Wednesday, November 20, 2013

New software released

New version 2013 of our TLex Suite now available » (TLex lexicography software, tlTerm terminology software, etc.)

On "Bleeding-Heart Libertarians"

(For those familiar with the BHL blog, where they are known to sneak in justifications for using force): The very phrase 'Bleeding Heart Libertarian', if you think about it, is 'in and of itself' actually a subtle contextual ad hominem and 'poisoning the well' attack on 'actual' (i.e. non-force-advocating) libertarians ... the only way it makes sense to prefix the "bleeding heart" adjective at all is if you're sneaking in a sort of suckerpunch claim that your opponents ('normal' libertarians who presumably, we are to take it, don't have 'bleeding hearts') are 'heartless'; it is essentially a claim that much pain and suffering would be allowed and ignored if 'ordinary' 'non-bleeding-heart' libertarians were ever in charge - it automatically frames all subsequent discourse and debate within this mindset, and it's 'smart' but sneaky in that it puts debate opponents immediately on the back-foot, as they must then sprawl to try defend themselves against a veiled implication that they're 'heartless', instead of arguing some point at hand, even before any rational debate has begun. It's a disarming tactic, in that debate opponents can't even counter-argue without automatically, by implication, being placed in a sort of 'you're heartless' spotlight.

It's a variation of the Race Card - e.g. if I called my blog "Thoughts from a non-racist libertarian", then it would subtly cast aspersions of racism on anyone who argued with my points (while also stigmatizing libertarians via association with racism). No truly honest intellectual discourse could take place in such a context.

Why can't "BHL's" (or 'left-libertarians') simply use reason to make their point, without resorting to such 'psychological-manipulation tactics'?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sand Art Fascism

Durban beach sand art bulldozed
“Durban Metro Police have removed dozens of unlicensed sand sculptors from the beachfront today ... the move is part of ongoing efforts to ensure that only traders with permits are allowed on the beach-front ... Those wishing to make sand sculptures are required to pay a monthly permit fee
So you now need a "permit" to create sand sculptures on Durban's public beaches (presumably if you expect someone might tip you), and poor people trying to earn a living are having their livelihoods bulldozed by the government. Meanwhile, taxpayers foot the bill for expending police resources on this, instead of on real crime.

It should seem like common sense to say, but provided you aren't interfering with anyone else, you should have a natural right to create a sand sculpture on a public beach. And if a passerby wants to give you a bit of spare change, that too is his/her natural right - neither party should have to ask anyone's "permission", and there is no justification for a third party to impose force.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis and the 'Wet Look'

An Aquatic Ape
An Aquatic Ape
I think the strongest 'circumstantial evidence' supporting a partial form of the (controversial) aquatic ape hypothesis* is something I don't think I've seen mentioned before: The simple fact that we find wet Homo sapiens sexually attractive. If you think about it, doesn't it seem a bit arbitrary? E.g. would gorillas find other wet gorillas sexy, or would rats find other wet rats sexy? How universal is this?

If we consider the concept of sexual choice** in evolution, then if our ancestors were once partially evolving "in that direction", then we might expect that they may have felt a mate choice preference for the entailed characteristics of a hypothetical "aquatic ape" (such as the 'wet look', as well as finding smooth, hairless skin comparatively more attractive, as we do).

To consider this argument, look at a picture like the one above (or thisthisthisthis, or this) ... then (for men now) tell me you don't perceive any vestigial sense whatsoever that our genes might have picked up some disposition toward aquatic-ape-like qualities somewhere along the way.

If you were a rat, would you find this sexy?
(Image credit: Rheaver)
This idea is comparable to how a peahen 'feels attracted' to peacocks with large tails - and crucially, the sense of attraction itself could even hypothetically have been a primary driver for such an evolutionary direction even in the absence of any external selection pressures - i.e. simply because our ancestors "liked it", and expressed that preference through mate choice.

The 'evidence' then might be retained within our 'genetically programmed' sexual choice preferences (i.e. 'finding wet humans sexy') - a kind of 'genetic leftover' handed down from a time when the relevant hypothetical evolutionary selection pressures peaked.

Another Aquatic Ape?
If the aquatic ape hypothesis had any truth to it, men would probably find images like this appealing.

Speculatively, one could imagine plausible scenarios in which the sense of attraction could have predated, and thus "caused", the evolutionary direction, particularly if characteristics of the look represented 'proxy characteristics' of qualities that might well have implied survival advantages in real terms - e.g. being near water = being near food sources - thus genes conferring mere predilections to 'being near water' could enhance survival even if indirect. The former could exist 'side by side' with conventional selection criteria, e.g. fish in our diet possibly conferring actual survival advantages or possibly carrying us through other evolutionary bottlenecks, though this wouldn't strictly be necessary - all that would be required is an increased likelihood of reproduction for those exhibiting characteristics that a hypothetical 'aquatic ape' might.

A female Homo sapiens that appears to exhibit characteristics that one might expect to be hypothetically indicative of evolutionary selection of an aquatic primate.
Of course this is all speculative, and more 'circumstantial' than strictly 'scientific'.

* This article assumes some familiarity with the the aquatic ape hypothesis, but in brief, it is the idea that humans might once have partially evolved in the direction of either becoming aquatic, or acquiring some 'aquatic qualities' for living in or near water. Of course, we have never been entirely aquatic, such a claim would be silly.
** See this book for a good introduction to the core idea of sexual choice as it might apply to humans; in brief though, the idea is that "advanced" human qualities such as appreciation of music might have evolved not necessarily primarily as a result of specific survival advantages 'per se', but rather, because our ancestors might have been (through their mate choices) essentially 'active agents' in selecting these criteria for their offspring in mates, i.e. by finding such qualities attractive (in a very loose sense, "designers" of their own offspring).

Sunday, August 18, 2013

TIME reporter advocates murder

TIME's 'senior national correspondent' Michael Grunwald accidentally tweets what he's really thinking:
Michael Grunwald: "I can't wait to write a defense of the drone strike that takes out Julian Assange"
Not only does he advocate murder, he is gleefully excited about writing up propaganda to justify it. His "apology" is no better:

The big problem you see with your comment is that it was "dumb"? Not maybe 'immoral', no 'hey, I see now extrajudicial murder is wrong'? There seems to remain no real moral concern - only regret at having made a PR blunder.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Man Walks Naked, zomg!1!, news at 11

[Posting in a colloquial tone for a change] - I think something is deeply wrong with a society in which it actually makes the news if a man walks naked next to a road [link]. Yawn.

And you'd think the commenters on the article had never seen a naked person before.

I don't think even Victorian society was this repressed.

Get over it people, the naked body is natural, mundane even - the only thing that should be cause for concern is the fact that he was doing it in this cold, rainy weather. Perhaps we should hire people to walk naked along the road daily, until everybody just collectively gets over it for once and for all. I think if you can't handle seeing a naked body, you need help.

(That's not to say I think nudity should be considered acceptable everywhere, on the contrary ... but that's a topic for another day.)

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Art of the Rich

A brief response to the following point in this comment on this blog:

"Artists in the Dada movement purposely countered the established traditions of aesthetically pleasing art because of its irrelevance and bourgeois classicist association. It was the art of the rich who were sheltered from the horrors of war"

Consider a graph such as this one: ("Damien Hirst's Spot Prices"), and tell me that modern/contemporary art still represents the common man today, and not the rich. Also, thanks to numerous economic and technological advances, beautiful art IS now within the reach of even lower economic classes. The historical situation has changed - in some senses, reversed.

Related: How Contemporary Art Lost Its Glamour:

"Suddenly, the press dares to criticise contemporary art. A number of coinciding events seem to have focussed a new, less reverential attitude towards the spin of the art world ... Hirst's auction took £70.5 million on the day that Lehman Brothers went bust. A lot has been made of this coincidence — certainly it emphasised the irrationality and the untouchability of the art world"

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Surprise - Relevance of Modern Art Education Questioned

Who would have thought, modern/contemporary art training institutions are having some difficulty explaining why they are relevant:

"What's the point of art school? ... As changes to the school curriculum and university funding undermine the arts education system, industry experts gather at Central Saint Martin's art school to discuss what the future holds for arts students ... Catastrophic cuts to funding, a drop in applications to university arts courses and the exclusion of the creative arts from the new EBacc performance measure mean now is a difficult time for the arts sector"

And yet I think the examples on the article page speak for themselves (and note, contrary to what you might think, these were posted in defense of contemporary art education, with not a trace of irony or apparent self-reflection).

"Nowhere Else Could I Do This for Credit", says the artist, while pondering why the 'contemporary art world' is struggling to explain why it matters

After decades of working hard to make themselves irrelevant to the public, the chickens may be coming home to roost.

But they still don't "get it": Nigel Carrington, vice-chancellor at University of the Arts, says: "Institutions should be wary of the subtle dangers of relying too greatly on the economic value of art ... The creativity that art schools promote is the single most important factor. It allows us to imagine, invent, and ultimately improve our world."

Why would 'inventing' and 'improving the world' have no economic value? This makes no sense. "Economic value" is an approximate indicator of what people want and need - and people want to improve the world around them; if you're going to position yourself as being in opposition to what people want and need, and in opposition to improving peoples' lives, then don't be surprised when people question your relevance. Even the Sistine Chapel was painted on commission.

Can you guess if this was done by a child or a professional artist? Click here for the answer.

Dr Kim Howells says: "It's the artists, the architects, the explorers and writers that matter ... Politicians and newspaper editors find this hard to understand because they arrived at their exulted positions by taking a path through the mainstream. These people have no notion of what goes on in art schools or why this matters."

So explain to us 'why this matters'. This snide anti-mainstream subculture is part of the problem. That "mainstream" they refer to, is ordinary people - society - people like you and me. When they criticize the 'mainstream', they mean you and me and all those who might otherwise want to (directly or indirectly) give their graduates jobs someday (if they were to imbue their students with useful skills and inspiration). Consider stooping to producing something "the mainstream" finds value in.

The biggest irony though in these comments though is that "modern art", at least in the art world, is now the mainstream. If you want to 'go against the mainstream', create works that reflect traditional values of embracing skill and value - that takes almost a courageous rebellion in the art world.

"Allowing myself to play around with the idea of not knowing", says Enya, with no trace of irony. (I wonder if she really is just 'playing with' the idea, though I fear to know the answer.)
To what extent is annihilation of human knowledge a useful, relevant goal?

A tiara! This art student loves art school because, quote, "Making tiaras counts as work". Are we relevant now?
But I think this artwork sums it up:

"I went back to Art School after my PhD for an MFA in Creative Writing because I wanted to empty myself of everything I had learned", says the artist. I think that's sad - I hope he rediscovers the value of  knowledge and skill - and  I hope he's just mentally clearing the way in his mind for something better.

It took us millions of years and thousands of generations of 'blood, sweat and tears' to gradually and against all odds evolve, carve out our small niche of order against the ever-threatening darkness and chaos of our fragile galactic setting and wild habitats, and little by little raise ourselves out of the mud and slowly acquire the ability and experience to develop and apply knowledge, reason, precision skill and human motivation in ways that finally meaningfully improve our lives and our potential dramatically. This should be celebrated, promoted, guided; yet I can think of little more destructive than to promote a value system that rejects human skill and achievement, and instead effectively urges us back to square one - the alternative to skill and knowledge and achievement, is allowing disorder and chaos to swallow us once more and return us to dust.

To be fair, I don't blame these art students. I think they're mostly, in a sense, victims - they're unwittingly caught up in a toxic, insular subculture (modern art / academia) with an inverted value system - a modern cancer that eats away at the soul of civilization. I suspect most of these students probably started with a desire to produce good work - the problem is that they've been taught that this is what is good, and that what is good is bad. I think there's a silent tragedy in Western-cultural art academia - the gutting of human skill and potential - bright and promising young talents come in on one end of these 'art training institutions', and on the other end, essentially "broken" individuals are churned out, re-trained to create ugly works and profess a value system that derides human skill and achievement and aesthetic beauty.

If you're an artist or art student, ask yourself: "When I'm old someday, will I be able to look back on my life's work and say, I'm proud of this? Did it improve the world and enrich peoples' lives in some small way?"

It's time for the pendulum to swing in the opposite direction again: The new 'art rebellion' against the now established and stale ho-hum institutions of "modern art", droning on with their faux-philosophies that no longer offer anything new or useful, is a return to a core value system that embraces life, vitality, civilization, aesthetics, progress, knowledge, skill, and achievement; art should unashamedly enrich the lives of ordinary people.

To end off with, here are some works of the sort that modern art education institutions look down on and discourage artists from producing - enjoy.

victor bykov

(This is a related 'follow-on' to this article: Last refuges of great art)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Antibacterial Soap/Cosmetics Ingredient(s) Possibly Harmful (Triclosan)

Studies are increasingly showing possible harmful effects of Triclosan, commonly used in antibacterial soaps, toothpastes, mouthwashes and more:

(Addition 2014-11) Triclosan ... causes liver fibrosis and cancer in mice (November 17, 2014)

(Additions 2014-09)
Exposure of pregnant women to certain phenols may disrupt growth of boys during fetal development and first years of life (September 3, 2014)
"Medical researchers have found that exposure to certain common phenols during pregnancy, especially parabens and triclosan, may disrupt growth of boys during fetal growth and the first years of life. Parabens are commonly used as preservatives in cosmetics and healthcare products and triclosan are an antibacterial agent and pesticide found in some toothpastes and soaps"
Endocrine disruptors impair human sperm function (May 12, 2014)
"A plethora of endocrine-disrupting chemicals interfere with human sperm function in a way that may have a negative impact on fertilization, according to new research ... the anti-bacterial agent Triclosan used in toothpaste ... showed adverse actions"
In lab tests, the antimicrobial ingredient triclosan spurs growth of breast cancer cells (April 23, 2014)
"Some manufacturers are turning away from using triclosan as an antimicrobial ingredient in soaps, toothpastes and other products over health concerns. And now scientists are reporting new evidence that appears to support these worries. Their study ... found that triclosan, as well as another commercial substance called octylphenol, promoted the growth of human breast cancer cells in lab dishes and breast cancer tumors in mice"
Antimicrobial from soaps promotes bacteria buildup in human noses (April 8, 2014)
"An antimicrobial agent [Triclosan] found in common household soaps, shampoos and toothpastes may be finding its way inside human noses where it promotes the colonization of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria and could predispose some people to infection"
Antibacterial products fuel resistant bacteria in streams and rivers (September 19, 2013)
"Triclosan -- a synthetic antibacterial widely used in personal care products -- is fueling the development of resistant bacteria in streams and rivers"
Chemical in Antibacterial Soap Fed to Nursing Rats Harms Offspring, Study Finds (June 17, 2013)
"A mother's exposure to triclocarban, a common antibacterial chemical, while nursing her babies shortens the life of her female offspring, a new study in rats finds"
Antibacterial Agent Used in Common Soaps Found in Increasing Amounts in Freshwater Lakes (Jan. 22, 201)
A new University of Minnesota study determined that the common antibacterial agent, called triclosan, used in soaps and many other products is found in increasing amounts in several Minnesota freshwater lakes ... the researchers found an increasing amount of other chemical compounds, called chlorinated triclosan derivatives, that form when triclosan is exposed to chlorine during the wastewater disinfection process. When exposed to sunlight, triclosan and its chlorinated derivatives form dioxins that have potential toxic effects in the environment. These dioxins were also found in the lakes.
Triclosan in Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Can Increase Allergy Risk (Nov. 14, 2012)
Triclosan -- an antibacterial chemical found in toothpaste and other products -- can contribute to an increased risk of allergy development in children. This comes from the Norwegian Environment and Childhood Asthma Study, in which the Norwegian Institute of Public Health is involved. Similar results are reported in the USA.
Triclosan -- Harmful to Ecological Status of Rivers -- Needs to Be Monitored, Researchers Say
(Oct. 25, 2012)
Researchers from Germany and Slovakia have pointed out that the chemical triclosan is one of those substances that are particularly harmful to the ecological status of rivers that are still not sufficiently monitored
Chemical Widely Used in Antibacterial Hand Soaps May Impair Muscle Function (Aug. 13, 2012)
Triclosan, an antibacterial chemical widely used in hand soaps and other personal-care products, hinders muscle contractions at a cellular level, slows swimming in fish and reduces muscular strength in mice
Antibacterials in Personal-Care Products Linked to Allergy Risk in Children (June 19, 2012)


The FDA is apparently also re-reviewing the safety of Triclosan.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Into the Pixel Video Game Art Exhibit

"Pixels Floating on the Art World’s Margins":
This is the site of the “Into the Pixel” exhibition, a juried collection of 16 digital artworks printed on canvas and plucked from the kinds of video games being marketed nearby. Those who stumble upon these works can take a few minutes or more to muse upon the artists’ intent and inspiration — and perhaps glean some untold secrets, since the images are from games yet to be released.

Now in its 10th year, “Into the Pixel” is still somewhat overlooked during the convention, although perhaps less so than in years past. Recent exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum have considered such art in a different light, focusing on each video game as a whole.

“The thing is, these people are not computer geeks — they’re real artists,” said Martin Rae, the president of the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, which jointly produces the show with the Entertainment Software Association. “And this is some of the top-tier art on the planet.”

(Related »)

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Breastfeeding "Benefits"

Breastfeeding baby There is plenty of research showing that breastfed babies do better in numerous ways. But in considering the issue, this comment makes an important point:
"Interesting how breastfeeding is the only area of research of which I'm aware that reverses the findings.

 In any other research, the biological norm is assumed to be the benchmark, and deviations from the biological norm are measured in impact. Instead, we assume formula feeding as the benchmark, and measure the biological norm in terms of its deviation from formula feeding.

 By which I mean - breastfeeding does not enhance development. It is the biological norm. Formula feeding inhibits neurological development."

(Emphasis mine.) The above comment is in response to an article that uses this phrasing: "MRI images, taken while children were asleep, showed that infants who were exclusively breastfed for at least three months had enhanced development in key parts of the brain". [Hat-tip Shayne Wissler]

(tl;dr summary: formula stunts a baby's development.)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Last Refuges of Great Art

The 'art world' should be ashamed that one of the last refuges of artistic beauty and value is not in the art world, but in the art produced by the artists of the video game industry ... I think there is more beauty and value in a single screenshot here than in all the works of the "Tate Modern" put together:
(And there's plenty more like this out there.)

Even the garbage bin is beautiful

The rich, expansive virtual worlds created by video game artists are, in a loose sense, 'virtual art galleries' - they're often 'larger' than 'real' art galleries, you can comparably 'explore' them, and every virtual detail is almost like a small piece of art in its own right.

If you're ever in London, try this "experiment": Visit the National Gallery (for its classical paintings collection) in the morning, and the Tate Modern in the afternoon. Observe the contrast in your own reactions. Also, watch the people - observe the contrasting effects of psychological engagement (for classical paintings), vs disengagement (for modern art), between art and viewer.

Artists, make art beautiful and life-affirming. If it's going on my wall, or if I must see it in a public space, it should improve my day when I look at it. There is no shame in making the world a more beautiful, pleasant place to live in - quite the contrary.

If you want to "make a statement", grammatically-arranged words are a more suitable, less ambiguous medium for doing so. (Yes, there are certain limited contexts where images can "make a statement" - for example, an image of a nude female in a society that strictly outlaws images of female nudity does make a 'political statement', in context. But to really 'make statements', there's no substitute for human language - it is, in practice, our only common communications medium truly suitable for formulating complex arguments. E.g. try use a painting, rather than words, to explain the rational arguments for why it's wrong to outlaw images of female nudity, without resorting to words anywhere (not even the name of the painting). You can't.)

Another common argument for modern art is that it has value in evoking some subjective personal interpretation or thought process within individual viewers - and yes, this is a real effect. But when you think about it, this reduces a piece of art to little more than a Rorschach inkblot, which does the same thing. Rorschach inkblots may well be useful in certain contexts, but that doesn't mean it's a particular achievement to create one. The viewer is projecting something internal onto the painting - the origin of any value in any evoked thought processes, is the viewer's own mind. "Art as inkblot" isn't enough.

The emperor is naked, and "modern art" is barren and valueless. If you don't "get it", it's not you - there just isn't much to "get".

Don't tell me loftily that paintings created by a horse are a "procedural homage to Pollock" - the obvious response should be to realize the absurdity that we revere painters like Pollock for achievements that amount to little more than what's on offer from a horse. Granted, these are good - for a horse - but human artists can and should do better than horses, we can create works of far more richness and value. Don't let your life's work be on par with that of a painting horse's novelty 'circus act'.

Piece of litter making our streets ugly. If you or I left this in the street we'd be fined for dumping garbage. The "artist" got paid tens of thousands of Rands.

The primary value of modern art is probably as a lesson that the story of the naked emperor is not far-fetched (e.g. this chap can't stop gushing about the emperor's new clothes).

"If art is to flourish in the twenty-first century, it must renew its moral authority by rededicating itself to life. It must be an enriching, ennobling and vital partner in the public pursuit of civilization. It should be a majestic presence in everyday life just as it was in the past." - Frederick Hart

(Next article 'in series' »)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

If we were to honestly condemn violence against women

Hrm, evidently Friday was International Women's Day ... maybe a good opportunity to reflect on a seldom-discussed but common form of violence against women - namely, how "modern", "civilized" society continues to brutally violate the rights of many innocent women by forcibly locking them in cages for victimless consensual crimes:

Decriminalization of (adult, consent-based) prostitution would restore to the justice system its proper role of protecting the natural rights of citizens, rather than violating them - providing not only protection against being locked up at gunpoint, but also legal remedies against abuse by the very forces who are supposed to protect society's most vulnerable:
"About 70% of sex workers have been abused by police"
"Sex workers experience violence during arrest by police officers who routinely beat them, pepper spray them and sexually assault them."
"Police officers commit these crimes with impunity. They remove their name tags so that sex workers are unable to identify them and they instil such fear in the sex workers that they are afraid to report these crimes to the authorities"
Many people claim to condemn violence against women, yet simultaneously openly advocate for violence against this "sub-class" of women. This is little more than barbarism perpetrated in the name of justice.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Why you should not let Google host jQuery for you

[Website developers] In response to this:

- You expose your own website users to potential tracking by a third party (and for no real reason). This is unprofessional, and ridiculous if you really think about it for a while.

- You make it harder for users or admins to apply meaningful per-site white-listing or blacklisting policies (e.g. NoScript users effectively can't white-list your site)

If you use jQuery, just download it and copy it to your site.

The software industry has slowly been morphing from "Hey, let's make software users want to use because they find it useful", to "Hey, let's turn the Internet into a big spying machine that tracks what users do". I think to some extent, that business model is based on a certain level of deceit, in that it requires the majority of users to remain ignorant of the extent to which they are tracked across so many websites.

Friday, February 15, 2013

On The Origin of Space-faring Species

On cosmic and species time-scales, natural selection must ultimately select for space-faring species. If the dinosaurs had a colony on Mars, they might still be alive today. These Russian meteorite videos are a helpful reminder that all our metaphorical eggs are in one tiny, fragile basket - if we don't set our sights on inhabiting new worlds, we'll probably eventually go the same way the dinosaurs went, or via some other 'galactic threat', such as a nearby supernova.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Some Beautiful Images of Mars

Some beautiful high-resolution images of Mars.

(Mars has a few interesting geological features we don't really have on Earth, like subsurface sublimation of frozen carbon dioxide, cf. "Spring Fans" and "Seasonal Erosion".)

Moderate Rationality

From this post, "Moderate Rationality":
"First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice ... who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom" - Martin Luther King Jr.

"Imagine what "moderation" in mathematics would mean. It would mean not that 2 + 2 = 4, but that it's more or less 4, maybe we can "agree" that 2 + 2 = 4.2. You don't land a man on the moon with this sort of attitude about ideas. The field of ethics is even more important than the field of mathematics ..." (more ...)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hubble Ultra-Deep Field Image

I think the Hubble UDF/XDF is probably one of the most interesting images in astronomy ... in short, every one of those dots/blobs is an entire galaxy, each with (on average) in the order of hundreds of millions of stars ... and the staggering part is that this image shows only an extremely tiny portion of our sky (much smaller than the visual area the Moon occupies). The implication is that the number of galaxies in our 'observable' sliver of the universe alone is probably in the hundreds of billions. So a crude low-ball estimate of the number of stars in the observable universe would probably then be ~15,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, give or take (and based on observations of our own galaxy so far from the Kepler observatory, if our galaxy is representative, it's probable that a large percentage of these stars have planets, though that is 'scientifically speculative').

So when you look at the night sky, consider that in each roughly Moon-sized area, you're looking at millions of galaxies. We're inconceivably tiny. (I suspect each of these galaxies probably teems with life.)