Anil Seth’s TED Talk on what is consciousness.

What is consciousness? This is one of those questions that seems to be unanswerable, but according to Anil Seth consciousness is a form of controlled hallucination that we’re all having all the time. When we agree on our hallucinations we call that “reality.” He explains the idea behind this in a short TED Talk filmed this past April:

I find the concepts being explored in this fascinating and I wish it went into more depth. I’ll have to see if I can track down more on Anil’s work in this area.

One topic he touches on lightly that I found very interesting was his conclusion that sentient Artificial Intelligence is probably not going to be a problem because consciousness requires more than high intelligence to arise. I feel like there’s a good basis for a science fiction story in that idea, but I’ll be damned if I can nail it down.

Anyway, I thought this was both interesting and informative so I figured I’d share it.

Many Conservative Christians consider porn to be “always immoral” and yet they watch it anyway.

Conservative Christians like to make a lot of noise about morality despite the fact that they’re often not capable of adhering to the morals they insist the rest of us follow. Whether it’s the deeply religious fundamentalist who protests at the local abortion clinic that ends up getting an abortion the moment they have an inconvenient pregnancy only to go back to protesting abortion the next day or the Christian who rails against the evils of homosexuality only to be caught engaging in the very thing they decry.

So too it seems is this true about pornography. According to a study by Samuel L. Perry of the University of Oklahoma recently published in the Journal of Sex Researchthere is no shortage of Christians who consider porn to bad yet still watch it just the same:

Conservative Christians are more likely to think porn is immoral but view it anyway, study finds – PsyPost

“Having studied what conservative Christians think about pornography as well as their consumption habits, I started to notice a bit of a discrepancy. In every study of which I’m aware, conservative Christians are far more likely than other Americans to reject pornography on moral grounds. There is basically no justification for it whatsoever in their minds. However, I also started to notice that, despite their unequivocal rejection of pornography, conservative Christians aren’t considerably less likely than other Americans to report viewing it.

“Sure, a number of studies show that, say, conservative Protestants and frequent churchgoers view porn somewhat less often than other Americans,” Perry told PsyPost. “But that’s not the case in every study. In some studies, for example, being a conservative Protestant or frequent churchgoer didn’t make much of a difference at all in terms of porn use.

He sat down and went through data from a 2006 Portraits of American Life Study (PALS) which tracks religion, morality, politics and other social issues and found that 10% of Americans who viewed porn as morally wrong still reported having watched it within the previous year.

“In fact, evangelical Protestants and other sectarian Protestant groups were the most likely of all religious groups to report the experience of ‘incongruence,’ saying porn is always immoral, but viewing it anyway. To put that in perspective, less than 6% of religiously unaffiliated persons reported believing porn is immoral but watch it anyway, compared to over 13% of evangelical Protestants or other sectarian Christian groups.”

Interestingly, this incongruence was only amongst the men as he found little evidence that religious women who held porn as morally wrong still viewed it anyway. Ironically for men, the more they attended church the more likely they were to view porn in spite of their belief it was bad:

“When I looked at measures of religiosity, I found there was an important gender dynamic at play. The connection between church attendance and prayer frequency and experiencing an incongruence between one’s porn beliefs and usage only applied to men. But as men’s church attendance or prayer frequency increased, their likelihood of experiencing that incongruence (believing porn is wrong, but watching it anyway) increased in a linear fashion,” the researcher explained.

“For example, among those Americans who ‘never’ attend church, only about 7% of men report experiencing an incongruence between porn beliefs and usage. But at the highest frequencies of church attendance, over 25% of men report experiencing an incongruence. That means that for those men who attend church services several times a week, roughly 1/4 of them say porn is always immoral, but they watch it anyway. The results were similar for prayer frequency as well. ”

All of that said, the data was limited enough that questions about frequency of viewing porn or why these men watched something they considered morally wrong couldn’t be answered. In the end it would seem “the power of your dick compels you” is the best explanation we’re likely to get.

Having a lawn teaches you how fucking tenacious life is.

I’ve never given two fucks about weeds before in my life. I pretty much took a live-and-let-live approach to weeds up until I bought our house and acquired a lawn that was meticulously taken care of. Now I feel compelled to at least make an attempt to kill every weed that dares attempt to establish a foothold within my property line.

So far this has been relatively easy because the lawn was pretty much absent of any and all weeds making the ones that do show up stand out like a sore thumb. Hey, that thing looks like something other than grass! Yoink! Hey! That thing is growing in the rock bed and it’s definitely not one of the bushes! Yoink!

The flower beds in the back aren’t quite so easy to distinguish what is a weed and what isn’t. Hey, that thing is big and doesn’t have flowers…. yet… but it also doesn’t have little prickly spines so… maybe yoink? The weeds are having much more success in the flower beds where they can blend in with other things that are tall and leafy.

It’s the ones that try to set up shop in the rock beds and in the cracks of the sidewalk that impress me the most. Two of the shittiest places to set up shop and these fuckers are popping up as though they had settled down in the richest of topsoil. Inevitably I seem to pull the same fucking weed from the same spot every week or two. It really is amazing how determined life — in the form of an unwanted plant — is to set up shop wherever it can.

Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park said “life, uh, finds a way” and, boy howdy, is that ever the truth. We’ve yet to find a location so hot or cold or acidic that there isn’t some form of life present. It may be simple bacteria, but they’re there and living the good life. So I suppose it’s the height of hubris for me to assume I’ll win my war against the weeds. Especially given my general lack of motivation and avoidance of the outdoors. Still, I am making an attempt even though I know it’s probably a losing battle. It helps that my next door neighbor, Sam, appears to have nothing to do all day but tend to his lawn so it looks like something out of Better Homes and Gardens thus shaming me into action. At this point, I’ll be happy if I manage not to kill off all the non-weed plants in my yard.

 

 

News Flash: Americans are lazy which makes us fat.

A new study from Stanford University’s Department of No Shit, Sherlock shows that Americans are among the laziest when it comes to walking anywhere other than to the fridge for more chocolate pie. Researchers used the step counters in the smartphones of 700,000 people in 46 different countries to figure this out:

The U.S. is one of the world’s laziest countries — and it’s making us fat — USA Today

Scott Delp, a professor of bioengineering who co-led the research, told the BBC the “study is 1,000 times larger than any previous study on human movement.”

The least lazy, according to the study published in the journal Nature, are the Chinese, particularly those in Hong Kong, where people averaged 6,880 a steps a day.

The worst nation was nearby Indonesia, where people walked nearly half as much, averaging 3,513 steps a day. The worldwide average is 4,961 steps, with Americans averaging 4,774.

Now this study might seem pointless, but it turns out it does reveal an interesting fact. Indonesia has the lowest average steps per day for its population so you’d think they’d be much more likely to be obese similar to people in the United States, but it turns out that’s not the case because there is much less variation in the population between who walks a lot and who doesn’t. The researchers refer to this as “activity inequality” and it turns out the bigger that inequality is the more likely a nation is to be obese:

In countries with less obesity, the Stanford researchers say, people typically walked a similar amount every day. In nations with higher rates of obesity, there were larger gaps between those who walked a lot and those who walked very little.

Among those latter countries is the United States, where “activity inequality” ranks Americans fourth from the bottom overall.

“If you think about some people in a country as ‘activity rich’ and others as ‘activity poor,’ the size of the gap between them is a strong indicator of obesity levels in that society,” Delp told the Stanford news site.

Tim Althoff, who worked on the study, pointed to Sweden, with an average of 5,863 steps, as having one of the smallest activity inequality gaps. “It also had one of the lowest rates of obesity,” he said.

Additionally, whether you lived in dense urban or less dense suburban areas also plays a factor:

Jennifer Hicks, another researcher in the study, told the Stanford news site that they examined three California cities located close to one another – San Francisco, San Jose and Fremont. They found San Francisco held both the highest walkability score and the lowest level of activity inequality.

“In cities that are more walkable, everyone tends to take more daily steps, whether male or female, young or old, healthy weight or obese,” Hicks said.

I can’t speak for any other Americans, but I am a fundamentally lazy person who hates to exercise even though I know I really should.  My previous attempts at establishing a walking routine have been documented on this very blog, all of which I gave up on. I just can’t seem to get into the walking habit.

That said, the move to our new home does put me within a reasonable walking distance to a few stores, though it’s still longer than I’d like to attempt in my current shape. We’ve managed to land in a decent neighborhood where it’s not uncommon to see folks out walking for exercise during the day.

I doubt I’ll try getting into walking again simply because I already know I won’t stick with it. However, part of the my motivation for buying a house was so I’d have someplace to store a bicycle and now that I have one I’ve started looking for a decent bike that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg that I could start peddling around the block a few times. The reason I want one that isn’t expensive is just in case I fail at establishing that as a routine too. No point in spending $700 on a bike I don’t use. Did that once with the elliptical exercise machine I bought back when we lived in Ann Arbor. Not making that mistake again.

There’s a local bike shop not too far from my house that I would like to stop by this weekend and take a look around. I don’t need anything with a million gears on it, just something that will stand up to my weight. I used to love riding my bike as a kid well up through my teenaged years and I’m hoping I’ll still enjoy it today. Granted, it won’t do me much good during the winter months, but some exercise would be better than none.

As for the rest of the country, I’ve no solutions to offer up to get us all to exercise a bit more. If I have a hard time motivating myself to do it there’s no way I can think of some way to get everyone else to do it.

God isn’t powerful enough to transubstantiate gluten free crackers.

This just in from the one-more-way-religions-look-stupid department, a Catholic Cardinal has forbidden the use of gluten free Jesus crackers during Holy Communion:

Vatican 0outlaws use of gluten free bread for Holy Communion. — The Telegraph

The ruling was announced in a letter to bishops by Cardinal Robert Sarah,  prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

He has said the bread can be low-gluten, but the wheat must contain enough protein for it to be made without additives.

For those of you who aren’t Catholics, one of the core beliefs is that the wafers and wine they consume during mass literally turn into the flesh and blood of Christ once they’ve been consecrated. This belief was obligatory in 1215 with the Fourth Council of the Lateran.

I Can't Believe It's Not Jesus

Don’t even THINK of using these in the Catholic church.

The Vatican appears to be declaring that, despite being an all-powerful entity responsible for the existence of all creation who can literally do anything he can imagine, God is incapable or unwilling to perform transubstantiation on gluten free bread.

He added: “The bread used in the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharistic Sacrifice must be unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made so that there is no danger of decomposition.

“It follows therefore that bread made from another substance, even if it is grain, or if it is mixed with another substance different from wheat to such an extent that it would not commonly be considered wheat bread, does not constitute valid matter for confecting the Sacrifice and the Eucharistic Sacrament.”

And don’t you even begin to think any old wine will do as Jesus blood:

“The wine that is used in the most sacred celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice must be natural, from the fruit of the grape, pure and incorrupt, not mixed with other substances.”

Leaving aside the cannibalistic aspects of this ritual for a moment, you would think God would have had the foresight of the sort of problems that a Jesus cracker with gluten in it would cause Catholics with Celiac disease, what with being all-knowing and all. Which calls into question that whole transubstantiation thing to begin with. I mean, if the cracker literally becomes the flesh of Christ then wouldn’t that remove any gluten in it? Or did Jesus have naturally occurring gluten in his flesh?

Probably best not to think about that too much.

Lutherans, who also practice this odd ritual, don’t seem to be as hung up on what the cracker is made out of and generally leave it up to the local churches to decide if they’re willing to substitute gluten free bread. Methodists can also use gluten free bread or rice cakes. I’ve not checked into the other denominations that engage in a similar ritual, but I’d bet they are also more accommodating.

One can only assume that the Catholic church doesn’t think God is capable of turning anything other than unleavened wheat bread into Jesus flesh. Or he’s just that much of a petty bread snob that he refuses to do so.

Do fidget spinners actually help people with ADHD?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll already know that one of the latest fads gripping the nation is the Fidget Spinner. They come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, but the most common is a three pronged shape with an axle in the middle that allows you to spin it. Repeatedly. That’s it. That’s all it does.

Here’s an example:

Hours of endless entertainment!

Like any fad, it didn’t take long before some folks making these things started to make a lot of claims about how they were more than just a pointless toy. They could help you with a number of conditions including ADHD, autism, and anxiety.

I’ve discussed the fact that I have ADHD many times in the past and one of the ways it manifests for me is through fidgeting. When I am focusing on something (like writing a blog entry) I tend to bounce my knee a lot or I’ll wiggle the heel of my foot (like I’m doing now). If I’m standing up and engaging in conversation with someone it’s not uncommon for my right hand to be in my jeans pocket fiddling with a USB flash drive cap or fondling coins. So something like this could potentially appeal to me, but I’m skeptical of the claims being made and it turns out many psychologists are as well:

“Using a spinner-like gadget is more likely to serve as a distraction than a benefit for individuals with ADHD,” said Mark Rapport, a clinical psychologist at the University of Central Florida who has studied the benefits of movement on attention in people with ADHD.

There haven’t been any studies done to establish whether the claims are true or not. So the folks at BuzzFeed decided to give some spinners to employees with ADHD for a week and see what they thought. This is not in any way a scientific study, but it’s interesting just the same:

So it seems it’s of some benefit to some people, but probably not life changing in any way. One person reports that it helped more with her anxiety than it did with her ability to focus her attention. Overall this supports the idea that the claims are overblown, but, again, it’s not exactly a rigorous study.

Personally, I don’t think it would work for me because it’s too busy and would be more of a distraction because it would be pulling my attention away from what I need to be focusing on. It might be a way to alleviate boredom, but all that motion would easily be my undoing.

That said, I’ve given serious thought to buying a Fidget Cube. These are more along the lines of what I already do when I continuously pop the cap on and off the flash drive in my pocket. This is a small cube of plastic with a number of things on it to enable fidgeting such as a rocker switch, a combo dial like you’d find on luggage, a small ball bearing that spins in a socket, and so on. None of them do a damned thing other than give your hands something to do. More importantly for me, none of them are so visually stimulating that I’d be tempted to look at it yet would still supply tactile feedback. The folks who came up with this idea had a Kickstarter project for it a couple of years back that was very successful. Needless to say, just like with fidget spinners, there are already hundreds of knockoffs.

Here’s the YouTube ad they put out to promote it:

As you can see, this is the sort of thing you could keep in your pocket, but even if you take it out it’s less likely to distract everyone around you than a fidget spinner. Again, there’s no evidence that this would necessarily improve my (or anyone else’s) ability to focus our attention, but at least I wouldn’t be wearing out the caps to my USB flash drives.

The one drawback to the Fidget Cube over a Fidget Spinner is that you can’t do wicked sick tricks with the cube:

Bonus video from Ice Cream Sandwich:

What about you guys? Any of you give into this fad and pick one up? If so, do you feel it helps with focusing your attention or do you just like to spin for the sake of spinning?

 

My first week (and a half) as a homeowner.

After a harried three days of packing and several trips back and forth with a UHaul cargo van that we rented in addition to the movers we hired, we managed to get all our shit into our new home.  We have lovingly named our new abode “Castle Boxlandia” for obvious reasons.

The current state of my basement. That’s not including the boxes in the living room, dining room, and bedrooms. Click to embiggen.

We’ve slowly started to unpack with emphasis on the word slowly. We only used the stove for the first time this morning as much of the kitchen, including most of the pots and pans, remains boxed up. Anne had to have outpatient surgery on Friday and she’s recovering from that so that’s also a factor.

That said, I have accomplished a few things such as putting together the two new cat trees we purchased.

These came from two different companies and I have to admit that in the future I think I’ll stick with the company for the one on the right. On the first tree the cubby isn’t really big enough for either cat nor is the tube near the top. It’d be fine for kittens, but for adult cats it’s a little disappointing. Not that Jasper isn’t getting use out of it. The second one is not only taller (I was worried it was going to be too tall), but the cubby is more than large enough for the cats to fit in. I don’t have the ladder attached to the front of the first one yet, but it has three sisal covered rungs for scratching purposes. The second one just feels like it’s better built as well. Both went together with the included allen wrench.

I did get around to buying an electric lawn mower, but I’ve not unboxed it yet. That’ll probably happen later today after it’s cooled off a bit outside. It’s supposed to hit 90° today. I still need to buy a sprinkler as it’s not rained much lately and my grass is starting to turn brown. I did attempt to water the yard by hand a couple of days ago, but I don’t think it helped much.

I’ve received two housewarming gifts so far. The first from my real estate agent was a couple of sets of TARDIS string lights to hang around my bar. The second one was from my mom and it was a bronze colored metal sun for hanging on the front of the house that I’d had my eye on. It replaces the floral wreath in the previous pictures and looks like this:

That’ll brighten up your day.

We’ve got our computers and TVs set up and we’re back online. My computer is in the basement which is at least 20 degrees cooler than upstairs. So much so that I have to wear socks and shoes when down here for any amount of time lest my feet end up freezing. I’m hoping the reverse will be true when winter comes. On the bright side, my PC can pump out all the heat it wants without me breaking into a sweat. Even with all the lights on in the basement — which put out a fair amount of heat themselves — it stays really cool down here.

My mom dropped by yesterday with the housewarming gift above and some of her furniture that was taking up space in her storage unit that she thought we could use. My sister also gave us this huge dining room table that may not be pretty to look at, but will hold up plates of food just fine until we get something else to take its place. A couple of end tables for the living room, a jewelry box, and there’s more yet to come. We’ll be heading up that way next week to pick up a TV stand and some more bookshelves.

So here we are. Surrounded by a sea of boxes that we’re slowly working our way through. It’ll be awhile before we figure out where to put everything and what to get rid of, but we’ve no need to rush. I’ve looked forward to owning my own home for a long time and I plan to enjoy it as much as I can.

My last week as a renter.

I’ve been meaning to blog something and I kinda figured the Trump administration would provide me with something to talk about, but they’re spitting scandals and crises out so quickly that it’s hard to keep up with them all.

So let’s talk about my last week as a renter. We’ve been waiting to hear an ETA on when the lady who sold us our new home would be moving out on the assumption that she wouldn’t stay right up to the deadline, but it’s looking increasingly like she will so our currently scheduled move date is Tuesday the 30th. Which is probably fine as we’ve not even started packing yet. When we moved back to Canton I took the whole week off and we didn’t start packing until 3 days before the move so seeing as this coming weekend is a 3 day holiday that’s when we’ll get all the packing done. We’re gonna need a lot of the stuff we’ll be packing until right up to the end anyway. A good chunk of our stuff is still in boxes in the basement from the last move so that’s stuff we won’t have to worry about at least. I’ll probably start pulling books and DVDs/Blu-rays from the shelves after work during the week, but it won’t be a mad rush until Friday arrives.

We’ve started in on the new furniture buying though. Both Anne and I need new computer chairs and we found a couple on Amazon that will support our weight and should offer better support and Anne’s was on sale so we ordered them already. They should arrive at our apartment around Wednesday. I’ve also picked out a new computer desk from IKEA that isn’t really advertised as a computer desk, but tends to be very popular with computer geeks because it’s very wide. I’ve not bought it yet, but it’s on the pending list. We’re probably going to hit up some garage sales once we’ve moved in to find a bed frame for the guest room with boxspring and mattress to follow later. We’re debating whether to put the loveseat and recliner we have now in the living room or the basement. We’re going to end up with a couch and another chair in one of those two places eventually.

One thing I’ve learned is that everyone you know will take the opportunity of you buying your first house to unload extra furniture on you as soon as they hear about it. Which isn’t a complaint as there’s plenty we’re going to need. My mother is giving us her TV stand and a shelving unit she used to keep her stereo system on. My sister has offered us a table. Someone Anne knows at work is giving us a lawn mower and snowblower. They’re used, but they work and it’ll make for a couple less things we’ll need to worry about right away. No one has offered me a ladder yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens.

Needless to say, I’m both excited and nervous. I’ve technically been a homeowner for three weeks already, but it doesn’t really feel like it because we’re not actually moved in and I’ve not had to make a mortgage payment yet. I also have to confess to being a bit worried about the future. I’ll be 80 before my mortgage is paid off — assuming I don’t try to refinance it at some point and I don’t die before then — and I’ve got minimal retirement savings due to working as a contractor for most of my career, which means I’m going to have to stay employed at a decent job for as long as I can unless I get really lucky and win the lotto or something. I have no idea how I’m going to keep this home into my retirement years and it worries me, but I’m trying not to think about that too much.

For now, I’m trying to enjoy the fact that I have a new house I’m about to move into. It’s taken me a long time to get to this point and I probably should’ve done this years ago, but I got there eventually. For awhile there it seemed like it would always be just out of reach.

SEB Musical Interlude: Jonathan Coulton’s “First of May”

If you’ve not heard this before — I’m pretty sure I post this when I remember it — you may want to wear headphones or wait till you get home. It’s a tad NSFW:

Homeownership: A new era in my life.

Next Monday at 12 noon is when I will close on my first home. Possibly my last home too unless I win the lotto or something. This is it here:

Home sweet home.

It’s a three bedroom ranch with a finished basement and two and a half bathrooms. There’s a gas fireplace in the basement and a small wet bar. It’s eight years older than I am, but, unlike me, it’s in pretty good shape despite its age.

My entire adult life has been spent either living in someone else’s house or in apartments and now that I’m on the cusp of owning my own house it occurs to me that I have this odd contradiction about the stuff I own. I have a lot of stuff. A good chunk of it is still packed in boxes in the basement of the townhouse we’re currently renting until the end of May. Mostly books and kitchen stuff that won’t fit in the tiny kitchen we currently have. Also, there’s a number of additional boxes still in my in-laws basement from when we lived with them for awhile.

Some of those boxes contain Christmas decorations I received as gifts from back in my 20’s that have only seen the light of day once when I first received them and have been laying in wait for the day that I finally purchased my own house and had someplace to display them. That’s right, I have home decor that’s at least 20 years old with a few bits that are at least as old as my daughter. One is a porcellian horse drawn sleigh and another is a huge musical snow globe with a Santa in it. Non-holiday decor like some Sun/Moon/Stars wall sconces for candles are also in there. I’m really looking forward to having someplace to display them for the first time.

On the other hand there’s a ton of things I’ve never owned before that I’m going to have to purchase. Things like a ladder. At a minimum I’m going to need a step ladder and I’m sure sooner or later I’ll need an extension ladder. Another would be a lawn mower. I won’t need a huge one, but I’m going to need something unless I find a reasonable lawn care company.

I have had a dining room table before, but it was a small, round one that barely fit four people that I had to get rid of when we moved back to Canton due to lack of room for it. I’d like to get one that seats at least six people. I’ve got a power drill, but no bits for it. I may actually have to drill something in the future. I’m going to need a screen for the fireplace. It’s gas so there’s no real danger of sparks popping out, but I do have two cats that’ll be running around the joint. The fireplace also doesn’t have a mantelpiece and the more I think about it the more I think I want to add one. It’s a bit boggling to consider that I’m thinking of buying a mantlepiece.

That’s a lot of brick for what is a small firebox. You’ll note there’s no chimney for it in the first picture of the front of the house. That’s all for show.

I’m going to need to pick up carbon monoxide detectors for the first time in my life as well as replace smoke detectors from time to time. Hell, I’m going to have to learn about furnace filters and when to replace them and what size to get. I should probably buy a couple of fire extinguishers, which is something else I’ve never had to think about before.

A rake. We don’t have a ton of trees on our property, just one in the back, but it’s going to lose its leaves come fall. I have to remember when trash day is as I’ll no longer have a dumpster I can toss garbage into whenever the need arises. Also curbside recycling. Cleaning gutters will be something new for me. There’s that need for a ladder again.

It’s weird and exciting and a little overwhelming to think about. It all becomes my reality next Monday. I’m more than a little nervous about it. It’s taken me a long time, but I somehow managed to pull it off. Buying a home was one of the bigger challenges I’ve struggled with for a long time, but I believe I’ve done it without putting myself at too much risk. It’s a nice house. I’m hoping I don’t fuck it up too badly.