Rivers of Poo Are Not Trivial

November 7, 2010

One thing about becoming a new parent is you learn that babies and toddlers are messy. They excrete fluids in ways that a boggles the mind of any former young professional intelligent person. Often for no apparent reason. I learned early on to never, ever, and I mean never hold a baby or toddler above your head while laughing at cute kid smiles and laughter. It is not pleasant to get a mouthful of vomit. Read the rest of this entry »


My Pertussis Paranoia

November 4, 2010

Once upon a time I was a professional who went to work every day with a jacket and a little floppy tie. I did battle with second order differential equations, multiple computers with various quirks (like the VAX), varying data for parameter studies and working in a large bullpen room full of engineers like myself. That was back when I was intelligent, before I had kids. Little did I know what I was to expect. Read the rest of this entry »


Some Skeptical Clarity to the Unrottable McDonald’s Burger Videos/Photos

October 18, 2010

I’m sure you’ve seen (or at least heard about) the photo project where a plain McDonald’s hamburger has been left out for a half-year now, and it hasn’t rotted away.  Well, I wanted to point you to an article Dr. Steven Novella wrote over at Skepticblog and Neurologica: The Burger “Experiments”.  His view is that the videos and photos are misleading and very bad science.

The infamous hamburger at 180 days

The takeaways:

I note that McDonald’s hamburgers are thin and thoroughly cooked, and will therefore dry out quickly (especially in a dry environment) – too quickly for mold to form. Thoroughly cooked meat should also be free of bacteria to cause rotting. So in the end you will have a dried hard patty, but it will not become moldy nor will it rot.

I do not think there is anything inherent to the ingredients of the hamburger that will significantly affect whether or not it molds or rots – which is the exact implication of these YouTube videos. In order to conclude that it is the hamburger ingredients that are to blame, experiments that control for thickness, degree of cooking, and environment need to be done so that the property of the burger itself is isolated as a variable.

He also spends some time discussing how taking ONE hamburger from ONE store and subjecting it to ONE test makes for ONE interesting observation, yes, but that it’s not nearly enough to use to make big sweeping conclusions like the McDonald’s alarmists are doing.

A similar article over at Salon interviewed some food experts who discussed how things like cooking temperature and fat content can have an effect on the spoilage of a food product.

“Anything that is high in fat will be low in moisture,” says Barry Swanson, a professor at the Washington State University department of food science. And low moisture means less room for mold to grow.

For better or for worse, McDonald’s is no more a chemical laboratory of secret compounds designed to embalm us from the inside than any other processed food maker. A Happy Meal manages to stay unspoiled because it is fatty, salty and practically empty of nutrients — which, really, are all good reasons to avoid it anyway.

So if you want to avoid McDonald’s, at least do it for the right reasons.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go get a Big Mac…

…Rob T. is lovin’ it.™

(Actually, I prefer the double cheeseburger – it has the right meat-to-bun ratio)


Halloween is Coming!

October 16, 2010

I just listened to the latest podcast on Paranoid Parenting , and realized that it is that most paranoid parent time of the year: Halloween. The CDC has a pretty decent page of safety tips that I am repeating here, with some elaboration.
Read the rest of this entry »


My Local Teen Pregnancy/STD report card and why it matters

October 11, 2010

These are the 2008 numbers for Charlotte County FL, an average-in-every-way-middle-class-sleepy-Gulf-Coast-community.

County Population: 165,827
Number of Teen births, Girls Age 10-19: 130
Reported Chlamydia Cases in 15-19 year olds: 82
Reported Gonorrhea Cases in 15-19 year olds: 11
Average Number of Reported New AIDS Cases: 18
Average Number of Reported New HIV Cases : 27
Number of Reported Chlamydia Cases: 227
Number of Reported Gonorrhea Cases: 46
I happen to think these numbers are horrific!  And let me tell you, for what we Floridians pay for Sex-Ed it should be a heck of a lot better!  But guess what, America?  You all chip in an average of $4 to FL for every $1 we spend on our Sex-Ed.  So you’re paying for this too!  As this report explains:
Beginning in 1981 under the Reagan administration, the federal government increasingly put its support and money behind abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Today, there are threeseparate funding streams supporting these programs, including the Adolescent Family Life Act(AFLA), the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program, and Community-Based AbstinenceEducation (CBAE) funding.
Currently about 1/2 of the states have figured out that this crap fails kids and have actually chosen not to take any of this money and instead fund medically accurate and comprehensive Sexual Health Education.  An estimated 80% of these states that backed out cited well researched evidence as their reason and have come from a broad spectrum of the country.
Florida, meanwhile, is actually putting in more state money than the federal government requires!  We are second only to Texas in dollars taken in from these 3 programs, as well as state funded contributions.
Since 2003 Florida has spent over $15 million in this abstinence only education programs.  In 2009 alone, the rest of you sent us $13 Million to fund this! Thanks America!
All this money is going to 33 entities in the state:
  • one private school,
  • three crisis pregnancy centers (a little late, eh?)
  • five community health clinics or departments, and
  • 24 community-based organizations (including 16 faith-based groups.)
Meanwhile Florida currently has no statewide standards for teaching sex education. A recent University of Florida study identified the following inadequacies in sex education in Florida:
  • Sex education is rarely afforded an effective amount of time.
  • It occurs too late in students’ academic careers (usually in 9th or 10th grade).
  • There is little uniformity or standards (in terms of training or quality assurance).
  • Sex education is not accessible to all students (especially Latinos).
  • It fails to adequately address students’ needs.

The net effect is a sort of sex-ed by proxy.  Again, from the report:

Though no school systems are direct recipients of federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, it is not surprising that these programs have worked their ways into public schools in theform of speakers, courses, curricula, student clubs, and after-school programs. Such services are undoubtedly very appealing, as the federal money allows grantees to provide them free of charge.

Well, the results must be great then right?  I mean, this Red State of Small Government – Control Spending politicians wouldn’t keep investing in it otherwise would they?
Sadly, the results are not good.  Our young people are as sexually active as anywhere else, but we have more teen pregnancies  and more sexually transmitted diseases.

In my next post I will discuss what Florida, and the rest of the 1/2 of America that participates in this fraud, can do about it.


If You’re In Orlando Next Weekend…

September 30, 2010

My short, “Shut Up!  I Said Shut Up!” will be playing at the Freakshow Horror Film Festival, October 8-10, 2010 at the Wyndham Orlando Resort on International Drive in Orlando, Florida.  Sadly, I cannot be there.  But I just spent some time looking for stills to send the festival, and once again I was blown away by how funny these actors are.  I was very, very lucky.  I wrote this short as part of Instant Films 48 Hour Film Festival here in LA, last October.  If you click that link, you can see the entire ten minute masterpiece.  And it’s related to science, kinda.  Actually there’s a whole monologue all about some murderous scientists.  Check it out.

So happy almost October!


Nine years (and three days) later

September 14, 2010

I keep reading Nine Years Later posts about 9/11, and I feel a mixture of guilt and relief that I haven’t posted something. I left a message for my brother, Pete, on the 12th, which was one day late. But he didn’t send out his annual letter, which is really different. Finally, we spoke yesterday, and he said that since 9/11 had been on Saturday this year, it just sort of happened, and it passed, and that was it. For me it was the same, except I was actually camping with my son, and I found myself hiking a very steep trail with a sleepy toddler on my shoulders. It was such a hellish experience that I thought, jokingly, that maybe 9/11 would finally have a new horrible memory attached to it for me.

But of course, I’ll never fully forget that this is a terrible anniversary, and yet the luckiest anniversary of all for my family. My brother worked on the 102nd floor of the South Tower for a company called Aon, but on September 11th, 2001, he called in to his office to say he wouldn’t be going to the scheduled meeting that day. Instead, he would go to the Jersey office. His wife was eight months pregnant and feeling a little off. He wanted to be close to her. (And honestly, he would admit to me, he just was feeling lazy that morning, which saved his life.)

Everyone in that meeting died. My brother’s boss died. His boss’s boss died. My brother was in the Jersey office, watching people sob over the phones while they spoke to their doomed co-workers in the Tower. The second plane hit below the Aon offices, so most of those people had no chance to get out. My brother’s boss called his wife, who heard him say, “Oh my God,” and then was cut off, the last words she ever heard from him. At Aon, 250 people were lost in the Tower.

The first I heard about 9/11 was a call at 6:30 in the morning, California time, from my brother, who said, “I’m not in the World Trade Center. I just need you to know.” I had just woken up and was extremely confused by his statement, but he wouldn’t stay on the phone for long, because he said he had to call everyone he knew.

He managed to call most of the family, but of course, the New York folks were having all kinds of phone difficulties. So oddly enough, they were the last to find out. One uncle, in his 80s, did not know that my brother was okay for three days. When he found out, he broke down crying. My dad didn’t know for 30 minutes–the worst 30 minutes of his life, he later said.

My brother’s first child was born three weeks later–a colicky little guy who cried for 18 months straight. Pete moved up rapidly at Aon, taking the place of his slain coworkers, so he suddenly was saddled with tremendous responsibility, working on very little sleep. Fortunately, he’s strong. My mom insisted he get therapy for PTSD. His therapist told him he didn’t need it. Pete was depressed and traumatized and felt guilty for surviving, but he was muddling through. Apparently he was doing great, considering the circumstances.

For years, my family went through a yearly ritual of waking up on 9/11 and calling each other to begin the annual rehash. And then we’d take the sick, awful journey down the What If Road. I tried to write about this once for a story telling night at my theater company, but I don’t know if I did it justice. We simply could not stop our obsession with the alternative universe in which my brother went to work that day. Would he have stayed in the South Tower or left after the first plane hit the North Tower? Would he have tried to call his wife before leaving, which would have given him less time to escape? But why would he have even thought to escape? No one suspected a second plane was coming. Maybe he would have thought staying inside was the safest option.

I realize now that I no longer remember the exact times that the first plane hit and the interval between that and the second plane hitting. I used to use those times as constants to do some sickening algebra in my head, the variables being possible behavior of my brother. And actually I used to work in the Trade Center back when I lived in New York, so I knew about how long it would take to get to the lobby and then the subway. One phone call to his wife might have given Pete enough time to escape. But then, Pete might have called my mom, too, which would have sealed his fate. Or maybe he would have left right away. He never was one to hang around if it looked like something would be a real pain in the ass. But I actually don’t remember the exact times the planes hit anymore. I can’t believe that information has faded from my memory, but I’m also just so relieved to learn that it has.

In 2001, I ran the Honolulu Marathon, so I was in Oahu on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. My friend who went on this adventure with me had to take a break from carefree beach hopping and accompany me when I was drawn to a get together taking place at the Pearl Harbor memorial museum. Relatives and survivors reunited to commemorate their losses. An elderly woman stood up and said her brother was still entombed in the ship beneath the waves. I think about her every year. What would the next 60 years be like for me, having suffered a loss like that?

So this year it faded somewhat. Pete says he’ll do his annual letter next year, on the tenth anniversary. I’m sure no one will let us forget that anniversary. The media will be all over it. And really, we’re so very lucky that we even have the option to consider 9/11 just another Saturday, if we want to. Obviously most of the families of Pete’s co-workers do not have that option.


Merger: Science-Based Parenting and Rational Moms

July 31, 2010

This blog started several years ago under it’s previous title “Skeptic Dad”. Somewhere along the way, I decided that the word “skeptic” was too limiting and had too many negative connotations, so I purposefully borrowed the naming scheme of our professional allies at Science-Based Medicine. Once the blog became a bit more neutral in nomenclature, I began inviting other fathers to contribute, and I worked on building a community with our fellow mom bloggers on facebook.

Now, the blog will continue it’s evolution and expansion as the writers for Rational Moms wind down their blog and migrate to this one. Speaking on behalf of all the contributing writers, the guys are happy to have some gender balance on SBP. We welcome our new female contributors, and we hope that you will too.

Speaking as someone who has found himself in the border state of several skeptic civil wars recently, I’m happy to be part of something unifying within our freethought community.

Hopefully, as we multiply, we will become a bit more prolific. Many of the dads on this site are exhausted from working, parenting, and podcasting. There has been little time for writing. We know that a few of the new rational moms that have joined the site have also been drained of energy in recent months. I’d like to think that this merger will breathe new life into our collective of bloggers.

Watch for articles from our new contributors in the weeks to come! Be sure to leave a message and welcome them.


Podcast TWIPS: Episodes 13 and 14

June 5, 2010

Our guest on Podcast Beyond Belief last week was Ellen Galinsky, author of Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs.  If you’re interested in science-based parenting, but don’t know where to start, Galinsky’s book is an excellent introduction to the topic.

Here’s one of her videos with research featured in her book:

We also talked about…

SkeptiCamp

USA Science and Engineering Festival, October 23-24, 2010.

This Week in Parenting Science
* Parenting Magazine discusses why you don’t need to be scared of vaccines.
* Children who have better child care as preschoolers perform better as teenagers.
* Childhood psychological problems carry on later into life.

This week, we talked to Dr. Daniel Weissbluth on the effects of media on children. He writes a blog with his father, sleep-expert Dr. Marc Weissbluth, author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.

We also discussed “This Week in Parenting Science”…

* No evidence that delaying vaccines helps children in cognitive development.
* Toddler lies are a developmental milestone
* 5th Grade Graduation Astronomy Awards!


Fantasia Mathematica

May 23, 2010

So… Martin Gardner died Saturday.

Folks far more eloquent than I have expressed their thoughts on his life and legacy, but I want to focus on a magnificent book that — well — everyone should read.  It’s called Fantasia Mathematica, compiled and edited by Clifton Fadiman — in 1958.  Gardner has two short stories in there, and that was one of two places where I first learned his name.

(The other place was Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine, where he wrote monthly puzzles — apparently to hurt our brains.)

I first came across this gem of a book when I was around eight or nine years old.  Sometime around 1980, in other words.  My head was full of Star Trek, Star Wars, Dr. Who, and things like that.  And this book opened up parts of my brain I didn’t know existed.

It’s made up of three sections – the first section, Odd Numbers, consists of excerpts from larger works by famous authors (Aldous Huxley, H.G. Wells, Plato…) that just happen to include mathematics in them.  The third section, Fractions, is mostly made up of cute math poems and brief tales that don’t take up more than a page or two…

There was a young lady named Bright,

Who traveled much faster than light.

She started one day,

In the relative way,

And returned on the previous night.

But the middle section, Imaginaries, captured my fancy as a child and continues to do so now.  Seventeen short stories, averaging around 12 pages each, that find their basis in mathematics and tell wonderfully entertaining tales.  Some even come with certain names attached to them…  Clarke, Heinlein…

Cover of the Third Edition (1964)

  • There’s the story of the man who built a house in the shape of an unfolded tesseract.  An earthquake in the night folds the tesseract through the fourth dimension into its more natural shape, and once the architect and his companions enter, they find it difficult to leave.
  • There’s the story of the man who challenges Satan to solve Fermat’s Last Theorem.
  • There’s the story of subway that becomes a topological anomaly when a new branch line is opened – and a train disappears.
  • There’s the story of the man who rotates a piece of fourspace into our three-dimensional universe – and captures a cross-section of some fourth-dimensional creature.

…and then there are Martin Gardner’s tales.  Both rely heavily on topology for their mathematics (as do many in this section).

In the first of his that Fadiman included in the collection, called “No-Sided Professor”, Gardner extends on the concept of the one-sided Moebius Strip, and spins a tale where Dr. Stanislaw Slapenarski figures out how to go one step further than Moebius and create a no-sided surface.  What do you suppose that would look like?

The second tale, “The Island of Five Colors”, describes another apparent topological impossibility – an island with five tribes on it where they all share common borders.  Dr. Slapenarski returns to explain how he arranged the tribes after disproving the four-color theorem, and the narrator paints the territories before flying up in a plane to take photographic proof to bring back to civilization.

Cover of the New Edition (1997)

I remember not having a clue about a lot of what I was reading as I read it in 1980, but more so than any other book, it made me want to learn what these stories were talking about.  Plus, many of these stories paint the mathematicians as the heroes – they solve the puzzles, they save the day.

The only rough part to deal with is that these stories are old.  I mean, obviously they are, since the book was published in 1958, but some were even old back then.  The earliest (excluding Plato’s work) is from 1873, and many of the rest are from the early 1900′s.  To that end, well, they’re not particularly progressive.  In the 1929 work “The Captured Cross-Section”, by Miles J. Breuer, M.D., the first paragraph establishes that the protagonist’s fiancée, Sheila, is the “daughter of the Head of the Mathematics Department” who has “published some original papers.”  So she’s quite intelligent.  And yet, on the second page, her fiancé, Heagey…  Well, just read for yourself…

“But there are other quantities here,” Sheila interrupted, studying the paper intently, “that do not belong in equations for the rotation of coordinates.  They look like the integrals in electromagnetic equations.”

“Good for you!” Heagey cried enthusiastically.  ”That pretty little head has something on the inside, too.”

Now, maybe he was just needling her…  Or maybe it was 1929.

But honestly, set that stuff aside, read right past it, and you’ll find some wonderful stories.  I think it’s time for the Little Skeptic Girl to poke around in the Imaginaries section…

And in researching this article, I discovered that a book exists with all of Martin Gardner’s short stories – are there more adventures of Dr. Slapenarski??  I hope so!

So even though Gardner is remembered for much more than his fiction, tonight I’m taking my 3rd edition hardcover to bed with me to visit with Dr. Slapenarski again.

Rest in peace, Martin.  Count me among the many who you reached with your work.