One of my professors referred to Firefox as “Foxfire” today.

Guess whether or not she’s old.

Ah, memories

I’ve been reminded that it was a year ago I was walking in the shadows of Kilimanjaro. On this particular date, I was likely at Shira Camp 1, arriving just after nightfall (because time is more of a ballpark idea than a precise concept in Tanzania, evidently). The whole trip is something that means an awful lot to me and I’ll never forget it.

I’m going to make an effort to put up a picture from each day for the next week or so until I’ve matched each day last year until summit day.

Damn you, Irene

So as I drive home, I come across detours and downed lines. I see trees leaning heavily on lines directly in front of homes which still have power. I continue and the lights a few hundred mere feet up the road still work. I go further and more trees on more lines in front of more homes with more power. Surely not all these people have generators. And then I get to my road. There are no downed trees (except the neighbor’s willow – to my personal disappointment – but that’s by the lake). The lines are all in fine condition. There is still a bit of debris on the road, but I think everyone is hoping it gets pushed into the potholes. By all visual accounts, there is no reason why there should be no power, especially considering all the power just up the road. Yet, here I sit, laptop transported to the Barnes & Noble cafe, so I can get back to the Internet for a spell. Most of my food has gone bad and the majority of the cookware is too dirty for cooking and impossible to clean without water (though we have utilized many gallons of lake water for the back of the toilet – necessities, you know). In short,

Thought of the day

No textbook is worth $251.

Law versus theory

PZ has a couple of posts going right now where he takes down some common creationist canards. One post absolutely wrecks Ann Coulter (who, incidentally, has some real kiddie rhetoric going on – it’s just awful), and the other takes on Bryan Fischer. Each post is excellent, but PZ skims over something I would like to address in the latter link. Here are some excerpts from Fischer’s writing:

First Law of Thermodynamics. This law (note: not a theory but a scientific law) teaches us that matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed…

Second Law of Thermodynamics. This law (note: not a theory but a law) teaches us that in every chemical or heat reaction, there is a loss of energy that never again is available for another heat reaction…

There are two kinds of people who have confusion over what a scientific law is versus what a scientific theory is. The first kind includes much of the general public. These people will have a basic misunderstanding, but they don’t tend to go about basing arguments upon it. The second kind, however, is an ugly little bunch. They include the likes of Fischer who also share the general lay public’s misunderstanding, but they then go about premising a bunch of bullshit on it.

A scientific theory and a scientific law are effectively the same thing. The latter term tends to be used more in physics than anywhere else, but that is a matter of history and convention more than anything. There is no magic property that makes the theory of gravity any different from the law of gravity. Both terms describe the same thing. We’re merely talking about banners and titles here, nothing of scientific value. Any person interested in science ought to learn this pretty quickly.

I recall sitting in an introductory biology course many a year ago when one student asked the professor the difference between a theory and a law. It is rare (though not absent) for “law” to be used in biology, so I’m not sure what spurred the question, but the professor answered it exactly right: There is no significant difference. I had a good deal of respect for the student at that moment. He was ignorant of something, so he got an answer. Creationists like Fischer, however, don’t do that. They understand the way we conventionally use terms and assume they can aptly apply that understanding to science. They cannot. They are wrong and scientifically irresponsible to do so.

But who’s willing to bet Fischer keeps pretending there is a difference even after being told there isn’t one? I am.

Poe’s Law meme-ified

Dawkins on Perry

The good doctor nails this one:

There is nothing unusual about Governor Rick Perry. Uneducated fools can be found in every country and every period of history, and they are not unknown in high office. What is unusual about today’s Republican party (I disavow the ridiculous ‘GOP’ nickname, because the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has lately forfeited all claim to be considered ‘grand’) is this: In any other party and in any other country, an individual may occasionally rise to the top in spite of being an uneducated ignoramus. In today’s Republican Party ‘in spite of’ is not the phrase we need. Ignorance and lack of education are positive qualifications, bordering on obligatory. Intellect, knowledge and linguistic mastery are mistrusted by Republican voters, who, when choosing a president, would apparently prefer someone like themselves over someone actually qualified for the job.

Let’s not forget that the likes of Palin, Bachmann, and Cain have also been bandied about as serious options. The Democrats may put out individuals deficient in charisma a la Gore and Kerry, but it is nothing like the Republicans where either stupid or ignorant people consistently rise to prominence. And, of all things, that is actually a point of pride for the party.