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Mennonite farm from Wikimedia Commons. Mennonites are good guys, not spammers

I have a Google Alert watch for ‘WHQR’. I was curious when I saw this notice in my email:

What Are the Benefits of Donating My Car to WHQR?. Although the option has been around for a number of years, many charitable organizations, such as WHQR-FM …

The notice provides a link to an article on the site ‘eHow.com’. I’m not going to provide that link here, for reasons which I hope will become clear.

This struck me as odd: why would a 3rd party bother to write about donating cars to WHQR? The article itself is pretty generic and the information isn’t essentially wrong; we do receive, and value, donations of cars.

I Googled eHow.com and started seeing messages about “content farms” — a new term for me. eHow is apparently owned by Demand Media. Their business model is to churn out thousands of pages per day of mostly recycled press releases from all kinds of businesses and organizations.

The purpose is to get a lot of page views, move to the top of Google rankings, and make tons of money from ads. Google has moved to quarantine some of the more flagrant ones, but it’s hard to see how this can be stopped completely.

Some of the sites writing about this refer to it as spam. But some of them appear to be possibly a little spammy themselves. I am going to link to this one, which is useful but essentially recycles material from an earlier post at the same location.

Maybe everyone knows about this. I didn’t. Another example of crappy stuff beating out useful stuff on the web. Sigh.

I was reading an article about Occam’s Razor (and how’s that for an attention-grabber, sports fans) that defined it along the lines of “Of two possible explanations for something, the simplest one is probably correct.” That’s been bothering me ever since. It rather seriously mis-states what Occam’s Razor is all about. It has nothing to do with probability and is not a predictor.

The logical principle elucidated by the Franciscan friar William of Occam (or Ockham), c. 1285-1349, is sometimes given as Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate. “Entities are no to be feigned without necessity” is one translation. Let’s say we had theory A (simple) and theory B (complex). If we relied just on the formulation above and new evidence came to light that theory A can’t explain, then wouldn’t that prove Occam’s Razor (OR) wrong?

Not at all. In fact OR demands that the simpler explanation that accounts for all the observed phenomena is to be accepted as correct. It can’t be proved or disproved; it’s an axiom or heuristic principle. We don’t say that in Euclidean space “parellel lines probably never meet.” By definition, they can’t.

For much of the Middle Ages the Ptolemaic system was capable of explaining the motion of the stars and planets. It was based on the notion that they had to move in circles (because, as we know from Aristotle, circles are the perfect shape). To explain observed irregularities astronomers had to add circles on top of circles (epicycles) in ever more complex patterns.

Now, of course, we “know” that the movement of Earth around the sun (Copernicus) and the elliptical nature of planetary orbits (Kepler) explain the  motions we see. But how do we know that we know this? In theory epicycles could multiply and be refined endlessly to account for new observations; but eventually OR caused that monstrously complex system to collapse under its own weight.

Here’s the ironic part: probably many today would use OR to argue against the idea of a supernatural Creator. But for Occam himself, his principle was a grand demonstration of God, the one entity who exists by necessity and whose marvelous economy is to be found throughout the plenitude of created world.

Not me! Here’s proof, from my office window. The city is pretty much shut down today. Typically these don’t stick — they tell me — but precipitation is supposed to last a while and it’s not going to get much if any above freezing.

Still much less than Cincinnati, though.

This headline is from one of my favorite papers, the Greater Wilmington Business Journal. But it was too good to resist.

There’s no picture, so with the help of Wikimedia Commons, I have created the handy visual aid here.

from Wikimedia Commons

I don’t care where you live or what your political persuasion is, I think most people in the U.S. would say that things overall are worse in 2010 than they were in 200o.

But maybe not. This piece by Clay Risen was part of a larger article in today’s New York Times. It couldn’t have come at a better time.

The 2000s Were a Great Decade

Two recessions. 9/11. Iraq. Afghanistan. You might think the last decade was among the worst in modern history. But according to the economist Charles Kenny, author of “Getting Better,” a forthcoming book on global development, you’d be wrong. Average worldwide income, at $10,600, is 25 percent higher than it was a decade ago. Thanks to increases in agriculture efficiency, cereal production grew at double the rate of population in the developing world. Vaccine initiatives have helped cut the death rate from common diseases like measles by 60 percent. Child mortality is down 17 percent.

One of the many factors behind these improvements was increased telecommunications (especially television) in Africa and Asia: education and better health practices could penetrate communities where illiteracy and geographic isolation long stymied public-health efforts. This resulted in hundreds of millions of people who were better educated, more politically engaged and more aware of social and health issues, creating a virtuous cycle of progress.

Update 12/20/10: one of my favorite sites, Astronomy Picture of the Day, notes that this eclipse solstice is the first in 456 years, and that no one has yet figured out when the next one will be.

This is a pretty neat coincidence: there will be a total eclipse of the moon early in the morning of December 21st (Eastern time); in the evening of the same day the December solstice (winter solstice) arrives.

Coincidence … or conspiracy? You be the judge.

Metaphor of the week

Web City, MO from Wikimedia Commons

Rep. Michelle Bachmann and John Kline of the Congressional Prayer Caucus recently criticized President Obama for not portraying America as a more Christian-like nation to the rest of the world.

The group said not mentioning God could have consequences for freedom.

The best part was this:

“By making these kinds of statements to the rest of the world, you are removing on the the cornerstones of our secure freedom,” the caucus wrote. “If we pull the thread of religious conviction out of the marketplace of ideas, we unravel the tapestry of freedom that birthed America.”

Fair warning: if you mess with the cornerstone in the marketplace, it will unravel and not be able to give birth.

Got it.

Thanks J-Walk.

In the land of country ham

Whitey's (Google Street View)

I’ve been searching for the best Southern breakfast in Wilmington, NC. My standard is two eggs, grits, country ham and biscuit. I could get something like this in Cincinnati, but usually only by going over the Ohio into Kentucky. So far I’ve found several I can recommend:

  • Salt Works (the original, 6301 Oleander Drive)
  • Salt Works II (4001 Wrightsville Avenue)
  • Causeway Cafe (114 Causeway Drive, Wrightsville Beach)
  • K&W Cafeteria (various locations)
  • Whitey’s (4501 Market Street)

Whitey’s has the most traditional old-timey feel, and Michael Jordan earned his first paycheck working here. However I understand it may be closing soon in favor of another cookie-cutter Walgreen’s. More’s the pity.

If you’ve live in North Carolina you know about K&W. Traditional Southern food that horrifies visitors from Up Nawth. Immensely popular regional chain, especially for post-church Sunday dinner, but their excellent breakfasts don’t seem to draw as much.

Causeway Cafe is popular with locals in the off-season and tourists at other times. It smells terrific because of their specialty Belgian waffles. This is a good choice for entertaining visitors, and of course it’s at Wrightsville.

Several people and sources recommended the Dixie Grill downtown, which has the right old-time + downtown hip vibe. But I was disappointed. The grits were Adluh (right choice), but were cooked thin. Portions were small, especially for the somewhat higher prices. Some people say it depends on who the chef is at a given time. I should give them another chance, I suppose.

Update afterward: A beautiful day and a very moving ceremony. Named for Samuel Lee Gravely, first African-American officer, skipper, admiral,  & commander of a fleet. His widow was present along with a host of military & other dignitaries.

This is quite a ceremony.

Aw, shucks, folks

Well, Helen and T.C.’s little boy made the news again. The Wilmington Star-News did a profile of me in today’s paper, complete with a picture that looks like I’m trying out for “WHQR 3-D”. Here ’tis.

Wilmington has definitely exceeded my expectations. I went to a rather glittering banquet last night for the Willie Stargell foundation, which raises money for kidney dialysis care at Cape Fear Regional Medical Center here in Wilmington. Stargell of course was a legendary player for the Pittsburgh Pirates who died of kidney failure; his widow Margaret is from Wilmington.

Thanks to her dynamite family and friends (probably a couple of hundred), they had a great turnout. Everywhere you looked there was a sports legend. I had a nice conversation with the great ex-Pirate pitcher Kent Tekulve, who was at my table. It’s been a while since I went out in public in a tux, out of consideration for the public weal.