Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Futility of Atheist Arguments?

I recently read a review of The Impossibility of God. It's a very dry, long, multi-authored meditation on god and his various forms and, in total, concludes that God is impossible. It's right, basically, so why don't more people stop believing?

The reviewer takes a rather pessimistic stance, basically saying that people cannot be swayed at all in their beliefs, and complex, well-formulated physical arguments is like using an Xacto knife to cut brick. Not only is it too refined, it's the wrong tool entirely.

I feel ambivalent. I like to think that most people would accept arguments if given to them, but at the same time, most people believe in a very loose sense. They've never really thought about what they're supposedly worshipping. They primarily just live their lives, and religious belief is something that operates in the background and is brought out only when needed. As such, trying to argue against it is like trying to argue about the importance of preserving wild rice swamps in Japan to someone who lives in Chicago.

That's a problem, but instead of seeing it as the end and not bothering to go further, I see it as the issue that must be overcome before further discussions can take place. This book's failure is that it jumps straight to part #2 before addressing the nature of the audience. So, in the end, I guess the reviewer is correct. This books is written for a very small group of people, and as such, why bother existing?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Atheist Southern Baptist?'s atheist section has a recent post discussing Daniel Dennet and Linda LaScola's interviews of various protestant pastors who self identify as atheist or close to it. It's not that there are closeted atheists out there, we've had those for, likely, centuries. And before that we had closeted Christians, and Jews, and whatever the hell the Hittites worshiped. No. What shocks me is what the pastors are. Southern... Baptist?!

I mean, my god! If the interviewees had been Anglican, or some jovial Irish Catholic, I could have been like "Oh. Alright. I guess that's not too surprising." But Southern Baptist? They might as well have been snake handlers who say in secret interviews "Yeah, I don't buy all this, I just like snakes."

Dennet and LaScola were unable to find any Catholic or Orthodox atheists, which isn't too surprising. I guess I would have expected at least a few Catholics, if nothing else. But wow. Southern Baptist. Wild.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

When Geeks Ruled the World.

I’m a computer geek. Been one for years. My first computer was this strange TI computer that had no disk drive and, as such, anything you did was deleted when you turned it off. It was a TI-99, and I was old enough to know how to turn it on, turn it off, and copy stuff from an instruction manual to such a degree that I sometimes achieved things. What I was achieving was beyond me, but the screen did stuff which made me positively ecstatic.

My first real computer was a Commodore 128. Yeah, bitches. We splurged on the 128 model. Too bad almost all of the software required us to run in 64-mode, which kinda’ negated the need to buy the more expensive 128. It was a great first experience for me. I had to debug problems, learn how to run software, and played LOTS of Impossible Mission and Ernie’s Magic Shapes. Being a cultured five-year-old, I also enjoyed the finer pleasures in life, like Astro Grover. And I will never forget the pleasures of printing out signs and banners with... Let's Make Signs & Banners, and doing it verrrrrrrrry sloooooooooowly. Dot-matrix printers weren't exactly speed demons back then.

My dad always had laptops from his work, including the very first Compaq notebook, so I usually had up-to-date hardware and operating systems, which allowed me to stay current. My adult awakening happened when a friend of mine brought me to my first computer fair. It was great. The internet was around, but the selection of hardware was limited, so fairs were the best place to get selections of the wildest computer shit around.

I still feel a great nostalgia for those days. While I would never want to go back, I like my cell phone way too much, there was something special for us geeks in the days of exclusivity. Computers in the 1990’s were old enough to have a large, robust market, lots of games, cool hardware, but still esoteric enough to be exclusive. It was still mine. It wasn’t everyone’s yet.

At this point in history, companies no longer make stuff for us. The greater market of general users is, obviously, ten times the size, probably more, of the geek market. I completely understand why companies are leaving the geek market for the market of tech-hungry average users who showed their numbers with the creation of the iMac, and have since turned Apple into the most valuable technology company on the planet, having recently passed Microsoft.

But I still kinda’ miss those days. It was a different world, a different demographic. For example, Roberta Williams (founder of Sierra and creator of Kings Quest) mentioned in an interview how she had become disillusioned with the computer market. When she had started in the late 1970’s, the computer market was a highly affluent, educated market. As such, the computer game market was dominated by puzzle games, wonderfully written adventure games, and the occasional action games.

This is in contrast to today, where most games are action games and laptops are sold at Wal-Mart. Look at all of the best-selling, big budget games of today, almost universally, they involve shooting lots and lots of things. The world has changed. I’m sure that’s good, but I’m not trying to be rational, here. I’m being a curmudgeon, dammit. The computer world used to be mine, furiously loading up the newest hardware into a gigantic, beige box at two in the morning. Things weren’t shiny, they were geeky, and that spoke to me.

Sigh. Progress. She’s a bitch. But man, I love it.

UPDATE 8/24/10:

To further add to my nostalgia, Windows 95 is 15 years old, today. I clicked through the links and listened to the Wind95 Startup sound, made by Brian Eno. It instantly elicits and incredibly strong gestalt of memories. By transport, I mean it really does transport me to my bedroom, fifteen years ago, building computers and otherwise geeking out.

Hearing that sound immediately draws out palpable memories of other sounds and images. Like the first time I played through Myst (the sound of big clock or seeing people in a book), or Kings Quest 7 (the opening movie). My first time downloading and playing the demos for Command & Conquer or Warcraft 2, and playing them a lot since I couldn't afford the actual games.

Windows 95 was there right as I experienced my aforementioned adult awakening into technology and computers. I bought a bootleg copy at a computer fair for, $5, I think. Good thing. I had no money. Most of my hardware was used or second-hand, and my software was either pirated or discount bin. I have more, powerful memories of this time than basically any other time in my computer history. I love those memories and I think that saying that I cherish them is not too strong a word.


I'm watching Bill Maher's Religulous and he has just left some Christian tourist site down in Florida. A woman who appears to be something like the floor/general manager confronts the camera crew because she didn't know that Bill Maher was going to be there personally. She's upset because of "who he is and the types of work that he does," or something along those lines.

I actually kind of understand her perspective. These people are, well, idiots. The woman who owns the place might not be, but she doesn't need to be nor does she need to care. She's just running a place that people like to visit. Bill is actually just kind of being an asshole for going there, disrupting her business, and putting people on the spot.

I completely endorse his putting of major characters on the spot. Rabbis, politicians (especially), and people in positions of great power, but everyday people? There's no useful end in it. I don't even derive any schadenfreude from it. I also don't think that his usage of derogatory jokes achieves much. These people are, mostly, wrong on their own terms, and that's more than enough to dig into.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Love for the Nintendo Wii.

I Love the Nintendo Wii. I don't play it very often, but I love it. I love it because it is a video game system. You play games on it. You don't stream movies, or sign into massive online communities of eight-year-olds that can destroy you in Halo. You don't form Nintendo guilds of people who all play Mario together online. You just play a fucking game.

I love the success of the Wii because I see it as a celebration and vindication of the GAME. Microsoft and Sony, and even PC developers like Blizzard with World of Warcraft, have abandoned the casual gamer. The gamer who isn't willing to dedicate hundreds of hours of game time and spend stupid amounts of money on the "it" games every month.

I've felt so abandoned by the companies. I don't want to join guilds to avoid shit-head teenagers in online Gears of War matches. I don't want to spend nine hours raiding in Warcraft to get any good equipment. I don't want to play nothing but another damned first person shooter when one comes out every fucking month.

And I don't with Nintendo. They keep me rooted in the 1980's and 90's, when I simply bought a game, put it in, and played. No signing in. No leader boards dominated by guys against whom I have ZERO chance. That's what I like. You cannot just put a game into the Xbox. You cannot simply open a save file. You cannot simply jump in and out of games. Oh no! You need to create an avatar, and an Xbox Live name, and sign into the Xbox to access any save files. And if you're playing multiplayer, the person who originally signed in and pressed "start" must then be the person who signs in and presses start every time you start the game if you want to access the save file. Why not just have a simple save file that anyone can play? Because Microsoft wants to remove as much control as possible from you, because they've got designs on turning the Xbox into a set-top-box and being the Apple of the living room, where you control nothing, they control everything, and they charge you lots of money for it.

I think it no surprise, then, that Wii is outselling everyone else combined, and that I and all of my friends with whom I remember playing games back in the 80's and 90's all primarily play the Wii. I only have one friend who plays the Xbox primarily, and he is that super-gamer. He buys and sells games by the dozens every year, belongs to a gaming clan, and lives on Xbox Live. My Xbox isn't even connected to the internet and all I play is Street Fighter IV. Is the Wii for that hardcore gamer? No. Not nearly enough shooters (he says with a sly sarcasm). Obviously, Microsoft has found a model that works very well for that market. That market loves the network, the leaderboards, the sign-ins, and all of the other trappings of the Xbox. I don't. Those very same trappings do nothing but piss me off.

I could spin that market negatively. For example, World of Warcraft. The people there are similar to the people on Xbox Live. They're hardcore and the Warcraft world is their world. They derive a great deal of satisfaction, self confidence, and social interaction from this world. Is that necessarily a bad thing? Not at all. But when someone who doesn't mesh with that world comes in, they clash. Do you remember the movie Christine? It's Stephen King's evil car story. Basically, an evil car is purchased by this timid, teenaged milquetoast, and he begins to become infected by it and turns into a total asshole. One of the underlying themes is that the car didn't actually infect or possess him, thus turning him into an asshole, it's that the kid was always an asshole, he was just too much of a coward to let it come out. Emboldened with his car, we discover that the kid was never a nice kid, and our earlier empathy is replaced with disgust.

Think of World of Warcraft and other online games as Christine. There are very few nice twelve-year-olds, so just imagine the pricks that they turn into when given an epic fantasy world. As such, the consistency of this fantasy world is important. They feel badass, here, and when that is threatened, they get angry (I'm here referring to not only the tweens and teens, but anyone with that profile). I'm reminded of this trenchant comic by the guys over at Penny Arcade.

So yeah, as I think I've explained, the ever-growing online world is one that has basically abandoned me. Instead of playing World of Warcraft, I play through Final Fantasy V for the tenth time. Instead of playing Bioshock II, I play Doom II. The only new games that I'm playing are New Mario, Mario Galaxy, and Street Fighter IV. Games that have basically been around since the beginning of games.

I like games. I LOVE games. And that's why I like Nintendo. They're a game company. They make games. I appreciate that and their quasi-old-style view of the industry very much. Go Nintendo.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Starbucks Don't Know Shit.

Starbucks has shown nothing but complete confusion in the recent years. Their growth was stagnating before the downturn, and then when everyone stopped having money, their growth took an even bigger dive.

The good decisions that they did make were all pretty much straight out of business 101. Close some locations. Refocus on your core aesthetic. Introduce new product.

But whenever Starbucks tried to step outside of this basic "make something; sell it" business model, they stumbled. The first Starbucks card was cumbersome and stupid, the Gold card was better but wasn't a hit with the faithful. Starbucks never released numbers, and even lied about them being good, but it's rumored that they were very poor. The newest card, My Starbucks Rewards gets rid of what was good with the Gold Card, reintroduces what was bad with the Starbucks Card, and numbers have plummeted. I can only go on what baristi have told me, and they say the new card is not liked. How does a massive company fail so badly when simply having a paper punch card with little holes shaped like latte cups gets the job done for other cafes?

Or for an even more laughable example, Starbucks music label, which they brilliantly announced just as the music industry was crashing. It's like getting onto the Titanic after it's hit the iceberg.

Their shocking cluelessness was illustrated very well a few days ago, with the announcement of the Starbucks Digital Network. Before I get into that, though, a little history. WiFi has roots going back to the 1980's, but was solidified and patented in the US in 1996. WiFi started its atmospheric rise quickly, and by the early 2000's, ordinary people had wireless networks in their homes. It didn't take long for major companies to try and sell wireless access, which anyone with a brain knew was stupid at the time. People don't want to pay for something that they can only use in one spot. Luckily, smaller companies were there to quickly fill the void and offer free WiFi as a freebie to get people to come in. For example, Coffee Exchange has had free WiFi since 2004, which requires no clicks, no landing pages, no sign-ins, no nothing, and it is, I'm not kidding, ten, maybe twenty times as fast as WiFi at Panera, Borders, or Barnes & Noble.

After a decade of failing to sell access, the big guys finally stopped trying and, last year, Borders, Barnes & Noble, and any number of big companies started giving it away for free. Starbucks, oddly, was the last hold-out. You could get "free" access for a scant two hours each day if you used your Starbucks card at least once a month. You also had to create a sign-in name (which, despite my best efforts, I could never get to work) and profile. Again, shocker, very few people used Starbucks WiFi.

Finally, earlier this year, Starbucks has started giving away actual, real, truly free WiFi that requires naught but a single click on a landing page (still annoying, but I'll leave that be for now). I figured that Starbucks had finally gotten it. But oh, no, they didn't. They moved simply because it was grotesquely obvious that they should.

What about this move shows that Starbucks doesn't have a clue? Basically, it's that the same issue that Cox, Charter, or Comcast has. They don't want to simply be a dumb pipe, where information from other sources flies over their wires to the consumer. They want control, because in the old world, control meant profit. Free WiFi is the right move, the SDN is just dumb.

"We know that people would pay us for this opportunity. But instead of asking them to pay us, we thought, ‘Let’s aggregate and compile the best content that [Starbucks customers] can’t get any where else,’"

"Starbucks does plan to upsell SDN users, and there will be a revenue share between the coffee retailer and its content providers should customers go on to purchase while browsing."

"In the News channel, customers will have unfettered access to the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and The New York Times. Brotman explained that access to the latter of the two will be the paid versions not available for free to readers anywhere else."

Really? You know that you can sell this? If you can sell it, why does everyone who tries to sell it fail? Why was your own WiFi a failure? Oh, and the Times and the Wall Street Journal? WOOOOOooooOOOOOhhh! Hold me back! I already get "unfettered" access to everything on the web. NY Times gets blocked, Huffington Post, here I come. Wall Street Journal? I haven't read that in years, and I'm a freaking stock trader.

Starbucks still thinks that they can sell data, as do its partners. They can't. That business model is dead. You can sell new data, the creation of data, the searching of data, the manipulation of data, but once the data is out and about, it's free because it's infinite. The SDN will try to upsell you to other content... most of which can be had for free on the internet. The SDN cannot compete with the internet. Its video services can't compete with YouTube, Hulu, and BitTorrent; its audio can't compete with Pandora, Uvumi, and TheSixtyOne; its news can't compete with... everything ever. This service is dead before it even comes out.

The final point I find puzzling is how the service will be distributed. Will it be a no-download application? Java? Adobe Air? People hate downloading things. I've worked in the online casino world, trust me, people HATE downloading things. The uptake for a download casino is less than half of that for a casino that streams through a browser. And even if we assume that people have no issues with a download, are they going to be willing to download an application that they can only use in one place? The digital world is mobile, why do companies refuse to understand this? If I can't use your program at my house, I don't want it. Boundaries and borders no longer exist, data is infinite, sell the finite. The goal of a company is to get the finite product as integrated with that mobile experience as possible, not to try and shoehorn the mobile experience back down something physical and immobile.

BRAINSTORMING SESSION: How can we sell the finite (food) better with free WiFi and a Starbucks network? We've got an iPhone app from which people can order food, next step, people sign into and pay for food from their SDN page in their laptop. The network knows from which location you're signing in, so it knows where to send your order. You sit down, open your laptop, log in, place your order, it's done and brought to your table all the while you're in a video chat.

For people who like the experience of ordering from a real person (weirdo), signing into the Starbucks network from a Starbucks location pops up coupons, freebies, and information from and about the employees at that location. Allow people to leave tips in a digital tip jar. The network lets Starbucks know who's signing in, where, when, and how often. Let them link-up Facebook accounts to glean consumer information and better target products. You know that someone who eats a lot of cinnamon buns has suddenly changed his most frequent location, and he shows up at 3pm every day, Starbucks knows to have a cinnamon bun read at 3pm. Let people publish their Facebook on the SDN, so people can see if there's anyone interesting at the location, maybe facilitate a date.

I came up with those ideas in three minutes. Not hard.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

No Fatties

A club up in Montreal, one of my favorite planes on Earth, is receiving some flak for posting, and I quote, "NO FAT GIRLS ALLOWED!!!!!!!!!!", on their Facebook page. Obviously, the club is backpedaling, and they say that it was some planner's idea of a joke. I actually buy that excuse, it probably was intended as a joke. It was just intended as a joke at the expense of fat girls.

Lots of people are up in arms over this, and apparently night clubs have been sued for racial discrimination in the past, which is, somehow, a bigger problem. I just can't get too up-in-arms over this. Clubs? Only allowing hot people inside? No!

For Pete's sake, duh! Of course the clubs are discriminating. That is was clubs do. Clubs exist for almost entirely superficial reasons. A book store, or perhaps cafe doing the same thing sounds wrong, but a club? That's SOP. If you're fat, you know that you're fat, and you're going to a place that's a temple to shallow, alcohol-fueled physical contact. You're an idiot for getting insulted.

In much the same way that I have no problems at all with high-end designers not making plus-sizes, clubs simply work this way. These companies are selling an image as much as a product. If a club was widely known for being filled with fat and/or ugly people, no one would go! Look at club websites. See anyone who's ugly in the photos section?

Make no mistake, this is discrimination. But if you have an image to maintain, and that image is material in the continued success of your brand, you need to regulate how that image is broadcast. Remember Burberry's brand taking a hammering in the UK after the chavs picked it up? Or Coach in the US after it started going after lower SES brackets? We have direct evidence showing that a poorly managed brand suffers damage when undesirable clients are seen attached to that brand.

So get over it or lose some weight.

Club Prohibits "Fat Girls," Claims It's An "Inside Joke" (

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Debate With Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins debates evolution, the existence of God, and the nature of the human soul with Wendy Wright. She's remarkably poor in a debate. Whether I agree with her statements or not, she is terrible at this. Holy crap, Christopher Hitchens would have simply eaten her face.

For example, she keeps saying "show me the evidence," which Dawkins does, and she then appears to ignore him. I don't think she's ignoring him, I think that she's failing to articulate what she means. She requests evidence for the transition from species to species, he then tells her about transitional fossils. She rejects that as not evidence. What she means is that the fossils only show that a creature that looks like that once existed, not that it then evolved into any of the other fossils. She accepts the discreet fossils, but rejects the theorized path from example to example. If we can't show her a monkey turning into a man, she doesn't buy it.

Also of interest, she doesn't openly describe herself as a young-Earther (someone who believes the Earth was created less than 10,000 years ago). I can only assume this is because she knows that the argument is unbelievably stupid. To reject the age of the Earth is to reject ALL science. You reject cosmology, physics, biology, geology, oceanography, everything, to explain your view. That is not a view that would hold up well with one of the planet's premier scientists.

I also think that her belief that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old outright rejects the validity of the fossils. Even if she wasn't specifically rejecting the transition itself, she simply rejects that the fossils represent anything at all.

And I want to go where Dawkins didn't want to for, I'm assuming, the sake of keeping the argument from getting mired down in too much morality. she asks in part four whether a person who is mentally retarded has a soul or not. Dawkins says that "soul" is a meaningless word and that, for example, a person in a vegetative state does not have the properties of a person with consciousness, and thus doesn't have a "soul."

She then says that she believes that the person is still a person and has a soul and as such must be cared for. Ignoring Western religion's great history in not caring for people, I see no problem with the materialist perspective (she keeps trying to use the word materialism, and I know what she's doing. She's trying to tie the scientific perspective back to the USSR). No. NO ONE has souls. Souls are a meaningless word. Even Wittgenstein, a devout man, would agree with that. When you say "soul," you might as well have said quijibo.

This does not negate a kind and loving existence. A wise society recognizes that its greatest contributions might come from its weakest members. Profoundly retarded people produce great art and music, can remember amazing things and perform mathematics that beggar the imagination. Even a person in a vegetative state can be recognized as someone who can spring from that state at any moment and be a full person again. There are very, very good reasons for caring for everyone and keeping this world a happy place without simply retreating to God. Because, as I argue frequently, that still doesn't explain it. Why should I help people? Because God says so? Why should I listen to God? Why should I care? Because I'll go to hell if I don't? And thus, we reduce it to self-serving nihilism.

In part 5, she mentions being arrested. She's either lying outright or smoothing over the facts. I found two references to her being arrested, one was quite violent, only that it was her being the violent one. The second arrest appears to be the one that she references; here it sounds like she was just being an asshole.

Also in part 5, she says that it's demeaning to say that they haven't read books. Michael Behe is a superstar in the ID community. With that in mind, watch this clip from the PBS documentary about the Dover, Pennsylvania school board controversy.

She's right, it is demeaning to say that they haven't read the books. But she deserves to be demeaned. I started off angry at her, but finished the videos just being baffled. She simply pretends that Dawkins hasn't said anything on a number of occasions in the debate, leaving him puzzled how to respond.

The whole encounter reminds me of the frequent counterpoints to Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris. Each book comes out, opponenets bring up arguments like how Nazi Germany and the USSR were atheistic, those arguments are soundly rebutted, and then, later, they pretend like the arguments weren't rebutted at all and simply bring them out again. The worst one is the argument that Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins are attacking a straw man. Dawkins specifically addresses this argument early in his book, and then readdresses it in the updated forward to the paperback. Yet, this is one of the first arguments trotted out in any confrontation.

As watching this, keep thinking that she represents 500,000 people.