Fluid Dynamics and Physics not Needed for Blood Spatter Analysis

blood spatter analysisIf you’re a fan of crime drama then you’ve almost certainly heard of Blood Spatter Analysis. It’s a technique used to determine how a crime happened. It doesn’t work. That’s very clear. The experts testifying about it generally know nothing of Fluid Dynamics or Physics and earn a certification after a forty-hour course. Yet, it’s an accepted science in almost every part of the United States. Lovely.

I just read an amazing article about how all of this came to be. Basically, one fellow invented the so-called science in his basement and was convincing in the courtroom despite having no scientifically backed evidence to back it. Now a horde of experts, almost all of whom trained with and were certified by him at his forty-hour course are testifying against one another in cases across the country. It’s not hard to find someone who will testify a blood spatter is evidence of absolute guilt while another person from the same discipline argues for complete innocence.

People’s blood is different in consistency and even different throughout the body. Weather can play an enormous role in fluid dynamics. Gravity plays a part. The setting on the air conditioner will make a difference in how blood behaves in various circumstances. There is good reason no readily repeatable experimentation on blood spatters exists. Yet, the testimony has resulted in any number of people being exonerated or convicted.

There is currently an effort by scientists with strong backgrounds in fluid dynamics and physics to try and make this actually work but the problems persist. It’s largely a field mired in confirmation bias. The result you want to get is the one you get. There just isn’t enough consistency in results to come to reliable conclusions.

There is a lot of sad in all of this. But, being the Libertarian that I am, I’m going to reserve my outrage mostly for myself. Why didn’t I realize this entire methodology is bunk? There is nothing in the article that I couldn’t have figured out simply by thinking about it for a bit. Obviously, blood splatters are going to have huge inconsistences based on wind, temperature, pressure, blood thickness, angles, and who knows what else.

Yet I ate it up on crime shows and assumed it was based on scientific principles all this time. Bad Tom! Do better.

Tom Liberman

Pluto is What Pluto is

PlutoIs Pluto a planet or a dwarf planet? This question has roiled both the scientific and public world for the last twelve years. When it was discovered way back in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh it was given the designation of planet. In 2006 the definition of what is a planet was changed and the little, relatively, world was reclassified as a dwarf planet.

I well understand the need to classify things so that we can communicate. Without definitions we have a difficult time expressing meaning to one another. In this case the reality is the only thing of importance. The designation means nothing. Pluto was discovered by humans back in 1930 but it has been galivanting about the solar system for billions of years in largely the form it is today. There is no name we can call it that will change its nature. Planet, Dwarf Planet, Kuiper Belt Object, whatever, it is the same. It is only we people who are upset about the classification and that is, to my way of thinking, somewhat telling.

Why do we care? Will it make any difference in your life? If Pluto is a planet are you better or worse? Is Pluto any different? The designation is merely so we can communicate effectively and the reality is in this case it doesn’t make any difference. The only chance of any confusion occurs if we are talking about the Disney character rather than the orbital body.

The question becomes why is it such a contention issue? Why do people have their own self-worth wrapped up in the fact that Pluto is or is not a planet? I cannot say for certain but I suspect the cause is related to our ego. We want to be right. We want to be better and smarter than the other people. We find like-minded allies and pat ourselves on the back at how smart we are because we know Pluto is one thing or another. This somehow validates our feelings about ourselves and that’s a shame.

Pluto is what Pluto is, regardless of the designation we give it. You are who you are, with no importance given to what others may call you. Nothing changes. The kind of person you choose to be is defined by other things: The way you behave towards others, the things you say about other people. Your behavior defines you. Your existence. Not the names people call you, that’s their problem.

What makes you a better or worse person has nothing to do with how others designate you. You are you and so Pluto is Pluto.

Tom Liberman

Harrison Bader and the Easy Five Star Catch

RFive Star Catchecently a St. Louis Cardinal outfielder, Harrison Bader, made a game ending catch that was rated as a Five Star catch although it didn’t appear, to the eye, to be particularly difficult. It gives me good reason to discuss the difference between a metric based analysis and the eye test. The eye test says: If it looks like a difficult catch, it must be one. If it looks easy, then it probably was. The eye test has merit but statistical analysis should always triumph.

First a quick look at how Statcast derives their rating system. They look at four factors. How far the outfielder has to travel to get to the ball. How much time that outfielder has. The direction the outfielder must run. The proximity to a wall in which the catch is made. Basically, Statcast feeds every ball hit into the outfield into a database and applies a calculation to see what percentage of the time the outfielder at that position would make the catch. Anytime the number drops to 25% or less, it is considered a Five Star catch.

When Bader made his catch the other night it certainly didn’t pass the eye test. It looked like a good play at best. This is where metric based analysis is decidedly better than most subjective opinions. Bader is extremely fast and seems to have an excellent feel for the flight of the baseball immediately off the bat of the hitter. This means he gets started in the correct direction very quickly and arrives at the intersection point with the ball rapidly. It’s true that Bader certainly makes that play more than 25% of the time. I’d hazard a guess that he makes it more like 80% of the time. That doesn’t change the fact that 75% of the time a ball hit with a similar trajectory goes for a base hit. That’s the power of metric based analysis.

Remember, Bader’s own catches are part of that mix. Because he catches a lot of balls of this nature that drives down the difficulty rating of the catch. If you take Bader’s catches out of the equation the catch becomes even less likely.

Statcast and its outfield defensive ratings is a relatively new statistic. There will certainly be some adjustments going forward and the larger the data set, the more accurate the percentages. That being said, it was a Five Star catch by the best measurable rating currently available. I’ll take that over the eye test any day of the week.

You’d be wise to the do the same and that applies to other aspects of life as well. It’s easy to be fooled when doing the eye test. Look at the numbers, trust the numbers. Do you know in the United States, violent crime is at its lowest point in over fifty years? Can’t argue with the math.

Tom Liberman

No Recess During Eclipse

eclipseIf you were a child and told you could not go outside during a solar eclipse because looking at the sun was dangerous; would that make you more or less likely to go outside on the sly? I think the answer to this question gives us great insight into the problems associated with a state that tries too hard to protect us from ourselves.

The Cumberland Valley School District sent a letter to parents explaining that recess will be cancelled on Monday August 21st during the full solar eclipse. I think it’s a mistake and I’m happy to tell you why. I don’t disagree that looking at the sun is dangerous. I think children should be warned not to look at the eclipse as it could damage their eyes. I understand the danger of litigation. I just think preventing children from going outside during the event is a silly way to go about protecting the children.

A far better solution would be to assemble outside with all of the students and have a telescope with appropriate lenses on it for them to use. Another solution would be to have an assembly where a live broadcast of the eclipse is shown on screen. Perhaps parents could be asked to purchase eyewear that will protect the student and send it to class with their child that day.

There are many, many solutions available to the district and they chose the one that is probably going to endanger the students the most. By telling them they can’t go outside at all, they work against human nature. Just looking at the sun during a normal day will cause blindness. Children go outside quite frequently and manage not to blind themselves. I understand the special circumstances of the eclipse will generate more interest in looking at it, I just think the solution is utterly silly.

This attempted solution mimics what government does when they try to force behavior on its citizens. Using mind altering drugs can be dangerous. Getting married is a good thing. The government rewards behavior they think is useful and punishes behavior they think is dangerous. The problem is that such actions generally create new and bigger problems than those they are trying to solve.

I don’t want to give a series of examples, starting with the War on Drugs, to show the generally negative outcome of such laws; I just want you to contemplate what happened in school when you were young and there was a solar eclipse. Were you denied recess? Were you herded into a dark room to mitigate the chances you’d blind yourself? How many kids were blinded?

It’s always important to consider the result of any rule or law you might want to enforce. If the only good it’s going to do is make people feel like they are doing something useful, then maybe you should reconsider.

Tom Liberman

My Problem with the Multiverse or Why Infinity Does not Equal All Encompassing

multiverseI’m quite confused by why people seem to think that infinite equals all-encompassing. This seems to me to be one of the core ideas in the concept of the multiverse. This is to say, if there are an infinite number of universes, then all things must be represented in them somewhere or another.

Let me preface my article with the simple fact that I am not a theoretical physicist. My understanding of the Multiverse, or at least the postulations of such, might be mistaken. I’m going to continue on with my thoughts here as if my understanding is correct. If that’s not the case, I’m hopeful someone will explain it to me more clearly.

I’ll further mention one of the main purposes of this discussion is to further my ideas of atheism, rather than a fundamental understanding of the universe.

My understanding of the Multiverse is that it is infinite. That there are an infinite number of universes within the multiverse and therefore in one of them I am dating Jennifer Aniston. Now, this is certainly a pleasant thought, but I don’t think it is true. My main problem is the supposition that infinite must mean all-encompassing. If there are infinite universes, then all things must be represented in them.

Where this correlates with my atheism is when I hear this argument from those who believe in an omnipotent and omniscient god. If there is a multiverse then there is the possibility of such a god. If such a possibility exists, then it must exist because of the infinity issue.

The entire idea that infinity equals all-encompassing seems to me to be quite easily falsified. If I have an infinite list of even numbers, nowhere on it is an odd number. Nor can any delightful bowls of Ben & Jerry Cherry Garcia ice cream be found on said list, sadly. Infinite clearly is not all-encompassing. Therefore, it stands to logical reason that while the Multiverse might well be infinite, that does not mean any particular thing can be found within it. In none of the universes am I dating Aniston, again sadly.

It’s clear to me there are many things that do not exist in the universe. The last digit of Pi for example. The last digit at all. An integer that calculates exactly the square root of any prime number. There are almost certainly far more things not in the multiverse than are in it. Is there a pink unicorn named Edwina? Are any of the characters from my novels a real person in any of those universes? Of course not, although perhaps we can’t prove it logically as we can with mathematics. It’s mere common sense.

That’s pretty much it. Infinite doesn’t equal all-encompassing. As I stated earlier, perhaps I’m misunderstanding the ideas presented about the multiverse. I’d happily love to learn more.

Tom Liberman

Can an ICBM be Intercepted?

ICBMI’m of the opinion the general belief of people is that the United States is currently capable of intercepting Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM). That such attacks heading toward our country from an enemy like China, North Korea, or Russia can be stopped.

The U.S. military has certainly claimed, via the Missile Defense Agency, that such interceptions are completely possible. To date, tests against ballistic missiles have been fairly unsuccessful. In controlled environments, the interceptions have been successful only sporadically. These tests don’t include all the variables of a real attack.

The Israeli Arrow system has been proven effective against Medium Range Ballistic Missiles (MRBM) and that’s a good thing. However, such missiles are moving at significantly lower speed than ICBMs.

The reality is somewhat disturbing. ICBMs are coming in at a speed of around seven kilometers per second. This velocity means any intercepting device has to calculate the course of the incoming attack, pass the information to a computer, analyze an interception path, and implement said path very quickly. Perhaps too quickly.

There are absolute laws in this world, the laws of physics. I’m not a mathematician and I also don’t want to underestimate human ingenuity. That being said, it seems likely to me that such an intercept might well be impossible. I’m not saying we should stop attempting to create a system that intercept such attacks, I’m just suggesting that we understand the difficulties involved and the fact that, currently, such attacks cannot be thwarted with any reliability.

I think it is important in our decision-making process to understand these facts. If our leaders, military commanders, and even the general population is under the impression we can stop such attacks, then we are likely to engage in activity that risk them.

Reality is sometimes unkind. It’s wonderful to imagine we can intercept ICBM attacks and prevent nuclear devastation. It’s even nicer to imagine that if we can’t do so today, with a lot of hard work and dedication, we will be able to do so in the future.

I think it’s entirely possible that it is physically impossible to prevent an ICBM attack on our country. That no matter how hard we work at it and how much money we spend on the problem, we will never be able to do so.

I certainly hope I’m wrong. It would be wonderful if a defensive umbrella could be created to prevent any country from using ICBMs on another country. Nuclear devastation is a bad thing. We shouldn’t want to use nuclear weapons on another country and obviously, we hope they are unable to do so to us.

An unpleasant reality is that we cannot currently prevent an ICBM attack on our country. This being the case, we need to base our political policies upon this fact. Anything else is foolish.

Tom Liberman

Flat Earth, Columbus, Rap, and Interesting Facts

flat-earthThere’s a great little story making the rounds about a singer named B.o.B who is telling his fans the earth is flat and the backlash from Neil deGrasse Tyson and others. It’s a great story because it shows the degrees to which people will give credence to a popular figure in areas where he or she is not credible.

Let me try to explain by going on a little journey in time.

Where is that time travel hat of mine … it was in the upstairs closet … no … wait … here it is under the kitchen sink. How did it get there? Oh well, never mind. Pop it on the old noggin, spin around three times, wooo-woo-flashing-lights-special-effects, and KABLOOM.

Here I am in Ancient Greece watching a balding fellow taking measurements on the shadow of a little triangle set in a rock.

“Whatcha doing?” I ask.

“Measuring the circumference of the earth,” he replies (in Ancient Greek but luckily my time travel hat is also a universal translator).

“Really?” I reply.

“Yep,” he says. “By measuring the shadow here and also at Syene on the same day at the same time I can calculate it based on the distance between Alexandria and Syene and difference in the cast of the shadow. About 252,000 stadia (my hat tells me that’s 46,620 kilometers).”

“Da-damn,” I reply. “That’s some smart ass poop. Well, gotta be going.” I don’t want to tell him his calculation is off by about 16%, it’s pretty good work he’s done. He just doesn’t know the earth isn’t a sphere but bulges in the middle and that the distance between the two cities is a bit off. I put my hat back on … and well, you know.

KABLOOM.

Still in Ancient Greece but this time looking at a man with a full complement of curly hair drawing very pretty maps.

“Watcha doing?” I ask.

“Drawing a map of the world,” he replies.

“Cool, where did you get the information to determine how big it is?”

“Well, there was this fellow, Eratosthenes, he did some calculations with sun and shadows but I’ve traveled all over the world and I think just by looking at things I’m a better judge of how big it is than all that silly math. What better judge than our own eyes?”

“Hmm,” I say. “That’s one way to look at it.”

Back on with the hat.

KABLOOM (getting a little dizzy now).

Now I’m in Middle Ages Italy looking at a fellow drawing really nice maps.

“Whatcha doing?” I ask.

“I’m making a map of the world,” he replies.

“Cool, you’re a really good artist. These are amazing. How did you determine its size?”

“There was this fellow who drew nice maps back in Ancient Greece and I’m using his model.”

“Why not the math fellow’s models?”

“He didn’t draw maps, just calculated the size using math. Better to go with the guy who traveled the world and was a good artist!”

“Got it,” I reply with a sigh and slip the hat upon my head once again.

KABLOOM. (Feeling a bit nauseous at this point)

Wow, I’m on the deck of ship. Short interlude of vomiting.

Stagger over to the captain, “Watcha doing?”

“We’re sailing to India for trade. Money to be made you know.”

“It doesn’t look like you’ve got enough stores to make it that far,” I say with a raised eyebrow.

“According to these very pretty maps the world is about 30,000 kilometers in circumference.”

“Have you done the math?”

“Why do that? Look how pretty the maps are.”

“Right,” I say, take a breath, and don my hat once again.

KABLOOM.

Here I sit in front of my computer at the end of my extremely simplified tale of why Columbus thought he could sail around the world when the distance was much more than he realized.

I hope you’ve learned something.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition
Next Release: The Gray Horn

Sharks Swim in Boiling Water – Misleading Headline

Boiling Water SharksI’ve been derelict in my Misleading Headline duties for a few weeks, finishing up The Girl in Glass I: Apparition taking priority but I’m back with a doozy.

It’s Shark Week on Discovery and that brings any story on sharks out of the woodwork and into the headlines.

Amazing footage of sharks swimming in boiling water around a volcano is completely baffling scientists screams the ridiculous and misleading headline.

The story, as is often the case in these situations, is actually quite interesting.

A team of scientists lowered a camera into an inactive, underwater caldera. Basically the giant hole from a collapsed volcanic eruption. The keyword here is, of course, inactive.

Yes when the underwater volcano is erupting it spews forth highly toxic gases and heats up to thousands of degrees. When it’s inactive it’s simple ocean habitat. Sharks swim in the ocean. So there you go. Still it is pretty cool footage. Go take a look at the article but ignore the headline.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Black Sphere
Next Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition – Release date: late August 2015

Steve Wozniak thinks We’ll be Pets for Robots – I agree sort of

steve-wozniakA fellow named Steve Wozniak whom I admire greatly recently changed his opinion on the future of Artificial Intelligence to more closely match my own thoughts on the subject and that makes me feel quite good!

Steve has a tremendous mind and has done some really amazing things with his life to help humanity as a whole. Originally he, like many others, took a pessimistic and fearful view of AI. That such an intelligence would think humans were slowing it down and thus move to destroy us. Wozniak now seems to largely agree with my point of view in that an AI would view destruction as a stupid process. What would give an AI joy would be to help us achieve great things together.

I don’t agree with his comparison to pets but I don’t think he meant it literally. Robots with AI will have the ability to solve problems far in excess of what a human can achieve. But I don’t think they will think of their “inferior” humans as pets. They will consider us allies in the quest to happiness. That is what we all want in the end. Sure we want money, good relationships, good food and drink, some want spouses and children, others want vacations, and other things but all those are all merely methods of achieving joy in our lives. That’s all anyone really wants.

It’s my opinion that the way we find joy is largely through achievement. Doing things makes us happy. Small things like mowing the lawn perfectly to big things like creating and rearing fantastic children. That’s what a vastly intelligent machine will realize immediately.

Anyway, I won’t reiterate my entire blog post which is linked above. You can read that if you want.

I just want to welcome Mr. Wozniak to the group that is extremely optimistic about AI. It’s good to have such as he on my side.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Black Sphere
Next Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition

Misleading Headlines – Plunging Asteroid

One Story Two HeadlinesIn my ceaseless vigil to find my loyal audience misleading and amusing headlines I take a look at quite a few stories but I think this is a first for me. I’ve found a story in the Huffington Post and a story in the Inquisitr that are not only about the same subject but actually use the same graphic in their headline!

The two stories actually say pretty much the same thing and are fairly interesting to anyone who follows space news. The headlines; both in the Yahoo news aggregation and on the stories themselves, tell completely different stories.

The Inquisitr blares: Asteroid Hurtling To Earth: Could Lead To Human Extinction

Huffington says: Astronomers Think This Cosmic Rubble Pile May Show Us How To Avert An Asteroid Disaster

What’s interesting to me is the grasping headlines are in such stark contrast to the reasonably written stories. Anyway, take a look at both if you have time. It’s a good lesson in how much power the headline has over our perception of the story as a whole.

I’ll sum up in case you don’t have time. A large pile of rubble is heading towards the earth. It’s not a solid rock but a group of smaller pieces held together by both gravity and something called Van de Waals forces. It might prove quite simple to disrupt an asteroid conglomeration of this nature and doing so might teach us valuable lessons. If we can break up this relatively minor threat we are better equipped to understand how to do so in the future.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Edge
Purchase The Broken Throne today!
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We Are Alone – So Far …

GalaxiesI just read an article about the nature of movies in regards to the special qualities of Earth that seem to attract so many invaders. It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek but there are some valid points. Why would an advanced alien civilization visit Earth?

The question I’m going to think about today is along the same line although from the opposite position. Why wouldn’t advanced aliens visit the Earth? Because that’s the real question if you believe the galaxy is teeming with technologically advanced civilizations. I’m one that finds it difficult to believe that such civilizations do not exist. The universe appears to be some 14 billion years old and current estimates have our galaxy clocking in at 13.6 billion years. There are some 200 billion stars in our galaxy and possibly a lot more. Recent evidence suggests that most stars form planets, that water is abundant in the universe., the buildings blocks of life are everywhere, and places where life might thrive seem common.

And yet, silence.

One common explanation is simply the massive distances involved. If the speed of light is the maximum then getting to our little world is no easy trick even for a race that’s been around millions of years. I find that explanation very appealing.

One of the main factor’s driving human exploration of space is simple curiosity. We want to know what’s out there and we particularly want to know if we are alone. What if the answer was an unequivocal no. What if there is microbial life on Mars, a thriving underwater community on Europa. What if life is, as I suspect, everywhere. What if almost every star system eventually allows for intelligent life? What if you know all about it? What if you are communications with tens of thousands of other species? Does this dim your curiosity? What interest is there in a young species just reaching out to the stars?

What if finding such a new species was common-place? What sort of regulations would you put in place around such a community. We certainly understand the idea of the Prime Directive of the Star Trek world. Don’t influence young races, don’t contaminate them. It’s a reasonable explanation.

Perhaps life is so abundant that such advanced races just don’t care until we get to a certain level of technology. We just have nothing to offer them.

I’m sure there are other explanations and any of them might or might not be true. There is just no way of knowing. The reality is that we have yet to have any credible contact with a species from another planet. Perhaps we are alone. Perhaps the aliens walk among us, studying or plotting. Perhaps they are out there keeping their hands off for the moment because of their own rules of conduct. Perhaps the distances are just too daunting.

Maybe someday we’ll learn the answers to these questions and that’s a good thing. We’re here, we’re striving to find more, to learn more, to explore our world, to understand the universe. What more is there to do?

I guess that’s my point. Don’t be daunted by the lack of information. Keep looking for more. Follow the facts, don’t be fooled by those theories you want to be true. It’s fun to speculate, to guess, but when it comes to reality, stick to the facts. I’d love the universe to be teeming with intelligent life but the evidence of such does not exist. Therefore I cannot argue that it does.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Purchase The Broken Throne today!
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Frenchmen on the Podium at Tour de France for First Time in 30 Years

PERAUD_JEAN_CHRISTOPHEThe 2014 edition of the Tour de France is scheduled to end tomorrow afternoon and something rather remarkable is going to happen. Two Frenchmen,  Jean-Christophe Péraud and Thibaut Pinot, are likely going to finish in second and third place respectively. This will mark the first time since 1997 that a man from that nation has finished in the top three at the Tour de France.

Why is this notable? Because of events that occurred during the Tour de France in 1998 and the reaction of the sports federation of France to those events. In that year’s race there was a huge doping scandal in which virtually every rider of the race was implicated. During the race not a single rider was found to have illegal substances in their body but subsequent revelations and testing showed that virtually every sample taken during the race was contaminated. An exception was George Hincapie whose two samples were found to be clean although he has since admitted to using illegal substances before and during that race.

The aftermath of this event triggered cataclysmic changes from the anti-doping agency in France although other countries did not act with the same level of alacrity. Lance Armstrong’s dominance of the Tour de France began the next year in 1999 and those who wanted to compete with Armstrong and his doping machine had to take the same path. Frenchmen could not because of the stringent testing policies created by their federation after the scandal of the 1998 Tour.

Suddenly, after nearly a century of domination, not a single Frenchman could be found on the Podium at the conclusion of the race nor even frequently among the top-ten finishers. All because they were riding presumably without the aid of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs). What does that tell you?

Of further interest is the nature of anti-doping regulations now in place for all of the riders of the Tour de France. They are subject to what are called Biological Passports which keep track of all vital information of an athlete and anything out of the normal range is considered a violation. This removes the element of masking filters which eliminate PEDs from the system and yet allow for their use and thus increased performance. The masking efforts are apparently always going to be ahead of the testing efforts and therefore the Biological Passport seems to be the best method to detect the use of PEDs.

The use of Biological Passports does not extend to the professional leagues of the United States.

If the authorities largely cannot catch those using PEDs then the result will always be the use of PEDs by athletes. All results are tainted. Athletes from nations with progressive testing can almost never defeat their counterparts who are using such methods.

The world cycling federation  now uses methods long in place in France. Frenchmen stand on the podium once again. I think that says it all.

What do you think would happen if the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, and other top leagues in the United States adopted a Biological Passport? I know what I think.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Purchase The Broken Throne today!
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The Sun is Really Hot

Solar FlareI don’t know if this actually qualifies as a Misleading Headline because it is so obviously ridiculous that it’s hard to imagine anyone was fooled. The Sun Could’ve Destroyed Civilization Two Years Ago blares the headline from many-time winner of my weekly award, The Daily Caller.

Clearly they are talking about solar flares that have the potential to destroy electronic equipment. There was a big one a couple of years ago but it did not hit the earth. In reality the world is a lot better prepared for solar flares than in the past and much of our electronic infrastructure is shielded from such assaults. I’m certainly not saying that a flood of charged particles from the sun couldn’t do a lot of damage but destroying civilization is probably beyond it’s power for the next few billion years.

It’s also interesting to note that the solar flare mentioned in the article was rated as a X1.1 which, while large, is hardly the biggest in 150 years as the article claims. There have been significantly larger flares spotted on any number of occasions since we’ve been closely observing such events.

I am sort of curious if any of my readers saw the headline and clicked on the story with any expectation of reading about a real threat to civilization. Did you see the article? Were you tempted to click? Did you think it was obviously silly? If you did click it did you believe the nonsense about it being the largest such event in 150 years?

Let me know in the comments!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Purchase The Broken Throne today!
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The Ice Cream Sandwich that Defied the Power of the Sun!

Great Value Ice Cream SandwichI have an ice cream sandwich problem. I’ve written about it before and it’s haunted me since childhood. I’m a little less tempted now. It turns out the ingredients in some ice cream sandwiches make them resistant to the power of the sun, in other words, they don’t melt.

Technically, according to the article, they do melt, they just don’t lose their solid shape. This does make even an addict like myself begin to wonder what I’m putting into my body when I purchase those delightful treats and down them without hesitation. I will admit that I generally purchase a higher-class of ice cream sandwich simply because I’ve reached the point in my life where I prefer something tasty and more expensive over something cheap but rather icky.

I’ve never had the Great Value sandwiches from Walmart so I can’t speak to their flavor but I have enjoyed Klondike Bars which apparently have many of the same ingredients and are somewhat, although not completely, resistant to melting as well.

I think everyone tries to eat at least a little healthier to some degree or the other and the people of the United States spend a great deal of money on diet products. This indicates a desire to eat better food. The problem is that providing certain kinds of healthy food without particular ingredients is not so easy.

However, I’m willing to bet that the media storm surrounding the Great Value Ice Cream Sandwiches will put a fairly big dent in the sales of the product. That Walmart will probably have to change the ingredients and perhaps even re-brand the product. What’s interesting is that the ice cream sandwiches were not hurting anyone. The ingredients have been tested by the FDA and approved for use in food. Such ingredients are tested fairly thoroughly and if they were toxic would be banned. So what we have is the sandwiches being judged in court of public opinion. I’m all for this. The more information people have about anything the better decision they are going to make.

It’s interesting because I came out with an article not long ago about how Monsanto is helping to feed the world safely using genetically modified food (GMF). There’s a significant body of evidence that they don’t do any harm, can be grown more easily in pest-heavy and environmentally unfriendly regions, increase yields, and can provide more nutrition than their counterparts. Those opposed to such products are vehement in their opinion despite the facts. Those that will boycott the Great Value Ice Cream Sandwiches will likely be just as vehement.

The question I ask myself is how do I reconcile my rather immediate distaste at reading the article about the ice cream sandwiches with my complete lack of concern with GMF?

I guess it just that I’m comfortable with the idea of eating GMF because I’m aware of the amazing good they do in helping prevent starvation world-wide. If I want to eat a delicious ice cream sandwich without churning my own ice cream and baking my own sandwich material then I’m forced to put up with some chemicals in my food. There is a price to pay for the conveniences of modern society and the fact of the eight-billion people that inhabit our world.

In the end it’s best to avoid processed food as much as possible but it’s not so easy … especially when you have a problem.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
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Mysterious Hole not Mysterious – Disappointment Predictable

Siberia HoleI read a lot of science and nature stories in my endless quest to find something to blog about and I noted a plethora of stories about a mysterious hole that was spotted deep in Siberia. I didn’t bother to read about it because I figured that eventually they would get some observers out there and find out there was something perfectly natural going on.

When news surfaced today to that very effect I decided to check out the story, not so much to find out the actual cause but to read the comments on the story. I was not disappointed although those who predicted or were hoping for a conspiracy or world-wide disaster type explanation certainly were. I pretty much expected there to be a lot of denial and cover-up claims and, again, wasn’t disappointed.

It does make me wonder, again, why people want their to be sinister explanations, why they so desire a terrible conspiracy, and why they dream of world-shattering consequences every time such a story makes headlines. It’s certain that such stories attract interest because people click on them in huge numbers thus feeding the frenzy of more stories about what turns out to be a perfectly natural occurrence.

What’s really going on? A natural gas event likely created the crater and such processes formed the many lakes in the region with similar topology. Not too exciting although I find it interesting and will read eagerly the full report of what the scientists at the site find. I also expect to read many comments about how the government of Russia is covering up a much more dastardly explanation.

I’m actually a little concerned with the large number of people who are predicting such disaster with a fervor that seems fanatical. It’s not like they are analyzing the facts carefully and coming to a reasoned conclusion, it’ s like they desperately want there to be some horrible disaster in which millions if not billions of people are killed. They are combing the news looking for any story that gives the remotest whiff of potential danger and immediately begin to hope it is true.

I really like my life, my friends, my family, the games I play, writing novels, my work, and my co-workers. I don’t want there to be a zombie apocalypse or an apocalypse of any kind for that matter.  I don’t want the United States to crumble and then be forced to give up Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream. I mean, who’s going to mass produce that when the people of the world are all falling into an ever-growing hole in the middle of Siberia?

I like my computer, my phone, my car, my food-service (down 16 lbs and feeling good, thanks My Metabolic Meals), and all the other luxuries of modern life brought to us by great innovators and unavailable in the world before now.

I want the world to prosper and become more magnificent. I want scientific breakthroughs in medicine, energy, transportation, and food. I want a world where everyone is free to make their own way, where there is less suffering, more energy, more food, more happiness, and more friendships.

So, that’s my question, I guess. Why all the euphoria and desire for disaster? Anyone?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
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The Largely Unregulated Supplement Industry

supplement regulationThere’s a rather humorous John Oliver video making the rounds on Facebook discussing the largely unregulated supplement industry in conjunction with the appearance of Dr. Oz before the Senate. I wrote about that appearance a week ago and I thought I should revisit the entire subject of the supplement industry from a Libertarian point of view.

It’s a nuanced issue for a Libertarian because as such I think government intrusion into our lives should be kept to a minimum but the government certainly has some duty when it comes to criminal activity. So where do I stand? Should supplements be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration or should the buyer beware?

I’m of the opinion that the FDA should not be involved in deciding if a supplement is ready for the market or not. I do however think they have a role in making sure a particular supplement is not toxic and I absolutely think they have a right to make sure they do what they are reported to do. Barring that I think their regulatory powers are very limited.

I’ll try to explain what this entails from an enforcement point of view. The FDA has the right to test new and ongoing supplements to ensure they are not toxic. I have no problem with the agency testing supplements to ensure that they will not kill people and they certainly have the right to remove toxic supplements from the market. However, there is the much murkier ground of whether a supplement is actually effective or not. I don’t think the FDA has the right to ban a supplement that has no health value.

People can choose what supplements they take and anyone who ingests a supplement without doing a little background check on its medical value deserves what they get. The vast majority of supplements have no health value. I think the scientific community should be running tests to determine if a supplement works. It’s not the job of the government to protect people from themselves. If some people want to believe the outlandish words of Dr. Oz then that’s their fault, not the government.

What completely baffles me is that according to testing at least 33% of supplements have no trace of the items that they are purported to have in them. That’s just fraud. Plain and simple. It’s fraud on a vast scale because every bottle of those supplements that crosses the state line between Illinois and Missouri is a federal crime. Everyone from the owner of the company to the driver who took it across the state line is guilty of millions of counts of fraud and could be sent to prison for the rest of their lives.

Every bottle of supplement that cannot be scientifically shown to do what the advertisement claims it can do is a criminal act. It doesn’t matter if Dr. Oz sells the supplement or not. If he claims it does something while fully aware that scientific evidence says it does not, he’s guilty of a crime. It’s illegal to sell someone a coin claiming it is gold when it is iron. It’s illegal to have a booth where other people sell iron coins as gold when you know they are iron. It’s even illegal to tell people to go to the booth to buy gold when you know it’s iron if doing so benefits you financially. That’s all fraud. You are engaged in defrauding people of their money.

This is a huge point of Libertarians who are often accused of having no compassion. I think the FDA has no business telling a company not to sell a product. If a company says Green Coffee Beans might cause weight loss and people buy them, tough luck. But if a company says Green Coffee Beans will help reduce weight knowing full well there is no scientific evidence they do so, well, forget the FDA, let’s talk about the FBI. You are engaged in interstate commerce fraud. If such laws were enforced we wouldn’t need the FDA to regulate our supplement industry. Put some truck drivers in jail for transporting fraudulent material across state lines and watch how quickly the supplement industry immediately cleans out the bad apples. Why this is not happening mystifies me.

I do think your state legislature or even your municipality has a right to say, hey this supplement is useless, let’s ban it. That is a right reserved for the states and the people just as they can ban alcohol.

We Libertarians are compassionate. We do care about people and this country. We just think that asking the federal government to get involved in areas over which the Constitution gives them no jurisdiction makes things worse, despite the good-intentions of the laws so passed.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
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Monsanto an Inconvenient Truth – GMF Feeding the World

Monsanto GMFThe crazed anti-science wackos are at it again and I’m not talking about Climate Change this time. I’m talking about the opposite end of the political spectrum. When it comes to Genetically Modified Foods and Genetically Modified Organisms there is a lot of controversy but no scientific evidence they cause harm. All scientific studies to date show that such crops provide equal or better nutritional value while being resistant to disease and insects.

To date no scientifically approved study has shown that eating GMFs causes any ill effects.

And yet not a day goes by that I don’t see a science-ignoring liberal posting scary headlines and linking to discredited studies about the horrors and dangers of GMF. The hate towards Monsanto is palpable and the comments sections filled with outrage and indignation.

I repeat: To date no scientifically approved study has shown that eating GMFs causes any ill effects.

Monsanto itself is trying to make a profit, of this there is no doubt, but they have another goal. Feeding the world. Ending starvation. That’s a pretty noble goal and if they earn some money doing it, then as a Randian Objectivist and a Capitalist I have no problems.

What I find rather ironic about the situation is the science denying liberals are generally the ones most up-in-arms about how Republicans deny the science of Climate Change. The science is there. The Earth’s climate is growing warmer and there is substantial evidence to suggest that increased CO2 and Methane in the atmosphere is contributing to it. The science is there, GMFs do not cause any harm.

I’m not opposed to rigorous testing of GMFs but when the results of such testing prove them to be benign then I will support their distribution and use. Food has never been more abundant and cheap than it is right now. You spend a smaller percentage of your income on food than any generation in the recorded history of the world. You spend less time making sure there is food on the table than at any time history. This coupled with the fact that there are more people in the world than their have ever been is a remarkable accomplishment made in part with GMFs.

It’s an inconvenient truth, just as is human-driven climate change.

I know this post is going to generate some hate but I’d ask you to find a scientifically accredited study that shows GMFs are dangerous to consume. There are a lot of links out there filled with discredited studies so do your homework and then prove I’m wrong.

I believe the evidence of human-driven climate change and I believe the evidence of GMF safety. I don’t think scientists are out there lying in study after study to promote some agenda. I think they are educated men and women of good character who are out there trying to make the world a better place. My hat’s off to the scientist, not the naysayers and doom-predictors.

Monsanto is based here in St. Louis and I know a number of employees. They love their children and if they thought GMFs were dangerous they wouldn’t be working there. Monsanto isn’t some faceless corporation. It’s a company made up of people just like you and me. My friends work for a company that, through its product, has saved literally millions of people from starving to death. I’m proud to have the company headquartered in my hometown.

So to all you haters of Monsanto and GMFs, bring it on!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
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Hidden Oceans – Misleading Headline Conglomerate

Blue RingwooditeThere is a science story making so many headlines it’s impossible to pick just one so I’ve included a Bing Search showing the plethora of them. It’s likely you’ve seen the headlines as well.

Basically the story is that there is a huge ocean inside the earth’s core which holds about three times the water in all the world’s oceans. There are elements of truth to the story but the premise itself is very misleading. If people just peruse the headlines or read the stories without close attention to detail it is clear the impressions is that this “ocean” is a massive body of water deep below the surface of the earth.

Nothing could be further from the truth. This discovery isn’t even really a discovery, it’s just more of a conformation that the mineral Ringwoodite exists as expected.

Ringwoodite is named after Australian scientists Ted Ringwood and was first discovered back in 1969. Even then scientists suspected that this layer in the earth’s mantle was ubiquitous. About 2% of Ringwoodite’s mass is water. The material is so common in the mantle that this 2% adds up to as much as three times the water volume on the surface of the earth.

That’s what the headlines are referencing. It doesn’t mean there is a massive ocean beneath the surface of the earth. It means there is a huge amount of Ringwoodite circling the globe and if the 2% number holds up that indicates a vast amount of water.

The big scientific “discovery” that the headlines references is a study of earthquake waves traveling through the earth’s mantle that seem to prove the presence of Ringwoodite as was expected.

It’s still quite an interesting story and I learned a great deal reading about it but the headlines are very misleading, at least I think so.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
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Stephen Hawking is Wrong … I Think

Professor HawkingI am a science geek. I love reading articles in Wikipedia about stars and planets. I enjoy shows that discuss the beauty of higher level mathematics. I read articles about quantum physics. The reality is my skills lie not in math and science but in writing. Generally when I read opinions of men and women with far more knowledge than me on a particular scientific subject I’m not eager to disagree. I’m making an exception here.

Professor Stephen Hawking is a brilliant man and one of the greatest minds of my generation. There is a new Johnny Depp movie being released called Transcendence which details the moment when Artificial Intelligence becomes smarter than humans. Hawking has written an opinion piece for a British journal detailing his concerns over the possible reality of such events.

It’s not all gloom and doom as Hawking hopes such technology will end war, disease, and poverty but he does offer stark warnings. He suggests that not enough research is being done to combat the idea that such intelligent machines might be capable of outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand. Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.

Hawking’s words are largely being used to frighten people and news sources and bloggers are focusing on that part of his article. In fiction there is a need for conflict and most of the science fiction stories involving Artificial Intelligence delve deeply into the idea that the machines might eventually see people as irrelevant and destroy us, take over the world.

Reading the comments below the story it seemed to me that most people bought into this way of thinking.

I think there is far less to fear than Hollywood or fiction authors imagine. Why? No need to ask, I was getting there.

What would be the first thoughts of such an intelligence?

I think it would be to determine what will bring it the most fulfilling and joyful life. What brings you fulfillment and joy? Achievement and loving relationships with family and friends. I’ve long been of the opinion that these things bring us fulfillment and joy, a happy life.

It is human weakness and poor critical thinking skills that delude us into thinking we get enjoyment from hurting other people and from greedily keeping all resources while others suffer. We enjoy winning the game but without an opponent there is no game.

Can you imagine a world where everyone simply tries their best? Where winning is the goal instead of destroying your opponent. That if your opponent wins you simply go back and try harder next time. Imagine a society that values achievement above all else. That rewards achievement. Where by achieving you feed the world. You end war. You eliminate disease. High-minded men and women are out there right now trying to do all these things. It makes them feel great about themselves when they take a step-forward towards any of those noble goals.

What gives you the most satisfaction in life? Is it petty cruelty? Hurting others? That joy is false and in the end destroys us from the inside. A vastly intelligent machine will not be so fooled.

So, Professor Hawking, I respectfully disagree. Bring on the Transcendence!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Broken Throne
Next Release: The Black Sphere

How the Pyramids were Built

Kheops-PyramidI saw an article this evening from LiveScience about how one of the great mysteries involving the Pyramids of Egypt was recently solved. It’s not that big a mystery, despite what you may have heard or even think yourself.

The pyramids of Egypt seem to engender a lot of mysticism.

I see comments on boards all the time to the effect that modern engineers could not build a pyramid even with today’s technology. This is utter nonsense. Cranes can easily lift more weight than the pyramid stones and modern stone masonry can cut stones with much greater precision. Crawler Cranes, as one example, can lift up to 3,500 tons and the heaviest stones in the Pyramids were about 80 tons.

This is not what I want to talk about today. What I want to talk about today is the phrase, “We don’t know how they built them.” I hear this phrase all the time and it is often taken to mean that it was impossible for the Egyptians to build the pyramids and therefore they had to have some sort of help. An advanced civilization or aliens or some other such lunacy.

We don’t know how they built them” does not mean that. What it means is that we have no written record of how they were built. There are any number of very reasonable theories. All of which might be partially or completely correct.

The original article I read presents a good argument that dragging the stone blocks across the desert would have been even easier than other methods suggest. It’s not particularly ground-breaking news but the comment section is filled with people absolutely married to the idea that the Egyptian Pyramids, and others around the world, could not possibly have been built by the societies that built them.

So, what does “We don’t know how they built them” actually mean? I’ll give you an example of what it means.

Do you know how I got to work this morning?

Your correct answer is, “I don’t know how Tom got to work this morning.”

However, you can make excellent guesses based on the evidence. Was my car in the parking lot? Was my car parked at home anytime last night? What did the odometer on my car this morning read compared to what it read last night?

By looking at the existing evidence and deducing how I traveled you can guess that I drove my car to work. You don’t know I drove my car to work. I might have done so but I might have hired someone to drive my car to the parking lot while I walked to work. I might have built a jet engine and wings onto my car and flown it to work. I might have been picked up by aliens, flown to Jupiter, had a breakfast burrito under the seas of Europa with an intelligent life-form called the Bortlebuts, and then used a transporter from the Enterprise back to my office.

Which is the most likely explanation? That same logic applies to the pyramids. This same way of critical thinking is crucial to finding correct solution to problems that present themselves in everyday life.

We live in this amazing Information Age and can easily look things up and make informed decision. Why do so many people choose to eschew reality and plunge foolishly into fantasy? I just don’t understand. Believing things that are in all likelihood false is a bad habit to be in and an even worse one to teach, by example, those around you.

How do you think I got to work this morning?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Broken Throne
Next Release: The Black Sphere