Filling My New Machine With Software Part 1: Web Apps

I recently got a new laptop since my old one broke. How recently? WordPress was the first address I typed into Chrome as I decided I wanted to actually document the software I’m choosing to put on my machine. This thing only has 150 GB of space and Windows alone uses 30 GB. So I need to be somewhat frugal with how I choose to use my space. (I suppose I could also swap the optical drive for one of the TB hard drives I have, but then I’d have to deal with not having an optical drive.

On to software. I’ve loaded a couple dozen PCs, so I have a vague idea of what software might be good to install. In this little series I’ll go over each choice I make, why, and any other fun pieces of information you may or may not enjoy. (Those are literally the only two options.)

Google Chrome

There’s a decent chance you already have this installed, but if not, it’s worth looking at. I switched to Chrome after getting tired of Firefox’s memory leaks. I tried it when it first came out and initially disliked the minimalist structure (and lack of extensions at that point), but eventually Firefox became nearly unusable. I’ve meandered between Chrome, FF, and Opera over the past year or so, and while having options is nice in case one doesn’t work in a specific scenario, Chrome gets the job done. It’s pretty quick, doesn’t waste screen space, and now has the extensions I want.

AdBlock Plus

I don’t care much for ads. AdBlock Plus eliminates almost all of them. You do, however, need to go into its settings page and uncheck the “Allow some non-intrusive ads” if you want the full ad-free experience. I find leaving it checked allows sponsored search results on Google, which makes for a worse search experience.

I’ve heard good things about AdBlock (not Plus) and muBlock. In my experience none of the three are much different from each other. I’ve been using ABP for years and have no real reason to switch now.

If I could only choose one extension, this would be it. Sites like YouTube becomes borderline unusable without it.

Google Cast

This past January I picked up a Chromecast. It’s turned out to be pretty nifty, letting me play videos on the TV screen instead of the laptop or phone screen. It’s also made group YouTube a lot easier since everyone can add things with their phones to the playlist. It’s also a lot less obnoxious than pulling out a VGA cable and external speakers. Worth the $30 if you watch much video, especially with people.

Google Cast has the benefit of letting me cast a tab to the screen. This works about as you expect it would, more or less the same as crowding around a screen but now with less crowding and more screen.

The other major benefit of Google Cast is the ability to cast sites like Hulu and DishAnywhere to the screen as neither has native Chromecast support. Things with native support such as YouTube certainly work better, but YouTube also lacks a lot of content.

Videostream

Videostream fills in the lack of local video playing void Chrome has. I have plenty of videos stored locally with no cloud access. I still want to be able to watch my movies on the TV instead of the laptop screen. Thus I install Videostream. It has issues with speed at times since it has to send the video from the machine to the Chromecast over the local network, but it generally does its job so long as network traffic isn’t heavy.

Last.fm Scrobbler

Last.fm is my online “radio” of choice. It doesn’t limit me the way Pandora does, it has more options and information then Youtube, it plays the music videos when they exist, and ABP knocks out the ads. The biggest issue I find it the stations get stale with a limited pool of songs. LfS here let’s the songs I play on sites like YouTube still be sent over to my play record at Last.fm. This both shows on my profile as well as letting me make a nifty square of pictures of albums I’ve been listening to.

Pushbullet

Pushbullet also ranks among my favorite extensions for Chrome. I don’t particularly care for texting on a phone screen. A full size keyboard works better. (In fact, I waited until 2014 to get a smartphone because I wanted to keep my real keyboard.) Pushbullet alleviates the problem anytime I’m at my computer. If I get any sort of notification it shows on my screen instead of making me check my pocket (or wherever I left my phone). Hell, if I forget my phone at home, as long as both my laptop and phone have internet access, I can use it for messaging purposes.

Sidekick

HubSpot has been pushing Sidekick hard, and the application is not without merit. The primary benefit it has is telling me when someone reads an email I sent. I send a lot of emails and knowing whether the recipient has read the email helps inform my actions.

Reddit Enhancement Suite

I use reddit quite frequently. Perhaps too frequently. RES makes the interface more readable and saves me the time of having to click links. After all, who goes to a link aggregator to click on links? The comments also become much more readable. I’m sure it has other nice features, but I almost never use reddit without it, so I wouldn’t know.

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As This Wave of 3D Ends, Keep In Mind It Will Probably Return

The kinematoscope came in 1855. The patent for 3D movies came in the 1890s, and the first public 3D movie was in 1922. 1928 marked the first 3D television.

The patent for color motion pictures came in 1899, after 3D movies, though commercialized faster in 1909, but the color wasn’t actually in the film; it merely was alternating filters in the projector. There’s also the issue of some people just painting the film itself.

The first movie to be in 3D and color was in 1935. And the 1950s was the first major peak in popularity for 3D, followed soon after by technicolor.

Some People Following the Crowd Doesn’t Diminish the Reasons Behind the Movement (A response to Hans Fiene)

Hans Fiene says the move to legalize gay marriage is merely the result of a desire to imitate the Civil Rights Movement.  His article has a number of issues, from making false claims to false equivocations, but it can be taken in sequence.

He first establishes that the current generation learned about the greatness of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement as a sort of sainthood, and now we want our own movement to run to be good ourselves. He also reduces the issue to standing up for a cause others aren’t rather than standing up for a cause because we ought to.

The first alternative he proposes is the unborn. He claims the anti-abortion movement isn’t gaining ground because of cost. Outlawing abortion would require a new approach to sex, which would change the lives of many people now forced to risk an unwanted child if they want to have sex. Of course, he conveniently ignores every argument for the right to abortion, including the defense of bodily autonomy, the defense of privacy, and the common consensus that a fetus is not a person.

His second alternative he proposes is poverty. He ignores the push for a state-sponsored fight to end poverty, implicitly stating that if we aren’t personally giving money (due to having a negative net wealth) then we aren’t at all in support of the cause.

This brings us to gay people. Gay people have something in common with another group that the current generation is in wide support of: women. The problems of the gay and female populations both arise primarily not from something tangible like scarcity of resources, but from the minds of others. Equal treatment can be obtained through changing minds, since minds are the source of the problems. Changing minds is a feasible goal for individuals to embark on.

His statement

Of course we know that politely telling a customer you’ve served for nine years that you can’t, in good conscience,provide flowers for his wedding isn’t in the same moral universe as murdering a black teenager for talking to a white woman.

gets a spotlight on the side of the page. He’s chosen two completely different examples, and I could just as easily say the hate murders committed against gay people are of much greater magnitude than refusing to cater a biracial wedding.

He slips in the tired argument that an inherently-childless couple shouldn’t qualify for marriage, ignoring the tired rebuttal that if we take a child-only definition of marriage, post-menopausal women and all people incapable of reproducing need to be banned, yet nobody is calling for a ban on elder marriage.

Fiene also has an issue with Takei’s protesting the RFRA via boycott. Why using the tools you have at your disposal is a bad thing is left unexplained. Perhaps a cause is only righteous if it comes from a point of low power. (In which case any non-Christian religion in the US is poised for a righteous movement.) He goes into a general complaint against the complains against the RFRA, claiming it’s not a big deal, but Benjamin Studebaker covers quite nicely why it is a big deal and his continued comparison to other states is unfounded.

Are there legitimate problems within the movements Fiene has issues with? Sure. Gay marriage has gotten a bigger spotlight than housing and employment discrimination as well as hate crimes. As it turns out, love is easier to market than being anti-discrimination or anti-anything else. Hence why anti-abortionists prefer the term pro-life, even if they take decidedly anti-life stances on other issues. The RFRA also had bigger issues than refusing to cater a wedding: it more or less allowed the law to be ignored by hiding behind a religion. Employers could negate the health insurance laws by claiming parts of it violate their religion. Legislation by a democratic state could be vetoed by religious entities.

Fiene doesn’t take this route, though. He makes a strike against the gay marriage movement by pointing out the fact that some people have self-interested motivations and a bit of Civil Rights hero worship. However he also abuses any instance where he makes the movement look weak to attack the cause itself. Moreover, he ignores parts of the movement that fight things like hate crimes and parts like Stonewall that have taken serious action. Sure most people participate because they want to be good, but that hardly diminishes the core reasons for why equality is the right direction.

Silencing Hate Doesn’t Make It Go Away (Response to Ryan Chapin Mach’s “Why Your College Campus Should Ban Yik Yak”)

In the past year or so Yik Yak has stormed the phones of college students across the country. The app doesn’t ask for any personal information, so it’s entirely anonymous, and which posts you see is determined entirely on your current location.

Like many other anonymous online forums that become mainstream, Yik Yak has attracted a negative reception, especially as it targets students. Ryan Mach provides a pretty common argument for banning Yik Yak: It allows unrestrained speech which includes speech we don’t like. People can post all the racist and sexist things on their mind without having to attach their name to it.

From Mach’s article:

What I am saying is that there’s valuable discussion and there’s harmful discussion, and that no amount of one kind can ever really eradicate the other. That’s why I think that college administrations should permanently ban Yik Yak and any other forum that allows people to post comments anonymously.

What exactly we can define as “harmful discussion” is left to the reader. Is it content? If it is content, then readers of the harmful discussion are just as free to respond with valuable content. Any discussion on a written forum can be infiltrated with well-written arguments.

He also wishes to “eradicate” harmful discussion. If we continue to assume that means discussions with bad content, then we can succeed by adding good content. So there must be another goal in mind. In this case, based on his stated desire to bring censorship into play, he wants to prevent posts that are of poor content. The posts he uses as example of harmful discussion aren’t engaged in invalid arguments or unfounded personal attacks, though. Some are jokes. Some are public declaration of opinions that don’t see the time of day normally because they’re considered unacceptable by a sizeable population that has power.

Banning statements you disagree with only creates an echo chamber for people who you agree with. The people who disagree are marginalized and thus polarized away from you further. If you want to eradicate racism and sexism, you have to fix the problems, not just silence your opposition, giving them a valid reason to hate you.

Response to Evidence for God from Science Part 2: The Cosmological Argument

In Part 1 I addressed some issues with Deem’s rendition of the cosmological argument. He happens to have an entire page dedicated to it, so it bears deeper examination, especially since it’s such a popular one.

From Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” Deem asserts God acted before time when he created the universe. This is a stretch: if God was acting in the beginning, as Genesis says, he’d be acting in time, not before the beginning. He does provide four other verses that explicitly state God acted before time began, so we can still work forward from the claim, ignoring Genesis for now.

Deem asserts because God exists outside of time, cause and effect do not apply. Whether he considers God an uncaused cause is somewhat unclear as a result, but let’s assume God is a cause but does not require a cause. This atemporal God of the standard cosmological argument runs into a standard problem: there’s no reason to think it’s unique.

Deem proposes alternatively that God exists in multiple dimensions of time and can move freely about them. In this case time is prior to God, and time is left as a necessary being, thus either part of God, leaving us with the previous case, or else being a necessary being is not unique, leaving us with the same problem as above. Let us ignore this case, then, as it resolves to the previous case.

If beings can necessarily exist, such as God, we have no initial reason to suspect only one does. In this case, monotheism is at best a guess. More egregiously, the universe itself could be a necessary being (space and time themselves could be necessary with matter and energy properties thereof). In this case no god is needed.

The argument Deem presents again attempts to conclude God from the finite time of the universe. He ignores other possibilities as he has already arrived at the conclusion of God, only looking back to draw a map that could lead to God, but could also lead to any other conclusion involving a necessary being.

Response to Evidence for God from Science Part 1: General Introduction

When I used to be a Christian, I enjoyed the articles on godandscience.org. The arguments were written in a compelling style and appealed to a modern sense of reason. At the time, I thought the arguments were sound. After all, the author of them, Richard Deem, is himself a scientist. In this series, I seek to refute the arguments he makes. I will be focusing primarily on his “Answers for Atheists” section for therein lies the articles with some of the more egregious logical jumps. So let us begin this series with his introduction, General Introduction for Non-Believers: Part 1, Are Your Beliefs Consistent with Your Worldview?

His goal in the first piece is to convince readers we ought to question our own beliefs. Good enough. In the section “Do skeptics have beliefs?” he claims that skeptics do indeed have beliefs and moreover have emotional attachment to those beliefs. However, he also compels the skeptic reader to dump the emotional baggage. For a group that already has the dumping of emotional baggage as their goal, if they’re failing already, I’m not sure how he expects his command to be obeyed.

Moving forward, one of his biggest issues does lie right at the outset of his series. In the section “The skeptical worldview” he declares the two tenets of a skeptical worldview:

  1. All beliefs should be based on observational evidence
  2. Skeptics must be logically consistent at all times

The two are already incompatible, so the skeptic that he proposes to be arguing against is already in the weakest of positions. Logic is not an observed event, so to be using logic, one is already going beyond observational evidence. In his explanation, he dichotomizes belief into observational evidence and religious revelation.  Apparently a priori reasoning is foreign to Deem. This omission will return in later articles.

The next section more or less covers an argument from design, which he expands upon in part 2.

In part 2 Deem goes on to list a number of physical properties of the universe required for human life that happen to sound rather unlikely. His argument ultimately comes down to some minimum probability for something in the universe to happen without some sort of design involved. Rather than address his argument point by point, I’ll merely provide a counterexample to his normative claim.

Deem asserts the minimum probability of an event in the universe occurring is 1 in 10 to the 143rd power. Now, shuffle two poker decks together a few times. The probability that the cards arrange the way they did is 1 in 10 to the 166th power. Note that this is many orders of magnitude less likely than the alleged minimally probable event. However, the cards did arrange the way they did despite the odds because some  arrangement had to happen. Likewise, any possible setup of the universe would be equally unlikely as the one we have. To say none of them could have occurred is, of course, absurd.

Moving along past his appeals to authority and arguments against a different counterargument, we arrive at the “Who created God?” section. He argues God is not bound by the law of causation because he is independent of time. Yet he also caused the universe independent of time. He also addresses the possibility that the universe itself is uncaused and that no God is necessary by appealing back to part 1 where evidence for the big bang is presented. However, he again presents a false dichotomy: either the universe is eternal or the universe is caused. Apparently the possibility of the universe beginning at point time=0 with no prior cause is outside of the realm of discussion.

Part 3 attempts to assert that Christianity is the religion with the true account of God. First Deem attacks the multiverse theory, Hinduism (and any other religion with an eternal universe), Mormonism and Islam. He seems to harbor the belief that the only possibilities are those of established religions and that any other hypothesis must be false by default. But his defense of Christianity is the more interesting part.

Deem claims the biggest coup of the Bible is asserting the universe had a beginning. There were a total of two options here (beginning or no beginning), so a coin flip would have the same accuracy rating. He may be exaggerating the importance of getting this right. He also claims the Bible endorses an expanding universe model, citing verses such as Isaiah 45:12 “It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it. I stretched out the heavens with My hands, And I ordained all their host.” I’m not a grammatician, but I do believe “stretched” is a past tense verb. Those familiar with how tense works will know this means God already stretched out the world, not that he is currently doing so. However, the universe is still expanding. (Of course, more likely the slew of Bible quotes he cites are metaphors, not referring to literal universe expansion, but if we’re going literal, may as well go all the way.)

Other marvels of the Bible Deem cites are knowledge that the world is no longer being created and that there are three dimensions of physical space. The first makes intuitive sense, and the second is apparent to anyone who can see or moves around. Additionally, wind has weight, valleys exist, and ocean water moves. He also uses the NASB translation to say Job 38:16 asserts knowledge of deep sea vents when it actually just asks if you have gone to the depths of sea, a traditionally sublime thing, and to say Ecclesiastes 1:6 asserts the cycles of the wind rather than how it actually just says God circles the world. While some advanced knowledge in the Bible might have been at least reason to give it a serious look, Deem’s best points are little more than obvious appearances and creative translations.

In the “Christian Worldview” section, Deem addresses worldviews of Christianity and Naturalistic Materialism. A good portion of the chart he opens the section with is transparent appeals to emotion, but he does make a few false claims:

  • A naturalist worldview does not place more value on humans who contribute more to society. One can place value on whoever they want; many materialists value themselves and their friends and families more than even the most charitable do-gooders.
  • A naturist worldview does not include “He who dies with the most things wins”. In fact, without an afterlife, dying with things is silly.

Moving on, he claims there are seven criteria with which to judge worldviews. The second criterion is that a worldview must be neither too simple nor too complex. This is silly: if reality happens to be extremely complex, an accurate worldview will reflect that. Being mediocre for its own sake just results in worldviews that are inaccurate for aesthetics.

Deem asserts explanatory power is another criterion and that Christianity has it. I disagree on both points. If explanatory power only includes true explanation, then Christianity makes many false claims or unverifiable claims and thus has very little explanatory power. On the other hand, if any explanatory power works, I can make up theories that explain absolutely everything, though they’d have no correlation with reality, but they’d have a hell of a lot of explanatory power.

The “Applicable to real life” criterion falls to the same basic issue. Sure Christianity says a lot of things about real life, but I could say even more. If it’s based on falsehoods, it’s silly, and thus this criterion is also nonsensical.

Finally he posits “Fills existential needs” as a criterion. If our goal with worldviews is to make people feel good inside, sure, use this criterion. However, if our goal is accuracy, this has no business here. Moreover, one could tell a much nicer story than that of the vengeful, jealous Yahweh. Again, the criterion is bad and even if it weren’t, Christianity wouldn’t be the top choice.

Ultimately, Deem wants to reduce his opposition to those will only rely on empirical evidence and then proceeds to use the cosmological argument and argument from design as well as posing several non-scientific, non-empirical arguments. Thus he has both constructed a strawman (or at least low-hanging fruit) and then proceeded to miss it anyway.