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...

I'm A Believer!

Friday, 27 April 2012 20:39 by The Lunatic

There is a pervasive and somewhat lopsided tendency in our society to separate fellow humans into the categories of being either “believers” or “non-believers”. The not-so-subtle implication is usually that there is something wrong with you if you are a “non-believer”.

Let’s play a little game; I’ll take the position that there really is something wrong with non-believers. But first, let’s swap the traditional idea of who is a believer and who is a non-believer.

For example, if I have a ball in my hand and I hold my arm straight out from my body and I drop the ball, I believe that the ball will always fall “down” – towards the ground. In our game, non-believers are the people who will say that god can make the ball go up, or sideways, or turn into a flying cheeseburger and flap its wings at the moon.

If we get all the non-believers on Earth to PRAY really hard, and ask god to make the ball go “up” when I let go of it, I still believe it will go down.

If you ask a believer why the ball will go down instead of up, the typical explanation you will get is that “gravity is a force that attracts two objects proportional to their mass”. In general, the answers that believers give you will have something to do with gravity, and the answers will be relatively consistent on average. Without some external physical force (a blast of air, or someone swatting it with a tennis racket for example), believers will say that the ball will drop “down” even if you conduct the experiment hundreds of billions of times, as long as the Earth and the ball have mass.

However, if you ask all the non-believers why praying to god doesn’t ever change the fact that the ball goes down when dropped, you will get a bunch of different, inconsistent, and largely contradictory answers.

One of the answers you might get is that ‘god doesn’t work that way’. I love that answer, I hear it all the time. I keep asking all the non-believers how god does work, and no one really seems to know. The fallback response, however, is this: “you have to have faith.”

Ok, I’ll accept that. I am a person of absolute unwavering faith, and I will gladly put the full conviction More...

Categories:   Religion | Science | Social Issues
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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...

Categories:   Economics | Miscellaneous | Science
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The Evolution of god

Wednesday, 24 November 2010 14:19 by The Lunatic

The following article was written under invitation from the CommonGroundGroup, a website put together by some members of the Baha’i faith, for discussion of the common areas of agreement between science and religion. They seek to include alternative views and promote open discussion on topics of science, religion, and philosophy. I appreciate the invitation to contribute an article which is diametrically opposed to most of their normal postings.

I love evolution.

Just as biological evolution creates new species, information and knowledge and technologies also evolve – and in a very similar manner. Take the microprocessor that is running the computer on which I’m writing this article, for example. The electronic microprocessor isn’t the brainchild of a single brilliant engineer who just created it one day, without any prior information or knowledge. All modern processors are evolutionary offshoots of the Intel 4004, introduced in 1971. It was a huge breakthrough, but that milestone could never have come about without the invention of the transistor and the many simpler integrated circuits before it; and the core processing logic was built upon the mechanical and vacuum tube computers which evolved over the fifty years before that. None of these would have been possible without a working knowledge of electricity, magnetism, chemistry, and physics – the secrets of which have been slowly uncovered, bit by bit, for hundreds (thousands!) of years.

Evolution tends to go in fits and starts, especially in the early stages. There are the agonizingly slow changes that take millennia – the spinoff of one species to another for example, or the adaptation to environmental changes that all early life went through as the Earth cooled; for almost half of the 3.5 billion years that life has existed on Earth, there was nothing more complex than single cell organisms.

But then, occasionally, some big event comes around More...

Categories:   Religion | Science | Social Issues
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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...

Categories:   Economics | Miscellaneous | Science
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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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How big is a Googol?

Friday, 4 June 2010 19:00 by The Lunatic


My eleven year old son has been fascinated with large numbers lately.  He’s asking all the typical thought provoking questions that eleven year olds tend to ask, like “how many stars are there in the universe?” and “how long would it take to walk to Alpha Centauri?”

And of course, the number Googol is always a great benchmark, as in “Are there more than a Googol water molecules in the ocean?”

So, how big is a Googol? I came up with the following example to explain to him More...

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Energy, Efficiency, and the long road to SBSP

Saturday, 3 April 2010 14:29 by The Lunatic

Here’s an old high school physics puzzle, let’s see if you can get the right answer:

You have perfectly insulated room (i.e., no heat can escape).  Inside the room is a refrigerator, plugged in and running – but the refrigerator door is left wide open.

As the refrigerator runs, does the room:
A – get colder
B – get warmer
C – stay the same temperature

Think about it for a minute ... (and yes, I first heard this from my high school science teacher back in the late 70’s)

The answer is ... (drum roll please!) ... More...

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The all natural, all organic, totally healthy blog post

Monday, 29 March 2010 14:04 by The Lunatic

I consider my family to be a fairly “healthy” eaters.  We consume a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables and eat very little fast food (only a few times a year). My kids are never allowed to drink soda, except when they are at a party or some function where there are no alternatives.  We eat a lot of fish and pasta.  And although I love beef, lamb, pork, and chicken, we limit our portion sizes and try to stick to lower fat recipes.

However, I have mixed opinions about the “organic” food movement. I admit it’s important to openly discuss better/safer/healthier/environmentally friendly ways of feeding our growing population, and there are many organic products and processes I agree with wholeheartedly – but many of the organic guidelines are based on emotion rather than facts and real data.

The use of synthetic fertilizers, for example, is one of the hottest topics. I liken the use of fertilizers 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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Wrestling the Anaconda

Friday, 6 March 2009 18:47 by The Lunatic

The year was 1996.  My wife had graduated from Medical School a few years earlier, and she was in her second year of residency at a large university medical center.

The time was about 1:45 in the morning. And we were Wrestling the Anaconda.

Ok, I need to back up a little bit.  My wife did her residency in Pathology.  She studied in both Anatomic and Clinical Pathology – but this particular year was strictly clinical work.  Although most people think that pathologists primarily perform autopsies (which is the “Anatomic” branch of the specialty), the majority of pathologists are actually on the “Clinical” side of the business.  Clinical pathologists run all the hospital lab functions – blood banks, specimen analysis, frozen sections, lab tests, etc.  During surgery for example, if a doctor is removing a cancerous cyst, they will send the specimen to the lab to have the margins checked.  The pathologist needs to analyze the lump, diagnose it while the patient is still under anesthesia, and make sure that the surgeon has cut into “clean” tissue all the way around.  If not, the surgeon needs to cut a little more.

Most of these specimens are pretty small – typically a few millimeters up to a few centimeters.  But not the Anaconda. That was More...

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A few universal questions

Friday, 30 January 2009 19:26 by The Lunatic

All the data we have at this point says that the universe that is just under 13 billion years old.  The universe exploded from a big bang and after a brief period of inflation, it has been expanding steadily at the speed of light. Although there are still some unanswered details, most cosmologists agree on these basic points. From here, however, there are numerous opinions and conflicting theories on the basic nature of the universe.

There are a few different mathematical models that show it’s possible that we can be living in an “open” universe which will continue to exponentially expand forever, a “flat” universe where the expansion will slow down and eventually stop at a certain size, or a “closed” universe that will reverse direction and eventually contract into a “big crunch” – presumably to explode again in another big bang (and with multiple series of “big bang/big crunch” cycles, we have an “oscillating universe”).  While all of these are mathematically feasible (and yes, I’m leaving out a few other good theories), the current data strongly suggests that we are in the “open” model, where the universe will continue to expand forever, until all the stars burn through their remaining fuel and all that’s left is ashes and space dust.

Of course, there are many unanswered questions – such as, More...

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The History of Workman's Law

Friday, 5 December 2008 16:05 by The Lunatic


For the last twenty years or so, my email signature has included the following:

     Workman’s Law:
In the movies, the skeptics of supernatural phenomena are always wrong.
In real life, the skeptics of supernatural phenomena are always right. 

I came up with "Workman's Law" after watching the movie Ghost Busters, somewhere around 1985.  Remember the creepy EPA inspector that wanted to shut down the Ghost Busters? That was the impetus for Workman's Law. He didn't believe in ghosts, he thought the Ghost Busters we're all a bunch of con artists, and everyone from the janitor to the mayor ridiculed him.  In the end, he was horribly slimed by the ghost and the audience applauded and everyone said "WHAT AN IDIOT!"

It's a great movie, but it's not real life!

Workman's Law has held up pretty well since then, I'm happy to say.  Here's a challenge for everyone: find me a movie where the skeptic turns out to be right (ok, I'll admit there may be a few) AND find me a real life supernatural phenomenon. I'll buy the winner a cheeseburger.

Here's a great article posted in The Onion a few months ago: Evolutionists Flock to Darwin-Shaped Wall Stain. I love it!


Categories:   Science
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The Monty Hall Goat Trick

Friday, 28 November 2008 17:42 by The Lunatic

Here is one of my favorite math puzzles – commonly known as the “Monty Hall Goat Trick”.  It’s a wonderfully delicious problem that plays with your head. It has a psychological component that makes even the brightest of people swear that the obvious answer is the correct one, but it’s not!

The game was a regular feature on “Let’s Make A Deal” – a strangely popular show back in the 70’s with legendary game show host Monty Hall. Pop culture at its finest (well, along with “The Gong Show”, of course).  During the show, some very lucky (and usually crazily dressed) person was selected from the studio audience to play the game, and had the chance to win A BRAND NEW CAR! (this became Monty Hall’s catchphrase).

The puzzle has been discussed on hundreds of website, so it’s nothing new, but it's still one of my favorites. Stay with me if you haven’t run across this problem before …

Let’s say you are the lucky participant that gets selected to play the game out of the studio audience. The rules of the game are simple:

  • There are three doors.  Behind two doors is a goat and behind one of the three doors is A BRAND NEW CAR! You get to take home either a goat or More...
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