Lively.com

•July 9, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Just doing a quick test of Google’s new spiffiness. Hope it works.

click here

Spybot S&D kicks ass

•June 28, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Got a really nasty trojan/virus that did all kinds of horrible things to my computer. I tried various solutions to manually remove it that I found on the net but none of them worked. I finally dusted off the old version of Spybot which I hadn’t used for far too long, updated it, and did a scan and fix and it completely fixed every problem I had except my clock, which I found a different fix for fairly easily. Ahh, Spybot, I’m sorry I ever left you!

Secular Morality

•June 21, 2008 • 3 Comments

Ultimately, the best secular basis or reasoning behind teaching a formal moral philosophy can be summed up as ‘Reverence For Life’.

Human brains, scientifically speaking, are the most complex, surprising, and unlikely things anybody has ever seen. Just from a physical perspective, the amazingly complex calculating power of the neuronal activity in a brain makes it a unique phenomenon. The fact of consciousness, that brains feel as unique and complex as they appear to be physically, is something so unexpected and yet so significant and fundamental to our reality that it’s not just natural, but inevitable that we assign it a special value or significance to our personal world view. As far as we can tell, any mind that exists is the result of an otherwise unprecedented phenomena created by unprecedentedly complex physical processes. Human brains and their associated minds seem to be the ultimate demonstration of the power and sensitivity that a naturally occurring rational machine can have on the world around it.

So minds, especially human minds, owe the richness of their existence to the seemingly impossible results that can emerge from large sets of physical events working in a complex harmony. Any mind capable of understanding this fact must agree that not just the subject’s mind, but all minds in general seem to share qualities of similar rarity and value. Arguments can and are made for various relative values we attribute to different people or species, but the fact is any mind and associated brain/physical processes is such a unique and significant phenomenon that they are collectively in a league of their own in regards to complex and intricate causal relationships and interactions with the rest of the world.

So we have a set of dual obligations, rationally or cognitively speaking, that can be inferred from the physicality of minds. Individual minds are as unique, important, and significant as they seem to be subjectively, but owe those very qualities to the fact that other minds exist and can have a level of influence on the world similar to our own. This is both uplifting and humbling, “You’re a unique individual, just like everyone else”, is how some comedian put it, I think. As a person with a mind, you are an amazingly rare and wonderful thing, but any unfounded personal bias based on pure subjectivity is inaccurate. In other words, other minds are as important as your mind generally speaking; and collectively they can be as much or more of an impact as your particular mind is in determining the details of your specific reality.

The bottom line to this chain of reasoning leads us directly to the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule is the linchpin to all forms of morality both secular and spiritual and all due to the common belief they have of revering life. Every major religion has a version (you can read about the ubiquity of the Golden Rule as well as read some specific examples from various religious texts here. )

So here is where all major forms of moral philosophy have common ground. All major religions have the golden rule as part of their basic teachings, and we also have solid secular reasons why the Golden Rule isn’t just advisable, but how it also reflects the most accurate and objective view of reality. Also, since adherence to the Golden Rule is very beneficial for the civilizations and cultures created by the people who practice it, it seems like a valid subject for society to officially endorse and encourage through education.

Morality as taught in a secular educational environment would teach that people in particular (and all life in general) is worthy of a special level of respect and value that applies to no other class of things. It would show how vast and diverse the benefits of cooperation, understanding, and respect can be and have been for every living person by demonstrating how every major human discovery and technology is ultimately founded on previous accomplishments achieved by others. It would teach that, all other things being equal, the best way to live one’s life is to be a positive influence on other individuals in particular as well as to society, culture, and civilization in general. It would teach that greed, deceit, misanthropy and hate were all undesirable things that should be minimized or avoided. It would teach that societal progress is achieved through exploiting various commonalities between individuals so understanding, cooperation, and empathy can interact with diversity, individuality, and personal freedom to create a delicate balance that is the best overall. The more diverse a society is, the greater the number traits that can be commonly shared, but the utility of these common traits is multiplied by their universality.

None of these concepts are exactly new, nor are they all that difficult to get the gist of, the problem is that modern society, especially in the public education sector, is completely silent on the entire subject. The separation of church and state we currently practice denies any endorsement of specific religions, and often this is also applied to all aspects of religion or spirituality in general. The subject of morality too often crosses the secular/religious boundary to be widely accepted as something that should be taught in our public schools. Because of this, moral principles, beliefs and practices are often viewed as quaint or superstitious when taken any further than the ethical boundary we set by our laws and social taboos.

This need not be the case, however. For the reasons I’ve just explained, there are objective, scientific, secular reasons for the validity of instilling the belief and practice of certain moral behaviors in our young people. Secular morality embodies a common, fundamental belief held by every religion, but is specific to none of them. Nor does it need to rely on any specific religion–or religion at all for that matter–for its validity. For religious or spiritually minded people, secular morality is just one more reason or valediction of something they already know and believe in. For secular and scientifically minded people, it fills a large and troubling gap in our education that was created when we eliminated the endorsement of particular religious dogmas, and does it without creating any church and state separation controversy. It also has the added bonus of being a sort of common criteria or litmus test for determining the moral value of various actions and decisions.

So in conclusion I just want to say that including Secular Morality (based on reverence for life and including the explicit endorsement of the Golden Rule) in the curriculum of our public schools can and should be implemented as an important part of improving overall ‘Mental Fitness’. It would be important as an explicit validation of, and argument for, the practice of moral beliefs that we more or less universally hold already anyway. It is completely independent of any and all religious entities and yet it is also in agreement with them on an important, fundamental level. Therefore teaching the objective, scientific, secular reasons for Reverence for Life-based morality is something of which everyone, theist and atheist alike, can approve.

To Infinity. . .and Beyond!!!

•June 14, 2008 • Leave a Comment

This has got to be the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen on the internet that wasn’t totally fake. This guy had to have balls of steel to even think about attempting what he did, but he totally did it and looks like a freaking real-life super-hero. I hope he starts selling models to wealthy adrenaline junkies and gets filthy rich, he earned it.
Check him out:

BioCHUD. The wave of the future.

•June 14, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Take the gear and sprocket assembly from a mountain bike, remove the cranks and shorten the chain until you can lay the thing down horizontally and fit it into a sturdy metal housing the size and shape of a cigar box. Instead of cranks, attach 2 mechanisms that function like the pull-start of a lawn mower so that pulling on either or both cords applies an amount of torque to the sprocket that varied according to what gear it was in. Attach a generator to the sprocket so the faster it turned the more power was generated. Attach the output of the generator to a battery so the electricity generated was used to charge the battery. Attach the output of the battery to a retractable power cord that would stick out of the side of the device. Choose the appropriate interchangeable adapter and attach it to the tip of the retractable power chord.

To use, set the gear to whatever is most comfortable for you, then grab the handles of the pull chords and manually start pulling them away from each other in a repetitive stretching motion. A gauge on the side displays how full the battery is. When the battery reaches the desired level, pull out the retractable power chord and plug it into whatever device you need to charge: cell phone, iPod, GPS, digital camera, etc., and the device will behave just like it does when you plug it into any other charger. Voila! You’ve just used the Biokinetic Charge Holding Universal Device (BioCHUD).

Now I know what you’re probably thinking at this point, and the answer is no, I wouldn’t be opposed to calling it something other than BioCHUD, I just came up with that name because it makes me laugh. That’s not the point though. The point is that I think this thing would be pretty damned useful. It would make an excellent emergency backup for times when the power is out, or you’re out camping in the wilderness, or you just happened to forget to charge your phone or camera or whatever. BioCHUD would provide a potentially limitless source of electricity so you would never have to be without power for your personal devices. Also, BioCHUD is the ultimate source of ‘green’ electricity. There are no by-products, harmful or otherwise, and not only is the source of the energy non-polluting, but it’s the only energy source who’s operation is actually GOOD for you. Conservationists, environmentalists, and physical fitness buffs could all be content in knowing that their daily morning exercises not only kept them physically fit, but also provided all the perfectly clean energy they needed to power their personal devices.

Ideally, the BioCHUD would integrate with another invention idea I had that’s kind of like a personal energy network so all your devices would intelligently share their power as if it all came from a single battery. If you then attached these personal energy networks into a sort of energy internet, then you could create a sort of digital energy based currency. Power could be routed to your personal network wirelessly if you needed it and you would be charged according to your personal energy deficit each month. If you worked out all the time and had an energy surplus, you’d get the value of the surplus credited to your account. Each supplier and/or consumer of energy would have a unique address on the network like IP addresses on the world wide web. Energy would be transfered to wherever it was needed like packets on the internet, and would be tagged with various information like IP packets as well. An adjustable tax system would apply a tax rate to energy suppliers based on how much it costs to offset the environmental impact that creating the energy had. Really dirty methods, either in their production or consumption, would be heavily taxed and very expensive, while totally clean sources like the BioCHUD would be the most valuable since it would have no tax applied to it.

The end result of the BioCHUD/energy internet combination would be to encourage exercise and conservation; while simultaneously providing potentially huge financial incentives to people who come up with innovative new sources of clean and renewable energy.

Now I’m well aware that the energy internet is, at the moment at least, science fiction. Nevertheless, it won’t be too long before we have the ability to implement it. The BioCHUD however, could probably be made into a working prototype right now by somebody tinkering in their garage. I’d buy one, if they were reasonably priced, and I think whoever sold them could make a killing.

So if there’s any engineers out there who are in the know with regards to how efficient a BioCHUD would be, or could give rough estimates on how many pound/feet of force it would take to us a BioCHUD to charge a typical device for a given amount of time, feel free to chime in.

Teaching Morality in Public Schools

•June 13, 2008 • 1 Comment

This is a very messy topic with an abundance of complicated issues so I might have to split it into multiple posts, but I’ll try not to ramble.

The first thing I should establish right off the bat is this: Morality as taught in schools would be taught from an entirely secular point of view. While it might have many parts that agree with the spiritual teachings of one religion or another, it would be completely independent of any and all religions, proposing and advocating only the broadest and most widely held morale principles, and validating those principles with logical, objective, and secular arguments that everybody can, at least in theory, understand and agree with.

This begs an interesting question: are there any moral principles that pretty much everybody can agree on? I think the answer is yes, at least I hope the answer is yes, so let’s see if we can come up with something. First off, what do we really mean we talk about teaching children to be moral? Well basically we mean we want to teach them to be good people. I think that’s a pretty modest claim we can all agree on, can’t we? Everybody wants their children grow up to be good people. So how do we define a ‘good person’ in a very general and widely agreeable way? Basically, a good person is someone who is an asset to those around him or her, who behaves honestly and honorably, and who expresses a concern for the wellbeing of others. I continue to list traits a good person should have, there’s actually a surprising amount of them given the controversial nature of morality in general. I think that’s because while most people have similar general ideas of what a good person should be, it’s the specifics of behavior and especially the reasons for why morality is important. We’re going to have to come to terms with these issues, but so far I think we can agree that if defined broadly enough, teaching students to be ‘good people’ is something on which we can achieve a consensus.

Unfortunately, we haven’t really said much yet. Hoping our children will grow up to be ‘good people’ is basically a no-brainer, but there’s nothing to ‘teach’ about it, or at least not enough to justify it as a school subject. What we need to make it a full fledged academic subject are the details; exactly how can we determine the moral value of a specific course of action? What part, if any, is society obliged to take in enforcing moral behavior? How do ethics and morality relate to each other? And perhaps most importantly, why should I trouble myself with upholding morale principles at all? Remember, the traditional answer to that last question, “It’s god’s will”, just won’t cut it here, and let’s face it; there are certain situations (some would say a great many) where taking the moral high ground provides the least tangible and personal benefit to the individual in question. There are circumstances where crime really does pay, or so it would appear. And if it’s true that morality doesn’t always give the best advantage to a person as an individual, is there any argument at all for why we should embrace self-sacrifice besides invoking religion or spirituality? If it can be proven that immoral actions can sometimes be the most beneficial to the individual performing the action, then is there any objective obligation at all to maintain our moral standards? In my next post I’ll define the underlying philosophy of secular morality, and how it obliges us to behave in ways that aren’t always in the best interest of ourselves as individuals.

Education

•June 13, 2008 • Leave a Comment

The next few major posts I make are going to outline a fairly major change that I think should be made in the curriculum of our public schools. It basically boils down to 3 new courses that I collectively call “Mental Fitness”. The point of Mental Fitness would be to train students how to think clearly and efficiently. The more I think about it, the more surprised I am that this isn’t already a major subject on par with literacy, math, and history.

The three subjects of Mental Fitness would be Critical Thinking, Mnemonics, and Morality. Critical thinking is pretty self-explanatory as far as what it’s trying to teach. It would start with younger children practicing decision making in various hypothetical scenarios, identifying how choices in sample scenarios affect the outcomes of those scenarios, and coming up with alternate decisions that they think would be better. It would progress from there to middle school students discussing the reasons behind various current events and analyzing the thinking process behind important court decisions, etc. At the high school level it would introduce formal logic concepts such as syllogisms, common logical fallacies, etc.

Mnemonics would also be fairly straightforward. It would mostly be taught at the lower grade levels, but it would be reinforced by actual use all the way through high school. It would introduce the most effective memory techniques, then provide extensive drills on applying their use various actual subjects. I don’t hear a lot of discussion about mnemonics, but anybody who’s studied or used them can attest to how amazingly effective they are. Training children in mnemonic techniques until it’s as natural as reading and writing to them would result in an entire generation of memory prodigies, at least compared to the current situation.

Morality would round out the Mental Fitness triad. This would be the most difficult and disputed subject of the three in regards to actually planning course materials. Just mentioning the notion of teaching morality in school makes me shudder at the cacophony of protests that would be made by the hardcore separation of church and state people. Nevertheless, that is precisely why it’s so badly needed. Religion has basically had a stranglehold on the topic of morality since the dawn of history, but in modern times few people seem to take religion as seriously as in times past. We seem to have thrown morality out with the religious bathwater. Also, people are very defensive about precisely what moral values they believe their children should have, and wouldn’t be comfortable with what they might perceive as moral indoctrination by the state. It wouldn’t have to be that way, however. My next post will elaborate on the subject of morality with regards to how it might be effectively integrated into basic education.

The ultimate goal of Mental Fitness, then, would be to enhance the basic mental skills of students; vastly improving their memory, enhancing their ability to discern what is relevant or important in attaining goals, and teaching them about why the best or most important goals are generally the ones with the highest moral values. In short, a very mentally fit student would be a knowledgeable, discerning, and responsible individual who is trained and ready to pursue whatever career choices or higher education options that they feel is best. Their Mental Fitness training is something that would continue to repay the effort invested in it throughout the rest of their lives.