Saturday, December 4, 2010

April 2011 Monist: The Architecture of Reality

I'm very happy to announce the contents of the issue of The Monist I'm editing on the theme "The Architecture of Reality":
  1. Anjan Chakravartty, “Scientific Realism and Ontological Relativity”
  2. Bence Nanay, “What if the World has No Architecture?”
  3. Devin Henry, “Aristotle’s Pluralistic Realism”
  4. John Roberts, “Extra-Physical Structure in a Physical World?”
  5. Matthew Haug, “Natural Properties and the Special Sciences”
  6. Carrie Jenkins, “Is Metaphysical Grounding Irreflexive?”
  7. Daniel Nolan, “Categories and Ontological Dependence”
The papers are great but I'm very glad to be done bugging people for final copies, copy-editing, checking references, and so on. Brief aside: some of the final editing — giving things a penultimate proofread, making sure the references checked out, getting them into final format, replacing hyphens with en- and em-dashes as needed, and so on — was done in a skeezy little launderette in Exeter while I refreshed my suitcase from my UK tour (at an incredible £4 a load!). This made me wonder about other strange places in which editorial work or writing has been conducted. At first blush, one might think that this is a post-laptop phenomenon — it's not like Quine typed "Two Dogmas" on the train to Cheboygan one morning. (Still, I suppose he might have written it in weird circumstances.)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Slater Reports on Tour

A typical scene: map on iPad in a pub.
I just got back a few days ago from a little mini-tour of the UK, my first time back since I was an exchange student at Edinburgh ten years ago, and [gulp] my first time ever south of Scotland. Had some lovely meetings with philosophers in Nottingham, Bristol, Exeter, and London. Lots of real hand drawn ale (served at the proper cellar temperature) and fish and chips (with plenty of malt vinegar). Thanks to all my hosts for some very enjoyable and productive visits.

I was a bit disappointed to discover the price of beer had increased over the last decade to the point where the £2 coins no longer purchased a pint (I missed my "beer tokens"). . . . But I did appreciate a lot of the things that I fully admit the Scots and Britons have over us Americans as a society. Food-wise, you can't argue with fish and chips, really — except for the mushy peas (an abomination of nature). And they've clearly mastered the melding of meat and pastry, recognizing that little meat pies make great fast food. A new phenomenon this time around that I participated in in a few train stations: the Chicken Tikka Pasty. . . . [slow clap] For dessert, I loved sticky toffee pudding and hot custard. You just don't see that kind of love in the States.

I was also impressed with the sheer number of electric kettles for tea (even in cheap hotel rooms) and the use of radiators as towel racks — though these two items were sometimes the sole source of heat in the room. You have to hand it to them on tea in general. I brought back a good bit of it and so far it's been fantastic. And of course, there's the whisky. Beer, while good, didn't do as much for me as I can get in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. Roundabouts and the general retrofitting of older buildings have to be applauded on the city planning fronts.

Fortunately, there are some items that we Americans can still do better. Street signs for one: just the fact that we have them at all is a big bonus (maybe not Boston). Crosswalks were also rare. There were many occasions when I had to run to cross the street, which made getting to/from a train station with my suitcase exciting. Since this may have been a consequence of the prevalence of roundabouts, I'll call this a draw. Showers were also fairly mysterious to me. (1) They seemed to be either tiny or big with a tiny curtain or little window to prevent water from splashing into the bathroom. (2) Many had the water heater in the shower — not that I don't love the thought of showering with a 240 volt appliance. . . . Okay and how about this "Full English Breakfast" routine that I had way too many times? Sorry Brits, I can make a better breakfast half asleep — come over sometime and I'll demonstrate this. Halfheartedly broiled tomatoes, soggy mushrooms, sugary beans, under-spiced sausage and undercooked (and often non-smoked!) bacon? If there's a common thread here, it may be a lack of faith in the deliciousness of the Maillard reaction.

All and all, though, it's a wonderful but very different country. I'm looking forward to returning as soon as I can manage.

Photos from the trip here.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Week of Whisky in Scotland

The Vaults at Leith
Directly after the PSA, I took a vacation of sorts last week to go touring around Scotland in search of Guid Scotch Drink with my friend and whisky tour-guide Jason Johnstone-Yellin. What a great time! We started out in Edinburgh at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society Vaults where we could sample from unique single-cask offerings bottled by the SMWS. I'm a member of the SMWSA — and so can order these bottles — but it was great to be able to "try before you buy". Hopefully they'll still have some of 127.5 (Cask #5 of Bruichladdich's Port Charlotte line) for me to order. . . . 

Dog guarding Knockdhu. 
After Leith, we headed up north to visit Glenglassaugh and Knockdhu distilleries in the Highlands, passing by dozens of Speyside distilleries. Had really wonderful visits with distillery managers there where we saw the whole production works in action. We also got to visit a certain cask of Glenglassaugh of which I am a shareholder (the 2nd peated octave there). Judging from what we tasted there (even very young stuff), we have reason for being pretty excited about this. I'm expecting a little more than three bottles of a unique cask-strength malt a few years from now. . . .

We swung down from the highlands to catch the ferry from Kennacraig to Port Ellen on Islay — my favorite whisky region. The weather was picking up by this time and they decided to make the ferry foot passengers only. So with some trepidation, we left our car behind and took a surprisingly calm two hour ride to Port Askaig (on the other side of the island) and bused down to Port Ellen. Luckily, the car was waiting for us, keys under the windshield wipers, the next morning. Welcome to Islay! Stayed at Rhona and Hamish Scott's great B&B, Caladh Sona in Port Ellen (Hamish is former distillery manager at Ardbeg, and I understand presided over some fantastic malts — need to remember to pick up my birthday malt one of these days before it disappears!). Really enjoyed meeting two other Oregonians who were staying there: Mick and Tammy, owners of the Highland Stillhouse near Portland. Great folk! I'll be a regular there whenever I'm back in Portland.

We hit all of the distilleries on Islay except Kilchoman, the newest distillery on Islay which is also producing some really promising spirit which I got to try at the Glasgow Whisky Festival. The UK was enjoying some pretty rough weather, including wind gusts at up to 80mph! Nothing like horizontal rain to drive one inside (even if just into a warehouse!) for a dram. The best visit was definitely with the distillery manager at Bruichladdich, by far the quirkiest distillery on the island. Spent several hours with him. 

Weather (so it was said) held us up on Islay a short while longer — long enough to enjoy another fabulous breakfast from Rhona! — so we were only able to catch the last two hours or so of the Glasgow Whisky Festival, where we were able to taste a few things that we didn't catch while touring around. All in all, it was just a great trip. I highly recommend you take a tour with Jason. It's well worth the money: he can get you into places that other tour groups (we saw them) can't even get near (and with good cheer)! Now to start saving up for the next one. . . . 

Here are my favorite 165 photos from the 600 or so I took that week.
Ardbeg Distillery

Thursday, November 11, 2010

PSA 2010

What a concept: windows you can actually open in a hotel!
Went up to Montreal last week for the biennial meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association. Two missions this time: give a paper and take photos at the meeting for the PSA to post on their website. Done and done. Got my registration comped and put up in the program chair's sweet suite before he arrived in exchange — for the photos, that is. After the Hyatt, I stayed in this lovely 27 room hotel in the old city, called Auberge du Vieux Port. Really nice place if you're looking for a good, (relatively) inexpensive place to stay in Montreal.

Really great conference. Montreal's a lovely city. Fortunately, the really nice days were before the conference got going. Have to remember to apply to organize a symposium next time — yeah San Diego! Let me book my hotel right now.

Photos from the rest of the conference here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Scrivener 2.0 Released!

Unsolicited product endorsement: I'm a big fan of Scrivener, a Microsoft Word alternative that focuses on writing instead of thinking about how one's writing is going to look. The basic idea is that writing long works is more efficient if they're split up into manageable pieces. Scrivener helps me do this and helps me keep them organized. It's been a great tool for working on my book project (Are Species Real?) and even sketching out some new stuff for my second book (The Nature of Biological Classification). My basic workflow is to write/organize using Scrivener, export to word, and then use EndNote X3 within Word to format my bibliography. Fortunately, I can still drag references into my Scrivener file and my interaction with Word amounts to selecting a menu item ("Format Bibliography") — though I've still had Word crash hard at that moment! I've heard that the new version of Word for Mac is better, but of course it breaks EndNote integration until v.37 of EndNote is released (or whatever we're up to now).

I'd really encourage anyone who detests Word to give this workflow a shot. A trial version of Scrivener 2.0 was just released in connection with NaNoWriMo which will give you quite a bit of time playing around with the program. I haven't used the new version much, but so far it looks like a pretty significant improvement over the already great v.1.5.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Need an Idea for a Paper?

This was fascinating. I received a call-for-papers recently for a conference on:
THE CRISIS OF THE HUMAN SCIENCES: False Objectivity and the Decline of Creativity
March 6-8, 2011

Since I'm interested in the concept of creativity, I clicked through and found a typical conference site, with the following description:

Centralization and over-professionalization can lead to the disappearance of a critical environment capable of linking the disciplines to the “real world.” The humanities need to operate in a concrete cultural environment able to influence procedures on a hic et nunc basis and should not entirely depend on normative criteria whose function is often to hide ignorance behind a pretentious veil of value-neutral objectivity. . . .
For example, in sociology, the growth of scientism has fragmented ethical categories and distorted discourse between inner and outer selves. Philosophy is suffering from an empty professionalism current in many philosophy departments in industrialized and developing countries where boring, ahistorical, and nonpolitical exercises are justified through appeals to false excellence.
In all branches of the humanities absurd evaluation processes foster similar tendencies as they create a sterile atmosphere and prevent interdisciplinarity and creativity. An invidious technicization of theory plays into the hands of technocrats. Due to the centralization of editorial power in the hands of large university presses of anglophone countries, the content, quality, and range of  modern publishing has become only too predictable.
How do people working in the humanities respond to the crisis in their respective disciplines? Papers including either meta-scientific considerations or concrete observations are welcome.

As a conference organizer myself, I'm not going to tempt Karma by dissecting or commenting on this. However, I can't resist noting the mild irony of discussing the problematic disconnect between Academy (seen in Mark Taylor-ish terms, it seems) and the "real world" (whatever that is supposed to mean) and describing a solution with an obscure Latin phrase.

Anyway, let's say I'm keen to respond to this CFP. What might I write on? Luckily, the organizers provide some suggestions in a scrolling list. Some of these are questions, some are assertions. Here's the whole list (I think). I might just attend this conference if all of these questions could be answered and all of the assertions justified!

  • Suicidal humanities
  • Transmission of culture, or transcendence?
  • The humanities' inferiority complex
  • Education and profit: The world of diploma mills
  • The human sciences and human values
  • Kulturangst
  • The unbearable naïveté of method
  • Can the nature of the human be grasped through specialization?
  • Does wealth of facts equal wealth of thoughts?
  • Philosophy and the logic choppers
  • In the aftermath of Constructionism
  • Are we turning out Business majors or ATM machines?
  • Ph.D.s are titles, not qualifications
  • Engineers of souls or dealers in death?
  • Why is linguistics so boring? [third favorite]
  • Architects build prisons, not habitats
  • The Social Sciences are the drug of choice
  • E-learning = machine learning?
  • In which way do psychologisms, sociologisms, historicisms, etc. obstruct any unification and integration of the human sciences?
  • Sociology and the abandonment of cultural content
  • Excessive conceptualization in psychology
  • Excessive relativism in the historical sciences
  • The loss of creativity in translations
  • Are Cultural Studies an alternative or do they just bandage over the hemorrhage?
  • The article as hack work, aimed more at securing promotion or a new job, than advancing knowledge
  • Numbers , numbers, numbers: Formalization and quantification
  • Shakespeare Inc [runner up]
  • Liberal, plural, multicultural, humane: The new dogma
  • Race, Sex, Class, Gender: Is that all we've got?
  • Metaphor versus metonym
  • Literature is soundbites: the rest is television
  • Paradise flossed [my personal favorite]
  • Why don't we teach with shades on and Death Metal playing?
  • Take any language: English for example…
  • The global mall of academia
  • Publish or perish
  • The humanities and the market: Do something popular…
  • Political Correctness: Never too absurd?
  • Can excellence be empirically established?
  • Positivism in anthropology: Nothing new since Darwin?
  • Analytical philosophy: A bunker?
  • Are academic superstars black holes?
  • The lights are on but there's no more EngLit in the house

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Science Conference

A few months back, my friends Chris Haufe, Zanja, and I submitted a proposal to the Pacific APA for a kick-ass mini-conference on the troubled, on-again-off-again, relationship between metaphysics and philosophy of science. That wasn't its official title, but that's what it was going to be. . . . We were turned down. But out of the ashes an even more kick-ass conference has emerged with funding from the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, University of Toronto and the Fishbein Center for the History of Science and Medicine, University of Chicago. Clear your calendars from May 13th-15th if you're interested in Metaphysics & the Philosophy of Science and book a flight to Toronto!

Here's the Call for Papers.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Summer Travel

I can tell that summer's coming to a close just because my duffle bag is put away and my photography gear is spread out on my shelves. But Laura and I had a fabulous time visiting our folks in Oregon and Alberta. Pretty stunning scenery all around. The slideshows below go to my web galleries.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Grilling Pizza

The pizza-blogosphere has been furiously replicating the pizza-grilling meme recently. This is something I've been meaning to try recently, as word is that the result is closer to a pizza cooked at the proper 850°F — well beyond the capabilities of my oven! So since I was due to bake some bread and had some leftover mozzarella, I thought I'd test this out and share the results (well, the photographic record of the results).

First things first: this is all about the crust, obviously. The thought is that the grill can produce that lovely char that NY-style pizza enthusiasts crave. I decided to adapt my usual bread recipe slightly to produce some leftover dough. Here's what I did (this will produce two pizzas and a small boule of bread; if you want just pizza dough, check out Jim Lahey's method or there's Jeff Varasano's bible): Mix four cups all-purpose flour, one cup semolina, two teaspoons yeast, two teaspoons salt. Dissolve a good squirt of honey (maybe as much as 1/4 cup) into 2 cups of warm water. Mix the wet team and the dry team together with your hands (my preference) or a wooden spoon. This leads to a pretty sticky, shaggy dough. Once the ball came together enough to manage, coat it in several tablespoons of EVOO, and let sit in the bowl for 18 hours covered with plastic wrap.

At this point, the bread and pizza dough part companies. I don't think it matters how much goes to one or the other. I wanted two 9-10" thin crust pizzas, so I took about a fist-sized piece of dough and left the rest to rise for another two hours before I baked it in my dutch oven preheated to 450° (35 minutes lid on, 15 minutes lid off). Following Varasano's advice, I wanted my pizza dough to develop a bit more, so into the fridge it went. Another 48 hours or so, it's doubled in size. Divided again, it doesn't look like much dough, but is plenty for that lovely thin crust.

Now it's time to pre-heat the grill while you get toppings ready. My thought about sauce was keep-it-simple. So a can of mashed-up San Marzano tomatoes (yeah Wegman's!), some garlic, salt, pepper, and basil goes in a saucepan.

Other toppings all had the benefit of being either fast cooking (mozzarella, goat cheese, ricotta) or pre-cooked (sautéed onions, bacon, basil, roasted red pepper). I wanted to make sure this stuff was all ready to go, since once the cooking started, things were going to go fast. Outside!


Grill is rocket hot now (next time I will check how hot). I slide the dough off the paddle. There's minimal "droopage" of the dough through the grates. It's cooking FAST.

In about the time it takes me to wipe my hands on my apron and take this picture, I smell burning. Yep, there's definitely some charring going on! Flipped it over, turned the grill down on that side, drizzled a little olive oil, and started topping.

This one got a variant of the traditional margherita style: dollops of sauce alternating with cheese, and basil and the roasted red peppers. After a couple of minutes to cook the other side of the crust, just turned OFF the burners under the pizza and left the far left burner on high.

Another couple of minutes, and we have this loveliness:

And the "undercarriage" shows some nice char. Maybe a bit too much this time.

I cooked the next pizza slightly differently. This time I oiled the crust before I flipped it, which I think kept the char down a bit. I also spread the sauce evenly and topped a bit more liberally (with the onions, bacon, goat, ricotta, and mozzarella cheeses). And as long as I'm living dangerously, I decide to see what happens if I add a few wood chips to the business side of the grill. Note the smoke emanating from the left side of the grill. Since I'm a BBQ maniac, I wouldn't have had a problem if this tasted like BBQed (rather than grilled) pizza. . . . Hey, this is science! In fact, it was pretty subtle (not in there long enough to get really smoky) — I just got a hint of woodsmoke.

Here they are:

Have some timing kinks to work out still (the first one was overdone and the second was a hair underdone), but I'd do this again. The crust was definitely crispy yet chewy, with a nice char that I just can't get with a pizza stone in the oven. And aside from the indoor/outdoor hassles and having to use toppings that needed little further cooking, it wasn't more difficult than using the oven and probably the closest I'll get to Grimaldi's until I build my outdoor pizza oven. Yes, that will happen before I die. The sooner, the better!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Recent Scams

Various people have been trying to take my money recently! In one case, it was obvious enough; in a second, by a close shave; and in a third, by an office of my employer.

Case 1: The Appeal to Ignorant Vanity
This last one is probably more well-known, but over the last month, I've received three separate requests for biographical information for such fine publications as The Marquis' Who's Who in America. I've heard about this one before. I remember looking up this wacky character who asked me an incoherent questiona bout quantum mechanics in my first ever public lecture (the lecture didn't have anything to do with quantum mechanics): most of his CV were dozens of listings in "Who's Who"-type publications and lectures to local inmates on quantum mechanics and philosophy (captive audience!). The thing I love about the Who's Who books is that the end product — which no one buys except the fools, I expect (let's hope most public libraries know better) — contains a list of the fooled. On the other hand, this guy had tenure, so perhaps he was allowing himself to be scammed in order to scam his higher-ups.

Case 2: The Spurious Internet Domain Registration
My quasi-professional photography site has its own domain name: I pay various parties modest amounts to host the photos and keep the domain name registered to me. The domain end of this only comes up every three to five years or so, so it's never fresh in my mind what the deal is, when the next re-up is due, what phone number I used to register, even what company I registered with! So I get this letter from Domain Registry of America (a Canadian company) requesting that I renew my domain name for another one, two, or five years. The amount seems familiar and I have very little recollection of the company. As I'm writing the check, a glimmer of a memory comes back about my actual registrar (called "Joker"). So what the hell is this company all about? Turns out I've never paid or contacted them, but that they are able to look up the address of anyone who owns a domain name, send them something which looks very much like a legit bill, but is actually a contract to transfer my domain name to them for a fee. Given their careful wording, it appears that little can be done about them legally. 

Case 3: The Parking Ticket
There is a row of parking on the Bucknell campus, up the hill toward the observatory which is often my last resort when close things fill up. It is not posted as anything, I see other faculty/staff stickers in it, it's adjacent to posted staff-parking, so I figure that it is fair game for anyone. One day, having parked there without incident many times, I get a $20 ticket for "EMPLOYEE IN STUD. PARKING". Am I not studly enough? The ticket reports further that it is "NOT APPEALABLE". And yet, somehow, contravening laws of logic or nature, I am able to email the office and appeal.
Ticket #09B00455
Appeal Reason:

Hi there, I got this ticket for parking in "student parking" but there's no indication whatsoever on the street that I can see (I just drove by again) that it is student parking. It was the parking just off of the stadium. I'm fine to not park there, but if you're going to ticket there, you must have things posted better. Thanks!

Matthew Slater
Assistant Professor of Philosophy
My appeal is heard and denied on the grounds that the ticket is unappealable.
Thank you for your parking ticket appeal. The University Parking Appeals Board, consisting of faculty, staff, and student representatives, carefully reviewed your appeal
with the below resolution 
. . . .
The following ticket appeal has been denied. You are responsible for payment of this citation. Thank you for your time and cooperation. University Parking Appeals Board
Decision: Staff in Student parking is not able to be appealed per the University parking regulations.

When I protested that this really seemed absurd — to ticket for parking in an unmarked area, to make certain kinds of tickets "unappealable" — my second appeal received a personal response: "I have checked as well, and if you'll notice there is a sign post that has no sign on it. These signs are taken to be placed in dorm rooms or just taken on a dare by students. We will have facilities replace the sign which did state Student Parking." I pointed out that no sign had ever been there since I had come to Bucknell (nor have I seen it go up again). I guess the sign post was supposed to have clued me in enough to call parking services as I was driving around looking for parking? (I'm pretty sure that's illegal in PA.)

So are these three cases scams? My inclination is to say yes, though I note that they all appear to be legal. The first two involve companies offering real services: publishing books with names and short biographies of people (perhaps also selling that information to spammers, but never mind that) and registering domain names. It's just that you probably don't need these services. The last is merely a nifty way of helping the bottom line of a university or other highly bureaucratized institution: have unlabeled parking areas you police with unappealable tickets. Sure feels like a scam! It's like a tax on new employees.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Volcanos and Reference to Species

I was in Tilburg (in the Netherlands) at the Sydney-Tilburg Future of Philosophy of Science Conference a couple of weeks ago when Mt. Nooneexceptperhapsicelanderscanpronounceit went off and marooned me in the beautiful city of Amsterdam for four extra days during a period of unseasonably warm spring weather in Europe. (The conference was very good, by the way.)

This, unfortunately, precipitated a good week of missed classes back home. I felt compelled to cancel my trip back to the 13th Inland Northwest Philosophy Conference (the INPC), a conference I've helped organize before. Luckily, the organizers were game to have me present remotely. Here's a video of the presentation:

My INPC2010 Presentation from Matthew Slater on Vimeo.

Ugh: tell me I say 'um' less when when I'm not talking in a room by myself. . . . Better, perhaps, to simply read the paper (draft here). I think my session went well. I was able to take questions (even though I couldn't see anyone in the session) and got some good feedback. Since I'm not exactly a philosopher of language, if anyone with more familiarity with this material has any comments — or any references to things that I really ought to read (that I may have overlooked) —, I'd be most grateful to hear them (either via email or comments here).

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Submission Information for Upcoming Issue of the Monist (Architecture of Reality)

Submissions for issue 94:2 (April 2011) of The Monist for which I am advisory editor are trickling in. I've received a few protocol questions which I'm happy to answer.

Length requirements: the submission guidelines for The Monist suggest a range of 4,000–8,000 words. Sticking to this will allow more pieces to make the issue and will correspondingly increase a paper's chances of inclusion in the issue.

Submission: The official guidelines ask for an electronic submission as well as a clear paper copy. I prefer the submission to be in PDF format (please blind it for anonymous refereeing, including removing the metadata if possible), but can accept submissions in Word (.doc or .docx) or RTF. I don't need a paper copy if you submit in PDF or if your essay does not contain anything other than regular text (e.g., diagrams, formulas involving special fonts, &c.). Paper copies may be mailed to:

Matthew Slater
Monist Issue
Department of Philosophy
Bucknell University
69 Coleman Hall, Dent Dr.
Lewisburg, PA 17837

Electronic submissions should be emailed to me at Please write back if you don't receive a confirmation receipt within two days (naturally, I'll be travelling on the deadline, and so slower to respond then).

Abstract: It would be helpful to include a short (100-200 word) abstract of your submission (either in the paper or in the email) with which I might tantalize potential referees.

Thanks and don't hesitate to get in touch if you have any other questions/clarifications. Really looking forward to reading these submissions!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Government "Intrusion"

I was just rereading Leopold's (1949) Sand County Almanac this morning for a class and I noticed a wise remark relevant to the current strife about healthcare:
Industrial landowners and users, especially lumbermen and stockmen, are inclined to wail long and loudly about the extension of government ownership and regulation to land, but (with notable exceptions) they show little disposition to develop the only visible alternative: the voluntary practice of conservation on their own land.
It's not a conceptual truth that free-market approaches to health-insurance are doomed to fail any more than it is guaranteed that Leopold's industrial landowners should fail to keep their soil from washing away. But nor is it surprising that they do fail, given the relevant incentive structures. Champions of free-market approaches to this or that argue that long-term, enlightened self-interest leads to productive competition and thus valuable results — and they may be right. But haven't we seen in the last few years a conspicuous absence of foresight on the part of the piloting these hydrogen-fueled-dirigibles? "Oh the humanity!"

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Snowmageddon vs. Global Warming

I think I may have finally turned the corner from getting really mad at people who made elementary mistakes in scientific reasoning (and the people who credulously believe them) to finding them hilarious and taking joy from them. Well, I'm still mad that such people have such loud bullhorns, but that's another issue. . . .

So it inevitably happens that when record snowfall hits DC last week that blowhards come out of the woodwork to bash "global warming": "Hey, it's COLD here! What's all this talk of WARMING!?" The reason this kind of idiocy now makes me happy is that it invites such rich satire. Check out this clip from the Daily Show: the real fun starts at about 3:40 in.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Unusually Large Snowstorm
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

Sam B.: "A dingo took my baby! That means dingos will take every baby! Al Gore, what have you done?!?"

By the way, kudos to Sean Hanity [sic?] for trying to turn climate change into a political question by attributing the theory to Al Gore. This is, I must say, a stroke of rhetorical genius and why I continue to maintain that "An Inconvenient Truth" actually set us back considerably in the race to mitigate climate change. . . . "Al Gore, what have you done?!?"

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Amazing Pizza Guide

I love a good New York Pizza. Possibly the best food on the planet when done right in a coal- or wood-fired oven. Someday I will build one of these ovens. In the meantime, I'm working on getting the perfect crust. Just came across this "recipe" (more like a short book!) by Jeff Varasano. Fantastic stuff. Back into the bakery laboratory I go!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

God's Control Panel

Pretty funny stuff here. Top setting of the rain control: clowns. That would be rough, man. . . .

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Y2K in Retrospect

I found this comment on an article [This Dumb Decade: The 87 Lamest Moments in Tech, 2000-2009] about how "lame" the y2k problem was to be particularly revealing and relevant to the sort of complacency that is easily encouraged by successful behind-the-scenes work.

The y2k problem was a snoozer because a LOT of geeks worked a LOT of hours in 1998 and 1999 to fix the problem before it happened. I was in a y2k war room and when midnight passed our first customer without the lights going out in Canberra (our product was controlling the Snowy Mountains Project electrical grid) we all cheered. Outside the y2k war rooms of thousands of companies whose software was supporting the world’s industrial base, nobody heard that cheer, but we damn well won that war before the first (potential) shot was fired.

I think here about the Swine-flu "non-issue". . . .

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mad Scientist of the Guitar

Great (Dutch) documentary from 1997 about my guitar hero Bill Frisell (check out all three parts). I've seen Frisell in concert (mostly at the Village Vanguard) a good dozen times and always notice the sort of incongruous awkward mannerisms (if you watched him with no sound, you'd think he had no sense of rhythm) and amazing music. Great stuff. If you're new to Frisell, I highly recommend picking up some of his impossible-to-classify albums. Lots of selections on Lala (heavy on Disfarmer initially, but make sure to check out songs from his collaborations with Elvin Jones and Dave Holland, Unspeakable, Floratone, Ghost Town).

I've also been really digging his online live recording series. Number 4 is great — I was at this concert, I believe, at the wonderful Jazz Standard (which also has a BBQ restaurant upstairs) including one of my favorite songs of all time, "Follow Your Heart" by John McLaughlin. Number 5 ("Live at the Babicon") is also really good: aside from the improvisations, the album is all Beatles covers.

Side note/question: Is it wrong to like covers of the Beatles more than the Beatles themselves?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Carbon Emissions and Sequestration

Gizmodo recently picked up on an article about a Japanese project aiming to use bacteria (genetically modified, possibly?) to convert CO2 into natural gas (well, methane, anyway) and sequestering the (leftover?) carbon. They don't have funding yet and frankly I hope that it doesn't get it. Aside from the fact that we don't really know whether sequestering carbon will work — it might just seep out again — it seems to represent strange priorities. The flub in Gizmodo's write up is illustrative:

Many nations have already built massive carbon sequestration plants that can store carbon dioxide underground, as part of a worldwide effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Obviously, sequestering atmospheric carbon does absolutely nothing to curb greenhouse gas emissions! Now, I'm all for thinking about the climate change problem in terms of a total "budget" of atmospheric carbon compatible with a 2° rise in global temperature averages, but these pie-in-the-sky solutions just don't get to the heart of the problem. Worse, they allow us a sort of vague hope that technology will save the day and allow us to keep on doing what we're doing. When did we forget that technology is ultimately going to be our undoing? Haven't these people watched science fiction movies?!?

Sped-Up Bacteria Could Transform Carbon Dioxide into Natural Gas - methane - Gizmodo

Friday, January 8, 2010

Biosphere 2

Just caught this post (with many photos) of the now mostly derelict Biosphere 2. Fascinating stuff (and judging from some of the comments, possibly not an accurate representation of the state of things there; the official webpage is here). I vaguely remember the buzz surrounding this thing in the early '90s. I suppose at the time that I assumed that the '2' referred to the fact that this Biosphere was a more sophisticated, bigger, whathaveyou version of Biosphere 1.0. No: we're living on Biosphere 1.0:

Watching something originally built precisely as a simulation of the Earth—the 2 in "Biosphere 2" is meant to differentiate this place from the Earth itself, i.e. Biosphere 1—slowly taken over by the very forces it was naively meant to model is philosophically extraordinary: the model taken over by the thing it represents. It is a replicant in its dying throes.

Aside from all the ironies involved, it's interesting to think about the underlying assumptions behind this project. At least, I think they were underlying assumptions: that a closed biotic system of a certain sort would attain some kind of equilibrium. Put a bunch of plants, water, microbes, animals, and whatever else together, seal it from the human-disturbed outdoors, and we'll have a sort of indoor Garden of Eden in the Sonoran Desert. But not only did its container mess things up a bit (the concrete screws with CO2 levels, I gather, the trees hit the ceiling, &c.), there was a roach/ant explosion (since presumably the relevant predators weren't included.

Not long ago, Wire Science had a nice feature on it (Biosphere 2 Not Such a Bust) that pointed out its importance for preparing for future mars/moon bases. Perhaps someone should try building Biosphere 3 at sea so that we can get ready to head to Waterworld.