packbat: Headshot looking serious and superimposed on the Gettysburg Address. (gettysburg)
2011-03-29 11:28 am

Everybody Loves Him

I am not a Christian, but there are a number of things I admire in the theology of most Christian religions. One of these goes back to the titular Christ himself: his affection for all peoples. Heretics, sinners, those judged impure and those despised, all these were the people he chose to spend his time with, the people he was loyal to. Fred 'slacktivist' Clark spoke of this quite memorably in the essay "Clean shoes" - and for that matter, so did Richard Thompson in the song "God Loves A Drunk" - but there's another aspect of this that struck me quite powerfully. An inversion, if you will.

What we usually say is that Jesus loves everyone. What we usually say is that Jesus hung out with fishermen, tax collectors, lepers, prostitutes. We say that Jesus accepted all these people, people who the Pharisees, the cleanliness-obsessed, the self-righteous rejected. But the same goes the other way around. These people who would have nothing to do with self-righteous, cleanliness-obsessed Pharisees accepted Jesus. Prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors, fishermen would hang out with him. Everyone loved him.

To say he loves is to say a great deal - but to say he was loved, a great deal more. It is not difficult to be convinced that you love someone, that you care for them, that you want the best for them. To be convinced that others care about you and appreciate you - that they value you - is somewhat more challenging. If someone handed you a religious tract, would you believe they cared for you? If someone proselytized to you, unasked, on the street, are they offering you what you need? They believe so - but do you?

In contrast, if someone listened to your troubles, would you believe they cared for you? If someone offered their aid, unasked, on the street? Would it matter what they believed, if they offered you clothes when you were naked, drink when you thirsted, food when you hungered?

It seems like a thought worth considering.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
2011-01-04 12:41 pm

Not back yet, but just wanted to post this...

SCENE: Robin (i.e. packbat) and David are playing chess in the ASME lounge. Ben enters.

Ben: Who's winning?

Robin: (mumbling)

Ben: Well, he's moved twice, so clearly he's winning.

Robin: I'll just tie it up then. [moves piece]

Ben: Tie goes to Black.

[beat. Robin looks up at Ben.]

Robin: This isn't affirmative action, man!
packbat: Wearing my custom-made hat and a smirk. (hat)
2010-09-28 02:50 pm

A Challenge to Theists and Theist-Friendly Persons

Post edited ~5:20p EDT - thanks, [livejournal.com profile] zwol!

Well, I'm coming back into blogging with a fury, aren't I? First politics, and now religion!

Those of you who do not follow the atheist blogosphere may not be aware of the long, boring back-and-forths between the "New Atheists" and the "accommodationists". To summarize: the latter frequently accuse the former of being mean to theists (people who believe that one or more gods exist) and the former retort that the latter are being intellectually dishonest. What's annoying about it is that the argument never actually connects to the essential disagreement, edit: rarely gets back to actual questions of fact. The latest brouhaha, for example, relates to a question which "New Atheists" answer in the negative and many "accommodationists" answer in the positive: do any people have sufficient intellectual justification to believe that a god is real?

And for that reason, I want to congratulate Larry Moran, who is addressing this question.

This brings me to my challenge. I challenge all theists and all their accommodationist friends to post their very best 21st century, sophisticated (or not), arguments for the existence of God. They can put them in the comments section of this posting, or on any of the other atheist blogs, or on their own blogs and websites. Just send me the link.


(Link via pharyngula.)

If anyone in the audience believes that there are good reasons to believe that a god exists (or has a friend who so believes), please contact Prof. Moran (or have your friend do so) by Saturday, October 2.

As a footnote, though: I realize that there are a subset of people who would answer in the affirmative to the question above without answering Moran's challenge: some people believe that they possess evidence good enough to convince themselves, but that their evidence cannot be communicated to anyone else. Whether this is true is a philosophical question, and one which I would be glad to discuss ... but unrelated to the announcement.

Remember: if you believe that a God exists and you can prove it, or if you know someone who so believes, tell Larry Moran by Saturday, October 2.

Thanks!
packbat: Wearing a open-frame backpack, a pair of sunglasses, and a wide, triangular grin. (hiking)
2010-09-06 08:26 pm

Bike 2: The Sequel

So: yesterday I got out a bicycle, unfroze the chain with generous doses of both machine and elbow grease, pumped up the tires, and took it out on the bike trail for a shakedown ride. Guess what I did today?

Differences:
  • The chain was in much, much worse condition. Fortunately, after giving up one or two times, I hit up the Googletubes and found an essay about fixing frozen bike chains, claiming (a) you should set it upside down, and (b) you should use two pairs of pliers, one to grip either side of the frozen link. With these alterations, and much sweat, the chain was freed.
  • The front brake calipers were dodgy - one half wouldn't rebound from the wheel. Fortunately, oil and time (somehow) repaired this.
  • I forgot to pump up the tires the first time I took it out. Fortunately, I realized this close to my house, and walked it back.
  • Did I say "the front brake calipers were dodgy"? I meant the entire braking system. As I told Dad, the only sound worse than the front brakes was the rear brakes.
  • Instead of a rear reflector, I had a broken headlamp.
  • Instead of a kickstand, I had nothing.
  • Half the tape on the right handlebar was loose.
  • I took a different trail, one that was all paved. But much, much lumpier, as it happened - once I was jounced so badly I lost footing on the pedals.


All in all, damaged sprocket notwithstanding, I think the other bike is better - still, this makes two rideable bicycles ready to go. And a pleasant weekend, too.
packbat: Coming into the finish line after a mile race - the announcer can be seen behind me. (running)
2010-09-05 11:28 pm

You have unlocked "Medium" difficulty bicycle. Do you wish to ride it (Y/N)?

This morning I thought I might ride out the trail again, and I pulled a bike out from under the tarp. I had been riding my three-speed, but I'd busted up the rim (quite a while ago, actually), and it's not a good idea to ride on dented rims.

That said, it is entirely impossible to ride with a frozen bike chain. Fortunately, I had most of a jar of bike lube and an extra-large dose of TLC* to apply, and after well over three hours, the bike was in rideable condition, and I took it out to the trail to run down to Bethesda to buy some ice cream** and a new wireless hub.

More than one person told me that the bike looked like it was in great shape, so I must have done something right. :)

(Sadly, one of the sprockets on the rear derailleur is missing one or more teeth, so I may not get away without spending some money.)

Anyway, it was quite an experience. First, this bike is very much a road bike - it bogged down in gravel quite badly. Second, it's a ten-speed with a very funky derailleur system, so I had the devil's own time getting away from fifth gear for uphills and slow starts. Third, the controls are arranged quite differently (drop handlebars, down tube shifters), which left me quite nervous and timid. Third, I'm not really fit enough to take the bike to where it should go - I was struggling to keep it moving and moving in the right direction, even.

But it was pretty good, nonetheless. Tomorrow, I'll take out the other rust monster and see how I can make it run.

* TLC = Tender Loving Care. With a pair of pliers and a lot of sweating, I must say.

** Sadly, the ice cream shop (Giffords) was closed when I went by, so I ended up buying a Dunkin' Donuts iced tea and bagel.
packbat: Headshot looking serious and superimposed on the Gettysburg Address. (gettysburg)
2010-08-27 10:12 pm

A Brief Love Letter to Michael Lewis's "Moneyball"

I wish this was a proper review, but the book came out a good seven years ago - long enough for this to be awfully old news regardless.

I. Love. Moneyball.

I would say this, if I were cynical and funny: Moneyball is, ironically enough, a story about how storytelling is deceptive. But it's not true. There is a hint of that feeling when I read it - the story is such a good story that I'd want to believe it if the entire book was lies from cover to cover, and the book does warn against dreaming and making up expectations based on merely what you see - but I would do Michael Lewis an injustice if I said that. The man worked his butt off getting it right, and that dedication shows.

What is the material? Well, Moneyball is, perhaps, the perfect underdog story: a story about a baseball team (the Oakland Athletics) with a financial payroll tinier than almost any other in a sport where the richest teams spend many multiples more than the poorest ... that sets out to win, with a determination and intelligence that is an inspiration to behold. Moneyball is also a layman's introduction to that intelligence which, long ignored by the very people who would most benefit from it, finally found its instantiation in the Oakland A's: sabermetrics. And Moneyball is a story of this intelligence on this team reaching out to rescue an oddball collection of underrated players and give them the chance to give a bloody eye to the entire baseball establishment that didn't see how good they were.

And it's a story of how such a thing should ever happen - how mistakes were made and perpetuated and compounded upon, and how the visions found when that fog of confusion was pierced could take so long and strange a journey to where they deserved to play out: on the diamond.

It's a business book, a sociology lesson, a baseball story, and a hell of a good read. A nearer approach to perfection in nonfiction is rarely seen.
packbat: Leaning on a chain-link fence, looking to my left (your right) with a neutral expression. (spectator)
2010-07-05 08:49 pm

Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning

Via kirabug, a proper description of the instinctive drowning response:

  1. Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs.
  2. Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.
  3. Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water, permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.
  4. Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.
  5. From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.


Read the rest, and read the prequel about cold water survival.
packbat: Wearing a open-frame backpack, a pair of sunglasses, and a wide, triangular grin. (hiking)
2010-06-30 10:09 pm

Austin 14-21!

A quick message (via iPhone, because the DSL modem at home is on the fritz): I will probably be visiting Austin, TX for a week starting on the 14th!

Does anyone have advice on things to do and see there? I heard great things about the Congress Avenue Bridge bats, but I can't say I recall much else.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
2010-05-13 01:46 pm
packbat: Leaning on a chain-link fence, looking to my left (your right) with a neutral expression. (spectator)
2010-05-06 07:10 pm

Amateur Science of the Week: xkcd Color Survey

The breakdown is here, if any of you missed it. I find most of these results fairly unsurprising (although the "yellow" region of the saturated color space contains a startling amount of green), but it's really cool to read through the details anyway. Favorite bits:

  • The mnemonic* for how to spell "fuchsia".
  • "Actual color names if you're a [girl/guy]..."
  • The list of colors.
  • The entire "Miscellaneous" header.
  • "Baige".
* Fun fact: I instinctively put a "u" after that "e". Perhaps you can guess how I pronounce that word...

(P.S. Word up, Mr. Munroe.)

(P.P.S. I'm feeling much recovered, save for residual sleep-dep from catching up on grading.)

(P.P.P.S. Less Wrong taught me a lot more about teaching than I expected.)
packbat: Headshot looking serious and superimposed on the Gettysburg Address. (gettysburg)
2010-04-23 03:36 pm

Paul Cornell's anti-unChristianity

Via Making Light, Paul Cornell: Wish Me Luck, I'm Going In. What with the recent stalling of the Equality Bill in Britain, he's had enough.

I wish there were a Christian organisation like British Muslims for Secular Democracy, who could liaise with the various gay Christian organisations, but also include those who aren't directly involved, who just think this cause is just. Then there would be a phone number for that liberal voice that the UK media could lay their hands on. If they ever wanted to call it.

In the meantime, I've started a hashtag on Twitter: #godlyforequality. If you're on Twitter, go and have a look, and let's see if we can retweet the message a long way. It's only a tiny thing. It's the least I can do.


I'm not a Christian, and I think that Christianity is factually wrong - but what he's doing here is fighting homophobia, and on those grounds he's fighting for the side of good.

Good luck, Mr. Cornell. Do the right thing.
packbat: Headshot looking serious and superimposed on the Gettysburg Address. (gettysburg)
2010-04-14 09:43 pm

Soldier tortured into signing away disability benefits

Joshua Kors tells the story.

Luther insisted to doctors at Camp Taji that he did not have personality disorder, that the idea of developing a childhood mental illness at the age of 36, after passing eight psychological screenings, was ridiculous. The sergeant used a vivid expression to convey how much pain he was in. "I told them that some days, the pain was so bad, I felt like dying." Doctors declared him a suicide risk. They collected his shoelaces, his belt and his rifle and ordered him confined to an isolation chamber.

Extensive medical records written by Luther's doctors document his confinement in the aid station for more than a month. The sergeant was kept under twenty-four-hour guard. Most nights, he says, guards enforced sleep deprivation, keeping the lights on and blasting heavy metal music. When Luther rebelled, he was pinned down and injected with sleeping medication.

Eventually Luther was brought to his commander, who told him he had a choice: he could sign papers saying his medical problems stemmed from personality disorder or face more time in isolation.


I can't even joke about this. It's horrible, pure horror.

Edit: Link via [livejournal.com profile] ceruleanst, here.
packbat: Headshot looking serious and superimposed on the Gettysburg Address. (gettysburg)
2010-04-06 08:56 pm

Arithmetic, Population, and Energy by Dr. Albert A. Bartlett

Via [livejournal.com profile] roaminrob: Arithmetic, Population, and Energy by Dr. Albert A. Bartlett, uploaded in eight parts. ~75 minutes.

Part One.

I've posted some links because I was curious about your opinion; this one I think is important, clear, and convincing. Unfortunately, I don't see a good way of summarizing it - wonderingmind42, who uploaded it, did a pretty iffy job with the title, in my book - but I'll try: the lecture is about the nature of steady percentage growth (e.g. 7%/year) and the policy implications that come out of the arithmetic. You don't need anything more than multiplication and division to follow the reasoning - the most difficult calculation is for the doubling time, and that goes

years to double = 70 / % growth per year

which is accurate to one part in twenty for any growth rate up to 12%/year.

I think it's worth at least 90 minutes of your time - 75 minutes is a steal at the price.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (quarter-rear)
2010-03-18 12:50 am

Sorcerer (1977) - Immediate Reactions

If I may venture a prediction: [livejournal.com profile] feech, you would not like this movie. Like in Duel, very little plot transpires in a given minute of Sorcerer - the chief part of the story can be summarized in a couple sentences, but it all takes two hours to play out.

What I found compelling, though, was this sense of characterization and atmosphere. The characters are all trapped, desperate and struggling, but trapped - by financial problems, legal problems, extralegal problems, and, for the four protagonists, in the end by the job that they have taken itself. What drives the film is this almost certainly fatal struggle to escape the terrible circumstances they have found themselves in.

Don't be fooled by the title: it is a remake of the 1953 French film Le salaire de la peur (English: The Wages Of Fear), and the "Sorcerer" is merely a truck. There is a sense of sorcery about it, perhaps, as one poorly-punctuated review on IMDB suggested, but it is the inimical spirit of bad luck, no agent who may be blamed.

I found the characters compelling, and the story tense. It is not a happy film, but a good one, I think.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
2010-03-07 12:19 pm

The Chocolate Dilemma - DW version.

Poll #2386 The Chocolate Dilemma
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 1


There is a sack of chocolate and you have two options: either take one piece from the sack to yourself, or take three pieces which will be given to Dylan. Dylan also has two options: one pieces for himself or three to you. After you both made your choices independently each goes home with the amount of chocolate he collected.

View Answers

Take one piece for yourself.
0 (0.0%)

Take three pieces for Dylan.
1 (100.0%)



From, via.
packbat: Leaning on a chain-link fence, looking to my left (your right) with a neutral expression. (spectator)
2010-03-05 10:50 pm

The recent Livejournal redirection unpleasantness

As a number of people have noted, Livejournal placed into their software for a period of time code which would do two rude things:

1. Alter links to ecommerce sites to forward users to a particular company's URL.
2. Replace affiliate markers on such links with a different affiliate marker.

...and do these things on every link on Livejournal, regardless of context. [livejournal.com profile] shatterstripes looked into this from the technical side, and made a series of relevant informative posts, but the implications are clear: they were mining money from everyone on Livejournal without telling anyone that's what they were doing.

I personally like my Dreamwidth+crosspost solution, and have three invitations on hand, but I'm not going to remove all my LJ content. If you are staying on LJ, I will still be paying attention - if you are migrating elsewhere, please let me know so I can find you there.
packbat: Leaning on a chain-link fence, looking to my left (your right) with a neutral expression. (spectator)
2010-03-03 08:40 pm

Whiteout Gaiden

What? I asked.

It's a Japanese word that means a story that plays with the same characters, but different, my brother told me. Ninja Gaiden was a retelling of the story of Ninja, but different.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the difference between Whiteout (1998 comic) and Whiteout (2009 film). What killed the interest in this movie for the people who hated it was either (Theory 34) that Kate Beckinsdale's shower scene wasn't hot enough, or (Theory Changed) that it wasn't anything like the book. Both objections are correct ...

... but if the comic had never existed and the film had been simply written directly, it wouldn't have received anything like the opprobrium it is subject to. It's a thriller movie, set in Antartica, with a hot lead, lots of plot twists, good action scenes, kinda low-budget special effects but give them some credit, they work, and a satisfying ending. It's not a classic, it's not a tightly-written Chandleresque suspense novel with brilliantly stylized presentation, it's not forward thinking in any way - it's a popcorn movie, and a good one.

Whiteout Gaiden. Rating: 3 stars, buy cheap or rent.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (quarter-rear)
2010-02-21 06:28 pm

Writer's Block: Arts v. smarts

Given the choice, would you prefer to be a world-class (visual or performing) artist or an intellectual genius? Which, in your opinion, would facilitate a more fulfilling career and social life?

Submitted By [livejournal.com profile] numbartist

View 809 Answers



Why, this is perfectly straightforward. "Intellectual genius" and "world-class artist", respectively.

...what?

Oh, the contradiction. Yeah, I just have to own that one. The thing is, somewhere in my head, I have this driving principle which seeks out knowledge rather than pleasure. "Socrates dissatisfied", as they say. The thing is, though, I do so even though I dispute John Stuart Mill's thesis: I would be more content, not merely happier, if I chose to subordinate my intellectual drive and took up the paintbrush. I just choose not to. I prefer to choose the less pleasant when offered the choice of truth or happiness, or even truth and safety, or truth and pride - I would rather know the truth, though it tear me to pieces.

Which, to disgress, may be part of what I find so compelling in Bruce Sterling's Islands in the Net. And that may be as satisfactory a conclusion as any to the post.
packbat: Coming into the finish line after a mile race - the announcer can be seen behind me. (running)
2010-02-20 10:34 pm

Moving snow

This afternoon, I was digging out the snow leaning against the basement windows, but the geometry of the area meant that I needed to take snow out around the corner of the house to have space to dump it out.

Now, I had two ways of doing that. Either I could just carry every shovelful a good forty feet (twelve meters) to where I could throw it out, or I could use a ex-shower-curtain folded in half to drag it. Now, the choice was obvious ... except that the path around the house was lumpy and uneven, and so the snow was continually rolling off the plastic. So - after a moment of frustration - I had a bit of an obvious idea: scape and pile the snow to make the path gently sloping and smooth!

This worked out to be quite straightforward, in fact - the only major kink was that there were a couple places where a pile of snow was needed to fill in holes. Fortunately, I had all the snow that I was supposed to be moving ...

... most of which went into the piles. Net result: I removed the pile of snow by paving a path around the corner of the house. In the end, I was even dumping piles of snow right in the middle to cover over a morass of mud.

Ah, well. The snow was removed ... just not as far as I expected.
packbat: Coming into the finish line after a mile race - the announcer can be seen behind me. (running)
2010-02-14 12:47 am

Game Night!

(Forgot to mention until today: the heat pump got fixed Friday! Forgot until today, but not to mention: shipped the application for the FE exam that's due Tuesday in Baltimore!)

So, this afternoon I got a call from J.-no-longer-from-school (yay graduation!) suggesting that we have a Game Night at T's house. Being the kind of guy I am, the answer was most definitely "yes", I threw some snacks into a grocery bag, and caught a ride out to College Park ...

... where we discovered that some streets aren't plowed very well after two blizzards back-to-back!

On the bright side, I got to pitch in with the crew pushing a mildly clueless BMW-driver out of the ditch by the road. (I actually contributed one factor which may have helped much: pushing the front wheel out so it could pull the rest.) It was a really good thing that I have those great new waterproof hiking boots, because I was standing in a big snowdrift ... in my sneakers, with my boots in the closet at home.

The gaming was good, though! We started off with "Da Vinci's Challenge", which is this very patterny game where you try to get particular shapes for points - we frustrated L. quite a bit by talking when she wanted to discuss strategy with her teammate, though, which made things very awkward. After that, we played an unusual trivia game I've forgotten the name of - everyone writes up guesses, but then you ''bet'' on the guesses you think are actually probably right. We wrapped up with Puerto Rico.

I actually caught a ride home with L., who lives nearer my house than J. (Funny: three of us in the same area, and we all three go to College Park instead! Next game night might be closer, I imagine.) Fortunately, the street had been plowed while we gamed - although not all the way down to the street.

Ah, well. Fun night, anyway!