Monday, July 27, 2009

I Need a New Irony Meter

Serial liar Sarah Palin, in her farewell address as governor of Alaska, said,

"And first, some straight talk for some, just some in the media because another right protected for all of us is freedom of the press, and you all have such important jobs reporting facts and informing the electorate, and exerting power to influence. You represent what could and should be a respected honest profession that could and should be the cornerstone of our democracy. Democracy depends on you, and that is why, that's why our troops are willing to die for you. So, how 'bout in honor of the American soldier, ya quit makin' things up?"

If I were in the media, I'd say "You first, Sarah."

As it is, my irony meter broke reading that.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Website Weirds Wikipedia

Check out, a website that changes Wikipedia content into something bizarre and occasionally delightful.

From today's page:

"Harrison was built-in in North Bend, Ohio, and at age 21 confused to Indianapolis, Indiana, area he became a arresting accompaniment politician."

"During a accent in Montreal, French President Charles de Gaulle declared "Long reside chargeless Quebec!", a account that was interpreted as abutment for Quebec independence from Canada."

"Judy and Alfred were two 90-inch (2.3 m) alpine beef locomotives distinctively advised to fit beneath a arch at Par that was alone 96 inches (2.4 m) high?"

"Today's featured picture: A radar angel of the surface of Venus, centered at 180 degrees east longitude... This blended angel was created from mapping by the Magellan probe, supplemented by abstracts aggregate by the Pioneer orbiter, with apish hues based on blush images recorded by Venera 13 and 14."

It's like moving to a Bizarro world!

My guess is that the algorithm simply chooses words at random from a Wikipedia page, and then replaces them with a random synonym in a consistent way.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Greedy Publishers Love Open Access

In the "open access" model of scholarly journal publishing, articles are freely available online for anyone to read. Sounds great, right?

There's a problem, though. Where does the money come from to provide editorial staff and web hosting? Typically, it comes from fees charged to authors. This is nothing new - some scholarly journals have had "page charges" for years. Authors are charged a fee on the size of the article, and this fee is usually paid for by your university or your research grant, if you are luck enough to have one.

Print journals have traditionally waived page charges for authors with no grant or authors from third world countries. Unfortunately, some greedy publishers have not chosen to issue the same kinds of waivers for their open access journals.

Scholarly Research Exchange is one such greedy publisher. They recently sent me a solicitation to submit articles to their journal SRX Mathematics. When I asked the "journal publishing editor", Michael Fayez, what their waiver policy is, he replied "SRX Mathematics totally depends on those mandatory charges to run the journal. So, I regret to inform you that we cannot grant waivers." Considering that their fee is $400 per article, which is more than most people in 3rd world countries make in a year, their policy ensures that only papers from rich countries will be included. That's a shame.

I won't be submitting to this journal.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Stephen Meyer's Honesty Problem

Like most intelligent design advocates, Stephen Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, has a little problem telling the truth.

I first encountered his dissembling at an intelligent design conference held at Calvin College in May 2001. Meyer had written in 2000 that "Systems that are characterized by both specificity and complexity (what information theorists call "specified complexity'') have "information content''."

The only problem is, information theorists don't use the term "specified complexity" and they don't refer to "specificity" when discussing information. At the time, there was precisely one mathematician who was pushing the term "specified complexity", and that was William Dembski, who tried (but failed) to create a new, mathematically-rigorous definition at information which (were it coherent) would be at odds with how information is defined by other mathematicians and computer scientists.

I went up to Meyer at the conference and asked him, "You wrote that 'information theorists' (plural) talk about specified complexity. Who are they?" He then admitted that he knew no one but Dembski (and Dembski himself is not much of an information theorist, having published exactly 0 papers so far on the topic in the peer-reviewed scientific literature).

So the use of the plural, when Meyer knew perfectly well that information theorists do not use the term "specified complexity", was just a lie - and a lie intended to deceive the reader that his claims are supported by the scientific community, when they are not.

(Another anecdote: while I was waiting in line to ask Meyer this question, I was behind a woman who couldn't wait to meet Meyer. She gushed as she shook his hand, saying she was so honored to meet the man who was responsible for recruiting so many people for Christ through his work. He smiled and thanked her. And they claim ID is not religious!)

Meyer was also caught dissembling about the "No Child Left Behind" education bill, falsely claiming that it obligated Ohio to teach about alternative theories.

Now Meyer is back with a new book, and an op-ed in the Boston Globe to help flog his book. In the op-ed, Meyer claims, "Information - whether inscribed in hieroglyphics, written in a book, or encoded in a radio signal - always arises from an intelligent source." But this is the same old bogus ID claim that is repeated endlessly and endlessly, and it's not true. At least it's not true if you understand "information" in the sense that it is understood by mathematicians and computer scientists. For example, in the Kolmogorov theory, any random source produces information.

But then again, Meyer, with his little honesty problem, doesn't seem too concerned with the truth. What's important is, as that woman ahead of me in line told him, saving souls for Jesus.

Martin Luther once said, "What harm would it do, if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian church...a lie out of necessity, a useful lie, a helpful lie, such lies would not be against God, he would accept them." It seems that Stephen Meyer would agree.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Academic Publisher Elsevier Looking for More Revenue in Odd Places

Academic publisher Elsevier, not content with raking in the money from all the expensive academic journals they print, is now following in the footsteps of illustrious organizations such as the American Biographical Institute: when your article gets published, they are offering wooden plaques celebrating the glorious occasion.

I recently got the following e-mail from Elsevier:

New! To commemorate your publication, you can now order printed author copies of the journal issue featuring your article, a unique Certificate of Publication, and/or customized full-color posters featuring your article. Please visit
to learn more.

And indeed, you can find there a wide variety of choices to "commemorate" your publication, including:

- copy of the journal issue in which your article appears;
- "A customized full-color poster commemorating the publication of your article, featuring the article first page and a personalized reference."
- a "Certificate of Publication" which is "delivered ready to display in a high-quality frame, dark brown wood with gold trim."
- "A full-color, 16.5" x 23.4" sized poster of the cover of the issue in which your article appears, displaying a personalized reference to your publication."

Way to be classy, Elsevier!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Another Academic Scam

Every month or so I get a solicitation in the mail like the following one:

Dear Author


As a general chair of GESTS, I am happy to invite you for the acceptance of yourpaper to be published in the GESTS International Transactions.

The GESTS is a nonprofit academic society organized by voluntary members aroundthe world since 2002. Every month, we publish the GESTS international transactionswhich are the regular paper journals on CSE and CSP, written by noble authors in more than 50 different countries.

This e-mail has been sent only to the authors who chose as a high quality paper that had been accepted as one of two parts of GESTS international transactions as follows:

-Part 1:

Paper Number : CSE775-727
Paper Journal: GESTS International Transactions on Computer Science and Engineering
Paper Field : Computer and Its Application

Volume Number: Vol.54 and No.3
ISSN Number : 1738-6438
Publication date: July 30, 2009.
Journal Type : hard copy with a green color cover
Online Journals: publication on the web in parallel to the printed journals.

-Part 2:
Paper Number : CSP775-112
Journal Title: GESTS International Transactions on Communication and Signal Processing
Paper Fields : Information Communication Engineering, Signal Processing, Image and Video Processing, Acoustics, etc.
Volume Number: Vol.13 and No.7
ISSN Number : 1738-9682
Issue Date : July 30, 2009.
Journal Type : hard copy with an orange color cover
On-line Issue: publication on the web in parallel to the printed journals.

Please, click the mouse on the "Major Conference Author's Paper Submission" at the home page, If the paper will be submitted through the web page, we will e-mail back with the details of how to proceed the submission of registration fees and copyright format.

Important dates for publication of the GESTS international transactions are :
- an improved paper and copyright format by July 27, 2009, ( )
- the acceptance notification within ten days receiving your paper,
- the registration format with fees by July 30, 2009,
- the publication of GESTS International journal by July 30, 2009,
- and delivery start from GESTS to authors by August 10, 2009.

If you have a new paper or an improved version to be issued in GESTS international transactions, please, send us the final camera-ready version by July 27, 2009. At least one author of each paper must be accomplished with the registration.

We are looking forward to see your contributions at GESTS.

Sincerely yours,

Dr. Bruce M. Bae, a general chair of GESTS,

I particularly like the "noble authors" part -- not to be confused with authors who have won the Nobel prize, of course.

The idea is, of course, that you submit your paper to this journal that nobody reads and then they charge you "registration fees". You'd have to be pretty dumb to fall for this one.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Does Reality Exist?

From Friday's Waterloo Region Record, in the Letters section, comes this gem, from Ray Zehr of Shakespeare, Ontario.

"...My answer is, true reality can only exist if God alone created intelligence because God is perfect then intelligence is true and reality is true.

"If you believe in evolution without God then you have to accept the fact that reality probably does not exist. This is probably the universal question that science has shied away from for centuries and left our youth hanging in the closet..."

It's not our youth, but somebody's brain, that was left hanging in the closet.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Real Moose Don't Litter

Seen in Hoosick, New York:

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Strangest Book on the Theory of Computation

Based on the description of the book in the World Scientific Press catalogue, I asked my university library to order a book entitled Automata Theory by Matthew Simon. I did so because it seemed to cover many topics not available elsewhere. I now regret my decision, although looking at the book did provide some amusement value. It is weird.

The first thing that a reader notices is each chapter begins with lengthy quotations about the history of slavery. No, I am not kidding. Chapter 1, for example, begins as follows:



White and Negro produces mulatto
Half white, half black

White and mulatto produces quadroon
Three-quarters white and one-quarter Negro...

etc. This strange choice is explained by the author as follows: "While this book focuses upon language, a reminder of the relationship between language, social being, responsibility, and historical context will start each chapter."

The typesetting and notation are really awful. For example, the author uses the capital letter "X" to represent ×, the cross product symbol. Terms are used without being defined: for example, "semi-automata" is used on page 7 but has not been defined. Some material is simply repeated; for example, both pages 9 and 11 contain a definition of semigroups (which are sometimes written "semi-groups"). The author frequently uses notation and abbreviations that are unique to him, such as "NDFSA" for what everyone else calls "NFA", etc.

Most of the book consists of pages and pages and pages of examples, with little explanation of what the examples are intended to illustrate. When theorems are stated, they often miss the point. For example, the pumping lemma for regular languages is stated as follows: "If an FSA has n+1 states and accepts a string ω where ω = a0 a1 ... an+1, thus |ω| = n+2, then the FSA accepts an infinite number of strings." But this is not the pumping lemma, which is a statement about languages, not automata.

This is, without a doubt, the strangest book I have every read on the theory of computation. I honestly don't know how this book ever got published.

There is also an interesting positive review of the book on Amazon:

Automata Theory by Matthew Simon is an unusually welcome book. The many examples shown include subjects not often covered, such as: the Chomsky-Schutzenberger Theorem, Kuroda Normal Forms, Ginsberg-Griebach Theorem, Simple Pushdown Automata, Syntactic Pattern Recognition, and Shape Grammers. The use of a consistent and standard notation throughout the book is also welcome, as many different subjects are discussed. The focus of the first chapter is upon Semigroups and Automata Theory(including wreath products), from a more elementary, less abstract, less mathematical viewpoint than that found in the dozen or so books covering this subject. Thus examples from automata theory are emphasized. While departures from the notation of Clifford and Preston do take place, the notation is as close as one can come to being standard, as no standard notation currently exists. Each chapter starts with a commentary or quotes relating to subjects that arise in socially oriented linguistics and automata theory. Such commentary is often omitted in books covering automata theory but is of interest to people studying Anthropological Linguistics, General (historical)Linguistics, Philosophical Linguistics, and other academic areas dealing with linguistics, but often neglected by the engineering, Computer Science and Mathematics communities.

I leave it up to the reader to try to figure out who might have written this review.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

United Way Finally Sees the Light?

For many years I have boycotted the local United Way because of their unwillingness to fund Planned Parenthood. My attempts to address the issue with the leaders of United Way KW were always met with evasion, and in some cases, misleading accounts of the reasons for their refusal. The real reason, of course, was that at Planned Parenthood one could learn about abortion as an option for an unwanted pregnancy (although the local Planned Parenthood does not actually do abortions). At the same time, the local United Way was happy to fund Birthright, an organization which refuses to refer women for abortions if that is their choice.

Now, I'm happy to say, the local United Way has seemingly seen the light. They gave a grant of $8,000 to PP for their "Women's Wellness" educational day and for a pilot project concerning Sudanese and Afghan women. Strangely enough, though, the United Way's list of funded agencies doesn't include Planned Parenthood. Maybe the local United Way still isn't willing to be forthright about their decisions.

I'm going to continue to boycott United Way until they fund Planned Parenthood and proudly say so on their website.

Clueless Palin Sinks to New Low

Just when you thought the saga of clueless and soon to be ex-governor Sarah Palin couldn't become any stupider, she (via her law firm) is now threatening to sue people who say bad things about her for defamation:

"To the extent several websites, most notably liberal Alaska blogger Shannyn Moore, are now claiming as “fact” that Governor Palin resigned because she is “under federal investigation” for embezzlement or other criminal wrongdoing, we will be exploring legal options this week to address such defamation. This is to provide notice to Ms. Moore, and those who re-publish the defamation, such as Huffington Post, MSNBC, the New York Times and The Washington Post, that the Palins will not allow them to propagate defamatory material without answering to this in a court of law. The Alaska Constitution protects the right of free speech, while simultaneously holding those “responsible for the abuse of that right.” Alaska Constitution Art. I, Sec. 5. These falsehoods abuse the right to free speech; continuing to publish these falsehoods of criminal activity is reckless, done without any regard for the truth, and is actionable."

Considering that Palin is a documented serial liar, it's pretty rich when she threatens to sue others for what she claims is lying.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Janis Ian Demo Tape

I heard something on WHYY-FM (Philadelphia) last Sunday that positively gave me goose bumps. On the 2nd hour of the show American Routes, they played the demo-tape version of Janis Ian's song, "Society's Child". Janis Ian arrived in New York at the age of 14, and one year later, in 1966, she recorded "Society's Child" on the home tape recorder of Sis Cunningham and Gordon Friesen, publishers of Broadside.

It is a phenomenal recording for anyone, let alone a 15-year-old. You can listen to it here: click, choose the June 24th show, and then click on "Listen to Hour 2". Or you can go directly to the show as an mp3 file here. In both of these links, "Society's Child" begins at 16:20 into the show, so don't expect to hear it right away.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Interview with Joseph Shallit

Here's a rarity: a July 1967 interview with my father, Joseph Shallit, conducted by interviewer Gene Poll, about my father's piece in the Reader's Digest, "We're Up to Deuteronomy". Yes, we really did read and discuss the Bible at dinner when I was 9 years old. The interview is in mp3 format.

Happy Canada Day!

This fine moose is decked out to celebrate Canada Day. But it lives in Bennington, Vermont.