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.

Ancient Chinese Secret

How many times have you heard:

"They've been doing this in China for thousands of years"
"My healer is trained in Ancient Medicine"
"This have been practiced by millions of people for thousands of years"

This is the exact sort of thing you hear with respect to CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine), astrology, homeopathy and so forth. Yes, its an appeal to ancient ways. But when discussing health its so much more than some fallacious arguement, its bad for the health of a society as a whole, never mind being bad for the individual. Let me explain.

It is true that Dawkins addressed this a little bit in his "Enemies of Reason" series. but I wanted to address on little bit of evidence that I dont think he made quite clear and didn't emphasise enough.

Both China and India are credited with the development of most of CAM. Acupuncture, Ayurvedic Healing, and a number of other "ancient medicines". Panda Bear M.D. has already posted some great info about homeopathy. Some folks have also include shamanistic indian rituals, drug use, and a number of other practices.

More recently, people have been simply justifying these practices by pretending to understand quantum mechanics, and saying that is the reason it works.

None of this is new or original. I really have nothing to add to the specifics of each piece of CAM, just something more general. My question when I hear a statement like those I started out this post with is:

Why would you do something that has already been shown to only allow you to live 1/2 as long?

Here is what I mean.

I took life expectancy data from the US from 1900 to 2004 and plotted it against what I could find for that same year range for China and India.(1,2,3,4)

Some notes about this:

By 1900, our lifespan doubled that of China and India. by this time we had worked out vaccinations, germ theory, hand washing, among a variety of other things.

By 1940 we had worked out the use of pennicillin, which lead to a variety of other, more broad spectrum antibiotics.
1950's we were learning to make and use pacemakers. In the '60s we were learning to transplant hearts and spinning up our abilities to fight viruses. In the 70s we started learning IVF and other fertilization techniques. I dont think I can even summarize our progress in the last 3 decades in imagining, genetics, artificial organs , etc.

An interesting overview of the introduction of western medicine into china is presented here. There we find strong resistance to the influx of western medicine in spite of various places where the western medicine was recognized as superior. Even the smallpox vaccine was still making rounds in the twentieth century.

in 1881 the very first school was made to teach western style medicine. It was quickly run down during the Boxer Rebellion, so once again western medicine was prevented from becoming pervasive in China. Even western sanitation (which goes hand in hand with medicine) was looked down upon.

Around the turn of the century there were a group of Chinese who did acknowledge that China was crumbling and needed modernization badly.

Only around 1920 did China start to require medical licenses, however both traditional Chinese medicine and western medicine were still practiced, with traditional medicine still being favored. enforcement was severely lacking.

It was not until near 1940 did western medicine start to truly penetrate Chinese society, with the obvious benefits seen in the graph.

Folks, science is supposed to change what we know. When it changes it is becoming more accurate, more informative, and a better predictor. It does this by testing hypotheses, keeping the good ones and throwing away the bad ones. Ayurvedic medicine, acupuncture, and other 'medical' treatments that have not changed in 2000 years should be viewed with intense skepticism. Anything claiming to be a science that has not changed in decades, much less centuries or millenia is bad, and not something to admire.

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Nonsense Products

Wired has a great article on a bunch of nonsense products you can waste you money on. I applaud their efforts and showing this nonsense to the world, I could only dream of having the exposure the author of that article has though Wired. I am a little disappointed the Purple Tesla energy Shield didn't make the list, although the Q-Ray was first.... good enough.

My favorite part is the comments. These folks focus on the calling out of water dowsing. They insist that it works, or that they saw it working, etc etc.

Folks..... there is always water. If the dowser 'found' water in one place, you can bet its all around the area also. Its all a matter of how near the surface the water is, something the dowser will never tell you. The confirmation bias is so strong on this its unbelievable. No homeowner is going to dig another hole after they already found water! No matter where the dowser tells you, he is going to be right. That is why we study this sort of thing, and of course, every time, water dowsers do no better than chance.

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Sex as a prime motivator

Peer pressure is a topic that any parent and high school student is familiar with.

José Halloy, a biology researcher at the Free University of Brussels seems to think that he has been able to influence behavior of cockroaches through the use of peer pressure. The information is terse, but here is what I was able to discern:

They made some little robots that had swarm intelligence programming. This is a type of programming that gives very few and simple rules to a robot. The rules usually are goal related and consist of interaction between the robot and other similar robots around it.

For example, in this case the robots were given two rules: "Get near other robots" and "go to darker places". The evaluation of each rule may be weighted (for example, if the actions contradict each other, one may be given more weight).

So they ran these tests, and the robots huddled together under a light blocking disc. So did the cockroaches. Then after doing this, they changed the programming so that the robots would prefer lighter places instead. In most of the cases (60%), the roaches followed the robots, uncharacteristically into the light areas.

Oh... and by the way...the robots were smeared with cockroach sex hormone.

Hello? Did we learn anything by this test? What happens if I put a bunny in the ring smeared with sex hormone, wouldn't I expect the cockroaches to try to hump the bunny in a big entomological gang rape in broad daylight?

While I think the little robots are cool, and swarm programming is neat (ever watch a flock of birds, its beautiful), I can't figure out what this test does except show how strong a motivator sex hormone is. I don't know what the rest of it had to do with cockroach behavior.

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Verizon makes me get an iPhone

I don't write personal stories here very often, and once again I am going away from presenting data about something (its really quite a project for each item) in order to write a little blurb. But this recently happened and I thought I would write about it.

I have been a faithful Verizon wireless subscriber for about a decade. We had a great relationship. I paid them and they gave me a cool cell phone and good service for me and my family. After years of automatically paying them the same amount every month (thank you billpay), I was pretty content. I didn't bother them, and they didn't bother me.

Enter: The Land Line....

We recently got a house out in Nowhereville. None of our Verizon phones worked out there. however as we were building the house, we noticed that some of the workers phones worked perfectly. That was pretty annoying.

Because of our fear of the 175 dollar cancellati0n fee per phone, we decided to get a land line to the house instead of switching service.

  • 200+ dollars installation fee
  • 22 dollars per month for dial tone
  • 9 cents per local call
  • 7 cents a minute for regional calls
  • No long distance
  • This ended up being about 35 dollars per month.
  • they send someone out to attach it, only to have him leave after 'assessing' the area. I had previously told them that there is no phone line to the house, and the nearest active pole is on the road about 300 years away.
  • a week later they come out and attach power to the nearest pole and not to the house
  • a few days later they actually attach the phone to the house
  • happily I am an engineer, so instead of them charging me yet another 200 bucks because they found a short in the internally connected phone wiring because the electrician messed up, i spent all of 5 minutes looking at each of the phone jacks and found the short myself.
  • They left, considering the job done
  • They left 'underground' cable on the ground lying, and snaking in random directions generally leading to one of the poles (it was a lot of line, which I am sure to mow over one day).
I have called them 5 times to have them dig down this line, its their line, not only should they be doing it, I'm not supposed to do it at all since they own it. aLl this waiting and stalling between the time I ordered it (May) to the time we had a dial tone (july) happened while my aging mother was out there without a way to communicate (something I mentioned to them more than once).

OK we got a phone. Next step was to try to get one bill. So I had them add the land line to my wireless bill. So here was my big mistake. I admit it, I screwed up, I told them I screwed up, and would happily correct it.

I had assumed that they added the land line to my cell phone bill. What they had in fact done was add my cell phone to my land line bill. They even kept referring to this little used as my Home line (my cell phone is my home line). So my automatic payments went to the wrong place. They told me to stop paying wireless, and to make it into one bill the wireless balance had to get to zero (no credit, no debit). so I did that..... and I forgot to restart my automatic bill pay to the new account.

So months later, while I thought my phone bills were being paid, they weren't. Between June and October I racked up about 850 dollars in bills from them (no, I don't check the statements from people I pay automatically, I know I should, I just hate paperwork).

So here is the problem... Instead of recognizing our wonderful, cozy relationship for the past 10 years, and my very high credit score, the lady decided to be a snippy bitch on the phone. I was speechless, and of course thought of exactly the correct things to say 15 minutes after I hung up. I called back to see if there were some other solutions to the costs of the land line, the billing methods, and the wire that just lays there. Their only responses were "where's my money?"

The next day, I paid off my bill and canceled my land line. They asked me why, and the guy on the phone was all apologetic, and told me that one representative doesn't represent the whole company and tried to justify the cost of the land line, and make everything sound nice-nice. I told him there was nothing he could say to prevent this line from being canceled, and that if he wanted to talk to someone about it, he should talk to the snippy bitch in financial services.

But now there was no service at the house. So I went to Sprint and Cingular (AT&T), got a cheap shit phone from each, went out to the house, and found that while the Sprint phone didn't work at all, the Cingular phone worked perfectly. I went back, canceled the Sprint account, and got my mother a cool Cingular phone.

While getting the Cingular phone I had to call Verizon to get my account number. The guy on the phone caught on that I was switching a phone number away from Verizon, and started in with the 175 dollar fee. I told him that this was ridiculous since Verizon had no coverage where the phone was being used. He told me that they go by billing location. So I switched my billing location to the house in the sticks. This avoided my 175 dollar fee. Realizing this....

I switched over all the phones and got an extra phone for our au pair. Goodbye Verizon. You did everything in your power to get rid of me, and I have no qualms about dumping you like a sack of shit and writing about it.

Enter the iPhone...
Well now I had the useless treo 700p. I needed a new phone, and Cingular does offer the treo also, and pretty much all the same phones Verizon had. But they also have the iPhone. Treo...iPhone...Treo...iPhone.... The choice is pretty obvious...

I've been playing with the iPhone for 3 days now. I have to admit, it really is most of what it is cracked up to be. However you have to like or "not mind" certain things to be happy with it.

  • The LCD screen is spectacular. I've not seen any other phone with a screen that is the clear, this bright and of course, this big.
  • The main interface is easy. It actually works a bit like the Wii.
  • The setup was easy.
  • The wi-fi works pretty good with no set up problems
  • Having my phone, camera, and music that is compatible with the Pc software I already use (Outlook, iTunes, Picasa), on one unit it truly nice.
  • Using it is just like in the commercial, with the zooming, and flipping through items and so forth. It is very natural and easy to understand.
  • Its strangely thin, but it has a decent weight that makes in seem robust (unlike a RAZR)
  • It has a nice way to correct for mistype, by suggesting words (yeah, I know it is a feature on other phones, so what? its still nice)
  • The battery seems to last as long as they say it will. I've been playing with this thing for 3 days straight. LCD has been on for a lot of time, I have made a few long calls, and the battery just died (I didn't measure the exact amount of time).
  • The camera blows. Its like stepping back in time to when cameras were first put in phones. The update rate is slow, and pictures are fuzzy. I'm sure this will be one of the first things they improve with the next version.
  • Internet access is slow, compared to my desktop (which uses a wi-fi connection). I've not used any phone internet before, even with my treo, so I can't really tell you if its typical or not. Its not so slow as to be useless, just slower. When away from wifi, using the cell network, its even slower.
  • It takes a while to get used to the keyboard, I often mistype. I definitely liked having real keys, like on the treo, better than tapping on a screen.
  • Sometimes, it isn't obvious how to get to where I need to go. For example, I didnt realize that getting from album view back to song view, required that I rotate the whole iPhone. I was looking for a button.
  • When I plug in the phone, Windows asks me what program I want to use for the camera, it does not give me the option to choose nothing and to always choose nothing (I have to click cancel all the time).
  • There is no quick access, and it really requires two hands to use. This is probably a great personal phone, and perhaps not as good for a business phone. I could use most of my treo functionality with one hand.
Well, thats it for now. If you can get to AT&T an have 400 bucks to drop, I do recommend this phone.

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I have proof of God

or at least I would if this occurred in nature...

I am often asked what it would take for me to change my view about the existence of an all knowing, all powerful, omnipresent being who can control every single electron in the universe. So here it is, I'm putting it out there. Its really not that much for an entity such as this, I mean, us measly humans can do it.

According to the description, there are no speakers in this demo. The sound is made by the lightning itself. Therefore all the physics are available to God, he doesn't have to affect civilization by moving a mountain, he doesnt have to turn anyone into a frog, he doesn't have to regrow a limb for anyone. Just make some lightning to some music that he also provides.

.... it would also be nice if he could draw, in lightning, some text that indicates which book I'm supposed to follow.

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