Archive for August, 2005


August 31, 2005 3 comments

I have all CS classes this semester. That means this is a really important (and probably busy) semester.

Operating Systems – This one’s taught by the professor with probably the worst reputation in the department. As in, calling people stupid in class. He also teaches Theory of Computation, which seems to be the least looked forward to class in the CS curriculum. I found that class to be easier than it had been made out to be and the professor actually seemed to explain things fairly well. I don’t think this class will be that hard, but it certainly won’t be easy.

Networks – This one looks to be OK. The original instructor retired to RightNow Technologies, so we have a PhD student. He seems to do a good job with lectures. Granted, this is CS, where lectures are excruciatingly boring no matter who gives them. This is the only lab class I have, so there’ll be more work than my other classes.

Software Engineering I – This one’s taught by our department head along with another faculty member. I should have taken this as a junior, but I couldn’t get into Technical Writing during the correct semester. We don’t have a required book, but there are about five recommended ones. Hopefully that doesn’t become a pain in the ass. Probably won’t be a hard class, but not all that interesting.

Database Systems – I was looking forward to this class (don’t ask me why), but it looks like it might suck. The teacher’s pretty cool, but so far the material has just gone in one ear and out the other. We’ll see.

Artificial Intelligence – This is easily going to be my favorite class. It’s taught by the best professor in the department and the subject matter is just cool. We use LISP in the class, which is sort of a neat language, but also kinda frustrating. At least, frustrating when you’re trying to program something that’s a bit beyond one day of instruction, as I learned in a class last semester. Still, I’m looking forward to this one.

Categories: Personal

Astrology letter

August 31, 2005 Leave a comment

I haven’t sent it, but this is what I have:

Critical thinking is an important skill. The job of a newspaper is to support such a skill by providing us with factual information and arguments so we can have an informed and rational view of the world. This makes me wonder: why does the Chronicle and nearly every other newspaper in this country publish horoscopes?

Astrology is an affront to critical thinking. Studies, such as the one published in Nature in 1985, have shown that astrologers are consistently no better than chance at describing someone’s personality. Studies have also shown that people born a couple minutes apart do not share the similarities predicted by astrology. What’s worse are the defenses of astrology. Your horoscope predicted something that came true? Vague predictions, subjective validation, and chance explain that. Another one: science doesn’t know everything; or, some famous scientist was ridiculed, but his work is now accepted by scientists the world over. Both are true, but they are misdirections, rather than arguments. Science may not know everything, but that’s different than saying science can’t know everything. There should be a reason scientific study fails to detect the effects of astrology. And of course, for every scientist whose ideas were dismissed and later accepted, there are hundreds of crackpots who were dismissed for good reason. There’s also: it’s just entertainment. That may be true, but around a third of the population believes in astrology. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on it a year. Couldn’t that money be better spent? Should newspapers really promote things that are demonstrably false, just because some people are entertained by it? Their placement, normally next to the comics, games, and vacuous self-help columns, doesn’t change that fact.

Critical thinking is as important as ever, with books that promote snake-oil cures to serious illnesses topping bestseller lists, pushes to insert Intelligent Design (an idea on the same level as astrology) into our schools, and local legislators labeling serious criticism as “hate.” Why not take a small step in favor of rational thinking and stop publishing horoscopes?

Categories: Skepticism

Something I've been thinking about

August 31, 2005 2 comments

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a letter to the Chronicle about their publishing of a daily horoscope. I keep bouncing back and forth between “this is an important critical thinking issue” and “people read these things for fun and there are bigger issues to get pissy about.” I don’t know that the Chronicle would even publish it. It’s not like this is some current and pressing issue, though it would at least be something different.

Categories: Skepticism

Amityville with an exorcism?

August 30, 2005 3 comments

It looks like there’s another “based on a true story” paranormal movie coming out. The Exorcism of Emily Rose is based on the story of a German girl named Anneliese Michel who died after a failed exorcism attempt in the 70s.

I can’t find a whole lot of information about this. The usual sources don’t have anything and Google was fairly unhelpful. The best I can find is this. Noting the pitfalls of trusting random Internet sites:

The psychiatrists, whom had been ordered to testify by the court, spoke about the “Doctrinaire Induction”. They said that the priests had provided Anneliese with the contents of her psychotic behavior. Consequentially, they claimed, she later accepted her behavior as a form of demonic possession. They also offered that Anneliese’s unsettled sexual development, along with her diagnosed Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, had influenced the psychosis.

The verdict was considered by many as not as harsh as they expected. Anneliese’s parents, as well as the exorcists, were found guilty of manslaughter resulting from negligence and omitting first aid. They were sentenced to 6 months in jail and probation. The verdict included the opinion of the court that the accused should have helped by taking care of the medical treatment that the girl needed, but instead, their use of naive practices aggravated Anneliese’s already poor constitution.

A commission of the German Bishop-Conference later declared that Anneliese Michel was not possessed, however, this did not keep believers from supporting her struggles, and it was because so many believed in her that Anneliese’s body did not find peace with death. Her corpse was exhumed eleven and a half years after her burial, only to confirm that it had decayed as would have been expected under normal circumstances. Today, her grave remains a place of pilgrimage for rosary-praying and for those who believe that Anneliese Michel bravely fought the devil.

Assuming the facts presented here are correct, I don’t see any reason to believe there’s anything supernatural here. Not surprising, is it?

Sadly, I don’t think there’s enough information here to create the kind of debate that happened last time I brought something like this up. It’s too bad; that discussion was so entertaining.

Lastly, it looks like A&E is going to air a special entitled “The Real Exorcists” next Monday. I’m sure it will be a balanced, skeptical production that avoids uncritical acceptance and regurgitation of the claims of the supposed exorcists. Right?

Categories: Skepticism

Gee, what a surprise

August 30, 2005 Leave a comment

The AFA has a story about the ACSI lawsuit against the University of California right at the top of its page now. You know it’s important when you have to get rid of calls to oppose a .xxx domain (which, of course, makes zero sense).

For anyone who hasn’t heard about this, it’s a rather frightening attempt to force the UC system to accept credits from universities that don’t meet their academic standards. There’s a discussion of ACSI’s complaint here. As PZ Myers said:

If this lawsuit isn’t laughed out of court, I know what I’m going to have to do: set up a mail-order university in my basement, offer courses in Advanced Molecular Biology and Molecular Genetics taught out of comic books, and tell people all they have to do is give me $200, I give them 100 credits in basic and upper level biology courses, and then they transfer to UC Berkeley, take a few basket-weaving courses, and graduate with a prestigious Berkeley biology degree. They have to accept any ol’ trashy transfer credits, after all.

Categories: Religion, Science

You learn something new everyday

August 30, 2005 3 comments

For instance, I didn’t know this was going on:

Here’s an example that I think is particular egregious: The discrimination in favor of religious parents and against irreligious ones, or in favor of more religious parents and against less religious ones, in child custody cases, on the theory that it’s in the child’s “best interests” (that’s the relevant legal test) to be raised with a religious education.

Mississippi is the most serious offender, though I’ve seen cases since 1990 in Arkansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Texas; there are similar cases in 1970s Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, and New York. (I give cites below.) In 2001, for instance, the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld an order giving a mother custody partly because she took the child to church more often than the father did, thus providing a better “future religious example.” In 2000, it ordered a father to take the child to church each week, as a Mississippi court ordered in 2000, reasoning that “it is certainly to the best interests of [the child] to receive regular and systematic spiritual training.”

That’s just lovely.

Categories: Religion

You know…

August 29, 2005 3 comments

I’m not a huge fan of these off center three column (do they have a better name than that?) blog designs that I keep noticing.

I demand all of them change to suit me.

Though, I like the Tester Time design otherwise and Bitch, Phd‘s header image is hilarious.

Categories: Blogging