eXTReMe Tracker WARNING: The opinions expressed and linked to in this blog are not necessarily mine (anymore).

My ideas are constantly changing as I learn. Sometimes they even change midway through writing a post.

Thursday, September 27

Myanmar Monks

I have long been skeptical that Buddhism could be a practical moral system. While I could respect that a stance of nonviolence could be effective with people who have some sympathy for nonviolence, I have suspected that it would be useless against people who have no such sympathy (or maybe just not enough sympathy).

Well, here's a tragic example where these questions are being put to the test:

An interesting twist on this is that folks who are sympathetic to the monks and nonviolence, but perhaps not as purely Buddhist, may escalate the violence. If this succeeds in causing the government to ease off some in its oppression of the people, then it would be a combination of Buddhism, respect for Buddhism, and violence that actually brought about the result.

Perhaps Buddhism combined with a lot of Buddhist sympathizers is a practical moral system?

Or would it be even more effective if, despite the imprisonment of 200 monks, there was no violence on the part of the people?

Would the government continue to kill people and imprison them? (if the nonviolence had continued) I believe the imprisoning would continue. I'm not sure about the killing. Would the oppression cease? Unlikely.

On the other hand, an escalation in violence could end with a lot more deaths and a government all the more determined to continue its oppressive regime.

Whatever happens, I hope it involves as little death, violence, and oppression as possible.

Wednesday, September 26

Geography: Burma

I came across an article about Buddhist monks protesting and being arrested. The article mentions a previous incident, in 1988, where students protested and thousands were shot at. I wondered if this was taking place in China, but the place mentioned was Myanmar, so I decided to look it up.

Also known as, the Union of Myanmar, Burma is bordered by China, India, Thailand, and Laos. It is ruled by a "military junta". The monks and thousands of others have been protesting the oppression by the government.

Friday, September 21

Eruv - Vocabulary Word of the day

An eruv is a boundary recognised by Jewish law, within which certain activities are permitted on Shabbat that would not be permitted otherwise. Apparently, there is a prohibition against carrying objects to or from a home, or enclosed area. Jewish communities will often build an eruv (boundary) to enclose their community to allow more mobility and flexibility in observing Shabbat.

What is an Eruv?

What has been left out? Racism in jena

Austin-American Statesman Article on Jena

My curiosity was aroused by the article in my local paper about a rally in Jena, Louisiana. Why the big fuss now? Over some "thugs" who beat someone up? Why not a big protest about the nooses in the tree? What about the rights of a person to not be beaten?

It didn't all fit together, so I decided to check out some other news sources. It was like reading about an entirely different event. I must say, I'm a little surprised at how many important details were left out of the local paper.

NPR Story on Jena

The NPR version makes a bit more sense. I can see now why there's so much tension. The school was burned down. No one knows who did it.

A similar incident happened immediately before the white student was attacked.

Get this, a (different) white student pulled a gun on the black student. The black student wrestled the gun away and took it home. Guess who was charged with a crime? The black student - for theft of a firearm?! No charges against the guy who'd actually pulled the firearm out, potentially with intent to shoot the black student.

As far as racial problems, our community is no different than any other community," Fowler says.
Fowler is a school board member, and unfortunately, I think he may be correct. I don't know that his community is much different from many other communities. I don't think it's a good answer. But he and many other white leaders agree that the charges are unfair. I think that's a huge improvement in our culture over the last 100 years, but I think there's a lot of ground left to cover.

I'd like to think that MY community is different, but I can't say for sure whether it is. The minorities in my community don't seem to think they're being treated fairly - judging by the protests and complaints about some recent incidents.

I wonder what NPR has left out of its version of the story.

Did the (white) student who pulled the gun have a reasonable fear of harm? Was he not charged because it was "self-defense"? Had it been a black student in his place, would it have been considered "self-defense"? I know of a (white) man who served a number of years in prison for pulling a gun out and shooting someone in self-defense. The crime was in having the gun more than defending himself. Of course, he was shooting at a white guy. Would it have been different if the other man were black?

Why didn't Bailey turn over the gun to police? It might have prevented his being charged with theft/robbery (Still hard to swallow that one, even so). Maybe he didn't trust the police?

And, btw, I have been using "black" in my terminology because that is what is used in the stories. I thought that wasn't politically correct? I've always found "African-American" a bit problematic too because not all black people in America are African-American. At least, they wouldn't consider themselves African-American.

Wednesday, September 19

Talk Like a Pirate Day

Ahoy thar me mateys!
Aye, it be the grand day - the day all yee lads n lasses have been waiting for -
Talk Like a Pirate Day!!

Composer: Hans Zimmer
Song: Hoist The Colors


Yo, ho, haul together,
hoist the colors high.
Heave ho,
thieves and beggars,
never shall we die.

The king and his men
stole the queen from her bed
and bound her in her Bones.
The seas be ours
and by the powers
where we will we'll roam.

Yo, ho, haul together,
hoist the colors high.
Heave ho, thieves and beggars,
never shall we die.

Some men have died
and some are alive
and others sail on the sea
– with the keys to the cage...
and the Devil to pay
we lay to Fiddler's Green!

The bell has been raised
from it's watery grave...
Do you hear it's sepulchral tone?
We are a call to all,
pay head the squall
and turn your sail toward home!

Yo, ho, haul together,
hoist the colors high.
Heave ho, thieves and beggars,
never shall we die.

Official British Headquarters: http://www.yarr.org.uk/

Friday, September 14

PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor

Having run out of ideas about what to write, I decided to try a random website for inspiration.

I was really hoping for something a bit juicier than this, but then again, I've been doing a bit of dabbling with a website and wondering what PHP meant and whether it was something I should know.

I have some questions about it and, not surprisingly, the site answers those right off:

What is it?
PHP is an HTML-embedded scripting language. Much of its syntax is borrowed from C, Java and Perl with a couple of unique PHP-specific features thrown in. The goal of the language is to allow web developers to write dynamically generated pages quickly.

Perfect! I learned see way back in the day. I'm very rusty, but it's nice to know I'll find it vaguely familiar.

Why is it called PHP?
It stands for PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor. It's recursive. I love recursion. Also, it'd be inconvenient to call it HP. Too many other things called HP. My favorite calculator used to be an HP 15C. Reverse Polish Notation. It took a little getting used to at first, but I loved it for long calculations in high school.

Ok, one of the first things on the site is a link to a tutorial. I think "great, I'll get to see what it is." Nope. First it shows me how to install it on a server. Like I know how to admin a server! NOT. Well, not yet anyway. I think I have access to a server with PHP but it's not on a site that I would want to "play" with.

I'll have to see if my personal site has access. Then maybe I can get a few little pages written..

Other attempts at revised Commandments

George Carlin goes through the Biblical Ten Commandments and reduces them to two. Although I would personally scrap the 2nd one, it was fun reading:

Well let me ask you this- when they were making this shit up, why did they pick 10? Why not 9 or 11? I'll tell you why- because 10 sound official. Ten sounds important! Ten is the basis for the decimal system, it's a decade, it's a psychologically satisfying number (the top ten, the ten most wanted, the ten best dressed). So having ten commandments was really a marketing decision! It is clearly a bullshit list. It's a political document artificially inflated to sell better. I will now show you how you can reduce the number of commandments and come up with a list that's a little more workable and logical. I am going to use the Roman Catholic version because those were the ones I was taught as a little boy.

I found a few more lists on the Religious Tolerance site, including a list thought to have been created by secular humanists:

We shall not limit freedom of thought.
We shall not cause unnecessary harm to any living thing or the environment.
We shall be respectful of the rights of others.
We shall be honest.
We shall be responsible for our actions.
We shall be fair in all matters to all persons.
We shall be considerate of the happiness and well being of others.
We shall be reasonable in our actions.
We shall nurture these values by word & deed in our children, family, friends and acquaintances.
We shall not limit inquiring or testing by their consequences, on any matter, including these Commandments.

Thursday, September 13

Moral Principles are Tedious

At least, I'm finding it tedious to go through and think about them all, one by one, and am a bit frustrated that it could take a lifetime (or more) to come up with something by that method.

I think, instead, I'm just going to name 10 things and then, as I get time, examine other ideas and decide whether it's important enough to move up into the top 10. Maybe I'll keep a list of the others, just for reference.

So, quick, off the top of my head, without expecting they'll stand for long:

1. Seek the truth.
2. Be honest with oneself.
3. Act to make the best life possible for oneself.
4. Encourage others to seek truth.
5. Be honest with others.
6. Avoid harming others.
7. Seek to establish mutually beneficial relationships with others.
8. Encourage and help others to make the best life possible for themselves.
9. Work six days a week, but keep the seventh day as a day of rest and recharging.
10. Make the universe better in a meaningful way.

I was getting a little desperate towards the end there - hence the repetition of some, the weird thing about work and rest (Useful, certainly, but moral??), and the vagueness of the last one.
I'll get to describing and dissecting them later.

Wednesday, September 12

New Year's Resolution - Guitar

I did it. I dusted off my guitar and learned a few chords. Actually, I've tried to learn a few chords before, but this is the first time I've picked it up and remembered one from the last time I attempted to get in the habit of practicing.

I don't know why it's so hard to get started. Once I start playing around, I love it. Even though I suck at it. I know it took me a little while to get the hang of changing notes when I learned flute, but this seems far more complicated, requiring much more fine motor control. It takes me forever to get my fingers to let go of the strings, rearrange themselves, then hold down the strings in different positions. It hurts too. And I can't hold down two strings with one finger. At least not yet. But still, I love the way it sounds when I get a chord right and strum it. I love the way it sounds when I've changed chords and strum. I think I might even remember 4 whole chords - G, A, D, and E minor. I'm working on Emin7 and Amin. That's enough to cover most of several songs I'd like to be able to sing. Woohoo! It's a start!

My question is, if there are any guitarists out there, how long does it take to get to where you can actually play 2 chords in a row without having to consciously stop and rearrange your fingers every time? Is there a practice technique to speed this up? Time to do some research...

The New Me

Actually, it's the same old me, new photo:


Tuesday, September 11

My first Robot

I decided to browse the robotic kits and components available at my local Fry's store.

Since my mechanical experience is fairly limited (can you say mechanically DISinclined), I was pleased to see that there were simple kits for a mere $10 - screw-driver included! The screw-driver is important because I wouldn't be able to lay hands on one of my own very easily, but I didn't particularly want to have to buy another one because I can't find mine. This resolved the dilemma for me.

Anyway, here's some info about the kit:
Obstacle-Evading Mechanical Beetle Kit

I'll try to post a picture after I've got it built (no promises on when).

While looking around for a good description to share, I found a useful-looking article on how to make my own beetle robot from components. Maybe a good second project:
How to Build A Simple Robot Beetle

Friday, September 7

How to Build a Robot, Step 3: Define Robot

This would ideally be Step 1.
My first stab at this was that a robot would be mobile. I didn't mean that it could travel, just that some movement was involved.

One definition I found mentioned it performing repetitive tasks, but it didn't mention what sort of tasks. A desktop computer performs many repetitive tasks, but I don't think I'd call it a robot.

Someone else had this to say about what a robot is:
In my opinion, a remote controlled car is not a robot since it has no brain of it's own. It has no way to make a decision on its own. If you want to build a machine that just responds to your remote control, then just use a remote controlled car or other toy.

To be a robot, it should have the ability to think - make decisions. This may sound hard at first, but really any small computer can be programmed to make decisions. Here is an example of a decision that a small robot with a feeble brain could make:

I think something's missing here. A remote control vehicle can make decisions. It has instructions that are effectively:
If signal from controller is LEFT, THEN (turn left)...

I think the distinguishing feature here isn't the decision making but "decision making based on sensory input".

Even there, one might say that a robot has a special sensor - infrared or whatever it uses to receive signals from a controller. Then again, you could say that a radio is a robot.

Then maybe you'd need to add something else to the definition - motion. A robot is something that makes decisions about movement, based on sensory input and which doesn't require an operator.

Update: scratch the sensory input part, I think it could just be something (a machine) that is capable of movement and makes decisions about movement

How to Build a Robot, Step 2 Find a Robot Club

Well, I don't know that it's necessary, but it'll probably be easier and more fun to have some assistance. Again, this post is mostly for the purpose of bookmarking the link for future reference.

Building a Robot, Step-1, Find good instructions

Well, I don't know if they're "good," but I found some instructions on how to build a robot for under $50. I might not think about this again for a while, so I wanted to save the link for the next time I'm thinking about building a robot.

BTW, building a robot has been a nearly lifelong dream of mine. I can't remember when it first occurred to me to create one. It was probably near the time I saw Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. I was 7.

2007 Resolutions Review

Somewhere in bloggerland, I saw a post about how a person does quarterly reviews of his personal development/growth. I like the idea.

Also, with Rosh Hoshanah (Jewish New Year) coming soon, I've been thinking about my New Year's resolutions. Not that I'm Jewish, mind you. I'm simply interested in ethics and philosophy and religious systems fit in with that. I also love making resolutions and seeing whether I've accomplished them. Of course, it's more fun when I have, but even when I don't, I learn something. Maybe to make more reasonable resolutions or to break up a resolution into smaller, more achievable goals.

Anyway, here's my status on this year's resolutions:

1. Have better relationships with family and friends.
This is hard to judge because it is a bit vague. I know things are better with some of my family members, especially my kids, because it just feels better to be with them. They seem happier overall. I feel happier around them overall.

I don't have many close friends. However, I've made a lot of progress in the area of more distant friendships- going out an meeting more people, making more of an effort to be more of a friend to more people.

I would say I'm well on my way to making things "better." I think I could still use a lot of improvement in this area, so I will probably want to continue next year.

I'll try to think of some specific, somewhat measurable things for next year... or maybe for the rest of this year.

I've been doing some study and practice on communication. I could come up with a goal like "Practice for an hour, once a week, on some of the concepts in Crucial Conversations". (Note to self, review this book!)
Oh, and I've been co-leading a study group on Nonviolent/Compassionate Communication. I think it's already helped some and we're going to be stepping up to do more practice at the next meeting. Exciting stuff!

2. Improve my health.
These are nice, measurable goals.

- Develop a habit of eating more fruits and veggies (with a goal of 5 per day).
Ok, I'm not quite up to target on this one, but I've made progress!

I eat a salad a few times a week. A year ago, I probably had a salad less than once a month. And that's pretty much the only way I have vegetables since I don't like any vegetable cooked (unless potatoes are veggies?? don't think so).

It's not quite 5 servings a day, but it is still a huge improvement. It's like, almost 5 servings a week! Looking at it mathematically, the previous standard was less than 1 serving a week. I've quadrupled that, at least! Go me!

- Continue exercising.
Err. Not doing as well on this. I've dropped Kung Fu due to knee problems and do Tai Chi once a week. Actually, I practice my Tai Chi briefly a few times a week. I'd like to be doing better/more than that, but at least I have continued to do something.

- Drop a clothing size (approx. 30 pounds.)
I don't think a clothing size is 30 pounds, but I definitely haven't made progress on this one. I think it's fairly reasonable and would happen if I also worked on the exercise goal more. Maybe I need something more specific in that area... like... 20 minutes of cardio or strength training, 3 times a week. Stretch goal: 20 minutes of cardio 3 times a week, 20 minutes of weight/strength training 3 times a week.

- Get HDL level up to 40 through supplements, diet, exercise.
Woot! I am doing very well on this one. I went from 23 on my HDL last fall to 32!! That's like... a 50% increase! Mostly I think it was through the exercise I did last fall and the Fish Oil capsules. I'm upping the dosage on that, so if I can just get myself exercising more, I'll bet I can break 40 by the end of the year!

3. Improve the aesthetics in my home. (fancy way of saying clean it up and decorate)
Well, considering the state my home was in when I planned this one, I'd say I've made enormous progress. If I do that about 5 times over, I'll have a nice place. So, good progress but LOTS more to do.

4. Improve my work ethic.
Terrible. I've definitely stalled out on this one. I'm better when it comes to home and family stuff but work, I mean my job, still needs a lot of improving.

"Extra Credit"-Study my electronics book and be able to explain the concepts in it and demonstrate them with hands on projects.
-Build a working robot.
-Write daily.
If you count emails, I do write almost daily. What I meant, though, was structured writing. This one is important to me. I really want to improve this more. I think I'll move it up to being a resolution with some subgoals.

-Improve my skill in drawing
Lower priority but likely to be fun when I get around to it.
- practice with the drawing without a model book and with portraits and occasional models.
-Improve Guitar skills.
Also important to me, but not as urgent. I did finally get a strap and a stand for my guitar as well as a chord book. I printed off some music. Now all I need is a music stand and I've got everything I need to practice. (Note to self: pick up music stand soon)

- Learn the different types of scales.
- Learn 12 new guitar chords.
- Learn 12 songs.
- Be able to know what note(s) is being played instantly - and recognize any chords I've learned.
-Write one song with a simple background.
This one is cheating a bit. I'd already written lyrics for half a song and have a tune in my head. I just need to figure out what notes I'm "hearing" and write them down and work out some good guitar to go with it. Still lots to do but something I'm optimistic about getting done in the next few years.

Wednesday, September 5

Secular Humanism: Negotiation and Compromise

We cultivate the arts of negotiation and compromise as a means of resolving differences and achieving mutual understanding.

This affirmation surprised me a little. It hadn't occurred to me.

However, there will be differences among people, so it might be important to have some ideas about how to deal with those well. I brainstormed a list here, partly inspired by Biblical passages, and partly just random.

"Kill those who differ from you."
"Imprison those who differ from you."
"Scream loudly at those who differ from you."
"Whine about those who differ from you."
"Learn from those who differ from you."
"Go along with those who differ from you."
"Dialogue with, when possible, and come to better ideas with those who differ from you."

No more dating

My brain hurts, so I'm going to move onto a different topic for a bit.

As I've mentioned before, I've been "dating" a little since the divorce and have found it to be a bit confusing and scary in some ways. Mostly, I've been afraid I'd hurt someone or disappoint them by losing interest in them. I guess that sounds arrogant or something, but really, it's just a sort of pickiness. I'm picky about food too. There are very few foods that I like, but I like them LOTS.

After dating a few people, I have finally bumped into a situation where I wasn't the one who lost interest first. Not that anything of that sort was said, just the impression I get when I don't hear from someone in a long while.

It was mildly disappointing, but, honestly, I'm not sure I would stay interested either. It didn't seem like we were entirely compatible, but it was still an interesting and enjoyable experience. I learned a lot from it.

Anyhow, I've decided to take advantage of this lull in people to focus on some other things for a while. Not that I'd turn down someone interesting if they fell into my lap... so to speak. I'm just not looking.

Anger - ramblings

Just had a thought about this, that a component of anger is the idea that someone is making a choice to do something harmful to oneself or someone one cares about.

I have this theory that all people do the 'best' they can given their particular knowledge and experiences. True, they may have ideas about "better" things to do but they don't choose them. I think that would be because the choice doesn't solve some problem for them or they are lacking something in knowledge or skills or a perspective which would make the choice much more appealing. Perhaps they were also in distress and not able to access all their best ideas at a particular time.

So, theoretically, if I kept that in mind all the time, I shouldn't be angry at anyone, ever.

I might feel strongly that I should take some action to prevent further harm, feel frustrated, disappointed that things didn't go the way I'd hoped, but not anger.

I wonder if that's true and whether I could actually get to that state of mind.

Sometimes, another person's anger can be a catalyst for rethinking things, for looking at a problem a different way, or for temporarilyor permanently stopping some offensive action.

Perhaps, then, anger serves a purpose. Disappointment could also be catalyst for change?

I suppose disappointment would have an effect on many people, but what about someone who is lacking empathy? Anger, at least, could trigger some fear.

Can fear be a good thing? Temporarily, I'm sure it can. It could prevent a person from harming the one feared. However, it could also provoke reactions that would be harmful.

Anger could also trigger other feelings besides fear - anger, surprise, delight, etc. Some people seem to enjoy the power of triggering anger in someone else. I think that's why the advice to ignore a bully can be problematic. A bully wants to trigger fear... and maybe even anger. Or maybe they really just want to be noticed and would actually prefer an enthusiastic, positive reaction. If they are really needy for connection (even a bad connection) with others, then ignoring them could aggravate the problem.

One book I read about the subject recommended responding with humor and/or with firmness. This means the bully gets some sort of "connection" but the "victim" has some control over the type of connection. End of ramble.

Separation of Organizations (Moral Principles)

After attempting to describe the terms "church" and "state" yesterday, I found myself stuck with some questions...

How is a non-profit or social action group different from a church?
The major difference would be that the non-profit or social action group is likely limiting itself to a particular issue and isn't taking a stance on all issues or making proposals about how government should be run generally. Still, there may be some groups that have a wider ethical base.

How is a corporation different from a church?
It is oriented towards gaining money in exchange for goods and services. A church generally needs money and offers services although the exchange isn't direct and isn't the main goal. The money is a means to supporting the members in their ethical improvement - not an end in itself.

Are there other organizations that should be kept separate from state or church?
I think so although it might be useful sometimes to hire corporations to handle certain aspects of government.

Why would it be good to separate organizations who share common moral beliefs from being part of a government or state?
Maybe so. I wouldn't want the Sierra Club, say, to be in charge of government - or even of environmental policy. I would prefer individuals who were selected and who can be unselected. Then again, if the club could be "unselected" as a whole, then I suppose it could be workable. It might even work better since you'd have a group of people who, presumably, have worked together and might be able to implement their policies more effectively. Maybe a useful principle would be that any organizations that are a part of a government should be subject to being voted out. I don't know, though, it seems a little risky. Then again, there's nothing to keep a majority of one religion or organization from getting themselves elected and effectively running the government.

Is the humanist affirmation about separation of church and state meaning "government" with the term "state"?
Yes, I think so. I like my description of state and found it fun to create, but I'm sure it was the wrong meaning for the affirmation.

I found an interesting article on some of these topics:


So, now, what do I think of the separation of church and state?
Short answer: probably safer than allowing them to merge too much, jury is still out on how much priority it should have

Tuesday, September 4

Separation of Church and State: Ten Moral Principles - Part 3

I realize now that it is a bit ambitious to try to evaluate multiple principles in one post, so I'll try one at a time.

We are committed to the principle of the separation of church and state.

Like I mentioned before, I'm not sure whether politics would be in my top ten moral principles. Imposing principles - which ones and how - seems to assume there are some "basic principles." I think the basics would come first. I'll think about that an maybe right some more about it later.

For now, I'll just explore the idea itself.

Before I can get very far, I think I'll need some sort of working idea about what a "church" is and what a "state" is. These aren't meant to be definitions just descriptions of my understanding about them.

A church is a community of people who share beliefs about morality. Traditionally, people use it to also include people who share beliefs about metaphysics as well as ethics. More specifically, church's are groups of people who share a common belief in a supernatural being or... force... and in some basic moral principles. Still, there are churches where members share common moral beliefs while disagreeing about metaphysics - have differing views about a belief in the supernatural, whether there is a god/gods/goddess(es), whether they're good, whether there's an afterlife, etc. Some folks would say that it's more of a "social club" than a church. I think, though, that a social club is focused on relationships while a church would focus on the moral improvement of its members.

A state is also a community of people. Community members may share some basic beliefs about morality, but I think the focus is more on establishing and imposing rules. Frequently, the rules are based on moral principles. The rules might be imposed by a single individual or by mutliple individuals with or without the agreement of the people upon whom the beliefs are imposed.

Now that I've got some basic ideas about terminology, I'll save further exploration for another post.