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Journal: And another thing! 1

Journal by Fordiman
This is fun. Plasmoidia decided to post a reply to something I said weeks ago, just under the wire for replies. Since I can't reply there, I'm going to post my response here.

The jump from micro to macro seems a difficult problem that is rarely addressed or even differentiated. When you cannot observe something, it moves outside the realm of science. When have we observed macro-evolution?"

Hah! Attempting to differentiate between micro- and macro-evolution. There is no difference; small change*lots of time = large change.

Umm, no. First off, micro-evolution requires no real changes in DNA. It is just genetics. The strong survive to breed and pass on those traits to their offspring. Nothing more. Macro-evolution requires that new DNA be "created" somehow, so that what was animal X is now animal Y. Also, especially in biology, the whole is often more than the sum of its parts. Take the eye for instance. It would be pretty useless unless it was fully developed as it is now. Why, following the guides for evolution, would the small change that started the evolution of the eye continue, since it would be a pretty useless trait?

No real changes in DNA, huh? Wow, oh ye of little understanding of biology. As for the eye, there are plenty examples in the realm of the worls fauna of eyes that aren't quite as developed as human eyes. They're usually termed 'light-sensing organs', and they're very useful to the creatures that have them, helping them sense danger in an overly paranoid way.

If you MUST ask the question, though, ask it right: Have we observed a species diverge into two separate breeding pools that cannot breed with one another? The answer's "yes".

Oh really? Care to provide an example? But let's be careful with definitions here. Take domesticated dogs for instance. There are breeds of dogs that cannot breed with each other. Yet that does not make them not all dogs. What I'm looking for would be more like from a dog you eventually get a split such that you get dogs from one line and cats from another. Got any examples like that?

No, I don't have any examples of a dog turning into a cat, because that is absolutely not what happens, and because that shows a fundamental(ist) misunderstanding of how natural selection works.

Two breeds that can no longer breed with one another are a prime example of what I'm talking about. Sure they are all still dogs, but they're not the same species any more than a beagle is the same species as a wolf. That you classify them both as 'Dogs' is no more relevant to what their actual species is than if I were to refer to you as the species 'ignoramus fucktardius'. Doesn't make you any less human.

Over a very long period of time, one would guess this leads to a heirarchy of flora and fauna, and soo-prize, soo-prize, that's what we have.

I'm not sure what your point is here, but if you are arguing that the different forms of life that we see is evidence of evolution, that's ridiculous. I can easily explain the different forms of life by saying that God created it. It has no real significance for either argument. Why is evolution a more likely (or even likely, for that matter) explanation for the existence of life?

Simple: Please show me your god. I can give examples of natural selection and evolution, why can't you show me even an example of divine synthesis?

"I might argue that some of the greatest scientists that ever lived believed strongly in God (take Newton or Einstein for example)"

Um. Einstein was a deist at best. He had the Church all over him for telling them he was misquoted. He believed in the wonderful complexity of the universe, and referred to that as 'God', in the philosophical sense.

I didn't say Einstein was a Christian, just that he believed in God. I am certainly not old enough to have even possibly known him personally, so I cannot say for certain what he did or did not believe. From the quotes that I found, it seemed he had some belief in some sort of God. That was my point.

Ah, but you can check his writings, one of which clearly states that he "doesn't believe in a personal God". His 'God' related to a wonder for all of creation and how it worked. As I said, he was a deist at best, but he was far more evidently a full-on atheist, with a mind intelligent enough to grasp the political implications inherent with just coming out and saying it.

As for Newton; one can hardly blame a guy in the 16- and 1700's for being religious. There was little choice. Philosophically, you might say that's why atheism is becoming a 'problem' in modern times; lack of church control.

Oh, so there were no atheists back in the 16- and 1700s, huh? There is always a choice of what you believe. You might not get to believe it for long in your current state (alive), depending on where and when you lived, but you always have a choice.

Oh, I'm sure there were. But you don't hear about it, because the Church had such a stranglehold. No one would question the Faith so long as the Zealots had a good police force backing them up.

Still, especially in the field of biology, established religion and science are usually at odds. When this conflict occurs, I'm sorry but Science must win out if there is to be any progress.

Who is to say that "science" is right and "religion" is wrong? And why are they usually at odds? Most of the time they are at odds because the "scientists" don't like God so they try and look for ways around having God. That involves a lot of explaining and hand-waving (a lot of cumulative random chance) to get where we are. On the other hand, God explains things quite elegantly.

Specifically in biology, science and religion are at odds because biology has a good deal of literature which implies the non-existence, or at least, the ineffectuality of God.

As to why science wins in a disagreement, it's all about the preponderance of evidence. Science has evidence to show, while religion does not. Evidence FTW!

Besides, I could argue that origins (how did life begin) is not a topic for science.

The study of the process of evolution doesn't seek to answer the question of origin. It just implies an answer, and not really on purpose.

Is it observable? Testable? Repeatable?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Any of those things that you learn science is in any science related class?

No idea what you're asking.

No. It is past. It has happened. It cannot be done again. All we can do is conjecture and extrapolate.

And do lab experiments. You'd be surprised how much you can change a fly, for example, by performing a little 'unnatural' selection (ie: selecting progeny).

Meanwhile, if we're to extrapolate, we must do so knowing the natural laws that governed the initial process. Science FTW again.

If you came across a partially burnt candle, how accurately do you think you could estimate the time over which it had burnt, without knowing anything beyond what you could observe about it?

Well, I could observe what wax it's made from and the composition of the wick, reproduce a similar candle, estimating the original mass by measuring how much wax is melted around its base, and burn my replica until it was in a similar position. Easy peasy. Gimme a hard one.

That's not to say that Einstein's particular breed of spirituality can't come along for the ride - that's not an established religion - but the direly ignorant rules and regulations of the God of Abraham (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) should generally be ignored in favor of a simple set of ethical rules (no making clones and killing them, stuff like that).

Umm, what? Let's get a few things straight. First, the God of Abraham is *not* the god of Islam. Read the Bible (particularly the New Testament) and compare that to the Koran. Big difference.

I've read them both, as well as Kaballah, the Vishnu, the Dao de Ching and probably any other text you could name. And I stand by my point. Islam and Christianity are branches from Judaism, and share the same old testament. They both hold the same God of Abraham, strictly speaking.

Second, what rules and regulations are you calling ignorant? Would the God that created you (and everything) not know what is best? Are you seriously calling God ignorant?

Ooh. The accusations. No, I'm not calling God ignorant. That would assume that his existence is likely. I'm calling the cloistered monks who did the editing and the eccentrics who did the gospel writing, as well as the jewish sages and kings who wrote the old testament ignorant. Intelligent and well-informed for their time, but ignorant by today's standards.

Third, if you think Christianity is just about rules and regulations you are sadly mistaken. I could see how you could get the perception, though. Sadly many "Christians" don't know what they believe or why.

Oh, it's about spirituality and prayer, and a whole bunch of other shit I have no need for. I'm quite comfortable in reality, and I really don't need some big guy looking over my shoulder that I can imagine is taking all the hard emotional hits for me. I take emotional hits pretty well all by myself.

Lastly, if there is no God and we are just the product of random chance, on what do you base any sort of "ethical rules"?

I swear I've said this before, but the only random chance would have needed to be the first self-replicating amino. After that, perhaps our path was random, but a sentient was bound to spring up eventually. That's just how natural selection works; energy input + self replication = evolution. Evolving critter + enough time = sentient critter (since sentience is, so far, the strongest form of adaptation).

As for 'ethical rules', I don't call 'em that. I call 'em morals. Morals should be based on what promotes the best social benefit, and should be generally created as rules of thumb that are easily digestible by a child (so that children can learn to act morally). Religion originally did a good job of this, but the hellfire and brimstone shit just serves to jade the perception of eternal punishment.

Especially no making clones or killing them as you suggest?

Easy. Any human clone you make has an intellect. It's against the moral 'rules of thumb' to kill anything with an intellect (since most of the members of society have them). Since the process of cloning is inherently dangerous to the clone (via mutations and such), experiments in human cloning should not proceed until, if ever, we are absolutely positive we can create a human clone without error, and we must have a path in place for integrating the clone into society, likely via adoption.

If we are just the product of evolution, would it not make sense to try to further evolution in any way to improve ourselves?

The human race has evolved by being a social animal. "Survival of the fittest", in our case, relates to our whole species, not just individuals. As a result, most of our moral rules stem from what makes the "pack", or in this digital age, "the whole of humanity", uncomfortable.

Killing people makes mankind uncomfortable - mostly because we don't like the idea that we're mortal. Cloning people makes us uncomfortable, because we value our individuality and don't like the idea that we're copyable.

You get the idea. And if you don't, I feel sorry for you; you're obviously only nice to others because you're scared of the big bearded boogeyman in the sky.

Without God, there is no *real* basis for ethics or morality.

Mmmm... that's a big jump. Are you saying that because you don't understand sociology, or because you've never looked for morality in a place other than religion?

[skipping a bit] (why do we have a conscience if it was not put there by God?)

Think about it. What happens to ancient man, travelling in small packs, if he doesn't feel remorse for hurting members of his pack? If he doesn't protect his kin?

He dies. He fails to reproduce. We, again, evolved as social animals, and there are fossil records to prove it. Is it a coincidence that our religions are all based on protecting, respecting, and encouraging the formation of family?

but who is to say that you are right and I am wrong? If there is only random chance, how is there a right and wrong in the first place?

Sorry, but you sound confused. There is a morally right and a morally wrong. Its just that, while you enjoy nice, simplistically distilled versions of them, some of us have ferreted out the reasoning behind many of the rules. I even know the origins of some of the old dietary rules, and why they no longer apply.

Out of curiosity, what would it take to convince you that God does exist (or at least to some degree)?

Ok, I'll bite. Here are my reasons for believing that the God prospect is improbable. Some of them are subjective some objective. They aren't here as things I think you should believe, but are instead things you'll need to change my mind on before I'll even reconsider the existence of God:

  1. Infinite recursion: Any God complex enough to create the Universe must, logically have had to have been created by something else, more complex. You're going to have a hard time on this one, as I've heard the stupid, 'but he's eternal' garbage. Sorry, but that's just an easy way out. Until you can tell me the origin of God in a way that doesn't invoke a predecessing deity, this one stays.
  2. Science contradictory to biblical 'fact': The earth was created in seven days and is 6000 years old? Noah fit every animal that presently exists, times two, on a 450-foot Ark? A thirty-something year old man replays various stories of Dionysus, Asclepius, Osiris, Horus, and Krishna, in ancient Israel, thus kicking off Christianity? Someone needed to fact-check this book a couple thousand years ago. You would need to reconcile those and a number of other biblical inconsistencies, or show me a holy book that doesn't contain them. I'd like a religion that's not vague, if you don't mind.
  3. Pascal's Wager: Pascal's wager was, more or less, that you get the short end of the stick for being an atheist. The wording of the wager, however, gives the impression that Pascal's God valued belief more than morality. By his logic, believers are self-deceiving cowards and atheists are probablistically damned. I didn't put stock in non-benevolent Gods even when I WAS a believer once-upon a time. Give me evidence that your god values good deeds over belief, and I may care whether a God exists or not.
  4. Natural Selection: Natural selection provides a framework by which simple life forms may beget more complex ones. This is the only process by which this is possible. It provides, by extension and very much by accident, a more explainable and concrete explanation of life's origins than a creator god. If you know of a more appropriate mechanism by which a complex being can come from a less complex being, do tell.
  5. Prayer and God's Plan: God's supposed to drop his big Plan to carry out your prayer? Naw. If God exists he's going to do what HE wants to do, and if your prayer gets answered, fine. If not, well, sorry man, I'm carrying out my plan. Show me evidence of prayer being answered at a better than 50% rate for events with a probability of 50%, and you'll have gotten this one.
  6. The attitude of His followers: Christians, in general, are the most self-righteous, intolerant, ignorant (in the sense of the root word, 'ignore'), closed-minded folks I've ever met. They are used to getting what they want, when they want it, as far as government is concerned, with no thought of extratheological consideration. This does not sound like the followers of a benign creator and his self-sacrificing son. This sounds like someone's spoiled-brat spawn. Mind you, as long as you're not disagreeing with them, they're fun. Try to introduce a healthy argument, though, and they get rabid. I think Christians would have to voluntarily remove 'In God We Trust' from US currency, restoring it to its pre-1950's secular state, in order for this one to be quashed.
  7. Circular evidence. God created the earth. How do you know? It says so in the bible. Well who wrote the bible? God. How do you know? The Bible says so.... etc. This applies to ALL religions. Give me a better reason than 'It says so in the bible' for at least one biblical miracle, and you've got number seven.
  8. I've already been through them all. Not practiced, as such, but I've read every holy book I could get my hands on. Back in my 'coming down off the religious high' period, I was compelled to find some, any religion that was 'right', that didn't have the logical fallacies Christianity thrived on. There are none. They all suffer from many of the same problems, and as a result, I can't bring myself to have faith in them. After all, if you read enough of the bible, you start to ask, "How can I have faith in such a blatant pack of lies?". You're not getting around this one, but I'm apparently capable of wagering my soul on weighted probability.
  9. From these eight, I roughly guestimate the probability of a God at about 95% against. That's close enough for me to behave as if he doesn't exist, as it's damned likely that he doesn't.

    Anything? Not that I think that I could say anything that would persuade you to change your beliefs about God. But maybe I can at least get you to think about it. Is that not what science is all about? Questioning what we think about the universe? Looking for evidence for or against a hypothesis? Weighing all the options to find the best one?

    Maybe you're not getting it: Most atheists, myself definitely included, HAVE ALREADY DONE THIS. You don't break faith just by waking up and saying, 'Hey, I don't feel like believing in God today.' If it were that easy, no one would have a religion. We've asked the questions, and religion just didn't have answers we could be satisfied with. That's where atheists come from: the more curious, the more intelligent, and the more questioning ranks of the faithful.

User Journal

Journal: Mod Griping

Journal by Fordiman
Rar.

Honestly, what is the point of modding someone 'Troll' for asking for accuracy?

Case in point: An article here, concerning some dude installing a batch of toolbars on IE7. It was a good and humorous article, and from the article, it was actually difficult to install all the crapware on IE7.

Still, the article summary gave the impression that it was easy to do so mistakenly. So, I called 'FUD' on the post, but noted that the article was not.

So? I got modded troll, and recieved a number of responses accusing me of astroturfing for MS.

The claim of astroturfing is hilarious, though. I'm quite possibly the last person to extol the virtues of Microsoft. Being a linux user at home - Slax, specifically - and using Firefox exclusively at work, I'm kinda a non-prorietary guy. Hell, I use the Gimp, Inkscape, OpenOffice, and FileZilla at work. I even submit bugs to KDE and do a little OSS programming on the side.

Still, I get posts calling me an "anti-social Microsoft Fan". It occurs to me, in a revelation that shouldn't be this shocking, that some people are complete idiots.

Is Slashdot really so embedded in linux groupthink that even a call for accuracy is considered a troll? I mean honestly.

It's a shame Digg's got much the same problem, except it seems to be OS-X groupthink.
Programming

Journal: A WSJ hack for Firefox users

Journal by Fordiman

One of the more annoying things about the way the Wall Street Journal is set up is its assumption that you're some kind of corporate news theif. As a result, you can't directly access articles by their link, and 'open in new tab' just brings up another search window.

Also, due to an error in the way Firefox handles text wrapping, sometimes article printouts come out clipped on the right side.

To fix both of these issues, I wrote a quick Javascriptlet (javascript: type bookmark) that fixes these issues in a single click. All that's needed is to bookmark the preceeding link, and to use it on search pages at WSJ and on print pages that don't 'look' right.

Let us look at the code, shall we? (Formatting should be removed before using the following code)

Update (2006-10-19): They changed their search results slightly to accomodate the 'open in new tab' group. Thanks for listening, guys! Meanwhile, it means that my Javascriptlet doesn't work for going straight to print view (my preferred), nor does it fix the long, spaceless links. As such, the code below has been updated to match the new search output.

javascript:

//We do this in order to suppress a return value
(function(){

//Get all the links
var X=document.getElementsByTagName('A');
// Iterate through 'em
for (i=0; i // Clear the onClick handler
X[i].onclick=function(){};
// If the link has a comma,
if(X[i].innerHTML.indexOf(',')!=-1)

// Make it wrappable by adding a space
X[i].innerHTML=X[i].innerHTML.replace(',',', ');

// Article links contain this string
var a = X[i].href.indexOf('/SB');
if (a!=-1)

//Essentailly, clip off the '/', and reformat
X[i].href='http://online.wsj.com/article_print/'+X[i].href.substr(a+1,20)+'.html';

}
// another hack; sometimes tables expand the page
X=document.getElementsByTagName('table');
// so? make sure they don't.
for(i=0;i if(typeof X[i].width!='undefined')

// Set the width to nuffin'
X[i].width='';

//Close up our function
})();

User Journal

Journal: Linux and me

Journal by Fordiman
For the last, oh, ten years or so, I've had a love/hate relationship with linux (I love ya baby, but why you gots ta hurt me?)

It started with Slackware in 1992. I didn't understand why it didn't have a GUI. Of course, I was fourteen, and didn't understand that Linux in those days had to be wrought with sweat and blood.

And sweat I did. Bled a little too (case edges are sharp). And eventually lost every piece of data I had on my computer to Partition Magic 4.0. Or maybe it was 3.0. It's been a while.

Later, I moved on to other distros, ranging from Red Hat to Xandros, and even "Damn Small Linux" (an awesome project, by the by). Knoppix has been in there as the "I wanna see how my ole buddy linux is doing, but I don't wanna get too involved. I've been hurt, you know?"

It's been there since about 3.2.

Knoppix 3.2 was rough. KDE hadn't quite gotten its edges smoothed out, and Knoppix hadn't (hasn't) quite gotten the hang of a fully integrated system.

So I dabbled in DSL for a while, even built a few modifications of it. Using squashfs instead of cloop, modifying the kernel to support 256 looped filesystems, and writing software to symlink a compressed filesystem into an existing filesystem provided chintzy but effective package management similar in functionality to DSL's "Unified Compressed Image" format, but with greater functionality. While in the process, UnionFS had suddenly made my efforts pleasantly unneeded. I never finished, and instead tried out Knoppix 3.8.

And didn't have a complaint. Nor did I have a spare HD to try it on.

But 4.0 came around, and I did. So I gritted my teeth and prepared to install linux - again.

Before I begin, I must state that I'm loving Linux right now. I have a fully operational two-user (myself and root, with myself logged in automatically) debian system. (by the way, I don't care what RedHat says. I love apt.)

Knoppix 4.0 is nice. It's well polished, and even went for the slightly more slick Plastik theme as the default (a sign of someone noticing that while pretty isn't functional, most humans respond to it).

But I must complain. It didn't detect my ancient sound card automatically. (It's ISA, but 3.4-3.8 got it first try). More likely than being Knoppix's fault, I'm more inclined to blame the shiny new 2.6 kernel. It's faster than 2.4 was, granted, but it seems like the new fork is abandoning older systems. That makes me sad.

KDE's desktop icon management is poorly done in Knoppix; it creates device-mount icons for removable devices rather than shortcuts to their autofs equivalents. Easily fixed and forgiven, but it should be said.

Meanwhile, Klaus did a lovely by making the autofs umount timeout only 2 seconds long. Means you have to (rather, should; you don't _have_ to, but you'll be sorry if you don't) sync floppy writes, but I'm kinda used to doing that anyway.

In a completely unrelated note, but amusing nonetheless: four to five whole number versions later, PartitionMagic 8.0 still ruins any filesystem it attempts to resize. I discovered this when I tried to shrink my movie/music archive to minimal in an effort to convert everything to stable linux-writable filesystems. Fortunately, I had backed up my music recently, and Data Rescue PC is an awesome piece of software - one you should buy if you do stupid things, like attempting to use Partition Magic for anything more than a coaster. Seriously. You'll retain more data by wiping your partition table and rewriting it; at least that doesn't try to move data around.

One thing that amazed me: how WELL wine works. It takes a little coercion to get set up properly (it's setup utility, for some inexplicable reason, does not set up the ${HOME}/.wine/dosdevices folder. Once I had figured that out, everything worked hunky-dory.

I say this not because I was trying to run any windows applications or software. I was trying to run pogoshell.

See, I have this cool GBA linker, and I thought I was going to have to abandon it (or at least, do my GBA development / illicit library borrowing actions at my work computer). However, I discovered that the company that produces my cart had put out beta drivers for my cart.

Unfortunately, none of the multirom tools were with it. Just the "put this file on my cart" software. After getting frustrated with the speed - rather, lack thereof - of the multirom tool under dosbox, I looked into other alternatives. One was trying to compile PogoShell from source. After modifying the code a bit for compatibility (PogoShell is written in non-cross-compatible Win32 C), this nearly worked, however, I must have missed something, as it would generate a ROM, but not a working one.

After looking at the code, however, I had an idea. Even the command line apps make Windows API calls, so they must be Win32 console apps (as opposed to generic console apps - indeed, all the tools were set to compile via Microsoft's free command-line linker). So why not use wine?

After playing with wine for a bit, I ended up making launch shell-scripts for all the Win32 tools (storing their actual executables in /usr/local/lib and the shell scripts in /usr/local/bin - both are rather spartan in Knoppix 4.0, so I figured what the hell). Then I modified the bat files to be shell scripts as well, and - WHAMMO! I had my GBA linker working to full capacity again (and PogoShell beats LittleWriter's interface any day). Hell, maybe I'll even make a frontend. Couldn't hurt, you know?

I'm kinda bothered by the fact that the interface code for a GBA Development cart isn't open source. For one, it's a free driver, free software all around. For two, it's for a DEVELOPMENT CARTRIDGE. What does anyone gain by keeping the source closed (keep in mind that DevKit Advance started as a project for linux)? Third, is it really that much of a competition thing if someone, somehow, through your driver source code, duplicates your cart? It doesn't come in the realm of reverse engineering; driver source code is more or less behavior documentation for the clever; as such, it's a "dirty" source of data.

Meanwhile, opening it up means a greater range of functionality for the product. For example the program that handles the usb connection between GBA and computer has to load, do its checks, upload the multiboot server if necessary, and do its work. If the source was available, I'd modify it to work as a server. This way, frontends can work more quickly for multiple reads and writes (loading/saving SRAM, writing multiple carts or just localized blocks, etc). Littlewriter is SLOW because it has to rely on a closed library with limited functionality. (meanwhile, I KNOW that my cart supports localised block flashing. But enough.)

Anyway, I've tangentted, but the gist of it is that Linux today does a LOT more a LOT better than it did last year, and is light-years ahead of it's old place when I started to play with it. It's now my desktop system, and I love it. Not for the ability to do low-level tweaking (I do love DOING that, but having to do it is a pain in the ass), but for the ease of use if you just want to use the damned computer.

We're getting there, people. We've even got the mainstream focus. Linux: Not Just for the Server Room Anymore.

Only great masters of style can succeed in being obtuse. -- Oscar Wilde Most UNIX programmers are great masters of style. -- The Unnamed Usenetter

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