Solving a Minor Problem with Epic Nerdery

As regular visitors know, my wife and I recently moved into a new house. The new layout allows us to have an actual office big enough for both our computers, located on the second floor. This is great because it confines the mess, noise, and heat from those computers to a central location and keeps the living more clean and open.

The problem is that this leaves the MacBook as the only computer on the main floor of the house. Michelle and I find ourselves passing the computer back and forth rather regularly, which currently means logging in and out of websites like Facebook and Gmail quite frequently. Not a major problem, but an irritating one. This is a problem that should have a solution. Our browser of choice is Google Chrome and according to the documentation, Chrome has a profile switching feature in the newer channels. Easy right?

For those who are unaware, Chrome has four “channels” – Stable, Beta, Dev, and Canary, each in a different level of development. The first three are updated on a regular schedules and are currently versions 12, 13, and 14. Canary is cutting edge, getting nearly daily updates as new features are being tested. Installing any of the first three will replace the prior installation. Canary, because it is good for testing but prone to random failures, is allowed to be installed alongside the others.

This weekend I tested each version, starting with Stable and going down to Canary. Not a single one of them has a working version of the profile switching. There are pieces in place, but nothing is fully operation. So that option is out.

But the solution presented itself during this process, when I learned that Canary can be installed as well as a more stable release. So we now have two versions of Chrome installed: Stable and Canary. This lets Michelle stay logged in all the time in Stable, which runs well without major bugs. I get the more cutting edge Canary, but I’m better equipped to handled its quirks anyway

This is obviously a long and elaborate solution to what is a minor inconvenience. Most people would simply live with the problem; its not THAT bad. But I am not an average person. I’m a nerd, and this is what we do.

-That is all.

Never Do I Go Alone

Every success in my life can be summed up very simply:

I never did it alone.

This weekend had an excellent example. My wife and I needed help moving all our large furniture items from our apartment to the new house. We lacked both the extra hands needed and the large vehicles to carry them. So a call for aid went out. It was answered by a dozen volunteers to help, with others waiting in the wings if we needed them. The move went quickly, with everyone pitching in so that no one had to do too much. In no time, everything was in its place, and we were sitting in the living room with cold drinks and pizza.

This support network is a privilege that I do not take lightly. I know full well that it is not something that most people have. The ability to call on this kind of aid is rare, and mine is not just a single source. I have access to several networks of friends and family to help.

My entire life is full of moments where I could not have succeeded on my own. From college to weddings to house buying, I have had a foundation of support give me a boost, extending my reach to bigger and better things whenever I have needed them.

My challenge is to always be available in return. Because that is how these support structures not only stay strong, but grow and develop. It is only by every member putting in as much as ze is able that everyone benefits. If everyone contributes to the pot, there will always be something to eat.

-That is all.

Accepting Uncertainty

“I don’t know.”

This single phrase is the of the most powerful in the human language. It is also one that many people have a hard time both accepting it from others and using as an answer themselves. Too often humans accept bad answers over having no answer at all. Too often humans give a lie instead of an uncertain truth.

One great hurdle for abandoning religion is learning to accept this ambiguity. Going from having all the answers to having only questions is hard. One has to shift from a mindset of knowing to one of seeking. But it can be freeing as well. Once you accept the idea that “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer, you gain the ability to truly answer any question, regardless of the source. This is powerful.

Atheism and skepticism is built on this uncertainty. I do not know that god goes not exist. I conclude that he does not exist based on a lack of evidence, but I am not upset about a lack of 100% certainty. Like all things, I take the most probably answer, based on the evidence. If something is unclear, I say so. I do this with all questions on all subjects. In a similar vein, Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist talked about how there is no question that atheists can’t answer:

It’s not that atheists know everything; it’s just that we’re perfectly comfortable saying “We don’t know” to questions that no one has the answer to. Why do we exist at all? I don’t know. What caused the Big Bang? I don’t know.  Why do we have consciousness?  I don’t know. I don’t know those things and you don’t either.

Even among my skeptic friends, it is very easy to want to fill in gaps with unsupported explanations. We talked about the paranormal earlier this week. I know several skeptics who want to put an amorphous god-like being just behind the Big Bang to give it a cause. There are skeptics who refuse the premise of a god while believing deeply that John Edward’s performances are displays of actual psychic powers.

It is better for us as individuals and as a species to reject this baseless claims. We must try to not invent answers without proper support. We must be willing to say “I don’t know” when it is appropriate. Only then can we really move forward in looking for answers.

-That is all.

Three Arguments for Skeptics

Over on his Ann Arbor Science and Skeptics, my friend Chris Lindsay posses three questions about skepticism and the paranormal. He challenges his readers to come up with good answers to them. As one who’s never shied from debating with Chris before, I’d like to say “Challenge accepted.”

1) There are phenomena that occur of which scientists can’t explain. Skeptics reply that just because something is not explained, doesn’t mean it’s unexplainable. So I asserted that this skeptic argument is fallacious. Specifically, it is the Argument to the Future fallacy – which states that this skeptic’s response is valid because a natural explanation will eventually be known. But isn’t this reasoning often made by charlatans and quacks who are trying to sell a service or product to the public that does not have scientific or empirical support. Are skeptics making the same, flawed, argument?

Skeptics are not using the future to support our position; we are using the past. There has never been any situation where paranormal claims have turned out to be something outside the realm of science. To steal Tim Minchin’s words: “throughout history, every mystery ever solved, has turned out to be – Not Magic!” Every single ghost who haunted an amusement park was actual the janitor in a mask. In fact, it is often the paranormal who appeal to the Argument to the Future, claiming future tech will be able to sufficiently explain the phenomena that they “feel.”

Related to this, the skeptic does not have to defend a position of non-existence. It is up those making paranormal claims to provide solid, repeatable evidence and the appropriate mechanism to explain how the evidence comes to be. Nothing exists until proven to exist.

2) Science is provisional. It updates its theories based on new evidence. And skeptics adopt a similar stance – accepting claims when new evidence arrives to support them. However, when believers of supernaturalism offer evidence, the skeptic will reject it for either being lousy evidence (which is appropriate) or flimsy evidence (which may not be appropriate). That is, if a skeptic can’t refute the evidence, it’s still not sufficient for them to accept a claim. Why can’t skeptics accept it provisionally?  This is a double-standard, holding supernatural phenomena to a higher standard than natural phenomena, of which some of it – has shown to be ever-changing (i.e health/nutrition claims, for example).

If the evidence is bad, that evidence should be rejected, in all cases. If the theory does not support the evidence, it too should be rejected in all cases. This is the basis of science and skepticism. The subject matter, be it natural or supernatural, does not matter.

Is it possible that we will eventually find evidence and a mechanism for ghosts? Of course. But no one has proposed any such theory that does not also suggest a great re-working of our understanding of the physical universe. Much like homeopathy, the paranormal make claims above and beyond anything the evidence supports. Science will change when it is forced too, not because someone wishes it to do so.

3) As scientific research of neurophysiology continues to show the many ways in which cognitive processes of the human brain can be fallible (for example, the tricks on our senses, such as hallucinations and hypnogogia) skeptics now have an “out” – a default explanation – for explaining observed supernatural phenomena. “It’s a brain quirk.” This sweeps claims of supernatural phenomena that may blip into the range of our sensory perceptions under the rug.

Given all the possible explanations for a phenomenon, it is logical to select the one that has supportive evidence and a known mechanism. In any given situation, it is always best to start with known solutions and eliminate those before moving onto new ones. If you drop a ball and it falls toward the earth, you first assume this is because of gravity. Only after you eliminate the possibility of gravity would you consider the thought that a ghost is pulling it to the ground. The entirety of science knowledge exists as a tool to get answers quickly and prevent re-inventing the wheel. Starting from scratch every time with new theories isn’t productive. If a known explanation fits the evidence, the burden rests on those claiming it is not the known explanation.

As a whole, I am opened minded to the possibility that there are new and exciting things to be found by science. Our search for Higgs boson particle is one such item. We do not know for certain it exists, but all the evidence of particle physics says that it does. If it does not, we need to rethink some fundamental things. Science does not shy away from this possibility; the Large Hadron Collider was built in an effort to prove one way or another. These experiments are being done in a documented, testable, and repeatable fashion. This methodology is the crux of science, and something that is far too often lacking in those making paranormal claims.

-That is all.

Today, We Celebrate Our Independence Day

Today is July 4th.  For those outside the United States, this is the date we celebrate our independence.  The holiday celebrates the signing of our Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.  This document is not formally part of our government, but it embodied the core values of our country. Every man who signed his name took an extreme risk; the consequence of failure was death. But they did it anyway, pursuing justice instead of cowering in fear.

As has become a yearly tradition, I have reprint the entire document below. It helps me remind myself of some of the best of this country has to offer the world.  Please read it again and share your thoughts. Enjoy:

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

The document was signed by the following men:
John Hancock, Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry, Stephen Hopkins,  William Ellery, Roger Sherman,  Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott, William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris, Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark, Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross, George Read, Caesar Rodney, Thomas McKean, Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton, William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn, Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton, Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, and George Walton

-That is all.

Why Everyone Needs to Learn Science and Math

Here is a fantastic video by one of my favorite speakers, Neil deGrasse Tyson. He delivers a very concise and informative speech on why we need to train future generations in science and math, even though most of the people who are part of those generations will never become scientists. Definitely worth a watch.

-That is all.

Who Gets to Have Wedding Anniversaries?

This past weekend, my parents celebrated their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary. This is an amazing milestone, especially because it has been so strong and stable over the years. They managed to raise five kids, while still maintaining an identity for themselves. Both of my parents held the delicate balance between home life and work as we were growing up, keeping us healthy, well-feed, and well-clothed all those years.

It is thus not surprising that marriage has continued strong into our generation. My brother and his wife celebrate their wedding anniversary later this month. Michelle and I reach four years at the beginning of August. My sister starts her married life in October. The other two siblings might not be too far behind.

We are lucky for this. There is a population of couples in this country who do not get to celebrate their own weddings and anniversaries.  For most of them, there will be no silver anniversaries, no wedding cakes, no tuxes and gowns. There will be no joint custody of children, no hospital visitation rights, no sharing of benefits. For those outside our heteronormative marriage structure, they can only stand outside and watch.

But that is changing. This past weekend we had a major victory for marriage equality. New York has passed a law allowing people of all genders to marry the partner of their choice. More importantly, this bill passed through a Republican held senate, a first in this country. It shows that even Republicans can see the writing on the wall: now is the time for equality.

My hope is that this is just the one of many, that other states join New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire. I also hope that we see change at a federal level, granting equality for that level as well.

Everyone should have the right to pick the partner of their choice. Marriage is right we should extend to all people, regardless of their orientation. Everyone should have a chance to reach that thirty-fifth wedding anniversary.

-That is all.