Thursday, May 23, 2013

BSA Votes to Lift Ban on Gay Scouts After Blessing From Mormon Church

After the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) gave their blessing recently the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) have voted to allow openly gay scouts in their troops, at least until they want to become Scoutmasters.  The Mormon church is the largest single religious organization which charters many troops.  This seems consistent with the Mormon church's policy which they have recently been promoting with a new website bearing the church's logo at Mormons and Gays, where they discuss what the church's current stance is towards homosexuals.

In Justice Stevens dissenting opinion in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale
 he noted that the BSA's ban on gays did not stem from any of the principles taught in the Scouting Handbook.  Even in the Scoutmasters Guidebook the Scoutmasters are instructed to defer these teachings to the child's home, religious leaders, doctors, or teachers.  In the list reiterated by Justice Stevens Scoutmasters show up as the very last, and they are told to only answer at their comfort levels.

As is par for the course with the Mormon church their societal views have changed with convenience.  In 2008 they broke the separation which they had maintained with staying out of political measures to intervene in California's Proposition 8; four years later they are now changing their teachings from "it's a lifestyle choice", to "you might be born with it but it's still a choice."  There was a similar turnaround, although much more dramatic, in 1978 after the civil rights movement was well past and the rest of society had moved forward, leaders of this relatively small church changed their policy after much pressure from the government and other groups. Up until that time church members were taught that the "negroes are not equal with other races" (Bruce R McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, pp. 527-528)

The new policy which the BSA has put forth reflects the protocol portrayed by the Mormon church on tolerating homosexuals in their wards (a ward is a local Mormon congregation).  As stated on the Mormons and Gays website:
Members of the Church who have same-sex attractions, but don't act on them, can continue to enjoy full fellowship in the church, which includes holding the priesthood, carrying out callings, and attending the temple. Unlike in times past, the Church does not necessarily advise those with same-sex attraction to marry those of the opposite sex. Same-sex attraction itself is not a sin, but yielding to it is.
This is similar to the stance which the BSA now has that the scout can be gay, but cannot act on it.  The BSA reasoning goes equally with all scouts because of their stance against premarital sex.  What differs right now is what happens when they are adults: in the Mormon church they still cannot act on them; in the BSA they aren't allowed even if they don't act.

As there has been an evolution of man throughout the ages, from our distant ancestors who we share with chimpanzees, to our neanderthal cousins, so there is an evolution in society, and in our morals; this evolution has continually been towards the equal treatment of our fellow man, even to an extension of this to all our brothers, sisters, and cousins found throughout the flora and fauna on the Earth.  We may continue to look forward to a day where unequal and discriminatory policies are not found within civilization, and the solidarity of all things here on Earth can be felt through the realization and recognition of our common genealogy.

Picture By Douglas Muth from Ardmore, PA, USA (My old Boy Scout merit badges) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Book Review: How Modern Science and Neurology Destroys Christianity



This pamphlet by +Truman Smith was a delight to read, concisely putting forth four blows to modern Christianity, with a slight tangent into the reliability of the Bible. It is well worth the read, and has a nice font size on the front cover and heading of every page to garner you some looks while reading it on public transit, as I learned recently while riding the MAX in Portland.

It breaks down to an argument from evolution, an argument from neurology, how god is evil, and the gospel is just plain nonsense. He goes on a bit further to show the folly in so-called "Evolutionary Creationist", and the corollary of conceding even one of his points when dealing with Christianity.

Emergence was a topic that I hadn't thought about much before.  Recently scientists have shown even more so that our genetics aren't so much exactly who we are, but it is the combination of genetics, environment and experience that makes you you, and me me.  I like to think of this as the process of me dying multiple times over in a single lifetime.  The me today is not the same as the me from yesterday, or yesteryear.  The child my mother once knew and raised is no more, neither is the mother who gave me nurture.  As experience and knowledge has accrued the self that I once was has been laid to rest with the emergence of a new being, one whom I hope is more thoughtful and loving.

The one argument that I kept hearing going through my head is from my old bishop who said, regarding the genocides in the bible, "But they aren't dead."  The problem with this statement is it takes life and deludes it of anything that is precious.  In the Mormon philosophy which I used to prescribe to, this mortal life is thought of as a stepping stone to eternity, that the reason we come here is merely to obtain a body and, for those who weren't the most righteous who die at childbirth,  to gain experience and prove ourselves to be subservient to our God in every way.  What he means by "But they aren't dead." is that they went to the spirit world, a type of waiting place for everyone before the resurrection.  He argued that it was a blessing to them that they could swiftly go there and begin their repentance because their hearts were too hardened and incapable of change in this life already.

Is life so much a burden that we should look forward to the day that it will be swept away?  The greatest thing which I have come to learn since leaving religion behind is that life is infinitely precious because we have only one to live, and as Dr. Stephen Hawking once said, "We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe and for that, I am extremely grateful."

Even if it was a blessing for those, Truman's argument that God is evil still stands.  Truman committed Godwin's law by comparing God to Hitler; we know Hitler to be an evil person because of the genocide of 6 million Jews; God had previously wiped out the entire human race save eight souls, and even after that he continued to commit genocide, ordering Israel to abolish entire nations throughout the Old Testament.  Without including the flood it is at least 2.5 million; after including an estimate for the flood and other slaughters which did not have numbers associated with it, we are now at a total of nearly 25 million.  Here is a good place for a quote from a Tim Minchin song:
I had a cat, she gave birth to a litter 
The kittens were adorable and they made my family laugh 
But as they grew they started misbehavin' 
So I drowned the little fuckers in the bath 
When the creatures in your care start being menaces 
The answers can be found right there in Genesis! 
Chapter 6, Verse 5-7! 
What kind of person would this describe who could be so cruel?

If you are still not convinced, I urge you to purchase this pamphlet and read it.  Other good books to consider can be found at the end of this review.

In conclusion, it is nice to see the perspective of someone who went through the training and has the credentials of a minister.  Richard Dawkins theorizes that there are many that are in situations as ministers where they have devoted their life to the work and don't know what they would do for a job.  There is help out there which can be found at The Clergy Project.  This pamphlet is a bit more polite than The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and may be more palatable to those who may be easily offended by discussing the fallacy of their beliefs.  Thanks go to +Truman Smith for writing this pamphlet and to +Bernie Dehler for sharing it with me.

Recommended Reading:
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Most Helpful Repo Command for Android Development

Article has been moved to my blog at OhYongHao.com
I must lament for a bit what I see to be a great lack of foresight when dealing with Android.  From the official documentation to any site that I have tried to visit there seems to be one thing which is not discussed.  There is an unwritten rule taken nearly religiously: Those that use 'repo' don't talk about 'repo'.

Repo is this all powerful super tool built on top of git, another all powerful super tool, which allows for the concurrent management of multiple projects that are used to form one super project.  There is just one catch, nothing but the most simplistic of usage examples are available.

As it turns out the entire documentation is hidden in the program itself.  As not to be too obvious, when you type the standard 'repo --help' you get a fairly unuseful help message:

Usage: repo [-p|--paginate|--no-pager] COMMAND [ARGS]
Options:
  -h, --help      show this help message and exit
  -p, --paginate  display command output in the pager
  --no-pager      disable the pager
  --trace         trace git command execution
  --time          time repo command execution
  --version       display this version of repo
Nothing in here is very useful.  What are the available commands that are referred to here?  Nothing there would point you to the most helpful repo command.  Try typing 'repo help', note the missing double dash, and here is what you get:
usage: repo COMMAND [ARGS]
The most commonly used repo commands are:
  abandon            Permanently abandon a development branch
  branch             View current topic branches
  branches           View current topic branches
  checkout           Checkout a branch for development
  checkout-manifest  for every project in a manifest tag file check out the sha1 listed in the file
  cherry-pick        Cherry-pick a change.
  diff               Show changes between commit and working tree
  download           Download and checkout a change
  format-patch       build patch sets for each project common to a manifest baseline
  grep               Print lines matching a pattern
  init               Initialize repo in the current directory
  list               List projects and their associated directories
  overview           Display overview of unmerged project branches
  prune              Prune (delete) already merged topics
  push               Push the local branch
  rebase             Rebase local branches on upstream branch
  smartsync          Update working tree to the latest known good revision
  stage              Stage file(s) for commit
  start              Start a new branch for development
  status             Show the working tree status
  sync               Update working tree to the latest revision
  tag-manifest       for every project in a manifest tag use the sha1 listed in the file set the tagname to it
  upload             Upload changes for code review
See 'repo help ' for more information on a specific command.
See 'repo help --all' for a complete list of recognized commands.
Wait, what is this?  A list of every nearly every command available along with useful information at the end telling you how to find EVERY command that repo uses?  Why the bloody hell was this not put in the first help message?  Was it too troublesome to add a line at the end like "See 'repo help' for a list of commands."?  Even the official documentation, at most, lists using 'repo help COMMAND' but gives no indication that leaving off 'COMMAND' would then show you all the possible commands.

Hopefully someone finds this post useful, I know it has taken me a long time to find this bit of information, I now put it out here in hope that others aren't as lost as I was for so long.  I will now be perusing and learning more about this powerful tool.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Dvorak: My Experience With The Alternative Keyboard Layout

A brief history of Dvorak

In two days it will be the 77th anniversary of the Dvorak keyboard.  On May 12, 1936 an ambitious professor at the University of Washington in Seattle named August Dvorak published his Dvorak Simplified Keyboard (DSK) layout as an alternative to the Qwerty keyboard layout which had become popularized with the Remington No. 2 in 1878.

There have been multiple pushes since to promote this alternative layout, boasting claims of faster typing speed, increased accuracy, and lowered strain on the hands and wrists.  The Apple II series had a hack that could be performed to allow switching between Qwerty and Dvorak layouts, which was changed to a switch for the Apple IIc iteration.

Contemporary Use

As of Android OS 4.1 Dvorak is handled natively without the need of a third party application.  It isn't the easiest one to find, being hidden under the advanced options in the keyboard setup, but can be used along with the Qwerty keyboard after being enabled.

Most modern operating also support this layout natively as an alternative to the English(US) layout.

Pop Culture

Terry Goodkind, author of the Sword of Truth series, types using the Dvorak keyboard layout.  The 2005 Guinness Book of World Records speed typist holder, Barbara Blackburn, also used Dvorak.  Along with Steve Wozniak from Apple, and Brian Cohen of BitTorrent fame.

Personal Experience

Starting in about 2005 I read an article on Slashdot about speed typing with Dvorak.  This is a topic that makes its rounds in computer geek news circles roughly once a year, or at least as often as a writer by the same name makes it in the news.

Eventually a good friend of mine, John, and I decided to try and learn Dvorak.  I found a simple command line program that taught typing the same way that I learned on the Apple IIe.  What I found with this was amazing, by not leaving the home row I could already begin typing common words.
This, that, the, sin, sit, a, otto, auto, do, it, did, don, do not, theist, atheist.
This is neat, an atheist does not see the insane sadist that a theist does.  
Excluding punctuation that last sentence was completely typed using the home row.  You can't do that with Qwerty because in Qwerty you only have a single vowel in home row, thus forcing you on nearly every word to leave home row once.  Luckily all the other vowels are placed on the upper row which is easier to reach than the lower.  The corollary is that the punctuation is sacrificed in its stead.

I went full speed ahead on learning Dvorak; going cold turkey to Qwerty can be hard, but I find the desire to communicate to be a large enough driving force to propel me forward in increasing my accuracy.  Within a few days I was around half the speed I was before with Qwerty and today I enjoy about equal speed.

Up until recently I had never actually looked at a Dvorak keyboard, but I was interested in having it on my Android phone.  After a little bit of googling I found that Jellybean supports Dvorak natively, so I enabled it.  I'll write more about this experience in the Caveats section, but in short it was disastrous.  Even to this day I type on a keyboard that is labeled with Qwerty, thus I have been completely familiar with a Qwerty layout since the time my father brought home our first computer in 1994 when I was 10 years old, therefore making me completely lost staring at a screen which my touch typing fingers know, but my eyes view as familiar as abstract art.

Pros

There are many enthusiast out there who could convince you that Dvorak might cure the common cold and cook you breakfast; my experience shows neither of these happening.  I do feel a difference while typing in that I no longer feel when I am typing fast that my hands are flying all over the keyboard finding the keys that they need to press to string together a few cluttered phrases.  There was an experience I had once when I was a young bachelor.  My housemate was watching TV with a couple of friends and I was sitting in my chair typing on my laptop when slowly, everybody started looking at me.  They asked me what I was doing.  I responded that I was merely typing a journal entry for the days events.  The look on their face told me they thought I was just joking and trying to get somebody's attention, in their experience people do not type that fast; whether this is Dvorak causing this, or just my own speed of typing having always been above average I cannot say.

Among the claims are health benefits for those who type a lot.  As many programmers and typists know typing causes a lot of stress on your hands, and particularly on the joints and tendons that are used in typing.  Having never really had bad hands to begin with I cannot vouch for the efficacy of this claim, but I can say that I no longer feel that my fingers are flying all over the keyboard no matter how fast I type.

Caveats

In my nearly 10 years of experience typing in Dvorak I would have to say one of the most frustrating experiences has very little to do with Dvorak itself, but with typing in Chinese.  Some systems work flawlessly switching between New Phonetic Input Method, and others fail.  The ideal situation is when you go into a mode that types in English that it uses the underlying English keyboard you selected, in
my case Dvorak; this isn't always the case, and my greatest frustration has been, sadly, in Linux.

My greatest experience of operability with multiple users is in Linux using the 12.04 Ubuntu login.  The login remembers which keyboard layout each user had previously selected and upon switching to that username on the login screen the keyboard also changes to the associated keyboard layout.  This helps alleviate some of the frustration that coworkers or family members might feel when getting on the computer and having that WTF moment when they type and nothing intelligible comes out.

Gaming

If this article was written just for those preaching to the choir it is almost unneeded to even mention the by far largest caveat known to Dvorak users, the grand behemoth of gaming.  Virtually every game with few notable mentions, even consider alternative keyboards when making keyboard layouts, and even fewer of those that do include Dvorak.  The most heinous of them might disallow certain keys found in the upper left corner of the Dvorak keyboard which on Qwerty are replaced by its namesake.  The QWERTY keys when mapped to a Dvorak keyboard spell ',.pyf and "<>PYF.  Workarounds have been found by allowing both Qwerty and Dvorak in the underlying OS and using the keyboard switcher to switch between the two formats.  In time sensitive games, such as Star Craft II, this can be the death of you if you forgot to reset before starting, and it can make quick chat unusable, or impractical during a gaming session.

The best I have come across is Entropia Universe, this allows me to set the key functions in Qwerty, which is useful due to the fact that almost nobody actually owns a keyboard that has letters printed in Dvorak, while at the same time when I go to chat it automatically uses the key mapping provided by the OS.  No need to switch, or second guess which keyboard you are using.  I wish more games would follow this format.

Swipe

As mentioned previously I decided to try it out on my Nexus 4.  That was the biggest mistake I had ever made.  I use Dvorak whenever feasible and I always wished that my G2 supported it on the fold out keyboard.  The caveat I ran into with swiping is Dvorak is just too efficient; the letters are all grouped together.  I couldn't type anything, I had no idea where keys were, swiping was nearly impossible and took forever.  Swiping works on the eccentric word patterns that Qwerty forms which was made to keep mechanical keyboards from colliding together.  Conversely, Dvorak causes tighter word patterns which then create much more ambiguousness due to so many words being formed with essentially the same pattern.  Imagine trying to swipe when most words are formed with letters that are collinear, forming a left to right to left pattern.  Perhaps a different system that uses a circle for a keyboard may make a better way to swipe, but the disadvantage of Dvorak is exacerbated from being unfamiliar with its visual landscape when you need to type a word that is not in the dictionary, or that the phone is having difficulty deciphering from your swipe.  At this point it becomes a tedious task of hunting for where each letter is.  I tried this for a couple minutes and my already slow swiping speed crawled nearly to a halt.  Sorry but this is one aspect in which Dvorak certainly does not win.

Conclusion

Dvorak keeps people off my computer, much to the chagrin of many a coworker and friend.  It feels much more natural and I can't see myself ever fully converting to a Qwerty keyboard again.  Despite its shortcomings in some industries, such as gaming, I still find that the momentary setback of figuring out how to switch the keyboard layout is more than worth it, plus it gets me extra points on my geek card.

That being said I still would recommend that you at least become familiar with Qwerty and be able to type using Qwerty if needs be.  For me I can still switch between the two formats at will, although the first few strokes will be a little awkward, and while typing using Qwerty I may have to keep reminding myself that I am not using Dvorak.  For those that love a challenge, go for it.