Skeptoid on Rhino Horn

In the mid 2000s, a rumor circulated that an unnamed politician in Vietnam had been cured of cancer by consuming powdered rhino horn. Fast forward 17 years, and rhino horn is now worth around $25,000/pound on the black market. That rhino that was shot by poachers and had its horn removed with a chainsaw in the middle of the night at the French zoo a few months ago? Its horn was like a quarter-million-dollar pile of gold sitting out in the open.

Not only is there NO science on the anti-carcinogenic properties of the keratin in rhino horn (chemically the same as your own fingernails), the belief isn’t even derived from ancient Chinese health literature. All of this literally stems from one rumor gone viral, combined with public willingness to buy into rumor as truth. Rhino species are going extinct rapidly, and poaching is a huge part of the reason why.

The Skeptoid podcast is one of our national treasures, as far as I’m concerned. This episode is particularly good.

Rhino Horn: Cure or Curse?

Believe, Believe

Believe in this. Young apple seeds,
In blue skies, radiating young breast,
Not in blue-suited insects,
Infesting society’s garments.

Believe in the swinging sounds of jazz,
Tearing the night into intricate shreds,
Putting it back together again,
In cool logical patterns,
Not in the sick controllers,
Who created only the Bomb.

Let the voices of dead poets
Ring louder in your ears
Than the screechings mouthed
In mildewed editorials.
Listen to the music of centuries,
Rising above the mushroom time.

~Bob Kaufman

Iceland 2017

Just returned from nine days in Iceland – two days of work and seven days of pure exploration. It was winter, so days were short, and it was gray/stormy the whole time, so no Northern Lights for me, but the trip still managed to blow my mind. Misc notes and photos below. For lots more photos, check out my

Flickr Album – Iceland 2017 (full-screen please!)

Iceland driving tip: While it might be tempting to tune in to the Icelandic death metal station while wending your way through miles of snow- and moss-covered lava rock, one notch up on the dial is the “public culture” station, where the only words you can decipher from the lilting Elvish language are “Yoko Ono,” “Steve Reich,” and “John Cage” (and then they play them).

Blue Lagoon - Waterfall

That station works way better with the landscape. No sleep in 36 hours, but made it to the Blue Lagoon, where 464-degree superheated geothermal water from half a mile down in the earth brings up white silica powder which meets cold sea water, creating these gorgeous warm swimming holes; the color of sky refracts off the silica in the water, making it intensely blue in the right conditions (it was more greenish today). Allegedly great for psoriasis sufferers. Exhausted but blissed.

Blue Lagoon Selfie
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Mojitos with Fidel

With yesterday’s passing of Fidel Castro, I have to share my personal (and surreal) Castro story. In 1994, I spent 10 days in Cuba on a journalistic visa with my then-girlfriend, attending an International Film Festival. Unforgettable trip, and great films. On the last day, Fidel threw a party in his palace to entertain the international visitors (PR move?). I remember the palace being spacious and well-appointed, but not gaudy — green slate tiles on both the floor and the walls, brass sconces. Palace bartenders kept the mojitos flowing, and Castro himself was mingling with the guests. We joined a circle of people listening to him passionately answer questions about how hemp farming could benefit Cuban workers and the economy.

Then, suddenly, my friend leaned in and pointed coyly toward a wiry-haired old man with big bushy eyebrows standing near Castro and said “Do you recognize him? It’s Grandpa Munster!” Sure enough, it was Al Lewis himself, (much older than he had been on the TV show of course). And then the weirdness of the moment dawned on me: I’m standing in Castro’s palace, drinking mojitos with Grandpa Munster and Fidel Castro, talking about marijuana legalization at a time when our own country wouldn’t even contemplate it. Unforgettable.

Why It’s Time to Repeal the Second Amendment

Orlando is kind of a perfect storm of American hot-buttons. Terrorism, homophobia, racism, politics, mental health, and guns all in one monumental tragedy. The gay issue is complicated by the fact that there are so many homophobes on the right who are secretly (or not so secretly) happy to see gay people slaughtered. The Islam issue is complicated by the fact that the shooter is an American. The mental health issue is complicated because so many people “on the verge” aren’t identified even by those closest to them. The gun issue is complicated because it always is. There is an element of exhaustion – we’ve all been down the Mass Shooting road too many times, and all of our arguments are all worn out. We each rant and plead in our own ways, but nothing ever changes. And this time, we’re having ten different arguments at once. But we can’t stop talking, because the alternative is apathy.

Meanwhile, we’re not even focused on the bigger part of this tragedy. 50 people all in one place is horrific, yes, but people are overlooking the larger fact that, on average, we lose 91 people per day to gun violence. That’s almost two Orlandos every freaking day.

zero

One of the reasons we end up focusing so hard on guns is that it’s something concrete we can address with the force of law. We can’t “fix” mental health by throwing money at it. We can’t “fix” religious extremism by closing our borders, because it grows in our own soil and is fed by the internet. But we can, at least potentially, “fix” the gun situation by recognizing that the Constitution is a fluid document that was designed to adapt to the times. We can stop thinking of gun ownership as an “inalienable” right and treat it as a privilege instead – one that has to be earned or bestowed (to hunters and law enforcement), not one granted willy nilly to every bozo who wants a human-killing machine for “reasons.”

angerx

The current interpretation of the 2nd Amendment is not one the Founders would ever have imagined or wanted. Better background checks, banning assault rifles… all well and good, but I think that’s splitting hairs, and won’t have much impact in the long run. I’ve been ranting for the past year about how it’s time to repeal or rewrite the 2nd Amendment. The sentiment is finally gaining traction. Thank you, Rolling Stone, for this excellent piece by Constitutional scholar David S. Cohen: Why It’s Time to Repeal the Second Amendment

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Just think of what would have happened in the Orlando night-club Saturday night if there had been many others armed. In a crowded, dark, loud dance club, after the shooter began firing, imagine if others took out their guns and started firing back. Yes, maybe they would have killed the shooter, but how would anyone else have known what exactly was going on? How would it not have devolved into mass confusion and fear followed by a large-scale shootout without anyone knowing who was the good guy with a gun, who was the bad guy with a gun, and who was just caught in the middle? The death toll could have been much higher if more people were armed.

mental

Please read: Why It’s Time to Repeal the Second Amendment

Maker Faire 2016

Our tenth annual father-son excursion to the world’s largest convention of inventors, sculptors and weirdos. Different every year – both as the fair changes and as we change. Spent more time this year having conversations with makers, which makes it so much richer. Unfortunately, the trend of making the fair safer every year also makes it a bit less exciting every time. Still, this trip is always one of the highlights of our year, and has become an important bonding time. Here’s to the next 10!

Flickr set

GoPro Time Lapse: Stinson Beach

Last weekend at Stinson Beach I attached a GoPro to a tree and had it shoot one image every 5 seconds for a couple of hours. Later compiled the image into a 29fps half-speed video in GoPro Studio. Not sure why I enjoy making these so much; something oddly satisfying about the process.

Natural Medicine vs. Homeopathic Sugar Pills

Many people confuse the terms “homeopathic” and “naturopathic,” or think that all natural medicines are homeopathic. Not true! Homeopathic medicines are, by definition, diluted past the point of chemical detectability. In a typical homeopathic pill, not a single molecule of the original substance is present. They don’t work because it is not even conceptually possible that they could work (beyond their placebo effect of course). This is why you can swallow a whole bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills without dying from an overdose – you’ve swallowed nothing but lactose.

On the other hand, many natural medicines are perfectly effective in their recommended doses, and often preferable to their laboratory counterparts.

So if you want to take natural medicines but don’t want to waste your money supporting the scumbag snake-oil hucksters who sell homeopathics, how do you tell the difference? The issue gets especially cloudy when you have a single manufacturer selling both variants. Case in point: One of the world’s biggest homeopathic/naturopathic vendors, Boiron, sells Arnica as both a cream and as a homeopathic pill. But there’s a huge difference: The topical cream contains 7% actual Arnica, whereas the pill is a true homeopathic, therefore containing 0% Arnica. Consumers who don’t want to waste their money must read the label to know they’re getting a product that might actually help them.

How to tell the difference? It’s simple once you know the “code”.

Homeopathic “potency” is described with a “C” or an “X” – the more diluted the ingredient, the more potency it’s considered to have (which is of course absurd). For point of comparison, “one third of a drop of some original substance diluted into all the water on earth would produce a remedy with a concentration of about 13C.” Boiron’s Arnica pellets are sold at a dilution of 30C.

So:

1) Sugar pills (i.e. “diluted” homeopathics) will list their “potency” (which is really ​the opposite of their potency) as C or X, whereas actual natural medicine will list the active ingredient as a PERCENTAGE (i.e. 7% actual arnica root).

2) If there is an active ingredient, as with the cream, there will be an “Active Ingredients” section on the back label, listing those active ingredients and their percentages. But with sugar pills, you’ll often see only an “Inactive Ingredients” section (mentioning lactose, etc.) but NO “Active Ingredients” section (because there aren’t any and they can’t legally claim that there are any). So a missing “active ingredients” section on the label can be interpreted as code for “sugar pills.” In some cases, homeopathic pills will have an Active Ingredients section, but with a footnote pointing out in small print that **C, K, CK, and X are homeopathic dilutions.

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Maker Faire 2015

More images in the Flickr Set.

This year was the 10th birthday of “The Greatest Show and Tell on Earth” – that Rainbow Gathering of robot makers, sculptors, hackers, welders, Burning Man attendees with kids, benders of light, food artisans, bicycle tweakers, DJs and artistic misfits.

Watches

I’m proud to be able to say I’ve taken my child to Maker Faire @ San Mateo every single year since 2006, meaning we haven’t missed a single event.

Iris

Light Sculpture

Despite the annoying aspect of the ever-growing crowds, it’s become a father-son tradition we look forward to every year, and we can’t imagine ever skipping it at this point. Every year is both “more of the same” and completely different.

Creature Quad

Certain exhibits seem almost perennial, but there are always tons of new surprises. It was especially nice to have cooler temperatures this year – low 60s meant we were able to do a full eight hours on the fairgrounds without missing a beat.

More fire-breathing giant beastie sculptures than ever before:

Robot sculpture fire

Riding Cyclecide’s collection of hacked bicycles is always our favorite part of the day. Bikes with hinges in the middle of the frame are almost impossible to ride, but you do kind of get the hang of it after a while.

Cyclecide

Same with the reverse-steering-gear bike that turns the opposite of the direction you turn the wheels. Our fave this time was the bike with off-center axles, making it feel like it’s navigating bumpy terrain even on flat ground.

Cyclecide

The “dark room” seemed better than ever, with more sophisticated interactives, plus a truly gorgeous wall-sized mixed-materials glowing sculpture reminiscent of a time tunnel receding into space.

Light Sculpture

We’ve admired the masking tape cities and gardens every year (now represening 10,000 hours of work and more than 27 miles of tape!), and for the first time this year we actually sat down for a 30-minute lesson on masking tape “origami.”

Masking Tape Art

And Miles had his first opportunity to sit at the helm of an original Apple IIe, just like the ones we used in high school in the early 80s:

Apple IIe

Totally loved the “junk” drumming of John F. King:

More images in the Flickr Set.

Photo365 for 2014

At the start of 2014, I made it my New Year’s resolution to take at least one photo per day for the year. I had done the project once before, in 2011, after a suggestion by the amazing Richard Koci-Hernandez. The goal is to keep your photographic “eye” always open. That’s easy when you’re traveling or out having adventures, much more difficult through an ordinary workday, treading the same old offices and streets. But it’s amazing how things just seem to “turn up” when you have an eye out for possibilities.

It’s also a fantastic way to end up with your own “year in review” – really fun to walk back through some of the year’s best memories.

Watch the embedded slideshow here (full-screen please!) or check out the Flickr set