Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Antikythera Mechanism

Found in 1900 near Crete, the Antikythera mechanism is a 2,000 year old mechanical calculator used to calculate astronomical positions. The exact purpose of the device is unknown, but the journal Nature speculates that it could have been used to determine when Olympic Games would start.

The device is made up of at least 30 precision gears. It's technology appears equivalent with 18th century clock making. It can track the movements of the Sun, Moon, as well as Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn.

Work continues on analysis of the device which keeps surprising researchers with its complexity and sophistication for something so ancient.

You can read more about the Antikythera mechanism at Nature.

Nature has also produced a video which you can stream from here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What kind of liberal am I?

Thanks to
How to Win a Fight With a Conservative is the ultimate survival guide for political arguments

My Liberal Identity:

You are a Reality-Based Intellectualist, also known as the liberal elite. You are a proud member of what’s known as the reality-based community, where science, reason, and non-Jesus-based thought reign supreme.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bjorn on the radio

C.L. Hanson, of Letters From A Broad blog, and author of Exmormon is visiting her family in Minnesota. I had a chance to interview her for Atheists Talk, the weekly radio show by Minnesota Atheists. Check it out if you want to know more about the book, and about Mormonism. You can download the show from here:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sickeningly sweet engagement photos

Here is Bjorn and Jeannette on a rock. How cute! We met with our wedding photographer for an engagement photo session for an hour at the Rose Garden in Minneapolis. It's a familiar place, as it's where I soiled my knee proposing this hair-brained idea of marriage. So, we trotted back, and posed, and hugged, and posed and kissed. If you like her work, consider giving Melisa Peters' a call at 612-860-0304 or email. She's professional, experienced, reasonable, and looks like she does this sort of thing for fun, not for the money.
For more classy photographs, click here.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Test your surround cuteness

Thanks a lot, boingboing.

Anti-Evolution Note Left on Neighbor's Car

While Jeannette and I, the friendly neighborhood atheists, were out at the library for a Minnesota Atheists board meeting, our next door neighbors must have had a party. When we came home, there were more cars then usual parked along the side of the little rode which passes in front of everyone's garage. Some people were parked in front of a "No Parking" sign.

Later that night, our door bell rings, and our neighbor is frantic, wondering if we left a note on one of her friend's cars. The note went something like this:
"Apparently "Evolution" didn't give you the ability to read a "No Parking" sign. Not only are you out there insulting everyone's religious beliefs, but you're blocking traffic."

We'd be the last people to use evolution to insult someone. We haven't found out who the unfriendly neighbors are yet, but we have some ideas.

Engagement photos coming soon

Melisa Peters met up with Jeannette and I in the Rose Garden in Minneapolis to shoot many photos for free! (as in beer) Of course, it comes as part of the package for her to shoot our wedding as well. She was dedicated and interested in getting things right. You can tell she does this for fun. We look forward to seeing her on the 8th. It's so nice to have pictures of the two of us together, which we're usually missing, because we're taking pictures of each other.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Image Fulgurator

This is a bit of subversive art. Basically, the inventor rigged a camera to use slide film as a projector, and attached it to a light sensor which activates the projector for only a few milliseconds when a flash is detected. It's similar to how people photograph lightning. This first test in public overlaid a message on top of a sign at Checkpoint Charlie that people die crossing the US / Mexico border, while tourists cross borders every day without threat.Link.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cracker, please! - Or silliness begets silliness

PZ Myers, a grumbly biology professor in Morris, MN, incited some Danish style violence, by mocking Catholics who are over reacting over a student taking the Eucharist out of the church. There are calls for the student to be expelled from school for this "hate crime." Not to be out done with outlandishness, PZ steps it up a notch with a humor which is drier then a communion wafer writes this:
So, what to do. I have an idea. Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers? There's no way I can personally get them — my local churches have stakes prepared for me, I'm sure — but if any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I'll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare. I won't be tempted to hold it hostage (no, not even if I have a choice between returning the Eucharist and watching Bill Donohue kick the pope in the balls, which would apparently be a more humane act than desecrating a goddamned cracker), but will instead treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web. I shall do so joyfully and with laughter in my heart. If you can smuggle some out from under the armed guards and grim nuns hovering over your local communion ceremony, just write to me and I'll send you my home address.

So, the silliness of overreaction is met with even more silliness and even more overreaction. Not to be out done, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, has launched a campaign to get PZ Myers fired from his professorship at the University of Minnesota Morris by calling on its president to remove him, even appealing to the Minnesota State Legislature. Since then, PZ Myers has received lots of email, scads of death threats, and his employer has to deal with attention it wishes were on the successes of research teams at the school rather then on the silliness of some professor dealing with summer fever. PZ's actions won't change any one's mind, except to think that atheists, and liberals, are all a bunch of baby killing hate mongers, which isn't much of a change.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Watching the rocket's red glare

The booster rocket for the Space Shuttle, that is! Jeannette and I had no idea what we'd do for some sort of honeymoon. We've gone on plenty of trips together, each one was special, but another vacation doesn't hurt. So, Jeannette and I are returning to Florida, where each of us had gone as kids, but missed out on some things. We're going to be leaving the first full week of October, so if the weather holds up, we can catch a Shuttle launch on the 8th. Jeannette gets her beach, and I get geeky space stuff. It's a perfect combo! We have no hotel picked out, so if anyone has a recommendation, leave it in the comments. Also, if there are any out of the way places which are not to be missed, leave those too.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

"Few are closer to the people than our churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques"

How about social workers overloaded with welfare cases, police, nurses and support staff in hospitals and clinics, emergency response people responding to all sorts of disasters and food shelf volunteers? I would say these people are closer to the people because they assist based on need, regardless of which congressional district you are from, your sexual orientation, race, or religion. They do not seek to change your views on theology or religion, but seek to keep you safe, healthy, and your rights protected.

Senator Obama, riding high on a swing back to the Democratic leanings for the nation in response to years of Republican dominated governing, made a speech on July 1 which angered many an atheist.

First, some background. While atheists are not alone in their support for the separation of church and state, some Baptist groups strongly support separation as well, they are the most vocal. This often leads people to believe that separation of church and state is anti-religious, or proposes to remove all elements of religion from the country by the secular left. Perhaps atheist organizations, and the people which make up their membership, are more sensitive to issues concerning the entanglement of religion and government. I can see how one's point of view would be different if attending a liberal congregation which prides itself in responsible use of Federal money to fund secular projects to help the community. If that were the case, Faith-Based Initiatives would be seen as a good thing. It was started by President Clinton, after all.

As with most things, without stronger oversight, and control, abuse becomes rampant. Let's say you're the Salvation Army, and you are receiving Federal money to fund a program, and you're busy hiring staff. Let's say one of your prospective staff, interviewing for a Psychologist position is Jewish and you find out during the interview, and refuse to hire based on his religion. That's discrimination. However, courts have upheld the rights of religious groups to discriminate. But, when you're being funded by the public, you need to play by the public's rules.

Not For Profit Organizations are required to keep report on income, while religious groups do not. Without this transparency, that $200,000 grant to fund school presentations on the dangers of drugs could become attractive when the roof leaks in the church's gym. Since there is no oversight of accounting, that temptation can be quite strong, after all, it's all in the service of God? Right? To atheists, it is serious, and exposes the problem which arise when government and religion become entangled.

Currently, programs for Faith-Based Initiatives are not evaluated for effectiveness. What this means, is that Federal money which would go to the Boys and Girls Clubs would go to a church run camp, even one run by Pat Robertson's church. This is also a concern when states choose to fund abstinence only religious based sex education over comprehensive reason based sex education, without looking at the dangers of not providing students with education which can help prevent the spread of disease and unwanted pregnancy.

Senator Obama has spoken strongly about the separation of church and state. I think ending discrimination in hiring practices, and providing better controls and oversight are better then not. However, before Charitable Choice and Faith-Based Initiates, religious groups and secular groups were on an even playing field, able to compete fairly for the same grants. Now there is a bias towards supporting Christian organizations over others, and both parties are guilty of throwing money at overtly religious programs and churches which use money to proselytize unwilling recipients of programs, discriminate based on religion, sex, and sexual orientation, and may not provide better services then secular counterparts.

Reform is good, but others are not satisfied. Americans United, and the Secular Coalition of America both have positions that the Faith-Based Initiatives program be ended by the next President, as the program is created by the Executive branch. The concern is that a religious group, such as a church, would receive funding for a program, which may be secular, however, allows the church to spend it's budget on religious activities, rather then on the secular program. Providing charitable works can increase visibility of the organization, and potentially increase membership and donation to the church, and can be viewed as endorsing a particular religion by funding an important part of the organization.

I'm in the middle on this issue. I do like the reforms, but I do not like the bias towards religious groups as being inherently good and ethical. I think that Federal money should be given to programs which seek to help the public in a nondiscriminatory way, but I don't see a need to allow religious groups to participate in Federal programs while maintaining the religious nature in their services. While there are abuses of the current system, especially in supporting religious organizations in certain districts for political purposes, most of the recipients are not abusing the program, and are using money responsibly, and within the law.

Should the program be scrapped. I think so. I don't think there is a good reason for it. If a religious organization doesn't have the funds to run a charitable operation, why should I fund it? Is it my fault they can't get enough donations to be self sufficient? Maybe they need to work on marketing themselves better, or the charitable organization needs to be separate and secular in purpose and operation. This is keeping in mind that secular does not mean anti-religion, but neutral to religion.


As Mr. Metha reports, atheist groups have been weighing in on the issue since yesterday when the speech happened. Some have been very harsh, others pleased that the Religious Right isn't happy about church's having to allow atheists to be hired. The tone has softened a bit since the Fox News article about expanding Faith-Based Initiatives was released, because some groups see the move as rather clever. It's a way to appear supportive of the program, while introducing elements which seek to keep the separation of church and state present.

I do agree with the position of the Secular Coalition of America:
Direct federal funding of houses of worship, regardless of how the funds are used, is a violation of the separation of church and state.
But, Constitution, Somstitution, right? It's just written on paper, and paper can be erased, right?

Sheaths for Kitty Weapons

Since moving into our new place, our cats have adjusted well. There is much more space for them to wander about. One of our cats was picky about her litter box, which had the side effect of her peeing on all sorts of things. That problem was cured by getting a Litter Maid automatic litter box. We haven't had a problem in three weeks.

Our other cat enjoys clawing door frames, and doors for attention. In the short time we've been here, she's made her mark known. Sure, we could get her declawed, but invasive surgery for some behavioral problem isn't a good solution. So, I went to Safe Pet Products, and picked up Soft Claws cat nail caps.

It's only been one day, but our problem cat now has purple nylon covers over her nails. The solution is pretty simple, just cover the cat's claws. The nail caps are applied after trimming the nails. Just trim the nail, and slip on the nail cap which sticks on with super glue. For the first minute or so, she tried to chew them off. But she gave up quickly, and now just looks funny with purple claws. She even attempted to claw a door frame. Replacing the annoying sound of ruined wood surfaces was a squeaky sound. So, for now, Soft Claws works.