packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (quarter-rear)
2010-09-18 03:44 pm

How Likely is a Random Universe to Produce Your Twin?

Dan Shive (best known as the creator of El Goonish Shive) recently wrote a brief argument why alternate universes would probably not contain alternate "you"s. His argument looks correct, as far as it goes, but it is qualitative - lacking numerical estimates - and I don't see why it has to be. The data exists. Surely ballpark back-of-the-envelope numbers could be produced.

...but not trivially. Dan Shive's challenge can - and I think should - be broken down as follows.

Read more... )

Now, I lack the knowledge of biology to, first, nail down these questions to their most correct forms, and second, assign probability estimates to relevant steps in the chain. But the most superficial examination of the situation seems to suggest at least one thing: any alternate universe measurably diverging a significant period before the birth of an individual is vanishingly likely to contain a copy of that individual. Which, of course, is what Dan Shive has pointed out.

And, as an obvious consequence of this, even if such a universe contained a duplicate of yourself, it would still be vanishingly unlikely for it to contain duplicates of anyone not your direct descendant. (Which would make for a heck of a paternity test, I have to tell you!)
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (quarter-rear)
2010-08-24 12:43 pm

STS-124 Launch: Solid Rocket Booster Video+Audio

Via [personal profile] egypturnash. Video is a bit monotonous for first two minutes, but the wait is worth it.

packbat: Wearing a open-frame backpack, a pair of sunglasses, and a wide, triangular grin. (hiking)
2010-07-26 10:04 am

Austin, Day 8: Departure

(So, so belated...)

The morning of our departure was relatively tame. I read more of my Gettysburg book, finished the main body of the work. We went to a Chinese restaurant, Pei Wei, for lunch, finished packing (I'd loaded my bag the previous night), and I played through Wily's castle in Mega Man 2 on Difficult again. I had just made it to the second final boss and figured out how to hurt him when we had to leave for the airport. Ah, machts nichts.

At the airport, we got through security in minutes and found our gate, where I sat down with the book I had decided on for the plane trip home: Michael Lewis's Moneyball.

Only five things were permitted to interrupt it. First, I got dinner at a (mediocre) burrito place in the airport. Second, boarding. Third, taking pictures out the window during the flight. Fourth, disembarking. And fifth, finishing it. It was one of the fastest and most engrossing reads I'd opened in some time.

At home, I saved all my photos to my computer, and am planning to copy them out onto my external hard drive (separate from the automated backups, I mean). Digging through to make a proper album will take a bit (and does anyone know a good free Mac utility for stitching together panoramas?), but that is all to come. Right now, I'm home.

Okay, not right now, as the location line will tell you, but still.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (quarter-rear)
2010-07-21 12:36 am

Austin, Day 7: Wind-down

First, a quick thing-I-forgot from yesterday: Dad got out a couple of his old board games, including "Dispatcher", for me to look at and maybe take back to Maryland. (Quick aside: by "maybe" I mean "definitely".) Now, "Dispatcher" is a game which is generally not liked, and for good reason: it's got innumerable tiles, rigid and complex synchronized events, randomness, timed events, and a brilliant scoring system involving demerits you cannot possibly avoid. Even as someone who played "Rail Baron" over the board, I find it a bit cumbersome. But I really like it, and would love to make a proper computer version with forecasting and automated movement. (Quick aside: by "make" I mean "have".)

Anyway, back on track: slow start this morning. There were only two major events I found cameraworthy today: luncheon at Taco Cabana followed by a quick revisit to Fry's for flash memory, and dinner at my uncle's house. It was a relatively pleasant day, but not a lot doing.

Some highlights:

  • I had a good conversation about how one would write the aforementioned "Dispatcher" computer game on the way up to my uncle's house.
  • I played more Mega Man 2 - enough to find that I'm not quite good enough to make it through Dr. Wily's castle on Difficult. Quickman keeps annihilating me. I will have to wait to discover whether I am right when I suppose that Dr. Wily cannot be beaten on Normal.
  • We drove past an IRS building which had been in a plane crash - a lot of damage to the one side of it.
  • My uncle's house is quite beautiful - up a dangerously steep driveway, mind (there's stains which look like someone punctured their oil pan on it earlier), but open and airy with a great view off the balcony.

In any case, the flight leaves at 4:15 tomorrow, so we have time to run a small load of laundry to minimize stress on facilities at home.
packbat: Leaning on a chain-link fence, looking to my left (your right) with a neutral expression. (spectator)
2010-07-20 02:13 pm

Austin, Day 6: Revenge of the Tourism Mode

(This is yesterday's entry - I guess I'm falling further behind with each...)

Back in Austin, and the first place to start - as they say in all the old encyclopedias - is a good breakfast. So Grandma and I left Dad at the house and went to Randall's, which is reputed to have very good bagels ... and did, in fact. And some donuts as well. A pleasant breakfast, in all.

After that, Dad got a call from an old friend of his, Dr. S, and arranged to meet her at the Texas State History Museum that noon. Dad & I went, leaving Grandma behind, and found a great parking space just around the corner from the entrance. Sadly for my ambitious shutter finger, photography at the museum is restricted to the lobby and outside, so I was only able to take about 75 photos there. It was good, though - Dr. S shared some wonderful info with us, e.g. talking about the condition and shape of the different saddles and what they meant in terms of purpose.

After wrapping that up, we noted that we had just enough time to walk a couple blocks to the Capitol Visitor's Center and pick up a new tourist guide and map for Grandma. (We didn't, quite, although we received no ticket.) We once again got to going the wrong way at the capitol, though - in this case, by going inside at all, as the visitor's center was in a separate building. We took care of it, though, and walked by the Governor's Mansion as well. There had been a traveling exhibit at the history museum mentioning that the building had been set on fire by a (presumably unknown) arsonist - something which a tour guide driving past the museum had joked about earlier - and so it was covered in scaffolding that obscured our view. It was also surrounded by trees, which obscured our view far more.

On the way back, we went up Guadalupe ("The Drag") to check out the buildings on the segment near the university.

That was our midday, so we ate a late lunch on our return and Dad went out on a trail run while I played Mega Man 2 and printed some baseball scorecards. (Dad's journal includes many running reports, and will include that, if that's your thing.) Then Dad and I went out again, this time to the Round Rock Express ballgame.

It was an interesting game, and a fun one to keep score at. The scorecards I'd gotten (the Enhanced Vertical from worked well, except where we spilled soda on them, and there were plenty of events, thanks mostly to the spectacular failure of the bottom-ranked Round Rock team. Let me put it this way: in the bottom of the fourth, the Express got a run and a grand slam ... to tie it up. And then gave away five more runs to lose 10-5 to the New Orleans Zephyrs.

But hey - there's no such thing as a bad ballgame, in my book.

And, apropos of nothing, and as thanks for either reading or just scrolling past these big entries, a picture.

A photograph of an amusingly-shaped toothbrush holder.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (quarter-rear)
2010-07-19 01:22 am

Austin, Day 5: Not In Austin

Today (okay, yesterday) began at Grandpa's house, where we had a quick breakfast and headed out early to pick up kolaches and meet Grandma at her sister's house. Where I met Dad's cousin, and he showed me Everquest 2, and let me try it out.

That took up until we left for dinner. I'm making a note here: HUGE SUCCESS.

The dinner was nice as well, although I may have done better to choose something besides the grilled fish - it was awfully oily. After that, we had the long ride home and I watched the last half of the Mythbusters moon hoax episode before retiring.
packbat: Wearing a open-frame backpack, a pair of sunglasses, and a wide, triangular grin. (hiking)
2010-07-17 10:18 pm

Austin Day 4: Unlike a Bat out of Austin that we actually left Austin, rather than loitering under the bridge all day.

Okay, so it's a silly title. Anyway, Dad & I went out La Grange way, planning to drop off Grandma at the McDonalds with my great-aunt (her sister) to hang out while the two of us went on to see Grandpa at his farm. However, first: the Central Texas Museum of Automotive History!

As you might imagine, it was glorious. They had a Jaguar XK, a Jaguar XKE, a Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing, a Porsche Spyder, a Corvette Stingray, a Chevrolet Bel Air convertible ... I used up over 100 photos on my digital camera's card and continued onto the iPhone before I finished photographing all the amazing cars they had there. I was forced to resort to copying photos onto my father's netbook to clear space.

Twice, actually. Because after clearing it at Grandpa's house, we walked around (taking more photos) and then went on a driving tour around the area, viewing places like the schoolhouse Grandpa attended (which, interestingly, had been moved bodily several miles to be the Sunday school of a local church). We then went up Monument Hill, where I was resorting to on-the-fly deletion of old pics just to be able to capture more of the sights.

Finally, we picked up some excellent BBQ on the way back (before Monument Hill, now that I think of it), and whiled away the evening watching the very good White Sox - Twins game on the telly. I think all of us are a bit tired, so we're drifting separately to bed so we can rise reasonably early in the morning.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (quarter-rear)
2010-07-17 12:43 am

Austin Day 3: Minimum Tourist Mode

Today was relaxation and shopping. The morning began with a Macy's where Grandma wanted to get sheets - I wandered the mall, taking a few photos and looking at the game stores - and proceeded from there out to a Frys with the facade decorated like the keyboard end of a grand piano.

After that was lunchtime, where we discovered that Google Maps on my iPhone doesn't know about Grandma's favorite Schlotzsky's. Grandma and Dad each had sandwiches; I tried their Mediterranean pizza. (Much to my irritation, Dad decided he wanted the free dessert from answering a survey and called the number before the food even arrived. Given that this got us a free Cinnabon, though, I'm inclined to forgive.)

From Schlotzsky's, we went to the Target near Grandma's house for a few essential supplies. Thence home, where I spent the afternoon productively with her NES. (I seem to have picked up some mad Mega Man 2 skills somewhere - I rocked all the way into Wily's castle twice, first on Normal and second on Difficult. Defeating Wily, that will require a little more time.)

Anyway: tomorrow, we'll be heading out to visit Grandpa, stopping by the historic automobile museum on the way. Update may be delayed.
packbat: Leaning on a chain-link fence, looking to my left (your right) with a neutral expression. (spectator)
2010-07-16 10:07 am

Austin, Day 2: Maximum Tourist Mode

Stage 1: The H.E.B.

After setting out the sprinkler (conveniently equipped with a timer), we went down the street to the local grocery for certain (in)essential supplies: fruit, salad, bread, milk, yoghurt, ice cream, chocolate milk, soda, Gatorade, &c. For documentary purposes, I took my camera and many pictures.

Stage 2: Inner Space Cavern

When planning something to do in the noon and afternoon, we accidentally found opposite the guide page for the automotive history museum an entry for a cave with a mark next to it. As it was not too far away, Dad and I opted to head out, leaving Grandma at home. The caves were discovered during core sampling for a bridge on I-35, and turned out to be both impressive as a tourist attraction and a magnificent geological and paleontological site. (Several students from various universities were going through the cave as we were heading out from the end of our tour.) Our guide was informative and entertaining (e.g. teaching us the difference between stalactites, which go down from the ceiling, stalagmites, which come up from the floor, and stalagpipes, which are the handrails), and I ended up giving him a tip at the end of the trip. Then buying a shirt, a guidebook, and a map from the gift shop,

Stage 3: The Takeout Chinese Place

Upon our return from the cavern, we tackled the question of "what do we want to eat?" As it was early yet in the trip, we decided the logical thing was to buy takeout from the local Chinese restaurant, which served quite large quantities.

Technically, it's also a sit-down restaurant ... but none of us wanted to eat there. Not shown in the pictures I will eventually upload, for example, is a bucket, catching a drip.

Stage 4: The State Capitol Building

Lunch complete (around 3 p.m.), there was a gap where we watched TV and discussed possibilities. In this gap we came up with three things worth checking out: the state capitol, the Congress Ave. Bridge bats, and BookPeople (my suggestion, having recalled [ profile] fadethecat's remarks on the place). Some research proved that we could make it to all three places without running into closures, so we headed out around 6:30 for downtown.

I love the architecture of the Texas State Capitol. I like the landscaping, even, but I particularly like the very open, naturally-lit spaces throughout - from the highest points to the lowest. And this open-ness was accomplished without any sacrifice in navigability (unlike certain buildings I could name). I expended an absurd number of pictures swooping through doorways into the open spaces.

Amusingly, all the way off in Maryland, a pizza delivery person was calling for directions to a residence ... calling my dad, here, as his cell phone was the listed one. It became even stranger when Dad's distinctive ringtone sounded and we realized that he'd dropped it, purely thanks to this.

Also amusingly, we spent several minutes wandering these sunlit halls looking for the exit before realizing it was two floors above us. We straightened ourselves out, however, and took a couple pictures of the library/archives building next door before returning to the car.

Stage 5: The Congress Ave. Bridge Bats

From the capitol, we drove straight down Congress Avenue to cross the bridge and turn into the Austin American-Statesman parking lot, where small plastic signs advertised bat parking. Grandma had been foresightful enough to equip us with beach chairs, so we set up comfortably on the lawn and waited.

Unfortunately for me and my camera, the bats have been flocking out from under the bridge quite late in recent days - and though I could see an hour after sunset, the camera could just about pick up the streetlamps and that's all. After Dad caught a few shots which could be argued to show a bat or two, we folded and went back north and west to seek the fabled bookstore.

Stage 6: BookPeople

This is a nice bookstore. A large bookstore, with nicely arranged shelves and tables of discounted and recommended books. It is from the latter that I found volumes to take home: Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Infidel and Michael Lewis's Moneyball.

A pleasant day, in all.
packbat: Wearing my custom-made hat and a smirk. (hat)
2010-07-14 10:49 pm

In Austin!

After packing last night, I went to bed far too late and woke up at 7 to be ready to go by 8. The plan to get to Austin was straightforward: Dad & I had tickets for an 11:30 flight to Tampa Bay (where we would get a 3:15 transfer to Austin), so we needed to be on the subway by 9 to catch an early enough shuttle. We beat that time by a good margin: in fact, we were in Greenbelt by 9 and caught an earlier shuttle to make BWI with hours to spare.

Where, in exchange for travel vouchers, we opted to catch the direct flight from BWI to Austin at 3 instead. This meant a long wait at BWI - long enough to get bored, buy a $5 "Motor Trend" magazine, get bored with it, walk the entire length of the concourse, buy a slice of pizza, play with my iPhone, and get quite bored. Finally, we boarded the 3:00 flight, where I, to my great pleasure, found myself seated next to a most interesting and entertaining person, one Linnea Duff. In the midst of discussing teaching methods, graphical interpretations of calculus, the administrative policies of the Boy Scouts of America, the history of social justice in the United States, and other subjects and sundry, we exchanged URLs. Dad & I disembarked at Austin as she went on, so I bade her farewell, snatched up my carry-on, and departed with Dad to pick up the checked luggage (which had come in half an hour earlier on the Tampa flight).

Grandma picked us up at the airport, and we spent a little while trying to repair a broken remote and watching "Man Vs. Food" on cable. After, we met up with my aunt, uncle, and cousin to go to Tres Amigos for some tasty, tasty dinner. Finally, we watched an episode of "Big Brother" that Grandma had wanted to record and separated to our various beds.
packbat: Wearing my custom-made hat and a smirk. (hat)
2010-05-24 01:07 am

A Bit of Pride

[personal profile] alchemi recently posted a self-esteem meme based on an earlier post from [ profile] finding_helena, here (who cites an earlier post on another blog - warning: language). In the introduction, alchemi quotes the opening paragraphs of finding_helena's post:

We all, particularly women, tend to downplay what we're actually good at. When somebody compliments us, we demur. And I definitely include myself in that. I don't want to seem too vain in accepting a compliment. And it's true, I think, that bragging can go too far.

And I do feel a little silly taking credit for things that come really easily to me. Like if somebody is impressed with, oh, my ability to tell you what note you just played to me. Seriously, that's just a little quirk of my brain that I have nothing to do with. It's like complimenting me on having pretty eyes... I mean, glad you appreciate them, but I didn't have anything to do with the process of them being so.

BUT. There are things that I've worked hard on and am good at.

Now, I think there's something interesting to be said about what you can and cannot take credit for, and what taking credit should mean ... but in the meantime, some things do I take credit for )

I'm sure I could say more, but at 1:05 in the morning it might be better to stop here.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
2010-02-14 12:30 pm

Ladibug21's Five Questions

[ profile] ladibug21 has asked me questions five, and answers five I bring!

(If you'd like me to ask five questions of you to know you better, just say the word. Yes, this is a meme.)

1. Given your answers to the recent LJ Question of the Day, what's your favorite breakfast? Are you a savory or sweet breakfast person? Where is your favorite breakfast place?

Some day ... some day ... I will find the breakfast-spot where they know how to cook an egg over medium instead of over easy.

For the meantime, I believe hotcakes, eggs, and bacon at the Vienna Inn are pretty good, when I get the chance. Hash browns are a little much.

2. Are you a fan of the winter Olympics? If so, which is your favorite event? If not, why?

Not a big fan, really - my interest in spectator sports seems to start with baseball and pretty much peter out there. I think it would be cool to learn cross-country skiing just because it's useful, but, given my current lattitude, a ham radio license would be a higher priority.

3. What's your favorite comic or printed cartoon?

Online right now, it's just about a dead heat between Kaspall (a very metafictional fantasy suspense novel) and Dead Winter (a post-satirical zombie apocalypse bildungsroman). Offline, I would have to decide between my childhood love, The Adventures of Tintin, English translation (a bit of a wandering-the-earth series), and the books I've become interested in more recently, such as Sandman Mystery Theatre, Transmetropolitan, and Invincible.

I think I would go for Dead Winter and Tintin, respectively, and would hate to choose between the two.

4. What do you plan to do once you're done with school?

I think at this point it is abundantly obvious that teaching is in my future.

5. What are your feelings on Valentine's Day?

Is that today?

On the one hand, I don't like obligations, but on the other hand, I tend to forget to do things I should if I don't have a reason and a date. On the gripping hand, I'm single (sighs!).

...well, that's all. Now to throw on some clothes to rush for the library booksale!
packbat: Wearing a open-frame backpack, a pair of sunglasses, and a wide, triangular grin. (hiking)
2010-02-12 09:10 am

Don't Stop the Sandman

This mashup is seriously the most awesome thing I've seen all week. Thanks, [ profile] tacit! (And thanks [ profile] nationelectric, who linked tacit's essay the other day!)

EDIT: Substitute [ profile] remix79 in the parenthetical - goes to show why you should check your sources...

packbat: Leaning on a chain-link fence, looking to my left (your right) with a neutral expression. (spectator)
2009-11-29 11:04 am

Personal Info Meme

From a couple people:

You know how sometimes people on your friends list post about stuff going on in their life, and all of a sudden you think "Wait a minute? Since when were they working THERE? Since when were they dating HIM/HER? Since when???" And then you wonder how you could have missed all that seemingly pretty standard information, but somehow you feel too ashamed to ask for clarification because it seems like info you should already know? It happens to all of us sometimes.

Please copy the topics below, erase my answers and put yours in their place, and then post it in your journal! Please elaborate on the questions that would benefit from elaboration. One-Word-Answers seldom help anyone out.

first name: Robin. I, like my siblings, have a gender-neutral name, and like (at least one of) my siblings, that means occasionally getting mail with the 'wrong' honorific. (As you can see by my scare quotes, I 'care' about this. For the record, the correct honorific is "Mr".)

age: 770 Ms - or about 24 years 5 months, if you like the merely standard units of measure.

location: Near DC on the Maryland side - convenient to the bus lines and Metrorail, which explains why I don't have a driver's license. (Which explains why I have disposable income - can you say "car insurance"?)

occupation: Graduate research assistant at the University of Maryland, College Park, doing research in two-phase cooling for power electronic systems. From the back forward: "power electronic systems" are, for example, the thing that turns your AC into DC or vice-versa; "cooling" is taking the waste heat off the device (it's not 100% efficient) so that it may be dumped into (probably) the air somewhere else; and "two-phase cooling" means doing the above by making a liquid boil, later to be condensed elsewhere. This is something which is an active area of research because it's kind of a messy problem (like turbulence in fluid flow) and the best solutions are of the plus-or-minus-30% strength. Which works in steam power plants, but not in microelectronics.

partner: Romantic? None so far.

kids: In light of the previous question, I am quite glad that the answer here is "none" as well.

brothers/sisters: One each. The sister is a twin, and yes, I've been asked if we're identical. I don't get it either. (The brother is older, and makes me look boring.)

pets: None. My parents had a guinea pig when I was young, and my sister had a rabbit some time later, but I've never been responsible for another living being. (I did quite poorly just caring for a plant!)

3-5 biggest things going on in your life: Largest is the research project, presumably, and second is my schoolwork. (I'm actually pretty stressed these days thanks to an incomplete from last semester I'm having trouble tying up. The class I'm in now is pretty chill.) There on down, it gets pretty minor-scale - the novel I started for Nanowrimo is the biggest thing, and I'm ... not really diligent about working on it.

parents: Both living, and both with a Web presence. I'll mention my father's (done!), as he comments on this blog from time to time. Oh, and is a fierce blogger himself. Pretend that I said that when I mentioned him.

some of your closest friends: There are a couple from my Scout troop that I've been absolute rubbish keeping in touch with (K and W), and then there's several from school with whom I'll banter in the ASME lounge, exchange books, and occasionally play board games (particularly J, J, and T). Other than that, I get on decently with my parents, hang out with my brother, and exchange communications with quite a few people on the Web of Lies (as my mum would call it).

I believe that's better than one-word answers, anyway! Toodles!
packbat: Headshot looking serious and superimposed on the Gettysburg Address. (gettysburg)
2009-10-11 01:34 pm

"and if you’re against it, then get out of the way."

From [profile] baldanders, here and there:

Alan Grayson (D-FL) is my hero. Seriously, he tells it like it is, without fear of the insurance companies, and certainly not without fear of the Republican lie machine:

"We as a party have spent the last six months, the greatest minds in our party, dwelling on the question, the unbelievably consuming question of how to get Olympia Snowe to vote on health care reform. I want to remind us all that Olympia Snowe was not elected President last year. Olympia Snowe has no veto power in the Senate. Olympia Snowe represents a state with one half of one percent of America's population.

"What America wants is health care reform. America doesn't care if it gets 51 votes in the Senate or 60 votes in the Senate or 83 votes in the Senate, in fact America doesn't even care about that, it doesn't care about that at all. What America cares about is this; there are over 1 million Americans who go broke every single year trying to pay their health care bills. America cares a lot about that. America cares about the fact that there are 44,780 Americans who die every single year on account of not having health care, that's 122 every day. America sure cares a lot about that. America cares about the fact that if you have a pre-existing condition, even if you have health insurance, it's not covered. America cares about that a lot. America cares about the fact that you can get all the health care you need as long as you don't need any. America cares about that a lot. But America does not care about procedures, processes, personalities, America doesn't care about that at all." [. . .]

"Last week I held up this report here and I pointed out that in America there are 44,789 Americans that die every year according to this Harvard report published in this peer reviewed journal because they have no health insurance. That's an extra 44,789 Americans who die whose lives could be saved, and their response was to ask me for an apology." [. . .]

"Well, I'm telling you this; I will not apologize. I will not apologize. I will not apologize for a simple reason; America doesn't care about your feelings. [. . .] America does care about health care in America. And if you're against it, then get out of the way. You can lead, you can follow or you can get out of the way. [. . .] America understands that there is one party in this country that is favor of health care reform and one party that is against it, and they know why.

"They understand that if Barack Obama were somehow able to cure hunger in the world the Republicans would blame him for overpopulation. They understand that if Barack Obama could somehow bring about world peace they would blame him for destroying the defense industry. In fact, they understand that if Barack Obama has a BLT sandwich tomorrow for lunch, they will try to ban bacon.

"But that's not what America wants; America wants solutions to its problems, and that begins with health care."

packbat: Wearing a open-frame backpack, a pair of sunglasses, and a wide, triangular grin. (hiking)
2009-09-24 08:07 pm

My Atheism

Greta Christina recently posted something rather brilliant about atheism and self-definition that ... well, it inspires me to define my atheism, just so people know where I'm coming from.

I'd love to see people's reactions to this, by the way. I might be too busy to react properly, but I'll try to answer questions, comments, complains, and arguments, whatever reaction you have to what I say.

*clears throat*

I'm an atheist. What that means is that I don't believe that anything like a god is real. I'm not totally certain - I don't think any atheist is totally certain, however hyperbolic their rhetoric might become in the heat of debate - but I've thought about this quite a lot for quite a while, I've read a lot of arguments, and all told I simply don't believe it. I'm pretty sure that the people who do believe there are any gods, be it one, a few, or many, are simply mistaken.

I'm an atheist. I'm a strong atheist - I believe that no such thing as a god is real. Now, this distinction commonly causes semantic confusion: "I don't believe gods are real" doesn't mean "I believe gods are imaginary", never mind that I could state both truthfully; it's perfectly common for atheists to not believe that gods exist, while simultaneously not believing that gods don't exist. Such persons don't believe they have the evidence to commit either way on the question. I do.

I'm an atheist. I'm a metaphysical naturalist - I think the universe operates according to fundamentally non-mental principles. Richard Carrier defined supernaturalism well in an essay a couple years ago: supernatural things cannot be broken down into non-mental pieces. That makes no sense to me. Everything I have ever learned - my education in philosophy, in physics, in psychology, in mathematics, in computer science, in literature - has given me a strong instinct that somewhere at the base of it all are simple mathematical laws. I draw the comparison to Conway's Game of Life: the rules are basic and unbreakable, but through their implications on higher and higher levels of complexity in the world shaped as it is we find everything with which we are familiar.

I'm an atheist. I don't believe there's any overlord of the universe to dictate moral laws for us, nor any afterlife wherein our acts can be judged. Our morals are our own - earned in the struggles and victories of our ancestral species, forged on the anvil of a world which does not tell us what we should do, but merely referees. Our senses of beauty, of honor, of justice, of fairness, of charity, of love, of pride, of disgust ... every subjective experience we have is ours, proven on the steppes from which we came and coming together to create that which is us. To declare that this makes goodness into something meaningless is, if you'll forgive the rhyme, senseless - we're not stupid, and if we value goodness, that is meaning enough.

I'm an atheist. I am an atheist because I have the freedom to be thus - the freedom to learn, to decide, and to proclaim. I would not live where I was required to be thus by ignorance, deception, or coercion: to be an atheist freely is to be aware of the need for freedom. As Alfred Tarski is quoted to have said, "The sentence 'snow is white' is true if and only if snow is white" - and to be forced to believe that snow is white is to be coerced to believe, be that belief true or false. The only way to be free to believe truth is to be free to believe what one must on the strength of one's own judgement.

I'm an atheist. I care about being an atheist - I care about what I believe, and about being true to what I believe. I want to be treated decently and with respect. I want the people who disagree with me to listen to me - to trust my sincerity and my rationality - and when they argue with me, I want them to be sincere and rational in doing so. I want the arguments against me to stem from a fair and charitable reading of my sometimes-clumsy explanations - you can fight me, but fight the true implications of my world-view with the true implications of yours.
packbat: Wearing my custom-made hat and a smirk. (hat)
2009-09-10 09:09 pm

The Sliding Scale of Cooking From Scratch

(You can tell I TVTropes too much, can't you?)

0: Selected. This is (almost1) the theoretical minimum - telling someone else what you want so they can prepare it for you. When you call the pizza place, this is what you're doing.

1: Heated. Whether it be oven, microwave, or boiling water, this degree of preparation consists of "take prepackaged food and make it hot".2 When you put a toaster pastry in the toaster, that's this.

2: From mix. At this point, you begin to put some genuine effort into the dish - at the least, measuring and stirring - but the tricky parts of the recipe are still taken care of for you. As you might guess, this covers any product with "mix" in its name - chili mix, cake mix - as well as those horrid "mac & cheese" boxes with the powdered chemical byproducts.

3: From ingredients. The minimum level to actually count as "cooking from scratch" - here you go all the way back to butter, flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, chopped nuts, egg, semi-sweet chocolate, vanilla extract, ¼ teaspoon water, and drop by half-teaspoonfuls onto greased baking sheets to bake at 375 °F for 10-12 minutes. If you went to a grocery store, bought items with fewer than five ingredients listed on the label, and put them together at home to make the dish, that's this.

4: From organisms. When you go hunting, fishing, berry-picking, or the like, you've reached this level.

5: Farmed. When a dish is composed of food you grew yourself - from a tomato patch to a laying chicken all the way up to a full-fledged farm - you have reached the top of the scale.3 Congratulations.

As a rule of thumb, if all the major components of a dish are on the same level, the dish should be counted on that level. (If you shoot a deer and fry up a cut with seasoned salt, it's still a "4".) However, if major components span multiple levels, that should be indicated. (A pie filling made from ingredients and baked in a store-bought shell is a "1 to 3".)

1. I say "almost" because going to a dinner with a set menu would remove even this degree of control over the proceedings. ^
2. On reflection, pouring milk into cereal would probably count as this level too, despite no heating being involved. ^
3. Technically, the human mind can conceive a more basic level, but it's not commonly practiced. ^
packbat: Coming into the finish line after a mile race - the announcer can be seen behind me. (running)
2009-08-03 10:22 am

(no subject)

From [ profile] padparadscha (don't blame me!)

1. Name:
2. Birthday:
3. Where do you live:
4. IM:
5. What are you studying/What are you working as:
6. What makes you happy:
7. What are you listening to now/have listened to last:
8. Weirdest food you like:
9. An interesting fact about you:
10. Are you in love/have a crush at the moment:
11. Favorite place to be:
12. Favorite lyric:
13. Best time of the year:
14. Put a picture of yourself:

1. A film:
2. A book:
3. A song:
4. A band:
5. A tv show:

1. One thing you like about me:
2. Two things you like about yourself:
3. Put this in your lj so I can tell you what I think of you?
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (quarter-rear)
2009-08-02 10:59 am

(no subject)

From [ profile] peterchayward

Don't take too long to think about it. 15 books you've read that will always stick with you. They don't have to be the greatest books you've ever read, just the ones that stick with you. First 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Copy these instructions and do it yourself, because I'm interested in seeing what books are in your head.

(I spent more than 15 minutes. I r slo.)

1. A Gentleman's Agreement by Laura Z. Hobson. This is the book I often talk about when I'm talking about racism - the movie is good as well, although I prefer the text. The thing is: the problem doesn't stop with the people who go out hunting with baseball bats and chains and trucks on back roads. It's an education, for sure.

2. Watership Down by Richard Adams. This is merely one of the best written books in the English language. Adams is very simply a master of description, and he uses it in a way which flows seamlessly with the narration - I remember vividly scenes where a pause in the action is indicated, not by any explicit statement, but by the opening up of the world which occurs in the pauses, the sounds and sights that awaken in the silences of our conversations.

3 & 4. A Woman Of The Iron People by Eleanor Aranson, Islands in the Net by Bruce Sterling. These are simply good SF - books that take you to a place that does not exist and let you live with its natives. The former is one of the best anthropological SF stories I have read, better than Ursula Le Guin - simply very, very interesting. The latter is a political thriller in a world not unlike our own that is just a superb piece of storytelling - a story with all the tempo of a potboiler, but just intellectual in a way which those are not.

5. Transmetropolitan #1 by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson. I swear this book is the most anti-classy ode to Truth I have ever read. It's a series I haven't finished reading, but even Vol. 1 alone is a poem. A poem you wouldn't want to read in church, but still.

6. Abel's Island by William Steig. An illustrated talking-animals book for the younger set (not youngest set, but those to whom Watership Down is incorrectly marketed, I believe); a simple bildungsroman, but well done.

7. Proofs and Refutations by Imre Lakatos. A lesson in the form of dialogue (polylogue? "Dia" always seems wrong when many people are speaking) in the nature of mathematical proofs, surrounding Euler's formula and the counterexamples to it. Suggests many things, including (and this counters a widespread myth) that mathematical proofs aren't truly perfect and irrefutable deliverances of knowledge.

8. Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. It's just a fantastic example of someone breaking the rules of novels in a way which works, breaking narrative order, breaking the division between falsity and truth ... it's somehow still readable. And it has a reality to it, a coherency in the face of its manifest contradictions and blatant insertions of biography into fiction.

9. Consciousness Explained by Daniel Dennett. Just an impressive, impressive dissection of the thing that is us, destroying an army of illusions in its wake.

10. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. One of the best humor books of all time. No more need be said. (Except that it's old, so you can find it for free online and for cheap in the shops.)

11. Still River by Hal Clement. This is not what you might call a great book - every flaw that Hal Clement's writing is prone to, this book suffers from ... but the setting! I will long remember this one fondly just as an utterly science-fiction potboiler - only no bodies, just the brute mystery of the research project the protagonists have to complete.

12. Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement. Probably one of his best books (although Needle might be more popular). Don't read Still River if you don't like Mission of Gravity, but Mission of Gravity is a classic. Especially if you have the edition with the discussion of the creation of the book, a discussion which I highly recommend to every SF fan.

13. Shardik by Richard Adams. I joked with [ profile] toya121 that if I had a million dollars, I'd give everyone I know a copy of this book - like Watership Down, it is just magnificently written. Much more depressing, though, and epic on a grander scale.

14. A Fire Upon The Deep by Vernor Vinge. Science fiction rather than fantasy, but still greater in scope and grandeur. A real potboiler, too. Pay attention to the side stories.

15. I will cheat a little with the last slot: On War by Carl von Clausewitz. I have not finished reading it, but it is a simply muscular work. I anticipate much of it.
packbat: Wearing a open-frame backpack, a pair of sunglasses, and a wide, triangular grin. (hiking)
2009-05-03 06:11 pm

Free Comic Book Day, part 2

Continuing yesterday's entry...

Worlds of Aspen )

Resurrection )

Atomic Robo, Drone, We Kill Monsters )


That's all the FCBD for this year, unless I drop in later this week and see something else - ta!