I am what I am

You scored as Scientific Atheist, These guys rule. I'm not one of them myself, although I play one online. They know the rules of debate, the Laws of Thermodynamics, and can explain evolution in fifty words or less. More concerned with how things ARE than how they should be, these are the people who will bring us into the future.

Scientific Atheist


Angry Atheist




Spiritual Atheist


Militant Atheist


Apathetic Atheist




What kind of atheist are you?
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Citizenship Test

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has implemented a new pilot naturalization test. It will be fully implemented in Spring 2008. It is meant to be a little more open ended and contain less of those jeopardy style questions. You have to get 6 out of 10 questions correct to pass the civics portion of the test. Not surprisingly, many of these questions are flawed. I shouldn't be too hard, they are only pilot questions. Anywho, I just took the test and got 141 out of 142. Why are there three branches of government? Isn't that like asking why are there three species of leptons? oh right, so "no branch (lepton) is too powerful".
You can try it for yourself here: Pilot Test.
Why is this test only given to people who want to become citizens? Shouldn't everyone have to take and pass this exam? If this test was give to everyone over the age of 21, regardless of whether they were born on or above U.S soil, there would be A LOT of people who would not obtain citizenship.
I wonder what Lou Dobbs would think about this? Even he is not that radical, right?



Well, it looks like the hippies and the French were right all along. What is this world coming to? Some are hopeless romantics despite repeated heartbreak. I am still hopeful that one man can make a big positive difference. In this case, about the environment. Green Primary is a forum for about choosing the next, and hopefully, as Tom Friedman (subscription required) calls it, the first green president.

Their mission statement reads:

With other concerned citizens and organizations, we will:

  • Advocate for a nonpartisan presidential debate (or debates) on New Green issues
  • Publish candidate position statements and a rolling series of nonpartisan critiques by scientists, policy analysts, and others
  • Create a forum for candidates and experts to respond to your questions and comments
  • Offer polls to allow you to vote on top priorities and on candidate responses

Thomas Friedman is advocating a green debate this summer:

"In this election cycle, we need to hold a “Green Debate,” devoted only to energy and environmental questions. I would suggest Tulane University in New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2007 — the second anniversary of Katrina. That would give the candidates, Republicans and Democrats, all summer to develop positions and it would give the voters all fall to examine them before the big primaries in February 2008."

Unfortunately, just like other things Friedman has advocated in recent years, this will probably not happen even though polls across the board show that a majority of people want the next president to take our energy consumption and environment more seriously. All presidential hopefuls should immediately make a pledge to take radical and big steps to improve the environment and make our lives greener. Green Primary provides you with each candidates green resume so you can make a more informed decision.

Dick Cheney captures the sentiment of those in the "last throes of the insurgency" (against a cleaner and more environmentally friendly technologies) when he says that "conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy".
It is not just a personal virtue anymore. It is a growing commodity. Dick Cheney's statement assumes that the free market abhors conservation and cleaner technologies. This notion is dinosaurish and there is mounting evidence against it. From Texas to Montana and California to Massachusetts, there is a growing trend towards building a cleaner and more energy efficient U.S. Still, a lot of the technology is still in its infancy and implementation is rare. The next president must create strong policy to bring it into the mainstream and into the homes and offices of all Americans.


Jadarite Discovered

As we
all know Kryptonite is a mineral substance originally found on the Superman's home planet of Krypton. It is composed of sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide fluorine according to the most recent Superman movie.
Jaderite, a mineral found in a mine in Jadar, Serbia in late 2006, has the same mineral composition except without the fluorine. It is not green but it does glow a pinkish-orange color under UV light. More details about this mineral will be published in the
European Journal of Mineralogy later this year.
Either way, I'm not taking any chances and plan on staying as far away as possible.
I wonder what other exotic materials and lifeforms are down there. Isn't it about time to take a journey into inner space?


Eric Volz

You won't find me blogging too much about Crime and Punishment. I am no legal expert.
But I've been wondering why, in recent years, so many people on death row have been found innocent, mainly due to DNA evidence, and released.
You would think in a death penalty case, the most serious of all legal cases, often involving murder, rape and other horrendous acts, the prosecution and the jury would be damn sure- that there would be overwhelming evidence- to not only convict the accused but then to go ahead and hand down the ultimate punishment.
It really makes me wonder of all the cases that are not so serious- where, perhaps, the person is accused of a misdemeanor or felony, or where evidence is not so cut and dry. Statistically, there must be a thousands of innocent people in prison as we speak. At any one time, according to DOJ and The Straight Dope there are about 2 million prisoners. If only one percent are innocent of the crime accused, that is about 20000 innocent people behind bars in the U.S. No one said justice was perfect and I really do not have a good solution to this problem except to point it out. I am sure race and economics figure significantly into the equation.
Nonetheless, if you think our system of justice is flawed, then be comforted by the fact that there are much worse places like China(no surprise there) and now Nicaragua.
Nicaragua, under Daniel Ortega has become more corrupt then ever. An American named Eric Volz was found guilty of murdering and raping his former girlfriend, Doris Jimenez, and given 30 years in prison. The crime is a despicable and horrible act and someone is responsible. But it doesn't appear to be Volz.
To begin with, at least 10 people confirm that Volz was in his house in Managua over two hours at the time of the murder. Cell Site records show that he was far away at the time of the murder. Instant Messages show him conversing with a friend in Atlanta before and during the murder took place. The only witness who said he saw Volz at the murder scene was a suspect himself who agreed to testify that he saw Volz after he was given full immunity from the prosecution. Most importantly, there was absolutely no physical evidence- blood, hair or fluids found at the scene that matched Volz. There wasn't even any physical evidence of rape. We only know she was strangled. Eric Volz is obviously appealing this decision from a jail in Nicaragua where no members of the press are allowed to interview him. You can read a lot more about the evidence for his innocence and the lack of evidence for his guilt in the links. Either way, at minimum, he was not given a fair trial (far from it), at worst he is innocent.
Don't think for a second that this can't happen here because it can and it has. Many times we don't know if we've made a serious mistake in taking away an innocent persons freedom. This time we do. The only way to stop it is to get Congress to put pressure on the Nicaraguan government. As Martin Luther King said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere".


National Poetry Month

Edgar Allan Poe, although, not really known for his poetry (except maybe 'The Raven') considered himself to be a poet first and foremost. In honor of him this National Poetry Month enjoy two of my favorite.


From childhood's hour I have not been
As others were---I have not seen
As others saw---I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I lov'd, I loved alone.
Then---in my childhood---in the dawn
Of a most stormy life---was drawn
From ev'ry depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still:
From the torrent, or the fountain,
From the red cliff of the mountain,
From the sun that 'round me roll'd
In its autumn tint of gold---
From the lightning in the sky
As it pass'd me flying by---
From the thunder and the storm,
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view.


It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea;
But we loved with a love that was more than love -
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.
And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulcher
In this kingdom by the sea.
The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me
Yes! that was the reason
(as all men know, In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we
Of many far wiser than we
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.
For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling, my darling, my life and my bride,
In the sepulcher there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.


It's Just a Theory

The Unknown
As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.

—Donald Rumsfeld Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

Inspired by the poetry of Donald Rumsfeld and Alexander Hamilton, I will attempt to categorize what scientists can mean when they use the word 'theory' into three categories.
In everyday usage it is often used to portray an idea or opinion like "I theorize that these pretzels are making me thirsty". However, scientists use this word very differently. For them, it is a model that attempts to describe some part of the real world. It is this gap between the public and scientific notions of the word that leads to widespread confusion. Admittedly, even in scientific circles, theories fall somewhere on a spectrum. General Relativity and Evolution on one end and notions about the Flying Spaghetti Monster on the other end.
To prove an idea wrong, scientists hold themselves to the highest of standards. It just takes ONE counterexample to, either, prompt us to make adjustments to the theory to match observation or go back to the drawing board all together.
This, in many ways, is the main difference between the eternal debate between science and religion. In science, counterexamples spell trouble for a theory. In religion, counterexamples are called miracles. Whereas, in science if 1000 identical experiments yield the same result (say, for the value of the mass of the electron) then it is safe to say the 1001st will do the same. But in religion if 1000 children born require a mother and father then 1001st might not. The latter is just one example. Anywho, I digress. Without further ado, here they are:

The Blessed:
All theories strive to be in this category.
As mentioned earlier, I would put the theory of Evolution via Natural Selection, General Relativity, Plate Tectonics, and Quantum Electrodynamics (QED) and many others in this category. QED will not make your debts disappear and it will not tell you how to raise your children but that's OK because it doesn't intend to. Likewise, Knot Theory will not teach you how to dance and Plate Tectonics will not tell us anything about sunspots. They are only valid in the regime they claim to be valid in. This might seem obvious but too many it is not. For example, Evolution does not tell us if there is a God or if there is life on other planets. It makes testable assertions. If a baby was ever born with a tattoo that his/her mother received in her college days, our ideas about inheritance and shared traits would be in trouble.
This is not to say that these theories aren't open to further revision or interpretation. Actually, we can always add or take flesh away from the theory but, at the same time, working with the same skeletal structure. The truth takes time to develop but we know a lot more now than we did 400 years ago. In 400 years we will know a lot more assuming the human race is still around.

These theories are much more of a work in progress. I would place String Theory, MOND, or Loop Quantum Gravity here. We currently just don't know if these models work. Still, there is circumstantial evidence that they might one day make it into the first category. In this way, scientists continue to devote their careers to sculpting and refining their ideas until one day they can test them.

The Damned:
This is the where old, perhaps, forgotten theories come to rest. They were bravely attempting to describe the real world but, ultimately failed or something better came along. They might have been competing with another theory to describe a physical phenomenon or attempting to replace that physical theory. In the end, observations ruled them out. Some examples include Alchemy, the theory of the Static Universe, the Ptolemaic View of the Universe, or Lamarckian Evolution. Still, these theories do not get enough credit. True, they were ultimately ruled out but without them we would never get the right answers. Parts of the theory might have been true. In this way, many of the ideas in this category were stepping stones for the more correct theory. Would Sherlock Holmes have always gotten it right if Watson hadn't always gotten it wrong? Or would Darwin have gotten it right without others before him who got it right almost.
Just as importantly, some of these rejected ideas were attempts made using the scientific method to try to explain reality. They were off mark but still much better than just making stuff up and describing how things work based on just one's own personal biases and emotions.

Scientists in all fields need to make a better attempt to qualify what they mean by 'theory' and where on the spectrum a particular theory falls. The lines of evidence for promoting or demoting a theory need tocommunicated more effectively. Easier said then done I know.


Tax Man

It is true what Albert Einstein said, "The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax". For me, the good deed is done. With this burden lifted from my shoulder, I get a masochistic thrill in having served my civic duty. Am I the only one?
Don't answer that.
The 16th Amendment of the U.S constitution ratified in 1913 makes it legal and mandatory to collect taxes from personal income:
"The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration."

There have many objections and alternatives proposed to our current tax code. I am not expert on this. I just want to know where do my (federal) taxes go? Well, as it turns out the nearly 3 trillion dollar budget can be summed up in a pie chart with several broad categories.

Here is the breakdown of the 2007/2008 proposed budget (via Washington Post )

FY 2008 Budget Proposal

Spending Categories

Budget by Functional Category

Spending by Category: FY 2007 vs. FY 2008

Function 2007 2008 Pct. change
Veterans benefits and services $72.4 $83.4 15.1%
General government 18.8 20.7 10.5%
Net interest 239.2 261.3 9.3%
General science, space and technology 24.9 26.6 7.1%
Transportation 74.6 79.3 6.3%
National defense 571.9 606.5 6.1%
Medicare 372.3 391.6 5.2%
Health 268.5 280.6 4.5%
Social Security 586.5 612.5 4.4%
Income security 365.4 380.8 4.2%
Administration of justice 45.3 47.0 3.7%
International affairs 35.1 36.1 3.1%
Agriculture 20.1 19.9 -1.2%
Natural resources and environment 35.2 32.9 -6.5%
Education, training, employment, and social services 94.0 82.7 -12.0%
Energy 1.8 1.4 -23.5%
Community and regional development 32.6 24.7 -24.4%
Commerce and housing credit .210 -2.0 -1,071.4%

Note: All numbers are estimates.

Source: Office of Management and Budget | Graphic: washingtonpost.com - February 5, 2007

All numbers are estimates? By estimates do they mean +/- 15% of nearly 3 trillion dollar budget. OK, I kid the Office of Management and Budget.
It is at least nice to see that science and technology will be getting a slightly larger piece of the pie next year since its share of the total has been low by historical standards. Of course, there are too many people who believe this pie chart is misleading, adds at least 214 billion to the federal deficit (slightly down from 2007) and propose a pie chart of their own.



I can't help but think that Fox is either operated by precocious 13 year olds and/or evil geniuses.
Like most things, the truth probably lies somewhere in between.


The Rhind Papyrus

The Rhind Papyrus is an ancient Egyptian document dated to around 1650 BC. It is one of the oldest mathematical documents in existence and vital to our understanding of Egyptian math.
More subtly, it gives us a glimpse into the social and economic world of the ancient Egyptians. Out of 84 problems (and solutions) contained within it, here are a few of my favorite:

Problem 64.
Divide 10 hekats of barley among 10 men so that the common difference is 1/8 of a hekat of barley.

Problem 79. There are seven houses; in each house there are seven cats; each cat kills seven mice; each mouse has eaten seven grains of barley; each grain would have produced seven hekat. What is the sum of all the enumerated things.

Problem 24: A quantity (any) plus one-seventh of it becomes 19. What is the quantity?

A modern day mathematician or even a high school student would view solutions that the Egyptian mathematicians gave to these problems as labyrinthine. On the other hand, they might also view the original works of Newton or Euler as convoluted too. What might seem trivial today was emergent yesterday. In that way, nothing is truly trivial. It only seems that way because we have forgotten a time when we didn't know it.

There is also the Moscow Papyrus appearing about 200 years before (~1850 BC) the Rhind Papyrus. We are not sure how but translations do reveal that they had known the value of
Π to an accuracy not acheived until Archimedes and how to calculate the volume of a frustum.

"Walking among the ruins of Ostria, the ancient port city of Rome, it is impossible to overlook the mosaics lining the city's walls and floors. These were the advertisements, posters and billboards of their day, identifying services, merchants and celebrities (including Alexander and Helix, famed boxers whose fists are still raised at an oyster bar), as a multicultural population of citizens and slaves connected themselves through a web of trade routes."

From Tiles to Pixels: Media and the City Roy Strickland


Gamma Ray Bursts

Gamma Ray Bursts (GRB) are the most powerful explosions in the universe. They can release as much energy in a few seconds as 1000 suns can over their entire lifetime. Thanks to BATSE they are observed to be extra-galactic in origin. GRB's can be classified as long duration (more than 2 seconds) or short duration (less than 2 seconds). There exist several competing, yet, unreliable models that can explain the observed properties of short duration GRB's. There exists, however, a nascent model that can explain many of the observational and theoretical properties of long duration GRB's. It is called the Collapsar Model.
Roughly speaking, this model requires very massive, rapidly rotating, metal poor stars to collapse to form a black hole via a super supernova explosion. It turns out that some of the stellar material far from the black hole does not immediately fall in to the center but, rather, forms an accretion disk. The eventual infall of this material (via loss in angular momentum) creates super heated jets that shoot out from the stellar poles at speeds close to that of light. This is thought to produce the rare and elusive GRB's we observe. In this way, GRB's are thought to accompany supernovae explosions. Several details of this model need to be reconciled with observations (see, transport of angular momentum problem) but because it matches several other observational and theoretical constraints it continues to be a viable model. Scientific models are always a work in progress slowly but surely inching towards the truth.

Recently, I came across an interesting article:
No supernovae detected in two long-duration Gamma-Ray Bursts
by D. Watson, J. P. U. Fynbo, C. C. Thone, J. Sollerman

The authors have found not one but two GRB's with no apparent supernovae explosions. They have established that these were indeed long duration bursts caused by massive, rapidly rotating stars which is exactly what the Collapsar model demands. To be sure there is no supernova detection, they have analyzed the presence of dust levels along the line of sight and found it to be low.
Assuming, the result stands up to peer review, the Collapsar model will need to be refined so as to explain the lack of supernova detection and/or, as the authors suggests, this could be evidence for a "new phenomenological type of massive stellar death".


It is safe to say that the X-Files was one of the most intelligent shows on TV.
Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) was the Sherlock Holmes of the paranormal. They both believe, "When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

The last movie, The X-Files: Fight the Future, is one of the few movies I can watch over and over again without getting bored.

There has been serious talk of another film for several years. After looking here, I thought Julianne Moore might be playing Agent Dana Scully as Gillian Anderson had turned down the part. It turns out to be an evil April Fool's Day joke intended to prey on X-Files fans. Some things are just not funny.

Still, I am glad that Julianne Moore is not really going to playing Agent Scully. She is a smart actress but she would not fit the role of Agent Dana Scully very well. I recall watching the X-files after David Duchovny went on temporary hiatus only because Gillian Anderson remained. There will be another X-Files film but not as soon as I hoped.


Welcome to Divergent Boundary! This is a new blog published by Jennifer Miller and Khurram Gillani. It is nice to be a part of the ever expanding blogosphere.