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Holidays December 12, 2006

Posted by whoneedscience in : Uncategorized , 15comments

Yup, it’s that time of year again. The days are getting shorter, and, just as inevitably, the stores are pumping cheery Christmas tunes that grate at my sanity as I struggle to find appropriate gifts for my friends and family, hoping without hope that maybe someone else shares my dislike of useless nicknack’s and, just maybe, we could both conspire against the laws of game theory and not get each other anything.

Actually, I don’t think I’d mind all that nearly as much if it meant I could sit right here come Christmas morning, sleep in with my girlfriend, make a delicious brunch of potato pancakes and toad-in-the-hole, and then spend the afternoon and evening with my extended family, sampling the recipes my numerous aunts have pulled out to prove that they are the best housewife. Unfortunately, the latter part of that is the only thing I have to look forward to this Christmas, and it’s weighed down to the point of utter futility by the necessity of spending that morning with the immediate family.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my family. Well, that goes without saying, but more than that my family has actually become quite interesting in the past few years. College has done wonders for my siblings.   My sister has developed into a nerd of heights comparable to my own, and my brother has almost completely stopped acting like the spoiled, whining asshole that he’s been for the past 18 years. The problem is that, despite all of that, despite the fact that my family has never taken religion seriously, despite the fact that my parents have always stressed skepticism and critical thinking in our upbringing, and despite the fact that I have been happier than ever since becoming an atheist, my family will never accept that aspect of my life.

Come Christmas morning, I’m going to have to get up early, dress nicely, and sit in Church for an hour. Okay, an hour isn’t so bad, really. I’ve been there something like a thousand times in my life, and hell, by the time I’m done done writing this I’ll have wasted a full hour that could certainly have been far better spent. The problem is that for at least ten years now I’ve felt absolutely insulted by Church.   Sitting through rituals and sermons and songs is torturous to me in a way that I don’t think I could even convey to someone who is accustomed to sitting and watching shadows in a cave.

I can’t sit in that damned building without cringing at every lyric, at every pathetic instance of pagan-like hand-waving, and at every bad joke uttered by the lunatic in robes.   The worst part has nothing to do with that, though, it’s sitting there listening to arguments that, in any other situation, a mildly intelligent 8-year-old wouldn’t let fly.   Even calling them arguments is insulting.   Creationists argue, Catholic priests smile and hand-wave.   Every homily I’ve ever heard has been little but a moralistic appeal to emotion, based on mindless scripture and cute little fables that priests evidently find humorous and educational.   Even in college, when I tried to argue with my theology professor about evolution and cosmology, the old fart wouldn’t offer a damn point.   He just tried his best to smile knowingly and told me that I’d come to agree with him when I grew up.

Maybe I spend too much time with intelligent people, but how the hell do these sheep simply sit in Church and take it up the intellectual ass?   Never once have I heard a priest questioned during Mass.   Never once have I heard one say anything like, “hey, actually I don’t know what this passage means, or how exactly you should live your life”, it’s always “we have to ask God to help us take this passage to heart, and let him guide the way we live our lives”.   Never once have I even heard anything that could be remotely called educational while sitting there beating my head against the pew.   Saint Augustine was probably the biggest Christian thinker in the entire Middle Ages, but in 18 years of Church had I even heard the guy’s name?   Not once.   Any of his ideas?   Ha, don’t make me laugh.   That wasn’t until after I stopped going to mass and started reading things on my own.

Church simply isn’t for learning anything, or for advancing your conceptions of morality: it’s a place where good Catholics allow themselves to be herded so they can feel morally superior to everyone who sleeps in on Sundays.     And come December 25th, I’ll be sitting right next to four of those bright-eyed hypocrites as they silently condemn me for thinking outside the pen.

For those of you who have free time November 13, 2006

Posted by whoneedscience in : Uncategorized , 1 comment so far

I envy you.

That is all.

mutter mutter mutter…

Musings on Diodes October 24, 2006

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You know what? I’m bored of this philosophical crap right now. I’m going to talk about diodes for a bit. Does anyone care? Probably not. But I can, so I will.

The PN junction is an amazing thing. No one really appreciates it. I mean, you’ve got your p-type semiconductor and your n-type one, doped up all nice with their acceptor and donor atoms, respectively, shifting their Fermi-levels and getting their electrons and holes all loosened up. Crazy, really. I mean it makes perfect sense that when you throw a few atoms into the crystal lattice of a pure semiconductor you would affect the way electrons and holes can flow through the thing, and that doping with different elements would change the characteristics in different ways, but who’d ‘a thunk that when you stick two different fuckers together they would only allow current to flow in one direction?

Try to run a current from the p-side to the n-side and it gives you a voltage drop of like .7 or .8 volts. Flows right through. Then you flip the damn thing around and you get a voltage drop of just about whatever you give the thing: -5 volts; -10 volts; like, a microamp squeaks through. Of course, it depends on what kind of diode you’re using, but I never would have thought, “hey, what if we put these two together, then we could restrict the current flow”. Not in a million years.

But hey, it works. And I can even do something with it. I can put it with a resistor and connect it to an AC source and effectively cut the whole bottom half off the thing. Add another diode to the negative side of that source and I’ve got a circuit that takes the absolute value of the source function.

Or maybe instead I can take out the resistor and throw in a capacitor. AC source voltage goes up the first bump in the sine wave, flies through the diode and charges the cap. Then the voltage slides down the bump and the charge on the cap leaks out into your load. The voltage on the source then goes negative for a while and can’t get through the diode, so rather than sucking the charge out of the cap, it just stays off. All the while, the cap is acting like a battery for whatever else it’s connected to, and the charge slowly leaks off of it only to be filled again the next time the source voltage goes positive again.

Throw in a transformer to turn 120 v into, say, 10 and viola, I’ve got an AC/DC converter. The diode was three for a dollar at radio shack and the cap was probably a dollar for a huge-ass 5 mF sucker. The transformer was a bit more, but take a peek at the internal resistance and DC input specs on a radio and I can build my own power supply for it; just figure out how much capacitance I need to keep the ripple inside a good region based on the 60 Hz from the wall, and how much I want to restrict the current with a few 20-cent resistors.

Simple. But try to do any of that without the diode and I need a fucking vacuum tube. Easier to understand, maybe, but I have to power it and replace it when it burns out. Plus, it’s fucking huge. A 1N914 diode is smaller than a grain of rice. Tiny thing, but without it, just supplying power to a radio is four or five times more difficult and expensive.

Still wish I could follow the QM shit so I could be like, “yeah, of course they just doped each side of the crystal differently. What an idiot Edison was for bothering with a vacuum tube!”. Maybe I’ll hit a textbook for a while tomorrow.

Richard Dawkins Railed by English Professor October 23, 2006

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This being my first ever blog (much thanks to Chris), I thought I’d pick a subject to both explain myself a bit, and emulate in some small way the rantings of the formerly-raving former-atheist.

A few days ago, my girlfriend showed me a review of Richard Dawkins’s new book (I guess at some point she started recognizing that I have a stack of his other ones next to my bed).   From the title, I knew I didn’t agree with the guy, but I’d like to think that I’m not one to pass up an opportunity to question my intellectual positions.

I must say that I have gotten to the point of being uncomfortable with   the dominance of my anti-religionist persuasion.   There was a time, I keep reminding myself, when I was a card-carrying Republican, and just as sure about my opinions of the immorality of homosexuality and the rightness of the war in Iraq as I am now about the nonexistence of God and the pathetic nature of his followers.

And so it was with a more or less open mind that I read Terry Eagleton’s first lines:

Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.

It’s an idea that I’ve been tossing around a lot lately in my ponderings both late at night and in my early showers.   Perhaps it was Quaker’s recent FAQ thread that put the idea in my head.   But anyway, why should I listen to a Biologist on matters of theological importance?   Dawkins is extremely knowledgeable in matters of Biology, and quite the pretentious old British man – qualities that I can’t deny I admire – but he is no philosopher.   He has clearly read the Bible, and pointed out some particularly obscene and incensing quotes, but theists like Quaker, who are by no means unreasonable people, are quick to point out that this is no reason to reject the entire book.

I still haven’t quite resolved this issue, yet there is still something that angers me about people like Eagleton.   Perhaps this is nothing more than a memeological rebuttal – a gut reaction to avoid contemplating the possibility of being wrong, but I cannot help but think that this man has completely missed the point.

Eagleton accuses Dawkins of being theologically ignorant, of grouping the relgious moderates in with the crazies and throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but he has not addressed the claim that theology has no basis in reality.   He rants about transcendence as if it were a valid concept, and as I read the words, the bullshit detectors built up from years of scientific education burn at my skull.   As an idea, God is an unscientific as you can be, and there really is no good reason for any sane person to believe in him.

I just don’t get it.   What the fuck to people see in God as a concept?   Even if we’re not talking about an old man in the sky, it is at best extraneous.   Sure, you could call a beautiful sunset “God”, but why bother, especially when you can be so easily misunderstood?

At any rate, Eagleton gives me a title for my blog.   In referring to Dawkins as a militant rationalists, I can at least set a standard for myself.   I don’t quite know what to think about Dawkins, nor do I know if I can ever bring myself to agree with Eagleton, even if he does seem to be more or less reasonable on the matter of religion, but I can always think about it more.

I shall therefore be the mildly militant rationalist, and see where it takes me for a while.