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...

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. ... [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... [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...
Categories:   Miscellaneous | Science
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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...
Categories:   Science
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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...
Categories:   Economics | Science
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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...
Categories:   Science | Social Issues
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