Sunday, February 27, 2011

This Week's Compendium

Once again I managed to Spend most of my free time busy on music this weekend, Which is a good thing, but, that also means it was a slow week on the blogs. None the less, While I only managed to squeeze in a single post here on Geekblog, I was able to get a hand full of strange and interesting things posted on Compendium this Week, beginning with:

The Czech Ballad of Swamp thing, which also serves as a showcase for a particularly amazing dance routine that I'm certain all the kids will soon be imitating. Next, came the fan-made trailer for E.T. 2, "Extinction", followed with a detailed account of how the male Anglerfish gets screwed, literally AND figuratively, there's Zombie art from Clint Langley, Henry Rollin's writes a Letter to Ann Coulter, and more. Plus there's a full weeks worth of posts from last week which I never got around to sharing here.

So please, if you haven't done so before, go and Check out my tumblr blog, Compendium oF Strange. It's a collection of strange and interesting art, music, and stories from around the web, and it's the blog I post in most often during the week- when I'm generally too busy working to find the time to sit and research science and news stories to write about here on Geekblog.


If you're already on tumblr you can follow the Compendium directly, if not, then you should use THIS LINK to join so the Compendium gets credit for the referral, or you could just follow me on twitter or like my musician page on Facebook to keep up with all my blogs, bands, etc. Thanks and enjoy!


Pope to be Charged With Crimes Against Humanity? (ya, probably not.)

In other news, is the pope REALLY just a frilled lizard in a silly dress? I say, yes!

According to an article from, two German lawyers, Christian Sailer and Gert-Joachim Hetzel, have initiated charges against Pope Benedict the 16th at the International Criminal Court in the Hague, alleging crimes against humanity. The pair submitted a 16,500 word document to the International Criminal Court's prosecutor, Dr Luis Moreno Ocampo last week, in which, they seek to raise charges against the pope, claiming he is responsible for,

"the preservation and leadership of a worldwide totalitarian regime of coercion which subjugates its members with terrifying and health-endangering threats...the adherence to a fatal forbiddance of the use of condoms, even when the danger of HIV-AIDS infection exists...and...the establishment and maintenance of a worldwide system of cover-up of the sexual crimes committed by Catholic priests and their preferential treatment, which aids and abets ever new crimes."

Which Sailer and Hetzel described as,

“three worldwide crimes which until now have not been denounced . . . (as) the traditional reverence toward ‘ecclesiastical authority’ has clouded the sense of right and wrong”.

The pair also goes after the practice of baptism in the document, calling the practice a, "compulsory act", carried out on, "infants that do not yet have a will of their own”. An act which is considered “irrevocable” and is buttressed by threats of excommunication and the fires of hell. “a grave impairment of the personal freedom of development and of a person’s emotional and mental integrity”. And because the pope was “responsible for its preservation and enforcement and, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of his Church, he was jointly responsible” with Pope John Paul II.

Cases similar to the one being presented by Sailer and Hetzel have been brought to the ICC in the past, but none of them have ever made it to trial; and though there may be a chance that some of the most recent revelations about the catholic church and child molestation could be enough to convince the court to take the charges more seriously, it's far more likely that this newest case will suffer the same fate. But there's always hope I guess.


Source: and

So I couldn't find any relevant or entertaining pope-related videos that I hadn't already posted, so I decided to re-post an old favorite. So once again, let's learn about the catholic church with Louis CK.

Posted by Youtube user:louisck

Sunday, February 20, 2011

YaaY, Science Gives us Carnivorous Robots, Wait...WHAT?!

Image credit: The Matrix

If Science fiction has taught me anything, it's that the machines and the technology I so love today will soon rise up to take over the world, and wipe out the human race. But the good news, is that we won't all be wiped out when the machines launch war on humanity, some of us will be kept around to be used as a fuel source for our new silicon masters! Sound implausible?

Well, consider this -The machines have already demonstrated their vast superiority in two of our most important geekly endeavors; Chess, with Deep Blue's defeat of Chess titan Gary Kasparov in 1997, and just this week, with IBM's supercomputer Watson's utter destruction of two of our greatest geek champions on Jeopardy. Sure, Kasparov did manage to win one round and draw three others, but Deep Blue still won, and yes, the humans on Jeopardy DID manage to win the final Jeopardy question, but their daily dollar amounts weren't even close.

Now, inventors at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory are building robots powered by Microbial fuel cells, which work by using bacteria to break down the bodies of dead flies and generate electrons which are in turn converted into electricity and used to power the machines. But that's only the beginning, as these scientist ultimately hope to design robots that can turn much larger bits of "biomass", that's us, into electricity, thus ensuring our inevitable demise at the hands of the machines! Okay, so none of these scientists have specifically mentioned feeding human flesh to their robots, but it's CLEARLY implied!!!

All kidding aside, microbial fuel cells are an impressive and unbelievably cool concept. One which could potentially be a real solution to a number of vexing problems, stemming from our ever growing dependence on technology and our need to power it. Besides, even if technology does someday become self-aware, run amok, and ultimately reduce humanity to little more than squishy pink D-cells; I've never really been good with people anyway, so I, for one, welcome our future robot overlords.


Source: Derren Brown's blog

Inspired by carnivorous plants like Pitcher plants and Flytraps, which consume insects to make up for the lack of nitrogen in the soil in which they grow; designer James Auger created the fly-powered clock in the video below.

Posted by Youtube user:Crittersinc

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Still no Sign of Gliese 581g

Image credit: Zina Deretsky

In September of last year the University of California announced the discovery of two new planets orbiting the red dwarf star, Gliese 581. One of which, Gliese 581g drew the most attention, as the estimated orbit of this Earth-sized planet was said to place it well within the star's habitable or "Goldie locks" zone. Not surprisingly, this announcement set off a flood of speculation (even from one of the planet's co-discoverers) relating to the potential for life on this "New Earth", as many news stories dubbed it. But just two weeks later, a team of Swedish astronomers announced that they had been unable to confirm the finding, thus beginning the inevitable debate over the existence of Gliese 581g.

For those of you unfamiliar with the process of finding distant exoplanets, the problem, is that the VAST majority of these objects cannot be observed directly, and even those few extrasolar planets which have been seen, are little more than dots and blurs. In other words, it's not as if we can just point an optical telescope in the planets direction and have a quick look to confirm it's presence. Instead, these distant objects are identified by observing changes in their parent stars, such as shifts in the intensity of the light being emitted by the star or "wobbles" in it's position. From this data, which is typically accumulated over a period of years to build a worthwhile data set, researchers are then able to estimate the size of the planet and the distance at which it orbits it's parent star.

Though the initial re-analysis conducted by the Swedish team did included an additional 2 years worth of observations made by the HARPS Spectrograph in Chile, it did not include data collected by the HIRISE spectrograph in Hawaii. And because the American team used a combination of these two data sets in their research, it's entirely possible that the planet's existence can only be confirmed using both sets. Which is why in January of this year, astro-statistics expert Phillip Gregory of the University of British Columbia, published the first re-analysis of the combined data sets. The results, he too has been unable to confirm the initial observation and has concluded that they were most likely based on statistical error.

While Gregory's findings certainly don't help the case for 581g, that doesn't mean the planet is officially down and out, as subsequent analysis of the data could easily tilt the scales the other direction. As for a final word on the existence of the planet, even if the next study confirms the initial findings, it will likely be years before the planet is either officially accepted or rejected by the scientific community. Hey, no one ever said science was fast.


Source: wired science
Image credit:Zina Deretsky

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Homeopathy and Water's Selective Memory

Born of the imagination of German Doctor Samuel Hahnemann in the late 1700's, the practice of homeopathy is based on Hahnemann's set of three "natural laws". The first, "The Law of Similars" is the belief that like cures like. This means that practitioners are meant to treat a patient's ailment using a substance which causes the same symptoms in a healthy person. In other words, if a patient has a headache, then giving them something that causes headaches will naturally cure them. Like all of his laws Hahnemann gave no specific explanation as to why this would be the case and based his belief in this concept on elements of sympathetic magic and a personal experience he had with a common malaria treatment for the time which caused him to develop fever-like symptoms similar to malaria.

The second law of Homeopathy, you don't talk about..oh wait..that's Fight Club, sorry, "The Law of Infinitesimals" proposes that diluting the active ingredient in a remedy actually makes them stronger. This dilution process begins with the creation of a "mother tincture".

A mother tincture is created by diluting the prescribed "remedy", which can be derived from either, plant, animal, mineral or even synthetic sources, into either pure alcohol or an alcohol water mixture and then allowing that mixture to sit in a dark place for 30 days or more. This mother tincture is then diluted to various degrees to create either "X" (1:10) or "C"(1:100) dilutions of homeopathic "medicine". In creating C or centesimal dilutions for example, one part of the mother tincture is added to 99 parts of water, creating a "1c" dilution. Take one part of this diluted solution, add it to another 99 parts water and you have a "2c" dose of homeopathic medicine. This process is repeated until the desired "potency" is achieved and the final product is then dripped onto sugar pills or infused into ointments and sold as medicine.

For those you keeping score at home, at a dilution of just 12c (one of the most common doses I found when I made my trip to the local pharmacy to research these products) there is only a 60% chance that you're water has left within it even a single molecule of the prescribed cure. And at any dilution beyond 13c, one can safely assume that not a single molecule of the original solution remains.Yet homeopathic remedies can easily be found in dilutions of 200c and even higher, such as the popular flu and cold remedy Oscillococcinum, available at Wal-mart and Walgreens as well as CVS stores.

The third and final law of homeopathy "The law of Succussion", states that shaking a homeopathic preperation also adds to the potency of the mixture. Modern practitioners have decided that this process, which they have dubbed "potenization", allows water to "remember" the "vibrations" of the active ingredient it once contained. This attempted explanation is obviously problematic for a number reasons, probably the least of which being that if water has a memory, which it doesn't, it seems unlikely that one could randomly shake it into remembering the (also non-existent but presumably unique) vibrations of specific substances which it no longer contains. After all, as many before me have pointed out, if water can remember it once had a single drop of caffeine in it, how does it manage to forget all the other potentially harmful chemical it has no doubt contained over the course of it's existence.

Supporters and practitioners of homeopathy are quick to point out that critics of the practice like myself fail to emphasize that homeopathy is a holistic practice meant to treat "the whole person" not just the body. Therefore, practitioners maintain, in order for the treatment to work it must by tailored to the individual needs of the patient on every level of their being. This is of course little more than a method of muddying the waters when it comes to defending the inability of homeopathy to stand up to scientific testing and does nothing to explain the illogical and physics defying beliefs upon which the practice is based.


When attempting to explain a belief system like homeopathy, it's important to go directly to the source to ensure you are examining what it's followers actually believe and the practices they truly follow. So some of the pages sighted in today's source links lead to new age, alt-med, and pro homeopathy websites, this is NOT an endorsement of views included on those pages.

Source: The Skeptics Dictionary, UK Skeptics,, Wikipedia, Herbs 2000, Healthy New

For an entertaining example of a homeopathic preparation, Michael Marshall and Mike Hall from 10:23 and The Merseyside Skeptics create their own homeopathic vodka.

Posted by Youtube user: ten23campaign

Friday, February 11, 2011

The 10:23 Campaign, Raising Awareness About Homeopathy

I would have greatly preferred to have mentioned the 10:23 event as well as the QED conference long before they had taken place, rather than after the fact as I am now. But since I've barley even logged on to the net over the past few months ( I realize that sounds terrifying to many of you, it's been strange for me as well), I missed the opportunity to do so. But regardless of my timing, both events were well worth your time and attention and certainly worth talking about here. So while I wait for more info about the events at QED to make it's way to the web, let's talk about homeopathy and the 10:23 challenge.

The Merseyside Skeptics Society's 10:23 challenge began last year in the UK on January 10th, at 10:23 am (a time chosen in reference to Avogadro's constant), with hundreds of the campaigns supporters taking to the streets to participate in a mass overdose of homeopathic "medication". The demonstration was designed to raise public awareness of homeopathy's ineffectiveness and to bring more attention to the issue of UK pharmacies selling homeopathic remedies along side legitimate medicines, as well as the NHS's (National Health Service) continued funding of Homeopathy. This past weekend, February 5th and 6th, the second set of 10:23 "overdoses" took place Saturday in cities around the world, as well as Sunday at the first ever QED (Question Explore and Discover ) conference in Manchester.

Supporters of homeopathy and critics of the campaign argue that homeopathy is a viable alternative to "traditional" medicines, and maintain that calls by groups like 10:23 for the NHS to withdraw public funding for the practice and for UK pharmacies to stop selling homeopathic products, is a violation of their right to choose.

But the 10:23 campaign and other demonstrations like it, are not about denying anyone the right to choose anything. They are in truth about educating people about the true nature of homeopathy as most people generally believe the term to be just another name for herbal or "natural" medicine. In reality however, homeopathy is it's very own special brand of pseudoscience and superstition, one utterly devoid of any reliable scientific evidence with which to support even it's most basic beliefs.

At this point you may be thinking, this all seems very interesting but given that I don't live in the UK, why should I care? At a glance it does seem that the practice of homeopathy is far less prevalent here in the us, it certainly isn't being openly funded by any government agencies that I'm personally aware of. But a quick search of the Walgreens, CVS, and Wal-mart websites for the word homeopathic yields results for everything from homeopathic arthritis remedies, to children's cough medicine, muscle relaxing ointments, acne treatments and more, all of which are also of course readily available in store. And with many homeopathic practitioners claiming the ability to treat cancer, malaria, and even AIDS, homeopathy is a potentially dangerous pseudo-science well worth educating yourself and others about regardless of it's prevalence in your particular corner of the world.

As always, be sure to follow the links throughout this entry and in the notes below for more information about homeopathy, 10:23, The Merseyside Skeptics, and the rest of the organizations and information contained in today's post. As for those of you completely unfamiliar with the practices and beliefs assosiated with homeopathy, I have already written most of my own entry on the subject which I will be posting later this weekend. But for now, check out the video below from James Randi and the JREF, which includes a nice summation of what homeopathy really is, along with inviting manufacturers and practitioners of homeopathy to participate in the JREF's million dollar challenge.



Posted by Youtube user:JamesRandiFoundation