Sunday, April 30, 2006

[geek] Okay, this is bloody annoying...

[Updated at the end of the post - 30 April 2006 23:35 PDT] Someone is stealing my content! My recent post on atheism was stolen for, of all things, a Christian dating service, while my post on blacksmithing was stolen to promote a 'majikal supplies' site. Unethical, dishonest - and possible violations of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) to boot... See, these spambags (because that's really the league they're in) use a 'spider' program to crawl the web and find posts that contain keywords - doesn't matter what order they're in or if they're in the context that the 'blog' pretends to be. They then pull excerpts with those keywords into fake posts on their website. It's all about steering Google results to these sites - these fake sites then link to bullshit marketing/sales sites (Click here to visit our sponsor!), which is where they then make their money. It looks like maybe the same skeezy outfit took both of these posts - the sites are identical in layout. I suppose they might not be - after all, the same spambags who sell CDs with spam software and databases of email addresses could sell spider software and web templates just as easily. But they certainly look, feel, and smell like they're the same scavenging bastards. I actually went so far as to file a DMCA complaint with the ISP of one of the sites since they're hosted here in the US - I figure that this might count as using my content for commercial purposes without my permission or compensation. The other ISP looks like it's based in the EU with a US office and a server farm in India... I have no idea if a DMCA complaint to them will produce any results. Hell, I have no idea if my first DMCA complaint will do anything. We'll see. It's my content, dammit. It isn't that widely read, but dammit, it's still mine. If someone wants to distribute it (properly attributed) for non-commercial purposes, that's fine by me - but using my writing to boost a sleazy site's "Google Juice" is out of bounds. Update #1: My first complaint worked! The whole skanky domain has been taken down... I just hope that the bastards didn't have a backup. My guess is that they didn't - these morons strike me as being too 'quick buck' oriented to actually, you know, plan for things. We'll see - I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the second complaint.

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[politics] The rule of Law and all that...

Unclaimed Territory - by Glenn Greenwald: Media finally starting to report the President's systematic lawbreaking But is it enough? According to Greenwald, the Boston Globe has an article (which I'm heading over to read now) detailing nearly 1000 laws that the President has decided don't apply to him - so he's decided not to follow them by using a Constitutionally-dubious version of the 'signing statement'. Where once this statement was used to express displeasure or state reservations, it is now being used to state, baldly, that the President reserves the right to ignore those parts of the law (up to and including the whole bloody thing) if he decides it runs counter to his interests the interests of the country (yeah, right...). This is being done by a President from the same party that controls Congress! You know, the people who are creating those laws Bush is ignoring? And jurists purporting to share his philisophical outlook control the Supreme Court! You know, the people who are supposed to decide if laws are Constitutional? The only remedy would seem to be a Supreme Court decision or a Constitutional Amendment - and I don't see either of those happening any time soon. Does anyone have any idea what this does to checks and blances!? What checks or balances are there on the President's newly-found ability to disregard any law he chooses? That doesn't sound like a Democratic Republic to me.

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[music] What happens when you cross Henry Rollins with Fred Schneider?

Why, naturally you get Black Fag, a Los Angeles-based Black Flag cover band. What did you think you'd get?
The story of Black Fag begins in the small town of New Hope, PA. Singer Liberace Morris was raised in neighboring Doylestown, but found a home among New Hopes thriving gay community. He worked at a vintage clothing/toy store while pursuing musical theatre at the Bucks County Playhouse at night. One night after Pippin rehearsal, Liberace came home to find his boyfriend in bed with another man. While drowning his sorrows at the local watering hole, The Raven, Liberace started singing and playing Black Flags Nervous Breakdown on the piano. The rest of the bar simply ate it upuntil the end of the song, when Liberace stood up and started haphazardly hurling martini glasses around the place. He was permanently ejected from The Raven and convinced that his life was officially over. While lying on the sidewalk debating what type of pills would make for the most dramatic accessory to his final exit, a shadow loomed over him. It was bassist Cher Dykeowski, a biker dyke like no other, who was in town for the annual motorcycle rally. She, too, was a Black Flag fan, and had seen something special in Liberaces performance. Having not had a steady home since her parents kicked her out after she attended her senior prom with her Phys. Ed. teacher, Cher was a wanderer with plans to make her way to California. She offered Liberace the bitch seat on her Harley and, with nothing left for either of them in Pennsylvania, they set off on an epic cross-country journey, which included Cher winning a blue ribbon at the Annual Gay Rodeo in Scottsdale, AZ along the way. (And believe you me, the rest of that trip makes Priscilla, Queen of the Desert look like Andy Warhols Sleep, but thats a tale to be told on another day)
It only gets funnier stranger funnier from there... This may have to be my next music purchase... [via]

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Friday, April 28, 2006

[random][politics] Atheism and compassion

Yesterday I did something I haven't done in years (probably going back to my Usenet days...) - I took the bait offered by an Evangelical Christian blog that posited that atheists are less compassionate than theists. Now, I don't seek out religious sites, but the post was linked to by a blog I enjoy reading, and, well, given what I'd just written about Rabbi Gellman's Newsweek's article, I couldn't let it pass. I'm glad I did it - I found it quite educational. The blog's author had posted a piece about a single mother who is developmentally disabled, as is her child. How would an atheist respond to her needs, he wondered? Why, the cold heartless logic of atheism leads to disdain in the best case, euthanasia in the worst. An atheist could, he conceded, meet her physical needs, but what if all she wanted was for someone to pray for her? What if all she wanted was for someone to pray with her? Since no atheist could possibly do that, clearly a theist's compassion was superior. (The blog is here, and if you want to only read the comment thread, it's here.) But you see, when push came to shove, they couldn't really justify their stance. No, instead they tried linking socialism to atheism (bzzt! wrong answer!), and they tried laying the atrocities committed by the 20th century totalitarians at the feet of atheism (bzzt! wrong answer!), and spent much of the rest of the time trying to argue that since Christianity was the One True Faith, their version of compassion was superior to that of everyone else. Whoah, there boy! Since when did 'theism' and 'Christianity' become synonymous? And since when did 'not Christian' become the same as 'atheist'? Since when did 'Christian' and 'capitalist' become synonymous? This speaks volumes, does it not? So what happens to their hypothetical compassion when the woman's spiritual needs differ from theirs? Many fundamentalist Christians (like the site's author and the regular commentors) regard Catholicism as misguided at best, heretical at worst - what if the act of devotion that would make the woman happy was taking Communion with her? What if it was going to Confession with her? Lighting candles to the Virgin Mary? I have yet to get an answer that addresses this question. But let's take it a logical step further - what if she wasn't a Christian at all? What if the only way her spiritual needs could be met involved...
...going to a temple, being annointed with paint, donning a garland of orange and white flowers, and saying mantras to Kali, Shiva, or Ganesha? ...going to her ancestral shrine, sweeping off her parents' graves, leaving them food, lighting joss sticks for them, and burning ghost money for them so that their physical needs could be met in the afterlife? ...stripping naked and leaping over a fire, or dancing around a May Pole? ...laying out crystals and absorbing energy from a Vortex?
Somehow I doubt that their 'compassion', as they define it, extends that far. So how does that differ from an atheist's unwillingness to pray with her? I even offered that while I personally could not pray for or with her, I certainly wouldn't have a problem with finding her someone who could. Heck, if I was involved enough in this woman's life to know about her needs and spiritual concerns, I probably wouldn't even have a problem with driving her someplace where she could have her spiritual needs safely met. Would they drive her there, knowing that she was about to engage in actions that, as they see it, condemn her to Hell? If not, why? It's all about meeting her needs, isn't it? I'm not going to say that the compassion of atheists is superior to that of theists - but what I will say is that everyone's compassion has limits. And I think that being aware of those limits helps us be less cruel - more compassionate - regardless of what we believe. If my personal philosophy leads me to a conclusion that is similar to yours, I can only see that as a Good Thing, regardless of how you arrived at that conclusion. I don't care if we share the same path, nor do I insist that others follow my path and my path only. But if we arrive at the same conclusion through different paths, why is it so important that the way I get there matches your way? Expending energy on nonsense like this when there are bigger problems that we all face is foolishness.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a christian guy, but i have a question that has nothing to do with this topic haha. Recently i've been really interested in programming,(i would've asked a friend but none of them know anything about programming) i have visual basic 6.0 but i want a really good book that teaches VB for beginners. I've been trying to find someone to ask on blogs, and out of all places its this place haha. Do you guys have any book suggestions? I noticed on ur profile u guys like programming. Thanks for taking your time to responde.

4/28/2006 11:04:00 AM  
Blogger protected static said...

No 'you guys' here - just me, and I think you might have just made my day ;-)

My advice? Skip VB6 entirely. It's a dead language. If you're interested in doing Microsoft development, MSFT has committed to the .NET platform; you can download free 'express' versions of any of Microsoft's .NET languages here. Microsoft also has a decent site called Coding4Fun which has a lot of useful material for casual programmers.

VB6 is a safe language to putter around in, but it makes it very easy to pick up some bad habits. If you're dead set on VB6, then honestly pretty much any of the intro VB books are going to tell you more or less the same thing: SAMS, "For Dummies", etc. I've gotten rid of almost all my VB6 books at this point - but the best ones were the ones I could refer to as-needed at work, the more practical the content, the better. These books aren't the best way to learn a language, unfortunately.

A good overall book about programming is Code Complete. I love this book, but the 1st edition (which I own) would be a little dated for someone starting out now. I don't know how well the 2nd edition holds up.

IMO, a far better way to learn is to take a community college course or a short-term non-credit/extension course offered by a 4-year institution. They'll teach you the basics, with the added benefits of a.) having an instructor you can pester with questions and b.) using a language that's actually in use in the 'real world', such as VB.NET or Java. If you've got the extra money, you can take a course offered by a 'real' training center - but the difference in $$$ (often a difference of $1000 or more) is only justified if you're serious about making a go of programming as a living. Prospective employers are more likely to take courses from one of those sites more seriously than from a CC, even though in my experience, the difference in quality can be negligible.

Hope that helps; if it doesn't, feel free to ask more questions... Thanks for stopping by.

4/28/2006 11:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for responding to my ? static. Yeah I read online that VB6 is the most popular programming, and prob the easiest to learn, that's why I picked it bc its easy to learn. They also said that even though the .Net version is growing fast in popularity, that VB6 well still be around for a long time. I was thinking about C++ but seemed too hard for me. But I will look into Java and VB.Net version. Is VB.Net somewhat similar to VB6? and is Java hard to learn for someone like me? So if I had to pick one, you would suggest VB.Net? or Java? I was also interested in web design , there's so much I want to learn but little time haha. And I will look at those website you gave me, thanks a lot for your help and maybe next time I'll type something that has to do with your blog haha. Thanks, take care.

4/28/2006 04:04:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Dunbar said...

Expending energy on nonsense like this when there are bigger problems that we all face is foolishness.

We all gotta do something.

No really - we - that is Liftport - get that question. Why are you focusing on this when there are these problems and that woe .. if only you applied yourself to the problem I'm worried about (they continue) the world would be a better place.

I have to mentally shrug. We can't all be doctors or aid workers in Sudan or curing bilateral frostbite. Some of us choose (metaphysical alert) different paths. You develop softare, centuri0on blogs the Gospel, and so on.

Anonymous, I am not a developer or coder and my scripts are not elegant. I have made a decent living from not following the herd in IT.

When the world was on the Netware 3.11 bandwagon and the sure meal ticket was to be a CNE I was a Banyan Vines guy. When the world changed it's mind and being a MCSE was 'the' thing I drifted into Unix administration.

Currently I stradle a bizarro world where I'm the Solaris / Windows sys-admin at the day job. It pays the bills.

What I mean to say is there is profit in not following the thundering herd. Anyone can be a county firefighter - and you get paid poorly. Move up the ladder and become a HAZMAT specialist - not many can or want to do that and the pay is better. Far, far up the scale is the now deceased Red Adair and there is only one of him. And boy did he rake in the bucks.

4/28/2006 04:25:00 PM  
Blogger protected static said...

What he said.

I'm happiest doing, well, things that make me happy. No big mystery there, right? And when I've worked for companies where I wasn't working on anything particularly meaningful, I was happiest when I had relatively wide creative control.

Take away both, and I'm miserable. At that point, you're just twiddling bits to collect a paycheck, and that's a soul-killer.

As it happens, I'm working on a project that (if it pans out) could have some small positive effect on the world - and that's cool. It won't be earth-shattering like a successful space elevator has the potential to be, but that's okay - we can't all be un-rocket scientists ;-)

I'm getting paid to: a.) do something I like (program), b.) possibly Do Some Good, and c.) keep learning stuff. I'm not earning as much as what I could in a more traditionally 'corporate' environment, but thems the tradeoffs.

It doesn't matter what language you learn - what's more important is figuring out what you want to do 'when you grow up'. I've evolved from working with proprietary niche languages to VBA/MS Office to VB6/SQL Server to C#/Java/various flavors of SQL.

And no - I still haven't figured out what I want to be... This works for me now: I'm paying the bills, I have something left over for some luxuries and for my future, and I'm having a good time doing it.

On a more practical note: Java & VB.NET are safe, corporate-friendly languages. Perl and PHP are great, flexible, web-friendly scripting languages. C++ lets you get close to the machine, and do some stuff that Java, VB.NET & C# can only dream of. Hard-core game or simulation programming? Mostly C++. Business software? VB, Java, C#.

But the rub is that this is only true now. In five or ten years, things might be (probably will be) very different, and you might find yourself having to reinvent yourself all over again. I've certainly done it - twice now.

Get your feet wet however you choose. To gank an entirely overused and commercialized phrase, just do it.

4/28/2006 07:14:00 PM  
Blogger I'm gone said...

I just wanted to post a comment about the article on atheism and compassion. I am, what I would call myself, a born again Christian. While I disagree with a lot of the arguments presented by atheists, I'd like to point out that your article was very logical and made a whole lot of sense. I think the problem was that the other guy essentially "didn't think things through", assuming that compassion was limited to one act. Thank you for pointing that out. While I do defend the Christian faith, especially from a logical perspective, I find that there are a lot of well-meaning, yet personally opinionated, Christians that do more damage than good sometimes. I hope that your experience with one such person doesn't limit you from ever hearing what other Christians or theists might have to say. It would be the same as if I heard an argument from one atheist, who doesn't necessarily hold the exact views of all atheists, and I dismissed atheism as a whole because the former had poor arguments.

Thanks for hearing me out.

5/18/2006 11:17:00 AM  

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

[geek] The bugs, they are subtle...

So at work today, I was greeted by an email containing possibly disastrous news: our software (the version rushed out for the agricultural study, remember?) looked like it might be eating data. After seeing it go live, the client had some (quite reasonable) changes they wanted implemented and gave us a week and a half to get them done. Most of them were content related, not logic, so it wasn't a big deal to implement and test the changes, then turn the app around for another go in the field. So they schlepped out to East Buttcrack, WA, app in hand, for another round of (we mutually agreed) pilot data collection. The primary investigator (or one of his minions) then had the good sense to actually import the data into a stats package they were familiar with and take a preliminary look at the data to see if they had everything they expected - for instance, did the subject IDs in the database match up with those in the hand-written log books? (IMO, it's always a Good Thing when the client is saavy enough to tell if what they're getting is crap or not. They know what they should be getting, while we're pretty much guessing. We try to make as informed a guess as possible, but we aren't the domain experts in what we're trying to model in the software. But I digress...) The client threw up a red flag: one of the interviews that they conducted was missing from the database. Gone. Poof. Vanished into the digital aether. That's not good. That's really not good. Still, for debugging a client-reported defect, we had a lot more data than we typically start with. Again, this is a Good Thing. They brought in the offending machine, and we went to work on it. Sure enough, there in the event log was error after error: SQL transaction failed, again and again and again. We were logging the exceptions, but we weren't alerting the user to them (a design decision I personally disagreed with, but hey...). We probably couldn't have told them to do anything more intelligent than exit the application and start over, but that probably would have fixed the problem. So off we go - what causes this error? Debuggers are fired up, process explorers are going... and they give us nothing. Nada. Bupkus. We can't reproduce the error. Oh, we found the cause of a similar exception that was being logged whenever the app exited (the code worked properly despite itself), but a wholesale failure of a given data-collection session? Nope. That suxors. Lots. And not in a good way. Finally, my coworker (he's a dev, but he's also more of a jack-of-all-IT-trades kind of guy) is free-associating, and wonders if somehow threads were sharing data. No, I tell him - while you can do that with relative ease, we aren't doing anything like that with this app. All the components run inline, in the same thread. We spin off child threads for load balancing, but we don't exchange data between threads. We don't need to, it's a disaster waiting to happen, and, done poorly, it can quickly become the programming version of the Witch House, bending reality beyond anything that Should Be. But maybe he was on to something... He mentioned that it was a fairly common occurence for the field staff to launch more than one instance of the app - the app runs on a Tablet PC, and the 'double-click' with the stylus breaks the rules that Windows follow in a mouse-driven environment. Not much, but it's enough of a deviation that it takes a little while to get used to. Second, with .NET applications, there's almost always going to be lag the first time you run the app. Like Java, the app is compiled on-the-fly; those pieces that get accessed the most often are then pre-compiled for subsequent accesses. This improves performance eventually, but initially it can seem like nothing's happening. And what do users do when nothing's happening? They click again. Third, these tablets are running fairly puny mobile CPUs. This increases the lag time, relative to the PCs upon which these apps are developed. And what does greater lag time mean? Yup, more clicking. So, three or four instances of the app open results in each creating their own database record - but if the lag hits just right, more than one instance of the app will 'share' the record ID of the most recent record. The staffer, realizing that they've got more than one instance running, will toggle around and close out those 'extra' instances. The app, being fairly polite and well-intentioned, will clean up after itself and delete whatever unused database record it is holding on to. If the instance they leave running shares the record ID with one of the instances that got closed, the closing app sees that the database record hasn't been used yet and deletes it. The still-functioning app no longer has a valid record to write to. It's, well, gone. Poof. Vanished into the digital aether. Since we aren't throwing the resulting exception in the user's face, they proceed apace, blissfully unaware that none of their data is being stored. And you can't reproduce the error if your machine is beefy enough. Can't. Won't happen. You can launch as many instances of the app as you want, and each and every one of them will have the correct record ID in memory. If our client hadn't been willing to turn the machine in to us, we wouldn't have ever found the bug. They would have continued to lose data, we would have continued to be unable to reproduce it, and things would have gone south from there. I lose sleep over bugs like this: intermittent and (apparently) unreproducable bugs are a nightmare, and our user base isn't broad enough (and our hardware base is too monocultural) for us to see any kind of hardware-related (or third-party software-related) patterns of errors. In this case, the fix was easy - on startup, see if there's another instance running. If there is, quit quietly and gracefully and bring the other instance to the fore. If there isn't launch away. But all too often, programming depends upon gut feelings and hunches to identify the sources of problems, and when the fixes aren't quite so easy, you run a tremendous risk of ending up with more problems than you started with. Today we were lucky. We won't always have that luxury.

4 Comments:

Blogger Brian Dunbar said...

We were logging the exceptions, but we weren't alerting the user to them (a design decision I personally disagreed with, but hey...)

I'm not your client, I'm not and end user. But I support some fairly esoteric applications in a manufacturin environment.

Throw them exception alerts, baby. Toss them right in the user's face. Let them know things aren't right so they don't go merrily along entering data when nothing is really happening and then get cheesed off when they find out they've got to repeat the data entry ..

Just my opinion of course.

4/28/2006 07:36:00 AM  
Blogger protected static said...

It's mine as well... When I relase my component into the wild, if it has a publicly accessible API, someone somewhere might, you know, actually try to program with it. I have no idea how they're going to want to use my component, nor do I know if I've accounted for every possible boneheaded thing some other developer (or this developer, for that matter) might do.

I think that part of this is a bit of a culture clash - my coworkers come largely from a web development background (creating tools to be used by other programmers and technical end users), while I've mostly done custom database and desktop development for (non-technical) business environments.

4/28/2006 07:57:00 AM  
Blogger Stephen Spencer said...

Bravo on finding that esoteric bug, my friend.

4/30/2006 11:15:00 PM  
Blogger protected static said...

Woulda been better to have not introduced it in the first place... ;-)

4/30/2006 11:45:00 PM  

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

[random][politics] "Trying to Understand Angry Atheists"

Ah, yes - the "angry atheist" trope. Rabbi Marc Gellman's Newsweek article above, subtitled "Why do nonbelievers seem to be threatened by the idea of God?", can really only be addressed by turning it all around: Why are believers threatened by the lack of God? Let's look at the article in depth, shall we? It starts off well enough:
I think I need to understand atheists better. I bear them no ill will. I don't think they need to be religious to be good, kind and charitable people, and I have no desire to debate or convert them. I do think they are wrong about the biggest question, “Are we alone?” and I will admit to occasionally viewing atheists with the kind of patient sympathy often shown to me by Christians who can't quite understand why the Good News of Jesus' death and resurrection has not reached me or my people.
Okay - all well and good so far.
However, there is something I am missing about atheists: what I simply do not understand is why they are often so angry.
Huhn? And the proof here is...? A sweeping generalization; this really doesn't bode well.
So we disagree about God. I'm sometimes at odds with Yankee fans, people who like rap music and people who don't like animals, but I try to be civil. I don't know many religious folk who wake up thinking of new ways to aggravate atheists, but many people who do not believe in God seem to find the religion of their neighbors terribly offensive or oppressive, particularly if the folks next door are evangelical Christians. I just don't get it.
That sentence in the middle there really gives me pause: "I don't know many religious folk who wake up thinking of new ways to aggravate atheists, but many people who do not believe in God seem to find the religion of their neighbors terribly offensive or oppressive, particularly if the folks next door are evangelical Christians." With the rare exception, atheists aren't the ones trying to force their religious views into law, rabbi. And evangelical Christians are, to my knowledge, the single group most likely to be trying to force a theocratic world view on my society. By extension, this includes me, does it not? That's offensive to me. It's also oppressive. I don't want to live in a theocracy - our rules are goofy enough without explicitly dragging supersition into the mix. And, well... I tend to get a bit touchy when others try to oppress me. If that's anger, then so be it. Personally, I think I'd be being a bad citizen if I rolled over and meekly let such things be done in the name of superstition, but hey! To-mah-to, to-may-to, right? But I gotta say - this isn't looking like a promising bit of writing, Rabbi Gellman.
This must sound condescending and a large generalization, and I don't mean it that way, but I am tempted to believe that behind atheist anger there are oftentimes uncomfortable personal histories.
Yup. Condescending and a huge generalization. Nope, less and less promising by the sentence; nay, by the clause.
Perhaps their atheism was the result of the tragic death of a loved one, or an angry degrading sermon, or an insensitive eulogy, or an unfeeling castigation of lifestyle choices or perhaps something even worse. I would ask for forgiveness from the angry atheists who write to me if I thought it would help.
Woah. Stop the presses. Why are conversion narratives somehow more valid if they're about someone 'finding God'? How many people who profess to be 'born again' have done so because of tremendous personal pain? Isn't that one of the favorite tropes of Christians, for instance? "I was lost but now I'm found" and all that? Why is that the only valid experience, Rabbi? If that sort of hurt requires forgiveness on your part, shouldn't you also be forgiving those who've found a theistic philosophy by which to live? After all, you haven't done anything to hurt them, either.
Religion must remain an audacious, daring and, yes, uncomfortable assault on our desires to do what we want when we want to do it. All religions must teach a way to discipline our animal urges, to overcome racism and materialism, selfishness and arrogance and the sinful oppression of the most vulnerable and the most innocent among us. Some religious leaders obviously betray the teachings of the faith they claim to represent, but their sacred scriptures remain a critique of them and also of every thing we do to betray the better angels of our nature. But our world is better and kinder and more hopeful because of the daily sacrifice and witness of millions of pious people over thousands of years.
Where does it say that atheism does none of those things, Rabbi Gellman? Is not atheism 'an audacious and uncomfortable assault'? Oh, that's right - it's an assault on your theism, it calls into question your beliefs and the necessity thereof. I don't need what I see as an overbearing and intrusive fairy tale personified to tell me not to hurt others. Hurting others is wrong. Why? Because no one likes to be hurt. I don't like it when I'm hurt, so I can reasonably assume that others don't like it either. Where is the need for religion to reach that conclusion? Where does it say that atheists don't participate in making the world kinder and better? Come to think of it, where does it say that one is required to adhere to some kind of theistic belief to be a 'good, kind, and charitiable person'? You yourself admitted that no such condition exists in your third sentence, first paragraph. Which condition is it, Rabbi? If both are true, then why is one condition superior to the other?
To be called to a level of goodness and sacrifice so constantly and so patiently by a loving but demanding God may seem like a naive demand to achieve what is only a remote human possibility. However, such a vision need not be seen as a red flag to those who believe nothing.
No red flags here, Rabbi. If you want to believe in YHVH, so be it. That's fine by me. But again I'm struck by your phrasing - why is it somehow more elevated, more pure, to try and be a good person through mythology than through atheism?
I can humbly ask whether my atheist brothers and sisters really believe that their lives are better, richer and more hopeful by clinging to Camus's existential despair: “The purpose of life is that it ends."
What despair, Rabbi? Perhaps it is such mischaracterizations of atheism that make us, well, a little peevish. How is my life necessarily enriched by believing in folk tales, however well-established they might be? Does believing in a Supreme Other really add that much to your life, Rabbi? Do you really need that Other to see the world as a wonderful and worthwhile place? To me that sounds empty. Crippled. Fearful. Selfish, even: I want more! I want more! There must be more! What if there is no more, Rabbi? What if this is all that there is? You find that reason to despair? Why? What would you be missing? Really and truly, what would you be missing? I can live my life fully, and to the greater good of humanity without once ever needing to grab onto theistic supersition.
I can agree to make peace with atheists whom I believe ask too little of life here on planet earth if they will agree to make peace with me and with other religious folk who perhaps have asked too much. I believe that the philosopher-rabbi Mordecai Kaplan was right when he said, “It is hell to live without hope, and religion saves people from hell.” I urge my atheist brothers and sisters to see things as Spinoza urged, sub specie aeternitatis—“under the perspective of eternity.”
See, I can't make peace with those who ask too much - if that asking too much involves forcing me to submit to a belief system to which I do not subscribe. Merely possessing a theistic belief structure and expressing it publicly are not asking too much. Asking others to be better people, to, in the words of Bill and Ted, "Be most excellent unto each other", is not asking too much. Requiring me to deny my own conscience is. Religion may save people from the hell of hopelessness - but why do they possess that sense of hopelessness in the first place? Might not those very causes of hopelessness be addressed without resorting to theism? Inequity, oppression, injustice, bigotry - why is theism required to combat these? In many cases, theism contributes quite happily to these. Theism is not the only solution - some might say that it has a longer track record of demonstrating that it can't be a solution.
And to try a little positivity. Last Sunday I took two high-school girls to Cold Spring Labs to meet Dr. James Watson. One of the girls wants to be a research scientist, and the other has no idea yet, but I think she will be a great writer. I think they also both want boyfriends. I want them to stay smart and not dumb down to get a boy. Watson spoke and listened to the girls, and they left, I hope, proud about being smart. I know that Jim believes way more in Darwin than in Deuteronomy, but he also believes that at Cold Spring Labs the most important thing is not whether you are a man or a woman, not whether you believe in God. The most important thing, as he says, is “to get something done.” Now there's an atheist I can believe in.
Condescending again: where does it say that atheists are negative? The attitude expressed by Dr. Watson is my own - "by their works ye shall know them", isn't it? Well, my daily works contribute as much to society's betterment as any theists. And being continuously condescended to in such a way, continuously discounted, tends to make one angry, Rabbi. I'm not angry with theists - I'm angry with theism, particularly with any flavor of theism that demands my subjugation. I'm angry with the enshrinement and institutionalization of theism. And I won't apologize for that anger. I will apologize for some things, though. For instance, I'm sorry that you're so insecure in your own faith that my expression of my own deeply-held beliefs makes you uncomfortable. I'm sorry that you can't see how most atheists follow the same path as Dr. Watson. And I'm sorry that your inability to see these truths - a spiritual colorblindness, if you will - requires you to put me down. I'm not about to stop being who I am. If you can't see that as anything but anger, well... I might even be a little sorry for that too. Not because I'm wrong, or unsure of my own choices, my own life. No, I'm sorry that you've stunted yourself. But that seems to be something that your own version of theism demands.

8 Comments:

Blogger Simon said...

He's right - we've nothing to get angry about. I mean, it's not as if the guy running the country talks to his imaginary friend and openly boasts about it...

4/27/2006 04:34:00 AM  
Blogger protected static said...

Exactly - why should anyone get angry about that? ;-)

4/27/2006 06:25:00 AM  
Blogger XaurreauX said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4/27/2006 09:32:00 AM  
Blogger protected static said...

Hey, it's the Internet... These things happen.

4/27/2006 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger XaurreauX said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4/27/2006 11:23:00 AM  
Blogger XaurreauX said...

[This is a repost. In my original, I misspelled Rabbi Gellman's name. Additional changes/corrections were made.]

Rabbi Gellman plays a very skllfull game of condescension while claiming to do the opposite. It's not that he doesn't "get" atheists. What he "gets" is an astute understanding of his intended audience's fear, pedestrian sentimentality, prejudice and willfull ignorance. He builds strawmen to man the counter at a fish market selling red herrings.

His remark implying that atheists see a red flag at the idea that "[T]o be called to a level of goodness and sacrifice so constantly and so patiently by a loving, but demanding God" is deliberately intended to evoke in his audience the feeling that atheists are offended by compassion and sacrifice itself. Rabbi Gellman is well aware that his "fans" will lap up this two-dimensional confection like a puppy going after a dropped ice cream cone.

At the end of the article he skillfully provides an account of a meeting with Dr. James Watson. By this facile "the exception proves the rule" example he no doubt assumes he will simultaneously emphasize his point and show fairness and sensitivity to "good" atheists. Would that Joshua had had that same sensitivity when, according to the Rabbi's mythbook, pregnant Canaanite women were were gutted and young girls were taken as sex slaves by maurading Israelite soldiers. [Attention theists: this is the spot where the "out of context" excuse may be inserted.] If you look up, you will see ontological parachutes billowing as Judeo-Christian apologists bail out.

No anti-atheist diatribe masquerading as a desire to understand atheists would be complete, of course, without a facile reference to atheists' purported "uncomfortable personal histories." Clearly, if we were healthy, happy, caring and cared for people we atheists would have the sensitivity and the clarity to reach a level of enlightnement only available in a universe created and run by a paranoid, schizophrenic, sexist homophobe. And the moral decency to recognize it as love! We certainly wouldn't need to nitpick world views that embrace absolutism followed by excuses as Reality unfolds, indifferent to interpretation.

Using the tired "angry atheist" copout is merely another version of the tune those theists who are threatened by atheists whistle as they pass the graveyard.

4/27/2006 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Dunbar said...

I seem to the lone theist here.

I think the angry atheist vs the angry theist bit is blow out of proportion. We're talking about noisy guys on the fringe whose voice is magnified all out of proportion by the powers of the mighty interweb.

A pox on both their houses.

5/03/2006 02:48:00 PM  
Blogger protected static said...

I seem to the lone theist here.

Only today - remember the VB6 guy a couple of days ago? ;-)

I got a lot of hits on this piece because Newsweek uses technorati to track links to their stories. As they say in the financial services industry, "These results may not be typical."

5/03/2006 03:30:00 PM  

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Friday, April 21, 2006

[politics] Buzzwords

[N]ot everybody who says that really understands what that means. And what words are we discussing here? To what could 'that' possibly refer? Why, 'rape' and 'incest', of course. These words would be from the mouth (does he have to stop breathing when he talks?) of South Dakota State Rep. Joel Dykstra (R-Lincoln County). Remember that: rape is a meaningless buzzword. Incest is a meaningless buzzword. You don't really understand what they mean. I'm having a Pulp Fiction moment...
ZED: Bring out the Gimp. MAYNARD: I think the Gimp's asleep. ZED: Well, I guess you'll just wake 'im up then, won't you?
Bring out the Gimp. Think he'd understand those buzzwords then? (via Atrios)

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

[random] What would you do...

One summer during college I built a forge in my backyard. Admittedly, this was not your typical suburban backyard. I was still living with my parents, and they own a small farmstead in central MA - seven acres located an hour or so west of Boston, 20 minutes or so east of Worcester. Their house, built in 1740, sits well off the road, unusual in New England Colonial-era houses. Standing at the top of the driveway, looking down towards the house, one can see why: at one time, their driveway was the road. A faint echo of it still curls up the hill behind their house, faint stone walls and a slightly sunken trace extending up through oaks, maples, an apple orchard long gone to scrub. When the trees are bare, it is easy to picture - that trace lines up perfectly with the driveway, the shortest distance between two points, demarcated by fallen rows of granite. It's a very different place now. The farm is still there, but it's an anachronistic island. There's been a lot of development in town. Highway noise is a constant background hum, and Boston-bound commuters start backing up on the on ramp to I-495 at 6AM. There are McMansions, and "horse people" (there were always people who owned horses, even some who made a living at it, but none of them were "horse people"). There are biotech executives and doctors, there's a mall, there's even a small mosque in the neighboring town that serves the Saudi and Pakistani physicians who work at UMass Medical Center. Women in burqas come to buy honey from my parents' hives, while well-heeled homeowners buy their plants and produce. For good or ill, it's not the same place where I grew up by a long shot. So why a forge? Actually, I have a family history of blacksmithing. My great-great-grandfather was a smith, and for years a family legend was that the shop in which he worked was the inspiration for Longfellow's poem "The Village Smithy"; Henry Ford eventually purchased the smithy and moved it to Dearborn Village as part of his attempt to collect as many American icons as possible. (Many sites claim this privilege - for instance, the Maine Historical Society refers to Cambridge, MA being home to "the spreading chestnut tree", as do others. Ford clearly thought otherwise, choosing a site in the Blackstone Valley (from Chestnut Hill Road). As it turned out for us, the shop he purchased and moved to his Michigan museum was that of my grandfather's rival. Heh. Myths die hard...) But then there's the magic of the forge itself. The smithy at Sturbridge Village (a recreation of early Industrial Revolution-era life in New England) has always been my favorite part: the smell of the coal smoke, the sparks, the sound. Raw iron, firm and unyielding, heated to incandescence - it grudgingly allows itself to be shaped, coaxed into sinewey forms. Delicate filigree or stout knife blade; wrought hooks and forge horseshoes: the same tools produce them all. My dad and I took a class together at Sturbridge - under the tutelage of one of their interpreters, we learned how to build and maintain a coal fire, what the proper color should be when the iron is ready to be forged, how to hold the tools, the names of the parts of an anvil. Over the course of the day, we made a couple of wrought iron wall hooks since the making of a hook utilizes most basic smithing techniques: draw and taper both ends of your square stock - one end will be the spike that will be driven into the wall, the other will be formed into the "j" of the hook; fold the spike end at a 90° angle; about an inch below the bend, twist the shank that will sit against the wall for a decorative detail - a couple of inches done with the vise and some tongs will look quite nice. A couple of inches or so below the twist in the shank, shape the curve of the hook itself; as a final detail, recurve the tapered tip of the hook so that it curls back out over itself - don't want to poke through whatever you hang on the hook, right? Each step requires heating and hammering, pivot from fire to forge and back to fire once the glow subsides and the iron grows sluggish under your blows. With a roar of steam, plunge the hook into a bucket of water, stealing the last of the iron's fire. Examine the hook - keep or discard as its condition merits, then start again. All that to make a hook. That's the preindustrial version of your $3-at-the-local-big-box-hardware-retailer wall hook. But it was fun. Dirty, sweaty, and noisy, but definitely fun. I knew I'd have to do that again. But how to do it without paying for another class? I knew I'd have to build my own forge. Given the family history (and a predisposition for collecting antiques), we already had an anvil that was in decent shape, along w/ a squirrel-cage fan (a hand-cranked blower that you'd use in lieu of a bellows). I had some plans from a book that my dad had, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the other parts were readily available. Here's what you need: Ten or so cinder blocks upon which to stand the firepit of the forge. One car tire rim (for the firepit), some black iron plumbing fittings (to connect the blower to the axle hole at the bottom of the firepit), a couple big handfuls of gravel (to put into the firepit to make it somewhat more bowl-shaped) and some furnace cement (to line the firepit and make it nice & smooth & heat-reflective), and presto! Once the refractory cement cures, you've got yourself a primitive but fully functional forge. Get yourself some laundry Borax for flux and a heavy ball peen hammer (if you can't find a 'real' cross peen smith's hammer), and you're ready to go. If you don't already have the anvil & blower, you can make do with a segment of railroad track (often available free as scrap) and a cheapo hair dryer. The hardest part was finding a source for brown coal (the soft, high-sulfur, makes-acid-rain-when-burned-in-industrial-quantities kind) because you can't forge with hard coal. So what did I make that summer? Mostly I made a mess, and a lot of noise. I learned that you can burn steel, that forge welding is bloody hard, and that I need to learn to start small: there is no shame in starting small (but I don't think I've quite absorbed that lesson yet). But I also learned first hand why so many cultures revere smiths - there's something approaching magic in coaxing forth function and form from raw iron and steel. You can't force the metal - you can't make it do anything - if you want your piece to last. And in addition to these valuable life lessons and metaphors, there's an even more practical side to this experience: I've got a head start on my new career path when Peak Oil comes to pass. </sickHumor>

2 Comments:

Anonymous karen m said...

Hey, there's a lot to be said for alternate career paths. Wish I had thought of one... :(

That's some really interesting stuff. When we lived at my grandparent's house in western PA, there was an unending supply of soft coal - that's pretty much what's left there even today. I think my granddad even had a forge himself, although he mostly welded from what I remember.

Do you have the space to build a forge where you are now?

4/21/2006 06:46:00 AM  
Blogger protected static said...

I didn't say I was any good at it - just that I've got a jump on having some low tech skills to fall back on... ;-)

Here's hoping I don't need them any time soon.

As for space - maybe, just maybe, if I used a propane furnace instead of a coal or wood charcoal fire. But the noise - that's another matter altogether.

If fences make good neighbors, a forge as neighbor would have to be the crazy alcoholic who sleeps in his grubby underwear on his front porch.

4/21/2006 07:51:00 AM  

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Monday, April 17, 2006

[random] Filed under "Better late than never"

Okay, this has not demonstrated the best blogging behavior on my part, that's for sure. The latest rumblings of war in particular have had me quite down, and it's been far easier to participate in the forums of others than to put my own thoughts down on pixels. Coupled with an uptick in work stuff (mumble mumble bugs mumble mine mumble stupid build error mumble) and more effort than I'd expected in working on another online project (it's supposed to be fun, dammit!), I've really only been interested in catching up on some reading or parking my arse in front of the TV. That said, I think this week should be better... So by way of getting the ball rolling again, over a week ago I was tagged with this misnamed-as-7-but-really-10 questions thingie. This has been sitting in draft form pretty much since then, so here it is:
  • What is your favorite word? Currently, it might be 'parse'... <whine>But there are so many from which to choose...</whine>
  • What is your least favorite word? No question about it: deadline.
  • What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? Boy... This is a little too complicated to distill down to one or two things. Creative inspiration I find in lots of places, and emotionally, well, let us never speak of this again. ;-) I don't do the whole spirituality thing at all, but for something that comes closest to touching on all three areas I'd probably have to go with Nature.
  • What turns you off? Willful ignorance.
  • What is your favorite curse word? 12 letters, begins with an 'm', rhymes with 'futhermucker'. Though 'bollocks' is probably in more common use.
  • What sound or noise do you love? The ring of hammer on anvil.
  • What sound or noise do you hate? Talk radio, political or otherwise.
  • What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? See 2 items up re: 'sound or noise you love'.
  • What profession would you not like to do? Anything involving poop. Or other people's kids. Or other people's kids' poop.
  • If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? Sorry - lots got lost in translation. Oh, and yeah: I do have a sick sense of humor.
  • Anyone else who wants to play, feel free...

    5 Comments:

    Anonymous karen m said...

    Thanks for answering the tag!

    Hammer and anvil...that would be an interesting job.

    4/17/2006 03:46:00 PM  
    Blogger teh l4m3 said...

    BTW, thanks for catching my amazon wish list boo-boo. Sorry for the stupid mix up.

    HI!

    4/19/2006 08:00:00 AM  
    Blogger protected static said...

    I thought it was funny, myself... It took me a couple of beats when I clicked on the link to realize that I was, in fact, looking at my own wishlist.

    "Hey! I want that book, too! How peculiar! Oh... Wait... Never mind."

    Thanks for stopping by!

    4/19/2006 08:06:00 AM  
    Anonymous karen m said...

    That's what I meant to ask the other day, re: hammer and anvil...

    Smithy or armorer?

    4/19/2006 03:56:00 PM  
    Blogger protected static said...

    There's a post forthcoming... It's just taken me longer to pull together than I expected ;-)

    4/19/2006 08:09:00 PM  

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    Saturday, April 15, 2006

    [random] Funny, that isn't quite what I had in mind...

    So... this is what 'normal posting' looks like - for varying values of 'normal', I guess. Yeesh. I promise - some real content is forthcoming.

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    Monday, April 10, 2006

    [random][geek] I can stop any time I want

    For the first twenty-four hours I was literally insane and paranoid as many addicts are in severe withdrawal. -- William S. Burroughs, "Deposition: Testimony Concerning a Sickness" Somehow, Comcast really fscked our account up this weekend... Ya go and return an old cable modem, and what happens? Their system starts blocking our MAC addresses. Go figure. I think this has happened almost every time they've updated our account. At any rate, we appear to be connected again. As soon as the cold sweat and shaking stops, normal posting - whatever that is - will resume.

    5 Comments:

    Blogger Kvatch said...

    Personally...DSL...the only way to fly. (But then I hate, Hate, HATE Comcast, the only cable provider here in Babylon by the Bay.)

    4/10/2006 12:32:00 PM  
    Blogger protected static said...

    I miss our ISDN line - but no one in our household has an employer willing to pick up that tab anymore. Generally, the high-speed data options in Seattle suck raw moose since almost everyone is a reseller for Qwest's services.

    For varying values of 'service'.

    4/10/2006 01:14:00 PM  
    Blogger Stephen Spencer said...

    You mean it isn't really Comcastic? <duck />

    4/10/2006 10:45:00 PM  
    Blogger protected static said...

    Remember - I know where you live...

    4/11/2006 06:39:00 AM  
    Blogger Stephen Spencer said...

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    4/11/2006 10:11:00 PM  

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    Saturday, April 08, 2006

    [random][geek] Google in 20 years

    Slibe.com - Free Image Picture Photo Hosting Service - Click to enlarge (click on thumbnail to open full page in new window) [via Making Light/PNH's Sidelights]

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    Friday, April 07, 2006

    [random][geek][culcha] High-tech grafitti

    I don't remember where I first ran across a link to instructables - and if you like to tinker at all, it's a site that will prove to be a major time suck - but the first project that I saw there was for an electronic grafitti tool: "Throwies" - an LED, a battery, a powerful but small magnet, and some epoxy: A 'field test' of Throwies (as covered in Wired this morning): The NYC group responsible for this, Grafitti Research Lab, has also come up with "Electro-Grafs" - conductive and magnetic paint used to embed electronics in grafitti tags: I wonder how much power Glow Wire draws...? (all photos are from Grafitti Research Lab's site)

    2 Comments:

    Anonymous karen m said...

    Those are incredibly beautiful! They need a few more willing participants than we have around here (at least the ones who go to bed after 9), so it's not feasible for us. :(

    I thought I saw a project for using the throwies as fridge magnets. Evil Dad had a fit when he discovered it involved painting the nice black fridge. We could use a white board, but it isn't as much fun.

    4/07/2006 08:46:00 AM  
    Blogger protected static said...

    How about doing a wall with magnetic paint? You can put latex house paint over the ferrous/magnetic paint, and it'll still work...

    A wall for magnets... Hmmm... (brain wheels turning, turning, turning)

    Actually, when I saw the 'field test' photos, my first thought was "Gee, Hammering Man is made of steel..." Alas, the parody sculpture at the infamous Blue Moon Tavern, Drinking Man, is but plywood. Which is doubly tragic, since the regulars at the Blue Moon would probably appreciate Throwies, both as art and anti-art...

    4/07/2006 10:41:00 AM  

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    [geek] 30-second science blogging - Viral factories

    Caught this on Wired last night (I can't find the URL now, but it's on /. this morning): scientists at MIT have genetically modified a common virus so that it attracts metal ions and then extrudes them as nano-scale wires.
    The resulting nanowires can be used in minuscule lithium ion battery electrodes, which in turn would be used to power very small machines, the researchers report in Friday's issue of the journal Science. [...] They modified the M13 virus' genes so its outside layer, or coat, would bind with certain metal ions. They incubated the virus in a cobalt chloride solution so that cobalt oxide crystals mineralised uniformly along its length. They added a bit of gold for the desired electrical effects. [...] The resulting nanowires worked as positive electrodes for battery electrodes, the researchers said. They hope to build batteries that range from the size of a grain of rice up to the size of existing hearing-aid batteries.
    Yeah, the headlines are playing up the 'viral batteries' idea, even though that isn't really what's been done here. But still, I gotta ask (as always), how cool is that?

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    Wednesday, April 05, 2006

    [politics] So... how old is the Modern Era, anyway?

    Kieran Healy made an interesting observation on Crooked Timber yesterday - what we think of as the Modern Era isn't really that old, even when measured in very human terms. If for our purposes we define modernity as commencing with the Enlightenment (which is more or less where contemporary historians place it), how 'old' is our society if we measure it using a 'Kevin Bacon'-esque degrees of separation model? Surprisingly, the answer is "Not very.":
    [Oliver Wendell Holmes] died in 1935, and so there are still many people alive today who knew him, or at least shook hands with him. Holmes was born in 1841, and as a boy he met John Quincy Adams, who was born in 1767. So [...] you are just three handshakes away from a man born before the French Revolution, the American War of Independence, and arguably before the Industrial Revolution, as well.
    Healy is trying to impress upon his students that, despite their own perception of the 1980s as being ancient history, 'real' history isn't really all that old. Implicit in his observation is this: the values enshrined in the Bill of Rights are far less entrenched than they are made to appear. From this perspective, it is perhaps less surprising that the definition of these rights, enumerated or not, is still (very much? somewhat?) open to debate. At first, this thought is somewhat depressing - rather than defending mature ideas and ideals, we're guiding them through their late adolescence or early adulthood. On the other hand, this could be flipped around to provide inspiration: this is still a living, dynamic debate; it is still a relatively young debate, and therefore participation in that debate is of paramount importance. Lady Liberty may not have quite the same ruddy glow in her cheeks or youthful flush on her breasts as when she led the crowd to the Bastille - but she's no toothless crone, either. We are still in the early days of (what may still be) a better nation. ('Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation.' - Alasdair Gray. "If these are the early days of a better nation, there must be hope, and a hope of peace is as good as any, and far better than a hollow hoarding greed or the dry lies of an aweless god." - Graydon Saunders) - [via]

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    Tuesday, April 04, 2006

    [random][geek] Life... Don't talk to me about life.

    Sorry for the light posting - work's been somewhat crazy (good crazy, not bad crazy), and I've been working on a new version of the Mystery of the Haunted Vampire site. And while I'm still somewhat cranky about some stuff that went down at work last week, I'm now a little more sympathetic to our client's position. You see, the product that we're working on is to be used for a data-collection project related to agricultural pesticides, which means that our client is working on an agricultural schedule, ie. entirely at the whims of Mother Nature. Evidently, the weather in Western Washington has changed such that the apple growers are about to conduct their first major aerial spraying. Data collection will need to begin Right Now, or we run the risk of missing a significant phase of agricultural pesticide use in WA. Fortunately, our client has agreed to use this first round as pilot data. We're probably 95+% code-complete, so everything but uncommon use cases should be accounted for, but still... Personally I'd feel better with another couple of weeks to work on it, but evidently the client is happy with the software as it is now. And who am I to argue with a happy client? As for the MotHV adventures, let's just say that I'm learning lots about MySQL and PHP. The MySQL part is proving surprisingly frustrating - I haven't needed to write a whole lot of SQL code for a while, certainly not nearly as much as I was writing even 3 years ago, and MySQL's dialect of SQL is just different enough from Transact SQL to throw up more stumbling blocks than I'd have thought. It's kind of like having to speak a language that's closely related to but not exactly the same as a second language you haven't spoken in a while... Sort of like comparing your high school or college Parisien French to québécois (or in some cases, kreyòl ayisyen...) - it's almost what you know, but not quite. But it is a perverse kind of geeky fun, so I'll take it.

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