Moderation in online threads is nice

Brian Leiter, who only opens comments on his blog occasionally and moderates them well, posted a funny list of descriptive laws that mostly speak to this point. Public Facebook pages, Youtube comments, and so on are generally unmoderated or close enough to unmoderated that they turn into complete trash. At most people spamming advertisements, obscenities, and other obvious trash are removed. Forums that also enforce things like staying on topic and actually making a point (if the thread is about arguing) or otherwise contributing a net positive to the conversation are generally better. (Which is why when I have moderation powers over a thread, I’ll cut off post chains that look like they’re going nowhere good, even if to the dismay of the poster.)

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Occupy Democrats, being dishonest makes everything you say suspect

Popular Facebook page Occupy Democrats posts a video slamming the Trump tax scam. It begins with some stores closing. Second and third on the list are Sears and K-Mart. The problem is those two have been on the decline for years. The stores were closing either way. The new command of the businesses has been pretty transparent in his plan to gut them. To blame Trump or the tax law for this is just dishonest. Or stupid. Regardless, it places suspicion on everything else they say.

Were the other stores already going to close? Maybe. That the changes in taxes destroyed them seems a bit suspicious unless they were already dangerously near destruction. Perhaps they were. I’m not about to take that page’s word for it, though. I’m at least already to the left of them, so it doesn’t matter. The people somehow to the right of them may also know the well-known fact that Kmart and Sears are dying on their own. Their distrust will grow stronger. Worse, they may take OD’s dishonesty as a bad sign for anyone to the left of them.

The policies put forth by the GOP are awful enough in reality. Making things up is just stupid.

The pirates are ready for more Netflix removals

Well, another batch of popular shows are being removed from Netflix. And quite a few people are ready to just pirate the shows. I’m not quite sure whether the network execs aren’t thinking this sorta thing through or just assume everyone forgot how to acquire things for free. Piracy rates plummeted when Netflix, Spotify, etc. got big because, sure, you could download things one by one for free, but then you have to remember to do it and manage a library and have storage space and all those annoyances. It’s easier to drop $7 a month to just have everything you want or might want in one place, ready to go whenever, and already managed in the cloud.

I get why they’re doing this: They all want their own streaming services now. Except that kills the benefits. Now it’s $7 or whatever per service, which would quickly let prices approach the old cable range, not in one place, requiring switching services depending on what you want, and managed with irrelevant borders. (Music has the added drawback of not being able to shuffle everything. Just whatever is on what you’re using at the moment.)

At that point, well, piracy is looking a lot nicer. (I’ve seen quite a few people at least see themselves as justified enough if they buy one service and then steal the rest. “I’m already paying for Netflix. I’ll just steal whatever HBO refuses to put on.”) Maybe some estimates have the gain from the people jumping on board the new services outweighing whatever loss there is from not collecting from existing services. Regardless, theft technology has gotten a lot better over the past several years, so perhaps this time we won’t see legal trolls trying to ruin people’s lives as much this time around.

Reflections on the quick fall of Sarahah

Well, that anonymous platform fad seems to have risen and fallen in record time. (Several months ago.) Thoughts, observations, responses, etc.

~ I would guess the very low lifespan of the fad can be mostly blamed on a lack of interaction. You send something and then it’s sent. That’s totally unsatisfying. Earlier platforms allowed people to publicly post the messages and respond to them. This gave users extra reason to send interesting things and also come back to the site to check in on whether they got a response. Seeing what others said was also interesting.

~ The site seemed to be also aiming for a business audience (e.g. send anonymous tips or reviews to coworkers, etc.), but really any business that wanted that probably already has it.

~ Ted and I played around with it a bit and found out, for better or worse, it does actually have a filter. So, some of the nastiest messages just went into the abyss. No indication of the message not being delivered is given.

~ I finally got a negative message. Turns out insults with a complete lack of point to them just makes me assume I must have missed an idiot for the block list. Like, I have posted plenty of stuff online and have been plenty social in person. If someone doesn’t see something in all of that to criticize, I’m taking it as a compliment.

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.

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.