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Playing with backgrounds January 31, 2016

Posted by ubi dubium in Blog admin.
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The Bloggess put me onto a fun graphics program, Dreamscope.  It’s free, you just sign up.  You put in a photo of your choice, and then select a style, and it crunches it with some AI and in about 5 minutes it gives you a nifty transformation.  So I took one of the computer generated background images that UbiDubiKid #1 had created for me:



and ran it through a filter, for a Picasso style, I think, and got this: (more…)

The King who Rained Confirmation Bias January 9, 2016

Posted by ubi dubium in Brain Glitches.
Tags: , , ,

One website I love is called “You Are Not So Smart”, written by David McRaney, which looks into all the different ways that we delude ourselves. Great stuff. He’s migrated it into a podcast now, but the original articles are still on the website.

One of the most important topics he covers is confirmation bias.  After you read this, go read his article:


Here’s how he opens that article:

Have you ever had a conversation in which some old movie was mentioned, something like “The Golden Child” or maybe even something more obscure?

You laughed about it, quoted lines from it, wondered what happened to the actors you never saw again, and then you forgot about it. Until…

You are flipping channels one night and all of the sudden you see “The Golden Child” is playing. Weird. The next day you are reading a news story, and out of nowhere it mentions forgotten movies from the 1980s, and holy shit, three paragraphs about “The Golden Child.” You see a trailer that night at the theater for a new Eddie Murphy movie, and then you see a billboard on the street promoting Charlie Murphy doing stand-up in town, and then one of your friends sends you a link to a post at TMZ showing recent photos of the actress  from “The Golden Child.”…

He goes on to talk about how that first reference primes us to notice and remember those other references, which otherwise we would have ignored.  How what appears to us to be a significant pattern is really nothing of the sort.

I just have one problem with this article.  I’ve never seen “The Golden Child”!  I don’t really care for Eddie Murphy movies, never noticed this movie on TV or Netflix, so this example just doesn’t resonate with me.  But I’ve been having a very similar experience over the last few days that I want to talk about.

A week ago I was remembering back to the TV shows from my childhood, and how some child actors just showed up everywhere.  I was specifically remembering how Johnny Whitaker was in everything, so I went looking on YouTube for clips from the old version of Tom Sawyer that he did.  (And found them, and I had forgotten that a very young Jodie Foster played Becky Thatcher.)  But that reminded me of a version of The Littlest Angel that he had done in the late 60’s:

Littlest angel

I found the full version on YouTube.  I remembered liking it as a kid, but going back to watch it now, it was really bad.  Really, really stupid and bad.  Fred Gwynne could actually sing, though, who knew?  But overall it was cheesy, poorly written and just painful to watch.  (Priming accomplished.)

A few days later, I was bored, and so asked Wikipedia for a random article.  What came up?  The entry for the really old TV show Car 54 Where Are You?  That was pretty cool, because some years back I had caught some reruns of this show, and so I was familiar with it, and even remember how the theme song went.  Here’s the stars:

Car 54

Are you seeing the pattern here?

Now we’re up to lunch Thursday.  My spouse and I were at a little restaurant near my office, and it had background music on, the usual fairly current pop stuff, but nothing too distracting.  Then they played something that I couldn’t help but listen to.  It turns out to be Fall Out Boy’s song Uma Thurman.  I had to look that song up, because I couldn’t catch any of the words at the time.  What caught my ear about it was the old song that they had sampled.  (That was the only thing that caught my ear about the song.)

What had they sampled?  The very distinctive theme song to The Munsters!  So what pops into my head – this guy of course!

Herman Munster

I only noticed this “pattern” because my brain was already primed to notice it from the awful video I watched a week ago.  Otherwise I would probably never have noticed it.  Confirmation bias in action.

(The title of this post comes from one of the children’s books written and illustrated by Fred Gwynne, which I also remember from my childhood.)

King who rained

Spooky Bathroom Labyrinth Hell Dream January 7, 2016

Posted by ubi dubium in Humor, UbiDubiKids.
Tags: , , , , ,

Ever have a recurring dream?  I have an odd one – I dream that I need to use the toilet and can’t find one.

It might be that I’m wandering around a building, and there’s no bathrooms.  Or that all the bathrooms are locked or marked out of order.  Or I find the bathroom, and it’s huge, with many halls, all of them full of endless sinks and showers and lockers, but no toilets, and then finally a sign posted that the toilet is maybe downstairs in another wing of the building.

Endless sinks

If I finally do find the toilet, it’s strange and unusable.

Weird toilet 2

Weird toilet

Or it’s in a public space.

Street Toilet

Or a janitor’s closet, or some other unlikely spot.  Once I finally found one in an Addams-Family themed hotel smack in the middle of a creepy spare room full of extra furniture and spider-webs.

What prompted me to write about this is the dream I had a couple of nights ago.  I was looking for a bathroom before I drove home from someplace, so I went in a door marked “restrooms”.  Inside was a cafe, with the restrooms way off in the corner.  The men’s room was being renovated, but the ladies room fortunately wasn’t, but the bathroom was full of exercise equipment.  The only toilet was an oddly-configured exercise bicycle, with an impossibly small hole to pee in, and the bike pedals and handles began moving while you were using it.   AAAAAAGH!

There are people out there who try to interpret dreams as some kind of mystical visions, but I know exactly what this dream means.  I only have these dreams right before I get up in the morning.  This is just my need to visit the bathroom spilling over into my dream-filled head.  No woo-woo there.  Just my brain unsuccessfully trying to tell me to wake up and go pee.

Now here’s the odd thing.  I mentioned this recurring bathroom labyrinth dream to my oldest daughter, and her response was that she had been having these dreams too!  As in my dreams, there would be endless mazes of rooms lined with assorted bathroom fixtures. Bathrooms would often have working toilets but without stalls, or only partial stalls, or half doors,  but the room would be packed with people, so there was no privacy.   And sometimes the bathroom labyrinth would be in a building where she hadn’t been in years.  Eventually, my youngest daughter mentioned having one of these dreams too!

And we have another shared dream about parakeets.  We have three parakeets, a yellow one, a blue one, and a green one.  I had a dream about the red one.  Not only do we not have a red one, they don’t even come in red!  I told my kids about this dream, and my youngest reported a few nights later that she had also dreamed about the red parakeet.

I’ve also dreamed more than once about our second cat.  We only have one cat, he’s solid black, large, and very fluffy.  Our second cat in my dream looks the same, fluffy and solid black, except she has white feet.  Her name is Sophia. (If I ever run across a cat like this I’ll probably have to adopt her.)

Anybody else had the same (or similar) dream more than once?


Have you found Jesus? January 5, 2016

Posted by ubi dubium in Humor, Responses.
Tags: , , ,

Because these guys have lost him!

Have you found Jesus

I thought that once you had found Jesus, he was supposed to stay with you for always!  Apparently not so much.

Yes, it’s an asshole thing to do to steal stuff from a private display like this, but there’s just something about this that strikes me as funny.  And it’s not like this hasn’t happened before – this is the third time that this church has had their “Baby Jesus” vanish.  This time they had it tied down with fishing line, and somebody cut it.  Next year I suggest bolting it down. (Because nailing it down would probably be in bad taste.  :P)

I think this is likely just a youthful prank, some teenager collecting the things.  If it were a serious protest, you’d think there’d be damage to the rest of it, and there isn’t.  If I were inclined to mess with this kind of thing, which I’m not, but if I were, I think I’d leave something else in place of the baby, like a statue of Ganesh or the FSM.  Or I’d put a silly costume on the baby or something.  Just stealing it would be boring.

Here’s the source article: http://patch.com/virginia/arlington-va/who-stole-baby-jesus-manger-arlington-church

The most famous person… December 30, 2015

Posted by ubi dubium in Games, Humor.
Tags: , , ,

I was reading Danielwalldammit’s blog today, a tribute to Lemmy Kilmister, and this sentence jumped at me:

Lemmy is probably the most famous person ever to speak to me. It was after a concert. The man walked by and said; “covered in fucking blood, eh?”

That got me thinking.  A lot of people probably have a good story to tell about a famous person speaking to them and what they said.

Here’s my challenge:  Who’s the most famous person to speak to you? Can you remember what they said, or tell us something interesting about the encounter?  Let’s rule out times when you were part of an audience, those are too easy and generic and shouldn’t count.  Only times when some well-known person was speaking directly to you.

I’ll start, I have at least two.  (Maybe I’ll think of more later.)

Gary Sinise said to me, “Be careful, the stage is slippery!”

Alex Trebek asked me, “Do you think it will show on camera that I’m not wearing shoes?”

Let’s hear yours!

Which church was that again? November 24, 2015

Posted by ubi dubium in Humor, UbiDubiKids.
Tags: , , , , , ,

UbiDubikid#2 got a wonderful letter from her school yesterday.  I’ve redacted the personal details to avoid embarrassing anybody, but the typo in this is too good not to share:

Moron Letter

At least I assume it was a typo.  This just made my day!

Things that were great when you were a kid… November 17, 2015

Posted by ubi dubium in Humor, Questions.
Tags: , ,

….but suck in hindsight.

This post was prompted by the comment thread on this post from Quixie.

When I was a kid in the 1970s, there were things that I liked.  Stuff that was just great.  And in hindsight, some of it was really great, but now when I revisit it, it turns out that a lot of it is awful.  Just really painfully terrible.  So bad that I wish I hadn’t revisited it, and just kept the memories of how great this stuff was back then.

A few examples from me, and then I’d love to hear some from everybody else.

Spaghetti-O’s.  The “neat round spaghetti you can eat with a spoon” turns out to be way overcooked.  I liked this stuff?

Kool-Aid.  I remember being excited by Kool-Aid, now I just see big glasses of red dye # 40, sugar, and citric acid, just waiting to permanently stain a carpet.

Saturday Morning live action children’s programming from Sid & Marty Krofft.  This was ubiquitous.  H.R. Puffinstuf, Land of the Lost,  Lidsville, Sigmund and the Sea Monster.  Did I really look forward to Far Out Space Nuts?  (Essentially Gilligan in space.) (OK, I still have a soft spot for The Bugaloos.)

Sugar Daddys.  Sometimes I was given these on Halloween.  Who does this?  It’s sort of caramel, but too hard to bite into without breaking your teeth.  And it’s not quite hard candy either, so it’s too awkward to just suck on it.  It’s too large to pop into your mouth to soften up, plus there’s a stick in the way.  Did anybody actually like these? (Could have been worse, I guess, could have been Necco Wafers or Good & Plenty.)

Animated Star Trek.  OK, I admit that we were in Trek withdrawal, only having three seasons of the original series to watch over and over until we had them memorized.  But really, this was the best they could do?

And of course, the copious reading material available for kids in every doctor’s and dentist’s office.  Looking at these now, they are the complete opposite of fun.

I’m sure you younger people have stuff from more recent eras.  Tell me!

17 not-so-stupid questions for Atheists October 19, 2015

Posted by ubi dubium in Questions, Responses.
Tags: , , , ,

Godless Mom was contacted by a christian student with a series of questions.  And, surprise, instead of being “gotcha” questions, they seem to be actual genuine questions, a real effort to understand non-belief.  So I’ll answer them here, and also cross-post them in the comments to the original blog entry, here:


Other bloggers and commenters have answered them, but I’m going to give my own answers without comparison to theirs.  So I apologize if this comes out as repetitive.

1. Why are you an atheist?

Because I don’t have enough evidence to warrant belief in any god.

2. Have you ever believed in a Higher Power?

Sure, I was raised liberal Protestant, and it was just the assumption everyone made.  God’s in charge, Jesus loves you, so let’s sing some more songs about love.  I was the kid that was involved in everything – Sunday school, youth group, youth choir, retreats, conferences, handbells, VBS, I showed up for everything, and I had a great time too.  If you ask me whether a bad experience at church put me off religion, I’ll have to say no.

3. If so, Did something traumatic happen to make you stop believing?

No.  Traumatic things happened, and they might have been some of the factors involved in my thought processes, but no specific traumatic event made me stop believing.

4. If not, why did you stop believing?

In college a lot of factors came together that finally got me thinking about what I believed, and whether the stuff the church said was true was actually true.  Dealing with judgmental fundamentalist students.  Listening to Brother Jed’s ranting, among other crazy campus preachers. Reading great books.  Tons and tons of science and math classes. And especially reading the bible all the way through for the second time.  When I looked at everything, I realized that the belief system I had been fed, while very nice and lovey-dovey, was not something I thought was actually true.

5. What do you think happens to us when we die?

The same thing that happens to any other animal.  We stop existing, and the atoms that we are made of go on to be part of other living things.

6. Without believing in a Higher Power, where do you think we get our morals from?

As social animals, we need to live in groups to survive, and get along together.  We’ve worked out rules for doing this over thousands of years, by trial and error.  We keep improving these rules, which is why there are things that people thought were OK hundreds of years ago that we now have decided are unacceptable.

Personally I got my morals from my parents, from school, from society in general, and my personal senses of empathy and compassion.

7. Where do you think the universe came from?

Don’t know.  I don’t need to have an answer to this either, I’m OK with not knowing stuff.  Scientists are working on this problem, and have some interesting ideas.

Every religion has an origin story, and none of them match up. This tells me that people who think invisible spirits talk to them are not a reliable source for accurate information about the universe.

8. What’s your views on Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens?

Stay quiet

They’ve brought atheism into the public arena as something that can now be talked about openly.   Their books have helped a lot of people find their way out of religion, and that’s great.  Individually, each of them has/had positions that I agree with, and some that I don’t agree with.  They are just three voices among a chorus of many other voices, though.  They get the most attention, but they are not necessarily our best thinkers.

9. Do you consider yourself a weak atheist or a strong atheist?

If you use the definition of strong atheism as a positive belief that there are no gods and weak atheism as lack of belief in any gods, then I would be a weak atheist.  However, those terms make my position seem wishy-washy and timid, so I don’t like them.  I prefer agnostic atheist.

10. How can you prove that God doesn’t exist?

You can’t.  However the first problem there is that there are so many different definitions of “god”.  If you pin down one specific idea of a god that’s actually testable, someone else will pop up and say “well, that’s not the god I believe in.”  Some modern theologians go all the way to completely nebulous definitions like “the ground of all being.”  If you can’t even define it, how would you go about proving or disproving it?

11. Do you believe in miracles?

You mean localized violations of the laws of nature, to demonstrate the particular favor of a supernatural being?  Nope.

12. Do you have a support group/system?

When I originally deconverted, no I didn’t, but that was in the 1980’s.  Back then my only support system was books.  Sagan, Asimov, Bronowski, Joseph Campbell, Stephen Jay Gould.

Now, with the internet, all nonbelievers can have a support system.

13. Do you try to get others not to believe?

I try to get others to think more clearly.  I try to help them understand the limitations and biases of the human brain, and how it often leads us to jump to conclusions.  I try to get them to think about why they believe what they believe, instead of just accepting what they are told.  Once someone starts thinking, they often reach the conclusion that religion is BS on their own.

Once someone has taken the first steps toward non-belief, I do try to support them in that, because there are so many pressures on them to remain a believer.

14. Do others tend to view you differently when they discover you’re an atheist?

That doesn’t really come up much for me.  I’m not a very social person, that’s just my personality.  My friends and immediate family all know, most of them are atheists or non-christians anyway.  At work and in my arts group I consider my religious views to be “not their business” and I don’t bring it up.

15. Do people tend to try to convince you that your views are wrong?

On the internet, all the frikkin’ time.  But they usually try apologetics, which aren’t any good for that purpose.  Apologetics are for reinforcing believers’ confidence in their beliefs, not for changing the minds of non-believers.  What it would take to change my mind is evidence, and they never have any of that.

16. How does your family view your beliefs? Are they supportive?

My spouse and children are also atheists, so no problems there.  As for my extended family, there’s quite a few fundamentalists, and I don’t generally bring it up with them (see “not their business” above.)  Although we’ve had some interesting emails from my fundamentalist brother-in-law.

17. What are your views on Madalyn O’Hair?

She did some really important work, including helping get rid of compulsory bible-reading in public schools.  Her public image was certainly abrasive and confrontational, but at the time that might have been the only way to get any media attention for the points she wanted to make.   I might not have liked her personally if I had had a chance to know her, but I think her work has had lasting effects.

Thoughts on The Martian September 3, 2015

Posted by ubi dubium in Books.
Tags: , , , , , ,

Just finished The Martian, by Andy Weir.

Woot!!!!  This is one of the most wonderfully nerdy books I’ve read in a long time.  I’d spend a lot of time talking about it here, but XKCD already summed it up so well:

The Martian

Hovertext: I have never seen a work of fiction so perfectly capture the out-of-nowhere shock of discovering that you’ve just bricked something important because you didn’t pay enough attention to a loose wire



Thoughts on Inkheart September 1, 2015

Posted by ubi dubium in Books.
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1 comment so far

(Spoiler Warning.  Sorry.)

Even now after all these years, I’m still in Harry Potter withdrawal.  I’ve been looking for other book series to help make up for the lack of new Potter, and I’ve also been listening to books on CD during my daily commute, so I recently picked up the recorded version of  Inkheart.  I’d heard some people say they really liked it, and I also remembered that it had been made into a movie fairly recently.  It was read by Lynn Redgrave, that also looked promising.  So I decided to give it a try, with at least reasonable optimism.

I was fairly disappointed.  The book had a great basic premise, a person who can bring characters out of books to life just by reading aloud.  Lots of potential there!  However, the execution from there was pretty lackluster and uncreative for most of the book.  It was also about twice as long as it needed to be for the amount of plot.  (Lynn Redgrave did a terrific job with the narration, though, no complaints there!)

First, the book took waaay too long to get going.  I felt that I had been listening for hours before we actually had an event that really got the plot moving along.   Eventually we get around to the central conflict of the book – the main character’s dad had accidentally read several characters out of a book some years back (the eponymous Inkheart) and a couple of those were villains who are intent on taking both the dad and all existing copies of the book back to their secret HQ for nefarious purposes.

The book these villains are from is full of magic – fairies, goblins, etc.  So what magic do these villains have?  None!  They are just plain-old gangsters and thugs.  What’s their motivation?  Money and power.  Yawn.   As many books as we have full of people dealing with real-world gangsters, why pull characters out of a magical book only to have them be as ordinary as this?

A lot of the rest of the book is taken up with our heroes finding the bad guys’ hideout, being captured and held there, escaping from it via a long cross-country trek, searching out help, and once more being captured and held there.  This being caught and running away and being caught again occupied too much of the length of the book. (Sam and Frodo, get across the swamp already!)  There were a few points where the author could have used characters from other books to bring some real interest into the story, but missed the chance.  for instance the evil mastermind has ordered Dad to read treasure out of books for him, and he inadvertently reads a character out of 1001 Arabian Nights.  Does he bring us Ali Baba, or Aladdin, or a genie, or a roc?  No, he gets an ordinary kid, with nothing particularly interesting about him.  Later, our protagonist Meggie (a 12-year-old girl, no surprise there) finds she can also bring characters out of books when she unexpectedly reads Tinkerbell out of Peter Pan.  Now we’re getting somewhere, right?  The power has finally brought us someone who can be helpful, right?  Nope.  At that point in the story Meggie is being held prisoner (again), and could have used some fairy dust and a few happy thoughts to fly right away from her captors.  But no, one of the thugs grabs Tinkerbell and stuffs her in a jar for most of the rest of the story, taking her out of the action. Not until the final confrontation is the power to bring characters out of books used with any intent to help resolve any of their problems.  If the entire book were as interesting as the ending, I would have liked it a lot better.

A few other weaknesses jumped out at me, like the character of Aunt Elinor.  If someone was going to do something stupid, or have an emotional outburst, it was always her.  Too predictable, there should have been some unexpected resourcefulness from her at the end, but there really wasn’t.   And there was a lovely marten with horns that had been read out of Inkheart, and his special ability?  None, he’s just a pet, sort of, and not a very tame one at that.  As far as I can tell he doesn’t figure into the plot at all, he’s just set dressing.

I remember back when I was a kid that fairly often I would read an old book or see a TV special written as “children’s literature”, that supposedly had a magical story, but really the magic didn’t show up at all until right at the very end, and when it did it was totally underwhelming.  A big build-up, and then pffft.  I’d list some examples here for you, but those stories were so unmemorable that I can’t even recall any of their names.  That’s what this book reminded me of.  I’m debating whether to continue on and read any more of the series, to see if the author will really dive in an make more creative use of the “read characters out of books” idea.  Has anybody read the rest of the series, and does it get better?


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