Sunday, October 28, 2007

Pet the Leopard

Friday was Mac OSX Leopard Day. I did my consumerist duty and drove to the Roseville Apple Store with around 300 other crazy people. As I stood far back in line, there was applause when the door was released. Another 45 minutes of standing in line, and I could get in. Most of the people there were standing around in the store, chatting it up amongst each other, or looking at MacBooks. However, I was there to purchase the software, and get out, with a t-shirt of course. That took little time at all, due to the hand held Symbol devices with magnetic card readers which a number of staff were holding. I didn't need a bag for such a small purchase, and it felt strange buying the software, having the receipt emailed to me, and walking out with the package in hand, no bag, and no receipt. I wondered how easily it would have been to grab a disc, and walk out, just say, oh yea, I had my receipt emailed to me. In all of the chaos of the "Launch Party," pulling off such a stunt wouldn't have been hard.

After the party, I'm on my way home, and I just can't wait, so I open the package to look at the disc. How clever is Apple to create such products, which are benign, and useless, but still people can't wait to open them, just to look? I get a call from a friend who is at FirstTech, wondering if $120 is a good deal for a 500GB external drive with USB 2.0. He also mentions that from 6 to 9 that night, you could get Leopard for $99, rather then $129. I ruined my purchase from the Apple Store by opening it, plus I bet I'd get knocked with a restocking fee. Rather then giving out shirts, FirstTech was handing out stuffed leopards. Well, enough of about the consumer adventure of procuring the software, how does it work?

The upgrade from Tiger to Leopard, on the surface, seems like much better of a deal then Panther to Tiger. Because I didn't bother to pay for Tiger, I wasn't so let down. This time, however, I greedily paid full retail without investigating other options, such as FirstTech for $99, or getting it from the U of MN via Jeannette for $69. Was it worth the full tag? I don't know yet. I'm not taking advantage of Time Machine, not yet anyway, as I don't really use my Mac for much. It's a Mac mini hooked up to my TV, which has been playing the roll of a fancy Apple TV by streaming Star Trek videos from my PC to the TV. It has also served other purposes by letting my easily throw together podcast demos, edit videos using iMovie, create nicely designed DVD's in iDVD (Designed by Apple in California, made in Minneapolis). To this end, the upgrade has been noticeable. Front Row looks like the Apple TV now. I do like the change. I had some issue getting the Vista desktop and the Mac talking properly, but I am contemplating a full wipe and rebuild to start from scratch. Now that Apple has gotten most of the bugs out of iLife '08, I may be using the Mac more and more. The Mac mini is a terrific form factor, and serves its purpose very well. There is something to be said about using a computer which is hooked up to a TV, even if it is an LCD TV, which makes the experience so much different. While I could type up a document easily on it, I find myself resisting, it just doesn't feel right. I would be better off using VNC from the Vista desktop into the Mac, or rigging up a very long KVM.

In short, everyone who wants a Mac, but thinks they are too expensive, buy a mini, you won't be disappointed. It keeps up with my Vista box well, except for games.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Atheist Symbol

While the Richard Dawkins Foundation has been pushing the Out Campaign's use of a red capital letter "A" as a symbol for Atheists to know each other by some sort of paraphernalia, like jewelry, bumper sticker, or shirt, the Atheists Alliance International conference offered attendees to vote on a general Atheist symbol. The winning design is a pointed "A" inside of a partial circle. This is similar to the "@" symbol used to denote a quantity of items for sale, for example, 5 copies of Mac OS X Leopard @ 129.00 is 645.00. Or, more popularly to denote a user's location as indicated by the server that user is on, for example, Some other silly people refer to that as an email address.

To differentiate the logo from the "@" symbol features a capital "A" rather then the lower-case. Is this change enough, or will it confuse people more then the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Time will tell. I think it's a good enough symbol, to provide easy identification of a part of your identity to other sympathizers. I don't think it would do anything for anyone else, as no one else would have any idea what it means. But, FSM merchandising has been good for identifying fellow "Pastafarians." Anyone else think it looks way too much like the Star Trek comm badge?

The homepage for the logo is here. You can find poorly done variations by someone with little graphics skill outside of Microsoft WordArt, but maybe others will contribute to professionalize it.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Rocky Horror Show, Ordway, St Paul, MN

If you have a free night, go see Rocky Horror Show live at the Ordway. The acting is actually really good for a small performance in the McKnight Theater. Tickets are a little high at 30 and 40 bucks, depending on where you sit, but you can get Student Rush for half that. And, at that price, you can't loose. Audience participation is handled really well in the show. If you have ever been to a theater showing the movie, the Audience Participation really makes the experience, but there is a lot of it. There is so much extra dialog, you can loose track of what is going on, or you hear too many different versions at once, and it all sounds mumbled. They way the actors handled it, was to use "Frank's Mistakes," or extras who played pieced together abominations of Frank's earlier work, as prompts for participation, or shouted out common responses. This was kept really light, with most songs sung more quickly to keep the audience at bay. This was good, and bad at the same time. Jeannette and I remember about half of the words which go along with the movie, and were a little upset when we couldn't chime in. We did buy a kit with a flashlight, rubber glove, noise maker, confetti, party hat, and toilet paper. The actor who played Frank was terrific, harking back to a young Tim Curry very well. To think Kansas popped out such a character is refreshing.

On another note, the Pagoda Restaurant opened up today, with a very rough start during the lunch service, because the wait staff really didn't know how to run the register yet, and ordered multiple dishes from the kitchen. Justin, one of the owners said he lost a lot of money during the day, but night turned around well. It was a really good mix of people, young and old, Chinese and other folks. There is some getting used to the menu, it has over 300 items, but there really is something for everyone. The people we went out with tonight did get a kick from the Chinese karaoke playing on the HDTV's on the wall, and were more impressed with the food. If tomorrow's lunch is like tonight's dinner, I can see another Pagoda opening up in a few years.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pagoda Restaurant in Dinkytown

I am very excited for this restaurant to open in Dinkytown by the U of MN. Justin Lin, a friend of mine, is opening a new restaurant with a handful of other business partners. The inside looks great! There's track lighting, to make it bright, but cast mood setting shadows. The restaurant features two adjoining party rooms with HDTV's, and a karaoke machine. One of the rooms is set up like a lounge with plush sofa seating. The ceilings are high, and the paint is bold.

The food will be mostly traditional Chinese dishes. There should be plenty of options for those sweet and sour chicken eaters out there as well. One interesting feature will be the noodle bar. You walk up, and order what ever kind of soup base you'd like, the type of noodles, and what toppings you'd like to make your own noodle soup. Just a basic bowl of noodle soup is only $3.50, and I don't think there is an entree over $10.

The main dining area features two HDTV's on the walls. I don't know if the content has been settled yet, but some ideas thrown around is playing a tourism video from China.

I've been working all weekend of setting up their computers and printers, so all of that is ready to go. If the final inspection by the health department goes well today, they'll be set to open on Monday, the 15.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Is Teaching Evolution in Public Schools Advocating Atheism, Violating Seperation of Church and State?

The argument is simple enough. Evolution is a cornerstone of atheism. By teaching evolution in public schools, the state is promoting a religion, or establishing a state religion, which would violate the Constitution of the United States. This article sums up a common argument against the teaching of evolution in schools. While the author is from Canada, the same concerns exist here.

Is atheism a religion? Is any institution which is secular, also atheist?

Atheism is America is certainly a movement of sorts. There is no dogma with atheism, and there are different points of view, even from people who consider themselves activists. While that is true, there are some common traits I've seen from atheists who are out. Some are pompous and arrogant, unwilling to to listen to other points of view, and unwilling to work with others for common ground. Some have a keen eye for separation of church and state issues, dashing crosses off of water towers and highway memorials. Others are scientists, or teachers of science, and are concerned with teaching evolution while trying not to offend students whose religious beliefs are counter to it. Some are strong libertarians who want the government out of their life, and want to do what they please. There seems to be a minority of people who are interested in being an activist to promote positive atheism. These people are interested in fighting for humanist ethics and morals. They believe there are lots of silly parts of religion, i.e., the ancient traditions, the recitation of ancient texts, but are willing to work together with groups who support the same humanist principles they do, except for that whole bit about a deity. The concern is on making the world a better place for everyone, theist and non-theist alike. They applaud religious leaders who stand up for civil rights, who oppose war, actively help homelessness, support science education in schools, etc. The difficulty these atheists have trying to work with evangelical or fundamentalist groups who take scripture literally. There's a large silent majority who know the theory of evolution is scientifically verified, and so far explains our biology on Earth. How that evolution began is anyone's guess, until we start creating more artificial life in the lab, and have a better clue of the possibilities. How it started is irrelevant, but the evidence of the effects are there.

You can believe in a god, or many gods, and still agree with evolution. Because evolution is true does not mean there is no god. It may mean that Genesis is a nice story, but as relevant as other origin stories, like the Hmong origin story from Wikipedia:

According to Hmong tradition, a long time ago the rivers and ocean covered the Earth. A brother and sister were locked in a yellow wooden drum. The Sky People looked out and saw the Earth. Everything was dead. Only a yellow wooden drum was left on the water.

"Punch holes in the Earth so the water will drain away," said the King above the Sky.

The water went down. Finally, the drum bumped against the ground. The brother and sister came out of the drum and looked around. Everything was dead.

"Where are the people?" asked the sister.

But the brother had an idea. "All the people on Earth are gone. Marry me, we can have children."

"I can't marry you, we are brother and sister."

But he asked her again and again and she said, "No."

Finally the brother said, "Let's carry the grindstones up the hill and roll them into the valley. If the stones land on top of each other, then you shall marry me."

The sister rolled her stone and then, as soon as the brother rolled his stone he ran as fast as he could down the hill and stacked the stones on top of each other.

When the sister saw the stones she cried. Finally she said, "I will marry you, because it was meant to be."

A year later the wife gave birth to a baby, but the baby was not a real baby. It had no arms or legs. It was just round like a pumpkin. The husband cut it up and threw the pieces away. One piece fell on the garden and it became the "Vang" clan because "Vang" sounds like the word for "garden" in Hmong. One piece fell on the goat house. Some pieces fell on the leaves and grass and they became the other Hmong clans. The Nhia, Mhoua, Pao, Ho, Xiong, Vue, and so on.

The next morning the village was full of houses. Everyone came to the husband and wife and said, "Mother and father, come have breakfast with us."

The husband said to his wife, "I asked you to marry me because all the people on Earth were dead. Now these people are our family -- our sons and daughters."

Public schools in the US are secular. Law is secular, and our government is secular. This does not mean you can not hold your own religious beliefs, or hold none at all. Could this be what Sam Harris has been hinting at? Advocating to make education, law, and government the best they can be through reason and critical thought, without the need to reveal your theological beliefs would be more successful then coming out swinging as an atheist. Come out as a teacher, scientist, politician and use material reason to build your cases, and you will be successful, whether you are atheist, or not. That shouldn't matter. Atheism, or the New Atheist movement shouldn't be about gaining new members, or adding people to the team, it should be about ways to debate which use material evidence, which should be more convincing to a wider audience then reason based on faith. Consider the following example. A politician hears God tell him to end tyranny in a country, so this politician tries to make a case for military action, but his evidence isn't very strong, and some of it is biased. He knows this is the right thing to do, because God told him to do it. Why is this politician trying so hard to build up material evidence for military action? Because that is what the law demands, and it's most convincing. If this politician came out and made the case for military action because it's what God wanted this politician to do, even though the US has a majority Christian population, that reason alone isn't good enough to convince most people.

On the other hand, in ethical debates, for example, on stem cell research, should an atheist scientist come out and say, "There is no god, therefore there is no soul which enters the cell at fertilization, so an aborted fetus shouldn't be treated the same as a pregnancy carried to full term."? Are ethics always based on the status quo, on public opinion? If so, is it important to ask questions, philosophical questions, and have the debate, rather then accepting rules established by religious leaders, or even secular leaders?

So, in short, atheism isn't a religion, but that doesn't mean that activist members don't act like activist theists. Teaching evolution isn't promoting atheism. Just because education is secular, doesn't mean it's an atheist organization.