Episode 1565: Vidi, Vidi, Vidi

Oct. 24th, 2017 10:11 am
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Episode 1565: Vidi, Vidi, Vidi

If you want a compelling backstory for your character, it's perfectly fine to borrow ideas from someone else.

Not mentioning any names of characters from a recent game we played, where two PCs had both been the only survivor of a shipwreck, stranded on a desert island, unable to escape until one of the gods provided rescue on the backs of sea creatures in exchange for loyalty and spreading the word of their newfound divine patron. Oh, they were totally different backgrounds: the shipwrecks were different, the islands were different, the gods were different, and one was rescued by dolphins and the other by sea turtles.

Keybounce writes:

A triple amputee. I did not see that coming.

This person is clearly not Force sensitive. In fact, it is possible, this person is probably Force insensitive.

Could this person actually be immune to the influence of the Force? Could this person actually be so un-Force connected that they cannot be Jedi mind tricked? Not subject to the Force's guiding your actions, as Ben once said?

... did our Ben say that in this universe? What did he say about the effect of the Force on people's actions in Darths & Droids?

So this is Jim's first character for the first session. We still have more, including that NPC. I don't know what re-writes/changes Disney made, just that since Disney changes everything, there's no way to predict how this "real version of history" will compare to the Legends we've read in the past.

... The more I read that, the more it seems both strange and understandable at the same time.

— Keybounce

aurilee writes:

Jim's here! And he has great facial expressions!

Kyle seems like a good time. I imagine he also plans all of Jabba's wonderful parties, and does some great parlour tricks with his artificial limbs.

So do we get to see Jabba soon? Please? Please?

I think I'll just pull a Cassian here and keep asking about seeing Jabba over and over again until eventually someone knocks me out.


— aurilee


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Posted by Marc Abrahams

The gentle pulsing in size of body parts is one of Nature’s seasonal wonders. Evidence of this — with skulls and penises, respectively — is documented in two (well, three) studies published this year.

Some Weasel Skulls Pulse Bigger and Smaller, Seasonally

Growth overshoot and seasonal size changes in the skulls of two weasel species,” Scott LaPoint, Lara Keicher, Martin Wikelski, Karol Zub, Dina K. N. Dechmann, Royal Society Open Science, vol. 4, 2017, 160947. The authors report:

[We quantified] the effect of location, Julian day, age and sex on the length and depth of 512 and 847 skulls of stoat (Mustela erminea) and weasel (M. nivalis) specimens collected throughout the northern hemisphere…. Standardized braincase depths of both species peak in their first summer, then decrease in their first winter, followed by a remarkable regrowth that peaks again during their second summer.

Parallel detail appears in the later paper “Profound reversible seasonal changes of individual skull size in a mammal,” Javier Lázaro, Javier Lázaro, Dina K.N. Dechmann, Scott LaPoint, Martin Wikelski, and Moritz Hertel, Current Biology, vol. 27, no. 20, 23 October 23, 2017, pp. R1106–R1107. The kind of animal here is a shrew (Sorex araneus). Here’s a bit of detail from that study:

Some Ducks Grow Bigger Penises In Some Social Circumstances

Evidence of phenotypic plasticity of penis morphology and delayed reproductive maturation in response to male competition in waterfowl,” Patricia L.R. Brennan, Ian Gereg, Michele Goodman, Derek Feng, and Richard O. Prum, The Auk, vol. 134, 2017, pp. 882–893. The authors report:

Here we examined whether penis morphology is affected by social environment. We found experimental evidence that in a male-biased social environment, consisting of several males and fewer females, the penis in Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis) grew longer in 2 separate years, than in males housed in pairs, as predicted if male–male competition influences penis morphology. In Ruddy Ducks (Oxyura jamaicensis), males instead showed evidence of reproductive delays that were explained both by a male’s size and his social environment: most males in social groups exhibited shorter penises, variable onset and duration of genital maturation, and faster penis growth rate.

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Posted by PZ Myers

I didn’t like the premiere episode of the new Star Trek at all. I was so repelled that I felt no desire at all to see the second — but I know, other people feel otherwise. Even some scientists are still enthusiastic. For instance, Jeremy Yoder lists all the bad biology in past and present episodes of the show, and still recommends it, even after the galactic fungus and space-hopping tardigrade story, which makes me nauseous to even listen to the video clip explaining it with outrageous technobabble. I guess his ability to suspend disbelief is far more robust than mine.

So, honestly, it’s hard to watch almost any episode of Star Trek without my biology-sense tingling. But here’s the thing: the bio-bollocks is often deeply entangled with what makes Trek great. The episode of Voyager in which two characters are temporarily transmuted into one touches on questions of personhood, and what makes us unique, self-determining individuals. The shape-shifting villains of Deep Space Nine created innumerable opportunities for stories about paranoia and power in wartime and the risks of trading freedom for security. The biological impossibility of Mr. Spock’s parentage makes him a touchstone for anyone who’s lived with dual identities or a sense of alienation from their community. The de-evolution virus … well, okay, that one I can’t justify. But by and large, when Star Trek has stretched and often broken the limits of biological realism, it’s done so to tell stories that are worth the telling — and that inspired many a nerdy kid to stick with science long enough to learn how fictional Star Trek really is.

I agree that the pseudoscience isn’t the point of a Star Trek story. I just feel like, if the writers cared, they could take the time to get the science right, and that good science wouldn’t detract from a good story.

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Posted by PZ Myers

Whose urine should you drink instead of getting a flu shot?

Also urine delivery is important. Drink it through your mouth and your nose, and get your urine massages, and be sure to get a teaspoon of urine in your belly button every day!

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Posted by PZ Myers

Here’s a roundup of the best Chick tracts to hand out on Halloween. You know you’re an awful person when you think these are a good idea.

Everyone knows you’re supposed to hand out full-size candy bars — none of this ‘fun-size’ nonsense, and no, candy corn is not a treat — because we’re supposed to fatten up children with gluttony and sloth, both so they’re juicier for the barbecue and because they’ll meet our Dark Lord Satan even sooner.

Hmm. Now I have to think. What would be the most sweetly lethal kind of candy I should give out on Halloween night, that would most thoroughly serve the Evil Atheist Agenda? If feminist candy were richer chunks of chocolate, that might work.

On the nature of creepiness (study)

Oct. 23rd, 2017 02:00 pm
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Posted by Martin Gardiner

“Surprisingly, until now there has never been an empirical study of ‘creepiness’ “

This situation was rectified by Professor Francis T. McAndrew  and Sara S. Koehnke of the Department of Psychology, Knox College, Galesburg, US, in a 2016 paper for the journal New Ideas in Psychology. The team stopped short of giving an exact definition of ‘creepiness’ – nevertheless, they were able to generate a list of the perceived ‘creepiness’ ratings for various professions :       

See: ‘On the nature of creepiness’ New Ideas in Psychology 43 (2016) 10 -15

Bonus Assignment [optional] Are there any more ‘creepy’ professions that could be added to the table – if so, where would they appear in the list?

This is an ad for CNN?

Oct. 23rd, 2017 12:12 pm
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Posted by PZ Myers

I guess it’s supposed to be a sneaky critique of the “alternative facts” crowd, those Trump surrogates who appear on TV to twist the facts and lie — people like Kellyanne Conway and Jack Kingston and Jeffrey Lord and Kayleigh McEnany and Omarosa Manigault and Sarah Huckabee.

But now I’m confused. Who gave those folks plenty of airtime? CNN. Who loves to throw one of those clowns into a panel to watch the sparks fly? CNN. Who has their own collection of in-house apologists for the status quo, like Wolf Blitzer and John King? CNN. Who has a point of view that is barely distinguishable from that of Fox News? CNN.

Who promotes banana propagandists in their own programming? CNN.

I am not impressed. I’m not persuaded by someone announcing, “we state only the facts,” but would be more favorable towards someone who actually states the facts and criticizes the lies.

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Posted by PZ Myers

This guy, Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins, has a weird take on Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates would be less pessimistic if he weren’t an atheist, and that pessimism, somehow, is a problem.

Coates’s belief that white supremacy is fundamentally woven into the fabric of the United States is built on a larger metaphysical assumption that without the existence of God the entire world bends towards injustice. He points to the egregious history of racial injustice in this country, and the atrocities committed by the Nazis and Soviets, through the books of Judt and Snyder, to prove his point.

The real problem for Coates, then, might ultimately not be white supremacy, but rather the non-existence of God. It is the non-existence of God, according to his argument, that rules out the possibility of any collective redemption not just in the United States, but the world writ large.

Hang on there, Dan. You got an explanation already — there is an “egregious history of racial injustice in this country”. Coates is aware of this history, and it is that history that leads him to understand that white supremacy is part of the fabric of the United States. His atheism is irrelevant to that specific understanding, since, after all, non-atheists like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X also came to the same conclusion.

Steinmetz-Jenkins harps on “collective redemption” a lot, without bothering to explain it. I think he means something like a savior washing away the sins of the past; if only we believed in a magical being who magically blessed America and forgave it its deeply rooted bigotry, then the stain of the KKK, of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, of centuries of slave ships anchoring on our shores, of the extermination of native peoples, of every crime perpetrated in the name of Whiteness, would disappear, and all the neo-nazis would be allowed to dance in heaven, and our healing would begin.

It’s true, I don’t believe in collective redemption either. I think it’s superstitious ju-ju that tries to paper over serious problems with lies, and that we have to spend all of our lives working to atone for our errors…and that the errors never end. That’s not nihilism, though. Our goal, and the virtue of our goal, is in the process of living and working and striving to better ourselves. The myth that there is a “collective redemption”, where the problems of the individual can be eliminated with a snap of the fingers by a single person or single act, is one of the worst notions to come out of Christianity. It’s popular with people who want instantaneous absolution, and are willing to believe a lie that perpetuates the problem, as long as it makes them feel good.

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Posted by Marc Abrahams

Amir Hetsroni has joined the LFFFHCfSS – The Luxuriant Flowing, Former, or Facial Hair Club for Social Scientists. He says:

There is no doubt that I have amazing hair. On my Facebook page, many of the posts deal with my hair. Note the number of followers (over 50k people). My studies are concerned mainly with long term cultivation effect of TV viewing and the appearance of objectionable content on the home screen.

Amir Hetsroni, PhD., LFFFFHCfSS
Associate Professor
Department of Media and Visual Arts
KOÇ University, Istanbul, Turkey

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Posted by PZ Myers

A young man got to participate in some civic engagement with his scout troop, and was given an opportunity to ask a question of Colorado state senator Vicki Marble. He asked, “An issue that I’m concerned about is common sense gun control. I was shocked that you co-sponsored a bill to allow domestic violence offender to continue to own a gun. … Why on Earth would you want somebody who beats their wife to have access to a gun?

Man, that kid did his research ahead of time, looked into the legislation Marble sponsored, and actually asked a cogent question. Do they give badges for that?

I guess not. The scout leader kicked him out of his cub scout den.

How is this guy popular?

Oct. 22nd, 2017 12:44 pm
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Posted by PZ Myers

Did you know the way to deal with a man? Debate is only a prelude to punching his lights out.

I know how to stand up to a man who’s unfairly trespassing against me, and the reason I know that is because the parameters for my resistance are quite well-defined … We talk, we argue, we push and then it becomes physical. Right?

You see, if that’s how an argument is supposed to reasonably progress, then it becomes problematic to argue with a woman, because you know that eventually, according to the rules, rational dissent must culminate in socking her in the jaw, and that’s not nice to do to a woman. Perfectly OK to do that to a man, of course.

In case you’re wondering who would make such a ludicrous argument, it’s from Jordan Peterson, clinical psychologist, darling of the alt-right, and Canadian. I’ve never been in such a situation, except for that time in 7th grade when I was beat up for my lunch money, and even then, I didn’t get to do any punching because I was on my back with the wind knocked out of me.

I don’t know, man, that’s such an un-Canadian attitude Peterson has got, they might have to revoke his citizenship.

Speaking of horrible people, you might want to read this post about Joshie Berger, formerly a popular participant at the Amazing Meeting, loud skeptic, and apparently an acolyte of Peterson. It seems his way of dealing with his girlfriend was to smash her face. If that has already ruined your breakfast, here’s another problem person: DJ Grothe. Grothe didn’t punch anyone, fortunately, but in his role as the TAM organizer at the time, he reportedly silenced people who complained about Berger’s general behavior. Because, I guess, that was his job, to keep everything running smoothly for abusers.

Fuck it. I’m going to Minneapolis today, to hang out with good people and get off the internet for a while.

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Episode 1564: What a Wonderful Smell You've Discovered

Describing to the players what things look like is standard operating procedure for GMs. We've mentioned making use of the sense of smell and the power of olfactory descriptions a few times before. So let's not do that. But did you know there are many other senses you can utilise as a GM?

  • The sense of pain: "That blow from the dark elf's sword really stings, much more than usual... you can feel it burning away at your flesh."
  • The sense of balance: "The sulphurous vapours from the cave are making you feel very dizzy... Are you sure you want to try jumping over the lava pit?"
  • The sense of direction: "You have no idea which way is north any more, or which way you're going."
  • The sense of foreboding: "You're getting a really bad feeling about this..."
  • The sense of a complete waste of time: "Okay, fine, search all of the temple one ten-foot-square section at a time, then! <roll> Oh look, wandering monsters!"

aurilee writes:

See how Bria's just silently going in to talk to the contact that will possibly be helpful?

See how Cassian's just saying the same thing over and over again to no avail?

When I first saw Cassian, he seemed likeable. And Bria seemed kind of annoying. Lately though, Cassian is proving to be increasingly incompetent/unhelpful and Bria is proving knowledgeable, experienced and overall very useful. I mean, Cassian already said they wanted to see Jabba, and this is the guy who works for Jabba, and Bria's already going to be meeting with him. You've done your job Cassian, now just wait and let Bria do her thing.

Maybe he needs another bonk on the head from K-2.

— aurilee

Keybounce writes:

So let's take inventory of Who's Who in this battle. First, our heroes, who so far have acted like a bunch of goons. Next: Jabba, Imperials, "red nuns", Rebels,...

We know this is going to be a total party kill. It looks like this is going to turn into an everyone vs. everyone fight. Taking place years ago, in a galaxy far away.

Oh: "we have the crystals". Are these spice crystals? Khyber crystals? Diamond crystals? Plain old lightsaber crystals?

— Keybounce


Positional information and morphogens

Oct. 22nd, 2017 01:52 am
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Posted by PZ Myers

Here we go again — I said I’d try to make a youtube video about developmental biology every week, and I’m keeping that promise. I’m thinking, though, that my last couple of efforts were too big and indigestible, weighing in at 40 minutes each, so I’m going to try instead to present brief introductions to basic biology, and see if those are more interesting to people. I aimed for 10 minutes, but hit 12 instead — sorry, I’m a college professor, wind me up and let me go and I won’t shut up.

Let me know if this format is easier to stomach, and suggestions are welcome.

[syndicated profile] improbable_research_feed

Posted by Marc Abrahams

We are please to announce the birth of a new sibling club to the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists (LFHCfS), and to introduce the new club’s first member.

Jim Windgassen has joined the LFFFHCfE – The Luxuriant Flowing, Former, or Facial Hair Club for Engineers. He says:

I am a senior advisory engineer with Northrop Grumman in Maryland.  Find below my official Northrop Grumman photograph as it appears in our company directory.  I am heavily involved doing volunteer STEM outreach work with kids which is what I am going to do when I retire from Northrop Grumman..

Jim Windgassen, BSME, LFFFFHCfE
Senior Advisory Engineer
Northrop Grumman Undersea Systems
Annapolis, Maryland, USA


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Posted by Jim Eakins

Wedgies have been the staple of school-yard bullies and pranksters for years. While reportedly possible to die of asphyxiation from application of an atomic wedgie, there has not been a medical report about the possible dangers of the act. Getting a firm grip on the problem, this case report pulls up the underpinnings of damage caused from one such wedge issue.

Wedgies are popularly defined as the upward yanking of another’s underpants—at any force—to wedge them between that person’s buttocks as a prank, an adventure, or a malicious act, with or without the recipient’s foreknowledge or consent. We report here the case of a quinquagenarian who experienced deleterious consequences after receiving an unanticipated wedgie.

In 2009, the patient and his wife had been ‘playfully’ exchanging wedgies as pranks. After one particular wedgie “of moderate force,” the patient felt a severe pain in his lower back, along with numbness in his left leg and foot. While the pain eased up eventually, the numbness would be recurrent for years.

In February 2016, the patient, now 56 years old, said that his wedgie-associated radicular symptoms had disappeared. He added that his wife had been so disturbed by the index event in 2009 that she had stopped giving him wedgies.

Source: Sutherland, C. E., Dvoretzky, T., & Solomos, N. J. (2016). Wedgie-associated radiculitis in a quinquagenarian. Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings, 29(4), 389-390.

Bonus: The article outlines the difference between a standard wedgie and the notorious atomic wedgie: “Atomic wedgies differ from standard wedgies in that the underpants are pulled up at least to the recipient’s scapulae and optimally over the head, with strong or so-called “atomic” force.”


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