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« NCCAM Improperly Inflates CAM Usage in Survey The RantsBreaking Diet News: Someone, Alert the Media! »

The Thin Rainbow-Colored Line
2009.02.15 (Sun) 02:13

It all started with a rainbow.

You know, you'll just be sitting there, minding your own business, and they'll come marching in, and crawl up your leg, and start biting the inside of your ass, and you'll be all like, "Hey! Get out of my ass, you stupid rainbows!"

Wait, no. Not one of those. An actual rainbow. Our mistake.

More specifically, it started with Orange County Register's Sciencedude, who posted a photo taken by Jason Erdkamp of a rainbow astonishingly touching down right in front of his car on the freeway. Right behind an Escalade.

In Jason's defense, he took a picture of something pretty fucking cool. In Sciencedude Gary Robbins' defense, he's a science editor and writer...and we've found no place where he claims to be an actual scientist.

But there's simply no defense of the inane stream of shit coming out of everyone's mouths, including Jason's and Gary's, in the thread over at Sciencedude's blog.

See, the raving stupid over there comes in three varieties, and it drives us fucking insane.

Raving Stupid Flavor #1: The Miracle Gawkers

For fuck's sake, people. How can you keep believing utter bullshit no matter how many times it is explained to you?

Throughout the thread, you've got the people we'd expect to chime in on an unresearched, rather silly article like the one Gary Robbins wrote — they gush on and on about how they've always been told they couldn't find the end of a rainbow, but they totally did, and that's how cool they are, and they share in the coolness of the finding the end of the rainbow wonderfulness, ooh, isn't it gushy, and wonderful, and cool? Or, if they haven't had the experience themselves, they enthusiastically embrace this rock-solid, earth-shatteringly convincing point of evidence "that not everything in a textbook is accurate and not every instructor is right."

Except, of course, that rainbows are pretty thoroughly fucking understood, and these asshats are wrong. Rainbows aren't precisely a physical object, folks — they are perceived due to the particular alignment of specific physical objects and phenomena. You cannot walk through a rainbow, because it doesn't exist in a physical location. (You can, however, walk through the path of light coming from any source, direct or reflected, and you will see the effects of said light reflecting off of your person.) If you really don't understand, at this point, how rainbows are formed based on the angle of the sun, water droplets in the air, and your eyes, then there's not much we can do for you...beyond recommending that you head back to junior high and try to pay attention this time.

What's incredibly sad about this brand of raving stupid is that it clearly comes from a desire to Pursue the Magic — these are people who want to find something breathtakingly wonderful in life, and they are willing to ignore reality in order to delude themselves into thinking they've found it.

The saddest part to us is that while other, smarter folks explain that, no, it is a physical, reality-based impossibility for this picture to actually be of the "end of a rainbow," the real reason why we think the miracle gawkers are so fucking abysmally stupid is because they simply can't appreciate the beauty in what it actually could be, and how incredible that explanation might be...if they'd just fucking listen to it.

People want magic. They don't want truth. And they ignore the fact that the truth is frequently, in many ways, magical. That, to us, is incredibly fucking sad.

But then, this brand of raving stupid is based on a lack of education, or comprehension, or ability. And while it's sad, it's sometimes correctable — you can inform people — and such stupid can be cured by a good dose of reality and patient understanding. (Note that while we do a brisk trade in reality, here, we're not so interested in patient understanding — that's not the purpose of this site. Go elsewhere for that, or catch us in our offline lives, where we're much more apt to patiently explain cool concepts that we're aware of.)

Raving Stupid Flavor #2: The Mock Experts

Then there are the schmucks, like Gary Robbins himself, who have outright declared: there is no way this photo was altered in any way, shape or form! This group heavily overlaps with the first, of course, since the miracle gawkers have a major stake in declaring the photos "not photoshopped" — that declaration, if said loudly enough and authoritatively enough (with or without any actual evidence, apparently), will preserve the magic they so desperately crave.

The idiots in the Sciencedude thread spouting off proclamations like "No, I can tell by the pixels it's not photoshopped" should be fucking shot. Let's provide them with a quick course in, well, obviousness.

Fact: It is possible to tell "by the pixels" (we'll pretend they actually said something intelligent, there, about realistic contrast and color, digital softening to hide discrepancies, and repetitive patterns from a clone brush) when an image is photoshopped, by the artifacts left behind.

Fact: It is not possible to tell "by the pixels" that an image is not photoshopped. If you can't find any artifacts of photoshopping, it means one of three things:

  1. the image wasn't altered;

  2. the image was altered, but you can't see the tell-tale artifacts, because you aren't that fucking awesome, so shut the fuck up;

  3. the image was altered, and so expertly that nobody could discern any tell-tale artifacts, because there aren't any, so shut the fuck up.

The problem with mock experts — including those who invoke experts, which seems to be Gary Robbins' only marketable skill, judging by this thread — is that they've decided they're too fucking awesome for 2 or 3 to be true, so therefore it must be 1.

Again, we may, perhaps, be able to cure this brand of stupid — but since these folks are working off of their own overinflated sense of infallible sensory analysis, it's a much trickier knot to untangle.

Raving Stupid Flavor #3: The Expert Mockers

Finally, we have the asshats who are just plain abominably, butt-crunchingly, abysmally stupid. These are the ones arguing against the miracle gawkers, explaining that "Rainbows Do Not Work That Way!" and, by the process of elimination, the picture must have been photoshopped.

This, of course, leads to the retorts from miracle gawkers and mock experts — like Gary Robbins — that the photo isn't photoshopped, that it's been gone over by experts, and that it is totally genuine, and therefore, you know, the end of the rainbow really, really, really did touch down on the tail pipe of the Escalade right in front of Jason's car.

This third brand of raving stupid consists of people who are so hot on being the cutting-edge, "Bright" (ugh), outside-of-the-box, shake-up-the-paradigm thinkers (and probably use all of those terms, too) that they take skepticism to the extreme, and rather than actually analyze what is put in front of them, they simply look for the quickest, easiest skeptical viewpoint and slap it down on the table.

And that's just fucking asinine, too. If the claim is that it's not photoshopped, then okay — accept that claim for a moment and look into possible explanations for what you're witnessing, because there are many possible explanations, and some of them are perfectly valid. Don't simply stick your fingers in your ears and keep shouting "Photoshopped! Photoshopped! Photoshopped!" Because that's just as dumb as the mock experts saying "I can tell it's not photoshopped!"

Which, of course, devolves into a ridiculous playground argument of "Uh huh!" — "Nuh uh!"

Amid the din, what gets drowned out are a few actually intelligent people in the thread, who make two strong and correct points: one, we can tentatively accept as truthful the claim that the photo has not been photoshopped, because science and critical thinking are about accepting claims provisionally until we have reason to believe they're inaccurate; and two, rainbows, as defined, can not touch down on the road in front of your car. Working from these two accurate statements, the smart folks then take the correct critical thinking approach and look for explanations that fit the evidence (the photo) and our current model of the universe (what rainbows are and how they work). In so doing, these folks come up with a variety of creative explanations, and we'd be happy to place money on any one of these being an accurate description of what happened in front of Jason Erdkamp's car that day. (Of course, it's just as possible that it was photoshopped — but we're giving him the benefit of the doubt.)

In the end, we're sick of ignorance, pedantry, and raving stupid no matter which flavor it comes in.

To the expert mockers: stop giving skepticism a bad name, motherfuckers.

To the mock experts: don't fucking make shit up to cover for the fact that you're complete morons.

And to the miracle gawkers: rainbows are awesome, folks — isn't that enough? They're fucking gorgeous, and the science behind them, if you take the time to learn it, is fucking fascinating, and opens up a multitude of other branches of knowledge for your perusal if you've got the intellectual curiosity and are so inclined. Jokes about pots of gold and leprechauns aside, why do you have to find something "magically magical" when the actual magical universe is all around you, just waiting to be observed?

Every rainbow, by definition, is your own rainbow. It is the personal rainbow created by the reflection and refraction of light as it hits your eyes, and while the person standing right next to you may see something awfully similar, if not virtually identical, your rainbow is your unique rainbow by virtue of being constructed of the photons of specific wavelengths that specifically hit your visual sensory apparatus.

If that's not magical enough for you, then we really don't feel like sharing this fucking brilliantly awesome universe with you. Go find one that bends to your whims. There are no pots of gold. There are no leprechauns. You can't walk in, or walk on, or slide down a rainbow. After all, as we all know, rainbows are simply the T1 lines of ass gnomes, communicating with gnomes in asses throughout the world as they organize their inevitable takeover of Planet Earth. Personally, we welcome our new ass gnome overlords — do you have any idea what kind of terabauds you can get through a rainbow?

The ass gnomes are working overtime...
Go ahead...tell us it's photoshopped.

— • —
[  Filed under: % Bullshit  % Science & Technology  % Two Percent Toons  ]

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.twopercentco.com/rants/tpc-trkbk.cgi/470

Comments (17)

Jason Spicer, 2009.02.16 (Mon) 20:36 [Link] »

I'm no expert, though I have read Unweaving the Rainbow. Nonetheless, and with pedantry aforethought, anybody who has played with a garden hose with a sprayer in the sunshine will recognize this phenomenon (if they were paying attention). If the water droplets are close to you, and the sun is behind you, the rainbow will appear to be between you and objects more distant, such as a car on the road ahead. Rainbows caused by rain usually appear to have "ends" because when the rain hits the ground, it stops refracting/reflecting the sunlight in that special rainbow way. Since we usually observe from the ground, the rainbows we see usually appear to have ends that move away as you move closer (and stalk you if you attempt to flee). Since the sun is usually behind a cloud when you are being rained on directly, it's not very common to see a rainbow appear to be so close as in the sciencedude photo. But in that photo, it's clear that the rain is falling between the camera and the car ahead, with the sun peeking under the cloud from behind. Et voila.

Halos around the sun are created in a similar manner, though with ice crystals instead of water droplets, and they form a complete circle because they are above you (assuming the cloud layer is uniformly distributed--otherwise you get sun dogs, which can be extremely bright and bizarre-looking). Same thing for rainbows or halos below you when you're flying in an airplane, (which I've seen once and is incredibly cool, BTW). In fact, you can get pretty close to a completely circular rainbow when washing your car, except for the arc occluded by your own shadow. If you dangled by your knees from a tree limb while doing this, you'd see the bottom of the rainbow but not the top. You should be able to make a completely circular rainbow between you and the sun with a sprayer, but that would be kinda hard on the eyes, so I've never tried it.

Of course, none of this physics stuff matters, because the important thing is that rainbows are a reminder that the next time God wipes out humanity, he'll do it with fire instead of a flood. Or perhaps an avalanche of Skittles. Or was it an exhausting surfeit of gay pride? I know there's something in Leviticus about homosexuality. Oysters? Damn. Been a while since I read the OT. Wait. Abalone! That's it.

Silly Green Monkey, 2009.02.18 (Wed) 07:38 [Link] »

I've seen just the top of a rainbow before, the clouds were touching the ground and the sun was out behind us. Only the top couple of colors were visible, looked like it was just across the fence.

Bronze Dog, 2009.02.18 (Wed) 19:39 [Link] »


I'm no expert, though I have read Unweaving the Rainbow. Nonetheless, and with pedantry aforethought, anybody who has played with a garden hose with a sprayer in the sunshine will recognize this phenomenon (if they were paying attention).

I've seen a YouTube video of some redneck mom talking over a video of her sprinkler generating a rainbow, about how that sort of thing never happened 20 years ago, and how the government is obviously putting rainbow chemicals in our water to experiment on us. Needless to say, my opinion of humanity took a dive on the day I watched it.

TimmyAnn, 2009.02.19 (Thu) 00:51 [Link] »

Oh, how I wish I thought you were joking, Bronze Dog!

PoolGuy, 2009.02.19 (Thu) 13:53 [Link] »

The thing that nettles me most about these kinds of stories is the implied "Oh there must be something magical or miraculous that allowed this to happen" reasoning that is implied. It's just a frigging rainbow, which is completely explained by the physics of light refraction in raindrops. I live in Orange County (just a couple of miles from the Register HQ) and I am more than familiar with the paper. They have a penchant for this type of fluff.

Bronze Dog, I'm surprised the government has time to put rainbow chemicals in the water, seeing how time consuming it is to keep all those black helicopter patrols going.

Jason Spicer, 2009.02.20 (Fri) 03:24 [Link] »

No, no, no, this is good news! The government is finally putting more dihydrogen oxide (the rainbow chemical) into our water. Obviously, the redneck woman in the video suffered brain damage from all the mine tailings and industrial effluent, but she may well be correct that the "water" in her neck of the woods used to be so polluted that it wouldn't make rainbows. She's just unfamiliar with "clean".

Jurjen S., 2009.02.27 (Fri) 04:29 [Link] »

Oh, sweet Jesus. Has nobody on the Register comments thread noticed that the rainbow doesn't actually "touch down"? I can plainly see the arc continuing below the Escalade until it disappears behind the hood of the photographer's vehicle. Which means, incidentally, that you still can't see it's "end."

Jason, above, has pretty much covered the whole thing, except that I'd speculate that the water droplets involved are spray being thrown up by the cars ahead, rather than rain, but that's a minor detail. There's no reason to think this photo was 'shopped, because what it shows is perfectly consistent with the known laws of physics. Which means there's nothing miraculous about it either.

TimmyAnn, 2009.02.27 (Fri) 13:20 [Link] »

I think that might be a reflection on the wet road. You can see the guard rail reflected on the road, too...then again the "reflection" seems a little wide....hmmmm.....I don't know...I guess it must really be magic!

TimmyAnn, 2009.02.28 (Sat) 03:16 [Link] »

Of course, now that I think about it, I don't know if a rainbow can be reflected since it doesn't actually physically exist, but then again, you can take a picture of it so maybe it could be reflected. I bet you can see one in the mirror...or can you? I am so confused. I guess I better hop on my winged unicorn and ride up to where the rainbow gods live and ask them about it!

Jeff from the Two Percent Company, 2009.02.28 (Sat) 18:28 [Link] »

You're right that the rainbow isn't a physical (solid, tangible, "objective") object, TimmyAnn — but it is a phenomenon of light. Since all you're seeing in a mirror is the light reflecting off objects, then off the surface of the mirror, and then hitting your eyes, then anything that reflects (or generates) light will be visible in a mirror. That's how we can take a picture of a rainbow (the light from the rainbow, which is sunlight being bent and reflected by raindrops, heads into the camera lens as easily as the lens of an eye), and therefore the same concept holds true for mirrors: you would absolutely see a rainbow in a reflective surface, if the conditions are right for it.

As Douglas Adams put it, light travels so fast it takes many civilizations generations before they realize that it travels at all. Its tremendous speed relative to our "day-to-day" level of perception makes it easy to forget what's going on when it comes to visual phenomena, since — for all intents and purposes — what we see in our immediate vicinity is so close to "in real time" that it makes no difference that we're seeing images infinitesimally slightly after they actually happen. When you take a step back and always think through these kinds of questions with the reminder that light is, in fact, something that moves from point to point, this stuff gets a lot easier to get a handle on. But, damn — I'm not saying it's always so easy!

I'm not at all surprised that several of our regulars have already proposed plausible theories for the phenomenon occurring in Jason Erdkamp's photo. Anyone thinking about it, and prone neither to Miracle Gawking nor to Expert Mocking, can come up with some great ideas if they've got an inquisitive brain, and you guys have got inquisitive brains.

As for the woman who found those nasty rainbow chemicals in the municipal water supply, yeah, I remember seeing that too. It's appalling, the utter lack of education that some people have, and the lengths to which they'll go to overcome it...short of actually, you know, educating themselves. Sheesh.

TimmyAnn, 2009.02.28 (Sat) 21:21 [Link] »

You know, when I typed the first post, I was sure that a rainbow could be reflected and then later I was like, "Wait, am I going to look like a moron now when people read this?" So, I typed the second post to assure that I would! Thanks for clearing that up.

Jeff from the Two Percent Company, 2009.02.28 (Sat) 22:16 [Link] »

As can plainly be seen in the "rainbows in the drinking water" video, TA: morons don't wonder. They remain blissfully ignorant, and never ask questions that might clear up a point of confusion.

That's one of the many things that differentiate you from them, at least in every post I've seen from you.

TimmyAnn, 2009.02.28 (Sat) 23:28 [Link] »

Thanks, Jeff! (And I meant "ensure", of course. I just keep digging that whole deeper, don't I?)

Jason Spicer, 2009.03.03 (Tue) 00:34 [Link] »

At this point, TimmyAnn, I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you wrote "whole" on purpose as a (pretty good) joke. If this is not the case, I recommend pursuing the subtle strategy of insisting that it is, in fact, the case. No one will be the wiser.

To Jurjen's point, I thought I could make out the rainbow's tail on the roadway and down across the hood of the camera-bearing car, but it's a little faint and my eyes aren't what they used to be. As long as there's water and sunshine between the camera and the hood of the car, the rainbow should be there, only stopping inside the car. You're probably right about the road spray.

And let's not forget about vampire rainbows, which only contain the color blood red and do not reflect in mirrors.

TimmyAnn, 2009.03.03 (Tue) 05:01 [Link] »

Actually, it was, I admit a VERY unfortunate typo. I really do know the difference and, had I taken the time to proofread (or if there was an "edit" option) I would have corrected it before anyone saw it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I will just go crawl in a HOLE somewhere for a while.

PoolGuy, 2009.03.05 (Thu) 18:32 [Link] »

TA, I assure you we'll be watching you in the mirror the whole time.

Jason Spicer, 2009.03.06 (Fri) 00:54 [Link] »

D'oh! TimmyAnn, what did I just get done telling you? And here you go and admit it. Man, you try to help somebody out...

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