Friday, December 18, 2015

Check Engine Light, Code P0440, and the Hand of God

A year or so ago, my 2010 Toyota Camry threw a trouble code and turned on the "Check Engine" light. I searched for my OBD II code reader but couldn't find it. So I was forced to go too the Toyota dealer, who charged me  $142 to tell me that my gas cap was not screwed on tightly enough. Later, after I had found my code reader, the same code appeared. I looked it up on the Internet and discovered that the gas cap tightening was an issue.

A few years later, I was doing some work for a widow. At one point she mentioned that her car was displaying a low tire icon on the dashboard. I checked and the icon was the Check Egine light. I put my OBD II reader on it and  P0440 came up. By this time I had forgotten the meaning of that code, so we went on the internet and found it. Loose gas cap the most common common cause of this code being thrown. I turned to the widow and asked, "Do you pump your own gas?" She said yes, so I tightened it and told her to call me back if the code reappeared.

Having all this freshly in mind, I got a call from a longtime friend, who mentioned that his car was displaying the Check Engine icon. I brought my OBD II code reader to lunch with me. When, after lunch, we hooked up the reader, the explanation was P0440. I didn't need the diagnostic book that  explains codes. Because this event was the latest in a sequence of God-defined event, I knew I would succeed. We went to the gas cap and tightened it substantially.

If something is called to your attention, remember it, and think about how it might be God calling with an adventure that will be useful to you in the future. How do you separate random events from a clearly intentional set of circumstances?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Source Evaluation and Critical Thinking

Source Evaluation and Critical Thinking.
There are lots of Web pages that tell you how to evaluate sources—especially Internet sources. I even have such a page. But there’s something that you’re not being told. Source evaluation is (1) a learned skill and (2) it’s learned heuristically, not algorithmically. Let me define for you. An algorithm is a step by step procedure that yields a set result. A cake recipe is a good example. Follow the recipe correctly, get a nice cake. Unfortunately, source evaluation is not algorithmic. And even more unfortunately, too many writers and teachers pretend that it is.
Source evaluation cannot be learned by reading an article that lists half a dozen factors (who is the publisher, who is the author, how recent is the article, etc.) to take into account. Now, such articles are very good because those are important items to think about. But there are many nuances, variations, exceptions, and subtleties to include also.
A heuristic is a trial-and-error method of learning, where you gradually learn over time what the best answers are. Your knowledge—your skill—that you apply to evaluating sources must be refined so that you can sniff out that fake source that looks so reliable. Not to mention the good source that looks amateur.
Speaking of which, many evaluation articles scoff at so-called vanity sites put up by individuals. Many are probably not reliable, but many others are labors of love by experienced, expert contributors who do indeed know what they are talking about. And official sites are not guaranteed to be reliable, either.
For example, suppose you are researching diet and you come across a Web site called the Investigative Institute for Human Health and Nutrition. There you find an article about the dangers of eating red meat. The article is by a couple of people with Doctor titles. Good source? Well, suppose further that you do a little digging and discover that the site is owned or sponsored by VeganMilitancy and that the doctors have honorary PhDs and not medical degrees. Bad source? Well, are there redeeming factors? Can you trust the statistics on the site?
Here is my advice for what to do:
·        Triangulate the source. Are there other sources that support these arguments, data, reasons, evidence?
·        Use the rest of the Internet to test the claims of the site. Do other sites disagree or even disprove the claims of the site under review? Note that disagreeing is not the same as disproving. I remember once hearing someone say of a controversial claim, "That's been answered." But what was the answer? Was it an "I don't agree" answer or a disproof?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Who Can Refute a Sneer?

A number of episodes of several crime-drama TV series include either criminal Christians (pastors, vicars, murderous self-righteous fanatics, tyrannical and abusive Scripture-quoting fathers) or Christians as murder victims—men of the cloth often spectacularly murdered in their church. It is said that we adopt many beliefs through anecdote and few beliefs through reason or evidence. I wonder whether these character roles from TV serve either as unbelief inducers or as food for confirmation bias. In other words, for those who are nominally Christian or those who are unsettled about religion and spiritual life in general, are they influenced against faith by these propagandistic ploys?
It’s an old technique—associate something you want to make loathsome with something already thought to be loathsome. Are people so na├»ve that they fall for this?
“Fred is a lowdown snake.”
“He is? Hey, Harry! Have you heard? Fred is a lowdown snake.”
“Who knew? Tom, did you know that Fred is a snake?”
“Yeah, that’s what everybody says.”

By the way, the title of this posting comes from William Paley, who advanced what might be called an early theory of intelligent design in the biological world by pointing out that plants and animals sure do appear to have been designed and made for a purpose. Palely was referring to the anti-Christian sneering tone of Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (which Gibbon blamed on Christianity). So, to end, we quote the proverb, "Those who can only sneer have no facts." Just like those who have no stones to throw can only scream four-letter words at those they hate.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Media Studies 101: Shaping Readers' Attitudes

When the news media want to slant someone's words, there are several ways. First, the person can be quoted out of context. Second, the quotation can be partial, leaving out (from the front, middle, or end) qualifying language or other words that change the meaning. But a powerful technique is to quote the person exactly and then use the quotation verb to shape the reader's understanding.

Consider your thoughts about the speaker depending on the quotation verb chosen by the journalist:

1. "Yes, I went to that seedy neighborhood," he said.
2. he acknowledged
3. he admitted
4. he conceded
5. he confessed

1. "I didn't go to that neighborhood to buy drugs. I was searching for my son," he explained.
2. he said
3. he claimed
4. he alleged
5. he maintained

Watch for slant-free verbs, such as said and replied. Be cautious when you encounter others.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Secrets to Being a Great Conversationalist

Want to become known as someone who is great to talk to? Someone who is never at a loss for words? Want to be admired for your interpersonal skills? Here are the secrets to becoming known as an excellent conversationalist.

1. Listen. Most people a hungry, if not aching, to have someone to talk to, to listen to their problems, experiences, and opinions. If you play the role of listener, helping the other person or persons to do much of the talking, even venting, that will be much appreciated. The proverb says, "Listen to seven words for every word you speak." That's good advice not only to make the talker happy, but it provides you as listener with a context and details you can use to formulate your reply.

2. Ask questions. Asking a question of your conversational partner shows that you are interested in and curious about that person's life and ideas. Sometimes (often, for shy people) others don't know what to say next. If you ask a question, they have a topic to fill out. Be sure to ask a question that the  other person will likely find interesting and have something to say about. It's better to ask, "What have you found most valuable about your education?" than to ask, "Do you think string theory will resolve the issues in quantum mechanics?" Always be ready with a question, so that if the conversation drags or stops, you can resuscitate it.

3. Remember that conversations are not all about you. I once had a friend who, no matter what I or anyone else said, would connect the statement to herself. If someone said, "There was an accident on the freeway that made me late for class," she might say, "I saw an accident once where three cars were wrecked. I got really nervous." If you said, "Let's go watch paint dry," she would likely say, "My bedroom at home is painted pink." So, resist the temptation to turn the conversation on yourself.

4. Pause. When you talk, don't engage in a fire hose of words where there are no periods in your sentences. Nonstop talkers are an irritant and they are simply impolite. A good rule of thumb to follow is to pause after every two sentences or so (unless you are in the middle of a detailed explanation) to allow someone else to inject a comment or reply. When a nonstop talker rambles on and on and changes the subject six times, the listeners forget the insightful comments they wanted to make about one of the topics now long gone, and that frustrates them, taking the enjoyment out of the experience. Besides, listening to a nonstop talker is very tiring because the listeners' brains grow weary of trying to process all those words.

5. Remember that when you are face to face, gestures, body language, and facial expressions are significant sources of communication.

6. Tone of voice is very important, and should convey interest, respect, and warmth.

7. It's best not to disagree over minor details--how to pronounce tomato is the classic example. If you must disagree, try doing it in the form of a question. For example, instead of saying, "That's wrong. It was 1989, not 1986," ask, "Wasn't it 1989 rather than 1986?" or even, "I thought is was 1989. Is that right?"

8. Avoid sarcasm. Sarcasm with those close to you who can appreciate it is okay, but in a general social setting, sarcasm is "crude, rude, and unrefined" as my junior high school teacher once said. It's insulting, disrespectful, and can be a conversation stopper.

Try these ideas out, whether you are naturally shy or naturally talkative.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

God's Grace Arriving Unexpectedly

Grace is often defined as unmerited favor or an undeserved gift. We receive God's grace when he answers our prayers. But God goes beyond answering our prayers and gives us his grace even when we don't ask. Have you ever experienced a blessing that made you praise God and say, "I would have prayed for that if I'd thought of it"? That happens to me all the time. And sometimes--well, let me tell you what happened recently.

I've been installing laminate flooring and needed some transition pieces to bridge the laminate-to-tile juxtapositions. So, I went to a flooring store. They were out of the official color. However, there was a nearly identical color--on sale for 50% off. That is an example of God's grace. And I don't  even remember praying for his help with getting those pieces.

But then, I noticed a tool sale at the laminate store. The sign said, "Tools: 30% to 90% off." Well, if you know me, a combination of tools and a sale got my attention. I picked up an extension cord and some saw blades. Then I noticed a set of hole saws, regular price about $10 or $12, on sale for $2.95. I thought, at that price I should get a set to keep in the truck. You never know when it might come in handy. Then, when I was checking out, the hole saw set rang up at 95 cents. Yes, 95 cents.

So I get back to the house and start working on changing the locks on three of the doors. The first two go fine, everything fits and it all works. But then, the lock on the workshop door is so old (the house is over 50 years old) that the latch will not fit. What was needed was to drill out the existing, narrow hole to a one inch hole. Hmm. What I needed was a one-inch hole saw. Like the one in the set I had just bought an hour earlier for 95 cents.

This is an example of grace unasked and unforeseen--an unmerited blessing given by God before we ask, before we (supposedly) need, anticipating a need. It reminds me of Ephesians 3:20, where Paul says that God "is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think" (HCSB).

God keeps reminding me of his care through blessings like this, reminding me to turn to him--to pay attention to him. He certainly made an impression with this loving gift.

Friday, October 09, 2015

The Thoughtless Downward Spiral

When I taught writing (mostly freshman composition) long ago, I always crossed out the student's "I feel" and wrote in the margin, "I think." I wanted them to pass their ideas through a few neuronal pathways before putting them to paper. I was, of course, utterly unsuccessful, not any more than I was curing vague pronoun references or the misuse of apostrophes.

But there's something about the use of "I feel" that reveals what a sorry state our culture is in.

1. You can't disagree with feelings. If I say, "I think the issue is so and so," you can point out my errors of logic, adduce contrary reasons or evidence, and so forth. You might even prove me wrong. But if I say simply, "I feel that the issue is so and so," what can you say? (If I say, "I feel happy," you can't very well respond, "No, you don't.") So feelings are the safe, lazy, thoughtless way to present your ideas, however unreasonable or poorly supported they are. Score one point for not needing to think.

2. Feelings are based on personal experience. No need for research or even taking a poll. All you need to support your opinion is your own example. External statistics, research, evidence, reasons, arguments, and the like are simply not necessary, not applicable.

3. It makes you think it's about you. What this feelings-based philosophy amounts to is narcissism, worshiping your own (bigoted?) opinions. If you thought the  conquest of objectivity by subjectivity was horrible, we're now faced with pure solipsism as king of the world. (The only question is who has the power to impose his solipsistic view of the world on everyone else?)

It seems that in the public schools the perfect storm that combined the self-esteem movement with the postmodernist view that any given text was subject to an infinite number of interpretations, resulted in celebrating the use of "I feel."

In class:
Teacher: "Why did Hamlet fail to act?"
Jane: "I feel he was too busy lusting after Ophelia."
Teacher: "Good, Jane."
Tom: "I feel it's because he was gay."
Teacher: "Good Tom."
Sally: "I feel he secretly wished he had killed his father so he could marry his mother. You know, Oedipus."
Teacher: "Good, Sally."
Bill: "I feel that he was busy researching ways to kill his uncle."
Teacher: "Good, Bill. My, I feel what a great and thoughtful class you are."

Why We Fear Change

Stuck in a lousy job, neighborhood, relationship (you're not really going to marry that person you're dating, are you?) or other unpleasant situation you just can't seem to leave? Still hoping that sports team is going to start winning? That the buggy software package you have invested in will be  fixed "real soon now"?

Even when we're stuck in a rut, and making a change seems an obvious move, we often don't like change. Here are some reasons why change is often rejected.

The Status Quo is Comfortable. The familiar, even when  substantially negative, gives us a feeling of security. We are used to this way of life. We can predict what Aunt Wilma will say. We know the dimensions of our current life and have learned to cope with our life situation as it is. Comfortable and familiar misery, it might be, but comfortable and familiar it is.

Fear of the Unknown. All changes are uncertain in their benefits and outcome. For example, leaving an awful job for another job includes the possibility that the new job will be even more awful. Those who find change difficult or impossible are afraid of  what the new situation might be. They are quite aware of "unintended consequences," "unexpected costs," and "unimagined downsides."

Fear of the Change Cascade. Making one change almost always involves changing a number of related things. Move to a new city and you've got to change friends, favorite stores, churches, schools. If  you change climates, you might also have to change your entire wardrobe. To live a mature, coherent life, you must adjust  your ideas to harmonize with the change you've just made or are planning to make.

Fear of Loss. We humans tend to be risk averse, and whenever we contemplate making a change, we look at whatever good we are giving up as well as the bad. This cognitive bias makes  us favor the known positives (however little that may be) over the risk of not gaining  a suitable positive replacement. We sometimes look at the choice of change as a guaranteed loss (giving up the current situation) trading for an uncertain gain (the unknown).

Habits are Easy. Do you ever drive down the street from your house only to wonder suddenly if you have closed the garage door? And when you drive back to check, you see that you did remember to close it? Habits, once established, allow us to run on automatic and not have to think about every movement. If it's Tuesday,  it's time to read, watch, go bowling, or whatever. Habits take a load off our minds and allow us to think about something else while performing ordinary tasks. But if you change, your habits might cease to be relevant or even workable. New habits will need to be formed.

And yet, to live is to change, and to change is to live. Many changes are forced upon us and we must make new choices--choices that alter our lives significantly. Recognizing these reasons we often see change in a negative way will help us revise our outlook.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

How to be Happy

Yes, the secret of happiness is not complicated. In fact, I can reveal the secret to you in two words. The problem is that, while the secret is not complicated, there are two problems. First, it is very difficult to implement because it conflicts with our feelings and assumptions. Second, most people are unwilling to attempt implementing the secret because it runs counter to their beliefs and habits.

So, yes, I am going to tell you how to be happy, how to have a successful marriage, how to develop and maintain solid friendships, how to succeed in business--whatever  your current status in life. I'll tell you the secret, but you won't like it. In fact, you'll probably reject it out of hand and go on living your life as you have been, with perhaps less  happiness and success you might otherwise have had.

In two words, then, the secret of happiness is: Humble yourself.

You see, pride is the source of most of the misery we cause each other. More than that, it is an inhibitor, a preventer, even destroyer of every kind of human progress.

Perhaps you know someone who has to answer every comment, criticize every action, disagree with every suggested idea, always have the last word, and, of course, always be right. People who do these things, and who take offense easily, who always seem to be angry, are letting pride destroy their own and others' happiness. (And, yes, this sort of proud behavior can be the result of low self esteem as well as genuine belief in superiority.)

But pride goes further than one person acting out a negative life. Pride hurts us all.

Today's illustrative anecdote comes from the life of Ignaz Semmelweis, an obstetrician in 19th Century Vienna. He discovered, well before the germ theory of disease had been accepted, that his medical students were somehow transferring disease from the autopsy room to the women in the hospital. So he began the practice of hand washing before patient examination. The death rate among the women in the hospital dropped 90%, from about one in every five or six women to one or two in a hundred.

Did the medical establishment welcome this news, implement hand washing universally, and praise Semmelweis as a hero? Of course not. Many doctors were  offended that anyone could suggest that persons of their exalted social status would have dirty hands. Hmmph. Pride sinks another good idea.

Oh, and besides, Semmelweis' solution ran counter to the "settled science" of the time. So instead of   taking the humble road to hand washing, the disease problem was turned back on the women, where it was suggested that what the women needed was not a doctor's clean hands but a good laxative.

Arrogance, egotism, pride--these are enormously damaging to all of us and our social world. If you want to stop damaging others and bring yourself peace and joy, humble yourself.

Why Read Fiction?

In my book, Glimmerings II, I mentioned this anecdote in #1737. But I have another response I'd like to share.

When I was an undergraduate at the University of California, Santa Barbara, I chose, from among the available requirements, a course in Introduction to the Theater. A major part of the course was to read and discuss various plays. One day early in the quarter, we were to discuss a Shakespeare play. The graduate student teaching the course put on his bright-eyed face and his hopeful tone, and asked, "Well, what do you think?"

After a bit of nonspecific interchange, ("I liked it," and "I couldn't understand it," etc.), a young woman, who had clearly already taken a course in race, class, and gender, announced in a deathly tone, "I can't relate to this. It's not about my people or about my experience." Now, since this was about 1970, it was probably the first time the teaching assistant had been confronted with this basis for rejection. He didn't  have much  of a response. But I have one.

I would tell her t his. Fictional stories, including plays, novels, short stories, and even some poems, are read for two reasons. The first reason is, "We read because we find ourselves there." That is, we relate to a character or situation or problem or crisis that is handled by the work of fiction, and as a result we feel a sense of belonging, being human, since our problems are encountered by others. We lose a sense of aloneness and alienation. Now, you have specifically rejected this reason, because you say that you cannot relate to the plot, character, or any other part of the play. We can let that go for now, with just the reminder that we sometimes must use our imaginations to translate a character's circumstances, words, and actions into something we feel as relevant to our own lives.

But there is another reason to read fiction. It is also said, "We read because we do not find ourselves there." Now, taken with the first statement above, that might seem like a paradox, but it conveys another truth. We read about characters and circumstances that are very different from our lives because we gain insights into ourselves and into the possibilities for additional life choices that we might make. Like travel, reading broadens our outlook and gives us a better, more circumspect view of life. We find options, possibilities, choices we never might have thought about otherwise. And with a little imagination, we can translate even very different circumstances into some idea relevant to us. We might not have a personal taylor who presses us to wear larger epaulets, but we can use the incident to reflect on dress and how clothing symbolizes something about ourselves, our attitudes, our values, and who we are. We might not see 18th century fops anymore, but we do know that some clothing styles send negative messages.

Suppose you read about a character who lives in a mansion and employs forty servants, Not your life experience, eh? But can you put yourself imaginatively in his shoes and ask yourself how you would live? How would you treat your servants? How would you run the household? What can these answers tell you about your own character?

If you don't yet have my book, Glimmerings II, get it from Amazon:

Friday, October 02, 2015

Why Do We Save Extra Parts?

If  you're like me, whenever you install a new system--an ice maker, garbage disposer, stereo system, or other item--you always have some parts left over. For example, perhaps you installed a new garbage disposer, but you didn't use the new sink flange because the old one was still in excellent condition. Or perhaps you tore out an old fountain and kept the water pump.You kept these items because, first, they would cost a lot of money if  you had to buy one for yourself, and second, you never know when you or others might need just this part.

But in reality, no one (and no one's brother) ever needs that part. So it just sits on the shelf and makes you feel as if your storage space is too limited.

I save screws, among the other items. I have five or six or ten jars each at least half full of assorted hardware items--screws, nuts, bolts, custom brackets, sockets, stuff  I'll never use because it's proprietary and fits only the one item I bought.

My excuse is that, "If you ever need one of these, you won't have to pay for a new one." And there is some rationale to that line of thought. A friend of mine needed a new capacitor for his home air conditioning unit. Now, I used to save old capacitors, so I took a look and discovered that my home collection was no more. However, I looked up the part he needed, a 35/5 microfarad capacitor, and Amazon had it for about $10. That is substantially cheaper than the air conditioner repairer's price of $105 plus his labor of $100 to $200.

Experiences like that make me wish I'd saved more parts. An so they mount. Of course, they are almost never needed, because either the part doesn't fit or it is no longer required, or it wears out too fast. Or the person doesn't want a used part.

So, over to the Salvation Army will go boxes of perfectly good items of all kinds.

Just for reference, here is an example of the type of capacitor I mentioned:

Monday, August 03, 2015

Two Mistaken Mental Models: Thermostat and Air Conditioning

It has been often said that we learn chiefly by analogy, by comparing the thing to be learned with something we are already familiar with. Thus, for example,  EEPROM (Electrically Erasable, Programmable, Read-Only Memory) is like a marker board: When you write on it, the information will remain until you erase it. Turning the power off does not erase it the way main memory is erased.

The analogy-based understanding you create is known as a mental model. It's your intellectual explanation of how the thing works or what it does.

It follows, then, that if you apply a wrong or inaccurate analogy to something you are trying to understand, you will construct a wrong mental model of it. Here are two common examples.

First misunderstanding: A thermostat is like an accelerator or a water faucet: As you press down on the accelerator or open the water faucet,  you get more heat or cooling volume. What's wrong with this mental model? Except for houses with multi-stage heating or cooling, a thermostat is actually just an on-off switch. If it's 60 degrees F in the house and you turn the thermostat up to 70, the heater comes on. If you turn it to 80, the heater also comes on, but at the same output capacity as at 70. It is true that many modern systems have variable heat output depending on the difference between current temperature and desired temperature, but if you are in a house with a system more than, say, five years old, don't assume that you are controlling heating power or output by turning the temperature up or down farther.

The second misleading mental model involves home central air conditioning. You might have seen ads for an "A/C tuneup," which in themselves seem to promote the analogy that central air conditioning units are like automobile engines. So if a technician comes to your house and ends up telling  you that your unit was a bit low on refrigerant, so he added a couple of pounds, you might be thinking that, just as your car sometimes gets a quart low oil, it's  understandable that your A/C unit might get low on refrigerant.

But this is where the model is wrong. Automobile crankcases are open systems, where oil can leak out or even be combusted if it gets past the piston rings.

Or suppose you reason a pari that, since your automobile's air conditioning system needed to have some refrigerant added, it's quite believable that you home system would, too.

But note what is in common with these analogies. The car needs oil because the oil leaks. The car AC system needs refrigerant because the refrigerant leaks out (at the compressor seals).

 A home air conditioning unit is a sealed system that cannot use up either oil or refrigerant. The only time a technician can add refrigerant could be (1) that the system was undercharged when it was installed or worked on or (2) that there is a leak. So, if you have your  unit checked and the service tech says your system needed some refrigerant, ask him, "Where is the leak?" or "Did you fix the leak? Show me where."

So, after all, the analogies are informative after all, if  you remember that the engine and car A/C need oil or refrigerant because of a leak, not because of normal use.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Is Neo-Darwinian Exposition Often a Case of Science Fiction or Fiction Science?

In my book, The Integration of Faith and Learning: A Worldview Approach, I referenced William D. Romey's article, "Science as Fiction or Nonfiction: A Physical Scientist's View from a General Semantics Perspective" (ETC, 37:3, Fall 1980, 201-207) in which Professor Romey says, "It is time to recognize the fictional dimension of all science and to acknowledge what is often thought 'pure' is a blend of fictional and nonfictional elements. . . ." He notes that inferences in science often involve "a leap across a gap of unknown dimensions," and that "any inference, then, may not be far from a flight of fantasy."

What brought these comments to mind was a book review by S. I. Hayakawa, that famed semanticist, discussing science fiction and L. Ron Hubbard's book, Dianetics. (ETC, 8:4, Summer, 1951, 280-293). In that review, Professor Hayakawa describes "the dangers entailed in the profession of science-fiction writing." How he describes the practice reminds me of how discussions of evolutionary "facts" and processes are often presented. Read Hayakawa's description  here and see if it doesn't resonate with a lot of Neo-Darwinist rhetoric:

"The art consists in concealing from the reader, for novelistic purposes, the distinctions between established scientific facts, almost-established scientific hypotheses, scientific conjectures, and imaginative extrapolations far beyond what has even been conjectured. The danger of this technique lies in the fact that . . . the writer . . . may eventually succeed in concealing the distinction between his facts and his imaginings from himself." As a result, adds Hayakawa, the writer's imaginings can "acquire so vivid a verbal existence that they may begin to  have, in the writer's evaluations, 'actual' existence."

From a semantics perspective, you could say that such writers have imprisoned themselves in their own verbal cage. Or, from a more ordinary perspective, it could be said that they have come to believe their own propaganda.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Problem Solving 101

I just read a review of a wireless router extender (the Netgear N300, which I own and enjoy). The owner said that the extender worked fine with his previous Internet service provider, but with the new provider,  he couldn't get it to work after "five or six hours" of trying. So he posted a negative review of the extender on Amazon.

Do you see the problem here? The rule is, If you change a variable in a working system, and the system stops working, look first at the variable you changed. Why blame another component in the system? That component worked fine before the change.

In the instance at hand, changing cable companies likely means a change in wireless routers. Maybe the new router (1) doesn't do WiFi well, (2) has the WiFi feature turned off, (3) isn't synchronized with the extender (unplugging the router for a minute has been known to work wonders). Or, perhaps the user is being impatient. A minute or two can be needed for the N300 to handshake with the router initially.

There is a tendency to blame the final link in any operational chain rather than investigate the upstream links. Here, the wireless extender is the final link and gets the blame. Come to think of it, the TV or laptop or BluRay player is probably the final link, so perhaps they should be investigated too.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Special Pleading

People who agree with my views have open, expanded, liberated, freed minds. They are intelligent, rational, and capable of understanding a good argument. People who disagree with me are either hardened, irrational ideologues, or victims of mind control. psychological manipulation, blindness imposed by society, or else they are simply evil people who love lies and darkness.

Have you noticed recently that there is such polarization among disputants that those with different views are no longer simply "wrong." They are now "evil."

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Missing Because

Our culture and even our educational system  has come to value subjectivity and personal opinion so highly--and has consequently come to reject fixed standards and even reason itself--that we now value every thought for its own sake, quite apart from any reason or evidence. We hear someone say, "I don't trust him," or "That movie was really great," or "That law is unjust," and then the speaker just  drops a period at the end of the sentence, It used to be that we would hear a "because" after such assertions. "That law is unjust because it treats minor offenses and major ones the same way."

Not now, however. In fact, when high school or college students are asked to supply a reason for their opinions, many of them grow instantly angry. They are offended, They take umbrage. The conversation goes something like this:

Teacher: What do you think about the main character's decision to leave town at the end?
Student: I think he's got another wife in another town and he's going to go to  her.
Teacher: And you think that because. . .
Student (growing angry): That's my opinion. That's just what I think.
Teacher: But can you point to a passage in the story that supports your idea?
Student: I don't have to. That's my personal opinion.

Postmodernists and their fellow travelers have helped bring about this state of affairs by asserting that a given work can yield dozens of different but equally valid interpretations. It's a free-for-all with interpretations of literature, poetry, history, and of course political science. But the phenomenon goes way beyond textual interpretations right to the heart of interpersonal communication on any topic. No one is required to have evidence or a reason for what they assert. We're just supposed to accept it.

But accept it as true or merely as that person's personal belief? I think we are witnessing the derationalization of the modern world. People want to hold beliefs without any reason or evidence. Case in point are some of the conspiracy theories and urban legends that are so preposterous yet so firmly believed. Example:

"Did you know that TWA Flight 800 was really shot down by a US missile?"
"But an extensive reconstruction of the wreckage showed no such evidence."
"Oh, it was hushed up and the fake story about frayed wires in the fuel tank was spread."
"But that would require the cooperation and lying of hundreds of investigators."

Here would be a good time to ask, "And you believe the missile idea rather than the official reports because...."

The answer to that leads to another discussion, about those who like to believe in the "true" explanations for our society's events.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Think About It, or, The Meaning of Life

In "The Strange Adventure," one of my own favorite stories from my book, Seventy Stories and a Poem, the story concludes by noting that "life is about meaning, not experience." In that context, the conclusion refers to the way we interpret what happens to us--that is, what meaning we give to an experience.

But I'd like to back up from there to note that finding meaning in an experience must be a deliberate act of thought. It is quite possible to  have many experiences in life without ever finding meaning in them, simply because meaning was never sought. Experiences must be processed, thought about, interpreted, before they will yield a meaning that can be added to our understanding about life and thereby add to our personal wisdom.

It's not simply by having lots of experiences that we grow wiser or increase our understanding about life or ourselves; it's by processing those experiences in light of moral contexts, analogous situations, and broader implications that we gain something solid and meaningful.

Next time you are sitting with a friend having a cup of coffee or a dish of ice cream, ask, "What does this mean?" and see what you can discover--about friendship, life, blessings, habits, will power, pleasure and pain, and so on. Don't live a meaningless life.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Why Some People Hate Rich People

I've come to the conclusion that people who hate the rich and want "wealth distribution" have a Scrooge McDuck view of the rich.

You'll remember that Scrooge McDuck was a Disney cartoon character, uncle to Donald Duck I think, who was known principally for his three cubic acres of money. Bills, coins, gold and so on filled a building which enclosed a cubic acre. Since an acre is a bit more than 208 feet on a side, a cubic acre would be about nine million cubic feet and three would be 27 million cubic feet.

People who hate the rich are imagining all that cash and gold coins just sitting there. Scrooge McDuck used to swim in his money. No wonder these people dream of getting a beach bucketful or two for themselves. "Redistribute the cash so everyone can have some!"

The problem is, there is no bin with three cubic acres of money. Rich people don't accumulate warehouses of cash. Their money is invested, working for them. The money is in hospitals, schools, manufacturing plants, and homes. (Where do you think banks get the money to lend to people buying a house? It's not printed in the back room.)

So stop dreaming and put your own money to work for you, and eventually you'll have--more than you think.

Beware of Undefined Words

The contemporary political scene seems to be filled with terms that at once evoke strong feelings and yet do not produce clarity of meaning. In critical thinking, slinging around terms with negative connotations is labeled the fallacy of emotive language, as in, "He is a snake," "They are extremists," and "She is a lightweight." But now the political antagonists are using as emotional weapons words that ought to be useful and clearly defined.

For example, we hear everyday comments like these:
"I am for justice."
"You are a racist."
"I support human dignity."
"You are inhumane."
"These people are being exploited."

But what do these statements mean and how should we respond? I think that one way to help increase understanding is to ask the person making the comment to define the term:

"This is unjust."
"Please tell me what you mean by unjust."

"That's unfair."
"I'm not sure what you mean by unfair or in what sense you mean it."

My suspicion is that many people use these words merely as negative emoters, words intended as weapons of disrespect. There may not be a clear definition behind their use in a given context. If that's  true, expect an angry reply rather than a definition.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Do They Think We're Stupid, Part 3

You've probably received letters and emails and Web hectorings from businesses (credit cards, utilities, banks, investment companies) offering to stop sending you printed paper statements and send you email statements instead. The real reason is that this saves a lot of money for the business. But it has to be sold to the consumer, who feels much more security in printed paper trails than in ephemeral emails.

This from an electric utility:
"As we strive to provide you with the best customer service, we wanted you to know that you have the option to receive your bill online. Paperless Billing is a great alternative way to get your bill, providing convenience and peace of mind." Et cetera.

But the kicker is in the "Two Easy Ways to Sign Up" box. The letter says, "Online, Visit" That's okay, but then there is a highlighted, yellow box with "Promo Code: QKN3X" in it.

Wait a minute. Aren't promo codes used to get a discount or extra benefit? How can you have a promo code  for signing up for paperless billing? If you don't have the code, will they refuse to sign you up? My guess is that the "promo code" is probably your encrypted account number, but why cast it in terms of a promotional benefit?

Friday, April 03, 2015

Do They Think We're Stupid, Part Two

Have you noticed that marketers and other manipulators claim that negative qualities are actually benefits designed to help you, the consume?

Examples abound.

No, the Nightmare of Perpetual Automatic Charges Is Really a Benefit
"And for your convenience, when you request your free bottle of VitaHysteria, we'll enroll you in our automatic renewal program so that you'll be guaranteed to receive all the vitamins you need."

Irrational? No, We Are Doing This for You
"In order for us to serve you better, you must fill out a new form with every request, even if you are making several requests at the same time."

You Just Don't Understand
Notice: For your protection
No running
No fishing
No campfires
No dogs
No eating
No bicycles
No beach balls
No Frisbees
No loud music
Enjoy Your Beach

You can see that those phrases aimed at you are tipoffs to requirements you won't like:
For your  convenience
To serve you better
For your protection

Do They Think We're Stupid?

It used to be said that "the big print giveth and the fine print taketh away." But now marketers don't hide anything. Take these examples:

"We'll take your TurboTax fees out of your federal refund for free. You'll need to buy TurboTax Premium Service for $39.95 to get this payment method."

Please define "free." As a window ad on the radio says, "What is the true cost of free?"

(Ironically enough, I had no federal refund.  Instead, I owed money. Talk about PedestrianTax.)

Dutch Glow (and a Hundred Other As-Seen-On-TV come-ons):
"Buy 1 Bottle of Dutch Glow for $10 plus $7.95 S&P and get a Bonus bottle of Dutch Glow, just pay separate $7.95 S&P. As a special Bonus, you will also get a FREE Jumbo Micro Fiber Polishing Cloth. Tax will apply to all NY orders. A $2.00 web surcharge fee will be applied to all orders."

Let's see, for the claimed price of $10 you get--nothing. But for $27.90 you can get two bottles and a microfiber cloth.

Harbor Freight 10-inch Miter Saw
With a super coupon, I got a great deal on a miter saw. The "Regular Price" is listed at $199, but the saw is never for sale at that price, Instead, the regular sale price was listed at $119.99, which is closer to being the true "Regular Price." But the saw shows up on sale brochures for less, and if you can find the right "super coupon," you can own one of these for $82,82.

But wait. There is one little problem. The 10-inch Miter Saw does not include a blade. That's a minimum of $11 to $20 more before the saw will actually work. The box does not mention that the blade is extra.

Quiz Time
What's exploitative about this claim?
"We'll send you a bottle of Miracle Liquid Product absolutely free. Just pay shipping and processing."
"Now you can get a 30-day supply of Vitamin Vital Vim and Vigor FREE of charge. Have your credit card ready."

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Presumption of Theism

Atheists are sometimes fond of saying that we should face the natural world with the presumption of atheism. That is, until convincing evidence for the existence of God can be adduced, we should assume that God does not exist. This claim gets it exactly backwards.

If you look at nature with your eyes open, everything has the appearance of having been designed. Flowers, trees, crystals, chambered nautilus shells, the human body. And the complexity of the natural world argues further for a designer or creator. Metamorphosis, the blood-clotting cascade, an entire set of baby teeth being replaced by permanent teeth. It is the most logical to conclude that all these things came about because of the creation or guidance of God. That's what people naturally believe.

To attribute these things to chance, random mutation, natural selection, and so forth, in the absence of God, requires an (unnatural) set of arguments and explanations. Atheism must be trained into people in the process of explaining away the appearance of design. And to be an atheist in the face of the elegance and complexity of the processes in a single cell--the molecular machines, DNA, hormonal controls, the process of cell division--this, it would seem, requires more faith than that possessed by many theists.

If you can argue persuasively for the presumption of atheism, then Neo-Darwinist evolutionary theory can maintain a modicum of plausibility, which, if God is anywhere even remotely present, the theory has lost completely. This explains why science has been redefined from "the search for truth and explanations of nature and its processes"  into "the search for natural explanations of nature and its processes."

Losing the argument? Redefine the terms.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Thomas Nagel, Evolution, and Common Sense

Thomas Nagel, New York University philosophy professor, recently (Oxford, 2012) published Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. A basic point he makes there is that ongoing scientific discoveries are steamrolling Neo-Darwinism: "The more details we learn about the chemical basis of life and the intricacy of the genetic code, the more unbelievable the standard historical account becomes (5). The "governing assumptions" of the "current orthodoxy" are "unsupported," and fly "in the face of common sense" (5). The reason, Nagel says, that so many people subscribe to such a "highly implausible" account (6) is that "almost everyone has been browbeaten into regarding" it as "sacrosanct" (7).

Nagel notes a common predicament created by Neo-Darwinism: "Evolutionary naturalism provides an account of our capacities that undermines their reliability, and in doing so undermines itself" (27). In other words, how can we trust a brain constructed by random mutations selected only for their reproductive and survival advantage? Says Nagel, "Evolutionary naturalism implies that we shouldn't take any of our convictions seriously, including the scientific world picture on which evolutionary naturalism itself depends" (28).

So why is it gospel in the scientific arena? "The priority given to evolutionary naturalism," Nagel explains, "in the face of its implausible conclusions" derives from "the secular consensus that this is the only form of external understanding of ourselves that provides an alternative to theism . . ." (29).

Nagel covers many implausibilities relating to evolutionary theory, such as that "natural selection should have generated creatures with the capacity to discover by reason the truth about a reality that extends vastly beyond the initial appearances. . ." (74). That is, why and how did our brains develop such a phenomenal capacity when we needed them only to hunt and to find mates? Nagel finds consciousness itself, together with reason, "symbolic representations, and logical consistency" (78) in need of a more credible explanation than the one offered by evolutionary theory.

Nagel concludes, "It would be an advance if the secular theoretical establishment . . . could wean itself of the materialism and Darwinism of the gaps. . ." (127).

A final note. Professor Nagel is an atheist, who says, "I do not find theism any more credible than materialism as a comprehensive world view" (22). He is not writing as a defender of any theistic alternative to evolution.

Defining Science Down

Science used to be defined as "knowledge and the search for understanding of the natural world." In other words, the search for nature's truth, wherever it might lead. Today, however, science is defined in a much more constricted form: "the search for naturalistic explanations of the physical world." The change, of course, was made in order to define the supernatural out of science. How clever those redefiners were. By definition, science excludes creationist theories and intelligent design theories because "they are not science."

That reminds me of the scientist who indulged a similar-pattern question-begging definition when he said something to the effect that "mental states are those thoughts of which we are aware. Therefore, there are no unconscious mental states." Don't like an idea? Just define it out of existence.

And the new definition of science has another benefit. As Philip Johnson has said (in an online lecture), by insisting on natural explanations for everything, an origins model very much like New-Darwinian evolution must be true, since there are no alternatives with any superior probability that involve only naturalistic explanations.

And again, as Philip Johnson points out, that's why examples of mere reversible  gene frequencies are touted as evolution, when in fact they show only the flexibility of the genome for horizontal variation. The Galapagos finches, fruit flies, DDT resistant flies, antibiotic-resistant fruit flies, and Kettlewell's Peppered Moths are all examples of reversible variation, not evolution in the sludge to the judge, slime to the sublime sense.

And while I'm haranguing this, let me say I'm very disappointed in the lack of integrity of the whole evolutionary enterprise. Examples: (1) Ernst Haeckel's faked embryos, (2) Kettlewell's faked Peppered Moth photos, (3) the claim that variation is evolution (and the equivocation fallacy involved in trying to confuse the definition of evolution), (4) going to court to prevent criticism of Neo-Darwinism in the public schools, (5) repeating exploded stories like the Stanley Miller "chemicals of life" experiment, and so on, (6) labeling anything not in harmony with the standard model as "pseudoscience," or  labeling Intelligent Design as "Intelligent Design Creationism,"

The bottom line is that naturalism is a religion--or, if you prefer, a metaphysical ideology--and, again as has been pointed out numerous times, Neo-Darwinist evolutionary theory is naturalism's creation myth. By defining science down to naturalist philosophy, we have not only a shrunken view of reality, but a Procrustean bed upon which all discoveries in the living (and fossil) world must be forced to fit. Truth? Oh, well, never mind that.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Atheism and the Problem of Evil and Suffering

Atheists are fond of arguing that because there is evil in the world, God doesn't exist. And it has just as often been replied that the conclusion doesn't follow for several reasons (for example, a good God might have loving reasons for permitting suffering). And it has also been pointed out that if God doesn't exist, there is no "problem of evil," since there is no evil, only experiences and phenomena that we personally dislike. Evil implies a cosmic standard, and without a transcendent God, we can have no cosmic, universal, or even global, standards of value, and hence no way of arguing against the existence of God because of the presence of evil.

It has also been pointed out that if we got here by some purely naturalistic process (like evolution), how could we trust our brains to know that? If evolution chooses mutations on the basis of the reproductive advantage they offer the organism, then our brains developed not to understand truth or the reality either the natural or moral world, but merely in order to outreproduce every other human. So our perceptions of the external world, our use of reason, our analysis of our experiences--all are suspect and unreliable.

Further, and this has also been remarked, if we are merely evolved animals, where all that exists is a brain with various electrochemical events (no mind, no soul, no spirit), then there is not really a you or me to experience evil, only a deterministic brain, And if we our brains determine randomly or determine deterministically what we believe and do, then perhaps atheists are randomly required to disbelieve in God, while we theists are equally randomly required to believe. Why (and how) argue with beliefs that are predetermined by the purposeless activity of our brains? Why try to  change someone's beliefs when those beliefs are an accidental product of a random cosmos?

Why not adopt the eastern idea that suffering is maya, an illusion, and not real at all? What happens to the atheist argument then? What problem of pain?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

On the Persistence of Neo-Darwinism After Losing Its Explanatory Power

Among those who have witnessed the increasing weakness of the Neo-Darwinian model of origins and development to explain biological life, the question has arisen about why anyone still adheres to this theory, and why, in fact, its supporters use ever shriller voices and even lawsuits to prevent the presentation of opposing ideas. There are actually several answers

1. Neo-Darwinism is an exercise in Procrustean science, where observations and conclusions are forced to fit the theory. In his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn observes that "normal science" is "a strenuous and devoted attempt to force nature into the conceptual boxes supplied by professional education." He says that theory directs the construction of experiments and the observations that reinforce and refine the theory. Physicist Grazia Borrini-Feyerabend opines that "the idea to fit something into what is already there drives the great majority of scientists today" (quoted in Paul Feyerabend, The Tyranny of Science).

2. Relatedly, Daniel Kahneman, in Thinking Fast and Slow, refers to a phenomenon he calls "theory-induced blindness." He says that "once you have accepted a theory and used it as a tool in your thinking, it is extraordinarily difficult to notice its flaws." The good news is that, once you overcome your blindness and reject the theory, it might well seem "not only false but absurd." So I think a second reason that Neo-Darwinism hangs on is that its supporters, under the spell of theory-induced blindness, simply can't see how poorly the evidence matches the claims.

3. Peer pressure. Or, the emperor's new clothes. Prestige, promotions, tenure, grants, and success in the scientific world require conformity of thought about the theory of evolution. If you want a job in any area of science, you'd better give lip service to Darwin. Atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel himself is fed up with the demand for conformity. In his book, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, he writes, "Physico-chemical reductionism in biology is the orthodox view, and any resistance is regarded as not only scientifically but politically incorrect." To Nagel, even though he proposes no alternative explanation for life on earth, "The more details we learn about the chemical basis of life and the intricacy of the genetic code, the more unbelievable the standard historical account becomes." The problem is that "almost everyone in our secular culture has been browbeaten into regarding the reductive research program as sacrosanct, on the ground that anything else would not be science."

4. Neo-Darwinism is a religion, or, if you prefer, a metaphysical ideology. As such, a fundamental article of faith in Neo-Darwinism is that the biological world--and in fact, the entire cosmos--is to be explained by mechanisms and phenomena that decidedly exclude anything or Anyone supernatural. This fact explains the hostility of the Neo-Darwinists to the Intelligent Design theoreticians--they suspect that intelligent design theory has implications of the supernatural. And recall that science has been redefined from "the search for truth and knowledge" to "the search for naturalistic explanations." As geneticist Richard Lewontin says, many scientists are committed to naturalistic explanations of the existence of life because "we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism." And, he concludes, "that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door" (New York Review of Books).

5. Following from the previous reason is the problem of what Neo-Darwinist theory can be replaced with if the scientific establishment abandons that sinking ship. Returning to Thomas Kuhn, he notes that "once it has achieved the status of paradigm, a scientific theory is declared invalid only if an alternate candidate is available to take its place." And right now, there is no naturalistic, materialistic alternative explanation for the existence of the biological world. All of the "alternative" theories are just flavors of basically Neo-Darwinist evolution--panspermia, hopeful monster, punctuated equilibria.

Ultimately, then, it's a worldview problem. Neo-Darwinism is the creation myth of those who want to keep God away. No amount of evidence, argument, or common sense is likely to displace the theory because the theory is a fundamental, unfalsifiable assumption impervious to evidence against it. It's an article of faith. For these reasons, Neo-Darwinism is likely to continue to be propped up for the foreseeable future.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Secret to a Happy Marriage

There are thousands of books aimed at saving, repairing, or improving marriage. Thousands of research articles investigate what makes marriages last or break apart. Countless hours and millions of dollars have gone into studying marriage with the idea of determining how they grow and strengthen or how they weaken and fall apart. You can watch videos, read books, listen to audio presentations, go to seminars and weekend retreats. You can visit counselors, pastors, and therapists.

But the answer to What Makes a Happy Marriage? is really simple. Save time and pay attention. What all the research has shown--all the studies and interviews and observations--boils down to a single, simple truth:

Happily married couples are nice to each other.

Yes, it's that simple. Now, it may not be easy, but don't fall for the "simple is easy" myth. The fact is, couples who report being happy--and happily married--are gentle, respectful, loving, kind, affectionate, happy, supportive, and fun with each other. In other words, nice.

If that seems like a Duh! truth, consider then why so many married people are always using verbal daggers and emotional clubs on each other, criticizing, contradicting, condescending, shaming, belittling, showing contempt, rejection, hostility, superiority, and even hatefulness.

Just quit that. Treat  your spouse the way you treat your friends, and then see how much happier you both can be.

Monday, January 05, 2015

American Culture Is Going Downhill

The belief that our culture is getting worse has been attributed to the age of those who think so. Old folks are the ones who talk about the good old days. Sam, one of the people who seems wise in these things, says the following:

Every old man complains of the growing depravity of the world, of the petulance and insolence of the rising generation. He recounts the decency and regularity of former times, and celebrates the discipline and sobriety of the age in which his  youth was passed; a happy age which is now no more to be expected, since confusion has broken in upon the world, and thrown down all the boundaries of civility and reverence.

But those who complain of the worsening of the world are right, you say. I agree, But then, I'm getting old now, too.

So what, you ask? Well, Sam is Samuel Johnson, and the quotation above was written in 1750 (Rambler essay Number 50, published September 8, 1750). If every generation thinks (rightly?) that things are getting worse and the younger generation is spoiled and corrupt, and if we've had about 9 or 10 generations since then, why, we must be living in very confused times, where there is little civility and reverence. Hey, wait. That's right.