mobile test


This morning I trekked down to the RMV to get my license renewed and it was an experience I’m glad I only need to do once every 10 years. I was kind of putting off the whole experience but I was reaching that threshold of how long I can go before my old license expires and I don’t yet have the replacement. They said 7 days was the limit…today was 8 days. Anyways, I got there when the office opened and of course there was a line of people out the door. When I got in, I got my little ticket and they handed me a form but I had already filled out my form at home (this will be important later). The woman grunted and pointed at the opposite side of the building toward the licensing sign. I proceeded over there and sat down on a bench but only for a moment because the guy sitting next to me looked like he might be able to give me hepatitis just by looking at me. I got up and faked correcting my already filled out form and then I just stood and waited until an alternate seat opened up next to a woman and her young child. I now had a front row seat to watch the RMV drama that was about to unfold.

Act 1: (Young man enters RMV left…proceeds to licensing desk)

RMV agent: How may I help you today sir?

Young Man: I need a license.

RMV: Do you have your permit?

YM: Yea

RMV: May I see it

YM: Oh, I don’t have it here

RMV: Then you won’t be able to take a road test

YM: But I’m scheduled for now

RMV: (Wishing he took the job at the post office instead) Yes, but you need your permit to operate the vehicle

YM: Why? (Looks quizzically at the agent and makes first attempt at logic)

RMV: It’s the law, please reschedule for a later date. (YM exits RMV right…wondering what went wrong)


Act 2: (Older woman with leather boots suitable for someone 20 years younger and 100 pounds lighter enters RMV right)

RMV: Hello maam, what can we do for you?

Mid-life crisis Woman: I need to switch my license over from Connecticut

RMV: OK, I’ll need your form, your old license, and proof of social (SSN) and residency

MLCW: (Hands over form and old license) Here you go.

RMV: I’ll need your social security card and proof of residency

MLCW: (Rumages through wallet) I don’t have my social security card on me…is there something else I can use. My address is on the license…can’t you use that?

RMV: We can use a passport if you have one of those. But I will still need proof of MASSACHUSETTS residency

MLCW: You can’t use my old license

RMV: (Getting frustrated) Your old license says you live in Connecticut…do you still live there?

MLCW: (Probably thinking the RMV guy is the idiot here) No I’ve moved that’s why I need a new license

RMV: OK, Please come back when you have either your social security card or passport and proof of your new Massachusetts license

MLCW: Can I get these requirements in writing

RMV: They’re on the form you’re holding maam

MLCW: (Walking off confused) Uh! This so difficult.


Then it was my turn. My number was called…I approached the desk with filled out form in hand, two forms of ID at the ready, and Visa ready to swipe. I am an RMV PRO! Strange looking woman takes form…says nothing.

“You need a vision test, look into the box and read line two”


“You passed”

“Oh good, I’ve been studying for weeks for that eye exam”

“Stand against the blue panel, glasses off, don’t smile”

“Yes maam (holding back smile)”

*Bulbs Flash twice – no warning

“That’s your picture…is it OK”

“Well, it looks like me”

“55 dollars”

I hand her my visa…she swipes…I sign…I’m out


Total time being served: 2 minutes

Total time waiting to be served: 30 minutes

Total time thanking my non-descript and non-intervening personal deity that I don’t work at the RMV: 32 minutes


Patrick OUT!!!


Artists representations of my RMV agent can be found here, here, and here



In response to Marie’s comment about a recent post as to who might choose to wear a cloak on a nice spring day? Thad. I am certainly inclined to agree and while I haven’t thought about Thad in some time, I think he deserves his own post. Thad or Thadeus is one of those characters you meet off hand that is so off the wall that they stick with you. In some regards its like the crazy neighbor on a sit-com that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the cast but adds untold enhancement to the story. Thad was like that for the house I lived in during my undergraduate days. He worked with a couple of my roommates and would show up to parties, sometimes invited…sometimes not. To give you all a picture, I need you to imagine a 6ft tall guy wearing mostly black…always with boots and a somewhat gaunt face (not skeletor gaunt…but close). Aside from being our only regular goth party attendee…Thad was full of stories and opinions. I can remember quite vividly offering him a beer (probably a coors light…as I was prone to drinking cheap beer at parties and this was tolerable) and getting a lecture about how he would never drink a coors product. He turned out to be quite the beer snob and wasn’t afraid to let you know it. Of course, he rarely showed up with beer and thus would end up raiding our bar or scamming brews off of some more upper crust party goers. One time, I found him drinking my better micro-brew beer that he found hidden in the back of the fridge and criticizing it for being too hoppy…I wanted to smack him in the face with a coors light and say, “bring your own then!” Of course, being rather spineless and still quite fond of his other crazy traits, I let him drink it and then hid the rest so he wouldn’t take them too. Another interesting side note is that Thad didn’t like being called Thad…he wanted to be called Thadeus. Of course this begs the questions, and I asked it, “Does anyone call you Thad?” I was thinking maybe an uncle or nephew or someone might or maybe only Mom was allowed. No no…the answer was far better. To illustrate I will give a transcript of the conversation as best I can remember it.


Brian (roommate at the time): Hey Pat, this is Thadeus he works with me.

Me: Hey thadeus…can I call you Thad?

Thad: No…nobody calls me thad.

Me: Really? Nobody…somebody must have called you that before me.

Thad: Yea…one person.

Me: Who was that?

Thad: The coach of the 1980 mens US hockey team…and when he did, I punched him in the face.

Me (Wondering why this person is in my home and becoming a bit nervous and confused): Oh really, why did you do that.

Thad: Because he called me thad.

Me: Right…stupid question. Someone get me a beer.


I was astounded and figured that I must be off the wall drunk…did he say the coach of the 1980 men’s hockey team? Brian confirmed…yes the coach of the “miracle on ice” hockey team was punched in the face by a 7 year old Thadeus.  So given his response there is still some animosity between thad and herb brooks. Of course if Thad reads this post…I might get punched in the face but at least I would be in good company. Lastly, Thad would tend to get drunk at our house and end up wandering off. Apparently on more than one occasion he was picked up by police after trying to sleep it off outside someplace. They would invariably bring him back to his mothers house (which is really the only place you can bring a 6ft tall drunk goth guy with some unresolved naming issues). I always wondered why he didn’t end in jail for the night and why when I needed a ride home myself I always had to find someone. Not once did they police ever pick me up…perhaps I shouldn’t be complaining about such things. Patrick OUT!!!


Hot Stuff

Given the disappointing first displays of spring discussed in my last post I want to talk about something a bit more uplifting. Yesterday I was not doing much in the way of work or anything productive and had the occasion to stumble upon the movie, Sabrina on TV. Made back in the 50s, it stars Humphrey Bogart, William Holden, and (my favorite) Audrey Hepburn. Really the movie isn’t half bad…a little funny, a bit dated, but Ms. Hepburn more than makes up for that with what is just a phenomenally charming performance as the daughter of a business tycoon’s chauffeur who finds herself torn between two brothers. There are some more serious undercurrents of brotherly competition and even some class warfare but Hepburn is just a pleasure to watch and really makes the movie worthwhile. I would have to say that really Breakfast at Tiffany’s is my favorite of her films and then maybe Sabrina or perhaps Roman Holiday. I really wish there was another actress around today that could match up with Audrey and (to be honest) I mean that in really the most superficial sense you can imagine. Though I do appreciate her acting, I think her range of characters was perhaps a little weak. If you haven’t seen these films then you certainly should. Patrick OUT!!!


“Yes. I always thought it was a ridiculous name for a prison. Sing Sing, I mean. Sounds more like it should be an opera house or something.”

-Holly Golightly

Breakfast at Tiffany’s 1961



Seen on Campus

Its spring again (at least for today) and love is in the air. Sort of. I made the trip to the main campus today which is twice in the past two days. Typically, I don’t go there very often but this week has been a little different for a variety of reasons. Of course, I was thankful to get out of the lab and experience the nice weather and see people that aren’t grad students or professors for a change. The undergraduate population always surprises me with their, shall we say, “eccentricity?” Today was no different in that regard as my trip to the main campus allowed me to observe the first instance of “geek love” this season. This particular pair consisted of a dashing young gentleman complete with boba fett tee-shirt, ripped jeans, long hair, and goth jewelry accompanying a stunning brunette who complemented her oversized glasses with a cloak. Now, I’m no fashion expert but on the first really nice spring day…who decides that a cloak is the best apparel choice. I mean seriously…looking through the closet and saying, “hmmm….sun dress?...no…halter top?...no…dracula cloak…YES.” So I’m not one to judge, actually I am. I avoid being judgmental the same way I avoid found money. In this case, I just can’t figure out what these people are going to do like that for the rest of their lives. It would be a nice place if the world was totally accepting of different people in all their forms…but its not. You can veer a little from the norm but when you go off the deep end…people get nervous. I know I’m supposed to respect these people because I’m sure they’re brilliant…at least that’s what people always say when they talk about the students here, “oh they’re very smart but just a little different.” Some of them aren’t so smart…so what’s their excuse??? Anyways, it always brings to mind the adage, “be nice to geeks…one of them will be your boss.” Well if I was looking to promote someone out of middle management would it be the well adjusted individual or the guy wearing the black nail polish and iron maiden t-shirt…yea, that’s what I thought. I guess these people just need to find themselves a bit more and I’m not saying they need to adhere to every social norm and more but someone should kindly let them know that on occasion playing within the system is your best bet for changing it. Patrick OUT!!!




Brazil President Blames Economic Crisis on White People


So Brazilian President Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva has blamed the economic crisis on “white people with blue eyes.” I think this means that he has exactly one more brain cell than he does syllables in his name. At first I was totally offended by his claim but the I remembered that I’m white but have BROWN eyes so I guess I’m off the hook in brazil. Thank goodness. But giselle bundchen should be worried...white, blue eyes, Brazilian...he must be referring to her, and now with her and Tom Brady together they are destined to have lots of little imperialistic offspring determined to spite the dark skinned among us. How shameful of them to go on looking like that. This, of course, is to say nothing of those people in Scandinavia...don’t go visiting brazil. Of course if you happen to be a Chinese banker then you are all set. In all seriousness, i guess he was probably talking about the economic divide between the haves and the have nots, that to a noticeable degree has been linked with skin color. Of course when he makes statements like that...our attention is not drawn to such matters but rather to how politically stupid he is. Perhaps it will make him popular in his country but for someone trying to gain further international power for brazil it was awfully dumb of him. Imagine him calling the shots at a UN security council meeting...yikes. Of course, I can’t imagine it would be worse than the current members...Russia, China? The two most oppressive super-powers in existence today. Maybe Mr. Da Silva would be an improvement after all. Patrick OUT!!!



Tree of Life

Totally cool video with Richard Attenborough about the evolution of life...well done.


Today I start teaching again…granted its only 5 classes but by rights I shouldn’t be teaching any. Here’s the deal. As part of my graduate education on the road to a PhD, the department has determined that I needed some formal training in pedagogy. To that end, I participated throughout last semester in a “mentored teaching experience.” This consisted of the following, me giving 5 lectures for one of my bosses classes and receiving student evaluations and her evaluations. The students were usually quite kind and more than one even said I was better than my advisor, who usually teaches the class. She had such insightful comments like

“Patrick…don’t use the green marker on the white board, sometimes its hard to see in the back of the room.”

“I noticed a typo in your powerpoint slides…try and fix those.”


Stunningly insightful there. I’m so glad I agreed to this. Anyways, the process continues wherein I’m supposed to take those comments and integrate them into my next set of lectures to show improvement. So once again, I give 5 lectures in one of my advisor’s classes. And once again, the reviews come in with the same sorts of things except this time some students were surprisingly different from one another. I received the following two comments on evaluations from two anonymous  students.


“Patrick, should work on not talking down to students when answering questions from the class.”

“Patrick showed good enthusiasm in helping students to learn when answering questions he was easy to understand and helpful.”


Ummm…what do I do with that. If I had to wager as to which one of those students was likely to be getting an “A” …I shouldn’t but you can guess. So after all that, I wrote a quick evaluation of myself which was actually similar to this post but less sarcastic and as a corollary also a bit less honest (strange how those things work out).


Now, I’m teaching again but this time its not for my education its solely to “help out” my advisor. Ummm…once again, NOT MY JOB…definitely her job. To make matters worse, the post-doc in the lab is also teaching some but she is being PAID for it. Not so for me. Can’t I say, “No”? Ummm…not exactly. You see, I need my advisor to always be on my side of things so that she will sign off on my eventual matriculation. Thus, I’m being held over a barrel for this one. To add insult to injury, the PhD student before me only taught TWO classes…TOTAL. I guess I’m either being punished for being spineless or I’m just that much in demands. But, the last guy took 7 years to finish and I’m looking at being done in 5 so I guess there might be something to it. We shall see. Patrick OUT!!!



Recessive Minded

While in personal discourse I decry gossip amongst friends (or at least try to…sometimes its just so good), I do get my fix by monitoring a couple of new groups/ list serves that tend to be sounding boards for local folks to bitch about one another. Sometimes they are good debate and sometimes they are just ad hominem attacks with little more than dribble. I much prefer the former but sometimes, being internet based commentators somewhat unaccountable to anyone, the later emerges with baseless supposition and little to no evidence. In a recent exchange two individuals debated the propriety of the “gay agenda.” I’m not sure I understand what the “gay agenda” is but I think the people that use that term to reference support for gay marriage (i.e. gay civil rights) and a general acceptance of homosexual lifestyles (which is another term I have trouble with because I find it a bit too categorical and running close to dangerous  stereotypes). With that definition, I suppose that I’m in favor of the “gay agenda” which I really view as just an issue of civil rights. I don’t see the morality issue in it at all and to be quite honest the only moral failings I see are on the other side amongst those that would do harm to fellow human beings over something that doesn’t concern them in the slightest. All that for another post. The point of the matter is that someone on the list serve brought up the point that the “gay gene” is recessive and that it could never survive evolutionary pressure because gay people don’t reproduce and if the gene is recessive that means that only 0.4% of the population has it which doesn’t explain why so many more people claim to be gay. Ugh! If for no other reason than avoiding the creation of fodder for hateful bigots you should support the teaching of evolution and modern science in the public schools. This is totally bunk on so many levels. I will try to address the issues one at a time. First off the bat, the “gay gene” has not been categorically identified. There is strong evidence supporting a genetic link to homosexuality (at least in men…women have proven to be tougher) but there is also evidence to suggest that it is likely a multi-gene phenotype (measurable trait). Secondly, a gay gene could very well be carried through the population through a variety of mechanisms of evolution. For instance, a woman could carry the gene for male homosexuality and no one would notice…she might then pass it along to her son who then  might be gay or her daughter who then might pass it on to her son and so on. Secondly the prevalence of the gene is totally off here too. Recessive is a term used to describe an allele or version of a gene. In this case a recessive allele is one that doesn’t not produce a measurable phenotype. It says nothing of the prevalence of the gene. Thankfully some recessive genes are more prevalent in the population than their dominant counterparts. For instance, Marfan syndrome (that may have affected Abraham Lincoln) is a dominant disorder caused by a dominant gene that is very rare in the population. Thankfully, most of us have the recessive form of that gene and show no disease. This is my little contribution to science education amongst the masses but really we need so much more because unfortunately while science is trusted to a fairly high degree in society, bad science and pseudo-science is also trusted. Its important to evaluate your source of information (especially when it comes from me) and think about whether what you’re reading makes sense or is just being used to make a point, especially when those points are bad. Patrick OUT!!!



Spirituality is a concept that I struggle with to some degree. In all of my conflict with organized religion, the idea of spirituality is something I’m not sure that I can either believe in or not believe in. In essence, it comes down to a lack of understanding of those who call themselves spiritual. Typically the people I think of as describing themselves as spiritual have little in the way of organized religious belief but do find something metaphysical that is real to them. In my simple materialist mind, I have a bit of trouble ascribing things to spirits or souls when it seems sensible to call it biochemistry. In contrast to a recent mini-debate on the subject, I don’t find this to be a “cold” concept at all. Rather I think it something of immense beauty. The idea that we as a species are able to translate images of the outside world, formulate ideas and hypotheses, remember people and emotions with immense clarity, and even conceive of things beyond ourselves is something so marvelous I actually find it more cold to chalk it all up to the simplicity of a “soul.” That atoms and molecules can be manipulated and organized in such a way as to do these things is absolutely stunning. This is stunning for me in a “take your breath away” kind of way. If ever I have had a spiritual experience it was the first time I realized that there is immense beauty in the act of being alive. The orchestra of molecules that act in concert to produce a bacteria or a person is so astonishing a thing that for me it is impossible not to be in awe of what nature hath produced. I truly believe that if people took the time to think about the implications of biology and chemistry in their bodies that produce these amazing things there would be no shortage of “spiritual” experiences even without a personal god. Even the simple things, like me writing this here involve such complex underlying machinations of molecular machinery that even a preacher, pastor, or rabbi should be compelled to say that nature has produced things far more wondrous than what any divine being could or would conceive. The spirituality that people experience is actually something more amazing than I think they might at first realize. Patrick OUT!!!


Thanks to Marie for giving partial inspiration to this post with her recent entry.


I’ve never quite understood the LOLCats craze but this one I think is pretty good.

Patrick OUT!!!

Not about religion

It looks like people have started to notice a little bit that my disillusionment and disappointment with organized religion has reached something of a point recently. This post will not address that but will instead focus on the other thing that reliably pisses me off, mainly the US government overstepping its bounds. Now we have the advent of punitive taxation, which I guess is not totally correct because most taxation is somewhat punitive and anytime we move closer to a socialist society it becomes more so but thats a topic for another post. Instead, we have the 90% taxation of bonuses paid to corporations receiving bailout money. So I have lots of problems with this concept. The first is obviously that the government is bailing out private business. The second is that in response to public outrage the US congress has taken upon itself the responsibility of taking the money back from private hands. This clearly exposes the problem in the first place which is that you shouldn't give money to people that waste it. I think we can simplify the situation with a childhood metaphor in which Johnny lends his poor friend billy a few dollars. This would be a nice thing for Johnny to do but unfortunately our situation has some caveats. In our scenario, Johnny knows that Billy is poor because he wasted all the money he had before. Furthermore, the money johnny is lending is actually his parents money. In our new scenario, Johnny might be surprised to find out that Billy used the money to buy candy but we can not rightly ascribe more blame to Billy than we can to Johnny for being dumb. Furthermore, Johnny's parents, the source of the cash in the first place, shouldn't be mad at billy but rather should be mad at johnny for being so irresponsible with their money. Furthermore, they should be mad regardless of whether Johnny recovered some of the money or the candy because he has shown that he is not worthy of his parents trust. That all being said, I think we should send the government into the corner for gross mismanagement. No dessert for congress and if the senate doesn't shut up we're going to turn this country right around and go back home, etc. Patrick OUT!!!

Something to look forward to

Its looking like I’m going to be in Helsinki Finland this July for a conference. I’m excited about it but I just visited the hotel web site and found this on their accommodations description page.


Accommodation / Hotel Facilities

Have a good nights’ sleep in marine surroundings

From our hotel rooms you have a perfect view of the Finnish archipelago.

From Rantapuisto you have excellent connections to the main highways, the centre and the airport, and also the sights and services of Helsinki. The parking facilities of the hotel offer an abundance of parking space.


“Have a good nights’ sleep in marine surroundings.” Yikes, it sounds like this place might be run by the mob…I’m not sure I want that at all. Luckilly there is a good view of the archipelago. Lastly, the big selling point of the hotel is the abundance of parking space and easy ways to get out and go someplace else. So there you have it…a good view, and parking, and possibly sleeping with the fishes. I cannot wait. Patrick OUT!!!



Would you trust...me?

So I came across this poll today about which professions are the most trusted. It is from a couple years back but it certainly makes me smile. 77% of respondents said they would trust a scientist…which ranks only behind doctors and teachers. I have to take it with a grain of salt because we are only three points ahead of the clergy who shouldn’t be trusted with much but we are way above the president and members of congress who shouldn’t be trusted with ANYTHING. I think its also funny that the pollsters put their own profession in the mix and found that only 34% of people trusted them. Does that mean that the other 66% of people were filling out the poll and actively thinking that it was going to be misused. I guess the figured that they didn’t have an option because they trust lawyers even less. I can only assume when people say they don’t trust lawyers they mean other people’s lawyers and not their own. The other category I like is, “ordinary man or woman.” What is that? Was it a major I missed in college. Can I grow up to be one of those or am I too far gone. They are trusted more than bankers which I think means that if you are an ordinary man or woman than you have a higher chance of someone giving you their money to hold on to for a while (this survey was in 2006…before the major crisis gained national attention). And of course, actors are last…because you just never know when they might be acting. If I was doing the survey I would have two categories here…good actors and bad actors. You can’t trust the good ones but the bad ones are probably OK. What does it all mean? It means that I picked a trustworthy profession and if it doesn’t work out I’m going back to school to be just an “ordinary man” or maybe an “ordinary woman” though that might take more time. Patrick OUT!!!



Would Trust

Would Not

Not Sure/ Refused
















Police officers








Clergymen or priests




Military officers












Ordinary man or woman




Civil servants








The President




TV newscasters












Members of Congress








Trade union leaders

















Warning Sexual Content

Recently the Pope proclaimed that condom’s would not help the AIDS crisis in Africa and would in fact make the matter worse. Here again, we have the backwards policy of abstinence first and common sense second taking charge within St. Peters. The catholic church needs to get with the times here and realize that fighting against the use of condoms in a place where the rate of HIV infection can reach more than 25% of the population. If a politician or a doctor advocated such policies in this country they could and should be brought up on charges of negligence and perhaps homicide. It is the height of irresponsibility to put the sanctity of dogma above the sanctity of human life. I use that terminology in full view that it usually refers to the idea of “life beginning at conception.” Which is really a somewhat crazy idea to begin with. I mean lets just get this whole thing straight…the church would have us believe that every little sperm in joe catholic’s “seed” is a little potential life. If that’s the case there is a veritable massacre going on every time someone has sex with or without a condom. The vast majority of those little soldiers don’t make it, in fact like 300 million will die in the process of searching for an egg that might not even be there. If those are lives, then that’s the equivalent of killing the whole population of the planet just to get your rocks off. Shame on all of you for killing so many innocent young sperm. Those little swimmers are just trying to make it in this crazy world of ours and you go off shooting them down a dark alley full of twists and turns without so much as a second thought. Of course, if you wear a condom you are then killing 300,000,001 instead. WOAH…way worse that way. Furthermore, is it their supposition that the conception is some sort of divinely inspired event in which a single sperm containing the sole of an individual is guided to an egg to make a new creature in the image of god? Right? Ok, so God, who can’t find it within himself to stop the genocide of innocent children in the sudan or in Rwanda…reaches down with his divine hand and picks one of your little swimmers and guides him along. First off…that’s gross…secondly…its stupid. Lastly, this idea that life begins at that moment…does that mean there was something other than life before that moment. The sperm was alive…the egg was alive…they combine to be still alive, but not a human. They are no more a human than a kidney is a human or half your brain is a human. They are human tissue but they are not a person. In fact they don’t even have all the right parts to be a human. We can throw out DNA as being the qualifier here because of the above examples and so we are left with the most basic definition of a human which is tissues and organs arranged in a particular way at a particular time and a 10 week old embryo doesn’t even come close to fitting that description. A baby chimp comes closer to approximating a human than does an embryo. But no! For this backwards interpretation of god’s will…the pope would have people die a protracted death from a viral infection that could have been  prevented. The moral issue here is not if contraception is wrong; it is that willfully ignoring common sense is wrong. This is the fundamental basis behind the ethics of belief and why it is a fundamental moral wrong to believe such things without evidence. The catholic church and the pope should be ashamed of themselves for this outrageous affront to human dignity. Patrick OUT!!!



Ethics of Belief - Must Read

A little something from William K. Clifford (1877)…absolutely fantastic. Originally printed in the Contemporary Review. And now in a collection of essays on the “Ethics of Belief” Seriously…its perfect.

“The harm which is done by credulity in a man is not confined to the fostering of a credulous character in others, and consequent support of false beliefs. Habitual want of care about what I believe leads to habitual want of care in others about the truth of what is told to me. Men speak the truth of one another when each reveres the truth in his own mind and in the other's mind; but how shall my friend revere the truth in my mind when I myself am careless about it, when I believe thing because I want to believe them, and because they are comforting and pleasant? Will he not learn to cry, "Peace," to me, when there is no peace? By such a course I shall surround myself with a thick atmosphere of falsehood and fraud, and in that I must live. It may matter little to me, in my cloud-castle of sweet illusions and darling lies; but it matters much to Man that I have made my neighbours ready to deceive. The credulous man is father to the liar and the cheat; he lives in the bosom of this his family, and it is no marvel if he should become even as they are. So closely are our duties knit together, that whoso shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.

To sum up: it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”


Patrick OUT!!!


Why I'm a Scientist

Quite easily the best response to the statement, “Why I’m a Scientist”




It just works well and sounds oh so familiar to me and I’m sure many others. I think it fits in nicely with the recent post of qualifiers. Worth a read by even you non-science folk out there. Patrick OUT!!!


Unified Field Theory

Einstein spent a good deal of his waning years envisioning a “Unified Field Theory” or the “Theory of Everything” that could bridge the sizeable gap between his theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, in other words…stuff that’s really really big and stuff that’s really really small. I look for unified field theories in lots of places, under the couch, behind the refrigerator and so on. Ok…no, I don’t. But I do look for linkages between disparate things all the time. I guess it’s a little bit of the scientist in me and a little bit of irrationality that creeps up every so often. I’m always weary when I do it because I know that trying to draw linkages when there are none is pretty dangerous territory. Fitting a theory to a preconceived notion is tenuous at best and it usually relies on the false idea that correlation implies causation (see figure below). That not withstanding, I have a new unified field theory for solving many of our nations current problems in one fell swoop.


So here is my thinking on the matter. We have an obesity problem in this country in which 63% of our population is overweight. That’s more than 189,000,000 overweight people. Wow! So lets just consider if those people decided that they were going to lose some weight. Lets start them off with a reasonable reduction in caloric intake of 500 calories/day. Since these are food calories they are actually kilocalories but I will try and keep my units consistent here. So those people are consuming an excess of energy each and every day that they wastefully turn into fat. Lets say they instead of eating those 500 calories they “donate” them to a co-generation plant to make electricity, methane, and heat. Those calories are equivalent to 370 BILLION B.T.U.s of energy that is being wasted. Or if you prefer, the equivalent of 3,286,956 gallons of gasoline per DAY. So that’s only the equivalent of about 1% of the US daily consumption. But lets just say that we take this hybrid car thing seriously and that we are able to, on average, increase our efficiencies by a meager 10% over traditional cars. We also saw that people drove on average 2% less when the price of gas was high. If we can convince people that these are habits they should continue regardless of price lets see where we get. Put together we see a net reduction in around 45 million gallons / day or about 12%. Lets go on to say that since we are running super efficient co-generation plants that take our waste and turn it into energy that we can use this to create steam to heat our homes and offices (it already happens in new York city). I imagine a co-op system where some initial capital investment is paid off through “free” heat to members in exchange for their organic waste products. We could further cut oil consumption that we would have used for heating homes. Plus…this is environmentally friendly and carbon neutral (and way better than putting the trash in landfills). We gain the energy, we also produce valuable nutrient rich fertilizer which can be used on fields and doesn’t take the energy that we would have used to produce the environmentally damaging chemicals. Lets couple this with some new nuclear reactors thrown in that could also be converted to a co-generation set-up so we don’t waste that extra heat. Conservatively lets cut our oil usage by another 10% (less oil to heat homes that are now being warmed by steam and also less oil powered electrical plants which were replaced by nuclear). Now we have cut our energy usage by close to 25% and we have hopefully cut our waistlines too. But the benefits don’t stop there. Because of the decrease in obesity our health care costs go down. Insurance premiums shrink, waiting times for surgery go down because nobody needs a gastric bypass anymore and we all benefit from good clean living. Ah…if only this was at all feasible…what would be the cost of such overhauls? Would it be less than the 1 trillion dollars in bailout cash already dealt out. I think it probably would. Patrick OUT!!!



The Wonderful Inversion of Reason

Some good stuff by Dan Dennett of Tufts Univ.

Saint Patrick

Alas it has come again, Saint Patrick’s Day…a time when we can all be Irish or at least we can all live up to Irish stereotypes for a night or so. We can eat corned beef and cabbage and drink too much beer…maybe even get into a fight. Because what would saint Patrick’s day be without a couple of drunken fights. Now this may seem a bit sophomoric but let me tell you…a drunken fight is way better than what this holiday could have been. You see, Saint Patrick’s day like Saint Valentine’s Day is in fact the feast day of these particular saints. A day when we are supposed to commemorate the saints and their ascensions into heaven. So lets see what our other religious option would have been. We could commemorate the conversion of thousands of heathen Irishmen to Christianity so that one day many centuries later they could kill each other over the minute differences in their faith. Or we could drink Guinness and sing “When Irish eyes are smiling.” We could be remembering the fallacious claims that a 5th century bishop drove the snakes from an entire island (that didn’t actually have snakes to begin with)…or we could have a big parade with bag pipes and leprechauns. This I think settles it…we have a choice but really no choice at all…5th century missionary or drunken debauchery. Remember…DWMJ (Dude where’s my Jesus?).  Patrick OUT!!!


What I’m listening too: Cherish the ladies



Ass Backwards


I’m stunned…I cannot even comment on this nonsense. Seriously…this is a new low.


Jesus' Face in Seat Cushion



I may have talked about this before but I have a new opinion of the process now. As part of earning a PhD in this country, each student goes through a qualifying exam. The completion of this exam makes that person a “PhD candidate.” This is a very significant step in the completion of the degree and is the most likely point for a person to drop out of the program. However, completion of the qualifier is an implicit agreement between the student and the department that he/she will finish (there is no timeline here) the degree. Typically the exam is an intensive writing component followed by a public defense and a more private oral exam in front of an examining committee. At WPI and elsewhere this takes the form of a hypothetical grant which is supposed to show both the breadth of the students knowledge (they can’t write about what they research) and also about their ability to design novel scientific work. It tests rational thinking, factual knowledge, scientific principles, and skills in rhetoric, public speaking and so forth.

Typically a student will be given two attempts to successfully write and defend their proposal in front of the committee. They may pass after the first go ‘round but often they will be asked to repeat. If they do not pass on the second attempt, they are usually asked to leave the program (sometimes with a masters…sometimes with nothing). Having already completed mine and now having read, revised, and experienced a number of others, I can confidently say that this system works. I might not have said this after my own but I think that the qualifiers process is a crucial component to the education and certification of a PhD student. I have written quite a bit about my belief that modern academic too often cheats the students out of an education in favor of training. It has become an extension of highschool. This trend actually continues a bit into masters and PhD programs in which the first years are often very similar to the undergraduate curricula. The defining point is the qualifier which is truly unlike anything the student has experienced previously…unless they’ve already completed a thesis based masters degree (which is probably close but still not quite the same). I’m still a firm believer that there is no amount of education that can teach a person to think. Furthermore, I believe (I say this because I have NO factual basis for any of this) that there are verifiably and possibly measurably different ways in which people think. This may be genetic or it might be environmentally initiated…I don’t know but it doesn’t really matter. In that vein, there are some people who make good scientists and some that just don’t. Sometimes I think I know what category I’m in and sometimes I don’t. Regardless of that idea, the undergraduate education is not designed to put people into categories and it is quite possible with enough work to skirt through most any degree program not dependant on your particular mode of cognition. Furthermore, I think that most undergraduate programs make it a special point to ensure that this is the case and be the most accepting. All well and good but when those people who don’t “think like scientists” try to go for another degree or into the job force they might be met with an unfortunately rude awakening to discover that perhaps a life of rational thought is not their forte. The qualifier however, is a fairly effective measure of one’s ability to think critically and is a generally solid reflection of the individual. For certain there are individuals who pass their quals who perhaps shouldn’t have and of course the opposite is also true. The fact doesn’t change that there are few exams that I think could ever effectively differentiate the two groups but if I had to design a test then perhaps the qualifier would be it. Maybe we in the academic environment approach this problem too late. Would it not be a better system if the exam was given after maybe two years of undergraduate work rather than after 6 or 7 years of higher education. Certainly a student failing after the second year would have ample time to explore perhaps more fulfilling career paths. I guess I feel pretty lucky ( I mean this in the grandest sense) to be where I am but I never suffered from the career wise self-doubt of choice that I think many people do. I think this will probably all need to be filled under Patrick’s academic idealism and that’s where it will likely stay. Patrick OUT!!!


What I’m listening too: Squeeze Me – Dinah Washington



So I talk to myself...what?

So over the past week a couple people have asked where I get the ideas for posts or rather why they can be so different. So the truth is that I often have multiple ideas for a post on a particular day and just pick one of them to write about. Those of you who read the “Ode to my Corn Muffin,” will realize that this is not ALWAYS the case. I write mostly in the mornings, like now, but sometimes I write the next days post in the evening and just wait to post it until I get to work the next day. That’s another thing…I do all my posting at work…just don’t tell my boss. Sometimes posts take me 5 minutes to write and other times because I’m doing other things they can take many hours to compose. Usually my ideas come from only a few places: other blogs I read, news wire services, conversations with other people, and more often than not…conversations with myself. I know, I’ve had this conversation before with people in the lab, and so its really only half the confession it might otherwise be. I talk to myself… in the car …all the time. Its not just singing along to the radio (though I do that on occasion to). Since I have two 40 minute drives every day it’s a time when I find myself rehashing conversations (usually arguments) I had that day and how I could have done better. I get to say all the things that I would have said to my boss if I wasn’t worried about being fired or not graduating. I can say the stuff to the cute girl I’ve been looking at but am too nervous to ask out. I can yell at politicians for the stupid ways they spend my money. Rehearse my nobel prize acceptance speech or refine my treatise on post-stalin communist thought. Some of those things make it in here…thankfully, most do not. I guess to some degree, every time I write a post I’m talking to myself with the hope and occasional confirmation that people actually read it. Even if I found that I had no readers at all, I think I would probably still write the same stuff just for the cathartic value of it all. I would still talk to myself too. Patrick OUT!!!


What I’m Listening Too: Dancing with myself – Billy Idol



Cosmic Justice

Bernie Madoff is set to plead guilty to defrauding investors of billions of dollars in assets with a large and complex ponzi scheme. Madoff made millions while continually promising 10% return to his clients who gladly kept giving him money. I heard on the radio this morning a sound byte from one of his victims, who is going to be in the courtroom, saying “I hope he never sees his wife again” and “they should put him into solitary confinement.” Wow. Now don’t get me wrong, Bernie Madoff is a greedy, dishonest, asshole. But is that really the punishment that this woman wants for him taking her money?  I think it says a lot about her and probably the people that invested with madoff. We’ve already seen someone commit suicide over the whole thing…it would be easy to blame those things on madoff but really he was just playing the system and playing the people…and for a while, he did it pretty well. I really don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for these people because I think that they suffer from a key fundamental flaw, hubris. They were willing to envision themselves investment insiders, smarter than the rest of us. Content to know they had found the secret to making big money even in a downturned economy. Now, they have been punished. I don’t believe in karma, its against my non-religion…but if I did, this would be sweet. I guess I have the urge to root for the underdog and see the giant fall and in this case we only have giants and they are all going down. The richest of the rich defrauding the others. This isn’t the typical battle cry of Walmart abusing workers, or buying fair trade coffee, this was something sooo much better. This was people too stupid to see past their positions and the check books to realize that what they were doing was STUPID. Unfortunately, Madoff is probably going to get off with a stint in minimum security watchin’ TV and playin’ cards. His family will still be living in his swanky manhattan apartment on their individual “wealth.” Maybe he’ll get some time off for good behavior. Personally I hope we get a real-life shawshank redemption scenario. Madoff running the investment strategy for the guards and warden in exchange for perrier water and 1996 dom perignon. It’s a win-win. Patrick OUT!!!


What I’m Listening Too: “For the Love of Money”

Stripper Unite (or is it Untie?)

Stripper Tax is Hard to Bare

The above link refers to a proposed new york tax on strip joints that would have patrons paying an additional $10 upon entering that would go directly to the state. This is wrong on sooo many levels. First off, the government adding a new tax that specifically punishes a particular kind of completely legal business is absurd. You don’t think so…what if we voted in a government that decided they knew what was best for you and wanted to eliminate your intake of saturated fat. To them the best bet would be to institute a cheese tax or perhaps more appropriately a frommage fine. They don’t just want to discourage it they want to eliminate it so hey slap a tax of $1000/pound of cheese served. That adds $62 to the cost of your burger…or $400 to that large pizza. That would be crazy…the government can’t tell me what I can and can’t do. Why is a strip joint any different? Those of you that know me, know I’m not the sort to frequent “gentleman’s clubs.” But if I were, this would really piss me off…actually it pisses me off regardless. To make matters worse they want to spend the money specifically on human trafficking, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and child prostitution. So, I’m not against spending money on those sorts of things…I think they are important problems that should be dealt with appropriately and unlike many other problems are of such a nature that only the government can really tackle them. However, is it just me or does this stipulation in the proposed law imply that we need to tax an industry as punishment for those crimes. Aren’t they really insinuating that the presence of strip joints and those that go to them are the factors most likely to increase the prevalence of those crimes? Ummm…I really don’t think so. I’m going to have to call bullshit on this one and just go out on a limb and say that this is profiling and discrimination against people who because of social stigma, the government knows will not defend themselves. There just isn’t going to be a protest of stripper aficionados and probably not a protest of strippers either (though I do have my fingers crossed on that one). The government needs to check their backwards morality and ill-informed opinions at the door and start looking at fairness in government and especially in taxation. Patrick OUT!!!


What I’m Listening Too: Pour some sugar on me – Def Leppard


The end of evangelism

So after the other day’s fairly frivolous corn muffin balladry. I’m back to something more serious. Apparently the evangelical Christian community is worried that their grip on the US is collapsing (I can only hope that I’ve been just a small part of such things). The link below is to an article that appeared in the Christian Science Monitor which as a side note was founded by Ms. Mary Baker Eddy who also founded the Church of Christ, scientist…which is easily the most ironic name in all of religion and while they have a nice building as a headquarters is a true tarnish to the great city of boston. I could go on and on about the awful things that particular church has done in the name of superstition, delusion, and lunacy but I’ll refrain for now.


The Coming Evangelical Collapse


The article state seven things that are causing the end of the evangelical movement

1.       Getting too caught up in singular issues rather than issues of faith (i.e pro-life, anti-gay marriage, etc.)

2.       Failure to educate their youth on issues of faith that can stand up to the secular intellectual juggernauts (people like me but better).

3.       Shrinking congregations except for the “mega-churches”

4.       Failure of Christian education to “withstand the rising tide of secularism” (translation: shit…evolution looks pretty solid…what now?)

5.       Secular morals will replace the “good” that evangelicals want to do and so they will then be viewed as “bad” (I like when Christians deal in absolutes and far reaching generalizations)

6.       Inability to pass on confidence in the scripture to children.(Now, if even kids wont believe this stuff…what does that say about its veracity? Remember when you believed that a fairy gave you money for teeth? Yea…nuff said.)

7.       “The money will dry up” (Couldn’t they pray for more?)


Anyways, I think these are pretty good reasons…unfortunately I’m not as worried as the CSM is about these particular problems thought I certainly wish I was. But I do feel inclined to comment on a few of them.

1.       Issues rather than faith…this is a fundamental flaw in not just the evangelical community. They certainly make a big deal about it but the catholic church does it, the jews have Zionism, and the muslims have the anti-zionism stuff to tangle with, Buddhists have Tibet, hindus have hating muslims etc. All of these things are not really based in so much scripture as they are in personal opinion of a select few. They all tend to cause religious folk to kill each other with abandon.

2.       Failure to educate youth to stand up to secular ideas…this isn’t really a failure but a realization. There is nothing they could possibly do. The secular forces they refer to are most notably reason and logic and unfortunately for them…they stand up pretty well on their own…the bible doesn’t fare as well

3.       Shrinking congregations…: ) 

4.       Failure of Christian education…see point 2

5.       This point falls into the category of…if you don’t believe in god then how do you know what is right. To that I say we have innate human morals…much like human rights (but religions have a poor record on those). If it was conclusively shown tomorrow that no good exists…would the world go crazy? Would you? Probably not? If you only act morally because of an intense fear of “benevolent” man in the sky then what does that say about you. If I act morally without that fear…what does it say about me. If there was a god…which one of us would he appreciate more?

6.       Confidence in the scripture…those crazy kids are getting smarter every day.

7.       Money is the root of all evil…or so they say. Jesus said blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. If that’s all true than the evangelicals should be PSYCHED and the pope should be WORRIED. Grad students should also feel pretty good about things too but that’s a topic for another post.


I’m pretty surprised that the CSM made the assessments that they did but clearly I’m biased and view the problem as being larger than they do…actually my problems are their successes and vice versa. Time will tell but I’m proud to be in that 15% which now finally outnumbers the evangelicals, I’m not sure if this is appropriate or not but HALLELUJAH. Patrick OUT!!!

Ode to my Corn Muffin

This morning I had a corn muffin for breakfast that was so heavenly I’ve decided to eulogize it in verse. I’m feeling particularly literary today and I think my post have been a bit too heavy in recent weeks so with that…I offer my ode.



My muffin so sweet

Crunchy top and soft bottom

Nourish me today



I ate a corn muffin this morning

Its crumbs went awry without warning

But its taste was so good

That I probably would

Feel tomorrow, nothing but yearning



To eat that muffin this morning so fine

A pastry never could do so well to

Fill my grumbling internal hole in time

Power a warm muffin contains, so new


Alas, my lips doth touch the moist sweet cake

My words cannot describe the taste as well

Indeed, for this is what you ought partake

And then perhaps, like me, you would yet tell


O how I wish I had another one

So that we both might share the feel this day

And then of course I would not be yet done

For now it seems as if I have to say


All thine muffins canst not compare to it

Compared to mine, yours must taste like dog shit (I just couldn’t resist…Shakespeare couldn’t have done better)


Patrick OUT!!!