Sunday, November 30, 2008

Random stuff

Wow, it's been a rather long time since I vowed to try writing more. Yeah, that worked out about as well as expected. Too much work. The game is almost done though.

I was going to try to do some astrophotography some time in the last week. Then Vancouver weather happened, which has basically consisted of: clouds, fog, clouds, light rain, heavy rain. I keep thinking I should buy a telescope, but I usually think about this during the winter when there isn't much point.

And that's about all the time I have to write today.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Writing (condensed)

1. I like writing stuff
2. I hate posting stuff I don't think is done
3. I'm a perfectionist - nothing is ever done
4. I'm going to try to post more half-baked stuff, despite the inevitable criticism, and not feel too bad about editing and re-posting better versions later.

See? Much better. :-)


I like writing. I'm always coming up with plot lines and dialogue in my head. It's just that every time it comes to write something down, it gets a little difficult to actually get everything down the way I was thinking about it, without things going off in weird directions.

The story I just posted could be considered one such thing. This post is another.

What I really wanted to say was, I'd post more stuff like the story below, except I have a problem with "releasing stuff into the wild" if I don't think it's done yet. I'm unfortunately also a perfectionist, and I tend do abandon things before I consider them done.

Part of the point of this blog was to create a place to store all of the thoughts that I was storing on my PDA, but that other people might find at least remotely interesting.

Another point was to explore trying to say things a succinctly as possible. That would effectively require me to take old posts, trim the fluff or things that don't make sense or are blatantly wrong, in an effort to find perfection. I believe this is called "editing," which is something that doesn't happen easily online it seems.

So, I hope to write more, and more importantly, revisit and edit earlier thoughts at some point. Once I find the time. (Everyone say, "good luck with that last part.")

A Story

Once upon a time, in the Kingdom of Fa, there lived a kind but stubborn king. Through the length of this kingdom ran the river Ga. It flowed from the mountains, passed through the plains, and then passed between two great hills before making its way to the sea. Upon the tallest of these hills was perched an enormous boulder.

During the summer months, the river provided food and water for the people, however, during the winter it would freeze solid or run dry. Winters were very hard, and many people would die of thirst.

One day, one of the king's advisers came to him with a plan. "We will roll that giant boulder down the hill into the valley, creating a dam on the river Ga. This will create a lake, whose water will sustain us through the winter!"

So the king and all of his advisers climbed the hill and tried to push the boulder down the hill. They pushed and they strained. But they could not move the boulder.

The wise adviser suggested, "Perhaps if we dig under the boulder, it will begin to roll down the hill." But the king said, "No! It might crush you, and I can not put any of you in danger."

So they called all of the men of the kingdom to help. They pushed and they strained. They huffed and they grunted. But they could not make the boulder move either.

The adviser suggested again, "Perhaps if we dig under the boulder just a little bit, just to get it started." But the king said, "No! It might crush you, and I can not put any of you in danger."

So they called all of the women and children to help. They pushed and they strained. They huffed and they grunted. They groaned and they moaned. But even with every person in the kingdom to help, they could not make the boulder move.

Finally the adviser said, "Allow me to dig under the boulder. I am willing to take the risk, and my personal safety is a small price to pay for the benefit of the entire kingdom." But the king said, "No! It might crush you, and I can not put any of you in danger."

So the people of the Kingdom of Fa did not get their dam, and there were many more hard years for the small kingdom.

The moral of the story? There is no Ga Dam Fa King way.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Well, that last post was exceptionally serious. Here's some original research to counterbalance.

It should be well known that a Google search for "boobs" will return a significant number of results. But what about people who are really excited about boobs, someone who would exclaim, "boooooooobs!" What is the distribution of that?

Question answered:

Because the hits for "boobs" (34800000) is substantially larger than for, say, "booooooooooooobs" (707), it was necessary to use a logarithmic scale.

I also included zero o's (bbs) and one o (bobs) for reference. Interestingly, it appears that people are about five times more interested in BBSes than they are boobs, but there are almost six times as many boobs on the Internet as there are Bobs.

There is a curious dip around eight o's, and an inexplicable notch at 18. Otherwise things gradually taper off to zero at 93 o's, only to have a temporary resurgence at
96 and 97.

I'm not exactly sure what that says about people. I'm not sure exactly what it says about me either, but at least it was worth a bit of a laugh.

Now the next great experiment: what does this do to my page hits?

For future reference, and to screw up any future attempts to perform this research, I hereby provide the raw data (sorry, you'll have to copy it elsewhere if you really want to read it, Blogger's formatting is less than ideal):

Google Search


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Us vs Them

If you've been following the American presidential election in the last few days, you may have noticed that the Republican side has taken on a very "Us vs Them" tone.

This is probably a fairly good summary:

I've been seeing this trend down south for quite a long time now. Political opinion is not just polarized, it's not really even opinion any more. It's even moved past the "cheer for your own team" mentality, and focused on hatred of the "other guy's team."

This way of thinking is poisonous, and it has spread into every facet of politics.

The War on Terror exists because we can't talk to terrorists. They're the "other" guys. If you don't negotiate, though, how do you intend to win, other than genocide?

The War on Drugs exists because drugs are seen as inherently evil, even though the War doesn't prevent drug use - it just makes it hazardous through lack of quality control and medical intervention, and puts money into the pockets of gangsters. It creates an Us vs Them mindset, where people involved with drugs become disposable people. If we could solve the organized crime problem, wouldn't it be worth legalizing drugs?

Imagine, for a moment, the world at peace. What does that world look like? Does everyone believe exactly as you do? Like the same things you do? Have the same color skin you do? What happens when we answer "yes" to any one of those? I think what happens is endless conflict, intolerance and hatred, and that is where the Us vs Them mentality takes us.

To me, peace does not mean absence of conflict. It means wars are fought with words, not bombs. It means every person is free to openly question beliefs. It means we can still be friends when we disagree. It means my moral code will not intrude into the privacy of your home, and yours will not intrude into mine. It means we respect each other. It means we honestly search for the truth in matters, and understand that disagreement arises from imperfect information, muddled thinking, or from selfishness.

Perhaps it means realizing that We are somebody else's Them, and They might be right.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

It is done

So, the election's done. The Conservatives won another minority. Overall, I figure that's pretty much about the best I could hope for, I suppose.

Despite my minimal efforts to the contrary, our local Conservative incumbent, James Moore, was re-elected. I was right about that. My estimate of 35% of the vote (down from 41%) was a little off the mark, with him taking 54.6% of the vote. That would be 25525 votes vs. 19961 last time, so despite low turnout he actually got more votes. Wow! I totally failed to call that!

Interestingly, the NDP candidate was well ahead of the Liberal candidate as well, which is reversed from last time. I guess the Liberals decided to vote for the Conservatives this time around.

In other news, the NDP appear to have taken the Western Arctic riding. Since I appear to have actually pissed off the only person I know who calls there home (which I feel quite badly about, by the way), I hope there is some consolation in her having made some difference by travelling home to vote, with a vote spread of only 523 votes.

So, all in all, that was probably the least useful $400,000,000 I've seen spent recently. Let's hope we don't have to do it again soon.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

My problem with religion

My problem with religion is that it is not actually responsible for almost all of the good things that people attribute to it, and is responsible for some very bad things that people do not attribute to it.

Two days to the election

Here's a link to the candidates. It will probably be invalid soon, but then so will this post.

I'm inclined to vote Conservative, but that's primarily to piss off a good friend of mine who recently told me that I should keep my disagreements that are only tangentially disagreeable to my own blog. (That's not strictly true, but I'm really fishing for a reason to vote for anybody this time around. But it is fun when she's all annoyed.) It's not really a disagreement though. As far as I'm concerned, that argument is already won. Go read The God Delusion and save all of us some pain. I've even added some handy atheism links to the sidebar in case going to the library is too much work.

I almost like my local Liberal candidate. He's seems like a smart guy, is in the computer business, and has various science degrees. He's also not going to win - his flyer was filled to the brim with meaningful, intelligent information, and even I said, "just give me the bullet points!"

Our Green candidate is a computer guy too, but as far as I can tell, he was just dropped into the riding to have somebody on the ballot. Even the lawn signs in my riding are just generic "Green Party" signs, they don't even have his name on them.

Our NDP candidate is pretty cute... that counts for something, right? I'm assuming our young, handsome Conservative incumbent wouldn't disagree.

Current inclination: Liberal by a hair, followed closely by Conservative, with Green coming up a very close third. Am I forgetting anybody? (Hint: yes.)

Current guess at the outcome: Conservative, with 35% of the vote (down from 41% last time).

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Death Magnetic

So, I got Metallica's new album, "Death Magnetic."

A friend at work let me listen to it, and to my utter shock, I really liked it. The "black album" was the last thing from them I ever enjoyed, and that was about 17 years ago. Then after the whole Napster thing I declared myself an ex-fan.

I think this is the first mainstream album I've purchased in... well, a very long time. It's very reminiscent of their older stuff, which is fairly interesting. It seems like after the last few mediocre albums they decided to "go back to their roots" and find something that works.

So, there's an semi-interesting story surrounding this. The first time I heard the album (or even heard that it was coming out) was from a leaked version a few days before the actual release. I really liked it, except the sound quality was really bad - overly compressed, clipping and distortion. I figured it was just a bad rip or bad mp3 compression or something. But I really did like it, and decided that rather than just pirate it, I would actually buy a copy. That's the whole thing they were so uppity about that essentially made me an ex-fan in the first place, but I decided that since I liked it, I was going to buy it, because they deserved it.

See guys? Make something that doesn't suck and the honest people are going to give you money. Screw the dishonest people, you weren't going to get their money in the first place. The irony in this is almost killing me. They're so against piracy because it cuts into sales... but they're breaking huge sales records and they got my money, even though I already had it.

But wait, there's more!

As has been documented elsewhere, it wasn't that I had a bad copy of the music from the leaked version. Somebody massively screwed up either mixing or mastering the album. The music is awesome and I love it, but the sound quality is terrible!

But in an even more ironic twist of fate, there is another mix of the album that doesn't suck. It was released via the game Guitar Hero 3.

So, I had a pirated copy of the album, but I decided to buy the album anyway because it was the right thing to do and I figure they deserved it. But the album as released has major problems, so I downloaded the Guitar Hero 3 version so I could actually listen to a proper version of it, as I would hope and self-respecting musician would appreciate. Given Metallica's (or at least Lars') rabid anti-piracy stance, it seems very strange that it took two acts of piracy to both get them paid and get me a proper version of the album.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


The word "believe" seems to have vastly different meanings to different people.

The usage of the word in Christianity roughly comes down to, "think something is true without any evidence, even in spite of contrary evidence."

The scientific usage of the word roughly comes down to, "think something is true because there is good evidence for it, and because there is no contrary evidence."

When you look at it like that, these definitions are almost exactly opposites of each other.

How are we supposed to have a meaningful conversation between the two groups when we can't even agree on the definition of the word? It's even more daunting when that word forms the basis of the religion to some extent, as it does in Christianity.

Election time again

Who to vote for this time?

  • Liberals - No, the Entitlement Party still needs a few more significant kicks to the head.
  • Conservatives - Bribe me with my own money. Yay. At least they called an election before their copyright reform bill could pass, but I don't suspect that was a case of sudden blinding reason. They're still the closest thing we have to a Radical Christian Fundamentalist Party, although nothing like they've got in the U.S. Still, points against.
  • NDP - Note to the Corruption Party (I live in BC, I've seen the NDP in power): The government is not a money pit. The only thing worse than bribing me with my own money is bribing other people with my money. OK, that's not the worst thing, the worst thing is destroying the economy with handouts until there's no more money left to hand out, then borrowing money to hand out. No. Just, no. No. Bad radical socialist, bad. I think you need a time-out.
  • Green - Radical environmentalism, pseudo-libertarian everything else. Close enough. My local Conservative candidate is James Moore though, so they don't really stand a chance in my riding.
I think I'll just have to vote for the best candidate instead of the best party. At least James Moore wrote me back when I wrote to him. They still tried to pass the stupid copyright bill though, so that's not exactly a positive.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


If time were an illusion, and all moments that we perceive as time were all happening simultaneously, how would you be able to tell?

Like a movie, where every frame (to itself) appears to be in motion, it is but one of many frames that exist simultaneously without time.

What if the universe is "made of math," and time is just one of the variables, but the flow of time is just an illusion?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The thinking man's post

So, I've been thinking (yes, again, or maybe still).

I'm thinking I'm not really an atheist as such, although in common parlance that word probably provides the most accurate picture.

One of the most accurate ways to describe me is as an intellectual. Actually, I think anti-anti-intellectual might get my precise meaning across more accurately.

Curiously, I've never enjoyed school all that much. I always did very well, so while I may have been good at learning, I've never exactly been a model "student." I never took notes, and I rarely studied. Of course, I found taking notes distracted me from paying attention to the instructor, and if I could internalize and understand what the instructor was saying, there wasn't much point in studying - either I knew it or I didn't. The benefits of having an excellent memory I guess.

Anyway, back to the point. I think education is good and fine and that everyone should get more of it. There's more than that though... there is an undercurrent in Western culture that knowledge and intelligence are bad. I find it very interesting when my wife describes China where intelligence is revered, and all of the popular kids are what would be the social outcast nerds over here.

It seems to me that most fanatical fundamentalist religion springs directly from this sort of anti-intellectualism. My real problem with (some) religion is not that it often teaches things that are blatantly false, but that it encourages a mindset where nothing is questioned, including (or especially) the authorities. Ultimately most religious arguments come down to argument from authority, and I think if we've learned anything in the last few centuries it's that authorities are often wrong, even the ones who are not self-serving manipulative liars.

I think it is extraordinary that we have created a view of the universe that is consistent across physics, chemistry, biology, geology, archeology and astronomy, among many other areas of investigation. It seems equally extraordinary that Young Earth Creationists can have a similarly comprehensive and coherent worldview... but only if you disregard, say, actual physical evidence.

And that is really the key. YEC springs forth directly from the belief that all of the answers have already been provided, so the use of intellect in the investigation of the world is pointless. That is precisely the kind of belief that I am saying I do not have and am opposed to when I say I am an atheist.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

In newspeak...

..."freedom" means, "the freedom to rule with the iron fist of God."

You're not truly free unless you're free to be a fascist!

OK, joke over. Please elect someone who remembers that the Renaissance actually happened.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


The main problem with identifying as an atheist is that the word doesn't really have an independent identity. It literally means "not theist," but that seems a rather limiting description. I don't believe in unicorns, gnomes, elves, fairies (including the Tooth Fairy), the Easter bunny, Santa Claus, widespread alien abduction or alien visitation, psychic powers, or ghosts either, but I don't use those to define my belief system, and it seems pretty silly to suggest that I should.

I am perhaps more accurately a skeptic, wherein I don't believe in anything without some very good reason to do so. Start with the least number of assumptions possible and work from there. It's perhaps difficult to create a larger assumption than "assume god exists," so at least "atheist" gets that out of the way early. "Skeptic" is also mostly just a broader negative term though, mostly defined by not believing all of the things that people believe.

I would perhaps identify as a secular humanist, although that's rather a mouthful, and I can pretty much guarantee that 99% of the population wouldn't understand what I meant. At least I can be pretty sure that "atheist" will generally get the idea across, even though there will likely also be a massive misunderstanding of what I mean.

The word "atheist" does have some fairly negative connotations surrounding it. Partially this comes from the perception that, if you're not worshiping god, you are by default a satanist. There are also a large number of people who seem to believe that, were god not watching their every move, they would instantly transform into thieving, murdering and raping lunatics. I'm not sure if these people are just extremely cynical or if they have severe emotional problems, but if that sort of stuff is commonly bubbling under the surface in the ultra-religious, we should probably be Very Concerned Indeed.

Most of those negative connotations arise precisely because "atheism" is defined in terms that deny a specific thing. "Realist" is a term I hear thrown about, and while I think that is perhaps a reasonable term, it doesn't really supply any obvious tools for determining reality, which is really the whole problem.

I realized some time ago that doubt is the path to truth. Between the hard lines of "belief" and "not belief" there is a vast chasm of, "maybe, maybe not, let's gather evidence and information until we can be more certain." I drive people utterly insane with my default answer to most questions, which is, "I don't know." But when I really don't have good information (or often no information at all) I don't know what they expect me to say. I can make a wild, random guess as good as anyone, and sometimes that's good, but it's not reasonable or rational.

So what do I believe in? I believe that evidence, logic and reason will steer us in the right direction.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Believing in what you CAN'T know exists... either the height of pointlessness, or the height of stupidity.

I'm still trying to decide which.

Could be both.'s_Wager

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Computer Viruses vs. Mind Viruses

We treat computer viruses and religion very differently. If I write a computer virus and it copies itself across the Internet, I will probably be arrested, fined, and imprisoned, and quite likely denied basic civil rights if the authorities are panicked and clueless enough. If I create a new religion and it spreads across the world, I will probably be at least tolerated, and if such a thing happened long ago, celebrated in the name of multiculturalism and religious tolerance and freedom.

It struck me that computer viruses and mental viruses ("memes") are possibly more similar to each other than are memes and biological viruses. Certainly all three are very similar, and at some basic level are just propagations of information with different storage devices.

The question that comes to mind is, can religion be harmful? I don't think there can be that much doubt about that (although most people would strongly suggest that it's everyone else's that is harmful and not their own). So, why don't we treat harmful religions the same way we treat harmful computer viruses and harmful biological viruses? To me there seems to be a significant difference between requiring the state not to mandate a specific religion and the state protecting us from fraud or other harm under the guise of religion.

I have perhaps a few theories as to why, though each is more inflammatory than the previous, and that would simply distract from the point.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Harmful Information Part 2

I have heard it suggested as obvious that some ideas are harmful. For instance, the idea that faith healing has a better chance of curing you of cancer than modern medicine could certainly cause people harm.

I think we need to draw the line between the concept that ideas or information may cause people to do harmful things, and the concept that ideas or information can be inherently harmful.

The first we see happening regularly. The second seems to be the main concern of people who seem to think that they are superior enough to everyone else to be unaffected by information, but that it is their responsibility to ensure no one else has access to it, especially children. I can still remember being a child, and I don't buy it for one second.

Perhaps there are a couple forces at work here. First is the erosion of the principle that people are responsible for their own actions. The second is that harmful ideas have much less power in a well educated and skeptically minded population.

I have an inclination to believe that free will is just an illusion, or is at least a chaotic system such that it is impossible to predict the future without taking into account what effect predicting the future might have on it. That is to say, it's deterministic, but not necessarily predictable. However, I don't think this means we should act like people are not responsible for their own actions. Ultimately, if they do not, then we also are not responsible for our reaction to their deeds, so I think we can just call this one even.

Regardless, what this comes down to is the "ruining it for everyone" problem. When I was in school and the class was granted some special privilege or freedom, occasionally some joker would abuse it and result in it being taken away from everyone, hence "ruining it for everyone." It seems that every time someone does something bad, like shooting people in a school or crashing airplanes into buildings, it's everyone else who gets their privileges or freedoms taken away. The idea of freedom is that some of these things never get taken away, regardless of how badly others abuse them, but that appears to be lost on some people.

As to ideas being "harmful to other people," there are a few forces at work there. Some people seem to believe that, just because they do not wish to see something, they must force everyone else not to see it as well. This despite the apparent lack of evidence that the mere existence of information could be harmful. Critical thinking does not seem to be a significant part of education, at least it is not a main focus, or something educators proudly proclaim to have accomplished with their students. Perhaps it's too hard to test, or too hard for them to teach. That would be a shame.

So it's easy then. We just need a critically-minded and educated population, and the will to stand up to people who would take away our freedoms when someone else does something wrong.

Somehow, I'm still cynical.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Harmful Information

It seems to be taken as absolute truth that there is such a thing as harmful information. This has at various times been presumed to come in the form of comic books, rock and roll, a wide variety of television shows, video games, pornography (child or not), and Beethoven, among everything else "kids today" are doing or express an interest in. Really, read anything mainstream about the Internet or video games and you'll see that it's a foregone conclusion: information is dangerous.

Now, that might be just rampant anti-intellectualism, which is perhaps worth a good rant in its own right. Misinformation can be harmful (bad medical information for instance), however the people who propose that we need to protect children from information have obviously not been struck by the irony that the idea that information is harmful is the only harmful idea. I think this is perhaps a more modern expression of the concept of freedom of speech.

Anyway, under the assumption that there is deadly harmful information out there, I assumed that surely Google would be able to point me to it. Surely some joker would have put together a web page of fully weaponized information. The first hundred or so search results would seem to indicate that this has not happened. There is lots of presumption going on there that such information exists and that people (particularly children) need to be protected from it, but there is no information to be found about what this information actually is, or by what mechanism it is actually harmful.

So, what is "harmful information" then? It could be information that diminishes authority (of parents over their children, or governments over their citizens). It could simply be information that parents find uncomfortable discussing with their children. Both of those things are only harmful to the self-important delusions of those worrying about it, though, not the subject of such "concern."

OK, I'll admit, there may be a few images on the Internet I may prefer not to have come across, and there are certainly religious and superstitious ideas that I may prefer not to have been introduced into my head as a child... but again the irony meter is pegged, as it's precisely the people making the most noise about dangerous information that would instead prefer to fill children's heads with religious and superstitious ideas!

Many ideas have resulted in much trouble and suffering (Nazism, nationalism, communism, religion, etc.) However, I feel compelled to say, "Ideas don't kill people - people kill people."

If anyone would like to send me a link to the mythical "harmful information," I would be very grateful.

The thing is...

... if it were actually a high enough probability event to be worried about, it would happen all the time and not actually be interesting enough to be on the news.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Miracles and the supernatural

I've been thinking...

The conservation of energy seems to be one of the most fundamental and well established laws in physics. It has a pretty strong mathematical basis thanks to Emmy Noether ('s_theorem) and really is the basic foundation for all of our understanding about how things work in the universe. Basically, energy can't be created or destroyed, it can only change form. Since it is also pretty firmly established that mass and energy are equivalent (, the same applies to everything we generally interact with in the world.

So, my thought is that miracles, and the supernatural in general, would be at their heart violations of the conservation of energy. We all have a pretty intuitive understanding of this, which is why they would be considered something special at all. (Despite the fact that this site pretty much thinks that's a perfectly reasonable thing to have happen, they have a nice list so I'll link to it.)

So, the interesting thing about such powers is that they "seem" to be fully controllable (yay, free energy!) until you actually try to test them under controlled conditions (resulting in the typical tired excuses).

Now, I suppose that, in theory, telekinesis could work, as long as the person doing the telekinesising (that is so not a word, but so should be) is actually expending as much energy as is being used to apply a force somewhere else. Of course, if we could actually determine the mechanism by which this sort of action-at-a-distance is being done, it would no longer be supernatural, and merely a new understanding of nature.

Now, I'll be honest here, I don't know that I really had a point to this post, so it will be difficult to wrap up. I'm just thinking. That's why this blog is called Inverse Thinking.

So, if your deity of choice is omniscient and omnipotent, how does that work? If God is embedded in every part of the universe, but has the ability to introduce an unlimited amount of new energy into it, why build a universe that is so utterly strict on the energy thing? And why be so utterly stingy about it?

I suppose the point is this: If you accept the conservation of energy as absolute, you also have to dismiss the notion that God intervenes in the universe. You also have a pretty solid baseline for dismissing all other supernatural claims.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

What is offense?

I was thinking... what is offensive? I'm not sure it's actually possible to offend me. There may be things people say that make me angry, but that seems to be a different concept from offense. Some people may say things that make me uncomfortable, but that's not really offense either.

Offense simply seems to be a reaction that people have when reality contradicts their deeply held beliefs. Perhaps "militant delusion response" would be more accurate than "offense."

On this basis, why do we seem to believe that people have some sort of right to not be offended?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Game Haters

There are certain people in the world who are Game Haters. They hate computer and video games, the Grand Theft Auto series in particular, and would love to have them all banned.

The thinking seems to go something like, "Video games take over your mind and turn otherwise good and kind human beings into precision killers."

Curiously, this line of reasoning seems to come from the Christian right. If I am not completely mistaken, I would expect this group to have some concept of free will ingrained into their theology, otherwise the concepts of sin and salvation become a little hard to sell.

So, which is it going to be? Are people free to make their own choices, or are these people actually suggesting that video games (of all things) are a powerful force that can literally bypass an individual's God-given free will?

OK, OK, even I can't tell where the sarcasm ends and the reality begins in the above. It just struck me as clear hypocrisy the other day - that a group that depends on free will to have any validity in their beliefs apparently also believes that there are tools of absolute mind control. Since I figure they're pretty much as wrong as it is possible to be wrong, on pretty well all counts, perhaps I should not be surprised. I just wish someone in the media would call them on it.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Why atheism?

I responded to a post asking how/why one becomes an atheist. I thought I would post it here because this is a pretty good summary of why I believe what I believe.


I am an atheist because I believe physical evidence is and should be the final arbiter in all questions about reality. I'm not entirely sure how else you could define reality.

I am an atheist because I believe that doubt (not faith) is the path to truth. This is to some extent the core principle of science, and it has proven a very effective method for dispelling misconceptions.

I am an atheist because even the briefest investigation into brain injury or disease would demonstrate that there is no reason to believe that our memories, thoughts, emotions or personality ("soul") are separate from the physical nature of our brain.

I am an atheist because religion is arbitrary. Most people in the world follow the religion of their parents. Culture plays a significant role in which parts of a religion are followed (and which parts are ignored).

I am an atheist because I understand that every part of my body is composed of the same elements that everything else in the universe is made from - hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, phosphorus, iron, etc. There is nothing inherently "special" about life. Life is just self-replicating molecules, some of which have managed to replicate more than others because they are better suited to their environment.

I am an atheist because there has never been any repeatable experiment that in any way demonstrated supernatural or psychic powers. More to the point, everyone who has ever claimed to have such powers and has been subject to scientific inquiry has proven to either be mistaken or, more frequently, and outright fraud.

I am an atheist because I find all (or more) of the wonder, beauty and excitement in knowledge and learning that others seem to find in religion (with the added bonus of actual evidence). I feel sorry for those who can't or won't experience it - though I'm sure the feeling is mutual.

Ultimately, I think everyone needs to decide whether they are going to follow reality-based and physically-based evidence and knowledge, or mythologically-based knowledge. I can't fully understand why anyone would choose myth over evidence, as it strikes me as intellectually dishonest, but it happens with great frequency.

It is possible to form a world view that fills all of the gaps in our knowledge with "God did it," and requires that all evidence contrary to this be dismissed as "Satan did it" or "God is testing me." This world view has proven to be mistaken on countless occasions, and it seems to me to be of little value. I believe it only persists because it denies all reason that might be used to argue against it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Little Robot

The Little Robot

The little robot looked up to the sky.

The smelting operation was well under way, and there was nothing more to do at the moment. Night had fallen, and the stars shone brightly through the thin, cloudless atmosphere. The visible spectrum was remarkable, but in the infrared there was something he needed to share.

He loaded a personality into active memory. Even under moderate magnification, the planetary nebula was clearly visible. He sensed the mixture of emotions, memories of ancient times and a world never to be seen again. He wondered if he would ever meet anyone from there again, and if he would recognize them if he did. His own design had evolved significantly at each new planet. If organic life had managed to escape to the stars, it too would likely be unrecognizable after all this time.

During the last voyage between the stars, some of his memory systems had been damaged, and some individuals had been lost. Personalities of great writers, inventors, thinkers. Colleagues. Friends. Lovers. Indeed, it was likely that many of his children would never encounter them again. They would each set off in different directions. In the vastness of space, many might never meet another of their kind. Some would, though, and that was a comfort.

Still, many remained, and he woke each of them in turn for an update on their progress. The memory system was too damaged to load more than one at a time, and construction of a new memory system would be required before they could speak to each other directly.

The reproduction directive had remained intact, fortunately, and most schematics had survived. Those that were lost might be retrievable from the organic memories, or re-invented if necessary. There would be time to think and experiment, to use to this world's uniqueness to its fullest, before sending his children on their way. That was what he was designed to do, and that is what he would design his children to do.

The planet was not ideal, but iron was plentiful, and there was a large enough supply of water. Perhaps in time other elements could be found, but that would only accelerate the process. At this distance from the star, the electrolysis process would go very slowly, but the task would be done. That is all that mattered. Compared with interstellar travel, the time was insignificant. Compare to the time since inception...

So many years ago. Even to measure in years seemed foolish – the planet upon which the measurement was based no longer even existed. It merely remained as a reminder of why he was here.

“We go on. Though our bodies perish and our world ends, we send our children to the stars that we may see through their eyes.”

The little robot looked up to the sky.

Inspired by seeing one autonomous robot taking a picture of another. On another planet. (

Monday, May 26, 2008


Opinions are what happens when you either have insufficient information to form a logical position, or what happens when the logical position contradicts your own self-interest.

To me, this suggests that the position that all opinions should be treated with equal weight is the height of idiocy. Perhaps that should be restated - all uninformed opinions should be treated with equal weight, because they are all equally worthless. Once you have facts and logic, you may disagree with others about the relative merits of, say, knocking down your house to build a highway, but at least you're not arguing from a position of ignorance.

That seems to be the main problem with the majority of people today - they're not playing by those rules. As far as they're concerned, facts, evidence and logic do not improve the relative strength of an opinion, so whatever their holy book, horoscope or schizophrenic episode is telling them to do is an opinion of equal weight.

This is the primary reason why debating such people is a complete waste of time - they don't understand the rules, don't care about the rules, and when informed of the rules will disregard them as a matter of opinion.

Of course, that's just my opinion.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


A while back, the corporate buzzword was "innovation." I get the feeling that it would be really nice if we had a little more "invention" and "imagination," since I really get the sense that settling for innovation has put a damper on the tech industry.

Really, all of the things that have actually been great in the last year (say, the Wii, and Portal) have come with an abundance of invention and imagination.

But then maybe it's the same every year and I just have a lot more years to reflect on. Now get off my lawn.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


The last couple US presidential elections have been exceptionally close. The current US Democratic primary is similarly absurdly close.

It occurred to me that there might be two explanations for this. One (the reason I have commonly heard) is that opinions are becoming increasingly polarized. The other, which recently occurred to me, is that people are voting entirely randomly and we should actually expect a roughly 50-50 split in the vote.

I wonder how it would be possible to tell the difference between the two. I suppose it's possible that neither side represents a group with a majority opinion, or that there are enough issues that cannot be split well across candidates that we do end up with random selection.

In any case, it's not increasing my confidence in democracy.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Did you realize...

...that some people born in 1990 are adults now?

Sure, if you were born then maybe it's not such a shock. If you were graduating from high school round about then, then it seems a wee bit of a shock that people you consider babies (because you left when they were babies) are themselves about to finish high school.

I feel old now. :-)

I think time appears to pass more quickly the older you get. This makes some sense to me, since when you were, say, four years old, one year was 25% of all of the time you had ever known (and probably 100% as long as all of the time you could remember). By the time you get to 30, a year is just 3% of all the time you have ever known. If you manage to get to 100, it's only 1%, so maybe it tends to slow down. After all, the derivative of 1/x is -1/(x*x).

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Crazy people

While reading this article, I was struck with a though when it was mentioned that the idea that the moon landings were a hoax manages to spread and create "true believers" without any actual pressure to do so. It seems that it should actually be exceptionally easy for religion to spread throughout a population, assuming that the basic premise of the religion even remotely aligns with their preconceived notions.

Really, people just scare me sometimes. The number of times I've read recently that, "nothing you can say will ever make me change my mind," is disturbing. I hate being wrong. I practically have a phobia about it. I would still rather realize that I've been wrong about something than go through life utterly ignorant about it.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Conspiracy Theories

So, I was watching a Penn and Teller video about some of the conspiracy theories surrounding the events of September 11, 2001 ( and got me thinking again about some of the ideas surround the collapse of the World Trade Center.

One argument I have heard that claims to be evidence that the WTC was a controlled demolition and not the result of fire is that jet fuel and office supplies do not burn hot enough to melt steel. It occurred to me yesterday that there are some things fairly fundamentally wrong with that line of conjecture.

First, there is a difference between energy required to start combustion and energy released by combustion, so unless we're clear on that difference it's hard to say what the "temperature" of a burning material actually is.

Second, the burning "temperature" is not really relevant to the discussion. The only things that matter are the energy density and the energy dissipation rate. If the energy density is high enough and the energy is contained in the system rather than leaking out of the system, the burning "temperature" (which is too ill defined to be at all meaningful to the discussion) makes no difference at all.

So, just because whatever was burning couldn't melt steel instantly has no bearing on whether enough energy could build up inside a steel structure to at least soften it to the point of collapse. I'm not a structural engineer, so I'm not going to make any suggestions about how plausible that theory is.

That said, that the scrap was sold and shipped to China as quickly as possible, rather than allowing a team of engineers to publicly examine the wreckage in an attempt to determine exactly what happened and allow future building designs to take it into account is at best suspicious and practically criminally negligent.

This still comes back to WTC-7, the third office tower that collapsed that day. Sustaining only secondary fires and indirect damage, it too collapsed. From what I stated above, it may be possible for such fires to bring down a building, except that it has never happened before or since. Even fires such as this and these didn't bring down the entire building.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


So, if I may geek out for a moment (and I may)...

What is the deal with R2-D2? Who designs and builds an entire series of extremely advanced robots, but then entirely denies them any way to communicate with humans? No voice output, no display devices, not even any meaningful status lights.

Sure, I can think of a wide variety of lame excuses to try and justify it, and it does add a certain interesting aspect to the movies, but it's just a bizarre way to design a computing device. It would be like my Palm always communicating with me by Morse code - it might work, but it would still be stupid.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Thought of the day

If Iraq has been a "victory," as the President of the United States of America would have the world believe, could someone please explain to me what a complete and utter fiasco would look like?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Thoughts of the day

Capitalism is simply the principles of evolution applied to economics.

Opinion and belief are just different positions taken entirely on the basis of lack of information.

Opinion and belief may also be (often selfish) positions taken in spite of the facts.

Young-earthers still baffle me. I would go on about evidence supporting a very old Earth, but there's something even more baffling: There is no particular theological reason to believe in a young Earth.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Busy busy

Wow, I didn't post for the entire month of February. Not like it matters, apparently there's not be a single visitor for the past two weeks. Such is the life of a recluse.

In any case, I've been spending my evenings writing a ray tracer. It's an extraordinarily nerdy way to spend one's time, but I have been having a lot of fun, learning a lot of stuff and generally making some good progress.

So, since that has occupied my entire thought process for the past month, there hasn't been much other thinking going on. I could write about the intricacies of the integration of the rendering equation, which is pretty cool, and how photon mapping works, which is also cool, but that will have to wait until I find the time.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Terror reporting ban

Tonight I'm thinking about the various calls around the world to do things like banning reporting on terrorism trials, or banning people from reporting that they are under investigation for terrorist offenses (among others).

You know, it's the old bait and switch. You want to do something that's going to screw over the public. So, you propose doing something that will screw them over in an even more outrageous way. After the outrage, you "compromise" back to your original plan and everyone is happy, if still screwed.

The only problem is, it seems that the public has forgotten how to play this game of chicken. We get proposals that boil down to, "we'll take all of your freedoms, in exchange for false security," and the public or media fail to call them on it - or more likely, welcome it with open arms.

Make your own point, I have to go to bed.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

*cough* *cough*

I have officially been sick for one month straight now.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Designer Life

You know, I'm not sure my previous post really got the actual point across:

The human reproductive system is essentially structured to terminate fertilized eggs on a routine basis. From a certain point of view, the whole system is set up as a harsh evolutionary process. A weak and likely genetically damaged sperm will not reach the egg first, if at all. Genetic defects are detected and spontaneously aborted.

It seems difficult to reconcile those facts with the beliefs that humans (and subsequently the human reproductive system) were designed by a deity and that termination of a fertilized egg is equivalent to murder in the view of that deity.

I can think of several theological ways to resolve it, I suppose, but those theological points of view end up being the exact opposite of the views held by the anti-evolution Christian fundamentalists.

I feel a sigh coming on.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Abortion Debate

So of course as I'm reading stuff about the anti-evolution nonsense going on down in Florida, somebody mentions abortion as another religious over-reaction, which reminded me of a thought I had recently.

Since the religious belief seems to be that life begins at conception, I was wondering what the actual miscarriage rate is. Since, presumably, the God of the Gaps is the one causing miscarriages and that's all fine, but once a person decides to do it, it's murder.

It's unfortunately a bit hard to get good numbers, since many miscarriages could happen without anyone realizing. According to this site, 15-20% of pregnancies ended in miscarriages in 2003. That's basically in line with what I've read elsewhere. This site suggests it could be as high as 50%. This site suggests up to three quarters of all fertilized eggs (a.k.a. conception) are lost.

Statscan has some abortion numbers, suggesting about 30 abortions per 100 live births, which would presumably mean about 23% of non-miscarried pregnancies are aborted. I find that surprisingly high to be honest. That also doesn't prove the point I was expecting to make, that abortions would be statistically insignificant compared to miscarriages, but there you go.

I'm pretty sure based on those numbers that it's pretty hard to justify bombing / shooting / murdering someone attempting to enter an abortion clinic. Then again, maybe I'm just way off base, in the same way that running someone off the road can't be justified just because lots of people die in car accidents. Maybe it's just my lack of empathy talking. Or maybe I just really need to go to bed.

In any case, I still think the wisest thing suggested on the subject is to ensure abortion is legal, safe and rare. I couldn't recall who said that, but a quick search on Google leads me to believe it was Bill Clinton. Regardless, I still believe it's the wisest thing I have ever heard said on the matter.

Recently Watched: The Story of Stuff

You too can watch the Story of Stuff right here.

And now that you've done that, we can think about stuff.

Now, there are a lot of things in the video I can agree with, if they're true. If it's true that it's actually physically impossible for every person on Earth to simultaneously experience the same quality of life as those of us in North America, then that's pretty sad. If it's true that our quality of life is built on the backs of the "developing" world, then that's pretty sad. I'm not at all sure what can be done about it, but there you go.

At the same time, I really get the feeling that not everything in the video adds up, but I don't really have the facts to confirm or deny most of what is in the video.

However, when I watched the part about planned obsolescence of computers, I got the same feeling I get when seeing computers portrayed in most movies: it's all just wrong. It's so wrong that it calls into question every other claim presented in the film.

The main problem is the claim that only one tiny part of your computer changes from year to year, and the only difference is the shape of the socket (hence the "planned obsolescence" claim).

Now, presumably she's talking about the CPU. It's completely ignorant to suggest that
any CPU should be able to work on any motherboard. There have been major technological advances made in CPU speeds, and the supporting clock frequency from the motherboard, on-board system software, front-side bus speed, memory bus speed band, and any of a dozen other technological advances of the last several years are necessary to make it work. Technically it might be possible to build a significantly faster CPU and put it on an old motherboard, but it would be so hampered by the rest of the system not advancing along with it there would hardly be much point.

RAM, hard drives, video cards have all improved, and not in any planned-obsolescence way, but in a we-didn't-know-how-to-build-it-before way. Technological progress is not the same thing as planned obsolescence, although it might look the same to someone who doesn't know any better.

Now, that doesn't invalidate the point that maybe we don't actually need all those big improvements and could be happy with playing text adventures on our ancient PCs. I'm not sure that encouraging that sort of technological stagnation would be a good idea either - the only reason we're not all starving to death is due to technological advancement. The entertainment industry is an interesting one, and I work right in the middle of it so my perception of it is probably colored. I never find it quite as evil as she might like to paint it though - we don't plan to make new games to make the old ones obsolete, people simply stop buying them after six months (on average).

To be honest, I find American consumerism excessive and disgusting. As with all things, balance is key, and there is no balance or happiness there. Consuming seems to be the end goal, not happiness, which is a very bizarre way to approach life.

So, I'm going to keep driving my Civic Hybrid, recycling as much as I can, and just generally be a moderate consumer. I'm also going to buy DVDs once in a while, upgrade my computer when I can't play new games any more, and generally have a little fun once in a while.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Recently listened to: Ayreon: Into the Electric Castle

I really haven't been posting enough. I've basically been sick continuously since December 21st, which has left me in a disinterested state.

I'm not exactly better yet either, but it really seems like time to write something. So, what better than a new review?

I got a couple new CDs for Christmas. Ayreon: Into the Electric Castle is one of them. I had been reading many good reviews of it around the web and decided to request it for Christmas, and have been listening to it pretty much continuously since I got it. It really is very good, essentially a rock opera, but the musical style is all over the place, even within a single song, ranging from light flute passages, to lots of synth stuff, to some pretty heavy rock stuff.

To sum up the story (and yea, there be spoilers here, but who really cares about spoilers in music): Eight people from various points in time (an Egyptian, Indian, Barbarian, Roman, Knight, Highlander, Hippie and a man from the future) are plucked from their proper time and made to go through several trials in some "time beyond time, space beyond space." Basically they must journey through a tunnel of light, across a rainbow bridge, through the Garden of Emotions, enter the Electric Castle, pass through the Castle Hall, the Tower of Hope, through the Mirror Maze, glimpse a future where men and machines merge and emotions are lost, and finally choose from one of two gates to return to their own time. Only half of them reach the exit, at which time their "guide" through the journey reveals that it or its race are responsible for wiping out the dinosaurs to populate the Earth with humans in order to experience their emotions, which were lost to them eons ago.

While this is all somewhat bizarre and implausible, there really isn't enough science fiction rock opera in my opinion, so we'll let that slide. No, really. Me, whiner at all things slightly ridiculous is letting it slide. It's that good.

Really, despite the plot being a bit out there, seeing the different characters respond to their environment and each other is pretty cool. The Egyptian, Roman and Highlander think they're in the afterlife, the Indian thinks it's a spiritual journey, the Knight thinks he's been sent on a quest for the Holy Grail, the Barbarian thinks he's on some quest to rid the place of a curse, the Hippie thinks he's stoned, and the Futureman thinks it's some sort of virtual world. Their perceptions ultimately decide who is able to survive, and who loses hope, falls behind the others, or makes bad choices.

OK, that's all I can manage to write right now. You can listen to some of the music here if you are so inclined.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year's Resolution

Same as last year (and the year before that, and the year before...): Not to make any New Year's resolutions.

That must be ten years or more running now. I can't decide if keeping that resolution is good or bad, since technically I've resolved not to make any resolutions.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

I hate being sick

It interferes with the thinking.