it’s not just a light, it’s tactical


You say you’ve got your bluetooth-enabled speaker embedded in a fidget spinner? You own a fleet of Groot-branded HD camera drones? Toss that crap aside because what you truly deserve is a tactical flashlight, or even better, a tactical lantern

How many times have to said this to yourself:

I need a lantern, but not just any lantern — it must be tactical.

“Tactical” generally means something related to military operations. It can also refer to carefully planning or strategizing to achieve an end. So when you’re using precision and strategy to illuminate a dark place, you want the type of photons that radiate from a tactical light. 

(Be aware that you will also need batteries, or, as I like to call them, “tactical portable electricity cylinders.”)

Below you’ll see two lanterns, one tactical and one not. Study this carefully so you don’t accidentally purchase a non-tactical light. 

Tactical Lantern – plastic – uses 3 AA batteries – collapsible

Non-tactical Lantern – plastic – uses 3 AA batteries – collapsible

Got it? Now it’s time to go out and plan your illumination campaign. Next, we’ll examine hydration systems (sometimes called “water bottles”).

super brain is out to get you


I recently read yet another article about the alleged threat posed by artificial intelligence. I don’t buy it; at least as this story is usually framed. When someone says that the danger lies in self-aware, volitional computer intelligence, I think they are projecting science fiction plots onto reality. When they talk about a runaway recursive loop of smarter-than-human computers creating even smarter computers, and so on unto “singularity,” they are pretending that real life resembles a really cool novel they once read.

When do we get there and where is “there”?

I think it’s so very unlikely and/or so far off, that it would be a wasted effort to worry about it, and even worse to take action on it when there are so many actual serious problems to deal with. Why do I think that? Point me to an example of a self-aware, volitional computer to justify the concern. Show me any non-biological intelligence. As far as I’m aware, examples offered as even the beginnings of this are stretching the definitions of “intelligence” and “self-awareness” to the breaking point.

There is no clear and obvious path from where we are now to a human-like artificial intelligence. People have been working on AI for decades and are no closer. I think it’s possible in principle, and we may get there, but where are the signs that we’re even close? To take one crude example, do you think that something will just “wake up,” given enough processing power? Are there even hints of this happening? Look at the Blue Brain Project, it’s a great thing, but I don’t think anyone involved would say they are even remotely near such an achievement.

Smarter than what?

I think we have another problem, which is even knowing what it means to have a computer that is smarter than humans. Already there are computers that perform calculations much faster than people. Is that it? Most people would say no. They mean a computer that is “super-intelligent,”  as far beyond us as we are beyond a microbe. Again, people tend to mean self-aware machines with desires of their own, but super, and incomprehensible. I think we’re assigning magic to consciousness and intelligence. Just scale up the “smartness” 10 or 100-fold and magic happens. The machines will save us. No, they’ll destroy us. No, they’ll put us all in a simulation. No, we’re already in one.

I’ve heard some alarmists suggest that if it happens just once – if a smarter-than-human intelligence develops — we’re in trouble. Then it’s too late. The genie is  out of the bottle. How does it get the better of us? Maybe it’s so smart that it uses its super-smart AI silver tongue to talk us into not unplugging it. Or maybe it replicates itself all over the internet, and somehow (magic) gains control of our physical environment and eradicates us. It makes smarter copies of itself, and the smarter it gets, the more magic happens.

Get real

I think a genuine threat is humans giving increasing responsibilities to machines without developing sufficient safeguards. An example would be a self-driving car that can’t handle certain tricky situations on the road. That’s a danger. A malfunctioning gun-wielding military robot that selects its own targets – that’s a danger.  A runaway super-smart AI? Not so much. It’s a gross misuse of resources to spend money combatting evil machines. We have bigger fish to fry like poverty, disease, war, and climate change.

i fell down a youtube comment rabbit hole


I sometimes search Youtube for ambient music to play while I’m working. Recently I came across a recording that some consider to be the greatest new age album ever made. I listened to it as I worked. There were angelic voices, ringing bells, tinkling harps, and sweeping strings — over and over again, in different variations for more than 100 minutes.

Though it did little for me, in the comments people described how they wept with joy and felt enraptured. There were also comments about the accompanying video, which included crystalline mountain streams, sunsets, and geometric shapes.

Rabbit Hole Level 1

One person commented about some shiny gadgets visible at one point in the video. They “seem to represent some device for transfer of light beams … maybe to communicate or even power a craft … I get a sense that they are something real somehow.”

Another commenter left an earnest response about these gadgets. “They are energy transducers.” They are used for “healing and energy transfers to different frequencies of reality.” Well, that clears everything right up. Now we know exactly what they are. The commenter continued, “You know this already from a higher viewpoint. That is why they seem familiar to you.”

The original commenter was ecstatic to learn this, and added, “I also felt that there are giant ones in space that act as a lighthouse of sorts and propel craft through transducing energy currents.” Yes, I feel the truth of this. When you see deeply into reality, it’s all lights, healing, and spaceships.

Down to Rabbit Hole Level 2

I clicked a link on the side of this page and came to another very similar music video. Interestingly, there was a flame war happening among the enlightened beings making comments. One guy was ticked off at a previous comment, and he said, “Ironic that I received your philosophically ill-conceived comment while listening to Pineal Gland opening tones …” (I added the boldface.)

This uncovered a new world for me, the world of sound recordings for pineal glands. Although these glands don’t have ears, the “tones” are somehow channeled through your ears to your pineal gland. I wonder if there are recordings for salivary glands and the sebaceous glands.

Farther into Wonderland: Rabbit Hole Level 3

The problem with pineal glands is that they can become calcified. No worries, though, because you can decalcify one pretty quickly by listening to this person. You also need to “activate” your pineal gland so it functions properly as your third eye. A side link led me to “Crystal Skull Activation,” which included a warning that the video will awaken ancient memories. And on to “The Pleiadan Video that Triggered My Kundalini.” Help! I was swirling down the rabbit hole!

Back to the Surface

Later, I woke up slumped over in my chair, my head fizzing like a carbonated beverage. I’d been burped back up the surface, possibly because my energy was incompatible with ultra-refined consciousness.

If readers want to explore this rabbit hole, have at it. But sweep up your pineal gland calc when you’re done. Don’t leave it lying on this blog.

ask the universe


The universe – an incomprehensibly large expanse strewn with billions of galaxies, each full of billions of stars. And it’s expanding. Then toss in dark energy and dark matter, even though no one currently knows what that means. Add gravity and stir. 

Maybe, like me, you have heard someone ask the universe for help. They’ll say something like, “I want to live in a tropical paradise, so I’ll put the intention out there and see if the universe supports me.” However, I’m pretty sure that the actual universe doesn’t care if you live or die, let alone where you live. Go ahead, just ask it if it cares. 

Yet some people believe that an invisible force underlying all reality will “support” them if their wish is in cosmic alignment with … universe energy! Or something vague like that. Years ago, I held a similar belief – everything is made of consciousness, so you can do anything. It’s kind of like “the secret,” which says that if you really want something you’ll get it. After all, you create reality, so the world will rearrange itself according to your desires. 

In other words, it’s magic. Some people will make ridiculous claims that quantum physics somehow supports this belief in magic. It doesn’t. Go ahead, ask a quantum physicist at the nearest university physics department. I’ll wait. 

These beliefs are not different than the old “praying for what you want” gambit. If your prayer (intention) comes true, the lord (universe) has granted your desire, and if it doesn’t come true, it wasn’t just part of the deity’s plan (energies not in alignment). 

Ask the universe to send you a bag of dog chow. Tell the universe you want to meet the love of your life. Ask it to resurrect a dead tulip. Best of all, ask it for something really vague, such as to make everything work out according a plan you can’t know about. That’s the universe’s specialty.

And if the actions of the universe are indistinguishable from random chance, well, maybe that’s how it prefers to operate.


… and let the flying spaghetti monster sort ’em out


In my own corner of the Internet, where skeptics hang out, I’ve been watching sometimes crazed arguments between so-called “social justice warriors” and those opposed to overdone “political correctness.” This little war has played out for a few years now.

For me, awareness of this business started an eternity ago in Internet time, way back with Rebecca Watson’s “elevatorgate.” Yes, I hate that “gate” naming habit, but we’re stuck with it. (We could call the whole trend “gategate,” couldn’t we?). Watson made a moderate, and to my mind reasonable, aside part way through a video. She pointed out something that a man did that made her uncomfortable and said, “Don’t do that guys,” then returned to her topic.

Amazingly, many people responded to that one short bit in a crazed, hyperbolic fashion, with death threats and repellent misogyny at the extreme end. It was like some hillbillies yelling, “We don’t want no advice from no dang woo-man.” Not what I expected from the skeptic crowd, though a hopefully small percent of them.

There have been various wars and “gates” after that, involving different personalities in skeptic as well as atheist social media. Many are about feminism, some are about the limits of free speech or just what is acceptable in public forums. Absurd extremes abound on both sides.

On some sites where skeptics and atheists congregate, there was a ridiculous self-purging of almost all speech that might be construed as offensive. People were booted off sites left and right for the temerity of having a different opinion on one issue or another. For these sites, it seemed like every week another “big name” in the skeptic world was found to have failed a behavior or opinion test and was summarily denounced and shunned.

I found myself ping-ponging between these sides, repelled by the trollish threateners and creeps on one extreme and disgusted by the self-righteous smugness on the other. Sometimes I’d get to the point of thinking, “The hell with all of ’em, and let the Flying Spaghetti Monster sort ’em out.”

Now for a brief detour. Per Wikipedia, the phrase, “Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out” originated in a Christian crusade in Southern France. An abbot named Arnaud Almaric was said to be speaking to a soldier who was worried about killing true Catholics in the course of the war. Almaric allegedly said, “Kill them. For the Lord knows those that are His own.” Neat way to absolve yourself of blame.

Needless to say, I don’t want anyone to die, but I’m tired of the back and forth and divisions this has created. The best treatment of the issue I’ve heard is Steven Novella’s discussion with Julia Galef on the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast, episode #555. It helped illuminate why I’ve felt sympathy for both sides of the issue. When each side cogently and without bombast provides its best argument, there are reasonable points to be found.

More importantly, as Novella points out, there ought to be a middle ground that doesn’t squash free speech excessively, or allow excessively offensive behavior. Defining that “excessively” is a huge sticking point, of course, and complicated by trolls who only want to incite and inflame.

Don’t know if we’ll ever get there, but working toward a middle ground is worthwhile. Imagine having to grow up and communicate like rational semi-adults. Until then, I ask you to remember who boiled for your sins, and who ought to whack the most antagonistic arguers with a heavy meatball.



mutated and organic


Just when you thought it was safe to eat all-natural, organic, everything-free food … when you thought it was okay to buy crops grown in sunny fields and harvested by laughing, healthy family farmers wearing all-cotton overalls … this terrible knowledge is revealed:

Thousands of foods we all eat today were bred from crop varieties that were produced using atomic radiation. Both radiation and toxic chemicals are and have been used to mutate plants in order to create new varieties. It’s been going on since the 1940s. Your favorite organic food may come from a variety produced this way.

Needless to say, the gamma rays used to produce an ancestor of the Ruby Red grapefruit have absolutely no effect on you, the eater. It would be crazy to think otherwise. You are simply eating a variety of produce that was generated that way.

But logic doesn’t enter into this. The same people who think that GMO food is going to hurt them might be terrified. (Never mind that GMOs are rigorously tested, highly regulated, and arguably safer than cross-bred plants.) People may soon demand labeling of all food that comes from a variety generated by toxic chemicals or radiation. They may only buy vegetables developed by cross-breeding or selective breeding and nothing more modern than that.

What the heck, let’s go back to the days before our fruits and vegetables were modified by breeding. They probably looked like this. Or better yet, let’s only eat items that have fallen off a tree or a bush in a forest. Or maybe things that have naturally washed ashore on a beach, like an old jellyfish, warmed by the sun. Delectable! Aged jellyfish just melt in your mouth.

Useful Mutants
Crop Seed Mutation Breeding Increasing
Delicious Mutant Foods

aspartame – chemical from the fiery depths of hell?


Today I bought some cough drops that contain aspartame. Because I had a vague recollection of some controversy surrounding the safety of aspartame, I decided to look up some details to see if it was really Satan’s own sweetener. Here’s some of what I learned:

When eaten, aspartame breaks down into phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and methanol.

Phenylalanine – This an essential amino acid that you can buy in pill form at health food stores. It’s found in soybeans, cheese, nuts, and meats. It should be avoided by people with a genetic disorder called phenylketonuria (PKU).  

Aspartic acid – Another amino acid; also available as a supplement in health food stores. It’s found in soy, fish, lentils, peanuts, meat, and eggs.

Methanol – This is a wood alcohol. It’s naturally produced in the human body during metabolism. It’s toxic in large enough doses. Fortunately, the amount generated by aspartame is tiny — there is much more methanol in a liter of 100% fruit juice or tomato juice than in a liter of aspartame-sweetened soda pop. Your fear of aspartame should be considerably less than your fear of fruit and tomato juice.

In other words, if you don’t want these three substances in your body, for god’s sake, stop eating nuts and drinking fruit juice! You would have to drink somewhere between 16 and 19 cans of aspartame-sweetened soda in a day to reach the daily limit set by the FDA. Tomato juice is more potent, however, so keep that in mind when you’re guzzling V-8.

The Food and Drug Administration and the European Food Safety Authority have approved aspartame as safe, and the American Cancer Society agrees. By the way, there have been hundreds of studies, so the safety is pretty solidly backed up. And, since there have been hundreds of studies, it would be very suspicious if you didn’t have a few that suggest that it might be unsafe. So if you delve into the research, be smart – look at the whole picture, the cumulative evidence, and look at exactly what the study says and how rigorous it is. 

Yet there are scare websites that talk about “aspartame poisoning,” shocking stories about aspartame damage, “aspartame detoxification” programs, and more. But when it comes to down to actual hard evidence that it causes harm, it’s pretty thin. What the heck is wrong with people and their crazy scary stories, anyway?

If a chemical name makes you scared, go ahead and use stevia, even though it’s not as well studied as aspartame. It’s also considered safe if you don’t eat tons of it. But beware, the active ingredients of stevia are chemical compounds, stevioside and rebaudioside. Everything you put in your mouth is a chemical. Your spit is made of chemicals.

A day is coming when we won’t have to eat or breath chemicals, and that is the day after we die.

(Our friends at Snopes debunk the deadly aspartame myth, and their argument is based on the science.)