Monday, June 19, 2017

Selling the Supernatural


Getting into another person's automobile has always been a bit of an entertaining game for me.  I find that a person's car or truck is a fascinating window into that person's habits and quirks, especially if they spend a lot of time in their car on a daily basis.  And this is totally an anecdotal guess on my part, but most of the people I've ridden with likely don't even realize how much of themselves that they're exposing to their riders.  I'm betting it's because the passengers have a lot of time on their hands to be nosey, while the driver is predominately occupied with, you know, driving.

Okay, now that you have some background on my own, "inquisitive quirks," the reason I started a blog post in such a strange way is to segue into the fact that my family and I spent a lot of time in cabs and other shuttle services while we were on our most recent vacation.  (We also used the mass transit system as well, but that wasn't nearly as entertaining this time around.)  In doing so, we regularly found ourselves with plenty of interesting things to talk about after the ride.

Before I go on, I will say that some drivers were respectful, quiet, and the interior of their automobiles were extraordinarily clean.  And obviously they all got us to our destinations safely.  Well done, gents.

But this post is for you few drivers that seemed to awkwardly forget what you were listening to on the radio.  Because that's where it got really... REALLY interesting.

I heard heated discussions varying from the legality of political asylum, to the legitimacy of disclosing menstrual cycles to employers.  With the latter, I can only imagine how uncomfortable my teenage son must have felt listening to that contentious debate.  Anyway, the most laughable situation, by far, was our exposure to an extremely lively monologue, by a religious radio personality I've never even heard of, detailing how he had various god-given methods to provide the millennial generation with actual supernatural powers.

You read me right.  This guy was trying to sell super powers to young people.  Real, honest to Abe, X-Men style super powers.  He was using the god of the Bible to promote it.  And it wasn't a joke.

It wasn't a joke because we were forced to listen to this religious radio personality promote his superhuman regimen for at least 20 agonizingly hilarious minutes where, out of respect for the driver, we couldn't laugh our asses off.

You may snicker and dismiss this guy on the radio as a nut, but what he was selling is really just a modern twist on Christian beliefs and Biblical presumptions.  Before you think I'm as nuts as the, "Weapon X Program" promoting pastor on the radio, hear me out on this...  There really is no difference between that type of crazy and any other pastor who claims that the stories in the Bible are real.  For example, in the Bible a guy caused multiple plagues on a country, one poor woman was turned to a pillar of salt, a snake and a donkey spoke to people, one guy had colossal strength, one guy even walked on water and healed a blind dude with mud and spit...

See what I mean?

What I'm getting at is that while it's easy to ridicule a radio personality for trying to convince young people that they can possess supernatural powers, it's equally easy for most religious people to sit quietly feckless in church and accept the ridiculous stories being presented to them simply because those particular stories are wrapped in the protective presumptions of the authenticity of the Bible.  Why is that?  Why didn't the cab driver scoff at this nonsense and change the channel?  And for that matter, why is it easy for me to predict that most religious people reading this would think that radio personality is as nuts as I do, yet be perfectly comfortable believing any of the supernatural passages I listed above?

If god is your rationale for belief in the supernatural, then you totally missed the point.  If faith is your excuse, then I would argue that you're just being lazy.

Okay, I'll admit that it's really not fair for me to pick on this particular cab driver on this.  He stood out to me simply because riding in his cab/shuttle was definitely the most memorable.  And yes, I realize that he's not the only one.  I see this and hear this type of thing on a daily basis, automobile or no.  And some people reading this may also feel that it's not fair for me to pick on people that might believe the stories in the Bible.  But if you believe those supernatural stories in the Bible, why don't you immediately believe that this radio pastor can indeed give millennials super powers?

Answered Prayers

Most religious people I know are very skeptical of supernatural claims by people they don't know personally.  They get it that people lie - frequently - and thus they are generally not willing to accept an outrageous claim without some form of actual evidence.  However, what they generally have the most difficulty with is being equally skeptical of people that they know who claim that their prayers were answered by god herself.  All that is necessary for most religious people to believe a claim is to wrap it around a smidgen of, "I prayed about it..." or a pinch of, "I asked God..." and religious folks practically knock each other over just to fawn over his or her good fortune.  I mean, it basically gets believers into the religious equivalent of a piranha-style feeding frenzy with all the exclamations of, "Praise Jesus!" or, "Amen!" or, "Thank the Lord!"

Be that as it may, I've found that these answered prayers are never that extreme or over-the-top.  I'm assuming this is probably due some unspoken restriction where believers have to keep claims of answered prayers just under the threshold of other people's bullshit alarm.  Sure, there are those that think Jesus saved their house from a tornado when other people were killed by it, or that their god was good enough to leave a cross at the World Trade Center after allowing the death of over 3,000 people. But all in all most religious folks think even THAT kind of crap is nuts.

It's the people that believe their prayers are answered over the silliest of things that I honestly cannot tolerate.  Like finding a $20 dollar bill in their jacket pocket after praying to god for more money.  Or praising Jesus for putting that pair of jeans on sale so he or she could finally afford them.  Or worse yet, thanking god for curing your cancer after going through surgeries and/or various other medical treatments.  That kind of nonsense makes my blood boil.

Yet I rarely hear about instances where god simply couldn't be bothered to answer any prayers.  (Don't get me started on amputees or people who die from cancer even after aggressive treatment.)  And if I do hear anyone whining about an unanswered prayer, I can bet money that person will have the absolute perfect excuse for god.  So perfect in fact, that the excuses themselves appear designed to relieve god of any burden whatsoever.

God seems to have the perfect gig.

What you're witnessing here is the case where people ignore the failures and concentrate on the successes.  Gamblers do it, superstitious people do it, and sadly, very sick people do it.  In science terminology, we refer to this as confirmation bias, and it's every bit as dangerous as the people peddling the supernatural.  By ignoring the times that something fails, people are tilting the scale in favor of a lie.

It is this type of believing behavior that creates and maintains the idea that somehow, somewhere, there is something larger than what the universe allows.  It is this believing behavior that rationalizes a supernatural being taking time out of her busy schedule to spot you a $20.  Belief based solely on the requirement that all you need is a little faith.  Faith that god answered your prayer because you believe and are somehow special.  Faith that god intervened in the natural law of the universe in order to make sure you have a new pair of jeans.  Faith that against what you know is impossible, a supernatural being is looking out for you and yours.

Of course, if you've ever taken the time to wonder why god answered your prayer but couldn't be bothered to protect a child from being raped or couldn't take the time to keep people from starving, then you're on the right track.

In any event, that kind of supernatural crap is fine when writing fiction, and works really great when creating comic books.  But in the hands of people who know how to exploit others, it's essentially a ticking time bomb.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

He is risen!

My annual post in celebration of Eostre!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The TSA Has Us Fearing Our Own Children

Normally I shy away from profanity as much has possible on my blog, but this subject has me boiling over to the point where I can no longer contain my disgust.

As always, you've been warned...

Recently while traveling with my family, I was absolutely disgusted to learn that the TSA now has the power to subject teens as early as 13 years-old to the full body scan.

That's right parents - your 13 year-old girl or boy gets the full, "I can see your tits and the size of your flaccid cock" body scan.

Normally I try to stay as calm and cooperative as possible during this monumental breach of my personal liberties, supposed constitutional rights, and basic human dignity.  But when I saw how dismissively the autocratic TSA agent ordered my 14 year-old teenage boy through the full body scanner, I simply couldn't hold my tongue.  I made it a point to say, "Well, that's completely disgusting." And while pointing at my poor son assuming the position in the scanner, I asked, "Doesn't that qualify as pedophilia?"

It was the moment I noticed how easy it was for the TSA rent-a-cop agents to ignore me when I knew my country had gone completely insane.  So insane, that I question whether these people are actually my countrymen.

How is it that collectively our society has become so afraid of each other?  I'm literally dumbfounded.  How is it that we have become so afraid of some anonymous brown bogeyman with an oddly shaped hat that we're willing to accept a government sponsored administration that is recklessly performing acts that would get any other ordinary citizen convicted of pedophilia?

You think I'm being overdramatic?  Well, then let's take a moment and review a couple of hypothetical scenarios.

Let's say there's some guy, maybe a pastor in Mississippi, Alabama, or Arkansas, who has placed cameras in the church's bathrooms to take photographs of his constituent's daughters while they are using the restroom.  Would you be offended?

How about this.  Let's say there's an idiot walking around malls with a mirror attached to the top of his shoe where he can take pictures of 13 year-old boy's junk while he's using a urinal in the restroom.  Would THAT make you angry?

I hope so!  Because a judge would happily throw the book at both of those hypothetical asshats.

But this, ladies and gentlemen, is essentially your Transportation Security Administration.  This government funded administration is legally allowed to take pictures of your kid's junk on a daily basis.  And thus far, not one Senator or Representative in the House has argued against these new predatory, "regulations".

To put it simply, we are at the mercy of a complicit, recklessly abusive, over-reaching, predatory state.

Hell, maybe all these raunchy out-of-work pastors and horny youth ministers that we see getting arrested on a weekly basis can land a job at the TSA rather than risk the considerable investment of grooming their unsuspecting (and completely innocent) victims.  Think about it, these assholes can get everything their twisted brain desires.  And they get the added bonus of the gleeful consent, or "blessing" if you will, of their remarkably gullible, yet pretentiously principled parents, who are perfectly willing to allow completely nude images to be taken of their teenage children.

I mean, statistically speaking a child in the United States is more likely to be molested or raped by a family member or by a priest, pastor, or some form of religious leader.

That is, until now.

Leave it to the US Government to offer twisted fucks like these people the authority to sexually abuse hundreds, even thousands, of children every day!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Dawn of Idiocracy

There was a time in my life where I believed in the corrective measures of our electorate.  There was a time in my life where I believed that somehow, there had to be some kind of a universal corrective measure in place to set the universe back in order.  Hell, there was a time in my life where I believed in a higher power.  I mean seriously, throughout the history of our nation, we have confronted our fair share of phony, inept, unethical, narcissistic, Biblically evil assholes.  Both foreign, and domestic.  But this... This shit is different.

There was a time where I believed in a fundamental decency of humanity.

That time has passed.

This blog will serve as my anesthetic.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Cat's Out of the Bag

I just received a mass email from none other than Texas Senator John Cornyn addressing his thoughts on Obama's latest Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.  And to my surprise, it seems Senator Cornyn just let the real reason Republicans in the Senate are giving a new definition to the term, "obstructionist".  Here's a screenshot of what I received:

Just in case the screen capture is hard to see, I'll quote Senator Cornyn:
"The next Supreme Court Justice could change the ideological makeup of the Court for a generation, fundamentally reshaping our society in the process."
That's right folks, this has nothing to do with the, "Biden Rule" or, "Letting the voters have a voice."  They refuse to even hold a hearing because they do not want the current President of the United States the opportunity to fulfill his Constitutional obligation of filling an empty seat on the Supreme Court because they know their ideology, their Christian ideology, will no longer have a stranglehold on the Supreme Court.

Most of his colleagues have been hiding behind the empty rhetoric of a "lame duck" President amid the Presidential PRIMARY season.  But this guy, comfortable in his seat for another four years, told us all the real truth.

Get this, he even included a "poll" in this ridiculous excuse for not performing the duties for which this man was elected.  I'll let you decide if this actually meets the definition of a poll:
"Do you agree that Texans and the American people deserve a say in the selection of the next lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court?
Nothing says, immature elementary school begging like a loaded yes or no question.

Please forward this to everyone who says they're not going to vote.  Forward it to all the young people that claim they'll stay home unless Bernie Sanders gets the nomination.  These are the type of people that are currently running our Congress, and they will continue to operate this way until we vote them out.

So please, I beg you.  VOTE.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

SILAS - My Home Automation

Now that my home automation is finally getting to the point where it feels like an integral part of my house, I decided to take some time to review the hardware components and of course, the software.  While there are both hardware and software components to my home automation, I always refer to it in the general sense as SILAS - Simple Intranet/Internet Linked Automation System.  (I should disclose that I wrote my own software integration to my home automation components, but we'll cover that in a bit.)

First of all, after my initial research I realized I needed a robust and high quality control unit.  I chose the ISY994i from Universal Devices for it's flexibility, ease of use, and more importantly, their various network programming interfaces (again, more on that later.)  At the time I purchased this unit, it was the only controller offering so many features.  I felt I got more bang for my buck, and I knew it would fit the bill when it came time to write my software.  (Insteon is now offering a new Hub, which looks very promising as well.  However, in my opinion their programmer interface is not nearly as concise as the ISY994i.)

Next, for my outlets and switches I chose Insteon products because they offer both powerline and RF communication between components.  Insteon refers to this as "dual-band", which means that a signal is sent via the electrical wiring within your house, and another signal is sent via radio frequency.  If the signal isn't consumed by the particular device through the wiring, it has another chance to consume the signal via RF.  Plus, most of their components not only receive controller signals, but also possess the ability to re-transmit these signals to other potential components.  Obviously this means that as you buy more components, you build a bigger automation network.  This is very convenient for any houses larger than say, 1,600 square feet.

Insteon also offers an extremely wide array of components like in-wall outlets, switches, sprinkler controllers, thermostats, garage door kits... you name it.  My house is littered with various Insteon components and anytime I find a frequently used lamp or light that would be better served by automating it, it's an easy conversion.  For example, I never really felt like I had complete control over my sprinkler system.  Not to mention the Weathermatic controller had a knack for blowing the tiny little 1 Amp fuses every couple of months.  So, I removed the old flaky sprinkler controller and installed a couple of Insteon low voltage sprinkler controllers.  After a quick bit of wiring and linking to the ISY994i, I was all set with complete control and status of each station in my sprinkler system.

Now let's go back to the ISY994i in order to discuss my software.  Years ago, my software ran as an executable in Windows 7 and utilized a direct network connection to the ISY994i controller.  This worked very well for a while, but it generally only functioned when used within my home network (we techie people call that your 'intranet').  Outside my home network (or what techie people call the 'internet'), my connection reliability to my home was spotty at best and nonexistent at worst.  Thus, as the Windows operating system changed, and computer hardware adopted touchscreens, AND Windows Phone offered an easy port of my code, AND the Universal Devices folks offered a new network programming interface, AND internet connections got faster, (and you get the idea...) I decided a new approach was long overdue.

Without going into all the gory technical and programming details, I recently finalized the latest iteration of my SILAS software.  The results of which have been outstanding, at least for me and my family's uses.  I have given the clunky, overly complicated web interface of the ISY994i an easy to manipulate user interface that fits very well with the smallest of Windows tablets.  Not to mention it serves as a satisfying balance between providing the current state of my home and the convenience of modern touchscreen user interfaces.  SILAS can display active devices; the current weather at a glance (and a more descriptive forecast if you wish); lists of rooms or scenes; and of course, Cortana integration for those that actually like issuing orders to their homes.

Finally, I'd like to add that having all of this automation without some kind of fixed, interactive terminals around your house forces everyone, even visitors, into your particular technological ecosystem.  It is this reason that I recommend at least one easily located, wall-mounted terminal/interface to your home automation.  The good news for me is that finding relatively cheap Windows tablets has been fairly easy since Dell and HP have been practically giving them away for the past year-and-a-half.  These small tablets - 8" to be exact - make the perfect interface for high traffic areas like our kitchen and our loft.  Here's a quick snapshot of SILAS in our kitchen (please note that I have plans to build a custom frame to give the tablet a proper finish to the wall):

Also, I have found that Microsoft offers extremely cheap unlocked Windows phones (Lumia 635) on Amazon or the Microsoft Store.  As a matter of fact, these phones are so cheap that they are a far more economical choice than Insteon's 4 or 6 button remotes!  All you have to do is set them to airplane mode and then turn on the WiFi.  And just like that, you have yourself a crisp, backlit LCD interface.  Not to mention they look exceedingly dapper running SILAS (if I do say so myself):

So there we have it.  I hope this helps someone else who might be considering entering the world of home automation.  There are so many products coming to the market now that it is extremely difficult to find the right fit for what you envision for your home.  I hope that in reviewing my home automation solution, it might help give you a bit of direction and clarification as you begin your own adventure toward a fully automated home.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Claim and the Evidence

Lately, I have noticed that some people have either never been taught the difference, or they have simply forgotten their definitions.  Therefore, I decided to review some basic concepts behind critical thought and skepticism.

First, let's review what usually activates the critical mind - the claim.  In this context, a claim is a statement of fact, or an assertion.  These can be things like:
There is a basilisk living in my chimney. 
Samsung phones sell better than iPhones. 
The Earth's orbit is so perfect that if it moved 100 miles in either direction, we would either freeze or burn.
Some claims are so grandiose that it's difficult to comprehend.  Others seem wrong, but only if taken from your perspective.  And of course, some claims are so outlandish that it is just too wild to take seriously.  For example, take my first claim.  I'm quite sure that as a reader, it would take me actually producing said basilisk before you would ever consider my claim.  As a matter of fact, I think you would assume I had lost my mind (and rightly so.)  If I did produce a basilisk, however, remember not to look that sucker in the eye...

Now take the second.  In the United States, many people would probably think that claim about Samsung was false.  That is, until they're shown the actual sales figures where in fact, Samsung outsells everyone when it comes to smartphones.

The third claim might seem plausible to those who know that the Earth is a very long way away from the Sun; and that our planet orbits in the "Goldilocks" or habitable zone of the Sun; and that 100 miles is a really long way, too.  But this claim is not just wildly incorrect, it's downright silly.  The Earth's orbit varies throughout the year by approximately 5 million miles, so 100 miles is just a drop in the orbital bucket.  But the unwitting human can easily comprehend 100 miles, and since it sounds really far, then it's easy for some to believe.

Now that we've covered the claim, let's review the evidence.  This is generally easy for most people to understand - it's anything that can be used to prove or disprove something.  And yes, contrary to popular opinion, even statistics are a completely valid means of providing proof of a claim.

Why is all of this important?

It seems that many people have forgotten that the claim cannot also be used as evidence.  For example, I cannot use the Harry Potter series as evidence for my claim that I have a basilisk in my chimney.  The Harry Potter series does contain some nonfictional castles and cities in the UK, and it also mentions that basilisks exist, but that doesn't mean that the series can be used as a valid source of my claim.

The exact same thing can be said for the Bible.  Try to remember that a book which makes a claim cannot be used to provide evidence that the original claim is true.  Far too many people use this type of circular reasoning to argue a Biblical point of view without realizing the fallacy.

What you choose to believe is your own business.  But please... please do the rest of us a favor and realize that your book, read independent of personal bias, is nothing more than a long list of unsubstantiated, supernatural claims.