Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Americas most epic undertaking started 50 years ago to this day

It is today 50 years ago that John F Kennedy gave his inspiring we choose to go to the moon speech. With this speech started the most epic of scientific achievements probably in the history of mankind to this date.

It is important to remember how the USA was the nation that accomplished this amazing feat as we are slipping in international rankings for math and science educations. It saddens me that we are not still prioritizing this frontier more. For instance we seem poised to spend more than a quarter of the entire NASA budget this year just on the presidential election campaigns. Wouldn't it be better if we had some campaign finance reform to reduce the ridiculous money spent in US politics and use that money more wisely. And in the process we might also end up with politicians that are more interested in the common good than special interest.

I recommend everybody to watch the entire speech below. It is very inspiring and still hugely relevant.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Multiplying 6 to 10 on your fingers

It is not rocket science to handle the multiplication tables of 6 to 10 in your head but I just thought this trick for doing it on your fingers was so neat that I had to share it.

How to steal a design from Apple

Samsung has met their match when it comes to stealing Apple designs. Not only did GooPhone released their new I5 model based on the leaks of the design of the as yet announced iPhone 5. They actually patented the design ahead of Apple and they are threatening to sue Apple if a similar phone is introduced to the Chinese market by them.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Keeping track of your finances

I just thought I would go through some of the sites that I have found that helps you to keep track of your finances that are around on the net. All of this only applies to the US currently. Swedish people can be happy to know that in general we are way ahead of the US in both features, security and usability when it comes to online banking and trading.

The first site I want to mention is Mint. This is a great site that can not only keep track of all the transactions from all of your financial institutions (I have quite a lot of accounts spread out and so far every single one was supported by them) so that you can monitor them for fraudulent transactions easily in one place. It also shows you trends of spending and gives you tips on how you can save money based on your spending. Other features of the site is to help you keep track of bills that need to be paid and it can even help you define and keep a budget. I really can't recommend it enough. And it is all completely free!

If you want some help just keeping track of your bills there is also the site BillQ, but I would really only recommend that over Mint if you feel uncomfortable with giving Mint access to your financial accounts.

Next step of keeping track of your finances is to check and monitor your credit. The first site that is great to keep track of your running credit score is Credit Karma which will both provide you with as many updates to your credit score as you want for free and also provide you with a free credit monitoring service. Another awesome application that also provides a free credit monitoring service is LastPass which I've praised in the past for its main password protection feature.

These services will not provide you with your actual credit report though, just if a change has happened and how it affected your credit score. To get your actual credit report there is an awesome service called Quizzle that gives the ability to get a free credit report every 6 months for free with no credit card required. If you get a credit alert from one of the other services this is also the cheapest premium service for $7 per month you can get as many full credit reports as you want and you can start and end this service easily any time you want. I have cancelled this service myself after just one months of service after I discovered something weird through my credit monitoring services that I wanted to have a better look at without any problems. Can also here let you know to be aware of the common scam where sites will give you a "free" credit report, but you need to provide a credit card and they will usually sign you up to a credit protection service you didn't want (Experian are the experts of this).

Finally if you have investments there are a few sites that are great. When it comes to actual trading I haven't seen anything that comes close to E*Trade, doesn't matter if it relates to actual trading, research, customer support and dealing with taxes it is way better than the other sites I've tried (Except when it comes to fees where Wells Fargo beats them hands down). Doing research and tracking of your investment I use two sites. Yahoo! Finance has a huge amount of statistics and facts available and access to news. Google Finance have slightly less amount of statistics available, but they do have a much nicer interface and also much better real time graphs.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Obama & Romney answer questions on science

In case you haven't already read it check out the current presidential candidates response on scientific questions over at the Scientific American.

Highlights include Mitt Romney still not thinking global warming is serious enough to warrant any actual response. In the same vein Obama is pointing to his huge ($90 billion) investment in renewable energy, however Romney does rightly point out that so far we have precious little to show for it.

This should should be required reading for everybody who plans to vote!

Friday, September 7, 2012

The end of cavities

Scientists have discovered a molecule that when kept in your mouth for 60 seconds will keep your teeth cavity proof for hours. Specifically the molecule kills Streptococcus Mutans and can be added to pretty much any dental product or even candy.

The product still needs FDA approval but once that is hopefully achieved dental care can be changed forever for the better and we will hopefully all be able to keep the teeth we have.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The difference between religion and morals

Not believing in god doesn't mean that you don't have morals or ethics. Same as being religious does not mean that you do have morals. For instance the concept of Karma is perfectly valid with or without a deity to keep the score. It is just common sense that if you are nice to people, people will generally be nice back to you. Also if you would just be nice to people when you thought you could get something back from the them, other people you interact with would see through you pretty fast. So even without a god it just seems like a good idea to follow the golden rule.

To me it seems atheists are less likely to commit truly horrific crimes than religious people simply because there is no potential payoff after this life that could be used to entice the act. I also think there are fewer beliefs that an atheist would hold so strong that they think it would be worth to do violence against other people to promote them. I don't know of any atheist equivalents to Al-Qaeda, Ku Klux Klan or the current Anti-abortion activists in the USA.

The problems arise when a specific religion tries to inflict a certain arbitrary set of moral rules on the rest of the population. This becomes especially bad when the religion has a majority and start enforcing their rules on the minority. This includes for instance gay marriage or women's reproductive rights. I also find it troubling when it leads to trying to replace science education with theology.

It is even worse when it leads to just straight wanting to not educate children at all, like in the attacks on female schools in Afghanistan performed by the Taliban. Unfortunately this kind of thinking exists even here in the USA as is shown by the Texas Republican Party coming out against teaching children critical thinking. The bottom line is that an ignorant and uneducated person is so much easier to lead than someone who thinks for themselves. Then again perhaps they were right in The Matrix. Maybe ignorance is bliss!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Why I don't believe in God

I've spent a lot of time both studying and thinking about religion, theology and "the big questions" almost all my life and have come to the conclusion that there probably is no god and I just thought I would share some of my reasoning for coming to this conclusion.

First of all with our current understanding of quantum physics we actually have a pretty consistent idea of how the universe works. Even though it is by no means complete, it does in it contain ideas about how the universe was at one point created out of nothing. It is often referred to as the ultimate free lunch. Granted to understand this discussion it requires a basic understanding of how the universe works, but it isn't really past what most people can get if they are interested in it. I recommend two courses from The Teaching Company. The first one is called Understanding the Universe: An Introduction to Astronomy and the second one is called Particle Physics for Non-Physicists: A Tour of the Microcosmos. So with the knowledge that the universe can exist as we perceive it today without a god. Then the nonexistance of god comes from the application of Occam's razor which roughly states that the simplest solution to a problem is probably the right one.

Another way to come to the same conclusion is to consider that the universe is probably around 4.5 billion years old. Humans have existed in more or less their current form for around 200 thousand years and no currently existing religion has been around for more than maybe 5000 years. Also factor in the size of the known universe and the pretty high likelihood of there being other intelligent life in it. It just seems so unlikely that a deity would go through all that trouble just to start nitpicking about what we eat, how we procreate and what we should think about others (Especially others who don't share our beliefs).

Compare both of these arguments to the likelihood of religion being a human invention to help people to cope with the fear of dying, relatives passing away or an otherwise unfair lot in life. Then there are also the huge benefits that seem to generally be bestowed upon those that successfully start or become the leader of religions. And you also have the benefit that in most countries religions are not even taxed on their earnings or holdings. So if you are interested in being wealthy or to have power religion seems to be a great business to be in.

This does not mean that I think that people who have come to different conclusions for these questions than me are stupid. These questions are almost by definition ineffable and unknowable. However given the fact that most people does seem to inherit their religion from their parents, it seem like they don't think that much about the alternatives.

Maybe organic food isn't better for you

If you are like me and have generally assumed that organic food is better for you then we might have all been falling for the marketing. A recent big meta study in the Annals of Internal Medicine examined 17 different studies into the health benefits between eating organic and "normal" food and found no statistically significant changes based on the source of the food.

I'll probably still keep eating the organic food since I just kind of prefer to keep my pesticide and animal growth hormone intake to a minimum regardless of health implications. If all you care about is your health though then at least for now it seems that there are probably other changes to your lifestyle that have a bigger impact on your health. Did you know for instance that regularly flossing your teeth increases your average lifespan with over 6 years.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Atheism is gaining ground in America

According to an article in The Economist Atheism is growing strongly in America. In fact it has multiplied five times in the last 6 years according to a WIN-Gallup survey. Granted it is from a paltry low and even now it is only 5% of Americans who identify themselves as Atheist.

America unfortunately still holds a very hostile view against Atheists. For instance over 40% say they would never vote for an Atheist. At least it is a small step in the right direction though.