HAIL The Satanic Temple

When I grew up in Utah, every public middle and high school had a Mormon seminary building in close proximity. (Often right next door.) Once a week, Mormon students were excused from class to leave the school property and go study their religion at “Seminary.”

Not being a member of the LDS faith, I never got to participate in this “release program.” As far as I, and the rest of the “gentiles” could tell, the religious training consisted of social activities, field trips, and preparation for becoming a Mormon Missionary.

LDS Seminary’s sociological impact was (and as far as I know, still is) an institutional form of indoctrination for insiders, and systematic identification, exclusion, and social isolation of outsiders.

As a childless adult, I didn’t know that in the years since my schooling, the Mormon model of “release time religious instruction” has spread across the country. But I am pleased to learn that The Satanic Temple is introducing an alternative program of public school religious training: The Hellion Academy of Independent Learning (HAIL).

The HAIL program is available in any school district who already has release time religious instruction in place. For more information about it, see the newsletter announcement. I almost wish I had a child in the Utah school system so that I could lead the charge to bring HAIL to my old hometown.

If you’re not familiar with the work of The Satanic Temple, see their website. Briefly, they are a brave organization that utilizes the tactics of Christian fanaticism to advance the cause of personal freedom and science. They are worthy of your support.


The secret to reliable remote control of your smart home

As I’ve described here and in my classic book on home automation, Smart Home Hacks, no system is flawless. But ff you’re depending on your automations to control and monitor your home while you’re traveling, there is an easy, albeit messy, way to help you recover when communication failures inevitably occur.

There are, most commonly, three things that can cause the dreaded “offline” response from your remote home: crashes, software updates, and ISP disruptions. For now, let’s focus on the first two.

Aside from egregious and user-hostile automatic updates, such as those deployed by Hue, failed communications can often be resumed by rebooting the uncooperative device. But if your home automation system is offline, how do you reboot it from afar? The answer is the strategic deployment of a redundant control mechanism.

First, figure out which components of your system are either critical, such as cameras, or linchpins that affect other devices, such as hubs. Each of these components should be plugged into a power switch that you can control independently of your home automation system.

For example, I have a HomePod mini that serves as the automation hub for my system. If the HomePod stops operating correctly, my entire HomeKit network is no longer controllable. If the error is bad enough, another hub on the network will take over (an Apple TV, for example). But it’s possible for the HomePod to be operating normally, except for accepting remote commands. (This is a real-world example, which happened to me after the iOS 16.1 software update.) That’s why my HomePod is plugged into a Wemo switch. See the photo below, where I’m using a bulky first-gen Wemo switch that I’ve had for over a decade.

homepod mini and a wemo switch gordon meyer

Using this permits to me to turn off power to the HomePod via Wemo’s independent remote control system. Then, after waiting a few minutes, I turn the Wemo switch back on, which restarts the HomePod and (hopefully) resolves the problem.

In addition to Wemo, some other devices that provide independent remote control that I’ve used are Meross and Switchbot. It gets a little pricey to add a $20+ switch to each of your critical devices, but the peace of mind it provides is worth it, and if you need to use it, you’ll be glad to have it.

Of course, if your Internet connection is down, you won’t be able to reach the independent devices either. So, in a future post, I’ll describe what I use to reboot my network automatically when it goes offline.


How to easily turn off annoying Ulysses features

The Ulysses app was once a paragon of minimalist, distraction-free writing. But since they have gone to a subscription model (which I don’t begrudge at all), they apparently feel pressure to regularly add features. Many of these additions have degraded the soul of the app and, frankly, will soon drive me to adopt another application.

The two additions that I find most egregiously annoying are the “Markup Bar,” and the “Counter.” The former displays text-formatting shortcuts, the latter shows word count. Both intrude on the writing space and, here’s the shitty part, can’t be permanently turned off.

I have filed bugs with the company that Counter and Markup Bar default to turned on for new documents, and also any new view of an existing document. These bugs were confirmed by Ulysses Tech Support, but after several new versions of the app, they still have not been fixed. I don’t know what’s going on at Ulysses GmbH & Co., but they have lost sight of their north star.

The only workaround is to use the Keyboard Maestro macro that I’m sharing below. The next time you’re writing in Ulysses and one of these stupid features raises its head, run this macro to immediately turn off both of them again. I’ll keep it updated to disable any new annoyances they add in the future. The best way to configure this macro is to have it active only when Ulysses is front-most.

Download from GitHub

Ulysses bs macro


Book Review: Existential Physics

This book by Sabine Hossenfelder is subtitled “A Scientist’s Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions.” It’s an interesting and refreshing approach to the seemingly impossible “facts” that others are offering about quantum mechanics. One of the great characteristics about this book is that Hossenfelder fearlessly identifies, and describes in clear detail, situations which science currently does not, and probably never will, prove or disprove. (Which is actually quite a big swath of the assertions you hear about the quantum world.)

Technical writers, of which science writing is a subset, don’t get a lot of love or praise. (Ahem.) But Hossenfelder deserves such, as this book is a gem of the genre. One of her very humane tactics is to include a chapter-concluding section called “The Brief Answer.” Instead of wading through all the details, skipping ahead to this summary makes the Big (but Less Interesting) Questions a lot more approachable. Because, frankly, some of them intrigued me more than others. For example, I devoured “Does the Past Still Exist,” but jumped to the brief answer for “Are You Just a Bag of Atoms.”

Here just a few of the notes I took:

  • Sociologist Steve Fuller claims that academics use incomprehensible terminology to keep insights sparse and thereby more valuable.
  • Science and religion have the same roots, and still today they tackle some of the same questions. (Indeed!)
  • Demarcating the current limits of science helps us recognize that some beliefs are not unscientific, but rather, ascientific.
  • “In the end, I hope you will find comfort in knowing that you do not need to silence rational thought to make space for hope, belief, and faith.”
  • Measurement in quantum mechanics destroys information for good. Other than that, and also black hole evaporation, information can’t be destroyed. Once someone dies, information about their unique ways, wisdom, and kindness becomes irretrievable and disperses quickly. But if you trust the math, the information is still there, somewhere, somehow, spread out over the universe but preserved forever. “It might sound crazy, but it’s compatible with all we currently know.”
  • In an interview with Tim Palmer, he and the author discuss how scientists who ridicule religion might alienate youngsters who would otherwise consider scientific pursuits. Science and belief are not always incompatible.
  • You can find many different diagnoses on death certificates, but those are just details. What really kills us is entropy increase.
  • Penrose’s conformed cyclic cosmology sounds a lot like Vishnu’s cycle of creating and destroying the universe. And Penrose’s theory is compatible with current scientific knowledge.
  • For the first time ever, I feel like I understand why the past, present, and future simultaneously exist, and there is no “now.”
  • Much of the supposed weirdness of quantum mechanics just comes from forcing it into everyday language. (See previous bullet point.)
  • Saying what’s beyond what we can observe is purely a matter of belief. If it cannot be observed, claiming it exists is ascientific, as is claiming it doesn’t exist. Don’t pretend that either of those is science. (Paging James Randi!)
  • Religion matters to people in a way that science does not. The two are “non-overlapping magisteria” and according to many people, science is too cold, technocratic, and unhumanly rational.

I bought my copy of the book at Barbara’s Bookstore, but you can also find it at the Amazon.



Book Review: A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century

My parents taught me to always “clean my plate” at meal times. That is, you should eat all that you’ve been given.

“Please clean your plate dear, the lord above can see ya. Don’t you know people are starving in Korea?” — Alice Cooper, Generation Landslide

Intentionally or not, for my whole life I’ve adopted that same attitude towards reading books. Oh, I have plenty of books in my library that I haven’t read (in re tsundoku), but once I begin reading one, I feel obligated to finish it.

That is, until this book. Written by “Heather Heyring and her partner Bret Weinstein, it is subtitled “Evolution and the Challenges of Modern Life.” That intriguing premise, and the cool cover (yes, I know) made it seem like something I’d enjoy. I was mistaken.

I won’t belabor the point, as based on other online reviews and the vitriol expressed towards the authors, I don’t need to overly justify my viewpoint. (Unfortunately, I learned about all this after I had purchased the book.) I’ll only add that while the authors might be smart biologists, when it comes to sociology, anthropology, and technology they are sadly lacking in sophistication.

But as is my practice, here are a few points that stood out for me:

  • “…culture exists in service to the genes. Long-standing cultural traits are as adaptive as eyes, leaves, or tentacles.”
  • The authors insist on using WEIRD as an acronym for societies which are “Western nations, with highly Educated populace, an Industrialized economic base, and are Rich and Democratic. That they labored so hard to make this derisive naming work will tell you a lot about their mindset.
  • “…the methods and language of science are imitated by institutions and systems not engaged in science, such that the resulting efforts are generally not scientific at all. Not only do we see words like theory and analysis wrapped around distinctly untheoretical (sic) and unanalyzed (and often unanalyzable) ideas, but — worse — we see the rise of a kind of fake numeracy, in which anything that can be counted is, and once you have the measurement, you tend to forgo all further analysis.”
  • don’t mistake identifying an effect for understanding an effect
  • REM sleep is the creative stage of rest

I stopped reading the book after one too many Jesus references, assertions about males being inherently dominant and females naturally submissive, and a statement that gender dysphoria is caused by endocrine disruptors in our environment. Skimming ahead, the latter half of the books seems filled with platitudes (“smile more”), glib advice (“sit around campfires with your family”), and, sadly, anti-vax bullshit.

Typically, when I’m finished with a book, I’ll donate it to a local Little Free Library so that others can enjoy it. This one is going straight into the trash.