Saturday, August 27, 2011

Alvin Plantinga speaks on some common atheist puzzles

Alvin Plantinga is one of the greatest living philosophers, and is the person who developed the free will defense that has blunted the logical form of the problem of evil and provided a platform for addressing other forms of this well known objection to the reality of God.

In this YouTube video, he addresses a range of common atheist's puzzles about God:

Well worth the ten or eleven minute pause to sit back and watch. END

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Capacity Focus, 9: A wave of low-cost education oriented Tablet PC's over the next year or so . . . ?

Those who have been following this blog will know that I have been keeping an eye on the emergence of technologies that enable computers and ebook libraries for all, for students. 

That's because I think that affordable educational computing can and will have a transformative impact on how education, especially education beyond High School, is delivered. A wave is coming that can turn any church hall, cyber cafe or community centre with broadband access and a wireless -- or even wired -- network into a micro-campus centre for a regional cybercollege.

That's a wave that we need to catch and ride.

For instance, for some time now, theOne Laptop Per Child ( OLPC) people have been hoping to deliver their US$ 75 [now, sub-US$100 . . . ] XO-3 tablet for 2012 [now, end of 2012 . . . ], and -- about a year ago -- the Indian Gov't announced a US$ 35 subsidised tablet PC, now nearing release.

Here is a look at the Marvell 10" tablet prototype announced for about US$ 99, that may well be the prototype OLPC XO-3:

These days, US$ 100 is unfortunately a typical cost price for 1 - 2 or (if you are lucky . . . ) 3 textbooks for senior high school or college level; which would be a lot less flexible, would weigh more and certainly will take up more space. 

So, add in a wireless track-pad and keyboard set and carrying bag for maybe US$ 40 - 60 more, plus some open source office productivity software [e.g. Open Office] and some version of a Linux kernel operating system -- Android or OLPC's Sugar OS would do -- and we clearly would have a very viable educational platform. 

The Asus Epad transformer TF101 Android Honeycomb OS Tablet (a "surprise" no 2 seller to the Apple iPad at 400,000 units per month) shows these possibilities [costs "$400 plus $149 for the dock . . ."], being a tablet- and- netbook- PC- in- one thanks to an innovative -- though not yet perfect -- docking system:

Here is a look at the Google Android Honeycomb OS in action -- I guess your fingertip is the new pointer:

(NB: Steve Jobs comments on the new OS "war.")

What about the iPad vs Anrdoid?

J R Raphael of ComputerWorld makes some insightful comments:
An iPad, by design, doesn't work like a regular computer. You can't drag and drop files between it and your PC; you can't browse its hard drive in any normal fashion. If you want to manage your music, you've gotta use iTunes to do it. You can multitask only within the confines of limited and carefully defined parameters. You can't view any Flash-based websites -- and forget about installing any program that isn't explicitly approved by Apple's app patrol committee.

For some folks, that's fine -- and for those people, the iPad is a perfect solution. But for those of us who want the ability to fully customize our computing devices, to do what we want with them, the Android tablets can fill that gap and offer things the iPad can't provide. And with the wide range of options in manufacturer, style, and size that'll soon be appearing, there'll be no shortage of choices compared to the iPad's one-size-fits-all approach . . . . 

To be clear, there isn't going to be any sort of sudden overnight shift in the tablet market. The iPad isn't going to fall out of favor anytime soon -- heck, it's probably never going to "fall out of favor" at all. But over the next couple of years, more and more attractive Android tablets are going to arrive. They'll offer more and more alternatives to Apple's one-size-fits-all, locked down approach. The iPad will no doubt continue to be a financial success, just as the iPhone is now. But in terms of overall user adoption, it sure seems like the stage is set for another smartphone-reminiscent market share shuffle.
In fact, unfortunately, we have already seen censorship in the iPad Apps world, targetting Christian initiatives. So, while I cut my computing eyeteeth on one of the early Macs, and have some fond memories, I cannot any longer recommend Apple products; regardless of technology.

As a matter of policy, we must avoid one-vendor solutions, and go for open source as much as possible. For, a monopolistic lock-in makes us far too vulnerable in today's politically correct environment that teems with all too many radicals tanked up on anti-Christian bigotry through toxic atheistical or neo-pagan talking points, and spoiling for a fight.

Now, too, in a news update on the OLPC XO-3, we can see that:
One Laptop Per Child is developing new functionality and protection features for its upcoming XO-3 tablet with the hope to attract more interest in the device.

OLPC is designing rubber covers intended to protect the tablet but that could also integrate solar charging, satellite Internet or external keyboard capabilities, said Nicholas Negroponte, founder and chairman of One Laptop Per Child.

The tablet was originally announced in late 2009 with a projected price of under US$100. The XO-3 will become available early next year or perhaps sooner, and price is still being determined, but it will still be under $100, Negroponte said.

The tablet will also include a camera on top of the screen, placed inside the bezel surrounding the display. A microphone will be placed in the bezel under the screen, and USB 2.0 ports and a headphone jack will be on the sides.
Windows OS addicts (most of us) will note the onward remarks:
On software for the tablet, Negroponte said OLPC has lost interest in providing Microsoft's Windows 8 as an option. The organization is going forward with other operating systems including Google's Android and Chrome OS, which are based on Linux. Google has already released a version of Android for tablets, while Chrome OS is targeted at low-power laptops.
OLPC offered Windows and Linux operating systems in the first few XO laptop builds, which were based on x86 chips from Advanced Micro Devices and then Via Technologies. However subsequent XO laptops, starting with version 1.75, were based on ARM processors, which at the time did not support a full Windows OS. 

In March 2009, OLPC pushed Microsoft to develop a version of the full Windows OS that could work on ARM chips, which are considered more power-efficient than x86 chips.
At the time, Microsoft said it wouldn't do it, but the software maker said earlier this year that Windows 8 will work with x86 and ARM architectures.

"Microsoft had to make that move. I told Craig Mundie he would have to do it in two years," Negroponte said. "He said 'absolutely no, never.' It was two years to the week."
OLPC has lost interest in Windows for XO-3 now, Negroponte said, adding that it "will have almost no meaning."
 The context for that, of course, is the rise of the Tablet and the smart phone as major computing platforms with an associated "apps" market -- especially the Android OS, with Linux based OSes thus becoming more and more acceptable. 

The key issue in delays of the OLPC XO3 has been screen technology:
Decisions are still being made about the display, which is holding up development of the device, Negroponte said. OLPC wants a transflective screen, much like the current XO, but with improved richness in e-ink and transmissive modes. OLPC plans to use spin-off Pixel Qi's hybrid screen, which can function in e-ink mode and like a normal LCD (liquid crystal display) to display full-motion video. The display can absorb ambient light to brighten screens and reduce power consumption.
That technology has been implemented in the earlier XO-1, but is to be improved. 

If successful what that does is that it produces a screen that works well as a substitute for paper, in terms or resolution and eye-strain, as well as a more conventional view-screen that can handle rapid motion in multimedia or video elements. (Longer term, there is a push to get colour and rapid responsiveness into electronic paper.)

So, over the next several years, we can expect to see the emergence of reasonable cost, good performance computing platforms suitable for students and for delivery of educational content via commonly accessible web based and open system technologies

That fits right in with the ongoing push to create a regional cyber-campus coupled to community-based micro campus centres, to equip our people for work, for leadership in the community, and for leadership in our churches, under the imperatives of the mission of the church in our region and from our region.

So, we come right back to the Mordecai challenge: why not now, why not here, why not us? END

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Matt 24 Watch, 129b: A footnote on out of context misreadings of earlier remarks on the Breivik case, from Anti-Evo

In following up on usage statistics, I came across a sadly revealing comment on the post here at KF blog on Breivik and the media spin game that has played out over his abuse of Christian terminology, symbols and cultural influence. 

It is worth clipping and commenting, as this reveals the mindset we now have to deal with and -- where possible -- correct.

Let us therefore observe Anti Evo commenter, Sparc, commenting on and clipping from the post on Brevik and the media frenzy late last month:

I had a look over at [the Kairosfocus blog] just to ruin my [vulgarity  deleted] detector and melt my irony meter when I learned that he uses the Dembski's Explanatory Filter to analyse media content: 

And yet, global media, up to and including the once great BBC could not pick that up and strike a reasonable balance on the merits?

That makes me sick.


Beware when something in the mass media fits your favourite stereotypes just a bit too well!!!

Such is functionally specific and complex, so it is likely to be an artifact of design, not a mere natural happenstance.

That is, yes, I am applying the explanatory filter, common sense version, to media information to detect propagandistic designs.
Notice that "And"? As well as the context of something that fits a stereotype just a bit too well?

Those points were of course there to link the just above to its context, a comment on the gross blunder made by the major media houses. 

Let's give a little context:
. . . A perfect illustration of those nasty right wing theocratic fundies, isn’t it?

NOT — and, plainly, explicitly not. How much more explicit did this man have to be than [quoting Breivik]:

“As this is a cultural war, our definition of being a Christian does not necessarily constitute that you are required to have a personal relationship with God or Jesus,” he writes. “Being a Christian can mean many things; That you believe in and want to protect Europe’s Christian cultural heritage. The European cultural heritage, our norms (moral codes and social structures included), our traditions and our modern political systems are based on Christianity – Protestantism, Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity and the legacy of the European enlightenment (reason is the primary source and legitimacy for authority). It is not required that you have a personal relationship with God or Jesus in order to fight for our Christian cultural heritage and the European way. In many ways, our modern societies and European secularism is a result of European Christendom and the enlightenment. It is therefore essential to understand the difference between a ‘Christian fundamentalist theocracy’ (everything we do not want) and a secular European society based on our Christian cultural heritage (what we do want). So no, you don’t need to have a personal relationship with God or Jesus to fight for our Christian cultural heritage. It is enough that you are a Christian-agnostic or a Christian atheist (an atheist who wants to preserve at least the basics of the European Christian cultural legacy (Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter)).
And yet, global media, up to and including the once great BBC could not pick that up and strike a reasonable balance on the merits? . . .
So, we see here a pattern, a highly specific one: major media houses, up to and including BBC, for days -- and in some quarters it seems to this day -- repeatedly did not fulfill duties of care to due diligence, truthfulness and fairness, in reporting on this incident and its wider connexions. 

This, in the teeth of a situation where you would be connecting major movements in our civilisation to an incident of mass murder, something that should only be done on significant evidence of materiality. (Contrast how, nearly two years after the incident at Ft Hood in the USA, there has not been a general, serious, explanation of the eyewitness report that as he began to shoot, Major Nidal Hasan shouted the classic Islamic war-cry: "Allahu akbar!")

It is in that context, that I then pointed out the breakdown in the major media, and applied the design inference explanatory filter to infer to bias:
And yet, global media, up to and including the once great BBC could not pick that up and strike a reasonable balance on the merits?

That makes me sick.


Beware when something in the mass media fits your favourite stereotypes just a bit too well!!!

Such is functionally specific and complex, so it is likely to be an artifact of design, not a mere natural happenstance.

That is, yes, I am applying the explanatory filter, common sense version, to media information to detect propagandistic designs.

(And you thought the ID EF was useless?)
In other words, I am here applying the straight vs spin grid test that I have used for years in evaluating the media, and I am doing so in a context that is using functional specificity and complexity to distinguish errors of happenstance from underlying purposefulness -- starting with further evidence of a pattern of bias and hostility that has led to years of habitually inaccurate and hostile, false stereotyping of Christians in the dominant media. Indeed, only a few years ago, I went through a year-long complaint process with BBC on such false stereotyping, on an episode of a fictional series. 

The bias I complained of -- to consistently deaf ears right up to the BBC Trust -- has now plainly come out in the news reporting and related editorialising.

So, let us do some grading:


>> I believe the following analytical "straight or spin" grid will be helpful in assessing the quality of news, commentary and education we are exposed to in our region:

(a) Headline & Lead
(b) Story &/or Views presented
(c) Characterisation of People &/or Institutions
(d) Context: underlying Issues, Alternatives and Historical Setting
(1) Factually Accurate?
(2) Fair, or Just?
(3) Kind or Gracious?
(4) Balanced, or provides a Counter - balance?

Fig. 1: News, Education and Views: "Straight or Spin?" [Key: Y, "yes" = 1; N, "no" = 0]

(II) Using the "Straight or Spin?" Grid:

As can be seen, the straight or spin grid gives four main facets of a typical item of news or commentary, or a lesson/lecture (or even a textbook chapter): (a) the head and lead, (b) the story proper, (c) characterisation, and (d) context. It then asks a basic question:
Is the presented information: (1) accurate, (2) fair, (3) kind and (4) balanced?
It is a reasonable expectation that, consistently, the answer should be YES, for all components of a news, educational or commentary item, or a presentation or even a sermon. However, to err is human, so there might be an occasional slip that requires minor correction. So, we can now grade the quality of our news, education and commentary services:
      • B to A: Consistent Score 13 - 16: a reasonably good to excellent service, but if errors keep on cropping up in any one square (e.g. cells 1a, 2c, 3b or 4d), there is a systematic problem (e.g.; 1a: inaccurate headings and leads, 2c: unfair or unjust characterisations of people or institutions, 3b: unkind (say, through sensationalism that exploits people's pain) presentation of stories, 4d: biased context), and corrective action is obviously needed. [The examples make the "structured common-sense" approach plain: do you wish to consume information from sources that are consistently inaccurate in how they headline and lead stories on issues and news? Or, from one that often slanders people or institutions it does not like? Or, tries to make money off sensationalising the suffering of others? Or, tells only half the story through suppressing materially relevant context? Etc.?]

      • D to C: Consistent Score 8 - 12: This source has a major, systematic problem with at least one of the four requirements of sound, straight information, and is probably pushing an agenda counter to the interests of the people of God and the wider community. The source and the editorial policy require major reformation.

      • F: Consistent Score 7 or less: Do not trust this source, period. Warn others about the evident distortion, bias, deception and agenda. If the source has significant institutional power and is unwilling to be corrected, make the creation of an alternative that will consistently correct and expose the errors and agenda a top priority.
Unfortunately, for far too many local, regional and international sources of news, entertainment, commentary and even education available in or to the Caribbean, the proper assessment in this post-modern relativistic age is: F.>>

It is fair comment to observe that on the Breivik story, the failure to do due diligence before characterising Mr Breivik as a Christian Fundamentalist Terrorist [and BTW, I am astonished to see that the agnostic/atheist Mr McVeigh is still being similarly classified by some commenters to this day . . . ], was -- in the teeth of reasonably accessible evidence -- inaccurate, unfair, unkind and unbalanced. 

This was plainly a Grade F moment for the global media.

Worse, the contrast of the above rush to inaccurate and unfair judgement with how carefully the major media distinguishes between IslamIST terrorists and most Muslims, and even hesitates before calling someone like Major Hasan such a terrorist [even, of the lone wolf, unhinged variety . . . ], is sadly revealing.

So, Sparc, OgreMkV et al, there is a reason to see that there is a complex, specific, functional pattern at work, one that points to a case of serious and potentially poisonously destructive bias. Or -- in some cases -- worse than bias, actively hostile agendas that seize upon any excuse to push a stereotype that brands Bible-believing Christians as allied to and motivating of mass murder.

It is in that particular context, Sparc et al, that I specifically went on to immediately underscore the relevant foundational Christian ethical teachings:

Now, let us clip some pretty explicit core ethical instructions from the Christian rule-book [specifically the New Testament], which would immediately identify whether this man’s ideas and behaviour are legitimately Christian:

Rom 13:8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,”[a] and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
1 Pet 3:8 Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For,
“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from deceitful speech.
11 He must turn from evil and do good;
he must seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”[a]
13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear[b]; do not be frightened.”[c] 15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil . . . .
4:14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? . . . 19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

Why is it that we find nowhere in the major media coverage any serious reflection of the sort of ethical teachings that I have just excerpted?

No-one in even the most basic degree shaped by the teachings of Christ,the Apostles and Prophets, would condone, contemplate or worse actually carry out the sort of attack we have just seen in Norway.
Such very serious points of concern demand an answer, not a mocking dismissal . 

And indeed, sadly, the callousness implicit in such a dismissal, is itself all too revealing of a cold, deeply set hostility. Precisely what is being addressed as something dangerous that needs correction. 

A corrective, that -- if heeded -- would be a blessing.

Cho, man do betta dan dat! END

Monday, August 01, 2011

Matt 24 Watch, 132: Responding to the rising tide of strident atheistical advocacy online, on campuses, and on the street

Today is August Monday [and it is a Monday!], anniversary of the 1834 - 8 ending of slavery in the Caribbean; in material part through the efforts of evangelical, dissenter Christians such as Wilberforce, Buxton and others, who stood up in the teeth of fierce opposition and viciously unfair attack, and in the end counted.

In that context, it is appropriate to pause to address the challenge of a rising tide of atheistical advocacy. As Fr Barron of Word on Fire asks: 

. . . are we prepared to answer to today's strident New Atheists?

Some good start-points:
CMI on Atheism. (Links page.)

CARM's Atheism response links page.

Vox Day's response to the New Atheists.

Plato's warning about the implications and consequences of evolutionary materialism. (Yes, ~ 360 BC, i.e. 2,350 years ago.) [Cf here on on the related origins science issues.]

My own notes on building a sound worldview.

(NB: Work in progress on the now increasingly common "your god is a fictional bronze age monster and you fundy followers are Christo-fascist would be theocratic tyrants" talking point. [Thoughts welcome. Note here on some remarks on the roots of modern liberty and democracy.])

Just some sparkers for thinking.

We need to be ready to give a reasoned response to what is now upon us. END