Friday, August 28, 2009

I Have No Use Of That Hypothesis

One of my favorite stories about the Creator as an explanation of Nature is of the brilliant French scientist Pierre-Simon Laplace — math, physics, probability, celestial mechanics, planetary motions, statistics, astronomy, etc. As a frame of reference, consider that he's been described as the French Newton.

From the Wikipedia article on Laplace:

An account of a famous interaction between Laplace and Napoleon is provided by Rouse Ball:
Laplace went in state to Napoleon to accept a copy of his work, and the following account of the interview is well authenticated, and so characteristic of all the parties concerned that I quote it in full. Someone had told Napoleon that the book contained no mention of the name of God; Napoleon, who was fond of putting embarrassing questions, received it with the remark, 'M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.' Laplace, who, though the most supple of politicians, was as stiff as a martyr on every point of his philosophy, drew himself up and answered bluntly, 'Je n'avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là.' ("I had no need of that hypothesis.") Napoleon, greatly amused, told this reply to Lagrange, who exclaimed, 'Ah! c'est une belle hypothèse; ça explique beaucoup de choses.' ("Ah, it is a fine hypothesis; it explains many things.")
I don't know much about Lagrange except that his name comes up quite a bit in some more advanced fields of mathematics. It sounds like he was a Deist (at least) but my interest is more in Laplace's explanation.

I had no need of that hypothesis.

He could do his work, even on the system of the universe — a somewhat large topic — and never need to invoke the crutch of God to help prop up his work. The mathematics, the science, the hypotheses, the theories, the observations, and probably so much more, were sufficient to synthesize a coherent theory of how the universe worked. I don't know enough to know how detailed his system was nor how well it has held up against the ravages of scientific scrutiny since then. But his reputation gives me a pretty good idea.

I noticed in my own life that I've had no need of that hypothesis either. Since acknowledging my atheism, I haven't had any reason to reconsider. In fact, I don't remember have any reason before then either. Being a Christian (ALC Lutheran) was just the way I was raised. The reasons I would have been a Hindu in India were the reasons I was a Christian in Oregon. I sang in the choirs, went to Sunday School, read The Screwtape Letters in early high school, went through the confirmation process, celebrated Christmas, watched the sun come up at Easter Morning services, and so on.

By late grade school, or very early high school at the latest, I was skipping Sunday School classes and could be found reading in the back pews of the empty church. I remember that one of the books I read in such a manner was Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian.

The history isn't the important part, though. It's the content: I have had no need of that hypothesis. I've never needed it to be good and kind — or even explain how to be good and kind. I've never needed it to understand what I can of science and mathematics, astronomy and biology, music and art, literature and dance, work places and sport fields. I'm not an expert in any of those (although I am pretty good in a couple) but as the years go by and my knowledge continues to increase, I find fewer and fewer areas where God (whether one or many) could be of help or is even relevant.

I grant that many other folks do have a need for the hypothesis. I think it is usually because they don't have anything else to help explain the world. They don't have science and sociology at their finger tips. They aren't used to critically examining anything serious or seriously. They don't know what other explanations or theories exist for their questions or dilemmas of the moment. But I don't try to "convert" them. If I can help, I will try to ask questions or provide another viewpoint or point them to a useful reference. If God or religion comes up, it's not from me.

Having "no need of the hypothesis" is not the same as denying the hypothesis. Denying the hypotheses of others usually ends up in a battle. I've been happier and more effective, I think, by using and sharing the theories and hypotheses that work for me. And there are becoming more of us that are comfortable with sharing the fact that we've had "no need of the hypothesis." And we aren't all staying silent all the time now. Forty-five years after those mornings reading on the oak pews, I'm comfortable talking about it.

Some Small Print I Would Like To See

The debate over health care in America has turned very tendentious and downright ugly. I will admit that I have not followed the 'debate' very closely but I occasionally hear sound bites that are pretty outrageous.  These outrageous statements are usually made in response to something that sounds pretty reasonable.  Some of the bloggers I follow occasionally write interesting, informed, and articulate posts about various aspects of how it might work or how the current system doesn't work. 

I added my comments to one such post that had been met with some uncritical, opinionated, prejudiced garbage. This was my seat-of-the-pants, OMG, WTF-is-going-on emotional response so it may not be extremely well thought out but here it is anyway:
Can we please get a notarized and binding contract from everybody who spouts off against government involvement in healthcare that they will: 1) never enroll in Medicare or Medicaid until they are already dead and then agree that since being dead is a pre-existing condition, they will not be covered, 2) agree to pay cash in advance for any unscheduled use of municipal ambulance, fire, police or emergency vehicles, 3) agree to pay at least the triple the cash rate of #2 plus interest (charged at the highest rate allowed under our current credit card usury limits) if they cannot pay cash in advance, 4) agree to pay cash in advance for any use of hospital ER services except for the hours of 8am to 6pm for which the ER services required payment will be triple the standard rate since they should have seen an available physician instead, 5) as with #3, triple the rates of #4 if not paid in advance, 6) agree that company health benefits are of benefit to themselves and without them they could negotiate correspondingly higher salaries for which they would have to pay taxes and therefore further agree to pay such tax amount even if they have "company benefits".

I feel better now.  And I did not even need to take a pill.

But don't even think about getting me started on the "death panels" ....

Coming Soon: The Greatest Show on Earth

The blogosphere surrounding those of us of certain pursuasions and inclinations is all abuzz with anticipation for the new book by Richard Dawkins -- The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. Coming relatively hard on the heels of Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution Is True, these counter-attacks to the fundamentalist attempts to hijack the education and political process are all about the science.  Well, there may be a little other stuff thrown in, too.

(click on the image for embiggerment)

You can find more information at:

The Why Evolution is True blog


The Greatest Show on Earth page at

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Where Were You When You Heard?

The passing today of Sen. Edward Kennedy brings to end a period of my life in America.  The Camelot dynasty has finally concluded. With his death and the recent death of his sister Eunice, it seems like all the links to the past have finally fallen away and we are on our own.  I'm sure I won't remember finding out this morning on my 5am work break.  But I remember where I was when I heard some of the other news ...

Mr. G's eighth grade science class, rightmost row, next to the back chair-desk, about 10 feet from the classroom door, late morning in Oregon: November 22, 1963. President John F. Kennedy shot and killed in Dallas, Texas.

High school senior, working after school at my dad's woodworking shop, stopping at the ice cream shop on the way home for dinner, listening to the radio as Dad went into the shop: April 4, 1968.  Martin Luther King assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.

High school graduation, early evening, checking our gowns and hats and shoes, milling about in the hallways while our parents and siblings worked their way into the auditorium, then sitting through the ceremony to get to the much more fun overnight lock-in of movies and such (The Guns of Navaronne was on the big screeen.): June 4-5, 1968.  Robert Kennedy assassinated in Los Angeles, California.  Somehow we found out about the initial shooting but then had no information until we got home the next day.  He died about 26 hours after the shooting.

I've heard of many deaths since then but I don't remember any of the details surrounding getting the news.  I suppose every generation has their own version of this.  The recent death of Michael Jackson will probably be remembered by some the same way I remember the deaths of JFK, MLK, and RFK.

Why Can't We All Just Play Grice?

The title of this post is supposed to invoke the sense of mild whining that a teacher or parent uses when talking to their charges. So much of the communication via conversation on today's web (email, tweets, blogs, comments, YouTube videos, etc.) is whiny, mean, silly, untruthful, half-baked, aggressive, ignorant, petty, illogical, narcissistic, political, etc., etc, .... ad infinitum

I can see why my friend Tom described the problem with the web as there is too much communication. It sometimes helps to remember:

  • a channel is not communication
  • communication is not information
  • information is not knowledge
  • knowledge is not wisdom

As a plea for more effective conversations, I present a tidbit of the ideas of philospher Paul Grice. Maybe with a little more discipline in the early stages, we can come to more fruitful places together. You can find out more about Grice here (the short version) or here (the long version.)

In his extremely influential essay Logic and Conversation (collected in Studies in the Way of Words), Grice outlined a communication strategy for conversations. This was not an attempt to dictate how we should communicate; rather, it was an attempt to capture what seemed to be important about successful conversations. As Kent Bach puts it in The Top 10 Misconceptions about Implicature:

... [We] need first to get clear on the character of Grice’s maxims. They are not sociological generalizations about speech, nor they are moral prescriptions or proscriptions on what to say or communicate. Although Grice presented them in the form of guidelines for how to communicate successfully, I think they are better construed as presumptions about utterances, presumptions that we as listeners rely on and as speakers exploit. As listeners, we presume that the speaker is being cooperative (at least insofar as he is trying to make his communicative intention evident) and is speaking truthfully, informatively, relevantly, and otherwise appropriately. If an utterance superficially appears not to conform to any of these presumptions, the listener looks for a way of taking it so that it does conform. He does so partly on the supposition that he is intended to. As speakers, in trying to choose words to make our communicative intentions evident, we exploit the fact that our listeners presume these things.
Assuming that a conversation is a joint effort, Grice gives an overall strategy for successful communication as follows:

Make your conversational contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged. One might label this the COOPERATIVE PRINCIPLE. 

Grice then presents four categories of maxims that will be useful in support of this principle. The following is an abridged version of the original in an attempt to be brief and orderly (see below).

  1. Make your contribution as informative as is required (for the current purposes of the exchange). 
  2. Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.

Try to make your contribution one that is true.
  1. Do not say what you believe to be false.
  2. Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence. 

Be relevant.

Be perspicuous. 

  1. Avoid obscurity of expression.
  2. Avoid ambiguity.
  3. Be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity).
  4. Be orderly.

I have no illusions that following these simple rules will always be easy but I think that it would be a good beginning to a more charitable way of living together on this tiny blue dot.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Problem With Anecdotes

If you've gotten an email from me in the last 6-7 months, you might have noticed my signature line: The plural of anecdote is not data.

The problems of anecdotes in all kinds of areas is pretty well known if you have looked into it.  But if you haven't, this video from QualiaSoup is a good introduction to the issue.

There is more from QualiaSoup over at YouTube -- you might want to take a gander.

Data Mining As Art

The Sociable Media Group at MIT has created a installation work called Metropath(ologies). Watch the video below for more details.


The Personas application is available by itself over here. I tried it on myself:

You can click on the graph for a larger version.

Thanks to GrrlScientist over at Living The Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted) for finding this.

It's Just Water!!

Ben Goldacre writes the Bad Science column for The Guardian. He also runs the blog over at He's one of the seriously good guys in the fight against intellectual (and other) silliness.

Ben Goldacre on Homeopathy from science TV on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The World of the College Class of 2013

Most students entering college for the first time this fall were born in 1991. Where are they coming from? What is their mindset?

Thanks to The Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2013 we can get an inkling of some potential communication barriers.  Hopefully, forewarned is forearmed.

Below are some of my favorites from the list:

  • For these students, Martha Graham, Pan American Airways, Michael Landon, Dr. Seuss, Miles Davis, The Dallas Times Herald, Gene Roddenberry, and Freddie Mercury have always been dead.
  • Earvin "Magic" Johnson has always been HIV-positive.
  • Chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream has always been a flavor choice.
  • Bungee jumping has always been socially acceptable.
  • The European Union has always existed.
  • There has always been a Cartoon Network.
  • They have always been able to read books on an electronic screen.
  • We have always watched wars, coups, and police arrests unfold on television in real time.
  • There have always been flat screen televisions.
  • Britney Spears has always been heard on classic rock stations.
  • Most communities have always had a mega-church.
  • Natalie Cole has always been singing with her father.
  • Nobody has ever responded to “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”

And In Other News, The Earth Was Created Today -- An Archaeological Moment In Time

Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC

(via Kelosphy)

What The Fundie !@?#@?! ....

I've recently learned that among a group of high school girls, mostly from very conservative religious backgrounds that discourage swearing, premarital sex, drinking, and all other manner of "immoral activity," the words giving rise to the ubiquituous WTF acronym have changed to "What The Fag?".

I find myself pretty offended by this, just as I am by the somewhat more common "That's so gay!"

It's pretty clear that none of these usages are meant as compliments or even neutral assessments. How would the NAACP and others react to "What The 'Fro?!"?

In replacing one of the magic seven words you can't say on television, some of the original tarnish rubs onto the replacement. It's never a Good Thing.

I lived through the '50s, '60s, and '70s to watch the racial epithets of previous generations finally become unacceptable. They didn't go away; they just became incorrect in the company of larger and more diverse groups. By becoming "politically incorrect," in some ways the explosive power of the words was enhanced. You know something has really gone kablooey when one of those words makes it out into the public air — the canary in the mineshaft has just become the 800-pound gorilla.

Similarly, ethnic disparagements have also mostly disappeared or gone underground. They have joined the racial word bombs as examples of incorrectness in action.

These historical cases are now "incorrect" in that same sense that you can talk about "correct English" and "correct spelling" — the invisible hands of culture have rewritten the social discourse style books. The politics of the times helped hasten their move to the other side of the ledger — they are now seen (at least) as indicators of negative attributes or ideas rather than neutral slang. (Note: I don't personally think any of this was ever neutral but it was often excused that way.)

In a manner similar to the way African-Americans appropriated "black" and turned it into a strength during the civil rights battles, the homosexual community has commandeered "gay" and "lesbian" to gain some power in its class war struggles.

In all these cases, something has been lost or, at least, changed in the process. "Gay Paree" doesn't connote — or denote — what it used to. "Spic & Span" can be saying more than just how clean something is. It's dangerous to use the word "niggardly." A fag isn't even a cigarette anymore. But I think the balance is OK; in fact, more than OK — we've gained much more than we've lost. I'm glad that minorities have found ways to rally around a common cause when necessary with terms they can support. Language changes; people change. Sometimes in that order, sometimes the reverse. Sometimes the change is for the better; sometimes not. Holding onto what's comfortable or "what we've always done" isn't always the wisest course.  

Now, name-calling is never a very nice thing. But sometimes one get so frustrated that nothing else is left.

So, in the tradition of politically incorrect epithets for very occasional use, I'm nominating "What The Fundie?!" What's a fundie? A fundie is similar to a fundamentalist but STUPID. And that's what WTF?! is usually about.

Maybe I'll get the t-shirt.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Good Reason Not To Use You As An Eyewitness

Richard Wiseman is a very smart man.  Author of The Luck Factor, Quirkology and :59 Seconds, he also devises real world experiments and demonstrations.  Watch this video and see if you could survive a good cross-examination.

Go here for more information including how it was done.  And check out the other videos he's done.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Something Else I've Learned Since Kindergarten

I can't believe I forgot this one on my initial list:

Occam's razor
"Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate" or "plurality should not be posited without necessity." Read more here at The Skeptic's Dictionary.

or, as Wikipedia describes it:
"entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem", roughly translated as "entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity."

How Really, Really Big Can Make You Feel Really, Really Small

Thanks to PZ Myers over at Pharyngula for this.  You can join the comment fest there if you wish.  I just wanted to share the video:

A Call for the Faitheists to Unite (I think)

Over at the Daily Kos, Frederick Clarkson and others have announced a "controversial panel" to take place at the Netroots Nation get-together.

A New Progressive Vision for Church and State

The old liberal vision of a total separation of religion from politics has been discredited. Despite growing secularization, a secular progressive majority is still impossible, and a new two-part approach is needed—one that first admits that there is no political wall of separation. Voters must be allowed, without criticism, to propose policies based on religious belief.  But, when government speaks and acts, messages must be universal. The burden is on religious believers, therefore, to explain public references like "under God" in universal terms. For example, the word "God" can refer to the ceaseless creativity of the universe and the objective validity of human rights. Promoting and accepting religious images as universal will help heal culture-war divisions and promote the formation of a broad-based progressive coalition.

There's so much wrong here I'm not even sure where to begin.  I'll leave the title alone -- it's pretty innocuous.  If they think the old vision (whatever that was) didn't work, by all means call for a new vision.

But on to the rest of it ....

The old liberal vision of a total separation of religion from politics has been discredited.

How about if we really tried that instead of it just being a vision?  In my 59 years on the planet, America has not even begun to implement this other than the various school prayer battles.  In fact, it's within my lifetime that the RealAmericanTM "under God" alteration was made to the Pledge of Allegiance.  But yes, it is an "old liberal vision" -- think of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and our own revolution.  But, hey, if it hasn't worked, it must be because the vision is wrong -- not that it wasn't really implemented.

Despite growing secularization, a secular progressive majority is still impossible, ...

Why? It seems like anything growing might succeed in getting above 50% sometime in the future.  Of course, if the secular majority is not progressive, then there could still be a problem.   Since it is "still impossible," then Clarkson and crew must mean that a group that is both progressive and secular will be limited to less than 50% no matter what we do. So I guess we better give up and try something else.

... and a new two-part approach is needed—one that first admits that there is no political wall of separation. Voters must be allowed, without criticism, to propose policies based on religious belief.

OK, so for starters, let's discard all the those bothersome rules we do have and stipulate that if a policy is based on some kind of religious belief, it can (maybe?) be discussed but no criticism of such policies is allowed.

I don't know if voting "nay" counts as criticism -- I would think so -- but let's move on.

But, when government speaks and acts, messages must be universal.

I'm not quite sure what step in the process has been elided -- voting, general referendum, palace coup -- to move from suggested policies to government action.  And what universe?  It seems like "universal" in this context is referring to those "old liberal vision(s)" that either are -- or could be -- taken as cross-cultural constants.  And they should be taken that way because We Know What Is Right.TM

The burden is on religious believers, therefore, to explain public references like "under God" in universal terms. For example, the word "God" can refer to the ceaseless creativity of the universe and the objective validity of human rights.

I must not be very in tune with the universe. I see no evidence of "ceaseless creativity"; I stand amazed at the ceaseless activity and amazing complexity. Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker should be (re)read as a tonic to this silly anthropomorphizing of the cosmos.  The "objective validity" of anything human is only shorthand for saying that within the societies and cultures we people-critters have built, there are some cross-cultural constants (we think) that are worth highly valuing.  Most of us think, and some of us believe, that human rights are extremely important.  We need to realize why they are important and act upon those facts or valuations; not on the basis of some cave wall shadows that has been deemed The Truth.  We need more searchlights in the caverns, not better ways to be entertained by the shadow puppet plays.

As a side note, it sounds like Humpty Dumpty has been appointed Director of Communications: "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I chose it to mean -- nothing less, and nothing more." (Lewis Carroll)

Promoting and accepting religious images as universal will help heal culture-war divisions and promote the formation of a broad-based progressive coalition.

By now -- after only one paragraph -- I'm so tired and cynical that I just want to say "Good luck!" But bucking onward, since religion itself has been one of the greatest sources of "culture-war divisions" (the Bible itself is a good place to begin an historical survey), I think minimizing the impact of religion in all aspects of so-called secular life would a good beginning.  Kind of like the old saw about Western Civilization -- "it would be nice."

Maybe then we can work towards a broadly human based world culture with liberty and justice for all.

RIP: Les Paul (1915-2009) -- The Man Who Changed Popular Music

Les Paul has died at age 94. Musician and inventor who changed the face of popular music forever.

"I learned a long time ago that one note can go a long way if it's the right one,and it will probably whip the guy with 20 notes." -- Les Paul

Here he is at age 90:

You can also check out the video obituary at the New York Times.

Thanks for the memories!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sometimes, Humor is the Best Alternative Medicine

Comedian Dara O'Briain was unknown to me until this clip began showing up.  Obviously, I've been missing quite a bit.  Here's his take on homeopathy and related looniness.  (Warning: the clip contains industrial strength language so children may wish to cover their parents' ears.)

You can find more of his work on YouTube.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Most Frustrating Bug I Ever Tracked Down

In PreviousLifeTheLast, I was responsible for developing a wide range of marketing software with a financial bent (student loans, repayments, electronic applications with calculators, etc.)  For one client, the calculation side was much more prominent than usual.  But we had to do it in MacroMedia Director because it had to be pretty.  And, because we could use a Designer rather than a Real ProgrammerTM.

The designer we chose was really good.  He even became a pretty good programmer.  But after he was gone, we had to do the final cleanup before distribution.  Then, The Bug was found!  I don't even remember who found it -- the client, our testers, our tech review?  In any case, everything ground to a halt so we could get it fixed.

What was it? Sometimes, when clicking to leave an entry field or to go to another field, nothing would happen or the cursor would go to the wrong field.  It took us hours to even come close to isolating the behavioral coditions, let alone diagnose the problem.  Eventually, I put in debugging code to dump coordinates (because single-stepping wouldn't work since the problem code and the debugger both used the mouse!)

Finally, we saw it.  In essence, the code was doing the following (in pseudo-code, I don't remember Director syntax anymore):

if (onMouseClick()) {
where = getMousePosition() ;
[ do additional processing ]

Looks like a pretty foolproof way to detect a mouse click and find out where on the screen it occurred, right?

Obviously, FAIL!

One would think that an event like a mouse click would trap some pertinent information such as time, right/left/middle, position, etc., to then be used by the calling application.  But, nooooooo .......

The program gets the information that a click has occurred and then has to ask for the current mouse position.  So Director returns the information of the position at the time of requesting the position (or, worse yet, once Director gets done with whatever overhead and interrupts it may be processing.)  So, if the button is clicked while the mouse is moving, the program gets the position of where the mouse/cursor has moved by the time the program gets around to asking for it.

Of course, if the position isn't anywhere close to where the click happened (even a few pixels may make a difference between a button hit/non-hit), it was anybody's guess what might happen.

I don't remember how we fixed the problem.  But I do remember that a system should not be designed with that kind of object/event sloppiness.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Listening For The Music -- Pop & Other

I didn't go to many Pop concerts unless they were free -- like getting tickets because I worked in a record store.  But, occasionally I did, and usually enjoyed them but they were often unmemorable.  Some of the others, though, still stay with me.

Listening For The Music -- Introduction

For many of us from the Baby Boomer Generation, music was an important part of life.  Fortunately, some of the music has lived on so we can even occasionally hear it on the radio -- if we know the right stations.  Records (this was pre-CD) were crucial but so was the concert experience.  I've decided to do a series of categorized posts recollecting many of the concerts I remember going to.  They were an important part of shaping my musical aesthetic (several thousand LPs also contributed).  Sometimes the extra-musical element was more important than the sounds -- when important, I'll talk about that, too.

As Frank Zappa said, "Music is the best."  And live music is often the best of the music.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Bobby McFerrin Brings Out Our Inner Pentatonic

Although Tom Hanks dancing on a keyboard in Big was kind of fun, jazz singer Bobby McFerrin's fancy feet help show how fundamental the pentatonic scale is to us human critters.  Just a little prodding and the whole audience gets it right.

World Science Festival 2009: Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

What I've Learned Since Kindergarten

Many years ago, Robert Fulgham wrote "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten".

It wasn't very long but seemed to capture most of the important stuff.

In the same spirit, I've put together a list of what else I've learned.  Again, it's the important stuff, not the trivia like multiplication tables or calculating the present value of a future stream of income or the structure of sonnets or the historical development of the sonata form.

I hope some of it will be useful to my kids now that they are on their own (or will be way too soon.)  Each bullet is probably worth a post of its own -- maybe if I can find the time I will do that.

  • There will always be bullies.
  • Ignorance is curable; stupid is forever.
  • Saying "Goodbye" is harder than making new friends.
  • Learning something is easy; becoming good at something requires lots of hard work.
  • Some people replace meddling in their siblings' lives with meddling in other peoples' lives.
  • Many things in life are not fair -- but not everything.
  • The complexity and wonder of the universe is an expanding revelation that cannot be equalled.
  • Carrying a few dollars, some change, a couple of pens and a good Leatherman® multi-tool makes one very self-reliant.
  • Knowing what you do not know is usually more important than what you know.
  • Sturgeon's Law: Ninety percent of everything is crap.
  • "Stop and smell the roses" only works if you like roses; figure out what you really like and do that.
  • Critical issues require critical thinking. Unfortunately, there is a surplus of the former and a deficit of the latter.
  • I could not be a Boy Scout or a church-goer anymore because of what I learned from them.
  • Showing up on time, doing a good job, and being nice are all you can really control.
  • There is no such thing as "The Good" or the "Best."
  • Understanding and debating the question about the tree falling in the forest with nobody around is the best introduction to almost all the important issues in philosophy and language as communication.
  • TANSTAAFL: There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

Your mileage may vary.

Ammunition For The Culture Wars

With all the misunderstandings, religious nuttery, quack medicine, alternative woo, anti-vaccine blathering, and other bat shit craziness, it is helpful to take a deep breath and remind oneself (and others) exactly how practical reason -- how reason works in the practical (natural) world -- is really supposed to be done. 

A couple of excellent websites exist that can be used to counter some of the untruths and half-truths that are expounded daily by the enemies of reason.  Note: these are appropriate for all ages -- especially children.

Science: Understanding Science -- how science really works

Evolution: Understanding Evolution -- your one-stop source for information on evolution

What Was It Like In The Olden Days, Daddy?

A couple of weeks ago, I officially became Really Old Minus One (59 years old).  What was it like back then? 

Lin Brehmer of Chicago's WXRT is one of bright spots of Chicago radio.  He has been around for years; his erudition and taste stand out like a beacon above the wasteland of so much of the pap that clutters our airwaves.  One of my favorite things is his listener-inspired Q/A segments -- Lin's Bin.

When driving home from a night in the warehouse, his often suprising but never dull thoughts on a topic brighten the morning even more than the struggling sunrise.  He gives me hope that intelligence, literacy, and awareness have not lost the culture wars yet.

Although Lin is a few years younger than me, his remembrance of childhood tracks really well with mine:

2/23/09: When I Was Young (mp3)

Lost in the Blogosphere -- And Avoiding Baloney

So, way back when -- I started this blog.  Then, I began seriously reading what is already out there in the blogosphere.  And I got sucked in!  So much to read, so little time!  I didn't want to end up writing something that was already published (and, probably, better written.)  So, I read and read and read ....

But, enough is enough.  I think I've got better sense of what I want to do here and how I can provide something of value.  There will be links to posts that I've enjoyed interspersed with my thoughts on various random things.

One of the places I've found entertaining and enlightening is the Richard Dawkins site.  Check it out here.

For those of us who are lobbying for a more critical approach to dealing with the world, Michael Shermer's Baloney Detection Kit is marvelous.

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism
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