Friday, February 21, 2014

Notes on the Nye vs. Ham Debate

I have had the pleasure to watch a debate between serious contenders. I make it no secret that I have found creationist videos very disappointing at the intellectual level. Things like "man coming from monkeys is so ewwwww" just don't cut it.

I wanted to hear a creationist with a real case, and I wanted to hear a counterpoint to the claims. I am specialized in one field, so that makes it hard for me to evaluate the quality of the claims in another field. That was what I wanted to hear from Bill Nye.

The executive summary: creationists, is that all you got???

The introductions were putting the foundation for the rest. Ham hinted that observational science isn't really capable of giving us a clear picture of what happened in the past, and that is where historical science came in the picture. Nye gave us a useless anecdote about bowties and then told us that the disctinction presented by Ham doesn't really exist. I was left on my hunger...

Ham had his presentation, which continued on the lines of "real scientists can be creationists" and "public schools are teaching a religion to our kids". To me, that was a huge waste of time away from the actual argument he needed to make. I understand why he did it, since that is probably his take-home point, but that goes against what the debate is about.

He did manage to give a few real points nevertheless: 1) that both creationists and evolutionists use the same evidence, but essentially have their preconceptions generating the interpretation for it (so much for science!); 2) evolution totally happens, but within the same species, so we need very few pairs of animals to yield the current biodiversity.

I didn't appreciate the sleight of hand he pulled on E.Coli and on the fact that humans are all of a same race. Taking specific instances of a scientist getting debunked is just not real evidence. I'm also not appreciating that he keeps on repeating himself, nor taking jabs at some of his opponents. Just make a case, please.

Nye started with evidence, real evidence: the snow ice cycles, tree growth rings, sedimentation strata, non-mixing fossils, rate of emergence of new animals, topminnows, etc. I didn't understand the skulls example. I found the evidence of the snow ice, tree rings, of the topminnows and of the Rubidium-Strontium decay very compelling. The age of the universe dated to 13.7 Billion years was new to me. I thought we were still in the ~5-6 Billion years range. Nye would have benefited from explaining why the stars at more than 6000 light-years away were significant. That is because a star at this distance must've emitted a photon more than 6000 years ago so that it could reach us now. I'm sure we can adjust the number to compensate for the universe's expansion, but the principle remains.

Ham's rebuttal got interesting but didn't last long. He showed example of contradictory dating results. And then went back to preaching.

Nye's rebuttal showed that he was not well prepared about his opponent's dogma. The theology is not very complicated, and I would've expected less confusion about it and focus on real data. He then started dismissing the Bible as the telephone game, which is is a) an unfair caracterisation and b) just opening a can of worms we don't need. It was not all bad though. He pointed out that Astronomy's job is looking at the past, and claimed that radioactive dating methods are accurate (but with no real evidence to support it). At least, he put his finger on the problem: creationists' claim that the natural laws have changed. But just dismissed it away.

The Q&A had a little bit more stuff, but not much. I learned that the magnetic pole flipping was useful to determine continental drift, and that the only way we can get increased complexity is because the sun is giving us energy (though the actual mechanism is left unsaid).
Nye was driving the point that Ham's model was not able to make any predictions. As such, it was not at the scientific level. Ham kept on his only two points: we can't directly observe what happened thousands of years ago, and that some physical processes do not allow for billions of years. I squinted at that slide and saw 'Niagara Falls' in there. That's not much of case - if the falls are young then it doesn't matter how fast or how slow they are eroding.

In an interesting flip-flop, Ham asserts that scientists need God because they need to have the laws of logic, the laws of nature and the uniformity of nature in order to do their work. This is a case of having your cake and eating it too: the laws of nature have changed in the past, but they won't anymore. What???

In conclusion, Ham wasted a lot of his time not arguing his case. We needed less theology and more evidence. The crux of the argument is that the laws of nature aren't constant over time. A single case of one law of nature that changed would've been enough. Just one. And then claim "if this one has changed, then it is reasonable to think that others changed." But since he didn't have any such evidence, he was left with seeding doubt with Nye's evidence. That, and saying 'the Bible says it, so it is true', notwithstanding that there are plenty of people (including me) who read the Bible and don't conclude a young Earth at all. So we have: one empty argument and another that is inconclusive, and lame-o debating tactics. You can call me disappointed.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Distro Hopping Update

So, where does one turn in Linux to have things work out?

Those are my requirements:
  1. Good out-of-the-box experience: the install, GUI, default programs must be sane. All codecs and flash player need to be included. HP driver support needs to be integrated. The sane default programs include a good IRC client, a proper browser (i.e. Firefox or Chromium), a proper email client (i.e. Thunderbird).
  2. Good software repositories: I need to be able to install everything I want without struggle
  3. MTP support: I need to be able to just plug in my recent Android devices and have it mounted automatically. That means a reasonably recent version of KDE or the latest Gnome.
  4. Good desktop widgets: I need a CPU, RAM and heat monitor, a weather indicator, and a keyboard layout switcher
  5. Easy launcher. I should be able to launch a program with only 2-3 keystrokes (except for the typing of said program's name, of course)
  6. No 3d. The desktop must run without OpenGL and needs to be smooth (and use very little CPU doing so)
  7. Very stable
  8. No major updates or very easy updates. That gives a bias towards rolling distributions.
  9. Security updates are all available very very fast.
  10. EDIT Plugging to a TV using an HDMI cable should have both the video and the audio automatically sent to the TV.

You will notice this weird 'no 3d' requirement - that is because my video card isn't well supported by Intel drivers. I observed a significant improvement in stability since I am using 2D only desktops.

That automatically removes any Cinnamon desktop, as even the 2D version is a CPU hog. KDE is a mixed bag, especially regarding the KDE wallet that is essentially ruining the experience for everyone that doesn't know how to make it behave. Gnome Fallback Mode on older versions is OK (only underwhelming). My understanding of Gnome Classic on the latest version is still relying on 3D. When it comes to SSH keys, Gnome keyring daemon has been the best option I experienced so far.

You will note that my judgment comes very quickly. I have no time for customizing something for hours. That is also why I'm sticking with the big DEs - Gnome, KDE, XFCE. I am sure Englightement is amazing, but I also don't feel like customizing for hours. Same with a plain Arch.

What about the major distributions?
  • Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSUSE, Mageia : No codecs pre-installed. That is a bummer. I understand the need for legal CYA, but end-users don't care. They want their Youtube kittens, and they want 'em NOW.

So we need to go to distributions derived from those. How are they faring? I tried all of those in VirtualBox with a 8 Gb virtual drive and 1 Gb RAM.
  • Scientific Linux: Very very old software (Kernel 2.6, Gnome 2). Will not support MTP. Takes a ton of space to install.
  • Mageia: I decided to give this one is a go at a friend's suggestion. It looks like a plain Gnome offering.
  • Korora: This spin of Fedora is pretty decent. The folks on IRC are super helpful. The downside is that the update will have to go through's Fedora's pain.
  • Manjaro: This Arch-based distro is pretty good. But installing Oracle's JDK from AUR was breaking for me on the VM. I generally found using yaourt to be veeeeery user-unfriendly.
  • Linux Mint 15 MATE: Slick-looking, but the start menu is annoying. I can type the name of the program I want to run, have it found, but I need to click. Grr.
  • LMDE: LMDE doesn't guarantee to be up-to-date on security updates. That is the only thing going against this option.
So, right now, I am running Korora with KDE. I have made it behave and I appreciate the help from the folks on IRC. I wouldn't mind Manjaro at some point, but I need to see a real good package manager installed by default to deal with the AUR.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

English Vinglish

English Vinglish is the story of a neglected and belittled housewife/entrepreneur who decides to take English classes while she is in New York.

It helps you understand how people feel when dealing with a language barrier, and the kind of value/stigma that Indian society puts around a good knowledge of the English language.

This is the only movie that required both French -> English and Telugu -> Translation I ever saw.

It is a good clean family movie that I really recommend.

For Rebellious Screen Backlights

I had a problem on every Linux distro I ever used on this specific laptop. The light setting wouldn't change, no matter how much I pressed on the designated buttons.

On the #korora IRC channel, I got this very good tip from csmart I thought I should share:

As an administrator, open /etc/default/grub, and then locate the line that starts with GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX. On that line, inside the quotes, add "acpi_osi=Linux acpi_backlight=vendor" (no quotes) and then you need to refresh your grub information and finally reboot.

You can get more information on the Arch Wiki.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

openSUSE is Configuration Torture

I was having a lot of crashes with Linux Mint 14 on my laptop, so I considered trying a distro I didn't try yet. So I went for openSUSE. I regret it.

First, you notice that the wi-fi isn't enabling. This is very weird, because the live CD had it working out of the box. I had to turn on some option in YaST and then things went back to normal. This was a warning of things to come...

Then, there are crazy instructions to install JDK. Your eyes may bleed. So I did what any self-respecting geek would do, I installed the RPM from Oracle, and put together a script to automate the alternative-setting. However, that script isn't perfect and it gave me trouble trying to build LibreOffice.

The pain wasn't over. There are 3 interfaces to set up an HP printer - YaST, the KDE gui, and HP-Setup. Which one should you use? The right answer is HP Setup - not obvious. But if its a non-HP one, then you have to use YaST.

Note that you may need to reconfigure your firewall if you have a network printer. Instructions to do so are pretty unclear, and there is no wizard/magic GUI to do it for you.

Then, there is the fact that the SSH key/password daemon is not supplied out of the box. You need to install ksshaskpass. But the official package doesn't install. But, lucky you, the unofficial one does work.
But that doesn't make it enabled yet, you need to mess with many configuration files.

TrueCrypt doesn't work out of the box, so you need to mess with another configuration file.

Skype didn't work out of the box either, I had to manually pick the audio settings.

And, weirdly, I don't see any pop-up telling me to install updates, which the live CD was showing. No, you need to install an applet for that. But wait, it conflicts with Apper. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa? Oh, and even funnier: YaST doesn't update all the repos you have set up, so you end up using two package managers. Double WAT!

If I wanted this kind of pain, I'd have installed Arch. And I'm doubting that Arch may be more sane...

I seriously can't recommend this distribution for my friends and family. The ease of setting up a printer in Ubuntu/Mint and Fedora is leagues ahead of openSuse. And as a sidenote, I'm not sure I actually got my printer to work reliably yet.

And about those stability issues? Well, I got a few crashes and freezes too...

My gut feeling right now is that I'll install Mint 15 when it is released this month.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Google Reader Closure


I have been consistently reading my news from Google Reader and keeping an offline copy to read when I'm offline.

I saw some options online, but I wasn't too happy:

  • NetVibes doesn't have an Android app, so that's online only
  • NewsBlur's free account allows you to follow 12 feeds only. Are your crazy??? On the plus side, the android app looks like it works offline.
  • Feedly has an android app and unlimited feeds, but no offline support.
It looks like the only real option is  Tiny Tiny RSS - it has an android app that syncs with the server, but you have to host it yourself. Grrr...

I'm sort of hoping that either Feedly gets an offline mode, or someone sets up public Tiny Tiny RSS access at this point.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Building LibreOffice with Clang on Ubuntu/Mint

So, I wanted to build a clang plug-in for LibreOffice. I never expected that it would be hard to do so.

I am on Linux Mint 14, and the problem was that the clang/llvm version is slightly older.

So, here is how I made it work (thanks to the guys in the mailing lists).
  1. Install the clang ppa:
  2. Update your package cache: sudo apt-get update
  3. Install clang: sudo apt-get install clang llvm
  4. (optional - if you want to build plug-ins) sudo apt-get install llvm-dev libclang-dev
  5. Add the following to your autogen.lastrun file: CC=clang
    --enable-compiler-plugins (that last one only if you want to build the plug-ins)
  6. Run ./ && make  and you are in business.
The rest of the discussion is available on the wiki.