I Believe That Belief Is Irrelevant

Tuesday, 15 April 2014 20:44 by The Lunatic
In a previous article titled I’m a believer!, I proposed we should swap the traditional definition of who’s a believer and who isn’t – I suggested that a believer is someone who believes that the laws of physics are immutable and a non-believer is someone who doesn’t. In this post, I’ll take a little different approach. I’ll go on record and say that what people believe in is irrelevant. I don’t care what you believe in. Heck, I don’t even care about what I believe in myself! Simply having a belief in something does not make it true. What if I go around the world and convince everyone that the universe is governed by a Grand Orange Duck. And what the Grand Orange Duck really wants is for everyone to donate their ear wax to the famed Diamond Crucible. I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out ... I really believe this is the truth! Once we have ear wax from every person on Earth, and the Diamond Crucible is full to the brim, the Grand Orange Duck will reveal himself to us and we will be allowed to marvel at his magnificent wings. It will be a glorious day indeed! Even if I can get everyone to believe in the Grand Orange Duck (let’s just call it “GOD” for short), and convince every single person on Earth that they need to contribute some ear wax to the Diamond Crucible, that still doesn’t make it the truth. Is this scenario really that far-fetched? How about this: The Mormons are very good at getting people to believe that there were white people on Earth before black people (Mormon scripture says that Cain, who killed his brother Abel, was so evil that God "cursed" him with black skin), and that dinosaur bones come from other planets – which anyone with an intelligence greater than that of an average south pacific jellyfish would reject out of hand. The leaders of the Mormon church are making really good money promoting these ideas, as they also teach that you need to donate a higher percentage of your income to get into the highest levels of heaven. ... [More]

The Lunatic’s take on Daylight Savings Time

Sunday, 4 November 2012 22:24 by The Lunatic
Twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall, we move our clocks either forwards or backwards to accommodate the change in Daylight Savings Time. And twice a year, there are the requisite news articles written about Daylight Savings Time, explaining to everyone why we go through all this hassle. Then there are the cutesy and often misguided Facebook posts with statements like: “only the government would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket, sew it to the bottom, and have a longer blanket.” (which is what prompted me to write this particular article in the first place!) So let’s get to the bottom of what Daylight Savings really is. First of all, however, we have to understand what midnight is. That’s right: midnight, the time that we’ve decided each day should start. Technically, midnight is the time that is halfway between sunset and sunrise. It’s simple enough, but that definition needs some clarification. As the Earth revolves around the Sun, the Earth’s tilt causes daylight hours to shift with the seasons. A better definition is that midnight is the time that is halfway between sunset and sunrise, at the equator, on either the fall or spring equinox (the only two days of the year when the sun is directly overhead at the equator). Now we’re getting somewhere, but there’s one more wrinkle in this definition. You see, the Earth is just over 24,000 miles around and More...

Raising Kids To Be Good Eaters

Friday, 4 May 2012 14:00 by The Lunatic
When my kids were born, in 1999 and 2000, I decided to conduct some scientific experiments on them. Oh, don’t worry, it wasn’t anything too gruesome; all their limbs and internal organs are still intact. I just wanted to put some personal child-rearing philosophies to the test and see if I could turn them into healthy and conscientious eaters without any odd phobias or irrational dislikes of certain foods. Fundamentally, I believe that kids’ eating habits are mostly formed between the ages of two and five, and having a pro-active methodology to respond to the typical food related tantrums that every kid goes through would help get through those critical years and make them better eaters. Primarily, my belief was that all kids naturally go through short cycles of not wanting to eat certain foods, not liking certain flavors or spices, and that many times (not always) this is due to external influences – not being hungry, tummy upsets, a particular mood, or just being enamored with something that tasted good last week and not wanting anything else. One of the key ideas is that these usually are “short” cycles of likes and dislikes, but having an inappropriate response can extend the cycles or even artificially create a lifelong dislike of one certain food. What I wanted to avoid was the typical parental response of coming to the conclusion that “my kids don’t like ... xxx”, when “xxx” really isn’t the problem. When parents come to the conclusion that “my kid doesn’t like xxx”, they usually stop giving their child that particular food and let everyone know at school and at play dates that their kid won’t eat it – or they make a big deal about it at home and try to forcefully cajole their kid to eat the food in question. Both responses perpetuates the cycle and just makes it worse. Furthermore, I truly believe that it gives positive reinforcement and the child realizes that they get extra attention when they don’t like something. So I would never say “M... [More]

An Apology to Mother Gaia

Wednesday, 13 July 2011 01:42 by The Lunatic
For the past billion years or so, every animal on Planet Earth has been in danger of being eaten by some other animal at one time or another. Humans aren’t immune from the risk, of course; just because we’re at the top of the food chain doesn’t mean we wouldn’t be a tasty treat to something else. A hiker was eaten by a bear in Yellowstone park just last week, and a few times a year we hear about sharks that feed on an unlucky swimmer. So I get a little perturbed by folks who tell me I shouldn’t eat meat because it’s unethical, or because we’re “exploiting” animals for our personal gain. Frankly, if every animal on the planet stopped eating other animals, all species would die out. The “Circle of Life” would come to a complete halt. Someone asked me if I’m a vegetarian and I said, “No, but I mostly eat vegetarian animals!” Granted, in our modern society, homo sapiens (especially the ones living on the North American continent) should cut back on meat consumption. But from a health standpoint, completely eliminating meat from our diet is going too far in the other direction.  We are omnivores and always have been, and we require a balanced diet. Unfortunately, some people balance their diet about as well as they balance their checkbooks and they end up overweight AND broke! Even though I’m certainly not a vegetarian, I do have many issues with our “factory farmed” meat production. Not just because it might be considered “cruel” to animals, but because we are getting increasingly isolated from our food supply.  In the past 100 years, we’ve become the very first humans in history where the majority of the population doesn’t know where our food comes from, or how it’s grown and processed. As long as the grocery store is fully stocked and the local restaurant can serve a hot dinner plate in a timely fashion, we’re happy.  We don’t want to think about where it comes from – and if we watch a video of a butcher at work, it’s considered “gross” for some ... [More]

Yet another blog article about Osama Bin Laden

Friday, 6 May 2011 17:36 by The Lunatic
It’s only been a few days since Osama Bin Laden was killed, and I can’t even count the number of news articles, opinion pieces, interviews, historical retrospectives, biographies, rants, and random comments I’ve read. Most intriguing to me is the question of whether or not we should be celebrating someone’s death.  I’ve read a couple of interesting postings specifically on this subject, but it brings up some larger questions about humanity. I’ve always considered the human race to be one big organism. Each individual person is like a cell in the human body, with their own specific job in life. But the overall total is what makes up the “body” of humanity. Some people do the majority of our thinking, some people do the majority of “manual labor”. Some people make it their life’s work to heal others, some provide food, and – just like the cells in our body – some handle the unpleasant tasks like hygiene and waste disposal. And some people are like cancer. They grow up with the specific intent of killing others. Some of these cancers are so insidious that they actually threaten the existence of all of humanity. Our cells do fight back when threatened, and if they can’t handle the attack on their own, the heroes of our our body – the white blood cells, for example – come to the rescue. But sometimes, even more drastic measures are required. If a patient has to undergo surgery to remove a cancerous tumor, the surgeon needs to cut out a little more around the tumor – removing some healthy cells in the process.  Consider that to be the equivalent to “collateral damage” in war (see my previous posting, Wrestling the Anaconda, for a humorous view of the “margins” that a surgeon needs to remove from around dead tissue during surgery ...) Ok, it’s not a perfect analogy, but you get the idea. The removal of Osama Bin Laden from the human collection was an extremely precise, laser accurate surgery – with very little collateral damage.  But 1) we left a lo... [More]

The Worst Investment Ever Made

Tuesday, 15 March 2011 16:54 by The Lunatic
The height of the “dot com” boom was a pretty crazy time for investors; venture capitalists were investing huge sums of cash with any entrepreneur who could type the word “internet” without using a spell checker. People made some really BAD investments and only a few of the startups from that period are still operating today. But there’s one deal that really takes the cake. This acquisition was so absurd in its reasoning and so insidious in scale that I’m surprised the story hasn’t been made into a Hollywood feature film. Let’s back up a few years, to 1996. This was the year that yours truly joined a small internet startup called VXtreme, an early pioneer in streaming video on the web. VXtreme had actually developed a viable technology and we created what was arguably the best streaming video platform (codecs, encoder, player, server) in the world at the time. Remember that in 1996, people were connected to the internet with 28.8Kbps modems – or if you could afford it, you might have one of the spanking new 56K modems.  Whoo-Hooo! Blazing fast internet it was, indeed. Delivering real time streaming video over such a connection was problematic at best – but it was SO exciting to see a media player embedded in a web page, rendering real time video with a resolution of 160x120 pixels at a whopping 15 frames per second refresh rate! We were truly on the bleeding edge. In just over ten months, we built the company, produced the product, engaged a bunch of high profile customers, and sold the whole thing to Microsoft for about $74 Million (and to set the record straight, I was not one of the founders or shareholders – just a “late hire” marketing manager, with options that were only worth about 1/10th of 1% of the company). It was a fair valuation for VXtreme.  Our technology was merged in with the “NetShow” product that Microsoft had been struggling with, and the platform was eventually renamed “Windows Media”. Even today, the Windows Media Player, Windows... [More]
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The Happiest Rip-Off on Earth

Monday, 24 January 2011 21:12 by The Lunatic
No one has ever said that amusement parks are a good deal ... in fact, they are universally considered to be total rip offs. But after spending five days in Orlando with my kids, I think that the Disney Corporation has just one goal: they are trying to perfect the art of shifting any remaining cash balance from my bank account to theirs. Mid-January should be a good time of the year to visit Disney World, I thought. This should be the “slow” season, shouldn’t it? Even though it was a holiday last weekend (Martin Luther King Day), I didn’t think the crowds would be all that bad.  On top of the holiday on Monday, my kids had two extra days off school for “teacher/staff development and training”, so we had Saturday through Wednesday – five very precious vacation days. Unfortunately, it was so miserably crowded on Saturday (Magic Kingdom) and Sunday (Hollywood Studios) that it really was not much fun at all for the kids - much less the parents. Then on Monday, it rained – hard – which at least thinned out the crowds somewhat. Luckily, that was the day we had selected for Animal Kingdom, which is probably the only Disney park that you can do in the rain (but many of the rides and activities were closed for at least half the day). On Tuesday we went to Epcot – the best park of the bunch, in our opinion. But even then we spent far too much time in lines to be worthwhile. It was very frustrating. Disney World has this new scheme called the “Fast Pass” ticket. Here’s how it works: instead of waiting in line for a ride, you get More...

It’s Not Over Till The Fat Lady Eats All The Halloween Candy

Monday, 1 November 2010 15:25 by The Lunatic
My family loves Halloween. It’s our favorite holiday of the year – we get to decorate the house, wear costumes, go to parties ... and eat candy. Lots and lots and lots and lots of candy. In a society of bulging waistlines and bad eating habits in general, I really wish we could go just a little easier on the candy at Halloween. I mean, what’s wrong with giving out only one small morsel to each trick-or-treater that comes by, instead of big handfuls?  What’s wrong with running out at a reasonable hour and saying “sorry, we don’t have any more” instead of buying so much that you’re stuck with pounds of leftovers?  What’s wrong with giving out something healthy, instead of candy, or a “trick” like some families used to do when I was a kid? (the idea used to be that you’d give out a trick … OR a treat.) Sure, it’s just one day a year – but we have more candy sitting on our counter than I’d normally let my kids eat in an entire year.  Seriously. Maybe two years. I tried to be reasonable.  I tried to get a small amount of candy, and supplement our offerings with little bags of pretzels. But my own family rebelled.  They turned on me. They ridiculed me More...

Books, books, books, books, and more books

Monday, 4 October 2010 18:49 by The Lunatic
Our container with all our belongings arrived two weeks ago, and we're almost finished unpacking. It’s nice to finally be getting settled in to our house.  Last night, we got started on the last big part of the process that needs to be tackled: The Books. I've never really considered myself to be an avid reader, to me it's just a part of life.  It's like saying you're an avid breather.  Yes, I like breathing and I manage to do it on a regular basis, even with everything else going on in my life. That's how I've always felt about reading books. But as I'm unpacking my library, I'm a bit overwhelmed by all the boxes and by trying to decide where to put all the books. And this is after doing a massive weeding out of my collection when we left Bellevue five years ago – I probably got rid of more than two thirds of my books at that time, only keeping the ones I really like or have specific sentimental value, or ones I might want to read again or refer to in the future. I just did quick count of the books I unpacked last night, and I've read about 300 of them. So how many books have read in total?  Let's assume I've read two books a month since I was 10.  That would be 37 (years) times 12 (months in a year) times two (books per month), equals 888 books. I'm not really sure if this estimate is high or low. And if it’s about right, More...

The Crazy Price of Video Cables

Thursday, 16 September 2010 04:02 by The Lunatic
In years past, when you purchased a VCR or a DVD player, it would come with a video cable so that you could go home, connect your new player to your TV, and immediately start watching.  It was usually a cheap combination audio/video cable – not very sturdy, but it would get the job done. If you purchase a new Blu-Ray player today, however, you will find that not a single cable is to be found in the box. A high tech Blu-Ray player should really should at least come with an HDMI cable (High Definition Multi-media Interface, the preferred method of connecting any HD video source to a digital television).  A decent quality cable costs less than fifty cents to make. Are the manufacturers just getting cheap?  Trying to cut corners? Nope.  They’ve stopped including cables because More...
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