How Steve Jobs Affected Me

I do not own a Macintosh. I will never own a Macintosh, iPad, or iPhone unless someone else buys it for me. I will never spend my dollars on one of Apple’s devices.

I do own a Generation 6 iPod (I think at the time it was called iPod Video because you could watch Ask a Ninja videos on it) and I use it all the time.

I find it interesting that my Facebook feed is overflowing with all sorts of sentiments concerning the death of Steve Jobs. I personally, am focusing most of my media consumption on other matters, but it’s not unreasonable that this should get a certain amount of play. Indeed, it managed to elicit a bona-fide spin from yours truly.

This was my family’s first computer. The Macintosh 128K. I believe the 128K part refers to its RAM. My current home (Windows) PC has 4 gigabytes of RAM. A little perspective. Also relevant: the Mac 128 debuted in 1985 and cost almost $2500.

By today’s standards, it was an utterly useless and overpriced machine. But it was great. I am pretty sure I am the person I am today because of that machine. What did I do with it? MS Paint, for one. Hours disappeared. But I think the lion’s share of my hours were spent playing this text-based game. Didn’t know it was a book until several years later, but it captivated my mind. I spent hours and hours and hours typing my way around the Heart of Gold. I didn’t actually beat the game until I was 25. Had to. Closure, you know.

Anyway, that machine introduced me to Douglas Adams. This is absolutely crucial as far as I’m concerned.

I will not buy an Apple product if I can help it. I think they are over-priced and under-functional. This is partly because I like to play PC games and Macs just don’t do that thing. It is also partly because I like the feel of putting together my own machine from parts I picked myself. My home PC was lovingly assembled in my home by my hands. I installed Windows 7 on it and crossed my own fingers while waiting for the BIOS to post. And then heaved a sigh of relief when it did, in fact, post on the first attempt.

I just purchased an Android Tablet. This one. My phone is a Droid X. I like its customizeability. I like that I can root it and hack it and do what I want with it. I like that they are the machines that I want them to be. Not the ones that Apple thinks I want them to be.

But, we must ask, would they exist if it weren’t for Apple? Would the tablet computer or the droid be the objects they are today without the iPhone or the iPad? I don’t think so. Apple kicked the industry into high gear with innovation on a staggering scale. They forced the industry into a whole new direction by demonstrating two things: what is possible and, more importantly, what the market will want. No, they didn’t just find out what the market wanted. They created the market’s demand for all things “i”. And it was brilliant. And it worked.

I have a lot of respect for Steve Jobs. I like what he did for and to the industry. I don’t want his product specifically because it is overpriced and cookie-cuttered. But the product I do want is available because of him.

A closing thought: I own that Gen-6 iPod and still use it because it is hands down, the single best dedicated digital music player that has ever been manufactured.

PS: I sketched the comic at the top on my Android Tablet. Fun fact!

Gute Nacht, süßer Prinz

Bill Nye is Awesome.

It brings joy to my heart whenever people really go out of their way to stick up for what they really believe in. Especially when the target of their ire is someone so decadent and depraved and downright evil as Bill Nye the Science Guy. Too much?

I grew up watching Bill Nye. He may actually be responsible, in large part, for my interest in science. Here’s the thing: Bill Nye is not flashy. He is not conceited. He is not pretentious. His show was entertaining, to be sure, but that’s because he is very good at presenting the material in a way that kids can relate to, it’s also because science is really, really cool stuff. He never, ever talks down to his audience. I recently watched one of the new science shows for kids and, while I can’t remember what it is called, I found it very appalling because it was full of jump cuts, an idiotic host, and lots and lots of flash. They were doctoring up science to make it entertaining without realizing that science is interesting in and of itself, but above all, they seemed to be assuming that children are idiots, which is a huge mistake. And this is why Bill Nye is so awesome.

So what is Bill Nye up to these days? Still being awesome, I should think. But specifically, in case you didn’t click through to the aforelinked material, he is getting booed by the people of Waco, TX. That’s right: Bill Nye was booed. Not Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, or Scott Walker. Bill Nye. The Science Guy.

Was he booed because he said that global warming is a real issue that must be addressed? No. Was he booed for saying that evolution is the crux of all of modern biology? Nope. What was he booed for, then? He was booed for saying that the moon reflects light from the sun.

Let’s do that again, because I don’t think even I got it. He was booed for saying that the moon is not a source of light, but rather reflects light from the sun.

This is something that anyone with half an elementary school education knows for fact. Shocked? Confounded? Confused? You’re not alone. So let’s take this thing apart and examine it from all angles because there might be something we’re missing. It is important to note that the source article from the Waco Tribune (I’m having a hard time not typing “wacko,” so just so you know, every time I type “Waco,” that’s what I’m thinking), has been taken down. You can still access it in their archives, but it requires a subscription. Whatever.

Also, we should be aware that he also gave lectures concerning global warming, Mars exploration, and energy consumption. Yeah, I know, what a liberal, right? But for whatever reason, the audience was more annoyed when he spoke on the topic of the moon. Yeah, that moon. The one that rolls around in Earth’s gravity well like an overexcited chihuahua.

What’s the problem? The article at thinkatheist.com seems to imply that he mentioned a bible verse. Specifically, Genesis 1:16, which reads: “God made two great lights — the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.” And then he went on to say that the biblical account is not entirely forthcoming, mentioning that the moon is not actually a light, but instead a giant reflector. This was not received well. So I wonder, what was the source of all the anger toward this particular aspect of his lecture.

As a brief aside, I would like to dissect the verse in question myself a little. In light of modern astronomy and astrophysics, I think it’s interesting to note how the verse downplays the creation of the stars. This is perfectly understandable given the source material and when it was written. In fact, the entire verse is totally forgivable as a myth. The sun is the greatest light in the sky because it’s the brightest. The moon comes in second and all of the tiny stars are generally inconsequential little twinkles sparkling away on the celestial sphere. We know now that the stars are all basically like our sun and some are far more enormous and they are scattered across distances so vast that the human mind cannot fathom them. And so, in a way, the creation of all the stars is the more impressive feat, but this does not matter because to the writers of genesis (or the speakers of the original oral tradition) were not aware of the true nature of the stars.

What becomes problematic is people in the 21st century objecting to someone pointing out that the bible verse cannot be taken literally. It is not disproven, necessarily, by the science, but it’s certainly clarified by the science.

It is entirely possible that Bill Nye was a dick about it, but I find this hard to believe based upon all of this evidence. It is also possible that this was near the end of his lecture after numerous mentions of other bible verses that are inaccurate. What I mean is, this particular instance may have been the last straw for the people of Waco, TX. There is no transcript of the lecture, so we cannot be sure.

Here is what I hypothesize: The people of Waco, TX are, by and large, conservative, creationist, and underinformed about science and the sorts of things that it does. They did not actually listen to the words that Bill Nye was saying, hearing instead, “Here’s a bible verse that is wrong, and here’s why it’s wrong and why anyone who believes in the bible is an idiot.” It doesn’t matter if that’s what he said. It is my suspicion that this is how they heard it. I know this because I used to be a Christian (OH!! Feels so good to get that off my chest!). Whenever a hard-lined, conservative Christian hears even a tiny bit of criticism of the bible, they almost always take it as a personal attack. And so they boo.

It is my sincere hope that Mr. Nye will not judge the people of Waco, TX too harshly. Forgive them, for they know not why they boo.

Sie haben Sterne in deinen Augen

The Real Reason Donald Trump Doesn’t Support Gay Rights Anymore

The politics of the United States are infuriating. Indeed, they have been so infuriating of late, that lately I haven’t written at all about the things that interest me most. Namely science. And so, to titillate your pleasure receptors and inject some endorphins into your neural receptors, I will regale you with a crispy crust of Donald Trump with a creamy science commentary nougat in the center.

First of all, Donald Trump is a chimp. I mean that figuratively in the sense that he is a sub-human form of life. I considered a few animal comparisons before settling on chimp, of course: weasel, skunk, hairless mole-rat, but I think chimp seems to fit my purposes well. Clearly he has mastered some tool use. A comb, for instance. Or is that a toupee that is carefully placed upon his shiny brow each morning by a Guatemalan page-boy? He has a twitter feed, and thus must have managed to learn the use of a smartphone and some of the rudiments of language. Of course even that can be delegated to at least a third-tier authentic human of sinister quality. Speculations abound. It’s a tough nut to crack. We’ll go with chimp.

What I am specifically referring to is the drama surrounding Trump’s “presidential bid” (taste my air quotes of righteous sarcasm!). There is, first and foremost, the fact that he is apparently going to maybe if he feels like it somehow try to run for president. Next, is some rather hilarious commentary by Bill Cosby. Trump’s rebuttal, which is laced with logical fallacies is also pure entertainment. “I can’t run for president until my reality show is done. Jeez, Cosby. Can’t a brother get a break?” And then he called Cosby a liar. Well, actually he accused him of not being honest. It amounts to the same thing.

I don’t think Trump has a chance of really becoming president, so I feel much more comfortable joking about it. That is, until this happened. My first reaction was a kind of “oh come on!” And then it got me thinking. On the one hand, it may very well be a fairly straightforward and un-cunning attempt to curry favor with gay-hating Tea Partiers. The thought process is easy: “The Tea Party hates gays, so if I want to use them to further my infantile political career, I should pretend to hate gays.” Interpret the word “infantile” how you will. I mean, it’s not like you need cunning to manipulate the Tea Party. Sarah Palin does it with her bosoms and her spunkiness.

But it seems much more likely that this is part of some byzantine conspiracy.

Ahem:

A phage is a fast-replicating bacterial virus. Fast-replication means rapid evolution. Now you’ve gotten to the sciencey nougat. New research into biomolecular manipulation has lead to an interesting new technique for manufacturing novel proteins, possibly opening up new avenues for pharmaceutical research, which will in turn, open up new ways for pharmaceutical companies to profit off of human misery. le sigh…

It is called “phage-assisted continuous evolution,” or PACE. The PACE method relies on the fact that these phage viruses have a life cycle in the neighborhood of 10 minutes. This allows for very fast evolution and with the right, artificially-imposed selection pressures, it means that useful proteins can be manufactured very quickly. I wonder when the e. coli rights activists will start busting down their doors.

It is a well-known fact that science happens a long time before people like you and me hear about it. So we can presume that this technique has been around for centuries. Or at least long enough for the Tea Party’s elite brigade of molecular geneticists to get their grubby little mitt-paws on it.

And so here it is: my contention here is that they have manufactured a protein that stimulates growth of the amygdala, which, we know from science, is a brain structure associated with emotion and, in particular, fear. Newly leaked research suggests that conservative brains have enormous amygdalas (adjectives adjusted for rhetorical effect).

And, since Sarah Palin is the evil genius behind the Tea Party and the Tea Party is comprised largely of poor white people, she needed money. Who better to inject her new miracle Tea Party Orientation Protein Drug, or T-POP’d, than a very wealthy white man? Viola! A man that has historically supported gay marriage rights is a raving gay-hater! It makes perfect sense, obviously.

Just as obvious is that fact that he will be the next president. I mean, that’s a given.

Look, I’m just trying to reason this thing out. I refuse to believe that Donald Trump is an autonomous human being, you dig? No self-conscious, bona-fide, tier-one human being is this stupid. As I have said, he is a chimp. And so he must have some sort of handler, or controller, or a new drug called T-POP’d manipulating him. Sort of like how toxoplasmosis makes rats love cats and consequently get theirselves eaten by them. This new drug turns rich white men into gay haters.

Hell, it’s not much more of a stretch to assume that the entire Tea Party movement has been infected with T-POP’d. Too far? I’m just trying to see into the mind of Alex Jones and Glenn Beck here. Perhaps if I can see beyond the Veil of Maya into the reality of the situation, the conspiracy webs of the American political and social elite, then maybe, just maybe, I might get some readers who like to click their mouse pointers on ad banners.

viva sensationnel

Mike Huckabee is a fascist

I repeat, Mike Huckabee is a fascist. I’m not trying to be incendiary or biased or anything. I’m looking at the textbook definition of a fascist. From dictionary.com:

  • a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.
  • Okay, let’s back up. Here’s the video. The juicy bit is around 1:06. Embedded for your convenience:

    Why is this fascism? Because fascism is about suppressing anyone who disagrees with the leaders’ policy or interpretation of anything. Huckabee wants everyone to agree with him that David Barton is not a lying sleeze. At gunpoint.

    So what’s going on here? The question that is being batted around is whether or not he meant it as a joke. I think this line of discussion misses the point completely. The fact of the matter is, he said it. And here’s the crux. Did he mean it as a joke or did he mean it to be funny? This is a subtle but important distinction. I can say something like that and claim it’s a joke because I do not actually believe that people should be forced to endure anything at gunpoint. Huckabee, I believe, was saying something he actually believes in a way that he thought might be construed as funny.

    The fact that people actually laughed at this statement is disturbing in its own right. But the fact that Huckabee himself–a contender for the US Presidency!–would actually say this and think it’s funny. Even if it was just a joke and he doesn’t actually believe it, doesn’t excuse bad humor. It isn’t funny.

    And the worst thing is that he wanted to force people to watch David Barton’s revisionist bullshit history. At gunpoint.

    He wants everyone in America to believe the lie that this country was founded as a Christian nation, when, in fact, it was always very secular, the founding fathers were deists, and the very reason that people moved here in the first place was so that they didn’t have to have someone else’s religion rammed down their throat.

    You know, a lot of progressives are happy that he said this because it means his political career is over. I, however, am not so certain. We are in the middle of a horrifying economic recession and the people who caused it to happen are not in jail. I think if the media does what they ought to do with this video, then yes, his career is over (and good riddance). And so, there may have been a time when I would have believed that somebody can do or say something terrible and actually face the consequences. Not anymore.

    Sayonara Huckabee-san

    Is Humanity Screwed?

    I have some problems with CNN. Not all of them involve Morning Express with Robin Meade. But many of them do. Her show is insipid and juvenile and irrelevant. I am willing to entertain the notion that there is a sort of cosmic radiation that alters our chemical processes at around the dawn hour which makes it impossible for a morning news show to be intelligent but also makes viewers continue to watch them despite this fact.

    Anyway, the world is coming to an end. Update your twitter feeds accordingly.

    I want to look at the state of the world in very general terms. Let me know if I’m missing some crucial detail (I may or may not tell you to piss of, but it’s worth a try). The conclusion is, of course, that we are fucked. Or maybe not.

    What I want to do is lay out, in as simple a matter as possible, some of the problems that the world is facing. I will not defend any particular claim with any sort of argumentation. Instead, I am going to assume that at least the majority of them are actual, real problems and then explore the possible ramifications. To do this, I will adjust my normal paragraph chunking into a more direct, list-like form of communication. Behold, my bullet points of doom!

    Shit that’s wrong with the world:

    • Economic turmoil
    • High unemployment
    • Loss of public safety net (by and large)
    • Political upheaval on huge scale
    • Human rights and social justice compromised daily
    • Environmental catastrophe
    • Slow degradation of ecosystems reaching critical point
    • Carbon levels at historic high (in human reckoning)
    • Record corporate profits
    • Corporate ethics is an oxymoron
    • Massive corruption in the highest places
    • Compromised political elite
    • Looney toons taking over congress
    • Peak oil looming
    • Peak water looming
    • Massive food shortages
    • Droughts and famine causing widespread food shortage
    • Food already in short supply
    • Disturbingly high rates of natural disaster
    • Extreme weather no longer extreme
    • Diseases cropping up faster than cures can be discovered
    • Pollution causing a whole slew of problems
    • Bees going extinct
    • Population skyrocketing, exacerbating all of the above
    • Blindness and apathy to all of the above on the part of huge portions of the electorate

    Any one of these items would not be such a big deal. Humans are highly intelligent, resourceful, and generally reasonable and the problem would likely be like a fun little puzzle in one of the first few levels of a video game. Instead, we have a situation akin to playing Civilization V on the highest difficulty level.

    Notice that I did not include global warming, opting instead for the more general term “pollution.” I must reiterate that I am making no real attempt to justify any particular point on the list. I’m not writing a goddamned book here. I am merely trying to make it next to impossible to dismiss the list outright without considerable difficulty. I am trying, as it were, to make the whole of the situation that humanity is facing, as undeniable as possible.

    And so let’s assume that, in general, the list is correct. What does it mean for humanity? Are we, as I prematurely concluded, basically done? Have we screwed things up beyond recognition? Well, that depends. There are a couple of things yet to consider.

    There is this whole idea amongst liberals like myself that we are in really deep trouble but if we act now, there is a chance that we can turn this supertanker around. We’ve been saying this for years. Basically, the idea that the situation (the environment, the economy, the state of social justice in this country, etc) can be fixed if people start doing something now. We are always talking about how much better the world could be if only we could get our acts together. NOW! And so, how strong is the force of social inertia? This is a question that may already have been answered and it is somewhere in the vicinity of very strong. Maybe not black-hole-gravity strong, but still really quite strong. Liberals must always hold fast to the notion that immediate action will yield results or else we are prone to fantastic bouts of depression, or worse, throwing up our hands and changing sides.

    But let’s assume that our social inertia is too great and cannot be overcome (which is very possibly true). Our society is the Titanic, and we are about the collide with a glacier of our own creation. What are the consequences? Well, each item on the list becomes considerably worse. What does that mean?

    Let’s just assume that it means the end of our civilization. Does that mean the end of the world? Hell no. The planet is fine. Cockroaches and lichens will survive the apocalypse with little trouble. Life as a thing is not in danger. The risk of our planet being sterilized is inconceivable. What about humans? Are we an endangered species? I don’t think so. Humans as a species will most likely survive the apocalypse as well. How many rungs down the socio/technological ladder we fall is a matter of some debate.

    Is my family in danger? I should think almost certainly. You see, the only reason there are so many humans on this planet is the fact that we have a huge global support system which (more or less) feeds them all and keeps them alive just long enough to reproduce. When that collapses, there will be a brief (somewhere between months and a couple of years) period of complete and utter chaos. Disease will spike. Massive famine. Starvation. Cities will likely be hit the hardest. Rural communities will not be unaffected, however. They have largely forgotten how to perform subsistence farming to feed themselves through winter, relying mostly on the high-tech infrastructure which gives them iceberg lettuce in January.

    So, there will be a massive die-off. Perhaps the world population of humans might level off at about a billion. I only say that because the thought of five billion humans dying in a short period of time is almost too much for me to comprehend. Hell, it might even be far worse than that. But it seems reasonable. The turn of the twentieth century saw a population of about 1.4 billion and best case scenario is a return to about a Victorian level of technology.

    And so literally, five sixths of the world’s human population is likely to die if things get any worse. Since we are living in the middle of the greatest extinction event the world has ever seen I think it’s safe to say that there are many animal and plant species the will also suffer.

    Indeed, the loss of the honeybee would likely drive humanity down to fewer than a million people (if not completely extinct), though I’d like to think that the bees will bounce back if humans die back a bit.

    My dad tells me that I complain a lot. That I point out problems but never offer up solutions. Perhaps this is true. It’s a lot easier to spot a problem than to fix it. Anyone can tell you a radio is broken. Few could actually tell you how to fix it beyond buying a new one. But we can’t buy a new planet, can we? Can we?

    But there are solutions to this problem. And most of them are not pretty, because most of them are necessary to turn the supertanker:

    • End our dependence on fossil fuels
    • End the drive toward nuclear power (beyond pure research)
    • Dramatically ramp public funding for renewable energy
    • Stop having so damned many babies
    • Stop destroying biodiversity in our food supply
    • Stop letting corporations determine public policy
    • Stop the “buy a new one” culture
    • End intolerance and bigotry
    • Embrace a socially liberal ideology

    Granted, I am deliberately going for a utopian vision of the future here. I would even settle for, say, half of these things coming to pass. But what are the odds of even that happening? If we are completely honest with ourselves, what chance does our current civilization really have? In the long term? Zero. None at all.

    But what about now? What about the near future? What about the next century? Is it still statistically different from zero? I really need someone out there to say yes and convince me that it’s true.

    quelq’un m’a dit