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Monthly Archives: September 2010

Incredibly Depressing Mega Millions Lottery Simulator!

Filling out lottery form
You gotta play to win right? Well, maybe.

Some healthy skepticism and a little math know-how is really all it takes to convince yourself that you should never play the lottery. Especially when you consider the odds of winning the jackpot is 1 in 175,711,536.

But you don’t have to feel left out while everyone else drops their cash to the school system. You now have the ability to give away your money virtually using the Incredibly Depressing Mega Millions Lottery Simulator!

I decided to simulate playing twice a week for 10 years (1040 times). I chose 5 numbers: 11, 20, 29, 38 and 47. I chose my powerball number (13) and hit go.

This is My result:

You played 1040 games of Mega Millions. It cost $1040. You won $89.

It then threw this at me just below my results:

In the 12561263 times this simulation has run, players have won $26486645
And by won I mean they have won back $26486645 of the $12561263 they spent (210%).

And by the way, the odds of you seeing a UFO today are only 1 in 3,000,000.

But look on the bright side, you can play the Incredibly Depressing Mega Millions Lottery Simulator and go ahead and donate your money to public education without half of it not getting there!

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Watches YouTube

I spent a little time today watching the United Nations General Assembly with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I find it very disturbing that he seems to be implying that democracy is the cause of strife and poverty in the world when it was the enlightenment and democracy that promoted the majority of the world’s greatest revelations. This while implying that a totalitarian oppressive religious regime will be a greater asset in today’s society. (Let’s not forget the 13 year old girl that was stoned to death 2 years ago) Then leaps into the idea that the west developed nuclear power before the bomb to somehow justify his attempt to obtain nuclear power. As I recall from history it was the other way around. Frankly the area that he lives in would lend itself better to wind and solar power anyway. (Go green man) Well, then he goes right into the old tale of the US involvement in 9/11 that somehow we conspired to allow it to happen. Mr. Ahmadinejad you need to stop watching youtube and start watching more porn it is better for the nerves.

Announcing the Drunken Skeptics Podcast!

I want to thank everyone that attended our first Get Together. The turnout was better than I could have hoped. The discussions ranged from intelligent to bawdy and everyone had a great time! There was also an unplanned impromptu trip to the ice cream shop for some skeptical ice cream.

Most of the Get Together
This is most of the people that attended our first Get together. I could not get an angle that would fit everyone.

I had promised that I was going to reveal a big secret project that we had been working on these past several weeks. And it was a good one. As you can tell from the title we are producing our own podcast! It will be hosted by myself, Michelle Lester-Bell and Chris Lindsay.

We’re going to be a bit unique from other podcasts. Our main goal is to take a logical and critical view to current events and news, plus try to shed a skeptical light on them. Our intent is to not only get you the facts and the data but to show you where to get them as well.

We had planned on releasing our first show on the same day as our first Get Together, but unfortunately we have to push back the release for a week. So in a week from now be sure to download The Drunken Skeptics Podcast Episode Zero: Orientation.

There are already some great things in store coming up in future episodes. Chris Lindsay managed to get a fairly lengthy interview with the head of an anti-vaccination group. I have an interview lined up for a journalism legend here in Michigan, Jack Lessenberry. A man with over 30 years in the industry.  We are taking ideas for episodes as well. If you have an idea that you think would be great for the Drunken Skeptics please email it to: [email protected].

More great things are coming down the pipe. Be sure to stay tuned to the blog and participating in the forums.

Remember to keep thinking!

Technical Difficulties; Skeptics in the Pub; and our Get Together

It’s been a rather long day.

My hosting company did a short notice move of my site to a new server, and because of a mistake on probably my part I wasn’t notified! So I spent most of the day repairing PHP scripts and SQL entries to get my site back online. I’m tired and could use s drink.

Which is a good thing, since this evening my friend Melissa will be hosting her Skeptics in the Pub event in Livonia! This will be the second month that it will be held in Claddagh Irish Pub and guessing by last month’s turnout, it’s going to be a great night! One night is never enough for good skeptical company.

Which is another good thing (I can segue with the best of them) since we will be having our Get Together this Saturday at Ginger Asian Restaurant! I have the back room booked so we have plenty of room. It’s going to be a great weekend. Be sure to come to both events. Both will have great food and drinks and we will have an announcement on Saturday. I’m pretty excited about it and I hope you are too.

So I look forward to see you tonight ad Claddagh and tomorrow as Ginger!

Here is the information for the Skeptics in the Pub in Livonia.

Here is the information for the MISkeptics Get Together.

Treat your most common ails with recycled medical waste

Are you feeling depressed? Sick of paying exorbitant rates for birth control?
Are you feeling depressed? Sick of paying exorbitant rates for birth control?

Here’s a lovely little piece of Snake Oil I found. Harvested sea salt that is supposed to contain recycled pharmaceuticals from water treatment plants.

Are you feeling depressed? Sick of paying exorbitant rates for birth control? Try Alviso’s Medicinal All-Salt, harvested locally in San Jose.

Traditionally, medical conditions are treated through expensive appointments and prescription drugs. Alviso’s Medicinal All-Salt is a unique low-dosage cocktail of our most commonly used drugs, all brought together in one simple salty remedy, naturally.

Our process harvests two popular commodities, sea salt and recycled pharmaceuticals from water treatment plants, to produce one fine medicinal product: Alviso’s Medicinal All-Salt. A salt for every condition, hand harvested and sun dried for purity.

They even have an instructable for making your own!

All-Salt contains a special blend of the most commonly used pharmaceuticals (see Ingredients) – trace concentrations that accumulate in the body over time to heal a variety of ailments. We harvest our medicinal salt from the brackish waters of the Artesian Slough, which channels treated wastewater (known to contain a variety of pharmaceutical compounds) from the San Jose/Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant to the South San Francisco Bay.

So what they do is they collect salty water, evaporate off the water off and sell the salt to you. The ingredient list contains everything from fluoxitine (an antidepressant) to gemfibrozil (cholesterol medication). With possible bonuses like “antibacterial and antifungal compounds from household and personal care products, pesticides and insecticides, PBDEs (flame retardants), and PCBs (electrical coolants).”

Unfortunately they can’t guarantee what drugs are their product. Mainly because they haven’t bothered to test the salt.

While no formal safety tests have yet been conducted, we stand behind our organic medicinal salt and use it regularly ourselves.

It also needs to be noted that their organic sea salt is nowhere near organic.

Our own harvesting and production process is completely organic. However, the pharmaceutical and other compounds harvested along with our sea salt may not qualify as organic, especially with regard to the pesticides and herbicides that have been shown to survive wastewater treatment processes alongside pharmaceuticals.

Their salt is harvested from water collected where the San Jose/Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant runoff mixes with salt marshes.

There have been many reports, most of them shocking and and a little worrying about pharmaceuticals in in U.S. waterways and streams. But along with drugs there was also “coprostanol (fecal steroid), cholesterol (plant and animal steroid), N-N-diethyltoluamide (insect repellent), caffeine (stimulant), triclosan (antimicrobial disinfectant), tri (2-chloroethyl) phosphate (fire retardant), and 4-nonylphenol (nonionic detergent metabolite). Steroids, nonprescription drugs, and insect repellent were the chemical groups most frequently detected. Detergent metabolites, steroids, and plasticizers generally were measured at the highest concentrations.”

I don’t need to tell you how dangerous ingesting these chemicals are. Granted, the amounts concentrated in the salt would be minuscule, if there are any there in the first place. The USGS doesn’t even know what the effects are:

Knowledge of the potential human and environmental health effects of these 95 [detected] chemicals is highly varied; drinking-water standards or other human or ecological health criteria have been established for 14. Measured concentrations rarely exceeded any of the standards or criteria. Thirty-three are known or suspected to be hormonally active; 46 are pharmaceutically active. Little is known about the potential health effects to humans or aquatic organisms exposed to the low levels of most of these chemicals or the mixtures commonly found in this study.

The Water Pollution Control Plant has a report on the microconstituents left in their waste water (PDF) after treatment. Of the 95 constituents they measured for, 53 were found in the plant’s efluent. Of those 53, 43 had been removed at a rate greater that 75%. The other ten were below  that, (Carbamazepine was the lowest with only 16% removed).

The idea that you can not only distill these pharmaceuticals from the water and take them safely confounds me. Not only do they now know what they are ingesting, they admittedly know that they are also ingesting dangerous chemicals, several of which are known to be carcinogens. I feel I need (and I’m literally surprised that someone has to) to remind everyone of an old adage. “Friend don’t let friends consume wastewater treatment plant efluent.”

One-third of Americans back ban on synthetic biology – many for religious reasons.

From Live Science:

Mycoplasma capricolum bacterium
Researchers transplanted the genomes of Mycoplasma capricolum bacterium into Mycoplasma mycoides bacterium in 2007. They later accomplished the same trick with a synthetic genome in 2010. Credit: J. Craig Venter Institute.

Engineering new synthetic organisms offers promise of fighting disease and even global warming, but also comes with risk. Now two-thirds of Americans surveyed in a new poll say the field should move forward, while one-third supports a ban until researchers better understand the possible consequences.

The field, called synthetic biology, worries some due to its possible impacts related to biological weapons and potentially harmful health effects on humans.

President Obama has ordered a presidential commission to figure out what role government should play in both encouraging and regulating synthetic biology research. Just over half of the 1,000 poll participants said the U.S. government should regulate, while only 36 percent believed in relying on voluntary guidelines developed jointly by industry and government.

That majority belief in government regulation matches views about nanotechnology that emerged in earlier polls by Hart Research Associates and the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.

“The message then and now is that there’s not a lot of public trust in the industry to self-regulate,” said David Rejeski, director of the science and technology innovation program at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Synthetic biology gained recent attention when researchers led by J. Craig Venter announced they had transplanted a synthetic genome into a living cell in May.

Harnessing biological tools
Venter’s group has also begun working with the National Institutes of Health to make synthetic components of every flu vaccine ever sequenced. That would allow researchers to whip up seed candidates for flu vaccines within 24 hours — an application supported by six out of 10 poll participants.

“The vaccine issue is one that was publicly mentioned and obviously would have significant implications if you rolled it out, because it would touch millions of people,” Rejeski told LiveScience.

But using synthetic biology to speed up growth of livestock for more food production drew a much more negative response. Three out of four of people surveyed had concerns about such an application.

That finding again agrees with earlier poll results about nanotechnology, which involves manipulating nonorganic materials on a very tiny scale. People had no problem with antimicrobial nanotech linings for food containers, but seemed far more worried about nanotech particles inside actual food.

“The closer the technology gets to your mouth, the more people get concerned about it,” Rejeski explained.

The Food and Drug Administration has already begun considering approval of genetically modified Atlantic salmon that grows more quickly and reaches a larger size than its ordinary cousins. Such salmon came from traditional genetic engineering, which manipulates genes that already exist, but synthetic biology could aim for similar achievements by using human-made genetic sequences.

Letting go of all your worries
People who cited moral issues about creating artificial life tended to reject both the flu vaccine and livestock applications. Convincing that group otherwise could prove difficult, given that the poll also showed a strong tie between greater religious belief and concerns about synthetic biology.

“You are going to have people who are just going to reject the science based on moral concerns, and I don’t think you’re going to move them,” Rejeski said.

Still, moral issues represented just one of three top concerns listed by poll participants.

Top concerns split almost equally between possible use of synthetic biology to create biological weapons (27 percent), moral issues with creating artificial life (25 percent), and negative health effects for humans (23 percent). A smaller group of 13 percent listed damage to the environment as their biggest concern.

Several notable groups emerged that supported the idea of banning further research, at least until more research uncovers the possible risks. Those include 52 percent of African-Americans, 43 percent of Hispanics, 43 percent of evangelicals, and 40 percent of women polled. (Of course there may be overlap between categories.)

Moving ahead
Views on how to regulate synthetic biology research split unsurprisingly along political lines. Democrats favored government regulation over voluntary guidelines by 64 percent to 28 percent, while independents did the same by 49 percent versus 37 percent. Republicans seemed divided with 42 percent favoring government regulation and 44 percent supporting voluntary guidelines.

Any future decisions about how to regulate such research will in part depend on public knowledge and attitudes. People who had greater awareness of synthetic biology tended to report more positive attitudes toward future research.

But that does not mean experts can expect to simply educate the public and raise acceptance of synthetic biology. Poll participants also moved toward the idea that synthetic biology presented more risk than benefit after they read balanced information about the pros and cons of the science.

From Aug. 16-22, Hart Research Associates conducted anationwide survey among 1,000 adults about awareness of and attitudes toward syntheticbiology and two potential applications of the science.

Military’s ban on gays is unconstitutional

A federal judge in Southern California has declared the U.S. military’s ban on openly gay service members unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips on Thursday granted a request for an injunction halting the government’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gays in the military.

Via the AP:

Phillips says the policy doesn’t help military readiness and instead has a “direct and deleterious effect” on the armed services.

The lawsuit was the biggest legal test of the law in recent years and came amid promises by President Barack Obama that he will work to repeal the policy.

Government lawyers argued Phillips lacked the authority to issue a nationwide injunction and the issue should be decided by Congress.

The injunction was sought by the Log Cabin Republicans, a 19,000-member group that includes current and former military members.

Republican elephant in rainbow stripesThe Log Cabin Republicans, which is a gay and lesbian Republican grassroots organization requested an injunction halting the use of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” even though there is a provision currently sitting in the senate to repeal it.

Of course, when I say “sitting in the Senate” I mean that Republican opposition to the measure is permanently stalling all efforts. What I don’t understand is, The Log Cabin Republicans who didn’t support any Democrat candidates, instead throwing their support behind right wing Congress that doesn’t support their agenda and is directly responsible for blocking the repeal of DADT have spent a lot of time on their website criticizing Obama for his broken promise to repeal DADT.

Now don’t get me wrong here. I’m glad that the injunction was moved forward. DADT was restrictive and is based on old antiquated beliefs that aren’t supported by data. My issue is that a GLBT group that is openly and actively shunned by the party they support would go so far as to claim a victory against the president that supported the same views as their own. Politics at play again?

For Lake Michigan, The Sky Really Is Falling


How should we react to news that the world’s fourth largest lake is rapidly dying before our eyes and that practically nothing is being done to stop it?

Horror and outrage seem appropriate. However, the lead researcher tracking this particular slow-motion death says the response he’s gotten is more of a shrug because “people are getting tired of hearing that the sky is falling.”

The lake in question is Lake Michigan, the second-largest (by volume) of the US-Canadian Great Lakes. (It’s actually the second-largest lake in the world, after the Caspian Sea, if you consider that it and Lake Huron are physically a single body of water.) It also appears to be in its biological death throes, just 12 short years after scientists first discovered the presence of a unique large-scale “river of phytoplankton” that forms the foundation of the lake’s food chain.

In 1998, W. Charles Kerfoot, a biologist at Michigan Technological University, and his research team used NASA’s then-new, satellite-based Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS) to identify the circular “river” flowing counter-clockwise in the southern end of Lake Michigan. They determined that the roughly doughnut-shaped current of phytoplankton was created when large winter storms kicked up nutrient-rich sediment carried into the lake from the region’s cities and farms. As that sediment floated through the water column along a large circular path, it created a “Thanksgiving feast” for the lake’s phytoplankton, algae and other microscopic plants.

“We saw that with each storm, you get a ring, and it can persist for weeks or even months,” Kerfoot said. “We were floating in the clouds, saying, ‘Hey, we discovered a new phenomenon.’ ”

During the region’s cold winters, that seasonal phenomenon of circulating phytoplankton apparently was enough to feed the lake’s tiny zooplankton, which in turn provided a food source to small fish, which then fed the lake’s larger fish. Ultimately, that doughnut of tiny marine plants has likely been one of the reasons Lake Michigan has long been such a fisherman’s paradise.

However, almost as soon as Kerfoot and his team discovered it, that phytoplankton river has begun to shrivel. The apparent reason? An invasive species from Europe known as the quagga mussel. Now found in all the Great Lakes after arriving in untreated ballast water dumped there by ocean-going ships, the quagga are hungry mollusks who love phytoplankton … and are apparently devouring the marine plant life faster than it can reproduce — up to seven times faster in some parts of the lake.

In fact, between 2001 and 2008, graduate student Foad Yousef has calculated, chlorophyll — a measure reflecting phytoplankton abundance — has declined by a full 75 per cent.

But the voracious quagga are doing more than depriving other creatures up the food chain of their meals. The waste they excrete at the lake’s bottom can stimulate growth of Cladaphora algae. When those algae die and decompose, life-critical oxygen gets sucked out of the water.

“When things go anaerobic, that kills off everything, including the quaggas, and creates conditions for botulism,” Kerfoot said. “We’ve had massive kills of fish-eating birds — loons, mergansers. Isn’t that bizarre? Who would have predicted that?”

A few more years of such conditions, and Lake Michigan’s storied catches of alewives, chubs, Atlantic salmon, muskies, smelt, walleyes, perch and more could soon be history.

“A high percent of the fish biomass could be lost in the next couple years,” Kerfoot said. “We have a system that’s crashing.”

He added that the message he’s heard from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is in charge of protecting the Great Lakes from invasive species, is anything but encouraging.

“I asked why they weren’t swimming in money to do something about this,” he said. “They say people are getting tired of hearing that the sky is falling. Now, when the sky really is falling, they aren’t paying attention.”

In fact, Kerfoot believes, the impact of the tiny quagga — which is no larger than a fat Lima bean — could soon render moot the more headline-grabbing concerns about the invasive zebra mussel and Asian carp.

“By the time the carp get here, there won’t be anything left for them to eat,” Kerfoot predicts.


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