Mark Rants & Raves

Digressions into a variety of topics about the world.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Fun games for your iPhone and iPad

It's been awhile! I've been busy creating some games for the iPhone and iPad. Check them out!

Hidden Sayings - Picture puzzles (rebus) to guess common sayings
Theme Songs - Quiz using tons of songs from TV, movies, and commercials from the 1950s thru today!
Trivia Fun -thousands of trivia facts in Q&A format, with ability to explore maps and wikis!

Coming soon - a dynamic game for the iPad...

Here's my games web site


Thursday, April 05, 2007

My best books list

This is of course an impossible task, but I'm going to dive in anyway and hope others join in. So, here goes:

What are some of the best books you've read?

I don't care if they're fiction, science fiction, or whatever. Here are some that come to mind for me:

  • State of Fear by Michael Crichton - a lot of the "global warming" crowd won't like this book, but it was very well-written and made a compelling argument. Do yourself a favor and read a counterposition to the mainstream media.

  • Coping with Difficult People by Robert Bramson - you've dealt with them, can't avoid them. Meet the bulldozer, the sniper, the clam, and other "fun" types at work and play.

  • Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein - a scifi classic. Learn what people mean when they say they grok something.

  • Timeline by Michael Crichton - what an interesting book, especially if you like chaos theory. I think I like a lot of Crichton's books because he does his research to make a book seem so real and interesting.

  • The FairTax Book by Boortz and Linder - such an interesting and important book. It's amazing to me how much we don't know about an important topic like our money. I wish more people would read it or at least one page of information at

  • The Positronic Man by Isaac Asimov - I've always been enthralled by the idea of a robot that becomes sentient. This was one of my first forays into this realm, to be followed by Mr. Data and others.

  • Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch - I know a lot of people view this book as blasphemous, but I found that it has some real interesting ways to think about spirituality. It reminds me of the way of life that Buddhism encourages.

  • The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell - This book fascinated me. I never thought about "viral" shifts in perceptions in the marketplace. Of course, these days social sites are all about viral...

  • Prey by Michael Crichton - Crichton again brings enough reality into his science fiction to capture my imagination. That's why I've always like scifi over fantasy. In this case, it's nanotechnology that has gotten out of hand. I like where Crichton went with this one.

  • Disclosure by (yes, again!) Michael Crichton - I can't seem to help myself. I stop to think of a book I really liked and voila, it's a Crichton book. This one was helped because I am a software developer, so I can relate. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it...

So, what do you think? I know I'm missing a lot of good books, so join in and let me know what I've missed.

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We're so sorry to have reacted badly to your kidnapping

Ahmadinejad says that Britain should be grateful that Iran released the hostages. I looked up the term hostage. It said:

"A prisoner who is held by one party to insure that another party will meet specified terms"

So lets see if I've got this straight...
  • Iran illegally grabs British sailors and marines in Iraqi waters
  • Iran illegally parades them on television (where are those precious Geneva conventions when you need them?)
  • Iran decides to release them without requiring Britain to apologize
Apologize?! Apologize?! Are you frickin' kidding me?!

This Theocratic dictatorship and sponsor of terrorists that it's own people want to overthrow has one big set of cajones, I'll give them that. The sad, sad fact is that the democracies of the world will not come together to fight for what's right.

Germany wants to trade with Iran, so won't stand with us.
Russia wants to sell nuclear capabilities (and also wants to be more powerful) and won't stand with us.
France is ticked off that they are not a great power and so won't stand with us.

Western democracies that act like democracies are the USA, Australia, Britain, Japan and a few others. Why does it take something terrible to get people to do what's right? Doesn't Europe remember what happened in the 1930s? Do we have to go through that kind of mess to wake up? If we do, I fear that it may be the end, because I am convinced that the Islamofascists are much worse than the German fascists...if for no other reason than access to nuclear weapons and a willingness to strap bombs onto themselves.

I fear for our civilization and way of life...


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Tokyo Rosie does it again

Geez! Just when you thought you might get a breather from Rosie's rants, she goes off on the British sailors -- they were in Iranian waters don't you know (how does she know?!) I just love whoever came up with "Tokyo Rosie"...that's soo appropriate.

All this, of course, comes after she has said Christian "radicals" are just as dangerous as Islamo-fascists , 9/11 was perpetrated by our own government, and other complete nonsense.

I have to tell you, I've lost all respect for Barbra Walters - it's her show, yet she lets this loon run wild. I would've thought it is for ratings, but the View's ratings are down in the last six months.

I really think that people are going to get sick of this diet of hate, hate, hate. What do you think?

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

State of Fear and Global Warming

Let me start out by saying that I am trying to have a reasonable, intelligent, well-thought-0ut discussion about global warming. I am not advocating either side, so please no flames or tirades. That said...

I recently read "State of Fear" by Michael Crichton. I admit that it was a very enjoyable read, including the added material after the body of the book. Crichton obviously did a lot of research (supposedly for two years) for this book. And he has compelling arguments supported by scientific references.

I know that a lot of environmental groups have written counter-arguments because of the book. This makes sense, since Crichton refutes the claims of these groups. Crichton makes the argument that global warming is a religious movement, meaning it is faith-based rather than fact-based. I hadn't really thought of it (or other topics) in this way, but it makes sense to me.

Now, I don't claim to be an expert in this area, but I am trying to educate myself enough to speak intelligently on this topic. And I want to discuss it based on reality, facts, peer-reviewed science, ... So, some questions for those more knowledgeable than me:
  • Without using any future projections (i.e. guesses), what proof is there that CO2 or other human changes have led to long-term temperature rises on earth? I'm talking about overall, with localized affects like warming in big cities due to lots of asphalt, taken into account.
  • Given that Antarctica is getting colder with resulting thicker ice, how does "global warming" explain this?
  • How is "global warming" different than cyclical temperature changes that have occurred before?
I'll leave it at that for now. I know that is a plethora of other items we could discuss, but lets start with this. Again, replies should include peer-reviewed scientific evidence. Posts with unsupported claims will be ignored. That said, replies are welcome and encouraged.


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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Melting pot, no more?

I admit to mixed feelings about the "May Day" protests by and for illegal immigrants.

One the one hand, I know that if I went to Mexico or most other countries illegally and tried to protest that I wasn't being given citizenship, I would be thrown in jail (or worse).

On the other hand, I freely admit and enjoy the benefits of having laborers doing the low-wage jobs in the US. However, there is also some merit to the idea that these laborers depress wages and drive many American businesses out of business. Don't think so? Well, try to start a landscaping business and compete with a family from south of our border.

But given all the pros and cons, the thing that really worries me is that Hispanics seem less inclined to become part of our country. Previous immigrants wanted to learn English and become part of America. Now, you must have noticed that when you go to an ATM machine at your bank, you have to pick English or Spanish; when you make a call and get a voice-driven system, you have to "pick 1 to continue in English or dos por Espanol" (pardon my spelling - I don't know Spanish).

What's up with that?! If you think having multiple languages would be a good thing - add a little cultural understanding - ask one of your Canadian friends how that's working for them.

We have never had immigration, especially from one country, at this volume and speed. Another difference is that we used to foster college educated, professional immigrants. Now, the vast majority are uneducated. Add to this that children born in the US are automatically citizens and this opens the door to many relatives and we have a massive change in the culture, beliefs, and values of traditional America.

I am not an immigrant basher - we were all immigrants at one time. The difference today is that assimilation is not taking place at the necessary levels and that the volume of homogenous immigrants is too high. As a minimum, the following must be required:

  • Fluency in English
  • Knowledge of US history
  • Contribution to the country (i.e. not a criminal, hold a job, pay taxes, ...)

What we have today is not working. Lets fix it! Let your representatives know your position:

Contact Your Representative

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

The US foreign policy must become non-interventionist

I recently sent a letter to Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) :

I am not a constituant of yours, as I live in NC. However, I have recently read an article that details your comments on the floor of the House recently and felt compelled to commend you on the clarity your comments lend to the situation the USA finds itself in today.
I have to admit that in the past I would have disagreed with you. I thought that the USA, as the most powerful nation on earth currently, has an obligation to help others around the world. At some level, I still believe that, but I also now realize that, as powerful as we are, we cannot solve the world's problems - not even close. What we end up doing is, as you state:
"Spreading ourselves too thin around the world actually diminishes our national security ... a constant interventionist policy is perceived as arrogant"
Those we try to help often turn around an spit in our eye (or worse). It is a fact that there are many evil people in the world and many terrible tragedies on an ongoing basis. We, as Americans, need to continue to be the compassionate people we have always been, but in a charitable rather than militaristic fashion.
Government is many things, but efficient and timely it is not. We need our government to focus on things that are real problems for Americans:
  • A social security system that is heading toward bankruptcy as the baby boomers retire
  • An education system that is failing our kids, with lower test scores and higher dropout rates
  • A ridiculously large and unfair tax system that no one can understand
  • A broken immigration system, with millions of unidentified people here illegally
  • A border that is more open that arguably any other nation, leaving us vulnerable to not only criminals but terrorists
I realize I am preaching to the choir. It helps to know that there are politicians that share some of these views. I wanted to tell you I appreciate it and would be proud to have you as my representative in Congress...perhaps you can talk to your peers from NC.

I don't know how much of America sees this. We hear a lot about the war in Iraq, but what about the many other areas of the world we're involved in? Lets be clear, I am not advocating isolationism. We know from history that does not work in general. However, in the area of foreign policy, I believe we should have learned the lesson by now that trying to police the world will not work - even the USA has limits of what is possible. The result is that the world views us as arrogant...and most of the time, the situation ends up as bad or worse than when we started.

This is quite different from protectionism, which is the polar opposite of a free market system. If you believe in capitalism, private ownership, and free trade (i.e. what America is all about), you realize that trying to control local or global economics does not work and we really don't want to even try. There are ebbs and flows of where industries are primarily located and while that causes temporary regional "pain", it is a reality that cannot be denied. But I digress...

America is a wonderful place, currently IMO the best place. We are a great nation composed of peoples from around the world and we need to be good citizens of this world. But as far as foreign policy goes, we need to take care of our own house and stop asserting our views unilaterally.


Thursday, March 09, 2006

The purpose of "hell"

We all have our own belief systems. That's fine. I'm not trying to change yours, rather to examine why a concept such as "hell" exists.

Some history

So where did a concept of "hell" come from? The English came up with the word "hell":
Hell comes to us directly from Old English hel. Because the Roman Church prevailed in England from an early date, the Roman—that is, Mediterranean—belief that hell was hot prevailed there too; in Old English hel is a black and fiery place of eternal torment for the damned.
The Greco-Romans called hell hades:
The god Hades... received the underworld for his realm... The realm he rules over is also called Hades. Hades is the enemy of all life, gods, and men.
The Hebrews called hell sheol:

The word Hell, in the Old Testament, is always a translation of the Hebrew word Sheol...By examination of the Hebrew Scriptures it will be found that its radical or primary meaning is, The place or state of the dead.

Muslims refer to hell as Jahannam:
Islamic eschatology is concerned with the Qiyamah (end of the world) and the final judgement of humanity. Like Christianity and some sects of modern Judaism, Islam teaches the bodily resurrection of the dead, the fulfillment of a divine plan for creation, and the immortality of the human soul; the righteous are rewarded with the pleasures of Jannah (Paradise), while the unrighteous are punished in Jahannam (a fiery Hell, from the Hebrew ge-hinnom or "valley of Hinnom"; usually rendered in English as Gehenna).
You can read more here.


So, why do some (actually most) religions believe in hell? Lets try to enumerate some possibilities:
  • Guilt
It's easier to keep kids in line, people coming to church, revenue streaming in, ... if you have a hammer to hold over people's heads. Somehow though, all the televangelists and other "preachers" do what they want and then claim that God will forgive them when they're caught. But you better not do as they do!
  • Revenue
Yes, churches/synogogues/temples are businesses that must have income to survive and grow...not to mention the power that goes along with riches. And the cleric/pastor/priest is paid by the congregation - are you really going to tell me they want to live frugally as Christ/Mohammed/... did?

What if people aren't paying enough attention? Get the big "hell" stick out to whip them into shape. It is so seriously deranged ... I've actually seen people fighting over very expensive spending decisions (read power) in a church while these same people don't care that the church is homogenous race-wise, won't lift a finger to help others, and fight against letting homeless families use the church as shelter until they can get back on their feet (what if they steal something?! Oh my!).
  • Writings
The Bible, Quran, Talmud, and other religious publications certainly mention hell is some form or another (hell, hades, gehenna, ...). OK, hell is mentioned in religious publications -- who do you think writes these? Human beings! They're people, just like you and I, with all the weaknesses and failings. And I know, before you flame me, that some believe that this was spoken from God and written directly down. If that's true from 1, 2, ... centuries ago, why can't it be true today?! Why do believers so vehemently attack books such as Conversations with God? Can't God talk to someone today, just like (s)he did centuries ago?

If we just look at the Bible for a minute, the numbers of mentions of the three different words for "hell" has changed over time . And these were actual places, like where they literally dumped Jerusalem's garbage.
Lets be honest. Isn't it just possible that the concept of hell is used for well-meaning reasons and doesn't really exist? What should we think of a God that would want us to suffer for all eternity?! I don't know about you, but my God isn't like that! WWJD (WWMD, ...)? He wouldn't allow this for his children IMO.

There are groups that do not believe in hell. E.g., Buddhism views life as a struggle to "do better" - to overcome our shortcomings and aspire to be better people; there is no hell in Buddhism, which is one of the reasons that I associate most closely with Buddhist thinking (and this from someone whose father was Catholic and mother was Baptist and who has been to Methodist and other "organized" religions over the years). For a Buddhist, "hell" is basically torturing yourself by the results of your bad acts; happiness is increased by doing loving, welcoming, positive acts.
I hesitate to call Buddhism a religion since most Buddhists don't consider themselves a religion, but rather a way of fact, Buddhist temples are frequented by people that claim they are Catholics, Protestants, agnostics, Jews, Muslims, ...
If you still believe in hell, what is your answer for someone who hasn't met your criteria through no fault of their own? E.g., if you think you have to accept Christ as your savior, what about primitive tribes in Africa that have never heard of the Bible or Christ? You would honestly sit there in your pompous righteousness and judge that these people would burn in your "hell"?! Unbelievable.

I do understand that without moral constraints, chaos would ensue. Some have postulated that this is a fact and is a contributing factor in the downward spiral of civilization. I just prefer to take the positive motivation of Buddhism over the negative threats of most other belief systems. On a regular basis over the centuries, including the crusades and the recent "cartoon" riots, religion has been involved in many, many horrific events. How ironic.

As I said when I started, if you believe in hell, that's your business. I do not choose to accept that concept for myself. Reasonable, logical debates to the contrary are welcome along with justification.

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