History > Front
page updates September 2011
Did I upset someone? (3/9/2011)
Every month I run a check for broken links in The Millenium Project, and for the last couple of months I haven't been able to access Amway's US web site. At first I thought it might be geoblocking - Australians being restricted to the local site only.
I tested today and I can get to the site using the browser on my smartphone and by using my mobile broadband account, but I get a "12029 Cannot access server" when I try using my ADSL connection. A friend of mine in Sydney was able to connect without any problem, as were a couple of friends in the UK.
My phone, mobile connection and ADSL are all through the same ISP, so it isn't just a block on a specific provider. The difference is that the phone and mobile service get a different IP address every time they connect but my home office has a fixed IP.
It would make my day to find that Amway have specifically blocked me from looking at their site. It would be almost as good as the day I found myself outed as a member of the Illuminati on David Icke's site (a page now sadly removed).
Who could have imagined that what I said here could be so powerful?
He writes stuff (3/9/2011)
Word processors at Ratbag Castle have been running with a full head of steam lately, producing things for publication at places other than here. A couple of examples:
This winter saw several science-related stories taking up space and time in the media. The common thread was that scientists are being ignored, essentially on emotional or ideological grounds.
The big story is the proposed carbon tax. I'm not going into the economic arguments of a tax on carbon dioxide production versus an emissions trading scheme, because both of these are attempts to solve the same problem. The arguments against it are, on the surface, either political or based on self interest, but the underlying thread is denial of climate change.
Well, that's what we expected when a hardy group from Western Sydney Freethinkers went to the Archangel Michael and Saint Bishoy Coptic Orthodox Church at Mt. Druitt to see a talk about young Earth creationism. The talk was an intersection of two programs - a tour of the country by leading creationists from Creation Ministries International and a series of discussions at the Church about issues relevant to faith. As the speaker from CMI was Dr Carl Wieland we were prepared to hear lots of nonsense (and that we did).
Exterminate! Exterminate! (3/9/2011)
Sometimes we want organisms to become extinct. It happens often enough by accident, but we have had a couple of successes at doing it deliberately. We need to try harder, because there's a few more that need exterminating.
The last word on Sensaslim. I hope. (3/9/2011)
If you click on the picture below you can see the totality of what has been appearing on the web site for fraudsters Sensaslim this week. (I have modified the Acrobat file so that search engines can find and index the contents. For some reason the crooks at Sensaslim chose to keep the words hidden.)
Another scam going down. Millions to go. (3/9/2011)
Your scam moves into a whole new dimension when you specifically target retired people living on pensions. Here is an example of a health fraud that managed to attract some attention from the authorities, although being fined an amount which approximates the annual income of one of your victims does seem inadequate. I think an appropriate fine would be the annual income of the scamming operation, not that of an aged pensioner. See the media release from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission here.
Door to door seller admits misleading conduct
Advanced Lifestyle International Retail Pty Ltd and one if its former salespeople have provided the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission with court-enforceable undertakings for making false or misleading representations to consumers during in-home sales presentations.
Advanced Lifestyle also paid three Infringement Notice penalties totalling $19,800 to the ACCC.
"The ACCC took action in this case following complaints from a number of elderly consumers who felt they had been taken advantage of and misled," ACCC chairman Rod Sims said.
"Businesses that engage in door-to-door sales must be accountable. Door-to-door sales staff must be trained properly and their activities monitored, because ultimately it will be the business that pays for any misconduct."
Advanced Lifestyle offered free 'massage' or 'therapy treatments' to gain access to consumers' homes in order to sell vibrating products. A former salesperson, Ms Lynn Laws represented that Advanced Lifestyle or its products had Government approval, when this is not true. Ms Laws also misled consumers about the price of Advanced Lifestyle's products.
"Stamping out these types of misleading sales practices is a priority for the ACCC as it occurs in people's homes and targets vulnerable or inexperienced consumers," Mr Sims said.
Advanced Lifestyle also told consumers who purchased products that they had no right to cancel the contracts, however under the Queensland door-to-door trading legislation that applied at the time consumers were entitled to a cooling-off period.
"Under the Australian Consumer Law consumers in all States and Territories are now entitled to a 10 day cooling-off period on all door-to-door contracts. Businesses who do not comply with the law or that misinform consumers about their rights face financial penalties," Mr Sims said.
Advanced Lifestyle's salespeople are now required to give each consumer a notice about their rights at the beginning of every sales presentation, publish corrective notices and implement a trade practices law compliance program to ensure it is aware of its obligations under the Australian Consumer Law.
Ms Laws is also required to complete trade practices law compliance training.
Release # NR 159/11
Issued: 2nd September 2011
Lots has been happening in the web development section of the IT department at Ratbag Castle over the last two weeks and the busyness will continue for a few weeks yet. Because of this most of this update will be stuff to make you laugh rather than stuff that makes me think.
Some of what has been happening is invisible and has to do with changes to the site to make it even more compliant with web standards and the pages faster to load. There's more to be done, but most of the heavy lifting is over. (I hope.) The changes that you will see happening over the next few weeks are:
An offer I certainly can refuse (17/9/2011)
I received this invitation the other day.
I just had to click on the huge "Click here" command and got this.
The question it raises is this: if Sylvia Browne is such a great psychic, why couldn't she predict what my RSVP would be?
Goodbye spammers (17/9/2011)
I have an aversion to spammers. Because of this I take great care to make sure that email addresses on this site can't be automatically harvested by spammers, and I have a system in place to quickly deal with any infestation. As the email address at the bottom of every page in this site should only be used by site visitors who want to contact me about something on the site it is not permanent and can be changed whenever I want to. I wanted to today when I received a spam from an astrology magazine, and five minutes later email@example.com ceased to be a working email address. If you have it in your address book you should change it to something that works. (A clue to what works is "my first name @ratbags.com).
My sort of pub (17/9/2011)
Delivered to me circuitously through Facebook. My apology to whoever took the picture for there being no citation.
An oldie, but a goodie (17/9/2011)
I don't remember when or where I first saw this great product disclaimer for the Happy Fun Ball, but it resurfaced this week so I thought I would mercilessly plagiarise it myself.
This product is meant for educational purposes only. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental. Void where prohibited. Some assembly required. List each check separately by bank number. Batteries not included. Contents may settle during shipment. Use only as directed. No other warranty expressed or implied. Do not use while operating a motor vehicle or heavy equipment. Postage will be paid by addressee. Subject to CAB approval. This is not an offer to sell securities. Apply only to affected area. May be too intense for some viewers. Do not stamp. Use other side for additional listings. For recreational use only. Do not disturb. All models over 18 years of age. If condition persists, consult your physician. No user-serviceable parts inside. Freshest if eaten before date on carton. Subject to change without notice. Times approximate. Simulated picture. No postage necessary if mailed in the United States. Breaking seal constitutes acceptance of agreement. For off-road use only. As seen on TV. One size fits all. Many suitcases look alike. Contains a substantial amount of non-tobacco ingredients. Colors may, in time, fade. We have sent the forms which seem right for you. Slippery when wet. For office use only. Not affiliated with the American Red Cross. Drop in any mailbox. Edited for television. Keep cool. process promptly. Post office will not deliver without postage. List was current at time of printing. Return to sender, no forwarding order on file, unable to forward. Not responsible for direct, indirect, incidental or consequential damages resulting from any defect, error or failure to perform. At participating locations only. Not the Beatles. Penalty for private use. See label for sequence. Substantial penalty for early withdrawal. Do not write below this line. Falling rock. Lost ticket pays maximum rate. Your canceled check is your receipt. Add toner. Place stamp here. Avoid contact with skin. sanitized for your protection. Be sure each item is properly endorsed. Sign here without admitting guilt. Slightly higher west of the Mississippi. Employees and their families are not eligible. Beware of dog. Contestants have been briefed on some questions before the show. Limited time offer, call now to ensure prompt delivery. You must be present to win. No passes accepted for this engagement. No purchase necessary. Processed at location stamped in code at top of carton. Shading within a garment may occur. Use only in a well-ventilated are. Keep away from fire or flames. Replace with same type. Approved for veterans. Booths for two or more. Check here if tax deductible. Some equipment shown is optional. Price does not include taxes. No Canadian coins. Not recommended for children. Prerecorded for this time zone. Reproduction strictly prohibited. No solicitors. No alcohol, dogs or horses. No anchovies unless otherwise specified. Restaurant package, not for resale. List at least two alternate dates. First pull up, then pull down. Call toll free before digging. Driver does not carry cash. Some of the trademarks mentioned in this product appear for identification purposes only. Record additional transactions on back of previous stub. Unix is a registered trademark of AT&T. Do not fold, spindle or mutilate. No transfers issued until the bus comes to a complete stop. Package sold by weight, not volume. Your mileage may vary. This article does not reflect the thoughts or opinions of either myself, my company, my friends, or my cat. Don't quote me on that. Don't quote me on anything. All rights reserved. You may distribute this article freely but you may not make a profit from it. Terms are subject to change without notice. Illustrations are slightly enlarged to show detail. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is unintentional and purely coincidental. Do not remove this disclaimer under penalty of law. Hand wash only, tumble dry on low heat. Do not bend, fold, mutilate, or spindle. No substitutions allowed. For a limited time only. This article is void where prohibited, taxed, or otherwise restricted. Caveat emptor. Article is provided "as is" without any warranties. Reader assumes full responsibility. An equal opportunity article. No shoes, no shirt, no articles. quantities are limited while supplies last. If any defects are discovered, do not attempt to read them yourself, but return to an authorized service center. Read at your own risk. Parental advisory - explicit lyrics. Text may contain explicit materials some readers may find objectionable, parental guidance is advised. Keep away from sunlight. Keep away from pets and small children. Limit one-per-family please. No money down. No purchase necessary. You need not be present to win. Some assembly required. Batteries not included. Instructions are included. Action figures sold separately. No preservatives added. Slippery when wet. Safety goggles may be required during use. Sealed for your protection, do not read if safety seal is broken. Call before you dig. Not liable for damages arising from use or misuse. For external use only. If rash, irritation, redness, or swelling develops, discontinue reading. Read only with proper ventilation. Avoid extreme temperatures and store in a cool dry place. Keep away from open flames. Avoid contact with eyes and skin and avoid inhaling fumes. Do not puncture, incinerate, or store above 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not place near a flammable or magnetic source. Smoking this article could be hazardous to your health. The best safeguard, second only to abstinence, is the use of a condom. No salt, MSG, artificial color or flavoring added. If ingested, do not induce vomiting, and if symptoms persist, consult a physician. Warning: Pregnant women, the elderly, and children should avoid prolonged exposure to Happy Fun Ball. Caution: Happy Fun Ball may suddenly accelerate to dangerous speeds. Happy Fun Ball contains a liquid core, which if exposed due to rupture should not be touched, inhaled, or looked at. Do not use Happy Fun Ball on concrete. Discontinue use of Happy Fun Ball if any of the following occurs: Itching, Vertigo, Dizziness, Tingling in extremities, Loss of balance or coordination, Slurred speech, Temporary blindness, Profuse Sweating, or Heart palpitations. If Happy Fun Ball begins to smoke, get away immediately. Seek shelter and cover head. Happy Fun Ball may stick to certain types of skin. When not in use, Happy Fun Ball should be returned to its special container and kept under refrigeration. Failure to do so relieves the makers of Happy Fun Ball, Wacky Products Incorporated, and it's parent company, Global Chemical Unlimited, of any and all liability. Ingredients of Happy Fun Ball include an unknown glowing substance which fell to Earth, presumably from outer space. Happy Fun Ball has been shipped to our troops in Saudi Arabia and is also being dropped by our warplanes on Iraq. Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball. May cause any of the aforementioned effects and/or death. Articles are ribbed for your pleasure. Possible penalties for early withdrawal. Offer valid only at participating sites. Slightly higher west of the Rockies. Allow four to six weeks for delivery. Must be 18 to read. Disclaimer does not cover misuse, accident, lightning, flood, tornado, tsunami, volcanic eruption, earthquake, hurricanes and other Acts of God, neglect, damage from improper reading, incorrect line voltage, improper or unauthorized reading, broken antenna or marred cabinet, missing or altered serial numbers, electromagnetic radiation from nuclear blasts, sonic boom vibrations, customer adjustments that are not covered in this list, and incidents owing to an airplane crash, ship sinking or taking on water, motor vehicle crashing, dropping the item, falling rocks, leaky roof, broken glass, mud slides, forest fire, or projectile (which can include, but not be limited to, arrows, bullets, shot, BB's, shrapnel, lasers, napalm, torpedoes, or emissions of X-rays, Alpha, Beta and Gamma rays, knives, stones, etc.).
Other restrictions may apply.
This supersedes all previous notices.
Here's a thought ... (17/9/2011)
More things discovered without credit on Facebook.
Knowing things that just ain't so
I went to a presentation by Michael Shermer during the week, and he talked about his latest book, . Here are my thoughts in the train on the way home.
Everybody "knows" things that are not true. It is the nature of humanity that nobody can know everything and all of us have misconceptions and gaps in our knowledge. Most of us recognise this and seek out people with appropriate expertise when we come across something that we don't know and accept revision to our internal knowledge base when we get evidence that contradicts what we believe to be true. There is, however, a very large number of people who seem content to be wrong and who cannot be convinced to change their minds when presented with evidence
Human existence (and much of the life of non-human animals) is a continual process of extracting meaning from patterns. The existence of optical illusions is evidence that we can get this wrong, but there are good evolutionary reasons for why we have a propensity for being wrong.
When our ancestors were walking in the long grass in Africa they could have two possible reactions to a rustle in the hedgerow. They could assume it was something dangerous and take evasive action or they could assume it was the wind and wait for further evidence. If they ran away and it really was the wind they had made what is called a Type 1 error - a false positive. They might be tired and embarrassed but they were still alive. If they waited for more information and it really was a lion looking for lunch they had made a Type 2 error - a false negative. Over evolutionary time it became productive to tend towards Type 1 errors, because the Type 2s sometimes didn't survive to breed. We can still see this today in non-human animals where the default behaviour to an unexpected or unidentified stimulus is to flee. The tamest or most aggressive seagull will fly away if you run at it, even if you are carrying a bag of chips.
The difference between humans and non-humans, however, is that we are supposed to have reasoning power which we can apply to different situations to interpret what is going on. This is why we recognise optical illusions as illusions - we know we can't really be seeing what we think we are seeing. But what if we couldn't tell that we were wrong? Or worse still, wouldn't be interested in telling?
The major delusion afflicting mankind is religion, but I'm not going to spend too much time on that here. By definition religion relies on faith, and faith is belief without evidence. Some theologians say that looking for evidence to support faith is a sort of blasphemy as it indicates that faith is not strong enough. It is this reliance on faith that separates religion from science, and I am firmly in the camp that says that science has no business interacting with religion except where religion makes testable claims (like the age of the Earth) or where it can do harm. One aspect of religion that is of interest to science is the evolutionary basis for the presence of religion in almost all societies, but this is a matter for another day.
Resistance to evidence reaches its peak in conspiracy theories. Not only are all good conspiracies based on Type 1 errors, but a good conspiracist makes sure that those errors are never corrected. It is a common tactic of conspiracy believers to find some piece of apparently confirming evidence (or disconfirming evidence subsequently shown to be wrong) and use this to prove that all disconfirming evidence is wrong. Creationists use apparently anomalous radioactive dating of mud flows around Mount St Helens to show that radioactive dating is totally untrustworthy in all circumstances. Climate change deniers use two out of 11,000 emails to show that all climate scientists lie. Anti-vaccine campaigners point to vaccinated children who still become infected. Holocaust deniers demand to see documents where Hitler said "Kill the Jews".
What is common to all of these is a demand for certainty, and it illustrates the difference between confidence and faith. Faith implies certainty, so any true believer in a conspiracy (or any other mad idea, such as the existence of a mathematical method of trisecting an angle or the alien origin of crop circles) will resist any challenge because it removes certainty. Confidence, however, is what science is about - being right with the possibility of being wrong.
On the day that I am writing this CERN has announced that neutrinos travelling at greater than light speed might have been detected. The media is screaming "Einstein was wrong", but the scientists involved are wondering if they have made a mistake. Einstein didn't disprove Newton, just took knowledge in a different direction. If the CERN results are correct then we will know more than Einstein did in 1905. So what? It's finding out where we are wrong that makes science so exciting.
The Atheist Cartoons site disappeared in 2014
He's writing stuff
The next edition of Australasian Science magazine will be in post boxes and newsagents shortly. It will, as usual, contain my Naked Skeptic column, which in this case is about the deceptive ways that creationists use to promote their fantasies. It even mentions moths. You can read a sneak preview here.
My patience is tried (24/9/2011)
Sometimes I am surprised at how patient I can be when dealing with people whose grasp of reality is so tenuous that it is a wonder that they manage to work out how to get out of bed in the morning, let alone turn on and use a computer. I mentioned above how some people's incorrect beliefs seem to be impervious to facts and here are just three examples this week of people making absurd claims and then refusing to recognise things which showed those claims to be wrong.
In a television news program, the news reader announced that the incidence of a certain class of crime had dropped by 114% over the last ten years. When I made the comment that it is not possible for this to have happened unless criminals are now assisting people and giving them money instead of mugging them and stealing I was told that I didn't understand arithmetic. Apparently it is perfectly understandable that something can reduce by more than its value. All you have to do is start with the end figure and work backwards. I was given the example that a drop from 214 to 100 incidents would be a reduction of 114% because everyone knows what the person making the statement meant. When I pointed out that you have to apply the percentage to the original number and a drop from 214 to 100 is a 53.3% reduction I was told that I obviously could not understand that it was possible in mathematics to work with the square root of minus one. At that point I gave up.
A 9/11 Truther asked me to accept a challenge to prove scientifically that Building 7 at the World Trade Center could fall down if it had not been demolished by deliberately placed explosive charges. My reply was that the extensive damage to one side of the building caused by debris from the collapse of the two towers weakened the structure, and when you take out a lot of the struts and reinforcement on one side of a building it can actually fall down by itself. Relying on the fact that it was nearly impossible to get a photograph of the damaged side of the building because to do so almost required the photographer to stand in the ruins of the towers, he told me that as no photograph existed of any damage, no damage had occurred and therefore the building must have been blown up. I offered the photograph at right, one of the very few which showed the damage to the south face of Building 7 before the collapse. His response was to tell me that he didn't believe that was Building 7 because it must have been Building 5 and then to change the subject completely and ask me if I had any evidence that Osama bin Laden had anything to do with the day's events. At that point I gave up.
A Christian told me that Australia is legally a Christian country, that no religion is allowed except Christianity, all laws have to recognise the holy trinity and the Bible and follow the Ten Commandments, and that nobody who is not a Christian can have any input to the political process. I asked for evidence of his claim and was told that it is all set out in the Preamble to the Constitution. I made the point that the words "trinity", "bible" and "commandment" do not appear anywhere in the Preamble (which you can read here), and he came back with a repetition of the claim that Christianity is mandatory for anyone who wants to participate in politics. I asked him to explain how Sir Isaac Isaacs (the first Australian born Governor General and Jewish), Bill Hayden (atheist Governor General), Bob Hawke and Julia Gillard (both atheists, both Prime Minister) had managed to get and keep their jobs and he referred me to a news story about a public school where Christian bigots had been withdrawing their children because some of the pupils were Muslims. I asked what this had to do with religion and political office and I was again referred to the Preamble to the Constitution and told that Christianity was a prerequisite for Australian citizenship (and that Islam had existed since long before the birth of Jesus). When I asked for proof of this I was told that all oaths have to recognise God Almighty so it is impossible for anybody who is not a Christian to swear allegiance, so Muslims could not become citizens. I quoted the Schedule to the Constitution which gives the form of Affirmation to be used in place of an oath by people who choose not to swear to some god. At that point I gave up.
What is common to all these is an adamantine refusal to even consider anything which is contrary to the person's position and the ultimate reliance on the logical fallacy of non sequitur when faced with something they can't answer, as if changing the subject settles the matter in their favour.
Here's my challenge to people who want to change the rules of arithmetic, engineering or constitutional law (or anything else) - provide evidence, don't just repeat your claim and then ask another question.