Thursday, December 23, 2010

Numerology in the Quran

Some claim that numerology is proof that the Quran is the divine word of Allah. Here is a sampling of the evidence (taken from here):

  • The statement of “seven heavens” is repeated 7 times. “The creation of the heavens (khalq as-samawat)” is also repeated 7 times.
  • The word “Day (yawm)” is repeated 365 times in singular form, while its plural and dual forms “days (ayyam and yawmayn)” together are repeated 30 times.

Those are kinda neat, but would be trivial to implement. It's a shame that the word "Day (yawm)" couldn't be repeated exactly 365.256363 times.

Now for the amazing number 19!! Again, just a sampling:

  • The first verse of every sura (chapter) known as “Basmalah” (bismillah al-rahman al-rahim) consists of 19 letters.
  • The Quran consists of 114 suras, which is 19 x 6.
  • The total number of verses in the Quran is 6346, or 19 x 334.
  • 6234 numbered verses & 112 un-numbered verses (Basmalahs) 6234+112 = 6346. Note that 6+3+4+6= 19.
  • The Basmalah occurs 114 times, despite its conspicuous absence from Sura 9 (it occurs twice in Sura 27) & 114= 19 x 6.
  • The Zakat charity is mentioned in [a number of verses that] add up to 2395. This total does not quite make it as a multiple of 19; it is up by 1.
    The Hajj Pilgrimage occurs in 2:189, 196, 197; 9:3; and 22:27. These numbers add up to 645, and this total does not quite make it as a multiple of 19; it is down by 1.
    Thus, Zakat and Hajj, together, give a total of 2395+645 = 3040 = 19×160.

  • ... yadda yadda yadda ...

The list goes on and on, quoting many MANY quantities that are divisible by 19.

It occurred to me that every 19th number is divisible by 19.

Moreover, suppose you have 100 different quantities that you tabulate in a document (eg. number of chapters, or times a word is used). If you consider all possible combinations of those quantities, you'll get about 1030 values. In combinatorial notation, that’s

   (100 choose 1) + (100 choose 2) + … + (100 choose 100).

If one out of every 19 of those is divisible by 19 (as one would expect), then you’re left with more than 1028 “coincidences”… combinations of quantities that are divisible by 19. In fact, there will be a comparable number of “coincidences” for 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, etc.

These numerology "miracles" are statistically unimpressive, and certainly not proof that the Quran is the divine word of Allah.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mohammed vs Jesus

I'm taking part in a little online convo over at Extraordinary Claims. The entry on Allah has quite a few comments. In the latest round, I couldn't help noticing the Quran talking smack about Jesus. In one comment, commenter "atom" includes a litany of quotes from the Quran. Allah drones on about those who reject his revelations, "We will make his punishment long and terrible." [19:79] Blah blah blah.

But this seems a little unfair...
Those who deny Our Revelations are deaf and dumb, living in many layers of darkness. Allah confounds whom He wills, and guides to the Right Way whom He pleases. [6:39] ... Those who deny Our revelations, We draw them step by step closer to destruction in ways that they do not realize,[7:182] and even though I grant them respite; My plan is surely effective.[7:183] ... None can guide those whom Allah confounds and leaves them blundering about in their rebellious transgression.[7:186]
Oh great! So, not only am I going to hell, but no one can stop me, not even myself. That's not fair.

I managed to stay awake long enough to come across the text,
Those who say: “The Compassionate (God) has begotten a son,” certainly preach such a monstrous falsehood,that the very Heavens might crack, the earth might cleave asunder and the mountains might crumble to pieces – at their ascribing a son to the Compassionate (God), It is not befitting to the Compassionate (God) that He should beget a son.[19:88-92]
Soooo... I guess Jesus is out of the question. Couldn't help wondering what the Christians might have to say about that. And it seems that the New Testament is not an "enlightening Book",
Yet there are others among people who wrangle about Allah, though they neither have knowledge nor guidance, nor an enlightening Book, twisting things around in order to lead others astray from the Path of Allah – for such persons there is disgrace in this life, and on the Day of Judgment we shall make them taste the punishment of burning fire,[22:8-9]
Oh good, so it's not just me, but all Christians too.

Hmmm... which religion is right? Which one should I choose?


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Medical outsourcing - Liberation Treatment in Costa Rica

An article in The Record on Saturday November 20, 2010, was entitled "Woman to have controversial MS surgery". It was about a Canadian with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) that decided they wanted to receive Liberation Treatment. But you can't get that procedure in Canada.

The problem is there is very little evidence that the surgery does anything useful. On the other hand, the procedure has some very serious risks. In a rational health system, unproven mediocre gains do not outweigh serious risks. That's why Canada doesn't offer it.

So, people are spending big bucks to fly down to Costa Rica and get the surgery done there. Well, that's their prerogative. What I don't like is that the Canadian health system will likely end up paying for the medical complications. That can cost a lot of dough.

A couple things I would also point out. The clinic is called Clinica Biblica. I, personally, wouldn't feel comfortable getting a medical procedure done at a clinic named after a book of magic.

Also, the article says that the patient will continue treatment in Canada, including homeopathy. Figures.

There is a follow-up article in The Record, Nov. 21.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Journals, make up your friggin' minds!

I just love going through the "Instructions for Authors" when I submit a manuscript to a journal. The instructions are often grossly out-of-date, and usually self-contradictory. Here's a very typical example,
Each figure should include a single illustration.
If a figure consists of separate parts, it is important that a single composite illustration file be submitted, containing all parts of the figure.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cell-tower and WiFi hysteria: the REAL science

Have you ever heard of the dangers of living too close to a cell tower? I have, and I wasn't sure what to think of it. Recently, some of the same people have been lobbying the government to ban WiFi from public school because some of the students were having "cardiac arrest". Sound sketchy? You bet. Read this scathing review on SkepticNorth about the case for electrohypersensitivity.

If you read the deposition of Mr. Rodney Palmer to the House of Commons Standing Committe on Health, my favourite line is, "Some [student] report dizziness and vertigo, but only when they're in the school."

Friday, November 12, 2010

Dude, don't rain on my placebo effect

This article by Edzard Ernst puts homeopathy in its place. It's simply placebo.

I agree. But when I condemn this sort of quackery, people sometimes ask me why I have to be such a downer... what's wrong with placebo? If it's helping someone, then why not just let it be?

In the words of Prof. Ernst,
The answer is that it prevents clinicians telling the truth to patients. Being honest would defeat any placebo effect: if I tell my patient, "Take this remedy; it contains nothing and the trial data shows nothing," she is unlikely to experience a placebo response. Hence, homoeopaths, knowingly or unknowingly, deprive patients of informed consent. This paternalistic approach is recognised as unethical.

Furthermore, he points out that the placebo effect is often slight, unpredictable, and short-lived.

Prof. Ernst says that If you want someone to experience the placebo effect, give them a REAL treatement. Then they can benefit from both the treatment and the placebo effect (and the doctors don't have to lie).

Monday, November 8, 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How NOT to be gay

I watched this documentary called "Cure for Love" about how an evangelical Christian program tries to convert homosexuals, and help them to follow a righteous lifestyle. I'm relieved to hear that it fails more often than it succeeds. I feel sorry for the married guy and his wife; they both know they're gay, but force themselves to live in a heterosexual relationship so that they can be whole in the eyes of God. Bleh.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

SkeptiCamp Toronto

On Oct. 23, 2010, I attended SkeptiCamp in Toronto, hosted by CFI Ontario. It was a great opportunity to meet like-minded people, and hear some enriching talks.

I gave a talk (not to suggest that MY talk was enriching). Well, you can judge for yourself. The projector bulb blew, so I didn't have my slides for my talk. So, I've taken the liberty of recording it and putting it on YouTube.

It's entitled "Being Right is Not Enough", and it's about why we can't trust our experiences, emotions, or the popularity of a belief in our pursuit of truth.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sidewards - an invented word

Here you see Lauchy sitting in a position that he calls "sidewards". That's not a word (not one that we use, at least), but it demonstrates the ability of a little person to apply learned linguistic rules to new situations.

Sidewards. Makes sense to me.

Oops, I just checked the dictionary. It says that "sidewards" is another word for "sideways". Hmm... maybe he's been reading the dictionary.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Kitchener-Waterloo, the place to buy property

I noticed this story in a magazine a few months ago. Here it is online. Basically, Kitchener-Waterloo is ranked as the best real-estate investment in Ontario.  I'm happy to say that we are Waterloo home-owners.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Run for the Cure

We did the Run for the Cure today, in honour of my younger sister, Angi. She kicked breast cancer's ass this year, and we're all proud of her.

I noticed lots of dogs there. This one, in particular, caught my eye. Well, hellooo sweetness!

We just did the 1km walk, since we had our three kids with us. Thanks to all those who donated; I raised about $270 for breast cancer research.

Make that $300... thanks Greg.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Two victims overnight

Last night, Trish heard some squeaks.  We looked for mice, but found none near the kitchen garbage.  Then Trish heard Charlie (one of our cats) do his funny purr/meow.  She found both cats in the stairwell "playing" with a small grey mouse.  I captured it in a glass, and pitched it into the brush in our backyard.

Victim #1

This morning, we had just settled down to have our coffee in the livingroom, and Trish noticed a dead mouse on the rug.

Victim #2
(and Heather's finger, for scale reference)

That's two mice in less than 12 hours.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Robin Hood, with specs

This banner ad was in an e-mail I got from Rogers.

Doesn't it look like the dude in the background is wearing glasses?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Moving things with your mind: Neuroprosthetics

Miguel A. L. Nicolelis
Holy cow, what an amazing talk I just went to. I'm at a conference in Buenos Aires, called "Engineering in Medicine and Biology". It features many scientific and engineering advances in fields like medical imaging, bioinformatics, and neuroscience. I make it a habit to attend the plenary talks because they're meant for a general audience, and they're often a good way to see a nice overview of a field of research.

This afternoon, I attended a plenary keynote lecture called "Towards a Whole-Body Neuroprosthetic", by Miguel A. L. Nicolelis of Duke University. What an eye-opener!

The theme behind his research -- implantable arrays that can read electrical activity from thousands of neurons. This activity is used to derive numerical models of behaviour. For example, a monkey is trained to play a little computer game in which it has to move a cursor into a circular region on the screen by manipulating a joystick. While this is going on, an implanted probe in the monkey's motor cortex reads off the neural activity associated with the movements. Later on, the experimenters remove the joystick, and instead derive the INTENDED motions directly from the monkey's neural activity. And it works beautifully! The monkey is able to control the cursor with its mind (similar to classical EEG-based attempts, but no training is needed; the device reads your intentions from your brain's natural internal language).

This technology could be used in corporeal augmentation for the paralyzed (artificial limbs and other actuators could be controlled directly by the brain). That's the first application that comes to mind (no pun intended). But there are other applications, such as remote manipulation... controlling a limb over the internet.

In the talk, he also described experiments where they fed electrical activity INTO the brain. This could be thought of as an aditional form of sensory input. The example he gave was a mouse that lives in a cage with a complex magnetic field. The mouse has a magnetic field sensor that sends information into its brain. It will be interesting to see how the mouse's brain incorporates the new input. Presumably, the mouse will have a completely independent perception of where it is in its cage, so that if you gouged out its eyes and plugged up its ears, it would still be able to navigate in its cage without hesitation.  Sounds strange, but you've already got something similar. Most people don't realize that they have more than 5 senses; your inner ear houses your equilibrium, your sense of which way is down. Close your eyes, and stand on one foot. You can still stay upright because of your sense of equilibrium.  The mouse's magnetic sense is sorta like that.

Using these neuroprosthetic input and output devices, Prof. Nicolelis' goal is to have a quadraplegic walk onto the field to open the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil (Nicolelis' native country). The person will be strapped into an exoskeleton robot, and implants in their brain will give the robot the complex instructions for walking.

Finally, Prof. Nicolelis urged us to loosen our grip on the idea that cognitive functions are localized in the brain. He said that this division of the brain is a model that we like because its easy to understand; he offered the rather paradoxical quip "our brains don't think the way we think". He also emphasized that the brain is a general-purpose statistical inference machine. No matter what input you feed it, it will start to build the structure of the input into its model of the world. I like the way Nicolelis thinks.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Driveway biology project

A little dead bird appeared on our driveway one day. Probably the work of our nimble and deadly cat Tassie. Anyway, this is the scene a couple days later (you might want to put down your bowl of cereal).

Monday, August 16, 2010

Nature walk to work

OK, so I'm on my way to work, walking through Waterloo Park.  I stopped to take a picture of this tree that had fallen over the weekend (I keep my camera in an easily-accessible pouch just for such occasions).

After I took the picture, I noticed this going on.  Warning: explicit!

And then a few metres down the trail I witnessed this high-speed chase!

All in a day's walk, I suppose.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Wait, is this chiropractor joking?

Is this chiropractor for real?

Doncha just love the careful measurement technique ("Pull baby's legs, but not too hard.") The sad thing is that the chiropractor probably doesn't even know he's deluding himself.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Looking under the hood of intelligent design

Here is my next post on Skeptic North.

My wife knows me well

She knows me well enough to take a picture of this bumper-sticker for me.

I appreciate it when people advertise their scientific ignorance.  I try to keep my distance from drivers that believe a magical man is looking out for them.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Today's irony lesson is brought to you by spam

I got this e-mail today.
Dear Webmail User, ANTI SPAM UPDATE
This message is from WEBMAIL MANAGEMENT MESSAGING CENTER to all Webmail account users. We are currently upgrading our data base and webmail account center.
This is to enable your webmail account take a new look with new functions and help protect against spam e-mails. 
We are therefore deleting all unused email account to create more space for new accounts and updates.
To help us fight spam and to prevent your account from closing you will have to update it below so that we will know that it's an active account.

Email Username:
EMAIL Password:
Date of Birth:
Alternative Email:

WARNING!!! All account owner that refuses to comply with this update will lose his or her within seven days of receiving this notice.
Thank you for your understanding. We are delighted to bringing communication closer to you.

They claim that they're trying to help you get rid of your spam.  The irony, of course, is that the e-mail is spam.

I don't use webmail.  And even if I did, I wouldn't e-mail my account credentials to some address in China just because they asked for it.

And the capstone of irony... the grammatically-challenged closing sentence, "We are delighted to bringing communication".

Thursday, July 29, 2010

New MacBook Pro

I just picked up my new MacBook Pro.  It's got 8GB of RAM, a 500GB disk, and a sweet SWEET new smell.  Once I got the box back to my office, I ripped it open like a giddy child on Christmas morn.  Here is a picture of it downloading 1.02GB of software updates.  How adorable is that?!

While I was at the CampusTech Shop, in walked David Johnston.  He was accompanied by a body guard.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Change is good

If you know me well, you know I like change. My blog's fresh look is thanks to Google Blogger's new set of templates. Ahhhh...

I just have to tweak the banner.

Monday, July 19, 2010

How to start a fire (if you're a pyromaniac)

Here is how my (pyromaniac) friend likes to start fires.

Step 1: Carefully place sticks and cardboard in fire pit.

Step 2: Generously sprinkle fire pit with fuel.

Step 3: Light a match.

Step 4: Stand back.

Step 5: Toss match into fire pit.

Step 6: Stop, drop, and roll.


8: The Mormon Proposition

My wife and I watched "8: The Mormon Proposition" over the weekend. It's a documentary about the involvement of the Mormon Church with Proposition 8 in California's election in 2008.

The California Supreme Court had determined that denying marriage to gay couples was against the constitution, so ruled to allow same-sex marriages. Proposition 8, also called the California Marriage Protection Act, was a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court's decision.

The Mormon Church (a.k.a. the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or simply L.D.S.) is a highly controlling religion, bordering on a cult by many metrics. They believe that homosexuality is an unnatural and pathological condition; so-called gays are simply mistaken, and need therapy. The documentary points out that this approach leads to a lot of teenage suicide.

Their rationale for this wisdom is even worse than citation from the Bible. No, their doctrine also come from the writings of a guy named Joseph Smith in 1820. That's right... some guy wrote down what he thought, said it was the word of God, and now it's a religion. That puts it in the same category of loony as Scientology.

The LDS church prohibits the use of alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea, does not allow women leaders in the church, and insists that its members donate 10% of their income to the church. That's what paid for this

One thing I'll say for them, they have great commercials.

OK, back to proposition 8. According to the documentary, this is the first time in American history that a constitutional amendment has taken rights away. Nice work.

It's only a matter of time before that silly amendment is removed.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Gad Dang immigrants

In this month's Good News trashazine is an article entitled "Immigration: How a Foreign Invasion is Reshaping the West".

Here's the executive summary: Let's barricade our borders so that Muslim immigrants don't overtake Christianity!

The article obsesses over Islamic terrorists, and how accepting such people as citizens is a big mistake. Of course, God saw this coming a long time ago, and even warned us in Deuteronomy 32:25 of the "terror within".

Here's a quote I actually agree with.
Mixing cultures, and especially religions, can be volatile!
Not so much the cultures part. But religions typically do not play nicely together. Especially if one religion has an opportunity to bully the other out of existence.

Nuthin' like good'ol hate propaganda to keep your religion alive and well.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Abortion pictures on my walk home

A number of people from held large placards with graphic pictures of aborted fetuses at the corner of University Ave. and Seagram today. Here is a taste of what they were displaying (taken from their pamphlet).

I looked through their pamphlet, and it was effective, but for the wrong reasons. I've always been wary that my emotions only reflect what feels best, not necessarily what is best. Given that I have 3 children, it's not surprising that I felt a tinge of sorrow for the unborn, bloody babies.

But, I don't think that's the best way to think about abortion. Nobody wants to get an abortion. It's not like it makes you feel good. But it doesn't take much imagination to come up with a situation where abortion is the lesser of two evils.

Their pamphlet states, "we need science to tell us when life begins." That's like asking where the end of a circle is. There is no clear-cut instant when a new life is formed. It's all a gradual chemical process with a few milestones along the way. So I'm afraid science isn't going to help there. But this is not really a scientific question, anyway; it's a value judgement.

Not surprisingly, their web page is sprinkled with Christian biblical quotes. Using the bible to support their views is probably the least scientific thing they could possibly do.

What I don't like is that some people feel pompous enough to try to introduce laws that will limit others who don't share their viewpoint. I don't mind them showing the pictures. I'm just glad I live in a country that is rational enough to give women the choice. Last I checked, the world wasn't short of people.

I'm not saying that abortion is a great replacement for birth control, or that a woman should be allowed to abort a fetus whenever she pleases. I also acknowledge that many people want to adopt babies. All I'm saying is that it should be a choice. And perhaps it's better to make a rational choice than an emotionally-charged choice.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Nonscience conference

As I said in a previous post, I get lots of e-mail advertising conferences. I delete pretty much all of them, but not before I peek at the conference title. This one intrigued me.

The Jerusalem International Conference on Integrative Medicine

The description in the e-mail reads,

The Conference will deal with ways to unite the scientific principles of modern medicine with the holistic principles
of alternative medicine

Well, here's my idea of how that should go. Any medical treatment or therapy without useful evidence is called "alternative". If an alternative treatment is shown to actually work (in an objective scientific setting), then it becomes medicine and is no longer considered to be alternative. Pretty simple: no evidence=alternative, evidence=medicine.

Of the 28 members of the "Scientific Committee" listed on the conference website, only 3 have a Ph.D. Two others have an M.Sc., but most of them are M.D.s (medical doctors). I have a feeling that the papers presented in this conference will be utterly useless.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I've shaken the hand of the next Governor General of Canada

David Johnston is the president of the University of Waterloo (where I work). Today, the news broke that he will be the next Governor General of Canada.

Yes, I've shaken his hand, and chatted with him. In addition, I've received letters from him... like this one, and this one (ah, but that's a different story, and I doubt he had much personal involvement in the process).

He is very diplomatic and will make a great Governor General.

Where did you say that conference was?

I receive a lot of e-mails advertising conferences. This one is being held in an interesting location... the e-mail doesn't say where the conference is, but here's a snippet from the message.

Sign me up!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

New tent

We have a very small and light 2-man tent. I bought it just before my first bike trip in 1994. It works for Trish and I. But once we started family camping, we bought a HUGE tent; it has a hinged door, light fixture with remote-control, and I can easily stand in it. We set up two queen-sized mattresses and a playpen inside, and still have ample room for storage. It weighs about 50 lbs, and takes about a half-hour to put up (if I have help).

I wanted something in between, that we could set up in the backyard in short order, and I could "camp out" with Heather and Addie and sleep in it over night. So, I looked on Kijiji and CraigsList, and found someone in Kitchener (near Victoria Park) who was asking a mere $30 for this tent.

The guy that sold it to me was honest and told me that the zipper often sticks and splits (the two sides don't interlock even after the zipper passes over). I bought it anyway, and he was right. The zippers were almost useless... at first. Then I did a google search and found out that zippers sometimes need to be lubricated. Dishsoap did the job.

Looking forward to some backyard camping.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Damage caused by today's earthquake

A 5.0-magnitude earthquake occurred near Ottawa today at 1:41pm. I was at work, and though I didn't feel the tremors (I was standing at the time), my office sustained significant damage.

Before the quake...

After the quake...

Well, I guess it's time to start rebuilding my life.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

My science mentor

I volunteer with a science outreach program called Let's Talk Science. They recently sent an e-mail to their volunteers asking them to write a short tribute to their science mentor. That got me thinking; who is my science mentor?

Looking back in time - to my formative years - none of my teachers stand out (though many of them were talented and impassioned). My consistent source of scientific wisdom and awe came from my dad.

I remember a number of specific "learning moments"... when my dad explained a concept to me and I experienced the desired a-ha. For example, my dad was painting our van (with a paintbrush!?!) and he told me that the colour comes from what part of the light is absorbed by the paint, versus what part is reflected. A-ha! I got it, right then and there.

Another time... I was in my room (which I shared with my brother Mike). Our light was a big sphere attached to the ceiling, made to look like a planet or star. I guess my dad was explaining to me and a friend that seasons are caused by the earth going around the sun. I remarked that the sun also causes day and night, and joked, "That must be some complicated rotation." Dad calmly explained that the seasons are caused by the earth revolving around the sun, and day and night are caused by the earth rotating on its own axis. A-ha! There are two different rotations! I got it.

I also remember sitting at our dining room table in the evening with my dad. He'd tell me about how crystals are formed by atoms arranging in a matrix. Or how the hydrogen bomb works. He taught me so many things, and I remember just soaking it all up. And loving every minute.

That's why my dad is my science mentor.

Happy Fathers' Day, dad.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Birth Order Book: A book review

I listened to the audiobook version of The Birth Order Book: Why You Are The Way You Are, by Dr. Kevin Leman.

Sadly, this book fell well short of my expectations. I was hoping for some real insight into what makes a person tick. Instead, this book was more like a long, drawn-out horoscope.

The observations made by Dr. Leman are only that... observations. Very little effort is made to substantiate those observations with objective evidence. Indeed, lots of qualifiers are thrown in as a safety net. So that if his description of first-borns doesn't fit you, then you should think of it as only a guideline.

It's not that I got NOTHING out of the book. I did get a sense of the three basic personality types.

First born
Conscientious, orderly, organized, driven to please mom and dad

Middle child
Peace maker, independent, chooses a different route to recognition than older siblings

Last born
Disorganized, impulsive, attention-seeking, creative

However, those personality classes are very difficult to apply. Why? Because his definition of who is in those categories is vague. You are a first-born if you are the first girl or first boy in your family, or if your next older sibling is at least 5 years older than you. Similarly, you are a last-born if you are the youngest in your family, or if your next younger sibling is a least 5 years younger than you. A middle child is one who doesn't fit those categories.

I have an older sister (15 months older), and a brother who is about 5 years younger. That makes me a first-born and a last-born. But in many ways, I also fit the definition of a middle child. How uninteresting is THAT?! Without a clear picture of what class you're in, the book descends into an arbitrary list of personality types, and my personality spans across all of them. Bleh.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

These songs are uncannily similar

I recently watched the movie Brothers, and recognized the theme song from the Oscars. Here is the beginning of the song.
Doesn't it sound a LOT like the beginning of the song July Flame by Laura Veirs? Here is how that song starts.
Uncanny. But both are good songs, IMHO.

I tend to like movies with scores by Thomas Newman; he did the score for American Beauty, my favourite movie of all time.

Friday, May 21, 2010

It's my tenure-versary

One year ago today, I walked to work with dress-pants, a dress-shirt, and a tie, ready to face the tribunal at my tenure hearing. In case you haven't read ALL my blog posts, you can find out more about the big day in my first post. As I walk to work today, I'm remembering the motivational messages that Trish and Fiona wrote on the sidewalk with chalk.

What an amazing feeling to have such support (not unlike the feeling of being thrown a surprise 40th birthday party).

Over the past year, I've allowed myself to grow in a number of directions (happily, none of those refer to my waistline... quite the opposite, in fact). I started my blog the day after I got tenure, and also embarked on a new major research project in computational neuroscience. A week from now, my grad student and I will be submitting a paper to NIPS (Neural Information Processing Systems conference). The research has produced some interesting results that might help to unveil the algorithm that the brain uses to learn.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

President's Run

On Tuesday, I took part in the UW President's Run (for the 4th time, I think). Here is a picture of the start (I'm number 34).

And here is a picture of me kicking some guy's ass as I sprint past him to the finish.

Totally a negative split!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Awesomerest birthday weekend

Last weekend was my 40th birthday (Friday May 14, to be exact). A bunch of families arranged to spend the night at Great Wolf Lodge. It has an indoor water park... totally awesome!

A little tube before bed never hurt nobody.

On the way there, Trish informed me that we were going out for dinner on Saturday night with Shannon and Rob. That sounded delightful (even though I can't stand them :-). Well, Saturday evening had arrived, and so had the babysitter, so we set off to Shannon and Rob's house to pick them up. Only when we got there, most of my other friends and siblings were there too. They yelled "SURPRISE!!" I pooed in my pants.

Rewind 10 years. Trish and I were going out for dinner in Gastown, Vancouver, to celebrate my 30th birthday. To the Spaghetti Factory, actually. But when we got there, a bunch of my friends were already seated, and they yelled "SURPRISE!!". I pooed in my pants.

How could I be so blind to let this happen two decades in a row?! I even joked with Trish, "Oh yah, we're going to Great Wolf Lodge... RIGHT." But I can say in all honesty, I was completely unsuspecting when I walked into that party. Trish, Shannon and Rob caught me utterly offguard. Well played, my friends. Here is me with Shannon and Rob (a.k.a. "the culprits").

And here is Trish in what I've dubbed her "Tina Fey dress".

I am extremely lucky to have Trish. In fact, it probably shows a lapse in judgement on her part. But I'm all the better for it. Thanks Trish, and thanks to all the family and friends that attended. GROUP HUG!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

She has such great spatial perception

This is Addie. She drew a picture for me, and showed it to me. But then she decided to add some more details.

What's interesting is that the extra people she's adding are upside-down for her, but she drew them right-side up for me. Maybe that means she has good spatial awareness. Her mom (Happy Mothers' Day, Trish) is excellent at knowing her way around, intuitively. Or maybe I'm just super-proud. Yah, that's probably it in any case.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Stiff: A book review

I listened to the audiobook version of "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers" by Mary Roach. What a treat. Am I a sicko, or what?

In her explorations into how human cadavers are used, Mary tells us - in gruesome detail - about many of her site visits. These include a cosmetic surgery workshop (for anatomical education), a human-remains research "farm" (used to infer time of death), and a tissue digestion company (an alternative to cremation). She also outlines a lot of the history around early anatomists, and how they used to hire body-snatchers to supply corpses by digging fresh graves, or otherwise.

One of my favourite parts of the book is her chapter on head transplants. Umm, make that "body transplants". Not done on humans, but on dogs and monkeys. I even took the time to look up the 1971 Surgery paper she described, entitled "Cephalic exchange transplantation in the monkey" by Robert J. White et al, which is where this rather disturbing figure comes from.

Mary has a humourous candor that comes out effortlessly from Shelly Frasier's reading. I highly recommend this book, if you have a strong stomach and a fascination with the macabre.

Motivational posters for atheists

There's a whole gallery of them. These are my favourites

Monday, May 3, 2010

Why Women Have Sex: A book review

Listened to the audiobook version of "Why Women Have Sex: Understanding Sexual Motivations - from Adventure to Revenge" by Cindy M. Meston and David M. Buss.

The book is about the psychological and evolutionary motives for women to engage in sex. Their evidence comes mostly from a large survey they conducted in which thousands of women of various ages, socio-economic standings, and sexual orientations reflected on their sexual experiences. Their motives ranged from "I was curious to see how good he was in bed", to "I thought if I had sex with him, he'd stop pestering me", to "I wanted to make my ex jealous".

While the subject matter is acutely interesting, unfortunately I found this book a little dull. Much of the book was devoted to simply reading the comments from their survey. It didn't have the same evolutionary depth as David Buss' other book that I thoroughly enjoyed, "The Murderer Next Door" (you can read my review of that one by clicking).

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Primitive laptop

Heather used some cardboard from a cereal box to fashion her own laptop.


  • not a QWERTY keyboard
  • number keys
  • cursor keys
  • space bar (or track pad)
  • icons/buttons on the screen

It's so cute... except for what it says about our parenting. Well, at least she's not simulating intravenous drug use.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My brains, spread all around the world

Every now and then, I get an e-mail from someone asking if they can use my MRI data for their paper or project. In case you've never seen "My Brain" page, it has a link to download a 3D stack of slices of my head. One of the 129 slices is shown on the right.

A couple years ago, I was approached by the creators of ImageJ, a free image-processing application offered by the National Institute of Health in the U.S. They asked if I would agree to allow them to use my MRI data as a standard sample dataset. OF COURSE! So now anyone that has ImageJ can get my MRI slices by simply choosing "Open samples..." from the File menu. They can also see a volume rendering from that MRI stack. ... the scanner adds at least 10 pounds.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Dude time

The Orchard ladies went to a birthday party yesterday afternoon, so the dudes (Dinders and daddy) hung out and did guy stuff. We started by checking out the diggers next to campus, and then walked over to see the damage done by the fire.

We saw a fire truck.

Sure enough, Sugar Mountain was destroyed. Though, looking through the windows at the in-tact Simpsons mural, I can't help wondering if there is still lots of perfectly edible (if wet) candy in there.

One of the front-wheel assemblies fell off the stroller. You know... guy stuff.

We got pizza, frozen yogurt (OK, that wasn't so manly), Lauchy had a lollipop, and we finished off in Waterloo park looking at the animals. This lama looks like my country cuzin' Buck!

We had a great time. And Lauchy told mommy all about it at bed time, "i-keem" (icecream), "gabba" (candy), "pee-ta" (pizza).