Categories
Books

The Best Books On Chess

If you, like countless others, went out and bought a chess board after watching The Queen’s Gambit then you might appreciate this list of great books on chess. I also ended up with a new chessboard recently (thanks kids) so I found myself playing chess a little more often than I used to. Is 400 games in three weeks a lot? I don’t know. Anyway, after getting thrashed a few too many times, I figured it couldn’t hurt to maybe read up a little. Of course I went straight for a rather advanced book How To Beat Magnus Carlsen (Cyrus Lakdawala), but something a little less advanced would have been better. I then thought maybe it would be a better idea to see if there are any books that get mentioned more frequently than others when it comes to improving your chess game. After searching quite extensively to find out which books are most often recommended by chess players to their friends I figured it would make a nice addition to my collection of random subjects here on my blog. So I compiled a list and here it is.

Chess Books For Beginners

If you are starting out with chess then here are some titles which give you an easy entry point:

Learn Chess

Learn Chess starts with the very basics. But the book doesn’t stop there. Author Dr John Nunn tells you pretty much everything you need to know to not only be a proficient but a good chess player.

Dr John Nunn has earned a worldwide reputation for the outstanding clarity of his writings on chess. In this book he tackles the fundamentals of chess so it’s an excellent beginner’s book.
You don’t need to know anything about chess. Nunn teaches everything step-by-step, with each point illustrated with examples. After reading this you will be ready to take on opponents across the board, or online. And you’ll be winning!
Nunn covers the rules of chess, but you will also learn chess notation, how to win material, what attacking play means. He covers everything to get you started with your opening, middlegame and endgame. He also covers the very important topic of chess psychology which mustn’t be underestimated.

The author has certainly earned his stripes. He has won four individual gold medals and three team silver medals at Chess Olympiads. In chess problem solving competitions won the world championship title not once, but thrice. One could easily argue that he is the most highly acclaimed chess writer in the world. Three of his books have received the prestigious British Chess Federation Book of the Year Award. His classic work Understanding Chess Move by Move is regarded by many as a must-read for all students of the game.

Chess For Dummies

Sometimes we can overlook some of the best books because we may have an assumption that they are too basic. But I wouldn’t overlook Chess for Dummies. The Dummies series of books are known for their conversational style of writing, so if you’re like me and appreciate this kind of teaching style then Chess For Dummies might be just the thing for you.

Chess For Dummies was written to help beginners not only wrap their minds around the rules of the game and make sense of those puzzling pieces, but to sharpen their chess strategy. It’s got everything to get you started and more: learn the rules of chess, get to know some of the jargon, and sharpen your chess brain. It has easy-to-follow, step-by-step explanations so even a complete newbie can get a grasp on what’s what. New editions of Chess For Dummies are never too far behind so this is a great starting place.

This book covers what you need to know for playing chess online, tournament chess, or friendly games on the dining room table. A great hands-on guide this book does its utmost to capture your interest through its engaging style and light hearted tone. And it will grab your attention. Especially when it shows you how to capture your opponent’s queen. Get up to speed on the game and its components with this book which gives you the know-how you need to put the principles of play into action from the opening to the endgame.

  • Grasp the rules of play and the nuances of each phase of the game
  • Familiarize yourself with the pieces and the board
  • Pick the perfect chess set and chessboard for you
  • Get to know each of the pieces and their powers

If you feel like you’re in a stalemate before you even begin a game, Chess For Dummies is your guide to forcing moves, raking bishops, and skewering your opponents like a true master.

Chess Books For Intermediate Chess Players

For those who have played the occasional game but want to get to know a little more this book has made it onto a few people’s list:

Chess Fundamentals

Chess Fundamentals is a book on chess that has stood the test of time. Even though there have been many developments in chess playing styles since this was written many principles in chess are timeless. If you already know the basics, this book will take you to the next level and equip you with all you need to know to become a better at chess.

José Raúl Capablanca y Graupera (1888-1942) was a world chess champion from 1921 to 1927. Capablanca is often said to have been one of the greatest players of all time. He was famous for his exceptional endgame skill and for his incredible speed.

He wrote a number chess books during his career, but Chess Fundamentals (1921) has often been cited as the best book on chess ever written. 

Capaplanca’s style of play (and his books) influenced the play many world chess champions including Bobby Fischer and Anatoly Karpov.
Read it on Gutenberg: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/33870/

The Amateur’s Mind

This book takes you on a journey through your own mind and returns you to the chess board with a wealth of new-found knowledge and the promise of a significant gain in strength. Most beginners have thinking processes which really don’t help their game. This book will help you address the flaws in your mental armor. Following the advice in this book will lead to a lot less stinging defeats and painful reversals. As with any book the advice is only as good as the degree to which you apply it — and some bad habits may prove difficult to eradicate. Seeking to solve this dilemma, the author wrote down the thoughts of his students while they played actual games, analysed them, and catalogued the most common misconceptions that arose. This second edition greatly expands on the information contained in the popular first edition.

Jeremy Silman has an impressive resume too. He is an International Master and a world-class teacher, writer, and player. His trophies include the American Open, the National Open, and the U.S. Open. Considered by many to be the game’s preeminent instructive writer, he is the author of over thirty-six popular books, including the modern classic How to Reassess Your Chess , The Amateur’s Mind, The Complete Book of Chess Strategy, and The Reassess Your Chess Workbook. Silman served as chess consultant on the 2001 film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone [uncredited], Monk, and Malcolm in the Middle.

Chess Books For Advanced Chess Players

Lasker’s Manual of Chess

Lasker’s Manual of Chess is invariably going to end up on a list of the greatest chess books ever written. The fact that it was published in 1925 has not diminished its relevance. This is still considered a significant piece of work, even in today’s modern chess world. Lasker was a deep thinker and his book demonstrates this. He had exceptionally successful experiences in the chess world over many years and he chronicles much of this in this book. He teaches what he considered to be the most important elements in chess. These general principles and methods remain applicable in any situation. Once you have read this manual, you can’t help but feel wiser. This 21st-century edition has been expanded with archival photographs of Lasker and his contemporaries. In addition, an entertaining and instructive feature, “Lasker Lore”, highlights the chess history and trivia of the Lasker era. Finally, if the significance of Lasker’s Manual of Chess needed to offer more, the greatest chess instructor of the modern era, Mark Dvoretsky, has added a special foreword to this new edition of the legendary classic.

Emanuel Lasker (December 24, 1868 – January 11, 1941) was a German chess player, mathematician, and philosopher who was World Chess Champion for 27 years, from 1894 to 1921, the longest reign of any officially recognised World Chess Champion in history. In his prime, Lasker was one of the most dominant champions. Lasker is regarded as one of the strongest players in history.

Lasker’s contemporaries said he used a “psychological” approach to the game. Contemporaries wondered if he would occasionally play inferior moves and thus confuse his opponents. Recent analysis, however, indicates that he was simply ahead of his time and used a more flexible approach than his contemporaries. Either way he certainly mystified many of them. Lasker knew contemporary analyses of openings well but didn’t take them as gospel truth and actually disagreed with many of them. He published chess magazines and five chess books. His advanced ways of thinking often meant that later players and commentators found it difficult to draw lessons from his methods.

Rubinstein’s Chess Masterpieces

This book is not only great for improving one’s game. It is considered by many to be an important piece of chess history. You see, the author Hans Kmoch visited the Rubinstein family home in 1933 hoping to convince this brilliant chess player to return to active play. Rubinstein however wasn’t keen. So his family, who felt there was an opportunity here to help lift them out of poverty asked Kmoch if perhaps some sort of fund raising could be implemented and maybe a book could be published. An ad was placed to raise finance for this book on a subscription basis. “Rubinstein gewinnt! : Hundert Glanzpartien des großen Schachkünstlers. Erläutert von Hans Kmoch. Biographische Einleitung von Jacques Hannak. Verlag der Wiener Schachzeitung, Wien 1933” was the book that ensued. That book was then translated and renamed with a slightly punchier title “Rubinstein’s Chess Masterpieces“. It was a direct translation. All the games are the same. It doesn’t look like there are any significant changes in the translated version, if any. This 2012 edition is reprinted as ISBN 4871875806.

Akiba Rubinstein was born on 12 December 1882 in Poland. He has long been regarded as the strongest chess player in history though he never became world champion. This is a player though who defeated Lasker, Capablanca and Alekhine the first time he played each of them. Rubinstein won five tournaments in a row during the period 1912-1914. There is little doubt that he was the strongest player in the world at that time. Rubinstein’s contribution to chess opening theory has been enormous. Almost every major chess opening has a Rubinstein Variation or a Rubinstein Defense. Think about it: There is no Fischer Defense, no Capablanca Defense. But there are many variations called the Rubinstein Defense or Variation. The only name that has as many opening defenses associated with it is Steinitz. However Steinitz Defenses are seen as outdated and aren’t really played.

Beating The Sicilian

Here’s a book that might not always come up in a search on “chess books” since it doesn’t have the word “chess” in its title. Yes it’s our second book from Dr John Nunn that’s made it onto the list and it’s one you don’t want to miss. The Sicilian is a popular aggressive opening which trips up players who don’t know how to respond to it. In this book a you have a complete repertoire showing you every possible response short of drawing swords. This book will enable you as a chess player to face the Sicilian with confidence. By basing the material on key selected games, the author helps you develop an understanding of the attacking plans for White and the importance of different move orders. YES! MOVE ORDERS ARE IMPORTANT!

Bonus Titles

Still hungry for more?

Check out these great titles:

Botvinnik’s Best Games 1947-1970

Mikhail Botvinnik won the World Chess Championship in 1948. He held on to his title (with only two breaks) until 1963. He kept playing professionally until 1970. This book covers the entire period when Botvinnik was World Chess Champion and beyond.

“Chess”. wrote Botvinnik, “is an art which illustrates the beauty of logic.” He could not abide errors which spoiled the beauty of the game, and the secret of his success was thorough preparation and routine, which fully justified his own self-confidence – and which were systematically adopted by the Soviet school. In controlled positional play, Botvinnik was an absolute virtuoso comparable to Bronstein, Smyslov, and Tal, among many others.

Think Like a Grandmaster

This book has been well-established as an excellent training manual. It encourages the average player to understand how a grandmaster thinks. More importantly it gives you insight into how a grandmaster actually works. Kotov lays out the fundamental issues such as knowing how and when to analyze, the tree of analysis, a selection of candidate moves and the factors of success.

While best remembered today as an author, Alexander Kotov also had a number of good results as a player. One of his best early results was his second-place finish in the 1939 USSR Championship, in which where Mikhail Botvinnik came first in the final round. This result still won him the Soviet Grandmaster title, the third Soviet player to hold the title after Botvinnik and Grigory Levenfish. Kotov was Moscow champion in 1941. He won the Soviet title jointly with David Bronstein in 1948, and won at Venice in 1950, ahead of Vasily Smyslov.

Leonid Stein, Master of Attack

Leonid Stein’s brilliant chess career, cut tragically short in 1973, included overwhelming victories against the world’s leading grandmasters. Stein not only stormed to an incredible total of 3 first prizes (out of 4 attempts) in the USSR Championships, but also won what were arguably, at that time, the two strongest tournaments of all time, (Moscow 1967 and Moscow 1971).

Leonid Zakharovich Stein (November 12, 1934 – July 4, 1973) was a Soviet chess Grandmaster from Ukraine. He won three USSR Chess Championships in the 1960s (1963, 1965, and 1966), and was among the world’s top ten players during that era.

The Art of the Middle Game – Keres and Kotov
The Middle Years of Paul Keres – Keres
The World Chess Championship – Gligoric and Wade
Pawn Power in Chess – Kmoch
The Guardian Chess Book – Barden

Aron Nimzowitsch: A Reappraisal – Keene

Header photo by Heidi Walley on Unsplash

Categories
Eco Web Hosting

Carbon Neutral Web Hosting

I started using carbon neutral web hosting for my websites in 2015. Even though I was initially just looking for a more secure hosting company, I immediately noticed that this one was also certified carbon neutral.

I had shopped around and settled on Digital Pacific because they not only have their servers here in Australia, they have top notch security and knowledgeable support staff. The fact that they have carbon neutral hosting was just the cherry on the top.

Which Carbon Neutral Web Hosting Company in Australia Provides Good Service?

Digital Pacific

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Carbon Neutral And They Mean It

Digital Pacific and the Environment

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Categories
Ideas

The Shockingly Simple Experiment That Proved The Earth Rotates On Its Axis

The stories I have always found fascinating are the ones of explorers, scientists, and thought leaders that went against the grain and dared to propose a new idea.

Leon Foucault

If you’ve ever tried to prove that the earth rotates on its axis you may have wondered exactly how to go about this. Though flat earth theorists have been around longer than you and I, in the last few years flat earth has, to the bewilderment of many, become a topic of discussion. Not only have some people come out as believers in Flat Earth, there are plenty of trolls who think it’s funny to give fuel to the flame wars. If someone is prone to take stories of nameless “secret NASA generals” giving talks at underground unlisted conventions as “proof”, then it can be very difficult to convince them to use a more scientific method to prove their point.

I was exposed to the flat earth theory before social media, and while I am always fascinated by outsider ideas and fringe theorists’ ideas, I concluded that flat earth theory needed too many jumps in logic for it to ever be proven.

Also there are several ways we can prove that the earth is a sphere and that it rotates.

How to prove that the earth is a ball, rotating on its axis

If you have the time and patience you can watch the sunrise and sunset every day for a year. After that you will feel your place in the solar system deep in your being. I did this when I completed the Sri Hira Ratan Manek Sungazing protocol, and I can honestly say it was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. Absolutely life changing.

However it’s not likely that you’re not going to get anyone to try this method just to prove your point.

So what’s an easier experiment that proves the earth rotates?

It was as recent as 1851 that self-taught physicist Leon Foucault accomplished just that. The demonstration used a giant pendulum. By tracking the pendulum’s path as it swung repeatedly across the interior of the large ceremonial hall in the Paris’ Pantheon, Foucault offered the first definitive proof that the earth revolves on its axis. The experiment proved so fundamental to science that it became a permanent installation in the Pantheon.

Read the fascinating story in
this book by Amir D. Aczel

Foucault himself is another one of these characters in history which I find utterly fascinating. To get to the point where this experiment would be showcased in the most prestigious building in France had not been easy for Foucault. He had faced strong opposition to his ideas. The biggest obstacle being that he was not a member of The Academy Of Sciences. In addition to that the members of The Academy were embarrassed to discover that not one of them had come up with the equations that explained the variations in the movement of a pendulum at different latitudes. Yes they had done some experiments, but they’d been on too small a scale to detect what Foucault’s larger scale experiment was able to. It took a declaration from France’s prince-president to arrange the demonstration.

Louis Napoleon III had a keen interest in physics. He was firmly convinced that following scientific ideas as they developed was important for the modern state.

When he learned of Foucault getting the cold shoulder from the Academy of Sciences he decided to arrange for the presentation to be made in settings that were guaranteed to garner respect: The Pantheon.

Foucault’s pendulum in the Panthéon, Paris

Proof In The Pendulum

On the floor of the Pantheon, centered under the dome, there was, and still is, an elegant design in marble. Foucault had it cov­ered with a wooden circle, six meters in diameter, over which his heavy pendulum would swing. Around the circle he erected a mahogany balustrade. The edge of the wooden circle was di­vided into degrees and quarters of a degree, so that the public could clearly see the movement of the pendulum’s swing pattern over time. Finally, Foucault and Froment had the wooden disk covered with a layer of wet sand, just high enough so that the tracks of the pendulum as it swung would remain visible to ob­servers.

On March 26,1851, an article in Le National proclaimed:
“Have you seen the Earth go round? Would you like to see it rotate? Go to the Pantheon, [where Foucault’s demonstration] clearly reveals to all eyes the movement of rota­tion of the Earth.”

Photo of Earth From Space by ActionVance on Unsplash

Categories
Epistemology Movie Analysis

The Secret Message In Steven Spielberg’s/Stanley Kubrick’s AI

Stanley Kubrick’s films work as visual, verbal, musical, and intellectual provocations to the mind and emotions. They work against expectations, “thinking” through cinematic conventions to address fundamental questions.

Philip Kuberski, Kubrick’s Total Cinema (2012)

Movie Synopsis

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (also known as A.I.) is the film I will be discussing in this post. It came out in 2001 and was directed by Steven Spielberg. The screenplay by Spielberg and screen story by Ian Watson were loosely based on the 1969 short story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long” by Brian Aldiss. It takes place in a futuristic society and tells the story of David, an android uniquely programmed with the ability to love.

A.I. is dedicated to Stanley Kubrick.

I found it to be a fascinating film though I have never seen it ranked among the top ten on anyone’s list of top movies.

It did make it into the top 100 in one list I know of. In 2016, fifteen years after it came out, a BBC poll of critics around the world voted Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence the eighty-third-greatest film since 2000.

Three Decades In The Making

Development of A.I. originally started when producer-director Stanley Kubrick acquired the rights to Aldiss’ story in the early 1970s. Kubrick hired a series of writers until the mid-1990s, including Brian Aldiss, Bob Shaw, Ian Watson, and Sara Maitland. The film languished in protracted development for years, partly because Kubrick felt computer-generated imagery was not advanced enough to create the David character, whom he believed no child actor would convincingly portray. In 1995, Kubrick handed A.I. to Spielberg, but the film did not gain momentum until Kubrick’s death in 1999.

Spielberg remained close to the film screenplay and storyboard as set out by Ian Watson and Stanley Kubrick.

The film received positive reviews, and grossed approximately $235 million. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards at the 74th Academy Awards, for Best Visual Effects and Best Original Score by John Williams.

My Analysis of The Symbolism in AI

Ian Watson, one of the film’s writers, says that Kubrick obsessed on the details of this film for nearly two decades.

With that in mind I watched the movie and made some notes.

If every detail was so important to Stanley Kubrick surely there would be some way to interpret what he was trying to say, assuming he was trying to say anything at all.

I was intrigued by what I found.

A Modern Day Pinocchio

Monica reads The Adventures Of Pinocchio To David and Martin

The film is essentially the story of Pinocchio with a lot of lunar themes.

One of the themes in the story of Pinocchio is that of a person who works hard but still needs a bit of magic for his dreams to come true.

Ok, so that’s the story line of countless Disney/Hollywood movies.

Pinocchio shown with long nose, meaning he’s been lying.

I think this is a common theme because there’s something very appealing about this story format.

I think it appeals to a deep subconscious awe of the world we live in and the vestiges of attributing the unexplained to supernatural forces. Maybe this theme works so well because it gives viewers hope when hard work on its own doesn’t seem to cut it.

Imagery near the end of the film expressing a very tender, caring effort by the puppet-maker, Geppetto. Back lit scenes are a recurring motif in the film.

Magical thinking still plays a prominent role in today’s world in spite of all attempts to advance scientific thinking. There are simply too many things yet to be understood for us to be able to scientifically describe every event in our universe, or more specifically, in our lives.

Slightly veiled allusion to Pinocchio: Strings attached to David.

But could it be that the story of Pinocchio appealed to Stanley Kubric because he had been involved in something that required both hard work and a touch of magic to make a dream come true?

The film clearly brings out the Pinocchio allusion throughout the film.

Lies Will Be Found Out

The story of Pinocchio is strongly tied to the theme of lying.

Specifically in Pinocchio’s case, if you knew what the sign was, you would know Pinocchio had been lying.

In AI there are several scenes where Pinocchio is shown with a long nose indicating that he was in the middle of a lie.

The Emperor Has No Clothes takes up half the screen in this shot.

Another well known tale that features deception is “The Emperor Has No Clothes”. Is Kubrick alluding to a deception that fooled a ruler or president?

A Secret Mission

When looking through my AI notes which I had taken in 2016, I saw that I had taken a particular screenshot but couldn’t remember what had struck me as being significant about that scene.

Shown here:

“It has to be a secret mission.”

Martin, A.I. (2001)

The scene is of Martin, the second son who has recovered from the same debilitating disease that had killed David. He plays some mischievous pranks on David the android showing that he has not fully accepted the artificial version of David.

This is one scenario where the juxtaposition between the real and the fake is brought out.

In trying to figure out why I had taken this screenshot I gave some thought to trying to figure out if there was any particular reason this character had been named Martin.

I ran it through an anagram solver and nothing stood out with all the letters.

I did notice that both the words “tin” and “man” can be made using the letters in Martin.

Source: https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=tin man

My other thought was that the name Martin is only one “a” short of Martian. This avenue, though, didn’t feel like it was one I wanted to go down. Be my guest if you want to pursue that one.

“Martin” also has the same beginning and ending letters as “moon”.

It also has the letters which make up the words “art” and “in” without the need for rearrangement.

None of the above derivatives seem terribly promising when taken on their own.

Looking over my notes I noticed that I had named this image file “it-has-to-be-a-secret-mission.png”.

That’s when I remembered why I had taken this screenshot.

This is the scene where Martin is getting David to do something mischievous but he tells him “It has to be a secret mission.”

Was Stanley Kubrick involved in “a secret mission” and was this his cryptic way of telling us?

The Moon

Teddy bear: “I see the moon”,

David: “Is it real?”

Teddy: “I don’t know, David.”

David: “Is it coming?”

Teddy: “I can’t tell yet.”

A.I. (2001)

The moon features prominently in A.I.

The imagery suggests a strong link between David and the moon.

Lunar crescent above David’s bed.
The moon shaped rug takes up a quarter of the vertical space in this shot.
A child’s drawing in this shot is of a surprised or slightly shocked moon face.
The reflected lamp in the window is very much like a waning moon and is closest to David.
The Cryogenics logo is a crescent, similar to a waning moon.
The moon shows up larger than life once David begins his journey away from home.
Gigolo Joe clearly spells out the direction they are going to take.

“We will have to journey, towards the moon.”

Gigolo Joe Whaddayaknow, A.I. (2001)

“By themselves”, wrote Ian Watson, in his 10,000 word essay on writing the AI screenplay with Stanley Kubrick, “the artificial boy and robo-bear were fairly naïve and incompetent, even if David was obsessive about becoming a real boy.”

“What we need,” Stanley had informed Ian, “is some GI Joe character to help him out.”

“How about a gigolo-robot,” Ian had then suggested, and duly wrote scenes.

It’s interesting to note that the term G.I. has been used as an initialism of “Government Issue”.

So while the gigolo character was Ian’s idea, it was Stanley who wanted there to be a GI Joe in the story. Gigolo Joe is representative of a Government Issue that has taken hold of David who is dragging his Teddy along.

David holding Teddy is guided by Gigolo Joe “Whaddayaknow” through the big bad world.

The Teddy could represent Stanley Kubrick himself, which co-writer Ian Watson alludes to in his essay:

“Jerome Bixby once wrote a story entitled “It’s a Good Life” about a child of paranormal powers whose wishes become reality and who compels adults to carry out any whim.  Sometimes I felt that I was trapped in that child’s nursery, although Stanley was far friendlier than that dreadful little boy.  Cuddly, even – like a shaggy teddy bear himself, though with claws in those paws; and the claws could hook and squeeze till you might turn into a limp rag.  True, this was only because he wanted the best, and more and more of it, and believed that plugging away remorselessly at something about which he had an instinct would eventually bear fruit.” Ian Watson 

Links To 2001 A Space Odyssey

In addition to the release date of A.I. (2001) coinciding nicely with the name of one of Stanley Kubrick’s earlier films, made before man had even set foot on the moon, IMDB links A.I. to 2001 A Space Odyssey through the following points:

  • Teddy sounds like HAL.
  • The future Mechas, like the unseen aliens from 2001, put David (same name) in a house in which to observe his behavior.

Allusions To The Lunar Lander

Looks like the moon, but as it comes into view we see that it’s a floating balloon.
There is an uncanny similarity in the image from AI to Bill Kaysing’s 1976 book “We Never Went To The Moon”. AI’s imagery shows a gnarly tree with sparse foliage over an oversized moon (which we soon discover is not the moon at all) AI shows the more gnarly tree on the right.
The cage below the floating moon balloon has thrusters which remind me of the moon lander module thrusters from Apollo 11.
Unmistakable similarity to the lunar lander thrusters.
close up of thruster in AI (2001)
Lunar lander thruster from Apollo 11

Both shots of the thrusters are shot from below at almost identical angles.

Apollo 11

While we are talking about Apollo 11 it’s interesting to note that the David character played by 13 year old Haley Joel Osmond was 11 years old in the story.

If Apollo 11 is represented by 11 year old David then the story gets very interesting.

The story is telling us that a Government Issue (Gigolo Joe) is directing Apollo 11 (David) to the Moon, while the question as to what is real is explored.

The Silver Arrow

This shot in AI shows a corner fold marking chapter 7 of Robin of Sherwood: The Silver Arrow

The words “The Silver Arrow” are made clearly visible with emphasis added by a page corner folded over. I searched online for the terms “Silver Arrow” and the only thing that turned up which predates the release of AI was, believe it or not, linked to lunar missions. It was a book published by Silver Arrow Books. The book itself is written by astronaut Frank Borman and is called Countdown. There is the number 7, (Gemini 7) being one of the lunar orbiting missions.

Link This book was published during the time that Kubrick was writing AI.

The film also has a closeup of the book cover where “The Silver Arrow” chapter is found.

Close up shot of Robin of Sherwood book title, AI (2001)

In this shot the word “Sherwood” is almost center screen and is not obscured, making it clearly legible. The zipper may be alluding to Kubrick having been told to “zip-it” and never speak about the issue. Notice that the watch also shows the time being past 11.

The “O” in Robin has a line through it giving it a lunar crescent shape, which is why I wondered if there may be a clue in this shot.

I searched for “sherwood” in relation to NASA and found that the Sherwood Park News has an article whose author is reminiscing on how he interviewed Frank Borman in 1968.

source

So that’s two allusions to Frank Borman in AI.

Make what you will of this but it would appear that this is an indirect reference to lunar orbiting and a direct reference to Frank Borman somehow having a role to play in the cryptic message in AI.

This all seems so improbable though I feel it’s important to point out that this is just as likely to be a freak coincidence. With astronomical odds.

The Grid

The checkerboard or grid pattern is seen throughout the film.

Grid pattern fills one third of the screen.
Strong crosshatch and grid patterning take up the majority the space throughout this scene: the walls, the door and the carpet.
Also of note: The light fixture when photographed at this angle is reminiscent of a lunar crescent.
David often wears check pattern. In this scene however he is laying down a check pattern as a foundation.
David shown in check patterned shirt.
David in check pattern
Father and son both with check patterns.

It is known that Stanley Kubrick loved chess. So there’s that. But in relation to NASA and lunar expeditions check patterns were used to keep track of scale of items in photography and film.

Photo from NASA archive. Arrows and text added by me.

It could be that the repeated use of check patterns in AI are alluding to the cross patterns on the photos from lunar mission photos as well as the grid patterns used in testing and training images.

Backlit scenes

There are a number of scenes in AI where back-lighting is used and several allusions are made to projectors: the lights on the moon balloon, the sub aquatic scenes strong light being projected, and several indoor scenes have strong contrasting backlit imagery.

Kubrick is known to have been very innovative when it came to using projected scenes.

Source: http://www.thepropgallery.com/2001-a-space-odyssey-dawn-of-front-projection

There is a great deal of speculation in regards to the footage from the lunar missions which show identical hills in the background. The similar hills in many shots are supposedly different locations. The suggestion is that a background was projected.

The Hidden Message

Whether or not man walked on the moon this film alludes to the lunar missions.

It makes one wonder if there is some possibility that Kubrick was involved in creating some of the footage. If we want to go along with the moon landing itself being a real event is it possible that the footage from the Apollo 11 expedition was damaged by radiation and NASA then employed Kubrick to recreate the event?

If this is the case it could be that keeping this a secret was too much for a story teller and film maker to not at least allude to it through the medium at which he excelled.

If you read the books shown below you will see that the official story has a lot of holes in it.

Bill Kaysing (see book link below) admits that the whole thing started out as an attempt at pranking the government. He said in a video interview late in life that it was a disgruntled army veteran that wanted to do the government some damage. So the idea to suggest the moon landing was a hoax was put forward. It was only once they got going that they saw that there were so many things that didn’t add up.

However there are some serious consequences to believing the moon landing was a hoax. The idea feeds into other more ludicrous ideas such as the earth being flat or that there is no moon.

If we want to be members of society the only sane option is to accept that man did walk on the moon, just like we need to accept that AI David in the end becomes a real boy.

Watch AI with that in mind and I have no doubt you will understand what I mean.

Sources and further reading

Categories
Epistemology Psychology

Why We Believe The Things We Believe

Ten years before the “Fake News” phenomenon made us think we were living in a post-truth world author and editor John Brockman had the confidence (or should I say audacity) to call this era “The Age of Certainty”.

The book was “What We Believe but Cannot Prove ~ Today’s Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty” (Harper Collins, 2006).

The title caught my attention at the local library and its contents did not disappoint.

The book contains contributions from dozens and dozens of great minds who related some of the things they believe but cannot prove.

Some are beliefs which I think are shared by many people. For example plenty of people believe that the earth is round but don’t know how to go about proving it.

Other beliefs though were quite original. For example the idea that ravens call out in a different dialect depending on where they live.

It was interesting to see so many great thinkers still have beliefs which cannot be proven, some even bordering on the irrational.

I think it is quite common for people in all walks of life to believe things that they cannot prove.

Photo by bantersnaps on Unsplash

Things People Believe But Can’t Prove

Here are some examples of the type of beliefs included in the book.

These were either ideas which the contributor didn’t know how to prove, or knew that it would be impossible to prove, and yet they still held it to be true:

  • That evolution has purpose and direction
  • That it will someday be possible to exceed the speed of light
  • That life is common throughout the universe
  • That nothing is true if it cannot be proved
  • That the existence of an omni-god cannot ever be proven
  • That knowing what it is like to be dead can never be resolved
  • That reality exists independent of its human and social constructions
  • That the universe is ultimately determined, but we have free will
  • That morality is the natural outcome of evolutionary and historical forces, not divine command
  • That it is possible to live happily and morally without believing in free will
  • That people gain a selective advantage from believing in things they can’t prove
  • That faith is important far beyond the realm of religion
  • That there is a God
  • That religious experience and practice is generated and structured largely by a few emotions that evolved for other reasons: Awe, moral elevation, disgust, and attachment-related emotions.
  • That deceit and self-deception play a disproportionate role in human-generated disasters
  • That in less than a generation, kids will be amusing themselves and each other in ways we never dreamed of.

Do you share any of those beliefs?

Most of those are hard if not impossible to prove.

Culture, Necessity, and Convenience

So how do these non-provable beliefs find a way into our minds?

How do we choose to believe in one thing over another even in the absence of solid proof?

Culture and Conformity

There is no doubt that beliefs and opinions are often derived from the absorption of ideas tossed around in popular culture. The way a subject is handled in film, television, books, fiction, non-fiction, news, or in the course of a discussion with friends, imparts many subtle undertones.

There is a pseudo-logical idea floating around that if many people agree on something then surely they can’t be too far of the mark.

In 2004 journalist James Surowiecki attempted to make a case for this in The Wisdom of The Crowds (Doubleday; Anchor). He scraped together a collection of anecdotes in support of this argument. The problem is that it can be proven mathematically that crowds are no better at making decisions than individuals.

You may have examples where decisions made by a group were better than those made by an individual. But think about how many times a committee got less done than a determined individual.

I’d go so far as to say that an idea’s inherent validity should be independent of how prevalent it is.

Just because something is popular shouldn’t affect our estimation of the idea, logically speaking, that is.

But we know it does.

We really can’t help falling into the trap of this logical fallacy.

It’s so easy to assume that in the cumulative brain power of a crowd surely between them they thought of everything. Or at least enough to make a better decision than one person would.

It is inevitable that individuals will look to the crowd for wisdom.

We, as beings, do not function well in isolation.

We therefore continue to rely on the wisdom of crowds. Few people have the time, acuity, or nerve to establish their own independent stance on every topic they come across.

Necessity

There often arises a necessity for something to be true.

As strange as it sounds sometimes we simply need something to be true.

This of course does not make it true.

The truth is under no obligation to be anything.

It’s just that the alternative is problematic. So we go along with an idea and start finding little ways here and there to support our choice.

But the truth is under no obligation to be anything.

When you put it that way it seems kind of obvious. But there are so many subtle ways and a variety of circumstances people find themselves in where they feel that one thing just has to be true.

Convenience

There are also times when it’s simply more convenient to go along with an idea because to fight it is too exhausting. This is related to the two previous points of conformity and necessity.

Here is an example of this:

Acknowledging that pollution destroys the very things that make life possible is inconvenient for industries that profit while polluting. By extension all the people working in those industries will by necessity lean toward arguments showing that the pollution is not really that bad.

They won’t see any gain to be had from admitting that the pollution is doing more harm than good. Because in a sense they are experiencing a short term gain from the polluting activities and therefore it would inconvenience them to do anything about it.

So they start justifying their work and find ways of supporting the beliefs that are associated with their choices.

How Beliefs Are Formed May Still Be Unproved

In a beautifully poetic twist of irony the explanation which I found to be the most compelling as to why we believe the things we believe comes from Sam Harris’ contribution to “What We Believe But Cannot Prove”.

Harris suggests that belief is a content-independent process.

false statements may quite literally disgust us

Sam Harris

“The neural processes governing the final acceptance of a statement as true, ” says Harris, “rely on more fundamental, reward-related circuitry in our frontal lobes.”

He is saying that he believes the same regions of the brain that judge the pleasantness of tastes and odors are engaged when discriminating what is acceptable and what is not.

Truth, he goes on to say, may be beauty, and beauty truth, in more than a metaphorical sense. And false statements may quite literally disgust us.

Sources and further reading

Categories
Criminology Epistemology Psychology

7 Signs That Someone Is Lying

Lie detection is both an art and a science.

Many of these tell-tale signs are fairly common, though compulsive liars can get away with lying for a long time, sometimes indefinitely.

It’s extremely rare for anyone to be able to completely fool everyone all the time. Even the best liar will eventually slip up in one way or another.

As a polygraph proves, lies always come out differently to the truth.

Then it’s up to you to interpret the crumb trail they’ve been leaving behind the whole time.

A Liar Will Often:

1. Jump Into Present Tense

  • Common: somewhat to very
  • Reliability: medium to very
  • Exceptions: retelling someone else’s experience; telling a rehearsed story

When someone is fabricating a story they are much more likely to speak in present tense than to use past tense.

Example

Police, lawyers, and judges often see how differently a person responds when they are lying as opposed to a person telling the truth.

Let’s say if one person has been a witness to an assault in an elevator and the other had not they would each have quite different ways of expressing this.

In the first case the person was not a witness to anything.

Truth

Interviewer: What happened in the elevator?

Answer: Nothing. I got in the elevator. It went down.

In this next example the person was a witness to a crime, but doesn’t want to let on.

Lie

Interviewer: What happened in the elevator?

Answer: I get in the elevator. There’s people talking. I get off. That’s it.

The person’s brain is creating a new event and as it is being created is being relayed into words.

There are times though when someone will use present tense to talk about something that may in fact be true, but since it didn’t happen to them will be relayed in the present tense.

Another exception could be where a person has rehearsed a story and it is in effect “in the past” having already created the event in their mind previously. In this case they may be able to stick to the past tense in the retelling.

2. Require Additional Lies

  • Common: very
  • Reliability: very
  • Exceptions: some people manage to draw on real memories related to a different event, though this is extremely rare as small details can trip them up.

As soon as a person is quizzed on a lie they have just told they are likely to require additional lies to support the first lie.

If someone says they were somewhere at a certain time when they really weren’t they are inevitably going to have to back that up with more lies.

If they are asked who was with them, well, they are going to have to make something up.

Just about any detail is going to be a fabrication.

If every lie needs, say, 4 or 5 lies to support it, well the amount of invention is going to grow exponentially under sustained questioning.

two women talking
Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

3. Be Short on Certain Types of Detail

  • Common: very
  • Reliability: very
  • Exceptions: pathological liars may sometimes know to add these type of details as “convincers”.

A person making stuff up is obviously not going to recall smells, or any other sensory experience as the event they are relaying never happened.

Their story is naturally going to lack those types of detail.

There are exceptions to this.

For example some people may work particularly hard at being convincing and make special effort to include sensory details.

This may be due to the fact that they are aware that sensory details are generally lacking in fabricated stories.

However for the most part sensory details are not going to be included in a description that is being made up on the spot.

three women talking
Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

4. Have Unusually Slow Responses

  • Common: very
  • Reliability: very
  • Exceptions: pathological liars can sometimes be very fast at making stuff up.

If a person has the answer to a question their brain will usually access that information instantly.

If they do not want to provide a truthful answer they will need to make something. It will take a second for their brain to go through the unlimited range of answers available, gauge the consequence of the best one, and furnish that reply.

Some people with very fast language processing skills can use stalling tactics while they select the best answer. This is an attempt to cover up the delay in response.

But it’s extremely rare for anyone to be able to avoid a slight delay altogether.

Especially when fielding a surprise question which they do not want to answer.

Which leads us to the next point.

graffiti  of the words What Do You Mean?
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

5. Stall With Questions

As explained in the previous point the brain needs a little time to process the possible consequences of the unlimited options available if the truth is to remain concealed.

In order to prevent looking suspicious a liar will use stalling tactics.

This can either give them extra time to think about the answer or derail the interviewer.

Examples

  • Sorry, could you repeat that?
  • Are you asking if I [ and repeats the question ] ?
  • How could you ask that?
  • Do you realize what you are asking?
  • What’s this all about?
  • What do you mean?
  • Are you asking about me personally, or in general?
  • Is this really necessary?

There are some exceptions to this, of course. There may be a case where someone is resentful of being interrogated and is being difficult because they like playing games or messing with people. Or they may be afraid of accidentally incriminating themselves due to some previous bad experience and are extra cagey as a result.

6. Use Physical Barriers

  • Common: somewhat
  • Reliability: fair
  • Exceptions: some people may be nervous due to the setting and their body language may come across as being reticent. Some people’s normal body language shows they are cautious or fearful in general.

Psychologically a person will feel like getting away from the discomfort of being interrogated. This discomfort will be greater for a person who has something to hide.

A person may unconsciously begin placing barriers between themselves and the interviewer.

For example they may cross their arms, or shield their throat or face with their hands.

They may unconsciously place a chair between themselves and the interviewer, or find themselves sitting facing the back of the chair.

If seated at a table facing their interviewer they may find themselves shifting items on the table to create a small barrier between themselves and the interviewer.

Sometimes the attempt to reduce vulnerability is very subtle, like excessive blinking, or leaning away.

7. Offer an Alternative

  • Common: very
  • Reliability: very
  • Exceptions: some people may not know what happened and could be trying to figure it out too.

If a person is offering ideas as to what might have happened it is often a sign that they are in creative mode and are trying to deflect from the truth.

A person who suggests that “maybe this happened”, or “maybe that happened”, is not necessarily being helpful. It is quite likely they are hoping a few red herrings will throw doubt on themselves as a suspect.

A person who has no knowledge of what happened has nothing to offer.

It is only if they are also trying to investigate that they will begin coming up with different hypothetical scenarios. Most people won’t do that unless they are invested in the outcome.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

On The Reliability of Physical And Verbal Clues

These clues, while extremely common due to human nature, are not always guaranteed to expose a liar. Sometimes a person may look suspicious for a different reason than is assumed, too. This is why it’s important to remember that lie detecting is an art as well as a science.

Polygraphs are much more reliable, some would say practically infallible, because there are certain physical reactions that happen automatically. Sure in film and television shows you have people beating the polygraph, but it’s so unlikely as to not just be improbable but impossible.

Articles with titles such as “How to Beat a Polygraph” have steps that are virtually impossible to follow. Don’t count on advice in those types of articles to give someone enough ammunition to actually beat a polygraph. At best they can provide muddled results as to make the test inconclusive. But that’s not beating the polygraph. That’s just rendering the results unusable, which could be seen as a sign of guilt in any case.

Sources and further reading:

Categories
Scams

How I Worked Out I Was Being Scammed

My wife and I run a small business and like many businesses in the 21st century we have a website through which our customers can place orders.

Having a website means anyone can contact us with questions about their order or about anything, really. We get a lot of questions via our Facebook page, but occasionally someone will use the contact page on our business’ website to get in touch.

On the evening of 22nd of September 2020 I received the following message through our website’s contact page:

It was an unusual request as all of our orders are local.

My first thought was that one of our European relatives had told this person about our product and they were so exited that they were willing to have our stuff shipped to Sweden.

I was curious to find out who this was. I searched Facebook for the name “Johnson Ives” to see if anyone by that name could be linked to Sweden. I didn’t turn up any lead from this search.

Maybe I could call them so I could clear up a few questions I had.

It’s not such a big deal nowadays to make a long distance phone call, so I thought I would see if I could call the number. It didn’t have the country code. A superficial search led me to understand that the phone number didn’t make any sense as far as Swedish phone numbers go.

Neither of those points however were a definite indication that this person wasn’t coming to us with a genuine inquiry. Sometimes people mistype things. Maybe he had mis-typed the phone number when filling out the form.

I decided to reply.

The reply came back immediately:

I looked at the time in Sweden. It was the beginning of the work day, so it wasn’t improbable that someone was available to reply to my email so quickly. Of course there are many other countries where this person could have been emailing from. The time simply didn’t increase the improbability of this being sent from Sweden during a normal working day.

The words “down here” are ones I have never associated with Sweden, but this could easily be dismissed if someone is not a native English speaker.

The items this person wanted added up to just under $3000. They went on to include a list in this email. Up until this point I was still considering the possibility that this may be someone that knows us, or knows about us through Facebook.

A number of things in the email stood out to me as looking a little suspicious:

  • They were offering an explanation when I hadn’t asked for one.
  • They could easily source the product in Sweden.
  • Every single item they chose was the bulk package. Not an appropriate seminar giveaway.
  • They were trying to get me excited by making me think this would be a regular purchase.

The email went on to say:

On its face this all seems like it could be a genuine inquiry. It doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request for them to want me to use an agent they recommend.

I looked up the shipping address on Duckduckgo, Google, Google Maps and Google Streetview. I discovered that it is located between a couple of restaurants in the heart of the city of Stockholm and is the address for a labour hire company.

Again, not totally improbable.

I found the company’s website and sent them a short message to ask if they knew about an order for product that was to be delivered to their address, and if they had facilities for a seminar. I didn’t expect a reply as my message sounded like a fishing expedition, but I figured it was worth a shot. I never heard back from them.

The next email I received from this person using the name “Johnson Ives” was for a doubling of the order.

I replied with:

The reply, as before, was pretty fast:

Note that they didn’t give me any useful information.

Penpals? really? I was becoming less and less convinced that this thing was genuine.

I decided to offer free shipping to see how they would respond.

They didn’t like that.

I added a quick follow up:

While awaiting their reply I decided to look up “Mary Curtis” and “Global Cargo”.

There were a lot of similar hits but no exact hits. This is often a red flag. Scammers often use company names that are very close to real company names.

By this time I was still in evaluation mode, but was becoming convinced that it was complete bogus.

I simply hadn’t found any conclusive proof that this person was genuine.

A reply then came with a scan of an expired California drivers license. I was surprised that they sent this so quickly. People don’t just send a scan of their driver’s license over email without at least obscuring part of it.

The driver’s license had Johnson Ives on it but it also had a last name that hadn’t been used in any of the emails yet.

The drivers license had expired in 2018.

If this guy was American he sure didn’t seem like it from his grammar.

At this point I thought I would conduct a search using the terms “shipping scam”.

The first two links didn’t look relevant.

The third search result looked a lot like what was happening to me.

This is how the fake shipping company scam usually works:

A customer contacts a shop via relay operator or e-mail to order a large quantity of product; (Red flags: The email exchanges are often littered with misspellings and poor grammar, and often come from a Gmail, Yahoo or similar free e-mail account.)

The customer wants to pay for the product with a credit card and wants to ship the order a large distance, sometimes the end destination is across the country, sometimes it’s on another continent. The purchasing credit card is usually stolen. (Red flags: Scammers usually place an order for products they could easily get from a local shop, and the credit card billing address doesn’t match the shipping address.)

The customer says they want to use their preferred shipping company to transport the product. The customer asks the business to pay the delivery company directly and says they will send a check or money order the business to repay the delivery costs. (Red flag: Business owners have reported scammers request to use the shipping companies AGC Delivery International, Ox Direct Shippers or Cargo Trust Shipping Freight Co.)

After the business has paid the delivery company, the scammer’s check or money order won’t go through, leaving the business without the thousands of dollars of delivery costs and with wasted product.

https://www.glassmagazine.com/blog/2020/warning-fake-shipping-company-scam

The emails so far had an uncanny similarity to the shipping scam. The doubling of the order amount was yet another confirmation that this person was running this very scam.

I wondered if I could get more identifying information from this person.

I knew that collecting identifying information from people in Europe without permission can get you in legal hot water.

So far the only information I had been able to glean from their emails was that they had AOL and AOL Instant Messenger email accounts and that they were using a Samsung Galaxy SM-G950F running Android 9. The sending IP address was AOL’s parent company, Yahoo’s mail server in the USA.

I wondered if I could find out what the person’s actual IP address was.

I created a new page on our website and added the following code:

<?php
 
//IP Grabber
 
//Variables
 
$protocol = $_SERVER['SERVER_PROTOCOL'];
$ip = $_SERVER['REMOTE_ADDR'];
$port = $_SERVER['REMOTE_PORT'];
$agent = $_SERVER['HTTP_USER_AGENT'];
$ref = $_SERVER['HTTP_REFERER'];
$hostname = gethostbyaddr($_SERVER['REMOTE_ADDR']);
 
//Print IP, Hostname, Port Number, User Agent and Referer To Log.TXT
 
$fh = fopen('log.txt', 'a');
fwrite($fh, 'IP Address: '."".$ip ."\n");
fwrite($fh, 'Hostname: '."".$hostname ."\n");
fwrite($fh, 'Port Number: '."".$port ."\n");
fwrite($fh, 'User Agent: '."".$agent ."\n");
fwrite($fh, 'HTTP Referer: '."".$ref ."\n\n");
fclose($fh);
?>

What it does is it logs the IP address of anyone accessing the page and creates a log file which I can then download.

Since the code is PHP it is completely invisible to anyone viewing the page source through their browser.

I composed an email with the link, hoping they would take the bait.

He got back to me with:

I checked my web server to see if he had clicked the link.

But he hadn’t.

Damn.

I gave it one more shot hoping this would make him click the link:

He fell for it.

I checked the log file.

Bingo.

The program had logged the type of phone, and the operating system, browser, all of which I already knew from the email headers.

The IP address was the only information that I didn’t have.

Until now.

I entered the IP address into the search bar at https://whatismyipaddress.com

and…..gotcha.

Lagos, Nigeria.

Well, at this point there really wasn’t any doubt about this being a scam.

Knowing that the person was viewing my site from Lagos Nigeria was enough of a confirmation of my suspicions to not proceed with the order.

Greed Clouds Perception

You may think that it was obvious from the beginning that this was a scam. I think something that scammers take advantage of is that when their victim begins to imagine the large sum of money they will get from a transaction the mind begins to reject clues that may indicate they are wrong.

There is a critical point at the beginning, which I call the “Evaluation Period” that is critical.

It is during this time that the excitement of a potential big windfall overstimulates, or overwhelms the mark’s thought process.

Any clues that indicate they have been deceived are pushed aside in favour of the good feelings that come from imagining the big win.

An area in psychology that has been the subject of a great deal of research has to do with differences in how humans view positive and negative information as they age.

In one such study1 psychologists demonstrated that older people prefer to focus on positive events and emotions as they grow older much more than younger people. It’s known as the positivity effect.

This has been demonstrated repeatedly in lab experiments where younger and older people are shown positive and negative images and then asked to recall them. Younger people recall both positive and negative images at the same rate, whereas older people remember more of the positive images.2

Incredulity: Surely They Wouldn’t! Would they!?

Another reason people go along with a scam is that they can’t believe someone would be so heartless.

It’s hard to imagine that someone would leave you straddling a debt of thousands and thousands of dollars while they walk away with only a fraction of that. It seems inconceivable. So it’s easier to simply accept what is happening and dismiss all the little things that are off.

I am reminded of the account in “The Truth About Lies” (Andy Shea) of the man who supposedly beat the polygraph. The story of how FBI agent Robert Hanssen sold secrets to the Russians and then lied about his involvement was made into a film called “Breach” (2007).

Andy Shea relates the moment that Hanssen takes a polygraph test and is asked whether he has had any dealings with foreign nations. He answers “No” and the polygraph operator notices a slight variation from the baseline. When the operator asks him about this, Hanssen says he must have been thinking about his upcoming trip to Argentina for holidays. So the operator dismisses it and Hansson became known for the man who beat the polygraph test.

There are usually small indicators that something is off when a scam is underway. These things are always explained away, sometimes with barely plausible explanations, but because the alternative is just unthinkable, we dismiss those small indicators.

Sources:

1. L. L. Carstensen and J. A. Mikels, “At the intersection of emotion and cognition: Aging and the positivity effect” Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 14 (2005)

2. Doug Shamel, “Outsmarting the Scam Artists” (2012)

Categories
Mental Health

Breathing Techniques To Reduce Stress

This morning a headline in the Harvard Business Review caught my attention. Its title was Why Breathing Is So Effective at Reducing Stress.

The article recounts the story of a marine that used focused breathing to remain calm during a horrendous injury he had sustained. His ability to remain calm and focused is what allowed him to not only attend to his own injury but maintain enough presence of mind to get his men to call for help.

Most of us do not end up in combat level stress situations. It may seem like it, though, at times. We can find ourselves experiencing the same levels of stress as would be found in a battle situation if we do not know how to cope when life’s pressures mount.

It may seem like merely breathing is not a very practical solution to some extremely difficult situations. Yet the above example shows that it sure helps.

The Science Behind It: Breathing To Reduce Stress

A recent clinical trial conducted by researchers at Yale evaluated the effects of three different well-being interventions.

  • Breathing Exercises: in this experiment, the researchers measured the impact of a particular program, SKY Breath Meditation. This is a comprehensive series of breathing and meditation exercises which one can learn over several days. It is designed to induce calm and resilience.
  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: a meditation technique in where the emphasis is learning to become aware of each moment in a non-judgmental way.
  • Foundations of Emotional Intelligence: this program teaches techniques to improve emotional awareness and regulation.

The researchers assigned participants to one of the three programs or to a control group where there would be no intervention. They found that the participants who practiced the Breathing Exercises experienced the greatest mental health. In addition to this they found that the participants had improved social connectedness, positive emotions, reduced stress levels, relief from depression, and mindfulness benefits.

The University of Arizona conducted a similar study where Breath Meditation was compared to a workshop that taught more conventional, cognitive strategies for stress-management. The workshop was on how to change your thoughts about stress. Both Breathing Meditation and the cognitive stress workshop were rated similarly by participants and they both produced significant increases in social connectedness. However, the Breathing Meditation showed greater benefits in terms of immediate impact on stress, mood, and conscientiousness.

What was even more surprising is that, when measured three months later, these positive effects were shown to have increased as time went on.

Before and after the workshops, participants were placed in a high-pressure performance situation, like presenting at a business meeting. In anticipation of the stressful performance, the group that had completed the cognitive workshop still experienced elevated breathing and heart rates.

In contrast, the group that had done the Breathing Meditation held steady in terms of breathing and heart rate. It seems that this program had instilled in them an effective coping strategy against the anxiety typically associated with anticipating a stressful situation. So the were in a more positive emotional state, as well as able to think clearly and effectively. Those two elements allowed them to perform the task at hand without the heightened levels of stress that one would expect otherwise.

Photo by Sid Leigh on Unsplash

Research has shown that different types of breathing have an effect on emotions. Changing how you breathe can change how you feel. As you probably know when you feel joy, your breathing is regular. Deep and slow breaths are not the type of breathing you’ll find when you feel anxious or angry. In those cases your breathing will be irregular. Short, fast, and shallow breaths are what you will find are associated with more intense situations.

What’s wonderful though is that when you follow certain breathing patterns which are associated with specific emotions, you’ll can actually put yourself into that state and find yourself feeling the corresponding emotions.

Relaxing Breath: The Four-Seven-Eight Breathing Technique

An easy breathing technique to start with is called Relaxing Breath, or the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique. You don’t need any gear, and it can be done pretty much anywhere. Ideally you’ll want to sit with your back straight, at least when learning how to do this technique.

  • Your tongue’s tip rests on the front of the roof of your mouth just above your upper teeth. The air will flow out of your mouth around your tongue when exhaling.
  • Breathe out completely, hear the sound of your breath leaving your body, letting your lungs empty out.
  • Your mouth now closes as you breathe in through your nose while counting to four in your mind.
  • Rest for a count of seven before exhaling.
  • Exhale, letting the exhalation make a whooshing sound as you allow it to last for a count of eight.

The exhalation is meant to be audible (think “whoosh”) while the inhalation is meant to be quiet. The tongue stays in the same position throughout the exercise. whether you count fast or slow is not as important as making sure that you are counting at a constant pace. It’s the ratio that’s important. The exhalation is to take twice as long as the inhalation while the rest period while you are holding your breath is just under the duration of time you will spend exhaling the next breath.

So in summary it’s: Inhale through the nose for 4. Hold for 7. Exhale through the mouth for 8.

It shouldn’t take long to learn. And once you have got it down, you can do this any time you feel the need for it.

Dr A. Weil, M. D. , who recommends this technique, says: “This breathing exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Unlike tranquilizing drugs, which are often effective when you first take them but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it, but gains in power with repetition and practice. Do it at least twice a day. You cannot do it too frequently.”

While the exercise can be done as often as you like Dr Weil recommends no more than four breaths per session for the first month of practice.

Categories
WordPress

How To Protect WordPress From Attacks

WordPress is one of the easiest DIY content management systems to install and use. You can set it up in a minute or two and be up and running, typing out your first blog post for the world to enjoy before breakfast.

The problem is that as soon as your site is “live” it is vulnerable to attack. I have experienced numerous attacks on my WordPress installations. Sometimes the site had not even been advertised anywhere.

And yet, boom, out of nowhere, a sneak attack injected malicious code into my website.

Usually you don’t know that you’ve been hacked until it’s too late.

“Why didn’t you back up?” I hear you say.

Well once time I did a back up and only after did I discover the backup was already contaminated.

I discovered the hack because I was adding some code to the header.php file when I noticed a weird bit of text. It was a message in the website’s header saying “you have been hacked by the [name withheld] brotherhood” and a link to some flag gif.

Another attack one of my sites experienced was a massive SQL injection which created a one by one pixel image backlinks to various sites on every single one of my site’s pages. That was a headache to clean up.

Yet another time hackers had managed to get some kind of script running which was creating and deleting folders dynamically on my site’s server. I’d delete the folders and new ones would appear. I shudder to think what may have been funneled through my site during that time.

Another time I found that all the javascript files on my site had some extra code at the end of the file. And that was on a site that wasn’t even a WordPress site. It was on the same shared hosting account with WordPress on another domain. Yep. I had installed WorPress without security software. I delayed the installation of a security plugin because I wasn’t going to promote the site just yet. Well I learned soon enough that this was a mistake. The WordPress site got hacked and ruined my other sites on the same server which I didn’t even have WordPress!

I now install a security plugin first thing.

WordPress Security Plugins

To avoid getting hacked I have used a few security plugins over the years and they’ve all worked well. My WordPress installations have never succumbed to attack when I have had these security plugins up and running. The main difference I found between the different plugins was in the ease of use. Some require a bit of getting used to. But as I will show you it can be worth learning to use a new plugin.

WordFence

Protecting websites since 2012

WordFence I found to be one of the easiest security plugins to use. Their team has focused not only on extremely tight security for your WordPress installation, they have gone to extra lengths to make it easy to use. You don’t have to be a geek to use this plugin.

It’s easy for beginners, but also great for more experienced computer users who maybe don’t have time to fiddle with settings and just want to get on with creating content.

I’ve used both the free version and the premium version of WordFence.

The big question that you probably have in the front of your mind is:

Is the free version good enough?

I’d say yes, but make sure you have backups of your site. The free version delays updates by 30 days when compared to the premium version.

If someone uses a zero-day exploit on your site of course neither plugin will save you. So in the end it’s really only about managing and reducing risk. The risk is never zero, so backup, always backup. If your site is bringing in a solid income stream then WordFence Premium is hard to beat as far as providing protection and being super easy to use.

Of course if you are just getting started with your site and it’s not yet paying for itself much less making a profit there are other options that are not as costly.

And WordFence won’t budge on price.

I asked WordFence if they could consider a better price for me, but they said they felt their price reflected the value they offered. That may be true, but once the number of websites I wanted to protect started to grow WordFence started getting a little prohibitive.

BulletProof Security

Protecting websites since 2007

I switched to BulletProof Security Pro by AIT Pro when I had more than three websites to protect. It was merely a financial decision. Having been hacked so many times in the past I was determined to use a premium product. But I had to keep the costs down.

BPS Pro, while a little less user friendly, only charges a once off fee for as many websites as you want to protect. And it’s not an annual subscription either. It’s really a once off fee. This definitely appealed to me. I don’t mind a bit of DIY if it saves me some money. All I had to do was read their documentation and ask for help when I needed it. BPS Pro have extensive documentation both in the form of videos and a user forum. They answered any support tickets promptly, so it ended up not being as hard as I’d initially thought it was going to be.

It may take a little bit of your time to get your head around the way BPS Pro works, but I found it to be a fair tradeoff.

To me it was worth the learning curve.

If you ever have an issue you can’t work out by reading the documentation or by watching the instructional videos you can send them a question and BPS Pro support will either fix it themselves or direct you on what to do.

BPS Pro is the longest established WordPress security plugin I list here.

iThemes Security Pro

Another WordPress security plugin worth mentioning is iThemes Security Pro. This plugin has been around since 2014. I haven’t used this one so you will have to rely on other user reviews for a first hand account as to what it’s like to use it. From what I gather it has a strong fan base. Just like with anything there are a few users for whom this plugin didn’t work. Well it worked a little too well, by locking them out of their site. Still, 90% of reviewers gave this plugin 5 stars. Fortunately there is a free version of the plugin so you can see if it is to your liking. It’s probably a good idea to use the free version first before shelling out $80 or more for the Pro version.

Sucuri

Sucuri has a free WordPress Plugin, but they also offer a Website Security Solution which can be installed on any site whether WordPress or not. My experience with Sucuri was in the form of a free scan of a website I suspected was infected. Sucuri identified the threat and had a solution on their blog. Their security blog was what impressed me so I feel they definitely should be mentioned here. Sucuri is well known for the place you go once you have a problem and need someone to clean it up. There are admittedly a number of customers that were annoyed because the malware on their site was hard to clean up and got impatient while the Sucuri team was busy working on the clean up. Sucuri have mentioned that they are aware of this and said they will improve in this area. But as you can imagine anyone going through a site meltdown is going to be prone to a meltdown themselves. It’s no wonder that some of them had themselves a little rant on Trustpilot.

Pricing Compared

Free plugins are great but sometimes you want that extra security and reassurance provided by the premium version.

If you are only worried about a single WordPress installation then the price difference for one year isn’t huge. I agree with WordFence that their pricing reflects the value of their product. They make it so easy to use that the time saved is absolutely worth it.

Plugin1 Website10 Websites100 WebsitesRecurring CostsSupport
BPS Pro$69.95UnlimitedUnlimitedNoneUnlimited
iThemes$80$127$199YearlySubscription
Wordfence$99$792$7,425YearlySubscription
Sucuri$199.99??YearlySubscription

Total Cost After 10 Years for 1, 10, 100 & 1,000 Websites

Once you start looking at the long term costs combined with the individual cost per license for each website it gets very expensive. If each of your sites is making enough money to justify the expense then by all means choose the one that you find is the easiest to use.

However if you are launching new websites and don’t want to risk too much expense before seeing if they pan out it will pay to get to know BPS Pro.

 Plugin1 Website10 Websites100 Websites1,000 Websites
BPS Pro$69.95$69.95$69.95$69.95
iThemes$800$1,270$1,990$1,990
Wordfence$990$7,920$74,250$740,250
Sucuri$1,999.90???

Categories
History Uncategorized

What Convinced Me That The Gospel Of Mark Was Composed in Latin

The Gospel of Mark is a pretty short little booklet. The English King James version is just shy of 15,000 words. I’ve seen blog posts that rival that. And the original may have been even shorter. There is strong evidence that points to the last few verses having been interpolated. The 4th century MSS known as the Codex Sinaiticus does not have verses 1:33, 7:16, 9:44, 9:46, 10:36, 11:26, 15:28, 16:9–20.

I find the Gospel of Mark the most interesting because as the oldest of the four gospels it is likely the inspiration for the other ones. A careful reading of the original may shed light on the birthing of a new religion. If I was to peer into the mind of the author it would of course be necessary to have access to the original text. The King James version was translated from the Textus Receptus, which was all in Greek. However I soon came across evidence that the Gospel of Mark was originally composed in Latin. This idea intrigued me.

It turns out that this isn’t some fringe theory contrived as some weak attempt at click-baiting.

The Catholic Church confirms that the Gospel of Mark was likely composed in Latin.

Mark Wrote in Latin

The idea that Mark wrote his Gospel in Latin is not new at all. It is even stated in the brief introductory footnote to Mark’s Gospel in the Challoner-Douay-Rheims version of the Bible: “Baronius and others say, that the original was written in Latin….” This idea has fallen out of remembrance in modern times.

source: http://www.catholicplanet.com/TSM/NT-Mark.htm

Confirmations In Ancient Writings

From what I can gather the earliest known mention of the Gospel of Mark as a Latin text comes from Ephraem Syrus (306-373 CE) in his Commentary on Tatian’s Diatessaron (written in Syriac) App 1.1: “Mark wrote the Gospel in Latin”.

This is interesting. There is no earlier mention of the Gospel of Mark having been originally composed in any other language.

A close reading of the Gospel of Mark in Greek actually confirms that it was first composed in Latin and not Greek

A careful analysis of the oldest Latin version of the Gospel of Mark brings it all together and confirms the suspicions raised in other texts.

The Greek version has a number of nonsensical sections, words, phrases, and name places. The Latin version of the same verses actually makes sense. Once the Latin version is examined we see that these nonsensical parts read well without the need for any explaining away nor for any mental gymnastics.

I would go so far as to say that the errors in the Greek when compared to the oldest Latin version make it glaringly obvious that the Latin makes sense whereas the Greek sounds, well, stupid.

Errors in The Greek Version

→ Mistaking “et” [Latin, and] as making up part of Gennessar. Gennessaret, is not a place. Mark 6:53

→ Mistaking “impotabilis” [Latin, undrinkable] for the impossible and nonsensical “impotentabilis” [able to powerless]. English translations skirt around the problem by just making it up with: “new teaching with authority”. Mark 1:27

→ Mistaking “grabatto” [Latin, pallet] for “iugerebant” [four were carrying]. This gives us the very awkward and disconcerting “they came to him bringing a paralysed man taken by four men”

→ Completely misreading “Vt audierunt de eo exierunt tenere eum” [Latin, when they heard about him they went out to seize him] The “him” here refers to Jesus. Greek gives us the nonsensical “and when they heard from him they went out to seize him”. This sort of gives “de” [Latin, about, of] a possible sense, but one which is nonsensical in the context; Mark 3:21

→ Mistaking “uenerunt” [Latin, met], for “fuerunt” [Latin, came]. Mark 3:32 → Mark 4:8,20 says “afferebant unum tricesimum et unum sexagesimum et unum centesimum” [Latin, yielding, some thirtyfold and some sixtyfold and some a hundredfold]. But the Greek only has the numbers not the yield increase: “one thirty, one sixty, one a hundred” despite the odd Greek that this produces.

Here is an in depth essay on the topic by David Bruce Gain:

https://www.scribd.com/doc/30411279

↶ Use this link to read 60 days on Scribd for free https://www.scribd.com/g/p1dsh

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Textus_Receptus