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 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 disciplines (it certainly was in aerospace): 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.



Well, scratch all that BS. Remember how I said that as a cable-stayed design it looked ok? Well, color me stupid:

Miami bridge that collapsed was a truss design, despite the cosmetic tower, support cables


 Posted by at 9:20 pm
Mar 132018

I’ve only been there a few times, each time on driving trips passing through along the coast. It seemed a nice enough place, except for the gas station attendants who kept freaking out whenever I started pumping my own gas. But nice as it seemed, I’m not entirely convinced that this animated promotional video for the state is 100% entirely accurate.

Oregon: The Other Wakanda

 Posted by at 4:10 pm
Mar 112018

A model of the Northrop low altitude penetrator alternative to the B-2, to be 3D printed and turned into a kit for Fantastic Plastic is in the very early stages.

And a JPL interstellar precursor spacecraft design with a Pluto orbiter. The goal was to put scientific instruments a full 1,000 astronomical units out using nuclear/electric propulsion. This model is being built with the specific intention of using it to create a set of accurate and consistent diagrams for the next issue of US Spacecraft projects, but I wonder if there might be interest in a physical model of this.


 Posted by at 1:49 am
Mar 102018

Did anyone else watch “Waco” on the Paramount Network? I recorded the series but have only now started watching it. I’m into the third episode and the ATF has launched their initial assault… and *MAN* the ATF does NOT come off well. The Branch Davidians? Yeppers, crackpot cultists. But the ATF is being depicted basically as a pack of blood-thirsty gloryhounds.

The series starts off with the disastrous and equally stupid raid on Randy Weavers home in Ruby Ridge. That event, coming during the GHW Bush administration and basically approved of and made worse by the Clinton administration, is I think one of the foundational events that led to the current political climate. The Weavers and the Davidians were whackos to be sure… but they were in any rational measure essentially harmless. But the FBI and ATF went after them with a level of force that was wholly unwarranted. Those events led to the the Oklahoma City bombing and the 1990’s militia movement and pretty much the complete collapse in faith in the US government by a great many people who otherwise thought of themselves as patriots. Prior to these events, militia types were a *very* fringe element; after these events they went kinda mainstream. Would we have  President Trump today if Randy Weaver had been simply arrested away from his house? If David Koresh had been picked up when he went into town to get some groceries? Would we have the 3-Percenters and Oath Keepers and the like if the government hadn’t actually acted like an organization that people might actually need top worry about? Similarly, I wonder where we’d be today with “ghost guns” and 3D printed firearms, as well as school shootings carried out by lil’ whackjobs obsessed with guns, if the government hadn’t banned modern sporting rifles and standard capacity magazines back in the 90’s, and hadn’t kept threatening to ban them again.

It doesn’t help that prior to the 1980’s or so, a “cop” would look like this:

And seemingly around about the late 80’s, early 90’s, far too often police started looking like this;

And this:

When SWAT teams were first formed in the late 1960’/early 1970’s, their purpose was pretty specific: combating terrorists and heavily armed bank robbers and the like. At the time that was an important function; urban crime and terrorism were on the rise in the 60’s and 70’s. But then SWAT was turned loose on The War On Some Drugs. And then after the crime peak of the 1990’s, SWAT didn’t go away: SWAT teams were used on lesser and lesser criminals, sometimes storming homes on the rumor that someone in there might have a few ounces of weed, for Grud’s sake.

So you’ve got an increasingly militarized police force – ATF, FBI, even the local PD – that has been caught on camera using military tools, weapons and force on American citizens… and we’re supposed to be surprised that some people have concluded that it might be a good idea to gun-up against the day the government turns full-blown fascist?

When i see stuff like this, I have two basic responses:

1: You ask “what does a civilian need with an AR-15,” and I’ll just point to armor-plated cops with automatic weapons. If *they* aren’t safe on the streets without such weapons, why should I feel safe without my own personal General Electric minigun?

2: That’s not a hair question.



 Posted by at 9:06 pm
Mar 092018

Courtesy the leftie “Guardian…”

No hugging: are we living through a crisis of touch?

The fashionable freakouts over Bad Touching has led to an understandable withdrawal away from touching other human beings. Experts seem to agree that this is not only damaging to society and the psyches of adults, but it also seems to be causing *physical* damage to children.

In the UK, doctors were warned last month to avoid comforting patients with hugs lest they provoke legal action, and a government report found that foster carers were frightened to hug children in their care for the same reason. In the US the girl scouts caused a furore last December when it admonished parents for telling their daughters to hug relatives because “she doesn’t owe anyone a hug”. Teachers hesitate to touch pupils. And in the UK, in a loneliness epidemic, half a million older people go at least five days a week without seeing or touching a soul.

I hear tell that physical contact is common among humans, or at least it is so in societies that haven’t been frightened into insularity by the threat of legal action if you touch someone innocently but they don’t like it. A need for physical touch is biologically wired into the DNA not just of humans but other mammals; this was adequately and rather cruelly shown through experiments a few generations ago where baby Rhesus monkeys were taken from their mothers and given two choices: a metal wire “mother” that provided milk, and a soft cloth “mother” that did not.

Because the results of those experiments were a bit disturbing, click  to see the rest of the post and associated photos.

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 Posted by at 4:11 am