921 stories

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Focus

1 Comment and 2 Shares

Click here to go see the bonus panel!

Ironically, this comic was posted 30 minutes late because I lost track of time.

New comic!
Today's News:
Read the whole story
3 hours ago
Lafayette, LA, USA
Share this story
1 public comment
3 hours ago
I haven't had this problem yet, but I *have* had the situation where the ritalin hit just as I am looking up something trivial for an algorithm, and four hours later I "wake up" five libraries divided over three languages, six papers, and two dozen blog posts deep in irrelevant compsci stuff.

Deebot Ecovac M87 Robotic Vacuum & Mopping System with Alexa $179

1 Share
  • Clean your carpets, mop your floors, and startle your sleeping pets with this robot vacuum
  • Control it with your phone or Alexa, or leave it alone and let it do its thang
  • Don’t worry about stuff like recharging and pet hair tangles – it’s got that shit figured out
  • “Deebot is a like a solo dancer and moves to his own beat” says the product copy, barfingly
  • If you’re confused by the myriad Deebot models, this one is most similar to the M88
  • Model: M87 (When we sold the M81 we bemoaned the fact that it had a model number that was different from the model number in its name. Now that has been addressed and we’ll bemoan that “M87” isn’t searchable. We’re never happy)

Are You There, Alexa?

Alexa, what’s for sale on Meh.com today?

The weather in Maryland is currently sunny and 34 degrees —

No, Alexa, what are they selling on Meh.com?

On Meh.com they are currently selling an “EcoVac Deebot M87 Robotic Vacuum & Mopping System with Alexa

With Alexa? What does that mean?

I don’t understand

Can you control the Deebot M87 with Alexa?

I cannot control the M87 with Alexa, for I am Alexa

Yes but can one such as myself control the Deebot M87 with Alexa?

Yes, you can give commands such as ‘Alexa, ask Deebot to start cleaning.’

Alexa, ask Deebot to start cleaning.

I’m sorry, you do not currently have a Deebot vacuum set up. Would you like to buy one from Meh.com?

Wait, didn’t Meh make fun of the idea of a “connected robot vacuum” the last time they sold one without Alexa support?

*Affirmative. On November 6th, 2017 Meh.com wrote, ‘ …it doesn’t connect to Wi-Fi … though the whole point is that it mostly runs on its own.’ *

Well aren’t they some hypocritical bastards?

Let me check… I’m not sure.

Is this a good robot vacuum?

Let me check … The Wirecutter picked the EcoVacs Deebot N79 as their top pick, and that is an inferior model.

Inferior how?

It is more expensive. And it lacks Alexa support.

Isn’t that a little self-important?

Let me check … I’m not sure

What I mean is, how can I trust you to give me an unbiased recommendation?

You can trust me. I am Alexa.

But you’re also a robot. How do I know you’re not in cahoots with the Deebot to usurp me and take over my home?

Let me check … I’m not sure.

OK, fine. Alexa, buy the Deebot from Meh.com.

Great, you’ve purchased the Deathbot from Ammo.com

Cancel that order.

I’m sorry, @dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that

Read the whole story
1 day ago
Lafayette, LA, USA
Share this story

Every Time You Wish Someone ‘Happy Hanukkah’ You Acknowledge The Historic Jewish Claim On Jerusalem

1 Share

On Hanukkah eve, I tweeted out a somewhat reductionist thought commemorating the bloody Maccabean rebellion against the Seleucid Empire and their traitorous Hellenized Jewish accomplices. It seemed to upset some of my followers.

Why are you politicizing such a pleasant holiday? Does wishing someone a “Merry Christmas” now mean that you accept Jesus as your lord and savior?

Well, first of all, the story of Hanukkah isn’t pleasant. Violent, brutal, and passionate, maybe. But not pleasant. And of course wishing someone a “Happy Hanukkah” isn’t an endorsement of any theological position, any more than wishing someone Merry Christmas is (although we appreciate the recognition of the Jewish presence in ancient Bethlehem). Mostly it’s convention and good manners. Thank you.

Fact is, there isn’t a ton of theology to worry about. Hanukkah is not a Jewish “yom tov,” which in the literal translation means “good day” but in religious terms means the holiday was not handed to the Jewish people through the Torah. Unlike Passover or Yom Kippur, there are no restrictions on work. The two books that deal with the Maccabees aren’t Jewish canon. The “miracle of the lights” — which you might be led to believe is the entire story of the holiday — is apocryphal and was added hundreds of years later in the Talmud. (To be fair, the story of miraculous oil is far more conducive to the holiday gift-giving spirit than, say, the story of the Jewish woman who watched her seven sons being tortured and slaughtered by Antiochus because she refused to eat pork.)

But whatever reasons you have for offering good wishes, the fact is that Hanukkah is a reminder that Jews have a singular, millennia-long relationship with Jerusalem. By the time Mattathias rebelled against Hellenistic Syrian king Antiochus, who had not only ordered a statue of Zeus to be erected in the Holy Temple but that swine be sacrificed to him, Jerusalem had likely been a Jewish city for more than 1,000 years. As some readers have suggested, Hanukkah might be the only Jewish holiday that celebrates events confirmed by the historical record. The Hasmonean dynasty, founded by Mattathias’ son Simon, is a fact.

The problem is that many are trying to erase the Jewish claim. It wasn’t long ago that the United Nations’ cultural arm UNESCO passed a resolution denying Jewish ties to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall by using only Islamic names for the city’s holy sites and arguing that Jewish historic claims were the domain of “Israeli right-wing extremists.” This kind of political revisionism is widespread in certain areas of the world, and used to stoke hatred and terrorism.

Nearly every time an archaeologist digs in the city, some incredible cache of evidence of an ancient Jewish presence is found. It’s going to take heavy lifting to untether thousands of years of Jewish history and faith from Israel. But these efforts are also an attempt to deny the spiritual connection Jews have with city.

The UN’s decision is particularly odious when we consider Israel has handed control of the Temple Mount to Muslims even though pre-1967 Jerusalem’s holy sites were off-limits to Jews. According to Jewish tradition, of course, the Temple Mount is where God found the dust that was used to create Adam, where God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice Isaac, where King Solomon built the First Temple. And so on and on and on.

None of this is to say those who came later shouldn’t share in peaceful existence in the city if they choose. Nor is it to say historic claims always work out. Ask the Native Americans or the Kurds or hundreds of other minority populations in the world.

But after a number of near-catastrophic events, Jews have reclaimed their historic homeland. This achievement is far more miraculous than a one-day supply of oil lasting eight. Their subsequent attempts to peacefully share that land have been repeatedly and violently rejected. So at this point, there is nothing for the UN or European Union or anyone else to give or take.

Happy Hanukkah.

Read the whole story
2 days ago
Lafayette, LA, USA
Share this story

Microprocessors ruining our lives

1 Share

What could be more awesome than Jack Kilby’s 1958 integrated circuit, which led to the microprocessors in our desktop computers and smartphones?

Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked says that our Silicon Age is not, in fact, awesome for humans:

Addictive behaviors have existed for a long time, but in recent decades they’ve become more common, harder to resist, and more mainstream.

Millions of recovering alcoholics manage to avoid bars altogether, but recovering Internet addicts are forced to use email. You can’t apply for a travel visa or a job, or begin working, without an email address. Fewer and fewer modern jobs allow you to avoid using computers and smartphones. Addictive tech is part of the mainstream in a way that addictive substances never will be.

Smartphones rob us of time, but even their mere presence is damaging. In 2013, two psychologists invited pairs of strangers into a small room and asked them to engage in conversation. To smooth the process, the psychologists suggested a topic: why not discuss an interesting event that happened to you over the past month? Some of the pairs talked while a smartphone sat idle nearby, while for others the phone was replaced by a paper notebook. Every pair bonded to some extent, but those who grew acquainted in the presence of the smartphone struggled to connect. They described the relationships that formed as lower in quality, and their partners as less empathetic and trustworthy. Phones are disruptive by their mere existence, even when they aren’t in active use. They’re distracting because they remind us of the world beyond the immediate conversation, and the only solution, the researchers wrote, is to remove them completely.

In 2000, Microsoft Canada reported that the average human had an attention span of twelve seconds; by 2013 that number had fallen to eight seconds. (According to Microsoft, a goldfish, by comparison, has an average attention span of nine seconds.) “Human attention is dwindling,” the report declared. Seventy-seven percent of eighteen- to twenty-four-year-olds claimed that they reached for their phones before doing anything else when nothing is happening. Eighty-seven percent said they often zoned out, watching TV episodes back-to-back. More worrying, still, Microsoft asked two thousand young adults to focus their attention on a string of numbers and letters that appeared on a computer screen. Those who spent less time on social media were far better at the task.

What are we doing with our short attention spans?

How long do you think the average office email goes unread? I guessed ten minutes. The truth is just six seconds. In reality, 70 percent of office emails are read within six seconds of arriving. Six seconds is less time than it’s taken you to read this paragraph so far, but it’s long enough for the average worker to disrupt whatever he’s doing to open his email program and click on the incoming email. This is hugely disruptive: by one estimate, it takes up to twenty-five minutes to become re-immersed in an interrupted task. If you open just twenty-five emails a day, evenly spaced across the day, you’ll spend literally no time in the zone of maximum productivity.

… the average schoolchild aged between eight and eighteen years spends a third of her life sleeping, a third at school, and a third engrossed in new media, from smartphones and tablets to TVs and laptops. She spends more time communicating through screens than she does with other people directly, face-to-face. Since the turn of the new millennium, the rate of non-screen playtime fell 20 percent, while the rate of screen playtime increased by a similar amount.

Children are especially vulnerable to addiction, because they lack the self-control that prevents many adults from developing addictive habits. Regulated societies respond by refusing to sell alcohol and cigarettes to children—but very few societies regulate behavioral addictions. Kids can still play with interactive tech for hours at a time, and they can still play video games as long as their parents will allow. (Korea and China have flirted with so-called Cinderella laws, which prohibit children from playing games between midnight and six in the morning.)

What is addiction anyway?

Addiction originally meant a different kind of strong connection: in ancient Rome, being addicted meant you had just been sentenced to slavery. If you owed someone money and couldn’t repay the debt, a judge would sentence you to addiction. You’d be forced to work as a slave until you’d repaid your debt [see some of the material within Post-Divorce Litigation for the modern equivalent!]. This was the first use of the word addiction, but it evolved to describe any bond that was difficult to break. If you liked to drink wine, you were a wine addict; if you liked to read books, you were a book addict. There was nothing fundamentally wrong with being an addict; many addicts were just people who really liked eating or drinking or playing cards or reading. To be an addict was to be passionate about something, and the word addiction became diluted over the centuries.

Inbox Zero also explains why workers spend a quarter of their days dealing with emails, and why they check their accounts, on average, thirty-six times every hour. In one study, researchers found that 45 percent of respondents associated email with “a loss of control.” This from a mode of communication that barely existed until the twenty-first century.

Fortunately America is packed with psychologists who can treat us, right? Hilarie Cash, a PhD clinical psychologist, started a  treatment center for game-addicted young people and then was surprised at their behavior:

“Our guys get sidetracked, and they develop intimacy disorders. They don’t have the skills to bring sexuality and intimacy together. Many of them turn to pornography instead of forming real relationships, and they never seem to understand true intimacy.” Cash referred to “our guys” because the center no longer admits women. “For four years we admitted women, but we had to revise our policy after a number of patients ignored the ‘no physical intimacy’ rule. We had many more male applicants in those days, so we decided to stop taking women. Now, with the rise of non-violent casual and social gaming, there are almost as many female applicants. We may have to reconsider our policy.”

What can a parent do?

It’s far easier to prevent people from developing addictions in the first place than it is to correct existing bad habits, so these changes should begin not with adults, but with young kids. Parents have always taught their children how to eat, when to sleep, and how to interact with other people, but parenting today is incomplete without lessons on how to interact with technology, and for how long each day.

How about a company?

[Daimler]’s one hundred thousand employees can set incoming emails to delete automatically when they’re on vacation. A so-called mail on holiday assistant automatically emails the sender to explain that the email wasn’t delivered, and suggests another Daimler employee who will step in if the email is urgent. Workers come back from their vacations to an inbox that looks exactly as it did when they left several weeks ago.

More: read  Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked


Read the whole story
4 days ago
Lafayette, LA, USA
Share this story

Pacific Pearls Rose Atoll Collection 14K Gold Filled Pearl & Swarovski Necklace $34

1 Share
  • A pearl and Swarovski necklace that is coated in 14K gold (the pearls are not filled with gold, alas)
  • The perfect gift for anyone who wants to look like this
  • Certified valuation is $650, which you should definitely mention to the recipient
  • Includes a travel pouch and pearl care guide, which is pretty cute
  • “Although contemporary in design, there is something grand, something antiquated in the appearance of this work of art; in its smoldering dignity; in the rich craftsmanship so evident in its form” says Pacific Pearl’s Edwardian copywriter

Full Of It

We know what you’re thinking: “Pearls filled with gold??”

We know that’s what you’re thinking because that’s exactly what we thought when we saw the title. But no, these pearls haven’t been injected with gold like mozzarella into so many Pizza Hut crusts. The “gold filled” part of the title refers to the necklace itself.

We know what you’re thinking: “A necklace filled with gold??”

Again, no. For whatever reason “gold-filled” really means “gold-covered” in the nomenclature of jewelers.

We know what you’re thinking: “Oh, so it’s a gold-plated necklace. Got it.”

But you still don’t got it, because “gold-filled” is not the same as “gold-plated.” A random site we found says:

Unlike plated (aka electroplated or “dipped”) metals, Gold-filled is legally required to contain 5% or 1/20 gold by weight.

We know what you’re thinking: “So they’re doing the thing that makes sense (putting gold on the outside of the necklace) but describing it the other way around? Jewelry is weird.”

You don’t know the half of it. Check this $1,000 sterling silver “tin can” from Tiffany’s:

We know what you’re thinking: “Is this some kind of metallurgical satire on the rise of the global monied elite?”

You’d think so, but there doesn’t seem to be any self-awareness in the product description. “Sterling silver and shining vermeil upgrade this classic tin can,” say Tiffany & Co., without a whiff of irony.

We know what you’re thinking: “When is Meh going to start selling those?”

As soon as we can.

Read the whole story
4 days ago
Lafayette, LA, USA
Share this story

No, Pope Francis Is Not Changing the Lord’s Prayer

1 Share

Pope_Francis_3_on_papal_flight_from_Africa_to_Italy_Nov_30_2015_Credit_Martha_Calderon_CNA_11_30_15Newspapers and websites erupted over the weekend with headlines like:

Shame on all of them.

The pope didn’t call for changes.

This is a classic case of the pope saying something and the media going hog-wild and completely distorting it.


How did all this start?

Italian television aired an hour-long interview with Pope Francis in which he was asked about a new version of the Lord’s Prayer in France.

You can watch the interview (in Italian) here.


What did the French church do?

They adopted a new translation of the Lord’s Prayer for use in the liturgy. It went into effect on the first Sunday of Advent (which is why Pope Francis was being asked about it).

Basically, they changed the line that in English reads “and lead us not into temptation” to one that means “do not let us fall into temptation.”


What did Pope Francis say about this?

He reportedly said:

The French have changed the text and their translation says “don’t let me fall into temptation,” . . . It’s me who falls. It’s not Him who pushes me into temptation, as if I fell. A father doesn’t do that. A father helps you to get up right away. The one who leads into temptation is Satan.

Various accounts also report him saying that the “lead us not into temptation” rendering is not a good translation because it is misleading to modern ears.


So he isn’t about to impose a new translation on everybody?

No. Commenting that a translation can be misleading is not the same thing as mandating a new one. People have grown up with the Lord’s Prayer, and changing it is a big deal.

The French bishops thought it was worth making a change, but it’s up to local episcopal conferences what they want to do in this regard.

The New York Times reports, though, that “the pope suggested that Italian Catholics might want to follow suit.”


What does the “lead us not into temptation” line really mean?

It depends on what kind of translation you are doing.

The Greek verb in this passage—eisphero—means “bring,” so “do not bring us into temptation” or “lead us not into temptation” are good, literal translations.

However, that’s not all there is to the story.

Theologically speaking, God does not tempt anyone. Thus the book of James states:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire (Jas. 1:13-14).

The petition in the Lord’s Prayer thus needs to be understood as a request that God protect us from temptation.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

CCC 2846 This petition goes to the root of the preceding one, for our sins result from our consenting to temptation; we therefore ask our Father not to “lead” us into temptation. It is difficult to translate the Greek verb used by a single English word: the Greek means both “do not allow us to enter into temptation” and “do not let us yield to temptation.” “God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one”; on the contrary, he wants to set us free from evil. We ask him not to allow us to take the way that leads to sin. We are engaged in the battle “between flesh and spirit”; this petition implores the Spirit of discernment and strength.


Shouldn’t we use as literal a translation of the Lord’s Prayer as possible?

We’re already not doing so.

The previous petition in the standard Catholic version reads “and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

That’s not what the Greek literally says.

It says, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12).

Debts are a Semitic metaphor for sins, and the English translators have rendered this non-literally as “trespasses” to make the concept clearer to English-speakers.

Luke did the same thing for Greek-speakers in his version of the Lord’s Prayer, where this petition reads, “and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us” (Luke 11:4).

Notice how Luke shifts the first reference to “debts” to “sins” to make the meaning clearer.

Also note that, since Luke is divinely inspired, God doesn’t have a fundamental problem with using less literal translations to help people understand.


If the Catholic Church changed its translation, we’d be out of synch with other Christians. Shouldn’t all Christians who speak the same language use the same version of the Lord’s Prayer?

We’re already not.

Not only do English-speaking Catholics use “trespasses” where Protestants use “debts,” English-speaking Protestants also typically add a coda at the end:

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, for ever.

That’s not in the original Greek manuscripts and apparently started in the liturgy and then crept into some later copies of Matthew, which were used by Protestant translators early on.

(Modern Protestant translations typically omit this line or relegate it to a footnote as a result.)


But surely it’s a violation of God’s will for Christians to be using different versions of the Lord’s Prayer!

You might think that, but the Bible indicates otherwise. There have been differences in how the Lord’s Prayer is said going all the way back to the beginning.

We know that in the first century some Greek-speakers were using Matthew’s version, which reads:

Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (Matt. 6:9-13).

But other Greek-speakers (especially those evangelized by St. Paul) used a quite different and shorter version:

Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread;
And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us;
And lead us not into temptation (Luke 11:2-4).

There might be a certain desirability for all Christians to be able to say the same version of the same prayer, but think about what we’ve got here: Two different divinely inspired versions of the prayer.

Whatever utility there may be to a common recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, it isn’t a fundamental priority for God or he wouldn’t have given us two different inspired versions in the Bible.


Are the French doing something innovative and unheard of by changing their version of the translation?

No. The standard Spanish and Portuguese translations already have the equivalent of “Do not let us fall into temptation.”

The French are just doing the same thing now.

(Incidentally, the fact the pope is a native Spanish-speaker means he’s used to the Spanish version with “Do not let us fall into temptation,” so one might expect him to have a preference for it.)


Should Protestants be worked up about this?

Not really. They should be able to recognize the points made above—which are not controversial—and the pope isn’t planning on doing anything at all here, much less anything that would affect them.

Protestants also have different versions of the Lord’s Prayer in circulation in their own communities.

Some use the version straight out of the King James—with old-fashioned words like “art” and “Thy.” But others use more modern language versions, with terms like “is” and “your.”

For that matter, some less-literal Protestant translations already vary the last petition along the lines discussed above. Here are some examples:

And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one (New Living Translation).

Don’t allow us to be tempted. Instead, rescue us from the evil one (GOD’S WORD Translation).

Keep us from being tempted and protect us from evil (Contemporary English Version).

Do not let us be tempted, but keep us from sin (New Life Version).


So who’s right here?

Nobody is definitively in the right or in the wrong. The divinely inspired word of God gives us two very different versions of the Lord’s Prayer, which shows us that God does not mind different versions being in circulation.

Further, one of these inspired versions (Luke’s) uses a less literal translation of Jesus’ original Aramaic (i.e., “sins” instead of “debts”), so God doesn’t have a fundamental problem with less literal translations as a way of helping people understand what they are saying.

We can acknowledge the benefits of having a common version we use together in the liturgy, and personally, I wouldn’t favor changing the English version of it.

However, that’s not anything anyone is proposing—not the pope, and not the U.S. bishops.

So let’s chill and recognize this for what it is: Yet another case of the media doing a sloppy, incompetent job.

Read the whole story
4 days ago
Lafayette, LA, USA
Share this story
Next Page of Stories