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March 31, 2006

Grilling

Yummy! The weather was nice enough today that I was able to dig out my grill and slap some steaks on it. Yummy!

March 30, 2006

I dun good 2day

I think I was a little out of it this morning when I left the house. I didn't really notice this fact until I got to work. It was at work I noticed I had a hint of a bit more spring to my step. Like I wasn't burdened with as much. Unfortunately that turned out to be the case. I managed to leave the house this morning without my keys. I also managed to leave the house this morning without my mobile phone. And to make it a true accidents happen in three, I also managed to leave the house this morning without my wallet.

I know I've left my mobile phone on occasion and that isn't that big of a deal, I don't use it that much. I can't recall the last time I forgot my keys, but I suspect it was back as a freshman in college. I don't think I've ever left my wallet. I hope this morning isn't an omen of things to come. Thankfully I didn't need any of the things I left behind and was able to get back into the house when my roommate came home. It was a weird feeling walking around without anything though, somewhat liberating, but also kind of unnerving.

March 29, 2006

How to Really Scare Microsoft

Back in November of 2005 I attended a talk by Marcus Ranum entitled "How to Really Scare Microsoft". The slides from his talk are available online. He talked about a variety of topics which is why my notes from the talk are all over the place. And these notes reflect a fairly unfocused note taker too.

It isn't so much about how to really scare Microsoft, but it should be how to kill system administration?
Startups are all about vision.
Is tenable network security something that can be achieved? Right now we have firewalls, VPNs, and IDS, but there are still problems.
Microsoft is no longer a good custodian of the industry. It is still a young industry, but with many failures: Cray, Digital, Data General, and Wang.
Someone should start a dead pool on Microsoft and Sun.
The reality is that business aren't switching from expensive and mediocre to free and good.
Linux is "trying" to match Windows. Ranum likes regedit more than termcap.
"Avoid strength, attack weakness" -- Art of war
Linux should be attacking integration, new features, software distribution, 3rd party software is bane of system administrators.
IBM backend server market.

How to attack Microsoft?
System administrators have a hard time setting up and configuring a Microsoft environment. SMS, AD, etc.
Microsoft has data lock-in, too many document in Office format.
Change the software sales cycle, something like cell phone model.
System administrators are the achilles heel of general computing.
Appliance computing is a possible killer.
Microsoft can't ease system administrators since they are so ubiquitous.

#1: Microsoft can be attacked by inroads in system administrator costs
Microsoft monopoly trial was a hit by Sun and Oracle
Microsoft products divided up by those that are in, out, and sold separately.
Software sales cycle needs to switch

#2: Freeze IT spending for two years
Can't step off treadmill of code updates

Simplicity is a virtue.
Different sale model.
Manage by using slightly old hardware and software.
Steal ideas from old research.
Co-opt the open source ideology.

Main lines: system administrators, cost per seat. performance, reliability, mobility, security.
1) Data environment, standard XML, and standard applications.
2) OS bloat from virtualization. Make everything a file with properties. PGP everything. Everything exists in multiple places, cache as much as possible, file service is a software distribution model. Multiple copies, multiple versions. Everything has a URI. Keyring in a friends' computer lets you access anything.
3) Platform (PS2/PSP).

OS upgrade by NetFlix.
Same things over and over again but in different ways. Build new things, instead of rebuilding old applications.

March 28, 2006

ActionScript

As part of my new job I've started programming in ActionScript 3. Its syntax is similar to JavaScript and is based around the upcoming ECMAScript 4 standard. The thing that has caught me off guard the most is the "variable:type" declaration syntax versus "type variable". It's only a minor thing, but I'm amazed at some of the subconscious cut'n'paste'n'edit keystrokes I have. I find this most prevalent when writing unit test code, where often you are creating similar but varied objects. The jump to home shift ctrl right keystroke doesn't help to change the type when it's after the variable.

One of those simple things that you don't really notice you are doing it until it doesn't do what you should. Joel Spolsky had a recent article taking about usability (it's a draft so I'm not going to link to it) and one quote from it was "Something is usable if it behaves exactly as expected." Right now my finger memory isn't that useful because it isn't behaving as expected. It isn't that there is anything wrong with it, as soon as I'm back in Java land it will be very helpful, but while I'm working in ActionScript it's just plan annoying :)

March 27, 2006

ACLU Emergency Town Meeting

Tonight's ACLU emergency town meeting was focused on restoring the rule of law. It addressed the current issues of domestic spying, torture, rendition, and secret prisons. The speakers included Congressman Michael Capuano, Prof. Mary Culnan, John Roberts, and Nancy Murray. The presentation started off with a bunch of technical difficulties as they couldn't get the speaker's microphones properly amplified. As a result there was a video which they were not able to show.

After some opening remarks by Nancy Murray they discussed 6 mythes the Bush administration is using the justify the illegal actions going on today. The full answers can be found at myths.pdf, below are notes about responses given during the meeting:

Myth #1: The NSA program on warrantless domestic spying is legal and necessary to keep us safe; FISA takes too long.

In 1978 the FISA was setup. It operates in secret but does review all requests, even through the threshold is low. Congress reviewed the possible expansion and would have said no, which is why it was done illegally. The FISA has been expanded in the past to allow longer retroactive periods from 24-72 hours, so it could maybe have been changed. The back idea is that the authority under war does not give the president inherent abilities such as those performed under the guise of the NSA. Additional information at PeterSwire.net.

Myth #2: Warrantless spying on Americans by the National Security Agency is a "terrorist surveillance program" that has no effect on ordinary Americans.

There is no transparency in the program and no oversight. It does harm ordinary citizens. Look at the case of Senator Kennedy being added to the no-fly list. Once the information has been collected what is going to prevent "mission creep" of having the information then used for other purposes? Strict rules around the program prevent those handing over information for even telling people that their information was handed over. Lastly review of some information can't even be done in Congress since many members possibly involved don't have the necessary security clearances!

Myth #3: The United States does not use or condone torture, nor does it kidnap people and fly them to other countries to be tortured.

FOIA has unearthed 90,000 plus documents that go into detail. Details on the ACLU Torture FOIA site.

Myth #4: Detaining individual in Guantanamo and other prisons without trial is a "necessary part of protecting the American people" (George Bush, January 13, 2006).

Only 8% of the detainees in Guantanamo have ties to Al Qaeda. Less than 50% have every even been in battle/combat situation. Many Afghans were paid money for informing, many did it out of spite or self interest turning in innocent people. If the detainees are that dangerous why are some just released. American tradition is that even those that are most likely guilty should get due process.

Myth #5: The USA PATROIT Act has been fixed and its provisions are necessary to fight terrorism.

The president signed an executive order which basically said that the new reporting provisions in the updated PATRIOT Act would be ignored. People getting NSA letters are gagged from even saying that they got a letter. They may after a year appeal, but if denied it can never be mentioned. For those people that say the changes fixed it, either they didn't read it or they think you are stupid.

Myth #6: Speaking out against the administration's policies is unpatriotic and helps the enemy.

Props to Google for standing up. If they hadn't the fact that this information was requested might not have become public knowledge. This is the government trying to play the ultimate trump card; having the government to get other people to turn against you. We need leaks to get information, but new laws would make it illegal requiring jail time and million dollar fines.

At this point the meeting was opened up to comments and questions from the audience. Some of the points that came up included:

Has war been declared? A lot of the president's arguments require a state of war. Is the war on terror justification of war?

Many feel that the powers of congress are being given away by the members of congress.

"Please don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." (Capuano) This was in reference to vote counting and the various issues surrounding that.

Another good group to check out is the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). They have a new book, Articles of Impeachment Against George W. Bush, which makes the case for impeaching President Bush for illegally spying on U.S. citizens, lying to the American people about the Iraq war, seizing undue executive power, and sending people to be tortured overseas.

A couple people mentioned that the Democrats are not providing enough mobilization or rallying points for citizens to get engaged behind.

March 26, 2006

Maine is old

I was reading an article in the NYT recently about the changes taking place in Vermont. The focus was on how few high school graduates were going to college in the state or returning after attending college out of state. As an aside the article talked about the median age rapidly increasing the state over the past few years. That got me interested in what that really meant. Thankfully the US Census has some statistics available. What I found most surprising is that Maine has the highest median age at 40.7. Normally when I think of old states Florida comes to mind. Vermont is ranked second for highest median age. What that means long term for either state I'm not sure, but I find it interesting in any case.

March 25, 2006

Fundamentalism

Just under a year ago on April 21, 2005 I attended a talk by R. Scott Appleby about "The Rise of Fundamentalism in the 20th Century". I recently ran across my notes from that talk and figured it was about time that I wrote them up. Since the talk isn't fresh in my head, my notes don't flow as well as I would like, but I think I've still managed to capture many of the core points.

Looking at the history, Martin Marty was one of the first to examine fundamentalism in religion. 1962-63 some see as the breakdown of America due to Roe vs. Wade.1987 was the introduction of creationism into text books. 1986-8 there was a general animus against religion. This spawned a reasoning about religion. Middle management and engineers are the primary people found in fundamentalism. Why: fact, oriented (not theory), rules/laws, literal agent of change, and repository of means to enhance.

Fundamentalists are not traditionalists, they are not restorationists, nor are they modernists. Focus on milestones: destroy those that were intoxicated by using technology. Seen as an alternative to secular habits. Claim to have a blueprint to advance society, that isn't secular. Willing to use technology to do God's will.

Examples include: In Islam a comic book, technology to destroy zionism (US lackey) Saudi Arabia. Zion movement using phone and fax for manipulating media to settlements. Billy Graham, Jim and Tammy Fae Baker are Christian examples. General view, fundamentalism is becoming increasingly sophisticated.

Appleby talked about meeting with Turabi. Turabi wore a 3 piece suit. Claimed to know more Koran than a cleric. Said "I know how you think". Fulfill God's will, we are just getting started. Focus on epistemology. Using technology, science, and government to accomplish goals.

A Saudi Prince once said it is a compliment to call them Fundamentalists.

Appleby provided a framework to classify fundamentalists along 5 ideological and 3 organizational buckets. This to me was the key segment of the talk.

Ideological:
Reactive: Marginization of religion
Selective: Not traditionalists
Absolution / Infallible: The word of the religious text is all true
Dualism / Manikism: Battle, living in drama, cosmic warfare
Apocalyptism: Justify killings

Organizational:
Charismatic: Strong leader
Enclave to network: Reaching out to others in a similar plight
Distinctive dress or behavioral: Getting a place at a table

They work on the ignorant, those that don't know their faith. Treat God as a mystery. Religion teaches compassion. Trying to use fundamentalism as a wake-up call for the millions of Muslims sitting on the fence. In 1924 WWI was over, Islamic state was disbanded, world started becoming more secularized, and some groups started to feel emasculated.

There are inconsistencies in America about religion. Cited Ralph Reed as an example. "How many of you have prayed today? Not my business to ask?" The breakdown of religions in America. Focus on bible. 65-70m about 25% are Evangelical. 30% are Protestant. 25% are Catholic. Within Evangelicalism: equal breakdown between main Evangelical, Pentecostals, and Fundamentalists. The Pentecostals believe the Holy Spirit is active today. While the "mad Evangelicals"/Fundamentalists are focused on preserving the scripts.

Honeymooners: Can't put your arms around a memory. (Not sure what context this was in, but I love the imagery).

Many fundamentalist groups provide community, shared purpose, and a common cause. History, national narrative, and mystery are full of rogues, saints, and warriors. Talking about a time when theology was fought in the streets.

Today more than just fundamentalists are using religion for gain without caring about God. Both claim God is fighting on their side, when he really isn't fighting on either.

March 24, 2006

The Bottom Line

I ran across this old clipping from July 2002 that talked about The 10 Most Expensive U.S. Cities to Live in:

1. New York
2. Boston
3. Juneau, Alaska
4. Anchorage, Alaska
5. San Diego
6. Philadelphia
7. Los Angeles
8. Fairbanks, Alaska
9. Ann Arbor, Michigan
10. Seattle

This was based on data from the American Chamber of Commerce Researchers Association.

March 23, 2006

Calendar Quotes

I ran across a bunch of old page-a-day calendar entries I saved. I'm not sure what year they are from, I suppose I could figure that out based on the day of the week, but that's not as interesting as the quotes :)

Jan 23: Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikikaisha; What the letters "YKK", found on the pull tabs of many zippers, stand for. It is Japanese for "Yoshida Industries Limited", the world's largest manufacturer of zippers.

Mar 6: Ida Fuller (1874-1975); Retired legal secretary from Vermont who received the first Social Security check in 1940. She had invested about $22 in the program, and received over $20,000 in benefits over the following 35 years.

Mar 7: X-Y Position Indicator for a Display System; Original name of the computer mouse.

Apr 26: Michigan J. Frog; Cartoon mascot of the WB Network. He first appeared (unnamed) in the 1955 Warner Bros. cartoon "One Froggy Evening."

May 9: Snoopy's brothers and sisters; As seen in the comic strip Peanuts. Brothers: Andy, Marbles, Rover, Olaf, Spike. Sisters: Belle, Molly.

March 22, 2006

Depression

Last Thursday I attended a panel discussion at MIT entitled "LISTENING TO DEPRESSION: An Interdisciplinary Look at a Mental Health Crisis". The panel was followed by hour long one-on-one conversations with one of the speakers. Each had their own room so you could pick which speaker you wanted to hear more from. I unfortunately booked myself for another event that night, so I only heard the panel presentations.

I forgot the notepad I usually take to such events and instead ended up scribbling notes into my Palm T2. I still don't like that format as much for capturing thoughts (I skipped trying to use graffiti and just scribbled in notepad). It doesn't have as much room and despite my best attempts the handwriting always comes out worse. As a result I don't have that many notes (along with the fact that I had deleted entries from my Palm after typing them up last night, which I managed to lose):

Kathryn Madden spoke first about a relationship between religion and depression. Stating that from her experience those with deeply held religious beliefs had hastened recovery from depression. She also felt that depression was a symptom of a diseased society, where the root cause was the increasing correlation between happiness and materialism. Echoing themes from The High Price of Materialism. She also talked about the idea that some depressions stem from the unconscious mind's troubles bubbling up into the conscious mind. The thought being that you need to discover this "primal agony", understand it to have a "symbolic death", to finally see "the light behind the darkness". This process makes various allusions to religious themes. I felt that her talk was the least concrete of the three. While I agreed with some of her thoughts I don't think the overall presentation was fleshed out enough to drive home any of the points she was trying to make.

Richard Kadison spoke primarily about the state of mental health on campuses. He stressed the importance of getting students, faculty, and anyone that might come in contact with other students, engaged. Make sure that everyone can easily get good information. Depression is affecting younger people, a recent study found 20% of high school students had thought about suicide. I don't remember the exact metric for it, but it was something like having thought about it a majority of the days within the past two weeks. Sleep deprivation is also thought to lead to increase risk/severity of depression. Import to find ways to get students in any door. Freshman programs need to stress the importance of Eating, Sleeping, and Exercise.

David Mischoulon dove into depth about what depression is, how it is classified, what drugs are available, and in general gave a very technical overview of depression. 10-25% of women and 5-12% of men will suffer from depression at some point in their life. Causes for the increased rate of women are not completely known. Antidepressants mostly just work. Usually takes 2-4 weeks before effects are seen, but in general 50-70% of people will respond positively to a drug and 12-15% will have a partial positive response. There is some variation so it is important to find the right treatment, which in many cases may not require medication at all.

Overall I thought the presentations were reasonable. I suspect if had been able to stay for a one-on-one conversation I would have gotten more out of the program.

March 21, 2006

Wrong Keys

I give up. I've now managed to accidently erase what I was trying to write not once, but twice. It must be a sign that I shouldn't post anything of value today.

March 20, 2006

Configuration Migration

I'll admit I haven't looked. Part of the reason is that I'm not that concerned. It was just that today as I setup my new work machine the issue of configuration came to the forefront again. I know many applications have the ability to export and import various settings, but that means you need to pop into and out of each one to really transfer your environment from one machine to another. Unless you are methodical, I suspect that you will miss at least one application. Granted that one missed application will probably be one you use less often, but it's just as likely to be an application you installed a long time ago and forgot that you spent an hour one afternoon tweaking it.

You've gotten to think 'Of course that's how it behaves out of the box'. You've been using it that way for the past six months. Who can remember you spent that time tweaking it. One hopes that the need to go back and reconfigure everything isn't a common occurrence. But when it does happen, you really forget how much of a pain it is. I think it would be great if one of two thing happened:

1) All applications stored their configuration information in a standard location that you could easily just copy en-masse from one machine to another. Yeah right! With all of the existing software out there I don't really see this happening.

2) Someone develops a program that knows how to export and import configuration information of common applications.

I'm not talking about anything fancy to translate configuration information from one application to another, like importing Outlook Express information into Thunderbird. It would just need to extract out the Outlook Express configuration so that it can be easily imported on another machine.

Even better this application could store the information up on a centralized datastore like the new Amazon S3 which would make pulling it down to a new machine even easier. Pull out registry junk, configuration files, maybe even individual profiles and send it up. Offer it as a subscription product so that users that want to extract and import data from newer application need to get the latest updates.

Of course once you can extract and import the data then you can start to think about translation or even configuration parity between multiple applications. Ignoring the not so subtle issues about merging and stuff like that :) As I mentioned at the start, I've not looked for anything like this, just ruminating about the idea since I did a lot of configuration today.

March 19, 2006

First Day of Spring

Tomorrow is the first day of spring. Half day, half night. And if you look at the weather forecast it shows an upward trend for the week. Nothing like the 60 degree days, but some signs that warmer weather is on its way.

March 18, 2006

ACLU Meeting

The ACLU of Massachusetts is having a meeting on Monday March 27th to discuss Domestic Spying, Torture, Rendition, and Secret Prisons. More details can be found on their site.

March 17, 2006

Foodrific

Too much good food today!

Had lunch at 33, oh so yummy.

Ended up at Rustic Kitchen for dinner.

If I keep meals like this up, I might actually gain some weight :)

March 16, 2006

From the Earth to the Moon

I'm half way through watching the HBO mini-series from 1998 entitled From the Earth to the Moon and I have to say that it is wonderful. The series has a great combination of archival footage, reenactment, and a top-notch level and quality of detail. I realize I'm probably behind the times since this came out eight years ago and I'm just watching it, but it's a prime example of better late than never. It won a bunch of awards when it did originally come out and from what I've seen, they were all deserved. If you have any interest in the history of the space race, I'd highly recommend this series (and I've only watched half of it).

March 15, 2006

Last Day at Ruckus

Today was my last day working for Ruckus. The company decided to consolidate their operations into their Virgina location and as such closed the Bosotn office. I decided not to relocate having recently bought a house and I've never been a fan of working from home for extended periods of time. As such I decided to explore other possibilities.

This coming Monday I'm scheduled to start working at Allurent. I'm very excited about this oppurtunity while at the same time I'm sad to leave Ruckus. I always believed in their mission of providing low-(and now no)-cost digital media to college students. I've been against piracy for as long as I can remember and while not always vocal about it, expressed my feelings when asked about it.

Time to drain my brain and make some room for new challenges and learning at Allurent.

March 14, 2006

Out of shape

Since I failed to get out on my bike during the 60 degree day we had a recently, I felt obliged to enjoy today's 56 degree weather. If the forecast I'm looking at comes true it will be back down to a high of 46 tomorrow and down to 37 by Friday. This was the first time I was out on my bike this year. I didn't ride that much last year mostly due to working at Ruckus over the summer to get ready for the fall launch of the second generation of the service. In fact the last time I did any serious riding was 2003 when I rode the Erie Canal. Let's just say time is a cruel companion.

While I've never had issues on a long ride like the Erie Canal, I've come very close to bonking enough times during training that I'm sometimes overly cautious. A first ride of the season helps me set the pace for just what kind of year its going to be. If I was smart and dedicated I'd have already spent three months racking up time on my trainer. Alas, my discipline hasn't been that good of late. I made an minimal effort during part of January but then fell off as quickly as I'd started. Which bring me to today's ride.

The executive summary is that I'm just out of shape. My endurance is lacking, the leg power isn't what it should be, and some things that shouldn't be soar were soar after a short ride. Thankfully my reflexes and bike handling were still up to par. My ride almost ended with me plowing into the side of a car, at around 22 MPH, that decided at the last minute to take a left turn directly in front of me. Both brakes on full, both tires skidding slightly, and yelling obscenities like there was no tomorrow I'm still here to tell the tale.

As best as I can tell I'm riding a relic, but classic, of a bike. Tracing serial numbers through the Vintage Trek site, I'm fairly confident that I'm riding a 720 model from 1982. This is a touring bike. It has mount points for three water bottles and front and rear racks. It also weighs a ton, coming in just under 30 pounds. The frame though gives a very smooth ride even over the pothole hell that is Somerville streets and other unworthy roads west of here.

March 13, 2006

Curtains

I spent too long Sunday unsuccessfully trying to buy some curtains. Since I've been spending a large amount of time at home recently, the sheets that I have tacked up in the den have started to look a little tacky. I figured that getting some curtains would be a nice leisurely Sunday activity and would help improve the room aesthetics. While I was at it I figured I'd finish off my bedroom curtains too. I have one window done up nicely but the other one still has a blanket over it.

I purchased the one curtain I have in my bedroom a few years ago when I was living on cross street. I took a sample of that so I could potentially match it when buying new curtains. I went to Target which is where I thought I had bought the curtains from. However, wandering around Target it didn't feel right and in the process I remembered that I had actually bought the curtains from Kmart. They were part of the Martha Stewart home collection or some such thing.

Over to Kmart. This felt better, like I had been in this aisle before shopping for curtains. Unsurprisingly four years later they didn't have the same style of curtains I had previously bought. They had similar styles and even a color that came close, but the sizes were all wrong. These windows are short and fat. Almost all the curtains I found were tall and skinny. Giving up I went to Bed Bath & Beyond. After staring at most of their selection I finally found a set of curtains that were the right size. For future reference it's called a "kitchen tier" curtain. The only problem was they didn't have anything even closely resembling the color I wanted, which was a sandy tan.

At this point I figured I'd change the tall curtain in my room to match the short curtain since those were harder to find. Turns out the colors they offer the tall panels in are different than the ones they offer kitchen tiers in. BLAH! I could get the tall panel in a tan like color but not the kitchen tier. Likewise I could get the kitchen tier in a nice green but not the tall panel. They did have some matching sets but not in any color I was interested in. White would have mostly been okay but I wanted something that might block a little more light.

Since the weather was still nice I figured I'd drive to another Bed Bath & Beyond on the off chance that they might have a different selection. On the way I also stopped into Sears and Filene's Home Store. Sears didn't have any kitchen tier sized curtains and in Filene's Home Store I couldn't even find a curtain! I think the name maybe wrong for that store, otherwise the cater to people that live in very different kinds of homes that I do.

The next Bed Bath & Beyond store that I went to had matching curtain samples in a color that was reasonable. Unfortunately, they didn't have any stock :( Why do you mock me so! At this point I figured I'd try a third Bed, Bath, and Beyond; surely they would have stock. No! Although I'm pretty sure they were out of different ones than the last store. At this point I was too flummoxed to trace my steps and figure out if I could put together a complete set by buying the parts at different stores.

Needless to say seven stores and four hours later, I still don't have curtains up. I figure it's time to order online since I'm now familiar with the styles, colors, and textures of more curtains than I care to admit to.

March 12, 2006

Metrics

While this quote comes from the recent Economist survey of wealth and philanthropy from the February 25th, 2006 issue, its applicability to software measurement can't be stressed enough:

"The risk with any metric is that people will come to see it as a description of reality, rather than a tool for a conversation about reality, says Rowena Young of the Skoll Foundation. "One metric or another can function well only when managers know why they are measuring and for whom... In the world of social value-creation, context is king." [11]

Too often software quality metrics seem to be put in place just for the sake of having metrics instead of using them in a beneficial way. As a result people game the system and work towards the metric instead of focusing on quality. If as noted people instead used metrics as a stepping stone to talk about the state of a project and only used metrics that had a clear benefit in such discussions, I think a lot of wasted effort could be eliminated.

March 11, 2006

TI3

I spent most of today (about eight hours) playing a game of Twilight Imperium 3. This is the second time I've played this game and each time it has taken about that long. It's a very complicated game, the rules are about 44 pages long and there is also an extensive FAQ. The first time I played was with four people and this time it was with six (including a modified ISC). I enjoyed the six player game more, mostly due to the increased inter-player activity.

The modified ISC still overly contributed to the win of of the game (but not as much with four players). We played that whoever took the ISC got one point and whoever controlled Metacol Rex got a point. I like the ISC variation proposed in the rules variants. In any case while it is a long game I've had fun playing it both times and would enjoy playing it again with six people.

March 10, 2006

Religion Explained

Pascal Boyer's book "Religion Explained" explores the evolutionary origins of religious thought. I found the text to be fairly dense and dry but it throughly examined the subject. The primary idea presented through the book is that the mental facilities humans have for intelligent thought, planning, and learning and the social structures around them make us predisposed to acquire religious connotations [3]. Once acquired they stick for a variety of reasons but one of the most important is religions use of ontological exceptions [80]. Rituals (most of which are religious) play a role in marking key events of our lives (birth, marriage, death) so that the event becomes public knowledge [248]. This publicness helps ensure that a group/community has a shared record; for example everyone knows this newly married couple is no longer among the pool of possible mates. One of the last concepts touched upon is that religious concepts are parasitic since they require and build upon all of our other mental capacities [311].

The book dives into each of the points mentioned above along with many others examining them from a cognitive, social, and biological perspective. Since I struggled through the text I know I didn't pick up as much as the book that to offer. Below are some additional observations I took while reading:

10: The difference between faith and knowledge may stem just from a person's perspective on the situation.
13: Religious teachings about the origins of things are in general simple. The difficulty comes in when the religious entities disrupt the normal flow of things.
14: Religious explanations often produce more complexity then simplification.
17: Inference systems are used by religion to help make self-evident logic conclusions about certain events.
37: Comparisons between human cultures stem primarily from politics.
57: All religions are created using combinations of the same core concepts, each is just combined and localized differently.
73: Many religious stories are based on the idea of taking a concept and creating a counterintuitive element that makes it stick out.
76: Concepts such as UFOs and alien abductions continue to exist (despite a lack of scientific evidence) because people want to believe that there is something else.
78-79: The concept of mental templates (animal, person, tool) that the brain manages plays into how they are challenged in religion (i.e. a god is a person that doesn't grow old and die but can still affect you).
112: You learn a lot only if you are selective. Filter to learn.
156: Supernatural agents are presumed to have full access to strategic information versus the limited knowledge a human in the same scenario would have.
197: People are interested in particulars not generalities. They want to know how the situation affected them or ask a question like "Why me?"
237: Rituals are organized to make the inclusion/effect of a supernatural agent plausible.
250: Today's social environment is build on various levels of trust. Instead of just the small band of hunter-gatherers that you lived with the modern urban society requires dependence on vast numbers of other people for almost every aspect of daily life.
261: One-shot events are usually loud and the gods themselves act (marriage). Repeated rituals are usually somber events that have the gods acted upon (communion).
282: People will always distort religious doctrine to make it their own. Likewise organized religions (which usually wield some form of political power) will continue to try and control the practiced doctrine of their religion.
288: Humans have a propensity towards groups, always trying to join and demonstrate loyalty to a group or groups (family being the most basic).
300-301: The following all contribute to lead us away from clear and supported beliefs: consensus effect, false consensus effect, generation effect, memory illusions, source monitoring defects, confirmation bias, and cognitive dissonance reduction.
325: We only accept religious beliefs that jointly activate inference systems for agency, predation, death, morality, social exchange, etc.

If you are looking for a quick introduction into the concepts covered in the first few chapters I'd suggest looking at the summary charts on pages 18, 22, 27, 31, 106, 115, 128, and 135. I think looking them over ahead of time will help put the preceding discussions in a better light.

March 9, 2006

Empire Falls

The one thing I've noticed is that I tend to read fiction much faster than non-fiction. Granted I've also had a little extra time on my hands as of late, but I find it much easier to get into a flow/groove with a good book of fiction then with non-fiction. Part of that may be when I'm reading non-fiction I'm really trying to learn the material where with fiction I'm reading it for pleasure and don't mind if I come away from the book with nothing more than a few hours letting my mind wander around in an imaginary word. I suspect that is the same affect that is happening when I'm watching a movie. I get sucked in and for a couple of brief hours don't really notice much of anything around me.

I recently finished "Empire Falls" by Richard Russo which is why this topic came up. It's set in a fictional small town in Maine. Unfortunately, being from Maine (albeit not as small a town as the book depicts) his characterizations of many Maineisms ring all too true. I throughly enjoyed the book and while my thoughts on it this time will be brief, I highly recommend it to others interested in a well written book filled with many fleshed out characters and a focus on the human condition.

March 8, 2006

The Other Side

Since today was the last day for another member of the Boston Ruckus team along with being only a week away for the rest of us, we sojourned to The Other Side Cafe. Normally I'd just include this in one of my restaurant lists, but it feels like it deserves more than a passing mention. I think the last time I ate there was about 9 years ago. I visited it a few times when I first moved to the Fenway area to attend Northeastern, but then despite passing by it many times I never went back in. That was a mistake.

One of the things that I remember from those visits many years ago were all of the cool non-alcoholic drinks that they have. They do also have a descent beer collection, but if I'm in that neck of the woods I'll just head over to Bukowski's instead. I have an apple, banana, lemon, and pear smoothie. Yummy! They also have a great selection of syrups for Italian or French soda. All the usual coffee and tea stuff. And lots of options that you can add wheatgrass to. I didn't go with any wheatgrass.

As for food, all very good with many vegetarian options. The soup of the day was even a vegetarian french onion soup (which you don't find that often). Overall a great place to go.

March 7, 2006

Zephyr (Sucks)

About an hour ago I got back from one of the worst meals that I have had at a restaurant in a few years. Friends and I went to Zephyr as part of the recent Restaurant Week in Boston. I booked our reservation later than I had hoped so Zephyr was one of the few spots left (that I had interest in going to) that still had space available. After tonight's meal I can see why they had space available.

I used to do a lot of business travel. I've eaten in a lot of hotel restaurants. Most of those restaurants are passable and the rest were exceptional (famous in their own right in fact). I now have to add a third category to hotel restaurants of which Zephyr is the first entry and that is horrible.

The evening started off with a 20 minute wait before anyone came by to even get our drink order. By this time we had all decided that we would be having the restaurant week special menu along with what we wanted to drink. It was a good 10 minutes before our drinks arrived. They also brought out bread at some point with cold solid butter in the little foil wraps. Eventually when the salads arrived I don't know how much longer that was they didn't serve them all in the same type of container. Four of them were in some medieval chamber pot looking bowl while the other two were on a plate. The salad was okay. The bread was better (minus the butter).

A good 45 minutes passed between getting our salad and the manager coming by to inform us that the kitchen was backed up and that it would be a wait for the entree. As a consolation he offered a free round of drinks. About 10 minutes later our entrees finally arrived. After eating for a while John noticed that his chicken seemed a little raw. Inspecting mine I also noticed the same issue. It was stuffed chicken, the problem was half of both sides around the stuffing was still bright pink, having looked like it was barely heated at all, let alone cooked enough to be safe to eat. We informed our waiter which prompted the manager to swing by again, at which point he offered to take to of the entrees off of the bill.

At this point it was time for dessert. Granted it had now been about 2 hours that we had been at the restaurant. I'm all for a nice relaxing dinner, peppered with good wine and conversation, but I usually expect it to be more of an enjoyable experience than this night was turning out to be. When they finally served dessert two of the cheesecakes didn't have any strawberry/raspberry topping on the cheesecake of which mine was one of them. I cared not to complain since I really just wanted to leave. The fruit included with the dessert was yummy, but by this point I'd mostly lost my appetite.

If my memory serves me correctly I've also eaten brunch at Zephyr once before and was underwhelmed by it. With this night's experience I see no reason to ever go back.

March 6, 2006

24

This season of 24 continues to heat up. I have to say it sometimes feel like a soap opera. I mean if you summarize some of the events from this season it sounds like a soap:

<spoiler>
Jack comes back from the dead. Tony is in an accident and is now in a coma. Now Tony's woken up only to learn that his wife is dead. Jack's daughter finds out that's he's alive but now she doesn't want anything to do with him since she thinks he abandoned her. The wussy president is being easily manipulated by anyone who can get his ear, etc., etc.
</spoiler>

Granted it's been about 14 years since I've watched a soap opera episode so maybe they've changed. If the soap opera guides in the checkout isle at the supermarket are any indication, I suspect soap operas haven't changed that much.

With that said, 24 has much more action than I remember from any soap opera and the production value is much higher. The use of multiple screen cinematography is also a departure from most daytime production or prime time for that matter. While the sheer number of events that they pack into 24 hours definitely requires suspension of disbelief (sometimes great leaps), it's still one of the best formats for an action packed drama I've seen.

March 5, 2006

Folding

Unlike most people I know, I don't mind laundry. Granted now that I have a washer and dryer in my basement I mind it even less. Part of the reason I never really minded laundry was that it was a simple two hour ordeal. Pack up my laundry and supplies, drive to the laundromat, wash, dry, fold, come home and put everything away. Two hours. And during that two hours I had plenty of time to read some of the more fluffy magazines I get and usually just let stack up.

Now that I do laundry at home the time taken is more variable since I can't be doing all of washing at once, but that is made up by the fact that I can just go downstairs. My issue today is that I still haven't figured out how to fold a fitted sheet. I usually end up with some lopsided monstrosity that has no chance of keeping the sheet in any decent wrinkle free format. I've tried folding them in all sorts of manners and none seems to do the job right. Flat sheets and pillow cases are easy, rectangles fold easy. Fitted sheets with the elastics and three dimensional pieces to fit around the mattress just make it too complicated. I'm almost tempted to go out and by another sheet set just to see how the manufacturer folds everything up into one of those little shrink wrapped plastic bags you buy them in.

March 4, 2006

Money?

Where is the money in Google video? There are no ads on the page that plays a video. Maybe I'm being dense, but how can giving that much bandwidth away be good? Yes it adds exposure of the Google name but video is bandwidth heavy and bandwidth costs money. Yes I know that you can charge money for videos that are put up through Google, but I'm talking about the more viral videos that get passed around like the latest spam.

March 3, 2006

What Should I Do with My Life?

I've just finished reading "What Should I Do with My Life?" by Po Bronson. I bought this book at the same time I bought "Urban Tribes" which I'm planning on reading next after finishing "Religion Explained". Po Bronson was quoted on the back of "Urban Tribes" and the title of the book intrigued me. I can't claim that I've thought about the question at any great length or focus. Which makes me wonder why I bought and read it at all?

I don't think I'm really struggling with the question, but then I might also be deluding myself. Because I haven't resolved that fundamental issue I didn't get as much out of the book as I had hoped. Saying that I had hope for someone means that I was looking to the book for something, but now looking back I have no idea what that was when I bought it.

It is a well written book. The people and stories that are covered are varied across age, race, religion, stage of life, married, children, etc. Some stories are fleshed out much better than others and in general those are the better ones to read. The shorter stories while offering a variation on the theme of a section, the details of the person behind the story are lacking and I found it much harder to empathize and draw meaning. I found the interweaving of his own journey enhanced the book since it gave a clear base from which you could see how he evaluated other people's stories.

I'd definitely recommend this book to anyone that has thought about the question or has a long term vision and isn't sure if the sacrifices or compromises they are making today will ever pay off. Not every story in the book is a success and I found that to be a good grounding otherwise the continual happy ending of all the other stories made it read too much like a fairy tale.

While it doesn't do the depth of the book justice, the summary of thoughts on page 391-392 capped the book well. These are some that spoke to me:


  • Work shouldn't just be fun. Work should be like life--sometimes fun, sometimes moving, and defined by meaningful events.

  • Don't mistake intensity of passion.

  • You can get good at what you need to to serve what you believe in.

  • Nothing helps like knowing you're not alone. There's powerful transformative effect when you surround yourself with like-minded people.

  • Thing you work hardest for are the things you will most treasure.

March 2, 2006

Grrrr

I'm at the point that I really need to step back, take a deep breath, count to ten and then maybe I can put into words the last two hours. All I wanted to do was upgrade Gallery. Next thing I know I'm having to reboot my box and troubleshoot a MySQL that has started throwing errors that its perror utility says doesn't even exist! The worst part is I have no faith right now that the problem is even fixed or how long / bad the problem has been going on since it seems to have manifested in such subtle ways.

The gist was mysql throwing an error like this:

060221 1:21:47 /usr/local/libexec/mysqld: Can't find file: './test/test_test.frm' (errno: 9)

And the all helpful perror:

> perror 9
Illegal error code: 9

This thread had some ideas but I wasn't keen on rebooting again. I'd already pulled the Windows approach and rebooted since this guy had some success with it. No dice. Don't know where I ran across it, but a startup flag helped. Adding --open-files-limit worked for me. I did see somewhere else that someone thought that the OpenBSD 3.8 package mysql-server-4.0.24p1 was junk.

And to top it all off I still think (while probably all psychosomatic now) that this new monitor is just not working out. LCDs are not supposed to cause eye strain!

March 1, 2006

Blah / Yay

I'm going on like hour seven of a nasty headache. I just started round two of Tylenol and I'm hoping it kicks in enough for me to get a good night's sleep. I've even purposefully avoided using my new monitor today to make sure that didn't trigger/cause this headache. No dice. I think it might have been a little too much sake at lunch. We had a good-bye party for one of my coworkers.

The good news for today is that I accepted a new job that starts Mar 20th (more details in the future).

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