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Science!

I was having an argument about whether, if someone really had a working alternative medicine for something, they would be famous and we would all know about it - my position being "of course we wouldn't necessarily - how would they transition from being considered a crackpot with a crazy out-there theory to being taken seriously enough that it would undergo a clinical study?"

As evidence for my position, I dug up some stuff about "black salve" (warning, link has gross pictures), an alternative treatment for skin cancer, combined with what cancer.org has to say about it. The information I was pointing at was "there have been no controlled clinical studies of cancer salves published in the medical literature". So basically, it's been around for ages and it hasn't been tested in a way that would satisfy a skeptic. Point proven. But then I noticed this phrasing:

"There have been no controlled clinical studies of cancer salves published in the medical literature, and available scientific evidence does not support claims that cancer salves can cure cancer or any other disease."

Now I realize that this is true (if you don't consider people's personal experience to be scientific evidence), but that phrasing is outrageous to me. Why? Because it carries a strong implication of "science says this doesn't work". But it would be equally true to say "available scientific evidence does not support claims that cancer salves can't cure cancer" or "available scientific evidence does not support claims that cancer salves can burn your skin" (they can, it's not in question, but there is no clinical study proving it). I'm reasonably sure that it's not their intent to imply that things don't work, they're just meaning it in a "cover your ass" sort of way, but, well, here's the power of that phrasing to be applied as a positive statement, over at quackwatch on another alt cancer treatment:

"The American Cancer Society reviewed the "Grape Cure" in 1965, 1971, 1974, and 2000. and found no evidence of benefit against human cancer or any other disease."

Oh well obviously it doesn't work then, right? But wait, that's not what it says. It doesn't say they performed a study. They didn't try it. They read the book, and determined that it didn't contain any clinical trials. Then they did the same thing again three other times. Here's a little analogy; the Raven Society Of Official Soundingness reviewed Grey's Anatomy, and found no evidence that removing an appendix can help with any illness. Debunked, motherfroggers!

(Note: not endorsing either of these things, my point here is just two things. 1. "if alternative medicine worked it would be called medicine" is retarded, because a thing can evidently work or not work for a long long time without ever being tested (the grape cure is at least 90 years old and still scientifically untested) and 2. "available scientific evidence does not support (whatever)" is a horrible misleading phrase, because it implies that there is available scientific evidence, and that it fails to support something (which would be a synonym of disproving it in clinical trials), rather than just saying "we did not find any scientific evidence on this subject".)
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A quite fun free PC game: Beret. It's a puzzle-platformer, more puzzle than platform. There are occasional moments of careful jumping, but the game's single keystroke "save this position" and "restore that position" mechanism removes the bulk of the horribleness of "timing puzzles". Also a backup "restore the saved position before that" option for if you accidentally save in a deathly precarious position, and always the option to just start a room again. Pleasingly, all these things also rewind the time, so you're allowed to rewind as much as you need to for the speed challenges, should you decide to do them.

Also fun is that a level's speed challenge (running from start to finish) is frequently around 45 seconds, but doing all the other subtasks (kill all monsters, collect 100 small easy fragments, collect 4 medium difficult fragments, and collect 1 large extra-difficult medallion) is more like a ten minute task per level. Since you only need a subset of medallions to move on, you can mostly play in your preferred style - good design there.

This was recommended by the Caravel Games Newsletter - it's not one of their games, but it is kind of like a platform game version of their DROD series (or this link includes the free, oldest one), which I also partially recommend (I don't recommend the RPG one).
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I like the Professor Layton games, but they are always really annoying with the inconsistent puzzle logic. One puzzle will say "you must take two adjacent objects each turn" and mean that if you had four objects in a row, and took the middle two, the remaining two are now adjacent, and another will say "you must take the two books to the right" and mean the two books that were originally to the right, so if one of them has been removed you can't make that move, even if afterwards there are still two other books (further) to the right. It would be slightly annoying to have the ambiguity in the puzzle wording at all, but having it ambiguous and inconsistent is really not good.

One puzzle goes "ha ha, tricked you, you didn't think of it that way!" and the next puzzle it goes "no your answer is wrong because we didn't think of it that way this time!"
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I was thinking about this study, and a similar one from 30 years ago where Monsanto pretended Roundup didn't cause health problems; I was trying to figure out why such studies would exist. Specifically, studies where the numbers show one thing and then huge error bars and fudging "lead to" the conclusion that was paid for.

I'm not questioning why bad conclusions exist, obviously that's money, but why would they perform an actual study and then fudge with error bars rather than, say, fudging the numbers so the things look actually how you want, or, even cleverer, fudging the experiment (perhaps even without the scientists' knowledge) so that the results look like what you want. (eg. for the HFCS experiment, to rig it simply provide HFCS as the sugar syrup, or sugar syrup as the HFCS, tada, genuine identical results!)

I really doubt that the scientists think that fudged error bars and a false conclusion are significantly more ethical than fudged numbers for the same false conclusion, and I'm pretty sure fudging numbers or fudging the experiment would be easier than fudging error bars, as well as producing a more convincing study, so why would they do it the more difficult stupider seeming way?

One possibility, of course, is "idiots", always a good answer to a "why do people do something" question. But I find it hard to imagine idiocy that endorses doing something more difficult for worse results that is also obviously more difficult and worse results. (Jokes about Microsoft Access notwithstanding.)

Then another possibility struck me, and if this is the case it's fucking amazingly brilliant and Machiavellian: if you had a study in which the numbers falsely showed HFCS and sugar to behave identically, and someone else performed a 'verification' study whose numbers differed, it would be scandalous, terrible publicity. But if you have a study with real numbers and bullshit conclusion, then any scientist who might believe otherwise comes along, looks at the study, and goes "hey, that doesn't show what the conclusion says." There's no point in him performing a study to see if the numbers show otherwise, because the numbers already show otherwise.

You know what makes news? "Hey, we did this study and it shows that other study to be completely fraudulent, and also this stuff that's in everything is terribly poisonous."

You know what doesn't make news? "Hey, the conclusion of this study from 5 years ago doesn't match with its results."

Genius. Evil, evil genius.
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Perhaps you remember Olean/Olestra, the "diet oil" that was indigestible and reportedly had the side effect of skidmarked pants?

I have an idea of marketing genius: re-release the product, but as a fantastic drunken prank rather than as a diet aid with horrible side-effects.
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A post to help other people encountering the same programming annoyance I just had today. Here's some keywords I was searching for: Visual C++ resource compiler RCDATA dependencies.

The problem: if you have data files in a resource file - eg.
ID_BANANAPICTURE RCDATA "banana.jpg"
... then the resource compiler doesn't recognize "banana.jpg" as a dependency. If you update banana.jpg and rebuild, your program will continue to use the old banana.jpg until you manually rebuild the resources, or change the resource file. With a jpg this probably isn't too annoying, but if you have some sort of complicated binary data structure that's generated by another program that you expect to be loaded in a specific way, it can be a huge pain in the arse that takes you three hours to figure out at what stage it went wrong. Not that I'm bitter.

The solution: swearing at the compiler! Add something like this:
#ifdef FUCK_YOU_COMPILER_I_JUST_WANT_THESE_TO_BE_DEPENDENCIES
#include "banana.jpg"
#endif
The part of the resource compiler that figures out dependencies will be fooled by this into thinking banana.jpg is a dependency (er, which it is, so it's not really fooled, but you could fool it into thinking other things are dependencies too), while the part that does the actual compiling will ignore it. Annoying problem that shouldn't exist solved in an annoying way that creates unnecessary work for you! Hooray!
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A new Humble Indie Bundle arrives, including Hammerfight (which I already bought and enjoyed and recommended long ago), Crayon Physics Deluxe which I think has been recommended to me but I haven't got, and, er, a few other things I've heard of but don't really know about; Cogs, And Yet It Moves and VVVVVV. "Whatever you choose to pay" is a pretty good deal even for just Hammerfight.
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I just bothered to pay attention to the details of both a Windows Update and an Ubuntu update, and it suddenly struck me as pretty funny - if software required this many updates of this size fifteen years ago they'd each be sending out about twenty new 3.5" floppy disks every week, to every user.
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We've been attempting to grow things we can eat with varying success for a while now, and recently I got an Earthbox since they seem well recommended - they're basically a planter with a reservoir in the bottom that wicks up through the soil, maintaining moist-but-not-wet topsoil and giving a sort of tiered effect, the deeper the wetter. So now, having experimented with it for a while, here's the results:



Exhibit A: a zucchini plant in a regular pot, watered every day and also nominally kept moist with some sort of a watering cone/spike thing.
Exhibit B: three zucchini plants close together, in an Earthbox.

Note also the giant basil behind zucchinis B. I've never seen a basil so big before. Also in both containers is a tomato plant - they're approximately the same size, but the tomato plant in the round container has been there for about three months longer. There's actually a basil in that other container too, that's been there as long as the tomato - it's never been more than about 6 inches tall with weak little leaves. It's in shot but you pretty much can't see it.

Conclusion: Earthboxes are pretty good.

I've also made a makeshift mini-earthbox for herbs, using a window box - it came with a sub-floor water tray already, so I just drilled some bigger holes through to the tray to make dirt-wicks possible, and a hole for a refilling pipe (the Earthbox's refill pipe is hidden under zucchini leaves), cut a piece of pipe to length and a side-hole in it at the bottom. It appears to work well - we got some "dying herbs, 50 cents" and a week later they're twice as tall, and the oregano's even growing flowers. So making your own Earthbox is certainly feasible, but I would recommend buying one to use as a model.

To be fair to the watering cone, which are also generally well recommended, the water our plants get hasn't gone through the filtering system and is full of iron - I think the cones get blocked pretty quickly with cruddy water. So it might not be their fault that the other zucchini plant is so pathetic.