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Nov 12 2006 / Aaron

The Accelerando Palm Delusion Closet

If you have a good memory, you may recall I really disliked the last book I read by Charles Stross, Singularity Sky. I thought it was trash. I didn’t like the writing or the plot or the characters. I suffered through it and reached the end and was angry I bothered.

So it was with great trepidation that I came to find myself reading another Stross novel, Accelerando. The only reason I dared pick it up was that (a) it came endorsed by J, a good predictor of books I’ll like, and (b) I was able to download the book for free and read it on my palm pilot.

I still don’t like the writing style much, but the book was good. It follows the mad-house that is the technological singularity (‘Rapture of the Nerds’), and dishes out oodles of future-shocked trans-human identity crisis. My favorite quote: “Up or down, is it turtles all the way, or is there something out there that’s more real than we are?”. Good stuff.

Ok, I realize I give shitty book reviews that are a little sparse on details. I just don’t like spoiling things. I’m more of a thumbs-up/thumbs-down reviewer. So thumbs-up, ok?

I was glad to get it in eBook form for my old palm-pilot. It makes sense to not lug around a suitcase full of paper-backs when moving across the Atlantic. Of course, I love having physical books and have huge shelves full of books back at the house. I get emotionally attached to the good books I’ve read. On the flip-side, the palm is a decent screen for reading books, it slips easily in my pocket, and can carry hundreds of books. The battery life is fine (no complaints here). In fact, I’ve taken my palm on a few backpacking trips to have a book to read at night in the tent. Not only does it reduce the weight I would normally carry, but it’s a backlit display so I don’t even need a flashlight to read in the dark. One of the bigger drawbacks is that there is still a limited selection, and most of the eBooks out there are encumbered with awful DRM.
Sony’s got a new dedicated eBook reader on the market. It’s a little pricey, but I can’t wait to try one out in person. It uses ePaper so instead of being backlit like a PDA, it actually changes the page with eInk that requires no charge once set. You use reflective lighting to read, so it is more like reading a normal book, and is easier on the eyes. Because it only requires a charge to change the page, the battery life is even better than a conventional PDA.
Now I’m back to reading in ink-on-dead-tree-pulp format. I was passing by a book store the other day and picked up Dawkin’s new diatribe The God Delusion. I’m just in the beginning, where he’s provided some evidence that being an Atheist is even more of a cultural taboo than being a Homosexual, and he’s urging Atheists to ‘come-out’ and help make it socially acceptable.

Well folks, surprise! I am a raging Atheist. I know it’s difficult for people to find out this way, but I hope that in time you will all come to accept it. Ahhhh, it feels so good to be out of the closet (it was full of smelly scientists in there).

Yertle the Turtle


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  1. bill / Nov 12 2006

    I thought you’ve been out of the closet for years. 🙂

  2. J / Nov 13 2006

    Scott’s trying to get me to get one of those sony book things. Be his product tester. ePaper is cool, but these single use devices don’t do enough for the (outrageous) price. Also, there was some kind of warning on their site about not getting upset about the image ghosting you’re going to see. That sounds like something that would get in my kitchen. I think I might get a Palm T/X–the screen is big, has wireless etc.

  3. Aaron / Nov 14 2006

    I think I was out of the atheist-closet around the same time I stopped believing in Santa Claus. Santa and [Christian] God are pretty much the same thing. Authority figures perpetuate the dogma, and if you’re good you go to heaven/get presents. If you’re bad you get a lump of coal and go to hell.

    J, I think you should get one too. Test it for us, shnave.

  4. Chris Hubick / Nov 14 2006

    Links to online copy of his documentary, The Root of All Evil:

    If you like, you can argue with me here:

  5. Amanda Kleinman / Nov 14 2006

    Hi Aaron,

    I have been trying to use the CRON-O-METER and I keep getting this error message. Any idea how to fix this?

    My computer says: No JVM could be found. Please define EXE4J_JAVA_HOME to point to an installed JDK or JRE

    I am not too computer saavy…I realize this has to be a JAVA issue but no idea how to correct it and I would love to start using the CRON-O-METER. I currently use NutriSurvey which I feel has not a great food database.

    Thanks so much!


  6. Aaron / Nov 15 2006

    Amanda, you just need to install Java (you can download it from Once you do that, CRON-o-Meter will run fine.

  7. J / Nov 15 2006

    My mom accidentally let it slip to my cousin that there is no Santa. (The slip was talking about the time when my sister found out. Aaron, I think you were there for that one.) The first thing she did was hit her dad and say, “You lied to me!” It’s interesting that that was her first and strongest reaction.

  8. bill / Nov 15 2006

    The word “god” or “God” is an umbrella term meaning a kazillion things to a 6 billion people, sometimes depending on the day of the week. Which one(s) do you refer to? Dualist ones? Non-dualist ones?

    Godel the Platonist had trouble with this. Is Plato really dead? Is Godel really dead? Are we currently as dead as we can get? Am I dreaming? I’ll try the light switch and get back to you.

    And then, the word “atheism” may be close to the same, a kazillion …. etc. blah, blah …

    Thing is, can one disprove a negative.

    Another thing is, can one disprove a negative. If I say there is no [your word here], can you disprove it?

    The question: Why is there something instead of nothing?
    Defining a conclusion prior to the conclusion of a scientific investigation, is it good science. Can a scientist commit to a belief of a conclusion before the evidence is in?

    Some agnostics say you can’t know. That’s a belief.

    I conjecture that beliefs by their nature will curb curiosity and good science.

    Is all there is to a human just matter and energy? If so, prove it. In not, prove it.

    What the fuck, eh. I think its a good idea to beware of pat answers. They might be hazardous to curiosity and science. I haven’t read Dawkins. Maybe it would be a good idea?

    with interest and curiosity,

  9. J / Nov 16 2006

    In my mind the terms are not so good. Not sure if anyone else has said this, but I use these terms:

    Weak Agnostic — This person has not really decided what they believe or is leaving the option open. The wait-and-see attitude. Also people who think Pascal’s Wager makes sense.

    Strong Agnostic — Someone who thinks the existence of God is unknowable by its very nature.

    Strong Atheist — Someone who asserts that there is definitely no God. In my mind this is an unscientific position to take.

    Weak Atheist — Someone who does not believe there is a God but cannot assert for certain that it does not, or could not exist. This is the camp I put myself in. It’s a technical point really. The fact that I can’t say that God does certainly not exist is on the same level as my not being able to say that the moon is not made of ham sandwiches held together with invisible pink unicorns. That is, it’s not something that keeps me up at night.

    I do think that this universe could be indistinguishable from something running as a simulation. There could be an extreme being on the outside. However, because of the nature of computation, I think this leaves very little room for any real meddling from the outside. Also I have seen no evidence to suggest that any meddling has happened from the outside or that magic works on the inside. If you show me a god that does not need magic to work, I’ll be happy to believe.

    Anyway, I have witnessed innumerable debates that conflated the terms above making them less intelligible. Really we need entirely new words (for “god” too).

  10. bill / Nov 16 2006


    Ya. The terms are too loaded to be useful. The sludge of history is all over them.

    My position is just that beliefs aren’t good for your curiosity. Nothing fancy.

  11. d / Nov 16 2006

    if i say “there is no flying spaghetti monster”, you can prove me wrong by producing hard evidence that it exists, such as a piece of its noodly appendage (or better yet, by producing the flying spaghetti monster in front of me).

    science is about asserting and testing _falsifiable_ statements — things that might actually be proven to be wrong (but seldom are, no matter how hard we try).

    if i say that the flying spaghetti monster exists, how do you go about _disproving_ it? you can’t, and you shouldn’t have to. if i want to make extraordinary claims, then the onus is on me to produce some extraordinary evidence to back it up.

    of course, that assumes that i am a rational and reasonable person, which would be nice, but is unfortunately an unsafe assumption, in general. i’m just a stupid monkey-ape, after all.

    perhaps this is a poor choice of example, because OF COURSE the flying spaghetti monster exists! i know that because it visited me one night and touched me with its noodly appendage. i double-dog dare you to prove me wrong!

  12. bill / Nov 17 2006

    In agreement with d and j. I think.

    Would add that, je pense that saying something does or doesn’t exist because it has not been proven or disproven is not good science. It’s sloppy scientists.

    For example, people were once told that “X-rays are safe.” That’s a sloppy scientist. On the other foot, “As far as I know, but with no guarantee, x-rays are safe.” That’s a less sloppy scientist.

    If there is a theory of everything, then it has to account for d’s experience of the spagetti monster among a shitload of other so-called subjective stuff. And, I’ve got a freight train load of oddities that it would need to explain.

  13. Tim R / Nov 17 2006

    Interesting discussion guys. I currently am an agnostic when it comes to his noodly appendage. Actually I hadn’t considered that someone would have trouble believing he DOES NOT exists. I have encountered the idea that atheism is a faith based position before, but this puts an especially delicious spin on it.

    I am currently in discussions with a whole board full of religious types discussing the other end of this conversation.

    I thought rather than bringing them all here (which Spaz probably wouldn’t appreciate) I would leave a link to my site so you could amble over, through my site to theirs, give them a shout (literally or theologically) and then resume your science based discussion here undisturbed.

    Unfortunately, on the other site, I find myself straddling issues from both a science AND religious perspective. Quite uncomforatble in the you-know-where location.

    Tim R.

    P.S. if you’ve participated in religious discussions with these types before and don’t want to bother, I fully understand. I will, however, listen to your science-based discussion with interest.

  14. scott / Dec 14 2006

    Late to the party but … Aaron you really need to buy a Sony Reader so I can check out one of these e-paper devices in person.

    Apathism (with a capital A) is where it’s at. The question of god is intrinsicly uninteresting given its unprovability and penchant for inspiring irrational discourse. I look forward to a wave a religious apathy sweeping the world.

    Oh, and get that reader.

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