The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘computers’

Superstition & Computer Technology

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 27, 2009

Today I saw a great post over at the Tech Republic blog about the “10 habits of superstitious users” of computers.  I wanted to pass this along to you, partially because it is an excellent contemporary example of loose & magical thinking.  I am also sharing it partially out of deference to my wife, who has to deal with the computer illiterate all-too-often who view the computer as either some kind of malevolent entity or a magical box.

Here is the main text of the article [note that I’ve added relevant links to the text]…

Superstition: A belief, not based on human reason or scientific knowledge, that future events may be influenced by one’s behavior in some magical or mystical way (Wiktionary).

In 1947, the psychologist B. F. Skinner reported a series of experiments in which pigeons could push a lever that would randomly either give them a food pellet, or nothing. Think of it as a sort of one-armed bandit that the pigeons played for free. Skinner found, after a while, that some of the pigeons started acting oddly before pushing the lever. One moved in counterclockwise circles, one repeatedly stuck its head into the upper corner of the cage, and two others would swing their heads back and forth in a sort of pendulum motion. He suggested that the birds had developed “superstitious behaviors” by associating getting the food with something they happened to be doing when they actually got it — and they had wrongly concluded that if they did it again, they were more likely to get the pellet. Essentially, they were doing a sort of food-pellet dance to better their odds.

Although computer users are undoubtedly smarter than pigeons, users who really don’t understand how a computer works may also wrongly connect some action of theirs with success (and repeat it), or associate it with failure (and avoid it like the plague). Here are some of the user superstitions I’ve encountered.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in internet | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Defending Free Inquiry in Iran

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 16, 2009

I don’t usually delve into strictly political waters, but recent events in Iran have compelled me to share some important information with the readers of this blog.  One of the key things that drives all skeptics & scientifically-minded folk is the spirit of free inquiry.  Without the free flow of unfiltered information, science & skepticism in their purest & most useful forms wither.

Well, right now in Iran, there seems to be a revolution of sorts in the offing. There are huge protests, numbering in the 100s of thousands for days, alleging widespread & deep fraud on the part of the Iranian government and incumbent president & hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The challenger, a moderate politician named Mir Hossein Mousavi, is stating publicly that he will not accept the results of a fraudulent election, and he is demanding a revote.

Unfortunately, the Iranian government has responded violently to these protests, and they are also attempting to impose a media blackout.  This includes kicking foreign journalists out of the country and keeping them locked in their hotel rooms so they cannot cover the events unfolding in Iran.  In addition, the Iranian government is also attempting to silence dissent on the Internet by shutting down popular websites such as Twitter and Facebook.

This is where you can come in.  I found the following information on a thread at the JREF Forum:

If you have geek skills, an extra computer/server, and an interest in undermining fascist censorship, please help!  Here’s how you can set up an anonymous proxy server to help Iranians bypass the Internet barriers.

Windows
Linux
Mac OS X

AND…

There are people calling for anyone with a twitter account to change their location to Tehran and their time to +3:30 GMT in order to throw off government searches for Iranian students who are tweeting.

Please consider helping out; if you don’t have the skills necessary to set up a proxy server or set Twitter accounts, pass along this info to someone who can.  Help defend free inquiry in Iran!

Posted in free inquiry, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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