Blogging the election, part 1

I’m going to try something I haven’t ever done before, so bear with me while I try to put together as comprehensive an article as I can manage on the NS provincial election and info about my current riding. In order to make this a little more feasible for me, as this one already grew mammoth and it’s just covering the basics, I’m going to split this up into parts. Battle cries are for when you’re about to do something really stupid, so with that in mind: “FOR SCIENCE!!!”
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To the polls!

Rodney MacDonald’s Tory government will ask the LG to send Nova Scotia back to the polls, possibly on June 9th. This comes after the NDP and Liberals said “no way” to a proposed amendment to our budget laws where, in order to balance the provincial budget, the Conservatives actually wanted to miss two years of debt repayment. They couldn’t write a balanced budget, so they wanted to rewrite the laws so what they had planned, counts. This is like rewriting the rules of marbles after taking your shot, boys. No takebacks, no do-overs.

I’d love to vote NDP and flip our government if the local community would go for it (assuming all other districts remained the same), however our local area is pretty solidly behind Brison, the Liberal candidate, and frankly, he’s doing a pretty decent job of representing our area thus far. Hopefully enough people will be upset by this stunt that one seat will flip NDP (or even Liberal, or Independent) to change our house makeup — it’s 21 Conservative, 20 NDP, 7 Liberal, and 1 independent (and by independent, we mean ex conservative shunned by the party after he was convicted of leaving the scene of an accident).

On a related note, our area is more sickeningly religious than I’d thought. In the past week I have seen two distinct SUVs trolling around, one with two bumper stickers, “CSI: Christ Saves Individuals”, and “in case of rapture this vehicle will be unmanned”; and another whose license plate reads “RU4GIVIN” — either RU4GIVEN was taken, or they’re asking if we’re pro-gifting. Let’s not even mention the various signs on various churches asking such retardery as, “Do you think you’re worth dying for? Christ did!” I’ve noticed (and I’m sure I’m not the only one to notice this) that there’s a disturbing correlation between religiosity, scientific antipathy, and affiliation with the Conservative Party. I’m not saying you have to be religious to be Conservative, or Conservative to be religious, but it seems to go hand in hand around here. Uncanny, no?

Evolution in a lab, yet again

Jason Pickles just sent me a great article on a series of experiments involving two lab-created strains of self-replicating RNA competing for five types of food resources and as a result evolving to use different resources and different competition strategies. Remember, creationists and evolution deniers, this differs from adaptation greatly. These RNA strands are little more than a sequence of chemicals that happen to catalyze differently from one another, much the same as how DNA works, only writ small. This sequence of chemicals is in effect a code of sorts, however its code only provides the basest building blocks for self-replication via each link bonding with a specific “food particle”, these being components in its own code. At this scale, RNA, the precursor to DNA, is merely a runaway chain reaction. Since the “RNA World” abiogenesis theory seems most likely in my mind, it helps to think of all life as one long chain reaction, wherein life takes nutrients and energy from the environment and converts them as it sees fit to survive, grow and reproduce. (So to those of you that are vegetarian, if you’re consuming ANY biomass whatsoever, then you’re eating your cousin in munching on a carrot just as much as someone eating a rabbit.)

Adaptation implies that an extant life form, within the span of its life, changes its strategy to account for conditions around it. Evolution involves each successive generation doing something slightly differently by virtue of being “coded” differently, due to RNA transcription errors. Because the process of catalyzing happens imperfectly, like getting a scribe to copy texts for you, each successive generation has a chance of being coded to do things differently, and therefore evolve toward a particular endpoint, if the errors in transcription accidentally confer an ability or featureset that causes this individual to somehow be able to pass on its genetic structure to the next successive generation. Nothing really “drives” this evolution to happen in such a way that each “best-fit” individual is given a higher chance of surviving — individuals with beneficial mutations can and do die before getting the chance to pass on those genes. Speciation on the RNA scale happens when groups of individuals gain enough changes that they can no longer be considered part of the same species as other groups within the population. This is as opposed to, on the macro scale, speciation being defined as when two entities can no longer procreate and produce a non-sterile offspring. Because at the RNA scale everything is merely a chemical reaction between naturally occurring amino acids, it’s really difficult to determine what’s a “species” in a given population until you start to look at the individual’s survival tactics as a whole.

You’d think this would be a nail in the anti-evolutionist’s coffin, but sadly, it won’t be. They will ignore this and pretend it didn’t happen, claiming repeatedly that evolution has never happened in a lab, I guess because one has never observed a dog giving birth to a cat or a goldfish growing legs and stepping out of its bowl in realtime. Or worse, they will say this was a one-time fluke and can’t be duplicated (pro-tip: it’s not).

FYI RE Atheism / Agnosticism

There are awesome people and idiots in every social group or subculture in the world.  This includes ninjas, and it also includes ones where there’s a correlation between education and likelihood of joining the subculture, e.g. atheism. Just like those poser kids and trend whores in high school, or confused college students trying out bisexuality based solely on getting laid more often and/or because it’s popular, and not out of any real attraction to both genders, atheism, and specifically the “New Atheist movement” is being invaded by people who come to the decision to be atheist not because it’s the most rational one — they join up to be “counterculture”, to piss their parents off, or to build an identity for themselves during their formative years. Let’s call these douchebags “trend-atheists“.

This is very annoying to people like me, who came to atheism after being indoctrinated into Catholicism and who was “confirmed” before he even realized what was going on, finally learning that the universe is a vast and mysterious place, but that it could be comprehended through rational study and scientific endeavour. In all seriousness, I had no idea what was going on with the whole confirmation thing. I remember being incredibly anxious to get home and play Megaman, and honestly didn’t know why everyone was making such a big deal out of me going to church and standing in front of everyone, then eating a cracker handed to me by the old guy in a funny costume who smelled like liniment and maybe a hint of Vaseline and was sooooo boring when he read from that book he always had on his podium, that I thought maybe I could replace with my latest Hardy Boys book one day so we could find out what evildoers Joe and Frank discovered when they entered Pirates’ Cave!

Another thing that bothers me is the lack of understanding of the terms being bandied about. There’s a huge difference between a gnostic atheist and an agnostic atheist. Again, as with trend-atheism vs rational-atheism, reality favours the latter. First, definitions. Theist obviously means, “believes in God”. Prefix “a-” in Latin means “not”, so atheist therefore means “does not believe in God”. Likewise for gnostic — to be gnostic means you think the existence of God is knowable, e.g. that it’s possible to discover with 100% certainty that God exists. To be agnostic thus means you believe it’s NOT possible to know with 100% certainty that God exists.

This is shamelessly ripped off from <a href=

This is shamelessly ripped off from this site, which is great. You should read it. No, finish my blog first. Yes, the whole thing. Then finish your peas.

As you probably have figured out from my previous rants introspections, I consider the concept of God to be inherently, by its very nature, by necessity, outside of our universe.  Since we cannot know with any certainty what’s going on outside of our universe, since our existence is an abstraction of only three dimensions of it, then God is inherently unknowable.  Even Richard Dawkins, one of the most vocal atheists out there, says he cannot know with 100% certainty that God doesn’t exist, but that he believes that God does not exist, and that the burden of proof is on those making the extraordinary claim that they can know that God exists with any degree of certainty whatsoever.  Anyway, the only way to prove God exists is for God to do something that tells us he does.  For instance, appear to us humans by making the moon into his head, and talking to all of us in all our languages simultaneously and telling us that he exists.  And do it once a generation, to prove to every generation that he exists, lest we start thinking all our parents and grandparents were just delusional or were making unverifiable stuff up (you know, like with the Bible and the fish thing, or the walking on water thing, or the wine thing…).  And also explain why it is that he must be worshipped or else he’ll damn you to an eternity of torture.  And explain why what might seem like self-serving vanity in any other creature is perfectly acceptable and Supreme Good in him, because torture for eternity just for not believing in a magical universe-creating invisible guy is a pretty douchy thing to do.

So, the only sane, justifiable position to hold in the face of the deafening silence regarding direct evidence of God is simply to act like there isn’t one.  Go ahead and enjoy life, better your fellow human’s lot, and do whatever you can to be a good, moral, and happy person, without worrying about what comes after you shuffle off this mortal coil, because there is no reward or punishment after death, no floating on a cloud, no eternal hellfire, no seventy-two virgins, and no cosmic High Score list on which you get to write your initials in as “FUK”.

tl;dr: I was atheist when atheism was underground, and people who use words wrong should be cock-punched. Or uterus-punched. (Don’t wanna be sexist.)

Super Linking Post!

I have a ton of links to share on a bunch of disparate topics, all of which deserve their own proper post but honestly I’m still swamped.  It pains me to know that I am depriving you, my loyal readers, of my opinion on everything, because I know how some of you live and breathe for those opinions.  So, I’ll give a short blurb with each.  Savvy?  And as an added bonus game, you can guess who or what led me to each link, and I bet you’ll be surprised.  LET IT BEGIN!

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Critical thinking, evolution, and how to not be dismissed as a total idiot

As you’ll likely recall, I had planned a post about Darwin pareidolia.  I have about twenty tabs open in my Firefox right now, most of which having something or other to do with this, but the remainder are actually sort-of related to this, to pareidolia in general, and to the creationism v. evolution debate.  To make matters worse for my ability to focus on this topic, the other day, a co-worker and potential lurker messaged me on instant messenger regarding the Large Hadron Collider.  The gist of this conversation went something like:

<him> hey, have you heard of the LHC?  sounds like a bad idea to me.

<me> *rants for 30 mins about how stupid people are for thinking it’s a bad idea, barely letting him get a word in edgewise*

There’s definitely going to be another blog post in the future about the LHC, especially specifically about the doomsday sayers and the impossibility of their hypothesized scenarios (none of which have any basis in science outside of the fact that the doomsday scenarios themselves have a kernel of scientific truth — like, say, making a black hole, which the LHC is completely incapable of doing outside of micro black holes that evaporate instantly).  But for now, I’m going to point out that the funny thing about this is that there’s a common thread in these topics — people’s inability to perform simple feats of critical thinking.

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Busy life!

This is just going to be a quick what’s-going-on post, as I have to be at work for 10 tomorrow and I was planning on biking in.  Over the next several days, we have to find a lawyer to put together the official offer papers, as next week the seller will be meeting with her lawyer to draw up her side of things.

I’ve unwittingly volunteered to take part in a Heart and Stroke Foundation “Big Bike” event, meaning I have to somehow fund-raise $50 and will have to join in on the 30-person bike action.  In my defense, I thought it was just a bike riding challenge, and figured that as I’ve been biking quite a bit lately, I might as well put my newfound skills to good use.  Too bad all I’ll be doing is embarassing myself.  For a good cause, of course.

Jodi found a petition form regarding Nova Scotia’s power costs on the NS NDP website that I happen to agree with, so we’ve decided we’re going to take it around to my neighbors, probably at the same time as I’m fund-raising for the Big Bike event.  Frankly, I’d really rather NS not rely on coal for 90% of its power generation, but there’s precious little I can do about it short of taking my house off the grid ASAP.  (Assuming I get the house of course.)

Next week, Abby will be done her thesis, and I’ll be joining her and some friends for a spot of food at Smitty’s… really looking forward to it!  We always go far too long between seeing one another.  Or e-mailing one another, at that.

I still haven’t brought myself to actually sell my comics collection.  I know, the sooner the better.  But the comic shop is quite far away, and with gas prices what they are, I can hardly bring myself to drive to work, much less three towns over.  Which is also mostly why I’ve been avoiding going to Halifax… Sorry Miranda!  I really do owe you a visit at some point!

And on the topic of selling things, Jodi’s selling her Acer Aspire 1641WLMi, with upgraded RAM (replaced a 256meg stick with a 1024meg one, so now it has 1.2 gigs).  She’s asking $500 firm, which is good considering laptops don’t depreciate all that much and she paid $1500 just two years ago.  Her mother is also selling a desktop, LCD, corner desk, wireless keyboard and mouse for $500; she wants to get rid of it to get a laptop, and if the desktop goes but the laptop doesn’t, she’s likely to buy Jodi’s.  This means as long as one of them goes, we get the $500 straight toward the down payment.  Still going to be tight… we’re clawing and scraping for the payment as it is now, the money from the laptop will put us within striking range.

Speaking of laptops, I have my new power supply now.  What a relief it is to have my laptop back!

With that, good night.

Helping you help us help you help us all

Portal LogoI can’t think of a better topic for my first video game post, than to tell you about the awesomeness that is Portal.  Incredibly, Portal was just an add-on game to Valve‘s popular Half-Life 2, the future dystopian First Person Shooter, released sort of as an “extra” in Valve’s Orange Box package, and yet it has managed to outstrip HL2 in praise, popularity, reviews, and cult following.  All this despite its length (Jodi played through the bulk of it in about 4 hours, and she doesn’t much like FPSs), and the fact that instead of being a first-person shooter, built off the Half-Life engine or not, it’s actually a first person puzzle game.

So here’s how the game goes.  You wake up in what appears to be a cryogenic stasis tube in a small glass-panelled room.  There are no visible exits to the room.  An AI computer voice hopes that your “brief detention in the relaxation vault” has been pleasant, and informs you that the testing is about to begin.  And then a portal opens up on one of the walls of your cell.

This portal doesn’t work like other video games or sci-fi, though.  If you look through the portal, you can see everything on the other side of it, seamlessly.  If you look through the portal from a sheer angle, you see through it at that same angle as though it was actually a window.  If you step through it, there’s no indication to you that you’d done so save for a little *fwoomp* noise.

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