Tag Archives: science!

In Defense of Hubris

I have always been of the opinion that “hubris” gets a bad rap—particularly when it’s a label slapped on scientific or technological ventures that turned out to go horribly wrong.  I am a sucker for human innovation, and many times throughout history, new developments and ventures have been judged insane until someone was determined enough to go through with them—and then that person changed the world.  Those successful ventures are then lauded throughout history, and we now have nothing but praise for the courage of whatever geniuses helmed them and persevered despite no one believing their dreams possible.

It seems to me that if those same ventures had failed, they might have been spat upon as “hubris” and condemned.  I hate this view—in fact, I tend to view human curiosity, courage, and invention as categorically positive values.  Just because something failed doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth trying!  It also doesn’t mean that it was somehow unconscionably, damnably arrogant to think it might have succeeded.  The fact that we sometimes condemn, in retrospect, historical decisions that have as their only sin that someone dared to dream the impossible leaves a bitter taste in the back of my mouth.

If the Wright brothers had crashed, their flying machine might have been forever labeled hubris.  Instead, humanity can fly—I can travel to the other side of the world in less than a day by flying. Think about that for a second!  We have vaccines that have stopped the spread of horrible diseases.  We’ve circumnavigated the world.  We’ve traveled to the tops of the highest mountains and to the bottom of the deepest ocean.  On the civil rights front, people have stood up and created massive, swelling paradigm shifts of change, have overthrown governments and ended tyrannies.  History is peppered with accomplishments that seemed crazy only decades before they became possible, feats that might have been called hubris if they had failed.

Come on, people, we’ve been to the freaking MOON!  If that’s not hubris, I don’t know what is!

God, I love hubris.

Links and Such Like

Freedom of Information, Intellectual Property, and Such Like

What It’s Like to Get a National Security Letter, from one of the only people in the country able to talk about it: “Again, they advised me to not even ask my board whether or not I can do this. So this is, in some sense, really putting myself at risk personally. Here I am, trying to make a decision as to whether or not we should sue the United States government over a secret demand for information, on my own.”

Buffy vs. Edward Remix Unfairly Removed by Lionsgate: It’s fair use.  Everyone agrees it’s fair use.  Lionsgate even agreed it was fair use . . . initially.  But they’ve still managed to make this remix artist’s life an exhausting mash of court cases.  This is a very good example of how broken copyright law is in the United States.

Science, Math, and Such Like

Why the Internet should STOP saying dolphins rape each other.  It’s scientifically incorrect and trivializes rape.  Excellent read.

Crazy Living Rock.  Go home, Evolution, you’re drunk.

The caterpillar with a stack of heads.  Seriously, Evolution, go home.  And don’t drive.

A scientific paper published as a 38-stanza poem.

What happens when the media and blogosphere start picking up an academic article. Fascinating.

The math on whether Superman could punch someone into space.

And Superman’s ability to inflict people with prosopagnosia.  Since I’m faceblind myself, I got a kick out of this.

A Category 5 Kaiju would only need to eat 18 humans per day.  The math on Kaiju biology!

More math on Pacific Rim: How can they helicopter-lift the GIANT ROBOTS?  I love math on popular media!

A researcher tastes one-billion-year-old water.  For science.

The fallacious ways people weigh medical risk.

HPV rates have dropped by more than half thanks to the vaccine.  FUCK YEAH SCIENCE.

Writing, Blogging, and Such Like

The stats on how much of an article people are likely to read online.  I am totally guilty of most of this, except for the inverse relationship between reading and sharing—generally the articles I share are the ones I was interested enough in to read all the way through!

Why typing two spaces after a period is WRONG.  (Unfortunately, I cannot break myself of the habit, though Twitter is having a good go at it.)

Don’t tell the audience what you’re about to tell them.  Just tell them.

 Sexism, Racism, Homophobia, and Such Like

A tumblr of medieval European art showing that POC, y’know, existed there.  So quit it with the “historical accuracy!” argument.

Fat Nutritionist on beauty as a mask.  Fascinating, thought-provoking, wonderful read.

Real Women Have Carbon-Based Molecules.  Strikes back at the idea that “real women” need to look any particular way.

The Bad Touch.  About the Kickstarter thing.

A 17-year-old girl started a feminist society at school.  What happened next will make you sick.  These girls are high schoolers.

Twitter Trolls Turn Anime Convention Into “Paranoid Nightmare.”  My god . . . the hashtag “#gropecrew” . . . TRIGGER WARNINGS LOTS AND LOTS OF TRIGGER WARNINGS.

Just Because He Breathes: Learning to Truly Love Our Gay Son.

 I Have Met George Zimmerman.  One of the many, many moving responses to the Zimmerman verdict.

Game On Ladies: A man discovers what female gamers face when he plays as his wife’s character.

Final Thoughts on the SFWA Thing, and Additional Linkspam

Final Thoughts on the SFWA Thing, in the Form of Other People’s Thoughts

For those who are getting news through my blog, Scalzi apologized in his position as president and editor Jean Rabe resigned.  That’s the latest official news I know of.  While talking about official news, however, I would like to note that SFWA does have an official statement on sexual harassment that was in effect when this article was published.

Jim Hines has a great list of links for those interested, but I shall make particular note of:

Ann Aguirre’s for how much sexism and misogyny are not dead (horrifying);

Mary Robinette Kowal’s for a heartbreaking perspective from someone to whom SFWA means a great deal;

Foz Meadows’ for a breakdown of why the column is so problematic (warning for language);

Laura Resnick, Mike Resnick’s daughter, doesn’t respond to the issue in particular but talks about sexism in SFF;

and Radish Reviews, the wonderful purveyor of the original scans, has a great roundup / summation, including links to the sexist reaction of a former SFWA president and a critique of Scalzi’s apology in the first comment.

Personally, I’m still waiting and seeing.  I want to see what SFWA does to come back from this going forward.

Writing/Publishing/Intellectual Property

Mark Twain’s hilarious, devastating critique of castigation of James Fenimore Cooper’s “Deerslayer.”  Oh, how I hated “Deerslayer;” I love that Twain agrees! Quote: “Now I feel sure, deep down in my heart, that Cooper wrote about the poorest English that exists in our language, and that the English of ‘Deerslayer’ is the very worst that even Cooper ever wrote.”  And people say negative reviews shouldn’t be written with entertainment in mind!

Trademarks.  Fascinating article on what they’re meant to do and how they work, legally.

Tor.com on their experience going DRM-free.  “As it is, we’ve seen no discernible increase in piracy on any of our titles, despite them being DRM-free for nearly a year.”  What!  Shocking! </sarcasm>

Tobias Buckell on why 90 percent of the “knowledge” and advice about self-publishing is crap (with graphs!).

Gender/Race/QUILTBAG

We Have Always Fought: Kameron Hurley brilliantly challenges the long-held ideas about women throughout history.  This is the post that has inspired women all over the net to pop up calling themselves “llamas.”  Highly, highly recommended.

Liz Bourke, one of my favorite people on the entire Internet, wrote a follow-up to an article I had previously linked to (Sophia McDougall’s The Rape of James Bond) that I somehow missed.  She goes into even more depth about the statistics regarding male rape and the strange double standard in fiction that the rape of women is “necessary because REALISM” and the rape of men is . . . nonexistent.  (She has numbers.  Lots and lots of numbers.)

The Hawkeye Initiative succeeds in real life!  A touching story of challenging sexism in the workplace through humor.

Television Writing Staffs Are Still Overwhelmingly White and Male, Surprise!

Hollywood is remaking The Crow, and they want to cast a white guy.  Fucking Hollywood.

What Kind of Asian Are You?  *snerk*  Hilarious video.

The iNotRacist App!  Best.  Satire.  Ever.  (video)

For more satire: Sexual Abuse in the White Community

It’s Time to Retire “Boob Plate” Armor.  Because It Would Kill You.  (Tor.com)

Strong is the New Skinny.  Great article about pushing for healthier aesthetic expectations for women.

Wikipedia’s sexist categorization.

People are racist about a Cheerios commercial featuring an interracial couple.  Every time I decide to have faith in humanity . . .

A former Navy Seal came out as transgender.

Kelly Sue DeConnick on the crap she goes through as a female comics writer.  More of the same, folks.  More of the same.  Still worth a read.

Nerdy/Scientific/Environmental/Etc.

We don’t have a twin primes proof yet, but there’s a new proof that infinitely many pairs of primes come within 70,000,000 numbers of each other.  That’s AWESOME.  Seriously.  We’ve hit finiteness!  And apparently since the publication of the proof a couple months ago, the bound has been reduced to 5 million.  Closer and closer!

If you heard about the poachers who stole 10 percent of an entire tortoise species, here’s a sobering follow-up.

NOT SAFE FOR WORK!!  Scientifically Accurate Ninja Turtles (video) and Scientifically Accurate Spider-Man (video)NOT SAFE FOR WORK!!

Stunning graphical representation of why sharks should be more afraid of you than you are of them.

I feel like reading about obscure neurological conditions like this one should not be so fascinating.

Video of someone solving three Rubik’s cubes in six minutes . . . while juggling them.

And a few more links on Star Trek: Into Darkness, because I can:

Some hilarity from io9 that pretty much sums up how I feel about this movie.

All the plotholes and questions the movie failed to address.  Spoiler: There are a lot.

Could Benedict Cumberbatch really crush a skull with his bare hands?

The first Star Trek conventions were female-dominated.  I’m just going to leave this here.

Links from the Wider Internets

Sexism, Racism, and Homophobia

The Rape of James Bond: You know how when people complain about the prevalence of rape in grimdark fantasy, people argue back with, “But, REALISM!!!1”?  This article makes the INCREDIBLY good point that the logical extension of the “but, realism!” argument is that we need way more rape of men in media.  But . . . people don’t seem to be complaining about not having that in their books and movies at the level it happens in real life.

Straightwashing GLBT Characters: “Now we’re getting Da Vinci’s Demons, that would be Leonardo Da Vinci, he was repeatedly accused of sodomy, never married, was never connected to a female lover, but repeatedly with men, drew erotic pictures of them and left his most valuable painting in his will to one of his live-in “apprentices” Da Vinci. It’s an act of wilful ignorance to not realise Da Vinci played for our team. […] Well his love interest has been cast (a woman) and the trailer shows lots of naked sexy times between them. But, fear not, the writer has assured us that there may, sorta, kinda be some male flirting. FLIRTING!”

Microaggressions.  This site is a stark demonstration of the concept.

More on microaggressions.  I didn’t know there was a name for this before I found these links, but I love that there is, because it helps to have language to be able to point to what’s wrong here when people come back with, “Oh, but that’s not a big deal; get over it!”

For something else striking: Groups that are 100 percent men.

To (All) the White Girls Who Didn’t Get Into the College of Their Dreams: “By your logic, if a white girl with your background doesn’t get into an Ivy League college, it’s because there weren’t enough spots for white students that year. But, if a non-white girl with an identical profile is rejected, who do they blame? No one. They don’t have the excuse; they simply weren’t good enough. We don’t get to make ourselves feel better by engaging in a smear campaign against the fictional Cherokee girl that took our Ivy League slot.”

Anti-gay rights activists say they are the real victims.  Because, y’know, fighting marriage equality is taking so much time, and they’d so much rather be doing something else.

Superhero women in pants.

On Math and Science

Programmable goo helps solve the traveling salesman problem.  SO COOL!  Though like one of the commenters, I want to know how they find the Hamiltonian circuit . . .

Mars is faaaaaaaaaaaar.  Love this!

What happens when you wring out a hand towel in space?  (Awesome video.)

On Writing and Publishing

The differences in expected plot structure in different cultures: not all traditions say plot needs conflict.  Fascinating.

A bestselling author pirates his own book, and finds it helps his sales.

A TechDirt smackdown of author Scott Turow’s rant about the changing wold of publishing.  I skimmed the original rant; the smackdown was much more informative and interesting.

Jane Goodall accused of plagiarism.  And shoddy science.  Sigh.

PEEP WARS! (And S’Mores!)

In honor of Peep season, I feel I must make a public service announcement:

Peeps make great s’mores.

Not only that, but if you heat them up in the microwave instead of over a fire, you can have PEEP WARS.  (If you’ve never done this, it’s easy: Put two Peeps in a microwave and watch them bloat up until they’re ginooooooormous and see which one overwhelms the other!)

Other fun things to put in microwaves: CDs, grapes, aluminum foil . . . you know you want to . . .

. . . by the way, I am not responsible for any damage your microwave may incur if you listen to a strange blogger on the Internet.  Just sayin’!

Links, Links Everywhere

Gender and Race

Everyone remotely interested in the fantasy genre should read this excellent dissection of “grimdark” fantasy by Foz Meadows.

More excellence by Foz Meadows: sexism in the gaming industry.

A study shows gender bias in science.  A great resource to link to any time someone demands a citation for institutional sexism.

How NOT to do mixed race in SFF (applause!).

An analysis of the misogyny in the Wheel of Time series (one that sets aside the sniffing and braid-pulling and goes much deeper).

Google ads racially profile names, which could impact the opinions of the people searching for them (future employers, etc.).  Institutional racism, this is it.

I’m a Black Female Cosplayer and Some People Hate It—”Once upon a time, I inadvertently started a cosplay race war on Tumblr. Whoops.”  This woman is awesome.

Scientific and Related

The reliability of psychiatric diagnoses according to the newest criteria is very poor.  Despairingly so.

Our brain may edit our conscious memory after the fact.

Will We Ever . . . Lose All Our Corals?  The state of the world’s coral reefs.

Chinese mantises gut poisonous monarch caterpillars before eating them.

Can statistical analysis be considered evidence of someone cheating at chess?  When can statistical analysis be considered evidence of cheating, if ever?

How access to STEM careers/education is denied to many poor students before they even have a chance.

An anti-vaxxer does an about-face after her son becomes ill.

On Writing/Publishing

Software that writes subject-specific books in 20 minutes, and has written hundreds of thousands of such books that are now up on Amazon for its creator.

Knockoffs of bestsellers being sold on Amazon.

A book about flies accidentally gets its price jacked up to over 23 million dollars.

Why it might make mathematical sense to pay people to read your book (for nonfiction, at least).

Otherwise Interesting

The TSA is removing the body scanners from airports.  YES!

Fox News accidentally uses a photo of a lesbian couple to promote heterosexual marriage.

What plane safety demos really mean.

Ridiculously fast archery video.  How fast is it possible to shoot arrows?  This fast.

A guy who fakes being an amateur marathon runner, through extensive, massive deception.  Why?

It’s a phylogeny of the little tabs that keep bread closed! . . . this reminds me of something I would do.

WTF, Evolution?  When Evolution parties too hard, these sorts of things, er, happen.  The captions are the best part.

Arrow: Your Failure At Elementary School Science Makes Me Want to Cry

Oh, Arrow.  You’re a superhero story with great action scenes; you had such a low bar for me to like you.  And yet.

I stopped watching Arrow (aka the Privileged White Dude Is Always Right show) once I kicked the typhus—the race!fail and gender!fail were too much—but I’m sick again this week (this time with a bad cold, not typhus, though I feel I already paid my illness dues for the year so NOT FAIR), and I poked my head back into Arrow.  I . . . don’t know why I did this.

(rant below contains a minor spoiler for dialogue from Arrow)

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Linky Linkage! Lots of Amazing Links for You!

This seems like a good time for a linkage post, since most people are still probably off enjoying the holidays.  And if you aren’t busy having holiday cheer somewhere, it will give you some awesome reading material to pass the time!

I unfortunately didn’t think to keep track of where I owe the hat tips for these links, but primary purveyors of awesome include sites like Not Exactly Rocket Science, Slashdot, Racialicious, Bad Astronomy, and Neuroskeptic.

First, the sciency ones!  You knew there would be sciency ones.

Is the Cure for Cancer Inside You? gave me the shakes, because holy crap, it sounds like this could actually lead to a cure for cancer.  Like, for real.  And the personal story of Dr. Steinman’s life and ultimate death from the disease he was researching inside his own body is wrenchingly compelling:

In the long struggle that was to come, Steinman would try anything and everything that might extend his life, but he placed his greatest hope in a field he helped create, one based on discoveries for which he would earn his Nobel Prize. He hoped to reprogram his immune cells to defeat his cancer — to concoct a set of treatments from his body’s own ingredients, which could take over from his chemotherapy and form a customized, dynamic treatment for his disease. These would be as far from off-the-shelf as medicines can get: vaccines designed for the tumor in his gut, made from the products of his plasma, that could only ever work for him.

Steinman would be the only patient in this makeshift trial, but the personalized approach for which he would serve as both visionary and guinea pig has implications for the rest of us. It is known as cancer immunotherapy, and its offshoots have just now begun to make their way into the clinic, and treatments have been approved for tumors of the skin and of the prostate. For his last experiment, conducted with no control group, Steinman would try to make his life into a useful anecdote — a test of how the treatments he assembled might be put to work. “Once he got diagnosed with cancer, he really started talking about changing the paradigm of cancer treatment,” his daughter Alexis says. “That’s all he knew how to do. He knew how to be a scientist.”

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10 Ways I Wish I Could Die

I’m not being morbid here!  I promise!

The inspiration for this post was reading about a black hole that takes up 14 percent of its galaxy’s mass.  You see, when I was little (as in, three or four years old) I thought it would be really cool to go into space, but I was afraid of hitting an unexpected black hole.  Obviously that was silly; I mean, when I was four it’s not like we had wormhole travel yet.

Of course, after that I started thinking about neutron stars, and what happens if you try to stand on one.  A neutron star is so dense that if you approached it, the tidal forces would tear you apart, and if you managed to reach the surface, you’d be squashed flat into a little layer of atoms.

And then I thought, “You know what?  That would suck as a way to die.  But on the other hand, I would have been standing on a neutron star.  So clearly I just did something very, very cool, and who knows, maybe it was worth it!”

So, if I could decide the way I died, I give you a list of ten choices I might consider.  Because any of these would mean something amazing just happened!

  1. Being pulled apart by the gravitational forces of a neutron star.
  2. Being eaten by a dinosaur. Continue reading

Miscellaneous Links of Madness or Awesome

The Cool and the Sciency:

A brine lake under the ocean.  It’s an underwater lake.  A lake!  Under water!

Zombie bacteria.  They’re dead.  But they’re ALIIIIIVE.

Participate in a word association study!  (Only takes a minute or two, and it’s fun!  And it’s for SCIENCE!)  My favorite of my associations was “probability” associated with the word “replacement,” because I’m so used to seeing “with/without replacement” in combinatorics problems.  Also, “crenellations” was one of my top three associations for “fortify.”  Too much fantasy, yo.

Nice, undeniable visual of how effective vaccines are at saving people’s lives.

Mount Doom exploded.

The Humor (Some a Little Sciency):

The Avengers go out for beers and shawarma.  Batman expresses confusion that they don’t sit in a dark basement and brood over their dead parents.

The Oatmeal’s take on being a freelancer.  This is SO TRUE.

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