Thursday, October 23, 2008

All the king's horses....

With the economy seeming to be in shambles due to misregulation, idiotic business practices, manipulative marketing, poor consumer education, and enough bad decisions for everyone to take a pint or two I as a university student have to step back and take a look at a system that has placed a rather large burden on people like me.

Namely: Student loans.

One of the large problems with today's ease of going to college is the price of that same ease. Student loans are given out to people fresh out of high school with little or no money management skills. Most of them have very little concept of value or money, let alone how to plan to pay for something that is only getting more expensive with each passing day.

For some, they are told that they are making an investment. That the money they spend now will be paid back before they know once they are out in the real world and have a nice job where the money just rolls in.

Bull shit.

Unless you are getting one of those generic degrees that will always be needed (business, education, hospitality, medicine, ect) then your chances of finding that perfect job waiting for you is just slightly higher than rolling a thirteen in a game of craps.

This leaves a lot (read majority) of students entering the economy in the red with no real understanding of how to fix it except to throw some money at it and eventually it will go away.

Debt is a bad, bad thing for an economy. Especially when its largest consumers (young professionals and families trying to keep things running smoothly) are trying to fill a hole dug just to get them into a position so that they can make a decent go at making a living.

So, time to get down to the point.

Why do we encourage people to go into debt? It makes no long term sense! What the fuck is the point of making a ton of money one day, only to go bankrupt the next?

This current generation of graduates are inheriting what can only be described as a monetary clusterfuck, and are steamrolling along with debt up to their eyeballs ready to make the situation worse.

People, we all need to wake the fuck up and start doing this thing called saving that has fallen out of vouge in the last couple of decades.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Crazy people!

In this day and age, knowledge is literally a mouse click away. You just have to know what to look for and how to look for it. Many search engines have popped up to help us along in that respect. Hell, Google even has its own verb.

So, when someone comes to my attention that is absolutely bug fuck crazy AND uses the internet on a regular basis, I have to question:

How can people be ignorant in today's connected society.

Take for example this loon. (I know, I know, logical fallacy, ad hominem blah blah. I'll get to proving it in a moment.) She is constantly posting things she has 'googled' and found confirmation for.
So, lets start off with the first in the "WTF is wrong with these people" category of posts.

This lady suffers from what is commonly referred to as 'confirmation bias'.
As summary is that confirmation bias is looking only at results to back your point, and ignoring or disregarding results that counter your frame work.

Take for example her constant discussion of 'natural' cures to common maladies. Or, her damned constant evocation of her deity in order to justify her points without bringing to the table any evidence of her argument.

For example, her discussion of the so called gay agenda. So far, my 'googled' results have only come up with crazy right wing websites discussing some secret cabal of well dressed individuals who are organized by the devil himself and out to eat/rape/sacrifice children and bring about the downfall of mankind. All of the other websites just seem to express a general desire to not feel persecuted for who they are attracted to.

Hmm, one of these seems pretty reasonable, and the other COMPLETLY FUCKING STUPID.

She mentions that gay people are 'beyond redemption' in her ancient tome of wacky magic. Well, I would like to present evidence in the form of her blog that she may be beyond redemption for her intolerant, inane, uneducated screeds against her fellow human beings. Logic is beyond her scope of understanding, and she is raising a 'quiverful' family inside of this insanity.

It makes it that much worse that the children will never escape the oppresive, unjustified boot heel of religion. Reason dies a small death with each child not free to wonder and explore the universe without the confines of bronze age mysticism.

Eternal Sunshine of the...

Holy shit.

Scientists are on the trail of deleting those pesky traumatic memories. This concept has been addressed again and again in science fiction, and the results are rarely good.

Our memories are what shape us as people, especially the bad memories. It is where we draw our knowledge from. It is how we learn to how to deal quickly and efficiently with adversity.

But, I think there are instances that this technology can help people. Things that are needlessly traumatic, or that it would run a higher risk trying to get the person to cope than it would to wipe out the memory all together.

Don't get me wrong, anything that pushes us closer to understanding that wrinkly ball of matter twixt our ears is a good thing, and this technology if nothing else is a definite leap forward. I support what these researchers are doing, and no one should stop them. I just frown on those salivating waiting for it to hit open market so they can forget exes and excess.

But, feh to those people. Let them live their troubled lives and let us push forward unto a new age for mankind and a better future through understanding.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

My kingdom for a....

By now I am sure everyone has heard of, been exposed to, or had inflicted upon them the browser game Kingdom of Loathing.

I don't care if you have or not, I am still going to talk about it.

There have been two instances of me playing this game. Once a year or so ago, and then again currently. I must say, things do change fast in the kingdom.

This adventure compared to the first time I played through is about as far apart as the first Mario game and the third.

These developers so an almost obsessive dedication to their game experience, whether it be a constant influx of pop culture jokes, new dungeons, or writing more haikus about bugbears than anyone else on earth.

There is not a single character class that is boring to play, and each one has its uses so no matter who you play, you can always befriend someone else and gain the benefit of their buffs, skills, or meat. (That is the currency of the realm, NOT their... engorged weapon.)

Now, that is not to say that some classes aren't better than others. The best class by a wide margin is the Disco Bandit. Everyone else falls some where behind and in some order, but who really cares when you are sitting at the finish line sipping a gin and tonic while waiting for everyone else to catch up?

Not me.

So go and play. King Ralph might appreciate it... or he might not.

Day 2: The Bizare Bazzare Bizare

Was going to make an update yesterday summarizing what all went down yesterday at the MAKE Fair, but I sat down on the couch and fell asleep before the laptop was even done coming off standby.

So, in a brief summary: Monster fur hats sell well, Kristin sold a ton of jewelry, the folks next us are nice, black smithing is a hoot to watch, and the battlebots are disappointing because all anyone ever builds are flip bots. I think I will have to agree with Aaron on this one and say bring on the lasers.

In other fantastic news, Krispie Kreme has brought back that pasty of delight: the one, the best, Pumpkin Spice Donut. It honestly made it worth waking up at 7:30 in the morning so that we had time to pick them on our way back to the trenches.

Also, for you types who enjoy music and invention, head overe here.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Adventure Continues. (BB Pt.2)

Human ingenuity never ceases to amaze me. I just took a stroll through the technology booths here at the Maker Fair, and discovered just how far computer/shop tool networks have come.

I watched a ShopBot tool cut 3D objects out of a urethane board in seconds! It was amazing! (Or I am easily entertained, either way it was great.)

Instructables has a booth, and are showing video and handing out printed versions of their instructions. It is amazing what the Intartoobs have done for DIY projects.

Best of all though, was looking through all of the robotics entries made by high school students. These kids had been mentored by students at the University of Texas and the BEST Robotics program. The variance and dedication of these students made me almost hope for a future of science in this country.

I felt like a child running through a candy store while I walked through the artisan booths. So much creativity and thought put into most of these works. There are always some that lack, but they are outshone one hundred fold by the diligent and dedicated crafts people who turn art into business. This is another point at which I would like to plug technology, in that the internet has given most of these people an outlet and a customer base that used to be so scattered about that most of these trades would be placed in the hobby bin and left to rot.

More later. Also, pictures.

Bazaar Bizarre (Pt. 1)

Austin, Tx is home to some rather odd events, but none so interesting as the Maker Fair.

Here, crafts people of many walks of life gather to give demonstrations, sell their wares, and battle robots.

Yes, battle robots. This year's fair is home to the first annual Texas Cup battle bot fight. Teams will be competing to see who can trash the most metal in an arena about ten feet from where I am sitting currently. (There will be pictures later, promise.)

Speaking of robots, the arena master bot, hovering from his chair on high began spitting the lines of that infamous A.I. Glados, followed by a 'glitch' that caused it to Rick Roll everyone within earshot.

Before breakfast even.

But enough about robots (for now), and let us turn our attention to the many craftsmen who have turned out today.

So far I have seen everything from hand made soaps, jewlery, shirts, and custom woodwork, many of which can be found on that ever growing craft site, Etsy. I hope to get a chance to take it all in. If I find someone interesting, I'll take their picture and put up a brief synopsis of who they are and what they are doing.

To the trenches!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Texaaaaans assemble!

So the anti-science brigade is trying to douse the fire of knowledge for our students here in Texas, and it is up to the people to stop it.

But, before you act, make sure you gather the facts. Start with information about Don McLeroy, the man in charge of the Texas Board of Education and supporter of Intelligent Design creationism. The BoE is soon going to vote on the new science standards that will affect not only children in this state, but nation wide.

How you say? Easy. Texas is one of the largest purchasers of textbooks nationwide, and therefore publishers look to what we are buying in the way of educational material before they take it to other states. If we allow IDiocy into classrooms, then textbooks with accurate and relevant information will be passed over in favor for puffy, soft fairy tales dressed in lab coats.

This is a matter that is endlessly frustrating for me personally, but as I am not a parent my voice carries less weight than those whose children are at stake.

This ID group is sneaky, subtle, and underhanded in their dealings with public education and are trying to toss religious belief in the back door of our classrooms and hope no one notices.

Let your voices be heard. Organize and fight this kind of intellectual sabotage so that perhaps Texas can lose the stereotype of backwards, ignorant, tree dwellers who do nothing other than shoot things and watch NASCAR.

There are enough reasonable people in this state to have us become an intelligent oasis in a sea of madness, so go and take back the Lone Star State.

Dear The Protomen

Get your new CD out and come back to Texas.

That is all I wanted to say.

What is the difference?

Philosophy and religion have often been viewed in the same light despite their obvious differences.

How obvious? Well... lets find out. Perhaps they are not as obvious as one initially thinks.

First, lets turn to the definition of the words themselves. For that, let us turn to our old friend Merriam-Webster.

1 a (1): all learning exclusive of technical precepts and practical arts (2): the sciences and liberal arts exclusive of medicine, law, and theology philosophy> (3): the 4-year college course of a major seminary b (1)archaic : physical science (2): ethics c: a discipline comprising as its core logic, aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology2 a: pursuit of wisdom b: a search for a general understanding of values and reality by chiefly speculative rather than observational means c: an analysis of the grounds of and concepts expressing fundamental beliefs3 a: a system of philosophical concepts b: a theory underlying or regarding a sphere of activity or thought philosophy of war>4 a: the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group b: calmness of temper and judgment befitting a philosopher

Phew, what a mouthful. Oh well, we can pare that down in a moment into something more useful.

But first, religion

1 a: the state of a religious religion> b (1): the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2): commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance2: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices3archaic : scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness4: a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

Again, we can pair this down to something more useful.

After reading over both of these definitions, I think that a functional summary of philosophy would be contained in definition 1 a(1) and 2 a. For religion I think that 1b(1) and 4 will sum up the majority of what people think of when they think of religion.

Right off the bat philosophy and religion diverge in that religion focuses on belief and the supernatural, where as philosophy is focused more on the pursuit of knowledge in either a technical or empirical manner.

This makes sense when put into the context of the origins of the two. The early philosophers are what we base our education systems on. They made observations and then contested one another through jousts of logic until one philosopher conceded their point on the grounds that the other one had more proof. This is where we get the beginnings our the scientific method as well as a lot of our Western abstraction.

Religion, on the other hand, deals more with the intangible and the unprovable. It relies on faith for its explanations and less on the observable or testable.

So why do so many say they are interchangeable?

I think that it boils down to that both are a system of thought centered on acquiring explanations in regard to the world we live in. Each has steps and questions that can be asked.

But once again we come to a divide. One, religion, starts with the answer and then people ask questions of that and observe the outcomes. Philosophy, and by proxy it derivatives, start with the observations and then ask questions from that to see what answers they can come with to explain the original observations.

So, the next time you find yourself pondering this scenario or faced with it directly, hopefully my discussion of it will help in some way. If not, then by all means seek elsewhere, for this is an age where many answers and thoughts lay at the tips of your fingers.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Front Row Tickets to Tragedy

It has been suggested that people who watch Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, and The Colbert Report are not taking this election seriously. Many people I have talked to seem to scoff at the notion that this Presidential Election (tm) can or should be laughed at.

To a point, I agree with them. But that point came and went early on when both parties decided who they would nominate for office.

On the republican side of things, you have Grandpa Simpson and Peggy Hill promising more of the same.

On the democrat side, a Pepsi spokesperson and Richie Rich sixty years after his inception promising "change", what ever the hell that means.

It occurred to me after last Tuesday's debate that what I was watching was a train wreck in slow motion. Each agonizing second was broadcast to homes across the nation where many a drinking game was played in order to deaden the pain caused by each utterance of "my friends" or "change." These caricatures that danced on television screens across this fine country were indistinguishable from their SNL counterparts.

So I say to the comedy naysayers: Whatever granite faced seriousness you approach this with will mean absolutely dick in the end.

But no matter which line you stand on, what principles you stand for, or whether you laugh or cry at these proceedings there is one thing we can all count on.

We all have front row tickets to another American Tragedy.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Music, writing, and mood.

When I write, I listen to music that fits the mood of what I am working on. It is a habit I got into back when I lived in a college dorm and had room mates that were living their lives in our shared space and thus used headphones in order to focus.

What I found was that the tempo of the music carried my fingers are a rate that fit the story, and tone carried a certain set of words from deep within my mind.

When writer's block rears its ugly head, I will often turn off the lights, queue up a list of songs that fit the mood of what I am trying to write, and simply lie on my back and listen to what the music is telling me.

Once I have the mood good and settled on my brain like so much silt, I start mucking about with the characters internally. I think about their breakfasts, how they feel about an issue, where they would like to go to lunch, and how they deal with a crisis all in the frame work of the emotion that I am trying to convey.

Often I will find that if a character is sufficiently developed, they will spring into action right away and I can get to work. If not, then this exercise forces me to explore characters that may be weaker than I had once thought.

So, I encourage you to find your method of pecking away at your world and characters so that they can stand up on their own and live the lives you want them to.

Friday, October 3, 2008

How to finish a novel.

In this post I will discuss the step by step process of writing a finished novel. It is a long, dusty road, so stick with me.

First, preparation. Only one step here, and that is have an idea of what you want to write.

Next, writing it. This is where the long list comes in.

1. Sit in your chair and write your damned story.

OK, I guess that was rather short after all. In all seriousness though that is the way to finish a novel. Suck it up and stick your ass in a chair until your eyes hurt and your brain is a wheezing wreck. Then, order a pizza, indulge a hobby or vice, and get back in the trenches.

This is seriously the hardest part of finishing anything. Let that simmer for a while as National Novel Writing Month looms before us.

Good luck.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Changing Times

Oh, we fickle people. How things change.

As I sit and watch the financial markets eat themselves, it was brought to my attention by the lovely Kristin Freeman, that this is a rather new tune as compared to before.

Travel back with me, if you will, to 1999.

Ah, what a wonderful trip that was. As you can see, this sub-prime melt down came as no surprise. It was asked for, nay, begged for by the banking institutions of this country.
Will we ever learn that banks managing our money is like trusting a frat with your personal liquor stash.

When you come home and go to pour yourself a well deserved and hard earned drink, you find instead some strangers vomit all over the bottle, and little to no explanation as to where all your damned booze went and why. Then, when you start to ask about it, your landlord shows up out of no where, and tells you that they have a great idea to clean this up.

Why don't you give this frat some of your money so they can replenish their booze stocks?

Everyone is happy right? The landlord (who also owns the frat house) keeps his most valuable customers happy, and the frat gets to chug again this Friday.

Win-win right?

Oh, whats that? What about you? Well, since they went ahead and maxed out your card buying that booze, you will need to go ahead and stay late to pay it off, and go ahead and grab the interest while you are at it.

Well, maybe one day we will learn. If we can catch time between shifts that is not dedicated to sleeping or eating.

Science and Fiction: A Love Story.

As I write this, I stare with great longing at the blank page of my most recent attempt at writing science fiction. It is no small task to approach a subject so based in reality, with so many rules and processes to consider, and express the beauty and wonder that lies just below its surface.

I see many writers go out to the far reaches of speculation and write about where ever their mind takes them. This far future fiction is often grounded in the ideas of today, and then drawn out to some spectacular point. This type of fiction is often as close as people can get. If things go awry, then it just is written off or ignored. The other side of this is near future fiction, in which technology is just one step or jump ahead of us. I will not bother going into the problems that it faces, for Charles Stross has already elegantly discussed it here.

Others, as put by Issac Asimov, write science fantasy. To clarify, they write something as Tolkien's Middle Earth, but instead of orcs and wizards, we get aliens and laser guns.

The reason I bring it up is because of how I want so much to be in that first category. Especially in the way that Stross or Gibson weave words around the the technology of this age and the next in a seamless mesh of fact and fancy. As I rise to this challenge, I encourage other writers endeavoring to write sci-fi to reach for the same. Let us bring the literary value of science fiction back to the table and try and reclaim the timelessness these works exist in.

Well, I suppose I am done ranting and had better get back to work.