Friday, June 22, 2007


This blog moved a long time ago. The new address is

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

50 Things To Do To Stop Global Warming

Here is a list of 50 things you can do to not feel guilty about global warming. I think this stuff is pretty important, because seriously, we're going to destroy the Earth. It might be sooner, it might be later, but pumping pollution into the air can't be a good thing, so we should probably stop that.

Most of these are pretty obvious, but it's good to have them all in one place. Some should be obvious but aren't - like not putting your fridge beside your stove. I've never thought of that before, but...duh.

There is one thing they forgot, though:

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Reality Television Secrets

So I TiVo'ed American Idol last night and watched it this morning. I discovered that, if you fast forward through the commercials and useless filler, you can watch a 2 hour episode of Idol in approximately 40 minutes. That means about 66% of the show is skippable. It's not a good sign when you're watching a show in which the majority of its material can be discarded without detracting from it. Why do I bother?

Still, I'm glad that this season there are TWO funny chubby guys. They're always good to watch. And one of them is named "Sundance Head", which is a pretty damn funny name. Though with a last name of "Head", pretty much any first name is funny. If it were my last name, I'd name one of my kids Richard so he could be Dick Head. Another one would be Harold, so he could be Harry Head, which would become ironically hilarious when he inherited my baldness genes.

You know what show has even more filler though? Deal or No Deal. If you skip the crap, it's approximately 30 seconds long (i.e., "I pick case #4! *FAST FORWARD* Ohhh, look, your case contained 2 dollars. Should've made a deal. *FAST FORWARD* Here are shots of all the models *FAST FORWARD* See you next time! I'm Howie Mandel! I'm mentally ill...isn't that funny!?")

I do find the fact that it's popular pretty fascinating. I have a feeling it's getting down to basic psychological principles; like the need to resolve uncertainty (i.e. what's in each case), the reward that results from resolving it (i.e. opening cases), and the fact that people will keep watching what's, basically, a person playing a giant scratch-and-win ticket, just for these little rewards. It's sorta like rats pushing levers over and over if it will sporadically release a reward. In some cases, they'll just keep pushing until they die. Perhaps people aren't exaggerating when they say that reality TV will bring about the end of the world.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Nine Inch Nails Kickass "Viral Marketing" Stuff

OK this is pretty cool. A new Nine Inch Nails album is coming out pretty soon, and to promote it, a series of weird-ass web sites have popped up in relation to it, such as this one (click and drag), this one, and this one. There is a whole story emerging out of it, involving terrorism and drugs and corrupt governments and all that good stuff.

An image that recurs on these sites is the following:

A hand reaching down from the sky, or something.

Then, recently, an mp3 file appeared on the internet. Apparently, it was found on an abandoned USB drive in a bathroom at a NIN show. The file contained a brand new NIN track, along with some static at the end. The song can currently be heard here, but who knows for how long.

But the weird, and very cool, thing is that when you run the file through a computer program that allows you to see the "spectrum" of the static, you see this:

The same hand. Creepy.

Obviously this is all a marketing ploy, designed to draw attention to the new album. The web sites are created by a marketing company, and the mp3 wasn't "leaked" at all; it was made to be found. But if an artist wants to draw attention to their work, this is the way to do it. Getting people involved and entertained by using the power of the internet to spread ideas that no individual could figure out (I'd never think to visualize the static like that). This couldn't have happened a few years ago. I didn't even know a new NIN album was on the horizon, but now I'm kinda excited about it, so the ploy is working. Good job, Trent.

As a side note, this isn't the first time a musician has hidden images in sounds. Apparently Aphex Twin did this a while ago:

It's his own face. Obviously. The dude plasters his creepy face on everything he does, even the music itself. It would be annoying if the music wasn't so wonderful.

Anyway, just thought I'd share.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


Rearrange my name, and this is what you get (from this web site, Sternest Meanings):
  • Mike Battista -> I'm a basket tit.
  • Michael Battista -> Blast it! I'm a cheat.
  • Michael E. Battista -> I am athletic beast.
  • Michael Evan Battista -> Hateable victim Satan.
Nice. I think I'll just call myself "hateable victim Satan" from now on.

  • George W Bush -> He grew bogus.
  • Osama Bin Laden -> A damn alien S.O.B.
  • Justin Timberlake -> I'm a jerk, but listen.

Friday, February 02, 2007


A new podcast, called Skeptiko, has just started releasing episodes. It's about controversial scientific issues, and the scientific method. I've enjoyed the two episodes so far, so if you're interested in this sort of thing, you can download the shows from the official site or the usual way through iTunes.

The reason I mention this is to follow up my review of Dean Radin's book below. He was just on Skeptiko talking about the book and more. What I found quite cool is that the interviewer gave Radin several opportunities to put down "skeptical" critics - for example, by accusing them of fiddling with statistics in order to support their own agenda - but Radin did not go for it. Instead, he (rightly) pointed out that it's a double-edged sword. Every scientist, consciously or not, is going to focus on the results and methods that support their hypothesis, which is why it's good that there are proponents of both sides of the issue to bring balance.

Apparently Dr. Radin is now working on some research involving one of my favourite things in the world: chocolate. This place is where he gets the chocolate. I wish it was possible to taste things through a computer screen. If this research works out, I just might have to change my PhD dissertation to a replication of it. Of course, it will require constant sampling of the chocolate to make sure it's still good. For science.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Book Review: Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality, by Dean Radin

Wow. I'm always blown away after reading books about parapsychology. This is no exception.

Entangled Minds is almost like 3 books in one. It starts with a brief overview of what psi (i.e., phenomena like ESP and PK) is, with some examples, and an even briefer review of parapsychology's relatively long history. Radin is constantly pointing out that parapsychology research has been endorsed and conducted by top-notch scientists, including a surprising number of Nobel laureates. This might be seen as overly defensive, but it is necessary, given the common "no real scientists believe in psi" criticism. On the contrary, my experience has shown that the most vocal opponents of parapsychology are magicians, armchair "scientists", and other people with no scientific training. Radin points out that the most vocal proponents of psi, on the other hand, are the best that science has to offer.

The second part of the book is sort of a meta-analysis of meta-analyses of psi research. He goes over some of the major categories of psi research that have been conducted, such as dream studies (where one person tries to influence another person's dreams at a distance), presentiment (reacting physiologically to, say, a shocking picture, a few seconds before seeing the randomly selected picture), global consciousness (e.g. random number generators all over the world acted strangely on September 11th, 2001), and lots more.

This part of the book should blow the mind of anyone not already familiar with the research. It gives me chills even though I am. Radin shows that the results found would be astronomically improbable if chance alone were operating. Since chance is ruled out, he meticulously goes through alternate explanations (a bias in publishing, fraud, shitty experimental designs, etc.) and either rules them out completely or shows that even if they played a role, they cannot explain the overall results. The take-home message is that things like telepathy, clairvoyance, and psychokinesis really do exist. Not only that, but they have been clearly demonstrated in laboratories all over the world.

The strange thing is, from what I can tell, parapsychology research is conducted much more carefully than most psychology research. The effects in parapsychology are proven to exist to a greater degree than many effects in psychology. And, no offense to psychology, but parapsychology has the potential for discoveries of much greater importance, both scientifically and practically. Yet parapsychology is shunned, receiving a minuscule amount of funding and mainstream attention, while psychology thrives. I guess this is motivated by the same fear of the unknown that (temporarily) kept Copernicus from telling people that the earth isn't the center of the universe. But geeze...get over it.

Anyway...Radin does rely on quite a bit of math to get his points across, but it is not too deep and he explains it briefly beforehand. It should be easy to understand even for people with no knowledge of statistics. My only complaint is that most of the information was also included in Radin's previous book, "The Conscious Universe". The title of Entangled Minds implies that it will primarily be about the relationship between quantum physics and psi, but in reality most of the book is spent establishing that psi exists. The examples here are different and it is a good reference for "proof-oriented" psi research, but he really could have said "see my other book for proof, which I will now connect to the latest advancements in physics".

When he does get on to the physics stuff though, it satisfies the purpose that the title implies. Quantum physics is spooky enough on its own. Particles can be everywhere at once (or nowhere) until they are observed. A particle can be correlated with the observation of another particle that is miles away, with no communication between them. The observation of a particle in the future can even seem to affect a particle in the past. All this is stuff that mainstream physicists know and accept.

Radin essentially takes what we know about particles and expands it to a larger scale, including, of course, us. His main argument is that every particle in the universe is "entangled" (i.e. able to have the spooky correlations above) with every other particle. There is more to it, but at the very least, this makes it possible for psi to exist without overturning everything we know about science.

It's explained quite well, and he even manages to get across some very confusing quantum phenomena in a pretty intuitive manner (though I don't think quantum physics will ever be entirely intuitive to our big classical brains). If I had to complain, though, I would point out that he leaves some things ambiguous. For example, at one point he seems to imply that our unconscious is "in tune" with the entire universe, but we tend to focus on things familiar to us (such as a distant family member in trouble) for psychological reasons. We essentially filter out everything except the important stuff. But then later, he implies that people who are frequently physically close in spacetime are "more entangled" with each other. So which is it? Are we equally entangled with everything, but able to psychologically focus on familiar things, or are things that are physically close more entangled? Both?

(Side note: If it's the 2nd possibility, it would be fun to test. Have two people in close physical proximity for a few hours, maybe separated by an opaque wall, with half of them being aware of it and half not. Later, pair them up for a ganzfeld or something. Would mere prior proximity improve performance? What about later proximity?)

If little issues like this can be worked out, and details filled in, Radin could be well on the way to providing what could be considered the holy grail of parapsychology: An actual theory of how it works, with testable predictions. Scientists could go beyond proving that psi exists, and move on to figuring out how it works. Perhaps they'll even bypass the scientific bickering and move on to practical applications. Personally, I am getting sick of moving my physical body every time I wanna turn on a light. A psychic light switch would be so much nicer.

Anyway, I've gone on long enough. This book is well worth reading for anyone even remotely interested in science of any kind.

[Disclaimer] (in case future academic employers read this): I'm not directly involved in parapsychology. I'm not a believer in the subject matter of parapsychology, per se. I do believe in science and its methods, though, no matter what the topic of study. While there may be disagreement about what the results of parapsychology represent, anyone who reads and understands the literature would have to agree that something interesting is going on. I am not fully decided on whether I think that "something" is purely psychological, statistical, or paranormal, but any of these possibilities are fascinating and deserving of attention. [/Disclaimer]

Book Review: Sole Survivor, by Dean Koontz

I picked up this book for a few cents at a flea market, because I hadn't read a Dean Koontz novel in a long time, but remembered liking the ones I read as a kid.

Sole Survivor is about a dude whose family was killed in a plane crash. On the one year anniversary of the crash, he finds that he's being followed, and strange things are happening. The book starts out slow, but picks up in pace and scope, and is good light entertainment. I had fun reading it, but I'll probably forget I ever saw it in a few weeks.

Koontz is an OK author, but I often find myself taken out of the story by excessively cheesy metaphors. Most of the ending of the book also violates the big "show, don't tell" rule by having one mystery after another explained flashback-style. It would have been nice to have the climax of the book happen "on-camera", so to speak. Maybe if there were less words wasted on describing how the wind is like a pack of wolves, there'd be room to have the characters actually participate in the plot.

Still, it ain't a bad read.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Book Review: Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories, by Chuck Palahniuk

This is the first book that I listened to in audiobook format. That is, I downloaded an audio file of someone reading the book, and then listened to it on my iPod. I got it from Audible, which is a pretty cool site. The books are a lot cheaper than buying them physically, or even getting the same audio files from iTunes. And here's a secret...follow this link and you get two books for free. You're supposed to have bought a certain iPod accessory to get the offer, but it's not like they check if you actually have it. I just signed up, got the two free books, then cancelled the account. Nice.

Anyway, Stranger Than Fiction is a collection of essays that Palahniuk has written for various sources. Thus, it's sort of a mish-mash of random topics, some of which are fascinating, and others less so.

I enjoyed the autobiographical stuff the best. Much of it is about Fight Club, and the consequences of it being adapted into a popular movie. Palahniuk writes about how his jealousy of Brad Pitt's lips caused him to invest in a lip pump (sort of like a penis pump, but to give you bigger lips instead of a longer schlong); how most of Fight Club is based on true stories that he and his friends experienced, and the weirdness of seeing people imitating actors imitating characters in a book imitating real people; how people get annoyed when he doesn't reveal the location of real fight clubs. Funny stuff. There is also some material about writing itself. For me, it's always fascinating to hear about what fiction writers think about writing itself, given how mysterious of a process writing fiction can be.

Less interesting, but still worth reading, are some of the other random topics. The worst offender was the overly long chapter about people who dedicate their lives to building castles. I like hearing about the people who do that, but I really didn't need to hear the details on how to keep moister out of a concrete building.

Overall, it's worth reading, to see a bit into the mind of a unique author like Palahniuk, and learn a bit about some of the fascinating people and situations he has encountered. Especially if you are a fan of his fictional work.

One last note, though...don't get the audiobook version. It says "Unabridged Selections" in its title, which apparently does not mean you get the whole book. You get whole chapters (i.e. "selections"), but not all of them. I have no idea why two or three chapters were left out, but it sucks that I missed them.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

New Words I Learned Today

  • Hyperopia: An excess of farsightedness. Most people aspire to be farsighted. It's good to delay pleasure now so that we can be better off in the long run. But a recently published study (read about it here) interviewed people about what they regret. In the short term, people regretted partying when they should have been working. In the long term, though, people wished they partied more.

    On the surface, this seems like evidence that I should be partying right now instead of writing FOUR damn papers by the end of the month, but that's probably not the case. The people they interviewed were probably the ones who did work hard to get to where they were. They may regret not partying now, but fail to realize they wouldn't be alive to express their regret if they spent their entire life eating finger food and drinking martinis. I doubt they'd find the same results with less successful people. The homeless drug addict on the verge of death probably wouldn't say "yeah dude, I wish I partied life would have been so much better if I had even less self control".

    Still, it illustrates that we should enjoy our lives in addition to working, or we'll hate ourselves later.

  • Pseudocyesis: Fake pregnancy. This article tells the heartwarming story of a pregnant woman who went to see her doctor. She was quite far along, with a big belly, kicking baby, screwed up nipples, etc. The doctor, however, could not detect the baby's heart beat. After further research, he discovered that there actually was no baby. There never was a baby. She just wanted to be pregnant so bad that her body changed to look like she was.

    The hilarious part of the story, though, is that the doctor didn't tell her that she didn't have a baby. Instead, in a mind boggling breach of ethics and human decency, he told her that the baby was ready to be delivered that very day. Then he drugged her, and when she came to, he told her she'd lost the baby.

    You'll have to read the article to find out the rest. The power of the mind over matter in this case is fascinating, but equally fascinating is how horrible (but, looking back on them, hilarious) things have been done in the name of science.

    Thank science we have ethical standards now. Science bless you all. Merry Sciencemass.