Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The New Farmer

Despite the fact that there are many unattractive things about farming (you know, like shoveling poop, and manhandling large smelly animals into small smelly spaces) it is still a deeply attractive lifestyle to me.

I was raised on a sort of half-farm (so inevitably I'm biased to some degree), a majority of my parent’s income came from non-farming activities but a majority of the food we ate came from the pasture or the garden.

There is a sort of existential intimacy in farming, there is a more direct and more inviolable relationship between your toil and your well-being. Farming brings a unity to life activities that other vocations cannot boast; your location does not change, your needs are fewer, your needs are nearer, your family is nearer.

The core of farming's attraction to me is the natural involvement of one’s family. It is natural for kids to help their parents on a farm, it is natural for kids to see their parents at work, to see how their parents handle difficulties. There is much more time with the kids and much more opportunity for interaction in general. And on a farm, failure is often not an option, you MUST plant the seeds or food will be scarce, you MUST fix the fence at 2am or the products of your labor will escape into the forest. There is an urgency to farming that cuts through the fog of faddish interests and social posturing that surrounds us, farming focuses our attention back on our basic needs. I think it's healthy for kids to see this, to see that the basics cannot be taken for granted.

Let's pause here while I throw out the requisite caveat, yes obviously a farm is not some utopian patch of earth where joy bursts forth at the crack of dawn and all the men are good looking and all the women are above average ...or whatever Garrison Keillor said ...but the opportunities are real. In my experience kids raised on farms are more likely to have GRIT, to have sticktuitiveness, to be unafraid of hard work and dirt and skinned knuckles.

So, farming is attractive for the above reasons and it was once the case that it was practical for a wide majority of North Americans to be at least half-farmers. It's not anymore. Farming is completely impractical for most people. I live in a residential neighborhood, if I tried my hand at farming the Homeowners Association would come down on me like a ton of bricks.

We need to find new lifestyles, ones that can be lived by electrical engineers and pilots and speech pathologists; lifestyles that are family-centric, that have the positive attributes of farming but not the requirement for land and critters. I suspect that this can be achieved if your work schedule is at all flexible, though sacrifices will have to be made. Speaking of sacrifices, if you want to spend more time at home you'll probably have to spend less time at work, that's a sacrifice of sorts. The time now spent at home should not be without financial value, but your hourly rate will probably be lower, from a purely financial perspective it will be a less efficient way to meet the needs of your family. Let's examine some of those needs to see how you can meet them with that sweet, sweet sensation of sweating in the vicinity of your family.

1. Food: even in the smallest apartment you can grow some food in an indoor garden, if you have a yard, a small greenhouse should get you to significant production even in arid climates. Also just cooking your own food from scratch is something that kids can help with and has some value in showing kids that food (while it might grow on trees) does not magically appear in the fridge.

2. Shelter: this one’s a bit tough but doing all your own maintenance around the house is an opportunity to show your kids that shelter is worked for, it is not to be taken for granted.

3. Electricity: In neighborhoods that allow you to go off-grid a small solar-battery system will allow you to generate all your own power. This is a significant endeavor but if you're willing to solder all the individual panels yourself and rip old batteries out of crashed EVs (no, really) it can be done relatively cheaply, such a system will require regular monitoring and maintenance. There are plenty of online resources for making this sort of thing happen. Google it. Electricity is a pretty urgent need nowadays, kids will understand that the work you do (and they help with) is pretty serious stuff.

4. Water: OK I got nothing, it's coming out of the tap unless you live somewhere with enough rainfall for a roof reclamation system to be viable. In some places drilling your own well is an option.

5. Clothing: You're probably thinking: "Bro, would you seriously make your own clothes??" ...Heck no I wouldn't, I'd get fired; but I'd make my kid’s clothes, they won't get fired. It's really not that hard to do, especially if you're a pro with a sewing machine like my wife.

This is a pretty short list and a first effort, I haven't put much time into it but I'll update this post as I think of new things, feel free to post comments if you have any ideas.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Why Success Leads People to the Political Left

The primary difference between the political left and the political right is what these groups believe about the moral nature of humans. The left believes we're basically good, the right believes we're not basically good. If we are basically good, then we (and by extension the state) can be trusted with power and we shouldn't fear a powerful state. But if we're not basically good then we (and by extension the state) cannot be trusted with power and the job of a good statesmen is to limit the power of the state. A good defense of this view is made in the short clip below.

When a person is successful, that person tends to congregate around other successful people. Successful people are more likely to think highly of themselves and more likely to expect others to think highly of them.

Thus (I promise I will not use that word again) in successful circles a culture of exceptionalism naturally develops where each member believes that himself and other members of the successful circle are good, quite good in fact, certainly better than the average Joe.

Therefore if one is to argue that the political right is correct, one is indirectly arguing that each member of the elite crew (including oneself) is not basically good. And one must argue this against a very attractive alternative narrative, which is that each one in the group (including oneself!) is good. It is very difficult to argue against this alternative narrative for a couple reasons:

1. There is immense social pressure to affirm everyone as good. In fact making an argument against this idea almost automatically excludes you from self-affirming elite circles, as you won't self-affirm.

2. It is extremely tempting to think of yourself as good, especially if you've achieved considerable success. We all really want it to be the case that we are good, this is a powerful and natural desire, it is our deepest and most desperately held fantasy.

But as I've argued elsewhere, if you don't believe that you are prone to evil, it increases the probability that evil will find a way into your actions. We must be aware of our own potential for evil.

...But the siren song of denial is strong, it’s much easier to just conform.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Why Stephen Fry's recent claims are Unreasonable

The famous actor Stephen Fry set portions of Europe abuzz in a brief interview with broadcaster Gay Byrne last week for his controversial claim that if there is a god who created the universe, that god must be evil. here's a link to the video:

Fry's claim here is not new, the late Christopher Hitchens and many other atheists have been making this claim for at least a decade. But even with the backing of Stephen Fry's aristocratic British accent and passionate delivery, the claim rings hollow.

Yes, there is great pain and suffering in the world, but to think *only* of the pain and suffering when discussing what kind of God could have made the world is an obviously flawed way of approaching the matter. When trying to answer this question, and when trying to answer every other question, *all* the data we have available must be taken into account. And there is much more than bone cancer to discuss. Has Stephen Fry never felt thankful for his loved ones? has he never delighted in the laughter of children? Has he never wondered at the beauty of the setting sun or the starry night sky? Has he never appreciated the taste of a good meal or the majesty of water crashing into the shoreline?

To conclude that an all good and all powerful God (the kind Fry is trying to rule out) may have created the universe we need only to determine that the existence of the world we live in is better than it's non-existence. For an all good and all powerful God will certainly create all worlds whose existence is better than their non-existence. I'm grateful to be alive, to see the sparkle in the eyes of my small nephews, to feel my wife embrace me, to look down on the blowing snow from the top of high mountains. I'm grateful that this universe exists because it is good, we all know this, we feel it. The world is very good, and if this is so, we ought to conclude that its creator is very good as well.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Online Privacy and MeWe vs. Ello

Since everything has an analogy in aviation, we’ll start out on June 30 1956 over the Grand Canyon as two airliners collide in flight for the first time, this sparks a paradigm shift in air traffic control strategies. From this point on, staying safe in the air no longer meant doing nothing and hoping for the best…

This doing nothing and hoping for the best is now derisively referred to by pilots as the "big sky small airplane" theory of traffic avoidance. The "big sky small airplane" theory of traffic avoidance is analogous to how I thought of online privacy for most of my online life.  The database of users is so big I reasoned, and I am so unremarkable, that the odds of me being targeted for discrimination are so low that I might as well ignore them. One might call this the "big database, little-old-me" theory of online security.

This theory of online security can no longer be trusted. It is now not only likely, but inevitable, that some people will get unjustly targeted for their online activity. There are two reasons for this.

1. Big data analysis tools from large governmental and non-governmental entities are now good enough to identify any demographic of people they wish.

2. There are people with the will to discriminate against all sorts of demographics. Even people in powerful governmental organizations like the IRS. Don't believe the IRS did it? Perhaps this love song will change your mind...

These two facts taken together give me reason to worry, and with this worry comes a desire to control my online data to avoid being targeted for God-only-knows-what.

I'm not the only one who wants to feel safer online and in response to the demand for privacy, two new social networks have arisen that promise to protect you from those who would use your data against you. The first one to launch was Ello last month, and just today MeWe launched. These online communities are very different and in very different stages of development, a comparison of the two should help you make decisions about how and if to use them.

Since MeWe is the exciting new kid on the block, let’s check it out first. This is what the top of your browser will look like once you've logged in to MeWe:


MeWe is ambitious. It incorporates cloud storage, email/messages, contact/calendar management and a fully featured social network in one very seamless and attractive package.

The privacy features that set MeWe apart are described in their Values Statement and in their Privacy Policy. Basically MeWe makes a number of promises:

  1. They will never scan your data, mine your data, sell your data or do any analysis or copying of your data at all. The only things that will ever be done with your data is what you directly do with it.
  2. They will never run social experiments on you as Facebook has famously done for sometime.
  3. They will submit themselves to third party audits to prove that they are being totally honest with their users.

MeWe was founded by Mark Weinstein, a widely respected privacy expert recently listed as the number 4 privacy thinker in the world. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of HTTP client-server communication (basically the internet... no really) and long time internet freedom advocate has recently joined MeWe’s Advisory Board..

MeWe is committed to not collecting and selling your data but they also have very straightforward answers to the question of “Well, how do you plan on making money?” Their recent press release shared four targeted revenue streams.
1. Cloud storage (8GB is free, then you can buy up to 500GB),
2. Photo printing: MeWe has a revenue sharing agreement with Walgreens and plans to expand the revenue sharing model to other service companies as well.
3. A coming App Store
4. A coming paid Enterprise edition for large organizations.

MeWe is surprisingly good. It still has a few rough edges but much of it is clearly better than what Facebook offers; in particular audio messaging, symbolic messaging and group communications are superior to Facebook's implementation of these features. Speaking of Facebook, a key feature of MeWe is that it can be easily integrated with Facebook (as well as Twitter and LinkedIn) so that Facebook content automatically shows up on MeWe and vice versa preventing you from having to post things in more than one location.

I think all users, particularly those concerned with privacy should check it out at

While MeWe is a direct Facebook/Google+ competitor, Ello is more of a Twitter/Tumblr competitor that also has some Facebook-like functionality. Ello, while it publicly launched before MeWe, is not as far along in the developmental process and is officially still in beta, meaning it has limited functionality. When you log in to Ello the top of your screen will look like this:


When signing up for an Ello account the way that you prove you’re human and not a spam robot is to drag an “Ello” smily face on top of the face of a cat, which is cute and really quite innovative, unfortunately it rejected my first 4 attempts to prove I was a human. I suspect this is an issue that only occurred because I was using a ghetto old iPad 3 with iOS 8.

Sharing content on Ello is easy once you get a hang for the interface which is simple to the point of being sparse. Ello was founded by “seven well-known artists and programmers” but only one of them, film maker Paul Budnitz, has revealed his identity. The other 5 mysteriously exist under the aliases “Berger & Föhr” and “The Mode Set.” Further description of Ello's founders is on the Ello site here.

While MeWe’s way of protecting your data is by structuring the site (and servers) so that only you can control it/download it. Ello plans to keep you safe by preventing anyone from knowing who you are so that your data cannot be attached to the real you. Ello also supports “do not track” requests but by default Google Analytics and other other data analysis may be performed on your data. Learn more about how Ello handles your information on their website here.

Ello hasn't publicly stated how they intend to monetize their site, something Ello’s critics are wary of. Ello's lack of a revenue model (only hints of future premium services have been made thus far), and the fact that they’re Venture Capital backed has led to speculation that they'll eventually have to compromise on their No-Ad model or charge a monthly fee or sell their business to a data giant, something they would probably like to avoid.

I think Ello is a good fit for the web-savvy reddit crowd and anyone else looking for an anonymous platform, it still feels largely unfinished but it has potential. Check it out at

My opinion? Right now I think MeWe is the better product by a wide margin, so good I've invested a small amount of cash in it. It has all the functionality required to replace Facebook and then some, I also know much more about its founders and board members which helps with the trust angle.

Ello’s still-anonymous founders give it a hacker feel that I don’t entirely trust and I’m more a Facebook user than a Twitter/Tumblr user myself. That said I’m happy that we now have options, online privacy can now be had without making significant sacrifices.

Yayyyy for progress!

Friday, January 31, 2014

How to get rid of Duplicate Contacts on Samsung Galaxy S and Galaxy Note Smartphones

A couple decisions made by Samsung and certain wireless carriers have resulted in Samsung smartphones spawning numerous duplicate contacts. Here's how to fix the problem permanently. Some of the images below will look a little different than they do on your phone due to firmware and app differences but you should be able to follow along on any recent Android-running Samsung smartphone.

To follow these instructions you will need a phone as well as a PC (Windows) or Mac computer. This will take 10-20 minutes for the average user but can be done much faster.

First open the contacts app, hit the menu button, select "Import/Export" and then  "Export to USB storage" as shown below:

This will create a file called "Contacts.vcf" or "00001.vcf" or something similar and save it on your phone's memory.

Next, to transfer the file to your computer, download the "Astro File Manager with Cloud Storage" app from the Play Store. Open the app, navigate through all of its "first time use" prompts and then go to Locations>sdcard (sometimes called sdcard0) and find the .vcf file, you will probably have to scroll down to the bottom to see it. Once you locate the .vcf file long press (press and hold down for a few seconds) on it until the menu you see on the far right screen below pops up.

Select the "Share" option from the list.

Then select "Gmail" from the list of ways to share, send this email to yourself, and then go to your PC/Mac and open the email. In the email an attachment will be shown at the bottom with the name of the file you emailed. Hover the mouse over the attachment and an "Add to contacts" button will appear. Click that button.

Once you click that button you will be taken to your Google Contacts web page and a light reddish bar with the option to "Find & Merge duplicates" will have appeared. Click where it says "Find & Merge duplicates," if you do not see this light reddish bar click where it says "More" beside the drop down arrow and you will find the option to "Find & Merge duplicate" in the menu that appears. Both methods are shown below:

Now all that's left is a little clean-up.

Uninstall the "Astro File Manager" app if you don't plan to use it in the future and re-open the contacts app. Hit the menu button and then select the "Contacts to display" option, you may have to scroll down the list of options to make this option visible. Then select only the Google account contacts, you will be automatically returned to your contact list, click the plus button to add a new contact.

We're going to add a fake new contact to reset the default place that your phone stores contacts. After we make this fake contact you may delete it. Name your new contact "test contact" or whatever you like and then select the area above the new contact name where it says "Phone" a drop down menu will appear, select "Google" instead of "Phone" and then select "Save." It is important that you select "Save," if you do not every new contact you create with your phone will become a duplicate.

You are done and should not encounter duplicate contacts again. Yayyyyyy!!

I've only personally tested this on Verizon Samsung phones but it should work with AT&T, Sprint,T-mobile and international models as well.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Can God Make a Rock so Big He Can't Lift It?

The complete, correct, and hopefully clear answer.

Can God make a rock so big He can't lift it? This is an interesting question that is sometimes used to attempt to show that the idea of an omnipotent being is logically incoherent, like a "married bachelor" or a "round square."

Answering this question requires us to define the word "omnipotent," it will also be helpful to examine another, similar question.

Omnipotence is defined (by all notable philosophers except Rene Descartes) to be the ability to actualize any logically possible state of affairs. A Christian theist like myself who believes in an omnipotent God does not believe that God can do logically impossible things like create a married bachelor or a one dimensional doughnut. This may seem to make God less great, but I think a close examination reveals that this is not the case because these aren't really "things" that we're saying God can't make, they're just words put beside each other that never refer to an actual thing.

Now let's examine a similar question. What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

The answer to this question is that we find out who is lying [edit: in the above case it was Peyton]. Because either the force is not unstoppable, or the object is not immovable. As Isaac Asimov explained, it is logically impossible for both an immovable object and an unstoppable force to exist in the same universe at the same time. Because the question assumes that both these things exist in the same universe at the same time, the question is logically incoherent and is thus, not really a question. But it looks like a question! you might say... Yes, but it's not a question, any more than "Can shmoggle airplane toothepaste?" is a question.

The question "Can God make a rock so big He can't lift it" is a similar "not-question" because it assumes that two logically incompatible things could be simultaneously true. It assumes that:

1. A Being that can lift any rock exists
2. A rock that cannot be lifted by the above Being possibly exists

Given that God is omnipotent, it follows that there cannot be a rock so big that He cannot lift it. The idea of such a rock is logically incoherent given God's ability to lift any rock. Therefore the simple answer to this question is "no, God cannot do logically impossible things," with the additional comment that these aren't really "things" anyway, they're just a series of words placed beside each other.

If you're still a little fuzzy check out Gary Burger's answer here and the lovely YouTube video (it really is quite good, better than this post I think) from YouTube entity misterD418 here.

Btw God also "can't" make a pebble so small He can't find it
...or a crossword puzzle so difficult He can't solve it
...or a smell so bad He can't bear to go near it

Thursday, November 21, 2013

How to Get the Most Out of the ISIS Mobile Wallet 20% Cash Back Promotion

First off this will only work if you have a smartphone with NFC (Near Field Communication), if you have an iPhone you're out of luck.

T-mobile, AT&T and Verizon all block Google Wallet from running on their devices (though the Nexus 5 gets around it). They block Google Wallet because they have had their own NFC based payment system in the works and they don't want competition from Google. This system is called "ISIS Mobile Wallet" and it launched a week ago (Nov. 14th).

When a new payment system is launched, the company launching the system will often spend heavily promoting the new system; to promote ISIS, 20% cash back is offered on any purchase made from now til the end of January 2014 (up to $1000). The catch is that to get the 20% cash back you must be paying through an American Express Serve account that is linked to your ISIS account. American Express Serve accounts are free to open and close but have a $1 monthly fee. This would be $200 for nothing if it weren't for the limited number of locations that can receive NFC payments and the mild hassle to set it all up. Fortunately many of the places that do take NFC payments (like Walgreen's) sell Visa gift cards which you can then use almost anywhere (and you don't pay tax on gift cards).

So here's the process, it will probably take 30-60 minutes of your time, if 30-60 minutes is worth $200 to you then go for it, otherwise don't.

1. Stop by your T-mobile, AT&T or Verizon store to get a new ISIS-compatible SIM card.

2. Open an American Express Serve account and select not to buy the plastic card that comes with the account (this makes opening the account free).

3. Download the ISIS mobile app from the App Store on your phone. Or go here for T-mo here for AT&T and here for VZW.

4. Go to Walgreen's and buy $1000 in Visa gift cards using ISIS to pay. IMPORTANT: if you don't use the ISIS App on your smartphone to pay IT WON"T WORK, here's a a video of someone paying with ISIS, skip to 1:35.

5. When you get your 20% cash back, go back to Walgreen's and buy another $200 visa gift card.

6. Close your American Express Serve account to avoid the monthly fee. Keep the app and link it to an existing account if you like this new system, otherwise ditch the app and continue merrily on your way.

It would be nice to not have to carry a wallet everywhere, that's why I'm grandstanding for NFC based payment systems.