Monday, December 28, 2009

The Darwin Fish

You've seen them, I'm sure. Those 'Jesus Fish' attachments on the backs of people's cars. Perhaps you agree with the Christian point of view, perhaps you don't. Perhaps you think it's silly to attach things to the backs of cars, such as bumper stickers and the like. Or, perhaps you are the kind of person who enjoys sharing sentiments with the world via the back of your car.

There is something I have kept quiet on, but I can't remain silent any longer.

Why do some people feel the need to attach the 'Darwin Fish' to the backs of their cars?

At first glance, one might ascribe to the Darwin Fish the basic purpose of sharing one's thoughts, same as the person who displays the Jesus Fish. But once you begin to think more about it, the Darwin Fish becomes insidious.

Ask yourself this:

If all the person wants to do is state that he or she believes in evolution, then why take a religious image and distort it? Wouldn't some other method, such as a new graphic, or a clever bumper sticker message, better serve that purpose?

The Darwin Fish is nothing more than a sarcastic mockery of what has become recognized as a Christian icon. Is there something wrong with disagreeing with Christian beliefs? Of course not. We should be free enough in this country to believe whatever we wish to believe. If you want to believe that all life on this planet originated via a statistically impossible accident of chemistry, then you should be able to cling to that idea.

However, the Darwin Fish is not just a simple statement of belief; it is an easily recognizable derision of someone else's belief system.

The Darwin Fish is indicative of something that the people who use it would never admit to. Rather than supporting their own beliefs by the simple action of tacit adherence, they feel the need to defend their ideas by attempting to denigrate a belief system that they think represents the opposing view.

Ironically, what the Darwin Fish accomplishes is the exact opposite of what is intended. With the exception of the cynical atheists who find it amusing, most people seeing it can discern the message it sends quite clearly:

"You threaten me, so I'll make myself feel more secure by mocking you."

Perhaps the frightened Darwinists can let go of the idea that the big, bad God-Wolf wants to blow their house down.

Especially since instead of a house built on a firm foundation, it's actually a houseboat without motor or sail, and it impotently shifts with the tide of public opinion.

One day it will sink from all the holes in its hull anyway, so angry gods aren't really necessary.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The most inconvenient truth of all

Much discussion has arisen from Al Gore's pet project, which culminated in the book and movie entitled, "An Inconvenient Truth." The 'inventor of the Internet' wants so badly for us to believe in his cause, but I suspect his motivation is more for generating research funds and political publicity, than actually saving the world. Just like so many other tree-hugging polemics, he is attempting to save our collective skins under the guise of the more altruistic goal of saving the entire planet.

I find it hard to believe that there are still persons out there who think the planet can't survive the influence of our species. Long after we're extinct, this planet will continue to adapt and generate life. It's obviously designed to do so, and withstanding known past catastrophes that are reflected in the geological record, it will most likely continue to do so, with or without our assistance.

Rather than throw in with the silly global warming debate, I will instead point out a more inconvenient truth in daily life; perhaps the most inconvenient truth of all in modern western culture:

God.

While God is not a truth in the sense of a tangible object or entity you can point to, God is a truth for many people in the way they perceive existence and reality. The existence of this belief itself does not automatically make God a 'physical' fact; one can reasonably admit this simple conclusion.

But the place God currently occupies, in the minds and lives of individuals living in modern western civilization, seems to be more one of uncertainty and embarrassment than comfort and joy. In other words, modern mental attitudes are becoming less and less amenable to the existence of a higher power.

There are possibly many different reasons why this phenomenon is occurring, but I think it actually comes down to one.

Peer pressure. No one wants to look foolish when the official authorities of science and intellect keep harping on the same line over and over again: that all the physical evidence points to nothing out there but random chance and blind evolution.

So God, once a foundation for purpose, existence, wisdom and moral clarity, has slowly drifted into the role of childish fantasy and cosmic boogie man. Our new, popular approach to meaning in life is based entirely on the physical 'facts,' because we've been told by state-sponsored experts for decades that only a child continues to believe in Santa Claus after the true origin of Christmas gifts is discovered.

The facts are all summed up by simply observing that you can't produce evidence of God in a lab. Of course, assuming things are not there because you can't see or measure them has never been exposed as spurious before; humanity, without benefit of special technology, has always known about bacteria, the complexity of biological cells, quarks, photons and dark matter, right? Wrong.

Don't we all feel so much more comfy knowing that we're better off with the ugly truth: that God is a delusion? Aren't we better off now that all those through history who were inspired to great acts of altruism and self-sacrifice for the sake of others have been exposed as foolish, silly people who wasted their emotional and intellectual lives on a ridiculous notion like God?

Wouldn't the world be better off without the horrible institution of religion, when we all know what happened during those heinous crusades or on 9/11? Especially when we've got other, much more successful atheist mass-murderers to look up to, such as Hitler, Mao Zedong, Stalin, Pol Pot... name your historical atheist dictator. All the atrocities of past churches can't really compete with these maniacs' bloodshed, but that's not what the average atheist would have you believe.

Why is it such a stretch of the imagination to put on our humble hats and admit that although the existence of a higher power is currently impossible to physically qualify or quantify, that we might simply be technologically lacking in the ability to do so? In all our amazing accomplishments and self-congratulatory arrogance, have we lost touch with the fact that we still don't know everything?

I submit to you that the atheist's objection is not based on physical facts at all. I think it comes from a desire to avoid the 'inconvenient truth' that there is Someone in charge of it all, and that one day, every one of us, regardless of earthly stature, will have to answer for what we've done to ourselves and each other. Ultimately we'll have to answer for what we've done to the aforementioned Someone, by our ever-increasing intentions of purposely ignoring the wisdom that the rest of the 'educated' deem as foolishness. Behind closed doors, is it truly only the victim who is offended?

"What kind of God would make such an imperfect world?"

This common objection to the possible existence of a creator god is stunning in its poor logic. The logic is entirely based on the assumption that God must create a perfect world, and furthermore that this perfect world must conform to our human notions of what a perfect world would be.

"What about all the suffering in the world? All the unfairness?"

I don't have conclusive answers for those questions. Easy answers to those questions tend to sound like products of tunnel vision. I will say though, that the vast majority of the suffering in the world is obviously caused by how we treat each other. The rest of the unfortunate suffering of those we deem 'the innocent,' is as confusing to me as anyone else. However, I fail to see how that same suffering is indisputable proof that God cannot exist.

Some people in the world go beyond just believing that God exists, they attempt to obey God. Too bad for them, I suppose, because obeying God in the 21st century is synonymous with being an ignorant sucker. And no one wants to be thought of as an ignorant sucker.

The 'joke' has to be on somebody, but I'll tell you one thing: I'm not going to let a bunch of arrogant know-it-alls turn me away from Something that ultimately gives life meaning. Opt for cynicism, spiritual vacuity, depression and mollifying psychoactive drugs instead? No thanks.

I prefer to do my own thinking instead of having it dictated to me by the opinions of others, popular or not.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Game Collector

I currently have 129 games installed in my computer.

It has been pointed out to me that I have spent more time finding, researching, purchasing and organizing games than I have spent actually playing them. At first, I didn't take that observation seriously; then upon closer inspection, I realized it was true.

I live a relatively simple existence. I maintain a vocation that allows me to pay my bills, and put a little away, but that's about it. My desire to collect things has been satisfied by three particular kinds of items: PC video games, books, and brainteaser puzzles. All three allow me to succumb to the hoarding instinct without a big hit to my liquid assets.

Will I ever play all the games I own? All the way through to the end of each, perhaps not. I am currently trying to install them all, one at a time, and test them out to see if they hold my attention more than a minute. I've been keeping track of what I consider to be the hits and the duds. I will eventually work my way through the 600+ games I own.

These games were all purchased at brick-and-mortar stores because I prefer to have something I can hold in my hand, instead of a mere promise from an online company that they'll always be there to allow me to install and play my game in the distant future. The ugly truth about Steam is that they have taken the EULA one more step, in the sense of reminding their consumers that they really don't own the games they just bought, they're technically only renting them. A rental status that can be easily and permanently revoked.

Yes, that's right. Owning the disk, manual and box still doesn't mean you own the game. But that's a subject for a future post, and it's not important here.

For me, video games are a form of art. That's why I collect them more than I play them. I'm not the only person who feels this way, and game design is no different than any other art form: given enough publicity and exposure, the cream eventually rises to the top.

I have decided that once I've culled the crud from my game collection, and spent sufficient time playing all the remaining games to gauge their "worthiness," I will then publish an annotated list of what I think are the greatest PC video games ever released.

My apologies in advance to developers of (and devotees to) racing games, flight simulators, sports games and MMORPGs: I don't get the allure of those genres, and I probably never will.

As for the legions of the console-platform obsessed, well... enjoy your limited, cute little toys. You can always sell them on eBay as nostalgic kitsch, ten years after purchase. Your desire to keep up with the latest console technology has effectively fulfilled the game console manufacturers' desire to milk your bank account on a regular basis.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Meter of Civility

In the future, when the (hopefully) cyclical nature of educational standards swings back toward well-instructed public school children, what will people of the world think about the United States, circa 1967-2010?

They will likely remember only a few shining lights that cast a shadow over the rest of the bulging masses of lazy, "entitled" slackers who cared more about comfort and entertainment than knowledge acquisition, work ethic or basic human purpose.

We will be remembered as not only the "me" generations, but also as the "me too" generations as well. Original thought, for the most part, seems to be on hiatus, and it won't be generated by staring at YouTube for hours on end.

For many years, we have been socially engineered in our culture to celebrate everyone, regardless of achievement; then we pause and wonder why so few people strive to actually achieve anything of worth. It does seem a bit pointless to press forward when everyone around you tells you that the smart way to get things done is to just mellow out and take it easy.

Or better yet, why bother to try harder at anything, when "everyone's a winner!" We can all just sit back, get poor grades, have pre-adolescent sex at recess, practice lazy work ethics, let our bodies soften to jelly, partake of whatever recreational drug we think will paint a brighter face on our lives, play video games or watch television all day instead of doing something constructive, go to the casino and dump another paycheck into the hands of those who know you better than you know yourself. I'm sure we could all come up with more examples to add to this embarrassing list.

If all else fails, move back home. Hey, you can always depend on your parents' work ethic to save the day, right? They're used to working for a living. All that "get up and go to work" stuff every day is just way too boring, right?

I don't know about you, but I'm fed up with watching the generations after me think they can make their mark on the world by some future, magical cosmic wish fulfillment. They will learn the hard way, as generations before them have, that there isn't always time to do later what needs to be taken care of now. All too often, time runs out.

We've now experienced decades of what appears to be a social experiment: no real consequences for under-par scholastic achievements, no serious standards for our school children to aspire to or to be held accountable for, physically and emotionally mollycoddling our youth out of fear of "trauma," taking authority away first from teachers and then parents, and allowing our popular culture to dumb down first our minds, then the minds of our kids.

Because of the sorts of jobs I've held for the last ten years, I've seen countless families in public settings. All I can say without going on too long, is basically that the vital art of parenting has been lost to all but a few. We have allowed the Enlightened Class of Psycho-babbling Intellectuals, The State, and the unscrupulously omnipotent Media Machine, to turn us and many of our children into selfish, lazy, whiny, angrily disenfranchised, unproductive consumers.

What's the answer to this dilemma? We can't put the ills of the world back into Pandora's Box, so hoping for one thing to turn it all around is naïve. There is no single answer that everyone would find acceptable.

We have, in the last three generations, set the stage for the final act. However, I still believe that the show does not ultimately have to be a tragedy. I think there is still a way, however it may be accomplished, to insure that more inspiring possibilities can be wrought from this present disappointment.

Perhaps the new "playwright" will rise from the current consumer-zombie trash heap and find a way to get us looking at the world through each others' eyes again. Because definitely, when I look around me and try to find a common denominator in all this mess, I keep coming back to our collective lack of common courtesy.

Trivial as it seems, it may be a meter of how ill our society is becoming, since general civility consistently decreases year after year in the United States.

But isn't that something you can turn back up with your latest gadget?

No... and it never will be.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Relentless Penguin

Microsoft has screwed its users again. That's right, I said it! Other than its historical accomplishment of greatly contributing to the reality of an affordable computer in every home, the T-Rex of Redmond has a lot to answer for.

The list of offenses has grown too long. Microsoft conned Seattle Computer out of the original "86-DOS" that ended up renamed and distributed with IBM computers, engineering a machine of multibillion dollar wealth, of which Seattle Computer ultimately saw only $75,000. Microsoft Windows 1.0 was "inspired" by a preexisting Apple OS; many of the programs that ran on those first Windows iterations were equally "inspired" or stolen, depending on your point of view. Internet Explorer, which could have been an honest attempt to compete with Netscape, instead became a method to destroy Netscape via installation agreements with OEM computer makers, then later was an affront to many Windows users by needlessly integrating the browser into the operating system.

Before I get too carried away, I will fast-forward to the reason I wrote this post.

Games for Windows and Vista? Microsoft, tell me you were only joking.

Back in the days when the Games for Windows rollout would have meant something (in other words, back when console gaming was beginning to seriously encroach on the PC gaming market share), what did Microsoft do?

They gave the world yet another gaming console, and called it Xbox.

Instead of doing something revolutionary that kept their own end users' best interests in mind, they simply repeated their predictable knee-jerk behavior, and produced another "me too" product that they hoped would grab them their own piece of one more previously non-Microsoft pie.

Back in 2001, if Microsoft had instead introduced Games for Windows, and supported it more effectively than the PR disaster they foisted on the public in 2007, they would have garnered much more loyalty from the gaming community... thus ultimately insuring their OS preeminence for at least a little while longer.

Did Microsoft truly think that users would cheer and gladly pony up the dough for the (then) new OS called Vista, just because the release of Halo 2 was inexplicably restricted to Vista support only? I say 'inexplicably' because the decision defies common sense in terms of respecting the Windows consumer base; it makes perfect sense in a scenario where the faithful Windows users are merely a means to a lucrative end.

One bitter irony regarding the aforementioned decision is that Vista eventually came to be recognized as an OS that offered somewhat lousy support (in some cases, no support at all!) for many games created for previous Windows operating systems, including XP. But then again, Microsoft has never been praised for their efforts to maintain backwards compatibility. Where's the money in that, right?

I will never tire of reminding the world (and myself) of this fact:

If the vast majority of current, mainstream computer video games were not written for Windows, I would ecstatically abandon Microsoft operating systems and never, ever look back.

MS OS's are, still in 2009, intermittently unreliable and user-defiant. The much more stable (and secure!) Linux operating system has become so user-friendly and accessible, that the previous restrictions on mass migration, based on the average user's computer savvy, are almost completely extinct. Other than the gaming issue, there is no longer a compelling reason to continue using an inferior product when a superior one is literally FREE to everyone! There just hasn't been an effective marketing campaign for Linux, since the nature of open-source is more word-of-mouth, and no one "owns" Linux itself in a commercial sense.

Thanks to an eager and innovative, worldwide open-source community, there will eventually be more software available for Linux than Windows. This trend, which will continue unabated, is strengthened by Windows emulators like Wine, and will steamroller Microsoft eventually. Once a wishful pipe dream of malcontented computer users, this pending reality is now only a matter of time. This means you too, Jobs. The only thing saving Apple right now is attitude, myth, and mall shops filled with cleverly marketed electronic crack. Jobs has apparently forgotten the famous mistake in judgement by IBM, regarding hardware versus software. Anything X can do, Linux can do better, and for free.

Furthermore, mark my words very carefully, Redmond: the day that an open-source Linux emulation for Windows games is seamless and leaves no games unsupported, you will experience such a massive exodus from your operating systems that your share of the PC market will incrementally dwindle down to even less than Mac-ish proportions.

Perhaps, Microsoft, you will then finally take your lip-service project named "Games for Windows" much more seriously. Have your collective intellectual faculties actually lost track of the fact that gamers are the principle force that drives the PC hardware market? The gaming world doesn't need another console, it needs a reason to stay with Windows for PC gaming. If that reason gets taken away by an all-inclusive Windows emulator in Linux, it will only be a matter of time before the ripples of the geek reaction extend to every square inch of surface of the entire computer pond.

Then it's good-bye 90% market share. Hey, it was a great run. Though Microsoft's OS division will certainly flounder and thrash about with the predictable assistance of legal actions against specific individuals in the open-source community, these efforts will merely be the final convulsions of a once-great idea that was lost to basic greed and myopia.

Microsoft and Apple are not controlled by stupid people. I think that deep down inside, both Microsoft and Apple leaders have known for some time now that their shares of the computer operating system market would eventually bow to Linux (or some other open-source OS).

Perhaps that's why their interests have diversified into hardware and other non-OS ventures; they can't control the game anymore, but they'd still like to maintain a seat at the table.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Backup Yourself!

Windows Backup is a half-assed program disguised as an administrator's time-saving tool. I made the blunder of relying on Windows Backup recently, and I must admit that because of the way it is structured and organized, I had gained some confidence that it would come through for me when the chips were down.

I was mistaken, and the backup was useless as a recovery tool. For those fledgling computer geeks out there, yes, there are viruses that can actually defeat your prized Norton Recovery Tool or proprietary System Recovery Disk. All you need to do is visit the wrong place on the Internet, and you can say buh-bye to all your precious registry entries you amassed over months or years of software installation. Or worse yet, to other important files not residing on your C:\ drive.

A side note: for those delusional Apple users out there who are laughing right now and then later swarming around the Apple store at the mall to drool on all the latest electronic bling that Jobs is hawking via Geek Squad clones... yes, you too can suffer from unrecoverable data.

Observe an 8-year-user Apple yes-girl who finally gave in to reality:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0dohuX9Ij38


Okay, enough of that. Let's move on to the purpose of this post: I'm going to demonstrate, for my fellow unfortunate Windows users, how to write your own backup program that leaves Windows Backup flipping on its own impotent bits.

(Linux users also using Windows can skip this tutorial, if they already have knowledge of bash, xterm, konsole, etc.)

TUTORIAL:

First things first: you don't have to be a real programmer to utilize the Windows Command Prompt in XP!

Next, if you view yourself as computer savvy, but you're still using a single partition on your hard drive, then don't bother reading this tutorial - you're only kidding yourself and you need to clock "a few" more hours on the workings of your rig. Just buying the latest computer from Dell, HP or Alienware, and using P2P programs to pirate games or download porn doesn't make you a hacker.

Especially in these days of 500GB and 1.5TB hard drives, to assign the entire drive to C:\ is an error you will live to curse. If for no better reason, create smaller partitions for the sake of Defrag; do you really want to wait until the year 2019 to finish your defragmentation? Nevertheless, the most important purpose served by multiple logical drives is having a "neutral" place to store your important files.

Indeed, the essential precursor to this tutorial is a simple admonition to add multiple partitions as soon as you get your new computer or hard drive. I highly recommend a C:\ drive of no more than 20GB for Windows XP. Then, only *rarely* install new programs on C:\. Choose a different logical drive (or drives) instead for programs you install.

If you're distracted at this point because you're using Windows Vista, and still faithfully defending it because it has those super-duper awesome 3D windows... well, look again at the second paragraph of this tutorial. Vista sucks. The jury isn't out on Windows 7 yet, either; Microsoft needs a good calendar year of unofficial beta-testing on their paying customers, before they can approach a somewhat stable OS (with the ubiquitous service packs, of course). Long live Linux!

Okay, after all that, if I still have your attention, then go to Start > Run, and type in "cmd" (always without the quotes!) and click the OK button.

Do NOT type in "command" - this is an 8-character-filename vestige that won't work for our purposes here.

Once at the prompt, you can navigate to any drive and any folder on your computer. For example, just typing "C:" and hitting the Enter key on your keyboard will move you to the C:\ drive. You will probably notice on trying that out, that all you did was get a repeat line of what you already had in the window. This is because the default folder displayed when the "cmd" window opens is *already on* your C:\ drive.

Okay, I could go into much more depth, but to avoid scaring you away, I'd rather just show you the simple backup "batch file" I created for myself, with explanations along the way. The beauty of this is you never even have to open up the command prompt if you've written the batch file correctly.

A batch file is a simple text file (created with Notepad, not Wordpad or Word!), where you eventually rename the file as backup.bat instead of backup.txt. The other two programs include binary formatting that will render your batch file unusable.

This batch file assumes the user name "freddie."

Each new line of a batch file is a separate command. The whole point of making one of these is to automate the copying of your irreplaceable files on the C:\ drive. That way, if a virus hoses your operating system, or you just want to start over with a fresh format of C:\, you've got all your created files saved to a neutral place for retrieval. Things like MSOffice files, mail folders, wallpapers, game saves and settings, etc.

Download the following text file, which is a copy of the batch file I actually use (including a few filename and drive adjustments to protect my computer's security without corrupting the functional potential of the file). Scan it with your Anti-Virus program for your peace of mind (I encourage that for *any* file you download from the Internet!).

backup.txt

I've renamed it backup.txt, so that when you double-click to open it, it doesn't actually run. Just remember to rename your own batch file "backup.bat" before you run it. There is another way to view a batch file without changing the extension (by right-clicking), but I'm trying to keep this simple for batch file initiates.

After you download it, open it and I will explain what's going on, so that you can alter it for your own use, or make your own from scratch. It's super easy, I promise!

Each new line is a new command, so the batch file runs each command in sequential order, from top to bottom. Examine the file closely, and don't take anything for granted (such as placement of spaces).

The first line "c:" (remember, *NO* quotes!) is to change the prompt to the C:\ drive, in case you're running it from a different logical drive (something I highly recommend!).

The next line "cd\" moves the prompt to the lowest folder of the drive (called the "root"). You need to do this to guarantee that your navigation is not situation-dependent.

Next, you'll see "cd WINDOWS" - this makes the prompt enter the C:\Windows folder, where your operating system resides. In this case, I have wallpapers (.bmp) and an Office file (powerpoint.ini) that I wish to backup.

The next line is more interesting. You're actually doing some copying. Always remember that when you execute a command that affects files or folders, you must place a space between the command and the files, as well as spaces between file types and switches. Switches are those letters at the end that have a slash next to them; they are special instructions regarding how to handle the files.

You can learn more about these switches by going to the command prompt and typing the function "help" then a space, then the name of the function. For example: "help xcopy" will display all the switches associated with xcopy, as well as an explanation of what it does. (If you'd like to view all the available commands for the Windows command prompt, just type "help" in the command window and hit Enter).

The other command you'll see used in the batch file is "cd.." - that's two periods! The function of this command is to move down one folder. What does that mean? The closer you get to the root, the further "down" you go. Example:

If your batch file is at the following folder:

C:\Documents and Settings\freddie\Desktop

And the next command is "cd.." then you will now find yourself at:

C:\Documents and Settings\freddie

Get it? "cd\" goes all the way to the root no matter where you are, but "cd.." only goes to the next folder "down."

One last thing, so the batch file makes sense to you:

"*.*" is a way to tell the command prompt that you're referring to all the files in the folder. Therefore, "*.bmp" refers to all files that have the extension ".bmp" (these are bitmaps, a format for pictures, which are what most of your wallpapers are). When accessing a single file, always remember to include the extension (as in "powerpoint.ini").

Now, after you've studied the batch file and understand the concept, then all you have to do is use Windows Explorer to seek out all the folders where your vital, irreplaceable files reside. Navigate the batch file to these folders, and copy the files you want to copy to the drive and folder(s) of your choosing. In this example my backed-up files get copied to the E:\ drive, to the folders named in the batch file.

That's it! When you're ready to backup, simply double-click on your "backup.bat" file.

Now, here's the $64,000 question:

How is it that a simple text file can be more specific (less wasteful), faster, more robust and more user-friendly than the official backup program that's included with Windows?

Monday, November 16, 2009

No Harm, No Foul?

I had a conversation the other night with a friend from my old stomping grounds who was in town for a national conference. We had about an hour chat over soft drinks before she had to get back to her hotel room.

The interesting part of our conversation was when we discussed a mutual friend who has been forced to deal with circumstances beyond his control. Our mutual friend is worthy of great respect for many things, including his decision to structure his life around taking care of his daughter.

The reason why that part of the conversation was interesting was I came face to face with a phenomenon I hadn't thought that much about in recent days. It's a specific flag that some human beings fly regarding freedom: absolute freedom for freedom's sake.

My friend who was attending the conference is of the opinion that as long as adults are consenting, and their behavior doesn't outwardly hurt anyone else, that it's not only their right to pursue this behavior, but no one should judge their decision to do so.

On the surface, I agree with this precept. I agree that human beings should be free, and that freedom should include the right to do whatever they want to do, as long as others aren't harmed in the process. The founding fathers of our country also seemed to be in agreement, because they featured this sentiment in the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Be that as it may, as in most cases of black-and-white thinking, gray that is ignored can bite you on the posterior.

My friend from out of town is a libertarian, and I am also. This means we both place individual liberty very high on our list of things that are important in life. Where we disagreed the other night, however, is how far one may follow the letter of the law before reason is lost.

The crux of my argument was based on a simple observation. While I agree that (for example) adult women should have the right to be strippers or prostitutes if that's how they wish to earn a living, I also believe there are good *reasons* why those kinds of vocations are not wise to pursue. The "judgmental" opinion of the average person regarding these vocations is typically based on these reasons, not merely on a personal vendetta against the morals of the practitioners.

To give honest evidence of this concept, I merely asked my friend if she would endorse her daughter's possible future decision to become a stripper. When my friend said yes, I admit I was surprised. Call me delusional, but I would venture that if she is ever literally faced with this possibility in the future, she would recant her consent for the sake of her daughter's well being. I may be way off base, but I think she said yes merely to remain in line with her conceptual convictions.

Now, is it judgmental of me to assume that persons performing those jobs are living lives that usually become unnecessarily complicated, stressful and sometimes dangerous, therefore making the career choice an unwise one? Certainly. My opinion *is* a judgment. Therefore, anyone performing that job would be subject to my inclination to judge his or her career choice as unwise, unhealthy, and generally foolish.

However, despite the defiant response that free people have toward anyone who supposedly rains on the parade, is my judgment actually wrong?

You tell me. We don't have to include sex workers in this discussion. There are many, many non-professional devotees and practitioners of alternative lifestyles, such as BDSM, fetish and other "underground" communities. We can simply observe that it's common knowledge that everyone is wired differently, sexually speaking, and our buttons are all different to some degree. Therefore it would be inappropriately judgmental to comment on someone else's decisions behind closed doors.

Fine, but riddle me this:

How much thought is truly given to what spurs individual deviant sexual behaviors in the first place? Is being "good and right" really just a matter of letting people enjoy their personal freedoms in any way they wish, or are there elements in the world that gratify in the short term while simultaneously reinforcing negative or detrimental views of ourselves and others?

I have no desire to prevent anyone from pursuing whatever they wish under the banner of "no unwanted harm done to others." What I would like to see though, is more forthrightness regarding the reasons why we do what we do, and more integrity regarding the actual long-term results of incorporating perversions into the basic human drives for touch, propagation and love.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Tools of Manipulation

We live in what we like to refer to as a modern world, but certainly the experience of being human never seems to change. Despite our evolving informational, technological and material environments, our interactions with each other (and ourselves) remain as they have since the dawn of recorded history.

One of the most obvious aspects of being human that has withstood the process of time is our intellect. Call it intelligence, smarts, sentience, sapience, whatever you wish... our mental inclination toward abstraction and conceptualization far exceeds any other observable living creatures on this planet.

For perhaps this reason alone, the idea arose at some point in our history that we must be the final result of a mindless and inexorable process of development; a process of development that Charles Darwin is typically credited for discovering. We call this process Evolution, and although evolution as an algorithm can be successfully applied to much more than the development of life on this planet, it is most frequently associated with Darwin's "world shattering" idea.

But is there really such a process in regard to the origin of all biological life, and if so, are we truly the final result?

I've done my share of Internet surfing, seeking out both sides of this stalemated argument. It can't be expressed effectively enough that the arduous fervor of both sides is ultimately not a proof of either concept: God or Random Chance as the originator of life as we know it.

The simplistic view of this debate is that only the Science side has all the documented and researched facts, and the Creationist side merely has conjecture, wishful thinking and "bad science." Proponents of the Scientific view never seem to run out of examples of facts that refute the "deceptive, ungrounded objections" of the Creationist view.

I have looked over reams of bulleted, detailed counter-arguments designed to drive home the "truth" of the matter: that Creationists never know what they're talking about. Science insists that if these Creationists have the ignorant audacity to refute the BodhiDarwin, they're only begging to be exposed as populist charlatans with a hidden agenda to send us all back to the dark ages.

We're informed that Jonathan Wells has cherry-picked the examples in his book Icons of Evolution, and that his arguments are "intellectually dishonest." But while the arbiters of truth are busy trying to drown Wells's assertions with a flood of facts, they're not spending very much time explaining why these inaccuracies are still present as seminal examples of evolution in modern textbooks. The best explanation Wells's critics can muster is that these textbooks are mostly used at the high school level. Apparently, high school students don't deserve the same access to scientific accuracy as college students.

We're expected to accept the proclamation that Michael Behe's argument regarding irreducible complexity in his book Darwin's Black Box is just plain silly, because we're told that gradual evolution can do more than just add parts.

To sum up for those reading this who aren't as familiar with this particular debate, Behe points out (correctly) that certain structures vital to life (biological cells), contain such intricate and complex interdependence between their constituent parts that the entire cell can't function with any one of those myriad parts removed. Thus, Behe asserts that gradual evolution could not have produced those structures, since the cell can't perform its principle functions with only part of its contents.

The Scientific detractors of this argument claim that Behe's observation is invalid: the simple version of their counter-assertion is that it only seems like a cell couldn't survive and function without its myriad interacting parts.

What the Scientific fact spewers are actually doing here is vending faith, not science. They maintain the presupposition that because the origin and development of all life on this planet had to be congruous with Darwin's theory, that of course the cells must have found some way to develop myriad, intricately cohesive functions one unique interdependent part at a time, never missing a step.

These same statistically miraculous and ingeniously evolving cells never failed to continue existing and replicating during this multi-million year process. And furthermore, these aimless yet resilient microscopic entities never failed the larger organisms they eventually became a part of, despite their non-existent ability to engineer their own future structures.

Regardless of what you or I choose to believe, and no matter how strong the urge to call the other side wrong, try to remember this:

Facts are never truly self-evident when it comes to matters of theoretical controversy; they are merely subjective tools of the persons manipulating them, as any litigator or marketing analyst can attest.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Obtain A Clue

For all those starry-eyed, lemming-like consumers out there with an iPod in one hand, an iPhone in the other, and the mistaken idea that Apple computers are better because Steve Jobs says they are, I will now provide you with a simple seven-step program to free yourself of your expensive delusion.

Perform all seven of these steps, and you will be able to jettison the hive-minded fantasy that if something is:
a) the latest technology,
b) expensive, and
c) cool-looking,
it will automatically serve you better in every way.

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, you will finally be able to break the transparent marketing spell that Jobs has cast over two generations of gadget gobblers.

The Seven Steps of Computer Freedom


1) Go back in time and convince Jobs not to be such a control freak, so third-party manufacturers back then could have contributed to the robustness of Steve Wozniak's brilliant engineering. This would have allowed Apple to more effectively compete with the Japanese computer companies of the early 1980's... the same Japanese computer companies that almost completely buried Apple underneath Microsoft's IBM-compatible onslaught.

2) Stop pretending that the "insanely great" marketing hype that Jobs endlessly empties out of his pie-hole is any sort of substitute for utilitarian value combined with lower prices.

3) Let go of the outdated notion that the Apple OS (operating system) is easier to use than the Microsoft OS, when one has been effectively mimicking the other now for over 20 years. These days they both steal ideas from each other.

4) Abandon the myth that intelligent, informed, evolved computer users must own Macs instead of PCs. If the car owner who only knows how to turn the key and step on the gas is superior to the owner who also knows how to do a ring job or install a new transmission, then we must be living in Bizarro World.

5) Take a second look at the Apple/Jobs mantra of "Think Differently." Ever since the 21st century arrived, and the distributions became more user-friendly, Linux users have become the computer users that truly deserve the distinction of thinking differently, not Apple's devoted minions.

6) Stop perpetuating the nonsense that Apple retains autonomous superiority in a sea of OS mediocrity. Since Jobs came back to Apple to "save" the company, he:
a) sold a significant portion to Microsoft, then
b) made the Apple hardware more friendly to third person peripherals, and then later
c) changed the allegedly "more powerful" proprietary circuitry to one that uses x86 architecture.

Thus, all the most significant variables that were originally listed to insist that Apples were better than PCs have, through time, proven that IBM-compatible hardware is a wiser choice. Now a Mac is nothing more than a PC with a more expensive OS and a "sexier" outer shell.

7) Start thinking more like a computer user, and less like a department store mannequin.

Here's an awesome little video I found on YouTube that pretty much spells it out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42YGj20qO8U

Friday, October 16, 2009

DRM continues despite growing objections

I am (and you should be also) greatly disturbed by more and more invasive DRM (Digital Rights Management) software, which literally walks all over my rights as a legitimate consumer of PC games. I still possess not only the original disks of my games, but the manuals and boxes as well. Yet companies producing software like SecuROM are not allowing me to take measures to protect my investment. Not only are my efforts being thwarted to preserve my legally purchased property, but the very idea that I must format my hard drive to remove software I didn't want in the first place is beyond offensive. If any of this sounds new to you, go here to find out how bad the situation is becoming:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SecuROM

SecuROM is a software, and software is created by developers. In this case, the developers are Sony DADC. The game publishers have an interest in protecting their investments in game developers' work, so they turn to whomever promises the best possible copy protection.

Starforce is another insidious form of DRM. Observe the depths to which copy protection developers sink, in order to defeat software pirates...this blurb was a part of a forum post by someone who also included a total list of games that use Starforce:

"Under Windows XP, if packets are lost during the reading or writing of a disk, XP interprets this as an error and steps the IDE speed down. Eventually it will revert to 16bit compatibility mode rendering a CD/DVD writer virtually unusable. In some circumstances certain drives cannot cope with this mode and it results in physical hardware failure (Most commonly in multiformat CD/DVD writer drives). A sure sign of this step down occurring is that the burn speeds will get slower and slower (no matter what speed you select to burn at). Starforce, on a regular basis, triggers this silent step down. Until it reaches the latter stages most people do not even realise it is happening.

Moreover, the Starforce drivers, installed on your system, grant ring 0 (system level) privileges to any code under the ring 3 (user level) privileges. Thus, any virus or trojan can get OS privileges and totally control your system. Since Windows 2000, the Windows line security and stability got enhanced by separating those privileges, but with the Starforce drivers, the old system holes and instabilities are back and any program (or virus) can reach the core of your system by using the Starforce drivers as a backdoor."

Starforce apparently doesn't like to be criticized publicly for its questionable software, as witnessed by these two articles describing threats from a Starforce rep to sue individuals for exposing the problems created by installing Starforce protected games:

http://www.boingboing.net/2006/01/31/starforce_threatens_.html

http://techdirt.com/articles/20060131/1031237_F.shtml

Starforce supposedly posted a rebuttal on their web site to accusations regarding negative aspects of their software, but somehow that rebuttal seems to have magically disappeared from the site.

Never mind that many, many commercially successful games are protected by only a CD key, or in some cases (such as "Sins of a Solar Empire" and "Galactic Civilizations 2") have no copy protection at all. Never mind that in all cases, the pirates who are supposedly being thwarted, eventually produce "cracks" that can allow people to download and play protected games without even buying them.

The morals of the previous paragraph are painfully obvious, but somehow still escape the game publishers' attentions. First, that game pirating is never prevented by copy protection, only delayed. Second, that games can be wildly successful commercially with very little or no protection at all. Are the offensive, invasive, and ultimately useless copy protections, which pose problems only for paying customers, really worth the ill will generated toward PC gaming?

After Melissa Thomas (a citizen of Maryland), and her class action suit filed from California against EA (Electronic Arts) for using SecuROM, I keep wondering: why hasn't some high-profile legal firm taken Sony DADC on for creating this kind of invasive, rights-violating software? While I realize Sony is a big fish, is that any reason for everyone to throw their hands up and take whatever they're given, just because they really, really want to play the latest SecuROM-tainted game? Have we all truly become that complacent and spineless?

In the following PDF file, you may view the original court documents in the suit filed against EA on behalf of Melissa Thomas... take a look at all the complaints listed by the law firm from people who bought the game Spore (EA publishers) and found themselves dealing with things they hadn't planned on:

spore.pdf

Or how about Starforce? Why doesn't an opportunistic lawyer bring suit against them for creating software that installs "hidden" drivers and prevents the user to use legally purchased software that they deem inappropriate?

This is not about allowing thievery. I am a PC game collector. Since all 600+ games I own were purchased at brick-and-mortar retail outlets, I'm sickened by the legions of morally flexible people who cheapen game developer's efforts by downloading games for free.

This is about stopping companies from installing unwanted, invasive, restrictive and potentially harmful software onto our computers, regardless of what the sacred EULA says.

I thought this was the country that was all about the individual's rights? A powerful legal firm needs to stand up to Sony DADC, Starforce, and any other companies producing software that makes our computers do things we don't want them to do.

Sufferance is equal to consent. If you're interested in knowing more and perhaps adding your voice to the outcry against invasive copy protections, go to Reclaim Your Game, and read up:

http://reclaimyourgame.com

A quote from the Reclaim Your Game site:

"We are not pirates- we are customers who pay game companies to put out a good product without invasive or destructive programs. We are fed up with being perceived as being "cash cows" ready for milking without any say in what we buy. That is what this website is about, ultimately - how to reclaim our rights as consumers and customers."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Prayer for Blood

I would like to ask everyone to say a prayer tonight for Blood. No, I'm not talking about jihads, vengeance or vendettas.

There are all sorts of gamers out there... casual to hardcore, with lots of variations in between. There is a subset of hardcore gamers who keep a special place in their hearts for old games. Games made for DOS. There is a collection of classic games that stretches from about 1992, when Wolfenstein 3D was released by id, to about 1998 or so. A handful of games were created in this span of time that somehow became ageless, in the sense that they are still fun to play today, regardless of their relatively poor graphics (as compared to a typical 2009 3D game).

In a few cases, the creators of these older games decided at some point to make the source code open to everyone to use for non-commercial purposes. This unselfish and highly intelligent decision paved the way for all kinds of ports of these older games to newer, more graphically impressive engines. The list grows a little more each year, but the current list of porting and retexturing projects is inspiring. A few of the more high profile projects are:

The Doomsday Engine, which specializes in Doom engine ports, such as Doom, Doom II, Heretic and Hexen:

http://dengine.net/

Risen 3D, which is an advanced version of the Doomsday port:

http://risen3d.drdteam.org/

EDuke32, which allows play of the original Duke Nukem 3D, with many advanced features, including support for TCP/IP multiplayer, which the original game did not have:

http://www.eduke32.com/

The Duke Nukem High Resolution Pack, which can be used in conjunction with EDuke32, to play with more updated graphics:

http://hrp.duke4.net/

There are other projects, but what I'm trying to get across here is that there are many talented fans of these old games out there who would love nothing more than to get their hands on the original source code and create updated versions. These fans don't collect any money for their efforts. The wonderful results of their hard work are all freely downloadable to anyone who wants to enjoy these awesome old games with updated graphics.

Back to the title of this blog entry.

Ken Silverman created the Build Engine, which was used to create the famous Duke Nukem 3D, as well as a few other memorable games, such as Redneck Rampage, Witchhaven, Shadow Warrior, Powerslave and even William Shatner's Tek War. Silverman followed in John Carmack's (of id software) footsteps, and released the source code to the Build Engine, which made all the updated Duke Nukem 3D ports possible.

But the game that sprang from the Build Engine and has become legendary in its status, is a game called Blood. Duke Nukem 3D was more well known, and sold more copies, but Blood has lived on tenaciously in many gamer's hearts, producing nostalgia and melancholy. Why so sad?

Because for reasons entirely unknown, Atari will not release the source code.

Despite the facts that Blood 2's (Blood's sequel) source code was already released, and the age of Blood's source code insures that there are no "secrets" to be lost if it was released, Atari refuses to allow this source code to be shared by the fans. Blood was never reprinted, so Atari makes zero dollars on it. The source code simply gathers dust in Atari's archives.

I recently discovered a website that sprang up with a public petition to Atari to release the Blood source code. It can be found at:

http://www.petitiononline.com/bloodsrc/petition.html

You can sign the petition, and view the current signatures as well. To date there are 1,569 signatures. Mine is the 1,569th, as I signed it right before I wrote this blog entry.

That's 1,569 people who have found and actually signed a public petition. Who knows how many more people would truly love to play an updated version of Blood, but just aren't aware of the petition?

Blood cannot be played natively on any operating system past Windows ME, which very few people use anymore, as Microsoft has so mercenarily decided to end support for it. XP, still the most popular version of Windows (despite the craptastic Vista and fledgling "7"), is not able to play Blood without a lot of tinkering, or the use of DOSBox, an excellent DOS emulator that still doesn't quite play the game as seamlessly as it originally played.

There is an attempt being made to remake Blood for the open source Quake 1 engine, called Transfusion:

http://www.transfusion-game.com/

Transfusion has the blessing of those who own the copyright to the original Blood game (Atari only possesses the source code). However, after a long period of time, only multiplayer is available, with the single player game nowhere in sight. You can't blame the Transfusion people; it's just too much work to recreate an entire game from the ground up, down to every detail, instead of just porting source code.

There are people who have suggested to Atari that they release Blood on the Steam network, as other game companies have done with their old DOS titles. They could even garner some revenue in that fashion. One has to wonder how Atari, a venerated game company, could possibly ignore the obvious popularity of this game. I mean, they're not even bothering to license it to Steam and make a few bucks. This makes zero sense. If the game is not on Atari's radar at all, then what's stopping the release of the code?

Furthermore, all the free and downloadable ports I mentioned earlier still require the original game files; to play them, you need to already own the original games. In this fashion, if Atari wanted to make even more money, the release of the source code would guarantee the creation of new ports, requiring those who didn't already own Blood to purchase a copy, thus generating even more revenue for Atari. So come on, let's start making some sense here.

Atari, stop being jerks and do the right thing.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

First effects of the mighty BFP

For any who have wondered what became of the previously mentioned Box o' Fragadelic Power, it's alive and well and providing me the means to type this very message. Not to mention many hours already logged, playing several of the Half-Price-Books-purchased games (and gift games from others) that were waiting patiently in the wings for me to upgrade my hardware.

I had waited so long to upgrade (build a new computer) that I had lost touch with several "newer" technologies that could have made my computing experience far superior than its been for the last few years. The much brighter, crisper LCD display is just one of the current hardware joys I'm basking in. The move from EIDE to SATA, DDR to DDR2, single to quad core, and the skipping of several generations of GPU in one fell swoop are a few more overdue changes I'm enjoying at the moment.

AMD and NVIDIA, you rock my face off, and have done so for a long time. It's a pity AMD purchased ATI instead. Gigabyte, I never knew your motherboards could be so amazingly all-encompassing. Copper, baby! Western Digital, you're the best. Cooler Master and Corsair, thanks for a great case and power supply.

Some of you might actually ask, "Why build?" For those of you out there who know the joy of scouting parts and assembling your own box, the answer to that question is an easy one. The last time I bought a pre-manufactured computer was the Dell Inspiron 8000 laptop I purchased back at the very beginning of the millennium.

I had left Seattle to undertake a previously feared odyssey of travel and rootlessness, which lasted about five years. During that time, I learned valuable lessons regarding life and my perception of the universe. A bit of a vague summation, I realize, but nonetheless accurate. The laptop was my way of staying mobile while I pursued what I then thought was my destiny as a "published" writer.

I will never buy a computer put together by a commercial computer manufacturer ever again. I had built my own rigs before the laptop, and I will continue to do so for the rest of my life. The advantages of assembling your own computer are many, and you'll never beat the price. The one advantage of buying from a manufacturer is the included tech support; but for those paying attention, depending on others for help with computer-related issues is completely unnecessary.

That Dell laptop was fraught with all kinds of problems. I was philosophical about it, as I had wisely purchased an extended three-year warranty. The keyboard needed replacing twice. The native resolution of the screen was vastly inferior to the LCD I now use, due to many advances in the technology since then. The power brick was subject to a massive recall, due to a potentially flammable constitution. The touch pad and pointing stick were so unreliable, I completely abandoned them for a PS2 mouse instead. The hard drive went toes up, literally within a month of the warranty expiration!

So, the advantage I sought with the laptop was not worth the overall low quality of the unit. The laptop was very expensive at the time, and I mistakenly justified the cost by looking only at the convenience of mobility. Personally Assembled Desktops forever, my friends! They are a key to happiness in the universe of computation.

Back to present day. I have now experienced the interactive immersion that is Half Life 2, the adrenaline that is F.E.A.R., and the artistic beauty that is Bioshock.

Is my life better because I'm playing these games?

You bet!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Nostalgia with a slice of humble pie

Twenty-eight years ago today, on October 1, 1981, I appeared on a stage in a high school auditorium with four other musicians. The name of our band was Leadfoot. We played one song only; our performance was positioned at the end of the talent show. The song was a cover called Victim of Changes by Judas Priest.

The auditorium was in Highline High School, in south Seattle. I had graduated the previous year from a different school, and met one of the members of the band where he and I worked, the now defunct Lewis & Clark Theaters. Coincidentally, my graduating class of 1980 at Glacier High School was the last one; they closed the school down afterward. I may be mistaken, but with the exception of the bass player, I think the rest of the band were senior class members of Highline High School.

These were the days before the "grunge" sound was pushed by upstart Seattle-based recording label Sub Pop Records, bought by L.A.-based recording labels and then sold back to the world as the official Seattle music scene. Having grown up in Seattle, and having actually been a part of the 80's and 90's Seattle music scene, I can tell you without qualification that at the time the grunge format erupted on the world, the vast majority of bands in Seattle were not playing grunge music, but instead some form of hard or progressive rock. The entire hype was a deliberate alteration of the truth for the sake of selling a sound that only a tiny part of the Seattle music underground cared about at that point. Amazing what smart advertising and slick production can accomplish.

Be that as it may, some interesting music did come out of the recording industry's grunge hype, so my intent here is not to deny the popularity of the pre-fab flannel-shirt rock stars of Seattle. It's to provide a personal insight to the pitfalls of seeking celebrity.

I'll never forget that auspicious day in 1981. There I was, a singer with no previous live experience, performing a song that I knew few other people could correctly sing note-for-note, to a "sold out" standing-room-only auditorium with 600+ seats, including a balcony. As the first arpeggios came from the guitars, I waited backstage, having no clue what I was going to do. Then, when the entire band was playing the last part of the intro, I walked out from my hiding place. To my amazement, the crowd roared... I surmised it was simply because "the singer" was walking to the front of the stage. The adrenaline was so strong at that moment that my mouth had gone completely dry and I was operating on instinct only, since the experience at this point was simultaneously frightening and exhilarating.

I walked to the edge of the stage, turned around so that my back was to the crowd, and waited until my first line arrived. When the time came, I abruptly turned around and sang the line, "Whisky woman don't you know that you are drivin' me insane!"

What happened next is what stays with me to this day. Right after I sang the line, the crowd exploded with a roar so intense that I could feel the pressure on my face. At that moment, my stage fright subsided, and our band went on to perform a song that people who attended Highline at that time still remembered years later. To say the experience was like a highly addictive drug is no exaggeration, if everything I've read about drug addiction is accurate.

Based on that initial experience of performing in public, I went on for eighteen more years, with various bands, trying to regain that feeling. Through all those years, all of the musicians I worked with, all of the shows I played, and all the fun I had, I never did recapture the thrill of that moment.

The reason why I officially "quit music" back in 1998 had nothing to do with the excellent project I was working on at the time. I had finally realized that for some reason, I was given a tiny taste of rock stardom on my very first attempt, and that there were no signs of it ever coming back again. I finally came to grips with the difference between destiny and desire, and between reality and delusion.

The unattractive fact I had refused to face for those eighteen years was that certain key factors that caused a person to attain rock stardom were not under my control. I bought the lie that people are sold daily: that merely a strong desire for something is enough to acquire it. I'm a very positive person, but teaching 6,000 children that all of them can be rock stars if they really want it bad enough is inaccurate and cruel, especially when the odds are only one in that 6,000 will achieve such "success." That 6000 number is from 1990, by the way.

Time has provided me with the opportunity to look closer at my life, motivations and necessities for happiness. In my case, it turns out I am more content to remain relatively anonymous, as the former desire to be famous has been overpowered by a stronger desire to maintain a simple life, free from complication and stress. Does this mean I no longer wish my thoughts to be heard? No. But the selfish ambition I was once saddled with has been tossed aside for a pursuit of truth, whatever that truth may be. Now, the most gratifying experience for me would not be iconic apotheosis, but instead a simple respect for ideas and accomplishments that somehow lend meaning to whatever this life turns out to be for all of us.

I now remember the day in 1981 with fondness, as opposed to longing. Earlier this year, I was reconnected with musicians I played with back in 1992, and we're taking our time working on a CD that went unfinished due to our breakup. It's been an enlightening reminder that for all those years, had I pursued music out of a love for music only, and not as a stepping stone to fame, I probably would have been more satisfied with the results, instead of being constantly frustrated that I wasn't "making it."

I don't care about fame and fortune anymore. What I care about now is enjoying whatever time I have left on this earth, without the shackles of media-fed fantasies that contribute more to individual vanity and the bank accounts of media magnates than the uplifting of the human spirit.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The BFP cometh

Yes!

The final part arrived from Newegg today. The world will never be the same.

Tonight I create the Box o' Fragadelic Power.

I have always been a fan of delayed gratification, if for nothing else, it's kinder to your wallet when you're working in an industry that doesn't flood your bank account with embarrassing wealth. But now, after *three years* of waiting for all the prices to come down to a point where I can swoop in and get the best deal, I will soon be setting affinity four ways to make all my processing dreams come true, as well as playing the most demanding games in existence with a custom box that will heartily laugh at all their system requirements.

At times like these, I can be given to hyperbole, and I didn't spare my wife any last night. I announced that I felt a change in my life coming, an immensely positive alteration, and that it would be predicated somehow on the existence of my soon-to-be-magnificent Gaming, Programming and Digital Audio Workstation machine.

Tonight I'm gonna party like it's 2012.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Value of Open Minds

My parents, with perhaps only incidental intentions, gave me a great gift. It was the gift of letting me make up my own mind regarding not only the existence of God, but also, if I chose to believe in a god, they allowed me to select my own method of belief. They more than likely decided to *not* indoctrinate me to their spiritual beliefs for no other reason than their own disillusionment with the religion they both happened to be raised with.

Regardless of their motivations, the result was that I had the freedom to decide these issues on my own. This is the gift I wish to also impart to my own children someday, if my wife and I are fortunate enough to conceive at some point.

The value of this lack of indoctrination can't be sufficiently expressed. In a world where people form their opinions early, and rarely step away from them for the entirety of their lives, the chance to truly make up your own mind without any sort of pressure in any direction is priceless.

Therefore, whatever it is I chose to believe about the universe, it wasn't handed down to me by my family or friends' religious convictions, or for that matter, my institutional peers. Richard Dawkins seems to assume that ideological indoctrination only occurs within a religious context. An interesting assumption, but not very sound, as the dogma of evolutionary biology has its own petri dish of viral transference.

I submit that an open mind is better equipped to discover "truth" regarding the universe. By open mind, I'm not referring to an automatic consideration of every wacky idea that crosses one's desk. I'm specifically speaking about looking deeper at questions raised regarding any particular scientific theory, instead of consistently explaining them away with imaginative reasons that guarantee the general theory remains intact. The latter is the starkly obvious procedure of the stubborn adherent.

Dawkins dances around the big "why" questions by assigning them vacuous status. "Vacuous" is a serious adjective, and coming from a man who seems to be devoting far too much personal and professional time to debunking spiritual beliefs, it reveals the bias by which he is hopelessly controlled.

To declare that asking "why" is a meaningless venture because there is ultimately no reason for anything, is a lazy way to avoid the issue. Surely a no-name, unknown, non-degreed, unimportant philistine like me should know better than to dare call such a distinguished, brilliant, respected and accomplished sage like Dawkins a lazy scientist.

And yet I will continue to do so until he (and others like him) admit their grand folly that prevents the world's total acceptance of their dogma: they possess the same sort of tunnel vision as those they deem scientifically ignorant.

How have the Darwinian Dittos managed to miss the fact that something they view as so entirely self-evident is not necessarily so? These purveyors of pretentious prattle seek to convince the world, through relentless insistence, that the innate human desire to seek the *why* of mysteries in the universe is in itself a primitive, ignorant, un-evolved, knee-jerk-behavioral activity; one that could never possibly bear fruit in the realm of the physical sciences.

How far would that approach have taken us historically in the realm of science if we just accepted everything at its face value, and assigned logical-sounding theories the status of fact, just because they seemed to make sense?

One of the most devious (but not very original) methods these wise men employ to pull in more converts is the age-old comparison to fairies, goblins, sea monsters, Santa Claus, and name-your-imaginary-entity. That's all very fine and dandy; there is no known way to prove the three-dimensional, physical existence of a god. However, this kind of intellectual pressure has somehow failed to stamp out the delusion so many human beings allegedly suffer from.

If the unchallenged verity of Science should be enough to forever obliterate any lingering desire to believe in a primitive superstition such as a "creator of the universe," then why do many highly skilled and formally educated scientists still choose to believe in this nonsensical boogie-man/heavenly Father? Can't these intelligent, accomplished and sometimes brilliant minds see the cognitive dissonance of their belief systems?

Dawkins, Dennett, et al, haven't learned, and may never learn, that the subjective nature of humanity, and the perhaps limitless possibilities of a highly complex and still somewhat unrevealed universe, will always prevent them from turning the world into a bunch of nodding yes-people, bowing to their god of exceptional intellect, Charles Darwin.

I say, hey, if that's what floats your boat, go on ahead. March on with your alarmist propaganda regarding the "dangerous" belief in God. All those who continue to believe in this "imaginary" entity know full well that your accusations are groundless, faceless, hapless and hopeless. The misdeeds of humankind do *not* require the flag of religion to make history a sometimes unpleasant recollection. If Dawkins, et al were being entirely honest, they would have to admit that the beneficial results of humanity's spiritual disposition far outweigh the heinous headlines blasted from anti-religious literature.

The entire world will never sway to one side of the fence. This is somehow guaranteed in the biological/sociological mix, lack of scientific data notwithstanding. I'm merely making an unscientific observation, but the greatest of scientists would be hard pressed to falsify that statement with actual lab results.

Truth be known, at the risk of sounding condescending, I actually feel sorry for people like Dawkins. Not for the reasons he might guess, such as "I'm saved and he isn't," or the ever popular "he's deceived by Satan." No, nothing quite as dramatic. I feel pity for Dawkins because he's not even aware of the fullness of existence that a belief in God can bestow upon the believer. He and I both believe we only get one shot at this life; which one of us probably possesses more hope?

He would likely comment that he is happier in the knowledge that he's not deluded.

If that is the sort of happiness he thinks is near the summit of human experience, then I say, have at it, Richard, enjoy. Take comfort in all the meaningless events caused by meaningless people who will all become, as you and I will, meaningless fertilizer in a meaningless world, in a random universe that holds no purpose whatsoever.

I'd rather bask instead in the "pathetic, ignorant delusion" that Someone or Something else is "out there," and that there is far more depth to existence than statistically near-impossible accidents in a three-dimensional mass of inexplicable energy and information.

And by the way, Richard: the vast majority of the "believers" out there have absolutely *zero* interest in dismantling your precious edifice of conjecture. In the final analysis, most of them literally couldn't care less about your academic theories. They're too busy working, raising families, and trying to make sense of life to bother with your esoteric ideas and necessity for validation.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Darwinian Dogma

I was reading in bed tonight, and I had an idea. Not wanting to wake my wife, I quietly got out of bed, turned out the light, and came downstairs to share this idea with anyone reading this blog.

In the same way human beings rage about abortion, politics, and religion, and in the same way all families with more than one child seem to possess a constant state of sibling friction from what I informally refer to as the "Cain and Abel" effect, and in the same way our more recent U.S. presidential elections are hair's-breadth close in the popular vote... well, basically, we are somehow statistically guaranteed (as a species) to not agree in certain fundamental ways of looking at the world.

Darwinian Dogma vs. Intelligent Design. That's what the "modern" argument regarding biological evolution boils down to. For clarity here, I will state that modifications to a species are proven to occur, so that is not in dispute; it's when Darwin's theory is extended to the creation of *new* species that the controversy arises. To date, there is neither conclusive fossil nor reproducible experimental evidence of the creation of new species via natural selection. Thus the "creationists" won't be silenced, regardless of intellectual intimidation and other censoring methodologies of the neo-Darwinians.

Each side is inflexibly devoted to its own view of the universe, but the two separate approaches to the debate are not at all similar.

Intelligent Design (ID) proponents obviously formed their universe-view from a belief in some sort of creative higher intelligence, whatever it may be. The origin of this belief is not in dispute, although neo-Darwinians claim that this particular belief is the "hidden" basis of the ID agenda. The more accurate description of the ID camp is that they simply want to look at evidence from a different perspective. While the core motivation of ID proponents may be "religious," their desire to examine the physical evidence from a different angle can hardly be called ignorant or superstitious. History is more than full of examples of how correct explanations of previously not-understood phenomena were initially considered too fantastic to be believable. And... hasn't quantum physics sufficiently demonstrated that reality doesn't always conform to what our intuition tells us is correct?

Darwinian fanboys, however, due to their unwillingness to peer at the evidence through any lens but the suggestions presented in "The Origin of Species," have backed themselves into the ugly corner of constantly defending the various recognized discrepancies in the theory. When a conclusive answer is not available, the neo-Darwinian's official response is always some form of "the fossil record is incomplete," or "the critics are being unscientific."

And the standard catcall of the Darwinian Scoffers? Isn't their ultimate objection to Intelligent Design that it simply isn't a viable, scientific, legitimate explanation? Not "true science?" Or more simply stated, they reject all criticism of the Darwinian paradigm by declaring that "what value is criticism without a 'viable' alternative explanation for the origin of biological life?"

For once, it would be nice to experience a little honesty, instead of all the vehement adherence by both sides to their own beliefs. This is what it truly comes down to: the same tunnel vision that causes humans to bicker about abortion or the death penalty is the same strange trait that makes us feud about the origin of biological life.

We bring our own preconceptions to the table; both sides are guilty of this. All the accusations of ignorance, dogma, lack of scientific license, dishonesty, etc., etc., etc.... they are a waste of time and breath. The truth is our origin may forever remain a mystery, or better yet, when the empirical truth is finally discovered, it may be something that surprises both sides of the evolution argument.

What was the idea I had while reading tonight? Try this on for size...

While an actual proof of the existence of God may never be possible in this reality, there is something I *do* believe is possible: an alternative explanation for existence that is empirically testable in a controlled environment. Make no mistake; I *am* referring to an alternative to Darwin's theory, as well as an alternative to the assumption of the random, big bang universe.

Why do I believe these alternative explanations are possible? Because I'm working on them.

I'm a crazy nut?

We'll see.

Of course, there is the odd aspect of human stubbornness that God Himself could come to earth, get more TV coverage than the Superbowl, eliminate disease and pollution, perform a whole host of other miracles... and there would still be people insisting that it was all attributable to "natural," randomly occurring phenomena. Such is the considerable depth of the Cain and Abel effect I mentioned at the beginning of this blog.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Insomnia

Once again, I can't fall asleep.

My mind gets to reeling about all kinds of things, such as why life's events play out the way they do, and the result is an inability to simply put my head on the pillow and drift off.

My mother passed away one year ago this month, on the 20th. What does anyone do with that? I still don't understand it. It happens every day, all around the world. It's happened since life first existed, and it will go on happening, regardless of technological promises of immortality.

I wish I could talk to her again. I wish she could have seen me get married last April. If my wife and I are fortunate enough to have children, I wish my mother could have held them. I know she would have experienced overwhelming joy from that simple act.

What does anyone do with this kind of thing? Death makes all the rest of our concerns seem so petty and unworthy of worry. There's no way to bring her back, no way to completely console my father, who is still struggling with his heartbreaking loss.

When I was younger, I had some grandiose plans for my future. I was certain my destiny included fame and fortune. The adolescent dreams many kids entertain for their teen years and perhaps some twenties, I held dear for much longer. It took a strange odyssey across America during the last ten years for me to completely let go of those childish aspirations. In the process I met a woman I had given up hope of ever finding.

So I guess life is much like that. No matter how confident we are, or how we try to set up our lives in the way we feel most content, there is the element of fortune, both good and bad. It's a parameter many dismiss, but none escape. Most people would like to imagine they have the power to make all their own decisions, but when you trim it down to the most fundamental aspects of existence, that perception of personal power is nothing but illusion.

Once more, I ask, what do you do with that?

There are a great many individuals living in the world today who would love nothing more than to tear the hope of God or things spiritual away from those who "cling" to them.

To them I say: keep your cynical proclamations for your own tortured ruminations. Leave the rest of us alone to our "childish delusions." At least the hope we cherish does not rely on the limitless treachery of human self-conceit for validation.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Hysterics Are in the Details

I originally published this essay on my site at 7162.com, on July 28th, 2009. It was a response to a New York Times op-ed by Sam Harris, published on July 26th. Harris's original op-ed can be read at either:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/27/opinion/27harris.html
or
http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/science-is-in-the-details/
I found it interesting that neither location provided opportunity for readers' comments.

Once again, the hysterical rally chant of the militant atheist has been initialized, this time by Sam Harris, in regard to President Obama's nomination of Francis Collins for director of the National Institute of Health.

In the New York Times' July 26th, 2009 op-ed, Harris pleads his case with a block of logical Swiss cheese; allow me to point out the holes for all the readers out there who may be too busy cheering to notice.

There is an epidemic of scientific ignorance in the United States.

While Harris has this fact correct, and he reminds us that much of science is counterintuitive to one's common sense, he also brandishes hyperbole by making the tired statement that "few things make thinking like a scientist more difficult than religion." Where exactly is the scientific data regarding this assertion? It is purely anecdotal and a much overused attack against "religion," one that bears no factual basis. The knee-jerk atheistic idea that science, and a belief in the existence of a god, are forever at odds is one of the unfortunate myths that Francis Collins has spent a great deal of time trying to debunk. Perhaps Harris would benefit from a more open mind? Certainly a philosophical almost-scientist such as Sam can't be truly as effective if he only views his work through the tunnel of currently acceptable conjecture, an "innovative" history of Ecstasy abuse notwithstanding.

Two statistically supported reasons for scientific ignorance in the United States are: public schools training students for government-mandated standardized tests instead of simply teaching more science, and a general disinterest in science among older children. It never has been "cool" to be knowledgeable regarding science. That is the fault of our culture, not of individuals who believe in a higher power.

Harris mentions how Collins has indicated that science, instead of proving God impossible, actually makes a belief in God "intensely plausible." Then Harris goes on to say that when Collins can't explain supposedly controversial evidence regarding God, Collins simply retreats to the chestnut that God stands outside of nature, thus supposedly relieving Collins of a true scientific explanation. For atheists, this appears to be evidence of delusion or rationalization. For individuals with an open mind, this is merely one more theory. The "scientific community" is certainly not lacking for wild and improbable theories regarding phenomena not currently understood in full. Just don't commit the faux pas of referencing a higher power.

Harris complains when Collins correctly states that science cannot address the question of God's existence; but where are the complaints for all the other important questions that science also can't answer? There is certainly no shortage of those, yet only the question of the existence or non-existence of God seems to draw so much public attention.

Next Harris carps about the apparent contradiction between our moral intuitions and the carnage of natural catastrophe, as though the existence of a morally superior being would automatically eliminate what we view as unfairness in the world. It's a shame that many people who are chronologically adults still find confusion in such an immature objection to a higher power. It's as though Harris thinks because we have a sense of moral fairness, it automatically follows that the god who originated it must chase us around like toddlers, hour after hour, wiping our noses and changing our diapers. Would it truly be more "merciful" to live in an antiseptic world where nothing bad ever happened? Only a child who hasn't learned the necessity of adversity in the building of character would whine in such a way.

The next "controversy" Harris raises is Collins's idea that possibly at some moment in the history of our species, God "inserted" an immortal soul, free will, the moral law, spiritual hunger, genuine altruism, etc. Harris is "troubled" by Collins's line of thinking. He believes that such thinking would "seriously undercut" fields of neuroscience. Harris's reasoning? It's that most neuroscientists agree that minds are made from the physical structure of the brain only, so therefore any other explanation of mind, consciousness, and moral sense is unacceptable on the face of it. A strange dogma indeed, especially for the field of cognitive science. Never have so many people disagreed about a proper theory for something, as they have regarding human consciousness. For those readers not familiar with the current state of affairs in cognitive science: not only is there no conclusive explanation for our minds, there is admittedly no currently known way to test the myriad theories flying around the scientific community.

Are we to believe that such an impressively accomplished scientist like Francis Collins would try to prevent particular tangents of neuroscientific research, simply because his personal beliefs might not be immediately reconciled with the possible results? This from a man (Collins) who readily admits that human understanding regarding the workings of God is by its very nature limited? Why would a scientist who supposedly explains away contradiction have any problem with research that reveals more about the physical workings of the brain? The contradiction here seems to be with Harris, who fears future research being censored by Collins, who has clearly been knowledge-driven, not ignorance-driven, thus far.

Harris is worried about Collins's agenda, but in fact Harris has his own agenda. It is the opposite of Collins's agenda: that all physical and non-physical workings in the universe can only be explained without the possibility of a higher power anywhere in the mix. While those steeped in atheism may applaud the "honesty" of this currently popular approach, the very parameters of such an agenda themselves limit the eventual results of thusly-inspired research. This of course would have the same exact result of what Harris fears from Collins's approach: a possibility of missing something important, due to tunnel vision.

Harris also brings two Collins statements into question: that "science offers no answers to the most pressing questions of human existence" and that "the claims of atheistic materialism must be steadfastly resisted."

The first statement is undoubtedly true, as any philosophy major can attest. The second statement is Collins's personal opinion, and should not be confused with a Dr. Zaius-like suppression of truth. Harris's cherry-picked sentence fragment seems to paint Dr. Collins as someone who is out to rip evolution out of our schools or bring the world of atheism to its knees in a nationwide coup. Surely none of the readers are gullible enough to think that a man with Collins's list of accomplishments would suddenly do an about-face and begin deliberately undermining future research? If one stops to think about it, one must admit how hysterical this fear sounds.

Harris takes a toss at the wishing well, and supposes the reverse engineering of the physical aspects of the brain might yield answers to heady philosophical questions. Well, perhaps it might. I'd bet the farm that Dr. Collins would be right there handing out the awards to the scientist(s) who manage to make such a connection. After all, science is ultimately a search for truth, right? Where in Collins's stated "agenda" does any indication of silencing truth appear? It doesn't; dig for yourselves. Collins isn't trying to undermine anything; he's merely trying to reconcile what he knows with what he believes. That in itself wouldn't have any negative effects on scientific research. In Collins's case, it hasn't so far, according to Collins's impressive accomplishments listed by Harris himself in the original op-ed.

Harris ends his frightened call-to-arms with a nice twisting of Collins's statements. Suddenly, Collins's quotes regarding the unexplainable being attributable to current human lack of understanding have morphed into a blanket statement that all of science can never understand human nature. This is a deliberately negative extrapolation, intended to make Collins seem like a religious dictator who will purposely squelch any research that doesn't fit his spiritual beliefs. Really? We're supposed to believe that none other than the former head of the Human Genome Project has now decided to prevent human beings from learning anything more about humanity?

Harris, give us all a break and go have tea with Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, in that exclusive little café where everyone sips the same bland blend.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

An objection to propaganda

I recently made the common mistake of spending too much time poking around YouTube. I was clicking from one video to another, and happened on one from a series which presents reasons why people laugh at creationists. Like so much of YouTube, one has to wonder why anyone takes the time to create an entire collection of videos devoted to a hopelessly polarized debate, but of course, I can't judge because I also felt compelled to leave a comment. Mystery.

One user also felt compelled to comment on my comment, and we traded a few personal messages. The end of the discourse was my final answer to him, after he had downshifted into popular myths surrounding the intellectual motivations of Christians in general. Here, for all to see, is my final answer to him or her, after which I decided to spend my time more productively by closing any remaining YouTube pages:

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Science explores and reveals truth regarding the physical structures of the universe, and the laws that somehow rule those structures. Beyond that, it holds no special place, other than in the minds of those who regard it as much more than a way to reveal the "secrets" of the natural world.

I must stringently disagree with your opinion regarding the "threat" of creationists (or any other metaphysically motivated individuals or organizations). It is a tired comparison to dredge up the ignorant ideas and activities of the past. This is the 21st century, and no country in the developed world would ever even *vaguely* consider dismantling science simply because some branch of it happens to allegedly refute the basic tenets of a particular religious belief system.

By allowing yourself to be swept up in that sort of paranoia, you only contribute to the fracas. As has been proven many, many times historically, when science produces a physically provable truth that overturns a religious belief, there is an initial resistance, but then there must always be acceptance.

The principle reason, like it or not, that evolution still gathers such resistance, isn't because creationists want to attack and grind anything to dust, but because there hasn't been sufficient proof of origin via evolution by natural selection. Plain and simple. If science wishes to grind the "unlearned" masses' "ignorant" beliefs into dust, it merely has to physically prove the alleged "facts" of evolution with something other than clever and imaginative conjecture. The creationists are mostly people who, despite their dogmatic view, simply wish to reconcile their beliefs with the known geologic record. That isn't a crime, nor anything to be fearful of.

These aren't the dark ages, and no laboratories will be burned to the ground for saying that Genesis is nonsense, or that God is non-existent. These particular assertions have been publicly proclaimed for decades, without any violent or subversive repercussions. Where is the expected fallout? Science continues to move forward. To suggest that creationists are a danger to the forward progress of science is nothing more than a cheap misdirection from a collection of insecure "intellectuals" who don't even possess enough faith in their own scientific dogma to weather any opposing opinions.

Yes, dogma. Evolution, by virtue of this silly debacle that shows no signs of fading away in the public forum, has gone from scientific idea to sacred cow. It doesn't matter that extrapolating the fundamental theory has been an aid to other branches of science; the dispute has never been about the proven results of applied theory in a laboratory. But if you think the success of particular applications is a blanket proof that every posit using evolution as a basis is automatically free from defect, then you're guilty of the same sort of dogmatic view you're needlessly afraid of from the other "camp."

If you can't see clear to refrain from crying wolf about those who pose no actual threat, at least find some comfort in the *fact* that historically speaking, science continues to move forward, and the truths it discovers will always cut a deeper path than any attempts to refute them. I mean, come on... why fear so-called ignorant ideas that are supposedly destined to be exposed by the blinding light of truth? Seems like a lot of wasted energy. No one's going to break down your door for discovering truth, though some may be disoriented for a while.

By the way, I don't know who you've been listening to or reading, but your paragraph that reads:

"Creationists want to undo science itself. They want to take methodological naturalism, the scientific method, and the other pillars of science, and remove them from public discourse. They want to attack and destroy established scientific principles, learned over centuries with the help of numerous, usually nameless, people, and grind them into dust. They want to destroy any aspect of science that so much as looks wrongly at their dogma."

is a shameful distortion of real life. Creationists don't want to do any of the ridiculous things you're stating. They merely want to have a voice in the discussion. It is actually certain sections of the "scientific community" that are guilty of intellectual browbeating, legislative pressure and public ridicule. They're the ones who make the rules, and state with disdain that those who don't accept the theory of evolution *as fact* are ignorant, deluded, uneducated and primitive morons, unworthy of approaching the holy tabernacle of scientific discussion.


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Of course, when I hit the send button to deliver my final message, the satisfaction didn't quite measure up to the time and consideration I had applied to my response.

So much for late-night nonsense.