Sunday, November 2, 2014

Does the Star Trek Odd/Even rule hold up to scrutiny?

It's all well and good being a skeptic and going after homeopathy, conspiracy theories and religion. But what about the important stuff in life? Skeptics must question everything. This includes Star Trek. Does the oft cited Odd/Even rule hold up to scrutiny?

Yes. Generally, an odd numbered Star Trek film is not as good as an even numbered Star Trek film. Out of 12 Star Trek films, only two fail to meet this rule.

I used IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic to get the ratings for each film. All are in a similar format, being a rating out of 10, a percentage or a mark out of 100. As I started with IMDB I converted all to the same format.

The average score for a Star Trek film is 6.7. Above avergae films are therefore "Good", average films are, well, "Average" (though none exist yet) and below  average films are "Bad".

I have included the recent re-boot, but the rule may need to be modified to just include the "original" run of films, as the two new ones rank 1 and 3 using this survey's methods.

You can see the results below:

Data accurate as of 02/11/2014

Monday, October 13, 2014

Cats are still better than dogs

A while back Jerry Coyne sought some input to help with a debate on Cats vs Dogs, which I duly helped with. Jerry unfortunately reported that the debate was won by the dog lovers.

Of course, cats are better than dogs, so how to explain this outcome? Well quite clearly, there were no Sophisticated Theologians (TM) present:

1.By definition, cats winning in the cats vs dogs debate is a result than which none greater can be imagined.

2.A result that necessarily exists in reality is greater than a result that does not necessarily exist.

3.Thus, by definition, if a cats winning the debate result exists as an idea in the mind but does not necessarily exist in reality, then we can imagine something that is greater than us simply imagining that cats won.

4.But we cannot imagine something that is greater than cats winning the debate.

5.Thus, if cats winning the debate exists in the mind as an idea, then cats winning the debate necessarily exists in reality.

6. Cats winning the debate exists in the mind as an idea.

7.Therefore, cats winning the debate necessarily exists in reality.

So, cats won the NY Times "Cats vs Dogs" debate!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The history of the Ice Bucket Challenge

Originally, the ice bucket challenge was not associated with ALS.

Before it all went viral, I saw a number of my capoeirista friends taking part, and the challenge was a little different, have two buckets of iced water poured on you, then pour the third one on yourself (here's my capoeira teacher, Mestrando Primo taking part, just before it went viral). 

The idea for the challenge was to either take the challenge, or donate to charity (or both), and to pick a charity of your choice, and also nominate three more to take part. Now some would say this isn't the nicest of fundraising tactics, and that it amounts to bullying fundraising tactics, but I think it's not that bad (and certainly better than "trick or treat" at Hallowe'en which is essentially demanding money with menaces), Anyhow...

Facebook data indicates that the challenge started around June 8th, but it wasn't until August that it really went viral. Golfer Chris Kennedy nominated the ALS foundation, and this is where the association with ALS (aka Motor Neuron Disease, or Lou Gehrig's disease).

As with many charity things, some people have been critical of how ALS Foundation spend their funds, for example, they have $6.7 million in investments. What people often fail to realise is that charities need to have money in reserve - fundraising isn't always predictable, and if the fundraising dries up, you need to have your operating costs to carry on the services you provide. I've defended charity spending before, but it bears repeating: charities don't get anything for free, and if you want to have a professional bunch of people working for you, you will have to pay them, as everyone has bills to pay and needs food to eat.

The ALS Foundation are quite open about their spending, and in the UK you can go to the charity commission and look at the accounts of all charities. It is then up to you to see if you think a charity spends too much on its staff etc relative to how much the charity brings in. In the case of ALS, 21% being spend on fundraising and admin seems more than acceptable.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Being a spoil sport for breast cancer awareness

A friend recently posted the Facebook status:

"It's confirmed, I'm going to be a daddy"

Naturally, I liked it, and was then sent this message:

"Sorry,you should not have liked or commented!!!! Now you have to pick from one of these below and post it to your status. This is THE 2014 BREAST CANCER AWARENESS game. Don't be a spoil sport, pick your poison from one of these and change your status, 1) Damn diarrhea 2) Just used my boobs to get out of a speeding ticket 3) How do you get rid of foot fungus 4) No toilet paper, goodbye socks. 5) I think I'm in love with someone, what should I do? 6) I've decided to stop wearing underwear 7) it's confirmed, I'm going to be a Mommy/Daddy! 8) Just won $900 on a scratch card 9) I've just found out I've been cheated on the past 5 months. Post with no explanations. So sorry, I fell for it too. Looking forward to your post."

If this was just a status meme doing the rounds, I might play as they can be fun. But it's not actually doing anything at all to raise awareness of any aspect of breast cancer, and it bugs me to see a cause I've done quite a lot of fundraising for co-opted to spread a practical joke via Facebook. So I'm not playing the Facebook game, and instead have written this blog post.

Feel free to help breast cancer awareness by doing any of these if you have the time:

Checking out information on breast cancer from Breast Cancer Campaign or the NHS - in women, and in men.

Looking at how you can support Breast Cancer Campaign or maybe sharing this blog on Facebook, Twitter and the like.

All these things will do lots more for breast cancer awareness than playing a joke on my friends.

Though if you could tell me how to get rid of foot fungus, that would be appreciated. For a friend.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Quantum Mechanics does not give us free will

UPDATE: I should have looked at the You Tube comments after the video, as Derek deals with what I say here, you can follow the link to his comment, or see them reproduced at the end of this post.

I love Veritasium (in fact, I plugged the lovely Derek Muller's channel before), but I have to take issue with the end of his latest video on randomness in which he says:

I have to flat out say that this is wrong.

To explain why, I need to firstly define free will, and I tend to side with Jerry Coyne's definition:

In that same article Jerry also explains why I don't believe we have free will. Our brains are not exempt from the physical laws of the universe. Jerry briefly mentions quantum mechanics there too: 

"(It's possible, though improbable, that the indeterminacy of quantum physics may tweak behavior a bit, but such random effects can't be part of free will.) "

I would like to elaborate on that.

In what sense does quantum mechanics give us free will? OK, so it appears that quantum mechanics appears truly random, entirely probabilistic. Given that randomness and unpredictability, maybe that could mean that if we reran the tape of your life and you could end up acting in a different way. But in what sense have you chosen to do this? How were you a free agent? If we are relying on utterly random and unpredictable events to let us chose a different course of action if the tape of our life was rewound, in what sense are we free to choose? 

If it turns out that quantum events have a significant influence on the firing of our neurons, then they may indeed affect how we think and behave, but that does not make us masters of our fate and captains of our soul. We are still slave to the machinations of the universe, whatever they may be.

The idea that we don't have free will is counter intuitive, as it very much feels that we do.Thinking about it does make my brain hurt (I can't help it); but the facts speak for themselves. I've mentioned optical illusions before a few times at they are a great example of why our experiences are not as reliable as we would like to think they are. And so it is with free will, it seems like we experience it, but we don't. There seems no logical reason to think that we do.

UPDATE: As mentioned above: ""To be clear, by "free will" I mean that your decisions could not be predicted with certainty, even if someone knew everything about all the particles that make up your body. I am not suggesting you have conscious control over your decisions as even current research shows we become conscious of choices after we make them.

I've given my view on the quantum measurement problem but it's called a problem for a reason. No one has it fully worked out quite yet (or maybe this is as fully as it can be worked out). I am not saying that determinism is certainly false, but our scientific theories and observations as they stand today imply that new information is being generated in the universe and this makes it impossible to predict the future with certainty. Some day this view may be overturned.

To me, for now, time looks like a zipper. Far in the future the possibilities are wide open, but with every passing second time zips up what might be into what actually happened."
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