No Discernable Difference Between Cheap and Expensive Wines?

April 30, 2011

Is there some Night Train, Thunderbird or Richards Wild Irish Rose in your future? vefore you answer, consider the following. Slash/Food has a nice report on something that has been established with beers, whiskeys, vodkas and many other refined spirits: Blind Tasters Can’t Tell Cheap Wines from Expensive.  The results of the survey of 578 drinkers at the Edinburgh International Science Festival hovered around 50% – the same results you would expect to get from chance, e.g. simply guessing.

Adobe adopts HTTP Live Streaming for iOS

April 30, 2011

Chris Foresman at Ars Technica has a nice piece about the ongoing conflict between Apple and Adobe over Flash. Read the complete piece here Adobe throws in towel, adopts HTTP Live Streaming for iOS

“In other words, instead of trying in vain to persuade Apple to build Flash into iOS, or losing potential Flash Media Server customers to some other iOS-compatible solution, Adobe seems to be implicitly acknowledging that content publishers need Flash-free video streaming. It’s also worth noting that HTTP Live Streaming will also be served to compatible clients on non-iOS platforms, including Safari on Mac OS X. Apple recently began selling its portable computers without Flash pre-installed, and we discovered that running Safari without Flash seemed to increase battery life of the latest MacBook Air as much as 33 percent.”


Milking a Tuscan: Amazon Customer Humor from David Pogue

April 30, 2011

OK, I know that I’m hard to please when it comes to Internet humor but these ‘reviews’ posted by customers made me spit Tuscan Whole Milk out my nose. Read an overview by my favorite tech writer David Pogue in the New York Times here and scroll down for some examples.

Book Reviews of Hgiyiyi

“As good as Jhjykyk, maybe better. The highly-anticipated sequel to Jhjykyk keeps you on the edge of your seat from the very first paragraph. Hgiyiyi picks up right where Jhjykyk left off. It both answers your lingering questions and creates so many new ones. That is the genius of jjjj, who is not only a unique writer, but who also translates his books himself! I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the third book to come out. After reading Hgiyiyi, I know you will be too.”

Tuscan Whole Milk

“I know, I know, I’ve heard it before . . . you think that goat milk is just too strongly flavored, and that prejudices you against anything that isn’t cow milk. But Tuscans aren’t even related to goats. They’re actually akin to gerbils, although they’re a bit smaller. Their milk is very mild and sweet. It’s also amazingly high in butterfat content, so it’s wonderfully rich and creamy. Milking a tuscan is a dying art (they do tend to bite, which makes the process a bit tricky).

Deerbusters Wolf Urine

“One is immediately drawn to this vintage by the colour, which is an elegant, pale straw hue with an appealing peachy fruit on the nose. It has an incredibly effervescent bead — the whole glass teams with bubbles — culminating in a frothy layer at the head. The palate has panache, with a firm, mineral acidity that cuts through a rather elegantly styled, poised meaty presence. . .Even though it has a rather short and crisply defined finish, I still believe this has the composition and acidity to age well in the cellar of any self-respecting urine connoisseur.”

Coverdale Fresh Whole Rabbit

“Like many suburban homeowners, I like to kill and eat the wild animals that populate my backyard. To keep it sporting, I hunt naked, with my teeth and long sharpened fingernails as my only weapons.”

Uranium Ore

“The quality of this Uranium is on par with the stuff I was buying from the Libyans over at the mall parking lot, but at half the price! I just hope the seller does not run out, because I have many projects on my list including a night vision sasquatch radar, an electromagnetic chupakabra cage, a high velocity, aerial, weighted Mothman net and super heated, instant grill cheese sandwhich maker.”


Pet Dog Ownership to be Banned in Iran

April 25, 2011

According to the Daily Mail, the Iranian Parliment that will criminalize dog ownership has been drafted.  The claim is that “impure and dangerous” dogs create a health problem and that dog ownership “poses a cultural problem, a blind imitation of the vulgar Western culture.” If the dogs are ‘working dogs’ and not considered pets, e.g. allowed in the home, they will skirt this ban.

Exceptions are allowed for guard dogs, sheep dogs and specially trained dogs like those that detect bombs or drugs or search and rescue dogs.

Of course, there’s the issue of the Muslim’s faith position on dogs. Some quick research reveals that they are considered ‘ritually unclean’ and the Sunni tradition holds that the prophet Muhammed did not like dogs. Having a dog counted against one’s good deeds in life, according to this view.

There are some bright spots in the Muslim take on animals in general, though. You are not permitted to mistreat them, beat them unnecessarily, mutilate them, brand them on the face or have them fight each other for entertainment.

From a Western point of view, where most dogs are pets in the home, this ban seems draconian. To deny the benefits of companionship and joy that we get from our dogs, even if they don’t contribute to the bottom line, throws in high relief the clash of cultures between the West and the Middle East. It also makes clear the difference between secular governments and those run by an established state religion.

The fact of this proposed ban makes me sad, followed immediately by concern over the fate of all the current pet dogs in Iran. How likely is it that they will be humanely disposed of?

But does any one of us in the West have a right to object? Just as hysteria has been fanned in the States about Sharia law being imposed on non-Muslims, we can’t really claim that banning pet dogs is not the right of Iranian Parliment. Their behavior is consistent with their beliefs.

And I think they are correct in their judgement that Western cultural values are in direct contrast to the kind of society they want to have. I just know how my life has been enriched by all the dogs that have passed through it. I imagine that every pet dog owner in Iran feels the same way.





Encyclopedia of American Loons

April 23, 2011

I like to describe myself as someone who was born skeptic and a half-century of  life has made a cynic. I’ve been a subscriber to The Skeptical Inquirer for over 25 years and I never miss the weekly podcast The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. I’ve been reading about the false claims of alternative and complimentary medicine for more than half my life.

How does this affect my day-to-day interactions with the world? Well, when I took my 9 year old Labrador Retriever to a highly renowned and respected canine orthopedic surgeon to evaluate X-rays of his hips and lower back, the first “treatment” he recommended was acupuncture.

He told me he had a lot of anecdotes of owner’s reporting good results with this “therapy.”  I couldn’t quite believe my ears. I replied, “OK, but why don’t we try voodoo first. That also uses pins and needles and has the same amount of scientific support.” He looked blankly at me. I continued. “You’re a surgeon and a man of science. Do I have to explain to you that the plural of anecdotes is not data?” You can imagine how well the rest of that appointment went.

On the topic of skepticism and those whose claims should be examined quite critically, I was delighted to find Fredrik Haraldsen who runs an interesting blog, the Encyclopedia of American Loons.

You’ve got to love his take on former Saturday Night Live comedienne Victoria Jackson: “[She] is a former semi-celebrity who is clinically unable to process information, distinguish an argument from a random string of letters (or none), reason, or string words together in a sentence expressing a coherent thought.”

Here’s an example of straight Jackson quoted by Haraldsen:

“ [Until the age of 40] I didn’t vote for anyone. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know where to go. I never saw a sign that said, ‘Vote Here.’ I didn’t know how to ‘register’ or even that I had to register. I didn’t know what the candidates stood for or how to find out. Word of mouth I guess, but no one I hung out with talked about politics, ever.”

Today, perhaps more than ever, we need someone to keep track of all the nonsense (and those who spout it) that clutters our 24/7 media cycle.

Thank you, Frederik Haraldsen. Unfortunately, I don’t think you’ll ever run out of material. But that makes it all the more important that you keep adding entries to your encyclopedia.