New Movies Watched in 2007  

Monday, December 31, 2007

This series of post is just for my record keeping.

Severence (2006)
The Golden Compass (2007)
Pumpkin Karver (2006)
Insomnia (1997)
1408 (2007)
Over the Hedge (2006)
Day Watch (Dnevnoy Dozor) (2006)
The Mist (2007)
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
Rendition (2007)
Children of Men (2006)
30 Days of Night (2007)
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) - MST3K Version
Jesus Camp (2006)
Rear Window (1954)
Apacalypto (2006)
Renaissance (2006)
This Darkness: The Vampire Virus (2003)
Zombie Love (2007)
11:14 (2003)
The Invasion (2007)
Vacancy (2007)
Fractured (2007)
Zodiac (2007)
Disturbia (2007)
Stay Alive (2006)
Secretary (2002)
Killing Zoe (1994)
Shallow Grave (1994)
Transformers (2007)
Murderball (2005)
Idiocracy (2005)
Dead Alive (1992)
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Cube (1997)
Rage
Harsh Times (2005)
America: Freedom to Fascism (2006)
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2005)
28 Weeks Later (2007)
Hot Fuzz (2007)
Superman Returns (2006)
The Descent (2005)
Grindhouse (2007)
Ringside: The Best of Mike Tyson (2006)
Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (1992)
Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
Bubba Ho-tep (2002)
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
King of New York (1990)
House of Sand and Fog (2003)
Casino Royale (2006)
300 (2007)
The Illusionist (2006)
Reno 911: Miami (2007)
Mission Impossible III (2006)
The Quick and the Dead (1995)
Miami Vice (2006)
Pan's Labrynth (2006)
Clerks 2 (2006)
A Scanner Darkly (2006)
The Apartment (1960)
Eraserhead (1977)
Snakes on a Plane (2006)

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


New Albums for 2007  

This series of post is just for my record keeping.

Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace - Foo Fighers (2007)
Touch-Windham Hill 25 Years of Guitar - Various (2001)
Drastic Fantastic - KT Tunstall (2007)
Heroes & Thieves - Vanessa Carlton (2007)
One Cell in the Sea - A Fine Frenzy (2007)
The Reminder - Feist (2007)
My December - Kelly Clarkson (2007)
American Doll Posse - Tori Amos (2007)
Not Too Late - Norah Jones (2007)
Colour the Small One - Sia (2006)
Rabbit Fur Coat - Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins (2006)
A Matter of Life and Death - Iron Maiden (2006)
Brave New World - Iron Maiden (2000)
Begin to Hope - Regina Spektor (2006)
History for Sale - Blue October (2003)
The Virginian - Neko Case (1998)

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


Books Read in 2007  

This series of post is just for my record keeping.

Darwin's Ghost: The Origin of Species Updated - Steve Jones (2001)
The World Without Us (Audiobook) - Alan Weisman (2007)
False Gods - Graham McNeill (2006)
Horus Rising - Dan Abnett (2006)
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff - Christopher Moore (2004)
Heart Shaped Box - Joe Hill (2007)
Dexter in the Dark - Jeff Lindsay (2007)
Lost Languages: The Enigma of the World's Undeciphered Scripts - Andrew Robinson (2002)
Why Darwin Matters - Michael Shermer (2006)
Julian - Gore Vidal (1964)
The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design - Richard Dawkins (1996)
War of Flowers - Tad Williams (2003)
The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason - Sam Harris (2005)
American Gods (2001)
The Planets edited by Byron Priess (1985)
Letter to a Christian Nation - Sam Harris (2006)
The Last Colony - John Scalzi (2007)
How Do You Know It's True?: Discovering the Difference Between Science and Superstition - Hy Ruchlis (1991)
Excession - Iain M Banks (1996)
Give Me a Break - John Stossel (2004)
The Sagan Diary - John Scalzi (2007)
Soul in a Bottle - Tim Powers (2006)
Dearly Devoted Dexter - Jeff Lindsay (2005)
Darkly Dreaming Dexter - Jeff Lindsay (2004)
Snow Crash - Neal Stephenson (1992)

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


Another anniversary  

Today is the one year anniversary of when I came out as an atheist. It wasn't something I consciously thought about. I was at a New Year's party and a little more inebriated than I probably should have been. And it just slipped out. But it was a good group of people and they haven't given me too hard of a time about being a godless heathen.

From that experience I learned that it wasn't really a hard thing and most people really don't care either way.

So I'm off now to celebrate my anniversary and the New Year. Hope all of you are enjoying whatever you're up to tonight.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


This Weeks Reader December 29, 2007  

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Atheism
My New Religion
It’s not a label that would have fit comfortably in the past. In fact, I’ve long been in the closet with all those other secular humanists who never cared enough about organized religion, one way or another, to complain about it in public - much less join an atheist group.But now I stand accused, by a prominent neighbor in Belmont, of wanting to establish “a new religion in America - the religion of secularism.” In a recent speech, Mitt Romney declared that I’m “wrong” - despite my never having gotten into an argument with anyone about which religion is right or wrong or whether they all should be avoided.

Gaming
Real Flaws in Virtual Worlds
When it comes to developers the biggest problem in software security is that many still believe that security is all about functionality. For example, they think that sprinkling on some "magic crypto fairy dust" will solve the security problem. But the kinds of attacks we describe in our book are not based on traditional network-based attacks, remote buffer overflows, or SQL injection. Instead, they are based on taking control of the local game process on your own PC and having it do things on your behalf. Some of the most interesting attacks against online games involve building "bots" that can automatically play the game for you. The bot program runs on your PC along with the game client. The challenge is to have that happen in an undetectable fashion. (Incidentally, this is why games have so much relevance when it comes to future attacks on other distributed systems.)


(via Janet)

Game tax: State senator presumes gaming/violence correlation
A lawmaker in Wisconsin has proposed a tax specific to video games that would fund a juvenile offender program. Democatic State Senator Jon Erpenbach proposed the idea that a one percent tax would be levied on video games in addition to Wisconsin's five percent sales tax. The tax seems to presume a defined correlation between games and violence, and thus is being pushed as logical, though Erpenbach has said that he is willing to explore other funding sources after criticism regarding this correlation came from his colleagues.


Portal is a single-player first-person action/puzzle video game developed by Valve. The game consists primarily of a series of puzzles which must be solved by teleporting the player's character and other simple objects using the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device (the "portal gun"). The goal of each puzzle is to reach an exit point. The "portal gun" and the unusual physics it creates are the emphasis of this game.
(via onegoodmove)

Government
Arrogance and Warming
The Bush administration’s decision to deny California permission to regulate and reduce global warming emissions from cars and trucks is an indefensible act of executive arrogance that can only be explained as the product of ideological blindness and as a political payoff to the automobile industry.

Healthcare
Insurance: Why it sucks
As usual with arguments about the invisible hand of the market, it's a load of rubbish. In this case, there's a simple reason why. The whole market based argument assumes that the people choosing and purchasing insurance are the same as the people consuming insurance services. They're not. Insurance companies mainly provide insurance through peoples employers. In fact, as it currently stands, unless you're buying insurance as part of a large group, it's almost impossible to get insurance for a remotely reasonable cost. So it's the employers who choose the insurance. The employees, who are the consumers of the insurance services, have very little (if any) choice.

Movies
Constant Viewer: Charlie Wilson’s War
In the first place, Constant Viewer can’t remember a major Hollywood movie that nailed Washington politics and policy making as well as this film does. Political science students should consider it required viewing. Secondly, while the trailer suggests that Hanks’ Charlie Wilson is little more than a buffoon, the character actually portrayed in the film is a clever, careful and conscientious man. Thirdly, Philip Seymour Hoffman is simply splendid, as usual. Finally, Julia Roberts manages to stretch her range and play a rich, glamorous woman. Okay, so maybe there are only three good reasons.

Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem
Making the original (which wasn't all that great but I didn't hate it as much as many folks did) look positively brilliant in comparison, this has to be the one of the dumbest fucking movies I have seen all year. And since just 2 days before I watched a movie that told us that Mt. Rushmore was carved for the sole purpose of hiding a clue that would lead to a lost city of gold that could have been used to restart the Civil War, that's really saying something.

Politics
Huckabee wants Ten Commandments in the White House
First, the notion that the Ten Commandments “form the basis of most of our laws” is transparently ridiculous. I don’t know if Huckabee has looked at the Commandments lately, but just the opposite is true.

The Ten Commandments, for example, make several religious commands: no false gods, honor the Sabbath, no idolatry, no using the Lord’s name in vain. They also include plenty of tips for good living: honor your parents, don’t commit adultery, don’t covet a bunch of stuff, don’t covet your neighbor’s wife.

Are any of these reflected in our laws? Of course not. There are laws against stealing and killing, but it’s fair to say those laws originate more from common sense than the Book of Exodus.


More Huckabee Absurdity
Utter nonsense. I can't see how anyone who has actually read them could possibly think that they are the basis of "most of our laws. Of the ten commandments, only two would even be constitutional in the United States, with a third being constitutional in limited circumstances. The other 7 could not possibly be the basis for any law because they would be clearly unconstitutional. Let's take a look at them one by one[.]

Religion
Pink Polka Dotted Elephant
An acquaintance of mine stood in a marketplace in India watching a man selling a magical cure. The man claimed that the concoction would heal every ailment from the common cold to migraines to cancer to speeding up the mending of broken bones. The sale came with a money-back guarantee. Before passing the bottle to the purchaser, the vendor would caution the buyer to never think about a pink polka dotted elephant when he took the medication. With such an absurd image planted in the mind, no purchaser could ever look at the bottle without thinking about the pink polka dotted elephant.

Science
Tied Up in Knots
Belmonte calls the braid model "very obvious, but maybe not universal," meaning that different physical phenomena probably tie knots in different ways. In bacterial DNA, for example, one way that knots can form is by genetic recombination. That's when, to facilitate the reshuffling of genes, enzymes cut DNA at two places and reattach the ends in a different order. Bacterial genomes are circular, so recombination can produce veritable knotted loops.

In the late 1990s, biochemists discovered enzymes that seem able to detect when DNA has a knot. The enzymes then undo the knot by brute-force cut and paste.


Is science too hard for normal people to understand?
I’ve been thinking that science has come to the point where normal people — people without any science education, people who dropped out of high school, people who work at the corner gas station, people who think “math is hard” — just can’t understand it, so they reject it out of hand or they think of it as some kind of mystical force, no different in substance than any superstition.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


Sunrise Revisited  

Friday, December 28, 2007

This is the same view I took my sunrise pictures from last week, but today there was no visible sun.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


Blogroll Update IV  

I need to do these more often. I've added so many blogs to my reader lately that I can hardly keep up, but they're all worth it. Here are some blogs I'm adding to my blogroll today.

An Apostate's Chapel
From the desks of the chaplain and the deacon are well-thought posts about life and religion from an atheistic world-view.

An Atheist Homeschooler
Ute shares her life as an atheist and a homeschooling mom.

Atheist Rants
Poodles talks about life as an atheist living in Salt Lake City.

Atheist Revolution
VJack posts about atheism and Christian extremism in America.

Dikki's Diatribe
Dikkii posts about life, religion, politics, and music from Australia.

Elliptica
"Thoughts from an incurable math-lover" and poetry.

EnoNomi
Comments on life, politics, and religion from an atheistic point of view.

Flumaddidle
Videos and comedic stories from "a godless heathen".

Infidel753
Commentary on news, politics, and religion from an "individualist, transhumanist, atheist, pragmatist, hedonist, and regular guy".

The Daily Coyote
Daily notes and pictures of Charlie, a coyote rescued when he was 10 days old.

The Greenbelt
History, literature, commentary on news and religion from The Ridger, FCD - "(I know Evolution is a fact - that's FCD, Friend of Charles Darwin)".

the meme pool:
Comments on science and religion from The Lifeguard.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


Christmas Tricks  

I spent my Christmas taming two wild dogs.

Roll Over


Sit


Go to Sleep

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


More on New Baby Borg  

Thursday, December 27, 2007

First of all, this is not a typical Christmas gift for us. We spoil each other a little because we both work and we have no children, but we by no means go overboard. That's why it was so surprising.

Matt's been saving to replace his computer. I decided to put it off another year and use some money I came into to pay bills instead. We still have our finances separate. I have my bills, he has his, and we have our joint bills. It works for us. Our paychecks are our own after bills are paid. So it was a huge thing for him to buy me a computer. My computer was older, true, but only by a year and we both have trouble running newer games.

Amazon decided to pay him back by sticking an XBox 360 in with one of his gifts that was shipped to us and arrived just today. It was even wrapped. We're still trying to figure out how that happened. See? If you do good things the FSM will reward you.

Anyway, here are the stats:
Intel Core 2 Dueo E6750 2.66G
WD 400 GB SATA HD
Sony DVD RW AW-G170S
Crucial Ballistix 2GB RAM (all I can tell by looking at them)
GeForce 8800 GT
Corsair HX 520W Modular PS
And it looks like the MB is a Gigabyte, but I can't tell much from looking at it in the case. The network and audio are on-board

And, of course, a case to die for - CoolerMaster Cosmos - seriously, I cannot hear it when it's on unless the DVD drive spins up even with all of the fans on. If I open it I can kind of hear it breathing a little.

I got my first wireless mouse (I'm archaic) too - Logitech MX Revolution and I really like it. I'm still shopping for a keyboard. I'll keep my speakers and monitor that I've been using, of course.

Anandtech recently came out with a new buyer's guide for the holidays and that's what made him think of it. So, thank you too Anandtech!

Did I tell you yet what a wonderful husband I have?

P.S. I was a CS major so I know a little about computers, but I'm really more of a software nerd than a hardware nerd (and even that has slipped). My husband is the hardware nerd of the family.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


Achmed the Dead Terrorist  

Enjoy!

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


Behold My New Baby!  

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

At first my husband led me to believe he bought me just a case so I would have a start at building a new computer.


But after he coaxed me to pull it out of the box and I opened the side panel I was surprised to see boards...



...a complete computer. She's tooless and completely silent unless the DVD drive spins up. I'm in love.

P.S. I named her Borg after Anita Borg.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


Merry Christmas!  

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


I hope you all have a very merry Christmas however you celebrate.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


The Worst Xmas Card Ever  

Sunday, December 23, 2007

I received the most disturbing Christmas card on Friday night:

Seeking The Truth? Find Answers



Thank You


A $100 donation has been made in your name!
May the Lord Jesus Christ bless you!

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


Fanfic Masterpiece Theater  

Saturday, December 22, 2007


And now for another exciting episode of Fanfic Masterpiece Theater*

Our first episode starts with gripping science fiction about an unsung hero in Full Life Consequences, a story right out of The Matrix, dancing with the zombies in Repercussions of Evil, and saving human army people in Halos in Space.

Then we will hear a reading of the heroic efforts of Richter Belmont in Wisps of Dracula.

Finally, there is romance brewing with Xena (NSFW). Also, we follow Sonic in his Search for Love (NSFW).

*The Examiner'sExterminator's** head might explode.

**I was posting from an odd location and I don't for the life of me know why I typed that.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


This Weeks Reader December 22, 2007  

Atheism
The "New Atheists" are responding to provocation, not mounting an arbitrary attack
For the "New Atheists" all religious people are suicide bombers, says Mr Dalrymple. Hmm: I don’t think so; but I wonder why they make any connection between religion and suicide bombings at the extreme margins of things? Answer: we look around the world and across the landscape of history; we hear the clamour of strife arising from religious discord, persecution, oppression and execution; we smell the burning flesh of the Inquisition; we see how much and sometimes how violently Sunni hates Shiite and vice versa, we learn that the martyrs of Islam will go straight to paradise, and so dismally, heart-sickeningly and too often dangerously on. But, implies Mr Dalrymple, all we need do is look at a cathedral and lo! all is justified, and it does not matter that very small children are being brainwashed into the beliefs of herdsmen who lived in tents several thousand years ago, the better to quarrel with, and sometimes perhaps even kill, one another later for not agreeing that bread turns into human flesh or that this relative of the Prophet is more important than that one.

A "Haught"y Ally?
Yes, Nietzsche did recognize the potential danger of nihilism in the vacuum created by the absence of god belief, but he provided ample material to fill that void. Hope in the perpetual betterment of self and mankind through the idea of the Ubermensche and the assessing and assigning of values and meaning to life through the Revaluation of all Values alone are enough to fill the void. True, Nietzsche's tone is certainly evidence that he knew he wasn't writing for the masses of his time, but his hope was that it would be for the masses of the future, and the few today who can understand and have the strength of mind and will to help forge a world for the "next" men, rescuing it from the "last" men.

Misunderstanding Atheism
Atheism is a response to theism. The theist claims that some sort of god or gods exist; the atheist does not accept this claim as accurate. Theism is the belief that a god or gods exist. Atheism is the absence of, or lack of, agreement with this belief. To say that an atheist does not believe in gods is an accurate statement, however, to insist that an atheist believes that there are no gods is erroneous. Atheism does not entail the conviction that there are no gods. Moreover, atheism says nothing whatsoever about the presence or absence of various unknown or unexplained phenomena. And finally, while lack of "proof" is a justification some atheists will offer for their unwillingness to accept theism, it is certainly not the only one. Other atheists would argue that they cannot accept the theistic belief claim because the concept of god is logically incoherent or undefined.

Does Hoping For An End To Religion Make Me Intolerant?
In fact, I'd like not to have to care what a believer believes. I'd like to leave that completely up to them and not concern myself with it. If religion could somehow be divorced from politics and if I could escape the constant bombardment by Jesus music when I'm shopping or door-to-door evangelizing when I'm at home, I could probably remain content to remain oblivious to what religious folk believe. Maybe I'd examine it as a curiosity, but it wouldn't have great relevance.

Gaming
SOE confirms allegations of developer misconduct in EQII
Members of Sony Online Entertainment's EverQuest II team have confirmed allegations of unfair relations between a member of the development team and Unhallowed Triad, a guild operating on the EQII test server, according to MMO site Massively. The scandal surfaced several days ago, and, a couple of hundred-page forum threads later, it was revealed that SOE transferred characters from EQII's test server to a live server, violating SOE's own end user license agreement.

Government
CIA photos 'show UK Guantanamo detainee was tortured'
Mr Stafford-Smith added in his letter: "As you know, the only purported basis for the US holding Mr Mohammed is an allegation that he is an ('illegal') enemy combatant. Five-and-a-half years after his initial seizure, he is not currently charged in a military commission, and he has never been offered a fair trial. As you are aware, Mr Mohammed was rendered to Morocco by the CIA and tortured for 18 months in a way that was medieval.

Movies
I Am Legend
So while it was far from a bad film, it was really disheartening to watch as the film went from great to merely OK. Like 30 Days of Night, this has the potential to be one of the years’ best genre films (luckily, the PG-13 rating is of no real consequence in relation to the film’s flaws), but the lazy script prevented such a thing from happening. Still, I was entertained for the most part, thanks in part to the antics of my fellow moviegoers.

Music
Friends of Peace

Nonbelieving Literarti
The Sparrow and the Large Steel Pipe
This just reeks of phoniness, and half the words are extraneous. He’s got a long nose, close-together eyes, and curly red hair. The shape of his nose, the monkey business, the semicircle smile (what else would it be, a hyperbola?), and the child’s scribbles don't help us picture the guy. And they have nothing to do with plot foreshadowing, character analysis, mood, anything. They’re just stuffing.

Nonbelieving Literati: The Sparrow
But taken alone I think I can find a compelling argument against theism, or at least, for humans being unable to understand God. Emilio thought he understood God's plan and was horribly wrong. Either there was no plan or it's incomprehensible to us as humans because it's too horrible to think that would be part of a benevolent god's plan. There was a sense that, even though the characters believed they were working under a divine plan, in the end we're all alone.

NL: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
In the end, The Sparrow is a fascinating failure. It's tightly-plotted and well-written, with (mostly) interesting characters - and she does us the favor of telling us upfront that virtually all of them will die, so we aren't crushed when it happens - and the device of parallel stories works very well. I don't think the book would be have as engaging told in strictly linear progression: our gradual penetration of the mystery along with the priests conducting the hearing works, but we'd be too impatient if we already knew it. Where it falls down, for me, is that Russell does, in the end, accept that God has the right to do whatever he wants with us - to kill so many to make a saint of Emilio Sandoz. (Again, a comparison came to me: the invasion of Earth in Signs just to restore the wavering faith of one man.) There is no true evil because it all redounds ad majorem Dei gloriam.

Nonbelieving Literati: The Sparrow
It's hard to tell where the author of this book stands on religious issues. She knows a lot about Catholics, but it's hard to say whether she writes from the inside or as an apostate. I know the Nonbelieving Literati have had more liberal, irreverent Christian authors before, so the choice of this book isn't necessarily a sign that the author doesn't believe in God. I suppose a web search or something might turn up more information, but if you ask me, that's cheating. I'll take the book as is and never mind the author, and I'll say this. The fact that you can't tell where the author stands is at least in part because this is a good book, a realistic book, a book that doesn't paint ideology into the storyline half so much as it allows the characters to be believeable. Many of the characters hold views I don't agree with. Many of them espouse reasoning that I consider to be highly questionable, and large parts of my viewpoint don't even make it into the conversation. But that's life. That's believeable. And I can't help but admire the author for being able to write with such sympathy for her characters, and yet such coldness when it comes to the pain she'll put them through and the problems she'll hand them that challenge the views they hold dear.

Rakhat Rising
When human beings are faced with certain transcendent experiences, we seem to instinctually jump to a language that is spiritual or supernatural to explain it. We reach a point that surpasses our limits of experience and instinctively reach to define the void beyond. Some will call it God, assigning intellect and purpose where there is none. For me that point beyond ourselves, that brink of space between what we know and the potential of what lays outside has no name, no purpose, no reason. All I’m left with are feelings that I lack words to adequately describe. Small words like ‘awe’ or ‘hope’ are merely the click of a pebble bouncing down the sides of well it can’t possibly fill. I have a euphoric feeling of standing at the edge of the abyss about to take flight. I get these feelings when contemplating the potential future of space exploration, such as the documentary series Mars Rising. For the religious, these are the feelings they get when contemplating the nature of god and his purpose for creation. To-may-to -– to-mah-to. What does it matter how we classify this experience?

God snores as another Sparrow bites the dust
Oh sure, there was great doubt about god in the Sparrow. But the nagging feeling I was left with is still – "oh yeah, there is a god. We just don’t comprehend It’s ways."

Poetry
A Liberty

Politics
The Power of Personality
But when I think about what is truly distinctive about the way I look at the world, about the advantage that I may have over others in understanding foreign affairs, it is that I know what it means not to be an American. I know intimately the attraction, the repulsion, the hopes, the disappointments that the other 95 percent of humanity feels when thinking about this country. I know it because for a good part of my life, I wasn't an American. I was the outsider, growing up 8,000 miles away from the centers of power, being shaped by forces over which my country had no control.

Religion
Campaigns Like These Make It Hard to Find a Reason to Believe
In my view, however, the biggest flaw in Pascal’s argument is that it understates the costs of belief. Because believing, it seems to me, is not free.

Belief in God too often spawns reasons to punish sinners — “adulterers” in Saudi Arabia, gays for some Republican presidential candidates. Through the ages, it has provided people of all sorts of creeds a great argument to kill and maim the people from the next creed over. If it turns out that God doesn’t exist — having bought into the notion, it seems to me, would prove a pretty bad wager indeed.


Science
Tyrrhenian Sea and Solstice Sky
Today the Solstice occurs at 0608 Universal Time, the Sun reaching its southernmost declination in planet Earth's sky. Of course, the December Solstice marks the beginning of winter in the northern hemisphere and summer in the south. When viewed from northern latitudes, the Sun will make its lowest arc through the sky along the southern horizon. So in the north, the Solstice day has the shortest length of time between sunrise and sunset and fewest hours of daylight. This striking composite image follows the Sun's path through the December Solstice day of 2005 in a beautiful blue sky, looking down the Tyrrhenian Sea coast from Santa Severa toward Fiumicino, Italy. The view covers about 115 degrees in 43 separate, well-planned exposures from sunrise to sunset.

Television
219 - Found: a Map of the Island in ‘Lost’
Lost is not only the title of a popular American tv series, it also describes the exasperated feeling of those viewers looking for a semblance of a plot in the series. The broad outline goes something like this: The survivors of a crashed jumbo jet on a transpacific flight find themselves stranded on a tropical island, cut off from the civilised world and left to fend for themselves.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


What Kind of D&D Character Would You Be?  

Friday, December 21, 2007

I Am A: Neutral Good Elf Bard/Sorcerer (2nd/2nd Level)


Ability Scores:

Strength-10

Dexterity-12

Constitution-11

Intelligence-17

Wisdom-13

Charisma-12


Alignment:
Neutral Good A neutral good character does the best that a good person can do. He is devoted to helping others. He works with kings and magistrates but does not feel beholden to them. Neutral good is the best alignment you can be because it means doing what is good without bias for or against order. However, neutral good can be a dangerous alignment because because it advances mediocrity by limiting the actions of the truly capable.


Race:
Elves are known for their poetry, song, and magical arts, but when danger threatens they show great skill with weapons and strategy. Elves can live to be over 700 years old and, by human standards, are slow to make friends and enemies, and even slower to forget them. Elves are slim and stand 4.5 to 5.5 feet tall. They have no facial or body hair, prefer comfortable clothes, and possess unearthly grace. Many others races find them hauntingly beautiful.


Primary Class:
Bards often serve as negotiators, messengers, scouts, and spies. They love to accompany heroes (and villains) to witness heroic (or villainous) deeds firsthand, since a bard who can tell a story from personal experience earns renown among his fellows. A bard casts arcane spells without any advance preparation, much like a sorcerer. Bards also share some specialized skills with rogues, and their knowledge of item lore is nearly unmatched. A high Charisma score allows a bard to cast high-level spells.


Secondary Class:
Sorcerers are arcane spellcasters who manipulate magic energy with imagination and talent rather than studious discipline. They have no books, no mentors, no theories just raw power that they direct at will. Sorcerers know fewer spells than wizards do and acquire them more slowly, but they can cast individual spells more often and have no need to prepare their incantations ahead of time. Also unlike wizards, sorcerers cannot specialize in a school of magic. Since sorcerers gain their powers without undergoing the years of rigorous study that wizards go through, they have more time to learn fighting skills and are proficient with simple weapons. Charisma is very important for sorcerers; the higher their value in this ability, the higher the spell level they can cast.


Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?



(via Sylvene)

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


Sunrise Take 2  

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Here's the sunrise this morning. The sky is clear and not nearly as dramatic.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


Sunrise  

This was the sunrise that greeted me yesterday morning.



I almost forgot what sunlight looked like. It's been so dismally gray for the last couple of weeks I was surprised to see the sun comes out in the winter. More snow again on Saturday, supposedly, but it should be a light one.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


Top 20 Albums Meme  

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I was tagged by Poodles to list my top 20 albums. This is tough because there are very few albums that I like in their entirety, but I'll try.

Here is my list in no particular order.

1. From the Choirgirl Hotel - Tori Amos
2. Sixteen Stone - Bush
3. Slowhand - Eric Clapton
4. Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd
5. August and Everything After - Counting Crows
6. Negotiations and Love Songs 1971-1986 - Paul Simon
7. Rabbit Fur Coat - Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins
8. Extraordinary Machine - Fiona Apple
9. Rust in Peace - Megadeth
10. Ride the Lightning - Metallica
11. Blacklisted - Neko Case
12. Fisherman's Woman - Emiliana Torrini
13. Trailer Park - Beth Orton
14. Long Gone Before Daylight - The Cardigans
15. A Beautiful Lie - 30 Seconds to Mars
16. The Bends - Radiohead
17. The Greatest - Cat Power
18. Begin to Hope - Regina Spektor
19. Version 2.0 - Garbage
20. One Cell in the Sea - A Fine Frenzy

I tag:

No More Hornets
Just Married Chilean Style
An Apostate's Chapel

and

Evolutionary Middleman

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


Travel Planning  

Instead of New Year's resolutions, which I usually do more as goals for the year, I'm going to list out all of the traveling I'd like to do and work towards going. So here are the places and events I'd like to make it to in 2008.

Dragon Con 2008
August 29 - September 1, 2008 in Atlanta, GA
I've been attending Dragon Con for the past couple of years. Hotels are always the big pain as well as the crowds, but I have a great time every year. I'd like to make it again for next year and it's a relatively inexpensive trip. Plus, because I get Labor Day off, it means only taking one day off from work.

I also have friends that go every year, so it's a good bet I won't be attending alone.

Denvention 3, the 66th World Science Fiction Convention
August 6 - August 10, 2008 in Denver, CO
I've never been to a World Con before, so I have no idea what to expect. A friend of mine is thinking about attending this year and we haven't seen one another in 3 years, so this would be a good chance to catch up and see some wonderful things. (There are wonderful things at World Cons, right?)

It's pretty close in dates to Dragon Con, but I think with advance planning I could get to both.

TAM 6
June 19 - June 22, 2008 in Las Vegas, NV
I'd love to attend an Amazing Meeting one year. I don't know anyone that's going, but it's possible that I can entertain myself in Las Vegas. It's a bit more expensive than the other conventions, but it's also only a long weekend.

Comic-Con International: San Diego 2008
July 24 - July 27, San Diego, CA
This would probably be an either/or along with Dragon Con or World Con based on what's decided between friends. I've never been to Comic-Con, but I went to a few festivals when I was living in San Diego and they were always fun (not that that is any indication about Comic-Con). Again, this one drew big crowds last year, so it might be in the process of changing a lot as well.

Easter Island Culture Expedition 2008
October 2008, Hanga Roa, Easter Island, Chile
There aren't any dates posted for next year yet, but it was in October in 2007 and 2006. This would be the trip of a lifetime. My concerns are mostly cost and taking 2+ weeks off from work. Travel to Easter Island is supposed to be very expensive and although I may be able to get unpaid time off, that would only increase the cost. It may end up being an "all or nothing" type of trip.

Tuscany's Castle of Catignano Expidition 2008
July 13 - July 26, 2008, Castelfiorentino, Italy
Another archaeological expedition with the same restrictions as the Easter Island expedition. This one though might be less expensive. But then it also conflicts with Comic-Con.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


What Christmas Tree Are You?  

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

You Are a Traditional Christmas Tree

For a good Christmas, you don't have to re-invent the wheel.
You already have traditions, foods, and special things you bring out every year.


(via The Greenbelt)

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


Seven Weird Things Meme  

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Chaplain has tagged me with the Seven Weird Things meme. Here are seven random facts about me:

1. I was in the Rocket Club in sixth grade (big nerd sign).
2. I can't whistle, although sometimes I will whistle accidentally.
3. I have trouble remembering names. Sometimes I forget the names of my family members.
4. Stock (Matthiola) is my favorite flower.
5. I skipped my senior year of high school, but then spent 5 years in college.
6. I don't have a favorite color.
7. I was born in the same hospital as my mother, brothers, and sister. My father was the transplant then. Now, we're all transplants.

And I tag:

Evolutionary Middleman
Letters from a Broad
God Has Wheels

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


Nonbelieving Literati: The Sparrow  

Saturday, December 15, 2007


As The Spanish Inquisitor phrased it, "I still can’t figure out where the book’s coming from - skepticism or dogma." I'm still not sure still after reading the book three times, but I think it's both.

Skepticism is exhibited by Anne and dogma by D.W. Emilio is in the middle, wavering between the two. We can see it in the way Emilio believes. At first, he is a priest, but a priest who doesn't believe.

"I mean, there was a place in me that wanted God to be in it, but it was empty. So, I thought, Well, not yet. Maybe someday. And to be honest, I sort of looked down on that kind of thing. You know how there are people who'll tell you that Jesus is a close personal friend of theirs, yes?" His voice was very low and he made a face that said, Who are they kidding? "I always thought, Sure, right, and you probably see Elvis at the laundromat."
And then when they find Rakhat and everything comes together and they actually go and land, he believes. He feels God.

But then we all know what happens. The plans that come together so well for so long fall apart and Emilio feels betrayed by God. So he can chose to believe in something evil or believe he was wrong. In the end he finds peace maybe, but is he a believer or an agnostic?

This time through I picked up on different bits of the author's underlying message in the story. I noticed more of the picking at the atheist argument through the character of Anne. Anne was always my favorite character. And I really get attached to characters in a story. I'll cry if the story grabs me and it's really sad.

I didn't like it in the middle of the story when she gave into faith, even if it was in cursing God. I realize it is my attachment to the character that makes it unacceptable. It's probably because I pictured myself as Anne in the story and I wanted the skeptical voice to win out.

In my previous readings of the book I always came to the conclusion that Emilio became a non-believer, someone transformed by an experience, betrayed by his faith. Re-reading the last scene, I'm not so sure. The author left the story open to what Emilio believed in the end. He was absolved of blaming himself through confession, but not of blaming God.

Was that the author trying to use the, "God works in mysterious ways" argument to show Emilio wasn't betrayed by God, but by his sureness of knowledge of God? I think to some extent she was, especially taken with the sequel to this novel, Children of God.

But taken alone I think I can find a compelling argument against theism, or at least, for humans being unable to understand God. Emilio thought he understood God's plan and was horribly wrong. Either there was no plan or it's incomprehensible to us as humans because it's too horrible to think that would be part of a benevolent god's plan. There was a sense that, even though the characters believed they were working under a divine plan, in the end we're all alone.

There were conflicting themes that perhaps the characters grew into as they evolved through the story. Early on when they're discussing the speed of light and when Emilio asks why it works the way it works the explanation, "God likes it that way," is an appropriate answer.

Later, after Alan Pace's death as they ponder how it could be God's plan to bring him to the planet to kill him. And after pondering agnosticism and the inability to understand God Emilio says,
"The Jewish sages also tell us that God dances when His children defeat Him in an argument, when they stand on their feet and use their minds. So questions like Anne's are worth asking. To ask them is a very fine kind of human behavior. If we keep demanding that God yield up His answers, perhaps some day we will understand them. And then we will be something more than clever apes,and we shall dance with God."
And I think they almost got it right.

Other Member Posts
The Sparrow and the Large Steel Pipe
NL: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
Nonbelieving Literati: The Sparrow
Rakhat Rising
God snores as another Sparrow bites the dust
The Lonesome Sparrow
Exterminator, we have a pest problem

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


This Weeks Reader December 15, 2007  

Atheism
Looking for That A-Ha Moment
A Discovery Channel (or similar) program regarding Jesus or the History of the Bible made on off-hand comment that there was controversy over the historicity of Jesus. It wasn’t the main topic of the show, it was one comment, an aside, one sentence – but to me it stood out like neon. I could say that it was the sudden flash The Exterminator was talking about, but if it hadn’t been for the earlier nudges, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed it.

Another holiday effort from a group of atheists
I'm afraid that when people whine at me that we need to be more sensitive to those pious beliefs, when I'm told that atheists must be more tasteful, unaggressive, and quiet, I know what an exercise in futility that is — our very existence is offensive to some, and just the fact that we're living in freedom is an affront to the religious right. You can't win by accepting their rules and surrendering, so you might as well raise a ruckus and offend, offend, offend. And do it proudly.

Movies
The Golden Compass
This is a coming-of-age story set in a conflict with an evil religious empire bent on expanding their control, and willing to experiment on children to do it. It's barely detectable in this movie. I think if the producers had been a little braver and set this up as a clearer parable for the dangers of wedding political control and religious belief, it would have been a much more comprehensible and powerful movie.

Constant Viewer: I Am Legend
This third film version of a 1954 Richard Matheson novel is mildly entertaining but, as is so often the case, it hardly lives up to its pre-opening hype. Others will no doubt comment at length on how the film serves as none too subtle propaganda for a very strong version of the precautionary principle so popular these day among many medical ethicists.

Music
Because I heard it on the radio today.
Watch another video from sader-mama.

Philosophy
Are Mystical Experiences the Result of Natural Causes?
Now, simply think of common, non-mystical experience as one kind of map — say a road map — and mystical experience as another kind of map — say a strata map. Let’s even say both maps are created by the same cartographer (i.e. by natural causes). The point is, both could be equally accurate — and equally false — and equally useful fictions. There is no reason to suppose that if common, non-mystical experience is a useful fiction, then mystical experience cannot be an equally useful fiction.

Poetry
Of Grief in Dusty Corners, Take 2
This is a beautiful poem. The way the words fit in with the meter is very natural. When I read it out loud it flows together so well I could almost take it for prose. I love the second stanza. I love the tie in between mathematics and odds and evens, and especially the word cornucopia. That may sound silly, but I love to say that word.

Religion
The Reason/Belief Disconnect
This is known as confirmation bias. Religious thinking, where the existence of an all powerful, omni-benevolent god is presumed, expects that the good things we experience, especially the rare ones, are the result of supernatural intervention. It is the rarity of the event that allows people to expect that there is no rational, material explanation, and hence it must be an act of god. Good things that happen every day, like making a green light when you’re in a hurry, or finding the item you want to purchase is on sale, are not usually attributed to acts of god (though I’m sure some fervent believers are inclined to do so). Once indoctrinated, (or infected) with the religious presuppositions, one is biased to expect that good things only come from god, so when they do, their bias is confirmed.

You Shall Be My Witnesses
Whenever stories like these erupt, Christians everywhere are quick to ask non-Christians not to judge the whole body by the misdeeds of a few and to consider the substance of their doctrines rather than the content of their characters. This plea is not entirely misplaced, for any group contains subsets of those who deviate from group norms. But there is another group of believers that, with regard to the persuasive power of their witness, is far more problematic for the Body of Christ than the egregious examples cited above. These are the believers with whom people rub shoulders every day: the gossips, the hypocrites, the domineering, the selfish….

Unholy Union: Secret Sin and Spiritual Abuse
They returned a week later to find no improvement in their friend’s condition. Again, they prayed for her with fervor, but to no avail. Before leaving, they boldly announced to this young lady that she had not been healed because she harbored a shameful secret sin, a sin she would have to acknowledge, confess openly and seek forgiveness for before healing could occur.The so-called friends left, satisfied within themselves that they had done all they could. They were confident that their faith was pure, blameless and sufficient to accomplish mighty works. The reason their prayers had not yielded the results they sought was not due to any fault of theirs, nor to any lack of will or power on the part of their God; surely, the blame for their failed healing attempts lay within the young woman’s own sin-stained soul. Needless to say, the injured woman was devastated by their harsh verdict.

Deeply Disturbed...
This news today has awakened me once again. I can not sit by and watch while lives are destroyed and lost. If you have followed this blog, you'd know that leaving the Church for me has been an emotional roller coaster. Recently, the questions keep popping up in my head - who am I? What is my moral code? Where do I claim that this code comes from? How do I want to live? Who do I want to be? What do I want to do with my life? In working to leave the Church, I became something of a blank slate. No answers, but lots of questions.

Christmas sets a trap
In the fourth whereas (Christians identify themselves...), King apparently hopes to get a statement of faith into the congressional record. It actually makes no grammatic sense in the contest of the resolution. The whereas' are the reasons for the resolution. The first three make logical sense (whereas there are lots of Christians in the country, we support one of their holidays). The fourth does only makes sense as an effort to deny other religions the same support (whereas Christians believe in salvation through Christ, we support their holidays. If they didn't believe that, we wouldn't support them).

Jesus Loves Poly/Cotton Blends
Oh, those gays and their agenda. I cannot tell you how many times I get stopped on the street by some lesbian who starts humping my leg and then thrusts her "agenda" right in my face. Then I have to go around all day smelling like lesbian agenda, and it's just not very pleasant. God have mercy on our souls if we ever end up like the UK. Every single person over there? Gay. They even have gay babies.

Here's my impression of Barry Arrington
Now, if I was a giant screaming asshole like Barry A, I'd say something like, "People like Bill O'Reilly who make up the imaginary 'war on Christmas' or Ann Coulter and her remarks about Christians being 'perfected Jews' should consider themselves responsible for this event. If they didn't promote their pro-Christmas, pro-Christian agenda, no one would feel the need to attack Jewish people for wishing them a Happy Hanukkah."

theological child abuse
I know many people will discredit his words because of his actions. But I believe him. I lived through very similar experiences and I know for a fact that stories like this are true. I’ve seen parents and pastors act like this, and I know the rest of what goes along with it. Religious indoctrination, when it fails to create pliant and obedient sheep, causes extreme emotional distress and constant mental torment. That’s bad enough for adults, but for children and teenagers, the terrors are beyond anything that can be created by ghost stories or horror movies. I’m 46, quit going to church over 15 years ago, and I still have nightmares. And I am not alone. I am in an ex-fundamentalist support group where I hear stories of adults, and even senior citizens, being haunted by their childhood religious indoctrination over and over and over again.

Science
Voyager 2 probe reaches solar system boundary
On the way, the Voyagers could help determine the source of mysterious radio emissions from the edge of the solar system, which may be the result of CMEs from the Sun crashing into the interstellar medium.

Life in the Dead Zone
I also wanted to point readers to this list that I recently came upon over at bloggingheads.tv on their Science Saturday “diavlog” between science writers George Johnson and John Horgan (two regulars). John Horgan was one of those responsible for compiling this particular list, called The Stevens Seventy Greatest Science Books.

This deadly religious resistance to vaccinations
But why was she so certain the MMR campaign should be stopped? Phillips presented her argument as if she was simply siding with one scientist against another. But in reality, she disputes on religious grounds the very basis of vaccinations: evolution. She says that creationism should be taught in schools, and that evolution is “only a theory.” So it’s no wonder she is so hostile to (and ignorant of) vaccination science. Vaccines only work because we can observe evolution, live, as it happens. Take the flu virus. It is constantly changing – you can watch it under a microscope. That’s why you need a booster shot every year: because the virus has evolved. That’s why a vaccine against the 1918 flu virus would be radically different to a vaccine the 2007 flu virus: it has evolved. Yet when Professor Colin Blakemore, head of the Medical Research Council, pointed out this elementary scientific truth, she accused him of seizing any sneaky opportunity to “beat the drum for Darwin” and for claiming “there was no intelligent design in a virus, only the mindless force of natural selection.”

A letter to a high school student
A lot of people worry that without some moral absolutes, moral behaviour is impossible. I think this is wrong, because we evolved to be a social species, and that means that ordinarily, humans are cooperative and well behaved. But the question how moral behaviour evolved and how to justify a moral standard are two different things. Myself, I think that if a moral duty is a duty, that is justification enough. But I am a bit outside the mainstream on that.

Sci-fi
The Zombie Robert Heinlein Rises From the Grave Yet Again to Annoy the Politically Correct
Heinlein’s flat-out readability is why, two decades after his death and now more than half a century after the publication of some of his most famous works, the man is still in print when the vast majority of his contemporaries are not, why he’s still actively influencing the genre, why being favorably compared to him is still a significant coup, and why people are still tearing their hair out that he’s still out there, despite his antediluvian sexual and political stances. If they really want him gone, the solution is simple: Put something out there that’s as readable as what he offers, and which offers a different political and social viewpoint.

Skepticism
Applied Kinesiology and Self Deception
The video is supposed to be a demonstration of AK. What it is really a demonstration of is self-deception, and as such it is very interesting. The subject seems to really believe that his strength is decreasing when he says the name “Hitler.” The lesson should be clear - the human capacity for self-deception is almost limitless. Therefore, we cannot trust anyone’s subjective experience.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


What Christmas Means to Me  

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas is kind of an odd thing for me. I've never been quite sure how to celebrate it. I wasn't raised with the belief in Santa Claus. My brothers and sister were, but by the time I came along my mother decided she didn't want to lie about it and never mentioned Santa to me. Santa was always a mythological figure. In fact, I don't think I really realized that anyone actually believed in him until I was much older.

Sometimes I wonder what I'll do as a parent, if I ever have kids. Is it better to tell a child straight up that it's a myth as well as all fairy tales? I feel like I missed out on something that was fundamental to childhood. And maybe it could be an exercise in critical thinking. Wait until the child asks, provides evidence, and then explain about Santa.

I also wasn't allowed to celebrate Halloween. I went trick or treating once when I was five (as a ghost with a sheet as a costume), but after that it was Satan's holiday and we celebrated by going to church. (I did occasionally get to dress as a Biblical figure though and the costumes were much better than a sheet.)

I had friends that didn't have a tree at Christmas. They celebrated by baking a birthday cake for Jesus. We didn't do that. Our Christmas was pretty traditional with a tree and gifts and family. But, we were always reminded that Christmas wasn't about evil consumerism, but about Jesus. C. L. Hanson's post about Christmas reminds me of that mix of guilt and celebration we were supposed to have. I always felt a little torn about enjoying the gifts, even as a child.

We had our traditions though. Christmas Eve we spent with my mom's extended family and we always went to my dad's parents on Christmas day for dinner. Christmas morning was for exchanging and opening gifts at home with the immediate family, and of course, playing with our toys. After my dad's parents died we stayed home on Christmas day and had candy and eggnog all day. But after I moved away from where my family lives I lost all sense of tradition.

Except for one private tradition, and that one not so much anymore. Every Christmas Eve I would wake up in the middle of the night. I'd go look at the tree and the lights and just feel at peace, thankful for my family, my friends, whatever it was in my life I had to feel thankful for. I still do that, but in a small apartment we don't have a tree, so even that has fallen by the wayside.

So I've decided that the meaning of Christmas is what I make it. I enjoy spending time with friends and family, time we normally don't have together due to busy schedules and work. I enjoy giving gifts (and I have to admit, I enjoy receiving them too). But mostly it's those quiet moments when I realize how fortunate I am.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


On Atheism and Death  

Thursday, December 13, 2007

This post was prompted by an email from John-Evo at Evolutionary Middleman. And I selfishly co-opted the email as I started musing on something death. Death has never been a big, scary thing for me. When I was a Christian it was gateway to fairy-land. When I was a spiritualist, it was the possibility of reincarnation. But really, in any form I never really thought about it too much. Maybe it wasn't real or maybe I just didn't care.

And as an atheist it's just the end. And I won't be aware of anything after that, so it's not like it's going to really hurt after it's all over. So why worry about it?

But I guess as I've gotten older I've begun to feel my own mortality. I think it's in watching my parent's health and sanity break over time. That's going to be me before too long. I've never felt a need for immortality, or to leave anything of myself behind. I don't even have a strong drive to have children. But there is something about being forgotten that disturbs me.

I think about whether or not I'll be scared when I die, if I happen to know it's coming. Will it change my perspective? I don't fear eternal torment, so I don't think I'd grasp at religion, but will I feel a desperation to immortalize myself or will I feel regret? I hope I'm happy with the time I've had.

Being an atheist doesn't mean I don't have human emotions. Just because I feel certain about the choices I've made doesn't mean I don't feel the same things other people do. It doesn't mean I have a perfectly mapped out life. Lots of atheists are bothered by the thought of death. And theists jump all over that. Which is funny. It's not really about the way we feel, but about the choices we make.

But after analyzing it some more it's not death that really bothers me. It's being forgotten. And I can understand how people throughout history have wanted to immortalize themselves. I think it would be cool for people to find my bones thousands of years from now and be able to piece together a little bit about how we lived. That's the type of immortality that appeals to me.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


My Aha! Moments  

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Exterminator started this (as he often does) with a comment about aha! moments.

I’m always struck with the fact that there must have been an aha! moment, an unexpected insight, a sudden flash, that undermines their entire worldview
EnoNomi followed up with a full post titled Looking for That A-Ha Moment, which made me think about my own aha! moments now all week.

And it turns out that I can remember several. These were the ones that really got me thinking and in the end changed my world view.

1) In fourth grade we studied the history of the church and I learned about the development of the New Testament canon. This was in a Christian school, so it was a sanitized version, but it always kind of bothered me that canon was decided by people and conflicting texts were destroyed.

2) My fiance in college explained to me that even though he wanted to believe like he did as a child he couldn't force himself to have faith.

3) I took a class in college on the religions of the Mediterranean. After reading the Eridu Genesis, Enuma Elish, and The Epic of Gilgamesh, which had myths similar to the Bible, I began to question whether the world views of those cultures were incorporated into the Old Testament.

4) As I was sitting in church at my niece's funeral listening to the preacher talk about how she had gone on to a better world all I could think of was that Christianity was a death cult, created to give us comfort as our loved ones died.

5) I asked a friend of mine who believed in magic what the difference was between coincidence and magic and he said there wasn't any. Then he went on to explain how coincidence was magic. I was shocked. I thought to myself, if magic is no more than random chance, what's the point?

And that pretty much chronicles my transition from Christian, to deist, to spiritualist, to atheist.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


Asshole...  

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I was waiting in line at my local Hobby Lobby to check out with a picture I had framed tonight. It was a long line. Only two registers were open and when one cashier was taking too long a group came over from the other line, like exiles.

They complained about the wait as the line moved slowly forward. The man standing behind me began to move forward when the line wasn't moving until he was bumping me with his items. I was a bit annoyed with him and a bit annoyed at the line.

Our cashier, who coincidentally was Asian, had to check to make sure an item was 50% off and called a manager or senior associate up to verify. And as she was basically saying, "Ah, I see," after the explanation the guy behind me blurted out, "Ah so!"

I didn't say anything as I stewed at his comment for a few minutes until the moment had passed. I wish I had turned to him and questioned him on it, but I didn't. I checked out and drove off angry.

I wish I had turned to him and in imitation of his derogatory remark said, "Asshole!"

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


Thought of the Day  

From the Trends tab on Google Reader:

From your 98 subscriptions, over the last 30 days you read 1,522 items, starred 51 items, shared 842 items, and emailed 0 items.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


Podcasts I'd Recommend  


The weather sucks this morning. Last night we had freezing rain and it's supposed to continue all day today, turning into snow tomorrow. My commute usually isn't bad, but I can imagine today might be lengthy.

I stopped listening to local radio years ago, preferring music or for a bit XM radio (which was OK for a while, but didn't really pan out for me). But a few months ago I started trying out listening to podcasts on my daily drive into work and now I'm hooked. Here are some that I'd recommend.

Blueshift
Blueshift is produced by the Astrophysics Science Division at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. There are only five episodes so far and they're spotty about releasing new ones, roughly once a month. The topics are very interesting though if you enjoy astronomy.

Game Theory
I haven't listened to this one for very long. I came across it while searching for a podcast on gaming news. Why doesn't anyone produce a 30-45 minute podcast on the gaming news of the week without all the extra "morning show" fluff? Well, this one comes pretty close, though it's more Euro-centric. Several of the hosts also appear on the PCG Podcast.

GameSpot Presents the HotSpot
A weekly podcast produced by CNet's Hotspot, now infamous for the firing of Jeff Gerstmann. This podcast is much more centered on console games than PC games, but other than the "morning show"-like atmosphere, it's a pretty decent podcast about gaming.

NPR: Movies
I'm close to unsubscribing to this podcast. It's a conglomeration of broadcasts about select movies, including the most annoying movie reviewer on the planet. They have interviews with directors and actors that are pretty interesting sometimes, but that's about all it has going for it.

PC Gamer Podcast
The official podcast of PC Gamer magazine, the podcast focuses more on PC games than console game, although they do talk about consoles a bit. It's a decent podcast. Occasionally they also have guests from Maximum PC magazine as well. They're pretty good at providing news, reviews, and general gossip in the games industry weekly.

Point of Inquiry
I have just started listening to this podcast, so I have no real comment as of yet. The guest lists include Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson (seriously, I could squeal every time I hear him speak), Steven Pinker, and Christopher Hitchens. The official description looks good though.

Point of Inquiry is hosted by DJ Grothe and produced at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, NY.CFI, a think-tank collaborating with the State University of New York on the new Science and the Public Masters Program, is devoted to promoting science, reason, and freedom of inquiry in every field of human interest.

RPG Land
This podcast only has five episodes so far and is badly in need of better sound equipment. Even so, they talk about the games I love the most (RPGs) and their reviews are really comprehensive. I hope going forward they concentrate more on the reviews than other parts of the show they've experimented with.

Science Talk: The Podcast of Scientific American
The podcast is hosted by Steve Mirsky, an articles editor and columnist at Scientific American. It's a pretty decent general science podcast with some emphasis on skepticism.

Skepticality: The Official Podcast of Skeptic's Magazine
Although I wrote an "angry" letter to Randy Olson over an episode of this podcast, it's still a great podcast. Even his interview was very good other than that one issue. Derek and Swoopy, the hosts, talk with scientists, skeptics, authors, and others within the rationalist movement.

The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe
This is my favorite podcast by far. This podcast is sponsored by the New England Skeptical Society, the James Randi Foundation, and Skepchick.org. They've been podcasting for a while and it shows. The episodes are always put together well and the hosts have a great rapport that comes across as fun and casual without being overdone. Other than talking about current news, they interview scientists, skeptics, musicians, and even a former President.

Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena
This podcast is a one-man show hosted by Brian DenningDunning. He takes on pseudoscience, the paranormal, and religion with critical thinking and rationalism. The podcasts are generally short (10-15 minutes), but packed with good arguments.

Twango: Big Heathen Mike's public channel
Big Heathen Mike's blog, Mike's Weekly Skeptic Rant is great. I haven't listened to these podcasts yet, but I'm looking forward to them.

WebbAlert
I try to watch these on my computer in the evening. It's a daily video podcast hosted by G4TechTv's Morgan Webb about the latest news in technology. They're about 6-7 minutes long. Just long enough to get my dose of tech without zoning out.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


Anniversary  

Monday, December 10, 2007

Today is my third wedding anniversary. Three years isn't all that long, I know, but I feel happy when I think about it. It'll be eight years in the Spring since we first started dating. Sometimes it's hard to remember my life before Matt and sometimes it seems like it's been too short of a time. That may be cliche, but it's true.

There was a long time we debated whether or not to get married. My reasons were probably a little different than Matt's. For both of us, we felt that we were committed to each other and we didn't need anyone sanctioning our relationship. For me, I also didn't like the religious connotations to marriage. I wanted to have a religion-free marriage (though I still didn't call myself an atheist), but I didn't want to impose a bunch of hard line rules on a ceremony. In the end we eloped without friends or family, celebrating together.

We were unconventional. We both wore jeans (though mine were under my dress). It snowed and we were 30 minutes late getting to the courthouse. We saw a bad movie afterwards and were chased out into the cold by fire alarms and burning popcorn. It was perfect.

Friends and family mean a lot to us and I still feel a little selfish about wanting something just for us. But in the end I wouldn't want it to be different. And we got to surprise people with pictures and stories when we visited a few weeks later for the holidays.

I'm incredibly lucky. My husband and I have a great relationship. Sure, we fight occasionally, but it's not often. We agree more often than we don't and most importantly we're not petty. We try to understand each other rather than jump to conclusions.

We still say, "I love you," several times a day and we still kiss and hug a lot too. It's hard to be distant emotionally from someone you're close to physically. It's not the giddy feeling most of the time anymore, but it's a more comfortable, deeper form of affection.

I feel most lucky because I've found someone that loves me through even the rough patches and always supports me. I've always been independent because I didn't want to rely on someone. If I only ever relied on myself then I couldn't be disappointed. But it makes life so much more limiting to be that way. I'm glad that I found someone I can depend on. I admire him for the person he is.

My husband doesn't read my blog and probably will never read this, but I wanted to say it anyway. I've tried to express in words how much he means to me countless times, and it always falls short. But I think he knows.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


Reviews and advertising  

Sunday, December 09, 2007

This season the big news in gaming doesn't seem to be about the record-breaking sales of Halo 3 or even the rash of new video games released in November. It's about the recent firing of game journalist, Jeff Gerstmann.

On November 28, CNet's Gamespot fired Jeff Gerstmann without official comment. Within hours the internet was talking about it and linking his firing with a written and video review of Kane & Lynch: Dead Men. The unfavorable review was released on November 13, during a time when the game publisher of Kane & Lynch, Eidos, was advertising heavily on the Gamespot website. Jeff also bagged the game pretty heavily on the November 13 episode of the Hotspot, a podcast sponsored by Gamespot.

CNet's early silence only fueled the rumors. A few days later they announced that they could not disclose the reasons Gerstmann was fired due to legal reasons, but stated it wasn't due to any pressure from a publisher or advertiser. The crew of the Hotspot reacted on the November 7 episode by stating that although they were angry and missed and supported Jeff, his firing wasn't due to just one review.

The circumstances do seem to indicate that the review influenced management actions at the Gamespot, even if it wasn't the only reason. Personally, I think a divide between the parent company CNet and Gamespot has been revealed by not just the firing, but the reactions of the employees who, I'm sure, want to keep their jobs.

And even if the review had nothing to do with the firing, public opinion has called the integrity of the company into question. What does this mean for Gamespot? If they allow an advertiser to pressure them into re-evaluating reviews, even if the reviews aren't changed it doesn't bode well for them. Reviews are meant to be impartial if they are to be trusted. Their reviews will be scrutinized heavily for some time, but does that guarantee impartiality, as the Hotspot crew points out?

And what of the parent company, CNet, who provides reviews on a much broader range of products, including most electronics. I use them myself when I'm unfamiliar with a technology. Will they be harmed by the scandal or is gaming still too small of a niche market to influence the traffic of people shopping for things as mundane as cameras and mp3 players? And with most of the fingers pointed at them, will they end up taking the blame?

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


This Weeks Reader, December 8, 2007  

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Here's some of the posts that I read this week that I thought you guys might enjoy.

I'm not angry -- or am I?
I was going to finish up by saying that I'm not angry at religion, and that most of the time the things that really annoy me are lies -- lies and deliberate obfuscations. I was going to say that when I hear about the bad consequences of religion: war, torture, death by exorcism, ostracism of those outside, credulity and vulnerability to charlatans, slavery and the oppression of women and homosexuals . . . well, most of the time, while I pity the religious who are caught in their false worldviews, and wholeheartedly support efforts to abolish the suffering caused by religious fundamentalism, really I find it very difficult to be angry at anything other than the lies people tell. I'll blame them. I know there are other factors that lead to the evils of religion, and the injustice of this disproportionate assignation of blame might bother me if I had any sympathy for lies, but I don't.

Stages of Grief Over My Loss of Faith
By the end of that first week, I realized that I no longer believed. The Christian literature was contradictory. The Bible was inconsistent. The Christian concept of God was incoherent. The apologetics were logically flawed. I was in emotional, spiritual and psychological shock for several days. I could think of nothing else but my loss of faith and the fact that I would never be able to recover it. I barely functioned at work and at home. I now realize that this period of shock was the second stage of my grieving process.

New Atheist Discussion Group
If you are an atheist, I want to pick your brain about how you manage your life “without gods.” I am forming a cyberspace group where we can chat about how atheists like us can live righteously, passionately, safely and well. I really want to learn from you and learn especially how you handle life events that believers handle with belief.

Seventeen: The Age of First Sex in the West
Teaching kids how to deal with premarital sex involves much more than merely teaching them to use a condom. Among other things, it involves teaching them a whole morality, a whole sexual ethics, and even a sexual etiquette.

34 Unconvincing Arguments for God
Part of Pascal’s Wager states that you “lose nothing” by believing. But an atheist would disagree. By believing under these conditions, you’re acknowledging that you’re willing to accept some things on faith. In other words, you’re saying you’re willing to abandon evidence as your standard for judging reality. Faith doesn’t sound so appealing when it’s phrased that way, does it?

Tonight’s the Night
He then asked, “is there anything else?” I hesitated, realizing that this was probably my best opportunity to be forthright and said, “I don’t think you’ll want to hear this, but I don’t believe in Christianity anymore.” He answered that he’d had a feeling that I’ve been having some questions lately, so he wasn’t surprised. We talked some more about where each of us is theologically (I’m an atheist, he’s a very liberal Christian, can’t quite get to the deist mindset). He revealed where some of his thinking has taken him in recent years, some of which I knew, but he filled in some blanks. I revealed where I am now, intellectually, and a bit about how I got here.

Conscious Thought and the Meaning of Life
“I am not the sort of person who has sex on a first date”, she declares. But a month or two later, she’s on fire to tell you about the new lover she’s met — and you happen to notice they had sex on their first date. Such behavior often indicates the person’s sense of who they are — their self identity — is not derived so much from simply observing themselves, as it is derived from an attempt on their part to find themselves in conscious thought.

The Grinch and the True Meaning of Christmas
It's easy to get disgusted with Christmas. It's this ever-escalating festival of gorging oneself, and then -- like some sort of penance for all the gorging -- getting reminded that you're supposed to be thinking about Jesus. But if Jesus were really the true meaning of Christmas, the clergy wouldn't have to keep reminding people of it. And if you believe in the standard model -- either Christmas is consumerism or it's Jesus -- then you've missed the warm and simple reason why the mid-winter festival of lights has been such a beloved and enduring tradion across so many different centuries and cultures.

Why, as an Atheist, I celebrate Christmas.
Just go see the video.

How Sweet the Sound: Atheism and Religious Music
But since I've been spending so much time writing -- and thinking -- about atheism and religion, my feelings about religious music have become completely different. Not my thoughts, you understand, or my opinions. My thoughts and opinions about religious music are very much what they ever were. It's a purely emotional response. The response is, "This is fucked-up. I don't want to listen to this."

And I don't like it.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


Americas Psychic Challenge November 30, 2007  

Friday, December 07, 2007

Welcome to the finale of America's Psychic Challenge. I'm sorry it took me so long to get around to this post. I would like to say that it's worth the wait, but really, it's probably not.

As the episode starts the host begins with glowing reviews of the two finalists, Michelle and Jackie. He said something completely incomprehensible at the beginning like: Time and time again they've come out on top proving that they have a special gift.

Really? Or maybe neither one of them is all that good, but they're able to out-bullshit the other psychics in the competition. Or, if I were to compete against 15 other average-looking women, maybe I'd win. But that doesn't make me a beauty queen.

Then they went on to describe the finalists as being in a duel of light and darkness. Well, look for yourself. Yes, they both do look a little "dark" and "light".

Of course, both mentioned God. Michelle went as far to say that an angel of God walked with her. I wonder if he's supposed to be her spirit guide. Hey, maybe if he wasn't helping her bullshit her way through this competition he could be like maybe saving babies in Africa.

Anyway, on with the tasks.

Task #1: Find a Man Buried Alive
A "coffin" with a man in it was buried in a 10 acre wilderness. The coffin was a wooden box with some equipment in it (not sure for what except that it looked like he was possibly miked). It was buried about an inch under the ground by shoveling a bit of dirt back on it. Now what happened to the dirt that was displaced by the coffin? Well, later we see backhoe tracks, so perhaps it was spread out about 50 yards away from where the coffin was.

Now, unless this "10 acre" wilderness area can be traversed in less than 30 minutes, I call bullshit. It looks like the psychics had about a 100-200 yard by 100-200 yard area to search. And the man was buried near a prominent landmark, the only landmark marked on the map the show supplied.

A licensed Private Investigator that we've seen in other episodes judged the two psychics based on confidence and accuracy. He could award from 0 - 25 points. The psychics were given 30 minutes to find the man.

Michelle was up first. She walked around for quite a bit of time before finally walking on top of the coffin. But she was unsure so she went back to another spot, then back to the coffin spot, etc., until she finally decided on the exact location of the coffin.

Now maybe there's something to that. It's pretty impressive that she got the exact spot, even if it's a minimal 100 x 100 yard area (larger than a football field). However, she had two people with her as she was deciding on the spot (the host and PI) that were giving her non-verbal clues each time she approached the coffin. Also, with only an inch of soil over the coffin, it's possible she heard it as she walked over it. The man in the coffin said later that he heard them walk over it several times and the show gave the impression that he could hear them talking from within the coffin.

The PI was impressed and awarded Michelle 25 points.

Jackie decided that she wanted to be fast and confident rather than accurate. She stomped around (she mentioned this was a Native American ritual or something of the kind) until choosing a hill of dirt (possibly left by the backhoes) after just 9 minutes.

She ended up being about 50 yards away from the man, but she claimed that it would still be of use to investigators. I think a sonic scanner would be more useful. She was awarded 15 points.

Task #2: Turn a Skeptic into a Believer
For this task the psychics had to do readings on two skeptics and turn them into believers. Each psychic was given a different skeptic to read so that the first psychic wouldn't influence the results of the second.

Lisa Williams was back to judge each psychic. She explained how it's difficult to read a skeptic because they're like a closed door. Or maybe it's because we're not as impressed with bullshit generalizations. Lisa could award from 0 - 25 points based on her impression of the reading from a remote location.

They each had 30 minutes.

Michelle went first. Her "skeptic" said he was cynical, but open minded. She made some general guesses and the skeptic confirmed anything she got close with the specifics. It was a typical cold reading. At the end he said he was not a believer, but he was impressed by some of the things she got right. Lisa awarded her 20 points.

Jackie started in on her voodoo magic by feeling the aura of her skeptic and making some general guesses based on his appearance. She was less scary and more funky and funny than she had be in previous challenges. The fact that she was likable went a long way towards impressing the skeptic and the judge. Lisa awarded her 21 points.

Task #3: Crime Scene
For this task the psychics had to investigate a cold case for the San Bernardino police department. A couple went missing and was found buried in a park after their dead dog was discovered nearby. There were no real suspects and no arrests had ever been made. The case was from 2001 (I think) or about 7 years old.

There were three parts to the case. A reading at the site the bodies were recovered from, a reading at the vehicle at an impound lot that was thought to be involved in the case, and a reading with three friends of the lady killed in the case.

An investigator from the police department judged the two psychics giving from 0 - 40 points.

Michelle immediately claimed that the woman had been violated physically and sexually and the man had taken quite a beating. She also mentioned puncture wounds and a black SUV. She kept talking about how sad it was and got very emotional. She repeated much of the same when giving a reading at the vehicle (a white SUV). And later when she met with the three friends of the murder victim she argued with them about the details when they claimed she was being too general.

Jackie mentioned strangulation immediately and then kept mentioning the DNA, that the investigator would find his evidence in the DNA from the male victim's fingernails. Hmm.. you know, if they hadn't tried that already I'd say they're pretty crappy detectives. She even wrote DNA on the impounded vehicle several times. When talking to the three friends, she was charming, telling them that she'd seen their friend three times. She also mentioned she was seeing a child, which they immediately identified as the couple's dog. He was like a child to them.

She said she was giving them pieces of the puzzle and when they came together it would "mean something". Well, thank you, Captain Obvious.

The Results
Jackie entered the final challenge with 36 points and Michelle with 45 points. The host reminds us though that Jackie's specialty is crime scenes. And Jackie did do better on the last task and was awarded 32 points, for a total of 68. That meant that Michelle needed at least 24 points to win. And she got 25 points, giving her a total of 70, the highest score in the challenge so far (not surprisingly since there were no selection tasks this time).

As we leave the episode Michelle tells us she's so happy that she's shown how light triumphs over darkness. Jackie reminds us that we can never get a full Jackie experience on television and she's not disappointed that she didn't win.

Viewer Participation
At each commercial break they show items and ask the viewers to use their psychic powers to determine the outcome. So how did I do this week?

I only saw two of these this week. Maybe I fast forwarded past one?

At the first break they showed three men and asked which one rides a unicycle. Matt and I both chose the man on the right and we were correct.

At the second break they showed a man and asked if he was a guitar player, a web designer, or a cook. Matt and I both selected web designer, though Matt was slightly in favor of cook. And he was a guitar player (and singer!).

Which makes me 1 for 2 tonight, or 11 out of 23 total. Overall I still did worse than 50/50. Don't come to me for psychic insights!

Related Posts
Americas Psychic Challenge October 12, 2007
Americas Psychic Challenge October 19, 2007
Americas Psychic Challenge October 26, 2007
Americas Psychic Challenge November 2, 2007
Americas Psychic Challenge November 9, 2007
Americas Psychic Challenge November 16, 2007
Americas Psychic Challenge November 23, 2007

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Links to this post Email this post


 

Design by Amanda @ Blogger Buster