Social Science and Stuff

Omigosh, I’m so excited to be going tonight to Party with the Pharaohs, the Science Museum of Minnesota’s first Social Science event for adults. I set up a page on Eventbrite to organize all of my fabulous science-minded friends for this evening, and some of y’all even accepted! I’m giddy. It’s going to be a blast, what with the mummies and the movies and the food and the cash bar and the live animal exhibition and the omnitheater and wheee!

So until tomorrow when I can tell you about how all of that went, here are some articles that caught my interest today:

  • Verbal and physical attacks on students are encourged by extremist animal rights group, Negotiation is Over. Reported on by Pharyngula, Respectful Insolence and Speaking of Research.
  • SlutWalk – A Toronto event that is speaking out against the idea that women who dress like “sluts” get what is coming to them. Covered by Almost Diamonds.
  • Abortion Crackers – What happened when a pro-choice store owner in a small town encountered an anti-choice consumer. Written by Liberal House on the Prairie.
Social Science and Stuff

Reusing Condoms in Rural Kenya

Once again my First World Problems are brought into perspective.

The word is out that condoms protect against sexually-transmitted HIV. Unfortunately, the condoms aren’t out there. Demand is far outweighing supply in Kenya, as reported by PlusNewsGlobal.

Local TV channels recently showed images of men in Isiolo, in rural northern Kenya, washing condoms and hanging them out to dry; the men said the price of condoms meant they could not afford to use them just once. Other men in the village said when they had no access to condoms, they used polythene bags and even cloth rags when having sex.

Male condoms are intended for single use; washing and re-using them weakens the latex, increasing the chances of breakage and in turn, the risk of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Washing condoms in dirty water may also carry additional disease risk.

Condoms are free at government health centres, but in rural Kenya these are few and far between and supplies unreliable.

People want to have safer sex, they know that means they need condoms and they’re having trouble getting them. They’re under the impression that a dirty condom is better than no condom, but from what we know this is a baaaaaaad practice.

It sounds like Kenya needs to get its hands on more condoms by increasing the quantity and/or improving distribution, both of which are solutions being considered by the Kenya National AIDS Strategic Plan 2009-2013.

Via the RH Reality Check blog.

Reusing Condoms in Rural Kenya

MarsCon 2011: Costumes and Creatures

This is part two of my MarsCon 2011 post. I wrote about the talks I attended at this science, scifi and fantasy convention in an earlier post.

One of my favorite reasons to attend scifi/fantasy conventions is the costumes. People are so creative and go to a lot of effort and expense to dress up and show off! Some of the best costumes will usually find their way to the costume competition, which at MarsCon is called “Masquerade”. These are some of the magnificent clothes, costumes and creatures that appeared at MarsCon this year:

Room Parties

Room parties are a very unique con experience. Usually one floor or area will be designated the room party area, and fan groups or individuals will rent a party room, decorate it in some theme and devote it to serving food and drinks and providing socializing areas. Party rooms usually cost the same as regular sleeping rooms (or more if they are larger suites) and you’ve got the added cost of providing food, drinks and entertainment to everyone and anyone who stops by. Room owners are responsible for checking IDs to serve alcohol, and there is never a cost for drinks, although cash may be accepted for snacks, tips or entertainment like taking a photo with one of the rooms costumed volunteers.  It sounds like a pain in the butt to run to me, but there is a fair amount of acclaim to be had for having a rocking party room. Some of the memorable MarsCon party rooms (for me) were the Seamstresses’ Guild, the Conan the Barbarian room, Geek Partnership Society, the karaoke room, the anime party room, the superheros room, and the Klingon room.

This is one of my favorite photos from MarsCon. Pictured are two of the ladies of the Seamstresses’ Guild, a guild of “ladies of negotiable affection” from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.  The Seamstresses’ Guild under these ladies’ (as well as two gentleman of the Guild, not pictured here) ministrations have thrown some of the most well-decorated, well-stocked (read: boozed) room parties at conventions across the state. The front area of their party room consisted of a drinking, sitting and socializing area, and the back half of the room was dominated by screenings of the Discworld movies.

The Seamstresses are gearing up for a HUGE event in July – the 2nd annual North American Discworld Con. This is a fan-run four-day convention devoted solely to the celebration of Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels.

MarsCon 2011: Costumes and Creatures

Logical Fallacies in Advertising

You know when you hear a bad argument and you think “that doesn’t make any sense!”? Logical fallacies are one way to categorize and define these poor arguments.

Poor arguments happen. By knowing and understanding fallacies, it’s easier to spot poor arguments when they are used by others and by ourselves. They help us to examine our own reasoning and allow us to explore logically why we feel the way we do about certain issues. When arguing with someone else, it helps to keep the arguments relevant and the discussion on topic.

Poor arguments can be made ignorantly (i.e., the person making the argument doesn’t recognize that their argument is poor) and intentionally (“well, technically what I said was true, even if the implication was false”). Michelle Bachman and Glenn Beck Some people have built entire careers out of making fallacious arguments.

These are some of my favorite fallacies, and examples of them:

Ad hominem – “Michelle Bachman has crazy eyes, therefore anything she says is a lie.” To automatically dismiss all of MBs arguments just because she has crazy eyes  is lazy. We have to listen to her speak, consider her statements and then decide if (once again) she’s making batsh*t crazy invalid claims.

Slippery slope – “If we let gay people get married, next there will be men marrying horses!”

Generalization – “Enron was a large, corrupt company, therefore all large companies are corrupt.”

Straw man – Misrepresentation of your opponent’s statement. When the Hubby says “That girl has nice eyes” and I say “Oh, so you think my eyes are ugly.” – that’s a straw man.

Because arguments are intended to influence the way we think about things, the decisions we make and our actions, you can find examples of fallacious arguments in politics, in courtrooms, in schools, and especially in marketing and advertising. Here are some examples that I’ve encountered in the last few weeks:

This is an implied False Dichotomy. False Dichotomy says that you only have two options. In this case you can use a filthy, disgusting cloth towel OR you can use “Kleenex Hand Towels – a clean, fresh towel every time!” There are other options though…like changing out your reusable cloth towel before it looks like the microbe farm shown in the picture. 

This is an Appeal to Tradition, the idea being that because something is old or we’ve been doing it forever it must be accurate or based on evidence.  Something being ancient doesn’t automatically make it better. Other cereals use granola and almonds too, not because they’re ancient, but because they have nutritional value and are tasty. The Appeal to Tradition is often used to market alternative therapies e.g., “Acupuncture has been used for centuries!”

If an argument makes you go “WTF???”, then you may be dealing with a Non Sequitur, in which “the conclusion does not follow from its premise”…i.e. the statement makes no sense. In this case, giving up implies failure…how is not shopping giving up or a failure? One does not have anything to do with the other.

Not all consequences of logical fallacies are equal. The three examples above are fairly innocuous and all I did was snort when I saw them (actually I squee’ed because I’m proud of myself when I recognize logical fallacies in everyday situations). The only thing at stake was a decision to buy or not buy paper towels or cereal; I’d probably never complain to a company about the situations above. However, some fallacious arguments are the stuff of nightmares and need to be addressed. The statement “My daughter developed autism immediately after getting her MMR vaccine, therefore vaccines cause autism.” is a dangerous fallacious statement (correlation not causation – the two events are related in time, but there is no evidence that one could cause the other) that can lead to unhealthy choices and have serious consequences for individuals and groups of people.

Because arguments are as wide and varied as the humans who make them, the list of fallacies is constantly growing and evolving. There are a bunch of websites that can help us understand the types of fallacies and how and when they might be used (search “fallacies” when you’ve got a couple hours or so to invest).

It’s really easy to make fallacious arguments; avoiding them and recognizing them when they do occur is challenging and requires constant vigilance. I may be making some in this very article, and I’m sure that I could find examples of poor arguments in other blog posts that I’ve written. Making a fallacious argument isn’t the end of the world. But if you are caught making a poor argument, you owe it to yourself and the person with whom you are engaging to say “yeah, you’re right” rather than “nuh uh, you stupid poopy head!”*

*See what I did there? An ad hominem example AND I’ve left myself an out if you find mistakes in my article. Cover My Ass WIN! As an aside, it was really difficult for me to write an article on logical fallacies; it made me paranoid about every sentence in the damn thing. It was like being asked to spellcheck a paper for someone and worrying that I might write “You’re spelling and gramer is bad.”

Logical Fallacies in Advertising

Fun with Focusing

I love the focusing freedom that the DSLR lenses give me!

The first photo is using autofocus.

I shot this next photo manually in order to override the camera’s focus on the foreground.

I would have liked to have the cat be a little less blurry, but I’m not sure how I could have maintained this angle and apparent distance *and* gotten them both in focus. Perhaps a wider lens? This was my 55-200mm lens and I was physically about 1-2 feet from the cat.  Maybe if I was further back and zoomed in with my 18-55mm lens?

Photog Complaint/Frustration: I’m having a hard time telling when my lens is focused when I’m in manual mode. When I’m wearing glasses it’s a balancing act to not push the glasses closer to my eyes when I have the camera up to my face. I haven’t been able to make the diopter work for me because at the farthest end of the dial, it’s STILL not strong enough for my poor eyesight (I did read the manual about optimizing the diopter and it sounds like I may be out of luck). If I’m wearing contacts focusing is better, but I don’t often wear my contacts unless I know I’m going to be out taking photos.  Any thoughts or suggestions about adjusting the diopter or focusing in general are appreciated.

Fun with Focusing

MarsCon 2011: The Talks

At the beginning of March I went to MarsCon 2011, a convention for people who like science, science-fiction, fantasy, anime and other nerdy hobbies.  This year’s theme was Days of Magic.

This was my first MarsCon, but I’ve been to CONvergence and other nerdy weekend events. MarsCon was significantly smaller than CONvergence; the main stage was about the same size as some of the speaker rooms at CONvergence.  But the schedule was chock full of programming (i.e., talks, games, presentations, roundtables…i.e., stuff to do), there was plenty of costuming to enjoy, and lots of music and fun party rooms.

As with any con there was always something going on, so there was always something that we were missing. We didn’t hit much of the Dementia Track (odd, silly, nerdy, comic music acts), and I skipped some of the hard science presentations in favor of sleeping, eating, hot tub-ing, hanging out in room parties and generally having a fantastic time.  But I did manage to hit three panels on Saturday.

Dude, Where’s My Flying Car

The thing that I remember most about this panel is that it was full of neat ideas and yet amazing on-topic. The three presenters were Brett Glass (science and tech non-fiction writer), a gentleman named Dave (Shockwave Radio Theater) and Tom Gardner (chemist and scientist at large).

Brett Glass

Tom Gardner and Dave

The panel members discussed the technology that we have now and compared it to the tech that people in the 1960s-90s thought we would have (digital future vs. a cyber future). Everyone agreed that our biggest technological achievements to date are the amount of memory capacity we have and our ability to search our stored data. There was a lively discussion about the challenges that have yet to be conquered before we can make flying cars part of our daily lives (energy requirements, noise pollution, traffic infrastructure and laws, safety. We crash the hell out of our regular terrain cars; can you imagine the damage we could cause with airborne vehicles?!). The panel also discussed privacy – what it is and isn’t and what we can expect and should demand in today’s digital (google) age. We discussed technologies that didn’t quite make it, tech that are on their way out, and the effect that social media is having on how we define “self” and “community”.

Best Quote: “The best thing about the future is that you can emulate the past.” (Dave)

Vampires: Why They Die in the Sunlight and Don’t Sparkle

Kiki Canon (Bad Philosophy podcast), Jamie Turnball (, DJ Vlad (World of Darkness LARPer)

This one I didn’t like. I mainly went so that I could report back to my blog buddy, Alannah, that I went to an anti-Twilight Vampires talk. It was billed as a discussion panel on Vampires as a genre, so I thought they’d do their “Boy, doesn’t Twilight suck” thing and then move on to discussing…you know…Vampires as a genre.

But the group never left the “Boy, doesn’t Twilight suck” theme. Early on they posed the question of whether letting kids read Twilight is at least a way to get them reading, but it quickly devolved into NO AND LET ME TELL YOU WHY TWILIGHT SUCKS SO MUCH. They painted such a morbid picture of Twilight as a creepy, stalkerish, trashy romance, borderline pedophilic, misogynistic piece of intentional Mormon propaganda that I started wondering if I had read the same books as they had.  Incidentally, at the end of the talk two out of three of them casually mentioned that they had never actually read ANY of the Twilight books because they were sooooo awful that they just couldn’t, so they got all of their information from second-hand critiques.  Rly?

Yes, the writing in Twilight is not masterful (see how kind I am?). Yes, Bella is pathetic in a lot of ways and Hermione would totally kick her ass (whoops! entirely different story there). But (confession time!) I enjoyed reading them…I wanted to see what would happen next. They flowed (if you ignored the poor grammer) and had a tension that kept me engaged. I wanted to see which twists and turns we were going to make.

There are some really icky ideas in the Twilight novels: Why should sex hurt, lust be dangerous, or women stay with men who hurt them? No, it’s not okay to go into a months-long coma because a boyfriend leaves you. Yes, the idea of a teenage boy “imprinting” on a newborn baby (i.e., flesh eating, blood-sucking monster) is creepy and weird. But you know what? Stephenie Meyers on her best day could never hope to approach the grotesque psychological darkness that I enjoy from some of my favorite horror authors, and they are celebrated for their effed-up imaginations. I just wanted to yell at the panel “It’s FICTION, PEOPLE”. Not great fiction, but neither does it seem to be some master plan for brainwashing the next generation.

Kids are getting exposed to all sorts of screwed up ideas through television and books. Hell, my 13 year old little sister (from BBBS) saw Precious. I don’t want to see Precious. My point is that there are worse things out there for teenagers to be reading. As with anything – if you have concerns over what your kid is reading (and you should), have a chat with them before and after they read it.

Oh…wait…I was talking about the panel. Dammit! Moving on.

ZARGS and You

Erik D. Pakieser

ZARGS is an acronym created by the presenter, Erik D. Pakieser. It describes five invader/disaster scenarios which one might someday encounter, as foretold by apocalyptic/societal collapse movies and books.

The neat thing is that ZARGS doesn’t just adress five specific examples of Earth’s potential future doom, but rather the five major invasion strategies which may be  used against us AND possible defenses that we have against them.

The underlying assumption is that these are all bad guys. They aren’t just new visitors who we start taking out because they look diffrunt from us ‘muricans. We’re starting with the premise that the invaders have made clear their intention of enslaving us or wiping us out. Just roll with it, y’all. 

Zombies – Any swarm of independent operators. These are creatures that hunt for their own advantage. They’re not controlled by any outside forces and don’t have a group plan. You can either stay and defend your fortress or bug out – try to outrun them and hide in an area that isn’t infested. Erik challenged us to consider whether we’d be prepared for either – how defensible is your home and do you have supplies to last? If you leave, do you have the wilderness survival skills to not die of exposure or thirst in the first few hours or days?

Aliens – This is a catch all group that describes any malevolent otherworldly threat that we can’t predict or don’t understand. We may not be able to identify our alien invaders, we may have to discover how to defend ourselves, they may or may not be operating independently or have an invasion plan.

Raptors – Raptors are intelligent man-eating monsters that hunt in groups. You need major firepower to take down raptors, but you also need speed and evasion skills because raptors may be fast. The thing with raptors is never shoot for the head – always take out the legs or pelvis and then finish ’em up with a fatal shot. The pelvis is easier to hit and even if you don’t kill them, they’re down. Also – always watch for the other hunters of the raptor party! If you only see one, look for the others!

Graboids – Raw, brute force, may not be too intelligent. You need HEAVY artillery to take care of these guys. Think Tremors. Graboids may be avian, subterranean, or ocean monsters. Their huge size may limit their speed and manuverability. They may work alone or in small groups. To some extent, environment defines whether a hunter is a graboid or a raptor: If you’re in the water with a ocean monster, you’re dealing with a raptor – it has the home court advantage and can move much better in the water than you can. If you’re shooting at flying graboids (or raptors), don’t try to lead the creature (run and shoot over your shoulder) – turn around to face the theat, plant yourself and take aim.

SkyNet aka our new Robot Overlords – The most distinct feature of the robot invasion is that individuals are controlled or directed by a central system. Killing individuals has no long-term advantage because the central hub can always make or send more; you must remove the central hub. You might employ a computer virus, try to reprogram the central station or physically disable or destroy the hub.

We also discussed supernatural threats (we decided to lump these into “aliens” because you can’t predict or understand the treat a supernatural invasion might take) and attack by microbes. We decided that with microbial attack the only real way to be safe is isolation or discovering what kills the bugs; they’d probably fit best into the “zombies” category.

I enjoyed this panel because we always related the five invasion types back to the movies or books from which the ideas came. It was good, gorey imaginative fun with some emergency preparedness truth nestled into the fantasy. If you ever get a chance to see Erik speak – do it!

After the morning talks, the Hubby and I rode the lightrail over to the Mall of America for lunch and then headed up to the room to catch some ZZZZ’s before the Saturday night party rooms.

Next MarsCon Post: Costumes and Creatures!

MarsCon 2011: The Talks

CUP #11 Winner

This was the photo shown in yesterday’s blog post:

And this week’s winner is once again a NEW player. Welcome and congratulations to LAURIE, who was the first to guess “Is it part of the handset of a telephone?” Yes, Laurie. Yes it is.

In addition to winning 100 points, Laurie gets an additional 10 points for being a new player.

A welcome and 10 points also goes out to a new and very special player, Paula, aka The Woman Who Gave Me Life, aka Mom. Hi Mom!

Welcome and 10 points also to Madeline, who was the grand winner of the First World Problems Contest held earlier this year. Thanks for joining the CUP Contest, Madeline.

Alright, now for the rest of youse guys.

Jeremy, Carly, and Paula all receive 10 points for playing, but no extra points for their guesses.

Doug gets 20 points for a technically correct but unspecific guess and 10 extra points for being a new player. Welcome, Doug!

Steve (from FB), Madeline, Cate!, Noelle, Vicki, Michelle and Erin all get 25 points for posting correct answers. Congratulations from me and this guy:

I’ll update the CUP Winners page later this evening, but for now I have tallied the current rankings. Jeremy is still in the lead, but only by a scant 50 points! Nine of our players have 100 points or higher, five have greater than 200 and two have greater than 400 points.

You guys RAWK. Thanks for playing!

CUP #11 Winner

Party with the Pharaohs – and Biodork!

The Science Museum of Minnesota is hosting an event called Party with the Pharaohs next Wednesday evening, and it sounds INCREDIBLY fun and nerdy. They’re going to have food samplings from Crave, the Golden Fig, and TeaSource, a DJ, film screenings, adult pictionary, presentations from local science groups, Science Live theater, and live insects, reptiles and an American Kestrel.

And we get the WHOLE MUSEUM TO OURSELVES! I’m so happy that parents and schools take kids to the museum to get them interested and educated in science, but they always hog all of the cool demonstrations! I want to put the golgi apparatus in the life size cell and play in the smoke tornado, too! And next week I can.

I thought this would be a great chance to get together with all of my nerdy friends who like and appreciate science.  I threw the idea of going out to the twitterverse and Facebook last week and got back some positive responses (and trust me folks – one good pat on the head was all I needed), so I went ahead and made an eventbrite page for the evening. You don’t have to sign up through the eventbrite page to join us next week, but if you do I’ll get super excited and come up with all sorts of nifty ideas for the evening.

Wednesday March 30th – 7pm to 11pm
Science Museum of Minnesota – St. Paul, MN

Go…now…do it…you know you want to.

Party with the Pharaohs – and Biodork!

CUP Contest #11

Ack! Sorry I’m late – work meeting ran long and I didn’t set up auto-publish.

Aaaaand GO!

Identify the item in this photo and you’ll receive undying admiration from the Biodork CUP Contest participants.

All guesses submitted via the comments or by Facebook will be accepted.  The first person to guess correctly wins 100 internet points.  I will award or deduct points for additional guesses based on a completely arbitrary and whimsical set of rules known only to myself.

The first person to win 1000 points will be the grand winner of the CUP Contest, and the recipient of Uber-CUP Winner bragging rights and a pretty lame-o prize.  The list of past winners and current rankings can be found on the CUP Winners page. 

Good luck, and thanks for playing.

CUP Contest #11

Poopy Nuclear Reactors

I saw this on Street Anatomy. I was really excited to watch it because…yeah – how do you explain the science of the nuclear reactor crisis in Japan to children? My initial reaction – it’s FREAKING WEIRD and HILARIOUS. But it’s also not too bad of an explanation. Little kids don’t know much about nuclear reactors, but they do know poop.

And as one of the commenters said on youtube: “Kudos to the Japanese for taking the time out to calmly explain this to the kids. Not like the fear mongering thats so rampant in the States.”

From Street Anatomy (via HuffPo)

If you’ve been watching the news recently, you most certainly know that Japan has quite a problem on their hands with their nuclear power plant they have been trying to cool down. One can only imagine what it must be like to live it and hear it all day, everyday since the quake. In an effort to educate and quell the fear among the kids that have to live through this terrible event, they made this funny video to help children understand what’s going on.  What better way to explain science than by equating the problem with certain bodily functions? I wonder how accurate the translations is, but the concept is simple and light. If I were a kid, this would most likely make me feel a bit better; hang in there kids!

Poopy Nuclear Reactors