Archive for the ‘Links’ Category

Google Sketchup: One of the best pieces of software I’ve used… ever

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

Google Sketchup is a 3d drawing and illustration program like none you’ve ever seen before. It’s about the fastest, easiest, most self-explanatory, simple 3D tools I’ve used before. That’s because Sketchup is designed and operated in a much different way that any other 3D program I’ve seen before. Most 3D design tools owe their lineage to CAD software, and for that reason they’re really designed for precise, step-by-step drawing of well scaled, detailed and precise figures for mechanical or architectural use. There’s often as much typing of commands as there is mouse-clicks. (Also, it’s FREE)

But Sketchup is much different. It is designed for freehanded drawing and creation of 3D objects and worlds. It has a “tape-measure” as a measuring tool, but by and large it’s click-drag-draw and eyeball the dimensions and layout. This is combined with some very useful geometric tools allow for easy scaling, dividing and aligning of components. It’s a ball to make simple and complex figures and the models are rendered in real time, even on a relatively lackluster computer, allowing you to pan, tilt, zoom and fly around the models. It has some very useful features including “push/pull” which is akin to extrude and “follow me” which allows for extrusions that create circles, spirals, shapes or follow almost any profile. You can create “components” which allows you to put a given figure in multiple places and have it change in all locations by just editing it once.

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Some amazing illusions

Sunday, December 2nd, 2007

Julian Beever is a pretty damn good artest when it comes to portraits and other drawings on pavement or elsewhere, but some of his creations that take things to the next level of talent are his 3D illusions. These amazing works use perspective to create masterful illusions when viewed from the correct angle. They line up with the geometry of the area they are drawn in seamlessly. This creates an effect known as “forced perspective.” If you ask me, it’s pretty damn amazing that one guy can do this freehand with just some chalk and a Two Dimensional surface.

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Misleading headline?

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

Is it just me or is the headline of this real news story just slightly misleadings:

Toxic Paint Makes Females Grow Penis!

(It’s less exciting than you might think)

I wonder if there was the intention to make this headline appear to imply what it does or if perhaps it was just a rather dumb error. Sometimes the funniest things are the ones which were not intended to be funny. Hope nobody feels too letdown by this one.

Always read the instructions and make sure to be safe when it comes to ventilation and such. But that’s for all paint and varnish and for both genders. Ladies, you don’t actually have to worry that painting something could lead to an unanticipated… change… in your life.

Why I love Wikipedia

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

Wikipedia gets a lot of criticism based on the fact that it’s open-source and just about anyone can edit it. That’s definitely something that is worth considering whenever using it, but I’ve found it is surprisingly good, considering this. Inaccurate content exists, but it’s fairly rare. A few articles are poorly written, but generally it’s pretty decent. Most articles have citations, which is probably the best way of assuring you can track down the validity of the information.

That having been said, I would never cite it as a source for any sort of scholarly research or any academic paper or serious news article. But there’s one thing that I love about Wikipedia, aside from the fact that it’s free: It has *EVERYTHING* in it. When you want concise information on a topic, there’s no other place I can think of to find it right away. The only alternative might be to start searching the web. You could also turn to a traditional encyclopedia, but aside from being updated as frequently they might not have quite as many topic. Here’s just a few:

The Holy Roman Empire
Ren and Stimpy
GNU Project
“Paul is Dead”
Project Jennifer

The biggest issue with Wikipedia is generally baring in mind that it is user-written, so if you are serious about the information being 100% accurate, you had best track down the sources or get some kind of independent confirmation. And above all else, be skeptical, especially with articles on topics that are controversial or prone to strange theories or where someone might have an interest in misleading. But where else can you get info on Ren and Stimpy and The Holy Roman Empire?

There are no stupid questions only stupid people

Friday, October 19th, 2007

And the stupid people are the ones who are afraid to ask questions! There’s no shame in not knowing something, as nobody is born educated, but the cure for ignorance is information. If you don’t seek out that information, then you remain ignorant, and that’s just stupid.

Following this logic…

We all know that books are a great source of information, and public libraries are a great place to find it. The internet can be useful too, and you don’t even have to leave your home. [of course I could write a whole post about the importance of being careful of your sources]

But there are some times when a book, a website, newspaper, magazine or documentary just won’t cut it. These are the times when you actually need to find a knowledgeable human being who can help answer a question. There are many reasons why you might not be able to find a piece of information in the traditional sources. Perhaps it’s an obscure practical question, such as “How do they do x?” or maybe it’s something which is a bit subjective and applies to a certain group, such as “What do structural engineers think of the 9/11 conspiracy theories?”

There may also be times when information is conflicting and you just don’t know which source to trust. Or it may be that you can find something but just can’t quite understand it. It may seem counter-intuitive, or maybe you just don’t understand WHY it is. Examples of this might include something like “Why do they say dry mouth causes tooth decay? I thought bacteria do well in moist environments and poorly in dry.” Or something like “If alpha particles can’t penetrate human skin, why is plutonium dangerous?” or “If supercomputers are used to predict the weather, and they’re many times better than years ago, why is the forecast still limited to a few days?”

The questions above are imperfect (because you can find the information on the web) but stuff like this sometimes just plain requires a knowledgeable human. Luckilly there are places to find such folks.

Remember though, that before you go bug someone, you best do some checking to make sure you can’t find the information on your own.

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The supernatural does not exist!

Friday, September 28th, 2007

Uh oh! Did Phil Plait just come out and say it in the most blunt and direct way one could? I think he did. Well, it’s still worth a read, mostly because everything he says makes sense and is… um… true. Check it out here. I predict some feathers ruffled, but I second everything he has to say. Good job, Phil.

Is that sound logic?

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

Too bad there aren’t actually Vulcans like Mr. Spock to keep our logic in line…

�However, the website logicalfallacies.info comes pretty close to having Mr. Spock on hand. � In science, debate, policy and everyday decisions, there are certain mistakes which are commonly made. � Sure, they may seem logical at the time, but if you really examine them, it turns out to be a bit weak. � These include fallacies of relevance, presumption and ambiguity. � This website lists many of the common ones. � *I* have even been accused of making logical fallacies… of course… wrongly.

I can’t say I agree with everything on the page. � For example Ad Hominem:� Some people really just deserve it (Uri Geller, for example). � Also, there are a few others I might add to the site.� But then again, it’s still one of the best references I have found and definitely worth looking at.� It might help next time you have a disagreement.� Then again, it might do more harm to your side than help.

Science Vs Homeopathy

Friday, September 14th, 2007

I found this post on slashdot and obviously had to take note. It links to the article: Diluting the scientific method: Ars looks at homeopathy. Homeopathy is used as a good example of something that is, well, when it comes down to it – not only scientifically invalid but also just plain illogical and stupid. It’s a good read and really helps to completely take apart all the claims relating to homeopathy and show how baseless they fundamentally are.

It’s worth a read, if only to reenforce the astoundingly simple yet cryptic question I keep asking myself: How is it that this did not die a century ago?

Oh that’s right… ignorance

SAPS: A Site Worth Visiting

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

Out good friend Alison has recently returned from Dragoncon, where she took on some of the psuedo-science and paranormal info being put out and came out on top (as usual). In recognition of this and of her efforts in the area of skepticism, it’s worth noting that she has a pretty damn good website and investigative thing going on. It can be found at http://www.skepticalanalysis.com/ and goes by the short name “SAPS.” But make no mistake, this is no sappy site.

The investigations and background are very well written and researched. Alison started this after being inspired by “Ghost Hunters,” a show on the Sci Fi channel which searches for ghosts and seems to find them, despite the lack of any real evidence. Being a television show, it wouldn’t be that exciting if it constantly found nothing at reportedly haunted sites and in the world of TV ratings rule. But somebody has to take a stand for science and that’s where Alison comes in.

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James Randi Speaks at “Authors@Google”

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

I always love hearing some of the stories and commentary from our good friend James Randi. On August 6th he spoke at Google’s offices in California. It’s good to see a company as big and relevant as Google supporting skepticism by sponsoring a speaker like Randi. The Google Talks series of course has no shortage of fascinating speakers. It’s definitely worth watching.


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