Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Media Diet Pyramid

This image was created in the Assembly app
on iOS and edited in GIMP
I never understood why people used the cliché "you are what you eat" with food, but it does make total sense with media consumption. By this, I mean what we regularly watch, read, listen, or have conversations about. In the past five years, my mindset and world view has changed dramatically as I became more selective of the media I consume. When I was 14, I used to read books like The Secret, regularly visit websites about psionics, and consumed other New Age media. All that reinforced my beliefs that people can have psychic powers and manipulate reality with their minds. But I abandoned those beliefs after I became exposed to atheist Youtube videos and skeptics websites. My case is an extreme one, but it taught me the impact that media can have on our minds. With all the misinformation in the world, being a critical thinker is about as hard as being a healthy person in an environment filled with junk food. While people can use the FDA's food pyramid to guide their diet, there isn't a similar guideline for how often we should expose ourselves to different types of content.

So, I created one based on my opinions and the ideals of a liberal education. My goal for this media diet pyramid is to promote a media diet for optimal mental and psychological health. Unlike the actual food pyramid, I don't have any recommendations for how much of each content each person should consume, mostly because I'm still trying to find a healthy balance myself. All I can tell is that some groups seem more important and they provide the foundation for understanding other groups. The first media group here is the one I believe that people should consume the most and the last should be consumed the least.

Reality: 'The Carb Group'

The purpose of this group should be to gain a thorough understanding of the world we live and in and of oneself. This group is the most important because it affects your understanding in other areas such as rationality. Science and ,though it's not in the diagram, engineering gives some of the best explanations for various phenomena. And, they are the best tools for using the rules of reality to our advantage. I also included history and biographies in this section because they show what humans can achieve and the follies they can commit. Learning this helps me size up my own potential and limitations. Just as important as the rest, self-reflection and gaining self knowledge will reveal one's capacity to delude oneself and how to avoid this temptation. For me, it also revealed the life paths that I can pursue and find meaningful. By learning to see reality for what it is, I begin to understand what I can and want to accomplish. From that, I know what I need to learn from the other areas.

Rationality: 'The Vegetable Group'

Why should the Reality group come before the Rationality group when we use rationality to understand reality? From what I know about logic and debating, almost every argument and system of logic is based on assumptions that come from our understanding of reality. For instance, the scientific method assumes that we live in an objective world. I call this group the 'vegetable' group because most people seem to have trouble acquiring a taste for it. While I know many people who read books written by Carl Sagan and other science writers, very few would read books about mathematics or formal logic for fun. Still, this group is very important considering the number of charlatans who try to persuade people. Here, the purpose is to develop intellectual honesty and logical consistency. Mathematics (particularly statistics and probability) will help you understand the implications of theoretical models and graphs. Logic helps you judge the value of information and the validity of an argument. Reading textbooks and studies also build up the discipline to look at the source, despite how advanced it is. Economics might seem like a wild card here, but I've included it because it's useful for judging political, and sometimes moral arguments.

Humanities: 'The Fruit Group'

Humanities are 'the fruit group' to me because they are a lot easier to digest than the previous two groups. The goal of this group is to understand other people and society. Interestingly, people seem to enjoy this the most out of all the intellectual subjects. For leisure, many do watch tv shows and read books that tell a story about humans (or anthropomorphic beings). So, another side effect is that the humanities can make you a more interesting conversationalist. However, I think the greatest benefit is learning how to deal with the differences between myself and others, as well as appreciate the similarities. Literature is a great way to develop empathy because it allows you to share the experiences with a diverse group of characters, which can sometimes be applied on similar people in the world. Psychology helps me understand my own and other peoples mindset, as well as how they can be compatible or conflict. Philosophy shows certain belief systems people can have- such as Free Will vs Determinism- and what the implications of holding those beliefs are. The arts and culture show what the majority of a group appreciates and what their standards are, as well as how deviant you are from the majority. Without the humanities, I think most of us would misunderstand humankind and grow cynical. I've come across a significant number of misanthropists, and even found a human extinctionist group(the exact opposite of the ones from Artemis Fowl). I see this as a radical deficiency of the humanities because the humanities show us the nobler side of humans. Experiencing the compassion of the author or the courage of the hero is really what keeps my hope for humanity alive, despite the unfulfilled ideals in the real world.

Language: 'The Calcium Group'

Language provides the framework for understanding information from other people. A command of language is also important for communication, particularly when you need to ask the right questions. The ability to learn new subjects is limited by vocabulary and reading comprehension, so improving those two can open new sources of knowledge. The best way to do that would be to constantly look up new terms in dictionaries and encyclopedias as you encounter them. Learning the etymology of words is also useful for figuring out the definition of a word quickly and memorizing them. Luckily, websites such as The Free Dictionary include the etymology of many words under the definition. Practicing rhetoric in the form of persuasive writing or public speaking is a good way to measure how well you you understand your ideas, and if they are based on sound thinking. I have quickly found out how baseless many of my assumptions were when I struggle to defend them in writing or speech. In a world with google translate, learning a foreign language is not necessary for getting exposed to ideas from other cultures. However, learning a foreign language can be worthwhile for communicating in person as well as understanding the structure of languages.

Skills: 'The Protein Group'

Knowledge from this group allows people to provide practical value to others and earn a livelihood. In addition, it teaches self-sufficiency and it gives people an outlet for creativity. Most people my age are (hopefully!) taking in sufficient amounts of skills from college or trade school. Beyond that, skills can be divided into different categories: hacks and crafts. Hacks are skills are very quick and easy to learn, but they often make life a lot easier. Crafts require more time and effort, but they are a source of self-gratification.

Pleasure: 'The Fats Group'

Learning is most effective when it's fun, and this is what the pleasure group is for. This group helps make it easier to absorb knowledge from the other groups, but they should be taken in moderation. Too much can make you a cynic or an idler. Plus, the topics can be oddly addictive. Humor is used often enough by educators and writers to keep their audience engaged in the content. Games are another effective way to have fun while learning, and many educational websites such as Khan's academy are gamified. Even educators are thinking of incorporating games into the classroom. Politics might seem like a strange addition to this group, but it has been described as entertainment. It's effective at getting people's attention making topics relevant to their lives. Politics issues have lead me to learn more about economics, logic, history and ethics.

Exercise

Let's not forget that acquiring all that knowledge is pointless unless it's put to good use. Enter the Prometheus figure, spreading his light to those surrounded by darkness. Sharing knowledge is supposedly the most effective way to reinforce what we learned. That's pretty much why I write these blog posts. Other ways to 'exercise' include teaching/tutoring others, shooting videos on YouTube, debating, and creating a product that others can use.



Conclusion

All in all, creating this media diet pyramid was a fun project for me. I tried to make this pyramid applicable for most people, but I realized that my model is mostly geared towards erudite people who center their lives around gaining knowledge. More pragmatic people may move the skills group closer to the bottom while people more concerned with human relationships may do the same with the humanities. Hopefully, others can at least see this pyramid as an inspiration. My intent is to challenge people to take control of the media they consume, and make changes that will lead to a well-developed mind.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Review: Logically Fallacious: The Ultimate Collection of Over 300 Logical Fallacies

Logically Fallacious: The Ultimate Collection of Over 300 Logical Fallacies Logically Fallacious: The Ultimate Collection of Over 300 Logical Fallacies by Bo Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of the few books that I wish I bought a hard-copy of. Bennet does a decent job of describing the 300 fallacies, especially the formal ones. The examples he wrote are even-handed, so it doesn't just pick on one group that he could be ideologically against. For instance, he equally picked on both the Christian and atheist debating points. This is definitely essential reading for anyone who's interested in debates, public speaking, and controversy. It helped me see a lot of the illogical reasoning I've been relying on, and it helped me correct myself. The fallacies that I see the most in myself are "Notable Effort", "False Dilemma", and "Wishful Thinking". The most amusing one for me is the "If-by-Whisky" fallacy and the most annoying is the "reductio ad hitlerum".

Reading the book was like going through a dictionary or encyclopedia, which I don't mind. But, I can see how that would bore most people. He does try to spice it up with some witty examples, but it's about as effective as that textbook in 8th grade that tries to make grammar interesting with 'funny' practice problems. My only tip is to go through one fallacy per day, so it's kind of like the "word of the day" from a dictionary app. That way, at least most people can learn a comprehensive list of fallacies under one year.

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My Favorite Films About Economics

I do have strong opinions about macroeconomics, but I'm far from being as well-informed as I would like to be. Ideally, I would have read Milton Friedman, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, and Adam Smith. However, I'm limited by my resources: time, focus, and interest. Instead, I learn more about economics from the videos I watch online. These films are more likely to favor ideology or entertainment over facts. However, most of these films don't trigger the usual red flags I have for documentaries: fear-mongering, scapegoating, lack of experts, gimmicky effects, etc. Also, they do provide clear, informative, and entertaining explanations to otherwise dull or obscure concepts. Many of these films have a stance on the government's role in economics, and these stances conflict with the other films'. I'm still trying to determine which stances are the best, and therefore should support. I hope that by recollecting all the films I've watched and how they influenced me, I can come to a better understanding.

The American Dream

This film can still be seen on Youtube for free. I first encountered it on a conspiracy site when I was around 14 (thankfully, I grew out of that phase). Even so, I recently re-watched it and I still think it's worth watching. It's the film that started making me question my country's financial and political system. It has a great explanation on the history and purpose of money. It also disentangles the relationship between the Federal Bank, the rest of the banks, the US treasury, and the federal government. Overall, it's a film against central banking and an argument for the gold standard. As far as I can tell, it's historically accurate if you disregard the fantastical elements and obvious pop culture references. However, this film is the only one on this list that set off the red flags I mentioned earlier. And, it does come off as a typical conspiracy theory, especially when it linked Kennedy's assassination with central banking. I am not convinced that the gold standard should be restored, but I wouldn't be shocked to find out that there is a global banking cartel. I wouldn't recommend it for the paranoid, but it's funny and it can open up a lot of new economic questions.

Freakonomics

Besides being a film, it's also a book and podcast. It's much more light-hearted than the other films. It focuses on questions about human incentives and behavior. Some of the questions addressed include "Does your name influence your chances of success?", "Are crime rates and abortion related?", and "Can there be a system that people can't game?" It helped me understand that economics is more about human interactions than the exchange of money, so many economic concepts have a broader scope than I originally thought.

How the Economic Machine Works

This is another free video on Youtube. It explains how the economy (at least a capitalist one) works on the principle that 'one man's spending is another man's earnings'. This simple statement actually leads to a lot of important implications such as how 'consumer confidence' and stock market speculation can have dramatic impacts on macroeconomics, even if it's purely based on psychology. The video gives a good explanation of how bubbles form and burst, and why inflation and deflation occur. It shows the part that loans, credit cards, and filing for bankruptcy play. It also shows the options that governments and the federal bank have for handling an economic crisis such as adjusting the interest rates, funding welfare programs, cutting spending, and raising taxes. It also shows how relying on only one of these methods have severe consequences. This film proposes that there's a possibility of a 'beautiful deflation' where the bubble bursts, but it causes the economy to stabilize instead of spiraling into a depression/recession. According to the film, this can be achieved by a balance of aforementioned methods at the government's and federal bank's disposal. This video made me think of the part that the entire population plays in economic crises, and that the ordinary citizens who acted as speculators had as much of a role as the bankers in events like the 2008 recession. However, I'm skeptical of the possibility of a 'beautiful deflation' because I have yet to find a real-life example of one.

The Big Short

This is an obscene, but hilarious depiction of the events leading up to the 2008 housing bubble. This film follows the lives of 6 actual men who became rich off of this crisis by 'shorting' the subprime mortgage loans- meaning they made bets against those risky mortgage loans maintaining their value despite the confidence that the government and bankers had. It's another film that manages to be informative while focusing on the story-telling aspect. It explains the history behind why financial experts believe that mortgage loans are almost always low risk. The movie also has celebrities and one financial expert explaining unfamiliar financial terms in a novel way. This film is a great insider's look into the dark side of today's banking institution. At the end, it is scary that the government doesn't hold these bankers accountable for the frauds they committed. This raises the moral question about what citizens should do about this mess, especially after one of the lead characters make some dire predictions about what will happen if we let this continue.

Boom Bust Boom

This film has surprisingly little humor despite it starring a Monty Python comedian. However, Muppet lovers would not be disappointed by the songs and puppetry. This film focuses on the history of bubbles and bursts, and apparently they happen with surprising regularity. The time period covered ranges from the Tulip Mania of the 17th century to the 2008 housing crash. It explains how societies get stuck in cycles of economic 'booms and bust' due to overconfidence during times of stability and risk-aversion during times of instability. It also introduced me to another economic giant that I need to eventually read: Hyman Minsky. This film points out the limitations of the neoclassical model of economics and the problems that human irrationality can wreck in our current system. It proposes that we should create a system that accommodates human irrationality and separate speculating activities from banking. I do agree with the latter statement. However, creating a system that 'accommodates human irrationality' would mean taking away choices for consumers, usually by having policymakers draft up extra regulations. Thomas Sowell pointed out the flaws of central planning, in that a smaller group of people (even experts) are not necessarily more rational and well informed about market decisions. In fact they are more likely to be the opposite, and they can have special interests influencing them. In addition, they lack accountability for flawed policies as well as the flexibility to correct flawed policies. I'm for a government system that punishes fraud and theft, but not for one that limits people's choices under the guise of protecting them from their irrationality.

Most of these films are great for making me interested in economics and getting me to see its relevance in my life. Still, I have a lot more to learn and I realize that I need to keep an open mind. After watching some economic films, it is easy to think that I can now figure out how the financial institutions should change and how the government should act. However, I haven't looked at a wide diversity of viewpoints. I haven't touched the graphs of the rigorous math. So, I can't say I have a good understanding of economics, and I don't know how much of my time I would be willing to devote to understanding it. It's hard for me to answer, "How much do I need to know to be a well-informed citizens, as well as inform others?" Even so, learning this little about economics is enough to (hopefully) avoid stupid mistakes and not get sucked into the herd mentality that can dominate economic decisions.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Review: Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals

Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals by Saul D. Alinsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My initial motivation for reading this book was to "know thy enemy". I wanted to know the mindset of radicals on both sides of the spectrum, and why politicians pander to them just because they are the vocal minority. Alinsky is very frank about the motivations behind his actions and he gives a good insight into the psychology of a radical activist. Plus, his tactics are brilliant, entertaining, and effective.

Paired with a book about the "dismal science" (economics), Rules for Radicals is a must-read of political activists and grassroots community organizers. I'd recommend reading this with a book from Thomas Sowell because these two authors fill in each other's gaps. After reading Alinsky, I realized why Sowell complains about economists failing to persuade politicians despite having greater insight. From Sowell, I learned why politicians are inept at improving economic situations. Alinsky explains how politics is a zero-sum game with power, and the implication is that the people who disagree with you are enemies. This mentality helps the activist group force people into fulfilling their demands, but-as Sowell points out- the activists often create new problems. For instance, the trade unions at Kodak fought and gained higher wages (see http://rbscp.lib.rochester.edu/rbfs-b...). But this creates a surplus of job applicants (see Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell), which lead to discrimination against blacks and then Alinsky getting involved. Alinsky recounts the success of that involvement and many others, but I do suspect that his involvements have not lead to stable improvements in the black community. The black, Mexican, and Native American populations have often resorted to activism, and they are much worse off than previously marginalized groups who didn't resort to activism such as the Asian, Jewish, Irish, and Italian immigrants. I think Alinsky's tactics are necessary for getting political representation and battling against special interests. But, it must be paired with an understanding of economic principles in order to fix the root problem.

Still, this book is indicative of all the problems that I see in modern radicals. From reading the book, my impression of Alinsky is a manipulative scumbag who preys on disenfranchised groups and continues the cycle of people abusing power. And he does all of this with that familiar cloak of self-righteousness. For example, he had one anecdote where he incited the Back on the Yard group to aggressively demand healthcare services from an organization that was completely willing to do it anyways. He claims that it's necessary for his group to feel like they have power, but a sneaking suspicion in me asks "for what?'. Even then, I think this book is worth four stars because it's so informative and Alinsky is an entertaining author.

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Monday, July 11, 2016

Hacking Programs into Portable Apps

I have tried making portable apps using third-party software, and I have gotten nowhere. Setting up virtual machines for Windows is a nightmare if you don't have the install disks, plus they run too slowly to download a lot of the programs online. The SFX makers and extractor tools didn't work well for me. In addition, there's the mind-numbing frustration of trying to follow the documentation for developers on PortableApps.com. Luckily, I ran into this post by the travelling librarian who used a batch file to run a program. It deletes the temporary file it left on her computer after the program closes. It was a super simple way to make a portable app, and I modified the code so that it removed other traces of the program from my computer (at least the ones I could find). Then, I found INSHAME's post. Although his methods didn't work for me, it taught me many of the locations where I need to get rid of program data. The method I ended up created was something I found easy because I have coding experience. It doesn't require any software besides Notepad, but Notepad++ is highly recommended. It works for a great variety of simple programs, but I did include an entire section about programs that should not be portabilized. Keep this in mind as you work through the steps. 14 steps might seem a little much, but many of the steps can be skipped if the programs doesn't install information on all of the different locations that I've considered. This is a dirty method of making portable apps because I'm not doing any clean install and I might not find all the traces left on my computer. However, it works well for me. As a side benefit, I gained a better understanding of how portable apps worked and I've finally found an excuse to learn batch scripting.

Prereqs

  • Familiarity with terminal commands and batch files
  • Familiarity with basic programming concepts like IF conditionals
  • Debugging skills and willingness to learn

Batch File Tips

  • the colon (:) will display the following text in the terminal
  • double colons (::) are comments
  • keep folder and file names in quotations so the terminal reads it properly
  • Add PAUSE to stop program until a key is pressed. Helpful when debugging

Don't Try To Portabilize

  • Programs that need over 1 GB of space. They'll take up too much space on the flash drive unless you have lots of storage.
  • Programs that install folders all over the place on your machine. If the app has to restore and backup all those folders everytime the program runs, it will quickly wear out the flash drive by using up write cycles. Plus, it takes more work to portabilize.
  • Programs that use up a lot of disk space when running. You can check that on the task manager. If the program uses a lot of disk space, it will quickly wear out a flash drive by using up write cycles. Virtual machines are one example of this.
  • Programs with .NET dependencies. You won't be able to run it on other computers without that .NET version.
  • Programs with different installers for different windows versions. You'd have to create separate portable apps for each versions if you want to run it on many other machines.
  • Programs that store necessary data on temp files. Check by opening RUN and type in %temp%. Maybe try deleting the file and running your program again. Apparently, only poorly written programs save important info there. Furthermore, it's difficult to separate the necessary vs unnecessary info and those files accumulate a lot of data. This makes it a burden to just store all the file contents with your portable program.
  • Programs that need constant updates. Again, that uses up write cycles.

Steps:

  1. Download and install the the 32-bit program, as normal. Save it on an easily accessible place such as on the Desktop
  2. In the program folder, create a new .bat file. Copy and paste in the code template at the bottom of this post.
  3. In the same folder, create a new folder called 'appinfo'
  4. Click Windows+R to open RUN, and type in regedit to open the registry manager. Under HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software and HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE, look for any registry keys that was created by the installer. If you find one, export the registry key path and save as a .reg file in the program folder. Add the .reg file after "REG IMPORT" on the .bat file and uncomment that line. Also, copy and paste the registry key path from the registry to the line "REG Delete".
  5. Run the program once by clicking the .exe file. Exit afterwards.
  6. Refresh or reopen registry manager. Look in the same places. Copy and Paste any new program-related paths after "REG DELETE" on the .bat file
  7. Using Run, type in %localappdata%. Then, try to judge if the data in those folder are valuable. Usually, folders containing logs can be safely deleted. Just type in "%LOCALAPPDATA%/program_folder" after "RMDIR /q /s". Otherwise copy and paste the folder name into the two conditionals in the .bat file. Then, move these folders to the appinfo folder on your flash drive.
  8. Repeat the step above for %temp%,%appdata%, and %userprofile%.
  9. Look up the .exe file that starts the program in the program folder. Copy and paste the name after "START /wait" on .bat file
  10. Modify the text after ":" to change the message that gets displayed on the terminal
  11. Save the .bat file and test it out by running it. Debug if necessary.
  12. Optional: Integrate it onto a portable launcher by following the steps on my post "Integrating Portable Apps into Launcher"
  13. Optional: Use compression tools such as PortableApps.com AppCompactor to save space.
  14. Move the entire folder onto a flashdrive. Try testing it out on many different computers

Portable App template


: This script will launch (Insert Program Name).
 : When (Insert Program Name) is closed, it will delete temp 
 : directories and registry keys if any
 : For this script to work, this script must be in the same directory as
:the program folder which contains the executables that run this program

@ECHO OFF
 ECHO Please leave this window open.
 ECHO IGNORE ANY "Profile Storage Space" MESSAGES YOU SEE!
 ECHO.
 PAUSE
 CD /d %~dp0
:: The line above changes directory to directory of batch file

::Below Lines restore any files or registry keys that are usually installed on computer when program runs 
::ECHO Restoring previous registry keys and important files
CD appinfo
::REG IMPORT file.reg
::uncomment and modify above line if the installer adds the registry paths
:: IF EXIST "%LOCALAPPDATA%\program_folder" (
::  ROBOCOPY "program_folder" "%LOCALAPPDATA%\program_folder" /E /IS /MOVE
::) ELSE (
::  MKDIR "%LOCALAPPDATA%\program_folder"
::  ROBOCOPY "program_folder" "%LOCALAPPDATA%\program_folder" /E /IS /MOVE
::)
 
ECHO Now launching (Insert Program Name)...
 CD /d %~dp0
 CD (Insert Program folder name)
 START /wait (Insert Application.exe file)

::ECHO Deleting Registry keys and Temp folders
::Copy and paste any registry key paths created by the .exe file
 REG DELETE Registry_path /f
::only uncomment and modify if folders are unimportant
::RMDIR /q /s "%LOCALAPPDATA%\folder_name"
 
::Below lines for moving files onto drive. Starts when app closes
::ECHO Backing up files
CD /d %~dp0
CD appinfo
:: IF EXIST "program_folder" (
::  ROBOCOPY "%LOCALAPPDATA%\program_folder" "program_folder" /E /IS /MOVE
::) ELSE (
::  MKDIR "program_folder"
::  ROBOCOPY "%LOCALAPPDATA%\program_folder" "program_folder" /E /IS /MOVE 
:: )
::uncomment and modify above line if app stores data in %localappdata%


ECHO.
 ECHO.
 PAUSE
 CLS
 EXIT

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Integrating Portable Apps into Launcher





I've talked about my love of portable apps in my Portable App Spree post. They are quick to download, can run on many different computers through a flash drive, take up little space, and they don't slow down your computer like most bloatware. PortableApps.com has a great library of portable apps that you can install and they have a convenient launcher. However, there are more portable apps outside of PortableApps.com and they don't automatically show up in the launcher after installing it on the flash drive. If you read through the PortableApp.com documentation, you can make any app compatible with their launcher by rearranging directories and filling out .ini files. When I tried it, it took me hours and I still couldn't get the Launcher Generator to accept the apps. Luckily, I found a much easier method to make just about any portable app show up in the launcher. It takes 10 minutes and it may require some familiarity with batch files. In general, this should work for any launcher program.

Steps:

  1. If you haven't already, download and install the launcher of your choice onto your flash drive. I'm using PortableApps.com's PA.c platform
  2. Download the portable program as normal and unzip/install it onto the main directory of your flash drive
  3. Create a new folder on the flashdrive called "Portable Insert-Program-Name"
  4. Move the program file into this new folder
  5. Move the "Portable Insert-Program-Name" folder into the PortableApp folder
  6. Open the program file and check if the file that starts the program is a .bat or .exe file
  7. For .exe Files

  8. Simply move the .exe file to the main directory of your "Portable Insert-Program-Name" folder. Reload launcher to see icon.
  9. For .bat files

  10. Download a .bat to .exe converter. Here's the one I recommend: http://www.f2ko.de/en/b2e.php. It has a portable version and it easily integrates into the launcher using the .exe method. Just delete the setup .exe file and move the .exe file in the Portable folder to the main directory.
  11. Optional: create an icon by searching up an image and using an image to .ico converter. Save the .ico file to your "Portable Insert-Program-Name" folder. I used the one here:http://image.online-convert.com/convert-to-ico
  12. Start the Bat_to_Exe_Converter and enter in the .bat file that start the program. Save it to the main directory of your "Portable Insert-Program-Name" folder. If you want, you can add your icon under Version Information
  13. Go to Editor and add "CD (insert program folder name)" before the line that's similar to "start startup_file.exe". This will change the directory so your computer can find the .exe file which starts the program
  14. Click compile and check that the program is in the launcher by reloading


So far, this method works for all of the portable apps I found online that aren't listed on the PortableApps.com website. There were some times that for unknown reasons, the .exe file from the converter didn't start up. However, recompiling the batch file fixes the issue. The only other issue that I've encountered is that one .exe file from the batch method sets off an anti-malware software. So, you should keep the original .bat file just in-case. In the end, I love seeing all my apps neatly organized in one place and ready to use. This method is something that anyone can do. In a later post, I will describe another simple method that I made up for making any program into a portable app. Maybe "any" program is a stretch, but it has worked for every one that I've tried.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Review: The Secret Lives of INTPs

The Secret Lives of INTPs The Secret Lives of INTPs by Anna Moss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is just as fun and informative as The Secret Life of INTJs. However, it was more whimsical and went of into more tangents. I'm guessing that the author made an attempt to make the latter book more structured to target the INTJ audience. Still, I enjoyed the whimsical parts as well. I especially liked the descriptions of the MBTI-based fantasy land, the author's family life, and the oddball speculations of the future of INTPs. Reading the book made it easier to see that INTJs and INTPs are more similar than what the cognitive functions theory suggests, so the author did a good job of convincing me to abandon that theory.

The profiles of historical and fictional people were really fascinating. Some of them really clarified some of the behaviors of INTP characters which I found baffling. For instance, I didn't understand why Mary Shelly's Frankenstein kept procrastinating or refusing to do certain tasks even though the lives of his loved ones were at stake. The author carefully explained the typical INTP mentality and value system, so I could understand the rationale behind Frankenstein's actions. The author also did a good job of using MBTI type to explain why certain INTPs such as Thomas Jefferson strongly and publicly held certain beliefs, only to live against them. I found it to be a more clear justification than the usual historical explanation: he did it because everybody else was doing it.

It's still full of grammar mistakes and is poorly edited, but I really enjoyed reading the book. INTPs are a small proportion of the population and they don't inspire the same respect (fear?) that INTJs do in literature and cinema. However, this books shows a lot of the benefits that this unique personality brings.

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Understanding Scientific Papers (Part 2)

My revenge on bad scientific writers
Image is from http://www.thescientificcartoonist.com
I described the basics to reading a scientific paper in Understanding a Scientific Paper Part 1, but there are still more tricks to understanding a scientific paper. They are clearly not written for the general public, and academese is an unavoidable hurdle. Once you unravel this arcane language, you'll soon see that most of the babble on paper is a euphemism for things in the vulgar, material world. After reading one paper, I spent weeks wondering what was the "background, ultraviolet radiation" that interfered with photometers during the day. Then, my professor pointed out that it was sunlight. Learning to understand scientific papers requires you to think in a new way, and I have found some tips helpful for making this process easier.

Some Useful Tips

  • Have a Research Goal
  • The usual research goal is conducting a similar experiment. But it could also be writing a book, writing a blog post, inventing an instrument, make a lifestyle change, or learning about cutting edge technology. Whatever the goal is, this will help inspire interest and give you focus while you are reading. The research goal also gives you an application for your newly acquired knowledge, making you an active learner with better retention. Because you are taking knowledge from the abstract context of the paper to the practical level, your comprehension will improve.

  • Print Hard Copies and Annotate
  • The research goal should dictate what notes you will take. I prefer to use something conspicuous like a red pen.

  • Highlight Spelled-out Abbreviations
  • This will help you keep track of the countless abbreviations that follow. Scientists love to abbreviate, and they do it very often.

  • Read Multiple papers in the same area of research
  • Some papers explain different parts of the research better than others, which is helpful when you can not understand one paper at all. In addition, scientific papers often reference and compare their methods to other researcher's methods. Sometimes they use a theory from other researchers, but they barely explain it. So, reading the other papers will help you follow those discussions. A good source of further reading material is the References at the end of the paper.

  • Make Mnemonics to remember basic scientific facts
  • Knowing your basic scientific concepts can make it easier to visualize and understand what's happening in the experiment. For instance, the aeronomy papers I'm reading often talk about instruments taking measurements in the upper-mesosphere and thermosphere. To imagine where these instruments are, I made up a mnemonic for the atmospheric layers in order of descending altitude: "Emus Train My Scarlet Tiger". This stands for Exosphere, Thermosphere, Mesosphere, Stratosphere, Troposphere. Now, I know that the instruments are flying in the second and third highest layers of the atmosphere. That's higher than airplane and weather balloon flights, so you'd need a rocket to get that high! Just by knowing this little mnemonic, I can imagine where the experiment is taking place.

  • Reread and persist
  • Sometimes, you make new connections after the second or third time. This happens especially after you read other sources or look up new definitions.

  • Try to explain it to others
  • Just like having a research goal, having to teach others forces you to bring all those abstract ideas down to a practical level. There's also that cliche that you remember 90% of what you teach. You can do this by having conversations, writing blog posts, making an infographic, or making your own Dummy's guide. Just be sure that you don't end up over-simplifying concepts or "dumbing down" the information. From my experience, the most complex concepts and still be accurately communicated to the average person as long as you elaborate enough and include appropriate comparisons. There may be technical details that you omit because they aren't relevant to understanding the purpose and implications of the research.

    Conclusion

    For me, reading scientific papers has been an intellectually humbling experience. It also made me more capable of independent thinking. Because of this, I think that proponents of scientific literacy should encourage students to read scientific papers from the databases instead of second-hand from scientific articles or pop science books. Students can benefit by overcoming their intimidation of science, and they can make more informed decisions about their health, environmental policies, and scientific funding. At the very least, it's one way to show off your education to friends and family members.

    Wednesday, July 6, 2016

    Estimate Compile Time on Computer

    Windows gives a time estimate for downloads, but not for backups or any other compiling process. For me, having a time estimate is convenient because it helps me schedule downloads and allows me to check on my computer less often. Lately, I have been trying to convert a virtual hard drive on Virtualbox to another format. It takes hours, and my patience gets shorter every time I try to check on it every 30 minutes. Luckily I've found a very simple method for estimating compiling time. Now, you can easily calculate how long it will take a backup to complete, convert a file to another format, import a file into a program, and anything else you can think of.

      Steps

    1. Start the program
    2. Look up program in Task Manager
    3. Wait a couple of minutes and record the highest and lowest speeds under Disk (units: Mb/s)
    4. Find the size of the data you are compiling. You can do this by looking up the file in File Explorer
    5. If necessary, convert size of data to MB (1GB = 1024 MB)
    6. Divide the size of data by the highest and lowest speeds. This will give you the maximum and minimum estimates in seconds
    7. Take the average of the two times, then convert to hours. Now you have the average estimate
    That's all there is to it! The last time I used this estimate, the actual time was close to the estimate. I just tried this method and the range of compiling time estimates was 20 minutes. The compiling finished just two minutes shy of the maximum estimate. So, it's probably best to schedule any compiling processes around the high estimates you get.