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.

Just like my idea of getting EVERYONE IN THE WORLD to believe in the Grand Orange Duck, getting people to believe in gibberish on a mass scale, as the Mormon church (and others) seem to be doing, does not make it true.

What I’m interested in, of course, is evidence. I’m not even interested in “belief” in the interpretation of the evidence, just the acknowledgement of the existence of the evidence as a starting point, as something to study and use to come to a rational conclusion. It’s the only way we can establish a logical grasp on what “the truth” is.

I know this example has been beat to death – but depending on which translation/interpretation you prefer, the bible says something to the effect of “The world is firmly established, it shall not be moved”. I would say that this was not a religious statement originally; it was a scientific observation based on the evidence available at the time. There’s a high likelihood that whomever first uttered these words would have very been happy to re-consider if other evidence had been available – but that evidence wouldn’t come for some 1600 years, when Galileo Galilei used a telescope to provide evidence that backed up the interesting theory of “planetary orbit” as proposed by Copernicus. Along the way, however, “the world is firmly established” was included as a passage in the bible ... and that made it into a religious statement. A religious statement implies belief. When Galileo proposed evidence to the contrary, it was rejected by the Catholic Church because it conflicted with established beliefs.

There are a myriad of scientific and non-scientific explanations, and many really crazy ideas, about the nature and age of the universe – is the universe only 6000 years old and ruled by the “Judeo Christian” version of god, or maybe the various Hindu gods? And of course, let’s not forget all the mighty Greek and Roman gods. Or how about the Scientology idea that Xenu, leader of the “Galactic Confederacy” brought billions of people to earth in a UFO that looks like an airplane? Maybe none of what we see around us is real and we’re really plugged into “the Matrix”?

Or maybe there really IS a Grand Orange Duck that wants us to collect our ear wax for donations to the Diamond Crucible ...

The most logical interpretation of the best evidence we have today indicates that the universe is some 13.5 billion years old, the earth is about 4.6 billion years old, and life on earth evolved starting with single cell organisms about 3.6 billion years ago, without any outside “supernatural” influence. I’m not saying that this is “the truth”. And I’m not even saying that’s what I believe – again, what I believe in is irrelevant. I’m saying that there is a truth to the universe. We have to study all the available evidence, and not religious texts, to put the pieces together in order to come to realistic conclusions about what that truth is.

We are still discovering new evidence, it’s a process that will probably never stop. Some of the evidence we discover lends credibility to established conclusions, and some evidence is contradictory. Just like the early observer who made the statement that the world is firmly established, we have to be prepared to accept new ideas when the overwhelming evidence suggest that the old ideas don’t tell the whole story.

And yes, goofball ideas that are obviously just crazy fantasy should be discarded out of hand!

Religious people love to play the game of “what if”. What if the Grand Orange Duck is real? What if we don’t collect all our ear wax, and the GOD doesn’t reveal his glorious wings to us?

So we studiously go around and collect ear wax from everyone on earth ... and damn it, GOD still won’t reveal himself to us. Shoot, we must have missed someone! Quack!

The “what if” game is a trap. It’s specifically designed to manipulate people by playing with their heads. It is always based on something impossible to do (like collect ear wax from EVERY person on Earth) or something impossible to know, such as what will happen after you die.

We have no evidence on which to base an opinion about what happens after you die – but the Christians will say that if you accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior and repent your sins (and, of course, make a few small donations to the church along the way) you will go to heaven after you die.

“What a bunch of rubbish” a more intelligent person might say.

That’s when the “what if” response always pops up ... WHAT IF we’re right??? What if we’re right – then you will GO SPEND ETERNITY IN HELL because you didn’t accept Jesus Christ as your savior!!!

Don’t get trapped into the “what if” game. It’s always a dead end proposition that will never work out in your favor. Ask for some evidence that shows WHO has already gone to heaven by bending over and kissing Jesus’s ass, and who specifically has gone to hell for rejecting such idiotic notions.

If I want to explore what happens after we die, I’m certainly not going to seek advice from religious leaders – they have no interest in the truth, and they certainly don’t know what happens any more than you or I do, no matter how fervently and passionately they make their case.

Here’s one way to look at it: estimating how many Homo sapiens have been born in total, over the entire course of human history, is very difficult. But the best logical “guesstimates” usually come in at about 100 billion people1.

A hundred billion people is a lot. Are all these dead people split between heaven and hell? Is it getting crowded up there? And what about members of all the other species? Christian doctrine says that only human beings go to heaven or hell.

The various “pre-human” species we evolved from (Homo Ergaster, Homo Heidelbergensis, Homo erectus, Homo Habilis, Neanderthals, etc) were on Earth for about 6 million years – much longer than Homo Sapiens have been around. They used tools, cultivated food, raised families, protected each other from predators – were they really that much different from modern humans?

Was there a “cut off point” in our evolution where suddenly humans started going to heaven? We really have no evidence, or really any logical reason to suspect, that what happens to us humans after we die is any different from what happened to the “pre-humans” we evolved from.

And – we have no reason to suspect that what happened to the pre-humans after they died was any different from the great apes that THEY evolved from. You can take this line of reasoning back hundreds of millions of years to the time of the dinosaurs, and even billions of years to the single cell organisms that started life on this planet.

Is there a “soul” from every one of these quadrillions of organisms floating around somewhere out in the ethereal universe, or do we just die – our organic bodies shut down and decompose? The evidence we have strongly suggests the latter, no matter how many people want to believe otherwise. Again, I am not saying that absolutely there is no afterlife – I’m just saying that without any evidence, it’s counterproductive to try and convince people that there is.

“Do you believe in god?” is an irrelevant question as far as I’m concerned. Having a belief in something does not make it true. “Have you seen any evidence that god exists?” – now that’s a much more interesting question. If someone says they have evidence, we can discuss how credible the evidence is. Was it fabricated? Is it direct, or indirect evidence? Does the evidence appear to break the laws of physics as we currently understand them? Is it subject to open interpretation?

Equally irrelevant is asking if someone believes in something that obviously exists, like: “Do you believe in donkeys?”

Finding a donkey and showing it to someone is direct evidence, but we already know that donkeys exist. Discovering donkey poop, footprints, and half eaten carrots in your garden is indirect evidence that a donkey was probably snacking on the carrots in your garden.

But what if someone says it’s really unicorn poop and footprints that you’re looking at, and it's actually a unicorn that's been in your garden?

There’s the problem.

Religious people are always proposing indirect evidence, with very liberal open interpretation, and trying to use that as proof that god exists. Without credible evidence, the only logical conclusion you can come to is that it’s a fantasy that someone just made up for fun and prophet. Errr, I mean profit.

So what about the mother of all religious texts, the Bible – and it’s earlier incarnations, the Torah, etc. What real evidence do we have that any of it has any divine inspiration? None, of course. We do have plenty of evidence, however, which shows that almost everyone who had a hand in collecting and copying all these stories took many liberties and changed things whenever they wanted along the way.

Throughout modern history, for example, people have been afraid of the number 666 – the famed “number of the beast” as described in Chapter 13 of the book of Revelations. I’ve met people that really freak out whenever they see anything that has three sixes in a row. Indeed, we have no area code 666 in our telephone system, superstitious people would immediately move out of that state!

However, in 2005, a fragment from what’s known as Papyrus 115 was discovered in the archives at Oxford University’s Ashmolean Museum. The papers in this collection were taken from the Oxyrhynchus site about a hundred years ago, considered to be one of the most important archeological sites ever discovered. The fragment in question has been irrefutably dated as the oldest known written copy of Revelations, Chapter 13 (older by about 100 years2).

The text of Papyrus 115 is mostly the same as all the newer copies of Revelations, Chapter 13 that have been found at various archeological sites, except for one minor detail ...

Quite clearly, it states in Greek: ἑξακόσιοι δέκα ἕξ (hexakosioi deka hex) – which translates to "six hundred and sixteen".

Other early references to this passage corroborate this discovery; it is actually quite clear that “the number of the beast” was originally 616. Are all the people in Grand Rapids, Michigan going to hell?

Evidently, someone was copying this text and just randomly thought “616 doesn’t sound very beastly. I think I’ll change that to something that seems a bit more ominous” – and it stuck.

If the bible is supposed to be “the word of god”, how come everyone willingly accepts all these various changes?

There are stories attributed to Jesus that had been attributed to other people at least 500 years before Jesus was born. Before the printing press was invented, copying the bible was a manual Process. It was transcribed, translated into different languages and various dialects of each language, and it changed with every copy. Many of the biblical stories were taken from oral history – handed down from generation to generation, embellished and expanded upon along the way.

But once all these stories were decided upon and “the bible” was in common circulation, these problems stopped though – right? Not at all! In the early 1500’s, Martin Luther sparked a reformation of the Catholic Church which resulted in a new German translation of the bible with many changes (mostly deletions of things that he, personally, didn’t agree with). King James decided to commission another translation into English about a hundred years later. There have been literally hundreds of other variations along the way. And then, along comes Joseph Smith adding his own addition to the bible in 1830, when he decided to make up some crazy nonsense saying that Jesus came to America after he was resurrected (which in itself is such a silly story).

Think about it this way: what is the difference between the Christians adding the “new testament” to the Torah, versus Joseph Smith adding “The Book of Mormon” to the Bible? (which itself is made up of the Torah (Old Testament) and the Christian addition known as the New Testament.) The Jews feel exactly the same way about the New Testament as the Christians feel about the Book of Mormon – it’s an additional set of writings that are not officially recognized by the existing religious establishment.

Is there any “truth” to anything written in any of these books? Of course not, the bible holds absolutely zero credibility. Even a cursory analysis of the evidence indicates that the bible is a prime example of very early science fiction at best. What’s troubling is that throughout history, it has mostly been used by immoral people as a tool to control, pacify, and/or persecute anyone with a weaker mind or a weaker defensive position (the crusades, Spanish Inquisition, and various pogroms come to mind).

What evidence do we have about Jesus as a person? There does seem to be plenty of corroborating evidence, from various people of the day writing from different points of view, that Jesus was a real person and did actually exist; he’s not entirely fictional ... but most of the stories about him are. He had a girlfriend (and recent evidence indicates that he actually referred to her as “my wife” at one point3). He was likely a very charismatic orator, teacher, mentor to many people, and may well have said some very wise and insightful things. He made many friends, and it would appear that he made a few enemies towards the end as well. There is no documentation of his birth, just stories and rumors, and no one at the time documented the supposed “resurrection” that happened three days after he died. Somebody made up that part of the story about 60 years later. It’s the ultimate “urban legend”.

(And of course, all the evidence we do have says that there weren’t many white people in that part of Africa at the time; Jesus was probably black or “dark Arabic” and much shorter than the modern depictions.)

So how do we explain all these odd coincidences or reports of people predicting future events? People are always telling me how amazing it is that they ran into an old friend while at Disneyland, or some other coincidence that surely can’t be accidental.

I live in the Washington DC area, and we had an earthquake a few years ago that was felt throughout the entire region ... and later that day, at least six people called the local radio station and said that they dreamed an earthquake would happen. It can’t just be coincidence, can it? Surely that MUST be the work of a higher power?

Well – let’s take a logical look at this. I’m just over 50 years old and I’ve probably only dreamed about being in an earthquake maybe three or four times in my life. Let’s just say once every 7,500 days to be conservative.

If this is about average, and everyone has a dream about an earthquake every 7,500 days, that means that one person out of every 7,500 will have an earthquake dream every night (on average).

There is a population of 5.8 million people here in the greater Washington DC metro area. I’ll say 5 million – again, just to be conservative.

If we divide 5,000,000 by 7,500 we get ... 666 people who will have a dream about an earthquake each night in the Washington DC metropolitan area, and I’m sure they are ALL going straight to hell!

Seriously though – coincidences do happen, and sometimes they might seem very odd, but in reality coincidences happen just about as frequently as they statistically should.

So I’ll end this article with a really old joke: Jesus comes back on Sunday after his resurrection, and all his followers are begging to see one last miracle. They are at the edge of a lake, and someone asks Jesus to show them how he walked on water, since the first time was at night in a storm and all his followers were on a boat and couldn’t see very well. Jesus obliges, and walks out into the lake, where he promptly sinks to the bottom and drowns.

Everyone is shocked, many start to weep. A woman wails, “why did this happen?” when a wise gentleman offered up an explanation. He said, “Well, the last time Jesus did that trick, he didn’t have those holes in his feet.”

1 http://www.prb.org/Publications/Articles/2002/HowManyPeopleHaveEverLivedOnEarth.aspx 
2 http://www.preteristarchive.com/Ancient_Revelations/papyrology/Oxyrhynchus/P-Oxy_LVI-4499_rev_13-18.html
3 http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/04/10/study-jesus-wife-fragment-not-a-fake


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 “My kids don’t like xxx”.  In fact, in their entire lives, they have never heard me say that to anyone. Instead, I would say “My kids eat everything, but I didn’t cook the xxx right the last time. I’ll make it better next time.”

The next time I’d make the offending dish, I’d change it a little bit and do something different.  I’d ask 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 reason. Why is that?  For thousands of years, 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 lot of dead on the road to get to him and 2) he managed to infect others with 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 Media Audio/Windows Media Video file formats, Silverlight, and the 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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The Well Travelled Joint

Sunday, 15 August 2010 14:14 by The Lunatic

I’ve never tried pot.

It’s not that I have any moral objections to Marijuana , and I really don’t care whether it’s legal or illegal – it’s not a big issue to me. 

The reason I have never smoked Marijuana is the same reason why I don’t smoke cigarettes: I just can’t understand why anyone would willingly inhale the soot and tar and ash of burning carcinogens into their lungs.  Blech.  You might as well suck on the exhaust pipe of your local city bus for all the good it’s going to do for you!

Back around 1985 or so, I was staying at a friends house for a few days and he asked if I wanted to smoke a joint with him.  I politely declined, but he was persistent.  More...

Past The White Cliffs Of Dover And Off To America

Thursday, 5 August 2010 15:23 by The Lunatic

I’m writing this blog posting whilst sitting in my stateroom aboard Cunard’s flagship ocean liner, the Queen Mary 2 – enroute from Southampton England to New York City (coincidentally, it’s the exact same route that the Titanic was taking ... hmmm.)

We are moving from Switzerland back to the US.  This is our third year in a row (and fifth time in six years) that we are moving to a different country. And yet again, we will have to live out of suitcases for a month or so while we wait for the container with all our household belongings to arrive at our new home.

Exactly a year ago, we moved from Washington DC to Switzerland. It was supposed to be an easy trip More...

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The Future of Communications

Tuesday, 27 July 2010 06:43 by The Lunatic


I just got back from a one-week excursion to Washington DC. I had two objectives for this trip: buy a car, and find a house to live in (since we are moving back to the USA next month.)

Buying a car and selecting a house to lease in one week is difficult enough – but it’s even more problematic when the rest of your family are on another continent. I needed to keep in contact with my wife and kids three or four times a day as I scouted out different neighborhoods and looked at houses.  To make matters worse, I didn’t have my cell phone with me since my basic calling plan (discussed below) doesn’t have international roaming.

So it was Skype to the rescue!  Calling home to Switzerland on Skype is only 2.1 cents a minute, and if the internet connection is good, the voice quality is indistinguishable from a regular phone call.

The problem, however, is More...

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The Penn & Teller Incident

Sunday, 2 May 2010 15:33 by The Lunatic

I just recently found out that almost all of Penn & Teller’s “audience participation” card tricks involve the three of clubs. It’s some kind of an inside joke that's been going on for years.

It's funny, because I remember that specific card. They had a show in Seattle - on December 18, 2002 - which was SUPPOSED to involve the three of clubs. Unfortunately, the trick was foiled by a certain Half Baked Lunatic dressed in a tuxedo :-)

It was our anniversary, and my wife surprised me with a night out on the town. We started with a nice dinner, accompanied by an expensive bottle of wine. After dinner, she directed me to More...

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My (exceedingly minor) contribution to Avatar’s 3D effects

Tuesday, 26 January 2010 19:54 by The Lunatic


I met with James Cameron a few times when I worked in the Windows Media Division at Microsoft.  Mr. Cameron had just finished the 3D IMAX documentary “Ghosts of the Abyss” and was looking at different technologies to use in an upcoming “big budget 3D production”. This was back in 2003 or so.

In the first meeting, we just provided a broad overview of the technologies that Microsoft was working on, and had a general discussion on what he was looking for.  I must say, I was exceedingly impressed with Jim’s technical knowledge. Most “Writer/Director” types I’ve interacted with are great on the creative side but fairly light on the technical side. I pointed out that the digital camera that they used for the “Ghosts of the Abyss” had a subsampled horizontal resolution, and he jumped right in and told me how they solved that problem ... by tapping into the actual image sensor itself, bypassing the rest of the storage capabilities of the camera, they were able to capture the higher resolution image which the sensor was capable of, and store it directly to hard drives. More...

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