Older blog entries for StevenRainwater (starting at number 317)

It’s Been How Long Since My Last Blog Post?

Time flies when you’re having fun. How about a quick summary of what’s been going on around here in the first half of 2013. I’m spending more time on two aspects of my photography interest: photographing models and Vivitar historical research.

I’ve turned a spare room at the office into a makeshift studio, complete with strobes found on craigslist and a cheesy backdrop hanging system. Believe it or not it all works and I’m learning a lot about lighting. My first shoot in the new studio was with Serena and I’ve since shot with Karla, and Lexy. More to come I’m sure.

My Vivitar research has been productive too. I’ve made contact with a half dozen ex-Vivitar people including John C. Best’s son and a former president of the company. I’ve got a backlog of Vivitar lenses and gear that I’m slowly working my way through. Don’t be surprised if you see me wandering around Deep Ellum photographing random people and things with weird old Vivitar equipment.

I finally made the jump to a modern smartphone this year, trading my ancient Samsung flip-phone for a Google LG Nexus 4. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. There are only a handful of choices when it comes to smartphones: the Apple iPhone or one of the hundreds of phones running Android, a phone OS based on the Linux kernel. (ok, technically, there’s also Windows phone out there that has a tiny fraction of market share but seriously, who’s going to buy a phone that runs Windows?!) Anyone who knows me, knows I’m unlikely to buy anything made by Apple if I can avoid it. Apple has made an art of taking away people’s basic software freedoms. Android isn’t completely free of course, there are varying amounts of proprietary software depending on which phone you get. I chose the Google LG Nexus because it’s the least encumbered, with a high percentage of free software, no phone company mandated bloatware, and it’s unlocked, so I can switch providers any time I want.

I got a Nexus 4 for Susan as well and she loves it. She almost never used her old flip-phone because the interface was so non-intuitive. With Android she’s now regularly calling, texting, taking photos, reading the news, even playing Angry Birds.

Dallas Makerspace is still growing like crazy and just expanded to around 6,400 square feet. I’m really only an occasional visitor at this point, having cut back my DMS and DPRG time to a minimum to make room for all the other stuff I’m doing these days. I’ve joined the Irving Art Association and will hopefully be joining the Dallas Camera Club in the near future as well.

Susan and I are trying to get out hear interesting speakers as much as possible too. We went to Joel Hodgson’s talk at the Texas Theater in January, Art Spiegelman at the DMA in February, Andrei Codrescu at the Kessler Theater in March, and just a few days ago Pecha Kucha Vol 12 at Lakewood Theater.

I’ve got a backlog of books to review too. Maybe I’ll post one of those soon if I find time.

Syndicated 2013-05-14 02:18:27 from Steevithak of the Internet

Anathem

Anathem


Susan and I are both fans of Neal Stephenson and his books are favorites when it comes to reading aloud. We read Cryptonomicon and the entire Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, The System of the World) aloud. Nearly everything Stephenson writes has the quality of being so intensely interesting that you feel compelled to keep reading. When reading one of his book to myself, I usually want to read the entire book at one siting, staying up all night in the process. That’s one of the reasons we now read them aloud, it forces us to stop because my voice usually gives out after a few chapters. And the result is that we can enjoy the book over a several weeks, with lots of interim discussion and speculation about where we think the story is going.

One of the things that make Stephenson books so fascinating is that he combines interests in a wide range of topics from history to philosophy to the latest trends in technology. Anathem is no exception and is perhaps his best book to date. The book originated in sketches made by Stephenson when collaborators on the Millennium Clock project were trying to imagine what a clock designed to last 10,000 years would look like. Stephenson thought about the sketches a few years later and they became the basis for the clock and Concent scheme described in Anathem.

The story takes place on an Earth-like planet where society is organized a bit differently than our own. Scientists and philosophers live apart from the rest of society in closed convents called Concents. The separation is due to the alleged troubles that such people caused in the distant past by constantly introducing dangerous ideas and technologies to the “saecular” world. Technology, the physical manifestation of science and philosophy, is forbidden within the Concents. The fraas and suurs within the Concent can contemplate their ideas and think all they want but they are not allowed to build or use any technology more advanced than woodworking or stone masonry. As part of this grand experiment of dividing the thinkers from the rest of society, Concents are further subdivided into a series of concentric walls. Each successive inner circle stays closed to the outside world for a longer amount of time. Fraas and suurs from one circle may choose to move further inward over time. At the outermost level, the Concent opens its doors to the saecular world once every year. The next level opens once ever 10 years, the next every 100, and the last every 1,000. These openings of the Concent to the saecular world are called Aperts. Fraas and suurs in the innermost circle may have lived their entire life in the Concent. In the saecular world outside, cities come and go, governments change, entire civilizations rise and fall. Within the wall of the Concent, life continues on unchanged except for constant learning.

The story opens in the Concent of Saunt Edhar as the young Fraa Erasmas, known as Razz to his friends, is preparing for his first Apert in a decade. He and his friends are looking forward to seeing how the world has changed in the ten years since they were presented to the Concent as children to be trained in the ways of math and science.

It becomes evident rather quickly that this will be no ordinary Apert. The saecular governments are stirred up about some incredible event, so strange and dangerous that they may have to put aside the rules separating those who live within the Concent and draw upon their vast, theoretical knowledge to save the world from destruction.

Erasmus and friends are launched upon an unexpected journey into the saecular world and must shoulder responsibilities and face threats beyond any they’ve been prepared to deal with. They are joined by higher level Mathics including a Thousander who has spent so much time in the ethereal world of theoretical physics, it’s unclear whether he’s still entirely human or if he may have learned the secrets of feared and possibly mythical early Mathics known as The Incantors.

Along the way, the story delves into the many worlds interpretation of quantuum mechanics, the metaphysics of Platonism, Penrose tiling, the relationship of religion and science, and many other fascinating and esoteric topics. All this is couched in a story-line of almost constant action that includes martial arts, political intrigue, space combat, and some old fashioned romance.

Describing much more of the plot would likely give away something you’d enjoy discovering for yourself. Unlike some Stephenson books, like those of the Baroque Cycle where things slow down from time to time and Stephenson spends half a chapter describing the skyline of historic England, Anathem kicks into high gear in chapter one and never lets up. It’s action, crazy ideas, romance, surprises, and humor all the way through. To learn a little more, you can read some further plot descriptions, check out a glossary of terms, and even listen to some music composed based on the book’s description of Mathic arts over at the official Anathem website.

Syndicated 2012-12-03 04:24:27 from Steevithak of the Internet

Building the Hexagonal Junk Array

The Hexagonal Repurposed Junk Array #1

I finally got around to writing an article on the construction of the Hexagonal Repurposed Junk Array #1, my art piece for RZN8, this year’s Art Conspiracy SEED auction. The piece was made from surplus electronics and laser-cut salvaged acrylic. It functioned as a combination speaker dock and retro-style light organ for MP3 players. And for those who were about to ask: my audio player is a Sansa Clip+ running Rockbox, the open source audio player firmware that runs on some iPods and other players.

My write-up includes lots of photos and some video shot during construction and after completion. There are links to more photos of the piece and of the ArtCon RZN8 auction. I included all the SVG drawings used to laser cut the parts. I provided a brief description of the LED driver circuit but didn’t bother including a schematic since it only has four components and is pretty trivial. The speaker pods would probably have to be modified to fit another pair of speakers but, otherwise, I think there’s enough info in the article to allow you to build your own unit. If you build one, send me a photo.

Syndicated 2012-10-13 00:42:29 from Steevithak of the Internet

Books I’m Reading

If anybody out there is a long-time reader of this blog, you may recall that at one time in the distant past, I used to mention what books I was reading. I haven’t done that in a long time and it occurred to me today that it would be really trivial to do now that I’m using WordPress. So I’ve added a new little box over in the right sidebar where you can find out what I’m currently reading. It’s usually several books at once. Susan and I always have a book we’re reading aloud to each other. We take turns picking the next book. Often it’s a book that at least one of us has read before. I also have at least one book on the headboard at all times for that night time urge to read as the brain winds down for sleep. And I have a variety of transient books that come and go quickly just because I’m interested in the topic at the moment and want to read (or re-read) them.

So what about you? Do you read multiple books at once or do you read them one at time? If you have any recommendations for books to read, I’d love to hear them.

Syndicated 2012-10-10 00:25:33 from Steevithak of the Internet

At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past

Moonlit Landscape with a View of the New Amstel River and Castle Kostverloren by Aert van der Neer

Is it time for another book review? I think so. I recently read A. Roger Ekirch’s book, At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past. The book is a collection of historical facts and anecdotes that illuminate the western world’s relationship to night.

It’s hard to appreciate the fear that was once associated with the night. Reading this book makes clear the range of terrors that must be faced each night in the pre-industrial world; real threats such as crime, accidental injury, fires, wild animals; imagined threats such as evil spirits and night vapors.

Abundant historical anecdotes are provided to explain the very real night time threats. The rule of law largely came to halt at night, so crime was rampant. If you needed light or heat, you needed fire, which frequently got out of control when everyone was a asleep. The darkness cut off each family from the rest of the world, leaving them surrounded by the unknown.

The range of dangerous night creatures dreamed up by superstitious minds and encouraged by pre-industrial churches is truly amazing: duergars, kelpies, ghosts, boggles, boggarts, demons, fallen angels, dobbies, trolls, wafts, elves, foliots, pixies, fairies, and werewolves to name just a few. The most feared creatures of the night were witches and Satan himself, who appears to have spent quite a bit of his time wandering the streets of pre-industrial Europe making odd noises and tripping drunks on their way home from the tavern.

Throughout most of the western world, being out at night was frowned upon or even illegal. But there were exceptions: night watchmen, prostitutes, workers at kilns and glassmakers who kept fires burning, nightmen cleaning cesspools and dumping the waste into the streets, gravediggers, known as vespillons, who worked in the cemeteries. Sometimes the poor went out during the night to scavenge horse manure from the streets.

Early scientists and inventors dreamed of putting an end to the horrors of night by various means. First they built city walls, then they added systems of ringing bells and shouting watchmen to inform residents that all was well, and eventually they struck on the idea of city-wide artificial illumination. It was not hard to convince governments that it was worth the expense to spread the rule of law into the night, allowing citizens to carry on business and industry with less risk. New street lighting technology invented by Edmund Heming and Jan van der Heyden used reflectors to amplify the light of oil lamps.

The Church had other ideas of course, as fear of night was good for their business. Both Catholic and Protestant Churches fought artificial illumination for public safety (despite using it themselves to illuminate religious festivals). “God does not agree with the use of lanterns”, wrote a Genevan Catholic. “We ought not turn day into night, nor night into day”, warned a London pastor in 1662. Over time reason won out and nations started lighting their cities, usually beginning with the capitals. Paris was illuminated by 1667, Amsterdam in 1669, Berlin in 1682, London in 1683, and Vienna in 1688.

There are also chapters on dreams, on sexual intrigues, on the mundane details of securing a common household against the dangers of the night, on nocturnal visits to taverns, on the terror of those forced to travel at night. The book even posits, based on anecdotal evidence, that prior to the industrial age, it was common for humans to sleep twice each night; first sleep and second sleep, with a short period of wakefulness between. Much of what I read in this book was surprising and new. It’s hard to believe no one has written about this subject before! The book is well-illustrated with historical paintings and other period art.

The book is not perfect, however. It’s a bit less readable than similar historical non-fiction I’ve read. It lacks a cohesive narrative or even a clearly defined reason for the particular progression of topics in the chapters. The book is not chronological but seemingly a random collection of notes grouped roughly into arbitrary, night-related topics. It feels almost like you’re reading research notes for what could be a really great book, instead of the book itself. But, in the end, the information imparted is so fascinating that it makes up for the less than stellar writing.

Syndicated 2012-10-01 00:19:45 from Steevithak of the Internet

A Boy and His Robots

I often get asked how my interest in robots started. Usually I demur, changing the topic or avoiding the question with an answer like, “I don’t know, I’ve just always been interested”. Recent events made me ponder the question a little more seriously and I’m going to try to answer it today.

I believe three early experiences were responsible. The first occurred in third grade when I read a book from the school library called ”Andy Buckram’s Tin Men” by famed children’s author Carol Ryrie Brink. It’s marginally a science fiction story about a boy who builds robots out of old metal cans and surplus motors. At some point, the story derails into fantasy when lightening strikes the robots, giving them the “spark of life” and consciousness. I was old enough to realize the spark of life business was nonsense but it got me wondering about how and why humans are conscious and how we could make other conscious machines.

The second experience that influenced my interest was a series of robot sightings on TV and later in books over a period of several years. The earliest TV robots I remember seeing were the B9 robot from Lost in Space and the robot Omega from a German film called First Spaceship on Venus. Robot B9 was clearly a conscious, intentional being despite being constructed from metal and silicon rather than meat like us. Omega was much more primitive than B9 but seemed a more plausible starting point for building a real robot. Before long, I had discovered hard science fiction at the city library and started reading Isaac Asimov’s robot short stories and novels. I often had to be sneaky about it because science fiction made my very religious mother uncomfortable. From my contraband Asimov books, I learned about the three laws (yes, there were only three law of robotics back then, kids; this was long before R. Daneel Olivaw and R. Giskard Reventlov deduced the existence of the zeroth law in Robots and Empire). By this time I had no doubt robots could and would be built. I still had no idea how one might actually go about it; not until the third thing happened.

In 1976, I discovered a strange little TAB book called Build Your Own Working Robot by David L. Heiserman. I’d never seen anything like this before and it made me realize I wasn’t the only person around who thought about building real robots.

Heiserman described building a robot called Buster. The robot’s design reminded me of robot Omega from the movies: small, wheeled, and with intelligence more like an insect than a human. This was before the era of ubiquitous microprocessors. Buster’s brain was a mass of TTL logic chips implementing surprisingly complex behaviours. I began filling the margins of my spiral notebooks at school with Boolean logic gate diagrams that I imagined were subtle improvements on the designs in the book. With no money to spend on parts, I never managed to build the Buster robot but the endless tinkering with logic designs led to a life-long interest in electronics, computers, artificial intelligence and cognitive science.

So what made me think of these robot influences from youth? I recently got the chance to interview Dave Heiserman for robots.net. As I put together the interview questions a lot of these memories came rolling back into my mind and what better use for those memories than to write them down here my blog to entertain my numerous readers; most of whom are probably search engine bots who will appreciate the stories of their distant relatives.

Syndicated 2012-08-28 05:47:51 from Steevithak of the Internet

Higgs Boson, doing the things a particle can

You probably know by now that the Higgs Boson has very likely been detected at CERN using the Large Hadron Collider (LCH). How could you not, it’s been all over the news for days and the big annoucement coincided with the American July 4th holiday. Still, I know a lot of people seem to have missed it or didn’t understand what it was all about. I was sure all my relatives would be talking about it July 4th and somehow, I thought I’d probably be asked to explain it, so I spent a while brushing up on various analogies to explain the Higgs field.

There’s the snow analogy: the Higgs Boson is like a snowflake, the Higgs field like a field of snow, a photon like a skier who slides across the surface with no resistance, heavier particles are like a man trying to walk in the snow, his feet sinking into it with each step, slowing him down. Or the Hollywood party analogy: The Higgs field is like an Oscar after-party, a photon is like an average nobody who can pass through the party-goers quickly drawing no attention to himself, heavier particles are like a Hollywood star trying to walk through the party with party-goers accumulating around him and slowing his progress.

As it turned out, no one asked. Thinking about it afterwards, this shouldn’t have been a surprise. The relatives you see at holidays seldom talk about topics like physics or cosmology (at least in my family). More likely, the talk is about sports or the latest movies.

Well anyway, this Higgs Boson thing is big news, probably the biggest science news that will happen in our lifetime. People in the future will look back at this the way we do at Einstein’s paper on Special Relativity. Like relativity, even though we’re pretty sure it’s correct, it still has to be tested and retested. Already it seems a sure enough thing that Stephen Hawking has conceded a $100 bet that the Higgs Boson would not be discovered. It’s almost certain there will be Nobel Prizes for this.

So what’s the big deal about this Higgs Boson thing?

If there’s any downside or disappointment here, it’s that the discovery had to wait so long to be made when it could have been made a decade ago, right here in Texas. We were building the biggest particle accelerator in history in Texas back in the 1990s, the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC). The SSC had a circumference of 87 kilometers and an energy of 20 to 40 TeV per proton, compared to the LHC’s modest 27 kilometers and 4 to 7 TeV. What happened? Politics. Faced with budget increases leading to a projected cost of 12 Billion dollars, Democrat Jim Slattery successfully campaigned for legislation that evetually killed the project. President Clinton signed the bill killing the SSC even though he acknowledged that “abandoning the SSC at this point would signal that the United States is compromising its position of leadership in basic science”.

That’s exactly what happened and, as in so many areas of science and culture, the US began falling behind the rest of the world. I suspect if this ever leads to really crazy cool inventions like faster than light travel or anti-gravity transports, they won’t be flying a US flag. But hopefully they’ll let us hitch a ride.

Syndicated 2012-07-08 04:01:29 from Steevithak of the Internet

Chronopolis

Chronopolis

Chronopolis is a 1971 anothology of science fiction short stories by J. G. Ballard. I’ve not read much by this author but I’m definitely looking forward to another Ballard book after reading this one. His stories have a certain uniqueness that’s hard to describe; so much so that the adjective Ballardian was coined and according to the Collins English Dictionary, means “resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in J. G. Ballard’s novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.”

Many of the stories in the book are indeed dystopian and bleak but they also seem like a bridge from the traditional science fiction of the 1950′s to the new wave and Cyberpunk SF that emerged in the 70s and 80s. Some of the stories don’t really feel connected to anything in historical science fiction; they have a dream-like or nightmare-like quality that’s, well, Ballardian.

The book starts out with The Voices of Time, not where I’d recommend anyone start if they’ve never read Ballard before. I almost didn’t go on to the next story. It’s not badly written or anything like that. Quite the opposite. It’s a bleak, depressing tale whose goal seems to be finding the reader’s tolerance level for bad news. It’s the story of a scientist named Powers who is becoming a Sleeper, a condition which affects a growing number of people. Over time, it reduces one’s ability to stay awake; each day one spends slightly more time in a coma-like sleep until sleep eventually becomes continuous.

Powers theorizes that the Sleeper phenomena is an attempt by life to adapt to a world poisoned by radiation from atomic weapons tests. Powers’ friend and colleague, Whitby, now in permanent sleep, studied animal biology. He learned that every species is evolving into nightmarish, violent creatures; to be followed by extinction. Whitby believed the cure for Sleepers was in understanding why animals were changing. With Whitby gone, Powers realizes any hope for a cure has gone with him.

Power’s nemesis, Kaldren, has so far escaped the Sleep and has been busy deciphering a numerical signal flooding the world’s radio telescopes. Kaldren concludes it’s a countdown to the end of the universe, being broadcast to any remaining life forms so they can get their affairs in order. He recounts to Powers the story of astronauts who recently made first contact with aliens. The message they received is that we left the Earth too late; the Universe is old and dying, all the interesting races are long gone, there’s nothing left to see, no one to meet, nothing left to do but wait for the quickly approaching end of our planet.

I could go on but you get the idea; anyway, things really take a turn for the worse at this point. It’s not a spoiler to say the story has no happy ending.

Fortunately, I didn’t stop with The Voices of Time. I read on and found some truly amazing stories. It’s no wonder the book is named for the story Chronopolis. This was one of the most enjoyable in the anthology. It’s set in a dystopian future, but in a good way. We get an early mention of “time police” but this is no time-travel story. The time police are on the look out for illegal clocks. Clocks, watches, time keeping technology of almost every kind is forbidden. The story concerns a boy growing up in this timeless world who dares to wonder about clocks. The turning point is a chance encounter that leaves him in possession of a working and very illegal wrist watch.

His secret knowledge of time changes life for the better but when a school teacher discovers his watch, he is taken to visit Chronopolis, the time city, a huge ghost town that was the center of the world in the era of clocks. He’s peppered with propaganda about Chronopolis and what its clocks were used for, how they ruled everyone’s lives. The intent is to show him the horror and evil of clocks but, instead, it feeds his fascination. The question is whether he can escape the time police and fulfill the destiny he sees unwinding before him.

Billenium concerns the adventures of John Ward and his friend, Henry, in an over-populated future where personal living quarters have a maximum size set by law. After Ward is evicted from his cubicle and hears rumors the space quota is being reduced to 3 square meters per person, he and Henry go hunting for a new cubicle they can share.

While looking at a cubicle in a very old building, Ward punches the wall in a moment of frustration. A hole is created revealing a large 15 x 15 foot room, an unimaginably huge space that even the wealthiest person couldn’t afford to possess. It was walled over during some long forgotten repartitioning. Without hesitation, they sign a lease for the cubicle and build a secret door into the hidden room.

At first they take turns sleeping alone in the vastness but guilt gets the better of them. One by one they begin letting others in on their secret; first inviting two female friends to live with them, then relatives. Along the way things get complicated. The story has more humor than most in the book, even if it’s a dark humor. I also found it reminiscent of Harry Harrison’s Make Room! Make Room! (which became the film Soylent Green) and Logan’s Run.

What would the world of Billenium look like hundreds of years down the line; a world where buildings covered every square foot of the Earth? Such a world is imagined in Build-Up. Civilization has long since collapsed and is now rebuilding. The old high-speed trains are running again, education of sorts is returning. But knowledge of the Earth and how people came to live the way they do is long lost. There is nothing to the world beyond level after level of corridors and rooms. Any talk of a “top” level or “bottom” level or of what could lie beyond them is considered superstitious nonsense.

Franz, a university student, has imagined a flying machine. In attempting to describe it to his friend, it’s evident that such a machine would be pointless without a very large room to fly it in. The largest room anyone has seen is the district’s stadium but even in so large a room what purpose could it serve to fly across it? Franz speculates about whether there could be “completely free space” – an area that has no walls, no floors above or below. His friends find the concept ludicrous but Franz becomes obsessed. He begins to question how the world came into existence – who built the first walls and floors, what was there before them?

He decides to find answers and starts by asking the local transit authority how far the trains go. They don’t know. Their trains go a few districts in each direction but the tracks go on and there are other trains. No one ever had a reason to travel more than a district or two away; why would they? Franz knows what he has to do. He takes all is money and buys transit tickets, determined to ride the trains continually in one direction until he find his answer. What he finds instead though, is so much stranger than free space that he begins to doubt his sanity. This story was later retitled to The Concentration City in later Ballard collections.

There are a total of sixteen stories in this anthology and every one of them is well written, readable, and addicting. I found even the ones I didn’t entirely like were too compelling to put down, I had to find out what happened. I’m fairly sure it’s out of print (no suprise there, what good science fiction book isn’t out of print?) but if you can find a copy, buy it and read it! Oh, and my edition has more of that classic Richard Powers artwork on the cover.

Syndicated 2012-06-18 20:30:00 from Steevithak of the Internet

Do I Detect a Cultural Regression?

I’ve noticed an increasing number people suggesting that conservatives are being replaced by “regressives”. By definition, conservatives advocate keeping things the same or “conserving” the status quo. To them, any problems we have are caused by change. Preventing change prevents problems. Progressives believe problems are inevitable and their solution requires us to change or “progress”. We used to have a third group, almost extinct, called moderates who believed we needed to use both approaches in moderation. Lately, a new group seems to be evolving. It started out as a small faction on the far religious right but it’s rapidly assimilating much of the right, maybe the entire Republican political party. For this new group, everything about the modern world is a problem that must be solved by regressing to ideas discarded in the past. The name “regressive” has been suggested to describe members of this group. In a Nov, 2011 blog post, Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkley, described some differences between regressives and the conservatives they’re replacing.

What sort of regressions are we talking about? They want to take science out of education and replace it with religion. They want to roll back religious freedoms and replace them with a Christian theocracy. They want to turn back civil rights for women to days when women couldn’t vote and were property to be owned and used by men. They want to roll back regulations that protect the economy and the environment from the abuses of corporations. They want to roll back awareness of our place in the natural world, the importance of the environment, and any belief that the human race should work conserve natural resources. To quote Ann Coulter, “God said, ‘Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it.” They want a world where they can pollute the air and water, sell toxic foods and drugs with impunity. When they talk about deregulation, that’s what they’re after; rolling back any and all restrictions on business. At the same time, they advocate an authoritarian government that restricts freedoms, liberties, and privacy of individuals. They advocate government mandated, unnecessary medical procedures and other draconian measures to enforce their religion’s moral code on all citizens.

The regressives also want to roll back public education. They target education and science as “elitist” and frequently demean books, scientists, schools and teachers. If they really want to insult someone, they call them “professorial” or “academic”! They have already personally regressed to a time when the concepts of “believing” and “knowing” are conflated. In their view, science and facts are just sets of beliefs, like religion. This leads to a phenomenon known as denialism that seems to go hand-in-hand with regressionism. Because facts are no different than beliefs, there’s no reason to accept them if you don’t want to. Don’t like the latest theory of climatology? Deny it. Have pesky geologists and cosmologists determined the Earth is older than the 5,000 years you’d like it to be? Deny it. Don’t like that theory of Evolution that biology is based on? Deny it.

They deny medical facts like the efficacy of vaccines and the existence of AIDS; historical facts as big as the Holocaust or as small as Obama’s birthplace. I can think of no field of science or history immune to denialism. Instead of truth, they now see truthiness. And having lost their grip on reality, they seem to easily succumb to belief in every form of superstition, pseudoscience, and conspiracy theory. From Tea Party claims that electric utility Smart Meters emit “spy rays” to a resurgence in belief that the Earth is flat, I don’t remember any time in the past when so many people fall victim so easily to so many forms of quackery and nonsense. If you can choose what’s a fact on a whim, it’s easy to choose “facts” that reinforce your existing views and deny those than don’t. This creates a feedback loop, constantly pushing you to further extremes.

Ironically, denialism among fundamentalists has taken them so far to the right that they now see “liberal bias” in the Bibles that needs to be denied. They’ve started the “Conservative Bible Project” to rewrite the Bible without the dangerous “liberal ideas” that have “crept in”. Their new-and-improved Bible will be anti-science, anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-women’s-rights, anti-communism (apparently the word “comrade” is used too frequently in modern translations!). It will leave out “liberal falsehoods” such as Jesus defending a prostitute from stoning by telling the crowd that whoever is without sin should cast the first stone. Also to be dropped is Jesus saying “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Obviously, if God and Jesus were good conservatives they’d stick to the party line as understood by the modern right.

No better example of denialism exists than North Carolina’s bizarre new law that restricts the rate of sea level rise and limits the methods scientists may legally use to study it. It also forbids them from discovering that the ocean may rise at an accelerated rate in the future! Perhaps next they’ll make a law requiring the Earth to be flat or legislate gravity out of existence?

What’s the reason for this growing group of regressionists and their denialism? Is it just a chance coalition of religious fundamentalists and far-right facists? Is it our equivalent of the Taliban? Is something in the water making people stupid?

Perhaps regressionism is an over-reaction to the increasing pace of scientific and cultural change in the world; change that can erode traditional beliefs. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by change, especially when we hold on to a too-rigid world view that can’t adapt to new facts. Maybe it’s something else. I honestly don’t know. I hope we can find a way to fight it. If not, well, when the Regressive Inquisition kicks down your door and hauls you off to be burned as a witch for having too many books or “believing in” science, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Syndicated 2012-06-07 02:58:31 from Steevithak of the Internet

Waiting for the Plane

I’m at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, Terminal C, gate 14, waiting to board a flight to Santa Ana, California. I’m headed to the VEX Robotics World Championship event in Anaheim where I’ll be shooting photos. It’s also the first time I’ve flown in nearly a year.

As usual, I forgot to eat breakfast this morning. There’s a Wendy’s directly across from gate 14, so I walk over and order a breakfast sausage biscuit; Wendys’ version of an Egg McMuffin. The Wendys is chaotic. There’s a guy dissasembling a deep fryer, pulling out a grunge-encrusted pump. There are several people running around behind the counter preparing orders. A manager is training someone at the register. Orders are taking a long time.

I finally get my Wendy’s McBreakfast thing and hunt down an unoccupied seat at a row of tables. Like the Wendy’s itself, the sausage biscuit is suprisingly random. McDonalds Egg McMuffins are precisely shaped, each identical to the one before and the one after. But this looks like someone literally fried an egg in a pan and plopped it onto a randomly shaped biscuit. I drink my tiny plastic cup of orange juice to cut through the greasy fast food taste left from the biscuit.

There’s no recycle bin. Nobody recycles at airports. Everything is trash; the paper bag, the plastic cup. Maybe they sort out the recyclables later? I doubt it. I pick up my laptop bag and the new camera bag I’m trying out. I bought it at Fry’s last night. It’s a backpack style bag. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll return it when I get back to Dallas.

I’m assuming I’ll get back of course. I think about statistics. The odds against winning the lottery are millions to one but when the prize is big enough, we buy a ticket and hope to be that one in a million. The odds of dying in a plane crash are also millions to one but, when we fly, we hope we’re not the one. Being lucky doesn’t always mean beating the odds. Just to be safe, I buy one of those inexpensive travelers insurance policies.

On the way back to gate 14, I see a newstand and decide to check out the books. I usually take a book or two along on flights but didn’t have one handy this morning. It’s been a while since I’ve been in an airport bookstore. I’m disappointed to see there’s no science fiction. There are lots of supernatural/fantasy books about witches, wizards, and vampires. The only thing that’s even close to science fiction is The Hunger Games. I saw the movie a couple of weeks ago, so it doesn’t interest me much. I make my way back to the gate without a book. The plane should be here soon.

Syndicated 2012-04-20 07:16:17 from Steevithak of the Internet

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