A #Skeptic Winter Booklist

We've entered the holiday season now here in the US. I've already started listening to the Christmas music that I enjoy, even though I'm an atheist. My enjoyment of the music stems from so many years of playing saxaphone growing up and the many concerts I played. The nights are slightly shorter, and while we rarey have snow here, the weather isn't quite as nice as the rest of the year. So I'm settling in for a few month stretch of being indoors, but what to do?

In a recent email exchange with a friend, we were talking about the skeptic movement in the US, and it was clear to her that I was pretty disillusioned with the whole thing. She's right, too. I am. It seems the power of the internet has mainly been used to further political agendas versus skepticism and since the internet is my main conduit into the movement it looks like a mess. Too many white nights, Twitter only activitists, politics, lies, faux outrage, bad astronomers, etc. You get the point.

So, in order to take a step back and refresh the skeptic batteries, I'm putting together a list of books I want to re-read, to remind myself why I got into skepticism to begin with. What got me interested in skepticism in the first place was debunking myths, challenging the common wisdom, and saving people from scams. Some of that shaped my politics where I ended up as a libertarian. It also helped shaped my career as a computer programmer where logic is king.

Skepticism used to be a lot more fun, frankly. Or rather, I've gotten away from the fun stuff as all the politics took over. It isn't a matter of wanting things the way they were. Rarely is any thing or any movement the way it should be, but instead you're in a constant state of trying to achieve those ideals. That's what I remember in the skeptic movement from my early days.

So with that in mind, here are the list of books I plan to re-read this winter:

  • The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan
  • UFOs — Identified by Philip Klass
  • Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) by Carol Tavris
  • The Faith Healers by James Randi.

This is a very personal list I've put together. The books may seem like curious choices, perhaps outdated (why read a 1968 book on UFO's for example). The point for me though is to do a kind of reset, and come out of the winter more enthusiastic and inspired than I went into winter. This is like listening to a favorite song that reminds you of good times in the past. That's what I'm doing here. Just reminding myself of the good times of the past so I can make more good times in the future.

Well, TAM, We Had a Good Run, Part Deux

This week the JREF announced dates for #TAM2015 or (#TAM13 as they’re calling it). No venue is announced, and really, nothing else has been announced either. So now that I’m confronted with actual dates will I change my mind from my previous statement? The answer is a surprisingly solid, no. I have gone to my last TAM. I might have gone to the last TAM for all I know. So why, after writing so many positive articles over the years did I switch so easily?

The last TAM was amazing, and it will probably never be better. So many of my friends were there and I finally got into this amazing comfort zone where I wasn’t nervous talking to people and I thought I could talk to anyone. It was great and will absolutely never be repeated again. Too many things fell into perfect place. I kind of like leaving on top.

Since then, though, the JREF has made changes but it’s not apparent or transparent as to what is happening. The addition of Adam Savage to the JREF board has seemingly fallen thru. There still isn’t a real acting president. The last two times there was a change there was an immediate announcement. DJ Grothe has been gone for three months now and there is still no one. Randi, who I will still always admire and respect, is obviously not running the show. They don’t list any full time staff. The website remake was obviously a weekend rush job. The JREF Forums, where the idea for TAM originated, were almost shut down, before they were spun off. There has been a lot of churn without a lot of vision.

It may not be fair to expect everything to be done in three months, but that’s not what I’m expecting. Teardowns and rebuilds can take time. I’ve been part of tearing apart products and building them back up, and it always required leadership. I’m paying a yearly membership for….what I’m not sure. Maybe I’m still annoyed at how poorly they treated DJ on his way out, or maybe, I’ve heard so much recently that I’ve come to realize that the JREF has probably been broken for quite a while and TAM2014 was the last great hurrah. Randi probably only has a handful of years left, and after he passes away, poof goes the JREF.

So I’ve moved on. I’ll be at DragonCon in 2015 for sure, and I may look around for something local. Though maybe I’ll just take a very, very long break from anything to do with the skeptic community. Maybe it’s time to reevaluate if I even want to remain part of it. Even if you don’t participate in the drama, you still can’t avoid it. It just wears you out, and that’s how I feel right now. Worn out and disillusioned.

Not to end on a down note, there are some things that have kept me in the skeptic community and I think you should check them out. For podcasts, Strange Frequencies and MonsterTalk are the ones that I listen to the most. Insight at Skeptic.com is awesome, and Doubtful news is still a good source. For video, Virtual Skeptics is a weekly fixture. Enjoy!

And People Wonder Why #Atheists Are So Unliked....

I started following Michael Nugent's blog due to my atheism and my Irish-ness. One problem I've mentioned before about the American atheist movement is its American only perspective. This has caused confusion between atheism and secularism, not to mention mixing up atheism with "social justice" issues. Sure, in the US there is a connection between religiosity and being anti-abortion for eg, but religion doesn't by its nature have to be socially conservative (as define in the US). Wicca comes to mind.

Lately Nugent has been involved in a series of what I could call smears vy alleged leaders in the atheist movement. Just read a few of these:

While Michael has maintained a civil and respectful approach and demeanor, his sudden detractors have done nothing but pile on with baseless accusations and, well, smears. I don't know if it's a complete lack of empathy or an addiction to the adulation the receieve when the attack people, but it's terrible, immature behavior.

Months ago I wrote that PZ Myers was Ron Paul. I dunno, does that make Ophelia Benson the Peggy Noonan, and Zvan Michelle Bachmann of the atheist movement? In all cases it makes the atheist community look toxic and clueless if this has become the public face of the movement.

Quick Thoughts on #Gamergate

I have not paid a whole lot of attention to #Gamergate from any perspective other than an outsider. I loosely consider myself a gamer, but I have a lot going on so I don't always get as much time to play as I would like. Though I'm close to 40, I am of the generation that grew up alongside computer games. I played Breakout when I was five, and by the time I was 18 I was playing Civilization. I will never outgrow gaming in the same way I won't outgrow good hard rock music, computers, or sci-fe. I was formed with computer games as a legit form of expression and entertainment. I have to say though, growing up, there weren't many if any girls who played computer games. Part of this is due to my unfailing unpopularity with girls growing up, but even on the messages boards I would occasionally frequent, dudes dominated. Back when I was a Tribes master of the disc launcher, our online battles were dominated by dudes. This is perhaps why the Quake clan "Crackwhores" were so well known. They were, for most gamers, the most public women out there. My wife loves horror, zombie, and post-apocalyptic movies, but I've yet to convince her to play something like Fallout 3 or Fallout New Vegas.

Times have changed, and by most surveys, women are now a significant percentage of the gaming culture. While I wouldn't include Candy Crush players as "gamers", even the games I play, Fallout, Civilization, Dragon Age, etc, there are a lot of women players. This is of course, a great thing. It couldn't only be a bad thing if half the population felt cut out from one of the greatest forms of entertainment ever created. And yes, there are issues with a myriad of -ism's in gaming, as they are a reflection of people.

Early in the 80's, the barriers to entry with publishing games was perhaps low, but with such a tiny market and even tinier population of game developers, it's fair to say that games were a very poor reflection of the breadth of cultures and viewpoints in society. Later, we went through a consolidation, where the barriers to entry became much higher. I think though, we're back to a lower entry, with indie games plentiful, toolsets more available than ever, and funding sources like Kickstarter. Games are poised to explode and cater to more tastes than ever before.

That's kind of what makes me sad about #gamergate. I can't say the concern over gaming journalism rings true to me as the main cause, considering gaming journalism has always been corrupt. That much was obvious when I would buy gaming magazines in the 80's. No, #gamergate has largely been co-opted by horrible people on Twitter. I don't even think this has that much to do with gaming culture, but it's all about Twitter culture. Twitter has a real problem, in that their platform can be abused by such a small number of people. I've seen this in skepticism and atheism drama battles on Twitter, where it's usually less than twenty people who ruin it for everyone. There are millions of gamers out there, and majority of them have nothing to do with #gamergate, or gaming journalism. They just want to play good games.

I hope they want everyone included, too.

Thoughts on Android Wear

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A few weeks ago I checked out the LG G-Watch running Android Wear. I was curious to checkout the platform. Ten days later, I sent it back. What happened in between?

The G-Watch as a device is ok. The strap was bad, so I had to replace that with a nice metal one, that was bigger and more comfortable. The watch part is a little thick and chunky but since I have thick and chunky wrists it was fine for me.

The software itself was pretty good. I think Google has the interface right. I was able to swipe through different cards and actions no problem, and it made a lot of sense on a device that size. Getting notifications on my wrist was pretty cool. I can see the future of Android Wear and I like it better than using a digital crown to move through 60 different icons on a small screen. The battery life was incredible.

Still, the present isn't quite as good. The G-Watch is completely unreadable in sunlight, and not enough apps (at the time I had it) fully integrated with Android Wear. Better hardware and apps will happen in time, which is why I'm bullish long term, but still returned my G-Watch after ten days.

The Moto 360 though seems to have great battery life now....hmm.

Don't Tell Me How to Social Network

The timing of this post might suggest it's partly in response to my Facebook account deactivation, but no, the genesis of this post is Ello. No one told me I was doing social networking wrong, so there is nothing to comment on about that. However, the rise of Ello and the reaction I've read and heard bothers me. I've stopped using Ello because it doesn't seem the uptake for my friends has been strong enough for me to continue. If other people find a community on there and they like it, that's awesome. If you like Twitter (and I like Twitter for a lot of things), go nuts. If you have fun on Facebook, keep doing it. I personally wish the Facebook website design would die in a fire but a lot of people like it. If you're on Google+, like I am now, and you find it engaging and interesting, great! If you're on one service, and you're telling other people they should dislike another service, you're wrong. Be quiet.

A couple months ago, when Chuq Von Rospach decided to leave Facebook for Google+, social media gadfly Robert Scoble posted everywhere (but I'm linking to the Google+ post) that contained the words "I almost want to argue with him and get him not to leave...". The question that popped into my mind, is simply why would you ever want to argue with him? If Von Rospach thinks Google+ will do more for him than Facebook, as have I, then you should support him. To his credit, Robert didn't end up arguing with him, but made his case of why he used Facebook so much. He also did a Triangulation with Leo Laporte where he describes how to make Facebook work better for you, which I think was pretty comprehensive. But he has not, to my knowledge, ever answered the bigger question: Why does any of this matter so much?

Truthfully, Facebook isn't that important. There is nothing on Facebook you can't get elsewhere. Want news? There are hundreds of ways and sources to get news. Want to keep in touch with family? We have email, instant messaging, video conferencing, and phones. In fact, I stated my case three years ago that Facebook isn't all that social. You really don't need it. I have lots of friends who have rich, fulfilling lives that are barely on social media period.

If I have told anyone in the past how to do social networking I was wrong. This post is not about telling you how to do it, but instead I'm saying I support you in whatever you do. I have been talking so much about my issues with social networking that people are probably sick of reading me, but I think about this so much, because I want to understand why I started getting on Myspace, then Twitter, then Facebook, etc. I don't like it when I don't understand why I do something. For me, I think I will dip my toe into Twitter a little, push a lot of content to G+ where I seek to connect with other tech minded people, and lastly, this blog which will remain the centerpiece of my public persona.

My Response to John Rael's JREF Salon Video Is...You Should Watch It!

John had mentioned to me he was working on a video about the JREF, but he didn't mention a blog post of mine would be featured. I'm flattered that he used something I did in his video. I still stand by what I wrote, but John's video did make me think about it again. While on the surface, my post about TAM reads hasty, it was really the release of feelings that had been building up for a month, ever since TAM2014. Coming out of TAM, I had two feelings. One, that I was just at the best TAM I'd ever been at. Second, that with the behind the scenes information I had, I'd just seen the last good TAM. That was actually how I felt as I pulled into my driveway after TAM.

Then, right after I get home from the amazing DragonCon 2014, on a holiday, the JREF board drops a stink bomb in the world of skepticism. When companies want to release bad news they don't want part of the news cycle, they do it at 5:50PM on a Friday. Was the JREF board trying to do something similar by releasing on a holiday? I don't know, but it's one more thing that rubbed me the wrong way with the whole thing.

I just don't know what the JREF is doing now with little to no staff, only a fuzzy description of the future, and baggage upon baggage piled high.

In any case, enough about my rant, you should definitely check out John's video. It's funny, interesting, and John closes it with advice he calls trite but advice that I think everyone should be taking right now. Seriously, watch it right now!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2WYkx6finA&list=UUgxhhTH3efNnmre4RzPYzcQ]

I Have No Idea What Nadella Was Thinking

via Microsoft CEO Opens Mouth, Inserts Foot On Gender Pay Gap [Updated] | TechCrunch. Satya Nadella has been riding a wave of good will, but I wonder if that is over now. I am unable to figure out what Nadella was trying to say with his claim that women who don't ask for raises should wait for karma to kick in and give them a raise down the line.

The wage and earnings gap is a real thing, but it's causes and solutions are both varied. One of those solutions will never be women waiting for raises. In respect to Nadella's comments, women should not wait for a raise. Women should ask for what they are worth. Period. I don't understand how he could get it so wrong, especially at the Grace Hopper celebration!

I Deactivated Facebook and Here Is Why

Does anyone love Facebook? I know I don't. I don't think Facebook is a dark overlord waiting to pounce on my personal information for money, though. I like Facebook to keep in contact with friends, but as a news source, I haven't found it to be useful. I find that when I'm so busy that I don't use Facebook for a couple days, I don't miss it. The website and apps are also pretty crappy. So today, instead of just not using Facebook, I actually took the step of deactivating my account. It was on a bit of a whim, but it's been in the back of my mind for quite a while. I've been in the middle of a big social media pause, which I decided to go back on a little, but the one network I couldn't see myself using is Facebook. I tried Ello.co which I won't be using, but it got me thinking again about how I want to interact with the world.

Let me take you back to sixth grade. For a while that year, I acted like a total phony. I changed how I dress, I stopped wearing my glasses, I tried to fit in like everyone else. By the end of the year, I had wised up. For all the effort I put it to be someone else I thought people would like, I ended up as someone no one liked or noticed. It's probably silly that something that took place when I was eleven could still be relevant, but I never forgot how awful I felt being fake.

For whatever reason, being social, being connected to people, sharing my daily life, that is not me. That's me playing a part. What I am is an awkward and shy thirty-nine year old computer programmer/writer who does his best work in isolation. Period. This is not a stunning admission either, I've said this for years.

Yes, I can be social in spurts, and yes I can have a lot of fun when I do it. I loved being at #TAM2014 and Dragoncon, and I had a blast being in the DragonCon parade. I want to be in the parade again next year if possible. This isn't about becoming a hermit, but realizing that daily interactions aren't for me. I've been working on a lot of cool things since I dropped off most social networks, and I will continue to do so. When some of these projects are done, I'll announce them on Twitter and Google+.

Ah, so I dropped Facebook but I'm still doing Twitter and G+? And wasn't I supposedly going dark? Well, here's the deal. Google+ is not a social network for me. It's a place for finding interesting content, for hanging out in technical communities, and seeing great photography. I use it for a news source. The kind of content I will be sharing won't be all that social. It'll be short commentary on tech, or book reviews. I'll be using Twitter a little more, but mainly as a consumer, with only a little content added by me. I don't plan to be a big tweeter.

So there you have it, my own, personal reasons for deactivating Facebook. My reasons may not resonate with anyone but me. I hope people can respect that. My life, how I am, how I act, what I do, is in a state of constant iteration to try to achieve a personal level of arete. This is just one aspect of that. I'm just trying to make things better for myself.

I would love to hear your comments!

Dowsers in South Korea

It's offhandedly mentioned but Gen. Hahn Sung-Chu a retired two-star general from South Korean Army says "dowsers detected three tunnels, 13 to 16 feet (4 to 5 meters) wide at a depth of up to 39 feet (12 meters)." I haven't been able to find more on this story yet concerning the dowsers themselves, but still looking.

Is North Korea still digging tunnels to the South? - CNN.com.

The Logic of Causal Conclusions: How we know that fire burns, fertilizer helps plants grow, and vaccines prevent disease – ICBS Everywhere

Well, I have to say I fall into the trap of dropping "correlation doesn't equal causation" one liners a lot, especially when it comes to politics. Barbara's post goes through explaining causal inference in a way that honestly, I've probably been to lazy to look for myself. This post will be added to my permanent Pocket folder for safe keeping. The Logic of Causal Conclusions: How we know that fire burns, fertilizer helps plants grow, and vaccines prevent disease – ICBS Everywhere.

Twenty-Six Little Kaylee & Jayne Things » V for Vegan: easyVegan.info

Today marks eight years since we adopted Kaylee and Jayne. Kaylee is no longer with us physically, but as every year, Kelly recounts all the little things she loves about Kaylee and Jayne. Kaylee was the sweetest, nicest dog we've ever had. Not a mean bone in her body. Jayne is not mean, but she's so aloof. She loves being here, as long as we keep a little distance.

Twenty-Six Little Kaylee & Jayne Things » V for Vegan: easyVegan.info.