Sat 31 Mar 2007
Some of you know that I’m a Mormon, and one thing us Mormons do is hold a global conference every so often. This weekend, for example, marks the 177th Annual General Conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The LDS church, as I see it, helps improve the world by inspiring men and women to be better and by strengthening families. I believe that cause is noble.
Yet, religion is not always seen favorably in the popular press or among some people at large. It has even been libeled with oft-repeated assertion that “the more you know, the less likely it is that you will buy into a religion.”* I seriously doubt the correlation is as strong as is claimed and I know this much personally: as I approach the end of my post-graduate degree, nothing I have learned inside or outside of school has weakened my belief in a wise, beneficent God. To the contrary, it seems to me that the more learning I acquire, the greater this conviction becomes.
I’ve heard people state that those who support both science and religious dangerously cater to contradiction and inconsistency. Yet, I see no incompatibilities. Any honest scientist will freely admit that science fails to answer many questions. For me and others, religion nicely patches gaps that science doesn’t (or cannot) fill. Religion completes the picture. You’ll excuse my oversimplification, but to me, it is evident that true science and true religion firmly anchor themselves in veracity and as such, they fit nicely together.
What do you think? Are intelligence and religiosity inversely proportional?
Wed 28 Mar 2007
In January I wrote about my New Year’s Resolution of Getting Bigger. In February I reported my noticeable weight gaining and strength progress.
Just last week, feeling confident in my larger stature, I wrestled the founder of my company, a largish man we’ll call “Matt”, in the office lobby. Not only did I take Matt down with ease, but he was heard coughing and wheezing for upwards of an hour afterwards.
Yesterday at Gold’s Gym I weighed myself, as has become my habit after working out. I was happily surprised to see that I, at last, broke the 200 lb barrier.
That got me thinking. Though I hope that much of my weight gain has been muscle, surely some of it has been fat. What advantages will I have, now that I have more fat?
Advantages of Being Fat
- 10. The gigantic portions served at most restaurants are no longer a problem
- 9. The phrase “throw my weight around” starts to mean something
- 8. Chicks dig double chins
- 7. Sumo wrestlers are considered near-royalty in Japan
- 6. Claim disability like when Homer Simpson got really fat
- 5. Rationalize buying a large gas-guzzling, polluting SUV because you no longer fit in a Prius
- 4. Win more seesaw and tug-of-war competitions
- 3. Survive famines
- 2. Save time and money by not dieting and exercising
- 1. Punch to the gut? No problem!
Tue 27 Mar 2007
The time has come to stop supporting tribal warfare, genocide, and acts of terror. The time has come to end the manipulation and brainwashing that the corrupt diamond cartels have enacted these last eighty years. The time has come to stop buying diamonds. Completely. No diamond rings. No diamond earrings. No diamond necklaces or bracelets or watches. When we wanted to stop elephants from being poached, the world had to stop buying ivory. If we want to end the wholesale slaughter of Africans, we must stop buying diamonds. And, we must do it now. Diamonds are used by rebel forces to finance arms. Al Qaeda amassed millions of dollars by selling diamonds mined by Revolutionary United Front rebels in Sierra Leone.
Please don’t tell me the lies about only some diamonds being conflict diamonds. Everyone knows that’s untrue. Blood diamonds are increasingly laundered through other countries. It’s no coincidence that countries formerly classified as mineral-poor have “discovered” growing numbers of diamonds since the world became aware of conflict diamonds. The horror must stop. And Americans, as consumers of 75% of the world’s diamonds annually, can stop it. Utah, in particular, owing to it’s high marriage rate, purchases more than its fair share of diamonds.
We should shut down the diamond stores by refusing to buy diamonds. Those who work for jewelry stores should find other employment. No longer can Americans claim ignorance of the African plight. We can do something and it’s clear that we must act. Let’s not be derailed by attempts to enact “partial boycotts”, since diamond origins are unknowable; we must ban them all.
In a 2002 report, Liz Stanton, Center for Popular Economics Staff Economist, lists Ten Reasons Why You Should Never Accept a Diamond Ring from Anyone. Among those ten are these few, highlighting the reality of the horrors that is the diamond industry:
- Conflict Diamonds Fund Civil Wars in Africa
- There is no reliable way to insure that your diamond was not mined or stolen by government or rebel military forces in order to finance civil conflict. Conflict diamonds are traded either for guns or for cash to pay and feed soldiers.
- Diamond Wars are Fought Using Child Warriors
- Many diamond producing governments and rebel forces use children as soldiers, laborers in military camps, and sex slaves. Child soldiers are given drugs to overcome their fear and reluctance to participate in atrocities.
- Small Arms Trade is Intimately Related to Diamond Smuggling
- Illicit diamonds inflame the clandestine trade of small arms. There are 500 million small arms in the world today which are used to kill 500,000 people annually, the vast majority of whom are non-combatants.
- Slave Laborers Cut and Polish Diamonds
- More than one-half of the world’s diamonds are processed in India where many of the cutters and polishers are bonded child laborers. Bonded children work to pay off the debts of their relatives, often unsuccessfully. When they reach adulthood their debt is passed on to their younger siblings or to their own children.
There is ongoing warfare in the Darfur province of Sudan, in Ethiopia, in Zaire and elsewhere. Fighting takes weapons and bullets and those cost money. Shutting down the world diamond market will eliminate much of their financial backing.
CLICK to SIGN THE ANTI-DIAMOND PETITION TODAY!
This boycott calls for the immediate and unconditional ban on all diamonds and diamond containing products (rings, necklaces, earrings, etc.)
Sun 25 Mar 2007
People who know me, know that I live life extremely. Illustration: most people play Frisbee, but I play Ultimate Frisbee. I’m crazy like that. And then we have paintball. So that I am clear, there is paintball, and then there is paintball. And we’re not talking about Sporting vs Wargames paintball. That debate has already been settled. Apologies to the sporty paintball losers.
I’m talking about a complex of run-down, abandoned buildings in the middle of the Utah desert. I’m talking about a group of 40 or 50 pro wargame paintballers tooled up with combat gear. I talking fully automatic guns running off compressed air (not CO2) modded to resemble assault rifles. A casual observer might suppose the action is a local SWAT team training exercise. The reality is not much further from that supposition. Enter a local company, OPs Gear, which specializes in training military and law enforcement with real-to-life exercises. To spread the word, they send a bunch of their employees out each Saturday to show off their products. Yes, I was on the OPs Gear team and yes, we won every round.
These guys have even built an indoor city inside a warehouse in north Salt lake so military groups can practice their Urban Assault tactics. I’m told that, excepting that the guns shoot paintballs, nearly every other detail is indicative of actual combat. Now, if only they’d invite me to that warehouse to check it out…
Oh, and here is a GoogleMap with GPS waypoints to the Toole Paintball location.
Warning: There’s something about the possibility of being hit by a rapidly moving projectile that motivates one’s heart to beat faster, one’s feet to move more quickly and one’s brain to be more alert. It’s quite the exercise and, at the end, you’re likely to find your energy has been completely sapped. You’d be wise to schedule some rest time after the games.
Thu 22 Mar 2007
While watching TV today, I noticed a number of poorly made commercials featuring the presidents or CEOs of companies. No doubt these men, after achieving some measure of ascendency, believe that *everything* they do will be met with equal success. The results argue otherwise. I’m sadly seeing a growing number of these incidents. These guys hire smart people to be around them, all the while completely ignoring that high-paid advice. In their own minds, they can do no wrong.
I am confident that some of the mindful assistants must have tried to dissuade the advertising CEOs from appearing in their own ads. “Don’t you think it would be better to have paid actors with experience?”, they would have asked. “Our marketing budget has more than enough for a professional film crew”, they might have pleaded. “Quiet Morris! Hold that webcam steady… Hi, I’m Gus Paulos, the last of the little guys, and …”
So prevalent is this affliction that it has been recently termed “The Shane Co. Effect*“, after the epitome of blinded Panglossian egoism, Mr Tom Shane. Tom’s ubiquitous radio ads singe the airwaves with their caffeinated, smarmy monologues urging Men to spend fortunes on shiny stones in vain attempts to buy (or demonstrate) true love.
I have little doubt that Tom, with his heaps of cash from his immortal diamond cartel (which fuels the ongoing African civil wars; spurring unrest and mutilation and tribal warfare) is great at importing and selling his blood diamonds. As voice talent, he is among the worst. Ever. The advertisements frighten small children and make the rest of us throw up a little (or a lot) in the back of our throats.
Mr. Shane, I along with the whole of Utah, we beg you, will you please, please, SHUT UP!
Way Back When: This time last year on Ryan Byrd dot net, we reported that Totally Awesome Computers went out of business. Coincidentally, TAS’s CEO Dell Schanze was another prime example of The Shane Co. Effect. Fortunately for us all, the market forces silenced his irksome ways.
* Termed, that is, by me
Wed 21 Mar 2007
Posted by me under rants Comments
It’s getting warmer and you know what that means: it’s the annual Spring Fund Drive over at my local public radio station and that involves lots talking and begging with the promise of really cheap “thank you” gifts.
If you call now and donate just $250 with a credit card, we’ll send you this amazing multi-use potholder– guaranteed to beautify any kitchen or RV.
One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to enable Ryan Byrd dot Net to be self-funding. It costs a bit of money to bring you the very best, but we’re happy to do it. Here at RBDN, we aim to be an entertainment and education portal for the discriminating visitor. We understand that there are a lot of sites out there vying for your attention, and we appreciate you spending a few minutes each day with us. That’s why the site isn’t overrun with irritating advertisements. Sure, there is the donate link, but that seems to be so inconspicuous that nary a one of you has seen it.
And so it was in brainstorming funding ideas when I thought of greeting cards. Greeting cards have forever mystified me. Are the masses of people simply unable to conjure up their our own thoughts? Do they lack the motivation to write them down? (Clearly, I, for one, am never at a loss for words…)
But, the greeting card business is a bustling one, and if dollars are going to be spent, there’s no reason why I can redirect a few my way. So, over the next few weeks, I’ll create a few dozen classy greeting cards sets as “thank you” gifts for those who can contribute a buck or two to the future success of RBDN. Stay tuned for details!
Tue 20 Mar 2007
A mashup, in case you don’t know, is a new word that means combining “content from more than one source into an integrated experience”. I recently purchased a Garmin GPS device, which is useful when you want to amuse yourself on a long roadtrip. It has a little color display that shows a rough-looking map. If I hook a USB cable to it, connect to my laptop and load up my MapSource Topo maps, I can see where I am on a bigger map. Only, MapSource Topographical maps really suck. For one, the interface looks like it was programmed by a five year old, ten years ago. And the maps themselves lack detail and are crudely constructed. I want rich content, I want the elegance of Google maps with the street names overlaid on a satellite map that allows me to pan with the flick of my mouse or zoom with a touch of the scroll wheel. I need a mashup.
And so that’s what I made. I have a web server (Apache through XAMPP) running on my Windows laptop. I wrote a PHP program that calls an external program GPSBabel which queries the GPS unit and returns the current latitude and longitude. The PHP program packages that information and sends it to a web page which creates a Google map (using their API) centered upon that current position. The laptop gets the Google map images through an internet connection over another USB cable connected to my cellphone. The location is refreshed (through AJAX) every 4 seconds.
And it works! Driving to work this morning, Google maps followed me the entire way. The gory details are in my technical blog: GPS + Google Maps Mashup tech details and more details of GPS + Google Maps Mashup
Click the thumbnail for a screenshot of my mashup hack.
Sun 18 Mar 2007
The astute reader among you will quickly recall my previous mention of Paintballing. In that entry I described a paintballing adventure up Provo canyon (specifically a mile or so beneath Squaw Peak.) I might not have mentioned it then, but the I found the open, rocky terrain irritating for one major reason: it seemed specially chosen to enforce the concept of paintball as a sport.
There are some people out there who believe paintball is a sport and I hate those people. Like soccer and football and lacrosse, “sport” paintball is played on an open grassy field. The “players” wear bright uniforms and the field is spotted with large inflated colored barriers, right out of American Gladiator. The futuristic guns barely resemble guns at all, and there are sponsors, and spectators and a point system. It’s all rather revolting, actually.
That’s all fun and games for the professional sport rejects, but for the rest of us, paintball is a wargame. It’s about strategy, and the hunt and stalking through brush and fearing bodily injury. It’s about blending into the surroundings (not wearing day-glow jerseys.) The guns more closely resemble military weapons and you paintball in the woods. It’s shoot or be shot, it’s man against man. There are no spectators and if you show up in a green neon shirt, you’ll be laughed at an then promptly shot.
Yesterday ten of us met up Provo Canyon at a different location to participate in wargame paintball. It was a lot of fun. Did I shoot Troy Larson in the face? Yes. (He was wearing a mask, of course.) Did I also shoot my company’s Vice President of Development? Yes. What better way to spend a Saturday morning is there?
Sun 18 Mar 2007
As you are well aware, there is a new movie out, 300, and I’m told it’s rather good. Due to a fair amount of bloody violence and topless women (according to ScreenIt), the MPAA slapped an R rating on it. That means that a lot of us have to wait until it comes out on DVD so we can use ClearPlay to filter out the objectionable.
That doesn’t change the fact the the movie is supposed to be based on a real Greek battle nor the fact that I happen to know a bit about ancient warfare. (Thanks History Channel!) Let me tell you all about those 300 soldiers. Those who have seen the movie can let me know how close to recorded history the film actually is.
The year was 480 BC and a mega-army of Persians (modern day Iranians) lead by Xerxes was marching to take over Greece. Learning of their attack, King Leonidas of Sparta petitioned the city elders for soldiers, but was refused. He managed to gather 300 of his most loyal soldiers and they headed to fight the invaders. The Spartans were professional well trained soldiers armed with a bronze or brass shield. They carried iron tipped thrusting spears, and wore body armor and helmets. Xerxes and his million man army, including 10,000 masked super-troops “Immortals”, vastly outnumbered the Spartans (whose force had grown to nearly a thousand with the addition of a contingent of Thespians). The Persian army, however was disadvantaged in several ways. For one, it was composed largely of a motley crew of forced conscripts, who for the most part wore little or no body armor and carried only wicker shields and swords.
The Persians had landed at Thermopylae where they would have to make their way through a narrow pass (appropriately named the Gates of Hell) in order to gain access to the rest of the country. Leonidas wedged his men shoulder to shoulder in that pass and the three hundred Spartan hoplite soldiers slew over 20,000 Persians in the first couple days of fighting. The luck of the Greeks was to come to an end, however, because a Greek traitor informed Xerses of a secret path around Thermopylae which the Persians took to surround the Greeks. All the Greeks were slain and the body of Leonidas was recovered by the Persians, his head cut off and the body crucified.
In short, though numbers aren’t everything, the Greek’s defense against overwhelming odds is nothing short of amazing.
Thu 15 Mar 2007
We’ve all suffered through Al Gore’s mind-numbing monotone rambling as he warns us of the impending horror that awaits the CO2 polluters in his “Inconvenient Truth.” Al’s Hollywood groupies even gave him an Oscar for his stellar performance. Who didn’t enjoy the evocative, emotional montages of stiff Al, brow furrowed, feverishly typing on his Mac laptop? Who doesn’t appreciate wild, pop science without scientific rigor?
I’ve watched the moving documentary. Al claims to have 150 years of temperature data to back his assertions. Really? 150 years? How accurate/precise were the mercury thermometers back then? Science was pretty primitive 150 years ago. That was before radio, before antibiotics, before calculators, before Einstein, before cars, before scientists declared tobacco hazardous, and WAY before the digital computer. People still believed in blood-letting, Coke had cocaine in it and the national science periodicals had an exposes on finding water with dowsing/divining rods. I contend that we have maybe 50 years of reliable (+/- 1 degree) temperature data.I know, I know, Al talks about highly reliable ice core samples with dissolved CO2 that allow us to go back 720,000 years. Maybe. But let’s take a closer look at some of that data: noaa.gov From the abstract: “High-resolution records from Antarctic ice cores show that carbon dioxide concentrations increased by 80 to 100 parts per million by volume 600 +/- 400 years after the warming of the last three deglaciations.” Let me emphasize: CO2 increased 400-600 years AFTER the glaciers receded. I’m not saying that the absorption spectra of CO2 doesn’t trap infrared radiation, I’m only saying that his global warming trend data might not be as straight forward and conclusive as he claims.
Has the Earth has also been getting warmer in recent years? Sure. It is part of a natural cycle? Maybe. Are humans the primary cause of the increase in temperature? Maybe not. Check this out:
Simultaneous warming on Earth and Mars suggests that our planet’s recent climate changes might have a natural ‘? and not a human-induced ‘? cause. Mars, it appears, has also been experiencing milder temperatures in recent years. In 2005 data from NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor and Odyssey missions revealed that the carbon dioxide ‘ice caps’ near Mars’s south pole had been diminishing for three summers in a row. Habibullo Abdussamatov, head of the St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in Russia, says the Mars data is evidence that the current global warming on Earth is being caused by changes in the sun.
Let me summarize: climatology is clearly a VERY difficult science. The national weather bureau, with their hoards of supercomputers, still cant tell me this weekend’s weather with great certainty*. (Those pesky butterflies flapping their wings in China keep causing storms over here.) To think that Al Gore can reliably forecast the weather in TEN or TWENTY years is close to absurd. You decide. Let’s discuss.
In only slightly related news
“NASA has created two virtual flyovers of the Mars rover landing sites using 3D imagery from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (New Scientist story here). The images were made using the most powerful camera ever sent to another planet, MRO’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE). The three-dimensional information is obtained by taking pairs of images from slightly different vantage points as the spacecraft orbits the Red Planet.
Oh and happy Ides of March
Yes, Dan, the reluctant engineer and I have spoken about global warming recently.
* I know that Climatology and meteorology aren’t the same thing. They are, however, closely related.
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