simple as free market people will have you believe. It's there to some degree, but it simply is not the whole story. It reminds me of a control system where we try to make changes on something we can adjust to create a response from a system we desire. I am suggesting that our controlled inputs (tax rate and spending) should be raised and lowered, respectively, until the economy is in a more comfortable position.

As I mentioned before, there are some who claim that spending should not be lowered right now. I'm am sure I don't have to link to the vociferous opposition to this view. I contend that there is spending reduction that could and should happen. The military is bloated, Health and Human Services and Education are both extremely expensive and a new effort to reign in costs on these should be tried. The spending Krugman is thinking of would go towards projects, research, business development. But for this, I want to focus on taxes.

Rich people whining about nothing
While I hear a lot of whining about how raising taxes on the richest 5% is going to doom the country, I simply don't see it. I have yet to see a compelling argument for that view, other than "its common sense" as if that closes the case. Some rich people agree with me. We aren't talking about raising them to oblivion, we are talking about raising them 4-5%. There is no argument against the that this would bring in extra revenues needed right now. Quite the reverse. Let's remember, after WWII when the economy was in sad shape,the rich were taxed at rates of 80-94% (and when I say rich, i mean incomes starting at 200-400K depending on the year). Wow! Somehow they survived, somehow the economy grow, somehow the country prospered. Lets not forget, this was in the 50's that the conservative relish with nostalgia.

Not impressed by the rich guys.
But then, I had pause (finally the topic of this post). Several months ago, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, the two richest people in America with a combined net worth of 100 billion dollars (Wow!) went on a campaign to get the other rich guys to donate 1/2 of their wealth to charity.

By "other rich guys" I mean the 400 other US billionaires. Maybe they could show us economic skeptics, that they can be trusted to use that vast wealth to stimulate the economy and reduce suffering on their own.

What was the result? A measly 10% of them signed up for this. Let's keep in mind, these are billionnairres. Most of them multibilionairres. The lowest end of these folks, if they pledged, would still have 500 million left after this program. At a small earning rate of 5%, they would still be making 25 million dollars/year by sitting on their thumbs.

They wouldn't even have to give the money to a charity, if they balk at efficiencies of them. They could do what they claim to do with that money anyway, they could invest in promising businesses, and not expect a return on that investment, they could take no shares. Any number of these things could be done, improving the economy, improving the jobless rate, reducing suffering. But they didn't do this when things are bad after they benefited more when times were good.

And at the end of that investment...they would still be stinking rich with a huge income.

This is not a very impressive group of people.

So when I hear that rich people (now I switched to those making 250K and above) are complaining about a 4% increase in their taxes, to a rate that they were at just 10 years ago, I just have to laugh.

I hope you laugh at them too.



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Some reasons why I don’t buy into Libertarianism

 

When some state assert their rights to modify education, education gets worse

When some state assert their rights to control abortion, women’s rights get limited

When some states assert their rights to limit free speech, human rights gets trampled on

 

This last one is what set me off to break a long spell of not writing anything due to real life stress and time limitations. This type of law is wrong on so many levels. Of course we should be able to record the activities of publically paid officials, especially when they are in public areas. If the video can misrepresent the situation, then we let a court sort it out. But people are being put in jail for recording officers who they think are abusing their power, and they should have every right to do so! I’m calling my congressmen and senators, this is fundamentally a bad law.

The funniest part, is that if you look at the comments to each of these articles, you will notice that there is a number of people who state something to the effect of how this is horrible government impinging on their rights. Often blame goes to Obama. It’s the state governments! It’s a peek into what sort of things we can expect from a libertarian country. No thanks! I’d like to know that whatever state I go into in our single country, some basic rules and rights and opportunities remain the same.


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Draw Mohammed Day

I fully endorse the mockery of religion, especially larger religions that expect people who do not share their beliefs to pay attention to their silly rules. Disallowing people to draw historical figures, like Mohammed, is an idiotic rule. If you like the rule, don't draw him. However I will:

This is my rendition of mohammed with his ceremonial blade, just after he hacked off one of his wife's head after giving a sermon of how peaceful Islam is.

P.S. I am fully aware that my rendition of Mohammed looks like an Amish serial killer. I never said my artistic skills weren't outdone by a 3rd grader.



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Skepticism and the closed mind

Tons of people have written on this, but as this blog is really for me, I wanted to get these thoughts down. Further, the focus elsewhere has mostly been on how skepticism is, in fact a more open minded position than the woo flavor of the day. This video sums up that position perfectly, so I won't go into that here.

What I wanted to discuss is why people think that. Recently, I have been encountering a lot of this "Don't be so closed minded" attitude from people around me. When I examine my own speech, and try to put myself in the other persons shoes, I can see why they might think such a thing.

These aren't stupid people, and they aren't making money by selling alternative medicine, nor are they chiropractors, astrologers, or anything like that where they have a financial advantage for promoting a particular brand of pseudoscience. They honestly believe that Joe Mercola is a good source for health information, or that vaccines cause autism, or that doctors have one single modality for improving health (a pill).

They didn't get there through blind faith, when they read something crappy or dangerous like Natural News, they think they are doing research. How can they know differently? They didn't go to school for science, they haven't done a PhD where you necessarily have to drill down deep to get a fully understanding of a concept, they have never had a need to understand multiple perspectives of a concept (especially perspectives that you don't already agree with)in order to wean out what claims are supported by evidence and what are not.

These are tasks that skeptics tend to do all on their own, without guidance. But without that tendency shared by skeptics, or without some sort of training to do it, or without the desire to even listen to perspective that go against their preconceived notions, how can those people (and let's not fool ourselves, we are talking about the majority of people) know that doing some reading, or listening to someone who looks like a doctor, or listening to a trusted friend, isn't the same thing as weaning out truth?

So when a person has a knowledgebase, that includes something like "there is energy in your body that can be manipulated by needles", and a skeptic says "that's not true", it's not really a surprise that they would call the skeptic closed minded. Further, the person, for the most part, will not know how many blog posts, how many journal articles, how many test results, and how much research the skeptic has gone through to actually get to the position he or she holds. Without that knowledge of how the skeptic has acquired their disdain for the woo, the skeptic does in fact just seem closed minded.

For the most part, I don't think skeptics enjoy dissecting claims without having the outlet to share. That is why some of us have blogs, some do podcasts, some simply get into conversations on topics. However, if we really want to teach, if we really want to make any sort of stride into the mind of a person who is wasting money or harming themselves with pseudoscience, it is important to get your thoughts compiled into the realm of their preconceived notions.

For example, when someone talks to me about a soul, I often ask what color it is. I haven't said, "souls don't exist". When they tell me its invisible, I ask the next question about weight, then the next about size, then location, etc etc. I'll sometimes ask about how it works with twins, or miscarriages. For the most part, I can enter into a conversation on an equal plane as the woo, and not appear closed minded. These sorts of questions don't say "you are wrong", they say, "tell me more about it".

That isn't to say I can bring people to the light each time I try. Hey, I can't even be sure it has ever turned someone totally off of woo. But it sure is better than having the conversation ending with "You are being closed minded".

From my experience, if someone tells you that you are being closed minded, you are probably coming off that way. Step back, ask some questions based on your knowledge, or delineate how you came to your conclusions.



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Pokeberry? I hardly know him!

Well that was my attempt at a pun.

I havent written for a while, real life has gotten in the way, kids, houses, work. On the bright side, we we will probably have our first industrial product shipped this year. On the bad side, less blogging, less time to point the skeptical eye at events and announcements. And less time to bring out the first update for Skeptic's Bingo. Sad.

So today we are talking about Pokeberries! Woohoo! Did you know that the dark dye that can be extracted from these berries can improve solar cells output by 2x? Did you know the pokeberries are from a weed that grows almost everywhere in the world and therefore are very cheap? Did you know that this method could " double the energy production of today’s flat cells at a fraction of the cost"? Does this sound familiar? Did you know that universities and companies like to hype up technologies long before they have even begun to be proven out?

If you were to read the many many websites that parroted the press release from Wake Forest, you would think a major breakthrough has occurred!

Perhaps it has, but none of the available information delineates this. Lets take a closer look. First the background.

The actual idea is as follows: There is a solar cell technology that is a bit different than what is commonly used. Most solar panels are made from silicon slices that have been doped in a way that lets them convert incident light into electrons. Alternatively, but similarly, some solar cells are made on a flexible substrate by laying down a thin film of material that can perform the same function. Other proposals for solar cells are wide and varied. One common theme is to create a three dimensional surface so that more light get absorbed.

So this new technology incorporates these same ideas, flexible substrate, larger surface area for incident light, and other features, but the places that actually trap the light are made from a polymer. I don't see a reason why this wouldn't work. Other incarnations of the same idea provide some improvement.

What are the key claims?

  • This solar cell is cheaper than other technologies, so much cheaper that is enables deployment in scenarios unavailable to normal solar cells.
  • This solar cell produces 2x the power than a "normal" solar cell.
  • This solar cell can collect more light at oblique angles than a "normal" solar cell.

I quoted "normal" because its hard to say what is normal these days. On houses, the most common type is the silicon based flat panels. But solar farms can use other technologies, like focused light with stirling engines, or even photovoltaics that are2x to 4x more efficient than a residential solar cell (these are known as full spectrum cells and are far more expensive, but you need less becuase you can concentrate the light).

So, the first question is, could these really be cheap enough to provide a boon to the solar industry? Well, when you have a panel installed, how much of the cost is associated with the cell and how much for the rest of the installation? Well let's do an example.

A typical solar installation is around 2000 watts. That means that you put enough panels up to make 2000 watts on on average on sunny days. During the day, you may get more than this depending on the sun, sky and time of year. But often you get less, like when its cloudy or night time. Most families don't use a full 2000 watts all the time, so the extra gets sold to the power company (or charges batteries), and then when power is needed but there is no sun, the power is returned from the power company.

Prices for silicon solar cells is as low as $1.75/watt. But when placed into modules for a large installation, when multiple cells are strung together and modules (generally 125 watts each) are electrically tied together, the price increases to about $4.23/watt. Then, in order to send the extra power to the power company you need an inverter which costs about $0.72/watt (or charge batteries which cost about 20 cents per watt, but you will require a charge controller also for extra cost).

So, then you have to get it installed which adds about 100% of the panel costs, so the cost of an installation is about $9.00/watt. The point of throwing all these numbers out there is that, even if the cost of the solar cell dropped to $0.00 the cost of an installation would still be quite expensive. The cells are a big part of the cost, but not even close to a majority of the cost.

The next claim is that it can create 2x the power of a normal cell. Can it? Well let's go to the source. The technology (which interestingly, does not seem to have US patent protection), was licensed to Fibercell inc (who really should buy a mac and use iweb to get just a basically decent website made). They have only one single performance graph on their website and it is shown to the right. This graph shows cumulative power over time (otherwise known as energy). It's true, there are times during the day where the slope of the Fibercell curve is 2x that of a normal silicon cell. But that hardly matters, what is important is how much energy it supplies over the whole day. If the 2x power could be sustained, then it would end up with 2x the energy over the whole day. Clearly this is not the case. The very graph they present to show how good it is, shows that in fact, it performs exactly as well as conventional solar cells.

One final question on that graph, for which I do not have an answer, why is the power maximized between 10:00AM and noon? Why does the power almost go to zero shortly after noon, and provide no extra energy after 3:00 PM?

The final claim is that this technology works better when the sun is at oblique angles. Well, the graph above shows that may be true at some angles and not other, but the problem is that it doesn't matter that much if it performs slightly better at oblique angles. There is something called the cosine problem for solar cells. If the sun hits the panel at an angle, there is less overall light on it than if it hits it straight on. It doesn't matter how cool the panel is, what cool features are on the panel, it simply can not get away from the fact that there is less light on the panel itself when the sun shines light on to the panel at an angle. The best/cheapest solution for this problem is to have a tracker, but in general people don't like these on their houses, plus it adds cost, but it can double the energy output from a panel. So, based on their own data and basic fundamental issues with non-tracking panels, this claim seems sketchy.

It's good to keep an open mind on this, perhaps this device can reduce the cost of panels by some amount, perhaps, as they show to some small degree, the performance is better than a normal solar cell. But there doesn't seem to be any actual data out there to support these claims in a way that is different than any other new solar technology.

Look for it for any new solar technology... If they hit these three things, then it is being promoted like every other new solar technology:

  • 1) <$1/watt
  • 2) reel-to-reel manufacturing
  • 3) 2x-4x better than "normal" solar cells

Here is an example, can you see any relevant difference in the boasts between the Fibercell technology and say, this one? Solar technology is improving on many front. There has not been a breakthrough that will lead to the benefits that this PR extolls. There probably never will be because the costs of a solar implementation is multifaceted, its simply not just the cost of the cell itself.

But, where are the pokeberries?

Funny how most of the articles about this technology focuses on the pokeberry angle. I guess it makes good news. What do the pokeberries do? They used a dye from pokeberries that gets spread on top of the cells. It promotes the absorption of light, like it could do for any solar cell. Really, that's it. Silly, huh?



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Seems appropriate

Saw this in the Make Magazine Facebook feed. Seemed like I should post it here.


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TechBit: The iPad and the Electric Car


I'm sure I don't have to link to the thousands of articles and blog posts about the iPad both praising it and bashing it. Just do a google or twitter search and you will find both rather easily. One thing I still remain a bit puzzled with is the continued reaction to the device about what it doesnt have and can't do. Primarily from techies who would never buy one. Neither would I, at least not yet. The thing that keeps coming across to me from these folks is a complete lack of understanding about what its for.

Consider the electric car for a moment. Pure electric, not hybridized. It only has a range of about 40 miles. It's small. Its does 0-60 mph in like a whole minute. I can totally imagine the exact same conversation about one of those happening:

Steve: I'm thinking about getting an electric car.
Bill: Why would you ever do that?!?
Steve: What do you mean?
Bill: An electric car has such a limited range, 40 miles or something, what if you need to really go somewhere!
Steve: for 75% of the population, myself included, have a daily commute, including shopping, less than 40 miles. So why is that a problem?
Bill: Well it goes so slow!
Steve: Its not like I'm going drag racing or expecting performance vehicle, I just need to get from here to work and back. When I want to have some fun driving , I'll use my Tesla. (snarfs)
Bill: But you have to plug it in every night and wait for it to charge. What if you need to drive when that is happening?
Steve: uh, Bill, I'll use my car with the, you know, gas engine in it. As I will do when I need to go on long trips.
Bill: Well then if you need two cars, how is it worth it?putzes
Steve: We need two cars anyway. During the week, I only drive to work and back. During that same time, my wife has to drive the kids to Timbuktu and back so she gets the Hummer. And on the weekend, we may go on a long trip, so I'll drive the Hummer then while she scoots around town in the electric car.

It's true, if you live in the burbs, or out in the country it make no sense at all to have an all electric vehicle as your only way to get around. The electric car, as it stands right now, would only be an efficient method to supplement your driving needs.

The same sort of gripes are being made about the iPad. It doesnt have USB. It doesnt have a camera, it's not upgradable. You can't add memory or replace the battery. You can't run more than one 3rd party app at the same time. You are stuck with Apple blessed software. Yes the limitations are large. But no one expects this thing to be your only computer.

It's a supplemental computing device. It performs 90% of the tasks that average Joe and Jane needs. Email, internet (web based porn I am sure for many customers), it holds contacts and provides a great information source for a variety of needs. One that wont crash, won't get slower as you use it, not prone to any viruses. Plus all the apps, many of which are actually useful. But yeah, if you need to build a website, you probably need a computer. Want to print to a USB printer, you probably have to transfer the file. etc etc. For those of you that do things the iPad can't do more than 10% of the time, know two things:

1) The iPad isnt for you.
2) You are in the great minority of people in the world

As I said, I wont be buying one for myself (although I like the iBook stuff), but its perfect for my wife (and mom and sister), all of whom hate computers and live a frustrated life with those evil machines. I have no doubt the next iPad will have a camera, and other goodies. Maybe I'll jump in then, maybe not.



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Are Homeopaths freaking serious?

I gotta say, I didn't expect the world of homeopathy to say "Alright, you caught us, we're full of shit", but I did perhaps expect some reflection, some semblance of introspection, some effort on their part to even try to understand why the scientific community thinks they are full of it.

Nope, in fact just the opposite. Check this out, from George Vithoulkas, Homeopath Extraordinaire: He issued a challenge to the sceptic's in response to the 1023 campaign.

I propose the remedy to be Alumina 200C ( a dilution far beyond the Avogadro number) and I promise them that in the end of 60 days a considerable number of them (up to 10% or more) will be suffering with slight to severe constipation.
.
.
.
You need to find 40 sceptics for this experiment.

So, what you are saying Georgie, is that after 2 month of drinking a little water, every day (doesnt mattere how much apparently according to him, 4 people will have anything from "slight" to "severe" constipation.

Why not claim "slight" to "severe" itching? Or "slight" to "severe" dry mouth?

Constipation is the most common gastrointestinal complaint that there is. 1.5% of people complain they are constipated "most" or "all of the time". So how many people have "slight" constipation?

Why just 10% Georgie? Why doesn't you magic water affect 50% or 100%? If I give a real drug, say morphine it has some effect on almost 100% of the people. Why does your magic water only affect people in the same percentage as your would expect anyway? How will you measure "slight" constipation?

More importantly George, if the skeptics did perform your clearly ridiculous test, and show that water performed exactly as you would expect water to perform, would you then come out and say "oops, looks like I was wrong"? What are the ramifications to you if your test was performed?

As far as I can tell, looks like you just want to waste people's time.



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Skeptical Apps

I wanted to take a moment to remark on the fact that there is quite a dearth of skeptical software as iphone apps (and therefore I presume a dearth of android and blackberry apps). I'll go over what is out there that I have found, the good and the bad (or perhaps not as good), and how you can make your own app, even if you dont know any programming at all!

Searching the iTunes store for things like "skeptic", "evolution", "vaccination" and so forth bring me to the following applications.

Skeptic's Bingo: Yeah that one is mine, I thought I'd plug it again, go buy it and leave a constructive comment. This is a bingo game, with tiles that cover about 30 common claims from various arenas, such as evolution, vaccines, CAM and so forth (although I have only completed evolution for now).

Skeptical Science: Wow, this guy John Cook, spent a great deal of time pulling apart common global warming dissident claims and presenting them in a clear, easy to navigate app. The graphic design is clean (apparently his wife did it, can she help me clean up my program?). All I can say is: Nice work John! He also has put in some interactivity that lets you mark down when you hear a certain claim. I'm presuming that he is collecting data on what the most common claims are, as these may change with time.

At this point i'd like to point out that PZ Myers posted about an iphone app, counter-creationism Handbook, that basically had the Talk Origins website in it. I was also going to make an app like that but I did know the copyright ramifications of doing that, and I didn't know who to get in touch with over there. However, this app, presently seems to have disappeared. I am not sure why.

I'll stop here for a moment because that is essentially it for skeptical iPhone apps, that are actually like, you know, applications. There are a couple of more apps from the skeptical community.

Skepticality: for $1.99 this app basically offers a conduit to the podcast.
Skeptoid: for $1.99 this app basically offers a conduit to the Skeptoid podcast. Its layout and functionality is identical to the one above (and made by the same folks).


Making your own app
These last two apps point out that, basically, if you have a blog (or a podcast) for a small amount of money you can have an app. This is exactly what Answers in Genesis did when they made their app. Turns out, there is a service out there who provides software to turn you blog into an app. For a couple of hundred dollars, the AppMakr folks will turn your blog into an app and submit it for you into iTunes. The software seems pretty robust, so if you have a popular blog, there is no reason not to follow Swoopy, Derek, and Brian's lead and make an app out of it. Maybe you can make a buck or two. Or you can follow the AIG model and make it free.

But what if you don't want to make a conduit or just transform your blog. What if you want to make a real app? Well, thats what I wanted to do, so I'l tell you the process.

Well, this is more difficult and/or more costly.

You could learn to program it yourself. You need to buy a mac (you can get a mini for about $550, I got a macbook for about a grand. Then you need to drop about 100 bucks to become a developer. Then you get all the programming tools (no extra cost), and Apple's developer website is filled with forums, sample code, and documentation to get you going. There is a lot there, so much that it is a little overwhelming.

You also need to learn objective C. That's the programming language that is used for iPhones (and Macs in general). There are a number of good books on the subject, plus Stanford has a podcast in itunesU that is their entire course on iPhone programming.

This is the path I started down. But man, I ended up not really having time (work, landlording, two kids, two dogs, you get the picture). So what do we do when we can't do a job ourselves? We pay someone.

There is an excellent, but rustic, website called rentacoder.com (there is another one, I think, called guru.com, but I didn't evaluate that one). On this website you can describe what you want to do, and have people bid on it. I used it for Skeptic's Bingo, but I also used it for having someone make Excel macros for me for work. It's an excellent service.

However, if you want to make a full application and put it up for bid at rentacoder.com, I STRONGLY suggest that you take the time and come up with a detailed software specification (you can google that to see an example) that fully describes the app, each screen and what each button does. This way, when people bid on it, they really know what they are getting into. Prices?

Well let's say, I had someone in Russia doing Excel macros that had to collate data and graph things in a flexible manner and that cost between 30 and 80 dollars. Skeptics Bingo cost about 3000 dollars for an american programmer, and the he didnt do ANY of the content or artwork. This is why I'm charging a buck, I hoping to recoup that cost, and be able to pay a graphic designer to clean up the app so it doesnt look like a left handed engineer made it.

My programmer did the bingo functionality, the flexibility for me to expand the program myself (so I can add new bingo games like vaccines and CAM), he did the zooming functionality and the in-app purchase.

One other difficulty in doing this yourself is that due to iTunes store security there is a lot of barely intelligible stuff you got to do to your program to get it on iTunes. I did this part myself because I want to update it in the future without the help of someone else, but you can get the programmer to get it in the app store himself. Someone who does it often probably will have an easier time. To do it yourself, you must have the dev kit, create things like Provisioning Profiles, set stuff up in the AppStore conduit (called Connect) and a number of other steps.

Then you have to get past their approval folks. Yak! This is where I stumbled a lot. Sometimes I screwed up, sometimes it was because they didn't understand how to use the software (even though the help button really spells it out).

That's a lot of work! Why bother?
It is a lot of work, time, and expense to design a game or utility. There is no doubt (unless you are just "Appifying" your blog). So why? Well my opinion is that I would really like to see more skeptical applications on iPhones, iTouches, androids, and iPads. It puts a vast array of information in your pocket, in a format that is better than using the internet. It's more concentrated, more accessible if done right.

Further, perhaps some of you creative skeptics can make something fun?

I also challenge you to look through the AppStore. Never mind the unending versions of bible apps. Never mind the Answers in Genesis app I mentioned above. Check these out:

There are 5 acupuncture apps.
There are 5 traditional chinese medicine apps.
There are 4 chiropractic apps.
There are at least 2 "Natural Cures" Apps.

Taking a look at the "health & fitness" category yields many, many apps filled with utter nonsense. Some of them claim to heal you by putting hte iPhone near you! It would be nice to see some more rationally based apps out there that have similar keywords so they show up in similar searches, are based on actual scientific information, and are 1 dollar or free.

What is Skeptical Software?
I've been thinking about this a lot recently. I hate to admit this, but I really don't know. I have not come to a good conclusion of what it might be. Skeptic's bingo is obviously software geared to the skeptical community. The Mad Scientist mentioned Aardvark (vark.com). Sometimes you get a good answer (like I asked what the 3 best arguments for creationism were, and all three answers was "There isn't any", but when I asked about vaccines schedules, I got a bunch of hocus pocus).

It would be great if you could focus your questions to particular groups of people with that. you can crete a circle of friends, but I would rather ask a cloud of christians a specific question, or ask a cloud of epidemologists a questions rather than just putting out to a general cloud.

So, I guess a source that lets you retrieve information efficiently could certainly reside within the bounds of whatever "Skeptical Software" is. But is that it? Any topic that includes scientific investigation? Consumer protection? What about new topics that arise? What about the podcast and blog conduits?

Further, as skeptics we like to analyze and take apart problems and situations looking for "reality" or how something really works. This same characteristic is embedded into RPG games like World of Warcraft when you take down boss monsters. It a puzzle, it takes trial and error, it takes observation. But would I say that WoW is skeptical software? No, while some of the skills may arise, I certainly wouldn't put it in that category.

Well, whatever Skeptical Software is, I have two or three more ideas that I would like to implement, some of them are iPhone apps, and some of them are web based information sources. I hope my app get bought enough that I can pursue these other avenues of developing skeptical software, I hope you come along for the ride.

Update:

Well now this is interesting.

this week Apple told Mobile Roadie, a company that provides templates for clients to build iPhone apps, that the App Store would no longer accept “cookie-cutter” apps — apps made with app-generating services that do little more than reproduce websites or pull RSS feeds from the internet.

Looks like apple feels similarly to Skeptico in the comments below.  That is quite a blow to those companies making blog conversion software. There is another interesting comment in that article.


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Skeptics Bingo! iPhone Style.

If you are like me, you use your smartphone a lot. I use mine for engineering work, snapshots and photo editing, tweeting, reading pdfs while on the road, listening to podcasts....oh and its a phone too.

I am pretty enamored with the state of these devices, growing up in the 70's and 80's, the common iPhone, blackberry or Android phone really seem like a device from the future. As you probably know, there are well over 100 thousand apps for the iphone (and most of them are junk, really).

Well it's time to get some real skeptical software on these machines! One message I took away from the last NECSS conference, was from Rebecca Watson. A great time to help spread the skeptical viewpoint of various subjects is to go to presentations by creationists, antivaxxers, and so forth, and ask sharp questions. You aren't trying to convince the presenter, that person is probably already lost (you'd know this if you ever watched Jenny McCarthy flail around defending her ridiculous ideas about vaccinations). However the audience is generally a little more prone to being jarred if someone pointedly makes remarks that are logical or data driven refutations of items that were presented. If you are anything like me, you feel better having actual data in your hand, well here it is.

In this vein, I created a game for your iPhone. Skeptic's Bingo. Its not a brilliant game. Its pretty obvious. But I have at least made something that you can use to pass the time during one of these lecture. However more importantly, it presents information about common tripe that is usually put forward in various areas like creationism, anti-vaxers (well thats coming next), and other areas (which I will add as time goes on).

The website for the game is here.

Mark the things that you have heard so you can come back to them later. Use the information provided to formulate a good question that puts the presenter on the spot. get out there and get good information into the heads of the people listening there with you.

At least I hope you will download the game, pay the measly dollar for access to the functionality that flips over the tiles for the information (this money will go toward the improvement of this game and the skeptical community).

And please, rate the program before angry creationists "pharyngulate" my reviews. Have you seen how many bibles there are in the app store?

Coming soon as updates to this app:
Vaccine Bingo
Refined Layout
List view of claims (as opposed to bingo board)
Psychic Bingo
CAM Bingo

Basically if people show interest in this app, I'll get right on these items. Right now, I only have the evolution one.



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Asshole

I dont usually have a lot of crude language on this blog. But sometimes there is simply no other word that fits someone.

In case you haven't been following the Shorty Awards (I never even heard of this thing). Both Dr. (cough) Mercola and Mark Adams from Natural News were ahead in the health section. The skeptic community got together and moved Dr. Rachie ahead. She is now winning both from this push but also from the fact that a huge number of the votes for both Mercola and Adams were fraudulent, i.e. Twitter accounts created to vote for them.

So Adams, loses first place, in fact got disqualified for this, and start whining, threatening lawsuit (please do), and finally launching the most uninformed and just plain old stupid post about the skeptic community.

I was going to take apart his post, but I have to admit that not only did Tom Foss beat me to it, but he wrote essentially what I would have.

Well I guess I could alway shoot at second worst with his utterly whiny facebook entry.

This overweight non-physician has arrogantly bashed nearly every alternative therapy and encourages reliance on drugs

Really now. Its virtually the same thing as Adams Rant. The skeptic position is simple, it doesn't matter what you are claiming, chemotherapy or Aloe Vera:


Present evidence that it works






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Shoveling Snow

I like shoveling snow.

Well, I don't really like th actual act of shoveling, especially since the sidewalk in front of my building is so uneven. But I do like the opportunities shoveling snow affords me. Snow shoveling is a cheap, easy way to help out and maybe show you care.

For example, the building next to be is vacant. So no one really shovels there. When I am out there shoveling in front of my building I just look over to the next one and I imagine a little old lady or kid coming down the sidewalk there, slipping and falling and hurting themselves. I can't stand the idea, so, I shovel that building.

I don't get any extra credit. The owner isn't there to thank me. The little old lady who didn't fall down isn't going to thank me and leave me with her estate after she passes. Nope, I just like the feeling I get when I have done something nice.

Some days, if the storm is real bad, I'll go around and help two or three people dig out their cars. I get offered money, I get asked what I want. I tell them I don't want anything, I just want them to help someone else out some time. Yeah, I saw the movie "Pay It Forward". I think its a pretty good idea, even if the reality is that almost no one pays it forward.

Today, perhaps I went a little overboard. I shoveled my place, then I walked one block to the YWCA one block over and salted the icy patches. Then I walked another block over to clear out the sidewalk in front of a friend of mine who happens to be christian who is going through a tough time. I cleared out her sidewalk, salted it and built two snow heads (they sort of look like Sesame Street character heads) for the kids. I'm waiting to see if she claims that God gave her a gift.

The point is that you are already out there with a snow shovel. You are already bundled up. A little extra work goes a long way. It's a great feeling to help someone out who really needed it.

Go forth and shovel.



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