No DoS’ing Ourselves, No Infinite Loops

Occasionally a skeptic will say something, perhaps something innocuous, and it triggers my mind with an “ah-hah” moment. A few weeks ago it was Sharon Hill talking about how the public is her audience, and today it was Tim Farley of Skeptools.com that triggered my brain today.

I won’t rehash everything, but a couple weeks ago Tim wrote a mildly critical piece on the Block Bot, a hacky PHP script that some people use to block people on Twitter. Whether you are for it or against it, I think you should have seen Tim’s piece as a fair critique. That didn’t happen, he found himself mired in a little back and forth, which he smartly was able to take himself out of pretty quickly.

A couples days ago Barbara Drescher (wow am I name dropping or what!) mused on Facebook about her being included in the BlockBot’s list of “bad people”. There was a little commentary, but I wouldn’t call it one of those Facebook threads that got crazy.

Today, Tim dropped a comment in that thread that put everything into perspective for me. He likened skeptics wasting time on issues like the BlockBot to Denial of Service attacks done by hackers on servers. The point is that skeptics shouldn’t be spending their time on useless things like the BlockBot when they could be doing some actual skepticism/activism. Now, I want to be clear that Tim was not speaking down to anyone, he was simply offering his invaluable perspective. For me, it was like, wow, that is the perfect way to put it.

I would like to add one more analogy from computers that could also apply: The infinite loop.

Tell me this doesn’t look all too familiar:

int main(int argc, char **argv) 
{
    person_a_wrote_blog_post_about_person_b = 1;
    while (person_a_wrote_blog_post) {
        person_b_wrote_blog_post_in_response =       
               didPersonBWriteBlogPostInResponse();
        if (person_b_wrote_blog_post_in_response)
            person_a_wrote_blog_post_about_person_b = 1;
        else
            person_a_wrote_blog_post_about_person_b = 0;
    }
}

int didPersonWriteBlogPostInResponse() 
{
    return 1;
}

This is just a goofy little program (in C) to illustrate how we’re all too often stuck in infinite loops with blog posts going back and forth. I caught myself almost writing another post about Rebecca Watson after reading about her slighting one of my friends. After reading Tim’s comment, I thought to myself, why bother this time? It wasn’t a battle that I needed to pick.

If I believe that Rebecca should be marginalized as a skeptic leader (and I do, absolutely) the best way for me to do this, is to keep supporting the people that I like, support the institutions that I like, and work on the small skeptic real estate I’m carving out: Skeptunes.com.

Skeptunes is not about drama. It’s not about becoming a skeptilebrity. It’s certainly not about making money. I found a niche that works for me, for something I love myself. Podcasts, imho, have been the best form of media for skepticism. There is something different about speaking your words to tape (well bits) versus words in a blog post.

In any case, my thanks to Tim for what may have seemed like a small quick comment for him, but probably saved me hours of wasted time.

No more DoS’ing ourselves and no more infinite loops.

It’s Not About Libertarianism, It’s About Hero Worship

This morning a skeptic who happens to know I’m a libertarian, pointed me to an article by Stephanie Zvan where she talks about libertarianism. I was prepared for a disaster since just about everyone who writes for that site has little to no understanding of libertarianism. However, while showing a thin and shallow understanding of the philosophy, she at least acknowledged that the stream of comments stating that person X must be a libertarian because he did y, are nonsense. She got that right.

Why do so many of FtB commenters drop the L word all the time? Hero worship. It’s quite obvious that the most popular writers on FtB all highly disapprove of libertarianism. Commenters, desperate for approval, try to get in good with the authors by just repeating phrases they think the writers will like. It’s pretty obvious.

The last time I ever commented on Pharyngula, it was after Steve Jobs died. PZ wrote something about how much he admired Steve Jobs for what he did and for all his contributions. My only comment was, I thought it was funny PZ would praise Steve Jobs, when it was suggested at the time, that Jobs was heavily influenced by Ayn Rand and “Atlas Shrugged”. I was attacked pretty viciously. But really, who today is a bigger embodiment of Hank Reardon than was Steve Jobs. Jobs didn’t give to charity, and neither did Apple. Jobs was extremely shrewd when it came to his own compensation. All of this was either not known or just lost on PZ and his commenters.

Even the first few comments on Stephanie’s posts show that how little some people know about what libertarians really think. I will not say that all libertarians are great people, or all came to be a libertarian through enlightenment. Like any political movement, people become libertarians for many reasons.

I will close with this though. I often simplify libertarianism down to two main tenets:

  • Government should be as small as possible while helping the truly helpless and enforcing basic contract law
  • You have complete control of your body to do as you please

These are both extreme simplifications, so let’s not get too hung up on them. Most critics of libertarians only think about the first one, and never the second one. Controlling your own body is why libertarians tend to be pro-choice, pro-legalization of drugs, pro-decriminalization of prostitution, pro-anything between consenting adults (and consent is always mentioned) and pro-euthanasia. What shouldn’t be forgotten, though, is that this also means you have the right to not be harassed. Libertarians are against violent force against someone else and against yourself. This covers sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, murder, assault, etc. Period. Anyone who tells you different doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

So, back to the original post. Yes, people should stop being ignorant and just using libertarianism to explain why someone does something bad. Commenters should stop trying to get in cozy with writers by parroting the same things over and over. It’s cheap, lazy, and pretty much the opposite of free thought.

Mags & Finnick: Two Year Adoption Anniversary

Two years ago, Kelly and I did something really crazy. At the time we had five dogs and one cat. A few months prior, it was a little crazier, as we had five dogs and two cats. Sadly, Ozzy, my first animal companion, passed away after suffering a stroke in June of 2011. So that’s where things stood, two years ago.

While looking through Petfinder on a Friday for pets to highlight on her “Find-a-Friend Friday” posts, she came across the listings for Mags and Finnick. Only at that time, they didn’t even have temporary names, they were just numbers. The entry said they weren’t adoptable, they were vicious, they were old seniors, and their time would be up the next day. Mags is very reminiscent of Kaylee in appearance and combine that with their “unadoptability”, something tugged at us to do something. I’m not sure why, but their story really hit us hard.

We saw them the next day, and as soon as they were out of their cage, they came up to us and wanted to lick our faces and be goofy. I was expecting more reticent dogs from their description and from the fact that they had just spent a week in a cage. We walked them around the yard, and that was pretty much all it took. We adopted them on the spot (first time we adopted dogs as homeowners) but had to wait a few days for them to go to the vet and because of the long Labor day weekend. They came home to live with us on September 7th, 2011.

The little one with the bad hip was named Mags, and the younger, more athletic one was named Finnick. They definitely were not over ten years old like the original listing. Mags was probbaly no older than eight and two years later, I’m still not sure. Finnick we estimated was six, but even that seems a little high due to how he young he acts. Nonetheless, they came home with us and over the last two years have become big parts of the family.

Finnick, for some reason, became attached to me, taking the slot by my side that was reserved for Ozzy previously. He loves to sleep in my office while I work, he’ll sleep on my lap as I fight my way through Bioshock, and no matter where I sleep, whether I’m going to sleep for the night or just catching a nap after working outside, he’s by my side.

Mags is yet another shadow following my wife around. She’s definitely the feistiest dog we’ve ever had, and also the smallest. At around twelve pounds she’s barely bigger than the cat, but the cat is probably a bit stronger. Still, with the passing of Ralphie and Kaylee, she thinks it’s her house now. The other dogs seem to let her have her way. We humans, though, have to laugh when she gets riled up. With her small body, and tiny little teeth she’s about as scary as plus toy.

Still, Mags and Finnick have helped keep our house feel as full as it can be. While five dogs seems crazy, and seven dogs, insane, with the way things are now, Kelly and I would feel even emptier at home if we had just three dogs. Ralphie and Kaylee combined to weight maybe thirty-five pounds, but they sure filled up this large house and backyard with their personality.

Mags and Finnick have made the last few months better than it would have been without them. They love it here. There is always a bed for them to curl up on, they have a big back yard they can run around in, and there is almost always someone home. They love going on walks, which is a big deal for Mags. After a specialist look at her hip x-ray he expected to see a little dog who couldn’t walk on that leg. Not only does Mags walk on that leg, but with the help of water therapy the last two years, she’s running and jumping. She is actually a one in a hundred case, to have as much mobility as she does with as bad a hip as she has.

So, as crazy as it seemed two years ago, we know we made the right call. Mags and Finnick were adoptable, and they deserve a chance to live out their lives running around in our back yard, curling up next to us on the couch. I wouldn’t change a thing that we did. Who knows what the next crazy thing we do will bring?

Why I Broke My Own Code and Wrote About RW

So, a few days ago, I got annoyed. Usually when I get annoyed, I just go back to work, and forget about whatever is bothering me. When I’m really annoyed I write a blog post, edit, and then delete it. On Sunday, while violating my own code and with some trepidation, I clicked “Publish.”

I try not to call out other people, and I don’t get involved in controversies. While at my previous company, I was concerned that if I did get involved, there could have been some blow back from fans of certain “skeptic” “celebrities”. My job was never in danger, but I didn’t want to take advantage of my status, by making other people deal with the mess. Who knows what it could be: emails with lies about me, tweets with lies about me, etc. No reason to get in involved in that.

I also generally think it’s a waste of time. Nothing gets solved in a battle of blogs, people do not become more open minded after a certain number of tweets, and friendships do not blossom in a toxic environment of tribalism.

So why did I break my code this time?

Well, my situation is a little different know. I’m not worried about social media warriors disrupting my company. I have a better network of friends and support. Lastly, I was right. Oh, and annoyed. Maybe pissed is a better way to put it.

We are seeing the embodiment of “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” where those that seek to fight against power, end up abusing their own power. That is something that should always be called out. A movement that wants to expand and reach out, cannot be constructed of fiefdoms with social media despots. We need adults.

I didn’t criticize RW’s beliefs or ideology. I didn’t call her ugly, I didn’t drop into unoriginal tropes about “rad-fem” or “atheism plus”. There was no need to mention Elevatorgate, or Richard Dawkins. I had plenty of material to work with, strictly limiting myself to her own actions and words.

Normally, I would say “pick up the phone” when people do or say dumb things in blog posts. However, in this case, since I’m not in the right clique, I have no way to contact RW. I’m too much of a plebe in the skeptic community for her to even care what I write. That issue is probably a whole other blog post, that I’ll write…and then delete.

So where does this leave me in the future? I’ll probably stick with my code for the most part, and stay out of messes. If I see someone do something so egregious again, though, you never know. Otherwise, it’s write, delete, rinse, repeat.

Let’s Not Accept Whining Entitlement as Leadership

Sigh I’ve resisted the urge so many times to write something about Rebecca Watson (RW). There is a good chance this will never be published, or no one will read it, or that a lot of people will read it, and I’ll regret it. However on the eve of another thirty days off from social networking, it’s not a bad time to sneak this in.

While preparing my week and tying up some loose ends on my social networks, I caught wind that RW had been kicked out of DragonCon for violating some rules about what they could sell at a fan table. A little more research shows that she was not actually kicked out, but chose to leave, and that her fan table was in fact violating the rules of DragonCon. I can’t pretend to be an expert on DragonCon, but a cursory reading of the rules and some updates from other DragonCon attendees, this seems a pretty open and shut case. I can see how it would suck for RW and SA, but on the other hand, a lot of other vendors had to pay money for the right to sell general merchandise. Thems the rules.

So, RW decides she has to blog about it. RW considers herself a leader in the skeptic movement (and others I’m sure). How a leader would write such entitled whining is beyond me. Let me quote some of the gold:

I’m an “attending professional” at DragonCon, meaning that I get a free pass to perform on panels but I’m expected to pay for my own airfare and hotel, costs that add up to be nearly $1,000.

So, you’re expected to pay like everyone else and also get to go on stage and be able to promote yourself and your website?

I have essentially paid hundreds of dollars to perform for free for a for-profit organization, whose representative berated me.

Actually, you received a pass and exposure.

That’s a big deal, especially for someone like me who lives on a blogger’s salary.

I don’t know what a “blogger’s salary” actually is, but this is perhaps the worse part of this post. Am I supposed to feel bad for someone who gets to fly all over the world attending conferences and has way more connections than the average person? Am I supposed to believe she can’t get a “real job” with a “non-blogger’s salary”? This is essentially a big fuck you to those who don’t have her connections and struggle to put food on the table while she flies to Europe a couple times a year.

Apparently, it isn’t the first time Cody has behaved this way. Small comfort.

Nice, she finds a nearly three year old incident and tries to play like it’s now a pattern. Come on.

I truly hope that next year DragonCon officials decide my contributions are worth keeping.

Perhaps we should find out what her contributions are. Hinting at a boycott? Whining about not being able to break the rules? DragonCon will do just fine without RW. There are 50,000+ people who attend DragonCon and most of them have no idea who she is.

Now, how can anyone take her seriously after writing such drivel? She has the privilege of having thousands of people following her on social media, events paying her way, and the general perks that come with any small level of celebrity. What did we see today? An immature tantrum.

She once wrote a post about the standard you walk past is the standard you accept. Yeah, so maybe people should do that and stop walking past her. Accepting whining, entitlement and vindictiveness (just search for what she said to The SkepDoc) as leadership is a detriment to any movement. Skepticism deserves much better. Skepticism has much better. Please, let’s not let entitled whining make us forget that.