Saturday, February 28, 2009

How to Synchronize Directories on a Network or PC

You really should create a backup of your valuable data, because otherwise in the event of a hard drive failure, that data could be lost. Today, many people store their photographs in digital format, printing only the choicest ones. The very thought of losing an entire lifetime's worth of digital photos is troubling. Some of us also have journals, diaries, spreadsheets and other personal material stored on a hard drive that would be difficult or impossible to replace if it were ever lost. Everyone knows that hard drives eventually fail and that their time of failure is not always predictable. Therefore, we must all backup our important data.

My method of backing up valuable data relies upon two strategies. For critical files and folders, I burn a backup on DVD, which is the most secure and foolproof method of backup. A DVD placed inside a plastic case out of harm's way can endure for decades, although not forever, according to some research. I believe the lifespan of a DVD ranges from 10 to 50 years. Over time, even DVDs deteriorate, however at a much slower rate than hard drives.

For data that encompasses hundreds of gigabytes, DVD's are impractical. Backing up the contents of a 500-gigabyte drive would require over one hundred 4.3 gigabyte DVD's, though slightly less if you compressed the data. This is not an especially good option, unless you cherish the thought of shifting DVD's in and out of a drive all day long and all night long.

For large amounts of data and for automated backups, I take advantage of the multiple hard drives on various PC's in my network. Hard drives fail individually, rather than all at once. If one fails, I will always have a backup of the important files on another drive. This concept is known as data redundancy. In this case, I am simply using spare space on networked drives. I have not purchased any additional hardware dedicated to making backups, although many businesses do just that. To gain a better appreciation for my particular strategy, examine the prices of dedicated backup systems, such as tape drives.

Always backup your data to a different physical hard drive and never the same drive! The entire purpose is to save your bacon in the event of physical hard drive failure.

The following is a very simple method of mirroring a single folder or collection of folders, but not an entire hard drive. The trouble with copying an entire drive is that it would take many hours in today's world of thousand-gigabyte hard drives. There is no reason to copy Operating System files or Program Files. What most people want to backup are things like their personal family photo album, documents, spreadsheets, and music. The backup should be as quick as possible, and therefore only copy those files that have changed in some way. Longtime readers of my blog will not be surprised to discover that, here also, my solution involves writing a handy-dandy batch file:


@echo off
echo.Synchronizing directories...
echo NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN | xcopy "c:\Photo Album\*.*" "\\kitchen_computer\backup_directory" /D /S


Due to word wrap, the one truly essential line in the above batch file appears like two or even three separate lines, but you must place all of it on one long line. I refer to the line with an "echo" of a long string of N's followed by the pipe symbol, "|", directing the output into the Xcopy command.

The meat of the batch file is the Xcopy. That's right, the humble Xcopy command is all that is needed to copy all the files within a folder. Some may ask, why not just use Copy? In this instance, Xcopy is better than Copy, because with Xcopy, using the "/S" option, you can access all of the subdirectories as well as the files. The "/D" option instructs Xcopy to only copy those files with a newer date than the ones that may already exist on the destination folder. The first time you run the backup, this will make no difference at all, because all files must be copied. However, on future occasions, this will make a great deal of difference, because only new files will be copied.

However, the Xcopy command is not perfect the way that Microsoft designed it. Even with the "/D" option, I have discovered that Xcopy will sometimes attempt to copy files that don't really need to be copied. These are cases where an exact copy already exists on the destination drive. This highlights a drawback with the Xcopy command. Microsoft failed to provide for what to do if an exact copy of a file already exists. If you always want to overwrite the Destination, a suitable option is provided. If you prefer to answer in the negative, Microsoft would have you press "N" for every instance that this occurs. I overcome this limitation on the part of Windows by echoing a long series of "N," hopefully enough to select "No" at every instance when Windows asks the not-very-bright question, "Do you want to overwrite the destination file, which already exists and is an exact copy?"

Some may argue that by copying a file unnecessarily, at least we create a stronger magnetic impression on the destination disk. If this is your response, please report to the Wienie Registration Bureau and add your name to their list.

This batch file does the trick of backing up your important files with a minimum of fuss and best of all is free. What's that? Thanks? You're welcome. If you wish to control your backup procedures manually, then I suggest creating a shortcut to the batch file on your desktop. If, like me, you prefer the backup to run automatically, then schedule an automatic event in Windows to run the batch file at a certain time every day or once a week. Just visit your Control Panel, go to Scheduled Tasks, and Add a Task.

Friday, February 27, 2009

You Can Buy a Car for $2000

In a better world, we would not need to buy a car. We could get around by hopping on a train. There would be no parking, no stress during the commute, and few accidents. The problem of drunk drivers would not be our problem. Spending money on car insurance, maintenance and gas would become a thing of the past. But we live in a country that has been held back in time by the conservative right-wing for a long time. The right-wing hates mass transit, because it helps the poor and the middle-class. Even talking about mass transit brings up fears concerning "socialism." Worse, mass transit connects non-white areas with white areas, and the racists worry about the exportation of crime from one area to another. For these reasons, mass transit never took off in the U.S. to the extent that it did in other cities around the world. Many of us need to buy a car just to get to work, because there is no mass transit, or the mass transit is inadequate.

The cardinal rule about buying cars is never buy a new one. This should be obvious, yet most of my friends and acquaintances still feel that new cars are the way to go. Upon my asking them why they bought a new one, the usual reasons given are:

1. They don't need all the money up front, but can buy on generous credit terms
2. A new car has no worries about potential mechanical failure
3. A new car looks better and feels better
4. A new car comes with a lengthy warranty
5. A new car has features which old ones do not

I suggest that all five of these advantages pale in comparison to the advantage an old car has of being cheaper. The truth is you can pay one-tenth the price of a new car and still be laughing all the way to the bank. First of all, do not use credit, ever, except when buying a house. Home mortgages enjoy certain tax advantages and other legal advantages, and everyone needs a roof over their head, although there are some that live out in the woods or under a bridge to avoid even that expense, but I'm not going to recommend you go there.

In order to avoid buying a lemon, you need only one thing, knowledge. This is obtained by reading about cars and learning about the differences between them so that you can judge a car based upon its documented advantages, the most important being reliability, rather than mere looks. Appearance means little, although if you are the "dress to impress" type, you should cough up a few thousand dollars extra for a nice paint job.

The best used cars by far will be found from your friends, coworkers, and acquaintances. Spread the word around at parties and at work. You are more likely to get a good deal from someone you know, who will hesitate to take advantage of you because their reputation is on the line. To most people, their reputation is of far more value to them than a couple hundred dollars here or there. They will hesitate to lie to you in any way, because you might then complain to mutual friends. Now car salesmen will talk about how important their reputation is to them, but the reality usually is, you do not mix in their social circles, and they do not mix in yours. Car salesmen cultivate thick skins out of necessity.

If your friends are not in the market to sell a car, you can also find excellent cars that are for sale in the classified ads of your local paper or even on a web site such as Ebay. Try to buy from the original owner rather than a middle man. The original owner does not have to pay taxes on the sale in most states, whereas a car salesman does. Also, the original owner will usually cut you a deal if you can pay in full in cash, because he does not have a financing department, and not many people can pay in cash. Find the market value of a vehicle by referring to Edmunds. Remember, even though you want a cheap ride, the owner does not want to feel like he's being taken for a ride. You should pay fair value--what the market says the car is worth--which is usually very little. Any car over ten years old is likely to be a dirt cheap bargain.

Although you may get lucky with an American car, I have come to the conclusion that buying Japanese is the best plan, despite the fact that American used cars sell at a fraction of the price of Japanese used cars of the same type and year. I used to think that the marketplace was unfair to American cars, but actually the marketplace bends over backwards to assign value to American cars, value that the American cars do not deserve.

Expect to make a few repairs on your used car. Budget a couple thousand for potential repairs. In most cases, you will only wind up paying less than a thousand for repairs. You may be surprised to discover that cars made in the last twenty years have become quite reliable. I bought a fifteen year-old used Toyota Corolla for only $1500 from a friend, and it has been one of the best cars I've ever had, reliable in every way save one--the air conditioning broke. I didn't much care, because all four windows can still be rolled down. Fuel economy? How does 30 miles to the gallon sound? Good? I think so.

For better fuel economy and reliability, I decided to replace all four tires for $200. New tires represent an excellent investment, even more so when gas prices are high. An old tire that leaks air at a higher rate will generate more friction, whereas a fully inflated tire will generate less friction, improving fuel economy. Barack Obama referred to this fact during his presidential candidacy as one way ordinary Americans could reduce their dependence on foreign oil. The Republicans jeered at him, but he was spot-on. If the tires are alright, just inflate them to their recommended capacity. But when acquiring a used car, typically the tires need replacement. Even if the tires don't have obvious bad spots, hidden dry rot in older tires can create a potential for an expensive blow-out. Almost by default, I would recommend replacing the tires on a used car unless they look new or the owner states that they are indeed new tires. I also recommend changing both the oil and the oil filter upon purchasing the car. Every time you change the oil, in fact, you should change the oil filter, because it costs very little but has a strong influence on the quality of your engine's lubrication. You should also check the air filter and replace if it is dirty.

There are few things required to keep a car running these days, beyond the basics of oil, the air filter, and the tires. The rest can be left up to your neighborhood mechanic, preferably an independent shop, because once again you can't really trust the car dealerships, which tend to be thirsty for short-term gain and disinterested in treating customers right. For instance, I took my Nissan to a Nissan dealership and was told that I needed a $600 repair for a leaking valve. I took it to an independent, and he said I needed no such thing, and it turns out that he was right. Independent mechanics grow their business almost solely from word of mouth, and their reputation means a great deal to them. I have found independents to be honest almost to a fault. Remember the air conditioning problem I mentioned earlier in the article? My independent mechanic offered to adjust one of the belts to simply bypass the air conditioner, effectively disabling it, but allowing the car to function, which it was unable to do in the current state (the belt had become paralyzed). What did he charge for this? How about $15! Try to imagine a dealership even offering me the option of bypassing the air conditioner, let alone fixing the problem for under a hundred dollars.

In summary, if you want to save money--and you should--then buy used, buy from a friend, be liberal about replacing those car tires, never forget to change the oil every six months at minimum, and when your car needs work, take it to a reputable independent mechanic, preferably someone that a friend, relative or coworker recommends.

Dear Mr. President...Speaking Out at Twelve

History and politics were constant subjects of discussion between my father and me. My teachers encouraged me to write letters to political leaders, and so I did at the age of twelve. Here are scans of a letter that I wrote to the U.S. President at the time, Ronald Reagan, in defense of Israel, of which I was a strong supporter. Today, I find the letter pompous and naive among other things, but it makes me smile.

Page One of the letter to Ronald Reagan

Page Two of the letter to Ronald Reagan

I am not sure why I have a copy, because it can only mean one of two things: either the White House sent me my letter back for safekeeping, or I drafted another copy for archival purposes, which seems odd for a twelve year-old. But I seem to recall my parents encouraging me to make a copy for my grandmother to keep, because it's from her archives that this was retrieved upon her death.

As a child, my political opinions mirrored those of my parents. My family's support of Israel had to do with two basic facts. First, Israel was a U.S. ally that always supported the U.S. in the U.N. and everywhere else. That made them seem like a loyal friend, although I realize now that the U.S. paid dearly for that loyalty in the form of financial aid. Second, Israel is geographically a tiny country and appears like the underdog next to its larger Arab neighbors. This generates sympathy right off the bat. The atrocities committed by terrorists, such as the kidnapping of Israeli athletes in the Munich Olympics, discredited the cause of the P.L.O. in the eyes of many Americans. However, it is true that Israel was guilty of atrocities as well.

Several years earlier, I had written to Jimmy Carter on the subject of the Iranian hostages, which was to erode much of Carter's popularity, but that letter is lost to the ravages of time. The Carter Administration replied with a letter personally signed by an Administration employee that addressed the content of my letter, and may or may not have been a form letter. The Reagan Administration sent me a generic form letter making no reference to my letter's contents, and I can't recall whether it was signed by a human hand or merely stamped, but I felt like my letter spent little time in the open air between emerging from the envelope and being deposited in the garbage can.

Twenty More Answers to Twenty More Questions

After viewing my previous entry, I realized many of the hot-button topics of today, such as the ones I read about in the media, aren't addressed. This list will attempt to target more contemporary issues.

1. Universal health care for all?
Yes, let's join Canada, the UK and most Western European nations in offering health care to all citizens of all ages and all socioeconomic backgrounds.

2. Should high school be trimmed?
Yes, grades eleven and twelve should be eliminated, replaced with practical job experience (apprenticeship) or college.

3. Should college be free?
At public universities, certain fields of study where the nation faces a dire shortage, such as all of the sciences, including the medical sciences, should offer strong incentives to students, such as completely free tuition and fees, but other majors do not merit such powerful incentives.

4. Should we drill for oil in the Alaska Wildlife Refuge or coastlines?
If a method of extraction and transportation is discovered to be free of risk to the environment, yes, but if not, then put the idea on hold until such time as a national emergency.

5. How do we get our energy?
Nuclear fission and fusion, wind, solar, cleaner coal, and hydro, all technologies which our army of scientists, created in (3), should be studying at a furious rate at this very moment in a new variety of a Manhattan Project.

6. Public transit?
Yes, effective public mass transit (trains) should be mandatory in every city with a population greater than 1,000,000, such that owning a car should become optional rather than an absolute necessity, as it is today in most areas.

7. Should green cars be mandatory?
Green cars, trucks and SUV's based upon hybrid technology or other green technologies should be tax-free, with no sales tax or license fees at all, whereas vehicles that are inefficient in fuel consumption should be taxed at tenfold the regular rate (a sales tax between 70 - 100%) to reflect their higher impact on the environment, however this increased rate should be a one-time event impacting sales of new vehicles only and exempting all used vehicles.

8. Legal abortion?
Yes, a woman has the final say on the human being developing within her womb, and until it emerges from the host body, it should be considered a part of the host body from the purely legal perspective.

9. Legal euthanasia (assisted suicide)?
Yes, a person should have the right to end their life for reasons having to do with incurable disease or infirmity using humane and painless methods, assisted by a medical doctor.

10. Alimony?
Women have the opportunity to work in a way that they didn't in times past, and the law needs to reflect this reality, because alimony that consists of half of a man's wages and/or assets is often unfair to the man and unrealistic for him to provide.

11. Immigration?
Punitive measures against immigrants should be replaced by punitive measures against the business owners that eagerly hire them, because on the one hand you have poor, hard-working people that are often exploited, and on the other you have rich, corrupt individuals glad to short-change their employees.

12. The death penalty?
Capital punishment should be abolished in order to keep up with the rest of the world, where it is rarely used except in the most barbaric states, because otherwise we sully our image abroad.

13. Treatment of prisoners?
Prisoners should not be punished for the sake of pure sadism, but should be exposed to free psychological treatment, education and substance abuse counseling, and there should be a strong focus throughout the system upon eliminating violent behavior and thought patterns that lead toward violence.

14. Let prisoners work?
Those prisoners that want to work should be allowed to do so and be paid at the current minimum wage, with half of their earnings taken to compensate their victims or else the State, and a sizable portion used to purchase treasury bonds, which will be saved for their eventual release to give them a nest egg for starting over in the civilian world.

15. Privatization?
Private industry should not intrude into public areas like the prisons, military, medicine, or the highway system, because it opens up pathways for corruption, inefficiency and opaqueness.

16. Gay marriage?
Gays should have the right to marry and receive all benefits pertaining thereto.

17. War?
Those who favor attacking other countries should themselves pay for the costs of the war in full, instead of spreading the financial burden to afflict the majority who prefer peace.

18. Welfare?
Welfare benefits should be reduced, and since most welfare benefits the very rich, the welfare that goes toward businesses and corporations is the only type of welfare that needs to be cut.

19. How to reduce the prison population?
Drug abuse is a medical problem rather than a criminal one, and by legalizing most drugs, the majority of the prison population can be freed and future cases of prosecution reduced by over one half.

20. Space exploration?
Although space exploration is expensive, it represents a better potential return than warfare and engages the public imagination, and therefore we should continue to explore space to answer eternal questions about ourselves, life, the universe, and creation.

Extra bonus question:
21. Should President Obama continue our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?
No, he should withdraw from both of these pointless, never-ending overseas conflicts, which closely resemble Viet Nam, within one year, and he should pledge that the United States will never again commit such a grievous, arrogant blunder as represented by those two ethical and financial disasters.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Twenty Answers to Twenty Questions

The goal in this post is to slay twenty beefy questions with a brief answer that covers as many bases as possible. To limit the verbiage, I have a rule that my answer will have no more than one sentence. And no pulling a "Henry James."

1. Do you believe in evolution?
Yes, and to keep up with the rest of the world, evolution should be taught in school as the established worldwide scientific view regarding life.

2. Do we need gun control?
Yes, to the same extent that drivers licenses are issued, in that first-time applicants should pass a test involving firearm safety and nonviolent conflict resolution, but guns should remain legal to protect the republic against fascism and/or a military coup d'etat.

3. Should drugs be legal?
Yes, they should be regulated, controlled, taxed, and interpreted as a public health problem, whereby identified addicts receive free medical treatment to overcome their addictions.

4. Income tax or flat tax?
Income tax, because the wealthiest can afford to pay a larger share and from an ethical standpoint, they should pay more to give back to the society in which they were able to prosper.

5. Sales tax?
Although regressive, it is acceptable to tax the purchase of certain goods to discourage consumption, such as gasoline, alcohol, tobacco, and all other items other than food, which is necessary to life and should be exempted from all forms of sales tax, state or local.

6. Overseas military intervention?
Almost never justified and usually a bad idea, because taxpayers pay all the costs in blood and money, while foreigners receive all the benefit, while resenting us for our intervention.

7. Large military spending?
A wasteful policy in peace time, especially when other countries are investing in their infrastructure, industry, scientific research, education and health care.

8. Should prostitution be legal?
Prostitutes should be protected by law against rape and violence from customers, pimps and other criminals, and should be required to work in a state-licensed brothel, where they are protected from violence and other forms of exploitation, and condom use is mandatory.

9. Nuclear energy?
Yes, now that we understand that carbon-based fuels hasten global warming, nuclear energy has become an attractive option, despite the problem of waste and the safety risks.

10. Is there a God?
No, but an opinion on this topic should not impact behavior, because an ethical sensibility exists independently of religious belief.

11. Are there bumps in the night / other supernatural things?
No to ghosts, vampires, werewolves, witches, demons, and anything that employs magic, spirits, psychic, telekinetic or clairvoyant ability.

12. What about quantum mechanics, other dimensions, and parallel universes, that could account for stories of supernatural events?
We are still learning about quantum mechanics, but so far, there has been no credible link established between ghost stories and quantum mechanics, and just because something is difficult to explain and understand does not make it the default explanation for hocus-pocus.

13. Reincarnation?

14. Is human life important?
Human life is more important than the life of a cow, dog, or pigeon, however, that does not give us a right to mistreat the lesser creatures or waste their lives for no purpose other than cruelty, and intentional cruelty to animals should be considered a felony.

15. Is there life on other planets?
Almost certainly, and on some planets, life will be found to be in the same abundance as upon Earth.

16. Why don't intelligent aliens contact us?
The distance is vast, while the potential outcome of diplomacy with our kind is most uncertain, and to be honest, our violent species is not really worth contacting in the first place.

17. Will one drink of booze per day ward off heart disease?
The alcohol industry would like us to think so, but no, and despite what "studies" claim about the supposed benefits of drinking, it is bad for arthritis, bad for the digestion, fattening with empty calories, expensive and bad for the brain.

18. What are the best comedy shows on television right now?
The Daily Show, That Mitchell and Webb Look, and Peep Show.

19. What are the best drama shows on television right now?
Since the demise of 4400, Mad Men and Henry.

20. Name five good movies.
Impromptu, The Princess and the Warrior, and Lord of the Rings 1-3 extended editions.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Science is Better than War (a Lesson for George W. Bush)

Kids grow up thinking war is cool. History, after all, is largely just a study of various wars, the way that it is taught in school today. I remember learning American history, which according to the school system consists of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Spanish-American War, the Civil War, various overseas adventures in the Phillipines, etc., and then WW1, WW2, the Korean War, the Viet Nam war, and the Gulf Wars. I probably forgot to mention a few invasions of places like Grenada, Panama and elsewhere throughout South America. All our citizens are indoctrinated to believe war is the answer to almost every problem. Men like to watch war movies, because they find it exciting and an outlet for natural male aggression. War is interesting to watch from the vantage point of television, when your own rear end is not on the line. We have a large population of armchair generals that tend to vote Republican.

I'm not immune to the fascination with war. Beginning in the third grade, I read everything I could get my hands on about the Civil War, the Napoleonic wars, and most of all, WW2, "the good war," but tend to forget the names of all the various battles. Most teaching of history leans heavy upon dates, names, and places, and while these are indeed important, to me the bigger issue history needs to inform us about is "Why?" Why indeed did Napoleon spend his career constantly on the march? Who was he trying to emulate? Who profited from his military adventures? Who suffered from them? What were the ultimate results? It is easier from the perspective of a history teacher to grade a multiple-choice exam that simply focuses on dates, names, and places, but that data is just the tip of the iceberg.

Instead of thinking war is cool, I think there's much more to be said about science, research, and technology. If we consider all the progress that has been made in the world, most of it derived from science. What has war accomplished, other than destruction? History should focus more upon scientists rather than the supposed "great leaders" who wasted their nation's wealth and blood on wars.

The lesson that a young boy named George W. Bush took from school was that "great leaders" lead their nations during wartime. Their greatness consists of being firm, unyielding, and appearing tough. In reality, these great men were butchers at best. They were neither wise nor great. Was Napoleon great to break his peace treaties with England and to later invade Russia? Was Lyndon B. Johnson great to escalate our involvement in Viet Nam? Better leaders avoided war when possible, leaders such as Queen Elizabeth. There aren't many examples of leaders avoiding war in the United States.

There are many unnecessary wars. What did the war in Viet Nam accomplish? What did the Gulf Wars accomplish? The infatuation with war that certain nations have blinds them to the great alternative, science. If your country invests in science instead of war, then your economy will grow much faster than others. Your people will be healthier; your products, more competitive. Most empires have wasted their treasure upon war, instead of investing in research that might have improved their lot in the world. Whether you consider the Roman Empire, the British Empire, or the American Empire, they wasted their money on constant warfare. What if they had instead devoted all of their energies toward science?

Today, the United States lags behind in science, because our leaders are misguided. They do not comprehend that more can be accomplished in the laboratory than in the battlefield. Killing an enemy today creates new enemies tomorrow; violence begets violence. The arrogance and short-sightedness of the hawks has wasted the vast majority of the nation's wealth. This was also true in Roman times and in all times. Unfortunately one of the shortcomings of the human race is that it has not evolved much from apelike ancestors. Violence rules the mind of man.

Let us say, for the sake of argument, that you have an enemy, who is savage, ignorant and fanatical. He tries every means at his disposal to provoke you. However, he is separated from you by geography and cannot easily get at you. Most of his activity is spent in verbal provocation, because he fears you and does not have the will or means to attack except for rare, isolated incidents. You have two possible responses. You can devote every waking hour and all of your money toward harming this enemy, who is wily and skilled at hiding from you. Bear in mind, once you begin a war, all your money and energies will be consumed in that war. Instead of solving other problems, you will only be focused upon that one problem, the war, which overshadows all else. Your nation could fall apart from neglect. Is harming your enemy so very important?

The other possible response is the exercise of patience and restraint. You can remain watchful, yet also be industrious. Instead of spending your time and energy upon war, you can spend it upon improving your lot. In this time of watchful waiting, your enemy, who seeks conflict and does not find it with you, may find himself in conflict with others, because his nature tends toward conflict. He may survive or he may perish in those conflicts. After much time, your enemy will pass from this world in one way or another.

The key is being able to wait, instead of being in a hurry to get your own personal brand of "justice." If you are driven by base impulses, like George W. Bush, then you will make a monumental error and squander a trillion dollars trying to kill a few savages in the cesspools of the world. All politicians should be tested on whether they understand the virtues of patience, meditation, analysis, mediation, negotiation, and the drawbacks of war. George W. Bush did not understand much of anything, except for what to say and how to appear in order to rise in politics. It is unclear what virtues he ever had other than a group of rich cronies in the Republican Party.

Instead of reading the Bible, George W. Bush would have profited more from reading textbooks on history, science, social science, and politics. His Christian faith is an embarrassment to Christians, many of whom would prefer that he were atheist, so as not to represent them in any way. Rather than carrying out the instructions of Jesus Christ, George W. Bush seemed to be moved by another entity, located in a different supernatural realm. Anytime that a man lets himself be seen praying in public, hold onto your wallet. He is more than likely a villain. Those who do not understand the first thing about ethics find it convenient to cloak themselves in religion, which defends them against charges of immorality. For a similar reason, George W. Bush made much of the fact he did not drink alcohol. I am reminded of another politicians who did not drink, Adolf Hitler, and a politician who did, Winston Churchill.

Why couldn't we have had Al Gore for President instead of George W. Bush? Maybe Gore was a nerd, but a nerd wouldn't be so bad in the White House. I bet Gore would have spent money on science instead of a pointless foreign war.

There are other problems in the world more grievous than whether a small group of terrorists bombed a large building and killed thousands in New York City. There are tens of thousands, no, hundreds of thousands being killed every year from diseases that could be cured, if we only had enough knowledge. Knowledge can be gained by research, but research requires money and will, two things that war sucks away like a greedy vampire. It may be more fun to attack a human enemy, but if we attacked our microscopic enemies, such as the HIV virus, then more good would come to us and to the entire world. Imagine right now if George W. Bush had read more than just the Bible and had enough wisdom to spend a trillion dollars on research to cure cancer, AIDS, and many other illnesses. Instead of many people dying and suffering in our country and throughout the world, there would be lives saved. People would praise the name of George W. Bush instead of curse it.

The truth is that Bush deserved a million shoes being thrown at him, because he has harmed millions of people, most of all the Iraqis, but also Americans, who have suffered a huge drop in their personal wealth. Even conservative Republicans that voted for Bush have been punished severely for their vote. The country was neglected for eight long years while our President concentrated his mind upon Iraq. However, Iraq is not a state within the United States. The President was elected to govern in the U.S., not in the Middle East. George W. Bush suffered a schizophrenic break with reality in which he fancied himself the leader of the Middle East. He may never be brought to justice for all of the crimes committed by himself and his Administration, but that does not diminish the evil that he committed, which will forever be associated with his name.

George W. Bush was the most ignorant President we have endured possibly in the entire history of the country. I hesitate to blame the educational system entirely, because Bush came of a wealthy family and had every opportunity to educate himself. I think that some people are guilty of "willful ignorance," in which the facts are available to them, but they choose to believe whatever seems convenient to them. Thus, Bush's ignorance is the result of his inherent wickedness, rather than an intellectual deficiency or the failure of education. If only he had accepted one single idea, which can be expressed with three words, "science > war." That means science is greater than war. Part of the psychological problem with George W. Bush's religious faith is that he rejects both reason and science in favor of faith. The rejection of reason leaves only the impulses to move our decision-making process. Faith leads to following the impulses, which being mostly violent due to the limitations in the human species, leads to war.

Science has solved a multitude of problems already, from communication with faraway people to transportation across long distances. There is much more yet to be discovered. As an example, how about a truly effective dental rinse? From an early age, I detested brushing my teeth and flossing even more. I always wondered whether there might be a better way to clean teeth. What is needed is a rinse containing helpful bacteria that can eliminate all of the starches clinging to teeth. This may be possible or it may not. If so, billions of dollars could be saved on dental care. This is just a small example of the cool things that science can do to make human life healthier and more pleasurable. It's a small example of the many opportunities wasted by the one trillion dollar cost of George W. Bush's Iraq adventure. I hope that our ex-President enjoyed the war and had a great deal of fun thinking about it, if not participating in it himself. For the rest of the country, it was not a fun experience, and I can think of a million different ways I would have preferred one trillion dollars to have been spent. Such as on an effective dental rinse.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ibuprofen: a Wonder Drug for Back Pain / Arthritis

Anyone who suffers from occasional severe back pain, as I do, should have on hand a bottle of ibuprofen. More than any other NSAID, this drug eliminates the agony of an injured back. It works even better than prescription pain medication, in my experience, although a combination of the two remedies is optimal.

Don't be afraid to pop those pills. The maximum dose an adult can take is substantial, and you can take several pills at a go. In the worst cases of pain, I have taken four 200 mg. pills at a time. The effects last up to several hours depending upon dosage. To those of you unconcerned about the pain, keep in mind that ibuprofen does more than reduce pain; it reduces inflammation, which hastens the healing process!

Due to my propensity for back injury, I consider ibuprofen an absolutely essential medicine to have on hand at all times. It can mean the difference between excruciating agony and the ability to sleep. I remember the last time my back went out on me, I was unable to move, and the slightest disturbance, from nothing more than the breeze of a ceiling fan, could trigger a severe and excruciating spasm. I was also unable to sleep due to recurrent spasms that lasted for over eight hours. Finally, after a friend went out to the store and brought back a bottle of generic ibuprofen, within an hour I felt relief and could actually sleep again.

I am not sure what ultimately causes back injury in the absence of an obvious accident, but I strongly suspect alcohol use as being a contributing factor. From long experience, I have come to conclude that drinking weakens the connective tissues in the joints and/or aggravates the condition of arthritis from which I suffer. For this reason, I have largely eliminated drinking from my life, other than the stray drink at a social party, and I recommend other arthritis sufferers do so as well.

I am skeptical that much benefit derives from regular use of glucosamine. Prior to most of my back injuries, I was taking 1500 mg of glucosamine per day, but felt no special protective effect arising from this substance. However, I did notice a reduction in crepitation, or the cracking sound that arthritic joints make. Therefore my verdict on glucosamine is undecided. I wish that more were known. However, there were no adverse effects whatsoever from my glucosamine regimen, and a supply can be had for as little as $5 every two months.

However, years into the aforementioned glucosamine regimen, I suffered a few back injuries as well as pain in other joints around the body. For this reason, I have discontinued my use of it for the time being. I have noticed that crepitation has increased since I quit using it, but I'm not sure whether or not that matters.

I suspect jogging especially aggravates, rather than helps, arthritis, while walking may be beneficial if done in moderation. I find that walking long distances aggravates the joints in the legs. For this reason I have toned down much of my former exercise regime.

When Receiving Medical Care, Question Authority

There are several positions popular among the medical establishment that exist only to line the pockets of practitioners. As a consumer of medicine, you should be aware of the most common ones.

Dentists often make the recommendation that young children receive orthodontic care (braces). This generates income for dentists. Does it benefit people? The argument put forward by the dental establishment is that straight teeth are prettier than crooked ones and easier to clean. Alright, this may be true in a severe case of crooked teeth. What about teeth that are just a little crooked? There may not be much difference, from an aesthetic point of view, with perfect teeth. Use your judgment, not the dentist's.

In order to save my parents money and myself trouble, as a boy, I opted to go without braces, which meant I had to say "No" to at least a dozen different dentists from the age of ten on up to my present advanced age. I was always made to feel reckless, short-sighted and unscientific. Even my mother thought I should have braces, because "everyone else gets them."

I do not regret skipping braces one bit. While orthodontics may help in severe cases, in others, it handicaps a child unnecessarily with an ugly and cumbersome apparatus, and handicaps the parents with a financial burden. I am glad I didn't suffer through that unnecessary, costly cosmetic surgery.

Here are the essential truths about dentistry, which if you learn well, will prevent most dental problems in life, whether you have slightly crooked teeth or not. In dentistry, as in most aspects of life, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

ON BRUSHING. Just brush once a day before going to bed (not three times a day like dentists advise, knowing full well that working people cannot and will not do that), but brush thoroughly the sides, back and front of all of your teeth, being careful not to brush so hard that you harm your gums in any way. If your gums are sore the next day, ease up. Brushing before bed is excellent, because during that seven hour period while you are lying in bed, plaque has less chance to attack your enamel. Do not, I repeat, not brush your tongue. I have heard the urban myth about brushing the tongue a hundred times, often from highly educated, intelligent people who should know better. Brushing the tongue to prevent tooth decay is a complete fallacy and will only make you dread brushing the more. Yes, your tongue looks dirty. Too bad. Get over it. Your tongue will never win a beauty prize, but your teeth will be just fine.

ON FLOSSING. Floss thoroughly. If you simply slip the floss between each of your teeth once, you are not doing an adequate job. Pull the floss close against each side of each tooth, and continue flossing each tooth until the floss no longer brings up food, plaque or any other material. By doing so, you not only remove food, but massage your gum tissue, improving circulation and reducing the frequency of gum bleeds. In the beginning of a thorough flossing regime, expect your gums to bleed. Is bleeding bad? Yes, but don't worry about it unless the bleeding continues for ten minutes after flossing. In most cases the minimal bleeding can be ignored. Bleeding is a sign of weak and diseased gum tissue. Over time, if you continue flossing thoroughly, and if your diet has adequate amounts of vitamins, namely vitamin C, then the bleeding will decrease and then stop altogether. If you eat sufficient fruits and vegetables, as you should, it will not be necessary to supplement your diet with vitamins.

Dentists also like to engage in so-called "preventative care" by filling cavities long before the cavities present an actual problem. Why do this in children, whose teeth will be replaced anyway? I had a mouth full of silver by the time I was ten. Did I ever suffer from the slightest hint of a toothache? No. Was it necessary to put even a single filling into my mouth? No. We didn't question the dentist. We should have. He made a pile of money off our family and ran under the Republican ticket for mayor. Later, he was investigated on corruption charges.

Big Pharma trots out statistics and research extolling the benefits of cold medicine, which is largely worthless. If you are using their junk to fall asleep, stop, because it can be addictive. In place of Big Pharma's drugs, brew a mild tea derived from passionflower and valerian root instead. These two extracts will help you sleep and you will wake up feeling refreshed. You may even discover that passionflower encourages pleasant and mysterious dreams. As for valerian root, its effects are similar to a very mild form of valium.

There are some good OTC drugs, such as antacid, Tylenol, aspirin, and ibuprofen. However, if you're using antacid on a regular basis, you definitely need to figure out why. The most common causes of acid indigestion are stress or alcohol, both of which are known to cause a host of health problems, not merely acid indigestion. Eliminate one of those potential causes and watch your acid indigestion disappear. Ibuprofen is essential for back pain. Tylenol and aspirin work well for generalized pain and headaches.

An antihistamine makes it possible to go to work with a cold, which wins you points with your manager since you're not "pulling a sickie." Whatever your manager thinks, in reality you are playing the Typhoid Mary, exposing everyone else in the workplace to your illness. Do you even have a choice? I know from experience that at many workplaces, a potent taboo discourages calling in sick for any reason unless you are literally dying. At certain parts of the year, illnesses sweep an entire department, passing from person to person, because no one feels like they can stay at home, which would be the sensible and ethical thing to do. Idealism must be subservient to realism when it comes to making a living, however. We need antihistamines just to get by at work sometimes. When the worst colds infect us, the nose behaves like an open fire hydrant, gushing fluid almost nonstop. Antihistamines dry up the nose and put a damper on the continual sneezing as well, making it possible to think rational thoughts.

Cough syrup is worthless, despite the fact my doctors have consistently prescribed it to me for decades, ever since I was three years old. I have probably consumed gallons of Robitussin, all of it of zero value. Does the stuff help you cough? Not really. It just tastes like medicine and has a pretty red color. But if you drink enough, it will make you sick. As for the stories about kids getting high off cough syrup, I don't recommend trying that particular route of intoxication. Nevertheless, kids will continue trying it just as long as they are unable to purchase alcohol. In order to prevent abuse, Big Pharma inserts a nasty chemical, guaifenesin, that cause vomiting (as well as other potential problems) in dosages larger than the recommended doses. Robitussin could kill in sufficient quantities.

When I complained to my doctor about arthritis, he prescribed Naproxin. That sounded like a fancy, sophisticated drug until I looked it up and discovered it was none other than an NSAID (Non-Steriodal Anti-Inflammatory Drug) little different than aspirin. Needless to say, I quit taking the prescription.

Some doctors enroll elderly patients suffering from cancer into a chemotherapy program. They did this to my grandmother at age 91, which to me seems unconscionable. Where is the dignity? She died bald, bed-ridden and speechless in a hospital bed. The only benefit accrued to the hospital in the form of a higher profit margin due to the expensive chemotherapy.

When I complained about back pain, most if not all of my friends suggested visiting a chiropractor. Chiropractic posits all our bodily infirmity to be the result of a lumpy spine. Nice to know that. I'll try to improve my posture so I don't come down with a cold. Yeah, sure, massages feel good, but why not just hire a masseuse and jettison the pseudoscience?

I repeat the maxim of punk rock--"Question Authority." Cross-reference your sources, study the available knowledge base yourself, and be a patient advocate for yourself or your loved one. The conservatives have instituted a regime of social Darwinism in the U.S., whereby the lower classes sometimes receive substandard care and only the rich can afford consistently good care. Until people start voting in enough liberals to reform the health care system, it behooves each of us to acquire the knowledge to guide our disinterested doctors toward the correct diagnosis and effective treatment. Otherwise, you may find yourself subjected to placebos and ineffective treatments that may harm or kill you before your time.

Monday, February 23, 2009

What's Wrong with South Park?

Looking over my blog, I became concerned lest it degenerate into one of these apolitical, ha-ha, always merry pieces of fluff that one sees throughout the media. This is what's wrong with South Park: writers Trey Parker and Matt Stone have no ideals and no values. They just have a hankering for gay sex and drugs. Although I find some South Park episodes funny, most leave me feeling cold inside. I have watched their show for a long time and used to like it in the beginning, until I realized that the writers are evil. Evil is not funny.

South Park tackles only the stupidest, most meaningless hot button issues of the mass media, mainly celebrity gossip and the concerns of Hollywood. They shy away from anything with real meaning and importance in the world. I kept waiting in vain for South Park to do a show about the Iraq war, global warming, genocide, or the decline of U.S. manufacturing. I kept waiting for a show that demonstrated awareness about the lives of the middle-class and the poor around the world. On the few occasions when they did cover global warming, it was only to mock the scientists and celebrities concerned about it. Anyone who displays any concern with real issues, such as Al Gore and Sonny Bono, comes in for cruel mockery.

For a long time, I didn't understand why they raked Sonny Bono over the coals for caring about Africa, while giving George W. Bush a free ride for years. After watching a few seasons, I connected all the threads of their beliefs. Trey Parker and Matt Stone believe compassion is idiotic, and selfishness is the only ideal, an evil philosophy that can be traced to Ayn Rand. Their viewpoint is consistently upper class Republican, with two exceptions concerning gays and drugs. These two shrewdly selected political issues account for their popularity among journalists. Without gays and drugs, South Park would not have won an Emmy and promptly defecated upon it in the next episode. The only lesson they took from the 1960's has to do with what we insert into our own bodies. That's good, as far as it goes, but it doesn't go very far, does it?

I've read interviews with South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and they claim that they don't feel prepared to express views on real issues, like the Iraq war, because they feel ignorant and uninformed. That's not much of an excuse, and I don't believe it anyway. They are wealthy and possess every opportunity to educate and inform themselves. At best, South Park provides an example of what a good comedy show could be--funny and irreverent with a creative technique. All that's needed is some soul.

The one comedy show that does have both soul and wit is The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I find it very funny and can watch the show without guilt. The Daily Show makes a conscious effort to touch on the heavy issues of the day instead of tip-toeing through the tulips in order not to offend their corporate masters. South Park would be well-advised to do the same, but I don't see the show ever changing, now that they have hit upon a formula that gets them what they want--money, the only thing in the world they care about.

The pernicious influence of South Park permeates our culture now. Even gay conservative Andrew Sullivan appears to be a regular viewer, as revealed by his comment in the Atlantic Monthly, referring to Sean Penn's acceptance speech for the Academy Award for his performance in "Milk":

That acceptance speech was superb. I'm glad I caught it (even though I was in a restaurant at the time). But again: what courage does it require to stand up for gay rights on Hollywood night? And I'm sorry, but the script for "Milk" was mediocre at best. The cloud of smug that rose and hung in the air last night - reaching cyclone levels over the head of Sean Penn - was close-to-suffocating. (Penn is best buddies with rancid homophobes like the Castros). And then you notice the near-total absence of openly gay male actors in the movies and you realize what really motivates that industry: money and cant, packaged in smug.

Where do you think that Sullivan borrowed the imagery for a "cloud of smug that rose and hung in the air last night - reaching cyclone levels over the head of Sean Penn...?" Why, South Park, of course, season 10, episode 2, "Smug Alert," concerning the smugness of San Francisco for daring to care about air pollution. I'm a bit surprised that Sullivan didn't even give his heroes Matt Stone and Trey Parker credit for the phrase.

Why should Sullivan chastise Hollywood for caring? This is the sort of thing South Park does on a regular basis. If caring is wrong, what is right? As to whether the celebrities are smug or not, who cares? I'm not personally interested in what celebrities do, unless they are attempting to do some kind of good in the world, and if so, good! At least they are promoting gay rights instead of war as they have done so often the past. I also don't buy even for a second Andrew Sullivan's implication that Sean Penn is a homophobe. Sean Penn has been a pretty consistent political liberal as far back as I can remember. I can't even recall a movie Penn starred in (besides Milk), but I do recall his purchasing a full-page ad in the New York Times and several other major newspapers for a personal essay that he wrote in opposition to the Iraq war. He received much criticism at the time for doing so. I would be willing to wager that Sullivan disapproved of this as well, being a conservative in matters not related to sexuality.

Andrew Sullivan obviously gets plenty of his ideas from television shows, including South Park. That would explain why Sullivan is so concerned with Hollywood instead of Washington. Instead of holding Hollywood celebrities to such a high standard, how about holding conservative politicians, CEO's and rich owners like Rupert Murdoch to a high standard? They are the ones with real power. Yet you will never see a South Park episode make the slightest bit of fun about Rupert Murdoch. Why? Maybe you should ask Stone and Parker that question. Instead, it's U2's Sonny Bono and Al Gore, who have no power at all, that they choose to serve up for ridicule.

Enrolling ISP's into the Service of Big Brother

Here's an issue you will never find on a South Park episode. The latest political controversy to grab my attention is a move by Lamar Smith (R-Tx) to require ISP's to keep two years' worth of logs on their customers. I don't like that one bit, because I don't trust the government nor the big corporations not to spy on us. They will find one excuse or another, but they will mine that data looking for wrong-doing of some kind. This legislation is getting closer to a future where it will be easy to profile people based upon what web sites they visit in order to detect people's political sympathies. We are getting closer and closer to George Orwell's Big Brother state, and the Republicans seem to be the ones dragging us to that deplorable destiny.

This latest legislation will greatly enhance the capability of the corporations to file lawsuits against folks that get involved in any kind of file-sharing. Such lawsuits cost families up to ten thousand dollars a pop, often because the children were trading pop songs on P2P networks without knowing that their actions were being monitored.

Serves 'em right, you say? Then you must be a Republican, because Republicans believe quite strongly in punishing "wrong-doers." The urge to punish other people is strong in the Ape family, and all of us are subject to it to an extent. The wrong-doers in this case, the illegal file-sharers, are overwhelmingly poor and middle-class, and they mostly can't afford to hire fancy lawyers to bail their butts out of the fire. The rich can hire fancy lobbyists and lawyers to get bail-outs from the federal government whenever they make a mistake.

Republicans want strict rules for the lower classes, but meanwhile the rich get away with every sort of atrocity under the Sun, stealing billions of dollars from investors and even hitting the government up for bail-outs. Why is it that the lower classes are the ones that get tough love, and the rich get all the rewards and none of the punishments?

I would like to see the government take action on internet concerns, but I think Lamar Smith picked the wrong one. There are many more pressing concerns that are not being addressed by politicians like Lamar Smith, because Republicans like him do not represent people like me. Instead, they represent the rich. I think this is pretty obvious.

Here is a list of issues that Lamar Smith should be working on, if he were really all about serving the country instead of his wealthy friends:

1. The government should examine the recent decision among many ISP's to curtail support for Usenet. If an ISP drops support for Usenet without warning in mid-contract, it should be required to refund 50% of the bill. Corollary to this: if an ISP throttles the bandwidth of a customer for any reason, it should be required to lower the bill according to the percentage that the bandwidth was decreased. These ISP's are using public land to deliver their services, and they are taking advantage of research and development that was funded by the U.S. taxpayer. Much of the Internet was pioneered by government agencies, not by the corporations that profit from the Internet today.

2. Many of us would like to see more competition among ISP's. What we face today is a virtual monopoly in many areas, where ISP's act arbitrarily with little regard for the customer. In areas where there is only one ISP offering broadband, the government should step in and offer broadband service for a reasonable fee.

3. Rural customers should be guaranteed broadband internet access by the telephone and/or cable companies. Most people I know (including many conservative Republicans) who live out in the country have to pay a bundle for satellite broadband, which is inferior in every way to DSL or cable. Most of them resort to using telephone dial-up. Imagine that, in 2009! Broadband internet should, by this day and age, have been extended to every family in the United States. I believe broadband internet is far more useful, informative, and educational than television.

4. All the ISP cares about is milking the cash cows of existing technology. They want to postpone any investment in new technology. Whatever happened to fiber optic broadband? Why are most of us stuck with the slower speeds of DSL and cable? Why are ISP's allowed to charge more for the higher speeds? They should offer the maximum available speed to every customer, and they should quit dragging their feet on fiber optic technology. The U.S. government gives them a virtual monopoly in most areas and does not impose nearly enough oversight and regulation to ensure they don't rip their customers off.

To me the solution is simple: vote for Democrats in every election where there is a choice. I wish it could be said that Democrats always try to protect the lower classes, but that is not the case either. It's just that over the long run, the Democrats have a better track record, in general, and they at least speak a good piece. Although I don't always agree with Democrats, there's no doubt in my mind that the country was better off financially and in every conceivable way under Democratic economic policies and oversight. Democrats are more likely to take the long view and think about the health and welfare of the people. Republicans just think about their cronies and to hell with everyone else. What we need in Congress is more liberals--people that want to improve the world--not people whose only mission is to help the rich get richer.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Pseudoscience and the Media

A disturbing trend in the media is to draw sweeping conclusions from isolated scientific research without any scrutiny or analysis. A blanket statement will be issued such as: SCIENTISTS DISCOVER THAT TUNA FISH IS HIGH IN MERCURY. Therefore, everyone and their brother is supposed to stop eating tuna fish, because that would be the same as eating pure mercury.

Balderdash. Left unanswered is, how much mercury? How much mercury can the human body tolerate? How much mercury resides in other foods like apples or oranges? At what rate does the human body excrete mercury, if at all? What was the population of the control group and the test group of humans used in the experiment(s)? What were these humans like--thin, fat, average; old, young; male or female; sedentary or active lifestyle? Where were the samples of tuna obtained--from a single geographical region, or all over the world? How were the samples obtained and what is the likelihood those samples were corrupted by other factors?

Last of all comes the most important question which is almost never revealed in the media. Who funded the experiment? In the case of any study finding harm in seafood, I would highly suspect the cattle industry, because fewer people eating seafood translates into more people buying beef. I'm just joking in this instance, because such an obvious connection would likely be discovered with an ensuing scandal. The point is that journalists should ask all of the standard questions and include them in their report. Brief articles touching upon science are utterly useless. The only valid way of reporting upon science is including all of the pertinent information in summary form. First and foremost a journalist must ask, WHERE IS THE MONEY? If this question is not answered, the report is rubbish. Only by tracing the financial backing of research can it can become clear if a particular bias is at play. However, the absence of a clear conflict of interest does not mean there aren't any prejudices--only that the most obvious prejudice is absent.

The activity of a scientist is tightly constrained by the flow of grant money from corporations and the government. Research is not free. We simply do not have that many independently wealthy scientists researching whatever they please. We just don't live in a world like that. What we have are powerful people like CEO's and government bureaucrats who decide what will be studied--and more often than we like to think, what the results will be!

Just for the record, I eat tuna whenever and wherever I please. Mercury be damned. I eat salmon, too, despite reports of PCB contamination. Besides the excellent flavor, I like the beneficial effects of the omega-3 fatty acids found in high quantities in these excellent foods. The stuff seems to counter mild forms of depression. I will go so far as to eat raw sushi, too, because I'm not terribly concerned about media reports that indicate sushi contains little worms. Yeah, right. Maybe at your sushi bar, but not mine.

Science is a good thing, but too many journalists nowadays approach it as if it were some sort of religion. They approach scientists like shaman whose pronouncements must be accepted uncritically, without any difficult questions. This is a slippery slope that has led to every manner of evil, beginning with racist theories asserting the inferiority of non-white people, theories that predated the Holocaust. Pseudoscience has caused enormous harm in the world and continues to do so.

I am not impressed with studies involving rats or mice that purport to reveal universal truths about human psychology. Biology, maybe; psychology, no. Rats are a world away from the complexity of the human brain. I am not impressed with scientists who devote their energies to constructing sadistic experiments harming animals in order to "prove" just one side of a sociological issue such as whether single moms raise kids better or worse than intact families. Any time that animals are harmed, there must be clear and succinct benefits accruing to the human or animal species as a direct result. Minor and insignificant studies should be jettisoned if their only purpose is to satisfy a scientist's private thirst for sadism.

I'm not impressed when scientists encourage journalists to draw sweeping conclusions based largely upon anecdotal or flawed evidence. If you have conducted an experiment involving only twenty mice, you have proved exactly nothing. A sizable proportion of those twenty mice might well be freaks. If you have just five freaks out of twenty, that means 25% of your research is bunk. At any rate, what are you experimenting with mice for, when human subjects are often willing and available? Shoddy research and lax ethics invite refutation and tarnishes the image of science, such that many people even to this very day reject legitimate scientific theories such as evolution and the benefits of modern medical treatment.

Of all the scientific fields, psychology is without a doubt the one most rife with pseudoscience. Anecdotal evidence is commonly exaggerated to draw unjustified conclusions. Stereotypes and prejudice are too often accepted without a murmur. The entire classification of mental illnesses is fuzzy and subjective. Instead of a desire to find out the truth about a subject, psychologists all too often have the desire to impose their truth upon the world, seeing what they want to see. The experiments they conduct have foregone conclusions designed to prove whatever the researcher already feels to be so.

Any scientist that wants to learn the truth needs to ask one question. What are the factors in your own life that might prevent you from seeing the world as it really is? "Know thyself," as Socrates said. Research should be designed in such a way as to encourage the contrary answer, in opposition to what the scientist expects, because the desires of his own heart will tend to tilt the results in subtle ways.

For instance, in the early days of psychology, homosexuality was classified as a mental illness. There were actual scientific studies showing that homosexuality had a negative effect on a person's mental health. These were alluded to by Ayn Rand, who like many thinkers of her time also believed that gays and lesbians needed medical treatment to reverse their sexual orientation. (I just threw that grenade in there to jar any conservative gay Objectivists that might be reading. Yes, it's true.)

Many of these anti-gay studies were based upon clinical populations, i.e. patients already admitted into a mental hospital and receiving treatment who identified themselves as homosexual. The scientists conducting the study had prior experience in counseling mentally ill homosexuals. If all you have experienced in your professional life has been homosexuals with mental problems, and you have been acquainted with very few well-adjusted homosexuals, then you are already prejudiced. Any study you create is going to focus more than likely upon negative aspects concerning homosexuality. The same applies to any research involving drugs, homelessness, anxiety disorder, and sexuality in general. If you have been counseling drug addicts for your entire professional life, you are going to have morbid thoughts concerning drugs and probably will have a difficult time accepting any positive aspects at all.

Scientists sometimes ignore the larger picture involving society and social attitudes and the role that such elements play. Instead, they focus in single-minded fashion upon one narrow topic, ignoring the myriad of other influences that warp results. At least from a psychological perspective, homosexuality cannot be studied out of context of the larger society in which it exists. One must be careful in drawing any conclusions upon the subject, because there have been grave errors with harmful consequences made in the past both in this area and in the area of ethnic background.

Another trouble with science has to do with human nature. People have a tendency to adhere to orthodoxy. Society despises all nonconformists. If you think the same way everyone else in your profession thinks, then you won't ever be condemned; you will be respected and admired. If you buck the fashionable trends like a maverick, you risk being ostracized in the worst case scenario, or criticized at best. Conformism stifles new ideas in science.

What university professors should treasure is independent thinking, creativity, and originality; in practice, what they reward is the ability to memorize sterile facts. I remember Botany class in college, when we were asked to memorize the genus, species, and family, both the Latin and the common names, of a hundred different trees. I sailed through the exam with flying colors. Does that mean I would make a great scientist? Not necessarily. I don't remember a single one of those names today and am at a loss as to what good it did me to learn them. I'm sure things the professor liked having an easy method of grading students--multiple choice tests that could be graded by an assistant. In my opinion, what really is important in the subject of Botany is the mechanism of photosynthesis. In comparison, all else pales in importance. I believe the professor devoted a single lecture to that vital discussion. I am still curious about it.

I'm a big fan of science, subscribe to Discover magazine, and watch documentaries on scientific subjects at least twice a week. Pseudoscience irritates me when I find it in the media. In order to evaluate science, we need a reasonable argument based upon sound, unbiased research. Journalists should ask hard questions, not simply repeat the words of scientists as though they were sacred. Science is not an exclusive club that you can only join by completing a four-year degree. Science is the birthright of everyone upon this planet. Nor is science all that difficult to understand until you get into quantum mechanics. Give us all the facts, not just the words of the holy men in the white lab coats.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Seven Reasons to Stay with Windows XP

1. You will not have to buy additional hardware or software, saving potentially hundreds or thousands of dollars.

2. You will not contribute to pollution by dumping your old hardware before its time. Many commentators believe Microsoft made some kind of mistake by rendering so much legacy hardware obsolete with their Windows Vista. I do not think it was a mistake, but intentional, in order to generate more unnecessary consumer spending worldwide. Microsoft has a partnership with many hardware vendors and cares less about the end user than about those lucrative partnerships. The main new "feature" in Windows Vista was Digital Rights Management. Of course, this was not the feature that Microsoft chose to advertise.

3. You will not experience the many hidden problems that Windows Vista users have reported.

4. You will not experience any learning curve as you would with Vista.

5. After so many years of using XP, you have probably adjusted to its foibles, downloading third party applications to overcome certain of its limitations. A good anti-virus package such as Avast!, which is free, makes Windows XP secure enough.

6. Most of your newer applications are now delivered via your web browser, which is independent of Windows anyway. Firefox remains fully compatible with Windows XP and due to its add-ons, is superior to Internet Explorer. Vista quite simply has nothing to offer the end user other than fancier games, which I don’t care about. Microsoft does not understand the Internet and probably never will.

7. Vista is a step in the wrong direction, towards a fatter and less efficient OS demanding more and more electricity, memory, and resources. This in a time when energy costs are at a premium. This is quite unnecessary and simply the result of Microsoft adding bloat to enhance their own and their partners’ profit margins. It is self-evident that Microsoft does not develop with the end user in mind, but with their shareholders in mind.

Personally, when Vista came out, I used that moment as an excuse to try out the latest version of Ubuntu. Unfortunately, it did not install successfully on my computer, which was optimized for Windows. After several hours of trying to get Ubuntu to work, I gave up. Besides, I was reluctant to leave the world of Windows compatibility. I returned to Windows XP, which I am satisfied with. I am not concerned about Microsoft dropping support for Windows XP as long as Avast antivirus and Mozilla Firefox continue to support Windows XP.

What about Windows 7? After the Vista fiasco, I'm skeptical, but I may upgrade at a very late stage if 90% of the world does so. But I certainly won't be waiting in line at Wal-Mart to buy the first copy. I'm far more excited about new versions of Firefox than I am about overpriced bloatware like Windows.

How to Cheat in Dungeon Crawl

The only annoying element of the rogue-like game "Dungeon Crawl" is that your character can get killed suddenly and that's that.. You have to start over. From scratch. After I have invested 50,000 turns in a character, I'm not in the mood for the reality of death. There are two ways to cheat death in Crawl: Wiz Mode and the use of a Windows batch file or Linux script to run the game. I prefer the latter. Due to the additional features offered by this batch file, even if one doesn't cheat, it is a convenient way to run Crawl.

The idea behind the batch file is that whenever you reach a point where you would like to preserve your existing character, you can save, exit the game, and the batch file will backup the Save directory to a new directory that the game will not modify. If you later get killed, then the batch file can copy this backup directory over to the Save directory, and you can resume from that point.

Hardcore crawlers refer to this practice as "save scumming," and prudes disapprove, which is weird, considering it's just a game. I find the angry reactions aroused by the idea of so-called "cheating" to be peculiar and amusing. All around the Internet and even in comments on my own blog, one can find Dungeon Crawlers scolding other players about this. It is like some kind of religious injunction. I pay it as much mind as I do other religious injunctions.

Here's my handy-dandy script (batch) file for cheating at Dungeon Crawl. At a minimum, it is compatible with either Linux or Windows XP, both of which I use, and I have been told it also works on Windows 7 due to logic I have placed in the batch that adapts to Windows 7's pathnames.

All of my computers use either Windows 7 or a version of Linux. I used to play Crawl on Windows XP, back when I had an XP system. I know for sure that the batch file will run perfectly on XP. Now I have adopted Linux as my primary operating system, and Windows 7 is used as an answering machine. I use Linux to do everything else, including play Dungeon Crawl. So I don't really know how the batch runs on Windows 7, although users have written in to say it works okay.

I've tried to distill as much intelligence as I can into the batch. I do not use the Installer, but the batch will adjust its pathnames automatically upon successful detection of an Installer-created Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup installation. If you encounter any problems, it will more than likely have to do with the pathnames used by your version of Windows or else unsupported batch commands. There is help widely available on the Internet for programming in batch, but I will attempt to help anyone that has a problem that is likely to be shared among many users. I enjoy programming in batch language, because it does not require a cumbersome and slow compiler, but concede that the language is quite limited both in capability and debugging options. I have my own ways of debugging that work for me although they are quite challenging, but the challenge is part of the fun for me. Even with good technique, often it takes guesswork and plenty of knowledge to deduce what is going on. So if you get into batch programming, first of all don't get into batch programming--but if you do, then prepare to search Google on a regular basis for tips, tricks and syntax, because Microsoft Help is not always quite as helpful as it could be. I have been banned by Google from searching in the past due to the frequency of my requests. Google interpreted my behavior as being similar to that of a bot. But that is how I learned how to program in Linux script and Windows batch.

I have been using some variation of this batch file for years to play Dungeon Crawl. Happy Crawling!
Installation (new method, faster and easier): Click here to download the file The archive contains both a batch file for Windows users and a shell script for Linux users in one big happy family. Mac users are left in the lurch! I don't know anything about Macs, sorry.

The script for Linux is called Linux users should unzip the contents into a directory of their choice. Of course, you may delete the Windows file, regen.bat, which you will not use. The instructions for Linux are more involved, because Linux is more concerned with security. I place my script in /home/games/regen_for_linux/, but you can store it wherever you like. Open a terminal and modify the security of the script using the syntax, "chmod +x". Next, set up a launcher to run the included script file from your desktop. When creating the shortcut, click the "Application" tab, click the "Advanced Options" button, and check the box for "Run in terminal." Run the game at least once by itself before using, so that the game can create all its data directories. Additional instructions will be found in the script itself. The file regen.png may serve as a launcher icon.

Windows Users should unzip the contents into c:\games. They may delete the Linux file,, as they will not use it. Create a shortcut to "regen.bat" on your Windows desktop and use that shortcut to play the game. You may configure the shortcut to use the included icon, regen.ico. Windows XP (at least) will accept files of type .ico as desktop icons.
Installation (old alternative method for Linux, requires more effort): Skip this paragraph if you are downloading the file above, because the file above contains everything you need. I include this alternative method just in case something happens to the download link, which is possible. With your mouse, click somewhere in the box below. My javascript should highlight the entire contents of the textbox for your convenience. If it does not, then press Ctrl-A to highlight all of the text, then copy (i.e., press Ctrl-C) to your clipboard. Load a plain text editor and paste the clipboard contents (i.e., Ctrl-V) in that window. Inspect the batch, checking for any instances of Blogger's word wrapping breaking up long lines. Save the text file as "". Follow the other instructions given above for setting up the script file.
Installation (old alternative method for Windows, requires more effort): Skip this paragraph if you are downloading the file above, because the file above contains everything you need. I include this alternative method just in case something happens to the download link, which is possible. With your mouse, click somewhere in the box below. My javascript should highlight the entire contents of the textbox for your convenience. If it does not, then press Ctrl-A to highlight all of the text, then copy (i.e., press Ctrl-C) to your clipboard. Load Notepad++ or a similar plain text editor (Notepad, if you must) and paste the clipboard contents (i.e., Ctrl-V) in that window. Inspect the batch, checking for any instances of Blogger's word wrapping breaking up long lines. Save the text file as "regen.bat". The file must have a .bat extension, because Windows will not execute it if it does not. Create a shortcut to "regen.bat" on your Windows desktop and use that shortcut to play the game.
General Notes:

  • This batch file, and any page on Igor's blog, is not static but is subject to change--improvement--at any time. You may link to this page on other web sites and be assured of referencing the very latest version of regen.bat for Windows and for Linux at all times now and in the future.
  • To use this strategy effectively, you should save your game and quit at a point where you may wish to recover your character later upon any unexpected demise.
  • I play the latest version of Crawl, either the trunk (beta) or the last stable release. You have a better chance of the script/batch file working correctly if this is also your scenario. Through the years, the Stone Soup developers have altered the path and file names of the saves directory. However, the script/batch is designed in such a way that modifications are elementary, consisting of one or two edits of constants at the most.
  • On my Linux computer, I have created a new directory in Home called games and placed the linux shell script ( and its icon in there. I believe it is important for the name of the directory to have no spaces. One must either chmod the two relevant crawl directories in order to permit file copies and deletions or else grant root permissions for this script, because otherwise Linux denies permission to the many file copies. I'm not well-versed on this sort of thing. I used to give my launcher root permissions via "sudo ~/", but my current method is to chmod the two crawl directories, because that eliminates the need to enter the root password every time one plays.
  • On my Windows XP computer, regen.bat is stored in c:\games. Crawl and its files are installed to c:\games\crawl. For Windows, these are also the default assumptions made by regen.bat. If your setup is the same, then you should encounter no difficulty. Otherwise, the batch will attempt to self-adjust its assumptions--it has some primitive intelligence, not much--but if that doesn't work, regen.bat will tell you so, and at that point you will have to edit the variables relating to pathnames. By design, few pathnames are hardcoded, meaning the batch should be relatively easy to modify.
  • Linux has a built-in capability of accepting a single keypress for input and overall a far more robust scripting language than Windows. Batch programming in Windows, however, remains in the Stone Age. It is a wonder I ever programmed the Windows batch at all. For Windows users, improved functionality is possible with the old Choose32.exe utility, which permits the user to press a single key for input rather than a key followed by the Enter key. Choose32.exe should be placed in the dir containing the crawl subdirectory. On my system, that is c:\games. You can substitute some other keyboard input utility if you prefer, modifying the batch accordingly, or you can skip this option altogether. I have coded the batch so that it will continue working in the old way for users that are leery about downloading and installing an .exe file.

Release Notes:

  • 06/15/2014 Update:
    Change to fix for multi-desktop users like myself. No longer will crawl span both desktops.
  • 11/28/2013 Update:
    Change to sleep a second after wmctrl, because the computer takes a random number of milliseconds to adjust the display. Clarify a display message.
  • 11/27/2013 Update:
    Change to fix a few bugs. Maximize window if wmctrl is available.
  • 10/18/2013 Update:
    Change to corrections to the menu display and new optional mods to automate setting tiles to full screen and other preferences of mine. The script now reflects a change in version 13 of the location of the macro file.
  • 9/16/2013 Update:
    Change to Recognize the existence of Sprint and Zotdef saves and tidy up the code a little bit.
  • 1/31/2013 Update:
    Change to Handle the case where Crawl has not yet been installed or executed.
  • 1/29/2013 Update:
    Just a few minor refinements to text messages in and the addition of a loop to handle permission-granting, in case the user types an incorrect password.
  • 1/21/2013 Update:
    Once again, Linux refinements only. was not handling chmod quite right; chmod -R is more to the point as it liberalizes permissions for all the files and folders within the two relevant Crawl directories. I made a few other changes of no special importance. It is my intention that should handle DCSS upgrades seamlessly, asking for permission to chmod when necessary.
  • 1/19/2013 Update:
    Further refinements to the Linux script, which is now coming into its own, looking better and acting smarter. Rather than have sudo ask me for my password everytime I play (ach!), I prefer to chmod 777 the permissions of two crawl directories, which is Linuxese for "allowing read/write access to everyone".
  • 1/16/2013 Update:
    Added a few minor refinements to the Linux script that occurred to me this evening, including a suggestion for avoiding the annoyance of sudo.
  • 1/16/2013 Update:
    Many improvements made and features added to the Linux script. It is somewhat more intelligent now and will attempt to detect and report certain problems before they occur.
  • 1/14/2013 Update:
    I have successfully ported regen.bat to Linux! Many improvements made between Jan. 13 & Jan.14th to the Linux script, which does however require root permission in order to shift files around. Through trial and error, I have found that sudo is the thing, not kdesudo, which is for graphical programs. Kdesudo will cause errors. There is no way I know of getting around the permission requirement other than disabling the security altogether on one's system. I'm not quite confident enough to second-guess the Linux developers on that score. I'd rather just play along according to their rules.
  • 11/13/2012 Update:
    Minor edits for compatibility with Crawl 12 beta.
  • 10/17/2012 Update:
    Colorized the text, added for the first time a free public domain icon, reorganized the main menu, and fixed several bugs throughout the mods menu.

    Fixed a little bug that had broken the 'edit batch file' option. Oopsy-daisy. Added a little colorizing trick that had occurred to me.

    Improved the efficiency of the Install-New-Crawl option. Fixed the broken macro mod. Added polychromatic effect to mod menu.

    Fixed a little issue with install-new-crawl. So many variables now, and of course batch language won't help me in keeping track of them.
  • 10/08/2012 Update:
    Add option to install new version of Crawl using 7-Zip or WinRar. This will install the game into a directory that is the default for regen.bat and thus ensure 100% compatibility. Several bug fixes to the Mods menu. Added 'command enhancement' mod.
  • 09/30/2012 Update:
    Just a few minor tweaks to improve efficiency. Improved start-up performance by skipping an unnecessary FIND. Eliminated a few redundancies through the use of subroutines. Reworded some comment statements. Everything working well on Windows XP with the latest beta version .11.
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