Shared posts

20 Jul 19:30

How to confront a war criminal

by Joe Posner

@Bjorno. Wanna go see the sequel to The Act of Killing? Aug 7-13 at the Lagoon again. I'm definitely game.

Filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer estimates the mass killings in Indonesia in 1965 and 1966 took the lives of between 500,000 and 2.5 million people. In his two films, the most frightening documentaries I've ever seen, he confronts the men who carried out these mass killings. I wasn't expecting they would, in turn, confront us:

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02 Sep 19:01

Burly.Thurr on Inoreader


I've created an account on Inoreader. The interface is superior, and seems to be pretty good at other things so far, particularly privacy settings. Check it out!

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01 Sep 04:00

xkcd Survey



The xkcd Survey: Big Data for a Big Planet
02 Sep 20:26

Packing your lunch: Life Hack


I'm really not sure how this is a life hack. But I've admitted to a relatively prudish or bland, uh, sensibility about these things.

Packing your lunch: Life Hack

02 Sep 13:12

Source: @BahnAnsagen Twitter account.


Only the zwei sprachen survive.

Source: @BahnAnsagen Twitter account.

01 Sep 17:29

Why Mark Zuckerberg wants everyone to read about how the poor spend their money

by Richard Feloni

via remlaps. Some interesting selections in Zuckerberg's bookclub.

portfolios of the poor

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's 2015 New Year's resolution was to read an important book every two weeks and discuss it with the Facebook community.

Zuckerberg's book club, A Year of Books, has focused on big ideas that influence society and business. For his 17th pick, he's gone with "Portfolios of the Poor" by researchers Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford, and Orlanda Ruthven.

First published in 2009, the book is the culmination of 10 years of research into the financial lives of the lowest classes of Bangladesh, India, and South Africa.

The researchers discovered that some of the poorest people in the world have sophisticated financial planning techniques that lets them and their families survive.

A fundamental finding in "Portfolios of the Poor" is that extreme poverty flourishes in areas not where people live dollar to dollar or where poor purchasing decisions are widespread, but instead is where they lack access to financial institutions to store their money.

The authors' research has inspired them and their respective organizations to find ways to bring banking to the world's least fortunate.

Zuckerberg explains his latest book-club pick on his personal Facebook page:

It's mind-blowing that almost half the world — almost 3 billion people — live on $2.50 a day or less. More than one billion people live on $1 a day or less.

This book explains how these families invest their money to best support themselves.

I hope reading this provides some insight into ways we can all work to support them better as well.

Zuckerberg has an estimated net worth of $41.6 billion, according to Wealth-X, and has taken Bill Gates and Warren Buffett's "Giving Pledge," a promise to donate half of his wealth before his death. He and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have already donated hundreds of millions of dollars to healthcare, education, technology, and immigration reform initiatives.

A Year of Books so far:

SEE ALSO: Why Mark Zuckerberg wants everyone to read this book about religion

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: No Instagram, no Twitter, no Facebook — there's basically NO internet in Cuba

31 Aug 16:20

Churrch. (via qmcmca)


@Lev. UR. via ThePrettiestOne.

Churrch. (via qmcmca)

31 Aug 11:00

5 Amazing Citizen Science Projects You Can Join Right Now #scienceprojects #science

by Jessica

via firehose.


Via All That Is Interesting.

When a new word makes its way to the pages of the Oxford English Dictionary, something’s up. Such was the case with the term “citizen science,” which entered the English language canon in 2014. For those unfamiliar, citizen science draws on the power of the people to help make scientific discoveries. And these volunteers often do: in 2011, a puzzle-solving, citizen science game called Foldit made headlines when configurations found by the players led scientists to discover the structure of an enzyme that helps the AIDS virus reproduce.

Since then, the Internet has only continued to expand the possibilities for connecting curious people with projects that seek to understand our world. For those interested in exploring the great outdoors, some projects involve outdoor monitoring of plant or animal species. But even the most dedicated homebody can participate in these projects, many of which require nothing more than wifi and a set of eyes.

So take a seat in your favorite armchair, cozy up to your laptop screen, and join the ranks of the amateur gentleman scientists of yore in the following citizen science projects:

1. Season Spotter

If you have an Internet connection and a few minutes to click through pictures of plants, you can help researchers from Harvard University and the National Ecological Observatory Network figure out how climate change affects vegetation.

Phenologists, scientists who study the way that plant and animal cycles change from year to year, have a wealth of images collected from PhenoCams. But these cameras produce about 6,000 images every day – far too many for a single lab group to keep up with.

By answering just a few multiple choice questions, you can help scientists sort each image and figure out when the seasons are starting each year, which will aid researchers in eking out patterns or significant shifts within plant and animal cycles.

Read more.

31 Aug 14:14

"In contrast, all my husband and I had to do was sign a form. Our competence to choose the outcome of..."


via ThePrettiestOne.

“In contrast, all my husband and I had to do was sign a form. Our competence to choose the outcome of our embryo was never questioned. There were no mandatory lectures on gestation, no requirement that I be explicitly told that personhood begins at conception or that I view a picture of a day-five embryo. There was no compulsory waiting period for me to reconsider my decision. In fact, no state imposes these restrictions — so common for abortion patients — on patients with frozen embryos. With rare exceptions, the government doesn’t interfere with an IVF patient’s choices except to resolve disagreements between couples. The disparity between how the law treats abortion patients and IVF patients reveals an ugly truth about abortion restrictions: that they are often less about protecting life than about controlling women’s bodies. Both IVF and abortion involve the destruction of fertilized eggs that could potentially develop into people. But only abortion concerns women who have had sex that they don’t want to lead to childbirth. Abortion restrictions use unwanted pregnancy as a punishment for “irresponsible sex” and remind women of the consequences of being unchaste: If you didn’t want to endure a mandatory vaginal ultrasound , you shouldn’t have had sex in the first place .”


Fertility clinics destroy embryos all the time. Why aren’t conservatives after them?




Think I broke my hand I hit reblog so fast

(via artedish)

31 Aug 14:01

Beating the Casino: There is No Free Lunch

by Voja Antonic

I've appreciated this author's posts in the past (actually just one about the PC revolution in Yugoslavia referenced in his bio), and this continues the streak.

When you are a hardware guy and you live in a time of crisis, sooner or later you find yourself working for some casino equipment company. You become an insider and learn a lot about their tricks. I’ve been in touch with that business for about 30 years. I made a lot of projects for gambling machines which are currently in use, and I had a lot of contact with casino people, both owners and gamblers.

Now I’m sure you expect of me to tell you about the tricks they use to make you spend your money. And I will: there are no technical tricks. This isn’t because they are honest people, but because they don’t need it. Mathematics and Psychology do all the work.

Does the risk of gambling pay off? Mathematically speaking, no – but it’s up to you to decide for yourself. One thing is for certain – whether you decide to gamble or not, it’s good to know how those casino machines work. Know thy enemy.

The Typical Gambler’s Financial Chart

Let’s see how the amount of gambler’s money fluctuates over the course of a typical slot machine game. Player starts with credit S and usually has small loses, but also small gains. Sometimes he wins a larger sum, but in the long run, it’s clear that he is moving towards zero. This is just an example of an average game and while it will not always look like this, most of the time it will. Even if he wins on a good day, you can simply scale the same diagram and apply it over a longer period of his life.


The gambling machine does not “draw” this diagram in advance, it does not even plan more than one step ahead. There is no “secret plan”, but only the simple arithmetic rule which determines the amount of gain, or, in some cases, the probability of winning. When you combine it with the randomization process, you get the diagram, and that’s all.

Formally speaking, the game is fair, and in accordance with the regulations. The odds are fair for both sides, although the casino has a small edge on its side, as it has expenses to cover.

If the game is truly fair, then why are there so many rich casino owners, and even more poor gamblers? There is no special reason, we all know that a small portion of input goes to the casino, and we agreed that it’s fair, but that’s where the mathematics and psychology kick in. First, that “small” amount of money is taken from the player every time he presses the button, or runs the new cycle, whichever game he plays. That cycle can run for just a few seconds, so the cumulative effect can be significant. If you are the game development engineer, keep in mind that if the game is faster, the casino owners will love it more. Guess why?


This diagram illustrates why the game has to be fast. Let’s assume that, after the first hypothetical game, the losing/gaining chances are similar to Gaussian distribution. The greatest odds are in the center of Gaussian bell curve, but there are also the small chances for a big gain or a big loss, especially if the player has a risky style. It’s important to note that the diagram is not balanced, as the chances of losing are slightly higher.

The left hand diagram is valid only for the first game, after which the player presses the button again. After five games, the cumulative effect becomes visible, and after 30 games everything is clear. Even after that, the game goes on until the system collapses, which usually means that there’s no money left on the player’s side. He knows how this works, yet he continues playing till the end. Is it still fair? I have my doubts.

A long time ago, I was asked to make a modification for an old poker video game. After each succesful round, a player could perform an action where he had a chance of 50-50 to double or lose his last winnings. He had to push one of two buttons, guessing if the card (with the back side visible) was smaller or greater than 7. I had to reverse engineer the firmware for an 8-bit 6502 microprocessor, so I had to disassemble the code and see how it works. I was truly surprised to see that at that moment the card number still does not exist – instead, there is a decision, made by the system, whether the player will win or lose! When the player presses the button, the card number is randomly generated (inside the range of the desired result) and its bitmap gets written into the video memory.

I witnessed a lot of players who, when they would lose, shouted “Damn, why didn’t I press…”. How could I tell them that the outcome would have been the same?

Psychology of Gambling

Everyone who has spent some time in a casino, knows that every gambling machine reacts very theatrically to winning, with loud music and jingling sounds, and every loss is quiet and promply followed by an invitation for the next game. Great winnings are remembered and frequently mentioned for a long time, and the losses are forgotten. That’s how the illusion that gambling pays off is created. This feature is called selective exposition, and it plays an important role, not only in gambling addiction, but also in the belief in the supernatural, psychic ability, astrology, quackery and so on.

Look again at the first chart. There are a lot of good winnings, which are marked with smileys. Each of them brought pleasure and hope to the player, and only the last one brought him dissatisfaction. The gains are great and come by surprise, and losings are small and gradual – you could say they are hardly noticeable. Does it pay off, to feel a lot of happiness and only a little bit of discomfort? It’s up to the gambler to decide, but the delusion obviously works, as he never sees himself as a loser, even when he had lost everything. He knows that, as soon as he gets more money, he will come again and it will, undoubtedly, be his lucky day.

Looking at the first chart, it’s hard to resist the feeling that he should have ended the game at the moment his credit was twice of what he had at the start. Looking back, it would be clear to the player as well, but it was the heat of the moment – he got his dose of serotonin (hormone of happiness), and it’s not a good thing to be high on when you have to make a smart decision. It has led to the narrowing of his consciousness, he experienced it as his “lucky moment”, which is a trap for every gambler. Did you ever wonder why there is no daylight and no clock in the casino? The time has stopped in the whole world and all you have to do is to gamble.

Very few players can tell when it’s wise to quit gambling. It is really hard to stop when it has just started going well, and when the new gain is just around the corner. There is only one situation when the player gets the idea to stop playing, other than running out of money: when he gets the super jackpot. Then it’s time to enjoy, not to play. He takes his money and leaves, but there is always tomorrow, when he comes to take more. Of course, with a larger bet, as he is a high stakes player now. He won’t settle until he gives back everything he had won.

Recently I was installing some equipment in a nice casino in southern Macedonia which sees a lot of Greek visitors. Everyone got excited when a Greek woman won a 24.000 € jackpot. My first thought was that, if she is clever enough, she will leave and never step into the casino ever again. When I was there again after two weeks, the staff from the casino told me that she had already “returned” about half of the sum. Another two weeks passed, and her count was way below zero.

I’m Not Superstitious, It Brings Bad Luck

Most, if not all, gamblers are superstitious. They have their lucky day, lucky garment, lucky number, whatever – there’s always an obvious reason for winning or losing. So, the good winning from the first chart was because of a player’s lucky t-shirt (it was blue, his lucky colour), but everything went wrong when he crossed his legs unintentionally. Also, he must not forget to do his lucky ritual tomorrow before entering the casino.

Being superstitious usually means being bad at mathematics and logic, and especially at critical thinking. After all, if passionate gamblers knew how to think critically, they would probably never step into the world of gambling.

As the illiterates in the theory of probability, gamblers are frequent victims of the logical paradox known as the “Gamblers Fallacy”, expecting that a series of the same results will correspond with the opposite outcome. For example, if a roulette wheel lands on black for a number of times in a row, they expect it to land on red. It’s also amusing how the players of bingo and lottery games often draw the opposite conclusion – if a certain number had been drawn more frequently than others, that means it is predestined to be drawn, and it should be used even more.

These two “schools of thought” mutually exclude each other and, of course, both of them are wrong. If the roulette wheel lands on red 10 times, the next turn has the exact same odds of landing on red or black. As the mathematicans say, dice has no memory.

Many gamblers that try to hack the lottery, casino or online games, create numerous betting systems. Unfortunately for them, mathematic algorithms in most games are very simple, which makes it hard to find any weak point which could be exploited for a gambling strategy.

When a gambler scores a large win, which is just a step short of the “superbingo”, that step appears to be much smaller than it really is. For instance, if he plays the 7/39 Lotto (translated) and has 6 numbers matched, he feels he was very close to the ultimate prize, but in fact he was pretty far. There are 224 possible 6’s and only one 7, which is 99.6% versus 0.4%. Doesn’t look so “very close” anymore!

The human brain is good at making snap estimations in a lot of real life situations, but when it’s about the probability theory and large numbers, it easily gets fooled. If you combine it with selective exposition, it can lead to very bad evaluation and then to bad decisions. Someone who organizes gambling events of any kind, knows this and he tries to spread the story about winners, and never mentions thousands, or even millions of people who got nothing for their money.

Can You Hack the Casino?

But, never say never! The well known exception to everything that was said here, is the blackjack game. Players can use tactics to gain a certain edge in the game, but it assumes using either illegal devices, or special mental techniques, which include intensive memorization and computation, with a risk of being permanently blacklisted. Some players are also hunting for bugs in online games, but it is more likely that they will lose a lot of money experimenting, rather than finding a viable weak point.

Do you think you can hack the casino, even an online one? To accomplish this, be prepared to outsmart a team of well paid professionals, who spent a lot of time and resources to make sure you don’t. You probably won’t score with one simple project, but if you have a solid knowledge background and spend a lot of time studying the problem, you might stand a chance.

The most vulnerable gambling machines are those with mechanical randomizers and automated reading. Optical readers (bar-code or cameras with OCR software) may be fooled by excess light (modified laser pointer or similar device), and RFID readers with 125 KHz or 13,56 MHz jammers. Anyone who knows how to use it, can sabotage the machine with the device, if he does not like the ball or dice which was just drawn. I have seen a lot of casinos that are not equipped with sensors which could prevent this kind of attack. Anyhow, it is too dangerous to use this idea in its raw form, so an attacker would need to carefully consider his approach, and of course, keep an eye out for surveillance cameras.

Albert Einstein once said: “No one can possibly win at roulette unless he steals money from the table while the croupier isn’t looking.” He was probably the greatest hacker of all times, but everybody has the right to be wrong.

[Illustration by Bob Zivkovic]

​​Voja_AntonicVoja Antonic works as a freelance microcontroller engineer in Belgrade. His first microprocessor projects, based on Z80, date back to 1977, just a few years after the appearance of the first Intel’s 4004. He assembled the firmware manually, by pen and paper. In 1983, he published his original DIY microcomputer project called Galaksija, which was built by around 8000 enthusiasts in the former Yugoslavia. To date he has published more than 50 projects, mostly based on microcontrollers, and released all of them in the public domain.

Filed under: Featured
26 Aug 13:40

The Free Market Is A Process of Scientifically Relevant Experiments

by Don Boudreaux

via Jts5665. I find this post highly satisfying (except for the slight shade on the government).

(Don Boudreaux)


I love this e-mail that I received last evening from Cafe Hayek patron Corey Henderson, a physicist; I paste it in full below with his kind permission (original emphasis):

I wanted to comment on some of your recent posts where you ask economists to “put their money where their mouths are” and actually start businesses that back up their claims. I don’t use Facebook, however, so I am e-mailing you directly. It’s been a great series of posts and I’ve enjoyed them.

Consider this, though: I am a physicist and we tend to bifurcate into theoreticians and experimentalists. One cannot really exist without the other, and there has long been a tension between the two groups. No one, however, can doubt that both groups are scientists. The scientific enterprise, of course, must contain both exercises. A theoretical physicist who does not include a pathway to experimentation in his work is not a scientist, and the best ones are enthusiastic whenever an experimental group is pursuing evidence for (or against) their claims. They collaborate extensively. THIS is science.

The TV show Mythbusters is credited by many scientists (including myself) for being the BEST childhood introduction to science possible today. Why? Because the show is about taking a proposition, usually “common knowledge”, and gradually working up more and more rigorous tests to prove or disprove it. It’s hands-on, messy, disastrous experimentation writ large and hugely entertaining.

If economists claim they are scientists, it’s incumbent on us to ask “who are your experimentalists then?” The answer, obviously, is “entrepreneurs”. Just like Mythbusters, they’re doing the experiments, millions of them every day, and no fancy degrees or advanced math required (usually).

Thanks for your time,
Corey A. Henderson
PhD Candidate and NSF Graduate Fellow
Dept. of Engineering Physics
Univ. of Wisconsin – Madison

Exactly so.  The market itself is a vast and on-going laboratory of experiments – experiments that are relevant, real, and revealing.  These experiments are valuable not least because they are made under real-world circumstances and by people with strong personal incentives to discover and comprehend the ‘truth’ better than their rival experimenters.  (This is a point the general thrust of which I associate with Michael Polanyi.)  When entry into, and exit out of, markets aren’t restricted by government, and when people are free to contract, or not, with their own money (and only with their own money) on terms to which each voluntarily agrees in a regime of secure private property rights, the market discovers which goods and services, production and distribution and financing processes, and trading arrangements work best compared to realistically available alternatives.

While I sincerely believe that much useful information can be gathered by academics doing empirical studies (both quantitative and non-quantitative), it is an unwarranted conceit of academics to suppose themselves and their empirical studies to be the only, or even the chief, source of empirical knowledge of social reality.

For example, against some academic-economists’ empirical findings that employers of low-skilled workers in America today enjoy monopsony power we must place the findings of those experienced and skilled real-world experimenters: entrepreneurs.  If the laboratory conditions (the market settings) are such that experimenters (entrepreneurs) are free to experiment – that is, if neither entry into nor exit out of the laboratory (the market) is artificially blocked by government, and if government hasn’t otherwise restricted the experimenters’ ability to peacefully use the available lab equipment – then these experimenters are far more likely to discover the ‘truth’ about the current state of the market than are outside observers (such as academics) who seldom, if ever, actually do relevant work in the laboratory itself and who also are necessarily restricted to using only limited sources of information for the kinds of quantitative analyses that they typically perform.

If the entrepreneurs-experimenters believe that they’ve found that some workers are underpaid, these entrepreneurs-experimenters test their hypothesis by actually trying to employ these underpaid workers differently and at slightly higher wages.  If the entrepreneurs-experimenters profit, the hypothesis is confirmed.  If instead the entrepreneurs-experimenters suffer losses, the hypothesis is rejected.  Either way, the knowledge revealed by such entrepreneurs-experimenters ought to be considered and used far more frequently by academic economists.

UPDATE: Prompted by a commenter on this post, I just remembered this relevant post from this past April.

28 Aug 12:37

“Restricted Areas”: Post-nuclear World In Photos By Danila Tkachenko

by dmitry

via david pelaez. I love how much snow is in all the photos.

According to Danila Tkachenko: “The project “Restricted Areas” is about utopian strive of humans for technological progress. Humans are always trying to own ever more than they have – this is the source of technical progress, which was the means to create various commodities, standards, as well as the tools of violence in order to keep the power over others.”

Photo above: The world’s largest diesel submarine.

“Better, higher, stronger – these ideals often express the main ideology of the governments, for these goals they are ready to sacrifice almost everything. While the individual is supposed to become a tool for reaching the set goals, and receive in exchange the higher level of comfort.”

Photo above: Test bench for missiles.

“I travel in search of places which used to have great importance for the technical progress – and which are now deserted. Those places lost their significance together with the utopian ideology which is now obsolete. Secret cities that cannot be found on maps, forgotten scientific triumphs, abandoned buildings of almost inhuman complexity. The perfect technocratic future that never came.”

Photo above: Airplane – amphibia with vertical take-off VVA14. The USSR built only two of them in 1976, one of which has crashed during transportation.

“Any progress comes to its end earlier or later, it can happen due to different reasons – nuclear war, economic crisis or natural disaster.. For me it’s interesting to witness what is left after.”

Photo above: Secret city Chelyabinsk-40, which was not marked on the maps until 1994. The first Soviet nuclear bomb was created there. In 1964 there was the first nuclear catastrophe, one of the largest in history and equal in scale to Chernobyl. It stayed secret thanks to the fact that wind was blowing east. It is still impossible to enter the city unless one has special permission or relatives living there.

Former residential buildings in a deserted polar scientific town specialised on biological research.

Former mining town which has been closed and made a bombing trial field. The building on the photo shows the cultural center, one of the objects for bombing.

Sarcophagus over a closed shaft which is 4 km deep – was one of the deepest scientific shafts in the world at the time.

Scientific storage at far North.

Antenna built for interplanetary connection. The Soviet Union was planning to build bases on other planets, and prepared facilities for connection which were never used and are deserted now.

Tropospheric antenna in the north of Russia – the type of connection which has become obsolete. There were many of them built in far North, all of them deserted at the moment.

City where rocket engines were being produced in Soviet times. Was a closed city until 1992.

Water contamination test at the lake around the previously closed scientific city Chelyabinsk-40. In 1964 there was the first nuclear catastrophe, one of the largest in history and equal in scale to Chernobyl, but it stayed secret. The city is surrounded by the lakes which are until now contaminated with radiation.

Pumpjacks on a spent oil field.

Monument to the Conquerors of Space. The rocket on top was made according to the design of German V-2 missile.

28 Aug 04:33

On this day

AP Photo

AP Photo


On this day

27 Aug 04:54

The Armor of Light Official Trailer (2015) timely.


via cooper. looks excellent.

The Armor of Light Official Trailer (2015)


27 Aug 15:45

Microscopic zoom-in on a bacterium on a diatom on an amphipod

by Mark Frauenfelder



From the entrancing Micro Universe Tumblr: a bacterium on a diatom on an amphipod.

27 Aug 15:35

The Martian and Station Eleven are both $1.99 as Kindle ebooks today

by Mark Frauenfelder

Well, I guess I know how I'm reading the Martian, now.


Two novels I enjoyed very much are on sale right now on Amazon for $1.99 each: The Martian by Andy Weir, and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Both novels are thrilling survival stories about people who do their best to overcome desperate conditions.

15 Aug 12:00

Richard Dawkins’ moralizing atheism: Science, self-righteousness and militant belief — and disbelief

by davedaley

I actually could relate to the author's personal reflections pretty closely. I'd love to hear from @Lev why this author is so wrong or deluded.

I have chosen to dally on this graveyard pathway by St Stephen’s Church on my way to the Chapelfield shopping centre, where I have business at the Apple Store. I reckon it is a good place to observe the reaction of passers-by confronted by reminders of mortality. But it’s not. They are oblivious, or if not, they are unfazed by the headstones, entirely focused on their mission of retail therapy. Unusually the church has all its doors flung wide. It is busy with excessively cheerful young men and women who purport to be running a cafe. It is a pilot project of an evangelical organization calling itself Norwich Youth for Christ. They plan to be there for a few days each week throughout the summer. It is a perfect pitch. They estimate that 50,000 people pass by in a week, 50,000 potential soldiers for Christ. They want me too. ‘I’m pretty much an atheist,’ I hear myself explaining, trying to inject the regretful tone that will tell them both that they are wasting their time and that I do not wish to be impolite. It sounds like an apology. Afterwards, I wonder why I did not simply say I am an atheist and leave it at that. I realize it is because it might seem confrontational, aggressive, dogmatic. Would an adjective have softened the blow? It would not have occurred to me to say, as some do, that I am a ‘committed atheist’. I have experienced no process of committal. I just am an atheist, and that’s all. It’s part of me that doesn’t take up much space.There is no ongoing dedication on my part. It’s not that I am wavering; I am committed. It’s just that I’m not committed in the way that Richard Dawkins is committed, in terms of devoting vast amounts of energy to an atheist project. I don’t believe in God or a god. Yet I am uncomfortable with declared atheism. Why is this? Am I in fact agnostic – that weasel word of English compromise for someone who isn’t sure? Am I? No: I actually disbelieve. Round here, I am not alone. The national census of England and Wales conducted in 2011 showed Norwich to be, as newspapers gleefully reported a few days before Christmas, the most godless city in the country. Norwich Youth against Christ, anybody? Just 44.9 per cent of people in the local authority area put Christian as their religion, while 42.5 per cent ticked the box for ‘No religion’. The national averages were 59.3 per cent and 25.2 per cent respectively. Nationally, the number of people giving Christianity as their religion fell by more than 10 per cent from the previous census in 2001 (the first time it was thought interesting to include a question on religion). The numbers saying they have no religion rose by a similar percentage. Inevitably called upon for his comment, the Bishop of Norwich suggested that the census made it easier to say no than yes to the religion question (‘No religion’ was the first option on the checklist), and complained, oddly, I thought, for a faith leader, that there was no provision for people to position themselves where they felt they belonged on a spectrum of interest in religion. I have other atheist credentials, too. Scientists and science writers are some of the most militant atheists around. From time to time, members of science academies are polled about their religious beliefs. According to one recent American study, about a third claim some form of belief in a higher power. A 1998 study published in Nature, cited by Richard Dawkins, found that the proportion of believers is dramatically less among more senior scientists. Among those elected to the National Academy of Sciences, only 7 per cent believed in a personal god. Though he might wonder about God’s bottom – ‘we are ignorant of the backparts, or lower side of his Divinity’ – Browne knows that scientific enquiry must have a stop. ‘How shall the dead arise, is no question of my faith; to beleeve onely possibilities, is not faith, but meere Philosophy; many things are true in Divinity, which are neither inducible by reason, nor confirmable by sense.’ The popular perception that science and religion are at war is as old as modernity, but it was given its present character by the Oxford evolution debate in 1860, a few months after the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. On this now famous occasion, Samuel Wilberforce, the Bishop of Oxford, took on ‘Darwin’s bulldog’, Thomas Huxley. Was it from his grandfather or his grandmother that Huxley claimed his descent from an ape, the bishop wanted to know. Huxley struggled to be heard amid the hilarity and it seems that Wilberforce had the best of it on the night. The debate is back in the spotlight more than a century later, prompted by who knows what – the advent of space travel, the ecological crisis, sectarian conflicts, a rise in Christian fundamentalism? This time it seems the boot is on the other foot, with religion finding no coherent answer to the trenchant arguments of scientific atheists such as Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins. To follow their logic, it would seem that there should be neither religious scientists nor believers who value the principles of science. In fact, the ‘war’ is greatly exaggerated. Scientists and religionists seldom cross paths, let alone swords. Many believers are also scientific rationalists and many scientists are also believers. But it will not rest there. For some scientists who are also atheists, other scientists who have a religious belief are something that needs to be explained. When these scientists investigate religion, they do so, naturally, in their usual scientific way, approaching religion as a social construct (although they seldom concede that science is also one). They may discover, through magnetic resonance imaging scans, for example, that there is nothing to be seen in a believing subject’s brain that is any different from ordinary human emotion. Or they may argue that religious belief needs to be understood in terms of evolutionary biology. These endeavours might one day lay bare religious belief in terms of biology, and therefore ultimately in the materialist terms of chemistry and physics. But what would we really understand the better for having gone down this road? You get more straightforward answers if you simply ask the scientists themselves. Some turn to religion because they believe science has shown the universe – through the numerical values of the fundamental constants of physics, the position of our planet, and so on – to be ideally suited for our existence. More interesting are those scientists, who often start out as religious sceptics, but who find that science offers no adequate explanation of phenomena such as beauty, truth and love. Theirs is not a choice for faith, against reason, but an attempt to reconcile the two. For influential figures such as the Hungarian chemist and philosopher Michael Polanyi or John Polkinghorne, a theoretical physicist later ordained as an Anglican priest, science and religion reveal different facets of the same reality. What we know is inevitably personal to us, they argue. This is the case even for scientific theories and mathematical axioms, since our conviction that they are true because they are seen to work is also personally apprehended. Scientific belief therefore finds itself on level terms with religious belief. The Islamic fundamentalist attacks of 11 September 2001 helped to create a new audience for atheism. Books by Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens as well as Dawkins (they have been dubbed the ‘four horsemen of the non-apocalypse’) argued that religious faith could or should be brought to an end. Dawkins made himself the cheerleader of the ‘new atheists’ when he set up the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science to hasten the day. His book The God Delusion makes the argument at length, but it is his frequent sulphurous outbursts on Twitter that better illustrate the furious tenor to which the spat (at this level it certainly cannot be called a debate) between religion and science has risen. Sample Tweet: ‘If one person claimed that a wafer was literally the body of a 1st century Jew,you’d certify him.That’s what Catholics officially believe.’ First of all, if a person claimed this, you wouldn’t actually certify him (or her) for this harmless delusion under any reasonable mental health legislation; which means this is a gratuitous insult. Second, it’s not quite what Catholics believe in any case: the bread and wine remain bread and wine (if one were rude enough to interpose a chemical analysis, say), but in the act of consecration their substance is changed into the substance of the body of Christ; according to the Catechism, it is a mode of His presence. Scientists may well have trouble with this, but semioticians will have less. Third, if it is what Catholics believe, then it is what they truly believe, not what they ‘officially believe’, a phrase that unreasonably projects Dawkins’s own distrust into the minds of these believers. Because of his combative language, and because his religiose scientism is so curiously like the fundamentalism he is attacking, Dawkins himself has become a target for abuse, although his supporters claim this is only because the believers can find no answer to his logic. Dawkins’s bracing asperities are now routinely met in kind: ‘Puffed up, self-regarding, vain, prickly and militant’ was one columnist’s string of adjectives for him. My problem is that I agree more often with Richard Dawkins than with the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Pope, yet it is Dawkins who irritates me more. I am not looking for a middle ground – on the Bishop of Norwich’s spectrum of interest in religion I am still at the not-interested end – but I wonder if a more civil accommodation can be reached between religion and science. The signs are not good. Consider what happened when the geneticist Steve Jones published his recent book The Serpent’s Promise: The Bible Retold as Science. Jones dares to look at the Bible as a kind of record of early attempts to understand the world, in other words as a work of science, in which Genesis is a story of the origin of the universe and Leviticus reflects sensible dietary precaution. For this, he was treated to some vituperative criticism from Christians unhappy at seeing stories they were used to regarding as allegory or metaphor treated as if they might actually have had a basis in physical fact. At the end of his trek through ‘Dawkins’s Canyon’ – his name for the chasm between science and religion – Jones was forced to the odd conclusion that he in fact believes more of the Bible than many Christians do. * Thomas Browne’s footprints also run through Dawkins’s Canyon, for in Religio Medici and Pseudodoxia Epidemica he similarly considers possible natural origins of many biblical phenomena. Unlike Jones, Browne usually leans in the end towards the standard supernatural interpretation, even though he is fully aware of a plausible physical explanation. For example, he entertains the notion that the fire that consumes the altar of Elijah (i Kings 18) might be a geological eruption of flammable naphtha or bitumen, which he has seen used in experiments. But he swiftly rejects the idea as the suggestion of the devil, and affirms the Bible story conclusion. Thomas Browne’s best-known statement of his faith is made at the very beginning of Religio Medici:
For my Religion, though there be severall circumstances that might perswade the world that I have none at all, as the generall scandall of my profession, the naturall course of my studies, the indifferency of my behaviour, and discourse in matters of Religion, neither violently defending one, nor with that common ardour and contention opposing another; yet in despight hereof I dare, without usurpation, assume the honorable stile of a Christian.
It is a superb sentence first of all, with each phrase patiently shaped and placed in sequence in such a way as to postpone the end so that, when it comes, it has the requisite drama of confession. We are given the time to admire the way each part is carved, to feel how it weighs against the next part, before we draw back and gain the depth of perspective to see it assembled as a whole composition. Yet Browne’s construction is still more artful than this. The sentence has not in fact been assembled in this way, for no part can now be removed without causing the whole thing to collapse. It has instead been organically hewn. Perhaps we experience something of the same disbelief before a wood carving by Grinling Gibbons when we realize that each exquisite detail has not been made separately and then added in, but rather its negative has been painstakingly chipped away to leave us with the final illusion of piled-up riches. It is in Religio Medici, according to Rose Macaulay, that Browne made ‘in the most exquisite and splendid prose of the century, the best and most agreeable confession of the Anglican religion ever, before or since, published’. In this affirmation, it is perhaps surprising that Browne considers it is not only his medicine – seen as suspect long before the seventeenth century began anatomizing the soul – but also his scientific hobby (‘the naturall course of my studies’) that leaves him open to charges of atheism. For the pursuit of scientific knowledge, to Browne, has the moral force almost of an article of faith. Browne does not immediately say what form of Christianity he follows – a crucial matter for a young man widely travelled in Europe, and recently returned to an England where the king had asserted divine right and was fighting Catholic rebellion in Ireland and Presbyterian resistance in Scotland. But a few pages later he daringly comes out with this: ‘I borrow not the rules of my Religion from Rome or Geneva, but the dictates of my own reason.’ For this, Religio Medici soon found itself on the papal index.* In short, his faith was supple as it had to be, firmly based in a conservative Anglicanism, yet adaptable to the requirements of the Commonwealth. It is impossible to doubt his basic loyalty to the Church of England when he deadpans that he has submitted all Churches to reasonable analysis and has found this is the one that comes out on top. * The first book of Pseudodoxia Epidemica itemizes the many sources of error that lead people to believe foolish things. The final cause Browne gives – after unreliable authors and credulous auditors – is the devil himself, who niggles at our mental weakness in numerous ways: ‘he would make us believe, That there is no God, That there are many, That he himself is God, That he is less then angels or Men, That he is nothing at all’. Satan is not only the direct progenitor of error, but also the automatic supporter of those who promote errors of their own. Pseudoscience is the devil’s work for Browne far more literally than it is for Dawkins or Simon Singh, today’s scourge of homoeopaths and chiropractors. And God and science find themselves allies. Elsewhere, Browne’s Christian faith leads him towards a moral philosophy that would surely be acceptable to persons of any religion – or none. Christian Morals, a late work not published until long after Browne’s death, might be expected to be a summation of his religion. And in a way it is, as the Christian message quickly gives way to a characteristic humanism, mingled with advice on how to go about things if, as it happens, you are a person a bit like Browne. The first few of seventy-nine numbered paragraphs begin with admonishments against the seven deadly sins – ‘Let Age not Envy draw wrinkles on thy cheeks’ for example. But soon, Browne is blandly recommending moderation in all things and telling us how to handle wealth and flattery. Much of it is completely secular advice on how to live that anybody might wish to follow: be your own master, be generous, try to see the good in everybody, don’t listen to gossip, be grateful for small mercies. It is all highly uncontroversial, an anodyne bookend to the protean Religio Medici. For a modern equivalent, I recommend the philosophical works of Alain de Botton and his School of Life. A few of the aphorisms contained in Christian Morals have a startling modern air: one might now be paraphrased as ‘respect difference’; another as ‘be yourself ’. But of course Browne says it all uncommonly well. He offers the tritest of marriage advice – don’t go to bed angry – as follows: ‘Let not the Sun in Capricorn go down upon thy wrath, but write thy wrongs in Ashes. Draw the Curtain of night upon injuries, shut them up in the Tower of Oblivion and let them be as though they had not been.’ He counsels us not to blame the stars; to study history, not predictions; and to act our age. One especially fine paragraph exhorts us not to waste time:
Since thou hast an Alarum in thy Breast, which tells thee thou hast a Living Spirit in thee above two thousand times in an hour; dull not away thy Days in sloathful supinity & the tediousness of doing nothing.To strenuous Minds there is an inquietude in overquietness, and no laboriousness in labour; and to tread a mile after the slow pace of a Snail, or the heavy measures of the Lazy of Brazilia [the sloth], were a most tiring Pennance, and worse than a Race of some furlongs at the Olympicks.
And in the midst of all, he throws in some invaluable advice to scholars and writers: avoid academicism; don’t be too harsh on other people’s mistakes; risk being wrong for the sake of bringing new knowledge to the world; don’t sweat the small stuff, or rather: ‘if the substantial subject be well forged out, we need not examine the sparks, which irregularly fly from it’. With his humanistic ethics and his dangerous medicine and science, would Browne be an atheist today? He offers the occasional hint that it is not inconceivable. He sometimes writes of Christians with a critical distance, as if he is not one himself. He writes about those ‘such as hope to rise again’, implying perhaps that he does not expect a Christian resurrection for himself. He even confesses in Urne-Buriall to a sneaking admiration for men ‘such as consider none hereafter’; for these – whether believers in other religions, pre-Christians or non-believers – ‘it must be more than death to dye, which makes us amazed at those audacities, that durst be nothing, and return into their Chaos again’. But when he tackles the matter directly, he says there can be no such thing as atheism, or at least there can be no ‘positive atheists’. For some philosophers who might be thought atheists, Browne goes to some lengths to find a reason why they were not. Epicurus was no atheist when he denied there was a beneficent god, for example; it is simply that the God of Christians was ‘too sublime’ to make himself known to him. The Stoics were also subject, without their knowing it, to God’s will, and so are no atheists either. Besides, it is the devil, as we have seen, who plants atheistic thoughts. It is hard now to recreate a sense of the almost complete impossibility of not being a religious believer in seventeenth-century England. But as I enter the Apple Store, symmetrically laid out with its central entrance door and an attractively illuminated high table at the far end, a parallel comes to mind. Digital technology seems to fill a large part of the mental space we reserve for faith. (Art, which is often put up as a candidate, is the opium only of a minority.) We depend on technology for the smooth running of our daily lives, if not for our salvation. We make obeisance to it, we feel obliged to buy into the whole package, rather than selecting and rejecting individual technologies. There is the familiar choice between minutely differentiated sects (Apple or Microsoft), but all must share the same basic creed. Upgrades are like revisions of dogma in which we have no say, but which we are bound to go along with anyway. To reject the technological is to declare oneself a heretic, a position as inconceivable now as declaring oneself an atheist in the 1600s. To be an atheist now seems almost too easy. I have nothing against church architecture or decent sacred music. The aesthetic is fine. My problem with the Christian faith comes when my ear snags on something the preacher has just said, and I make the mistake of thinking about what it might actually mean. On the radio, I take exception to the simpering neediness of English vicars (‘O Lord, make speed to save us’ – Yes, Lord, look sharp). ‘Thought for the Day’ on the radio morning news is usually a good moment to run a bit more hot water into the bath. Knowing how I feel, my wife gave me Dawkins’s The God Delusion for Christmas when it came out in 2006, but it soon found its way to the bedside table where it languishes still (like a hotel-room Gideon’s Bible?). A marker indicates that I got as far as page seventy-eight. I have not felt the urge to attend the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People, a Christmas-time theatrical event hosted by the comedian Robin Ince, and organized by New Humanist magazine. Nor the Sunday Assembly, ‘a godless congregation that celebrates life’, a strange initiative apparently desperate to keep all the non-liturgical bits of church services – the getting together, enjoying a singalong, hearing some words to make you think, everything, in fact, except actual belief in a god. The Sunday Assembly’s slogan is warm and vague: ‘live better, help often, wonder more’. Of course, it sounds a bit religious. But the sentiments are secular, too. Who does not want to live better? And why should the religious have the monopoly when it comes to being charitable (a monopoly some believers are keen to retain, to judge by recent reports of atheists being barred from helping in food banks)? What about ‘wonder more’? What is wonder? Is it admiration of the intricacy and complexity of nature, and the potential for it to be understood; or is it throwing in the towel, admitting there are things that cannot be understood at which we can only wonder? What bothers me most, though, is the air of superiority hanging about the slogan. I can imagine that people who self-consciously go around living better, helping often and wondering more might be just as self-righteous as the worst sort of Christian moralist. Excerpted from "In Search of Sir Thomas Browne: The Life and Afterlife of the 17th Century's Most Inquiring Mind" by Hugh Aldersey-Williams. Published by W.W. Norton & Co. Copyright © 2015 by Hugh Aldersey-Williams. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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14 Aug 12:18

Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux

More Popper is always nice.

(Don Boudreaux)


… is from page 192 of Karl Popper’s 1969 paper “A Pluralist Approach to the Philosophy of History,” which is a chapter in the 1969 collection Roads to Freedom: Essays in Honour of Friedrich A. von Hayek (Erich Streissler, Gottfried Haberler, Friedrich A. Lutz, and Fritz Machlup, eds.):

[G]etting educated is getting an inkling of the immensity of our ignorance.

26 Aug 18:22

"When they saw me in my space suit and the parachute dragging alongside as I walked, they started to..."


I really hope this is true. Even if it isn't, it's a beautiful image. via baron.

“When they saw me in my space suit and the parachute dragging alongside as I walked, they started to back away in fear. I told them, don’t be afraid, I am a Soviet citizen like you, who has descended from space. And I must find a telephone to call Moscow.”


Yuri Gagarin,

the first human to travel to space; upon re-entry Gagarin landed 280 kilometers away from the intended landing site, to the surprise of a farmer and his daughter who watched him fall from the sky (via




(via currentboat)

where are your nuclear wessels?

(via springsnotfail)

26 Aug 17:50

Lean Cuisine Meals for the Newly Single

26 Aug 02:30

This woman has seen things


" wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of orion..." Had to riff on a post like that.

This woman has seen things

24 Aug 14:39

shelomit-bat-dvorah: themarchrabbit: onsheka: thepioden: gess...


via TPM.









Seriously, it kills me when I see people hold scientists up as pinnacles of logic and reason.

Because one time the professor I was interning for got punched in the face by another professor, because mine got the funding, and told the other professor his theory was stupid.

This same professor told me to throw rocks to scare the “stupid fucking crabs” into moving so we could count them properly.


thank you

this is one of the best comments this post has recieved

I have witnessed:

Two professors hiding around a corner and snickering, “Shhh, here she comes!” While a female professor approached and, when she finally found them, she proceeded to scream while pointing from one to the other, “You! I called your office but you weren’t there! So I tried to call YOUR office to figure out where HE was but YOU weren’t there!”

Two grad students standing outside a closed and locked door yelling, “Come out of the damn office. You haven’t left for days. If you didn’t have a couch in there I’d be concerned as to where you were sleeping!”

A religious studies professor apologizing for being late to class because, “security stopped me because I’m dressed like a hobbit”

Watched a professor snort the results of my experiment to determine if I had the right final compound.

Two archeology professors toss priceless fossilized teeth back and forth in an attempt to figure out who is smarter by “guessing the type of tooth and species of animal before it lands”

Multiple fully degreed individuals throw dry ice at one another in an attempt to be first to use the lab/get that piece of equipment/or change the iPod song.

A genetics professor build furniture out of stacks of paper and planks of wood because she is that far behind in grading papers/responding. One of the impromptu furniture pieces housed a fish tank.

I could go on but I think that covers the larger portion of the insanity…

Every time it comes around on my dash, it gets better.

- I have had a professor buy a huge fuckoff bottle of rum during fieldwork in Costa Rica and let the undergrads get wasted because “you’re not underage in Costa Rica and we’ll be up all night with the bats anyway!”

- Same professor hung a bat from her headlamp and wore it as a decoration for an entire night. 

- A whole swarm of older women - and these are women with PhDs and world-renown bat experts, the bigwigs - all, to a woman, go to the formal charity dinner at an international research symposium in Toronto in late October dressed in skimpy Batgirl costumes. Because Halloween was that weekend, you see.

- At a different conference, a professor get blackout drunk and pass out on the side of the road. 

- “Yeah, we have to say we did it properly for the grant but to be really honest, Miracle-gro works better.”

- Teaching lab: we had liquid nitrogen for a demo, and after class the professor, the other TA, and I spent a good two hours freezing and breaking things in it. 

a chemistry class begins with 30 students nine months later just six of us left sitting on tables dipping paper into contaminated chemicals to see what happens when we burn it teacher making idle suggestions while he marks our work

“go to the fume hood thing, yeah now put some potassium in chlorine” can i burn the results sir? “fuck it sure whatever its tainted anyway”

The prof I’m working for just asked me if I knew how to pick a lock, and when I responded “yes” she replied, “see, this is why I hire the former delinquents instead of the suck-ups. You’re actually useful.”

I then let her into her office.

“Security stopped me because I’m dressed like a hobbit.” I would bet anything this has happened to Dr. Medievalist.

Semi-related non-academic anecdote: The concert hall security guys tried to throw out our violone player in between performances this spring because they thought he was a homeless guy. Despite the fact that he was wearing concert black… and carrying a violone. There is no more obvious instrument.

23 Aug 00:00

Crystal Math


this is pretty cool. I had heard about this, but the visual explanation is pretty effective. via Cooper.

Crystal Math

23 Aug 02:30



"...boring flyover states." Fk you @boredelonmusk. Still sensitive about that.

17 Aug 19:21

Counties Ranked by Natural Beauty


via firehose. Now I feel kind of shitty about MN.

19 Aug 00:42

How a spiraling, dystopian birthday joke on Twitter turned into a book deal


this is pretty incredible.

How a spiraling, dystopian birthday joke on Twitter turned into a book deal:


Back in January, Daniel Barker had a harmless complaint to share with his Twitter followers: not enough people were celebrating his birthday.

Eight months later, this one tweet has led to a surreal and occasionally horrifying Twitter narrative, a party full of creepy clowns and leopard cosplayers, and a book deal. 

In response to that fateful tweet, Barker’s friend @FrogCroakley decided to do him a solid and wish him a happy birthday. Every day. For 75 days in a row. 

As the days wore on, the birthday tweets became less and less relevant to Barker’s actual birthday. A story began to take shape, and it wasn’t a pleasant one. The world depicted on Croakley’s Twitter feed was a hellish dystopia ruled by the birthday-obsessed Daniel Barker, a bloodthirsty tyrant whose every whim must be obeyed.

By the end of the first month, Daniel Barker’s Birthday had developed its own fandom.


18 Aug 20:18

New Google robot named Atlas is obviously drunk

by Xeni Jardin

Poor choice of words. "Mobility that's sort of within shooting range of yours..." #skynetwatch

Atlas, who stars in the Google video above, is an “agile, anthropomorphic robot” created by Boston Dynamics, the Google-owned robotics firm that gained internet viral video elite status for youtubes of its robot cheetah and BigDog. Atlas recently experienced walking in the woods for the first time. Check it out.


[Washington Post, thanks RJCJR]

17 Aug 11:14



via sophianotloren. also, when you have boys at home.

15 Aug 14:56

Furiosa's tampon ad

by Cory Doctorow

via christopher lantz.

This is a million times better than oblique references to bloating and neat test-tubes of thin blue liquid. (via That Book Smell)

17 Aug 11:00

Hungover Bear and Friends: How to Seduce a Girl, Advice from Love Cheetah, Part 7 by Ali Fitzgerald


Beautiful. I'll report back on how this works to spice up the bedroom for me and my double postpartum partner.