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Saturday
Mar052011

Food!

Isn't food grand?  I mean seriously, what is better than a really good meal?  I like eating food and making food, although the making is really about the eventual eating.  I like to experiment with making new kinds of food and improving recipies via experimentation.  Now and again I will create my own recipes from scratch.  I am planning on trying to share my original recipies on here, although I don't want to simply post recipies copied from books or magazines.

Here is a quick run down of my food philosophy.

  1. I am willing to try anything and think that new techniques and styles of cooking are great, however ultimately its all about the eating.  If the food is not good, it does not matter how it was prepared or by who.
  2. I prefer simplicity over complexity, I want to enjoy flavours, not be overloaded by them.
  3. Good ingredients are key.  Fresh is best.
  4. "Organic" is a marketing term that is meaningless when comparing quality of ingredients, food safety or sustainability.
  5. Eating local is great for supporting local farmers and getting fresh food, but that is about it.  I am unconvinced that eating locally is necessarily better for the environment.

A few of the above statements touch on political/philosophical issues surrounding food and food production, so I want to make something clear.  I am definitely not saying that our current food productions methods are perfect and don't need to be changed.  However I don't believe that organic and local necessarily are the right way to fix them.  There seems to be more politics than science backing the claims of the organic and local movements.

Saturday
Mar052011

A Programmers Journal

I have been a professional C programmer for almost 10 years now.  I am planning on posting about various things I learned about programming.  Everything from language specific tricks to general software development strategies.

Here are some of my general programming guidelines that I intend on discussing in more depth at a later time.

  1. Beware of speculative programming, aka programming features you think you'll need in the future.  Instead write your code so that it is simple and flexible so that new features can be added easily.  This includes worrying about performance before you can measure the performance of the whole system.
  2. Always keep your code running.  Have a testing framework that you can run to verify the correctness of your changes as you make them.  Make small changes and verify often.  This is very similar to the ideas of Test Driven Development.
  3. Programming Languages are tools.  Use the appropriate tool for a job.  Using the wrong language for the job is like try to drive a nail with a screwdriver.  Perl is great for file and string manipulation.  C is great when speed actually counts.
  4. Good programmers learn new languages easily.  Experts in a particular language may not be good programmers.  It is usually easier to teach a good programmer a new language than make a language expert a good programmer.
  5. For the love of God, stop making your code uglier to reduce the number of lines in a file.  Compilers ignore whitespace, but it can be very helpful for other programmers.
Saturday
Mar052011

Native Garden

I bought a house three years ago.  In that first summer I decided to try to develop an all (or at least as much as I could) native plant garden.  There are a few reasons, to support native flora and fauna, to save on water, and in no small part, because I am a little lazy and would rather have a garden that grows without needing too much maintenance.  The summer of 2011 will be my third summer.  There have been many projects, that did not involve plants, cleaning up a lot of garbage, replacing old busted shed with a new one, tearing down the remains of an old structure (basically two cinderblock walls) and removing a bunch of (mostly non-native) trees. 

Now all the major stuff is done and I can really start focusing on getting the garden going.  I did plant some stuff in the previous years, but the really central part of the yard is mostly bare.  My previous years experiments with plants have given me some good ideas about what will succeed, so now I think I have to start planning out (and filling in) the central area.

I'm hoping to post about the various plants I have tried and post photographs of the various stages of the plants.  As it is still too early in the year for planting, I am going to post about the plants that I have and the plants that I want to add.

I should probably point out that I live in the Waterloo region, so the plants I am using are most native to that region.

Saturday
Mar052011

Photography Introduction

My name is Darin and I am an amateur photographer.

Hi Darin.

I first tried photography when I was in high school.  I used my step-father's camera and developed my own black and white film in a school lab.  I stopped shooting for a while, I couldn't afford the film and developing.  However once I finished school and got a job, uddenly I could afford a decent camera, and they were digital.  I didn't need to develop, I didn't need to print.  I could just take pictures and save them on my computer.  It was all so easy.

Sometimes it feels that way.

I'm a smart guy, a technical guy.  I know how shutter speeds and apertures work.  I know about depth of field, the effect of focal length on depth in an image.  I know all that stuff, but I still struggle to take a photograph that I would want to print and hang on the wall.  Why?  Because I'm not good at the art, the vision.  I struggle with composition and story telling.  Many of my images are technically fine, but fail to be interesting.

My goal is to become a better photographer by becoming a better artist, not by becoming a better technician.  I am going to post new images in my galleries on this site and try to post about images and my attempts at becoming better.

Saturday
Mar052011

Why Skepticism?

At some point in everyone's life, a person should ask themselves, why do I believe what I believe?  There are many answers to that question, and everyone the has right to have their own opinion.  For myself, I have chosen to try to adhere to the principles of skeptical inquiry.

What does that mean?  A skeptic is one who requires evidence before they believe in something.  Further, they use the techniques of science to judge the quality of evidence.  As a good skeptic realizes that new evidence can be produced at any time, thus beliefs are generally held with some level of confidence.  Instead of ideas being simply true or false, there is a continuum from likely true (global warming) to likely false (9/11 was in inside job).  As the evidence changes, so to will the confidence in the belief.  Over time, some ideas are so well established that they are generally accepted to be true (evolution).  It would require a significant amount of new evidence to change these ideas.

When I am presented with a new idea, I try to apply following the following steps

  1. Initial disbelief.  Ideas need to be proven true, I don't accept new ideas without some level of evidence.
  2. Prior plausibility.  Given my understanding of the scientific explanation of reality, does this new idea make sense?  It if seems to violate the standard scientific world view, it will require significantly more evidence to gain credibility.  If it does seem to conform to the scientific explanation, then it will require less.
  3. Evaluate the evidence.  Find as much evidence as is reasonable for both sides of the idea.  See if there is a consenus opinion on the idea.  Usually when presented with a new idea, there will also be a new evidence.  How does the new evidence fit into the existing body of evidence?  How reliable is the new evidence?  A hunter claiming to see a hairy creature in the woods is not going to convince me that Bigfoot exists.  A corpse that has been analysed by multiple independant experts and has unique DNA probably would.
  4. Given the results of 3 assign the idea a value somewhere between 0 (untrue) and 1 (true).  Ideas with low values are generally believed to be unlikely, high values are generally considered to be likely and ideas near 0.5 are a big old maybe.  Be ok with the uncertainty.
  5. Over time new evidence will come out.  Re-evaulate the idea and change its value.  Maybe it is a little more likely, maybe a little less.  However always consider the new evidence as an element in the whole body of evidence.  Rarely will a single study signifcantly change my opinion.

Why would I want to go through all this?  Basically, life is too short to believe in bullshit.  Why would I want to go around believing in things without some confidence that those ideas are correct?  How much time (and money) are people wasting on homeopaths?  Psychics and mediums?  Hunting for Bigfoot or fishing for Nessie?  The only reliable way to evaluate these ideas is by applying the lessons of science and skepticism.

In future posts I plan on discussing in more depth the details of the the skeptical approach to life.

In the mean time here are my current favourite skeptic blogs:

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