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Monday, April 30, 2007

Website Update- New Info on Factoid Page

Well, I came into work this morning and realized that it was the last day of the month, and I still hadn't posted anything to the site this month to keep my update per month goal. I've been so busy in my personal life recently (don't worry - all good things), that this month just slipped right past me. Anyway, I'd received an e-mail this month about the crocodile tongue statement on my Factoids Debunked & Verified page, so I spent my lunch break today doing some quick research on crocodile tongues. Go visit the factoids page to see what I found.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Moral Absolutism vs. Relativism

Reading a recent entry on Pharyngula, I came across a quote from Kirk Cameron that struck me (not because it was Kirk Cameron saying it, but because the topic is a typical view), "Atheism has become very popular in universities--where it's taught that we evolved from animals and that there are no moral absolutes. So we shouldn't be surprised when there are school shootings." Well, the school shooting part's a complete non-sequitir. But I do want to take a look at the moral absolute parts in a bit more detail. There seems to be a sense among many Christians in this country that morals are absolute, and moral relativism is a bad, bad thing.

Now, I'll admit right up front that philosophy isn't my area of expertise, so perhaps my Wikipedia informed definitions of moral absolutism and moral relativism is leading me astray, but it certainly seems to me that most of our morals are relative, and not absolute. Even for Christians, when you look at the 10 commandments, the ones that deal with how to treat other people can all be looked at on a relative basis.

Honor your father and your mother.
What about if your parents tell you to worship Ganesh? What if your parents snap, and go on a murderous rampage - should you try to stop them, or honor their wishes and let them kill more people?
You shall not kill [sometimes translated as murder].
Is it okay to kill someone in self defense? Execute a convicted murderer? Kill people in war? Shoot a person on a murderous rampage?
You shall not commit adultery.
Well - from the Christian perspective, there's not much to argue with in this one, but what about cultures where it's okay for spouses to have sex outside marriage, as long as neither spouse has a problem with it?
You shall not steal.
Is it wrong to steal food to feed your starving children? Is it bad to steal a gun from a murderer so that he can't shoot anybody else?
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Is it okay to lie to a murderer so that he can't find his next victim?
You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's.
Well, this doesn't exactly cover directly dealing with other people. It's just good advice not to be jealous.

I guess Christians could still argue that certain actions besides those listed above are inherently good or bad, but the Christian basis for good or bad a lot of times simply boils down to "God said so," but this doesn't say that the actions themselves are inherently good or bad. For a popular example, look at eating kosher foods. Before Jesus, it was apparently immoral to eat non-Kosher foods, but now, because of the New Covenant, non-Kosher foods (like shrimp) are on the menu. So, there was nothing inherent in the action that was moral or immoral, just whether or not God said it was okay. To insist on moral relativism absolutism, when it seems that even God himself can change his mind, seems like a pretty strong stance to take.

A lot of Christians in this country today argue that morals are absolute, but it seems to me that the morality of an action really must be determined in context, and that most people usually do judge actions that way. To insist on complete moral absolutism seems a bit silly.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Microsoft Security Not So Bad?

Well, this isn't the type of thing I would normally write about, and I'm not trying to become a Microsoft fanboy, but I recently read something that does tie in pretty well to that post I made earlier this month about Macs vs PCs. A lot of the anti-Microsoft comments I've read are about security. People point out how many viruses, worms, trojans, and other security threats are aimed at Microsoft products, mostly Windows and Internet Explorer. True enough, that's the case, but I'd always wondered if the main reason for that wasn't inferior security in MS products, but rather just because they're the biggest target. I mean, at one point, IE controlled something like 95% of the browser market, and I'm sure Windows has a similar advantage in the OS market. If you're a hacker writing a program to, say, try to steal bank account information, what programs are you going to focus your efforts on looking for security loopholes? If it takes a similar amount of time to find loopholes and write a program to exploit them, why waste time on programs that are going to give you far less results? I think another contributing factor may be that people that use alternate OSs/browsers tend to be composed more of computer nerds, who are going to be using better practices, anyway.

Well, I recently came across an article that may confirm this idea, Report Says Windows Gets The Fastest Repairs. Here are the opening paragraphs from that article (with links removed - go to the original article if you want the links):

Microsoft is frequently dinged for having insecure products, with security holes and vulnerabilities. But Symantec (Quote), no friend of Microsoft, said in its latest research report that when it comes to widely-used operating systems, Microsoft is doing better overall than its leading commercial competitors.

The information was a part of Symantec's 11th Internet Security Threat Report. The report, released this week, covered a huge range of security and vulnerability issues over the last six months of 2006, including operating systems.

The report found that Microsoft (Quote) Windows had the fewest number of patches and the shortest average patch development time of the five operating systems it monitored in the last six months of 2006.

and then the closing paragraphs:

Analyst Charles King with Pund-IT said Microsoft has had to be aggressive about dealing with security issues because it's such a big target. In that regard, the company has met the challenge.

"I think in a way that a culture of having been under attack for a decade or more has led to the company taking a very proactive approach to fixing those problems," he told internetnews.com. "In the last 24 months, they've taken a very aggressive stance toward the security of their system. In review after review of Vista, despite its faults, the security of the system has been considerably better than XP."

By contrast, King said there have been complaints in the past about Apple's lack of response to security issues. But as the Mac and Linux gain marketshare, they will have to respond much quicker.

"Are the old models of response to security issues going to be able to fly or will those companies start to take some serious publicity hits from these increasing vulnerabilities and a relatively lackadaisical response to fixing those vulnerabilities?" he asked.

Anyway, I found it interesting. One thing it does mention is that even though MS had less updates overall, more of them were high priority or severe. So, that may indicate that MS actually is worse at security than other companies, but I still think the reputation they've gotten has been overblown, and that lots of people ignore what a big target they are.

Taking Stock, Again

Well, it's been a little while since I've done one of these meta posts, but here goes...

Let's see, my first blog post ever was back in December of 2005. Not too long after, towards the end of March 2006, I realized I wasn't keeping up with the blog as much as I'd have liked, but I still liked the idea of having a blog, so I resolved to make a good post at least once per month, and, for the most part, I was able to keep up with it.

Towards the end of this past January, I made a new resolution to make a post at least once per week. I never announced it before, just in case I wasn't able to keep up with it, but I have been doing pretty good at it. I actually got a boost in motivation when PZ Myers of Pharyngula announced a Blogroll Open Enrollment Day. I hesitated to submit my name at first, since I have such a mediocre blog compared to others, but after seeing how many other people were submitting their own personal blogs, I thought, what the hell, the worst that can happen is that I don't get added. He ended up adding everyone that submitted a blog, but with a few warnings, including that many would probably be deleted once he had a chance to review them, and that he would definitely remove blogs that hadn't been updated within the past 30 days. Well, luckily for me, he hasn't gone through and purged the blogs he doesn't read, yet, so I'm still on there (I'm guessing it's only a matter of time, though). And the warning about the 30 day post or purge deadline has kept me motivated to keep my post per week goal.

As long as I'm talking about Pharyngula, I guess I'll point out something else interesting. Way back in February of 2006, I posted a trackback to Pharyngula for an entry about What Is the Value of Algebra. That entry got me a trackback and two comments. On that Blogroll Open Enrollment Day post on Pharyngula, just by having a link to my blog in his comments (and there were over 150 comments in that thread), I got a noticeable increase in traffic, and a comment to one of my posts. Considering that I normally get zero feedback, I think it's interesting that just posting a comment on Pharyngula and feeding on his scraps gets me an infinity percent increase in comments/trackbacks.

Speaking of blogrolls, I recently got added to Matt's blogroll over on Pooflinger's Anonymous (which, by the way, is one of the three blogs I check on a daily basis, the other two being Pharyngula and Confessions of an Anonymous Coward; in other words, it's a good blog and you should check it out if you haven't, yet). It was a similar situation to Pharyngula, where Matt posted that he was getting ready to update his blogroll, and told people to leave a comment if they wanted to be considered. And once again, I shamelessly plugged my own blog, and was lucky enough to be added. And again, it's given me more motivation to try to make good weekly posts.

In both of the above cases, it felt very awkward asking to be added to their blogrolls. I really get kind of self conscious advertising for my blog. I feel that if I've got good content, people will just find me. I mean, I never advertised my French Polynesia Photos page on my main site, but if you Google "bora bora photos," I'm on the first page of results (currently eighth). And if you Google "autogyros" or "autogyro history," my Autogyro History and Theory page is the first or second result (damn you Wikipedia</Charlton Heston voice>). So posting comments on other people's blogs, asking them to add me to their blogrolls, seems a bit pathetic too me; it almost felt like begging. Oh well - I'm on the blogrolls, now, so I might as well just do my best to make good posts.

Something else I felt like talking about in this entry was what I plan on writing about on this blog in the future. I started this blog "pre-Dover," when Intelligent Design was making the "real" news on a regular basis. It was also around the time I first discovered that nearly half of Americans believe humans were specially created. I guess I'd been naive before, believing that it was only the loonies that still doubted evolution. The history of life on this planet has always been a topic I've been really interested in even before I knew there was this controversy, so getting such a wake up call made me start to look at the issue more. It also lead me to take more note of the religious fundamentalism in this society, that I guess I'd been kind of sheltered from before, and realize that it wasn't just a fringe element of society, either. So, when I started this blog, those were the main topics I wrote about. Well, it's been over a couple years now since I started following this controversy, and while creationists certainly haven't gone away, I can sense my interest in the topic waning. It's partly a conscious effort, as well - my wife told me I was becoming too obsessed, so I've been trying to think about other things. So, to get back to the point of this paragraph, I doubt I'll ever stop writing about the science/religion/creationism issue entirely (especially in the narrower field of evolution), and for the time being, the majority of my posts will probably still be about this issue, but I plan on writing more entries on other topics.

One last thing - I had been considering using this post to announce that I was going to disable trackbacks. You wouldn't believe the number of spam trackbacks my filter catches (well, maybe you would if you have your own blog). But, I decided against it. I figure that if something I write inspires somebody else to write something, I'd like to know about it.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

No More Easter Bunny

Sad BunnyI wanted to write this up on Monday, but at least I'm getting to it before the end of the week...

My daughter had a revelation over the weekend. She realized the Easter Bunny isn't real. It happened on Saturday night. She asked my wife and I if we thought the Easter Bunny was going to come and hide our eggs. My wife's reply was to ask her if she still believed in the Easter Bunny (which maybe wasn't the best response, but oh well). My daughter said yes, but I guess it got her to thinking, and a few minutes later, she asked me if I believed in him. I hate lying to her, so whenever Easter Bunny and Santa Claus questions have come up in the past, I've always evaded the question, or told her she could still believe if she wanted to. She wasn't taking that this time, though, so I just flat out told her that I wasn't going to tell her if I believed or not. And when she pressed about if I hid the eggs, I told her that I didn't know. Well, she's too smart to not realize that I must know whether or not I'm the one hiding the eggs, so she had it pretty much figured out. I guess I was smiling a bit, too, which was the giveaway to her, and she went off crying to my wife who'd left the room by then. And the thing my daughter was most upset about, wasn't that there was no Easter Bunny, but that it meant my wife and I had been lying to her her whole life. We did our best to explain it to her, though, and by Easter morning she was happy looking for eggs that she knew I'd hidden.

So, this whole episode got me to thinking - why do we as a society continue to perpetuate the myths about the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and all those other make-believe holiday characters. When I told my parents about it, they told me that I wasn't "lying," I was "pretending." I don't buy that. Pretending is when both parties involved know what's going on. My daughter and I pretend together all the time. One party pretending something so the other party can believe it doesn't seem very honest to me.

My parents also told me, as have many others, that pretending in these things for the kids makes the holidays more fun for them. I don't know about that one. My daughter had plenty of fun looking for eggs knowing that I'm the one that hid them, and I don't think she'll turn her nose up at Christmas presents this year, either. Plus, kids have plenty of fun pretending in things that they know are fake, just for the sake of playing. So, do kids really have that much more fun around the holidays believing in false ideas than they would without them, and is it worth lying to kids to give them that fun?

I also find it interesting the reactions we've gotten from people when we've told them that our daughter figured out about the Easter Bunny. Most people feel bad for her, that she doesn't have the Easter Bunny to believe in any more. One of our friends was even upset with us for letting her figure it out. I don't understand why so many people have those reactions; I'm actually relieved that she figured it out - no more deception, no more tip-toeing around the issue trying to figure out ways to not directly lie to her, plus I always enjoy watching her grow and learn more about the real world.

I never really had a good reason to carry on the myth with my daughter in the first place. I did it just because I went along with everybody else. My parents did it with me; she gets it from school and daycare; our friends with kids do it with their children. I guess I didn't want to seem like a kill-joy. Looking at it now, though, I wish I could go back and tell myself to just be straight with her. She would have had fun around the holidays with or without actually believing in the fairy tales, so why lie to her in the first place.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Intelligent Design Event in Dallas

I was a little late in hearing about this, and then it took me a little while to blog about it, but I recently learned that there's going to be an Intelligent Design event not too far from me at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Not too surprisingly, the anthropology, geology, and biology departments at the university weren't too happy about it, and all sent letters to the school administrators expressing their dismay. The administrators responded with their own statement, part of which said, "Although SMU makes its facilities available as a community service, and in support of the free marketplace of ideas, providing facilities for those programs does not imply SMU's endorsement of the presenters' views."

For now, I'll just take that statement at face value, and assume that SMU would also lend its facilities to the KKK, holocaust deniers, or flat-earthers. After all, it's in the interest of the "free marketplace of ideas," right? What I'd rather focus on in this entry is the response by William Dembski. For anyone who's followed Intelligent Design (ID) at all, Dembski's name should be very familiar - he's one of the main ID "theorists," a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, and has become infamous for his use of information theory to try to support intelligent design.

Part of Dembski's response was, "Doesn’t the 'M' in SMU refer to 'Methodist' and aren't Methodists believers in God? Is SMU's anthropology department committed to hiring anti-God faculty?" Okay, I know that for most, ID really is religiously motivated, and I've heard that proponents had been slipping more recently, but isn't the standard line still supposed to be that ID is a purely scientific concept (oops, I mean, "theory"), and that the identity/intentions of "the designer" are irrelevant to detecting design. I mean, haven't people (like Dembski himself) even said that the designer could be sufficiently advanced aliens? Nice to see that they're finally dropping the facade and just coming right out and saying that it's religious. I'd be willing to bet, though, that all those believers in theistic evolution would be a little upset at being called "anti-God."

Anyway, I'm tempted to actually go see this conference, just to see what it's like (in a slowing down to see a car wreck kind of way), but two hours away is just a little too far to go. Plus the fact that they're actually charging for tickets, and there's no way I'd ever give any money to support these hucksters.

Addendum: I forgot to mention this originally, but I just wanted to make it clear. Even if you ignore that ID is religiously motivated and just look at it scientifically, it still has no real evidence to back it up, and shouldn't be taken seriously. Just go browse Talk Origins for some of the evidence for evolution, or better yet, just go read some science magazines.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Macs vs. PCs

Mac vs. PC arguments are kind of like the nerd equivalent of Ford vs. Chevy pissing contests. They spring up all over the place on the Internet, and a couple of them happened to catch my eye recently on forums that I read regularly. So, I decided to send a reply to one of them, the Ercoupe Mailing List, that I decided to copy on this blog to get it off my chest to a wider audience.

Okay, I'll add my two cents on the Mac/PC discussion, and I'll even get it back to being aviation related, for those getting tired of a pure computer discussion. One of my responsibities where I work is taking care of our flight simulator (http://www.cartercopters.com/cctd_simulator.html - there's a picture of the sim at the bottom of the page). The program we use for the simulator is X-Plane (www.x-plane.com) We used to use an old Mac running OS 9. As newer versions of X-Plane came out with new features that we wanted to run, we needed to get a more powerful computer to run them. I thought about replacing it with another Mac just so I could get a chance to play around with OSX, but when I got to pricing the computers, I just couldn't believe the price difference between Macs and PCs for comparable hardware, so I went with the PC.

Between our old simulator and a computer lab back when I was in school, I got a fair amount of experience using OS 9, and I never really thought it was all that much different than Windows - certainly not head and shoulders better like all the Mac fans would have lead you to believe. I've never used OSX, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it's overrated, too.

So, maybe OSX is a superior operating system, and maybe if price were no object, a Mac would be my next computer. But unfortunately for me, price is an object, so I'll probably stick with PCs for the forseeable future. Then again, if all you need is a home computer where just about you'll do is browse the Internet and send a few e-mails, the supposedly superior Mac OS might be a better choice.

The other argument that caught my attention was from a comment thread over at Pharyngula, How Not to Teach Biology. Myers discussed a teacher using PowerPoint presentations during a biology class, and made the comment, "Aficionados of both bad creationism and bad PowerPoint will savor these." And obviously, that drew a few of the inevitable PowerPoint & Microsoft bashing comments. In defense of Microsoft, I've used PowerPoint quite a bit, and don't have any problems with it. Yes, I've seen horrible PowerPoint presentations - but it's the fault of the people creating the presentations. I've seen some pretty bad presentations running off of Macs, too, that weren't PowerPoint based, with annoying animations every time a slide changed.

I'm not trying to defend everything Microsoft's done. They've certainly had some stinkers. I just recently wrote a blog entry complaining about IE7. And where I work, the guy that maintained the website before me had used FrontPage, and it took me a couple months to go through all the websites with Notepad to fix the horrible code that Frontpage had generated. All I'm saying is, I'm tired of people assuming a program's bad just because it came from Microsoft, or that a different program's good just because it comes from one of Microsoft's competitors.

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