Archive for March, 2008

Vista Tweaks – a book that will help you understand your system and how it works

Are you one of those who automatically heads for the bookstore when you get a new system or some heavy duty software? Those days are changing as you can often find good books online. They don’t have the charisma of a bound book but they are convenient and often free.

Koroush Ghazi has an online book at the Tweaking Guide that you should check out if you want to learn about Vista (or XP). These books might be considered teasers to encourage you to buy the deluxe edition but the tease is good solid stuff.

The TweakGuides Tweaking Companion (TGTC) is the complete system optimization guide for Windows users. Designed for novice and advanced users alike, it is written in plain English to help you genuinely understand all aspects of Windows and your PC. The guide covers every major topic, from the correct installation of Windows and critical drivers and software, through to recommendations for every significant setting and feature, all the major performance and convenience tweaks and customizations, as well as detailed troubleshooting advice. There are also links to a range of reliable free applications for optimizing and maintaining your system, as well as to important resources for finding out even more about Windows and your PC.

The free download is 268 pages of solid, no holds barred, text. No frills, no page after page of dialog boxes and screen captures, just a solid rundown of the various aspects of your system, what they do, how they work, and what you can do with them to improve your system.

A book like this is a good one to have available to read in small chunks. Pick and choose topics and get an overview of some aspect of your system. There are links to utilities that you can use to start a deeper exploration.

Other resources:

Tweak Hound – has some Linux stuff, too

John Barnett Computer Journalist, Windows Vista™ Support – check out the FAQ and the how-to guide sections.

Star Support Vista Tips – a list of nifty tips

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Ways of knowing

Reason and Common Ground: A Response to the Creationists’ ‘Neutrality’ Argument by Timothy Sandefur at the Pacific Legal Foundation – Economic Liberties Project takes note of modern relativism to make everything OK.

An argument that appears to be increasingly popular among creationists is based on a postmodernist notion that science is simply one among many different but equal “ways of knowing,” and that its ascendancy over other methods is due to conflicts between social power structures rather than any objective superiority

This is a close relative to the “both sides do it” tactic often seen to excuse or rationalize a lack of integrity or some other falsehood. It is the idea that everything is relative, hence of equal credibility. That is often extrapolated to the idea that if one side takes a point of view or does something, then the other side’s point of view has the same merit and does an equivalent something. That is comforting because it requires no establishment of standards, no evaluation or measure of position or behavior, and no effort to analyze circumstances and behavior to derive conclusions. Less work, less conflict, more comfort all around.

An argument that appears to be increasingly popular among creationists is based on a postmodernist notion that science is simply one among many different but equal “ways of knowing,” and that its ascendancy over other methods is due to conflicts between social power structures rather than any objective superiority

The evolution versus creation brouhaha is an example with several merits. It was recognized in fundamental US law in the demand that religious matters not be subject to laws of the state. That separates the secular evolution from the religious creationism. Yet the onus of human psychology intrudes ny some trying to define the secular as religion using theology from postmodern relativism. Much of the brilliance of the US Constitution was in its mechanisms to inhibit and control the human impulse. This conflict is one of many attempts we see today to lawyer ways around those mechanisms.

It has not been until recently in human history that the methods and values of science have impinged upon the broader aspect of human lives. The revelation of such status is known as the industrial revolution and it was coincident with the formation of the United States. The reaction and resistance to what this revolution brings us provides luxuries and wealth that allow fantasizing about the benefits without the costs. These fantasies have names ranging from luddism to socialism and communism. Among the many fronts of this conflict are those of rationalizing the values and methods of science with the concepts of religion. Can each have its on ‘Caesar’ or must each find a way to coexist or is it even possible for each to contribute its own part of a greater whole?

An argument that appears to be increasingly popular among creationists is based on a postmodernist notion that science is simply one among many different but equal “ways of knowing,” and that its ascendancy over other methods is due to conflicts between social power structures rather than any objective superiority

What lends heat to these conflicts is the perceived outcomes. Is the risk that of eternal damnation in the hereafter or is it in the suffering of the life here on earth? What is the best path to providing comfort and long life and good health such that it does not endanger what might come after? Is there a reality or is it all a creation of our minds?

Humanitarian efforts to bring the fruits of scientific research to the Third World may alleviate the poverty in which too many still live, but it is only by teaching others how to think scientifically, and giving them the intellectual tools they need to make future discoveries on their own, that human suffering and ignorance can be reduced.

There has been a struggle in religion to move from idolatry, spells, and the direct action of gods in ways we cannot understand towards the establishment of written values and codes that can be examined and tested. That is much of the strength of the Jewish religion and Christianity which follows it. But there are still those who try to ‘understand’ the miracles of the Bible or the story of the Christ in a way they can understand in their modern context. There are those who insist on full knowledge and definitive concrete explanation. They try to match words in the Bible as if we read them in a modern text as an ultimate authority. That creates conflicts on many levels. The evolution and creation issue is one that has escaped into a broader social concern.

This should be visible in our own lives. How we understand religion as a child is not the same as many years later. We suffer periods of disillusionment, enlightenment, and change as our understanding is flavored and becomes more aware of nuance and broader aspect. We gain a better appreciation for who we are and our role in our our religion.

How we deal with that change is an issue we must face. We can reject it. We can try to force the reality around us to match what we think it should be. Or we can accept, assimilate, learn, grow, adapt and figure out how these things fit together. The question is whether we know what is proper to reject and what is not. Do we accept that there is a reality and its demands must be accommodated? How do we fit what we believe and what we experience when it seems they do not want to work together?

The first guide is in the Ten Commandments. Do not bear false witness, especially to yourself.

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About what you teach to develop scientists

Chad Orzel asks Uncomfortable Questions: Physics Curriculum. The stimulus was how very few introductory physics students went on to study physics. Here is one response.

re “just about any reform is good, as long as it doesn’t look like high school physics” — perhaps high school physics is a problem?

re “the material is presented in a manner that’s much closer to the way practicing physicists think about physics.” and “The engineering departments run an intro class that’s based around projects and real problem-solving” — it may be that current teaching is too much a collection of facts and not meaning, values, and context.

One of the greatest concepts of the PSSC physics and introductory physical science projects was that of a theme and a context. The problem was that this did not meet ‘market expectations’. Those were for definitive content instruction, weekly tests with a 70% passing standard, and teacher as lecturer instruction mode.

At the introductory level there is much to be said for an effective utilization of the history of the development of ideas, a clear theme of the course, and a solid plot line that connects course ideas together. In the small this is experiments and projects that follow a progression and build a context. In the large it is seeing how we know about the nature of light or the composition of matter.

What physics education all too often becomes is a topical math class. The techniques become the focus and not the ideas and concepts. ‘Education’ becomes ‘training’ and skills get precedence over understanding. We get what we measure.

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Modern tactics

Barry Rubin describes Fear and gullibility as weapons with terrorists as the point of view. These are the tactics of ‘we don’t care about you or anything but our fantasies and we will outlast you’ – they are seen not only in the conduct of mid-east terrorism but also in other conflicts from eco-terrorism to lawfare.

Finally, our greatest weapon is that you truly don’t understand all the points made above. You are taught, informed, and often led by people who simply don’t comprehend what an alternative, highly ideological, revolutionary world view means.

In effect, we will try, and will often succeed, to turn your “best and brightest” into the worst and dimmest who think you can persuade us, who blame you for the conflicts, or expect that we will alter our course. We will use those mistakes against you.

Remember Dirty Harry? That movies and its successors was a response to the initial forays of modern terrorism from the tail of the sixties. An villain who does not care about any but his own desires and a society that is so concerned with image that it falls into failing to protect vitalities.

See the Volokh Conspiracy for an example of the dilemma. It a lawyer obligated to his client or to justice? Which first? Because there is a question, the terrorists have a lever, a place to apply their tactics, so that the damage to their enemy is done.

UPDATE: The Belmont Club takes up on modern tactics in an entry about how China stops airline terror attack. It looks at an LA Times assertion that the repression of rights in China is what allowed them an advantage over democratic societies.

The mistaken supposition that Democracy equals weakness should be challenged on its first principles. Democracies are only vulnerable when its features are used to restrict society rather than to empower it. If the past ideal was a citizen who acted without being told; today it is not to act unless explicitly told. Order has become alles in ornung in the politically correct sense. But the West hasn’t arrived at this inversion by accident. For too long chains have been marketed under the name of liberty. ‘Promoting tolerance’, for example, is now a code word for restricting speech. ‘Academic freedom’ now too often means that no dissent is allowed on campus. ‘Punishing those who break the law’ now connotes lawsuits against telecommunications companies which have voluntarily cooperated with Federal authorities to wiretap terrorism suspects.

in other words, modern tactics against western culture and its democracies have been effective.

But the real benefit of this switcheroo is that the public can eventually be persuaded to believe that freedom is dangerous; that a real trade-off exists between democracy and safety; when in reality it is a false choice between a kind of wooley-headed socialism and safety. In the end the perpetrators of this swindle may be able to persuade the public that it’s really safer to be like China than like America. And eventually get that way by the high or low road.

will it eventually get that way? will the modern tactics succeed?

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What is the axe to grind?

2008 International Conference on Climate Change was formed to take a look at the anthropogenic global warming question. Since it did not toe the line on the political hysteria, it was itself a stimulant of interesting behaviors. A statistician provides his summary from attending the conference.

Too many people are too confident about too many things. That was the simple message of the Heartland conference, and one that I hope sinks in. – Wm Briggs.

On the other hand you have the allegation from one who did not attend at Science Blogs: At the Heartland and Discovery Institutes, a Shared Rhetoric that “The Chicago based think tank seeks to frame climate change in a way that is consistent with their free market ideology and mission.”

In seeking to bend science to fit with their preferred policy goals, the Heartland Institute (HI) chooses as a rhetorical bedfellow the Discovery Institute (DI), the think tank that brought us the public relations campaign against the teaching of evolution in schools.

Al Gore was invited at his usual honorarium. He declined to present his views. Some others who have become know for strident FUD mongering about climate were also invited. They also declined. The general reason given were in line with those of the Science Blogs: the conference was formed for ulterior motives and attended by a bunch of kooks who had their minds made up.

Then you should look at Lessons from the Skeptics’ Conference by John Tierney

… if you believe global warming is a risk, you should be supporting drastic cuts in carbon emissions and expanded versions of the Kyoto Protocol. … That may be the policy urged by many scientists,… but it’s not a consensus based on climate research. It’s a conflation of two separate issues. You can fear global warming and favor adaptation policies rather than emissions cuts because you think adaptation is more cost-effective and technologically practical. You can fear global warming and be opposed to Kyoto-style cap-and-trade systems because you think they’re too expensive and too ineffective…

There are a few things that can be learned from looking at this. One is that the ‘skeptics conference’ was misrepresented by those who did not agree that skepticism should be applied to the global warming issue. Another is that more than science is on the table as the ruckus is very much about what, if anything, should government do to ameliorate any human effects on climate. What you don’t see is the ‘skeptics’ advocating definitive conclusions or pursuing false representations of those who oppose them in the manner quoted above. You don’t see the ‘skeptics’ advocating political action, new taxes,

Briggs notes the need for avoiding hubris. That is usually a good key to consider in evaluating integrity. Science is always based on being uncertain of what you know and being open to legitimate questions about how you know things. The Intelligent Design proponents illustrate illegitimate questions in their quest as a comparison and contrast to the proper questions raised at the Heartland Institute Conference. Scientists who cannot tell the difference are indicating that they have their own axe to grind on a field other than science.

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Trying to explain the unexplainable

Every now and then, someone comes up with an attempt to explain miracles described in the Bible. One of the latest has Moses and his people drugged up and seeing things. The Bayou Renaissance Man has his take on this effort in The Ten Commandments – a psychedelic delusion?. It illustrates how a bit of reason based on skepticism is often a difficult barrier to surmount, especially from a ‘been there, done that’ perspective.

if Moses had been hopped-up he wouldn’t have come down from the mountain carrying heavy tablets of stone and speaking gravely about God’s Will. He’d have slid down the mountain on top of the tablets screeching, “Yo! Y’all ain’t gonna believe dis, but I seen Da Man! I s*** you not!”

The fact that the Commandments have survived to this day (albeit honored more in the breach than in the observance) suggests to me that there was perhaps a little more to their creation than a drug-induced hallucination.

If you want an insight into what a druggie might do with moral commandments written in stone, then this post should provide some good thinking points about how a bit of thinking about implications can save you from being mislead.

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