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How the Internet Is Taking Away America's Religion

firewrought Re:Knowledge (1037 comments)

I know too many smart highly-educated Christians to think that religion is merely some lack of applied thought. It's a choice they made, knowingly and subjectively, to have religious faith.

Skeptics seem to have this assumption that humans are inherently rational, and it's only those who are intellectually weak that let bad/illogical ideas into the mind. I'd argue that this is a bad model because we are forced throughout life to rely on incomplete/inaccurate information from a wide variety of sources... our senses, our emotions, our peers and society at large, etc. Our brains are a very muddy place that was never tidy and logically "clean" to begin with, but we make do (more or less). A purely skeptical species would go extinct questioning the need to plant crops, etc.,

The way I see it, rationality (and the engineered pursuit of it, science) is a skill that must be developed and subsequently imposed on various facets of our worldview. How we select those facets (and how vigorously we investigate them) is a strategic question ("what is my biggest blindspot?") that we're not well equipped to answer (they're called "blindspots" for a reason). And we ALL have blindspots of various topic and magnitude.

In the case of religion, it's particularly hard to investigate these blindspots because adherents have been strongly conditioned to self-identify with the cause. Their parents, friends, community, and everyone they trusted as a child told them "this is what we believe, it is the only way to live a good life, and everything outside of it is corrupt and destructive". Like Tevye says in Fiddler on the Roof, "tradition tells us who we are and what G-d expects of us".

Analytically re-evaluating one's faith as an adult requires a tremendous amount of courage and vigour. To do so, they must overcome:

  1. Religious instructions to defer to authority.
  2. Implied instructions to not question faith.
  3. Perceptions that questioning is risky and/or evil.
  4. The nastiness of some skeptics (e.g., living examples of the "evil" of questioning)
  5. Accusations that the questioner's "real problem" is something spiritual and not intellectual.
  6. Desperate feelings that the faith "has to be true", precluding need for further analysis.
  7. Anecdotal proofs and feel-good stories ("testimonies") that offer emotional evidence for faith.
  8. Single-shot ad hoc arguments (emotional or intellectual) that preclude comprehensive analysis
  9. Apologetics literature or speakers that sound convincing initially, esp. when presented without opposing views.

This is not the only way people leave their faith, but it's relevant to skeptics because it's the "rational" route. I suspect that those who use "emotional evidence" as their primary waypoints for evaluating complex situation have it easier... they see the history of Christanity's/Islam's treatment towards women or they consider how wholly abhorrent the concept of hell is, and then they proceed to reject the system that generated those ideas.

Instead of offering mockery (a tempting practice), skeptics would do better to (1) humbly remember that we all have blindspots, (2) that every population has smart and dumb individuals, (3) that believers make many valuable contributions to rationality/science, (4) and that social and emotional arguments against a faith can compliment their existing intellectual arguments.

about two weeks ago
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Microsoft To Allow Code Contributions To F#

firewrought Re:What happened to C#? (100 comments)

Let me elevate the question: why do we need yet another programming language?

Because we're nowhere near figuring out how to best express ourselves to computers for the wide variety of problems we wish to solve and the large diversity of skill-sets and backgrounds we wish to solve them with.

In this example, F# solves the problem of "how do we do statically-typed functional programming (a la OCaml and Haskell) in a way that integrates with the .NET ecosystem?". C# doesn't solve that problem because you can't do nearly enough type theory. OCaml doesn't solve that problem because it's not vendor-supported and it's not designed from the ground up with the .NET platform (and the existing base of C# programmers) in mind.

While I share your unstated assumption... that it seems like there are too many half-baked programming languages instead of a few really good ones, I also think Microsoft deserves credit (much as I hate to say it) for recognizing the need to focus on platforms (like .NET) instead of languages. Of course, then they go and do the whole WinRT thing... :-\

about two weeks ago
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How Many People Does It Take To Colonize Another Star System?

firewrought Re:People need to start with the scale (392 comments)

Instead of turning around at the halfway point and using the same thrust to decelerate, would it be possible to, theoretically, initiate an explosion in front of the craft, equal in yield to the amount of thrust used to achieve whatever speed your craft is at when you need to start accelerating?

Yes, because the explosion you propose is simply a shorter duration, higher intensity version of retro-thrusting. (Incidentally, some sci-fi authors have proposed using explosions [such as nukes] for the initial thrust as well [Anathem comes to mind].)

However, the problem with your approach is that it's less efficient: first, it requires extra machinery because you're building a second propulsion system instead of reusing the one you already have; second, it requires extra structural support because you're going to subject the vehicle to higher delta-V's. Obviously, this adds a lot of weight, a lot of extra engineering, and several more points of failure.

The implicit engineering assumption you're running into here is that the most viable approach for interstellar voyages (if anything is viable, which is doubtful) will be a regime of nearly symmetrical acceleration/deceleration provided by a single propulsion system.

about two weeks ago
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P vs. NP Problem Linked To the Quantum Nature of the Universe

firewrought Why would efficency matter? (199 comments)

The distinction that P algorithms are "efficient" and NP algorithms are "inefficient" is merely a convention of complexity theorists. You could easily draw the dividing line further in or out depending on your purposes. That makes me wonder what constitutes their assumption that this particular P/NP type "efficency" is necessary for a macroscopic Schrodinger algorithm.

about two weeks ago
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Department of Transportation Makes Rear View Cameras Mandatory

firewrought Re:13 deaths? (518 comments)

If you think this makes a car too expensive, what price do you put on accidentally running over a human being?

This article says it will save (max) 15 deaths/year at a (min) cost of $132/vehicle. With 15.6 million vehicles sold in the US last year, that implies a >$137 million dollars per death avoided. That's way above the $6million you referenced.

At any rate, it certainly seems that if we're going to spend >$2 billion dollars, we should able to save more than 15 lives with it. But no... some mum went to Washington and proclaimed it should "never happen again", so we get this crap. (Granted, my analysis isn't including injuries... that could swing the balance.)

about two weeks ago
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Security Evaluation of the Tesla Model S

firewrought Re:How to *actually* steal car: (93 comments)

Reality. At the end of the day, what will the insurance company accept as sufficient security...

No, the security only has to be sufficient enough to blame you for the theft.

the balance of easy usability vs number of features vs security implementation, with a modern electric computerised vehicle that might best be left to a consultation between the sales consultant and the end user

The salesman and customer are the least informed for making security tradeoffs, and the complications of having multiple security arrangements across a fleet of supported vehicle isn't worth the extra headache for the manufacturer.

The "balance" of this situation should not lie in the boneheaded territory of elementary security mistakes... if you're going to have a remotely accessible API, hire programmers who understand security and have them design the damn thing to be secure from the ground up. It's not impossible or mystical or some big unknown.

about three weeks ago
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Steam Controller Drops Touchscreen

firewrought Re: (84 comments)

their reasoning was that a screen on the controller forced you to split your attention between the TV screen and the controller screen

Yep... glad to see someone is learning from the Wii U's mistakes.

about a month ago
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The Rescue Plan That Could Have Saved Space Shuttle Columbia

firewrought Other options? (247 comments)

I wonder what other options they investigated... for instance, would it have been feasible to do a spacewalk and relocate foam to critical areas? I know this stuff is way more complicated than any simplistic suggestions from the internet, but NASA pulled hell and high water to bring Apollo 13 home safely. Imminent emergencies have a way bringing out the greatness in an otherwise bureaucratic organization.

about 2 months ago
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How Mobile Apps Are Reinventing the Worst of the Software Industry

firewrought Re:You can control cellular access on iOS (333 comments)

You can't control network access outright per-app, that would be nice.

AFWall+ does a great job of that on Android, but it requires root. Using it, I say which apps can use cellular, which can use wifi, and which are isolated completely.

I'd like to define some per-app sandboxes so, for instance, only selected apps can see my "real" contacts... the others would see my "fake" contacts and not know the difference. Ditto for GPS location and countless other things...

about 2 months ago
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Google Fighting Distracted Driver Laws

firewrought Re:Bill specifically about Glass is a bad idea... (226 comments)

If you're not breaking existing laws, why create others to make sure you're less likely to? If you are breaking laws, well - There are already laws in place to enforce that.

Existing laws against reckless driving are full of vague generalities... What exactly constitutes driving with "due care and attention"? As your burrito example indicates, there's a continuum, and reasonable people can reasonably disagree on what's legal and illegal under such statures. Those sort of laws are best reserved for the extreme cases that legislators never could have imagined up front (If that story had been real and if the guy had lived to see a courtroom). New, more targeted laws can set consistent expectations about what's legit and what's not, so that drivers, police, and judges are all on the same page. That's the opposite of "more complicated"... it's simpler because it clarifies what is and is not considered a problem for an extremely frequent set of opportunities (cell phone & texting usage).

(And no, they aren't going to pass a similar law for burrito assembly, because that's extremely uncommon. Sometimes the law is a little bit like code optimization: just as you target the 5% of your code that's taking the bulk of CPU time, so do legislators target specific behaviors that are especially vexing to their constituency/campaign contributors.)

It seems that the only way to enforce "distracted driving" is if the driver is doing something else wrong.

Enforcement is difficult... I know a city jurisdiction that only caught one violator of its anti-texting law in the first year of operation, and it was only because the man admitted his usage to the cop. However, even with minimal enforcement, the mere presence of the law can subtly encourage the right behaviors: humans have a surprisingly strong instinct to follow the rules, especially when this instinct has been cultivated in their upbringing.

about 2 months ago
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Stack Overflow Could Explain Toyota Vehicles' Unintended Acceleration

firewrought Re:New competitor? (664 comments)

They close out "good" questions there too (examples)... came across one the other day (while programming), in fact. It's like the wikipedia notability police all over again. :O

about 2 months ago
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Stack Overflow Could Explain Toyota Vehicles' Unintended Acceleration

firewrought Re:"Stack Overflow" not good for discussion site. (664 comments)

Technically knowledgeable people often give very poor names to their efforts.

I thought "Stack Overflow" was great branding for a website aimed at helping programmers solve technical problems. It's a distinctive, cheeky in-reference understood by its intended audience. (And honestly, it didn't hurt that most developers enjoy being made to feel clever about themselves.) That's what a brand is suppose to do, and it partially* explains their overwhelming success. And hey, much better branding choice than ExpertSexChange.com!

*Of course, branding is just one of many things they did right. They also filled a unique niche, understood their community (because it was started by programmers, for programmers), and made the site super-easy to use by (here comes the important part...) NOT crapping over the UI with a fake paywall that sought rent for years' worth good-faith user contributions. However, they are sort of starting to be dicks about subjective questions (such as help with API choices, etc.). That may provide a niche for a new competitor to fill...

about 2 months ago
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Why Your Phone Gets OTA Updates But Your Car Doesn't

firewrought Re:OTA creates the wrong incentives (305 comments)

If you apply an update to a customers car and that causes them to crash and burn half their face off, you can bet you'll get sued.

Granted, but that doesn't entirely invalidates JDG1980's point... knowing that lives are on the line will make you a very paranoid coder or tester, but knowing that the code can't ever be changed (without a mountain of hassle) will you make you that much more paranoid.

[Side note: I use the term "paranoid" instead of "cautious" here because paranoid describes the mindset that drives one to examine, poke, and test their code exhaustively from multiple angles. The cautious mindset, by contrast, is the instinct to freeze up and make no changes (especially no innovative changes) altogether. I suppose they both have their place in life-critical systems, but the former is empirical and ambitious while the latter is superstitious and reluctant.]

about 2 months ago
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Chevron Gives Residents Near Fracking Explosion Free Pizza

firewrought Re:What the (207 comments)

Are there risks with fracking?

Groundwater contamination, for one. Especially, flammable tap water. Perhaps you dismiss that as anecdotal, but it's not as if scientist have been given the access, data, and funding to run these claims to ground... that will take another ten or twenty years, by which point the perpetrators will have long since taken off with the profits while the general public gets stuck with whatever environmental catastrophes this created.

Don't get me wrong... I wish fracking was as safe and plentiful as proponents claim. And maybe it's worth some amount of contamination even if it isn't safe. I just wish these things could be determined objectively and scientifically in the best public interest instead of this same old sh*t where the powerful simultaneously exert influence over corporations, media, government, and public opinion to effect the fattest profit instead of the utilitarian good.

about 2 months ago
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Google Tells Glass Users Not To Be 'Creepy Or Rude'

firewrought Re:Surveillance cameras? (341 comments)

Being observed puts people in a stress position.

It's true with animals too... modern zoo design tries to take this into account by giving the animals places to hide, which benefits their mental health in addition to creating more immersive/meaningful exhibits. It's tricky though, because too much animal hiding => pissed off visitors.

about 2 months ago
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A Mathematical Proof Too Long To Check

firewrought Re:To long, didn't check. (189 comments)

But you'd have to be an idiot to want to check this proof without a computer.

Historically, mathematicians have resisted computer-only proofs. They want eyeballs end-to-end. Your ideas (independent implementations, hardware, etc.) are sound/feasible from a software engineering standpoint, but unsatisfying to mathematicians. (Not being a mathematician myself, I'm ill-suited to testify as to why that's the case, but so it is.)

Maybe one day that mindset will be abandoned, but what's more likely to happen is that mathematics will bifurcate: there will be the set of mathematics that relies on computer proofs and the "pure" subset of that that doesn't require computers. Probably, that's already considered the case. Regardless, this is how the field has dealt with countless other issues (such as not accepting negative proofs), often to great fecundity.

about a month ago
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Book Review: Survival of the Nicest

firewrought Re:Courtesy (176 comments)

Too late, the captain of the expedition realizes that the natives survived the plague by abandoning their cities and started to live simply and with humility. He and his men, save the one, are going to die because they were not willing to display courtesy.

This doesn't make any sense, and for contrast, I'd like to offer the example of despot Bernabò Visconti. When the Black Death was sweeping Italy, he put Milan under strict quarantine, notably having city authorities wall-up any house where plague appeared (leaving both sick and well occupants to starve, presumably). As a result, the plague pretty much skipped Milan as well as Visconti himself.

about 2 months ago
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The Search for Life On Habitable Exoplanets

firewrought Re:Science (69 comments)

The issue starts with thinking as we are the only life form, then every thing else has to be like us.

When exhaustive exploration is not an option, you use what you know to prioritize your search, even though that knowledge is incomplete and imperfect. For SETI, it makes sense to use the profile of life as we know it to focus our efforts, even though there may exist lifeforms well outside that descriptive envelope. Doing so gives us (1) a much smaller area to examine, (2) concrete strategies for investigating such areas, and (3) better odds of successfully recognizing extraterrestrial life (should it fall under our surveillance).

about 2 months ago
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FBI: $10,000 Reward For Info On Anyone Who Points a Laser At an Aircraft

firewrought Re:Not an issue before green pointers became commo (445 comments)

The problem is that pilots, in the pitch black of night can see beams of green laser pointers off somewhere in the distance. With no useful reference for actual distance and nothing else in the night sky to compare it to, the pilots assume they're very nearby and must be being pointed at them.

No, laser light is very directional, and having it pointed at you during nightime flying is a very definite experience. Search youtube for "helicopter lasers" to see what I mean.

So we should ban green laser pointers, right?

I know you asked sarcastically, but there are "soft-band" options that society may have to consider if the problem grows. For instance, using green lasers for stargazing could be outlawed (e.g., forcing laser makers to not use this as a selling point). Additionally, pen/pointer-shaped form factors could be prohibited. Gun-mounted green lasers could be forced to have a rail switch. Hopefully the laws don't have to go this far though.

about 2 months ago
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FBI: $10,000 Reward For Info On Anyone Who Points a Laser At an Aircraft

firewrought Re:So..... (445 comments)

Despite all of the stories and warnings, I have still not seen a video on the effects of lasers from the pilots point of view.

There's one from a police helicopter on youtube somewhere (try Googling it), midway thru the video. The laser light scatters across the windshield like crazy and is pretty distracting. I agree they could do more to dramatize it/educate folks though.

about 2 months ago

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