Willey teach you science? I think he will!

Smashing, isn’t it?

I’ve been a big fan of David Willey for years. He’s a physics instructor who does really cool and dramatic science demonstrations such as walking on broken glass or lying on a bed of nails while a cinder block is smashed on his chest with a sledgehammer. Whether he’s making soda bottles explode or enclosing unsuspecting volunteers in giant soap bubbles, he does a great service by not only teaching science, but making his students want to learn it.

The reason I bring him up is, I’ve just received an announcement that he will be on The Tonight Show on Wednesday, May 11. If you’ve never had a chance to see this guy before, make sure you tune in!

Good News

I appeared on WSOC-TV‘s Eyewitness News Monday at 5:00 and then again at 11:00. Apparently alocal website was hacked and defaced by a disgruntled former employee. I was interviewed to explain how this happens and how people can secure themselves.

This is a very serious issue. Last year, 2500 web sites were hacked everyday, and the problem is only growingworse. It is imperative that people get virus protection software such as the free AVGAnti-Virus from Grisoft and keep it updated, run a good personal firewall such as unless you’re absolutely sure the person sent it to you on purpose.ZoneAlarm or the one included with Windows XP Service Pack 2, and run Windows Update often (and configure it to automatically notify you when updates are available). Oh, and whatever you do, don’t open email attachments

Remember: the question is not, "Can they get in?" The question is, "How long will it take them?" Your computer is vulnerable; taking the abovesteps will hopefully make it so difficult to get in that the hacker will give up and go elsewhere looking for easier prey.

I’m sick to death of people complaining about spam

You know, I am getting sick and tired of hearing people complain about spam (meaning unsolicited commercial email, not SPAM the lunch meat). Yes, I get tons of spam. And yes, I hate it. But as far as problems in my life goes, this ranks up there with stubbing my toe on the bed.

It wouldn’t be so bad if these whiners just kept their complaining on internet discussion boards. But now we have Federal laws designed to stop spam (and they have the Constitutional authority to do this, how?). The government has for years been looking for excuses to get in and regulate the internet, and all of this hype about spam has given them just another excuse. Not that they’ll be successful, but they’ll make so many lives miserable in the attempt.

The reason why there’s so much spam is that, unfortunately, it works. A study from the University of Maryland has found that 4% of internet users buy something they read about in a spam email. That’s a fantastic response rate given how cheaply emails can be sent.

You might say that there’s no reason that 4% should "force" the rest of us to read spam. But that’s simply not what’s happening. We are all responsible for our own lives, and most of the problems facing this country are caused by people trying to avoid that responsibility. There are tons of solutions, many of them free, that exist to help alleviate the problem. I use the Mozilla suite to read email, and it has an excellent intelligent learning spam filter. The same filter is in their standalone email reader, Thunderbird. If you don’t want to switch email programs, and your email program doesn’t already have a spam filter (most do by now), there’s always the free and excellent SpamBayes. They even have a version that plugs directly into Outlook. Mine gets about 95% of all spams and sticks them in a Junk Email folder, where they’re automatically deleted after seven days. For the few that remain, it’s an easy matter of simply deleting them, or marking them as spam and they automatically go to the Junk folder.

So get over yourselves and take responsibility for your life. It won’t kill you to have to hit the DEL key a few times.

“Free Talk Live” on Minimum Wage/Jury Nullification

There have been another couple of episodes of Free Talk Live dealing pretty in-depth with some very important issues.

The first issue deals with minimum wage and how it ends up hurting those it purports to help. Minimum wage laws cause unemployment, a fact that is so well-accepted in economic circles it’s taught in most introductory Macroeconomics courses, and has been backed up by numerous studies. Nonetheless, many people in government (and their apologists) continue to deny the harm that this is causing. The Free Talk Live hosts discussed this at lenth on their Feb. 8th show, in the last part of the second hour and the full third hour. (Both links are to .mp3 files, the first 1.5MB and the second 5.5MB)

The second is Jury Nullification, one of our basic rights and a very important check on the power of government dating back to even before the founding of this country. Both John Adams and Alexander Hamilton argued cases on the basis of Jury Nullification, and chief justice John Jay ruled from the bench that juries have this right. In short, if you’re on a jury and you all decide to vote "not guilty" because the law stinks, that verdict cannot be questioned by any court and no punishment can be levied against the jurors. The hosts of Free Talk Live discussed the subject in-depth on their Feb. 9th show, in most of the second hour and the full third hour. (Both links are to .mp3 files, the first 4.1MB and the second 5.5MB)

I love this show. You can tell, can’t you?

Happy listening!

Lots of good zoning information

It’s no secret how I feel about zoning. Zoning doesn’t work, it’s a severe abrogation of property rights, it doesn’t solve a single problem, it stifles the economy, and it creates bad neighbors. Recently, one of my favorite radio shows, Free Talk Live, dedicated an entire show to zoning, presenting arguments and all sorts of good information showing why zoning is awful and should be abolished. The show originally aired on 1/22/05 for two hours. You can listen to the first hour here and the second hour here. Both files are .mp3 files, about 5.4MB, and about 45 minutes in length.

If you listen to both hours of this show and you’re still in favor of zoning, please email me and explain how that can possibly be the case.

A fake doctor comes to town

This weekend, a man by the name of "Dr." Kent Hovind will be speaking at Westport Baptist Church. He’s a Creationist–but he’s really a dishonest politico posing as a Christian man in order to manipulate people of faith into furthering his own agenda. I put "Dr." in quotes because his degree is a fraud; he obtained it from a diploma mill.

For years he has had a $250,000 challenge for anyone coming forward providing evidence that evolution is a scientific fact. However, he stacks the deck by defining evolution in a way that no scientist would agree is accurate. He persists in this even after having been corrected by many reputable scientists. That isn’t a difference of opinion, folks, and that isn’t part of rational debate. That’s lying.

As is his insistence on giving out false information, long ago refuted, about carbon dating, horse evolution, whale evoltion, DNA, and how the human body works. Again, many reputable scientists have corrected him on his misinformation, and still he continues to spread this dishonesty.

This man is a humbug who is thought to be an embarassment even by many ofhis fellow Creationists. He spreads lies about what the theory of evolution says, he deliberately misleads people as to what the scientific data is, and all the while rakes in the dough from people who don’t have the benefit of a proper educational grounding in science.

People like Hovind make me sick. While we’re trying to progress into the 21st Century, they’re trying to pull us back to the 16th. If you want to know more about why Hovind is dishonest and shouldn’t be taken seriously, you can go to this internet FAQ.

Merry Christmas

Just wishing a Merry Christmas to all my faithful readers! Since this is a site devoted partly to skepticism and the debunking of specious claims, I thought I’d give you a link to the Snopes.com Christmas Urban Legends page. Think that Poinsettias are poisonous? That The Twelve Days of Christmas has coded references to Christianity? That "Xmas" is a derogatory term for Christmas, crossing-out Christ? Well, you may be right–or you may be wrong! Check out the page, and have fun this Holiday season!

Why choice helps public schools

Some people have taken me to task for saying that school choice initiatives would help benefit our county schools as well as those who take their children elsewhere. They claim that school choice makes the government schools suffer and harms the children who stay there, and the only ones who benefit are the ones who end up going to private school. Well, a new study, reported in the San Diego Union-Tribune, demonstrates the benefits of school choice on those who remain in the government schools. Some highlights:

The fact that choice benefits public schools–not just students who switch to private schools–is a key aspect of school choice. Because public schools improve due to competition, school choice benefits reach beyond those students who take advantage of the opportunity to attend a private school with a voucher or tax credit scholarship. Because competition forces both public and private schools to improve, choice is like a rising tide that lifts all boats. Even students whose parents don’t shop around for a private school will benefit because their existing public schools will get better.

It’s true that some studies have shown no productivity gains for public schools when choice is introduced. But these have examined programs where choice is limited to only a small number of students or where the program is too new for effects to be visible. Hoxby, in contrast, looked at those programs that have existed for a while and which are large enough to produce real competition.

In Milwaukee, for example (where children receive vouchers worth up to $5,783), the improvement in the public schools has been impressive. Students in public schools where at least two-thirds of students were eligible for vouchers scored 8.1, 13.8, and 8.0 national percentile rank points higher in math, science, and language, respectively. Although still positive, achievement gains were somewhat smaller for students in public schools, where fewer students were eligible for vouchers.

The story in Michigan and Arizona is similar. In both states, public schools raised achievement in response to competition. The largest achievement gains were in those public schools that faced the most competition.

Read the article online here.