Michael Shermer On Patternicity

Patternicity is Shermer’s name for apophenia, the tendency to find meaning in noise. This is how we see constellations in the stars, faces on Mars, and Kaziklu Bey’s visage grinning evilly from a slice of cinnamon toast.

In its negative form, patternicity is behind many forms of self-deception, from superstition to conspiracy theory. This video goes into it in depth, with examples.

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Diagnosing Rabies

Perhaps you remember the Walt Disney classic Old Yeller” in which a frontier family’s dog contracts “the hydrophobie” from fighting a rabid wolf. Who could forget the tear-jerker scene where, after telling his mama “He was my dog… I’ll do it,” young Travis ends Yeller’s suffering.

Although it is a vaccine-preventable disease, rabies still poses a significant public health problem in many countries in Asia and Africa where 95% of human deaths occur even though safe, effective vaccines for both human and veterinary use exist.

Nearly half of those bitten by suspect rabid animals are children under 15 years of age. Although the efficacy and safety of modern cell culture vaccines have been recognized, some countries still produce and use nervous tissue vaccines, which are less effective.
World Health Organization » Health topics » Rabies

In many parts of the world, vaccination, testing and treatment are prohibitively expensive. In rural communities rabies isn’t reported. It’s deadly, why bother? is the logic. Keep the victim as comfortable as possible while you wait for the inevitable.

The very experimental Milwaukee Protocol is marginally effective. Patients come out of it with severe neurological damage and needing months of rehab.

Currently, if a human is bitten the doctors test the animal that bit them. The test – and this is gruesome – requires that the animal’s head be sent away for testing. The test is to look for lesions on the brain, and if there are no lesions, oh well.

They’ve come up with a new test that can diagnose human rabies from skin cells that I hope will someday replace decapitation as the diagnostic procedure of choice.

The number of human deaths due to rabies is currently underestimated to be 55,000 deaths per year. Biological diagnostic methods for confirmation of rabies remain limited, because testing on postmortem cerebral samples is the reference method, and in many countries, sampling brain tissue is rarely practiced. There is a need for a reliable method based on a simple collection of nonneural specimens.
Dacheux, Laurent et al. A Reliable Diagnosis of Human Rabies Based on Analysis of Skin Biopsy Specimens. Clinical Infectious Diseases 2008; 47:1410–7

Global Warming and Poison Ivy

I hate Global Warming skeptics.

Ecotoxicity Excerpts:
/PLANTS/ … It is not known how poison ivy might respond to increasing concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO(2)), but previous work done in controlled growth chambers shows that other vines exhibit large growth enhancement from elevated CO(2). Rising CO(2) is potentially responsible for the increased vine abundance that is inhibiting forest regeneration and increasing tree mortality around the world. In this 6-year study at the Duke University Free-Air CO(2) Enrichment experiment, we show that elevated atmospheric CO(2) in an intact forest ecosystem increases photosynthesis, water use efficiency, growth, and population biomass of poison ivy. The CO(2) growth stimulation exceeds that of most other woody species. Furthermore, high-CO(2) plants produce a more allergenic form of urushiol. Our results indicate that Toxicodendron taxa will become more abundant and more “toxic” in the future, potentially affecting global forest dynamics and human health.
[Mohan JE et al; Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 103 (24): 9086-9 (2006)] **PEER REVIEWED** PubMed Abstract

Sometimes There Is No Movie


K: It just ocurred to me. A major flaw in the premise of the movie “Signs
“. Why would anyone go to a planet that contained such vast quantities of a substance so extremely toxic to them?

Me: USUALLY they don’t. In those cases the native species all die and there is no movie.
Yeah, it’s not like they could use us as food. No idea.
That, and the humidity in the air would burn whatever they use for lungs.
Of course, running around naked didn’t help. Didn’t they have space suits?
For that matter, why didn’t they have weapons? Never bring your own balls to a baseball bat fight.
And DAMN, did they not have doors where they came from? Locked in the *pantry*?

T: If today’s TV and movies were logical, most of them would last about 2 minutes. I tried watching “Alias
” and the lead character is a CIA agent/grad student. She tells her fiance. He leaves a long phone message on her answering machine musing about this revelation. If it were at all realistic, both of them would be dead, not just the boyfriend – and Darwin would be proved right.

Me: “Alias” had its moments.

M: Cuz it’s in the script?

K: At the end of The ORIGINAL War of the Worlds, the Martians died when they caught a cold. But why didn’t they bring any of their own viruses? They could have eradicated life on Earth by sending blankets infected with Mars-pox.

T: Ah, the good old days…when we didn’t know about small pox. And the only gals you saw in underwear were for Playtex.

Maidenform BRA Matador 1955

Maidenform Matador dream ad.

I dreamed I was a world-famous matadoress in my maidenform bra!!! In the 60s they couldn’t show bra models in magazines. Somehow it was acceptable to show a bra model in a fantasy photo.

K: Remember in old westerns when they would show “Kind Hearted” women taking blankets to the poor cold indians despite the warnings. Then we didn’t understand why the “Barbaric Savages” would reject the gift and take the women prisoner? Now we know and realize we might have done the same.

Me: I don’t recall any movies with “kind-hearted women” being exposed to smallpox-infected blankets.

When Mars-pox kills everyone, there will be no movie. There was a sci-fi story by Racoona Sheldon called “The Screwfly Solution” in which aliens used pheromones to wipe out the human race. It was told from the viewpoint of a woman who escaped the carnage by hiding in the mountains. The story appears in “The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories.”

OTOH, in the book Evolution from Space two highly-esteemed astronomers state that since the earth is constantly being bombarded by graphite, it’s practically a given that the building blocks of alien life are constantly raining down on us. Graphite can be the result of exposing organic material to UV radiation in a vacuum.
Viruses that evolved with us usually don’t kill everyone. To be a successful parasite you have to have to have hosts to infest. Hoyle and Wickramasinghe also associated some historical plagues with celestial events such as meteor showers and near-misses by comets.
Viruses can be used to inject genetic material into our cells. I would guess that a number of these plagues from space injected USEFUL materials, hence “Evolution from Space.”

Please tell me you watched the classic WotW, not that tripe with the short Sc**ntologist.

I wonder whether the aliens in Signs were made of something that’s noxious to us. Like urushiol. Now there’s the stuff of nightmares.

K: I saw both versions. Best scene is when the probe is searching the basement where the people are hiding.

Me: …And then the naked alien walks in and looks for them. I’m detecting a pattern here

WordPress 3.5 Issue – Add New Post Toolbar

I upgraded to WordPress 3.5 and some plugins last night. The automatic install went smoothly as always, but dammit! something went wrong.


  • “Add New Post” won’t switch from Text to Visual
  • Quicktags toolbar was blank or missing
  • “Add Media” popped up a red box alerting me that the WP 3.5 media uploader was New and Improved. meh. After I dismissed the popup Add New Post had the toolbar just one time.
missing quicktag toolbar

Missing toolbar in WordPress 3.5.

When the going gets tough, the tough take a nap.

It turned out that the tagaroo plugin wasn’t playing nice with WordPress. I suspect it’s due to the new WP code for Add Media.

If you have this problem here’s what to do:

  1. Try the Twenty-Twelve theme.
  2. Deactivate all plugins.
  3. Activate plugins one at a time, checking “Add New Post” after each activation.
  4. If that plugin doesn’t break WordPress repeat with the next plugin.
  5. If that plugin breaks WordPress:
    • Contact the plugin author. Be sure to include version numbers of WP and the plugin.
    • Contact WordPress. There may be other plugins with the same problem.
    • Tweet it!
    • Deactivate the plugin, leave it deactivated (for now) and continue checking plugins.

Moderate ADHD Likely


Moderate ADHD Likely


Best Books EVER

A conversation with my husband:

DH: How could you not have read “Tale of Two Cities”? It has the most famous opening line ever…
Me: “Call me Ishmael?”
DH: Ok, the second most famous opening line ever.

As it happens, we read the same authors but different books. In grade school I slogged through Dickens’ “Great Expectations” but DH read “Tale Of Two Cities” and so on.

I found lists of the best books ever written, boiled it down to a reasonable number, then downloaded the .epubs from Project Gutenberg. If you like my ebook selection, please donate to Project Gutenberg! These ebooks are all Public Domain in the U.S., that is, legal to download and to share.

The books are in .epub format, suitable for side-loading into your Barnes & Noble Nook
or Amazon Kindle
. There is also an addon for FireFox called EPUBReader.

Download these three .zip archives and enjoy!

Part 1 of 3 – Gutenberg

  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • Anna Karenina by graf Leo Tolstoy
  • Cranford by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell
  • Darkwater by W. E. B. Du Bois
  • David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Eugene Oneguine by Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin
  • Father Goriot by Honor‚ de Balzac
  • Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift-images
  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  • Howards End by E. M. Forster
  • Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bront‰
  • Le Mort d’Arthur Volume 1 by Sir Thomas Malory
  • Le Mort d’Arthur Volume 2 by Sir Thomas Malory

Part 2 of 3 – Gutenberg

  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • Nostromo by Joseph Conrad
  • Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
  • Rosalynde by Thomas Lodge
  • Silas Marner by George Eliot
  • Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence
  • Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  • The Ambassadors by Henry James
  • The Golden Bowl by Henry James
  • The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  • The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • The Iliad by Homer
  • The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Part 3 of 3 – Gutenberg

  • The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan by John Bunyan
  • The Pioneers by James Fenimore Cooper
  • The Portrait of a Lady – Volume 1 by Henry James
  • The Portrait of a Lady – Volume 2 by Henry James
  • The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
  • The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  • The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
  • The Trial by Franz Kafka
  • The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
  • The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
  • The Warden by Anthony Trollope
  • Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
  • Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
  • Troilus and Criseyde by Geoffrey Chaucer
  • Ulysses by James Joyce
  • Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë


Enjoy these all-time favorite books from Gutenberg.org.

Project Gutenberg offers over 40,000 free ebooks: choose among free epub books, free kindle books, download them or read them online.

We carry high quality ebooks: All our ebooks were previously published by bona fide publishers. We digitized and diligently proofread them with the help of thousands of volunteers.

No fee or registration is required, but if you find Project Gutenberg useful, we kindly ask you to donate a small amount so we can buy and digitize more books. Other ways to help include digitizing more books, recording audio books, or reporting errors.

Photo Credit:
Source Flickr
Cloned Milkmen

In Spiritus Sanctum

To the Native Americans, breath and spirit were one and the same. A baby wasn’t instilled with a soul until he took his first breath.

In Latin “spiritus” can mean either breath or soul. Dying, “expiration,” means both that final breath and the departure of the soul.

Photo Credits
Source: Flickr
Author: Raymond Larose

Tie Me Kangaroo Down

This was my favorite song as a kid. My friend Max respun it for me.

Rolf Harris – Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport – Max’s Mix 2008

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