Tom Pittman's WebLog

(or something like that)

2005 December 31 -- Taking "Christ" out of Christmas

Although not much celebrated today in America, the Twelve Days of traditional Christmas end just before Epiphany, January 6 (the month before December 25 is actually Advent, not Christmas), so this is still a timely topic. And a week later it continues to bug me that people who boycott Target stores for refusing to wish people "Merry Christmas" and for forbidding the Salvation Army bell-ringers to stand at their doors, these same people cancel Sunday morning church services on Christmas day. All over the country, including here in the "Bible Belt."

I just want to ask them, What is WRONG with your Sunday morning church services, that they cannot be the centerpiece of a family celebration of the only holiday in the whole year with "Christ" in its name?

2005 December 27 -- Origin of the Species

Years SETI scientists have searched for extraterrestrial life: 46
Confirmed ET signals detected:  0
Years scientists have been trying to re-create the origins of life in the lab:  53
Number of protocells synthesized:  0
WIRED - 01|2006 - 025
Anybody for Intelligent Design? Oh wait, that implies a Designer.

Nobody is too stupid to miss that implication. What they do miss is the historical fact that the God-option is not anti-science. Modern science got its start among believers in Intelligent Design -- and nowhere else, ever.

2005 December 26 -- Yancey's Parallel Universe

Philip Yancey has spent most of his life running away from an oppressive church experience in his youth. As a consequence, he is often quite incisive in identifying the problems of the institutional conservative church in our time. Sometimes, however, he is still just running.

In November ChristianityToday (so I'm a little behind in my reading), his regular bimonthly back-page column describes his encounter with people who do not understand (and therefore fear and loathe) evangelicals. There are a lot of such people, enough to be very unhappy that they are a minority not a big enough to defeat President Bush. Yancey is rather more sympathetic to their concerns than I am, and he tries to place much of the blame on evangelicals for attempting "to devote so many efforts to rehabilitating society at large." He must be reading a different Bible than I.

I agree with Yancey that Jesus put a lot more emphasis on making disciples for his own Kingdom than on political action in this present age. Indeed Jesus said nothing at all about political action. John the Baptist -- of whom Jesus said "there is none greater born of woman" -- and the Apostle Paul, Jesus' foremost apologist, both subtly encouraged people in secular (political) positions to stay where they are and be good disciples there. There was in the 1st century no such thing as democracy as we know it; would Jesus encourage us not to vote? I doubt it. I suspect Yancey would agree. Would Jesus tell us not to run for political office, or to run only upon capitulating to the agenda of the Evil Empire (whoever they might be)? Hardly.

Some people are called by God to be evangelists and pastors and carpenters and cooks, not politicians; but some just might be called by God to promote a righteousness at the national level, and thus to continue to make the blessing of God available for the jobs of pastor and evangelist -- and yes, even to carpenters and cooks -- which blessings are not available to them in Saudi Arabia and China and other places where the Enemy completely controls the political machine. God is not helpless in those repressive regimes, but we have opportunities to do so much more with the gospel than the churches in China and Saudi Arabia can. And we do.

Yancey, who obviously considers himself an evangelical, if not a "right-wing evangelical" so hated by his acquaintances, got a little weak in the knees when it came time to defend Scriptural truth. Instead of telling them why we believe as we do (maybe he doesn't know? I doubt that), Yancey chose to quote some evangelical leaders. Not surprisingly, it was unconvincing. Second-hand truth rarely persuades.

There can be made a strong natural-law case against homosexual marriage, but it is not to be found in the Bible. God gave us the Bible to teach those who choose to obey His commands, whether we understand them or not. Science can and often does help us to understand why God's laws are good for us.

A couple years ago John Rankin, writing in Breakpoint, the magazine edited by Chuck Colson, who is the other regular back-page columnist in ChristianityToday, described his encounter over the same topic with homosexual activists. He clearly points out that the activists are demanding a right to form public policy by a means they wish to deny their opponents. "[The activist] then opened his mouth and, for several long seconds, said nothing." Rankin has a compelling argument that defeats thinking activists; Yancey obviously does not. That's too bad.

2005 December 16 -- Team Player?

In his eulogy at the funeral today, the home office administrator said of Joe, the veteran missionary under his supervision, "In 20 years he never once brought a single problem to my attention. I wish I had more missionaries like that." He obviously approved. I was appalled. Either Joe was a lone cowboy, not a team player, or else the administrator's job was superfluous, or both. Or maybe Joe was on Prozac, completely oblivious to everything around him.

Taking Christ and his church as my model, it seems to me that there are appropriate responsibilities for the top dog in the team, one of which is to deal with the hard problems. I never knew Joe that well, and while everybody spoke highly of him today (everybody always does that at a funeral), I find it hard to believe he was completely isolated from all problems. Jesus himself took time out to bring his situation to God in prayer, and strongly encouraged his followers to do the same. Did Jesus have no problems to mention? If you read his prayer in the Garden [Mark 14:36], it hardly fits that description. The disciples were constantly badgering him with problems great and small, and he never gave any hint that they were out of line.

If Joe is the model team player that Christian administrators want to work with, then it's no wonder I keep getting into trouble with them. When I know my job, I do it. When there is a problem I cannot easily solve, or that involves a policy decision, I ask for help. When people work for me, I expect the same team spirit. Mostly I get it.

2005 December 12 -- Dr.Dobb's Journal @ 30

The 30th anniversary issue of Dr.Dobb's Journal contains several interesting items, besides one about which my opinion is somewhat prejudiced. Besides my own, there were a couple other articles on computer language design, one of which described an easily made (and just as easily corrected) error in parser specification. The author acknowledged his textbook was Aho, Sethi, & Ullman, otherwise known as the Dragon Book (for the cover drawing of a red dragon representing compiler design, to be slain by the knight using a compiler-compiler). If he had read my book, which explicitly deals with the problem in a straight-forward way, he would never have written the article. Oh well, it must be like VisualStudio winning those awards: everybody uses the Dragon book, not mine, so they don't even know a better way exists.

Ed Nisley's column on embedded system topics addressed a curious and probably inevitable coming security chip in computers. Many computers already have this chip, but not activated. He basically pokes holes in the thought that it might actually provide any kind of security. In passing, he mentions the fact that color laser printer/copiers are so acurate that the Secret Service persuaded the manufacturers to distort the color in a specific way -- which hides a serial number in yellow dots on the print. I guess the government believes they can track down the purveyors of xeroxed money this way. Maybe. Or maybe they can only track down the political dissidents they don't happen to like that year.

The back page, where Michael Swaine often pontificates on topics as unrelated to computing as I do in my blog here, ends with his "jaw drop" reaction to seeing a Gallup poll showing "only 15% of Americans believe in the Theory of Evolution" [his caps]. What amazes me is how many of that tiny 15% minority fail to recognize how far out of the mainstream of America they really are.

2005 December 9 -- Kurzweil Is (Partly) Right

The current (December) WIRED magazine has a short interview with technologist Ray Kurzweil, concerning his new book The Singularity Is Near. His point is that technology "completely eclipses biological evolution." I agree. Since there is no evidence that biological evolution of the kind he is referring to has ever happened, it's easy for anything (and especially technology) to eclipse it.

But Kurzweil goes on to say that the advancing technology will overcome the effects of aging. The interview ends with the lines,

See you in 2105!
I'll be there.
Maybe, maybe not. Fifty years ago the prognosticators all thought everybody would be flying their own personal anti-gravity vehicles in 2000. Today the cars are mostly smaller than they were in 1955, but not significantly different. Air travel was just beginning 100 years ago, and most people used real horses to pull their cars. Space travel today has come and gone (not like air travel in 1905, which was still growing), and people still mostly move around on the ground. Medical advances may actually extend the average life another 20 years -- discounting early loss of life due to childhood diseases and accidents, that's probably all we gained in the last 100 years -- and maybe they will find a cure for senility; however the political trend these days is toward killing off the old folks (they call it "death with dignity" but it's just a way of forcing the old people out). So if the disease doesn't get you, the cost of medical care and its political fallout will. While individual therapies get cheaper, the total cost of health care is going through the sky.

One more thing. Technology only advances when people are there doing it. The USA has fallen behind other countries in the percentage of our population getting into it, and unlike Christianity which gave the scientific revolution its main impetus 500 and 200 years ago, the religion they now teach in the public schools provides no logical basis for it. Kurzweil's "technological evolution" may suffer the same fate as abortion in the state of Mississippi: it's not illegal there, just unavailable for other reasons.

I won't offer to read Kurzweil's obituary, but I sincerely doubt he will last halfway into the century, let alone into the next. But like Christopher Reeve, he can have fun hoping and wishing. Fairy tales are like that.

2005 December 5 -- Optical Mouse

That little mouse really liked blue corn chips. This morning, when I went out for breakfast, there were droppings all over the top of the microwave (under the cupboard where the ziplock bag of remaining uneaten chips was), and all over the counter behind the microwave. It had obviously spent a lot of time trying to get into that cupboard. That gave me an idea. I had nice toasty warm blue corn chips for breakfast, hopefully filling the kitchen with their aroma (which I couldn't smell, but my house guest sure could), then located a couple of the traps that had proved so futile with the previous mouse and wedged some chip crumbs into the triggers and set one on top of the microwave and the other out in the middle of the counter in front of it. I figured even if it could dislodge the bait without tripping it, it was still likely to bump the mechanism trying to leap up to the cupboard.

Then I waited.

Later in the morning, from the other end of the house I heard a faint "click." I went to investigate. As I rounded the corner I heard some scrabbling on the counter, so I did not hurry. By the time I got there, it had stopped moving. Mouse and trap and a quarter-inch dot of yellow fluid all went out into the garbage. I think the counter needs a good washing.

One good thing: I am not strongly motivated to clean house; today I did. The usual accumulation of crumbs around my eating area was gone, replaced with mouse turd. At the remote end of the kitchen was, among other things, the empty bag from a novelty snack I brought back from California (made in New York, but I had never seen it here). I was going to show it to the local grocer so see if he could get it, but the mouse chewed through the unopened end, perhaps not realizing that the other end was open, or perhaps not wanting to get trapped inside. ALL the counters got washed down with bleach.

One remaining puzzle: I refill 1-gallon drinking water jugs from the vending machine at the grocery, and when the jug is empty, I set it out on the counter to dry, with the cap nearby. I put the second jug out a couple days ago, but this morning its cap was gone. Maybe the mouse stole it? It left the blue plastic cap and took the green one 15 inches away.

2005 December 3 -- All God's Creatures, Great and (Mostly) Small

I believe it was originally a line in an old British hymn, and then subsequently became the title of a novel, I think about a veterinarian. This week a small uninvited visitor in my house gave new meaning to the phrase "All God's Creatures, Great and Small."

Very small creatures always abound, and I have long since learned to keep food closed up and put away. If the ant scouts cannot find anything interesting, they stop coming. This was different. I was sitting in the kitchen eating supper, when I heard it, that characteristic and purposeful rustle. Not just one pop as when the temperature changes the pressure on a cellophane bag among the dry-good groceries lingering still in the back entryway, but the sound of a bag being opened. I went to investigate. As I turned the light on, I caught sight of a small dark patch perhaps two inches in diameter, just inside the top of the grocery bag -- and then it was gone, I didn't know where. Back down into the bag? I gingerly lifted the bag from a distance and carried it out to the garage, then dumped everything out. Nothing but groceries -- except one bag had a 1-inch hole in it.

It was some blue corn chips my sister got for me in California. There are several brands, all of them organic, some available here, but this particular brand tasted better than the local variety. I guess the mouse thought so too. The two unopened bags went into the top shelf of an overhead kitchen cupboard, and I dumped the third bag into a ziplock bag and put it on the counter to remind me it needs to be consumed.

The next morning there was a 1-inch hole in the side of the ziplock bag. There was also a hole in a nearby bag of pretzels, and salt granules all about. Another half-eaten (but like the pretzels, clipped shut) bag of regular corn chips was untouched. I rescued those pretzels not near the hole and transferred them to another ziplock bag -- hey, I don't know about the sanitation on mouse bites (corn chips I can reheat) -- and everything went into the overhead cupboard. Except for the remaining pretzels, which I refolded the bag to reseal it with a clip. On the other counter, some Christmas pastries sealed in cellophane were untouched, but there were three mouse droppings nearby. The pastries went into an overhead closet in an unused room with a door that closes tightly, but I don't think the mouse likes them: an opened package on the counter had not been touched. I refolded the pretzel bag and sealed it in an empty ziplock cheese bag.

Today there were mouse droppings on the toaster and microwave, both under the cupboard where the opened bags of chips and pretzels had gone, but the packages were still safe. The mouse obviously can smell them, but could not get into the cupboard. Now that I think about it, the other two bags of blue chips were in the cupboard over the Christmas pastries on the counter. This is one very discriminating mouse. The cheese bag around the remaining pretzels was untouched. Curious.

A few years ago, in another house, I had a mouse try to get in bed with me. I awoke and it was gone. I later caught sight of it running across the living room floor. They run like the wind, without a sound. The cupboards did not close in that kitchen, and there was nowhere to put my chips that the mouse couldn't get to them, not even on top of the refrigerator. The mouse could steal the cheese right off a mousetrap without tripping it, but mostly it just ignored the trap. Eventually I bought some green mouse poison, which I knew was being eaten when I saw green droppings. A few days later I found the dead mouse behind the fridge. Back in Calif, I once found a dead mouse on the floor of my car. The car reeked of putrescine and cadaverine for weeks. I was afraid that kitchen mouse might die under the sink (its apparent entryway from outside) or someplace I couldn't reach it, and smell up the whole house.

Now I have the same problem all over again. If I put out poison, will it die behind the water heater or fridge? These houses are not made to be mouse-proof.

Last year a skunk took up residence in the ash bin under the fireplace. I could smell it coming through the fireplace when I turned on the ceiling fan. I closed the little access door and leaned a rock against it. That night I heard a great clatter of animal claws against metal under the fireplace. So I went out and pushed the rock away and opened the access door a little, then went in the house and banged on the fireplace ironwork. After a couple hours I went back outside and closed the access door again. The sound never came back, but I can still smell skunk on a warm day a year later when I turn the attic fan on.

Shortly after I moved into this house, I heard a similar claws-on-metal clatter, but I was unable to locate it at that time, so I ignored it. Several weeks later I began to smell that putrescine/cadaverine aroma when I ran the fan. I never did associate it with the fireplace at the time, but the smell persisted for months. My guess now is that some small animal got stuck in the ash bin and died. The smell eventually went away, to be replaced by skunk.

Ah, the joys of country living. In the city we had roaches to contend with. I don't know which is worse.

2005 November 26 -- Readers' Choice?

The current (December) issue of Software Development (SD) magazine has two curiously related articles. The cover story is about what factors you should evaluate when considering going into business as a consultant. It was very well done, all about issues that I, as such a consultant, have known and understood for a very long time. Well, a couple of his points I might quibble about, but only with respect to myself, not as a general rule. The curious quality of this article was its sidebar, which interviewed several professional consultants for some examples of real-world experience. Most of them had only been in business a few years, often just two. I have been consulting for more years than all of them put together. Sort of makes one wonder, who their audience is...

The very next article was their "Readers' Choice Awards" for software developer tools. To prevent the contenders from stuffing the ballot box with votes for their own products, SD carefully gave ballots "by invitation only" and made sure each person voted only once. Now I have to wonder, who did they invite? The two-year-young consultants?

Out of twelve categories, only one product took two top awards. It's a product that I have and use myself, so I'm familiar with how well it qualifies for these two top honors, "Best GUI" and "Most Tried and True Tool." Frankly, I cannot agree with the awards. VisualStudio, the Microsoft compiler I must use for creating PC programs, is probably the worst development environment I have attempted to use in two decades. So I repeat my wonderment, just who voted for this turkey, anyway? Perhaps those inexperienced consultants have never used a good tool with a good user interface. Maybe everybody voted for the single product they knew and used -- because they never saw anything else, let alone better.

What a disappointment.

2005 November 23 -- Soda Spray

When I go on long driving trips, I take along a cooler with soda pop and some ice to keep it cold. Driving is about the same cost as flying, but you get to defer payment until it's time to replace the car. Anyway, for the trip back my sister loaded my cooler up with what we cheerfully call "TV dinners" -- frozen leftover main courses, which I can heat up for subsequent meals instead of heating up high-fat high-chemical convenience food. Besides, even reheated her home cooking tastes better than the grocery store items. So these frozen foods wouldn't melt in the 2-3 days of driving, nor become waterlogged in melting ice, I substituted dry ice, then tossed a few soda pop cans on top for the trip. I figured they would stay cold but not freeze. I figured wrong.

In my refrigerator at home I keep a half-dozen cans of different flavors of pop cold. You can tell if a can is cold by how hard it is. A can at room temperature is under a lot of CO2 pressure, which makes it quite firm. When it gets cold, more of the CO2 goes into solution, which reduces the pressure, making the can much softer to touch if you press on it. This is generally a much more precise measurement than by how cold it feels.

Anyway, after a couple hours driving, I reached into the cooler for a drink, and got a handful of brown icicle. A can had burst. I rummaged around and found a bloated can that had not yet burst, and pulled it out to thaw. I guess the cold was uneven, because some of the cans were not even bloated. One of them was very firm, so I supposed it was not cold yet, and left it in. The can I took out sprung a tiny leak in my hand and started spraying a fine mist of orange soda. Driving down a California freeway does not leave me many options with what I can do with the other hand, so I pointed the spray into my mouth and sucked -- for a very long time, it seemed, before it finally relieved the pressure and quit squirting.

I could feel the block of ice inside the can; there would not be much beverage to drink until the can thawed a lot more. I set it aside and reached for that can that had not seemed cold yet. It was still hard as a rock, but a warm soda is better than none at all. It is my custom to place a napkin or other covering over a soda pop can when opening it in case that pssst of pressure carries some spray. There was not more than usual this time, but about one second later, before I could get the cloth napkin off, the whole can boiled over. Fortunately it was in the cup holder, which caught most of the fluid. I navigated to the edge of the road, got out, and carefully carried the cup holder out and dumped in in the dirt. The rest of the can was a solid block of ice.

Still thirsty, I reached for one of the cans I had not yet put into the cooler. It opened normally, and I inserted the soda straw and took a drink of lukewarm soda pop. As I moved the can back toward the cup holder, the straw erupted in foam. This sometimes happens, but can usually be stopped by blowing down the straw to clear out the bubbling fluid. All it did this time is send a geyser of foam out the hole around the straw, and all over my lap. Perhaps the altitude as I approached the pass made it particularly effervescent.

Before opening the next can, I pulled over and stopped and held it outside the car.

All told, I think maybe half of my beverage that trip ended up as a thick brown syrup at the bottom of the cooler, or all over my clothes, or in a mud puddle by the side of the road. Technology has no answers.

2005 November 14 -- What God Was Thinking

Nobel physicist Eric Cornell was right about one thing in his back-page essay in TIME: He does not understand what God was thinking. The reverse is of course not true.

Cornell is dead wrong about Intelligent Design (ID). Cornell understands blue skies and optics and the Rayleigh scattering; inanimate physics is his specialty. My specialty (and PhD) is Information Science, and we do a lot of work with intelligent design. Blue skies and optics do not involve information to achieve their physical properties, but according to his Nobel award acceptance autobiography, Bose-Einstein condensation (the basis of his Nobel prize) required a great deal of intelligent design (although he did not use those words). He should know the difference between ID and the kind of ignorant theologizing he attributes to ID in TIME.

Intelligent Design is not, as slanderously reported in TIME and widely but ignorantly believed in scientistic circles, where we "draw a box around all our scientific understanding to date and say, 'Everything outside this box we can explain only by invoking God's will.'" ID is not about "God's will" at all. ID is the scientific observation that information is being used to build a system with functional behavior that cannot be described solely on the basis of the physical properties of its components. We see and identify intelligent design around us all the time, and every instance of it is either the known and provable result of intelligent (human) agents acting to cause a result that cannot occur in nature, or else a component of living beings. Forensic scientists use this scientific methodology all the time, as popularized on TV shows like CSI.

ID is not about knowing the mind of God, it's a scientific observation that opens up avenues of scientific investigation: "Wow! Here is a phenomenon that is not the result of the physical properties of its components, yet it works! I want to study how." Unlike Cornell's caricature of Rayleigh, the scientists Isaac Newton and Johannes Kepler and many other physicists Cornell conveniently neglected to mention did believe that God wants it that way -- and then set out to understand what God did and how it works. That is science.

Eric Cornell should reserve his ignorant religious pontifications for theology classes, where such discussion belongs, and let the scientists study the actual phenomena to see if intelligent design is the best explanation or not -- on scientific grounds, not religious.

2005 November 12 -- Digitized Horror

The current issue of the IEEE Spectrum, the house organ for the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (or something like that), spent its cover stories lavishing praise on the prospect of digitizing and storing online everything that happens to you all the time, and making that available "anywhere, anytime." The digitizing project is headed up by Gordon Bell, now a researcher at Microsoft, and they are actively working at making that information seamlessly available in their new operating system "Vista". If the prospect of the computer system notorious for the worst security in the industry holding every private fact of your life in a searchable database doesn't scare you, then you have not been listening to the news about identity theft. The author of the lead article asked one of the researchers about Gordon Bell's personal data being made available outside the research group, and "he blanched at the thought." Earlier in the same issue, a news item reported on the unpublished manuscript of a novelist being posted to a web site, the victim of a trojan horse hack. Virus scanners are unable to detect these "targeted trojans" because they are not released to the public, the item explained. In fact, even with public malware, there is a period of time between when a new attack is released and starts to do its damage, before the virus companies update their databases with new signatures to detect it. Everybody is vulnerable during that window of opportunity -- everybody except me, that is.

The techies who promote this stuff seem to assume that more information in more hands is better. While I think it's a fine idea for hospitals to get their act together so you don't have to keep filling in the same information on multiple forms many times during the same hospital visit, I wish they didn't have to tie it with making that information generally public to anybody who wants to know. The Federal HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Privacy Act) is supposed to prevent that, but in my experience the law only makes matters worse. First of all, the law has no teeth. It scares the bejeebers out of all the medical people and their lawyers, but there is nothing in the law to enable the victim of data release to obtain redress. Nothing at all. I looked.

Case in point: A few months ago I visited an out of state hospital to get a new bionic eye. Fortunately, the person who made the appointment for me did not have my SocialSecurity number (which I do not give to anybody unless they have statutory authority to collect it -- meaning they are a tax agency or a bank or they pay me money), and she did not remember my birth date correctly. Which was fine by me, I'm now in their records with the wrong birthdate and no SS# and an out-of-state P.O.Box address soon to disappear. I called their accounting office to ask about a billing problem. I really didn't need them to give out any personal information, just tell me what this accounting code meant. They refused unless I could "Hippa identify" myself by telling them my SS# and birthdate. I reminded the respondent that I had not given them that information, so if they had it to confirm, it was because they had obtained it from public sources -- the same sources available to any malicious person or agency from whom the law presumably protects my records. She had not been trained in the law, only in their patently inadequate procedures. The effect of the law was thus to prevent access by authorized persons and to grant it to everybody else. Fortunately, in this case the links are broken.

Some day, when I get older, I will probably lose control over my personal information. Not a happy thought.

In the meantime, I use a high-security computer (not Windows, not any form of unix, no Java-anything, not even cookies) for web access, and the PC I develop software for (not on) is physically disconnected from the internet at all times. And for most of my life I have refused to carry on my person anything with a SS# on it.

2005 November 11 -- "Microsoft Innovation"

Like WIRED magazine, PCworld has more ad pages than articles. Unlike WIRED, many of the ad pages are disguised as articles, with a tiny disclaimer "Special Advertizing Section" they hope nobody notices. That's like spyware, which the perpetrators vigorously claim is installed with the victim's permission, and therefore legal; there is nonetheless in both cases obvious intent to deceive for corporate profit. PCworld also charges twice the subscription price for less content, so (again like WIRED) I let it lapse.

The last-page column in the final issue discussed "Microsoft Innovation" (in quotes, subtitled an oxymoron). Now I will not dispute the fact that Bill Gates and company are better business moguls than technologists (see my own postings, "A Computer for Mother" and "The VB6 Back Door" and "Beating Up on Bill"), which was the main point of author Stephen Manes, but he could have chosen better particulars to support it. Most of his examples consist of features that make unix (he specifically mentions Apple's OSX) really hard to use. Let me analyze just one, the Windows Registry.

Microsoft designed the Registry as a central place to keep information that the MacOS hid in an inaccessible "Desktop" file. As I work on my own OS, I found the need to centralize the same information, and I consider the Registry to be a significant improvement over the Apple original. Pure unix is too stupid to know what programs to run in order to open what data files, no Registry needed; Apple's bastard unix needs to be at least half as smart as the MacOS was, so you can bet they have preserved something resembling their Desktop files, a fact that Manes is apparently unaware of. That's because it is both hidden and inaccessible. On the Mac there were tools for getting at the information, but unix denies access. Hiding the file is an adequate way to keep inexperienced users from messing things up (and everybody was often told about option-reboot as the preferred way to clean up the mess if they made one). The Registry in Windows is still a fundamentally better solution. OSX is so hard to use, I doubt anybody has gotten around to figuring out how to recover from whatever they did for the Desktop file when it gets corrupt (as in unix is inevitable). My experience is that corruption in unix (I'm thinking of OSX, where this actually happened to me the first day I tried to use it), tends to be "kernel panic" fatal, recovery not possible. Maybe that's why they don't discuss recovery.

Anyway, Windows may be the second worst operating system in the world, but you can hardly demonize it by finding it less than unix, which wins the gold medal.

2005 November 8 -- Market Econ: B-

Over the years I have come to appreciate the explanatory power of market economics. Some of the technical magazines I read have been complaining about outsourcing and H-1B visas, all excuses for reducing labor costs at the expense of American information technology (IT) workers. People are always looking for a better deal, and Wal-Mart offers it by buying schlock products manufactured on the backs of political and religious persecution in China. People also complain about low salaries at Wal-Mart and (less often) the way they squeeze their suppliers -- but they mostly keep buying Wal-Mart products. That's what we call market economics: offer a better price and people will buy it. I tried to tell my students this at the university, when enrollment was down and the "dot-bomb" was still fresh in their minds. I don't think they believed me, but it's true. Mostly.

Market econ is a wonderful explanation, sort of like natural selection. And like natural selection, it explains just a little too much. OK, Darwinism explains a lot too much, market econ only a little. Natural selection is good at adaptively preserving species through changing environments, but it has never been shown to work at creating new life forms. Market economics (ME) is good at adaptively preserving businesses through changing economic environments, and nobody seriously claims it creates new businesses. The problem is that it's not all that good at what it does do. Neither of them.

If ME really worked well, then there would be no complaint about outsourcing, because the jobs would have shifted gradually and a lot sooner, so that the local IT people would not have had the opportunity to gain really inflated salaries that they now resent losing. If it worked really well, then everybody would be taught the principles at an early age, so they understand it as well as Darwinism -- oh wait, people do understand Darwinism well enough to know it doesn't work, despite that they are taught it early and often. You see, if ME really worked, then Darwinism would be long gone from the public schools. If ME really worked, then people wouldn't be fired for reasons other than failing to do their job.

Most importantly, if market economics really worked as well as they claim (and I would like to believe), then the Macintosh operating system would have drowned Windows, and Apple would never have considered killing it and replacing it with a 35-year-old has-been. So here I am stuck trying to make a program work on a really bad operating system (no, not as bad as unix), using tools that can only be honestly described by fecal tetragrammatons. Because the marketplace does not respond to the theory. sigh

But ME does work. The unix operating system is obsolete and very hard to use, and its 5% market share does reflect that fact. Apple has experienced a lot of sales growth lately, just not by selling unix boxes. Theories are simple and beautiful; the real world is not. Oh well.

2005 October 31 -- The Vulcan Paradox

I blew away the time afforded by an extra long night this weekend watching the rest of a borrowed "24" TV series. I found this one less entertaining than the previous two "days" -- mostly I think because there was so much revenge killing in it. For a production to be entertaining, it needs to entice the viewer into imagining being there where it's happening. I have moral objections to taking revenge, so this action does not engage my emotions, except maybe anger at the perpetrator. That's not what the screenwriter was aiming for. I guess maybe it also bugged me that President Parker, who was elected on a strong moral plank in the first season, capitulated so easily to the immoral demands being made on him after getting in.

Therein is the crux of this program: it's all about the conflict between duty and kinship. The conflict was there in all three series I've seen so far, but none so stark as this third. In the first one, the hero was conflicted between his duty to catch the bad guys and the threat they were making on his wife and daughter, but you always believed he could get away with rescuing his family and protecting the President -- and he did! Now we have one of his colleagues letting the bad guy go on a sliver of a chance to save his wife, and the President getting morally compromised on a misbegotten effort to save his brother from the consequences of indiscretion, even the bad guy himself is brought down by a credible threat on the life of his own daughter.

Why does this work? I believe the key insight here is that facts and logic do not compel action; emotions move us to act. Family is for most people the strongest basis for emotions. There's more to think about here... pk¿ pk`´@ŒPerhaps another posting.

I titled today's posting "The Vulcan Paradox" because Spock on Star Trek was the prototypical unemotional person. By this theory, he should be paralyzed -- but he wasn't. Why? The obvious answer is that Star Trek (like 24) is fiction; they can take leave of logic and the laws of nature from time to time to make their story work, and they often do. Even in 24, the bombs always gave off a tell-tale beeping or whine when they were about to explode. Seriously, what bomb-maker is going to put expensive electronic displays and sound transducers in a bomb's electronics to let the bomb squad know how much time they have to try to defuse it? The only reason all that stuff was there is to let the viewer know how much time there is, and thus to raise the suspense. Fiction.

2005 October 17 -- Stem Cells

The current issue of ChristianityToday is extra thick and (nevermind the cover story on a different topic) devoted to the ethical issues surrounding human embryos. As is often the case, CT has seized for evangelicals the moral high ground on this topic. In agreement with those editors, I added a paragraph to my Advance Health Care Directive:
It is evil to coercively take from another person for the benefit of my own personal pleasure or long life. Therefore I categorically reject any medication or therapeutic procedure that is researched, developed, produced, or administered by taking another person's life not freely given with informed consent, including persons at the embryonic or fetal stage of their own development.

2005 October 15 -- Reading the Ads

Nobody ever actually reads the ads unless they are very bored, so the ad designers try ever so much more attention grabbing tricks to get you to look.

Some tricks don't work with thoughtful people. Have you ever tried to flip through a magazine and had it open to a particular ad page (and nowhere else)? That's on purpose: the advertizer paid extra for a heavy card-stock page exactly so it opens there and not on his competitor's ads. When I get a new magazine in the mail, the first thing I do is flip through and see if there are any card stock pages. I remove and discard them without looking at the ad, so there is no advertizing advantage for their higher placement price. If enough people did this, there would be no premium for it, and they wouldn't do it. Are you worried that you might miss a good ad? Don't be. If the ad was worth looking at, they wouldn't need to pay for the card stock. I also let the remaining torn edge still bound in the magazine remind me not to look at the facing ads either (usually the same company).

People must think that the ads just inside the front cover get looked at more than the rest. Otherwise why so many of them? Me, I just open directly to page 5 where the content starts. In WIRED magazine, whose sole purpose for existence is to sell very expensive ads, the content doesn't start until page 25. That's a lot of high-priced ads that don't see the light of day in my house. A much more likely placement is opposite editorial content. PCworld magazine runs a lot of ads designed to look like editorial content -- except for a tiny line at the top that says "Special advertizing section" -- and a lot of editorial content that is really advertizing in disguise ("What a neat-o product this is!") with the result that there are not enough actual informative editorial pages to justify their high subscription price. Unless you only want to read the ads. When there was such a thing as a Macintosh magazine (they are all unix mags now, except in name), I read the ads too. PC ads are uninteresting (see below), so I let that subscription go. I keep letting WIRED go too, but their cheap subscription price keeps enticing me to take it back up -- vainly hoping it will recover its glory days. So every year I miss a couple months. I don't miss much.

Some ads are actually worth looking at, for the unintended messages.

Most car ads are digitally composited, with the car somewhat larger than the blurry highway lane it is supposedly speeding down. The message: "This car is too big to fit in a standard highway lane, you will get sideswiped by the next driver of the same model. Also it takes two parking places and a ton of Arab oil." One that caught my attention a few years back, the nicely blurred wheels were not aimed down the highway curve, but rather into the guardrail. Obviously it's hard to keep this one on the road, a boon for insurance companies and replacement car dealers. Almost as funny as trying to sell the Chevy "Nova" model in Latin America (or California), where "no va" is Spanish for "it doesn't run."

The ads in computer magazines are extra fun. One very common ad shows a bunch of people with plastic dinosaur heads trying to use their office software. You've probably seen it too, it's now running in the non-computer magazines. Clearly Microsoft software is for dinosaurs. They got that one right. Or maybe their ad agency has it about as much together as their programmers.

Another computer ad runs several cartoon drawings in a row, one page apart. They are all the same scene, slightly different, a couple guys chatting at the water cooler. They have lots of time to stand around and chat because the company makes printers and they are obviously waiting for their print jobs to finish. Maybe the text says something different, but who reads the text when the picture says it all? Like the Microsoft dinosaur office software.

2005 September 27 -- Gunpoint

Yesterday I described one of the socially redeeming virtues of fiction in terms of enabling us to evaluate interaction in a non-threatening environment. Much of the commercially available visual fiction is in the genre of "thriller", which usually means guys beating each other up, breaking things and making lots of noise. Guns are very effective at these activities, so gun play is an emportant part of the genre, although some actors (Steven Seagal, Jackie Chan, and a few others) substitute oriental martial arts for the guns. Fiction doesn't have to be credible, although the suspension of disbelief is often thought to be an important part of good fiction. However, it doesn't take much common sense to realize that martial arts are no match for guns. I guess you watch those stories to wonder at the fighter's skill and dexterity, rather than to believe such battles actually possible.

In the real world guns and bombs win over just about anything else. The terrorists know that, and they want to win -- corporately, if not individually. It is also part of the American tradition, except that another important part of the American tradition is being Right. For a long time American fiction recognized that the Right (white hats) should win, and the Wrong (black hats) should ultimately lose, but everybody puts up a good fight and things break and loud noises happen. More recent authors and screenwriters have lost their moral compass -- with a few notable exceptions where the box office receipts always surprise everybody except the Christians. Maybe the studios are beginning to figure it out.

Not being much of a shooter myself, I tend to think about what I would do at the receiving end of a gun pointed by the Bad Guys. That is, if I had the opportunity to plan ahead, as now. This came into focus last week watching an episode of "24" where Jack Bauer's nemesis has just been granted an advance Presidential pardon for killing him, in exchange for revealing the location of The Bomb. Perhaps the writer wanted the audience to anticipate his next move, but I began to realize that since he's dead anyway, and since the pardon is invalid unless she waits until The Bomb has been located and disarmed, her gun pointed at him is no longer a coercive threat. Just then he started to walk away, and she realized it also. In case anybody in the audience missed the point, Bauer explained it for us.

Presidential pardons like that don't happen in real life, but I have something the Bauer character did not, which gives me the same power over those who would threaten. Pointing a gun at somebody and demanding they do something only works if they actually believe you will kill them for failing to do it -- and let them live if they do. However, any bad guy willing to take what is not his (stealing) and kill if necessary to get it (murder) wouldn't think twice about lying about his good intents. Several times in the story it was clear that the bad guys intended to kill their victims anyway, whether they cooperated or not. So why cooperate? Later in the story Bauer was again at the mercy of the bad guys, but this time they wanted information, not revenge. If they kill him, they lose, and they knew it, and so did he. If somebody were to threaten me in that kind of situation, I might try to point out that if they want something from me, they need to offer something in return. They cannot offer me my life, because I already have Eternal Life, which they cannot take away. To kill me only hastens my Reward; bring it on!

But there is torture. This was a very versatile story, something for everybody, and plenty of torture. I have an answer for that one too: "If you begin to injure or torture me, I will eventually start to lie, and when I do, you will never again know whether I am telling the truth or not." Well, maybe I couldn't pull it off, but it's more likely to happen if I plan it that way. Fortunately, I'm not in the Federal agent business (those who live by the sword die by the sword), so despite the prevalence of guns and assassins and stuff like that on screen, it's pretty rare in the real world and especially in my secluded life. It's pretty rare even in Iraq, but the bombs and carnage make better mainstream news stories, so that's what you see. sigh

2005 September 26 -- Fiction

When not working I sometimes indulge in reading or viewing works of fiction (like TIME magazine or videos). If you rise above the mind-numbing entertainment aspect, fiction performs a valuable social function, which is to offer a non-threatening opportunity to explore the social consequences of different activities.

Recently in the home of a family member, the entertainment of the evening was the video "Flight of the Phoenix" about some people whose cargo plane crash-landed in a remote desert, and their efforts to rebuild from the remaining parts something to fly out. The film explored the interactions between the pilot and the passengers, one of whom had the aeronautical technical skills to make things fly, but the turning point where the captain changed his mind from waiting for an improbable rescue to trying to fly out on their own came as the result of a stirring speech from one of the passengers:

People need somebody to love. If they don't have that, they should have something to hope for. If they can't have that, at least give them something to do.
Waiting there in the desert offered none of those, but rebuilding a plane offered hope -- or at least something to do. Like all good fiction, they succeeded. That makes it good fiction, because it builds in us viewers a sense of hope to overcome disaster.

When hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf coast, many people were hopeless. Others, having the love of God and their own hope of eternal life, got busy and did something to help their neighbors. It's a pity the mainstream media spent so much of their focus on the hopeless rather than the helpful; that makes them part of the problem rather than part of the solution. WORLD magazine had a much better perspective. Bravo!

2005 September 24 -- Government Consequences

One of the more pervasive phenomena in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina is the relentless call for more government involvement -- or criticism of what was already done, which is the same thing. A more foolish notion I find it hard to imagine. Let me explain by reference to my own situation, made worse by government action without the help of any natural disaster.

People, being morally corrupt, from time to time do bad things which harm other people. Other people, for the good of society, are sometimes inclined to "blow the whistle" at such behavior, which naturally earns them the wrath of the malefactors. If the whistle-blower is an employee, well he isn't for long. Well-intentioned (but wrong-headed) government lawmakers made vindictively firing a whistle-blower unlawful, which has two contrarian effects: he gets fired anyway but for fabricated charges, thus adding perjury and dishonesty to the malefactor's misdeeds; and he is rendered unemployable because nobody wants to be stuck with somebody they can't fire for cause. All this I know from recent experience, in addition to common sense (a quality hard to find in state and federal offices).

OK, I got fired and nobody will hire me. Rebuilding a (self-employed) contract programming business from scratch (especially in the post-dot-bomb economy) is slow going. The first few years in a high-tech startup tend to have expenses in excess of income, which I can offset by converting IRA funds to Roth. OK, it's hard for the government to screw up absolutely everything, but they sure try. I am in the curious position of being in a higher marginal tax bracket with no income than I was full-time on salary. IRA/Roth conversion must take place in the year to which it applies, but the tax tables and formulas for that year are not available until the next year. So I must guess -- and pay a punitive tax on the difference, either now (because I converted too much) at the higher tax rate imposed on low-income people like myself, or else later when the government forces me to cash out the IRA whether I need it or not, because I converted too little. 7.5% penalty tax now (in addition to normal income tax), or 10% penalty tax later, the typical government lose-lose proposition. Fortunately I recognized this folly early in my life and stopped funding the IRA; there could have been a lot more money subject to the penalty.

Government bungling most hurts poor people, because they are least able to affort expensive lawyers to guide them through the morass of regulations, and least able to educate themselves to be able to do it without professional help. Racist educational policies imposed by lawmakers beholden to teachers unions limit the educational choices of the non-white poor; the lawmakers themselves can afford to send their children to private schools (and they do!). At least I don't have that problem. However, arcane tax laws are a giant rat-hole down which the entire country pours an obscene amount of money and effort -- for nobody's benefit (except maybe the accountants and tax lawyers). I think every lawmaker should be required to fill out their own tax return by hand, without the help of any accountants or computer software. Only then would they be motivated to make it feasible. But it won't happen. sigh

2005 September 20 -- Good, Beautiful, True

Regular readers of my postings are aware that WIRED magazine has left off being a magazine for geeks, and even abandonned its former aim at geek wannabes. Now it's just a vehicle for selling high-priced ad pages to luxury product vendors. The technical gas tank is empty, and it's just running on fumes.

In this month's issue there is an article discussing an opera about the Bomb. There is nothing technical in this article, mostly it's about the politics of the composer. Toward the end, however, there is an interesting paragraph about Edward Teller, father of the H-bomb, and an incidental character in the opera. He quotes three questions his teacher Werner Heisenberg asked in the 20s -- "One: What is good? Two: What is beautiful? Three: What is true?" -- and then goes on to divide these topics up and apportion them respectively to politicians, artists, and scientists. The stated implication is that scientists should pursue truth wherever it leads and ignore the moral implications, leaving that to the politicians.

To its credit, post-modernism sees through the bankruptcy of this division, an unstated implication of this article and the opera. Teller says (the opera quotes from his memoirs), "I have no hope of clearing my conscience. The things we are working on are so terrible that no amount of protesting or fiddling with politics will save our souls." How true!

Good is not the province of politics -- half the country today can find no good in the current sitting President, and the other half felt the same about his predecessor -- Good is the province of God. God alone makes us good.

Truth is not the province of science -- just look at the mess Darwinists (and often their opponents also) make of truth in the name of science -- Truth is the province of God. God alone makes us honest.

Beauty is not the province of artists -- just look at the opera that is the focus of this article: artists have long since given up on bringing us beauty; now they only seek to annoy -- Beauty is the province of God. God alone makes what is lovely.

Too bad the author of this article missed that fundamental insight.

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2005 September 7 -- Smallville

I put a long run on the computer and headed out for a walk. The post office is just under a mile, about a 40-minute round trip, which takes me past the back side of several businesses. At this hour they were long closed and only one car left in the parking lot. I think there are only three Miatas in the whole county: mine, a shiny black one I hardly ever see, and this late-model white one about to leave the parking lot. A half-block down the street it pulled up beside me and the driver called out, "Where's the blue Miata?"

I don't know this fellow, and maybe he doesn't know me, but under the streetlight he recognized a fellow Miata driver -- without the car.

Only in a small town.

2005 August 30 -- TANSTAAFL*

I had some surgery done last week. It cost me several thousand dollars. One family member urged me to delay it until I became eligible for Medicare, another suggested I should have travelled to a country she recently visited, where the same procedure costs only $100. I suspect that price applies only to local citizens, not "rich Americans."

In some other country the labor costs might be somewhat less than in the USA, but the equipment costs are higher, so the real cost there is not significantly cheaper than here. I paid perhaps 30% less at an out-of-state (non-profit) university hospital than it would have cost me at a for-profit facility here in town. Apart from profit (in my case, not) paid to the investors, it cost the university about as much to perform the surgery as I paid out of pocket. I got what I paid for.

Everybody wants "free" health care. It ain't gonna happen. Somebody must pay the doctors for their high-priced education and even more to the lawyers who drive the cost of malpractice insurance through the sky. Somebody must pay manufacturers to make sophisticated medical equipment, and pharmaceuticals to research and test effective drugs. The contractors who built the hospitals didn't work for free, and the bright lights in the operating room use up the same expensive electric energy that I pay to light my home office. Who's going to pay for it?

There are only two possible answers to that question. Either the person receiving health care services pays for it (directly or indirectly), or else it's coming out of somebody else's pocket. If that somebody else is an altruistic Christian (there aren't many of those around; Mother Theresa died a while back), they might give voluntarily. Otherwise it is taken from them by force (also known as "theft" or "taxes"). However, there are more people wanting "free" health care than there are people willing to pay for it out of their own pockets. So in reality, you pay for your own medical care.

Many Americans have employer-paid health insurance. They also have employer-paid paychecks, meaning that the health insurance costs are nothing more than a bookkeeping fiction. It's all part of the cost of labor the employer pays for your services. If they didn't pay the insurance company, they would have more money on the table for salary. My niece voted against a unionization bid in her workplace because she happened to think the health benefits were better than the salary the union was willing to trade it off for. To the employer and the union alike, it's all fungible dollars. Bigger numbers on the paychecks look better -- unless you happen to need a lot of medical attention. Then what happens is that the other employees are paying your medical costs. In any case, a large part of the insurance premiums pay insurance company salaries and fancy buildings and TV ads. That money does not pay for health care at all.

In countries with government-paid health care, the tax system is the real payer. And because "there are two ways to do a job, the right way and the government way," they must collect far more taxes than the hospital ever sees in payment, even more than insurance companies waste. MediCare is like that. I suspect they collect $3 in taxes for every $1 that actually goes to pay doctors and hospitals. Remember the $300 toilet seats? Government is like that. MediCare is (or soon will be) bankrupt. So they will raise taxes. Again, it's all fungible dollars, paid by you.

Since I have been paying taxes into the MediCare system all these years, I deserve to take some out, right? If I follow that logic to its conclusion, then because I have been paying taxes to support the military, I have also earned the right to make war on the USA. Wrong. Furthermore, once you put your hand into the government cookie jar, you become a slave to the politicians. I rightly call "hypocrites" those people who protest nuclear power plants and hydroelectric dams while munching on veggies kept fresh in electric refrigerators, or wearing clothes sewn on electric sewing machines, or shouting obscenities into electric bullhorns. I earn the right to complain about taxes only by refusing to accept any government benefits paid from those taxes.

The bottom line in my case is not so bad. In the 25 years I have been without health insurance, I would have spent a total of maybe $50,000 in premiums, perhaps as much as double that. After paying for the surgery, I still have enough left over to buy a fancy new car. I think that's a better deal than buying a fancy new car for the insurance company executive. Somebody else bought his car, not I. Also, my experience is that I get better quality health care when I'm the one making the decisions about which procedures get paid for and which do not, instead of some remote government or insurance company bureaucrat.

There remains one nagging question -- about health care in general, not mine -- whether it is morally right to burden the whole pool of employees and/or taxpayers (as the case may be) for the irresponsible unhealthy habits ("lifestyle") of a few people. By not pooling my medical costs with them, I end up paying far less than the average American citizen for health care, despite an occasional blip like last week. But obese people (who get diabetes and all kinds of heart problems), smokers (who get respiratory and heart problems), sun-worshippers (skin cancers), and male homosexuals (AIDS and a whole bunch of STDs) tend to use up far more than their fair share of health care resources. Why should responsible people be forced to pay for their irresponsibility?

* TANSTAAFL = There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, coined by Robert Heinlein in "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress".

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2005 August 22 -- It's Only Fiction

I wasted my money.

I tried buying a video to share around ("what goes around comes around," but in a positive way, see Hotel, below). The store offered a "buy 2, get 1 free" deal, and I wanted Master and Commander (which was very good), and so I picked up a couple more to get the reduced price. The choice was not all that great, but The Last Samurai had gotten good reviews... Usually that's bad news. I should have paid attention.

Most modern military flicks tend to deprecate the American military; this was no exception. Army officers are human, not more righteous than the Indians or Samurai, but also not significantly less. Many of the American Indian tribes did some pretty violent and hideous things to each other before the white man came, and then to the white settlers after they came. The human heart is evil and desperately wicked, white man and redskin alike. It is only the grace of God that makes us good. If they weren't so one-sided, if some movies depicted the evil in the white man while others depicted the evil in the other team, it wouldn't bug me quite so much. But this is more like religion, "Don't confuse me with facts."

This flick glorified the honor and tradition in the Samurai warriors, as if fighting with bows and arrows and swords was somehow more honorable than using guns. Fighting bravely for what you believe in against great odds may be noble, but choosing to use swords and arrows against muskets and cannons is just plain foolish. David was brave to go against Goliath, but he also chose the weapon of superior military advantage. From the Assyrian victory carvings we can see that the slingers had greater range than the archers (slingers were in the back row), so David could knock Goliath out while still far out of javelin range. It may take more skill and bravery (read: Pride) to fight hand-to-hand, but not more intelligence. As General Patton said in the movie, "You don't win wars by laying down your life for your country. You win by getting the other SOBs to lay down their life for their country."

So I gave the DVD away.

2005 August 15 -- War...

Like most magazines with an agenda, TIME is not known for printing letters from the opposition unless the writer comes off looking like an idiot or screwball. Also like most magazines (even those without an agenda) they "reserve the right to edit letters for clarity," by which they mean that if you write an intelligent letter in opposition to their agenda, they will make subtle changes to the wording so it says something other than what you intended. I know this from experience (they have done both to me). Here is my original letter, which they probably won't print at all, but might excerpt to make me look goofy:
In the same [Aug.15] issue of TIME, the Iraqi terrorists [p.43] and the American Darwinists [p.27] demonstrate the same embarassment over their respective belief systems, which they rightly know cannot compete in the free market of ideas without force and intimidation. The Darwinists have the courts to impose their minority religion on the 45% of the American people who find it offensive, whereas after the invasion toppled Saddam, the minority Iraqis have only bombs.

It's not science vs religion. Ever since I was in grad school, and while on faculty at universities (which teach evolution), and everywhere else intelligent people can be found, I ask the same question of anybody who has ever done peer-reviewed original research in any field, "What evidence in your area of expertise supports the Darwinian hypothesis over the alternative(s)?" In 25 years NOBODY has ever even attempted a reply. There is no evidence, only hearsay.

Richard Dawkins and Eugenie Scott and Claudia Wallisand all the other "science" writers never cite any primary evidence because there is no evidence. Every Darwinist accepts and defends it on the basis of nebulous anonymous third-party authorities whose research they have never examined and probably doesn't even exist. Even the critics of irreducible complexity -- both in TIME and elsewhere -- don't understand the concept, but just repeat irrelevant dogma they heard from somebody who didn't read Behe's book. This isn't science, it's religion, often funded at taxpayer expense.

Maybe we should continue to let the monkeys teach their atheistic religion in the public schools. The American people are obviously smart enough to see through the Darwinian hoax, and if Iraq is any lesson, taking away their court-enforced pseudo-legitimacy would leave them only deadlier means of persuasion.

Thomas Pittman, PhD
Bolivar  MO 65613


45% -- TIME cited a survey that reported 45% of Americans believe in a literal 6-day creation. Nearly half of the Americans have successfully resisted brainwashing by the atheists, despite that the atheists have had a monopoly on the educational system for four or five generations.

Peer-reviewed -- One grad student in a biological science told me that the professors don't tell the whole story to the undergraduates and masters students, but they have to disclose their dirty laundry to the PhD students, or they would not be able to do their research.

Dawkins and Scott were quoted in the article. Richard Dawkins has written extensively in support of evolution. Eugenie Scott runs an anti-creationist propaganda mill. It's often fun to watch her lament the lack of progress in selling their agenda.

Claudia Wallis was the writer whose byline ran on the title page of the article. Many writers only get credited at the end.

Irreducible Complexity (IC) -- Michael Behe was quoted in a sidebar on whether it is possible to believe in God while being an evolutionist, and the main article quoted critics claiming to argue against his IC, but no evolutionist ever addresses the main point of IC, and the article did not adequately explain it. They cannot, without looking foolish.

2005 August 6 -- TIME 0, Roberts 8

TIME magazine last week spent almost 12 full pages on trying to discern the judicial agenda of Supreme Court nominee John Roberts. It was almost comical. If he has an ideology, it went over their heads. That's "over" as from the moral high ground. Most telling was a double page spread on eight issues the left-wing bigots consider important (hence the title of today's posting), and in each case they were able to find contradictory opinions that taken as a whole gave no clear evidence whether he's a left-wing bigot (like the TIME editors and writers) or a right-wing bigot (like many of those who voted the opposition into office). Roberts is obviously neither. TIME was left with the hopeful wish that perhaps he will surprise everybody like Souter.

WORLD magazine also gave coverage to Roberts. Unlike TIME, their agenda is not driven by the eight key moral issues that TIME examined. Sure, all conservatives would like to see a more sensible stream of decisions on these important topics, but that's secondary to the political principle called "Rule of Law" on which this country was founded -- and which over the last century the Court has largely abandonned in favor of an unconstrained Machiavellian "I'm in power so I get to make the rules" policy. The one common thread through all these analyses -- which as, I said, TIME completely missed -- is that Roberts argues the law. If I read it right, that's good news.

The left-wing bigots are so far out to the left of the public that elected lawmakers will no longer do their bidding. That's why they must depend on the courts to carry out their agenda. Roberts doesn't seem to be that kind of person. He will actually rule as the law reads instead of against it. It's going to be interesting.

2005 August 1 -- Hotel Bloodshed

Not having a TV, most of my performed entertainment is on the good graces of other providers. Which is not so bad, because when I do have access I tend to overdose. Yesterday I watched Hotel Rwanda (this computer plays borrowed DVD movies just fine). The whole movie is intense, but three insights clung to me.

First was the moral courage and (eventually) the ambiguity the hero faced in protecting his family and friends and fellow citizens. Early on he is expressing unwillingness to share his cash savings, which he (correctly) expects he might need as bribes to protect own his family. Later -- you can feel his inner conflict, superbly acted -- he does, and the money is soon gone.

After it was over and the shock started to wear off, I began to wonder if this could happen here in America. I am not encouraged by the sad conclusion I came to. There are differences, of course, but shrinking. In Africa the Christian church has a long history of being "a mile wide and an inch deep." The USA was built on the deep Christian values of the Pilgrims, but the latest Barna polls show that there is not much difference in America between the self-confessed "born again" Christians and their unbelieving neighbors. The Ten Commandments are being removed from the American public, and with them also the social stigma against lawless behavior forbidden by those same Commandments. In their place are violent video games -- even worse than those Klebig and Harris trained on -- and violent movies (Hotel Rwanda was actually pretty tame) numbing the conscience of everybody.

Several times in the movie, the camera zoomed in close on the hero's wife, prominently showing the gold cross hanging around her neck. She was Tutsi (the victim clan) and not involved in the carnage, but the sad fact (not shown in the movie) is that the churches in Rwanda were more often participating in, rather than resisting the evil. That's depressing. It's true also in our own American ethnic cleansing (abortion, which was originally promoted by Planned Parenthood as a means to rid the country of negros, and still takes out far more blacks than whites).

There was a subtle racism -- or at least cultural snobbery -- in the movie also. The hero conscientiously rejected the colorful printed shirts of his compatriots for a western suit and tie. He alone also adopted our presumably more civilized rejection of the massacre. Except of course "we" (Europe and the USA) did not live up to our reputation and put a stop to it. Modern nihilistic moral ambiguity won out even here. Very subtle, so in case you missed it, the UN colonel voiced it openly in disgust at his colleagues -- that's us -- at our apparent attitude, "you're worse than a n___; you're African!" One wonders how much of this is real and how much is artistic license. It is certainly true that cancelling the debt of corrupt African governments is not going to do anything for poverty; you only need to look at what happened to Rhodesia in a few decades of black African rule.

One more thing, God is bigger than the evil force(s). With the God-given freedom to choose comes the possibility -- and probability -- of evil, but God's Good overcomes evil. That makes life worth living. It's sort of like standing on the beach screaming into the wind: it may not stop the tide, but at least it keeps me from becoming a part of it.

2005 July 27 -- Why Religion Matters

Last week's TIME magazine, no doubt prompted by the recent carnage in London, ran an inside-back-cover essay "We Muslims must admit that our religion might be motivating the bombers." There were some good insights -- like for example that the suicide bombers were not deprived nor impoverished nor persecuted nor harrassed by American invaders on their homeland soil. But what caught my attention (after the surprise that TIME would print this in the first place) was the implicit religious perspective the writer took. Despite admitting to being a Muslim, he(?) seems to argue from the position that all religion is bad, and Islam is just another bad religion, not significantly different from the others. I disagree.

Another item in my recent reading was a flyer from Voice of the Martyrs (VoM) describing the fighting in Columbia, which it described as "the murder and kidnapping capital of the world." This has something in common with the fighting in Islamic countries, as well as with India and China and VietNam and other countries VoM reports on, a certain religious self-assessment largely unfamiliar to American Christians. Muslims, like their atheist and the Hindu colleagues, do not believe their own religion is really true in any self-evident way. In a free market of ideas, people will not choose Islam or atheism over the competition. They are correct in believing that. And knowing it, the adherents in those religions have no choice but to evangelize their belief system with gunpowder or not at all.

Let me repeat that. Muslims and Marxist-atheists and Hindus know in their hearts that their religion is not intellectually compelling on its own merits; the only way they can increase their numbers or even merely prevent their own members from converting to other more compelling belief systems is on threat of death. Their religions -- all of them -- are intellectually (and therefore morally) bankrupt. And they know it, as proved by the murders and bombings.

There are a couple of exceptions, perhaps more. I am most familiar with Christianity -- the classical variety, as distinguished from Roman Catholics, which often behave like the Muslims and the atheists -- in classic Christianity Jesus clearly taught his disciples not to force their ideas on others by violence. I believe the great Buddha also taught a way of peace, but unlike Jesus, at the end of his life the Buddha reportedly confessed "the enlightenment I have attained is not sufficient for the darkness before me." At least he was not dragging others against their will into the night with him. His religion may be no more intellectually compilling than the others, but at least they don't act like it. I wish I could say all Christians were as peace-loving as the Buddha, but unfortunately, a few of us were not properly trained in the teachings of Jesus.

The American political system was built on Christian values. "We hold these truths to be self-evident," the Declaration declares. Truth is self-evident, not requiring the threat of death to persuade. Another of the Founding Fathers remarked that the noble experiment in democracy begun on this continent was only viable in a God-fearing religious society as America then was.

And Christians continue to make converts, despite that the atheists are doing everything in their power to stop it. The atheists control the schools and the courts of power, but the Christians have the Truth, and their Truth is self-evident. The atheists and the Muslims and the Hindus know it. Watch your behindside.

2005 July 21 -- A Computer for Mother

A decade ago the standard for ease of use in computers was, "Could your mother use it?" Ten years from now that will no longer be a meaningful test, because everybody's mother will have grown up in the tech age and taken a course in "computer literacy" at some college. But for now it's still a pretty good test.

Ten years ago there was only one computer able to pass the test. My mother got a Macintosh. I wrote a simple HyperCard program that she used to run her business inventory, and we installed AmericaOnLine (AOL) for her email. HyperCard no longer exists, killed by the vendor without any replacement. The Mac is also dead, but at least (for the next year or two) Mac software still runs in emulation on Apple's eunuchs. Unix is not a system your or my mother could use -- hey, not even I can use it, and I'm a professional. The PC -- well, the PC is not really usable either.

My mother's vision is deteriorating with age, and we needed to get her something with a bigger screen. Mac is dead, unix is unusable, so I had the local system integrator configure up a PC for her. She has a terrible time trying to make it do useful things. Most of the software I specified on the requirements list is so hard to use that she simply doesn't do those things on her computer. I suppose I could rewrite her business software in VisualBasic, but Microsoft (no doubt taking their cue from Apple) killed that product with no credible replacement. When she has problems trying to do reasonable things, sometimes I can show her the long complicated process to do those things -- and sometimes not even I, an industry professional, can figure it out. I've stopped making excuses for the system. What can I say? It's a horrible system.

Yesterday my mother called me because her computer wouldn't print black. She correctly diagnosed it as the printer needing an ink cartridge, but she couldn't figure out how to replace it. It's an Epson, the quintessential PC printer. The Apple printer, when you want to change the ink, you open the lid and the printer automatically presents the carriage front and center; flip a distinctly colored lever, lift the cartridge out, drop a new one in and push the lever back, then close the lid and you're done, the essence of simplicity. Apple no longer makes printers.The Epson has a motley assortment of strangely labelled buttons and a tiny unlit LCD screen unreadable by anybody with a vision impairment, and you must push an arcane sequence of maybe 25 of these different buttons while watching the screen for instructions. The top-level menu does not mention ink replacement, so you must know which item there to click through. The reference manual that came with the printer describes the process -- except it doesn't match what you actually must do on the printer. Furthermore, if the printer notices that it's out of ink (which it did not in this case), there is a different sequence of buttons to push. All this just to get the carriage out where you can access the cartridge; there are (too many) more buttons to push when you finish. I did not succeed in guiding her through the process on the phone. She just wanted to print an email. The email client (AOL is not available in this forsaken part of the country) doesn't know how to change the color or size of the text in received mail, so she is unable to read it on-screen and must print everything and view it with a magnifying glass. I finally was able to talk her through the complex process of copying the text and pasting it into WordPad, where she could change the color and then print it.

The PC failed the Mother test. There does not today exist a computer my mother can use.

Maybe in 20 years some enterprising company will do for the industry what Apple did in 1984: make a computer that your mother can use. Apple seems not to be in that business any more. sigh I hope it doesn't take that long, because my aging Apple hardware is starting to fail. Last night I had to go through gyrations every bit as complex as we put my mother through, just to get a document created on this Mac (which has no working printer) to print on the PC networked to it. sigh

2005 July 6 -- Bad Money Drives Out Good

A couple years ago the microwave popcorn folks figured out how to do "kettle corn" so it tasted like the sweet-salty popcorn made in giant kettles at fairs and other public events. Less than a year later everybody was selling it -- but the flavor was gone. I have tried a number of different brands, all with the same tasteless metalic popcorn flavor.

Today in the grocery store I looked again. Orville Redenbacher is usually marketed as an upscale product (higher price, presumably for higher quality), and they had a "94% fat-free" kettle corn product. I picked up the box to see how they did that, and the ingredient "sucralose" caught my eye. That's a sugar substitute, not a fat replacement, but calories is calories. On the next shelf was the regular non-fat-free version of the same product, so I looked to see what was different. Not the sweetener, it was also sucralose. Astounded, I went through all the other brands of kettle corn; every one of them listed sucralose as the sweetener. No wonder they all taste bad!

I don't think I will be buying kettle corn any more.

A few years ago I read about Gresham's Law, the financial principle that "Bad money drives out good." Where there is a choice of currency, such as in the former Soviet Union (and perhaps still in Russia today), people tend to hoard the strong currency and try to pay their bills with the weak. They pocket the dollars and pay in rubles. When I was in East Germany (when there was such a place), they required you to buy a certain number of worthless East German DeutschMarks at the border, but all the vendors wanted hard currency like West German Marks or francs or dollars. Gresham's Law at work.

Like Parkinson's Law ("Expenses always rise to meet or exceed income"), Gresham's Law seems to have a broader influence than just money. When the market is flooded with cheaply-made mediocre products, the high quality products just disappear. I used to buy powdered milk at the grocery stores, but they no longer sell it (only granulated "instant" milk with all the flavor and texture of sawdust). So then I went to health-food stores to get it. Lately they can't get it either. Today I had to special-order it from Oregon, 2000 miles away. I could cite a dozen different products, where the high-quality version simply isn't available, certainly not locally, often not anywhere.

Gresham's Law.

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