Monday, April 28, 2008


I think it's pretty safe to say that you haven't ever seen anything like this before.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

FAIR response to anti-Mormons on the web

I've always struggled with the stunning quantity of anti-Mormon lies and distortions on the internet, and the extent to which those falsehoods reverberate around the net over and over. Those who have felt threatened by the church have often distorted, or outright made-up stories that are then subsequently incredibly difficult to prove false. How does one prove that something supposedly done in a dark corner didn't actually happen? especially when the author lived back in the 1800s?

I just discovered, however, that the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) has put up a wiki where most of those issues have a reasonably well documented response. This is in addition to my previous mention of Jeff Lindsay's useful, though occasionally tongue-in-cheek, website.

FAIR is not an official church group, nor is it sanctioned by the church. It is useful, however, for as Austin Farrer pointed out, "Though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. . . . What no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish." (The Christian Apologist, p. 26.)

Standing opposite the critics doesn't require nearly as much blind faith as they would have you believe.

Gooberball finally hits the net!

Gooberball didn't last long on wikipedia, but now you can find the rules at the *official* gooberball homepage.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"Economic Hitmen" strike again?

This blog is becoming my little soapbox where I can yell stuff at the world, apparently today I have a lot on my mind. =)

Did you see this story today on the 80 billion dollar dam for the Congo?

What a wonderful investment, bring electricity to the masses in Africa!

Now go read this book.

Since I can't wait for you to do it, here's the quick summary: an economic "forecaster" in a well-regarded consulting firm predicts that a very large and expensive engineering project will spur double-digit growth in some poor, far-away country -- like the Congo. The World Bank funds it, large US engineering firms do the work, and the poor little country is left with the bill -- only $80B, with flexible payment plans!

World Bank believes it's doing the world a favor. Large US engineering firms gets a terrific contract and a ton of cash. Leader of small country is praised for his vision, gathers a few miscellaneous incentives for his part, and in time turns things over to someone else. Small country is left with a monstrous debt, and an underperforming investment, that the forecaster then blames on ever-changing conditions.

Only the economic forecaster had to be "tainted". Everybody else was on a noble mission to improve the world. The situation takes decades to pan out, and in the end, an entire region's economy is *crushed*. It's happened dozens of times across the world.

As President Hinckley recently advised us -- don't go into debt to make an investment. It bit me in college, and it's about to bite the Congo.

Don't do it! Start small, then let the return on your investment pay for the incremental upgrades -- that's good advice for small businesses (thanks, Larry), and for countries too.

"Global warming", "green", and me.

Somehow "green" is the new thing these days, all the companies want to be more green. (Here's the site that got me started on this...) A noble cause, who doesn't like greenery?

The Pacific Ocean has a garbage patch twice the size of Texas, China and Russia are a pollution mess, and we're pulling up every hydrocarbon we can find, representing (supposedly) millions of years of the sun's energy, and burning it as fast as we can.* This doesn't sound like we're being very good stewards of our planet.


... I always get nervous when environmentalist causes -- which seem to appeal disproportionately to the otherwise imbalanced folks out there -- line up with corporate initiatives.

Corporate America loves to find, or create, new "needs" that they can fill. Being "green" means that we need sensors to turn on and off lights when people come and go, better insulation in buildings, and energy-efficient computers. Hmm, sounds like a lot of things we need to buy -- check out all the business ads on this page.

In fact, on 3/23/08, Fake Steve Jobs (a famous not-Steve-Jobs blogger who has a remarkable perspective on CEO life) wrote a tremendous (though rather profane) article on this very point (quoted and cleaned up for my audience):
Truth is, Goldilocks does not really believe the world is about to burst into flames. What he does believe is that the global warming "crisis" is the next big way to make money off hype and fear. It's the Y2K scam all over again. Truth is, .... a bunch of lucky rich [guys are] scheming to get even more rich. I'm telling you this because I've talked to these guys. I've been invited to invest in these funds. And I've done it. Why not? If the ducks are quacking, as they say.

Every VC in the Valley [likes] greentech because it's the first market they've ever seen where they can mitigate their risk by laying it off onto governments (ie taxpayers). The trick is to spread lots of hype and put pressure on governments (hence Kleiner hires Al Gore) so that governments will provide subsidies to keep these venture-funded startups alive until they can be flogged off onto the public markets. They'll sell these stocks to dentists and they'll use the same pitch that Toyota uses on the Prius -- sure it's overpriced, but think how good you'll feel. These will be IPOs as a form of therapy, and the Birkenstock-wearing suckers will sing Kumbaya and talk about how capitalism is saving the world.

The great thing about this approach is not simply that it will let obscenely rich scammers get even more obscenely rich off the backs of taxpayers and suckers in the public markets, but that it also will enable these rich [jerks] to feel really good about themselves while they're doing it. They can run around feeling sanctimonious about doing something meaningful with their lives. They also can feel a little less weird and guilty about having so much money.

As they say, "follow the money".

As for me, am I really going to save the planet by buying those little "compact fluorescent lamps"?** I certainly won't intentionally pollute my space, but I'm fairly confident that I'm not in the world's top 10 polluters or wasters -- let's go after them first.
* Should it surprise us that the Earth appears to be warming up a little?

** Nevermind that almost a third of the Earth's carbon emissions are coming from forests burning in South America.

Praising your kids

I never tell my kids they're smart.

"What a rotten parent you are! They need that positive affirmation, do you want them to be damaged forever?!"

Okay, okay, hold on a second. Turns out, a study has found that certain kinds of praise can actually be *bad* for your kids -- including telling them about how smart they are. If you have kids, you should definitely read it.

Still here? Okay, here's a quick summary: when faced with hard problems, the kids who are told how "smart" they are begin to think maybe they really aren't smart at all, and see any failure as evidence of that -- that having to put forth effort is proof they've been misjudged.

On the other side, kids who are praised for their *effort*, e.g. "I like how you always do your best", become more engaged and redouble their efforts when things get hard -- they focus on "trying", which in the end is where success comes from.

Terrific insight into the minds of kids.

And I'm starting to think it works with adults too. =)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Going wireless?

My mom is interested in going wireless with her home network. I was about to write her a description of how to do it, but why not share with the world?

Turns out it's not too hard if your computer already has a wireless network card, and you're using broadband internet (not dial-up). Your current setup probably looks like this:wired.png

What you need

Assuming your setup looks like the above, you just need an 802.11g (about $40) or 802.11n (about $100) wireless router, and a wireless card in your computer.

Your new setup

Here's how your new setup will look:

Weird and wild world of wireless words

Before we get started on the setup, here's a glossary of wireless terms:
... is an IEEE standard that describes wireless networks. The x is a letter that indicates the wireless type: a/b (slow), g (54 megabits per second, or Mbps), or n (100 Mbps). For reference, your broadband connection (the speed that data flows over that coaxial cable) is likely between 0.7 and 6 mpbs. Ethernet is either 100 or 1000 Mbps. So the slowest thing is your broadband connection.
... stands for "local area network", typically used to label the ports (jacks) on the back of a router for your computers to plug into.
... stands for "wide area network", typically used to label the port (jack) on the back of a router where you plug in a wire that's connected off to the internet somehow.
... stands for "dynamic host configuration protocol", basically a conversation your router can have with your computer to help it become a good citizen on the network. In the old days, IP addresses and DNS settings were manual, but DHCP allows your router to tell your computer what to use for those settings. A "DHCP client list" is just the list of computers that the router knows about and has had that conversation with.
Wireless networks communicate over channels so that more than one computer can talk to the router at once. You can ignore this.
"Service set identifier", just the name of the wireless network that your router is creating/managing.
These are encryption methods. Not encrypting your network is a *really* bad idea (anybody can get on your network). WEP is bad (supposedly easy to crack), WPA/WPA2 is good. When encryption is on, you set a password that a computer must have in order to connect. I had a lot of trouble with my Windows laptop (ugh) until I read somewhere that the password needed to be 16 characters long, and after making it that long my problems disappeared.
More: MAC address, firewall, DMZ
MAC address (all caps, different from "Macintosh") is a unique identifier assigned to your ethernet or wireless network card. No other device on the planet has that MAC address (though hackers know how to spoof them). A firewall is a protective feature of the router that filters incoming network traffic. DMZ stands for "demilitarized zone", a way of excluding one or more computers from the firewall settings.

Setting it all up

Here's where the rubber meets the road:
  1. Connect your new wireless router to your computer using an ethernet cable, plugged into one of the "LAN" jacks on your router. Also plug the router into a wall outlet.
  2. Open a web browser on the computer and try typing in "" (no quotes). If nothing interesting shows up, you'll have to look in the manual for the default IP address of the router -- it'll probably look like "".
  3. Once you see the router's setup screen, go in and set the SSID (whatever name you want), security type (WPA or WPA2), and password (something 16 characters long and not easily guessed).
  4. Unplug your cable modem from the wall for 30 seconds (so it forgets who it was talking to), then set things up like you see above and turn everything on. If you don't do this, it probably won't work! Modems seem to only want to talk to one machine (MAC address), so you have to power them down or they'll refuse to talk to a new device.
  5. On your Mac, you should see a symbol like this ap-symbol.png in your menubar. That's the menu that lets you connect to wireless networks. If you don't see it, go to the Apple menu -> System Preferences -> Network -> AirPort, then select "Show AirPort status in menu bar". Then go to that menu, select your wireless network (which should show up), enter a password, and you should be all set!

Cross fingers

Wireless networks are not always reliable, as they work on the same frequencies as cordless phones. They also get weird through some kinds of materials (metal?), and at different times of day. Hopefully everything went smoothly, but if not, don't feel bad -- I had trouble at first too.

Happy computing!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Doomsday scenarios

The LDS church encourages its members to build up a "year's supply" of food and supplies as part of being self-sufficient.

After awhile, I imagine some ask themselves -- "Why are we doing this? I have 20-year old gallon cans of wheat going bad now that I never needed, what was the point of that?"

I'm sure having a little more peace of mind during those 20 years has something to do with it... but just like every mentally-overactive teenager, I've come up with a couple "Doomsday" scenarios where a year's supply would really come in handy -- except I think these aren't that far fetched! Check them out:

Doomsday scenario 1

Terrorists plant timebombs on every known oil pipeline in the world, out in the middle of nowhere. On the specified day, all go off simultaneously, blowing the pipes wide open and effectively cutting off the oil supply in those areas.

The resulting wave of anxiety from the market sends oil prices skyrocketing, and within days the price of gas has gone to more than $100 a gallon, if you can find it at all. The cost of transporting goods also skyrockets, and now supermarkets are forced to pay huge premiums for goods, which turns $100 grocery bills into $1000 grocery bills.

Most folks have very little food stored, so they're stuck, and are forced to buy food instead of paying mortgages and car payments. The financial system tanks, and the whole system goes into a flat spin until the oil companies are able to repair and secure the pipelines, and allow the system to re-stabilize. Prices mostly return to normal within a few months, but the shockwaves echo through the economy for years.

Doomsday scenario 2

An EMP device goes off in your city. Most electronics devices are rendered useless, which means your TV and computer are broken, some refrigerators, dishwashers, ovens and washing machines won't work. City pumping stations with newer control systems can't pump water. Electricity might not be available. Cellphones and landlines are dead. And worst of all: your car won't start.

Instantly, people panic and run outside, wondering what to do. Then they run back inside, and try to figure out what they're going to do -- what they're going to eat? How they're going to heat/cool their house? What about work and school? What happened? Are we under attack? Is my family okay? I wonder if my neighbors have food? I better run to the store before it's all gone, but what will I pay for food with? And how will they scan my items or take my money???


Doomsday scenario 3

A large sample of the weaponized version of smallpox that Russia developed during the cold-war is sold from a Russian lab by a disaffected technician. 6 months later, a small sample is tied to a time bomb, then tossed onto the roof of the Colonial convenience store in downtown Omaha, Nebraska. Similar bombs are planted in Fairfax, Plano, Eugene, Orlando, and Thousand Oaks.

On a prescribed day, the bomb in Omaha detonates. 2 day later, the bomb in Eugene detonates. 7 days later, the bomb in Plano detonates. 5 days later, the bomb in Fairfax goes off. Etc.

The country immediately goes into a panic. Smallpox? People dying? Do I have my vaccine? Why Omaha and not D.C.? It's so random, I wonder if we're next??? As each successive bomb goes off, the unpredictability of the intervals and locations puts people into a nervous anxiety. Those infected don't know they're infected until they have spread the disease to dozens of populations, and many dare not go outside.

"Not likely."


I'm not suggesting that any of these things will happen, only hoping to show that relatively small, and physically feasible actions on the part of a few could have disastrous consequences to the general public. Were everyone to have a year's supply of food and household items, although rough, none of these would have to be life threatening for most people.

Something to think about.

Not to mention the fact that food prices increase steadily, and if you buy food now that you intend to consume months or years later, it ends up being a good investment, at very least.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Apple passes Citigroup

To those who scoffed at Apple's "niche" market, here's a little news tidbit: according to Bloomberg, Apple's market cap just passed Citigroup's.

Monday, April 14, 2008

On the age of the universe

It's pretty often these days that some -logist (archeo-, geo-, etc.) is claiming that some find is many thousands or millions of years old -- fossils and DNA come up a lot. On the other side, the astrophysicists are often using the words "billions" and "light-years" in the same sentence, which also is mind boggling.

Now, in your other ear, devout religious people are claiming that the universe, including the earth, is only 6000 years old, based on the creation story in the Bible.

But "millions" and "billions" is pretty different from "6000". This isn't a small difference of opinion here! But how can creationists ignore all the scientific evidence? And how can scientists explain the incredibly impossible fortune that is the variety and complexity of "life" on earth?

Some ideas

We know what many of the scientists think -- that creationists are nuts. Or just self-blinded.

Creationists, on the other hand, think that either the scientists are flat wrong with their estimates (circular logic?). Or that "that one day [is] with the Lord as a thousand years" (2 Pet. 3:8), and that the Genesis account is God's days not ours -- uh, we're still only up to 13,000 years. (And Peter also says a thousand years is as a day, too, don't skip that part.)

My take

Why are we so limited in the possibilities we consider?

My answer in college to all this was that God might've built the whole thing 6000 years ago to appear in process, i.e. as a "steady-state system", which would "look and feel" like it was millions of years old, but that appeared stable to us and not still fluctuating around like all newly made things. Rather than creating stars, maybe he just created streams of light that would be arrive at the earth during the time of interest. Would any of that be too hard for God?

Of course not. My only problem with that now is that I don't think God would build something with the intent to deceive us.

Since then, my view has changed with the advent of 2 things: Quicktime, and computer-simulations.

* Computer simulations

I run simulations at work, where I start time at a random point, and then run through time at a much-accelerated speed to see what the computer models predict. We do this so we can figure out how something will behave without having to do all the complicated math manually. Much easier than all the math in those contrived problems in your high-school physics class...

So guess what -- I could run a simulation that started 50 trillion years ago, then run it all the way out through the present time (granted, at some pretty coarse time resolution) and have it finish in a matter of seconds. So "50 trillion years" equals "a few seconds for me" with the computers we've got now.

How is that possible? It's because I've got the whole thing defined and self-contained, and I'm the master of "time" in that system.

* Quicktime

Ever seen a movie clip of the history of the universe? (I have, though I can't find an example at the moment...)

Quicktime gives you a little slider that lets you slide back and forth through time with the flick of your wrist -- a trillion years with a 1-inch movement of your hand. See how easy that is?


...if God is the "master of time" in this system, and can move through time as easily as He moves through space, the whole thing becomes really easy -- God inputs "1 trillion years" at the front, puts in a few "days" to get all the necessary pieces together, then lets it run. Who cares if the in-between time is {m|b|tr}illions of years -- the "master of time" just fast-forwards to the interesting part, when it's ready for people*. Is that too hard for God?

I'm not saying that's definitely how it is, Church doctrine is relatively silent on the matter except for a neat little scripture in the Book of Mormon that says, "all is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men." (Alma 40:8)

I'm only saying that people needn't have their faith shaken by something this simple.

* Oh, don't forget to rewind a little and wipe out the dinosaurs first, the people don't need that much excitement. =)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Space junk

I'm always surprised at how people seem to think the space around the earth is full of junk. In this case they cite 5600 satellites still in orbit...

Wow that's a lot.

Right? Except venture a guess sometime as to how many cars there are in Tucson. Maybe fifty thousand! or more? And on their graphic of the earth, all of those would fit in a single dot easily! Now imagine that I blindfolded/earmuffed you, dropped you at a random location within Tucson, and gave you a bow and arrow and one shot -- what are the chances that you, in some random location, not seeing or hearing, would happen to hit a car with that shot? You think your chances of happening into space junk is good, toodleing around up there?

Space is *huge*, folks.

Your risk is measured by the probability of occurrence times the consequence of failure. When it comes to space junk, the "probability of occurrence" of a collision is terribly low. No, no -- what you need to worry about is the "consequence of failure", which is terrible, as space junk (or you) tends to be flying at thousands of miles an hour.

Getting hit by a wrench flying many times faster than a rifle bullet sounds painful. Very unlikely, but very painful.

Stretching is a waste of time


Finally some proof for what every 12-year old boy always believed...

Friday, April 11, 2008

Beds in the temple?

Having 3 daughters of my own, this whole FLDS thing makes me sick to my stomach.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


I find it curious that we can't get the news websites to use the full name of the church half the time, but interesting that they don't hesitate to use it in conjunction with the FLDS church.

All it does is create confusion in casual readers between the real, 13 million member, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a group that happened to like the idea of multiple wives and marrying old men to teenage girls more than they liked what the prophet was telling them to do.

Who might have interest in causing that kind of confusion?

Read the truth about polygamy in the church's history. Also, keep in mind that in early days of the church, people wanted to be "sealed", or bound in eternity (as to a wife, parent or child) to their church leaders, which was allowed back then. Certainly not all, but I imagine at least some of the "marriages" (which is the word the rest of the world uses for sealings) back in the 1800s were merely intended to form these kinds of eternal connections. This is one area where there's enough evidence to take either side -- that it was an excuse for licentious behavior, or that it was a commandment of God to raise up large numbers of individuals. This, just like lots of things, probably can't be resolved until the after this life is over.

One recounting of a missionary zone conference has an elder asking a visiting general authority why the Lord authorized polygamy in this dispensation. The visiting authority asked for a show of hands of which elders in the room were descendants of polygamous marriages -- a large majority of the group raised their hands. "That's why," he said.

I'd have to raise my hand to that question as well.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

General Conference is on

Haven't decided to join the LDS church yet? Don't know what to think about it? Well, today and tomorrow is your chance! Go to this web site, and see if the church's general conference is available in your area. If it is, flip on the TV and give it a few minutes.

A few things to think about during those minutes:
  • Is the underlying focus on money/donations? Is this a job, or a way of living?

  • Full-time church leaders get a stipend for living expenses, but they do not get "paid", and supposedly most are retired and refuse the stipend. These people don't get paid for this.

  • See if you can see "light" in their eyes -- do they truly believe what they are saying?

  • Can you imagine a person like that being allowed into heaven by a just and loving God?

The older I get, the more I appreciate the opportunity to sit at the feet of men who've figured out how to live right, and done it for many many years.

I also love that the gospel makes sense to me, and we're not told that we have to believe what's said, but instead we're encouraged to seek the truth of what's said through the Holy Ghost. In fact, over a 100 years ago Brigham Young said that the gospel is the truth. If it's not really true, you don't have to believe it.

Love it.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


A few miscellaneous notes of late:
  • Know that feeling, where you're driving down the road, feeling like you're maybe going a little fast, and you see a speed-limit sign? In AZ, I was almost always going too fast and had to slow down. Here, I'm almost always going slower than the speed limit -- "Oh, the speed limit's 50 on this road? I'm going 35, and that feels fast..." Maybe it's the fact that the shoulders on the road are like 6 inches wide.

  • We just put in the plants in our front flowerbed. Northern Alabama has "red clay" soil, which is indeed, red clay. As in "stains clothes". And yes, it's really clay, like you could probably take a handful, wash out the soil part and make pottery with what's left. In AZ they talk about "caliche", but it's way different from this.

  • On the same note, we found a place about 15 minutes from here that gives out free "rotten cotton", composted cotton leftover from the gin process. It is a soft, almost black, really rich-top-soil-looking stuff. I have no personal experience as to whether it works yet, but it sure seems like the ideal stuff to put in your garden. (And the Botanical Garden folks told a friend of ours that it's some of the best stuff there is, so I guess that's a good sign.) The free part is very nice, of course, and it doesn't stink at all like manure, nor does it attract flies. Awesome!

  • Thanks to a friend at work, I've discovered "Legal Lad's Quick and Dirty Tips for a More Lawful Life" podcast on iTunes. I love it, finally someone who can explain legal matters in a way that doesn't sound like mindless babble spoken slowly. That's all I've listened to on my commute for the last 5 days...

Oh, and for those who missed it, Snoop Dogg's converted to Mormonism*. I hope we get to meet Brother Dogg someday, he'd make a great primary teacher. =)

* Note, of course, the date of the news release before you get too excited.

Does anyone read this thing?

views since Feb. 9, 2008