Latest News on the Teacher Fired for Wizardry

Via a Google Alert I have seen some news about the Jim Piculas story. Mr. Piculas’ attorney has prepared the complaint for the court. This article from the St. Petersburg Times indicates to me that the School Boards’ attorney hasn’t looked carefully at the the potentially very damaging documents that I wrote about previously.

School Board attorney Dennis Alfonso said he had not seen the lawsuit. He acknowledged that the district made no effort to deal with Piculas after receiving his legally required notice to sue back in July.

“We stand by the internal investigation that there was nothing inappropriate in his termination,” Alfonso said.

I still cannot think of any rational explanation for the big discrepancies in those documents. Hopefully, Mr. Piculas won’t take an out of court settlement and let this issue be buried without any explanation. All the local news reports I’ve seen on the web are still not saying anything about the suspicious docs.

Ampère's Birthday

andremarieampereAndré-Marie Ampère was born in Lyon, France on January 20th, 1775. He was a physicist, mathematician, chemist and natural philosopher who made significant contributions in all these fields. Ampere’s work in understanding electromagnetism are recognized by naming the SI unit of electric current the ampere.

University of St Andrews
Catholic Encyclopedia
National Imports LLC
@ Google Books:
A Short History of Natural Science …
Derivation of Practical Electrical …

Ampere Portraits:
University of St Andrews
Wikimedia Commons

Martin Luther King Day

Today we honor one of the greatest men of the 20th century, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I feel the best way to celebrate this day is to read some of his writings and listen to some of his speeches. Visit The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute to read some papers or see my previous post with selected quotes from the King papers, MLK Jr., Science, Darwin & Intelligent Design. GrrlScientist has posted two excellent MLK videos in honor of this holiday.

Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted): The Reason for this Holiday

Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted): I Have A Dream

Cell Phone Jammer News

The District of Columbia Department of Corrections received special temporary authority (STA) from the FCC to conduct a demonstration of a directional cell phone jammer designed for prisons. The STA allowed a test on January 8th for 30 minutes sometime between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. However the DC DoC cancelled the demonstration on 1/7 with no official statement why the test was cancelled.

My hope is that the DC DoC realized that using technology to render a smuggled item useless is stupid compared to preventing the smuggling in the first place. Whatever route is being used to smuggle cell phones into prisons also allows weapons to enter a prison. Even if the DC DoC hadn’t stopped the test on their own, the test would likely have been stopped by the courts.

CTIA seeks to block cell phone jamming demo at DC jail

Operation of such jamming technology is flatly illegal under Section 333 of the Communications Act, and the commission lacks the statutory to authorize violations of this congressional directive protecting the rights of authorized users of the wireless spectrum, stated CTIA in a petition filed at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Moreover, the decision to authorize the demonstration  made without notice to the public or affected parties, without opportunity for comment, without consideration of any evidence regarding the potential consequences to legitimate transmission of operating the contemplated technology, and with no exigent public-safety need is the very essence of arbitrary and capricious decision-making.

CTIA went to court after failing to get regulatory relief from the FCC.

While we believe that prisoners should not have access to wireless phones while incarcerated, there are other, non-interfering and legal ways to find and take the phones out of their hands, said Christopher Guttman-McCabe, VP of regulatory Affairs at CTIA. There are several companies that provide wireless detection systems that can be used by jails to identify and confiscate phones, and that do not interfere with wireless communications. As the FCC previously acknowledged, Congress has been clear in prohibiting the use of jammers in state prisons.

For the manufacturers spin on this story read this article, they don’t think that prison officials should stop the cell phones from being smuggled into the prison or find and confiscate the phones that are there. Instead the prisons should buy their equipment to make the cell phones not work, vested interest much. My feeling is that if prison officials can’t stop the smuggling of cell phones into a prison they also can’t stop the smuggling of weapons, money and other banned items into prisons. What kind of insanity does it take to think that prison officials don’t need to stop weapon sized items from being smuggled into prisons. The public will be vastly safer if all smuggling of contraband into prisons is stopped.

Assuming prison officials aren’t going to stop the phones getting into the prisons, why don’t they take advantage of the situation. They should use the currently available legal gear to monitor cell communication of prisoners, trace the call to the recipient and then have the recipient arrested for the crime being done. The recordings of the calls would be great evidence in a court to prosecute the criminals that are helping prisoners intimidate witnesses or perform other illegal activities. Nah, they’ll never do that since it would require actual work rather than flipping a magic switch like a commenter on a previous post wanted.

My Web Year in Review

I’ve had my web site up for over a decade now and I added the WordPress CMS to the site in October 2005. Until Q4 2007 I hadn’t bothered much about tracking usage on my site but Google analytics made the job so easy I started using it. Since 2008 was the first whole year with data I figured it would be fun to take a look at the stats. This sparked my memory of some of the events over the past year that I thought would be good to review while my memory is still reasonably fresh.

First up the basic stats, around 20,000 unique visitors came from 128 countries/territories and viewed about 35,000 pages. The main browser used by visitors was Firefox (65%) with Internet Explorer a distant second place (26%). Traffic source rankings were, referring sites 68%, search engines 26%, and the remaining 6% were direct traffic.

I want to send a big thank you to the following referring sites for sending visitors my way (ranked by visitors sent):

  1. Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy sent 1,181 visits from this post to my follow up post about the teacher fired for wizardry. This also was the main reason that 7/15 & 16 set the first and second place all time records for my biggest days of unique visitors, 1109 & 621 respectively. There was a mandatory 6 month wait before Mr. Piculas could file his lawsuit so there should be some news about this in the coming month. I’m watching this story and will post any information I find. It still bugs me that no local Florida journalists noticed the likely forged documents and followed up on them, even after I and then Mr. Piculas’ lawyer pointed them to the docs.
  2. Orac from Respectful Insolence sent 131 visits via my comment on his Dr. Katz post. I hope people had a good laugh at my funny granting of Dr. Katz’s wish on June 18th.
  3. Martin the Lay Scientist sent 129 visits when he hosted the 92nd Skeptics’ Circle and included a post of mine in that edition of this great blog carnival on July 31st.
  4. Bug Girl sent 93 visits when she thanked me with a link for letting her know about the PBS Nature 2007 season opener. Although Bug Girl’s post and mine where at the end of October 2007 the visits where from January through April 2008, go figure.
  5. Phil sent 56 visits to me from his old site on May 12th when he gave a tip o’ the sonic screwdriver to me for pointing out the BBC overreaction to some knitting patterns from May 12th.
  6. Tyler from PowerUp sent 54 visits spread pretty evenly throughout the year.
  7. Greg Laden sent 38 visits from his post to my post about the chemist in Marlborough on August 20th.

A thank you also goes out to ER for using my old demotivator in an October post at Evolved and Rat/i/onal, I like to see someone make use of one of my creations. That image is responsible for nearly a third of my total page views, I guess ranking fourth in a Google image search helps. Finally thanks to all the Bloggers in my Blogroll for giving me a year of entertaining and informative reading.

Next up the content that was most popular for 2008, I’m excluding the pages that contain the popular image I mentioned above. (value is unique page views)

  1. The main site and blog home pages combined had 2865 views.
  2. What’s up with that school wizard story“, 2022.
  3. Happy Birthday Michael Faraday“, 882. I think this was more for the picture than the text.
  4. Full Screen Playback of a Whole YouTube Playlist“, 516.
  5. The Linksys NSLU2, aka the Slug, has been discontinued“, 334.
  6. A professional chemist doing for profit chemistry is not a hobbyist“, 294.
  7. Spectacular Windmill Failure“, 291.
  8. A Quack who admits it“, 189.
  9. An Acrobat Reader alternative“, 180.
  10. Cell Phone Jammer Foolishness“, 162.

The pages that visitors spent the most time on where: (value is time in seconds)

  1. Full Screen Playback of a Whole YouTube Playlist“, 339.
  2. A professional chemist doing for profit chemistry is not a hobbyist“, 231.
  3. Custom quick launch pop-up menu for XP“, 211.
  4. What’s up with that school wizard story“, 181.
  5. The Linksys NSLU2, aka the Slug, has been discontinued“, 156.
  6. Embarrassing Engineers #3“, 149.
  7. Cell Phone Jammer Foolishness“, 148.
  8. A Quack who admits it“, 148.
  9. Happy Birthday Michael Faraday“, 130. Hmm, maybe someone is reading the text.
  10. Freedom of speech under attack by Joseph Chikelue Obi“, 117.

A Message from JamesBurkeFan

I have good news and bad news, first the good news. James Burke’s wonderful documentary series The Day the Universe Changed is finally becoming available at a reasonable price. Until now the only way to buy it was at $80 each for the ten DVD’s of the series that’s right $800US (although the Discovery Education Store sells the ten episode set for only $750US). Well on 1/27/2009 the complete 10 episode series will be shipping for $150US from PBS in a 5 DVD box set (you can pre-order now). Not only will you save a big wad of cash but you’ll be helping support PBS (NOVA, Nature, etc.). PBS also has Connections: 1 and Connections: 2 available as box sets at the $150US price in stock for immediate shipping. Also of note to Netflix subscribers is the availability of Connections 1, 2 & 3 right now and TDTUC will be available soon.

Now the bad news, the JamesBurkeFan YouTube channel is gone, he is protesting the copyright related takedown of another YouTube channel he was working on as RichardFeynmanFan. He sent me an email with permission to post it so, I’ll let him explain this in his own words.

This refers to “former” YouTube user “JamesBurkeFan”, which is (or was) myself. I should like to say no request was made to me to take down that channel due to any copyright issue. Nobody contacted me, and I had even been told that Mr. Burke was well aware of the existence of the channel which promoted his views and ideas without any advertising or monetary benefit to myself. Originally I had mentioned on the page that TDTUC was not available for sale to private individuals. This has changed and I was delighted to find out about it, and immediately posted a link to the purchase page on the main channel page.

I took this channel down willingly (and with much sadness) in protest for the takedown of another channel I was building in dedication to Richard Feynman. That channel was another purely educational channel which took the Feynman lectures and combined the audio with clips from the lecture notes making them far easier to understand. I made a pact with myself essentially linking the two channel’s existences (though I pretended to be two different people).

After much correspondence with the complaining party (Michael A. Gottlieb) who was really complaining on behalf of Addison-Wesley publishers (aka. Caltech*), an agreement could not be reached and the site (together with it’s fundamental [and I think novel] idea) was destroyed.

Of course YouTube and my subscribers will not know why the channel was closed. However the awareness raised by it (I have many emails and messages to verify this) brought Mr. Burke to many young people who would otherwise have never heard of him. Additionally, I believe the channel indirectly encouraged the ultimate publication of TDTUC in DVD format for sale to the general public. That was the main goal anyway and I’m glad if in some small way I helped to cause it’s realization.

– Alan Carre [aka JamesBurkeFan & RichardFeynmanFan]


*that was meant as a joke

It’s too bad that a copyright holder would do this but it is their right. Personally I think Mr. Burkes way of acting is the right way, let the material stay up on the web as long as the poster is not trying to profit from the work and the posting is meant for global public education. But that is a decision only a copyright holder and their attorneys can make, obviously Addison-Wesley doesn’t feel this way. While I never got to see any of Alan’s work on The Feynman Lectures it sure seems like it would have been very helpful in making them easier to understand for the general public. Again personally, I think it could have driven sales of the books and audio of the lectures to the general public but then again, I may be wrong and it could have hurt Addison-Wesley by lowering sales. I also think it is too bad that Alan felt the need to take down the James Burke videos but hey, just like Addison-Wesley’s decision, it is solely his decision to make.

Somewhat related to all this, Blake Stacey of Science After Sunclipse had pointed me to Feynman’s “The Character of Physical Law – Messenger Lectures” series on Google Video last year. Checking to see if I could link to those as a consolation prize for my couple of readers, I see those videos have been taken down too.

*** UPDATE July 18. 2009 ***

Alan has sent me some exciting new information, the Feynman lectures have been purchased by Bill Gates and are being put online for free! You can read more about the story at this article from the NY Times.

EE #4, The Good the Bad and the Crazy

First we have The Good, a very rational tolerant engineer, the kind that makes me proud of my profession rather than embarrassed to admit it.

Some people believe that at the end of the ride it’s, whew, that was fun, can’t wait to get in line and do it all again.

Some people believe that our little fun park is a frivolous waste of time and that the real good stuff happens after the amusement park closes.  I would say, what a waste, but it’s their choice to make.

Here I tread lightly, but I’m sure you know exactly what I mean.  We could debate in a friendly way how each of us has decided to make our lives better, and learn some things along the way.  That’s a Good Thing(tm).  No, it is the other stuff that worries me.  And not in a paranoid way, but in a very real and “fear for my life” way.  This one wants to cut off my head because I don’t believe in flying horses, and that one wants to beat me to death over a disagreement about a cracker.

I would like to believe that no one on this list would wish me harm for anything I’ve said, and if someone did, they wouldn’t dare say it publicly.

On the other hand, there are too many places in this world (including the southern state where I grew up) where if I said, “Sorry, I don’t happen to believe your fairy tales to be literally true”, then I would fear for my safety and my life.

Hey, I see a Pharyngula great cracker incident ’08 reference in there, an engineer who reads PZ is always a good sign. Of course one of the embarrassing engineers had to reply with The Bad:

But if that is so, why would you say something like that? I guess I see the point (or a point): it should be possible to say what you want, to disagree how much you want, without fear. But that’s one of the conditions here: nothing is perfect 🙂  So we have to accept that things we say have consequences, and they are not always easy to predict.

Wow, he thinks it’s to be expected that people will hurt or kill you over ideas and that’s acceptable. I know he is not from the US but I think even in Germany and Brazil it’s against the law to cause physical harm to others and killing over words is murder. He does not grasp the concept of freedom of conscience but I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. His previous posts have shown me he doesn’t grasp the fundamentals of science or critical thinking either.

Next I bring you The Crazy:

Can’t help on sci journals, but I did wire plants up to bio-feedback circuitry & got some fascinating experimental results…

The device was a wheatstone bridge detecting changes of resistance from electrodes attached to stems of Foxgloves & houseplants.  Output created a rising needle & rising audio pitch if resistance rose, & the converse if resistance reduced..

With Foxglove, once the needle stabilised I tried talking to it, no difference or a small fall.  Tried torturing a leaf, slight rise.  Then a motor cycle passed by noisily, & the needle & pitch shot up, then slowly went down again. Then a gust of wind blew, & the needle fell.

With a houseplant wired, I tried talking to it, small fall.  I tried torturing a leaf, barely discernable rise that quickly fell.  Then I asked a colleague to have a go.  He wasn’t interested but with cajoling he turned & looked at the plant -from 15 feet distance the plant screamed!  Needle & pitch went off the scale & I had to turn down sensitivity & readjust.  He thought I was taking the piss.

I gave it a few minutes, there was a small fall, stabilised, then I stepped away & asked Phil again to try.  Once again from several yards away he simply looked at the plant, & the plant’s resistance shot up & a scream came from the loudspeaker.  This time there was no fakery possible from me – I too was several yards away.

I make no attempt to publish ‘findings’, & instead invite that others also experiment…

Typical pseudo-scientist, won’t document or publish any of his alleged results so that others can try and replicate his experiment. Instead he simply insists it works and tries to get others to start from scratch. When you see this crap you just have to call it for what it is, Bulls Hit!

A Good reply to some more Crazy:

And sometimes we progress by going back to old ways.
Medicine comes to mind.  We used to think using leeches was crazy stuff from older times.
Now we’ve found them quite useful.

That’s true, but not quite.

Why they were using them in the middles ages is different to why they’re used now.  You could say we found a new use for something that was supposed to be useful but wasn’t.  (You might need to take a deep breathe first.)

An engineer who has appeared here before, showing a Bad grasp of reality (emphasis mine):

It comes as no surprise that the majority of people will trust CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, FOX News, NPR, NY Times and Washington Post as though they publish truth.  But they all publish the same story, the same way from the same source and it is always flavored with a left political bias.

Wow what planet is he living on, I have lots of problems with FOX News but a liberal/left bias sure as heck isn’t one of them. In the past year this guy, as far as I can recall, hasn’t gotten one technical detail correct and evades owning up to the errors when called on them. Thankfully the list is inhabited by many excellent engineers so, his technical mistakes are always corrected. I thought this guy was just a classic BS artist, you know the type who pretends to be knowledgeable and can talk his way out of trouble when he’s caught having no knowledge. Now that I’ve seen his utter failure to grasp reality twice I’m beginning to think he’s just nuts.