Is Religion a Mass Delusion?

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Religion. It causes passion, enthusiasm and fanaticism. We’re all exposed to it; some of us are immersed in it. But does it really have a place in the modern world? Does it really have any relevance or is it just a mass delusion? As I have gotten older I have asked this question many times. I don’t have an answer; I only have my perspective and belief. In my opinion religion should have no place in the modern world. Humanity has come to a point in its evolution and development were religion should be irrelevant and consigned to the waste bin of medieval beliefs. Science and technology can explain the world and universe around us – we don’t need to look to an omni-potent being for our answers. Just because science can’t explain something doesn’t mean it’s an “act of god” or “divine intervention”. It just means we don’t understand yet, we still have much to learn. Yet religion prevails and this perturbs me, especially when I see what is done in the name of religion. Many evil and heinous crimes have been done in the name of religion and religion, to this day, serves as a means to control and constrain the general populace.

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So why is religion so prevalent? Why does it still have a stranglehold on humanity? From my perspective the answer is simple – faith. People need to have faith in something to continue the struggle of life when it gets tough. Faith is what makes religion so powerful and persistent. Turning to a deity for help is so much easier than having to face the hard cold reality that we’re all alone and that we have no choice than to face the struggle single handed. Faith can empower us to do almost superhuman things, yet that faith is misplaced. It shouldn’t be placed in a deity who doesn’t exist; it should be placed in us, in humanity.

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The human race has been in existence for approximately 200,000 years and has thrived. Currently Hinduism is considered to be the oldest religion, having come into existence approximately 5000 years ago. So in that 195,000 year gap didn’t any of our gods get angry at our lack of reverence? Why didn’t they make themselves known to us? I do not believe for one instant that humanity was handpicked by a deity to evolve and prosper on this little fleck of dust we live on.  We are the benefactors of evolution and have become successful through our own blood, sweat and tears. We are humanity and should be proud of what we have achieved. We should have faith in our ability to prosper and strive forward. We should have have faith in ourselves.

I understand that in that past there was a need for religion to instill ethics, morality and to explain the unexplainable to the populace but that time has passed. I understand that we are still weak and when it gets tough we turn to religion for answers. The thing is, it doesn’t have any answers, only innuendos and parables to try and convince us it’ll be all OK. We are alone, but we are strong and we will thrive. Religions will doubtless still be here in another 5000 years, but how many of those practiced today will still exist? Who knows?! Personally, my faith is placed in what we as a species are capable of and can achieve.

“Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time!

But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money!”
― George Carlin

Posted in Religion, Self, Social | Tagged , , ,

Mass Effect Andromeda – A Theory

So, E3 2015 has come and gone and my, what a show it was! Loads of cool announcements and really great games to look forward to. Prior to E3 I had been contemplating which next-gen console was for me and was leaning towards the PS4, the sole reason being No Man’s Sky. Then Microsoft comes along and plops backwards compatibility on the table for Xbox 360 games. Damn you Microsoft! Now what will I do!? And then there’s Fallout 4, yes Fallout 4, mana from heaven! I want! I want! Give it to me now!

But to the subject of today’s post – Mass Effect 4, or as it’s now called Mass Effect Andromeda. The Mass Effect trilogy was a masterpiece and for me were the best games I’ve played in a very long time. Needless to say, I’ve been closely following developments in relation to the next instalment and was overjoyed with the trailer we got, but also frustrated by the lack of information and details.

So what do we know? Well, we know its events will take place in the Andromeda galaxy, hence the name Mass Effect Andromeda. It’ll also take place a few hundred years after the events of Mass Effect 3. We also know that the character in the trailer wearing the famous N7 badge isn’t the main character in the game. Oh and the graphics look gorgeous!

Whilst viewing the trailer an interesting question came to mind though. Mass Effect 3 ended with the controversial three choices – take control of the Reapers, destroy the Reapers or join in symbiosis with the machines. The three different outcomes could have a very different effect on the new game’s story line and it could be a bit of a nightmare for the developers. So how will Mass Effect Andromeda handle and incorporate this?

I have a theory!

Now this is totally speculation, I have no insider knowledge on the game nor do I have any contacts at Bioware or its affiliates. This is just a theory of an avid fan and gamer. So here goes……

It’s quite simple really, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone else has already thought of this. My take on it would be that as the Reapers began their invasion, a number of deep space colony ships were sent out of the galaxy. Each ship would hold a substantial number of colonists, maybe in the tens of thousands, from multiple different races. It would be a way of covering all the bases in a doomsday scenario. These ships could use Mass Relays to get to the edge of the galaxy. Andromeda would then be the ideal target since, if I’m not mistaken, it is the closest galaxy to the Milky Way. The problem is that once there they’d have to use more conventional means to get to another galaxy. They may choose to spin this through the discovery of a special Mass Relay which jumps you into the Andromeda galaxy. This wouldn’t be unprecedented, remember the Omega 4 Mass Relay in Mass Effect 2?

Omega 4 Mass Relay

One failing of my theory would be that if there’s a special Mass Relay, why didn’t the Reapers follow them? Maybe the colony ships used conventional means to get to Andromeda? I still think it’s a plausible way of continuing the story without impacting the end of Mass Effect 3. The colony ships would have left before the conclusion of that game and Shepard’s final choice wouldn’t have effected them.

Personally I kind of like this solution, it’s clean and neat and would fit in nicely. I wonder what everyone else thinks…….

Posted in Games, Games, Microsoft, Sony, Technology, Xbox | Tagged , , , ,

Are We Creating An Energy Divide?

Those who know me, know that I am a proponent for clean energy and that I strongly believe all forms of fossil fuels need be eliminated without delay. It is the only viable approach if we want to avoid the extinction of the human race within the next 1000 years. At the same time I am concerned at how clean energy is presented to the public and how it is made available. For example, LPG is portrayed as a clean fuel which is environmentally friendly – this is a fallacy. LPG is still a fossil fuel and produces harmful chemicals when burnt. The real truth is that LPG produces less of these harmful chemicals than other fuels such as diesel or petrol, but they are still there. LPG IS NOT A CLEAN OR ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY FUEL!!

My biggest concern though, is the availability and affordability of clean energy to the public in general. We’ve heard of the cultural divide, the educational divide and even the technological divide. I am of the firm belief that we are entering the era of the energy divide. The problem is that while the technology is available, it is not readily affordable. For example, in a country such as Malta solar energy is abundant due to our having in excess of 300 days of sunshine a year. Yet we don’t see solar panels on every roof. Why?

The problem boils down to affordability. Panels are still expensive and it isn’t economically viable to invest in them. The same is true for electric cars, with for example the best electric car on the market, the Tesla S, starting at approximately $70,000. Due to human nature, if one does not perceive a relatively quick short term personal gain the end result will be a resistance to investing in such technology. Personally I feel this is a very selfish and anal retentive outlook but unfortunately that’s human nature for you!

The Tesla Model S

My comments are of course unfair to those who really can’t afford this technology, and that’s were the energy divide raises its head. While clean tech may be expensive there are often special grants or subsidies to help people invest in clean tech. Unfortunately, these are often not enough and often still preclude the middle and lower class from looking into clean tech. For example, if one lives in a flat or apartment, while one might afford solar panels, there’s nowhere for this one to place them. It might be possible to try to come to an agreement with the rest of the tenants but I’m sure you’d agree that this is highly impractical. This also assumes that there’s actually space on the roof for panels in the first place and that it hasn’t been taken up by a penthouse! On a similar note – want an electric car? Sure, you might afford it but where are you going to charge it if you don’t have a garage?

What’s the solution? Industry needs to dedicate more time and resources to developing clean, affordable and efficient tech. Governments should provide real and better incentives for clean tech and heavily penalise the public using the polluter pays principle. In the long run we all stand to gain both financially but more importantly environmentally.

To be honest I am somewhat of a realist too and I am of the opinion that the energy divide will continue to grow. I have little confidence in incentives offered by public entities as more often than not the benefits they offer are of little real value. The only time we, i.e. humanity, take real constructive action is when we have our backs to the wall. When it comes to the environment I think that it would be already too late. I hope I am wrong, I really do. Time will tell, but it will be our children and our children’s children who will suffer the consequences or reap the rewards.

Posted in Clean Tech, Technology | Tagged , | 1 Comment

My God, It’s Full of Stars!

Child-looking-at-stars.

Where are we going? What direction are we taking? I look around me. I see people fighting irrelevant battles. Wining pointless victories. Rejoicing in empty accomplishments. I look around me, look at these people, and realise that this really is the desert of the real. We’ve become so bound to the machine, so enthralled by the next big acquisition that we’ve lost sight of what’s really important. We don’t take the time to step back and ask “Why?”, to marvel at nature, to enjoy a sunrise. We’re “busy”, “have to much to do”, “can’t afford the time”. Our children are forced into this rat race at an ever younger age. We expect them to act like adults, to be mature, to be clever, to achieve, to be the best. Why isn’t it enough to just be happy?

As I get older I ponder on these thoughts more frequently. I have become increasingly disillusioned with society and what it dictates as being the “norm”. I wonder what kind of legacy we’ll leave behind. We’re rats in a maze and are content to run around in circles. We’ve been shackled to what we believe to be the norm and what we think is expected of us. Right now I’m just another rat, but at least I’m aware of it! Will I break free? Maybe not, but I’ll do my damn best, if not for me, for my children.

I don’t have children yet, but I worry about the world they would be entering. I don’t need them to be in the 95th percentile, I don’t need them to be the centre of attraction, and I surely don’t expect them to become slaves to the machine. I want them to be happy. I want them to play. I want them to open their mind. I’ll teach them to challenge the norm, to question everything. I want them to look up at the night sky and think “My god it’s full of stars”, not look at the TV and think “yes, twerking is good, will make me popular!”

Society is sick, our values are all screwed up and we have no idea what we’re doing. We focus on careers, the accumulation of money, gaining power, being a public figure. These are all irrelevant, after all do you intend taking all that money with you when you die? I fear the illness may be terminal, that it would be easier to just put it out of its misery. But sometimes, on rare occasions, I see a glimmer of hope, a little spark and I think that we’re not done yet, we still might pull ourselves out of the irrelevance we’ve created for ourselves. But then, the machine pulls us back in!

Oh, look at the time, I’ll leave you to ponder these thoughts, I’ve got a deadline coming up, can’t be late, it’s too important………

Posted in Self, Social | Tagged ,

Is Linux a Real Alternative For The Consumer?

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We all know about the impending demise of Windows XP, or rather that Microsoft will be ending all support for the venerable OS on April 8th 2014. Obviously Microsoft have been pushing Windows 8 as the logical alternative but that often means having to upgrade your hardware too. Add to that an interface which is completely unsuitable for a traditional mouse and keyboard set up and you really need to ask if Windows 8 makes sense. Many recommend considering Linux as an alternative. I’ve always been tempted to try out Linux and, despite my PC having Windows 7, I thought I’d give it a go.

There are many flavours of Linux out there and I decided to try three of the most popular ones, these being openSuse, Ubuntu and Linux Mint. One major advantage Linux has over Windows is that you can give it a try before committing to installing it by creating a Live CD or USB pen drive. This lets you install the OS on removable media and boot directly from it, leaving your current configuration installed and unscathed. Since I was uncertain which flavour of Linux I was going to use or if I was to make it my primary OS I elected to go with this option.

The first OS I tried was Suse. It just point blank refused to boot, giving some obscure error messages. I immediately discarded that OS and moved to the other two. In both cases they booted up fine and worked relatively well. There were issues with both though, all related to hardware.

Ubuntu

The Ubuntu Desktop

I have a dual screen setup and Ubuntu totally freaked out when I tried to configure this. It wouldn’t settle on a resolution and more than once the screen came up garbled and unusable. I ended up having to abandon a screen and use the PC as a single screen system. This was far from ideal for me, however I decided to give it a go nonetheless. The interface is very different from Windows but I enjoyed using it and I think given time I could actually grow to like it. However the hardware issues persisted. Apart from the screen issue, it also refused to recognise my external hard drive. This is where I keep all my documents, files and work and it definitely wasn’t an option to lose the ability to make use of this. I tried long and hard to find a solution, trawling forums, searching on Google, all to no avail. Since the drive works fine with Windows I was certain this was an OS or driver related issue and so I determined that while Ubuntu made a good effort, loosing hardware functionality meant this OS too would have to be discarded.

The Linux Mint Desktop

The Linux Mint Desktop

I then turned to Linux Mint. I was immediately chuffed to find that my dual monitor arrangement worked flawlessly and felt at home with the interface due to its similarity to Windows. Unfortunately the external hard drive issue once again manifested itself. I decided to really thrash out this problem and spent close to a week trying to find a solution. None was to be found though.

I was really disappointed, but felt that I’d reached the end of the road. I reverted back to Windows and all my hardware is working happily. Linux had let me down and from my personal experience I simply can’t recommend it. What I found particularly frustrating was that during my search for a solution to my hardware woes I invariably ended up dropping to the command line to experiment with the different solutions offered up. Being that I work in I.T. I knew what was going on, but I can’t for the life of me imagine the average consumer doing this.

This is where Linux falls flat on its face. It simply isn’t ready for the consumer and I doubt it ever will be. We are in 2014, the era of touch interfaces, and for me it is simply unacceptable that you have to run obscure commands from the command line to get hardware to work, especially considering that the hardware used was standard consumer fare which works flawlessly with Windows. Some may say that the hardware is designed for Windows and that’s why it didn’t work. My response to that is – I don’t give a flying fig! If you want to tout Linux as a replacement for Windows, then I as a prospective user expect all the hardware I use with Windows to work with Linux too.

My advice to the consumer? Linux is for the tinkerer, the techy, someone who likes to experiment. If that isn’t you and you’re looking to replace Windows XP I’d recommend trying to pick up a copy of Windows 7. That, for me, is MS’ best OS so far and a far better option for the consumer than Linux or Windows 8. Things may change in the future, both with Linux as well as the imminent release of Windows 8.1, but for now I’ll be steering clear of Linux.

Posted in Linux, Microsoft, Technology, Windows | Tagged , , , , ,

The Tribe Must Prevail!

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We live in a marvelous age were technology is developing at an ever faster rate. I am intrigued that despite all our advancements our basic nature appears to remain and it often latches on to these advancements in the most bizarre of ways. In this particular case I am speaking primarily of the rivalry which invariably pops up between groups of different mind sets within a certain area, be it technology, sports, politics, and so on. I do not speak specifically of the companies or entities involved but rather the people who follow these entities. It amazes me how dedicated, how passionate people become about their favourite product, company or team. In many cases it can go to extremes with people being so passionate that it can cause rifts in friendships, hurling of verbal abuse and even physical violence.

I am not a psychologist nor am I an expert in the field of human nature, however this bizarre and often irrational behaviour fascinates me. Why do we become so passionate about what in many cases are inane things? Why do we call Apple users sheep? Why is owning an Xbox akin to having the plague? I’ve observed this behaviour amongst many people from different walks of life and cultures. I’ve come to the conclusion that this behaviour is not caused by a specific background, history or life event. Rather I am of the opinion that this behaviour is something more intrinsic. It’s what I call “tribal mentality”.

I believe that it is in our nature to want to belong to a bigger group. We are a social species by nature and I believe this came about as a means of survival. If you consider a time before civilisation, a lone human would have found it difficult to compete and survive with other species sharing the same ecosystem. The answer was to form groups, or tribes, and collaborate and improve the odds of survival. Being dedicated to the tribe would increase the tribe’s overall chances of success. Undoubtedly this strategy has proved a success since the human being is probably the most successful complex organism on the planet.

This tribal mentality persists however and I feel that it has become more of a hindrance than an advantage in this stage of our evolution. This urge to belong to a group, to be part of something bigger than us can cause us to be blinded to common sense. In many cases we will say things, do things to support our “tribe” that in any other scenario we wouldn’t dream of doing.

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Now, I must emphasise here that there is a distinction between “tribal mentality” and being social. The two are not the same but unfortunately in the modern world it is often expected that for you to be social and a “team player” it is also essential to be devoted to the “tribe”. I disagree with this point of view and am of the opinion that we can explore our social nature without having to be blindly dedicated to the “tribe”.

There is no perfect solution to this dilemma. A trait which has led to our species surviving and excelling is bound to be embedded in our DNA. What concerns me is that this trait can cause us to be irrational and turn a blind eye to the point of view of our fellow man. In the worst and most extreme of cases this can even lead to war. The music video “Two Tribes” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood, while referring to the USA and USSR during the cold war, really gets the point across. Check it out and pay close attention to what’s being said and portrayed.

My whole point here is that, by all means, join groups, socialise with its members and share thoughts and ideas. However, don’t be blinded by group thought, rather accept that there are other ideas, perceptions and beliefs out there. By doing so, you will open your eyes to the fact we live in a rich and diverse world and that we all belong to one “tribe” – the human race.

Posted in Self, Social | Tagged , , ,

A Week With The Nexus 5

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The Nexus 5……

We’ve all read the reviews, examined the specs and generally gone over the device with a fine-tooth comb. That’s all fine and good, but what is it like to actually live with it? Is it nothing more than a flash in the pan, or is it a phone you can live with and use for your normal day to day needs? Let’s find out…..

HTC vs Nexus

Out with old and in with the new. On the left the HTC Desire S and on the right the Nexus 5

My Nexus 5 arrived just over a week ago. It replaced my aging HTC Desire S which, while it did a decent enough job, was showing its age. On switching on the Nexus 5 for the first time I was treated to a zero-day update – make sure you have access to WIFI as this update is about 140MB. Once that was done I was taken through your typical Android activation process. It was a very similar process to that on Jelly Bean and there was nothing to really indicate that Kit Kat was running under the bonnet.

Activation over and I was in the home screen – again, pretty much typical Android affair with the expected Kit Kat enhancements. There were two problems though. First of all it has been touted that you can say “OK Google” to activate the voice controlled assistant. I tried saying it till I was blue in the face, but nope, my Nexus 5 just sat there twiddling its thumbs and looking pretty! After a little digging I found that in order to use this feature you need to set the language to “English (US)”. Ah Americans, they think the world revolves around them, how quaint! I tried it out, and yep it worked, but I prefer the Queen’s English so back to “English (UK)” it was and bye bye “OK Google”!

OK Google

OK Google – Only Americans need apply!

Next problem was Google Now. You’re supposed to be able to swipe the home screen to the right and Google Now will be there on your home screen. I tried all the tricks I could find but Google Now refused to cooperate. It seems this is an issue affecting quite a few users and appears to be related to the Google account being used. To add insult to injury it seems that when you activate your Nexus 5 Google Now disappears from all other devices using the same account. I suspect this will need to be sorted by an update from Google.

Those problems were soon forgotten though and I got down to using the phone. Two things strike you on first use. First of all it is a surprisingly light phone and you can feel a substantial difference between the Nexus 4 and 5 even though the actual difference is a few grams. The other is the screen which is absolutely gorgeous. Everything is crisp and clear and the touch response is excellent. Physically the phone is very plain to look at. I’ve heard complaints about this which I think are unfounded. This is definitely a phone which will appeal to the minimalists amongst you and personally I like it.

On initial installation all the apps I regularly use installed and worked without any issues except for one. It seems most apps will live happily with Kit Kat, though I have had a couple crash on me during regular use. Considering how fresh this OS update is I think it fare to say that most apps haven’t yet been tweaked to ensure 100% compatibility. I’m confident that these issues will be ironed out as Android 4.4 becomes more common and developers have a chance to tweak their apps. The phone itself was rock solid though and hasn’t given me cause to restart it yet.

The most important aspect of any smart phone is battery life. The Nexus 5 boasts a 2300mAh battery and here too I’ve heard some complaints about mediocre performance. After a week of use I can say that the battery performance is decent, yet nothing spectacular. It’ll get you through a day of average use without any hassle. So far it hasn’t dipped below 30% on an average work day and I have no reason to think this will change any time soon.

The phone’s performance is excellent thanks to the Snapdragon 800 chipset. I’ve yet to encounter any lag with performance remaining snappy despite opening quite a number of apps simultaneously. Call quality is good too, though I would like to have better network reception – I haven’t found a phone which can replicate the network connectivity I used to be able to get on my old Nokias. This doesn’t mean to say that it has poor reception and I would say it is an average performer. When it comes to texting, Google has pushed everything into Hangouts. At first I wasn’t so keen on this, but after using it for a while it is growing on me and I’ll probably stick with it.

Probably the weakest part of the Nexus 5 package is the camera. Being just 8MP it can’t really compare to the competition. The photos I have taken have been decent enough though and I can’t complain about the overall image quality. Personally a phone’s camera is not high on the list of priorities as I always have a dedicated camera to hand when on holiday.

Nexus 5

After having lived with the Nexus 5 for a week I can safely say that this is an excellent phone. While there were some minor niggles, it has performed excellently and is a pleasure to use. If you’re looking for a new phone then look no further. It blows all the other Android handsets out of the water and I reckon it is even better than the Apple iPhone 5s. The icing on the cake is that this is a Nexus and you’ve got piece of mind that you’ll always get Google’s latest incarnation of Android in short order. When you also consider the price of the Nexus 5 quite frankly it’s a no-brainer. This is the best Android phone out there and it’ll remain that way for some time to come.

Questions about the Nexus 5? Get in touch, lets talk!

Posted in Android, Mobile, Technology | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments