Sick Religion

I was watching this BBC documentary on the cult of Scientology, where I heard the story of Michael Henderson, a man who was one of the early members who recently grew disillusioned and left the church.

One of the practices of Scientology is “disconnection,” where followers of the cult stop communicating with family members who are antagonistic to the church. The members of Henderson’s family who are still in the cult refuse to speak with Michael or with his dying father. About nine minutes into the video, Henderson says, on the brink of tears:

It’s difficult to describe how a man of 76 years whose proudest accomplishment in life is his six children… They won’t speak to him.

It’s sick to see how manipulative Scientologists can be, twisting and breaking the ties of family for their own ends.

Of course, Scientology is hardly the first religion to do this.

One of the staples of the missionary stories my mother has told me is of people being disowned from their families for converting Christianity. People are persecuted for leaving Hinduism and Islam, and even for converting from the Catholic version of Christianity to a Protestant version of Christianity.

Last night in church, an evangelist from Ambassador Baptist College gave an illustration of a man who was rebelling against his parents’ religion. One day, he heard some noise in his house as he was preparing to leave for work in the morning, and went to investigate. It was his mother, praying. She was pleading with God, saying “I’ve already had one son go away from you, and I can’t bear to lose another one. Please, bring him back to you, Lord. And if he won’t repent and come back to you, Lord, I want you to kill him.

That is sick. It is wrong.

And yet the evangelist was praising her for this! Because it worked. After a near-death experience, the man returned to Christianity. The preacher called this twisting of the familial bond “calling sin what it is.”

I cannot bring myself to praise any religion that would make a mother wish death upon her own child rather than see him choose a different path.

If your religion demands that you cut off ties with your family merely because they disagree with you, you should cut off ties with the religion instead.

My Desktop Setup

Time for desktop show-and-tell!


My dad found a great deal on a flat panel monitor, so I’ve finally been able to get a dual monitor set up. It’s true what they say: having multiple monitors makes you more productive.

I’ve also just bought a stand for my laptop. It’s a tablet PC, and I’ve got it connected to my desktop via a network crossover cable. This lets me use Multiplicity, a program that lets me use the same keyboard and mouse on two different PCs. (Open-source Synergy does the same thing, but I find that Multiplicity works much better.)



The stand, a Rocketfish RF-LAPSTND, actually works really well. It cost a bit than I really wanted to pay, but it looks and works great. It makes my tablet much easier to use with Multiplicity; I had been leaving the screen open, but swiveled around so that the keyboard was at the back and the screen was close to me, but it had a lot of problems: the network cable would be in the way, since it would have to be in the front, and I wasn’t able to put any pressure on the screen with the pen because it would push the screen back onto the keyboard. This stand is much better.

Here’s another shot, showing the snakes next that you can’t see when you’re working on stuff:


The laptop is connected to an external hard drive for backups and my beloved ScanSnap. The USB hub is held in place with Sticky-Tack.

So, how about you? Show off your desktop on your site and leave a comment. I’d love to see how y’all are set up.

Joe’s Goals

I’ve been trying out the Lifehacker-recommended Joe’s Goals for about a week now, and I’ve found it to be most useful.

Joe’s Goals Demo

It works like this: You give it a list of daily goals, which are listed on the side. Each day that you accomplish that goal, you click in the box, and it puts a neat little checkbox there.

You can also add logbooks, which are little tiny squares of text, rather than checkboxes.

The site also keeps stats, like the longest chain of days that you accomplished your goal and a point score at the bottom of each day. You can weight each of your goals a different amount, and you even track negative goals that deduct points.

So, for example, you can say that taking a picture once a day is worth 1 point, while working out for an hour each day is worth 5, and eating more than one snack a day is worth -2.

Overall, Joe’s Goals is a simple tool that I’d recommend to anyone trying to track their New Year’s resolutions.

Fully Automatic Screenshots

Yesterday, I mentioned my script that would automatically take a screenshot and make a thumbnail. Today, I modified the script to do even more for me. Now this script:

  • Takes a screenshot
  • Makes a copy of that screenshot and resizes it down to 500 pixels wide
  • Saves both of these screenshots to my Inbox folder
  • Uploads both of these files via FTP to my web server
  • Replaces the contents of the clipboard with the HTML to link to the large screenshot and display the thumbnail.

So, when I want to upload a screenshot to my blog, I hit Windows Key + Shift + Print Screen, wait a moment, and then hit Paste into my blog entry, and it’s done.

Find out how you can set this up in the extended entry.
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Automated Screenshots and Quake-Style Console Popups with Autohotkey

This post is mostly a response to Silver2Falcon on the XCKD forums, but I’m putting it here in case anyone else is interested.

Here’s the other cool thing I’m running: the awesome and venerable AutoHotkey. I’ve got it doing a couple of neat tricks. First, when I hit Windows Key + PrtSc, it A) takes a screenshot, B) makes a copy of that screenshot and resizes it down to 500px wide, and C) dumps both of them into my Inbox folder on my desktop.

But the really neat trick is the console command line. If I hit Windows Key + Tilde, the command prompt comes up as if it were a Quake-style console. When I hit Esc, it hides until I hit Windows Key + Tilde again.

Would you mind posting/PMing me the scripts for those? You’ve just reminded me that program exists and I want to do both of those and more and I have never really done anything in AHK and I don’t have time to write anything up myself at the moment.

Sure. They both take a little setting up, but I find that they’re both useful enough to be worth the effort.
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Software Updates on Windows Need Fixing

Attention Adobe: when I start using one of your products, that is never the time that I want to start updating it. Do not have the “update me now please!” window pop up 3 seconds after opening a PDF.

Can’t you see that I’m trying to read?!

Honestly, though, this isn’t really Abode’s fault. The way that software updates are handled in Windows is badly broken. Some software tries to update while you’re using it, some tries to install applets in the system tray to download updates, and some won’t even check to see if there are new versions at all.

And when you do choose to update the software, if you’re lucky, the program will update itself and restart. If you’re not, you’ll have to go to a website, find the executable file, wait for it to download, and run it. If the developers are particularly lazy, you’ll might even have to restart your computer.

I shouldn’t have to deal with this. Microsoft, you need to take a page out of Linux’s playbook and make an official Application Update Manager a part of Windows. We don’t need a balkanized set of update managers from every software manufacturer; we need a simple, unified system for automatically downloading updates.

Just open the current Windows Update system to developers. Make it really easy for them to add their own programs to the update list. Then users could keep all their software up-to-date without having to touch it. You can prevent users from having to restart their computers over and over again by doing the installations all at once.

And if you’re smart about it, you can make it so that users only have to download the parts of the software that have changed since the last update, rather than every change made since the product was released to the public. (I’m looking at you EA Games.)

Adding this feature to Windows would finally make Vista worth the upgrade price.

My Shiny New Toy: The Nokia N800

IMG_0227I got a new toy today: A Nokia N800 Internet Tablet.

So far, I’m impressed with it. It has a lot of features that Nokia doesn’t publicize enough. For example, it has the ability to stream media from any computer that’s sharing media to the tablet, so you can listen to any of your music wherever you have the N800.

What’s more, it can even play media over the internet if you install their server software. So you could listen to music and even watch videos stored on your home PC while you’re in a hotel room far away. At least, that’s the theory; I haven’t tried this yet.

What I have tried is the browser. For a mobile device, the browser is excellent. It can handle Flash and Javascript, unlike most mobile devices (including the lofty iPhone). And since the screen is 800 pixels wide, most websites will fit onto the screen without any awkward zooming in/out functions like the mobile version of Opera.

The screen is beautiful on this thing. And the media player software plays videos very smoothly, even when streaming over the internet. It’s definitely better than my iPod. (I need to figure out how to get iTunes video files to play on the N800….)

It also has a camera that pops out of the left side which can be used for video chatting. At the moment, it works best calling from one N800 to another, but you can get a half-decent video chat to a PC using the Gizmo Project.

But the most exciting feature of the device is that it runs on Linux, and there’s a vibrant community of open-source software developers making some neat stuff for the machine. The weather widget in the photo above is actually an open-source project, not anything developed by Nokia, as is the maps program I’m trying out. The hacker community is having a lot of fun with this device.

My biggest disappointment with it so far is that I can’t get it to dial into the internet over EDGE with my Blackberry on AT&T, after about an hour of struggling with it. And Nokia made a couple of stupid UI design decisions which are a bit annoying. For example, there’s no way to lock those widgets you see in the photo above into place, so if you miss the scroll bar on the RSS reader widget by a pixel or two, you’ll end up dragging the whole box around the screen instead of moving the scroll bar.

But, these minor setbacks aside, I really like the N800. I think I’m going to end up finding a lot of uses for it in my everyday life.