Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Open letter to Microsoft, mad about hotmail security

This rant at Microsoft has nothing to do with the general theme of this blog.  Yet I feel compelled to give this rant an open and long-term exposure.

What idiot is in charge over there this week?  The only reason I chose hotmail many years ago was the ease of access.  And the inverse of access is security.  I want minimal requirements and security and maximum ease of access.  And for many years that is what hotmail provided.  And now just because I didn't log out of hotmail before I left for work... or maybe it's because of the stupid new version of Office (that is tied to my hotmail account) which my wife might be using at home... your security locked me out of my account.  Office365 would explain why I'm not having trouble with my other hotmail account (yet).

Am I going to have a problem every time I effect a contemporaneous login?  Is this because some retard decided to tie Office365 to Microsoft online accounts and then realized 'Ooops, now people can share our overpriced latest/worst Office software instead of buying it?"   Did you guys really fuck up the webmail of thousands of loyal Office and customers in one retarded move?  Please relay my sardonic thanks to Steve Ballmer, good riddance.  Don't even get me started on Win8/8.1... there's never been a better reason to switch to Linux or even totalitarian Apple.

I want my old six digit, all numeric password back.  Don't lecture me on how it's not secure.  Don't tell me it's for my own good. Hypocrisy.   You won't even accept a 16-place all lower-case password which is astronomically more secure than an 8-place alphanumeric.  If Microsoft email security can't detect brute force crack attempts you should be ashamed.  And none of this protects me from saved passwords complicated further by remote access, whether legitimate or nefarious.  "Saved passwords, you say?"  Most browsers including Microsoft's decent (as of the time of this writing) Internet Explorer and *tada!* Windows operating system allow for the saving of passwords on web pages including (hotmail).  It is not in the user's best interest to allow them to save their passwords but Microsoft is encouraging it, basically recommending it.  If a password is easy to remember and easy to enter there's no reason to save it.  So which is less secure, the Microsoft way of saving your one's password on PC, laptop, tablet, phone.. or manually entering a simple password upon access?  The Microsoft security requirements are bogus and hypocritical. sure their the IT industry standard which would make sense only if Microsoft is a follower and not a leader.  How embarrassing for you.

Why are you even worried about the security of my Microsoft online account?  Is it Office365?  That's a poor excuse.  You guys had a mediocre idea and implemented it poorly.  Where you hoping to lure away some Google+ or Yahoo users?  Does it allow me to install on many machines as long as I only use it on one at a time?  I haven't tried that but I doubt it.  Or is it just some crackpot attempt at making it harder to pirate Office?  You and so many other deluded publishers waste far more money on trying to prevent piracy than you actually save.  So maybe you're a highly principled international corporate giant trying to save the world from the evil of infringement upon archaic copyright laws.  Or is it the horrid communism of sharing intellectual property that you abhor?  Maybe you're just trying to appease your shareholders who are even more myopically greedy and stupid than your management.  As I mentioned before security is the inverse of access and these presumably anti-piracy efforts do nothing but vary the challenge and slow them down a little.  What's it take... a week, maybe four to crack the software so it either bypasses the security requirements or fakes them?  And who really pays?  We the legitimate consumer pay more for the same product and then have to suffer your paranoid yet self-defeating authentication regimen.   You are putting the cart before the horse but at least you’re greasing the squeaky wheels.   

And what are you protecting anyway?  Open Office ( and Libre Office ( are perfectly acceptable alternatives.  And they are FREE.  It could even be argued that they are better and easier to use.  And they don’t get uglier and more convoluted with subsequent releases.  After using Office365 it’s never been easier to recommend Open Office and Libre Office.

And no, you can’t have my phone number.  Stop asking, ya creep.  Microsoft (or any other company) may be trustworthy today.  It’s debatable.  But what about tomorrow?  What about best intentions going awry?  What about corporate espionage or disgruntled employees?  How do I know that stock holders won’t insist on a greedier less ethical CEO at the next meeting?  If you want to ask me to trust you that’s OK.  If you want to require or manipulate me into giving you more personal information that is not OK. 

I want my simple password back.  But I’m not going to get it because you are a close-minded my-way-or-the-highway attorney-fearing money grinder.  Why should you care if someone is unhappy with how simple it could be to securely access your free service if someone else could try to sue you for their own blunders if you don’t follow or exceed the industry standard?  You obviously don’t care.  And you certainly don’t have a way that a support technician can override your ostensibly more secure settings.  You would rather lose me than allow me to put a checkmark in a box for a liability disclaimer and use my own preference of passwords.  What’s wrong with you?

Sure I could just find another free webmail provider.  I already have some yahoo, gmail accounts (to name but two) for compartmentalizing… and because as it turns out I need to be able to get email somewhere else so I can verify to you I am the actual Hotmail account custodian.  Dozens of times over several years I’ve had to be able to get mail elsewhere so I could access my Hotmail account.  How many times have I contacted Microsoft or even been a little worried that my account may have been breached?  Zero.  Never.  And yet dozens of times Microsoft has refused to accept me as authentic following authentication.  How many times have Gmail, Yahoo, GMX, hushmail, fastmail and zoho required me to authenticate after putting in the correct password?  Zero.  It doesn’t happen.  Sometimes they prompt for more personal information ostensibly in case there’s a problem later on (it’s probably just for their marketing department).  But when I provide the correct email address and password I get in.  Why doesn’t Microsoft do this?  What’s wrong with you?

I don’t want to give up my old familiar Hotmail accounts for several reasons.  Inertia is one reason.  My accounts are old enough that the usernames are short and simple.  Is it even possible to sign up with a meaningful username that has less than 8 characters at a major webmail provider anymore?  And I several information services that feed to my Hotmail or use Hotmail for confirmation.  And I shouldn’t have to move.  I didn’t do anything wrong.  I didn’t break any rules.  I didn’t make any mistakes (unless you count my using Office365).  It’s Microsoft’s false positives that have screwed things up.  And obviously will continue to. If you are causing the problem shouldn’t you fix the problem?  Give me back my simple password and get your “I was only trying to help” retarded security measures out of my face.  What’s wrong with you?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Did God create the "evil"?

First, "evil" doesn't truly exist.  It is not a force in the universe.  It is a valuation of behavior and phenomena.  In the absence of subjective experience that valuation does not exist.  It may also be that a subjective concept of fairness cannot exist in the absence of social drives.  (I suspect this is true but I'm not prepared to make such a claim in absolute terms.  Comments are welcomed.)  As a result, what we perceive as 'wrong-doing' wouldn't be perceived as wrong without social instincts or culturally learned social norms (which stem from social instincts).  If somehow we managed to be social creatures in a world where harm were not possible we probably couldn't conceive of wrong-doing or evil as no action could result in consequences worse than lost opportunity.  Evil is merely a shorthand for behavior and phenomena that offend our desires for fairness and freedom from harm.

Second, in a theological god model, we need to separately consider (a) the creation of a world which allows evil (harm and unfairness) from (b) other actions by that god that we might perceive as unfair or harmful.
a.  Should we hold the god accountable for harm that results from creation of a harm-enabled environment?  For example, if someone were to put broken glass in a playpen and also put a baby in the playpen can we blame them for the cuts the baby will almost inevitably receive?  It may seem a straw man argument in that the baby lacks awareness necessary for alleged free will, but (1) real babies are really harmed in our real world and (2)  and even as aware adults our awareness is never complete; thus we are susceptible to harm we can't be adequately aware of.
b.  Additionally, a theological god is 'at work' in people's lives.  And if in our material world wherein we cooperate and compete for resources, is it possible for such a god to tip the scales in any one person's favor without tipping in a less favorable way for other people?  There may be exceptions but generally the answer is: no.  If we are to assume God had a hand in David's victory over Goliath it shouldn't be hard to see that from Goliath's perspective (and that of the Philistines) God's intervention was evil (unfair and harmful).  Who created that evil?
Third, let's not overlook natural evil.  I think we can generally agree that animals are capable of experiencing pain.  (They have nervous systems.  If they didn't they would suffer the same consequences as congenital analgesia patients.)  Most animals die painfully... to predation, disease, trauma.  Natural disasters produce massive concentrations of suffering to humans and other animals.  And, "Most accidents happen in the home."  Were we placed in a world created for us yet is obviously out to get us?  It might be argued that harm has benefits.  And it's somewhat true, in a tautological way.  When we get hurt we learn to value freedom from harm.  But if the world weren't harmful we wouldn't need this lesson.

Fourth, did the god create the animals?  With varying degrees of denial of a natural bio-genesis and evolution we have to consider where these animals came from? 
(from: God's Parasites )

Fifth, does (or will) evil 'exist' in Heaven?  If not then how can all the reasons evil is necessary on Earth suddenly become unnecessary in that change of venue? There are arguments (rationalizations actually) for why we might 'need' to experience a temporary world of suffering before we experience an eternal world without suffering.  But these postulates really don't hold water, especially considering the vast range in both duration and quality of life we experience.  How long does a baby, child or young adult need to live before they've met the heavenly prerequisite?  How much must they suffer first?  The whole concept of this life being a necessary evil as a stepping stone to a perfect afterlife is intellectually bankrupt.  And if it is true that good is not possible without the presence or potential for bad, it doesn't bode well for the ultimate good of Heaven.  (I half expect someone to claim that the "bad" of Hell allows for the "good" of Heaven, or some special case pleading for Heaven/God.  Feel free to preemptively counter one of these claims in comments.)

The argument that the possibility of evil is necessary for the existence of freewill is largely meaningless unless you can make a decent case for the existence of freewill.  Arguments that are made for the existence of freewill are unconvincing on an objective level.  Arguments that freewill is in illusion are increasingly consistent with demonstrable facts as science continues to improve our understanding of neurophysiology.  It would be irresponsible of me to claim this matter has been resolved.  But as our knowledge increases, the presupposition of freewill unravels.

Some believe that good vs. evil is about picking sides, choosing to be on the side of good.  In the sense that behavior that is 'good' is behavior that is beneficial to something (perhaps humanity or some part of it) and behavior that is 'evil' is harmful to something (perhaps humanity, perhaps a fly that has just had it's wings removed) you're either acting in our (humanity's) favor or against it.  (I would argue that even in the example of torturing flies, humanity is harmed even if it's only morally, philosophically or on some academic level.)  But no one is going 'pick a side' and strive to do 'evil' at every possible opportunity.  Likewise, those who consciously choose to pick the good side are going to make choices along the way that will do more harm than good, knowingly or otherwise.  Sure, you can pick a side, but it's merely an abstract and unrealizable ideal.  It might be better to realize that as humanity, and life in general, are going to outlast you, your greater responsibility is to them, rather than yourself.

Did God create the "evil"?  If a god can take any credit for the creation of this world and the good things that exist in it, then it must also be accountable for the world it created and the evil things in it.  Just as we would hold accountable any human creator that knowingly unleashes harm into the world.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Freewill, The illusion of

For every choice, there are perceived factuals which are weighed by the chooser. Counter-factuals could alter the choice, depending on the nature of the counter-factuals. The previous experience and current psychological state (including desires) of the chooser are beyond their choice. Fatuals that are not perceived do not weigh into the choice. There is a choice that is made but under a given set of perceived factuals and psychological state the chooser could not choose differently. "I could if I wanted to." But you don't want to. That would be a different psychological state.

For every choice I've ever made I can imagine circumstances which would have caused me to choose differently. Feeling how I felt, wanting what I wanted and knowing what I knew I could not have chosen differently. If there had been a different feeling, desire or understanding then the choice made would have been subject to those influences.

There are times when I don't know why I make the choices I do. But the spontaneous or capricious nature of the choice don't make my choice less deterministic. If anything these mysterious choices suggest that feeling and desire are capable of operating with minimal influence from an understanding the circumstances.

When I do something random this does not suggest that I am exercising free will, rather I'm responding to (usually) ineffable stimuli. When i do something deliberate I am reacting to better identified, better considered stimuli. In all cases I am beholden to environmental, physiological and psychological influences.

Each feeling, desire and perception of circumstances is another bit of coercion steering us to a resulting choice. There may be no outside agent twisting our arm, the choices we make may be our own, but it is a mistake to think that for a given set of circumstances we are able to make more than one choice.

Saturday, March 1, 2014


What is Morality and where does it come from?

It’s usually best to begin by defining confusable terms.  In this case I’m using “morality” and “morals” to simply refer that part of us that seeks to act fairly, kindly or altruistically.  It is the innate desire to do right.  We may have rules, laws, social conventions and other codified ethics.  But the feeling, the underlying motive, the meta-ethic is “morality.”  This definition may seem to be inconsistent with traditional usage.  By this definition many activities traditionally identified as immoral seem to be dismissed or perhaps still are immoral but for different reasons.

In order for an entity to be a moral agent it must have subjective experience and empathy. 

The subjective experience is a matter of environmental factors generating preferences in us.  Things that tend to damage us tend to feel uncomfortable or painful.  Things that tend to increase our safety, survival and reproduction tend to feel comfortable or good.  Without this subjective experience it would be difficult to justify any claim of one thing or state being better than another.  We would still have considerations of practicality.  For instance we might realize it is better to keep both arms than to lose one.  Or we might consider it is better to be alive than dead.  But without subjectivity in our experience we would not develop spontaneous preferences.  Without our own subjective experience it would be difficult to appreciate the subjective experience of others.

As biological organisms we have needs and constraints and as a result: drives.  Food, water and breathable air cover our most basic individual needs.  Since we are mortal, we as a species need to reproduce as well.  We require an environment that is neither too hot nor too cold with a fairly narrow ideal temperature range.  We can refer to Maslow’s Hierarchy for an extend list of less basic needs.  But the required resources available to satisfy these needs (and/or our ability to gather them) are limited.  We typically find ourselves in competition with each other and other organisms for the resources to satisfy our needs.

We have the ability and tendency to recognize, anticipate and appreciate the subjective experience of others.  It’s difficult to say whether (or to what degree) this empathy is genetic versus cultural (nature vs. nurture.)  The physiology of mirror neurons supports genetics but I wouldn’t expect that to be the whole story.  Additionally we are social creatures.  There are many species of social creatures all of whom have little or no culture.  Whether empathy gave rise to our social drives or our social drives gave rise to our empathy is subject to speculation.  (“Empathy gave rise” is far more plausible.)  But in humans social drive and empathy don’t seem to scale in one-to-one correlation.

Subjectivity and empathy make us moral agents: entities capable of recognizing, anticipating and appreciating the subjective experience of other subjective entities, even where that capacity is not reciprocal. For instance we would be able to appreciate the suffering of a komodo dragon but we should not expect it to appreciate our suffering.  The dragon is not a moral agent.  What about a baboon or gorilla?  These are creatures that appear to appreciate the subjective states in others of their own kind, at least of their own group.  If they attacked a human they would probably have a fair understanding of the suffering their human victim would experience.  But would they care, or rather could they care?  The answer seems to rely on previous interaction, on established relationships and on the situation at hand.  Moral agency in non-human primates appears to be present but stifled.

Group identity will strongly influence behavior in social creatures.  Our devotion to our many social circles varies.  Family tends to generate the strongest devotion but shared experience and ideology can create strong psychological bonds as well.  We find ourselves grouped with friends, neighbors, co-workers, civic groups, political groups, people with shared interests (environment, sports team, music genre/artists…), religious groups and others.  Our devotion to the people and groups we identify with can be based on familiarity.  But often we find ourselves devoted to an ideal, a cultural concept, which in turn reinforces our devotion to the related group and individuals.

From an evolutionary standpoint the power of cultural influences may seem difficult to reconcile.  But ceremonies and rituals almost certainly predated language and served to reinforce group cohesion. Behaviors that originally would have augmented kin selection and nepotism have long since become just as effective at dissolving family cohesion.  I make this claim in regards to potential rather than likelihood or necessity.  Families may share ideological beliefs or hold conflicting ideologies with varying degrees of dedication.  In the early millennia of cultural development it’s unlikely that there was any diversity.  So evolutionarily, the strength of cultural identity on group cohesion is not surprising. 

In considering the origins of morality we should remember that there are many social species aside from humans.  Schools, hives, prides, packs, herds and troops should make it immediately obvious that intelligence and culture are not prerequisites to cooperation.  Social instinct has appeased natural selection in many species. 

We tend to value individuals in our groups that contribute more resources to the group.  Conversely, individuals that contribute less are generally devalued.  And individuals who cheat jeopardize their perceived status as a member of the group through a waning of trust.  Our moral agency (subjective experience combined with empathy) gives us perception of whether interactions are generous or stingy, fair or unfair, kind or unkind, caring or callous, and generally good or bad.  We appreciate the experience of the individual in a way we think of as rights.  We appreciate our relationships and place in a group in a way we think of as roles and responsibilities. 

We need to execute some measure of selfishness to survive.  But given our limited ability to gather necessary (and otherwise desirable) resources as lone individuals, we also need some measure of selflessness, manifesting as cooperation.  The underlying drives for each are instilled by biology.  Like most biological systems the way things work, the ‘rules,’ tend to resemble self-balancing conditional algorithms rather than linear instructions.  We seek equity for ourselves and others.  We deplore inequity at our expense and also when others suffer unfairness.  The more closely we identify with others (an innate recognition of in-group status) the more sharply we recognize and care about their suffering and well-being.

As cognitive social animals we share information: culture.  But cultural information is highly subject to being incomplete, misleading or wrong (by degrees varying form not quite right yet functional to completely contrary to demonstrable factual reality.)  And yet what we learn from experience and from shared information influences how we perceive new experience and information.  We are entirely capable of doing the wrong thing while thinking we are doing the right thing based on existing beliefs.  Ideologies are particularly culpable but simple misunderstandings lead us astray as well.  We develop beliefs which bias us when considering new information which is added to our beliefs in cycles that allows us to convince ourselves of just about anything.

As a result the idea of Objectivism (philosophical morality theory) doesn’t quite make sense because it is based on subjective experience.  Relativism doesn’t quite work because there are some very basic, fundamental commonalities to the subjective experience, many of which can be misinformed by cultural beliefs hijacking our perception.  Emotivism doesn’t work for several reasons: we are always working with incomplete information, morality is a social issue as much as (if not more than) a personal issue and again mistaken beliefs can, perhaps must, skew our perception.

Tribalism presents another skew on morality.  Our empathy for others and disdain of injustice are stronger and consequently more motivating in-group, toward people we identify with, than for “those other ones” (out-group).  Us and them, worse us versus them, undermines our ability and willingness to support “them.”  Ideologies, proximity, appearance, etc. create counter-productive us and them barriers.

If there is any hope of anything resembling an objective morality it will be accessible only by a willingness and ability to consider our beliefs skeptically and strip away dubious opinions in order to find a balancing mechanism that supports individual rights and social responsibility based on common human subjective experience, empathy and a lust for fairness.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Science vs. Truth

Science doesn't tell us what is true. Science observes, measures, hypothesizes and then sets out to prove where and how it's hypotheses are wrong. The knowledge we gain is not truth but understanding. It allows us to make more reliable predictions. Through science we may know things better. But through science we may also know things even better tomorrow, next year, next century... we presume to not know so our understanding may improve. So we may make more more accurate predictions, perhaps new predictions, as new and/or better information becomes available.

"Truth" is a fool's goal. For any Truth that may be asserted do not terms and conditions apply? How then is this Truth? Certainly there are axioms. But in terms of how to live your life, how to treat other people, general civics, all "Truths" are conditional, multifaceted and rely on circumstances. When such a Truth is offered even the least skilled sophist should be able to identify how this alleged Truth is incomplete, hit&miss or independent of reality.

Science and skeptical inquiry do not tell us what is true, but rather what is not true or otherwise irrelevant.

"Truth" only gives us something to believe. "Truth" is the antithesis of enlightenment.

Monday, July 29, 2013

New Andy Thomson video, The Neuro-physiology of Religious Belief & Spiritual Practice

The Neuro-physiology of Religious Belief & Spiritual Practice: Dr. Andy Thomson on YouTube

I love Andy's work. *But* early in the video he claims there is one religion.  That was misleading.  Perhaps it was just poor wording.  But the implication was that all religions are variations of an original religion.  Behaviorally and ritualistically he makes a good case.  And if we define religion as a set of rituals the claim would be supported.  But I don't think anyone would characterize a set of rituals/behaviors as a religion without a belief component.  So he didn't quite deliver on the thesis.  That's a little disappointing.

Aside from that he has delivered another commendable talk.  There was some overlap with previous talks he's given (and why wouldn't there be.)  But there was a wealth of new (to me) ideas and supporting evidence.  I would recommend this video to anyone interested in motivations for religious behavior, evolutionary psychology or general interest in why humans engage in rituals.

As is often the case I found myself cringing at some of the audience's questions.  There is a trend I've hyper-actively detected in follow-up Q&A sessions.  It seems a great many questioners bring an agenda thinly veiled as a question.  i.e. (paraphrasing) Why are Muslims so extremely violent while we Jews are passive nerds?  *facepalm*

Anyway, I enjoyed and learned from the video.  I'll link his video page as well below.  If you want a better understanding of the psychological and sociological origins and mechanisms of religions these videos are not to be missed.  Go.  Watch.  Now.  :)

Andy Thomson videos

I welcome comments and questions.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Intelligent Design, the problem of evil and the fallacy of sin

The Thinking Atheist's video about the irony of Intelligent Design and the prevalence of evil.

The problem of evil is not a direct refutation of the supposition of Intelligent Design (ID). But it does undermine ID. How can we use the beauty and majesty we find in nature as evidence of an intelligent designer (allegedly benevolent) when beauty and majesty are the exception rather than the rule? The mishomonist (I just totally made that word up, ad hoc.) will claim that it is the sins of man that are to blame.

If we assume that is true then how can they (these mishomonist , these haters of man) avoid admitting that the current state of nature does not support ID? Further, what historical information do we have that indicates, or even suggests, that there was a time when beauty and majesty were the norm rather than the exception? Conclusion: Blaming the problem of evil on the sins of man is an admission that ID is not consistent with observable reality.

But do those who blame the sins of man even have a point? Again if we assume that man was designed, by a designer, and the result was sin, what does that tell us about the design? Is it possible, given a perfect designer, that the product could fail to work as designed? Even with the inclusion of free will (which also can't be substantiated) the designed being will operate, must operate, as designed. The temptations of the fruit of the tree knowledge of good and evil, and other alleged evils, are only tempting because of our nature... our allegedly designed nature.

Intelligent Design is intended to be an argument that supports the existence of a creator/designer based on the complexity of many lifeforms. But much of the offered complexity (especially flaws) is better explained by evolutionary legacies. From an engineering standpoint reducing complexity if generally preferable. So too, many biological systems would be improved by reducing complexity.

ID fails on its basic claim. It also fails in light of the problem of evil. It also fails in light of the allegation that the current rarity of beauty and majesty are due to the sins of man. And it fails even further based on the alleged failure (sin) of that which was designed.

None of this proves or disproves the existence of a supernatural intelligent creator. But it does make the notion of a theistic powerful benevolent caring interactive deity completely moot.