Archive for March 2013

Thoughts on Language and Woo

So I went to a meetup tonight. Another Celtic meetup.

It was hosted by a guy who is learning to speak Welsh. There was a woman there from Scotland who is learning Gaelic.

They talked about the myths and what historical knowledge was preserved in them. They also talked about how languages contain ways of thinking within them. In Gaelic, you are not hungry, nor do you have feelings. They are upon you. You are not simply from somewhere. You are of somewhere. The place is not a part of you. You are a part of the place.

In some languages. many words sound like other words. These homophones give clues to worldviews. I think they mentioned that many words, including the words for “knowledge” in Gaelic and Welsh, sound very close to the word for tree. For centuries trees was where communities gathered to make important decisions, and many druids, bards and keepers of knowledge lived near trees. Sometimes a line of poetry can have many layers of meaning.

When a land is conquered, the conquerors ban the language to remove people’s identity. Many times the place names remain, but people forget what they mean. It is a dark pool of knowledge. But I do not live in the land of my ancestors. I do not even live where I was born. All I can do is speak of these things clearly and plainly.

He also seemed to believe in reincarnation. And homeopathy. There seemed to be some woo.

But I realized that in a way a lot of the New Age stuff can be somewhat compatible with skepticism. The myths contain the views of people from previous times. Sometimes the words and stories are all that is left of entire worldviews. Perhaps the people preserving some of this knowledge are misinterpreting it, or taking viewpoints literally that have been superceded by scientific knowledge. But I do think there is knowledge there. And it is historical knowledge that should be preserved.

Perhaps if you don’t have a non-mechanistic worldview it can be hard to study some of this stuff. I don’t know how to resolve that contradiction.


Image from Wikimedia


Tweets by GOP on Science, Oil, Technology

A few days ago some GOP nutcase in Texas tweeted about oil and gas (see articles here  and here).

In addition to saying a few wacky things, it seems like a good time to write up some of the notes I have been accumulating.

The main tweet that got attention was “The best thing about the Earth is if you poke holes in it oil and gas come out.”

Unless you happen to be George W Bush, who poked a lot of holes in West Texas and managed to not find any oil.

He also made a few cracks about liberals and environmentalists being against science and technology. And human progress.

Let’s start with human progress. A lot of conservatives think that atheists should have fewer rights than Christians. And that other races should have less rights than white people. And that woman should have less rights than men. And that homosexuals should have less rights than straight people. And of course that actual people (human beings) should have less rights than paper people (corporations). Liberals think that the powerless should have the same rights as the powerful. That all people should have the right to vote. That everyone should have a say in their lives and their community. I like all the things that oil allows us to do, but “finding more places to drill more oil” is a pretty narrow definition of human progress.

But then again, conservatives seem to love narrow definitions.

He thinks that liberals and environmentalists hate technology? What about solar panels? They may not be much good at night, but they have come a long way in the past decade. And who has been for them? Liberals and environmentalists. And a lot of liberals are for nuclear power. Listen to “The Atomic Show” with Rod Adams. He has had quite a few pro-nuclear liberals on his show. I would say if you are pro-nuclear, you are pro-science. He’s a Navy man from the southeast, but he sounds pretty liberal to me sometimes. He thinks that we should build more nuclear power plants because he has been to poor countries and seen how people live without electricity. He also thinks it is the best solution for climate change.

Yes, climate change. That thing that a lot of conservatives say is not happening. (I love the fact that a scientist funded by the Koch Brothers to refute climate change came to the conclusion that it is happening. Recently, Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee in the House requested hearings on climate change, but were denied by the Renutlican leadership. If conservatives love science, what’s the problem?

Conservatives have been wrong/lying about evolution for a long long long time. And let’s not forget about all the comments about sexual assault and pregnancy that were spoken by Republicans in the 2012 election. (I am thinking of the original comments, and the douibling down by many others in the conservative community.)

The only science and technology that conservatives seem to love is science and technology that helps the fossil fuel industries.

A lot of conservatives seem to think that oil, gas and coal are the only worthwhile forms of energy. I also see this in the media. A lot of people are still part of the “Drill, baby, drill” crowd. That is fine, as long as there is something left to drill. But for how long will that be the case? Yes, the earth is still producing oil,but we are using it faster than the earth is making it.

The DBD crowd says it makes no sense to drill out in the middle of the ocean when we have plenty of oil on federal land. I say: Go ahead, drill on that federal land. You will wind up back in the middle of the ocean in a few decades. If the DBD crowd isn’t thinking about non-fossil fuel energy sources now, why would they starting thinking about it in their Alternative Yellowstone Derrick Future?

Even with all the advances in shale oil and fracking, I still only see predictions about our oil and gas supply for about 150 years. The nuclear industry says we have enough uranium for 6,500 years. Apparently there is a lot of uranium in sea water. I am not a math genius, but 6,500 is a lot more than 150. Plus, I don’t think we should use oil and gas for cars or electricity. Let’s save them for fertilizer and plastic. I guess on a finite planet, eventually everything goes to zero. But some things are much closer to zero than others.

I don’t think we should put too much faith in fracking. People say that thanks to fracking, the peak oil debate is over. That might be a hasty conclusion. The depletion rates for these wells are pretty high. And they have high environmental costs. A lot of pro-oil people say that we will never hit peak oil because “technology and the market will find new ways to get more oil.”

I have two responses to that. First off, we cannot be so sure that there will always be new ways of extracting oil which get discovered when we need them to. A lot of the people raving about fracking did not see it coming ten years ago. If fracking and horizontal drilling were not around today, all that oil would still be in the ground, and our oil supplies would be in decline. Where would we be then? We may reach a point where the market does not find a way. This is related to a post by Tom Murphy, an associate professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego. He has a post on his blog “Do The Math” detailing a conversation he had with an economics professor about the fact that there are real physical limits to the amount of energy this planet can produce.

Secondly, there may very well be limits oil extraction. There may be technological limits, and there may be societal limits. Fracking and the Canadian tar sands are pretty controversial. Even if the petroleum industry finds more ways to extract oil, we may be reaching the limit of society’s tolerance for the environmental costs of oil extraction.

Image from Disney movie John Carter. Copyright owned by Disney, assumed allowed under fair use. John Carter is the name of my representative.


I went to the Austin Celtic Meetup on Saturday night, and a bunch of people sang and played some songs. I made the mistake of singing along to one, and the woman sitting next to me heard me. Over the course of the rest of the evening the word spread that I have a wonderful singing voice (which I doubt since I cannot remember the last time I sang). Now there is pressure for me to come to the next “ballad night” and sing.

Such is the way of it.

Thoughts on the new pope and miracles

Here are a few thoughts inspired by the selection of a new pope. Who is probably not all that different than the last one.

Why is he elected by cardinals? This is another example of a thought that has occurred to me a few times lately: Why does god need people to do his work? Why can’t god put the name of the new pope into peoples’s heads? Why can’t every Catholic (or even every human being) just all simultaneously think, “I think the new pope should be so-and-so.” That would be pretty miraculous. I am guessing that most Catholics had never heard of this guy a week ago.

I saw an image on twitter recently of a woman holding a handwritten sign: “If I could I would end suffering. That’s the difference between me and god. I’m proud to be an atheist and ex-Muslim”. (If you are the woman who held this sign, you see this post and need a green card, contact me.)

To a certain degree, my idea and the sign are expressing the same idea as the question “Why Won’t God Heal Amputees?”  Why aren’t there more true miracles? Why doesn’t god do something that can’t be explained any other way? (Sunrises and smiling babies aren’t miracles. They are natural phenomena that happen all the time.) Billions of people thinking that someone they have never heard of before should be pope. I am sure a lot of people would become believers then.

One objection to this is that we would be “forced” to believe in god, that god wants us to have free will.

Let me trot out the usual objections: That this “free will” is extortion. It’s Mafia free will: If you make the choice god does not want you to make, then you are punished.

Another problem I have with the “free will” objection is that a lot of christians think the ideal state for them is to do whatever god wants them to, to do his will and not their own. To be a slave. To be an automaton. I have not heard (or read) them using those exact words, but that’s the general idea. It sounds Orwellian: “Freedom is obedience.”

If it is good for people to choose to be mindless robots, why is it bad for god to make people as robots from the beginning? Why didn’t god just create a small number of people to be true believers, and spare everybody else a lot of suffering?

If we had this worldwide telepathic event, I don’t think that we would be “forced” to believe. I hope that I would at least reconsider things if it happened. But I think a lot of people would still come up with alternative explanations or just deny any evidence. We have people who still deny evolution (even though they use medicine) and climate change (even though over 99% of the articles say it is happening). I bet that a lot of people would think that papal telepathy would just be satan trying to deceive people. There are a lot of evangelicals who think that the catholic church is an arm of satan.

According to the bibles I have read, Jesus did a lot of miracles. But not everyone was convinced that he was the son of god. If people were not “forced” to believe while the son of man supposedly walked amongst the living, why wouldn’t people choose to accept or deny god in the face of miracles today?

2013-03-17 Blog Title 002

New blog title:

Papal Telepathy

This is from a page I will post later today.

2013-03-17 Quotes

From an editorial on the LA Times website, here is a quote from the comments addressing the idea of whether or not humans are affecting the climate:

Gee, I’m so confused.  Who should I believe?  The worlds largest ReInsurance companies,  the US Dept of Defense, the CIA, the National Science Foundation, every major public science institution, and 98% of climate scientitsts,  OR
some lame brained right-wing bloggers with home made websites  ??

In a related note, I do consider someone’s website when judging whether or not they know what they are talking about in general. I know a lot of people in technology love to slam WordPress, but it’s easy to use and there are a lot of nice themes for it. Maybe writing someone off as a kook for using the blink tag is wrong, but if you want me to change my life, at least put some thought into your message.

Here is another one, responding to the idea that Obama should compromise to “gain credibility” with conservatives:

Ah, the endless quest of the center left to give things away to “bolster credibility.” I wrote a whole post about this — “credibility is like a rainbow” — so I won’t write it all again. Suffice to say, Obama cut taxes for almost every American, presided over a massive expansion in oil and gas production (during a sharp decline in carbon emissions), deported millions of illegal immigrants, killed Osama bin Laden, and cut the deficit by almost half. Guess how much support and credibility it has gotten him among conservatives? That’s right: none.



2013-03-17 Blog title

New blog title:

Holding Up The Sky (from an article on Business Insider)


Bad Jobs 002

My most recent job was supposed to be a six month contract. It lasted two months.

First off, I have to give them some credit. I did not have experience with some of the technology they used, yet they still took me on. A lot of companies will not even consider you unless you have experience with a technology stack that is just like theirs.

I was brought on to help with a project that is important to the company’s workflow. The only person who really understood it was the guy who wrote it. That seems like bad risk management. Now there is a second person who understands it: Me. But I am not there.

I found out this project had been going on for ten months, and all that time there was no requirements document. They finally produced one, and I did not understand some things in it. I told the senior developer that I did not understand it, and I asked him if he could explain it to me. He gave me guidance, but he told me to ignore the requirements document and just do what he told me to do.

One of the daily stand up meetings was pretty tense. The tension was between the senior developer and the testers (who also helped craft the requirements document). When we all got back, the developers were all grumbling, and the senior dev at one point said that if the testers wanted to talk about things or had questions, all they had to do is come over here and ask. I had to bite my tongue. I thought to myself: You could have gone over there. (But then there was a lot on his plate. Perhaps there is some bad resource and project management.)

People talked about some other project that they had done a year ago. They were saying it was great because everyone was in the same room. If you had a question or needed to talk to someone you could just walk over and talk to them. I asked a few people: Why aren’t all your projects run that way? Nobody really had an answer for that. (Granted if all their projects were run that way, they would not have needed me.)

A few more interesting factoids: This company was a Java shop. But the app that I was on was in Ruby on Rails. I asked another developer (M) about another project that was starting up. I asked him which Java web framework they would be using, and he said they were going to use Struts 1.3. I asked him why not go with Struts 2? M said this new project was very important, and they needed it to get done quickly, and there was no time to learn the later version, so to better manage risk, they were sticking with what they already knew. Looking back, I thought: If risk management is so important, why was the senior developer I was dealing with allowed to write a Ruby on Rails app in a Java shop? Still later, it occurred to me that perhaps the Rails project was the reason there was less leeway with regard to frameworks. Maybe he was the reason everybody else was on a tighter leash.

So the project I was on was put on hold, and my manager said he had nothing else for me to do, so they had to let me go. I am upset about it. Somebody somewhere made some bad decisions, and I am out of a job.

I know life is not fair, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

2013-02 Dividend Income Report

Here is the dividend income report for February, 2013.

The monthly dividend income came out to $248.39. The yearly income so far is $358.51. Vodafone paid a dividend in February. Without Vodafone, the income was $221.67.

The income for February, 2012 was $308.90, and the yearly income up through that month was $497.58.

There were a couple of stocks that usually pay in February that pulled them forward to December. I think that from now on we will go back to our regular dividend schedule. But I think that the income will be less than last year, at least for a while. I have sold a few stocks. But I plan on buying more soon.

Here are the stocks:

  • AT&T: $24.82
  • WGL Holdings Inc: $12.26
  • Lowe’s Cos Inc: $8.29
  • Vodafone: $26.72
  • Air Products & Chemicals Inc: $9.52
  • Texas Instruments: $10.87
  • Abbvie: $20.80
  • Abbott Laboratories: $7.35
  • Colgate-Palmolive: $32.10
  • Clorox Co: $33.43
  • Hormel Foods Corp: $7.82
  • Northwest Natural Gas Co: $24.18
  • Procter & Gamble: $30.23

Image from Wikimedia

Bad Jobs

I was in one job for over a year, at a startup. Eventually I was let go.

The founders were cousins from another country. There was always a separation beyond the fact that they were the co-founders and I was an employee.

The CTO, one of the cofounders, at one point told me that he hoped I would contribute to the design instead of just implement his vision. From what I remember, every time I would ask a question, the most common answer was “Don’t worry about it.” If you say that enough times, I am going to stop asking questions.

The app was written in Java, using a framework called Seam. Java has a LOT of web frameworks. I think Seam sucks. It was a beast to learn, awkward to work with and hard to write unit and integration tests for. At first I was enthusiastic about the job. After a while I hated it. Because I hated working with Seam. I even looked into whether or not it was possible to rewrite the app in Ruby on Rails or Groovy on Grails. Long story short, it was not. I got to a point where the only advice I could give was to stop using Seam. He wasn’t going to take that advice, so why give advice?

Plus at one point he wanted to do something in Scala (our main language was Java). After a while he gave up because Scala was too hard. If you insist on using Java and Seam for everything, don’t complain that I am not giving any more input.

One task that I got was to work with a third party API (TPAPI for short in this essay). The CEO gave me “the talk” that he was disappointed that I could not get it to work with our app. I saw him over a year later and asked him how things were going with TPAPI. He said it was too hard, so they changed the product. I wanted to ask: Did you give your cousin a lecture that you were disappointed with him and that he was on thin ice?

The CEO went through two salesmen. One was gone before I showed up. Another came and went while I was there. At one point, in December, the CEO said that if we did make a million in revenue by the end of next year, he would shut the company down. By February, it was a quarter million by the end of June. Or something like that. Whatever the numbers were, his targeted monthly revenue was going down. I thought then that I should get a Plan B. By this time the second salesman was out. I thought, “Selling is your job. If you can’t sell your product, don’t blame me.”

Towards the end of my tenure, they got into a tech incubator. It was the third one they applied to get into. They got some money, and the plan was to get a two bedroom apartment. They told me that they would be flying back, since they both had wives and one of them had kids, so they would trade the other room and the couch. Well, they flew down and I drove. They were both down there when I arrived. I got the couch. And the wireless did not seem to work for any of us in the other rooms. So I had to sit there while they watched Fox. They visited family one weekend, but for the most part I was with one or both of them nearly every waking moment. That was not what I signed up for, and it was not how they said it was going to be. If you want to boss someone around 24×7, get a dog. When the CEO told me it was over, I really did not object.

I ran into him on the street, and things were more civil that I expected. He told me that they did not really get anything out of being in the incubator.

They did promise we a whopping 1% equity if I was there longer than a year, and although we never signed anything they did give me a check. So they are not total jerks.

But I am now more leery/skeptical of startups in general. Just because you are a small company against the world, that does not mean you know what you are doing, or that what you are doing will ever matter to anybody but you.