How to generate, capture, and collect ideas to realize creative projects.


Dealing with Negative Comments

“Now, while I’m touched by that Hallmark moment, you don’t get points for subtlety in journalism. I’ve already started getting hate mail.”
“You seem very happy about that. Why?”
“Because it means I’m hitting a nerve. Besides, between the abysmal sentence structure and generous use of obscenities, I’ve got a pretty good idea of who’s been sending it.”
Chloe and Clark in “Smallville”


Banner on the site of the National Post, advertising their feedback videos.

One of the reasons why I write this blog is the positive feedback I get. Sure, I also write because I need to, but, yeah, it’s great to feel appreciated. And I have been really lucky regarding the comments I have received so far. There were some very positive, very encouraging comments.

But what do you do when you get negative comments?

One way to deal with negative comments is to check them for their merit (see pages 160ff in “Organizing Creativity”) and go from there. But if the comments are firmly in the “destructive” category, at least according to Graham’s hierarchy of disagreement? When, despite not reaching the minimum requirements for replies, you cannot ignore them for whatever reason.

Well, the columnists of the National Post have shown a nice way to deal with negative, destructive comments. They read them aloud (see banner on the right side). Yup, sometimes the best thing you can do is to read these comments aloud. Show that the comments do not really affect you and shame those who wrote them. It’s a bit like this xkcd comic.

Luckily, so far, I did not have a need for this measure. All I can do is say “Thank you” for all those readers who left a comment here. Love it. :-)

But if you ever encounter public criticism that is below the belt — perhaps the National Post’s strategy is a valid way to deal with it.


Sometimes you have to first increase the distance to your goal to reach it

“Stupidity is the devil. Look in the eye of a chicken and you’ll know. It’s the most horrifying, cannibalistic, and nightmarish creature in this world.”
Werner Herzog

There is this old story about a chicken desperately trying to reach the food behind a fence. The food is just a little bit too far away for the chicken to reach it. Nevertheless, the chicken tries and tries to reach it, never succeeding, and slowly dying of starvation. It is then revealed that the fence is only a few meters long and the chicken could have easily walked around the fence to reach the food. Yet it never did.

I am no expert on chickens, they usually come deep fried, so I don’t know whether this story is true. But I think it’s a really good analogy how many people get stuck when they are trying to reach a goal. I think one of the hardest things in trying to reach a goal is to voluntarily increase the distance to it in order to reach it. Take the long way, do something else, or move away. It just seems counter-intuitive and unproductive to retreat from a goal. Yet sometimes it’s the best thing you can do.

Unless you want to end up like that chicken.


Minimum Requirements to React to Comments

I love free speech.
I also love ignore, mute and block.

As a child I read that Viking ships were the terror of the seas. They were low-build with a large sail and oars, which made them fast, allowed them to enter shallow waters, and its crew packed a lot of punch (Want an exercise for fighting with hand-weapons? Try rowing.). If you were on a trading ship traveling from port to port to make a profit, you were pretty much screwed when they appeared on the horizon. However, this changed abruptly when these traders began to build ships with higher hulls. Now, the decks of the trader ships were far above those of the Viking ships. It made it very hard for the Vikings to board these trading ships, while allowing its defenders to bombard the low-build Viking ships with arrows and other nasties.


Graham’s hierarchy of disagreement

Not sure whether this account is true, but thinking about Graham’s hierarchy of disagreement a bit longer, I think it could function the same way for online discussions. I mean, you go along with your business to discuss something, like a trader traveling from A to B, and then those wanna-be raiders appear who do not contribute to the conversation. Outright trolls and those who have nothing to offer but their own emotional outrage, frequently resorting to name calling, ad hominems arguments, or snide remarks about the tone.

I wonder whether it would be possible to use Graham’s hierarchy of disagreement to raise the hull a bit higher as well. Automatically color-code the contributions according to the level of disagreement and filter out those below a certain threshold. (Using the Hierarchy of Agreement would be also useful, although many people might not want to do so.)

With such a classification system on a website or Twitter feed … you still could see that there are hidden “contributions”, the type and amount. And some contributions would have to be split if they contain different levels. But you could focus on the contributions that advance the discussion. Advance it by engaging with counter-arguments and rebuttals that are relevant and meaningful. It would advance the conversation in terms of knowledge generation, free exchange of ideas and arguments, testing the strength of arguments, etc. pp. You could also see the profiles of the participants with a classification of the quality of their disagreement — how often they use which kinds of disagreements. It would allow you to seek out conversations with those who disagree on a high level, who might actually advance the conversation. Those people might be interesting for a hangout, or a Delphi study.

You could still tap into the lower levels of the pyramid, if you want to, but on your terms. When you want and in the amount you want. It would give you an impression of the underbelly without becoming worn out by it. They are inconsequential anyway. Given the skewed self-selected online samples, they don’t tell you anything about the prevalence in society. And persuasion in such a public forum is usually rare, due to public commitment.

So far, there are some forums which automatically hide comments that get too many downvotes. But that is rather unspecific. A downvote can be anything, from “does not contribute” to “I disagree with the position”. But such a system would be more specific.

Perhaps we get there one day. But until we have such a tool, we have to do it ourselves. Quickly sort out through the contributions, discard the ones on the lower levels and focus on the higher ones. Find the diamonds in a sea of pebbles, and the places where more people contribute diamonds than pebbles.


Other Criteria for Good Discussions

“Just because someone’s a member of an ethnic minority doesn’t mean they’re not a nasty small-minded little jerk”
“Feet of Clay” by Terry Pratchett

I have already written about online discussions in this posting. Here the focus is a bit broader.

I think to have a good discussion, the following criteria are important:

  1. The freedom to discuss any topic, even outrages and bigoted ones,
  2. via well-reasoned arguments and disagreement (also: agreement),
  3. on a level playing field, and
  4. with Open Outcomes.

I focus here on the level playing field and open outcomes, given that I have addressed the first two points already.

3. A Level Playing Field

A level playing field includes, among others:

  • Time/Space: At the very basic the same time (or online: space) for each participant.
  • Fair moderation: A no-brainer in a face-to-face discussion. Online, editing/moderating messages by site administrators should be — if they are used at all — applied equally.
  • Amount of People: I had a couple of conversations where suddenly other people chimed in. Other people can improve the discussion if they contribute high-level arguments, but more frequently it was emotional support for my opponent. It reminds me a bit about Huxley who fought valiantly for Darwin’s theory of evolution and was called “Darwin’s bulldog”. But the online quality is more on the level of a Chihuahua. And personally, I would not want to have this kind of support in a discussion. Even when it goes beyond emotional support. A discussion should go subject by subject, not jump around — something likely to happen when more than one person argues on the same side. Unless they use a principal discussant whom they support behind the scenes. And when it’s cheap emotional support it devalues the person who has to rely on it. It often come off as intimidation. Even worse, once the other side has learned to deal with this kind of attempt at intimidation, it backfires. It’s like fighting — two against one can turn out very well against an inexperienced opponent. But against someone who is trained, the two have the disadvantage. They have to coordinate and must be careful not to hit each other. Online discussions are a bit more difficult, and who wins is not always clear, but the hassle is the same.
  • Equal Rules: I love the quote in the beginning of this posting. One of my biggest criticisms about sexism is that the discussions about it are often incredibly sexist. No, I don’t mean sexist slurs or perceived threats. What I mean is that the people on the side ostensibly suffering from (negative) sexism are acting incredibly sexist themselves. Claiming, for example, that “men cannot understand x, because they are men”. Ad hominem arguments are insulting, carry no weight for the discussion, and frequently distract from the actual issue. The irony is that is often is way, way more sexist than any example they are fighting against. I mean, sorry? Wasn’t the whole point here that sexism is wrong? But strangely, these “arguments” are frequently accepted. One nice example where it backfired was, surprisingly, at Huffington Post (albeit confounded with race, which sometimes seems to operate in a similar way). A discussion should have equal rules, everything else is just hypocritical. A person cannot argue against sexism by using sexist “arguments” her-/himself.

4. Open Outcomes

A good discussion must not have a predetermined outcome. Nothing is worse than “having a discussion” where you can think critically — as long as you come to the “right” conclusions. I distinctly remember a visit by amnesty international to my school where the discussion was about capital punishment. The person they send was shocked to find many of us arguing in favor of capital punishment (this was in Germany, we don’t have capital punishment). Unfortunately, she was not a good discussant. At the end, there was a strong pressure from the teachers to agree with her. I doubt it convinced anyone “about the evils of” capital punishment, on the contrary. If the arguments are not strong enough, proponents should get better arguments. That’s what research and critical thinking is for. But using pressure — social, legal, or otherwise — is counterproductive.


Looking at the four criteria — that are really difficult requirements. Given my vocational background (so far), I am used to scientific discussions. They can be backstabbing and emotional — below the surface — but they usually at least try to conform to these standards. Note that I am talking about scientific discussions in psychology. Should apply to any other natural science.

But achieving these standards online — hmmm, difficult. Sometimes people just want to vent. Some people do not see the difference between their emotional outrage and a discussion based on arguments and evidence. It’s “I want my pony” all over again. But I wonder whether it is possible to somehow introduce a way to have discussions online that are somewhere between scientific discussions and emotional outrage.

Perhaps technology can assist here. There are some interesting ideas floating around on how to assist people in having a discussion.

But that is something for the next posting.


Let the Bigots Speak Freely

I think you should defend to the death their right to march,
and then go down and meet them with baseball bats.
Woody Allen, on the Ku Klux Klan

Recently I stumbled upon a video interview and an article both dealing with the same subject: Should bigots have a right to speak openly about their prejudices, or should so-called hate-speech be prohibited?

I assume people who argue against so-called hate speech think that:

  1. speech can easily transfer into action, here likely violent crimes against the victims of so-called hate speech,
  2. prohibiting it sends a strong message about what is accepted in this society, and what is not,
  3. if it is prohibited then it is not shown, and thus it might die out after a while, and
  4. unless it is prohibited, bigots will get the more followers.

Personally, I think that this is a rather naive view.

1. speech-to-action: Sure, thoughts can end up in action, there’s a whole therapeutic branch of psychology trying to influence human behavior with nothing but words (that change cognitions that change behavior). But there’s a wide gap between words and actions. Calls for violence, that’s a different issue. But stating one’s prejudices is not a call for violence.

2. formation of norms: It’s not only one message that is send — here the society does not tolerate prejudice. Another message is that there are topics which cannot be discussed, and which should be tolerated as being beyond discussion. Accepting that there are topics that may not be discussed sets a dangerous precedent for dealing with future problems. It might seem like an easy solution to deal with controversies, no matter how consequential they are, but the consequences for critical thinking are devastating.

3. dying out if not publicly shown: Personally, I do not think that prejudices die out when it is prohibited to show them. That’s a bit like arguing that society is safe because crime is illegal. It will not stop people from being bigots. Prejudices will they will fester. If it is prohibited to show them publicly, they will be shown privately. It will spread in private and while it looks like there is no problem, below the surface resentment brews that might turn into a powder keg. If a person can express bigoted views publicly, then there is a chance to identify these bigots and address the issue.

4. bigots gaining more followers: In contrast to hiding bigoted views in private, stating them publicly allows for others to challenge these views. It also allows others to avoid these bigots, because you now know who they are. It also allows you to see which people are drawn to these bigots and might allow you to find ways to stop this development.

So, I think that bigots should have every right to show their prejudices. With one caveat, calls for violence should be prohibited. Then it stops being the personal “conviction” of a person and enters the criminal territory.

But acknowledging that bigoted views exist — which does not mean agreeing to them — requires the willingness to tolerate conflict in public. The social harmony crowd rather likes to cover possible — and needed — sources of conflict with a blanket of silence and prefers to ignore that something might fester and grow below.

But conflict is not always bad — open conflict that is. Open conflict can lead to discussion and to an improvement of the views of all who are involved. Even if this does not happen, because people have made public commitments to the positions they propose, it can inform the middle ground. Yes, some will adopt bigoted ideas, which will show those members of society who have a problem with these views that they have to improve their arguments. But I think the balance will be positive for reducing prejudice.

People not only need to know that it is wrong to show prejudices against other groups, but also why it is wrong. Unless we want to have a society where people act without reflecting about what they do — because “It’s the moral thing to do.” — we need this open discussion. We need a free marketplace of ideas. We need to be able to discuss any issue.

But all this hinges on having good discussions, which includes

I have already discussed the first two, the other two are something for the next posting.


Using Videos in Presentations

“Seeing is believing.”
“Is it? What about touching?”
Little Red Riding Hoods Father and Little Red Riding Hood, about the paw of a wolf that turned into a human hand, in “The Company of Wolves”

A while ago I watched a presentation by professor working within the domain of educational technology. She was the head of a department developing video tools. Her presentation included a couple of videos. Or should have. There were technical difficulties. A website with an embedded video that stopped in mid-play. She knocked down the speakers. Then she knocked down something else.

It was not pretty.

Perhaps it’s because she works with videos that I would have expected more … competence. I don’t mind people researching what they do not know, but I think that when they are doing a presentation, they should have mastered it at least a little. Especially given that this is just the craft of presentation, nothing more.

I think the only thing that really impressed me in her presentation was with how much confidence she reacted to these “mishaps”. That was impressive. But still, I wonder why — in 2014 — videos in presentations are still such an issue.

In part I think it’s due to the confusing number of video formats, and audio and video codecs. Videos can have different file endings (e.g.: .avi, .mp4, .mpg, .m4v, .flv), using different codecs for the video image (e.g., H.264) and for the audio (e.g., MPEG 4 audio, Apple Lossless). If your computer cannot understand this video or audio codec or does not recognize the file ending, you’ve got a problem.

So, if you use videos in your presentations, here are a couple of tips:

  • Convert the videos in a widely supported format. Personally, I usually use .mp4 with H.264 and AAC codecs. MPEG Streamclip handles the video conversion for me (Mac and Windows program).
  • If in any way possible, use your own computer for the presentation. Given that the computer you are using might miss some codecs, use your own computer. If you have tested it and it worked, it will likely work during the actual presentation as well.
  • No updates prior to the presentation. Sometimes updates can break things. Apple I am talking to you about your Keynote update! So, avoid doing updates prior to the presentation. I really hate Mavericks for its update dialogue. It does not show you what will be updated and only gives you the choices between “do it now” or “try later”. If it’s shortly before a presentation, always chose later. Then kill the network access.
  • Don’t trust PowerPoint — close, reopen and check it again. Last week, I was forced to use PowerPoint and found out that a compatibility mode converted my videos into images (saved the presentation as .ppt compatible to 97). PowerPoint did not even inform me about it. Well, I think it was an important information. But I was dumb too. The file size should have been a dead giveaway, but I missed it. The problem was solved when I used the .pptx file format.
  • Don’t rely on the videos in your presentation. Some programs behave rather strangely (see above). You also might be using another computer which cannot play that particular kind of video. Use the notes field of the slides to write down the keywords for a short recap of the video. During the presentation you might not remember the content well enough, or the crucial parts of it.
  • Embed the videos, but keep a version without the videos. You can usually embed the videos (= copy them into the file). This makes it easier to transfer the presentation to another computer — everything is included and you do not need to be careful about file links. However, sometimes there are issues with videos when you move to another computer. Worst case, the file cannot be opened. If this happens with keynote, see this posting. So keep a file without the embedded videos.
  • Keep the videos separately available. If the embedded video does not start, open the video in an external player. You usually have more control this way.
  • Rehearse with these videos. You should rehearse your presentation in any case. If you have an external display, that’s usually the easiest way to go. If not, there is usually a “Rehearse slideshow” option (in Keynote, look under “Play”).
  • Never depend upon videos in websites. You can control a lot during a presentation, but Internet access is usually outside your control. And while you could use cellular data for individual websites, downloading a video via a cellphone connection is tedious at best. If you need to show them the website with the video, create a video of you using that website and show this video. Quicktime can do screen recordings (albeit without sound). You can then play the video and explain what happens unencumbered by having to show it as well. If that video is on YouTube, use a DownloadHelper to download that video. Sometimes you might have to convert that video from .flv to another file format.
  • Do the presentation offline. If you do a presentation, go offline or use a dedicated presentation account with no active internet access. As you want to show a video, you likely have speakers connected to your notebook, or the sound is on maximum. This means that every eMail “bing” sound, or any other message, will be very noticeable.
  • If there is an audio feedback, connect the audio only during the videos. Some audio installations produce a feedback signal that is rather loud and unpleasant. This seems to happen frequently with Apple notebooks. Whereas there are ways to cancel that noise, not all venues have these measures installed. So be prepared to disconnect and connect the audio cable during the videos. And don’t fiddle with the audio cable. One push into the audio jack.
  • Have external speakers available as backup. Notebook speakers reach their limits quickly. If possible and the sound is important, bring active speakers as backup. If they do not come with their own power cord, they usually lack … uhm, power.
  • Test the Setup. Test the presentation if in any way possible. At the very least, make sure you have found the right level for the volume. You might want to play a suiting song prior to the presentation (for a course on self-directed learning, the intro-song was “Another brick in the wall”). That gives you an opportunity to adjust the volume and maybe attract a few more participants.

And above all, stay calm. Mistakes also happen because presenters get nervous and don’t give the computer the time it needs.


P.S.: It had a certain irony that on the day this posting went online, I did a presentation using videos. Well, there should have been videos. Switched from Mac to PC and I got the information that the videos did not play on the device a short time before the presentation. Like written, prepare to be able to do the presentation without the videos. In my case, I gave out the actual devices instead of showing videos about them. Worked as well. Next time, I should have just used my Mac.


Hierarchy of Agreement

“Hush, minion.”

Yesterday I wrote a posting about online discussions. One topic was Graham’s “Hierarchy of Disagreement”. It provides a hierarchy of different ways people can disagree and the value of these disagreements.

I wonder whether there is also something like a “Hierarchy of Agreement”. After all, there is a long research history regarding persuasion and different ways to get people to agree. Thinking about the issue I came up with the following hierarchy. Essentially it mirrors Graham’s “Hierarchy of Disagreement” (link to his essay) and it shows “how to agree” (well).


Hierarchy of Agreement, based on the “Hierarchy of Disagreement” by Paul Graham (essay).

It might sound strange to apply different value to different kinds of agreement. Isn’t all agreement good? After all, who cares why people do what you want, as long as they do it?

Personally, I think that “agreeing well” is as important as “disagreeing well”, perhaps even more so. I am very critical of “unreflected praise”, “blind loyalty”, or “style over substance”. It’s one thing to make a point or win an argument. Demagogues can do this quite easily. Sway the public, get them to agree. But it is quite another thing to ensure that people understand the issue and carry on the position on their own. To not only win one battle, but the war.

This issue becomes more clear when looking at the different levels and why you may or may not want people agreeing with you this way. Again I follow Graham’s essay.

AH0: Unspecific Praise (was: name calling)

The lowest level is unspecific praise, something which you can give to anything. Comments like

“Love it.”



are essentially useless. So someone loves it, so what? It’s usually a short-term gut-reaction. This is actually a pet issue for me and one thing I try to convey to students. “I liked it” is nice feedback — but not good feedback.

Just imagine if you only have fellow campaigners on this level. People who like it, but can’t say why. Not convincing. And without the material in front of them, they would probably move on. Not a basis to build anything on.

AH1: Personal Praise (was: ad hominem)

Getting praise as

You have/are/have experienced x, you know what you speak about.

carries little weight. You have to show the effect in the arguments themselves. This level is similar to an “ad hominem”, but positive. I thought about reusing the term, but “ad hominem” is usually used for disagreement.

This form of agreement is fairly common and extensively used in advertisement when it comes to so-called “experts“. Yes, expert statements carry weight, but not because experts make them. It’s the quality of the arguments and evidence that should be convincing, and experts should have better arguments and evidence.

Likewise, people with personal experience might have a better perspective and more knowledge. But they also might not see the wood for the trees. Even worse, personal experience can provide a strong bias. There is a good reason why victims of violent crimes should not be part of the jury to determine guilt and innocence. What works for them and what they want might be different from what is best for you, because they have made experiences you do not share.

If a campaign would rely on this level, then you probably have some figure-heads. These people know the truth and that’s it. Adherents would still not know why they agree, it would rely on blind trust. And without the figure-heads, the movement would lose its direction.

AH2: Praising the Tone (was: Responding to Tone)

Good writing is a joy to read. But just because something is written well does not mean that it is true. Frequently, writing that appears to be deep is without substance. A “postcard philosophy”. Also, one of the easiest ways to get agreement is to make fun of the opponent. If done well, it might even get people on the other side to laugh at one of their own. However, this does not mean that it is also true and it carries no weight. Beautiful writing does not equal true writing, and you can make devastating jokes about anyone.

Thinking in campaign terms, well-written essays can start change or provide additional punch. Ridicule and satire can be very effective. But style is no replacement for substance. Even worse, sometimes irony can work like a pressure relief valve. It can also turn into a “Bread and circuses” situation, where it is more fun to watch the opponents claw at each other than improve the situation. And the people agreeing still don’t know why they agree.

AH3: Agreement with Arguments (was: Contradiction)

In contrast to the previous levels, here the person states to which arguments s/he agrees to. At the very least, it repeats the arguments for others to hear and gives the author feedback on which arguments are effective. It does not add to the discussion, but at least it addresses the actual arguments and evidence.

For a campaign, people agreeing on this level can repeat why they agree. So there is a chance that this position might spread. The question remains whether they are actually able to hold their ground when they are confronted with counterarguments and rebuttals. They might if they have been provided with them as well (“innoculated“), but it’s unlikely that they form their own. Still, if it’s a movement, here the movement might spread.

AH3 also marks a qualitative change. The arguments become important, not the peripheral aspects of the discussion. Using the Elaboration Likelihood Model of persuasion, it is now the central route, not the peripheral route, that is used.

AH4: Add to Arguments (was: Counterargument)

This is the first level where the discussion is moved forward. The writing not only convinces, it stimulates the person to provide additional material. Here, the person who agrees provides an additional argument to the author and anyone who reads the comments. Perhaps it’s something the author did not see, or did not deem important enough to mention because it might be peripheral. In the later case, his/her readers disagree and close this gap. It is a more additive and thus quantitative improvement.

From a campaign perspective, you can reasonably expect that the movement moves forward. Other people might improve the position and carry on.

AH5: Qualitative Improvement (was: Refutation)

No argument is perfect and there likely will be imperfections in the provided arguments. A qualitative improvement addresses these and removes contradictions. It shows ways to deal with borderline cases. It can provide additional evidence for links between the arguments. Even more important, it addresses and refutes criticisms. It improves the position in a perpetual discussion with its opponents.

Here you not only have people who advance the cause, you have intelligent people who invest effort in understanding and improving it.

AH6: Improving the Central Point (was: Refuting the Central Point)

It matters what you address, in disagreement and agreement. Here, the improvement deals with the central point.

From a campaign perspective, you have people who not only advance the cause and invest a lot of effort. You have smart people who do so.

“What It Means”

As with Graham’s “Hierarchy of Disagreement”, the level of agreement is not related to the truth of the position. But it can be used to evaluate positions and followers.

Unless you need a high body count (for demonstrations or retweets), everything below AH3 can be discarded. And even if you “only” need a high body count, you better pray that no-one asks hard questions why they agree. You might have just fielded an army, but destroyed your recruitment efforts.

With AH3, you have at least people who understand the arguments and can repeat them. But if you want a movement that improves, is resilient to disagreement, and continues without figure-heads, you need more. AH4 and higher is desired, and the higher the better.

I think that improvement is only possible if people discuss on the higher levels of the “hierarchy of disagreement” and the “hierarchy of agreement”. In this case, people argue for their positions on the higher levels of agreements and react to criticism on the higher levels of disagreement. They make good arguments and provide evidence and that is why people agree to this position. When faced with disagreement adherents can improve their position. They advance the discussion with new arguments. They might even advance science by requesting new evidence.

Thus, high level agreement and disagreement might advance society.


Online Discussions

Freedom begins when you tell Mrs. Grundy to go fly a kite.
Excerpt from the Notebooks of Lazarus Long in “Time Enough For Love” by Robert A. Heinlein

Over a decade ago, I was active in discussion forums “debating” atheism against theists. I had a couple of Post-Its on my monitor, reminding me that I did not need to reply immediately, and that I should not post while angry.

It helped me to learn self-control in forums populated by people looking for chinks in your armor. After all, “debates” sometimes are about making the other side lose control and get angry. And by the rules of that forum, getting angry meant that you lost. And you lost publicly.

Thinking back, it might have been a case of “Someone is wrong on the Internet.“, but it also was helpful for me. It made me question my values, especially those I was redefining after leaving a rather conservative home. It helped me find the weak links in my arguments and identify my self-deceptions.

I stopped discussing when I realized that I couldn’t learn anything new about myself, nor improve my skills any further. The discussions were also inconsequential, because, well, it was just talk in an online forum. Today, religion only becomes a nuisance for me when someone tries to influence policy or social norms on religious grounds. I am for personal freedom, which includes freedom of religion and freedom from religion. Everyone is free in his/her belief, but state and religion should be separated. And for policy decisions, even regarding social rules, science is a better guide than faith. So when any religion tries to influence policy … that’s when things stop being inconsequential.

So it’s perhaps no wonder that the current brand of “feminism” bugs me just like religion did all these years ago. I mean the kind of “feminism” that talks about “patriarchy”, “privilege”, and “rape culture”. Whose goal seems to be “equality only where women are seen as disadvantaged”.

Sure, there is talk about “equality” and “feminism cares about men too”. Yet I see no efforts to argue for equality when it would remove advantages that women have. Just take education. Increasing the number of men in colleges/universities in general or in specific disciplines? Nope, the focus is only on getting more women into MINT disciplines. It’s the “Animal Farm” kind of equality: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

And the solutions? I totally agree with equality of opportunity. I am a big fan of the “Veil of Ignorance” (Rawls). But equality of outcome is an abomination. It compromises quality standards, and even worse, it negates personal freedom. It is “separate, but equal” all over again.

Under a pseudo-moral cover it’s just so self-serving for its proponents.

This kind of “feminism” behaves like a religion, relying on dogma instead of evidence. And the arguments are also shoddy and frequently ad hominem. Calling someone “sexist”, or “privileged”, or invoking “patriarchy”? Replace these concepts with “sin”, “sinner”, or “original sin” and you get a religion.

These are ideological/religious concepts, not the basis for a rational discussion.

But what is a basis for a rational discussion?

Funnily, while looking into this issue I stumbled upon “You just got logic’d” (highly interesting site, esp. for tumblr) and via that site upon these two interesting graphics:

“Rational Debating” by JT

The first graphic is a nice flowchart to determine whether a discussion makes sense by JT from An atheist created it. But due to the similarities between religion and “feminism”, it works without modification for discussions with “feminists”.

Really useful to save time.

“Hierarchy of Disagreement” by Paul Graham

Paul Graham wrote a couple of interesting essays, I highly recommend his site. One essay is about what it means to disagree well. Short, to the point, and brilliantly done. He comes up with the following hierarchy of disagreement (illustration from his Wikipedia page, it’s not in his essay):


Hierarchy of Disagreement by Paul Graham from

For a more detailed description of the levels look at his essay.

I think this disagreement hierarchy is useful to determine whether to engage with comments. After all, “Responding to Tone.”, “Ad Hominem.”, and “Name-calling.” do not merit responses. They do not have any value. It’s disagreement above these lower levels that show intelligence and are worthy of engagement. Perhaps one day we’ll all surf with a spam filter removing all that lower-level crap.

Really interesting to save a lot of unnecessary grief.


So, in a sense, that renewed interest in online discussions has provided me with an interesting flow chart and an interesting essay/pyramid. I’ll probably take it as basis if I ever feel the need for an online discussion again. It sure it easily applicable to all those who try to “reason” on moral or emotional grounds.

And given the “intellectual” closeness between this kind of “feminism” and hard-core theists, it’s no wonder that this kind of “feminism” has tried to attack and split the atheist community. Rational thought is the enemy of any ideology.

But perhaps “feminism” is not even such a big issue it appears to be. Perhaps it’s just the Internet giving a couple of “feminists” more exposure. These isolated nut jobs form a community and appear bigger than they are. Which then makes it easy for large numbers of … economy class thinkers to retweet or like. And the active and passive filter bubbles just home in on them.

But whatever the case, at least I now know some good criteria for an online discussion.


The traitor on your skin (Android OS for wearables)

“You ask why we give our Ships’
Computers normal Emotions?
Do you really want a Warship
Incapable of Loyalty?
Or of Love?”
The Unshattered Allegiance, High Guard Frigate,
Artificial Intelligence Rights Activist, C.Y. 7309

Recently I read that Android is working on an operating system for wearable technology.

On the one hand, I am really looking forward to it. Whether it’s smartwatches or smart clothes, just having technology available … yeah, I like it. I even use an old iPod nano on a wristband to listen to Podcasts. The huge advantage is that the iPod-nano-watch is quickly accessible. When I met someone in the streets or reach the cashier in a store, I can just double click the on-button and the Podcast stops. Much more convenient than using an iPhone, getting it out of my pocket or fighting with the earphones cable.

But on the other hand, their advertisement for it makes me squeamish. They advertise it by stating that the information is there, right away, without even having to ask for it. This might sound extremely comfortable, but it gets scary when you look at what this entails. To give you the information right away without having to ask you, this operating system has to know you really well. And with a complete log of your movements, your activity on the device, on the net, etc. pp. it will know you extremely well. So it can predict where you are going. It might even one day make terribly astute observations.

It could really assist you, but more likely, it will sell you out.

An operating system that knows you so well to give you the information right away, without having to ask you, also knows you well enough to be of incredible value for companies. It can predict your needs and behaviors perfectly. It can tell them what you interests you and what you want. It can tell them what works on you, e.g., which stimuli catch and hold your interest. And much, much more.

If you think that “recommendations” based on the eMails you write and read in Google Mail are scary, well, then you have seen nothing yet. With wearable technology, technology gets really intimate.

And frankly, I don’t want Google, and the advertisers it caters to, to be that close.

Not unless I can ensure that this piece of software shows an undying loyalty to me, and not to its creators.


I can see and hear you now

“It’s paranoia until it happens to you.”
Some militia guy on 60 Minutes.

You know that camera in your display that is really useful for video chats? Do you notice that it does not have a hardware button, or even a mechanical cover? You activate it via software. Funny thing, you are not the only person who can turn it on. And when someone else turns it on without your knowledge, that nice LED light does not switch on.

The camera looks like it’s off, while the video image is send somewhere else. To someone who might be interested in what you wear in the evening, when you undress for bed. Or how you look after the shower, when you just want to check some messages. Or when your hands are busy, but not with typing.

Got the picture? Oh, yes, that other person too. And the audio. Oh, and everything is recorded as well.

And while we are talking about cameras — did you notice the camera on your smartphone? You might even have two. And that tablet also has one or two. Do you remember the places where you use them? What those cameras can see? What they can hear?

Seriously, I love technology. And I love mobile technology. But the scenarios here are not unrealistic. It’s possible to hack computers and turn the camera on while keeping the camera LED off. Yes, also for Macs. And I am pretty sure that it’s possible for smartphones and tablets as well. After all, they are not phones — they are powerful computers with frequently high speed wireless network access.

The problem here is not (necessarily) the NSA, which you just allowed to spy into your living room, or bedroom, or bathroom. But the script kiddie who finds it funny to spy on you — and post pictures and videos of you, and your partner, and your children, online.

While this kind of hacking is reprehensible and highly illegal, I doubt that there is much you can do against it. And as usual, prevention is the best cure.

Keeping your computer free from spyware is one thing, but that can fail. I am not even sure that my computers are free of backdoors which would allow someone else to control my hardware. But at least for the video image, there is a failsafe solution: duct tape.

camera cover

Piece of duct tape, one side folded in to allow for easy removal. Another piece put on the adhesive area with the blank side up to protect the camera.

Yup. I use black duct tape, folded on one side to allow easy temporary removal for video conferences. There is a piece of duct tape taped to it in the middle where the camera is. This protects the glass above the camera from the adhesive of the duct tape. Without it, I would have to make sure there are no traces of adhesive that might degrade the video image.

As far as I know, there is not much you can do regarding the audio. There is no hardware switch for the microphone either. Putting a cable without microphone in the audio jack does not work either. At least if there is one one input/output jack. Software controls how it is used and it could be switched to audio output again.


How it looks on the device. Hardly visible and much more durable than a Post-It note.

But at least you can block the camera image — and I highly recommend it. I use the same solution for my iPad and my iPhones. It takes only a second to pull to the side when I make a photo, but it prevents it being used to record … potentially compromising situations.

P.S.: Given that some people have difficulties with what is meant seriously and what not: I don’t engage in this type of hacking. I am just making the posting more personal.