Friday, December 08, 2006

Is There Life in Outer Space? (Part 2)

I mentioned in my last comment to Dedwarmo
Is There Life in Outer Space? (Part 1) that if he found the words, "Steven Loves Priscilla" scrawled in the sand at the beach, he wouldn't scratch his head and wonder if it was brought about by the receding tide. Likewise, one would not wonder if wind and rain created the heads on Mount Rushmore, even if he had never heard the name Gutzon Borglum or seen another carver's work.

What do the letters on the beach and the heads on Mount Rushmore have in common? The answer is information.

That is what SETI scientists are looking for. And information has two components: specificity and complexity.


Something is specified if the arrangement has meaning. The word "the" is specified, but not very complex. If you randomly pulled letters out of a hat and got the word "the," you wouldn't assume the game was rigged, nor if scientists received the word "the" from space would they assume it was caused by intelligence.


Random noise is quite complex, but it doesn't mean anything. One way of defining complexity is that which has a low probability of occurring randomly. For instance, the following 30 letters have an extremely low probability of occurring in any random arrangement of 30 letters: ldjhoirojhksdghhlnjdlbhkcjmnjf. They are complex, but not specified, since they have no meaning.

Now if scientists heard, "Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation..." they would immediately assume the source was intelligent because the data is both specified and complex. That's information and information always comes from intelligence.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Is There Life in Outer Space? (Part 1)

I've always been intrigued by SETI, which stands for "Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence." According to the SETI Institute website, "The mission of the SETI Institute is to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe." To that end, they employ over 100 scientists, educators and support staff.

And just how do they go about searching for intelligent life in other parts of the universe? By examining signals received from space. To examine the data, thousands of volunteers run a software program as a screen saver that processes the data as it comes in.

Now, here's my question: How will they know when they find intelligent life?

Any time I meet someone who is running the SETI program, I ask that question. So far, no one has been able to answer. The looks I get tell me they've never even thought about it before.

Here's how the SETI website answers the question: "SETI...seeks evidence of life in the universe by looking for some signature of its technology." Now, what in the world does that mean?!

It sounds to me like they're looking for intelligent design.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Causes Of Death

In the December 4, 2006 edition, Time Magazine lists the causes of death annually in the U.S. (I've rearranged the list a little.)

1. Heart Disease: 685,089
2. Other Diseases (not in this list): 681,150
3. Cancer: 556,902
4. Stroke: 157,689
5. Accidents: 109,277
6. Chronic lower-respiratory disease: 126,382
7. Diabetes: 74,219
8. Suicide: 31,484
9. Homicide: 17,732

Here's a breakdown of #5, Accidents:

1. Motor vehicle (non-motorcycle): 44,757
2. Drug overdose: 11,212
3. Motorcycle accident: 3,676
4. Fire: 3,369
5. Choking on object: 3,004
6. Falling down stairs: 1,588
7. Choking on food: 875
8. Bicycle accident: 762
9. Falling out of bed: 594
10. Pool drowning: 515
11. Falling off a ladder: 365
12. Bathtub drowning: 332
13. Slipping on ice/snow: 103
14. Bee/wasp sting: 66
15. Lightning strike: 47
16. Dog attack: 32
17. Skydiving: 22
18. Crushing by human stampede: 22
19. Commercial airline accident: 22
20. Playground-equipment accident: 3
21. Snakebite: 2
22. Marine-animal attack: 1

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


> An equal number of people die from human stampedes as from commercial airline accidents.
> Twice as many people die from suicides than homicides.
> More people die from falling out of bed than from falling off a ladder or in commercial airline accidents.
> Only one fatal marine-animal attack per year? So, Bruce was make-believe?

I want to know how many people choke on objects while riding a bicycle down stairs while being chased by bees during a lightning storm?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Some of my favorite Mitch Hedburg lines

Mitch Hedburg was one of the funniest stand up comedians I have ever heard. His humor was very simple and his delivery style was quite reserved, almost shy. He often delivered his lines staring at the floor and fidgeting like a young boy meeting his first date. Tragically, he died early last year at the young age of 37. I've heard a lot of Mitch Hedberg recordings, but I don't recommend or listen to any of the ones made in typical comedy venues because of the language he uses. He appeared a lot on Letterman, and if I remember correctly, the jokes were always pretty clean.

Here are some of my favorite Mitch Hedberg lines:

"I think foosball is a combination of soccer and shishkabobs. Foosball ruined my perception of soccer. I thought you had to kick the ball, and then spin 'round and 'round. I can't do a backflip. Much less several. Simultaneously with two other guys. That look just like me."

"I like Kit-Kats unless I'm with 4 or more people."

"I'm against picketing, but I don't know how to show it."

"My friend said to me, 'You know what I like? Mashed potatoes.' I was like, 'Dude, you have to give me time to guess. If you're going to quiz me you have to insert a pause.'"

"If you had a friend who was a tightrope walker, and you were walking down a sidewalk, and he fell, that would be completely unacceptible."

"Why are there no during pictures?"

Monday, November 27, 2006

Dig here

If you dig a hole through the earth, where will you end up? Check out these websites for the answer. They're both a clever use of Google Maps.
With this map, you can click anywhere on the map and you'll get a "Dig here" link. Click the link and a push-pin shows you where you'd end up.
This one has two maps side by side. You can drag one and watch the results in the other.

And we were always taught we'd end up in China.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Technolusionist Marco Tempest

Known as the Virtual Magician, the Swiss-born Marco Tempest has become well-known by posting a number of his PhoneCam Magic tricks on YouTube. These tricks are done with a camera phone and they're all WYSIWYG -- no edits or post-production of any kind is done.

He's been seen a lot in Europe and Japan, and is becoming well-known in the U.S.

You can see all his YouTube videos at

You can also find Marco on the web at and at

Here is one his PhoneCam tricks that made it onto the Jay Leno show:

Friday, November 24, 2006

Ravi Debates a Buddhist

One of my favorite Christian apologists is Ravi Zacharias. His ministry is to thinking people (but I like him anyway :-)
But he also speaks to the heart.

He tells the story of an informal debate he once had with a professor of Eastern Philosophy. Over a dinner table, the professor made the case that Ravi's belief in the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ showed that his thinking was too western. If only Ravi would adopt eastern thinking, he might come to better conclusions, his Indian birth and upbringing not withstanding.

The professor explained that westerners are stuck in the rut of "either-or" thinking, where everything is either this way or that way and contradictions are not acceptable. Easterners, on the other hand, follow the superior "both-and" philosophy, where differing points of view can be accepted, even contradictory ones.

After the professor had gone on for some time, Ravi turned to him and said, “So you’re telling me I must use either the 'both-and' philosophy or nothing at all?” No answer. Ravi repeated his question. "I must use either the 'both-and' philosophy or nothing at all?” The professor finally answered, “The 'either-or' does seem to emerge doesn’t it?”

In Bedford, Massachusetts, there is a Unitarian Universalist church which I pass every day on my way to work. On the side of the building is a sign that says something like, "We are a place where differing beliefs are welcome, including yours." I feel like stopping by and asking them, "Would you welcome the beliefs of a person who doesn't welcome differing beliefs?" Sounds like "both-and" thinking to me.

The point is that truth is exclusive. It is impossible for two contradictory beliefs to be correct. This is the Law of non-contradiction. And it applies to everyone, everywhere, all the time. Christians are often accused of being arrogant because we believe Jesus is the only way. But, if it's true, it has to be the only way. It's the law.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Micah is blogging again

Micah has decided to resume bloggin'. Check out his blog at

Quote of the Day

"We teach kids in school that morality is relative, then when they go out and live out their moral relativity, we put them in jail."

— Ravi Zacharias 8/15/06

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Logic & Paradoxes

I really enjoy logic and puzzles, especially paradoxes. One of my favorite examples of a logical paradox comes from Raymond Smullyan in his book, What is the Name of This Book? (New York, 1978).

He says, "My introduction to logic was at the age of six. It happened this way: On April 1, 1925, I was sick in bed with flu, or something. In the morning my brother Emile (ten years my senior) came into my bedroom and said,

'Well, Raymond, today is April Fool's Day, and I will fool you as you have never been fooled before!'

I waited all day long for him to fool me, but he didn't. Late that night, my mother asked me, 'Why don't you go to sleep?' I replied, 'I'm waiting for Emile to fool me.' My mother turned to Emile and said, 'Emile, will you please fool the child!' Emile then turned to me, and the following dialogue ensued:

Emile: So, you expected me to fool you, didn't you?

Raymond: Yes.

Emile: But I didn't, did I?

Raymond: No.

Emile: But you expected me to, didn't you?

Raymond: Yes.

Emile: So I fooled you, didn't I!

Well, I recall lying in bed long after the lights were turned out wondering whether or not I had really been fooled. On the one hand, if I wasn't fooled, then I did not get what I expected, hence I was fooled. (This was Emile's argument.) But with equal reason it can be said that if I was fooled, then I did get what I expected, so then, in what sense was I fooled. So, was I fooled or wasn't I?"

I highly recommend What is the Name of This Book. It's a great introduction to logic in the form of puzzles. Most of the puzzles take the form of "You are on an island inhabited by Liars and Truth-Tellers, but you don't know who is which," and it gets more complicated from there. Much more complicated. At the end of the book, you're dealing with "insane liars" who, regardless of what is true, believe the opposite. So an insane liar always inadvertantly tells the truth because what they believe is true is really false, but they lie about it.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Bob Cooper, World Champion

On November 12, 2006, Bob Cooper (left) of London, UK, reached the pinnacle of a sport most people could only dream of conquering. Beating over 500 other competitors, Bob became the World Champion in . . . Rock, Paper, Scissors. The championship is held every year in Toronto, Canada. And before you think that winning RPS requires no skill, take a look at home page of the World RPS Society. With an "RPS Strategy Guide" published by Simon & Schuster and an on-line trainer on the RPS website, participants insist that winning requires highly refined skill. Bob's secret? "Hard work, training and lots of research into tactics, body language and basic psychology," and the reward for displaying that skill? This year's grand prize was the handsome sum of $7,000.