Do this: Right now, take out your smartphone (presuming you use one that runs iOS or Android.)  Go to your app store of choice (or just follow this link) and install an app called Signal.  It’s free.  It costs you nothing.  But one day, it may help you in ways you cannot yet foresee.

Signal is a privacy and security app that replaces your built-in SMS/text message software.  It seamlessly handles your text messages for you, just like you’re used to now.  But as an added bonus, it automatically encrypts texts that you send to other Signal users.  The software uses end-to-end encryption to ensure nobody can eavesdrop on your texts.  That includes the people who make the software, the NSA, the FBI, the phone company, your tricky hacker kids, the people sniffing your wi-fi at the Starbucks, and everyone else in the world.  It means you can rest assured your private communications STAY PRIVATE.

In addition to encrypted texts, you can also use Signal to make encrypted phone calls, video calls, and picture messages.  It’s open-source, so it’s been peer-reviewed by the cybersecurity community.  It’s dead simple; easy enough that anyone can use it effectively.  And did I mention that it’s free?

Look, it’s 2017.  Donald Trump is going to be inaugurated as President of the United States on Friday, at which point, the controls of the most sophisticated surveillance apparatus in the entirety of human history will be at the disposal of a thin-skinned, sociopathic demagogue.  18 months from now, you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you you’re asking, “Why didn’t I think of encrypting my communications sooner?”  And even if you’re a straight shooter who never does a single thing wrong, and never wants to privately express controversial opinions, you should still use Signal to secure your communications.  What if you are, or know, a journalist, an activist, or a protester who fears being targeted for retribution or censorship?  What if you need to pass sensitive financial information to your accountant, or your lawyer, or your family?  Are you going to PGP-encrypt your emails?  If you’re like most people the answer is no; PGP-encrypted emails still frustrate even sophisticated techies.  Don’t make it hard on yourself, when Signal is so easy to use.

Edward Snowden recommends using Signal, and he’s the kind of guy who has to worry about assassination attempts by state-level adversaries.  World-renowned security researcher Bruce Schneier recommends it.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation recommends it.  I recommend it.  It costs you nothing, and it could one day protect you from fraud, scams, and theft.  It may one day save your life or the life of someone you care about.  Go install it now.  Seriously.

“Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticizing the views of an opponent?”

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 I’m about 400 pages deep into a book about rationality and improving your cognitive functionality, so I figured, what the heck, let’s look at what contemporary christians think are their most convincing arguments. Also, I was out of horror movies to watch, and I had a few drinks in me.

So the story is essentially thus: A kid is a freshman in college, and signs up for an introductory undergrad philosophy class. The teacher of said class, as he is passing out his syllabus, says that everyone has to sign a piece of paper saying that “God’s Dead”, or else suffer dire consequences. Everyone signs except for our hero, who is then told he has to convince his class of 40 or so kids that god exists, or else he fails (or, as the movie repeatedly insists upon, “commits academic suicide”). Add in a few insipid side stories, and you can imagine how plot goes from there.

I was extremely disappointed in this movie, I have to say. I mean, it’s just a jumble of weird christian fantasies about what they imagine atheists must be like. The epistemology is not just flawed, it’s more like a melange of lousy justifications for a foregone conclusion — oh, gosh, doesn’t the Big Bang theory sound just like the account of creation in Genesis? No? Well, here’s an appeal to authority. Not buying that? Maybe you’d prefer to believe that atheists are all just secretly angry with God. Etc.  It’s like a 90-minute live-action Chick tract.

Every character a caricature. Every plotline a melodrama. And the whole thing ends with all the newly-saved freshmen attending a christian rock concert en masse, where they all text everyone in their phonebooks with the message “God’s Not Dead”. As the credits roll, the audience of the film is encouraged to do the same. Because, you know, get on the bandwagon.  From beginning to end, it’s a cavalcade of bad logic, fallacious reasoning, wishful thinking and offensive stereotypes of all kinds.

But ultimately, it comes down to this: I’ve been in my fair share of undergrad philosophy courses. I’m fairly confident that nobody involved in the making of this movie can say the same thing. Philosophy professors are really, really lousy villains in real life.

“God’s Not Dead” on IMDB.com

Weighing in at more than 1,800 pages, it is quite possibly the most complete tome available on how to improve your mind, make better decisions, and understand why people, including yourself, do what they do. I cannot recommend it more strongly.

Pay-what-you-want version includes DRM-free epub, mobi, and PDF versions. Also available on Amazon for Kindle, etc.

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Rationality: From AI to Zombies by Eliezer Yudkowsky Tweet What does it actually mean to be rational? Not Hollywood-style “rational,” where one rejects all human feeling to embrace Cold Hard Logic — real rationality, of the sort studied by psychologists, social scientists, and mathematicians. The ki…

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Faced with injustice, we’ll try to alleviate it – but, if we can’t, we’ll do the next best thing, psychologically speaking: blame the victims of the injustice

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They Live (1988) Directed by John Carpenter… is that it’s a really easy way to get people to ignore thinking about the ramifications and consequences of the particular situation, focusing their attention instead on the general opprobrium for the principle of order. The mind gets caught thinking about whether laws, in theory, are good on the whole, and forget to think about the ACTUAL ISSUE under question. Some examples:

“We need voter ID in this country to make sure there is no election fraud. Don’t you care about the rule of law in our democracy?”

“We can put up our satanic monument in the state capitol building, because if you let the christians do it, you have to let any other religious groups do it. That’s what the rule of law means!”

“The President’s executive order on immigration is making a mockery of the rule of law by bypassing the will of Congress”

“Those violent protesters really have some good points, but they should respect the rule of law and just let the cops and the justice system do their jobs.”

It’s a handy, general-purpose argument for whenever you want to try to defend the status quo from anyone who’d like to change it.

“Rule of Law” on Wikipedia

“Nothing should be off limits to discussion. No, let me amend that. If you think some things should be off limits, let’s sit down together and discuss that proposition itself. Let’s not just insult each other and cut off all discussion because we rationalists have somehow wandered into a land where emotion is king.”

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Nothing should be off limits to discussion. No, let me amend that. If you think some things should be off limits, let’s sit down together and discuss that proposition itself. Let’s not just insult each other and cut off all discussion because we rati…

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You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy is…

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Excellent web-based e-book discussing modelling cognition probabilistically and generatively.

With live code samples to mess around with to illustrate what they’re talking about.

Extremely interesting stuff, and not too dense. If you’re interested in making or learning about intelligent software, this should keep you busy for a little while.

In this book, we explore the probabilistic approach to cognitive science, which models learning and reasoning as inference in complex probabilistic models. In particular, we examine how a broad range of empirical phenomena in cognitive science (including intuitive physics, concept learning, causal r…

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