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Archive for September, 2010

Did you hear?  They’ve discovered a new planet in another solar system that is perfect for life.   This article even refers to it as “just like Earth.”

Except it’s three times the size of Earth.

It’s 79 million mile closer to its sun, which is a dwarf star and about 1/3 the size of our Sun.

It’s year is 37 days.

It doesn’t rotate much so there is one side that’s in perpetual day and one that’s in perpetual night.

And no one knows what the atmosphere is made of, or whether there’s water on it.

It’s interesting to me when articles come out about the world of science because they inevitably emphasize the speculative aspects of the discovery and what it might possibly mean more than what was actually found.  And everything is presented as something absolute.  This phenomenon is illustrated quite well in this xkcd comic referencing the recent headlines about Stephen Hawking.

Here’s my favorite line from the article.

Vogt and Butler ran some calculations, with giant fudge factors built in, and figured that as much as one out of five to 10 stars in the universe have planets that are Earth-sized and in the habitable zone.

I have no problem with the science.  I think it’s pretty fascinating stuff.  I just think the media sometimes comes across as if they’re really excited but don’t really understand what about.

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I’ve mentioned GOG.com on here before.  It’s an excellent place to find fairly old, and legal, pc games.  Recently they’ve started adding some great games to their catalog including the subject of today’s post.

Planescape: Torment.

This may very well be the greatest rpg of all time.  Everything about it is so unique, from the setting to the characters and story.  It stars a nameless protagonist who wakes up, with no memory, in a morgue.  He’s  immediately accosted by a floating, talking skull and the whole thing only get stranger from there as he goes on a quest through a medieval multiverse to discover why he is immortal and to answer the recurring question, “What can change the nature of a man?”.

It’s excellent, and if you have any interest in video games, you should buy it today.  Or wait for it to go on sale; that’s fine too.

Also, GOG.com has added Baldur’s Gate.  Another fantastic rpg.  If you want to know where the geniuses behind Mass Effect and Dragon Age got their start, this is it.

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Our religious knowledge is sorely lacking, apparently. And by ‘our’ I mean ‘you’re’.  I took a shorter version of the quiz, found here, and I did great.  I only missed one, but I won’t say which one just yet.  I don’t want to skew anyone’s results.

I’m not surprised that atheists/agnostics scored higher.  They tend to be more educated than the general populace so it would make sense that they would know more about a particular subject.  Also, in my experience anyway, atheists tend to be pretty strong students of religion if for no other reason than to know what they want to prove wrong (I’m looking at you, Richard Dawkins).

Take the quiz and feel free to comment on your results.

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If you haven’t read a book by A. J. Jacobs you should.  They’re highly entertaining.  Apparently, he’s found a nice little literary niche in which he sets odd goals for himself and then writes about his attempts to reach them.  I’ve read The Know-it-All, where he succeeds in reading through the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica in a year, and The Guinea Pig Diaries, where he embarks on several month long experiments including such things as outsourcing his every day life to India and practicing Radical Honesty.  One of the more interesting chapters was title “The Rationality Project” in which Jacobs attempts to “…root out all the irrational biases and Darwinian anachronisms one by one and retrain [his] brain to be a perfectly rational machine.”  What’s really interesting are some of these irrational biases.  He has a listing of them in the back of his book, but I’ll post a link to Wikipedia’s page of Cognitive Biases.

The best part of this was going through and seeing which ones I noticed the most in my own behavior.  One is the ‘Lake Wobegon Effect’, where you think you’re better looking, smarter, and more virtuous than you are.  This mostly comes to the foreground during Tuesday night basketball when I think I can still jump higher than six inches even though I never block any shots, but I slap a lot of forearms.  Another is the ‘Unit Bias’, “the irrational urge to finish an entire unit, such as a plateful of food”.  I especially do this at restaurants.  I realize I could take it home in a styrofoam box and eat it later, but I just keep shoveling it in.

Also, I don’t know which one this is, but I have a tendency to think food in fancy packaging looks more appetizing.  If I’m shopping for groceries, I always want to buy the ingredients with words like artisan, gourmet, authentic, etc., especially if it costs a little more.  I convince myself it will taste better.

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I intended to write up a long post detailing what I thought about this questions, but, hey, I’m tired.  Instead I thought I would post the question and let anyone who wanted to hash out their own thoughts in the comments.  I’ve been thinking about this for a little while, and I’m always up for more ideas and discussion.  Also, I rarely post on weekends and this will hopefully give people something to think about as they anxiously await the next random Wikipedia article.  Here’s the question:

Does a morality that corresponds to Judeo-Christian values only make sense in a world where God exists, or could it evolve in a purely materialistic world?

I’m not really thinking about those religious values that speak specifically to God, like “Love the Lord your God.”  I’m wondering more about social morals:  helping the poor, the hungry, the mentally and physically disabled, the elderly, etc.  Why do we think it is morally ‘right’ to take care of these people?  Does a moral system that cares for them require a divine source, or could it arise by evolutionary mechanisms, and why?

Discuss.

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I have no idea how long it’s been there, but a few weeks ago I noticed this in an empty lot down the road from my house.

My first thought upon seeing this was to turn to my wife and say “I think there’s a cannon in that field.”  I have no idea what sort of artillery this actually is, but I’d be interested to find out.  I wonder if the owner is building a patriotic monument, or if he thinks Beebe is going to be attacked sometime soon.  I drive by this every day, and every day I find myself fascinated by it.

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I like to cook.  It’s a hobby of mine, and so I do all of the cooking around my house.  I have a subscription to Southern Living and Food Network Magazine, I enjoy cooking shows, and I’m constantly on the lookout for new recipes and techniques so I can have the perfect versions of all of the things I like to eat.

These guys, however, are in a league that I never even knew existed.

To be fair, they should be.  They work at the International Culinary Center in New York.  I discovered this blog while reading an article about it on Time magazine’s website.  The article claimed that these guys were the cutting edge of developing culinary technique.  There blog is fascinating, even if the vast majority of their stuff is way above my head and well beyond my skill and means.  It’s still pretty cool.

I was fascinated with this article in particular where they try cooking weird meat.  That post led me to this site where I discovered that I could purchase African Lion burgers for only $9.95/lb.

I apologize if you read the title of this post and thought I was actually inviting you over to eat beaver tail.  Maybe some other time.

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