Skeptigator

Icon

Aggregating Skeptical Thought

What is RSS?

This is the first in a series of posts for FreeThought Fort Wayne to assist its members (and readers) in being able to get the most out of their internets.

Who is this for?

You’ve probably heard the term RSS before but haven’t been able to get any clear direction or information on what it is exactly. This first post will be dedicated to the non-geeks out there. You know who you are and I won’t hold it against you ūüėČ I will publish a second half of this discussion that will delve a little deeper into some advanced features of RSS, despite how simple RSS really is there is an incredible amount of power in the protocol.¬†

What is RSS?

Any good discussion of RSS would be missing something if it didn’t at a minimum discuss what the abbreviation RSS stands for. RSS currently means Really Simple Syndication and there is a reason for this rather untechnical name. You’d expect RSS to mean Robot Super Scripting or include some kind of Star Trek reference but you’d be disappointed (or not).¬†
The idea behind RSS is to provide a standard and universal way in which to describe and distribute content. I use the term “Content” very deliberately because RSS can be used for just about anything on the web such as web site articles, news articles, blog posts, podcasts, advertising and even weather updates. Virtually any kind of information you want to distribute via the Internet can be “packaged” into an RSS feed and distributed to anybody with an RSS reader.¬†
The name can be broken down to describe exactly what RSS does. First, for the Syndication part, think of syndication like TV. When a show like Seinfeld is in PrimeTime, the timeslot and advertisers are tightly controlled, however when its sold for syndication a network like the CW or WGN can air the syndicated Seinfeld episodes whenever they want with whatever advertisers they can get. When an organization like the New York Times decides to “syndicate” their articles on the web via an RSS feed they are largely giving up the ability to decide when that content can be “aired”. If I have an RSS reader (which is nothing more than application or website that knows how to read RSS feeds) I can get to that content whenever and¬†wherever¬†I like.¬†
The “Really Simply” part of RSS means that the way in which the content (i.e., articles, blog posts) are described is pretty basic. In fact, if you were “look under the hood”; RSS includes a title, description, website link and some basic information about the publisher of the content. That’s it!
With such basic information you can put just about anything into that like the following (all information is made up):
Publisher: CarReviews.com
Item #1
Title: 2009 Hyundai Sonata Limited
Description: This is a very nice car, yada, yada, yada. Gratuitous Seinfeld reference.
Date: 8/1/2008
Item #2
Title: 2009 Toyota Prius
Description: You might not be sure if you are driving a car or toaster but it gets great mileage.
Date 7/30/2008
The above example says that the Publisher of this feed (CarReviews.com) can be found at http://www.carreviews.com and that they have 2 items in their RSS feed, Item #1 describes a 2009 Hyundai Sonata and Item #2 describes a 2009 Toyota Prius. Imagine using that same format for describing a news article at the New York Times:
Publisher: The New York Times
Website: nytimes.com
Item #1
Title: Obama unveils his housing stimulus package in Phoenix, AZ
Description: yada, yada, yada
Date: 02/19/2009
So even though RSS is a “web” thing it can be used to describe pretty much anything. I say “pretty much” because there’s probably something out there but I can’t think of anything that can’t be described but I’ve been drinking and well, you know…
 
What do you mean RSS Feed? Or RSS Reader?
I’ve touched on them a bit earlier but to be specific an “RSS Feed” ¬†(or simply “feeds” or “news feeds”) is a list of items (like our car reviews above) with some information about who is publishing those items. An “RSS Reader” is a stand-alone program (like Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes) or a webpage (like¬†NetVibes,¬†Google Reader, Bloglines), either way it’s simply a program or website that can translate an RSS feed into something that is easily readable by you and me. RSS Readers are also referred to as Aggregators or News Readers.¬†
As an example, click on the NetVibes link (http://www.netvibes.com) and fill out the little bit of information they want to know like your city and your interests and they will generate an entire website of information. The website they generate in my opinion is crazy and chaotic but every single bit of information was generated as a result of an RSS Feed. In fact, it’s fair to say that NetVibes.com is an entire website of RSS feeds and that it is one big RSS Reader. I show you this not to scare you ( or give you a seizure) but to show you what can be done and all the different kinds of information that can be syndicated, like stock tickers, youtube and vimeo videos, Wired.com articles and Google calendars, Oh! and the current weather.¬†
Now that we have talked about the “idea” of RSS and some ways in which it’s used, i.e., syndicating car reviews or articles on nytimes.com, as well as some common terminology that you might find out there on the Internet, ¬†let’s talk about how to use these things.¬†
How to use RSS?
128px-feed-iconsvgBefore you can use RSS you have to be able to find an RSS feed. Any decent website, blog or podcast will very clearly label their feed. It will be labeled as “Subscribe to our feed” or “Subscribe via RSS” or simply “Subscribe” (like FreeThoughtFortWayne.org, look in the upper right hand part of the webpage). Often times the RSS feed will be identified by an orange icon with white “radio” waves (See the image to the right).
Most RSS Readers that you use will ask you to setup new RSS Feeds. To setup a feed you will need to copy the URI (or URL) of the RSS feed into their program.This is usually the address in your web browser (see below).
Using Google Reader as an example, in order to “subscribe” I have to type in the URL (website address) of an RSS feed to subscribe to it.¬†
So to subscribe to the RSS Feed for The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast I will need to type in the following URL:
http://www.theskepticsguide.org/feed/rss.aspx?feed=SGU (to find this URL go to http://www.theskepticsguide.org and click on the “Subscribe via RSS” link)
Another great example is the news site for the BBC. I’m an avid watcher of BBC news. I don’t watch FoxNews (optionally Faux News) or even MSNBC or CNN. I watch the BBC. When I want to see the “high level” news for the day I go to the website¬†http://news.bbc.co.uk/. And what do you think I see in the upper-right hand corner of their website? You guessed it, our familiar “orange icon” from above and the words “News Feed”. When you click on the icon or link it opens the current news feed. Here’s what it looks like right now using Apple’s Safari web browser
untitled1
So to take advantage of RSS feeds like the Top News from the BBC, sign up for a webpage like BlogLines.com or Google Reader and begin finding blogs, websites and news organizations you want to get information from. Make sure once ¬†you have found an RSS Reader you like ¬†such as BlogLines and “subscribe” to the various websites URL’s.
Why Use RSS Feeds?
Actually that’s a good question. If I can just go to the NY Times or the BBC or the FreeThought Fort Wayne blog, why bother with all the complication of an RSS feed and something to read it with on top of all that? The question you ask actually highlights the very reason why RSS feeds are increasingly popular. How often do you just go to 2 or 3 websites? After all your question asks about 2 or 3 websites (the NYTimes, BBC and FreeThought Fort Wayne). What happens when you want to know about new articles on 43 different websites*? Now you are talking about a bit of a headache aren’t you?
What an RSS feed and a subsequent RSS Reader allows you to do is tp subscribe to multiple (and many) websites and quickly go through the articles for only those stories that interest you. I love Slate.com but they publish 100 articles a day. Without some mechanism to filter or quickly list recent content there’s no way I would be able to stay on top of the most interesting (to me) content being published.
Another option is the ability to save “searches” in various search engines. For example, I frequently search Google for the following, “Fort Wayne” and “Skeptic” (or “atheism” or “humanist”). I basically want to know anytime Google sees a news article that combines Fort Wayne and the word Skeptic (or Atheist or Humanism). This is a tedious task to type this information into Google on a daily basis. What if I could save my search criteria and with the click of a button perform that search. What if I could simply open an RSS feed that automatically lists the search results? That would be really cool. Guess what!? Subscribe to the following URLs and they do just that.¬†
Conclusion
There is really nothing inherently scary about RSS. It’s just a very easy way to share any kind of information. RSS is largely seen as a “web” thing but it’s really not. In my professional career we use RSS as a way to universally (and securely) share information between the company I work for and our clients. What I find most ironic about RSS is that for many getting information via a website is “cutting edge” but for many in the business world that is “so 2005”. If I can’t provide our client’s data in RSS we are really behind the times.
* I personally subscribe to 43 different RSS feeds. That includes all saved Google searches, blogs, news feeds and podcasts. And in all honesty I’m not really tyring. There’s really a lot of content being generated by various blogs, etc. that I’m just not taking advantage of.
Advertisements

Filed under: Atheism, Internet, Skeptic, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Geert Wilder’s Fitna (strife) released

Something that continues to fascinate me since hearing of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s life is Dutch politics. In recent weeks a “right-wing” Dutch politician, Geert Wilder, has produced a short film, called Fitna (the word strife in arabic). It portrays Islam in a rather negative light. Actually it’s pretty blunt about the problems with Islam within a democratic, pluralistic society. Ok, fine, it’s actually a bit Michael Moore in its portrayal of Islam. Like Michael Moore’s filmmaking, the truth is all in how you tell the story, or put that story together. Each individual part can be true but when put together it may not tell the whole picture.

Geert Wilder’s Fitna, basically says that Islam is a religion of hate. One could certainly make that argument (and he does) but I wonder if his approach, a) won’t change anybodies mind and b) will likely get him killed. Of course, if a muslim kills him it only goes to reinforce the point, but still. As a film, it’s more like a PowerPoint presentation. The Hirsi Ali/Van Gogh film, Submission Part 1, was much more artisticly done.

Here is the only English Version link I could find, http://www.liveleak.com/e/7d9_1206624103, and WordPress doesn’t let me embed from there (at least I can’t figure it out).

Edit: Ooh, originally it looked like YouTube were going to be a bunch of chicken shits (like Network Solutions) but here it is.

Double Edit: Guess what? YouTube are a bunch of chicken shits. These videos don’t work anymore, I’ll see what I can do to get them from BitTorrent and then post them for good. Ah, Google Video to the rescue (ironic that Google Video has it but YouTube, owned by Google, won’t play it).

Filed under: Atheism, Internet, Religion, , , , , , ,

Don’t be a Dick

I need to rant and since none of my family knows about this blog (except the wife, who will yell at me for posting this) I feel safe in ranting about them. This is specifically about a family member who has become religious and recently joined the Catholic Church.¬† We’ll call him Dick (seems appropriate).

1) We (and most of my wife’s family) recently attended Dick’s confirmation in the Catholic Church. It was 3 freakin’ hours long but we were there to support him so that’s not my issue. My issue is that at the end of the service (which did I mention was in hour 3 @ 10:00 at night) they were doing communion. Dick’s brother, a practicing Protestant, went forward to take Communion and was BLOCKED from attending communion by Dick, because he wasn’t a Catholic and therefore unable to take communion*.

He was BLOCKED from taking part in a ritual affirming the divinity of Jesus and therefore in some small¬†part BLOCKED from his own god, simply because he was “Them” and not an “Us”. What kind of arrogant, assbaggery is involved in Dick’s thought process. He later justified it by saying he stopped his brother because of how much “reverence the Church has for communion”. Oh, that makes sense… WTF? What does that even fucking mean?

Needless to say Dick’s brother was pissed but he blew if off and chose not to make a scene during Dick’s special day (all 3 freakin’ hours of it, not sure if I mentioned that).

2) Second, another Dick story. Since I’m venting I might as well let it all out. My wife was speaking with Dick on the phone about their father. Somehow in the conversation Dick thought my wife was talking about me (little ole’ heathen Skeptigator) being depressed, instead of their father. Dick proceeds to tell my wife that he can understand why I would be depressed since I don’t believe in God and therefore don’t have any reason for living my life. He actually said that, wait, let me bold that, ok done. Again my question stands, what kind of arrogant, assbaggery is involved in Dick’s thought process?

You know, Dick, if YOU don’t have a reason to live your life without an imaginary dictator in the sky, fine. But don’t tell ME I don’t have a reason for living my life, OK?….Dick. I have a gorgeous loving wife, and 2 of the most beautiful children on the planet (that’s an actual established fact).

You can pin a lot of this arrogance and Dick-ish behavior on Dick but let’s be honest. #1 is built-in to many religions, not the least of which is the Catholic church. So in all honesty Dick was being intellectually honest in his blocking of his brother’s access to their supposedly shared god. #2 is way too common among the masses. I’ve seen this exact statement made in other places but never thought it was more than hyperbole. How naive am I? Oh and to the religious who read this, most of you don’t comment but I do get emails. Before you tell me that this is not “True Christianity” or Dick isn’t living a Christ-like life, at least,¬†read Matthew 15:22-28. I know the apologetics and I don’t buy it for a second, a dog is dog, the translation is correct, even if you take dog = pet approach it’s still an insult showing Jesus preference was to the Jews (or again just the disciples, depending on apologetic).

¬†* I understand that there are rules for allowing non-Catholics to take communion, some kind of blessing or something, either way, it’s not the point.

ETA: Credit for the updated title goes to hoverFrog.

Filed under: Atheism, Religion, ,

Christopher Hedges doesn’t believe in atheists

Somehow I missed this really good interview with Christopher Hedges the author of American Fascists, a¬†scathing attack on the Religious Right in America, about his new work I Don’t Believe in Atheists.

Christopher Hedges has debated by Dawkins and Hitchens,

I haven’t read the new book but it’s now on my evergrowing and seemingly never shrinking list of books to read. In his debates, watch the youtube video to see an example of this, his primary criticism is that there is this belief among the New Atheists, or Secular Fundamentalists as he calls them, is that once you remove religion the world will be great and that Religion was holding us back. And I have to agree that that criticism is legitimate in the sense that that does seem to be the way many of the New Atheists arguments seemed to get boiled down to. In addition, if you simply replace Religion with Atheism as the new set of “moral” standards you have essentially replaced something (religion) with a nothing (atheism)¬†and therefore that criticism stands as well.

What I think perhaps Christopher Hedges best illustrates is that many of the New Atheists arguments are “against” religion but not specifically “for” anything and therefore leave a whole that must be filled. I personally think that is a legitimate criticism. There is a basis for morality or at least a basis for how we determine that morality.

What I anticipate happening in the coming years is a flood of books by authors whole we be dubbed as the New Moralists or New Philosphers. These books will actually put forward in laymen’s terms the basis for a new morality which anybody who reads this stuff will recognize as simply Humanism or some variant of it. These books will also come under attack as well but for different reasons. These new books will actually make “positive statements of belief” that can be directly attacked as opposed to the current batch of books whose “negative statements of belief” are really just attacks themselves. Of course, you will also have these new beliefs attacked as being morally relativistic however the current books by the New Atheists do a pretty good job of showing religions, particularly Christianity, are morally relativistic as well, although the phrase “subject to interpretation” is more appropriate, such as the rights of women, slavery and racism.

I think Hedges makes some great arguments that I hope some of the New Atheists and others will take to heart and¬† move the debate forward away from the irrational basis of religion and towards this so called “New Enlightenment”.

Filed under: Atheism, Internet, Politics, , , , , , ,

The true meaning of Islam, Submission Part 1

Since I just posted on Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book Infidel I thought I would provide a link to the short film that her and Theo van Gogh created, called Submission, Part I. It is a damning commentary on muslim attitudes towards women. The video was so inflammatory that it ended up getting Theo van Gogh killed.

If you read Infidel this short film will have so much more power for you. You will also have a better understanding why this film pissed off so many muslims (the truth hurts).

Filed under: Atheism, Internet, Politics, Religion, , , , ,

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel, A Review

Now that my work and a number of side jobs have slowed down in the last week or so I have been able to work my way through the backlog of books that I have been itching to read. My latest book was Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel.

Wow, wow, wow. I am utterly blown away about this book. I read it in two evenings and obviously couldn’t put it down. I was so engrossed in this other world. And let’s be honest she came from an entirely different world that Westerners like myself could hardly dare imagine.

There are a zillion reviews of the book so I’m not going to bore anyway with the same review, here’s the¬†NY Times review. I actually don’t want to talk about the usual things that a reviewer might such as genital mutilation, refugees, immigration politics,¬†islamic fundamentalism or honor killings.

I do want to talk about something that stuck out to me, the almost total lack of coverage in the U.S. of what was happening in the Netherlands over the last 5-7 years. We have been wall-to-wall coverage of WMDs and Iraq and Iran and Iraq and Britney Spears and Iraq and Eliot Spitzer and Britney Spears and Iraq and the 2008 elections. During all of this there was this major shift in Dutch politics, political upheaval surrounding Islam and a significant and growing muslim population in the Netherlands.

For years, the Dutch supported (and continue to support) a large refugee population, many from muslim populations. The Dutch went out of there way to accomodate the muslim faith of these refugees, but in that accomodation and tolerance they also¬†facilitated the same isolation and lack of integration that inevitably plagues a large immigrant population. Even worse this immigrant population harbored a cultural hatred for the very country and Western culture that was signing their welfare checks. Here’s a rather lengthy quote from the book,

In those days, especially in Labor Party circles, people were always positive about Islam. If Muslims wanted mosques and separate graveyards and ritual slaughterhouses, such things were built. Community centers were provided. Islamic fundamentalist ideas were swelling in such centers, but Labor Party people usually dismissed this as a natural reaction. These immigrants had been uprooted, they said; they were clinging temporarily, to traditional ideas, which would gradually fade away. They forgot how long it had taken Europe to shake off obscurantism and intolerance, and how difficult that struggle was.

When Somalis told me they didn’t want to live in gaalo neighborhoods, I knew they wanted to avoid contact with the ungodliness of Holland. But Dutch officials always saw it as a natural desire to form a community. When Muslims wanted their own school, I saw it as forcing children to obey ideas unquestioningly; the Dutch saw no harm in funding them. When satellite dishes began bristling from every apartment in municipal housing projects, tuned to Moroccan and Turkish TV, my Labor Party colleagues saw this as a natural desire to maintain contact with home.

But with the dishes came preaching, indoctrination. There were door-to-door preachers passing out cassettes in most Dutch cities… Most migrant neighborhoods had shops selling traditional clothes and carpets and tapes, DVDs, and books on how¬†to be a good Muslim in infidel territory. When the number of women wearing headscarves on the street became impossible to ignore, my Labor Party colleagues thoght it was only recent immigrants, who would soon abandon the practice. They failed to realize that it was the second generation, who were rediscovering their “roots,” brainwashed by jargon I recognized: tawheed, kufr, the evil Jews.

Unfortunately at the same time that the U.S. was bombing Iraq back into the Stone Ages, the Dutch people were being confronted with a culture seemingly still stuck in the Stone Ages right in their backyards. And Ayaan Hirsi Ali played a significant role in bringing this other culture into the light, and to borrow the metaphor, evil cowers from the light.

I won’t go into the details but Ayaan tried to convince the Labor Party that there were things happening in this muslim population that were completely and utterly outside of the moral values of the Dutch culture that harbored them. Ayaan eventually got herself elected to the Dutch parliament where she was able to bring these issues into the public square.

One issue that Ayaan wanted to bring to the light were the honor killings that were taking place in Holland every year. And here’s the important lesson, instead of posturing, politicking or going on an endless “trust me it’s happening” campaign she did what any good scientist or skeptic would do. She was able to get 2 of the 25 Dutch police precincts to simply document how many murders were considered “honor killings”. This was significant because previously the police weren’t allowed to document that information for fear of “stigmatizing” a population. After a mere 6 months or so, 11 girls, many teenagers, were documented as having been killed as a result of an honor killing. 11 girls in 6 months from only 2 of 25 precincts. This horrified the Dutch people.

The Dutch people were being confronted with the reality that their religious tolerance which had worked so successfully with the native Catholic, Protestant and Secular populations was utterly failing them. In one respect they were maintaining the value of religious tolerance while unwittingly withholding the value of individual liberty and freedom from women and children.

Ayaan Hirsi realized that the only way to bring freedom to half this immigrant population was for the Dutch to actually pursue integration. Not necessarily forced integration but at least stop funding so many of the self-segregationist policies that the Muslim community was creating, such as separate Muslim schools. She also later on convinced the Liberal Party (which could be loosely compared to Republicans here in the States but that would be unfair to the Liberal Party) to provide separate residence papers to women brought to Holland by legal immigrants,¬†it wasn’t easy but she sold it by,

“…talking about the women themselves brought to Holland by men they barely know, after arranged marriages, beaten until they ended up in the hospital, but who cannot file for divorce because if they did, they would have to leave Holland and return to their families, where they would be punished. The motion was passed by a majority of the parties in Parliament, although we had to do without the Christian Democrat’s vote. (So much for brotherly love.)”

Ok so that last part might have been a cheap shot but they so deserved it. I admire her restraint.

¬†And perhaps most disturbing of all is that there was little if any coverage of any of this here in the States. I remember Pim Fortuyn being shot and killed but he was portrayed as some kind of xenophobic, right-wing, neo-fascist. That guy was more liberal than Hillary Clinton. I am sorry I didn’t know any of this was going on. I am the typical Ameri-centric citizen after all.

I could go on and on (and it looks like I already have) but I did want to leave you with some more information.

Here’s Christopher Hitchens thoughts on the Dutch treatment of Ayaan (her citizenship was revoked while still serving in Parliament, seriously, I couldn’t possibly make it up)

Interview with Ayaan at ReasonOnline.com

Lengthy article over at the Washington Post

and, of course, her personal website.

Filed under: Atheism, Politics, Religion, , , , , , ,

Freethought Fort Wayne website

I have recently begun to participate in a local (Fort Wayne, Indiana) freethought group affiliated with the Center for Inquiry – Indianapolis chapter of that august skeptical and freethinking society known simply as CFI. They have an excellent podcast, Point of Inquiry, check out info in my cleverly named Ear Food page.

As one of my official acts within the group is the coordination and setup of new website, FreethoughtFortWayne.org. It is essentially a blog but we will get things setup so that you can quickly find meeting times and places, various group activities and most importantly read what’s on our minds.

There are currently 3 authors (including yours truly) but I imagine there will be many more over time. I would suggest you set their blog up in your favority RSS reader and enjoy.

Filed under: Atheism, Internet, , , ,

Atheism: The Case Against God

I have FINALLY finished reading George Smith’s seminal work Atheism: The Case Against God. I say finally because this book is a very substantial work and I don’t recommend you read it while you are sleepy because I could barely get 3 pages into it before nodding off.

When you read this you will clearly see that a lot of the ideas captured in this book have found there way into the books of the “New Atheists”. What isn’t touched on in this book is fundamentalist Islam (I think that might be redundant). Clearly this book is a product of it’s time 1978 I believe. Christianity is clearly the default theistic religion that George Smith atheistic beliefs attempt to counter.

I have spent several weeks chewing through this book which is unusual for anyone who knows me since I am a very fast reader. It took so long becuase I had to reread several sections to really understand what he was trying to say or how he was attempting to connect several different concepts together. The book is clearly written by a philosopher and I think he does a good job of writing this to the lay person but there’s only so much you can do with the subject matter.

If you are looking for the philosophical underpinnings of Sam Harris’ book End of Faith or a more in-depth treatise on atheism that Dawkins or Hitchens’ books don’t go then this is your book.

Filed under: Atheism, Religion, Reviews, , , , , , ,

End of Faith & it’s little cousin

I completed reading Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation several weeks ago but found that it was very short (only about 100 pages) and that if I wanted to better understand Harris’ position I should read his longer and more in-depth book End of Faith.

End of Faith definitely has more meat than it’s little cousin. I especially enjoyed his discussions regarding¬†the ethics of torture. Often when I read articles or interviews with Sam Harris he mentions yoga or meditation. He clearly finds value in this and mentions it regularly¬†and¬†End of Faith¬†and Letter to a Christian Nation are no exception.

Both of these books have been on my list for quite some time and I have finally taken the time to read them. They are well worth a read if you enjoy Dawkins and Hitchens, his books have the same tone and essentially the same kind of content.

If you are looking for a Reader’s Digest version of End of Faith read Letter to a Christian Nation.

Filed under: Atheism, Religion, Reviews, , ,

Where have I been?

Long story short, it’s that time of year, plus work has been busy, very busy.

However, what little intertoob time I get for myself I’ve been spending over at FriendlyChristian.com. I find it very stimulating, why don’t you take a gander. hee hee gander. Anyway, the guy who runs it approaches his Christianity in a very open way. I think what he is doing by bringing atheists and christians together must be a challenge to him. I wish him the best of luck especially with my snarky comments.

I would also recommend you get involved with his forums especially if you are a Christian although I would be curious as to how you came across my blog.

Filed under: Atheism, Internet, Religion, ,

RSS del.icio.us

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.