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Journal Journal: Yeah, about that "Global cooling in the 1970's" thing ... 7

This is a nice, compact debunking of the "B-b-but in the 1970's all the scientists were predicting global COOLING!" meme that the denialists seem unable to resist. It won't help with the hardcore denialists, of course -- "You can't reason someone out something he didn't reason himself into" -- but it's worth keeping around to show those who might be on the fence. Be sure to follow the links; there's some good stuff there.


Journal Journal: Slashdot has a tyrant 11

I adore /. for its purity of thought, its perfection of moderation that lets me see all the words writ by any who would write, even though most have little useful to say.

The egalitarianism of the moderation system is perfect in its design and execution. It's a beautiful thing. Some seven years I've read and subsumed every comment reading at -1, and learned quite more from the -1's than the +5's. Among other things I have the 2^8 days read in a row achievement, and that was just when I was logged in. You can be assured that if you've writ a comment on /. in the last seven years, it's likely I've read it. If you've been wondering if anybody bothered to read your work, rest easy.

Even though I've posted things when I was a drunk ass and would like to erase them, I appreciate that you can't take /. comments back or edit them once posted, and worked that to my advantage.

Today though, I have a different issue. Once upon a time at /. there was a particularly difficult user: twitter. Twitter's a guy. He's got issues, but he knows his shit and he's tapped into the tech vein that we crave.

/. is a good thing, but it has one thing I cannot in good conscience bear. Somebody on the /. staff has it in for the user "twitter", and unlimited modpoints such that even referencing the name "twitter" is proscribed. I'm not OK with that. twitter was an idiot sometimes, quite open about his sockpuppets, and gaming the /. system. He was also one of the most prolific posters of timely and interesting articles. Whether he was good or bad is irrelevant to me - that some moderator can transparently banish him so thoroughly that I dare not mention him for fear of being modded instantly from +5 to -1 just for mentioning him, is.

I'm an American, and this looks like prior restraint of speech to me.

I love me some /., but this is a game I won't play.

If /. can't bear the mention of twitter, maybe I should try Reddit. I hate the Redditor thing, but maybe it's better than a site that pretends to be purely open except that it can't bear "twitter". Reddit looks to me like a site more open to dissent than one that can't bear a twitter.

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Journal Journal: Oh, this is brilliant. 2

Derailing for Dummies

I'm not going to say I agree completely with all the arguments herein, but it nonetheless ought to be required reading for anyone (and particularly, yes, for white men) who is considering jumping into discussions about race, sex, religion, and other Sensitive Subjects. It strikes me as being akin to lists of common logical fallacies -- not at all (a large number of Slashdotters to the contrary) the be-all and end-all of understanding how to have a good debate, but an incredibly useful tool for understanding the basics of how not to make yourself look like a fool.

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Journal Journal: The Passion of the Atheist: Reflections on the death of Christopher Hitchens 6

The reactions to Christopher Hitchens' death have reminded me that I am, even among my fellow nonbelievers, a stranger in a strange land.

My personal "I had no need for that hypothesis" brand of atheism, or agnosticism, or whatever, is important to me to exactly the same degree it was important to Pierre Laplace -- that is, not at all, unless someone with the power to order my head chopped off makes an issue of it. (To be fair to Napoleon, he did nothing of the sort. Modern bloody-minded political leaders could take a lesson from this.) I spend as little time as possible pondering (and pontificating on!) the nonexistence of God, or the Gods, or the Universal Spritual Force Which Holds Everything Together But Which I Don't Want To Call God Because That's Too Conventional, because it does not matter to me. I have science to do.

But then, I was raised by two atheists, an ex-Catholic and an ex-Jew, and they didn't get that luxury. Neither, I strongly suspect, did Hitchens, or any of the other more vocal "New Atheist" leaders -- and neither did the vast majority of the nonbelievers I know. Almost everyone I have ever known, in my entire life, was raised with some sort of religious belief. Most of them retained that belief, or switched over to a closely related one. Some broke away from it, and the use here of the verb "to break" is appropriate. It is a breaking, and like all such violent events, it leaves scars. The ex-believers almost universally have in their minds something very much like the titanium rod I have in my leg; it provides some support against the stresses and strains of the world, but one is always aware that it is there, and sometimes it rubs against other, organic structures in uncomfortable ways.

My father is an immigrant, and although he's lived here for what is now by far the greater portion of his life, he's still sometimes taken aback by some cultural reference which was common to the childhoods of his native-born contemporaries. In a culture which is shaped as deeply by religion, specifically Christianity, as is ours, I sometimes feel like a long-term immigrant too. I may look and talk and for the most part think like the people around me, but there's that common cultural reference point, that history of belief if not the belief itself, that I don't have.

"You don't know what it was like, man! You weren't there!" Indeed. And I don't regret this, because I've seen the scars the breaking leaves. But I do regret that there really is no other way to understand what it feels like, without having to go through the associated pain.

Hitchens was an abrasive, egotistical loudmouth, and the things he was loud about tended to be opionions with which many of my family and friends passionately agreed. For what it's worth, I agreed too, for the most part, but without the passion. Because I just don't have the background -- the Passion of the Atheist, if you will -- to feel it. I have no need for that passion.

This leaves me free to look at the man and his life with the immigrant's eye. If the immigrant's lack of a common cultural reference point comes with a price, it confers advantages as well. My father often makes astute observations about American culture which no native-born citizen, not even one as culturally introspective as I am, could quite come up with. Objectivity helps. And the objective truth is that while Hitchens was right about many small things, he was wrong, badly wrong, about One Big Thing.

Hitchens saw 9/11 as the result not merely of Islamic extremism, but of religion in general -- in which he was right -- and conceived of America's subsequent kill-em-all reaction, specifically the Iraq portion, as a war against religious extremism -- in which he was wrong. Deeply, tragically, bloodily wrong. And he compounded the wrongness by turning his considerable eloquence and wit to propagandizing for the war, often turning against his fellow leftists in the process, growing ever louder as the corpses piled higher.

One Big Thing. And I understand that to my fellow nonbelievers, more specifically to the ex-believers in whose land I-the-immigrant live, the small things were not small. Hitchens wrote for decades against Yahweh, after all, and for only a few years in the service of Mars. But for myself, while I have no need of the Yahweh hypothesis, I know Mars quite well. Bright-speared Mars, and Odin who stirs up wars among men, and Morrigan who sends her ravens to feed on the dead -- these Gods I know; and Hitchens preached their gospel. To others, this may well be a minor heresy. So be it. It is a sin I find myself unwilling to forgive.

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Journal Journal: The +5 comments achievement 1

I'm really getting annoyed by the +5 comments achievement thing. A long time ago I hit 2 to the 7th +5 comments. I'm sure I've had 128 more since then. Why don't I have the 2 to the 8th achievement? Is there a cap?

The new user interface increased the difficulty level considerably, but I think I've earned that 2 to the 8th achievement and I want it NOW.

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Journal Journal: Who will rid us of these troublesome scientists? 6

The author seems to think we live in a world of wild, unregulated research in which unlimited time and money are available for latter-day Frankensteins to create monstrosities in their labs, hidden from public view until the horror is unleashed. In reality, the opposite is true. The primary ethical concern in biomedical science is with curing disease, saving lives, and reducing suffering -- and progress toward these goals is increasingly hindered by philosophers, theologians, and politicians who inject themselves into a process they refuse to understand.

I can't help but wonder if their remote ancestors during the Paleolithic were rubbing their chins and muttering about the dangers of this new flint-chipping technology. Of course, once the hand axe was established as part of everyday life, they were happy enough to use it, all the while warning that tying a smaller, sharper piece of flint to the end of a stick was Going Too Far ...

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Journal Journal: Congratulations Hemos 2

Hemos, a co-founder of started his new job on 8/15 as a program manager at Google. This according to his Twitter

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Journal Journal: Apple tops the S&P

Today at the close of the market Apple became the largest publicly held corporation by market capitalization. At $337.17 billion Apple's market value came to more than the prior number 1, Exxon which closed the day valued at $330.7 billion. Apple has had an amazing run up in the last few years, growing over 320% in the last 32 months. Most attribute this to the strengths of new products the iPhone and iPad, which between them account for two thirds of the company's revenues.

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Journal Journal: R.I.P Foredecker 1

Foredecker, a longtime slashdot user passed away on July 23rd of Melanoma. We had many a rollicking argument, he and I - and it was a lot of fun. I'll miss him.

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Journal Journal: An observation 4

The more any participant in an online discussion proclaims that he's being logical, the less likely it is that there's any actual logic on display in his posts.

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Journal Journal: By the Banks of the Great Mother Platte 8

As an American, and specifically as a Westerner, I reject the idea that culture is in the blood. The West is a distillation of America, with all its best and worst ideas, and one of these ideas is that we are who we choose to be, not who our ancestors were. Our names, our languages, our religions, even our lands: these things matter, but they do not define us; we define ourselves.

But I have to admit that there is something distinctly Russian in the way I see America, and particularly Colorado. The Motherland, the Rodina. A very old way of thinking, and one which doesn't fit particularly well with the New World.

The linguistic root of "patriotism" is "patria," that is, "fatherland" -- a word which tends to make people nervous these days, and with good reason. I am a patriot, and (says the Westerner again) I choose what that word means to me. I am far past the age when it meant beating the drum and waving the flag. I did that when I was younger, and I don't regret it, but honestly I'm not sure how well it ever fit me. Nor, with my rational modern eye, can I indulge in the idea of mommy-land; I've lived too many places (largely as a side effect of the drum-beating and flag-waving, it should be noted) and known them too well to believe that any of them is bound to me by blood.

Grown-ups love their parents too, even when they go far from home. Adult patriotism is hard to define. It's easier to remain a child, to be tough like Daddy says or run crying to Mommy when acting tough doesn't work out so well. My parents raised me with something more thoughtful and more useful than that, and in so doing earned my eternal gratitude.

I'm still working out how to apply that to my country. I probably will be for the rest of my life.

(Jumping off from the conversation here, for those who are interested.)


Journal Journal: Vista/Windows 8 Hype Log. 1

All the usual hype is flowing about Vista 8. This mostly means that Vista 7 was a failure, but I decided to log it for laughs. Vista 7 did not sell as well as Vista did and Vista 8 won't sell any better than Vista 7. Vista failure has really killed Microsoft. The upgrade inevitability myth is six feet underground, traditional desktops are becoming a thing of the past and everyone looks to Google, Apple even IBM for cool and reliable computing. Despite that, Microsoft brings out the same old lines and strategies.


  • 05/29 - Steve Ballmer tries to freeze the market by announcing an early release date, only to have Micrsoft quietly rebuff him. In reality, OEM outrage at Microsoft's limitations and power grab pushes Vista 8 release out of 2012.
  • 06/02 - A fawning article from business insider. We get all the usual BS, "riskiest OS ever," "biggest step forward in more than 20 years, when it pushed Windows as the replacement for DOS", "underneath that layer is the old Windows that users are accustomed to. It will run old Windows apps", Linux and Apple are too jarring, expensive and suck, and so on and so forth.
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Journal Journal: On proofs 2

There is deep satisfaction in finishing an elegant proof, like writing a good short poem or a beautiful paragraph, though not exactly like either of these. It is, I suspect, very much like finding the right arrangement of notes when writing a piece of music; I'll probably never know.

In writing a paper full of such proofs, there is fatigue and blurred vision and, often, actual pain. So it goes.

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Journal Journal: Okay, let's get one conspiracy theory out of the way right now.

If either (a) it wasn't really bin Laden they killed, or (b) Obama could have had him killed at any time, and in either case the announcement was for political purposes, when would have been the right time to do it? The short answer is, "not right now."

The longer answer is, sometime in early September -- not September 11th itself, that would have been too obvious, but say sometime during the first week of the month. It could have been last year, in the run-up to the midterm elections, to give the Democrats a boost. It could have been this year, to tie in with the 10th anniversary of the event, since we all seem to like nice round numbers. Or it could have been next year, to give Obama as well as the Congressional Democrats a boost for the upcoming election.

But doing it now, as a political act, would just be dumb. Obama is, very roughly, at the same point in his (hopefully) first term as GHW Bush was at the close of Desert Storm -- at which point, you may remember, Bush the Elder enjoyed approval ratings of 90+%, a record no President has equaled before or since, and was widely considered unbeatable. And if you don't remember what a certain Governor of Arkansas did a year and a half later, I assure you Mike Huckabee does.

There is no reason, at all, at least on political grounds, not to think this is the real thing.

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"Being against torture ought to be sort of a multipartisan thing." -- Karl Lehenbauer, as amended by Jeff Daiell, a Libertarian