Mar 172018

Dennis Prager argues that there is an afterlife… and his reasons why are the worst forms of appeal to emotions imaginable.

His very first claim is this: “If there is a god, there is an afterlife.” This claim is patently ridiculous. If there is a god, there may or may not be an afterlife. Gods, after all, are by definition infinitely far beyond us; they would be the ultimate aliens. Perhaps some hypothetical god made mankind in his image… as a project out of boredom, or as a joke, or for any of an infinite number of reasons that have nothing to do with that god having some desire to have the souls of dead humans flitting about cluttering up his crib. Heck, perhaps “god” is Azathoth, who blindly created the universe without the slightest bit of conscious thought or intention, and all life within the universe is merely an emergent property, the result of the natural processes occasionally bringing together conditions right for biogenesis and evolution.

And then he goes on to claim that without an afterlife, there’s no possibility for “ultimate justice” either for victims or victimizers. But so what? Just because you *want* there to be justice – in particular, *your* conception of justice – doesn’t mean there *is* justice. Me, I want to be rich and attractive to the wimmins and important to western civilizations conquest and colonization of the universe. But just because I want those doesn’t mean that they are reality, or ever will be. And of course there’s always the possibility that there is indeed an afterlife, but it’s one you just don’t want. Maybe God really does love us so much that there’s just the one destination; let’s call it Heaven. Everyone gets to go there. Once there, God spends eternity showering us with his love. However, his love comes in the form of hydrofluoric acid mixed with lemon juice and small glass shards because to God, that sort of thing is *awesome.* What, do you think your idea of Heaven would be all that spectacular for, say, fleas or dust mites?

And a related argument: without an afterlife, he’ll never again see dead loved ones, and he thinks that if he believed he’d never again see the dead, he’d go mad. But then, there have been millions of perfectly sane atheists and agnostics who believed they’d never again see their beloved dead. Sadness and grief are bad, but not necessarily so bad that madness is the inevitable result. And the other side of the coin: a day ago I posted a video by a feller who seems pretty convinced that he’ll get to see his dead loved ones again…and he was clearly as crazy as a five gallon bucket of ass crack spackle.

Prager says that the thought of an afterlife keeps him sane because without an afterlife, torturers would get away with their crimes. But that’s just exactly the problem. If you put your faith in supernatural justice, rather than cops, courts and John Moses Browning, then you’re much more prone to let the torturers get away with it, because the afterlife will be sure to get ’em, so why is it any of your bother?

The arguments presented in the video are all exactly wrong. They are utterly worthless appeal to emotion logical fallacies, rather than logical arguments supported by facts and evidence. I’m honestly stumped as to who this video is meant to sway. I can only assume it’s meant to console those who already hold the same position he does.

If you want to convince someone that the afterlife exists… provide some incontrovertible evidence. How hard can it really be? People have been pondering the afterlife for at least 6,000 years of recorded history; surely in all that time if there is an afterlife, there’re some hard facts amenable to rational scientific testing.

Seriously, though. If someone comes to me and says, “I believe in an afterlife,” my first response is “why.” If their response is “because I just do,” hey, I can fully respect that. I got my own unsupportable beliefs that exist on no firmer footing than “because.” If, however, they justify their belief with painfully flawed arguments, arguments so bad as to be not just laughable, but essentially fraudulent, I gotta cringe. If they are making money pretending to be wise experts on the topic and they crank out these dumbass arguments, I really gotta point and laugh.

 Posted by at 2:07 am
Mar 162018

I started on a story for Book 2 of my “War With The Deep Ones” on Sunday night (based on an idea I had last Friday afternoon) and finished the first draft moments ago. Works out to about 55 pages. Not a bad pace… ten or so pages a day would finish a good sized novel in less than a month. Of course, 55 pages might not necessarily be 55 *good* pages, but it’s better to have them down and trim a lot, than to have nothing written down.

Book One is not as “cosmic doomy” as a lot of Lovecraftian tales are, more “regular doomy” since the Deep Ones are fairly mundane critters compared to cosmic horrors like Yog Sothoth and Nyarlathotep and Justin Beiber. But things ramp up on the Doom Scale in Book Two.

Still not quite sure what to actually *do* with all this. I’m going through the latest version of my first “Zaneverse” novel, hopefully to wrap up my final edit and then to try to convince a publisher to publish it, but as for “War?” Dunno.

As a reminder, the first “War” story is Honolulu, the second is Champion of the Seas. Feel free to check them out.

 Posted by at 9:34 pm
Mar 162018

I’m an absolutist on very few things. As y’all may have guessed, I’m a big fan of the 2nd Amendment and am opposed to the great majority of gun control laws… but there comes a time when you look at someone and think “that there mofo is a nutburger who is going to show up on CNN sooner or later, maybe he aughtta get a looking-at by some nice men in white coats.” There are people who demonstrate such whackadoodleness that it’s fair to discuss having them at least temporarily losing their rights, at least until the authorities can determine if they’re about to shoot up a school.

Gentlemen… BEHOLD:

This here is one of those fellers who makes the rest of the Christian world look bad simply through guilt by association. Take a look at his rapturous face and dead-souled eyes when he takes glee in announcing that someone has been tossed into a lake of fire for all eternity for the crime of believing something different. There is a definite psychopathy that takes joy in the thought of people being tortured for infinity. For a real spooky thought, just imagine that this feller is right, and that the afterlife will consist of most people going to Hell, and a few people like *him* populate Heaven. Really, which would be worse?  If God wants to surround himself with the sort of people who giggle at the idea of Stephen Hawking burning in Hell, ya gotta wonder if being as far as possible from God might not be so bad.

Alternatively: assume Satan is real and wants to turn people away from Christianity. What better strategy could such an entity take than to create Christians like this guy and televangelists?

I note in a number of his other videos he’s wearing shirts that say “SECURITY” on them, in others he’s wearing a uniform with a badge reading “SECURITY ENFORCEMENT OFFICER.” This implies employment as some sort of rent-a-cop, quite possibly armed. When the movie of the week gets made, if they want to do it right the production company is going to have to clone a young Jake Busey to play the role.

 Posted by at 2:41 am
Mar 162018

I think I’m pretty good at 2D drafting and at 3D CAD modeling for 3D printing and such. But I’ve very little experience with texture mapping and rendering for “art.” But while modeling the JPL interstellar precursor spacecraft for the next issue of USSP, it occurred to me that the model didn’t look half bad just with basic coloring of the parts. While this may work for spacecraft, I don’t imagine it’d be all that wonderful for aircraft.

The JPL spacecraft was to be propelled by a bank of 40 ion engines. I tried to simulate that with lights in the engines, but that did some *wacky* stuff… light shining *through* solid objects, not casting shadows, all kinds of stuff that Just Ain’t Right. I don’t suppose my ancient copy of Rhinoceros 3D is really meant for that sort of thing. So I simulated the ion engine exhaust with simple transparent cylinders. Not the greatest but… does it look like it’s doing the job?

UPDATE: A better version. See comments for process.

 Posted by at 12:44 am
Mar 152018

There is an acronym that is commonly used in the various engineering dsciplines 9it certainly was in aerosapce): TLAR.

That Looks About Right

What it means is simply that some things are so well understood and characterized that at least at first glance, to first approximation, at the back of the envelope stage, a design can look like it will work. Someone can, say, sketch out a jetliner… a tubular fuselage, modestly swept low-mounted wings, swept tail surfaces, podded engines suspended below the wings – and it will look like a “proper” design. TLAR is useful for things people have really nailed down the design of over the years. Entirely new stuff? An Alcubierre Warp Drive ring assembly, for example… who the frak knows right from wrong on that. But jetliners? Ships? Automobiles? Launch vehicles? Sure. An engineer can look at a design and say “that looks about right.”

And bridges. A good engineer can take a look at a design and say “that looks about right.” And sometimes, even an engineer from another discipline with rusty skills can take a look at a bridge design, and his engineering-spidey senses will start tingling, and “TLAR” is *not* engaged.

I look at the design of the failed FIU pedestrian bridge and man, TLAR is *not* what pops into my head. Instead I get a distinctly That Looks About Wrong feeling.

To be fair, the design of the *completed* cable-stayed bridge (by Munilla Construction Management, whose website still hilariously claims: “Safety first! At MCM Safety is paramount and we are committed to zero accidents on all projects.“) looks pretty ok to me:

It looks fine. It has two spans, each supported at the ends atop piers, and then in five places along each span by what appear to be quite stout tension cables connected to a central tower. It looks nice.  Completed, it looks nice. Incomplete, it scares the pants off me:

Note how here, during the rapid assembly process, the bridge is supported from below at four points: the two ends on the piers, and within the span by temporary supports. This is a perfectly good way to install a suspension or cable stayed bridge: support it from below until you can get the cables in place. Really, there aren’t too many other practical ways to do it for a bridge like this. But where me “I want to be elsewhere and unassociated with this project” response kicks in is when they remove those central supports… without having the suspension cables in place. The design of this span just does not Look About Right for something supported only at the ends. You have a great big and seemingly massive deck at the bottom, a few centrally located diagonal supports, and then a relatively narrow structural span running along the top.

Note that the deck certainly looks pretty thin… it appears to be one, maybe two feet thick. Doubtless of steel and concrete construction, but still quite thin. As a cable-stayed span, the deck would be hanging every however many feet from those diagonal supports; the upper structure could (*could*) be virtually cosmetic. However, as a simply supported bridge, that lower deck is under a *lot* of tension, the upper structure under a *lot* of compression, and the diagonal supports transmitting those loads in a way much different from when it’s a cable-stayed span (cable stayed, they’d be in tension; incomplete, they’re in compression).

In its incomplete state, it just doesn’t *look* like a decent structure.

That’s of course easy to say now that its laying in the street. And let me be clear: an engineer should never, EVER say that something is good unless they’ve run the numbers, and should avoid saying something is bad unless they’ve run the numbers. Engineering is the wrong discipline for anyone who operates by “feelings;” it is the place for hard numbers, hard facts, objective reality. Merit rather than politics. Still: the reality is that in a world of hard facts, some things are WRONG, and you don’t need to do a whole lot of math because the facts have already been long demonstrated. You can’t run an internal combustion engine on water, nor can you tinker with your carburetor to make your otherwise unmodified Ford F-150 go 200 miles per hour and get 500 miles per gallon. You can’t make the spar of your jetliner out of butter. You can’t use a pound of dynamite to blow the Moon to flinders, nor can you make a perpetual motion machine out of a cordless drill and some weights. These are of course ridiculous examples, but there is a spectrum between “that’s obviously so stupid I don’t need to do the math” and “that looks about right.” And the FIU-Sweetwater bridge certainly falls between the two. “Feelings,” I found during my engineering days, were, when applied properly, an appropriate and useful check against unwarranted enthusiasm and optimism. I get the feeling here that someone should have been a bit more pessimistic during the design process.




 Posted by at 9:20 pm
Mar 152018

Whether due to a lack of rigor in the design process, the manufacturing process or the construction process… *someone* didn’t run the numbers right. And as a result, people are dead. Honestly: anyone who argues against the value and importance of engineering rigor can go eat a bag of dicks.

FIU pedestrian bridge collapses days after installation; police say multiple deaths, cars trapped

FFS, people, this sort of thing shouldn’t happen. *EVER.*

The bridge was not open to pedestrians; it appears that it was not yet even finished being built. It was, in fact, a suspension bridge… but the “suspension” part of the bridge hadn’t been built yet:

It seems that they installed the one span… and then removed the supports from underneath it, leaving it supported only at the ends:

This plan seems…unwise.

And here’s another failure of rigor, in this case either the loadmaster not doing his job, or something wrong with maintenance. Cuz doors don’t just open in flight.

Gold bars worth millions fall from plane over Russia

If you’ve ever wanted to see what a runway looks like when it had hundreds of millions of dollars worth of gold bars scattered all over it look like, that link will hook you right up. In this case, it looks like the cargo fell out as the plane rotated for takeoff. The plane was able to promptly land at another airport seven miles away. They got lucky: while the idea of gold falling out of the sky has some romantic appeal, the fact it that a bar of gold would have a *really* *high* terminal velocity as well as a lot of mass. It would do a whole lot of damage if it fell from altitude onto people or property. And if things are so bad on the plane that stuff is falling out, the chances are that the load could shift enough for this sort of thing to happen (Bagram, Afghanistan in 2013):

 Posted by at 2:18 pm
Mar 152018

There’s a lot of weird in this story, but it’s an interesting read.

Poconos gunmaker’s vision: an AR-15 for every American

Short form: The son of Reverend Sun Myung Moon (you know, the Moonies) owns a firearms manufacturing company, Kahr Arms. They manufacture guns like the Thompson and the K9, and will soon be making their own AR-15 clone. That’s cool and all, but the problem with making sure that more people get themselves an AR-15 is that his AR-15 will cost $700… more than many I’ve seen. So that would hardly seem likely to make much difference. Now, if he was making a quality AR for, say $250, that would be something.

 Posted by at 9:17 am