By Their Sins You Shall Know Them

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If you want to know what kind of people follow a particular religion, don't study its tenets, its beliefs, its values, or its ethics. Look instead for its sins.

Christian sins include gluttony, sexual misconduct, wrath, envy, etc., and you will find no people as fat, perverse, angry, and resentful as Christians. In the Church of Satan, you find the sins of stupidity, counter-productive pride, lack of perspective, etc., and its members invariably behave as if these sins were virtues. Within Islam, you find sins such as associating anything with Allah, theft, gambling, and backbiting, and I hardly need to mention which behavior comes to mind when you observe muslims.

And so it is: religious sins describe the people that the religion fosters or attracts. If you find cowardice among the list of sins, don't expect a follower of that religion to stand up for you when the going gets tough; if stupidity is a sin, you can safely bet your money that the religion attracts mostly uneducated people; and if lust is a sin, keep a watchful eye on your children if you leave them among followers.

After having brewed beer for a few years, I recently went from bottling to kegging.

My reason was defeat. Too many of my batches have turned into gushers when bottled. I once discovered that one batch had become infected when I was about to bottle it, so I assumed that the other gushers had been infected, too. Although, I wasn't entirely certain, because when I managed to vent and pour a gusher, the telltale sourness of an infected beer was absent. The gushing appeared by be caused by the thin layer of sediment in the bottle being whirled up by a few bubbles, becoming a nucleous for additional CO2 bubbles and making the beer gush through the bottle neck. This would indicate over-carbonation but for this to be true, apparently the difference between almost flat and over-carbonated beer seemed to be about five to ten grams of sugar for an entire batch, and I found that unlikely.

It also seemed unlikely that boiling sugar dissolved in water for ten minutes, cooling it down, and pouring it into the beer would cause an infection. I had ruled out hygiene problems related to the bottles because I've always cleaned and disinfected the bottles thoroughly, and it was either the same kind of gushing in all 60 to 90 bottles, or nothing at all. (In case you wonder, I also paid proper attention to sterile equipment in all other steps of the bottling process.)

I finally became convinced that infection at bottling time was hardly the reason when my first lambic style beer also became a gusher. It had been sitting in its carboy for a year and a half when I primed it with sugar and new yeast then transferred it bottles. Two weeks later, they were all gushers; not violent ones, but enough to whirl the sediment into the beer and having to rush the beer into a glass. I vented and re-capped them all, and it seems I may be lucky this time. But certainly the gushing could hardly be caused by an infection considering that the beer was deliberately "infected" to begin with and everything edible had long since been digested by the bacteria.

My current hypothesis is that it was probably beer brewed with highly or moderately flocculating yeast that stayed in the bottles; low-flocculation yeast might not settle well enough on the smooth bottom of the bottles, causing just enough of it to be drawn into the beer to start the chain reaction that I'd observed earlier.

Rather than sticking (excuse the pun) to highly flocculent yeast, I figured that since kegged beer is tapped from the bottom of the keg, then even if there's sediment in the keg that provides nucleation particles for the bubbles, it will be flushed out of the keg. Hence, if my hypothesis is correct, my gushing problems should be eliminated by kegging the beer.

Fjerde Rytter

“Fjerde Rytter,” Danish for “Fourth Horse­man,” is the pale rider who brings death: an appro­priate name for an aggres­sively hopped IPA.

Maybe my hy­po­thes­is is correct, or maybe it is be­gin­n­er­'s luck, but my first kegged beer seems to be perfect. The first two glasses tapped from the keg were a muddy mush of sed­i­ment, and I was ser­i­ously worried about my beer at first, but by the third glass the beer had cleared per­fectly, and it tastes won­der­ful with a perfect head and not a speck of im­pur­ity in sub­sequent ser­v­ings.

There's lots of in­form­a­tion about force-car­bon­at­ing your beer online and from what I can tell, most of the con­fu­sion and mis­takes are caused by rather fun­da­ment­al mis­un­der­stand­ing - like not real­iz­ing you should be sitting in your car seat before turning the ig­n­i­tion.

I nonetheless decided to purchase a complete set containing all the necessary parts: a brand new keg, hoses, a regulator, a CO2 canister, and all the necessary fittings. This way I knew I wouldn't be missing anything. Knowing what is needed for a keg, I would know what fittings to order the next time together with a used keg.

So far I've learned two minor things that I didn't see mentioned in any instructions.

Firstly, the set-and-forget force carbonation method means I identify the required pressure on a pressure chart and set the regulator accordingly; it is about as easy as it gets. The keg immediately reaches this pressure, but instead of “forgetting,” turn off the gas. Then half a day later as some the CO2 is absorbed into the beer, causing the pressure in the little room above the beer to fall, turn the gas back on for a moment to restore the pressure. This needs only being repeated about daily for the first week, then hardly at all after that. The advantage is that you won't lose CO2 if there happens to be a small leak somewhere between the CO2 inlet and the CO2 canister.

Secondly, don't attach the CO2 to the beer outlet as some suggest. Granted, the CO2 will be absorbed somewhat faster into the beer if it is allowed to bubble up through the beer, but my bet is you'll gain a few hours over an entire week at most. Meanwhile, if you don't maintain CO2 pressure, you'll risk beer pushing back into the CO2 hose and possibly into the regulator.

Both of the above approaches will reduce the carbonation speed slightly, but if you're serious about speed, probably your best bet is to avoid the set-and-forget method. I'm sufficiently patient to waiting just a few more days. Well, sort of: I couldn't help sampling, of course.

Perhaps I've learned another few things: this particular beer had been sitting in the fermentation bucket for about a month and had stopped fermenting altogether two weeks earlier. It wouldn't have hurt to let it mature a little more, however, so in the future I'll rack my beer to the kegs and have it sit there for another two weeks before applying carbonation. Also, the next beer to be kegged appears to be spiced somewhat too lightly. In contrast to bottled beer, the keg allows me to throw in a little more spice and restore the pressure.

Smoke Detector Just Got Hotter

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When my wife and I bought our new home after having lived in apartments and thus making other people rich, some of the first electronic equipment was a few smoke detectors. They were inexpensive, visually mostly unobtrusive, deafeningly loud, alerting each other via radio contact for cross-estate warning, and battery driven.

Well, I said it: battery driven. Battery driven smoke detectors turn into a false sense of security within half a year, because once the batteries run out, you soon learn to forget to change them—especially in the smoke detectors that were purchased which require three double-A batteries and one 9-volt battery. Besides, were it not for the shelf life of batteries versus gold bars, batteries are so expensive that some countries might consider backing their economies with double-A's rather than gold. So eventually we took down the smoke detectors, probably against any recommendations our insurance company might otherwise have given us.

But then who needs batteries? We have wall outlets in every room, and what is the risk that mains power breaks down during a fire before the smoke detectors manage to warn us? Certainly this risk is smaller than having to remember to change the batteries, perhaps unless you suffer from OCD.

Smoke Detector with Power SupplyHence, the solu­tion was simple: any elec­tron­ics tinker­er­ worth his salt can whip to­geth­er­ a power supply, or in the case of our smoke de­tect­or, a dual power supply provid­ing 4.5 Volts (cor­res­pond­ing to three double-A bat­ter­ies) and 9 Volts. A generic 12 Volt wall wart pur­chased in­ex­pen­s­ively over Ebay, coupled with a 78L09 for 9 Volts, fol­lowed by a 78L05 and a diode for 4.3 Volts (which is close enough to 4.5 Volts), a few st­a­b­il­iz­a­tion ca­pa­cit­ors, and that was it: solder the output of the voltage reg­u­lat­ors to the battery con­nect­ors, and our smoke de­tect­or would never ask for another battery. The dual power supply could probably be crammed into a single battery compartment, but I happened to have a two small pieces of PCB that I had saved. I hate to throw stuff away.

I was just about to install the improved smoke detector when I realized that smoke detectors are no good if you're away from your house. We already have a network of Zigbee devices scattered throughout our garden for measuring our greenhouse environment, the weather, and radiation level. The Zigbee devices report to a Linux server that is permanently turned on, so it only seemed natural to include a Zigbee radio in the smoke detector so that our server could pick up any warnings and act accordingly (that is, by sending a text message to my wife telling her that the dinner I'm preparing is getting ready).

The "XBee" Zigbee module from Digi is capable of detecting pin changes and sending a pin change notification to another XBee module without any additional electronics. Surely the electronics in the smoke detector would include a signal that indicated the detection of smoke, so it was just a question of locating it, preferably before going deaf while the alarm was sounding.

Smoke Detector's KD-8510 MicrocontrollerFor­tu­n­ately, an obscure German dis­cus­sion re­vealed that the on-board mi­cro­con­trol­ler­ was an oth­er­wise non-descript KD-5810 half-hidden beneath a metal cover, and someone with little elec­tron­ics ex­per­i­ence seemed to have con­cluded that pin 7 on the pro­ces­sor went high when the de­tect­or was trig­ger­ed. Right indeed; this—and an ad­di­tion­al 3.3 V power supply and a voltage divider to safely feed the 9 V signal on pin 7 to the XBee module—was all I needed. The smoke detector now sits happily on the ceiling in our kitchen, and its companions will be mounted as soon as I have constructed power supplies for them as well. It will not be necessary to put Zigbee radios in the remaining smoke detectors, assuming they will are capable of maintaining their native radio contact with each other.

Improved Smoke Detector MountedYes, I know: it is not too pretty yet. The wire should be hidden beneath (well, above) a wire cover, and the antenna should be white. But it works for now.

I have two spare Spark Cores and I briefly considered using one of those instead. However, I have already built a Zigbee infrastructure, and since I also needed more Zigbee routers to keep the network up, Zigbee became the obvious choice.


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If anyone would ever deny absolutism, it would be the Devil. After all, the Devil refuses to acknowledge God's omnipresence and omnipotence, and considering the so-far unsuccessful battle of his "good" versus the Devil's "evil," evidence does suggest that the Devil has a point: there is room for the Devil's alternative and thus presumably other alternatives as well.

The Devil sides strongly with mankind: He considers all religion to be man-made, able to be shaped and formed according to man's desires and opinions. Like the divine idols of wood, clay, or metal, no god nor law is eternal; every statue and statute may be destroyed or reformed as is seen fit by the same hands that crafted them.

History proves the Devil right. Every religion and every ideal has either changed to keep up with human evolution or has died trying. No ideal has ever stood sure, and no ideal ever will. Every law, culture, and ideal was invented by humans and reached through human conflict and consensus, and has steadily adapted to always model contemporary human desires for a preferred social direction. What was once freedom and liberty may have become enslavement and subjection, and customs have continuously been banned, emerged, or rediscovered.

Even so-called "absolutes" have always been confined within time and reach; for example, "freedom of speech" is only allowed within the limits of the law, which is itself dynamic and always subject to corruption or remedy—depending on the point of view. To claim that freedom of speech, or any other principle, is absolute is to claim that freedom of speech is beyond human decision. It is a belief in divine power, and the Devil refuses such views.

Beer Fermentation Climate Box

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My thirst for beer and my thirst for knowledge seem to be converging these months: I'm gaining interest in brewing beer that I don't even particularly like but nonetheless feel compelled to try to brew because it poses a technical challenge. Recently this manifested itself as a desire to brew a lager which requires equipment that I didn't have at the moment.

Beer brewing climate box from the outside.

Lagers ferment at rather low tem­per­at­ures and home brewers gen­er­ally solve the problem by con­ver­t­ing an elec­tric fridge to main­tain stable tem­per­at­ures slightly above their in­ten­ded op­er­at­ing range. Some brewers im­ple­ment this con­ver­sion some­what crudely with a control that turns on and off the mains supply for the fridge; others replace the entire control cir­cuitry with a PID con­trol­ler­ of their own.
I was somewhat concerned about the energy consumption of yet another fridge in our home, however, and decided to ally with the cold climate of Scandinavia instead. I realized that the temperature in our unheated garage is largely the same as the outside temperature, and the average fall or spring temperatures are perfect for lager fermentation.
The original lagers were carried into the limestone caves of southern Germany where the temperature remains constant through the changing seasons. My garage is no limestone cave, though, and the temperature certainly isn't constant. This poses an immediate problem because beer requires a correct, constant temperature, not a correct, average temperature. Yeast requires a rather stable temperature for its own health reasons, and it produces different byproducts at different temperatures, rendering the quality of the final beer about as unpredictable as the notoriously volatile Danish weather. Placing the fermentation bucket in the garage during the Danish fall or spring might yield a genuine and decent lager but the result would be neither predictable nor repeatable.
Besides, fridges cool their contents but they don't heat them. The fridge would certainly be capable of keeping the temperature down while the outside was too hot, but the beer would be at the mercy of the elements once the outside temperature dropped below the target. Finally, I'm told that fridges and freezers are manufactured for optimum performance at indoor temperatures. It would seem that a fridge would be happy in cool or cold surroundings but its efficiency would actually drop if moved outside of kitchen temperature surroundings.
Beer brewing climate box, inside view.
I decided to take a di­f­fer­ent route and con­struct a climate box from scratch. It was not in­ten­ded to heat or cool its con­tents but simply main­tain a stable tem­per­at­ure over a few days of varying outside tem­per­at­ures. In other words, a climate box.
Th­ink­ing about it, maybe my real mo­t­iv­a­tion is that the IT bus­i­ness is en­tirely un­in­ter­es­ted in elec­tron­ics degrees (and, indeed, in any skill beyond entry-level and hence low salary .NET skills, it seems) which in turn is woe­fully under-stim­u­lated and hence drives me to use my hard-earned un­i­ver­s­ity degree for hobby pro­jects instead. At least someone be­ne­fits from my efforts this way; I still regret having been in­volved in sur­veil­lance pro­jects tapping into phones in the Middle East.
I constructed the box entirely out of pieces of scrap wood that had been left over after other home projects and was waiting only for my wife or myself to make the next trip to the recycling center. I covered the inside of it with polystyrene and added a wooden floor for the fermentation bucket to stand on. The wooden construction would certainly have been easier with wood that simply needed to be cut into shape rather than being glued together to form sides, but at least this way it was free.
Lauter tun made from a food cooler box.
I then pur­chased an in­ex­pen­s­ive 12 V food cooling box in an auto­mob­ile parts store where it was on sale now that summer was over. I im­me­di­ately took it apart to salvage the cooler which I knew was a Peltier element. (I turned the box itself into a lauter tun that I have little use for, but that's beyond the scope of this article.)
For heating, I had a spare ceramic heater otherwise intended for our reptilian pets. I suppose I could have build some reversible fan mechanisms and valves to allow the Peltier element to be used for both heating and cooling, but I decided to focus on keeping the climate box insulated.
All that remained was a controller, which again i managed to construct entirely out of components that I already had in my electronics lab. The heart of the controller is an Arduino with a custom shield containing a temperature probe and drivers for the Peltier element and the 230 V ceramic heater.
The Arduino uses separate PID controllers for the cooler and the heater. I decided to leave a grant zone where PID controllers would be turned off to curb their opposed interests somewhat. PID controllers, as we know, are rather aggressive and having two PID controllers combat each other would probably throw the entire universe into a state of chaos before eventually reaching a stable temperature of 21 degrees Celsius which isn't suited for lagers.
You can download the EAGLE schematic and board layout and the Arduino code here: The PCB is double-sided but has been designed so that a single-sided PCB is readily possible using just a handful of bridges. Remember to put the voltage regulator and the switching transistor onto heat sinks which should be mounted outside of the climate box for obvious reasons. Or just do as I did: use a regulated power supply, short the voltage regulator, and use a relay instead of the switching transistor. The code is currently modified to be gentle on the relay.
I extended the Arduino's USB to the outside of the climate box which proved useful for tuning the PID controllers. The USB output also allows me to log the temperature development in the climate box.
Beer label for "Lektor Blommes maltbolche".
My first lager beer, which is cur­rently matur­ing (and "eva­p­or­at­ing" at a dis­con­cer­t­ing rate because of oc­ca­sion­al tasting) in the climate box, will be labeled "Lektor Blommes malt­bol­che," which is hard to tran­s­late as it in­volves a triple pun. Quite lit­er­ally, it means "Teacher Blomme's malt candy." The first pun is that "blomme" (the teacher's last name) means "plum" and the beer con­tains about four kg of beach plums from my garden. The second pun, also on "Blomme," is a re­f­er­ence to my brewery's morbid theme (which will be ex­plained shortly) and re­quires Danish school­ing because any Danish school child has read the book: "Det for­sømte forår" ("Stolen Spring") by ren­owned Danish author Hans Sch­er­fig. One of the prom­in­ent char­ac­ters in the book, the sad­is­t­ic teacher C. Blomme, is pois­oned with a malt candy, and since malt is the major in­gredi­ent in beer, this con­sti­tutes the third albeit weak pun. The beer label shows the scene where Blomme eats the pois­oned candy.
A small Peltier element is rather little for a climate box featuring an entire bucket of fermenting beer, in part because fermenting beer is an exothermic process. The Peltier element seemed capable of counteracting the heat produced by the fermentation, but I had not expected the temperatures to be as high this fall as they turned out to be (everywhere, as it turns out). The climate box couldn't quite keep up with temperatures that were consistently above the target temperature so the beer was fermenting at about 12 degrees Celsius when the temperature should have been about 10 degrees Celsius. It remained mostly stable and within the yeast's preferred range, however, which suffices for my purposes. It seems that global warning may be preventing me from brewing lager except in the coldest winter.
My home brewery is named "Gravøl," which means "Funeral Beer." It has multiple meanings. Firstly, I began brewing while I was trying to recover from a severe depression and the suicidal reference is gallows humor. Secondly, my fondness of hard-core heavy metal prompted me to tip my hat at the morbid universe of the death metal genre. Thirdly, as indicated with a five-pointed star on my brewery logo's beer label, and in concert with a gloomy theme, I firmly believe that the Devil is highly overdue for recognition. With a single exception—a tribute to one of my favorite politicians that he and his party fortunately enjoyed tasting—all of my beer has been named with somber references, the above-mentioned beer being no exception.
Granted, I haven't even attempted to calculate how much energy the climate box saves compared to a fridge, or even if it saves energy at all. But hey, it was home made, and the beer tastes, well, like a lager with a distinct plum flavor.

UV Exposure Box

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Data General Nova 3 printed circuit board, own...

Data General Nova 3 printed circuit board, owned by Emil Sarlija. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When your printed circuit boards (PCBs) become a little too complicated to draw by hand, or when you realize that schematics and PCB capturing is quite easy using CAD tools such as Eagle, you soon learn that the next challenge is how to transfer the PCB layout to the raw PCB copper board.

There are many tutorials on that on-line, which all boil down to three steps:

  1. Print the PCB onto paper using a laser printer. You'll have to experiment with various paper types and number of times you need to print on top of the same image in order to get enough ink.
  2. Push the printed circuit board layout against the PCB while heating it, typically using an iron or a laminator. You'll have to experiment with heat and pressure.
  3. Somehow peel off the paper without tearing the PCB tracks off. Depending on the type of paper, you'll have to soak it in water for some time, or you'll have to carefully peel off the paper little by little.

Unfortunately, even after many experiments, I've found that the results were less than adequately predictable. I'm not patient enough to go through retries or toasted PCBs. The good thing is that photo printing is so easy it can hardly fail. The major advantage of photo PCBs is repeatability and possibly a higher resolution PCB tracks, although I've heard people talk about being able to produce sub 10 mils PCB tracks using the paper transfer method.

Photo printing involves three steps, too:

  1. Print the PCB layout onto transparent film. Virtually all laser printers can do that. One print will probably suffice.
  2. Put the transparent film on top of a photo-prepared PCB (you can buy those) and expose with UV light for about five minutes.
  3. Develop the PCB.

Developing is much like etching: put the exposed PCB into a chemical solution until the tracks are clear, and that's it. UV exposure is also easy: put an UV lamp over the PCB and turn it on for a couple of minutes, then turn it off. You'll probably want to have it inside of a box to avoid looking at it.

And now that you have the box, you might also want a timer, preferably an electronic one. The following schematic is an example of making an easy digital timer that allow you to set the exposure time from one to nine minutes.

The design revolves around the PICAXE 08M. You may need to alter the code a bit for the newer 08M2, which is faster, so that the timing loop is repeated several more times. The schematic is quite simple (click the image for a larger version):

UV Box SchematicThe PICAXE 08M uses two outputs for the display, two inputs for three buttons, and one output for a relay which turns on or off the UV lamps. Otherwise, the PICAXE 08M is connected to a programming socket through a few resistors as suggested in the PICAXE Basics manual.

The three buttons are used to set the timer value: one for incrementing the value, one for decrementing the value, and one for starting the timer. Any of the keys can be used to shut off the lamp prematurely.

The up and down button, S2 and S3, are pulled up, so that a "low" value of the corresponding pin on the PICAXE 08M implies that the particular buttons is pressed. The third button, S1, pulls both buttons to ground, so that it seems as if they're both pressed at the same time. This tells the PICAXE 08M that the "start" button has been pressed.

The timer value is displayed on a 7-segment LED display using just two signals: one signal resets a 4026 counter (which outputs its value in 7-segment format, and is capable of driving a 7-segment display), and another signal counts the 4026 one count up. By resetting and quickly counting, any value from 0 to 9 is displayed with only a slight blink in the display.

The code for the timer is as follows:

' UV Box Exposure Timer

#picaxe 08m
#com /dev/ttyUSB0

' Preload the EEPROM with defaults:
' Value: Last exposure time. Default is 7 minutes.
eeprom 0, ( 7 )

' Pin 0: Reset 4026-based 7-segment counter.
' Pin 1 and pin 3: Button input (00=none, 01='down', 10='down',
' 11='start'/'stop').
' Pin 2: UV lamp on/off.
' Pin 4: Count a 4026-based 7-segment counter.
input 1, 3
output 0, 2, 4

symbol i = b0
symbol exposuretime = b1
symbol digit = b2
symbol button1 = b3
symbol buttonvalue = b4
symbol minutesleft = b5
symbol minutecounter = w3 ' b6:b7

' Turn off the UV lamp.
low 2

' Restore the settings from EEPROM.
read 0, exposuretime
' Display the exposure time
let digit = exposuretime
gosub showdigit

' Wait for the user to push start. Meanwhile, scan for
' up and down buttons.
gosub scanbuttons
if buttonvalue = 1 then
gosub countdown
else if buttonvalue = 2 then
gosub countup
else if buttonvalue = 0 then
' Write the exposure time to EEPROM.
write 0, exposuretime
gosub expose
' Restore the display.
let digit = exposuretime
gosub showdigit
pause 150
goto main

' Expose PCB.
' Turn on the UV lamp.
high 2
' Wait half a second to give the user time to release
' the key.
pause 500
let minutesleft = exposuretime + 1
let digit = exposuretime
gosub showdigit
' Loop counts in tenths of seconds, and compensate for
' some loop overhead.
let minutecounter = 590
' If the user presses a key, then turn off the lamp and
' return to the main loop.
gosub scanbuttons
if buttonvalue <> 3 then goto endexposure
pause 99
dec minutecounter
if minutecounter > 0 then goto exposeloop
' Count down the number of minutes left.
dec digit
dec minutesleft
if minutesleft > 1 then goto exposeminute
' Wait half a second to give the user time to release
' the "stop" (start) key.
low 2
if buttonvalue = 0 then
pause 500

' Scan the buttons to see if one of them is pressed.
' buttonvalue = 0: both pressed,
' buttonvalue = 1: button 2 pressed,
' buttonvalue = 2: button 1 pressed,
' buttonvalue = 3: none pressed.
let buttonvalue = pin1 * 2 + pin3

' Increment the exposure time.
inc exposuretime
if exposuretime < 10 then goto displaynewexposure
' Decrement the exposure time.
dec exposuretime
if exposuretime < 1 then
exposuretime = 1
digit = exposuretime
gosub showdigit

' Show the value of "digit" by resetting the display and
' counting to the display value.
' Reset the counter.
pulsout 0, 1 ' 10 us pulse
' Count to the display value.
if digit = 0 then endshow
for i = 1 to digit
pulsout 4, 1 ' 10 us pulse
next i

The code should be mostly self-explanatory. Refer to the in-code comments for details.

The PCB is laid out in two parts, as indicated by the schematic; one for the "main board," which includes the processor and the relay, and one for the user interface, which includes the display and the keys, ready to be mounted in a plate:

PCB for UV Exposure BoxThe PCB is single-layer, so the routing is somewhat convoluted. The two "top layer tracks" are easily added as jumpers instead of going through the additional effort of creating a double sided PCB.

I won't get into detail about how I obtained the three UV tubes used in the exposure box and how they're connected, because obtaining the UVB tubes cheaply from a local supplier was a bit of luck, and the tubes are wired like any other tube with ballast and starter. The final version in a wooden box looks like this on a somewhat messy workbench:

UV Exposure BoxThe required exposure time for a photo print is about four to five minutes using this exposure box.

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Sixth Sense

martial arts

Image by Edwin1710 via Flickr.

There is little left to mys­t­i­cism in martial arts today, with perhaps one very per­s­ist­ent ex­cep­tion: the concept of "chi" or "qi", de­pend­ing on lan­guage. Qi is not re­co­g­n­ized by the sci­en­ti­f­ic com­mun­ity, mostly owing to the fact that there are no meas­ur­able or oth­er­wise ob­ject­ively ob­ser­v­able fea­tures that reveal this "force" despite its alleged ubi­quity and im­port­ance to human in­ter­ac­tion and de­vel­op­ment. There is good reason for skep­t­ics and sci­ent­ists alike to laugh scorn­fully at anyone claim­ing to be able to harness qi. The burden of proof lies on those who claim that qi exists.

I fit squarely within the group of skeptics, and that leaves me somewhat torn. One one hand, I agree that qi should be discarded and left among the other lumber and wreckage of dead gods and dead philosophies that have proven by results to be empty fiction. On the other hand, I react to qi during my martial arts training, and having studied martial arts for more than a decade, I dare speak with at least some authority on martial arts theory and practice.

Some reactions might easily be explained by learning to somehow read another person's intentions, such as knowing whether to move out of the way of a strike depending on the opponent's facial expressions, but other reactions would be more difficult to explain. How, for example, can a person know when and where his opponent is striking when his back is turned to the opponent?

We have trained blindfolded where one student was assigned the role of an assassin, and the remaining students were to avoid being "killed" by the assassin. One person, who was not blindfolded, was to observe our behavior. I quickly learned not to trust my immediate senses, and instead relied on finding one of the weapons that were scattered around on the floor in the dojo for the purpose of this training. Once I had found a weapon, I pointed it in whichever direction it seemed to be the lightest, which according to the observer was always in the direction of the assassin. Those of us who had at least a few years of training reacted immediately by jerking away if someone suddenly aimed their weapons at us. Such plays do not prove the existence of qi, but they do indicate that something odd is going on. It may not be qi, but a "nine of out of ten" statistic in our training should raise an eyebrow.

The best explanation I can come up with involves our current knowledge of the human brain and consciousness. It is a fairly established fact that humans react to a huge array of stimuli of which we only become conscious of a tiny fraction. There are amusing examples, including the famous "invisible bear" video, which illustrates how even obvious events escape our consciousness. Other stimuli are so subtle that they stay below the consciousness "radar" even if we know they will occur, and if we do react to such stimuli, even our reactions may be too subtle to become conscious of, too. We are bombarded with stimuli that, both individually and combined, our consciousness will never detect (and for a healthy reason too, lest we become overburdened with input). Our bodies do receive the stimuli, however, and this I believe this is how qi may be explained.

Martial arts training teaches us certain moves that we learn to perform without thinking about them, and as one's skill improves, fewer and fewer moves become conscious. There is nothing mystery in this. It is like learning to ride a bike or how to tie your shoelaces: few of us give it any thought once we have learned it; we just do it. So, too, with martial arts moves. Similarly, we learn to react automatically to cues that are evident to begin with, but as we learn to react, we learn to recognize and react to preliminary cues as well. The cues become decreasingly evident, and eventually are too subtle to become conscious of. It is impossible to become conscious of, for example, a slight rustle of clothes in the distance, movements in the floor, slightly increased air pressure, weak shadows, tiny differences in temperature, and what else might reveal the presense and movement of an opponent, and much less to be capable of analyzing the combined stimuli and reacting consciously on them. In short, we learn to move without thinking according to stimuli that we do not think about.

Shaolin Monk Breaks Staff with Arm
Source: at approximately 1:28 minutes within this video clip on YouTube.

Many of the seem­ingly im­pos­s­ible feats of highly skilled martial artists have little to do with hidden powers but are simple physics. For example, the ability to break a staff with one's arm is a ques­tion of tight­en­ing the muscle and po­s­i­tion­ing the arm at the precise spot on the staff where it is most likely to break, using one's arm as a pivot. It does not hurt, and it re­quires con­cen­tra­tion more than an­y­th­ing else. I de­mon­strated it to my co-stu­dents last summer, and I am cer­tain­ly no focused Shaolin monk.

The stimuli may not be re­co­g­n­ized con­s­ciously, but so­me­times they or their com­bined effect are non­eth­e­less felt as a derived stim­u­lus as the body reacts to them: you do not consciously detect the stimuli themselves, but you do discover your reaction. This reaction may be violent, it may be a strong feeling that "something is wrong," or it may be a feeling that your weapon is magnetically drawn to a certain direction—but there is never a rational explanation why. The feeling is real, and it may be strong, too.

I believe this is a rational approach to explaining what qi is. It is no force, and it does in fact not exist. However, the human consciousness is a rather limited faculty, and we physically sense much more than we become consciously aware of. Such stimuli are easily felt as some force emanating from others, and in a sense, it is fair to state that martial artists really do feel something from others and can bring the feeling to use, just like a martial artist may learn to cause certain reactions in other people; it is not qi, however, because it does not exist. To the best of my knowledge, it is the composite, secondary reaction to otherwise trivial stimuli.

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My Un-Analytical Mind

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I'm often described as an extremely analytical person. In my various jobs, managers who demanded linear, predictable, and otherwise uncreative progress have lamented what they considered my tendency to keep analyzing a subject before eventually producing a result. I excel in the technical and scientific areas. In the end, I produce work that seems immensely thought-through, rigidly analytical, carefully argued, and rigorously disciplined.

Forest PathBut that is neither how I think, nor how I work. Presen­ted with a problem, I see a land­s­cape in front of me with lush valleys, im­pas­s­able moun­tains and gorges, walls, streams, high­ways, build­ings, paths, caves, dark forests, and hidden pas­sages. The problem is an area in the dis­tance that is so­me­times clearly visible, at other times covered in a hazy mist that ob­s­cures the precise loc­a­tion, and so­me­times it falls en­tirely beneath the horizon, giving itself away only by a mag­net­ic at­trac­tion that guides the compass needle to point in its dir­ec­tion, or as distant rays re­veal­ing where the Sun is setting. It is a map for a West­ward chase for the es­cap­ing light.

I know the goal in advance: conclusions and results, and often side effects are known to me. Intermediate solutions are camp sites that may be planned; bad or imperfect solutions are directions leading away from the goal or which will cause detours. I see them immediately on the map when they are proposed. Only then begins analysis, which is packing for the trip and preparing for potential unknowns en route. It is usually completed in seconds or minutes, because the route is a glowing path through the landscape, and work may begin immediately.

But unlike a journey where you move progressively, my mental landscape is superimposed onto reality. I travel, as it were, in an alternate set of dimensions, which I mean in a very allegorical sense; I do not make astral travels or otherwise have out-of-reality experiences. It is a "travel" that allows me to pave any one point of the path towards the goal at any time, to enable those who need the solution to somehow get there. The path is paved with whatever material I currently have available, and wherever it is in most need. I am unable to begin paving from the beginning, moving slowly to the end, because I lose sight of the end by focusing on the beginning.

And so I cannot write a story beginning with chapter one. I write a passage here and a passage there. I leave large gaps of room in a document waiting to be filled, and I write statements that I cannot yet know in sections that depend on future events, trusting that they will make sense once their future becomes present. I am rarely forced to delete or redo any part; I only elaborate a little here, and a little there, adding details in the whole instead of detailing the already detailed. If I may for a moment abuse quantum physics beyond its province, I see the wave and alter its characteristics where everyone sees the particle and attempts to alter its course. The wave spans the landscape while the particle crosses it.

My approach and others' approaches may yield identical results, but I am not the analyst. What may seem like careful and skilled analysis where effects lead to causes, which in turn lead to other effects and causes, is to me a mere description of what I see, with no intent to analyze or understand the path directly ahead. Perhaps that is the secret of the analytical gift.

Ghost Story

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GhostA ghost is a deceased person that haunts the living, because the deceased person has unfinished business or lost property that was highly important to him. In spite of what healthy skepticism might prompt me to believe, I believe in ghosts, because I have seen many of them.

As an atheist and a skeptic, however, I must insist that ghosts are tangible characters. So, when popular belief stipulates that ghosts are spirits, I must insist that this cannot be, and I also refuse to consider ghosts to be some kind of manifestation of a person's afterlife.

A ghost is a dead person in the sense that the person has lost his life. A person that was once productive, alive, giving, and present but has since lost the spark of life and no longer has initiative is dead. Such invididuals may become ghosts.

When a person “dies” and becomes a ghost, the death is often witnessed as a change in the person's life and friends wonder what happened to the once so pleasant person. The death occurs when a vital part of their life vanishes and takes the person's inner light with it, leaving a person who is eerily unreal and often unpleasant to meet.

This may require some explanation.

The person has been so closely attached to a “fetish”—a person, an idea, a cause, or an object—that it is inseparable from his life. Everything is understood and valued against the fetish that the person has attached himself to. Even if the individual might have had a realistic view on reality, his or her entire existence has been measured according to the fetish. A mother may thus enjoy life, but some mothers enjoy life as mothers, that is, not as independent individuals but through their relation to their child and the identity of being mothers. The child has become the mother's fetish.

The fetish is the glass through which the person views his entire existence. It does not prevent the person from seeing clearly; in fact, it is vital for the person's clarify. The person's contact with reality goes through the person's fetish, and instead of using his own root as a guideline to his existence directly, the person applies his fetish as a an intermediary between his root and reality.

This usually works well, but it is dangerous to be so dependent on an external factor. If you found out what a person's fetish is, you may control the person via his fetish, but that is another discussion. If you make a person hate his fetish, the person will hate himself, and his beacon will be his own self-hate. That, too, is another discussion.

Back to the ghosts. Legends have established that ghosts are often looking for something that is lost, or the ghosts haunt people that own that which the ghosts have lost. If you destroy a person's fetish or make it inaccessible, you will remove the item that the person required to be in touch with himself, and hence the person's indicator of reality. The vital part of the person through which the person lived is gone. The person's spark of life disappears together with the disappearance of the fetish. The person “dies” but is unable to find rest without his fetish.

That is the secret behind the curse of the ghosts. Ghosts of flesh and blood have lost their fetishes, and their curse can only be lifted if the ghosts can recover their lost fetishes or if they find a new fetish. In rare cases the ghosts may find their own root.

The fetish is the person's axis mundi, the indicator of world order. If the axis mundi is shifted even once, the world is destroyed. An Aboriginal tribe in Australia understood this concept so literally that they symbolized the axis mundi with a stick, and if the stick were to be destroyed, the tribe would sit down and wait to die, because the world order had been destroyed.

Jacob's LadderIn the mythical universes the axis mundi connects the cosmic planes of existence. In Christianity, the axis mundi is symbolized by the Jacob's ladder, and in the Norse mythology it was Yddgrasil. The the individual, the axis mundi is the connection between sensing and interpretation of the senses, and the connection between his past and his future. It is the person's thread through life.

The fetich is the person's single reference point that cannot afford to be shaken. If control of the fetish is lost even once, the basis of the person's world view is for ever uncertain. If the person's fetish is his girlfriend, she needs not demonstrate her disinterest more than once before the person's local world—himself—crumbles, even if the girlfriend finds her way back.

Like their mythical counterpart, real ghosts haunt those living individuals that have life, warmth, and an inner flame. The haunted people are those who possess the fetishes of the ghosts.

The ghosts make themselves present in different forms. You may forget about the ghost and only become aware of its existence when it rattles the chains of an inextinguishable bitterness. Or you may wonder why the ghosts return to people that they once had relations with, even if the ghosts themselves have long since renounced the relations. Or you may have been together with a ghost and leave with a feeling that the ghost was the only person in the party who gained from the contact. The presence of the ghosts is a transparent outline of that which the ghosts once felt they were as living individuals.

The ghost may be the mother who has lost her child because the child has moved away from home or has freed itself from its parents, and who attempts to keep the child in its childish needs by helping with cooking or laundry. Or the ghost may be the old politician who has lost interest in politics but still turns to other politically active individuals about issues that he could easily discuss with anyone else.

Ghosts may not walk through walls, but they are very real, and they cannot be slain like vampires with a proverbial stake through their hearts. Ghosts are also never kind. And unlike the ghosts of the myths and legends, ghosts may not be reunited with their lost identity by anyone; true ghost hunters need hard training in psychiatry. We other mortals can rarely dispell the ghosts. If we are unwilling to flee the haunted area, we must live with their howls at night and their chilly puffs down our backs.

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The Art of Hunting Trolls

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The forest of Rold in Denmark includes an area that is known as the troll forest owing to the eerie shape of the trees. There is a perfectly natural explanation for that, but that will have to wait, because this is about the secret behind troll hunting.

Troll hunting is difficult because you cannot enter the troll forest with the desire to hunt trolls. Everywhere you look you will see oddly shaped trees but trolls are nowhere to be seen.

Troll Forest in Rold Skov
Troll Forest in the forest of Rold in Denmark. But where are the trolls?

The secret behind troll hunting is that the trolls will not appear until you cease looking for them. It is when you forget your business that the trolls begin to appear. Often a curious face will peek from behind the roots of a fallen tree, or a troll may be napping against a trunk. Soon you will see trolls everywhere in all shapes and sizes, and you feel them blowing down your neck and wink at you in time with the movement of the trees. But as soon as you begin looking for more trolls, you will not find any.

A somewhat camera shy troll, but visible nonetheless.
The same thing happens if you attempt to find a good topic to write about. You cannot simply choose a topic and expect to find profundities. You must study the topic carefully, and suddenly meaning emerges. Of course, not all forests are troll forests, and some topics are more prone to insight than others.

Trolls are shy and will hide when you approach them. There is often but a piece of wood or bark left when you walk towards them. But if you keep a proper distance, you will often be able to point them out for your companions who may not have seen them yet.

Not all troll hunters are skilled. The trolls usually hide from troll huntes with too much sense in their heads who see nothing but trees. When they hunt for trolls, they search for the darkness with flashlights, trying to create trolls where there are none. When they are asked to describe the troll, they can rarely point at the nose, the eyes, and the mouth at the same time, seeing the entire face of the troll. They often describe a single closed eye that soon turns out not to belong to any troll. They also have difficiulties recognizing trolls that are found by more skilled hunters.

Hush! This troll has not seen us yet.
Such people are rigid, and trolls are afraid of that. Trolls are part of the forest, and they quickly hide if they sense that a person lacks the life and movement of the forest. (This is also the reason why it is very difficult to take photographs of trolls, because the trolls know that the photographs will freeze them.) This is what makes troll hunting so difficult: you cannot become part of the troll forest until you forget that you are hunting trolls.

The unfortunate troll hunters generally have difficulties understanding abstractions, analogies, symbols, and intuitive explanations, are are rarely creative.

It is the unfortunate troll hunters who attempt to find profundities in their favorite topics or activities even if there is nothing to be found. Skilled troll hunters will find that certain topics provide a myriad of trolls.

Some mystery cults would probably have sent the apprentice into Rold forest with no explanation but an instruction to come back once the apprentice had learned something. I will wish you happy hunting instead.
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The Destruction of Truth

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Eliphas Levi's Goat of MendesTruth is re­ser­ved for mis­guided humans who believe that truth is a goal.

Truth is sought by humans who are cul­tur­ally trained to believe that some­where, someone knows what is “true.” They believe it is the duty of each human being to either be this person or to work hard to com­pre­hend through this person what is “true.” Even if they may not form­ally or lit­er­ally believe in gods, it is implied by their culture that it is “God” who holds the final and eternal truth.

The Devil has no in­ter­est in as­pir­ing for his op­pon­ent. Satan turns his back at God. He knows that there is no such thing as “true.” Satan does not want truth. Satan is the per­petu­al liar, and it is his cor­rupt­ive nature to destroy truth.

Yet a truth that has been forced to adapt to the Devil's eternal ques­tion mark and de­struc­tion through the ages has not become a lie; it has only been pro­gress­ively less wrong. Satan's ob­st­in­ate desire to destroy truth as we know it has re­placed the term “true” with the term “pro­gess­ively less wrong.”

It may sound as if Satan inadvertently attains the very goal that he wishes to avoid, but there is a monumental difference between the two concepts.

“True” is something that is measured as the distance from an absolute, constant merit, which is an ultimate goal. The closer something is to this goal, the more true it is.

“Progessively less wrong” is measured according to a point of departure. It is a measure of how far you have reached and how far you have progressed.

“True” is an angst of not being close enough to God—a fear that cannot be eased, because there are no gods. The wish to reach the goal is a death wish, because once the wish has been granted, there is nothing more to strive for.

To be “progressively less wrong” is to revel in your own progess, and it is a perennial desire to always go further.

The desire for “truth” creates rigid societies. People think in terms of “right” when they maintain their own, “true” course while they actively combat any other course and are hostile towards discussion and perspective.

The desire to be “progressively less wrong” leads society in new directions. It encourages respect for past knowledge and enthusiasm for constributing with new knowledge, to lifelong learning, and to an appreciation of the fact that there is great value to be found in the interaction between humans with unique views.

But it is not easy to be “progressively less wrong” instead of being “more right.” Many people have a feeling of what is “right” and do not have the slightest idea of how to be “less wrong.” They belive you are opting for the second-best solution when you wish to be “less wrong” rather than “more right.” This, in spite of life itself being a monument to the fact that there is nothing second-best to beling “progressively less wrong.”

To learn what is wrong in a popular “truth,” we must follow the Devil's example.

Satan does not belive in false authorities who know in advance what is “right.” Satan has much more respect for those people who seek to demolish truths—assuming these people are not merely motivated by another “truth.” Satan believes in chaos, because he trusts people to be creative, and he trusts that a large number of people that do not share an opinion are capable of functioning together.

To be “progessively less wrong” demands the Devil's tools: the ability to be critical and to learn from your own and others experiments, but also to keep an open mind that allows controversional thoughts and acts. The key talent is creativity, but unfortunately our god-fearing culture is suspicious of this chaotic skill, or may have lost its belief in it or forgotten it in its quest for maximum profit or “financial responsibility.”

A truth that cannot be destroyed is promoted to divinity and will enthrall independent thought. In his destruction of truth, Satan therefore demands bickering and dispute, obstacles and destruction, frustration and error. Only thus can truth be destroyed and mankind be liberated from God.

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The Mythical Nazi

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SwastikaIt is usually con­sider­ed bad prac­t­ice to compare groups that you don't like with Nazis. This com­par­is­on is made so often, however, that it has earned its own name: Godwin's Law. The "law" states that most dis­cus­sions on the In­ter­net news­groups in­var­i­ably end with one part ac­cus­ing the other part of being a Nazi, and that this ac­cus­a­tion marks the end of any con­struct­ive debate. The reason is that dis­cus­sions often become more heated and in­vect­ives become more fierce, and because "Nazi" is con­sider­ed the worst you can say, this in­vect­ive in­dic­ates that the debate has removed the parties as far as pos­s­ible. The rule is vir­tu­ally un­i­ver­sal, but there is an obvious situ­a­tion where it does not apply: if your op­pon­ent is a genuine nazi, it is ab­so­lutely fair to refer to the op­pon­ent as a Nazi! This is noted in the Godwin's Law FAQ, which dryly ob­ser­ves that this law is not useful by neither part. It sug­gests one talks about Nazis instead of talking with Nazis.

There is a gray area, however, where the person you debate with is a Nazi in every respect, except that the person himself or herself either won't admit or doesn't believe he or she is a Nazi. If you refer to the person as a Nazi, you'll be correct, but the person will be insulted either for political reasons or as a result of ignorance.

There is a certain fairness in accepting that if someone rejects a particular name, one should at least consider honoring the rejection. It should not be honored uncritically, however; if a Holocaust denier argues in favor of Nazism cannot be called a Nazi simply because he or she claims (or believes) to be otherwise, the person's rejection cannot have much weight. Compare it with the situation with athletes from Eastern Europe or China some decades ago, who officially were "unprofessional" athletes but whom anyone knew were 100% dedicated to their sport by their respective countries, and only were allowed in the Olympic games because their countries emphasized that they were not paid. In any sense but the strictest level of formality, obviously these athletes were professional; anything else is a matter of words. (This recurring conflict solved itself as commercial interests in other countries began to sponsor the athletes who could also no longer unambiguiously be considered amateurs.)

There is thus a lower limit for not belonging to a particular group: you may be so similar that it does not make sense to consider you different. You are not necessarily the person you think you are, or what you attempt to convince others that you are.

SS BadgeSome of my close re­l­at­ives were members of the Nazi party during the Second World War; one was an SS officer and the other was honored with a seat next to the Führer at one of his birth­day parties. If anyone were Nazis in Germany in the 1930'es and 1940'es, it would these two people. I knew them both as very pleas­ant human beings who would always con­trib­ute pos­it­ively to any oc­ca­sion, and who did so out of genuine in­ter­est, not as an attempt to make up for their pasts.

Many Nazis at that time must have held much more mod­er­ate beliefs than these two people, and some pre­su­m­ably smaller number must have been less mod­er­ate. This in­dic­ates that here, too, there has to be a lower limit of how ex­clud­ing the de­fin­i­tion of Nazism can be, because if there were not many "degrees" of being a Nazi, how many people would qualify? If you narrow Nazism to a phe­n­o­men­on that could only de­scribe a tiny number of ex­cep­tion­ally cruel in­di­vi­du­als, then how could there be so many mil­lions of Nazis in Germany before and after the Second World War? Were these millions of Nazis in the period between 1920 and 1945 really so similar that there were no small or even considerable differences? Did they all disappear, and with them also nazism, as through magic when Germany lost the war? If the definition of Nazism is so narrow that it does not fit anyone, were there even Nazis in Germany before and during the Second World War?

The answers are as obvious as they may be discomforting: firstly, Nazism covered a wide array of people because otherwise there could never have been that many Nazis. Secondly, Nazis did not radically change their opinions on the night between August 2nd and August 3rd, 1945 after the Potsdam conference; they just knew to keep their mouths shut. In short, Nazis were humans, and humans are different. Nazism was found in many shades and different Nazis had different emphasis on its ideological core principles. There is not a single, precise weighting but rather an inclusive sphere spanneing various weightings of core ideologies, and they did not simply vanish from the many options provided by human consciousness. It is this fact that make the answer discomforting: if Nazism fills a spacious sphere of different opinions and does not unequivocally demand that one behaves like a Hollywood Nazi archetype, then it means that we are surrounded by people who would have been clearly recognizable as Nazis by the standards of Germany, 1930.

More specifically: a number of core principles outlined a circle around the many different Nazis of the 1920'es and 1930'es. If a group of people today believes in core principles that by and large are contained within this circle, then this group would have been part of contemporary Nazism had the group existed back then.

The strong condemnation of the horrors of World War II has created a fear of contact with Nazism, which has a very unfortunate side effect: the post-war descriptions of the horrors during the Second World War has created an anthropomorphism, that is, they have transformed Nazis into a symbol of the horrors. The post-war condemnations have created the mythical Nazi—the spectre of the worst thinkable human being, all of the Nazi horrors integrated into a single person.

The mythical Nazi is mythical, because the mythical person does not exist. The Nazis of the real world were not like the mythical Nazi. The mythical Nazi and the real Nazi appear in different realities. The mythical Nazi is found in the world where you find dragons, trolls, and other monsters. The real Nazi is found in our own world. These Nazis had many opinions and values, dreams and ideas, hopes and plans, and they were human beings of flesh and blood like the rest of us.

When you speak of the real Nazis, you must not confuse them with the mythological Nazi. The two phenomena are completely different, and any commingling of them will turn the discussion meaningless. Think of the word "bat," which takes on completely different meanings depending on whether you are talking about animas or sports. If you assume one meaning in another context, you will not be making any sense.

The notion of the mythical Nazi is unfortunate because it makes it difficult (if not impossible) to recognize real Nazis. You will never spot a real Nazi if you believe that a real Nazi can only be recognized by the traits of the mythical Nazi, because you will be gazing into a fantacy world that is not populated by real, existing people. It may be compared to question that my four year old son asked one night when he gazed into the night sky: he asked what all the glowing dots were and why there were no stars. It turned out that he had learned through images and stories that stars are five-pointed and big, and therefore did not recognize the real stars. Like my little son did not recognize the real stars, you will not recognize the real Nazis around you if you think they must all be like the mythical Nazi.

People who would be recognized as Nazis with no shread of doubt in the 1930'es, and who might even have known so themselves, can now get away with Nazi positions without anyone—or even themselves—realizing it. If someone points out that there is remarkable agreement between the opinions, either Godwin's law applies, or popular belief in the mythical Nazi is so strong that others cannot relate the concept of a Nazi to anything real and present. The post-war chase after Nazis was justified by portraying the nazis as so evil that they could be outlawed. But this justification created a Nazi monster that was so terrifying that no one can recognize its much more commonplace face.

Nazi ArmbandNazis of today are unlike the myth­ic­al Nazi, because the myth­ic­al Nazi never existed. Nazis of today are not ne­ces­sar­ily goose-step­ping down the Straße, do not ne­ces­sar­ily wear arm­bands, and do not ne­ces­sar­ily call them­selves Nazis. Only the myth­ic­al Nazi does all of this, as well as the few in­di­vi­du­als who attempt an os­ten­s­ive act of the un­i­ver­se of the myth­ic­al symbol.

Germany had mil­lions of Nazis back then. How many of these Nazis were shout­ing "Heil!" in the streets back then? How many of those who even knew about the per­se­cu­tion of the Jews played any active role in it? How many of them wore a Swastika as jewelry? How many of them believed that their own children should be killed if they had physical disabilities? How many of them were interested in Hitler's religious mysticism? When not even the majority of the Nazis back then were anything like the mytical Nazi, why demand that Nazis of today should look like this mythical being before they can reasonably be called Nazis? Or rather: why not call them Nazis if they otherwise are like the Nazis of the past, just because a mythical creature has been invented that does not exist?

Belief in the mythical Nazi must be cast away to all other superstition of witches, trolls, ghosts, and dragons. We must realize that the Nazi of today is like the Nazis of the past with mostly the same opinions, values, ideas, and desires. And we must remember what these opinions were, and that they can only be implemented by repeating the horrors of World War II. We do not exorcise Nazism by denying to read Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf, believing it may turn us into the mythical Nazi; instead, reading the book, whose language is no harsher than that of an average politician, might open your eyes to very real Nazis around you. We must recognize Nazism today by any name if we wish to ensure that History does not repeat itself.

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Politically Institutionalized Breivik

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Commercials work. Political campaigns shift votes. Children become educated in schools. Negotiations foster results. By and large, humans influence each others through speaking with each other. Everything we say is intended to move one or more opponents. It would make no sense to debate if we did not influence each other with our words. All communication would be meaningless. The sounds generated in our larynxes would fall on deaf ears, and as a species we would probably never have developed a language. There is no Cartesian dualism where voice and spirit is separated from body and action.

Tell a person that has been a bully victim that repetitive hostile rhetoric or persistent belittlement that words cannot hurt. They may break a child as efficiently and as permanently as violence and sexual abuse. Tell a person who struggles to balance his or her financial situation that the words "you're fired" have no physical consequences before the layoff is effectuated. Tell an innocent person who receives a death sencence in an American court as a result of the prosecutor's sharp tongue that words pose no danger. Tell the person that attempts suicide after years of directed character assinations that noone attempted to cause real damage. Tell the hundreds of thousands of refugees from Iraq that the lies about weapons of mass destructions meant nothing.

If a politcal party did not expect their words to convey any meaning and caused the population to change their behavior, the party would withdraw from the public and stop wasting its time on TV commercials, in debates, in radio interviews, in newspaper columns, and in campaign adverts. No voter would be influenced by the communication, but would vote entirely independent of the messages from the political parties. It is simply obvious that communication from political parties aim to move the population in one way or another. The choice of rhetoric, the choice of subjects, and the choice of argumentation all aim to change the behavior of the population. It is neither unwanted or undesired if an individual is unaffected by the communication from the political parties, it is an unthinkable thought.

Long time of persistent messages create communicating communities of agreement - discourses - which are even ranked alongside the definition of reality, because reality is not objective but a social definition - through language. Language describes reality: the words attached to meanings that are worth assimilating or opposing, sentences defines the subjects that one is expected to be concerned with; the language composes the reality that is describable and thus relatable. The more a reality is described in one's society, the more present it becomes; it becomes institutionalized.

And that is why the racist dis­cour­se of the Scand­in­avi­an right-wing parties plays a role in cre­at­ing an­i­m­os­ity against im­mi­g­rants in the Scand­in­avi­an pop­u­la­tions. The strong and per­s­ist­ent anti-Muslim dis­cour­se creates hos­til­ity against Middle-Eastern pop­u­la­tions in the so­ci­et­ies. It would be crazy to suggest that this hos­til­ity had grown en­tirely in­de­pend­ently of the right-wing parties, even if taking into account that the parties them­selves are in­flu­enced by their re­spect­ive support bases. Deny this nexus, and you must deny one of the most im­port­ant pillars of lan­guage, philo­so­phy, and dis­sem­in­a­tion of know­ledge.

This make the Scand­in­avi­an right-wing parties squarely co-re­s­pon­s­ible for the po­s­i­tion that the right-ex­trem­ist, Nor­we­gi­an mass mur­der­er­ Anders Breivik had ar­t­ic­u­lated; even Breivik himself knew this and re­fer­red to the Nor­we­gi­an and Danish right-wing parties. Anders Breivik can be ex­pec­ted to suffer from a per­son­al­ity dis­order­, but it the rhet­or­ic ques­tion is obvious: would Anders Breivik's per­son­al­ity dis­order­ have become man­i­fest as mass murder if his per­cep­tion of reality had been nour­ished by a rhet­or­ic about peace­ful co­ex­ist­ence instead of the hostile rhet­or­ic applied by his pol­it­ic­al idols?

The answer, as Philip Zombardo has stressed, to examine the individual only when all other explanations have been abandoned; you are not who you are; you are where you are, that is, your identity and demeanor is primarily determined by your physical and communicative surroundings. Anders Breivik had taken note of the rhetoric and embodied it. Much of the hostile rhetoric would only be possible through actions such as Anders Breivik's on a larger scale. Imprisonments in concentration camps, genocide, and mass deportations are the only way the hostile rhetoric could be accomplished in practice, and in this light, Anders Brevik's only personality disorder is his lacking ability to understand that the action, and hence the rhetoric, is insane.

It is not even certain that Anders Brevik suffers from a personality disorder. If a hundred people stand at the docks and yell: "push him off the docs!" about a person and one of the 100 people suddenly pushes the person, it would be absurd to assign all blame to that one person and claim that the shouts of the remaining 99 individuals had never been heard. Anders Breivik's statements and opinions are far from unheard on the extreme right wing, and he may have been led by the extremist rhetoric in the same way as solders are driven to shoot at an enemy that they have been conditioned to view as inhuman.

The Scandinavian right-wing parties cannot be held responsible for the probability that Anders Breivik suffers from a personality distorder, but their rhetoric guides the actions and opinions that a person such as Anders Breivik will assume. It is shameful that instead they cast all guilt aside and continue with their hateful rhetoric as usual.

The Stabwounds in My Back

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Popular belief states that "everybody loves a winner." However, popular opinion reflects human opinion and rarely observable and quantifiable reality, and generally couldn't be much further from the truth: Nobody likes a winner, and everybody loves to hear about a winner being torn down or a winner failing. If in doubt, consult the tabloids which bulge with scandals, accidents, and disasters.

That's why the so-called geek is bullied in school; it is why the eggheads are ridiculed; it is why the worst thing you can tell a religious nut out to save you is that you are already been saved, because the person doesn't want you to be saved; and it is the reason why expert opinions are consistently throttled and replaced by complacent yay-sayers by right-wing governments who need to "get something done."

It is the reason why you should never strive to become the best in your professional life. Strive to become second-worst according to the following two rules:

Rule 1: You must be better than the worst performer, because is the one that gets the ax during corporate "rightsizings," and you must be just superior enough to avoid the pink slip.

Rule 2: The best performer is the primary challenge to anyone who is threatened by the perpetually looming layoff rounds, which means that the best performer is always a challenge to everyone else. It is the best performer that gets knifed in the back, never the worst performer, because only the better performers pose a threat to your job security.

Your challenge is to strike a balance where you avoid as many knives in your back as possible while being barely skilled enough to make it through the next stable period.

Contrary to what you might think, your project manager will not appreciate your skills. Your project manager is paid to do his or her job, and the faster his or her team completes the project, the sooner the project manager is in need of a new assignment which may not be available. The project manager's job security increases with the slowness of the project team, and not only do the best performers expose the project manager's occasional ignorance, they also endager the project manager's job security by completing the project faster. If the project manager's boss begins to wonder, the worst performers in the team can always be sacrificed, because it is never the project manager's fault that the team is slow.

Hence, any skilled project manager who is determined to keep his or her job will slander the best performer and lie about the person if it helps. The project manager will usually choose to tell your boss that you are considering a new job or that you are helping some other department, because this is a codified message known only to senior management that a person is unwanted: it instructs senior management that a person is a threat to them, too.

And so skill is undesired. One would think that, in spite of our major scientific headway and occasional wonders of civilization, mankind would have progressed to a state where life could be a wonder to be lived rather than the battle to be fought that still charaterizes the life of less advanced species, but no; humans have not truly advanced to a state that is any different from the beasts of the wild. Mentally, we are still primitive apes struggling to survive being yet another experiment of evolution which, statistically speaking, is guaranteed to fail. Were it not for business competitiveness, we might have succeeded.

Beer Brewing Thermometer

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A friend of mine is an avid all-grain home beer brewer. He prefers to keep things as manual as possible, but one thing bugs him: the thermometer is a delicate piece of equipment, and the mashing process requires careful monitoring of the temperature. Of course, digital thermometers come a dime a dozen, but how about a thermometer that can be programmed for a target temperature and tells him to increase or decrease the heat? It's a thermostat, yes, but for a DYI guy like him, a home-made one is better than anything you can find at a store.

Beer Thermostat, VeroboardThis is a job for the PICaxe 08M, which has built-in support for the Dallas Sem­i­con­duct­ors DS18B20 1-wire tem­per­at­ure probe.

The first version is quite simple: the user sets the target tem­per­at­ure using an IR remote, and the 08M writes back the entry on a two-digit display. Next, the 08M con­t­inu­ously meas­ures the tem­per­at­ure via the DS18B20, and lights an LED if the heater must be turned up. The user may change the target tem­per­at­ure any time using the remote. The IR device is a TSOP 1138.

The hard­ware is about as simple as it can be. Note that the ver­o­board strips must be broken in five places. A jumper is used to de­ter­m­ine whether input pin should be used for pro­gram­ming (jumper po­s­i­tion closest to the pro­ces­sor), or for re­set­t­ing the display (covered shortly) once the circuit is running.

Future re­vi­sions may involve the use of a servo motor for turning up or down the heater with only very minor mod­i­fic­a­tions of the hard­ware and soft­ware.

The display makes use of two 4026 decade counters with built-in 7-segment drivers. Only two wires are required to display two digits: one reset signal that resets the decade counters to 00. The other is a clock that is pulsed to count to the desired output. The counting is fast enough to cause only a small fluttering of the display as the desired output is reached:

Flash Trigger Veroboard
The 08M is stalled while executing the infrain2 instruction. In order to allow continuous temperature measurement, instead the 08M polls for activity on the IR pin. If any activity is detected, it enters an input mode. Similarly, the 08M is stalled while reading the DS18B20. Hence, rather than measuring repeatedly, in order to accept IR input the 08M must be explicitly told to do nothing for a while (i.e., doing nothing but polling for IUR input) so that the risk of entering an input just when the 08M reads the DS18B20 is kept at a tolerable level. The program works its way somewhat around the stalls by reading the DS18B20 only about every 15 seconds.

The DS18B20 is mounted in a copper pipe with brass ends, allowing it to be submerged in the warm or boiling wort during the entire brewing process:

Beer Thermostat, Disassembled
The 08M is programmed with the following program by placing the jumper closest to the processor:

' Beer Brew Temperature Control

' Usage:
' NN: Set the target temperature, which is displayed for
' one second. Then the display shows the current
' temperature. #picaxe 08m #com /dev/ttyUSB0 ' Preload the EEPROM with defaults: ' Value: Last target temperature. eeprom 0, ( 60 ) ' Pin 0: Reset 4026-based 7-segment counter. ' Pin 1: Input from sensor. ' Pin 2: Output to heater indicator. ' Pin 3: IR input. ' Pin 4: Count a 4026-based 7-segment counter. input 1 output 0, 2, 4 symbol i = b0 symbol two_digits = b1 symbol targettemperature = b2 symbol currenttemperature = b3 symbol lasttemperature = b4 symbol difference = b5 symbol waitcounter = w3 ' b6:b7 symbol irreceiverpin = pin3 ' symbol infra = b13 (these are synonymous) ' Turn off heater. low 2 ' Restore the settings from EEPROM. read 0, targettemperature lasttemperature = -127 main: waitcounter = 15000 ' Wait for a key. Poll for a key in order to let the temperature be
' updated repeatedly.
poll: if irreceiverpin = 0 then infrain2 ' If it's a digit key, then it's the target temperature. if infra < 10 then ' Decode the first key, bypassing wait and validation. gosub getonedigit_nowait ' Get the second digit of the two-digit number. gosub getseconddigit targettemperature = two_digits ' Store the target temperature in EEPROM. write 0, targettemperature ' Show the target temperature for two seconds before
' showing the current temperature. pause 1000 lasttemperature = -127 goto sampletemperature endif endif ' Count down until about half a minute before sampling the temperature. waitcounter = waitcounter - 1 if waitcounter > 0 then poll ' Read the temperature. We won't compensate for impossible
' negative temperatures. sampletemperature: readtemp 1, currenttemperature ' Show the current temperature again if it has changed. if currenttemperature <> lasttemperature then lasttemperature = currenttemperature two_digits = currenttemperature gosub showtwodigits endif gosub adjustheater goto main ' Turn heater on or off, depending on temperature. This could be
' modified to, e.g., set a servo motor to open or close a valve. In
' this case, it indicates whether the temperature is high or low. adjustheater: difference = targettemperature - currenttemperature ' Too hot: Turn off the heater. if difference > 128 then low 2 ' Too cold: Turn on the heater. else if difference >= 1 then high 2 endif return ' Read one digit key from the remote. getonedigit: trydigitagain: infrain2 ' Keep trying until a valid number key has been entered. if infra > 9 then trydigitagain ' Label used to bypass waiting and validating the digit. getonedigit_nowait: ' Keys '1' through '9' have values 0 through 8, and ' key '0' has value 9. Add one, and perform a modulus 10
' to wrap the '0' key around, and we have the true value
' of the key. infra = infra + 1 infra = infra // 10 ' Wait until the key has probably been released. pause 500 return ' Read two digit keys from the remote and return the
' two-digit value. gettwodigits: gosub getonedigit ' Label used to bypass waiting for the first digit. getseconddigit: ' Move the first digit to the tens position. two_digits = infra * 10 gosub getonedigit ' Add the lower digit to the ones position. two_digits = two_digits + infra ' Display the entered value. gosub showtwodigits return ' Show the value of "two_digits" by resetting the display
' and counting to the display value. showtwodigits: ' Reset the counters. pulsout 0, 1 ' 10 us pulse ' Count to the display value. if two_digits = 0 then endshow for i = 1 to two_digits pulsout 4, 1 ' 10 us pulse next i endshow: return

After programming, move the jumper to the opposite position, and the thermometer is ready.

Beer Thermostat, Final

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Seven-Eights of Your Life


When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful,
a miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical.
And all the birds in the trees,
well they'd be singing so
happily, joyfully, playfully watching me.
But then they sent me away to teach me how to be
sensible, logical, responsible, practical.
And they showed me a world where I could be so
dependable, clinical, intellectual, cynical.

(The Logical Song, Supertramp, 1979)

The grandmaster of a martial arts branch once remarked that the head only takes up one eighth of the entire body proper. Anyone that uses only his head to think with is seven-eights paralyzed.

Yet often I hear atheists cry: "rationality!," "logic!," "reason!", etc. when they argue that religious people are separating themselves from the real world. They cling to the intellectual and the abstract. Apparently their real world is restricted to the upper one-eighth of the body.

The last seven-eights of the body does not think in the intellectual sense of the word. However, the body feels and senses. Dr. Antonio Damasio explains in his book, Descartes' Error, that it is not the human brain that controls a human being's rationality. It is instead the body that creates what Damasio named "somatic markers," or bodily points of reference, that direct the brain. Body and brain join in a reciprocal, closed-loop action where the brain is just one of many organs that together spark reason.

Damasio experimented with patients suffering from a brain damage that prevented them from applying their somatic markers. To his surprise, Damasio discovered that these people were just as intelligent as other people, only were these people controlled exclusively by their intelligence, that is, by their brain's reasoning alone. Yet it was as if their goal had changed. Deprived of the use of their somatic markers the actions of the patients showed that the patients unconsciously—but apparently very deliberately—attempted to create problems for themselves, financially as well as socially. Denying their bodily feelings and relying on their reasoning alone the patients had become self-destructive.

Ayn Rand

We consider logic the foundation of our rationality in our part of the world. However, some people forget that logic is a means, not an ends. And just like tools such as a hammer can strike pointless blows in the air instead of driving nails into wood, logic can be used without applying it to anything tangible, or it can be used outside its proper scope. You may conclude that there is a god or that there is none, both by means of logic. The use of logic can easily lead to surreal conclusions.

Maybe it is because of our ability to consider meaningless issues and draw logical but wrong conclusions that many Western philosophers have become so impressed by their ability to think that they consider it spectacular. These philosophers include Descartes, Berkeley, and, widely used among atheists, Ayn Rand.

Human beings can draw on many more resources than rationality and logic. The figure below illustrates which psychological and physiological functions we have at our disposal. Beyond the familiar intelligence, which leads to reason and rationality, we also have feeling (bodily sensing), emotion, and intuition. Usually a person is only consciously aware of two of the functions, leaving the other two functions in the person's subconsciousness.

In our part of the world, thinking and intellectualism is well-known, because they serve as basis of scientific method. Thoughts order our impressions whether they are caused by intuition or feeling. Feeling is for the most part socially accepted as valid means of perceiving the world. However, emotion and intuition are considered "chaotic," "inferior," or even "demonic" because they do not fit well into a culture where the body is considered inferior and something to be controlled. Hence it is only intellect and feeling that is considered "normal" in our part of the world. Emotion and intuition are confined to a place in the subconsciousness, where they are usually blamed for deviant behavior.

Conscious vs. Unconscious

Atheists may be attracted to rationality and reason, but when they react emotionally to something, often they expose a highly unreasonable identity beneath the surface.

The ability to think clearly, to be rational and logical, can be an incredible strength. But when the ability is out of tune with the other psychological functions, problems arise. To an overly intellectual atheist, rationality becomes a confession of faith where even our very existence is "only an abstraction."

It is quite natural to employ one's dominant functions such as intellectuality and feeling. But as Jung remarked, it is necessary to listen to all of the functions, in particular those functions that are the least developed. It is only then that we realize that there are many situations in life that we cannot effectively appreciate with just the dominant function. One might say that if one faces life with just one function, life is made lesser than life—one kills life.

What we term intelligence today has not always been considered an isolated skill. The term "logic" can be derived from the Greek "logos," which seems to have referred to much more than sheer intellectualism. In some esoteric schools it refers to an inner, divine light that is felt as a warmth rising up through the body, a corporeal feeling that has no direct relation to intelligence. Intelligent logic is often seen as a result of the carnal logic/logos. A person only thinks logically when the logic is shaped by somatic sensation. Logic cannot exist alone, without bodily origin. This is an important point: thoughts will contain no logic unless the logic has first been "felt" by the body; this ancient mysticism is eerily echoed in Damasio's much more recent research.

Erle Montaigue

It is also im­port­ant to realize that the body cannot learn from in­tel­lec­tu­al ex­per­i­ences. The use of pres­sure points in martial arts are a strik­ing example (pun in­ten­ded). Al­though it is reas­on­ably easy to explain where pres­sure points are located by means of di­a­grams and logic as, for example, Erle Mon­tai­gue does it in several of his books, learn­ing to use pres­sure points in combat is a di­f­fer­ent matter al­to­geth­er­. No matter how pre­cisely one men­t­ally me­m­or­izes the loc­a­tion of a par­t­ic­u­lar pres­sure point, this know­ledge will be useless when an op­pon­ent attacks.

However, if you have been shown the loc­a­tion by someone that made you scream from pain, your own knuck­les, elbows, fingers, knees or feet will find it without the help of a th­ink­ing brain. This "body memory" can only learn from bodily ex­per­i­ence.

This kind of learning pervades the esoteric schools, which are sometimes called "oral" schools, because it does not help to read about it. Even if the knowledge was written down, the knowledge would be incomprehensible, because words on paper do not provide carnal experience. One may be able to understand it in an abstract sense, but cannot put it to practical use. Hence, one can write down all of the secrets and pass them on, but in the hands of an uninitiated person the material will be useless. In that sense it is still "secret," because no matter how clearly it is communicated in writing or speech, the "hidden" knowledge is not passed on.

Some things cannot be learned. Either you know them, or you don't. Without having been told, authors such as Tom Kristensen spoke of magic in the shape of a "octopus-like image" in his book, "Havoc," Michael Ende felt the magical influence of people that "distort time" in his book, "Momo," and H. P. Lovecraft used a long array of beings that are well-known in magical visions in other cultures.

Some understanding of the world can only be expressed via the symbolism of intuition, and some understanding requires the empathy of emotion. These "languages" cannot be learned intellectually; if you do not already know on these levels, you will not understand what you are being told. At best you can repeat it to others. In Pythagoras' cult, the mathematikoi were the people that understood his teaching while akousmatikoi referred to those people that would stand on the outside, who could only listen and perhaps repeat what they had heard.

A person that only uses his head and focuses overly on rationality and logic is a partially disabled person. It is a speaking head with no body. It is a person that rejects his body, just as the Christian culture we live in mandates. It is perhaps not surprising that it was Antonio Damasio who in a 1994 essay in Scientific American remarked that perhaps we have culturally "brain damaged" ourselves in much the same sense as had happened to his patients by physical accident or disease.

In the darkest depths of the esoteric schools, you find that if you fight or deny the forces of darkness, they will defend themselves and attack you. In a more practical sense, if you deny your subconsciousness, you will instead become directed by it, usually in a rather unfortunate direction. Perhaps this is what happens to Damasio's patients or our civilization as a whole.

There is much else to life than cold logic. There is an entire world in the subconsciousness the size of the consciously known world. I appreciate this world, which is confined to the darkness of our minds. If one wishes to understand human motivation in a world focused on thinking and sensing, it is in the forbidden realm of emotion and intuition that one must feel at home.


The members of the former rock group Rock­bitch had founded a group that focused strongly on the phys­ic­al aspect of life. However, while Rock­bitch re­p­res­ents feeling and is correct in stating that the left-hand path is largely con­cer­ned with phys­ic­al living, ob­vi­ously it does not imply that other people should live their life as if part of Rock­bitch's stage show (neither do the members of Rock­bitch as far as I know). To people that have another per­cep­tion of eros than a strictly literal in­ter­pret­a­tion, such a life would be an over-focus on sex. And fun­c­tion­ally, if you ex­ag­ger­ate sex, you might as well abstain from it, because both dir­ec­tions are un­bal­anced--they are ab­st­in­ence from en­joy­ing life. Such people would achieve the op­pos­ite of what they wanted.

Sim­il­arly, if you focus too much on ra­tion­al­ity, you let your­self become its pris­on­er­ instead of its user.

So if you find yourself in a position where you argue or even just speculate whether there might be some gods or metaphysical beings, whether a mental image makes sense, whether reality really exists, or if you consider atheism an "attitude towards life," then they are all signs that seven-eights of your life is ignored: there is still an entire body to use and an entire world to play in.

Now watch what you say or they'll be calling you a
radical, liberal, fanatical, criminal.

(The Logical Song, Supertramp, 1979)

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On the Author's Mind

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As a strict atheist, I prefer non-mystical explanations, yet for creativity I have no choice but to apply mystical words such as "soul" or "spirit" and similar symbology because inspiration, creativity, emotion, and feeling cannot be described by Aristotelian logic. I could perhaps refer to Antonio Damasio's somatic marker model, but since this model is also ontologically incomplete (as Damasio himself recognizes), this detour would eventually be wasted effort. So please bear with me on the mystical language, and try not to imagine metaphysical entities as I use mystical expressions.

Pile of Books

Anyone is an author these days; write an in­co­her­ent article that in­cludes a few of your darling phrases and you're an author. Change a few fonts to the worse in a pre­man­u­fac­tured tem­plate and you're a web de­sign­er­. Submit some video footage of your­self to YouTube and you're an actor and a pro­du­cer­. There are plenty of options for you to earn your 15 bytes of fame.

Aim higher, and you may become one of those authors that have learned the han­di­craft of writing, ap­ply­ing strong lan­guage skills, mas­ter­ing com­pos­i­tion and power­ful state­ments, who can state some pro­fun­dit­ies and maybe even have stories to tell, yet somehow leave the reader with a feeling that he or she has just read a user's manual.

Al­ter­n­at­ively, become a no-style writer whose spe­ci­alty is sim­pli­city in every sense of the word: no one can dis­t­in­guish the authors from another; sus­pen­se is all, and words and phrases are de­lib­er­ately without char­ac­ter­ to enable the pages to be turned faster. It prob­ably helps if you're a re­li­gious person or a con­ser­vat­ive, because their views in­var­i­ably tend toward the sim­pli­city of bi­fur­c­a­tions.

But some authors charm their readers. Their readers have experienced the captivating feeling that made it impossible to put the book aside. As a reader, you did not merely read the book. You reacted spontaneously to the story as it entered your heart. You let yourself drift in the story with no safety jacket and found yourself sometimes carried gently along and at other times rushing in a deadly torrent. It felt natural and meaningful, but barring bland explanations about a stimulated imagination or entertainment, you could not explain where the meaning was found.

If you have never known this feeling, don't bother reading on, as it will make no sense to you.

The author feels a "higher sensation" within him, call it spirit or muse, which inspires him to ideas that give structure to his composition. The author feels part of a flow, or feels an insight experience, or a love experience; it may feel as a "mystic" experience where a larger whole is perceived. It is as if separates within the author unify and opposites resolve. Anxiety, inhibition, and restraint are lost, and intellectual self-criticism, fear, and doubts about himself are left behind.

Being more himself, the author is more spontaneous and expressive, and everything is done with greater ease. Although authors excel in verbalization, they live far more in the real world than in the verbalized world of abstractions, beliefs, and concepts. They see the raw, the fresh, and the existing in addition to the abstract, the categorized, and the generic. They combine a childish ability to perceive and express with a sophisticated mind. They sense in themselves both a strong ego versus ego-less behavior, their head versus their heart, self-love versus altruism, selfishness versus unselfishness, concreteness versus abstraction, any many other apparent contradictions and polarities that others would see as dichotomies or mutually exclusive; but these people are natural integrators that synthesize separates and opposites into a larger whole. As within themselves, so without themselves, they put together forms that fight each others and combine dissonances into unity: their works of art.

It is in this experience that the art is born in a slow but intense flash of inspiration, but it also requires hard work and training. The spontaneous leads to the planned, the Dionysian to the Apollonian, the feminine to the masculine, yin to yang, or being to becoming, by any expression. We yield to the darkness of our souls for inspiration, and only then turn it to form by control, criticism, judgment, and hard work. The experience of inspiration or heightened being happens to the person, who in turn creates the art. The latter can be learned, but is heartless. The former is innate, but is headless.

And thus the spirit works through the author to manifest itself as letters on paper. Many an author can testify to feeling as if being the tool of a higher purpose.

Now the process is reversed. The letters on the paper are perceived by the reader's body, which senses the contrasts and forms and combine them to words, then sentences and continuity in the brain. The perception of the text invokes feelings and wakes emotions in the reader which collectively create a gestalt, a feeling that is more than the sum total of the individual words. This higher sensation is the story that is told, and is exactly the higher sensation that the author felt as spirit; it is a sensation that, although manifest in words, cannot be expressed in words.

You are the story while the story unfolds, and you sense the spirit that originally inspired the author. It is mind that contacts mind; it is the spirit that speaks through the author's soul to the reader's soul. You may like what you experience through the author, or you may not, and the author's soul may contain both beauty and horror.

But like rays from the sun will cause only growable things to grow, the creativity emitted from the author will be lost on rocks and other dead material. The reader without a soul will never sense the spirit.

Beyond Atheism

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I know that I can't prove a negative, and atheists in general feel caught by a "democratic" need to acknowledge that since you can't fully disprove the chance, however small, that there might be some god somewhere, you must acknowledge that the delusional claims about such entities may at least in principle have some merit.

I do not acknowledge that merit, except as a mental exercise that one can do for fun if one feels so inclined, however, because in spite of my disbelief in metaphysical beings, I'm not an atheist.

The non-belief of atheism is easy, and you can get a long way with that. I know that all things in this vast universe are ultimately connected, but as little as I consider how it affects the red spot on Jupiter that I mow my lawn, consistently with the aforementioned atheists I don't consider the remote chance of something even less observable influencing my thoughts either.

It is easy to not believe, yet atheists seem stuck at searching for the turning point, where God has diminished enough in life's equation, to feel comfortable stating why they move on without him. I have never had anything to discuss with superstitious people, and have never wanted to debate with them.

I am beyond that point. I am beyond atheism: not only do I not believe there is a God, I believe there is no God.

Taking this step beyond atheism has important ramifications. Believing there is no Heaven or Hell, I have no doubt, not even at the level of academic agnosticism, that I cannot be forgiven or damned. This belief requires me to be thoughtful of my actions instead. It requires me to understand that how I treat people will reflect back on me within this lifetime. Believing there is no God means believing there is no supernatural purpose of my life, and that this is the only life I have; it is up to me to make the most of it, and now is the only chance I have.

Believing that there is no God means that I cannot assume that others will view the world the way I do. I have no god to instruct me how reality is, and I must reach a consensus with human beings instead. I must learn, and I must teach.

I believe that no suffering or joy is caused by an omnipresent force that bothers to test or help me. It is caused by chance and our own actions, and the belief implies that misfortune is something that I and my fellow specimens must deal with on our own rather than relying on that force to correct. We are responsible for our own actions; no God will reward us, and no Devil will punish us. We cannot expect God to fix our mistakes, and we cannot blame the Devil for them, believing that the former will forgive us for doing it, and that the latter made us do it.

Believing there's no god places a huge set of demands on me that a mere atheist wouldn't consider. Atheists act as if they still believe in that God, stuck with the same morals and ethics, believing in the same values, acting according to the same rules as those they think they've disaffiliated themselves from, and following the same religiously motivated traditions, ceremonies, and rituals as most other Christians.

I believe that we are not creatures bound by fate or supernatural decision, but I also believe that we do not roam free. I believe there is a trinity (if one dares to use such a term) of diamond hard necessity, fleeting hazard or chance, and freedom, and each individual's life is a trajectory throughout existence bouncing off these opposing and yet balancing elements of this trinity on every move.

Diamond necessity are the unescapable laws of nature and environment that limit our movement; death is an ultimate limit, but the less obvious limits imposed upon us by our biology and psychology are also only too real to us. It is within this imprisonment of being that we may wish to become distinguishable, which is a way to seem to avoid hard necessity.

But within these limitations set in stone, fleeting hazard occurs, much like a lottery or a fatal car crash coming out of nowhere. We may hope for or dread the results, but we can never plan or prevent them, and where diamond necessity destroys all hope of change, fleeting hazard is the chaos in the ordered necessity, the nonsense in the sense, that no-one would wish to be without.

And finally, there is freedom: as lightnings of hazard tear through the shadows of solid necessity, we observe that we are not automatons of an imagined fate. We revolt against diamond necessity wishing to control the chaotic chance, wondering if we are challenging the impossible. We instinctively wish to break free from stasis, to progress, and the more content one is with stasis, the more one is inclined to view this rebellion as evil. Yet while freedom is felt instantly, the freedom that bends diamond necessity takes an eternity to unfold compared with the lifespan of a single human being.

I turn the theist safety around. Much better than thinking it safest to believe in God "just in case," I find it safer to believe there is no God. There is so much self-denial, so much atonement, so much guilt, and so much rejection of life's joys at risk that the slim chance of avoiding the right Hell among so many variants cannot possibly warrant the effort. But I also prefer the safety of treating people according to my needs, to gain for my purposes, to trust skilled authorities, to get sound advice, and I wish to live in a society where my personal safety is based on responsibilities laid in the hands of the responsible.

It is not enough to renounce the gods, the heavens, and the hells. You must face the consequences: if there are no heavens, gods, hells, and devils, what have you? It is easy to sell your soul to the Devil, because souls are cheap. There's a much higher price to pay than your soul: it is that you recognize your own values, and that there's only here and now. Take this step if you claim to be an atheist, or you might as well pay homage to the God in which you claim disbelief.

A Tribute to the Devil

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Science has a reasonable understanding of matter and how the strong, the weak, and the electromagnetic forces and (at least for practical purposes) gravity affect it. We also have a firm grasp on an large array of other natural laws and principles.

But none of the forces or laws indicate that, from a human point of view, there is a constant evolution and change in our universe. They only describe change within so limited scopes that one cannot express connections between cause on the microscopic level and effect on the macroscopic level, or vice versa.

The laws of nature do not state anything about the development of life; although we do understand how DNA replicates, how organisms reproduce and mutate, how organisms adapt and survive according to changing environments, and how they in turn change their environments, we cannot explain which direction life will take. Neither do the laws of nature explain our emotions or reactions in spite of a good understanding of biochemistry, some neurological insight, etc.

Eliphas Levi's Goat of MendesPerhaps if in theory one could take a sn­ap­shot of the current state of my body and all things in its en­vir­on­ment that have a non-neg­li­gible effect and, this sn­ap­shot now frozen in time and space, de­scribe me as a defined system using math­em­at­ic­al equa­tions and models of chem­is­try and physics. If our world could be modeled this way, and no random effects can occur, perhaps one could predict the dir­ec­tion of life.

But no man can handle this re­duc­tion­ist view, and must instead resort to mys­t­ic­al sym­bol­ism both to un­der­stand and to com­mu­n­ic­ate any state of ex­ist­ence.

We possess an immense un­der­stand­ing of the world around and within us, yet our sense of de­vel­op­ment and life—our desire to act and live, to be and to become—is not covered by this un­der­stand­ing. We can still de­scribe such feel­ings only in sym­bol­ic terms.

Natural forces and laws com­bined have an immense effect that seems much larger than their sum total, and there is no well-de­scribed natural law that can express this com­bined effect. We can only state that the natural laws explain that things happen, and how phys­ic­al and chem­ic­al pro­cesses are fol­lowed, but they cannot de­scribe how life or our per­cep­tion of life unfolds. It is this "su­per­set of natural laws" that has no sci­en­ti­f­ic law or de­scrip­tion.

In principle, I could do with the above explanation, but few people can relate well enough to the knowledge that science has gathered today to understand the combined force of the laws of the universe. A symbol is required instead that effectively communicates this greater whole, enabling people to intuitively grasp the immensity and general mechanisms.

I prefer to use Satan as this symbol. It describes change with no guidance, a perpetual motivation that follows its own, inner dark light. It communicates both unordered dissolution and solidification into a balance that is found as chaos and order throughout Nature. It communicates a power of divine nature, but unlike that attributed to the usual gods it is a power that requires "evil" and destruction, and a power that is unconcerned with the well-being or the state of Cosmos.

Perhaps there might be a better word, but I cannot think of one that adequately communicates the gestalt of all natural laws acting simultaneously—the only way they can function—powerfully enough to do it justice. We owe it to life to use the most powerful and inclusive expression we can find.

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Less Is More, More or Less

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Less is more; slower is faster; simpler is better: we've all heard that before. But like so many pleasently-sounding pseudophilosophical phrases waiting to become the title of a self-help book for a stressful job, there's more to it than meets the eye.

One day a martial artist with a black belt in karate showed up at our dojo to train with us. We practice full contact in our dojo, and it took a little while for me to convince him that he should really hit me with full speed and full force. Karate black-belt practitioners can hit both very fast and very hard, and our guest was no exception. I'm sure I may not even have lived to regret it if he had managed to hit me, but I moved out of the way to avoid getting hit. He on the other hand was astonished by my speed: considering the speed of his blow, how could I move out of harm's way that fast? He tried again, hitting faster and harder than ever, and again found me standing behind him outside of his reach.

Bujinkan Black Belt

The answer was simple, of course: I didn't move fast at all. He was some­what skep­t­ic­al about that, so I told him to repeat the ex­er­cise while watch­ing my feet. True enough, high speed wasn't re­quired: he was strik­ing from a dis­tance of about three feet, and I had to move only a few inches before we'd meet half-way, him in front of me, giving the im­pres­sion that I had moved behind him. In ad­di­tion, I didn't move only while he moved. The very second I sensed his pre­par­ing the strike, I began to shift my weight, in­vis­ible to him. In his blind angle, I could prepare a step forward while he was gath­er­ing strength for the strike. When he even­tu­ally hit, I had already had plenty of time to start several di­f­fer­ent moves at the same time. Each move was almost non­chal­antly slow, but their com­bined move­ment yielded a very fast escape from his punch.

If I had attempted to move away with a single, fast movement, I probably wouldn't have had the time. And even if I were fast, a skilled martial artist will recognize a sudden jerk and compensate; this particular black-belt karate expert would probably have changed his direction without even noticing it and I'd have woken up on the emergency ward with a broken jaw. In his fast attack, my slow movements tricked his brain into thinking I wasn't moving at all, however.

This example illustrates how small, slow movements in practice become fast and comparatively large movements. Less (movement) really becomes more, and slower really becomes faster (than him).

But the Devil lurks in the details. The movements may be small, but there are many of them, and coordinating them all for a proper angle at the right time is no smaller amount of work than a single, powerful move. There is no less than more, only different moves and distributed timing. "Less" must flow, and "slow" must be fluent, or the result will be less and slow, too. It can take years of practice to learn how to do more by doing less and to move fast by moving slowly. (As it turns out, "less" and "slow" take a smaller toll on the body, making them vital for an old martial artist whose body has become fragile. But that is another story.)

Painting by Ernst TranekjærAnd so "less" is no less.

If one in­ter­prets "less is more" as sanc­tioned laz­i­ness, one will only ac­com­pl­ish less. That is, if a person be­lieves he is an artist because he draws child-like sketches when in fact that is all he can draw, then he's doing little, not less. An artist that grew up in my child­hood village spent years as an ap­pren­t­ice of Emil Nolde and another several decades copying Nolde's style until he finally found his own style and gained re­co­g­n­i­tion shortly before the end of his career. It took him a li­fe­time; don't expect to become a famous artist for doing any less than Ernst Tranekjær, Nolde's ap­pren­t­ice. The Ja­pan­ese term "shuhari" com­mu­n­ic­ates this tedious train­ing. That's why people spend years at un­i­ver­s­it­ies and even then may never reach the last of the shuhari stages of learn­ing.

You won't get thanked if you solve a task by doing only simple work, by doing less than re­ques­ted, or by doing it slowly, ex­pect­ing that this will create a perfect result. It takes great skill to make that simple which is com­plic­ated and to solve an ex­ten­s­ive task by doing only the least re­quired.

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