Saturday, December 21, 2013

Solving the Wikipedia problem

Today I was reading an AMA discussion on reddit from a Wikipedia admin. Much of the conversation centered around either delitionism (editors and admins on Wikipedia who want to delete lots of pages that they don't consider important) or the creeping vandalism of special interests. I've long thought that both problems could be solved by creating a new service to replace Wikipedia, so let me put my thoughts down in writing.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Copyright again: 15 years may be the sweet spot

It's worth watching this video in general, but I've linked to a specific point (if the video doesn't start at 16:24, then skip forward to there) where they present some really surprising data: in general, book publishers stop publishing books after between 10 and 20 years. What this means is that if you want to find a book published 20-40 years ago, you're probably not going to find it unless it's one of the few books that either was made into a movie or is required for some college coursework. Want to find William Gibson's Johnny Mnemonic? Sure, that had some big budget actors in the film adaptation, but Connie Willis's Fire Watch? Yeah so, how about a Kindle version? And that's the lucky ones that are available as ebooks! Many are simply lost.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Spoiler-filled Doctor Who 50th Anniversary episode

Promo Image for the episode from SFX
Let's just jump right into it. First off, this is a massive spoiler-filled review! Do not read this if you have not seen the episode!

Everyone else gone? Okay, let me get the complaints out of the way: I think the fan service was laid on a bit too thick. I love Doctor Who, but man, this made even me cringe at times! There was no real reason for the Doctor to marry the queen. Having Baker appear was kind of strained (though, see below) and I thought the epilogue was kind of painful.

That's really it. I have no other complaints.

The rest of the episode was excellent.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Retiring two blogs, starting another!

I've made some pretty large changes in my life of late. If you've read my other posts, you know that I'm now a Freemason. Big change! I end up attending 3-4 meetings per month (1 is my Lodge's required monthly meeting, and the others are things I choose to participate in) and then I pitch in where I can and attend cool events like our recent historic walking tour of Cambridge. So this means that I have much less time and mental bandwidth for things like video games and some of my spare-time software hacking. Because of that, I'm bringing my two blogs dedicated to those topics to a close. Those blogs are: and

They will continue to exist, but I probably won't post to them any more, and if I do, it will be very, very infrequent.

A Sierpinski tetrahedron
I'm also spinning up a new blog about Freemasonry that I will be trying to update regularly along with this one. That new blog is at:

The Tetrahedral Freemason is all about my experiences as I explore what it means to be a better man, from working to improve my community to learning about the past to being there for my brothers to the esoteric and philosophical aspects of it all.

If you have questions, you can post replies to my posts there or here, and I'll try to answer you as best I can.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Cambridge Masonic Temple Open House yesterday

Open House at the
Cambridge Masonic Temple
By Aaron Sherman

As I posted on Google Plus and Facebook, yesterday, we had a state-wide Open House in the Masonic Lodges in Massachusetts along with several other states which followed our example of previous years.

To recap the event, we had a good turnout. Lots of folks wanted the full tour and I started to get a sense of what was useful and not useful to cover for someone looking at us from the outside. In case anyone's curious, here's how it went:

Usually we'd start in the basement function hall to grab a snack or drink if they wanted any. We'd hang out there and chat to see if we could bundle up a group and then proceed to the second floor "business room" which is just an informal room with a big table for hanging out and talking before meetings or otherwise having less formal events like our book club. We'd talk about the history: when the Grand Lodge of England was formed (1717), when the Massachusetts Grand Lodge was formed (1733), when the oldest Lodge associated with the Cambridge Masonic Temple was formed (1805) and when the Cambridge Masonic Temple was built (1910).

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Obama is not remotely the worst President in US history

By Aaron Sherman

Today, I came across another one of those silly, "Obama is the worst President ever!" claims that you see floating around poorly spelled Facebook posts or Fox News. Usually I brush it off, but tonight I thought it needed a real response. Let me be clear, I'm a moderate who's not always a big fan of Obama. I don't like Obamacare (single payer models are cheaper and more effective) and I'm aghast at the expansion of domestic spying under his and W's administrations. That said, I think calling him the worst President ever is as absurd as any claim I've ever heard in the political realm, and I lived through Reagan claiming that he had no idea that Iran-Contra was going on in his administration and Nixon claiming that he wasn't a crook.

So here was my response, reviewing the past few decades of Presidents.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

How to watch Star Trek

By Aaron Sherman

A while back, I did an essay about Babylon 5 that was primarily a guide for those who had never seen the show. I feel that watching it start-to-end is a bit of a mistake at this point, and there are places where you really should take a break and review what you've seen.

Star Trek isn't the same sort of thing. Star Trek is more of a mythology than a story, and as such you can pretty much jump in anywhere and enjoy it. That being said, I have definite opinions on how you might go about this. I recently put part of this together for a Google Plus response to someone who had never watched the series, so here it is (a bit expanded) for everyone:

Monday, September 23, 2013

Low Carb Apple Pie Ala Mode!

By Aaron Sherman

So, I've been reading quite a lot about religion and philosophy recently, which has affected my blog posts. Just by way of switching gears and cleansing the palate, I'd like to talk about food. Tonight I wanted some desert, but I'm trying (once again!) to get back to my low-carb diet which I abandon every time there's a round of going out to dinner.

Tonight, I wanted some desert, and found that we had an apple pie flavored protein bar in the kitchen that was left over from a Quest Bar variety pack that Jeff and I have been working through. First off, let me say that Quest Bars are absolutely freaking fantastic! Jeff and I have been having quite a few of them, and at 5-7 carbs per bar, depending on flavor, these things are pretty damned tasty!

Monday, September 16, 2013

How does a bacteria become a man? Is evolution just a silly idea?

By Aaron Sherman

I've been watching a syndicated evangelical show called Wretched on YouTube that has a terrible video up about evolution. I'm going to ignore their hostile and downright abusive quick-cut interviews in which they try to get evolutionary scientists to explain the impossible. Instead, I'll focus on their thesis which is summed up at the start: a creature can't turn into a different kind of creature via speciation. This is absolutely true and their further conclusion is also absolutely true: there is not one shred of evidence of one creature turning into another kind of creature via evolution.
So, case closed, evolution is bunk, let's all go out for pizza. Right?

Well... no. Let me explain.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Creative Design: An alternative to Intelligent Design

By Aaron Sherman

Intelligent Design (ID) was, as I've covered here before, more or less a political effort to disguise a Christian, Young Earth Creationist document as a pseudo-scientific premise. It was so poorly constructed that, in court, evidence was presented from a word processor document that showed that the cornerstone of ID was, in fact, just a Christian Creationism document that had been edited to say "Intelligent Design" instead of "Creationism". But there's a problem. The idea of intelligent design predates the terrible and hackish attempt by a small group of American Christians to re-invent it. Thomas Aquinas's 5th way of demonstrating the existence of God was essentially Intelligent Design, and more broadly, there were many empiricists of the 17th and 18th century who worked on this idea as well, including Hume and Locke.

Bowler, in his book, Evolution: The History of an Idea makes it clear that as early as the 1860s, people were struggling with this idea with respect to evolution, and felt that the complexity and diversity of what we actually see in nature must imply the existence of a creator, and that that idea was not antithetical to the evidence of our senses combined with the power of reason (i.e. science). Whether you agree or disagree with that premise, it seems a worthy thing to come up with a term that we can use to refer to this concept.

More or less, the term for this class of idea is a teleological argument. However, that term narrowly refers to an a posteriori argument for the existence of God. I'm looking for a term which more broadly asserts the fundamental concept of intelligence in the act of creation.

This is my attempt to do so. Let's look at what we need to define and then we'll get to the definition.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Did religion slow the rate of human progress?

A scene from the TV show Family Guy,
as quoted on Google+
By Aaron Sherman

I'm going to spoil this one for you, on the topic of whether religion slowed the rate of human progress, I think the answer is clear: no, it did not. However, I also think that you can point to some serious "one step forward, two steps back" moments in history, especially as concern Europe and its recent (last 2,000 years) affair with the Christian faith.

It would be impossible to cover the entire history of the interaction of religion and human progress, but I do want to talk about some specific high (and low) points that I think make this topic a bit clearer. I should be up-front: I'm not a member of any religion, but I'm not an atheist. You can read more about my personal beliefs in my post about deism.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Let's get over Chained CPI

By Aaron Sherman

In the United States, we tie a number of entitlements programs like Social Security to inflation. This means that as goods become more expensive, those benefits go up. This makes good sense if you want those entitlements to adapt to the economic conditions (whether or not wanting that is a good thing is beyond the scope of this article). So, you may have heard of this thing called "Chained CPI" which some politicians argue amounts to a plan to cut Social Security benefits.

That's nonsense, and just so that you know where I'm going with this, anyone who says that is lying to you. Want to find out more, or are you already plotting my death because I'm clearly one of those people? (hint: I'm not)

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Borderlands 2 and the Damsel in Distress

The painting, Chivalry, by
Frank Dicksee, 1885
By Aaron Sherman

The "Tropes vs Women in Video Games project" has a new video up about the damsel in distress concept in video games. While I agree with some of what the video has to say, there's an awful lot of cherry-picking going on, here. The video specifically calls out one game that I've played through and it strikes me as odd that the one example that I have plenty of context for seems to fall apart when viewed in the larger context.

Before I get into that, though, let me cover the disclaimer in the video. The narrator explains that it's not sufficient for violence against a woman to have context in the storyline of a video game. That does not excuse the act. I'm inclined to generally agree. Instead, violence against any character in a video game stands on its own as a positive or negative (or, importantly, neutral) beat in the overall story, and that's how I want to look at Borderlands 2.

Borderlands 2 is introduced because of the character "Angel." Now, to be fair, there are spoilers ahead. Angel is introduced in the beginning of the story as a helpful AI who will guide the player to their destiny. I'm going to talk about what Angel actually is, so if you plan on playing the game, you might want to stop, here.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Dawkins is wrong: you can't defend science with circular reasoning

By Aaron Sherman

Prof. Dawkins is a brilliant man, but he tends to take shortcuts in his reasoning when he thinks his audience isn't up for the harder answers. Such was the case recently, when he was asked why we should have faith in the scientific method. His answer was a common bit of circular reasoning that you hear quite often in answer to this question, but it's not any less wrong because it was Dawkins who was saying it.

So, here's the general form of his defense: we know that the scientific method works because we have so many wonderful advances that we've been able to make because of it. We have cars and drugs and exotic new materials and we can see into tiny spaces and gaze at the universe around us. Science just works! (Dawkins humorously punctuates this with "bitches" which I did chuckle at).

Sunday, May 12, 2013


By Aaron Sherman

In a recent debate with an atheist I found myself explaining the difference between religion as an abstraction that we use to understand our world in ways which simple experimentation cannot and should not, and religion as a literal truth and map of history and the universe. I think I summed it up better than I have in the past, and I also don't think I've come out in this blog as specifically deist (though I've dropped some large hints), so let me share both with you, now:

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What is a religion? What isn't?

By Aaron Sherman

Today, I tried to participate in a conversation where someone mistakenly asserted that atheism is a religion. Sadly, I didn't have enough time to truly engage the conversation, so let me address it here for posterity:

There are quite a few different definitions of religion, but unless you get into the really abstract sociological definitions, here are three common elements that almost everyone agrees on:

  • A religion is a cultural context that...
  • relates to a set of supernatural or spiritual beliefs and...
  • asserts a means for connecting the two (e.g. through ritual, prayer, customs or other means)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The hard lesson of Google Reader

Google Reader logo
By Aaron Sherman

Google is learning some new lessons of late. Specifically, that the user base of a product doesn't map 1:1 to the impact that removing that product will have. In the case of Google Reader, the company's recent announcement that they'll be discontinuing the service in July first met with the usual round of "noooo! I use that!" from what few users the service still had after it was gutted to remove its social features and replace them with Google+.

That was probably no more or less than Google expected. But since then, there have been some interesting secondary effects:

Sunday, March 3, 2013

On Consciousness and Creation

James Hopwood Jeans
from Wikimedia Commons
By Aaron Sherman

Tonight I was browsing Google Plus and came across a post by Kevin Clift of a lecture by Richard Feynman as a video clip. The lecture itself is well worth watching. However, at about 7 minutes, 30 seconds he says, "I would use the words of Jeans ... 'The Great Architect seems to be a mathematician.'" That phrase struck me as kind of interesting, but I didn't recognize the name, so I googled for Jeans... not terribly useful. Then I googled that phrase, which lead me to the specific Jeans: James Hopwood Jeans.

Among the many fascinating things that this man said and did, I found this quote:
"I incline to the idealistic theory that consciousness is fundamental, and that the material universe is derivative from consciousness, not consciousness from the material universe... In general the universe seems to me to be nearer to a great thought than to a great machine. It may well be, it seems to me, that each individual consciousness ought to be compared to a brain-cell in a universal mind."

Friday, February 15, 2013

Why aren't Republicans mad as hell?

There's much to love hating about the Democratic party in the U.S., and usually I'd say just about as much to hate about the Republican party (I'm not talking about Republicans and Democrats, but the actual party bureaucracies .. if you have trouble with the idea that those are separate things, then you might want to stop reading, now). However, in recent years, the Republican party has really made a case for their entire voting base just walking away from them in disgust. No, I'm not talking about the usual complaints of the left. There's a comfortable dance that the two parties do, slinging mud at each other while maneuvering toward a known conclusion. It's not the best way to run a country, but it's what we had for many decades.