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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Self-Education in the Age of the Internet

My friend Wayne made a post on his Facebook Wall earlier today:

Everyone should dedicate one hour to education per day. Yea, go do something useful.

Now, I actually do this already.  I am always looking for documentaries, lectures, debates and whatnot in order to further my understanding of science and of the world in general.  The more I think about it, the more I realize that this is something that everyone should do.  I realize that many people have little free time in their lives, but I say do it anyway.  Learning is the absolute best use of your time, in my opinion, and it has innumerable benefits.

For one thing, learning will challenge your preconceptions.  I can't count how many times I have watched Lawrence Krauss' lecture 'A Universe From Nothing', because it completely changed my perspective on how the Universe actually works.  This has happened to me on a number of occasions, on such topics as cosmology, biology, chemistry, and physics.

Another measurable benefit from daily learning is inspiration.  When you learn more about the world, you expand your imagination to include the new information.  Richard Dawkins once talked about wanting to write a novel based on the idea that a species of human previously thought extinct is found living in seclusion somewhere, and to talk about the differences between the cultures and whatnot.  This (brilliant, I might add) idea could really only have come from a basic understanding of biology and genetics.

Keep in mind that learning does not have to involve a scientific lecture or a documentary.  I also happen to enjoy watching tutorials, how-to's, reviews and the like, particularly with regards to my various hobbies.  For instance, I'm a loud-and-proud Vaper, meaning that I am attempting to quit smoking with the use of a Personal Vaporizer, also known as an Electronic Cigarette.  To help keep me educated on the various devices, accessories, and e-liquids available, I watch a great deal of reviews and how-to videos, as well as the occasional episode of VapeTV.

I'm also interested in miniature wargaming, so I tend to watch unboxing videos, reviews, painting tutorials, battle reports, and industry news for that particular hobby.  Any time I watch a painting tutorial, for instance, I learn something new or I get an idea for one of my projects.

Below I've included a list of some of the sources that I use or have found for self-education.  Where do you go for your daily learning needs?  I would love to hear your opinions :)


Science / Religion:
http://talkorigins.org/ - Evolution and Religion
Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism - AronRa's YouTube Series
'A Universe From Nothing' by Lawrence Krauss - Cosmology and Big Bang Theory
'Growing Up in the Universe' by Richard Dawkins - Series of lectures accessible to children and adults alike
'Cosmos' by Carl Sagan - Television series on lots of difference sciences

Monday, March 21, 2011

One-on-One with Brian Dalton, a.k.a. Mr. Deity

Brian Dalton is the producer/director/main character of the popular web show 'Mr. Deity', a series of web shorts (usually 5 minutes or so) consisting of thought-provoking and hilarious glimpses into the satirical day-to-day life of Elohim, the God of the Bible. Common themes include the origins of good and evil and explanations of why things are 'the way things are'. Visit http://mrdeity.com/ for episodes, swag, and more! If you enjoy the series, the cast and crew would be eternally grateful for donations/subscriptions, which can be done through the above site.

This is my interview with Brian Dalton in its entirety.  I hope that you enjoy it, and please feel free to comment below!

Chris:  Mr. Deity is a unique show as far as I can tell, there isn't anything else quite like it. Can you tell us a little about how you came up with the idea to make a comedy/satire show about 'God’?


Brian:  The initial idea was simply a script I’d written for myself — a musing after the Asian tsunami which wiped out some 250,000 people. As a former theist, I couldn’t any longer imagine a justification for the kind of suffering caused by this “Act of God.” Clearly, there was already enough gratuitous suffering in the world without earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, etc… This is problematic for the believer in an all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful being. So, I wrote what is now known as “Mr. Deity and the Evil (though it wasn’t called that at the time) and passed it around to a few close friends who loved it and thought I should do something with it. After nearly two years of trying to get someone else to play the title role, I finally was convinced by Jimbo (Larry, on the show) to do it myself.


Chris:  You have had some tremendous guest-stars come on the show including Michael Shermer and P. Z. Myers. When you began creating Mr. Deity, did you ever think you would have the opportunity to work with these guys, or that you would be invited to speak at the AAI conference?


Brian:  No. I thought we would be much bigger. I’m kidding (slightly). We’re thrilled to have these people on the show. They always have something interesting to add, and they’re genuinely fun and interesting people to work with. Michael is a personal hero of mine who got me into the Skeptic movement when I left religion. We’ve become friends of sorts over the years and I’m thrilled about my association with him and the Skeptic Society/Skeptic Magazine. P.Z. was great because everyone thinks of him as this rather caustic fellow, always on the attack, but he’s just the biggest, sweetest teddy bear. I’m really grateful that they decided to come on.


Chris:  The character of Timmy (played by Jarrett Kaufman) is the only recurring guest-star so far. Are there plans to bring back some of the other guests on future episodes?


Brian:  We have no plans at this point, but I’d love to have everyone back again.


Chris:  You have mentioned in several of the bonus segments that Mr. Deity is your full-time job. Can you talk a little bit about your film background and some of the work that goes into creating an episode?


Brian:  I made my first (and so far, only) feature-length motion picture back in 2002, and it did really well. The success of that movie (Killing The Dream, a comedy) gave me to confidence to continue. Since then, I’ve worked quite a bit in video production — much of it with Jimbo.
As for the work that goes into Mr. Deity, it’s quite consuming. Most of my time goes into writing the show, which is quite a task. What I’ve discovered is that most writers are always writing in one way or another. Writing is really just thinking, and I almost never stop, which can make sleep a problem.
Then, I have to set-up and light the Mr. Deity set. I know it doesn’t seem like there would be a lot to do, but there’s so much more than you’d imagine — C-Stands, light stands, lights, bulbs, flags, scrims, monitors, cameras, cables, mics, mixers, and just the simple act of moving all the furniture around in our living room (yep, that’s where we shoot it). It’s quite a chore. Then, we’ll generally rehearse the episode for hours before we actually start the cameras rolling. It takes us a solid day of shooting to get it right.
Once the shooting starts we have to deal with media management and ingesting the footage (which I try to do while everyone is still on set, so I can know that I’ve got the shots I need). Then, I spend two to three days editing the show, which also includes color-correcting, audio mixing, titling, etc… Next, I write and perform the begging segment and edit it into the show, after which I have to break down the set and put all the equipment away (my least favorite part). Then I compress the show and upload it to YouTube and our server for Jimbo to post on iTunes.
Finally, I like to stay connected with my audience. So, I follow the YouTube comments, putting in my two cents every now and then, and write to everyone who writes to me directly. All this, along with sending out the DVDs of season three, keeps me pretty busy.


Chris:  The question that so many of my friends have asked: Any plans for mainstream television?


Brian:  We’d love to do that, but I don’t think mainstream television is ready for an openly Atheist show — especially one featuring God Himself.


Chris:  You have talked before about some of the changes/additions that occur during filming of the show, such as cutting the last line of "Mr. Deity and the Promised Land". How much of the show is pre-written and how much is 'ad-libbed' by you or your co-stars?


Brian:  About 95% of the show is written. If one of us comes up with a great line while we’re shooting, it’s integrated. But you really can’t ad-lib this kind of show. Jimbo and Sean don’t have the religious background that I do. So, often, I’m explaining the background of the episode to them and telling them about the relevant scriptural passages. Perhaps if the show were just about our lives or things that happen here in this world we could "wing it." But Mr. Deity is particularly focused on a very specific objective which is all about my view of religion which draws almost exclusively from my religious background.


Chris:  I've noticed that you like to plug books by Atheists/Skeptics/Scientists and whatnot in some of the episodes - are these just personal favorites or is this more of a 'consciousness-raising' effort?


Brian:  Both. I like to throw things in that are relevant. For instance, in “Mr. Deity and the Magic”, I had Lucy reading “The God Delusion.” I did that because the episode was largely inspired by a section in the book and I wanted to send out a little homage to Richard (I can call him that because we’re buddies). But that’s not always the case. I recently had Deity reading Carl Sagan’s “The Demon-Haunted World’, not because the episode had anything to do with that, but because the chapter titled “Science and Hope” is one of my all-time favorite pieces of skeptical literature.


Chris:  Skepticism and Atheism seem to be growing ideas, and YouTube is one of the main vehicles for freethought these days. Do you see a growing trend through sites like YouTube and the internet in general, and do you think that this has had an effect on the success of Mr. Deity?


Brian:  The power of the internet cannot be understated. As I write this, I’m watching Egypt (hopefully peacefully) transition to democracy. And many people believe that sites like Twitter and Facebook are a large part of that. We have not seen an explosion of freedom and information like this since the invention of the printing press. It’s a revolution like no one has seen before. When I left Mormonism back in 1993, the information which compelled me to leave was very hard to come by. Now, whenever I go out to speak, I find other people who have left Mormonism because they were able to access that same information easily on the internet.
Likewise, Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists are finally being heard because they have equal access to a popular medium which is followed closely by young people who are interested in finding things out.
Mr. Deity would not have been possible without the internet. Where would we have been able to get seen and establish the following we have now? It just wouldn’t have been possible.


Chris:  Semi-joke: Which of the 'Four Horsemen' is your personal favorite?


Brian:  This is a really tough question. I love them all. I relate most to Sam Harris. We’re roughly the same age and we have very similar concerns — particularly the need to wrest questions of morality from religion (which has done such a profoundly poor job with right and wrong). Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell” is an enormously enlightening work which does a tremendous job of explaining (sympathetically) the religious impulse. And Dawkins' courage is a huge draw for me. When I introduced him recently at CalTech I said that he is a man with the most valuable type of courage — the courage to inspire courage in others. That’s about the highest compliment I can imagine.
But, if push came to shove, I’d have to go with Hitchens — probably because of his ability and willingness to debate. It’s in debate that you see him in all his glory — his eloquence, the blinding speed of his wit, his vast knowledge and life experience, his ability to say things in a way that is so blunt and devastating that you can’t help but see his point — even if you disagree. I’m also blown away by his writing. To read Hitchens is to be absorbed by the ideas of a man whose love of language is extremely satisfying. His ability to craft a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a book, is unmatched — and that’s really saying something considering the company of the other three who are likewise gifted.



Chris:  Could you tell us a little about how you became involved with the other cast members Jimbo, Sean, and Amy?

Brian:  I’ve known Amy for nearly 23 years. She used to be married to my best friend. So we go back a long way. She’s been involved in every single thing I’ve done having to do with making movies or short films (Mr. Deity included, obviously).
Sean was the lead hunk in my first film, Killing The Dream. He was so good and such a stand-up guy that I couldn’t see doing anything without him. He’s a tremendous actor and now a good friend.
I met Jimbo at the film festival where Killing The Dream won the Grand Jury award. I instantly had street cred with him. He and I started working together shooting video for other people and in a very short time became best friends. Jimbo is one of my all-time favorite people and just seeing his face makes me happy.

Chris:  What has the overall response been, both from the religious and Atheist/Skeptic communities?  Have you gotten any particularly surprising emails or comments?

Brian:  A lot of people thought that I would get hate mail from the religious community. But having been extremely religious myself, I knew the vast majority of religious folks had a good sense of humor and would be able to laugh at this stuff so long as we didn’t cross the line and become offensive for no good reason. That belief has proved true. I’d say about 40% of our audience is religious — based on the emails I get.
I guess the most surprising thing to me is how much my skeptical audience dislikes the episodes that are just pure humor without any real commentary on biblical/religious matters. That doesn’t play well to the core audience, and that sometimes disappoints me.


Chris:  Thanks again for taking the time to answer some questions for Advocating Reality. Keep up the excellent work on the show, and I eagerly await the next episode so that I can get my 'fix' :)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Why be an Atheist Evangelist?

I often question myself when I argue with religious people and other believers in the supernatural - not necessarily my own position, but the manner in which I assert it.  It has been pointed out to me that I tend to be brisk and sarcastic in my arguments.  I agree that this is true, but I think there's more to it than that.

Any time I respond to someone, I read my own post over and over again, often times long after posting it, just to look for any possible holes in my argument and to observe how I responded to particular comments.  Time and time again, I find that the real sarcasm doesn't begin until I start to get exasperated with the same argument over and over again.  I also find that it happens when the other party starts asserting what my beliefs are or makes other assumptions about me or my position.  In short, I keep it to a minimum, but it does happen.

I have always held strong convictions, but for many years I maintained a strict habit of keeping most of it to myself.  Unfortunately, this led to a severe "doormat" mentality, as I never wanted to offend anyone and just wanted everyone to like and accept me.  After watching hours and hours of lectures, debates, arguments, documentaries, and more, I realized that I wasn't only an Atheist - I was an Anti-Theist.

I got inspiration for my blossoming 'evangelism' from many sources.  On YouTube, I discovered AronRa and his Fundamental Falsehoods of Creationism video series, which led me quickly to 'The Atheist Experience' television show, as Aron had been a guest co-host on an episode of that show.  This solidified my resolve to start speaking out in a meaningful way; not because I wanted to emulate them, but they helped me realize several things:  That I was lying to my family by omission by not coming out, that I was not alone in my non-belief, and that I did not have to remain silent when presented with baseless claims.  Because of my love of science (in all it's wondrous forms), I realized that science itself is constantly under attack, and also that many of my family and friends were actually contributing to this attack on science.  I could keep silent no longer.

So why be an Atheist Evangelist?

First, let me say that there is nothing about Atheism which obligates one to evangelize.  I personally feel an obligation, but it has nothing to do with my non-belief in gods, it is a completely personal conviction which is based on my own circumstances and my skill set.

Beyond that, there are plenty of good reasons to stand up and make yourself heard.  In my opinion, the primary reason is to reach out to other Atheists.  When you start stirring up that pot, there is a chance that someone else will be emboldened to out themselves as an Atheist.  Whether or not they want to be evangelists themselves, the existence of such a person is often enough to show someone that they aren't alone.

Another great benefit to evangelizing is the effect that you can have on those whom have yet to make up their minds on religion.  Maybe someone has been gradually shifting more towards Atheism, but has not been exposed to any 'out' Atheists yet, and perhaps is unaware of many of the counter-arguments that exist to combat religious ones.

Moreover, when you are regularly making arguments or points in regards to religion, you can become a resource to other Atheists who, perhaps, have very few people to whom they can speak about these subjects.  For instance, the folks at the 'Atheist Community of Austin' can often be found offering advice and critique to their fellow Atheists; I myself have actually used them as a sounding board for ideas in the past.

While it is true that there are people who have 'deconverted' due to the influence of an Atheist Evangelist (such as Richard Dawkins), please understand that this is going to be rare.  Because of this, it is generally best to not make the immediate goal be to actively deconvert religious people.

What should your goal be?  That really isn't my place to say - it really depends on your own situation.  For many, the goal is to try to foster an environment of critical thinking.  For others, the goal may be to simply disseminate information about Atheists and Atheism, or even about religions.

For me, I want people to simply question the things that they've been taught or told (including every word that I say or write).  I want people to know more about their own religion, for instance the stuff in the Bible that many people simply don't know exists.  I also want people to understand real science, not just what they've heard about science on Sunday morning.  I personally feel that, the more people that choose to deal with reality on reality's terms, the better society will become.  This is why I'm 'advocating reality' each and every day :)

If you have any comments or opinions on Evangelical Atheism, please join the conversation!  This is probably not the last post I'll make on this topic, and I might just make a video....

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Vape Reviews - Alien Visions order came in!

Ok, so I got the reviews done and posted.  My order came in 2 days earlier than USPS tracking indicated!  Please check 'em out, leave comments and whatnot :)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Bunch of Vape Reviews Posted!

Hey guys, I posted 7 videos last night - 6 juice reviews and 1 device review.  The vids have been embedded after the break.  Feel free to comment!


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Upcoming Stuff

Greetings!  It's been a while since I've updated the blog, but I'm gonna try and make up for it to you guys really soon.  I've got some stuff in the works that I think is pretty exciting :)

First up, I have been conducting an email interview with Brian Dalton (Mister Deity) and I'm hoping to get that wrapped up and posted here soon.  It's been very entertaining and informative and I look forward to sharing it with the world!

Next, I've got 6 Juice Reviews to record - look for those in the next few days.  My buddy Chris over at Alvin E-Cigs (alvinecigs.com) threw me some samples of the following Hi-Caliber juices:  Pineapple Plunge, Black Cherry Pina Colada, Robust, Caramel Cappuccino, Our 4, and Apple Pie.  Yes, I did receive these samples at no charge for reviewing purposes, but I assure you that I will be completely honest with my evaluation.

On a minor note, I've been working on a ton of miniature wargaming stuff - minis, terrain, buildings, all kinds of cool stuff.  I'm working on some better lighting for photos and videos and I'll be sure and get those up as soon as I can.

Now, for the best part:  I have found a co-host for the Advocating Reality Podcast!  He is a good friend of mine, a fellow Atheist and freethinker, and he is far more interesting than I ever could be, so the show might actually turn out to be decent :)  Stay tuned over the next week or two for Episode #2!

That's all for now, so until next time:  Keep your stick on the ice!