Dec 24, 2011

Do aliens exist? If so, does that refute the existance of God?

Just watched Part 1 of the documentary, "Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking" which talks about Aliens and found it to be fascinating. There were some new ideas I learned and other ideas that were confirmed to me. For instance, I knew that Hawking strongly believes that alien life has to exist, just based on the sheer size of the universe. In fact, he believes it would be unlikely for alien life NOT to exist. What I didn't know was that alien life could exist within our own solar system, for example on Mars or more interestingly, on the moon Europa circling Jupiter. With regards to Eurupa, this moon is covered by a layer of ice 15 miles thick. However, because of its egg-shaped orbit around Jupiter, it expands and contracts, releasing lots energy, leading scientists to hypothesize that liquid water may exist underneath the ice surface. A quick look at Wikipedia reveals that though space missions to this moon have been suggested, it would be extremely expensive to put something together. I think it would be remarkable if we could send an unmanned device to this moon. Just the mission itself would inspire a generation.

Second thing I learned was that water isn't essential to life. Life could exist in other a soup of others chemicals too, such as liquid nitrogen or even mixtures of gases. Life could even exist without light, which it certainly does in the deepest parts of Earths oceans. Some planets are only gaseous, while others are too cold to support liquid water, but might be able to support liquid nitrogen. The point is, the possibilities are endless, and almost every shape and form of life must exist somewhere.

Hawking is also skeptical of supposed "encounters" with aliens that are occasionally reported on earth. To him, it makes no sense for aliens to take the time to travel across the galaxy only to arrive on earth unannounced and secretly find lonely and abduct them. Hawking fears that if aliens do come to earth, it won't be for peaceful purposes.

It was an interesting documentary and certainly fun to watch. After it was over, I was wondering if the existence of aliens would refute or confirm the existence of God to believers on Earth.

This question has almost certainly has been posed to religious scholars. Do any of my readers know the answer? If you do end up reading my query, and can point me in the right direction, please do so in the comments!

Dec 22, 2011

Pakistan's New Year's Resolution: A secular pipe dream

If Pakistan could speak, this is what I feel she would wish for in 2012.
  • Religion: Begin the process of separating state and religion once and for all. Extremism, feudalism and nepotism have shaken my foundations. Though secularism isn't perfect, it is the best solution given the toxic state of the country. Adding more theocratic nonsense to feudalism and masochism is beyond dangerous.
  • Name: Remove "Islamic" from my official name. Wasn't even my original name.
  • Defense: The armed forces take up a big chunk of my budget. Even though I am officially considered a failed state, the military spending is ranked 35th in the world. That is too exorbitant. I want to reduce the size and strength of my armed forces, redirecting those funds towards education, technology, energy and infrastructure.Sounds naive but I need to shift my priorities and focus on internal strife rather than external threats.
  • Education: I will make bold strides to education my people, especially the women, who form the strength and backbone of families.The feudal, masochistic traditions coupled with Islam, have suppressed women for generations. That clock needs to be rewound.
  • Minorities: Minorities have long been persecuted in this country. So much for Jinnah's dream about protecting them. Perhaps shift some defense forces from the Indian border to the entrance of churches?
I know that wishes don't necessarily come true. But a secularist can hope.

Dec 17, 2011

Bible belt states lead the US in gay pornography searches between 2004 and 2011

The states of the Bible belt, America's conservative corridor, lead the country in searching Google for homosexual online media content between 2004 and 2011. I applied Google Insights for Search to the term gay porn and filtered the results to the "Online Media" category. The specific link to the search I performed can be located through this link. The results are normalized by Google such that the scaled numbers can be compared with each other. The top 10 states that lead the United States searching for gay porn are Mississippi, Florida, West Virginia, Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio and New York. The results also include a map showing the relative scaling for search volume across the US.
Search volume index for gay pornography searches
Since a few of the states in the top 10 are Bible belt states, I wanted to graph the search volume index of gay porn as a function of religiosity for people from those states. I included data from a recent Gallup Poll that surveyed Americans about how important religion was to their lives. I plotted the results of this poll as a function of the number of searches for the word 'Bible' in each of the 51 states, just to confirm the that Google searches do indeed reflect the opinions and interests of the people within their states.

Dec 14, 2011

Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are the most Googled "Four Horsemen of Atheism"

The "Four Horsemen of atheism" is term coined by Richard Dawkin's website in reference to a debate on atheism feathing Sam Harris, Daniel C. Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. I was curious to see which one of these guys is the more Googled atheist in the World. Google Trends shows that Dawkins was the actually the most searched atheist for a while, but Hitchens is pretty much neck and neck with him now. Well, besides being slightly interesting, this isn't the most useful knowledge in the world.

UPDATE Dec 16th 2011: Rest in peace Christopher Hitchens.

Dec 13, 2011

Muslims should boycott Lowe's but also address legitimate concerns

Lowe's is the latest corporation to pull out as a sponsor of TLC's "All American Muslim". I find this move to be bigoted and despicable and I will subsequently stop shopping at Lowe's.

The show they were sponsoring isn't my favorite television show but it is a show that needs to be aired. The goal of the show is to depict the lives of normal, boring American Muslims. What is wrong with that? Everyone on earth knows how the fringe extremist Muslims think. This was a much needed show.

Lowe's claims that they are removing their ads because they didn't want to 'alienate anyone'.

What the ...?

They just alienated an entire community by pulling their sponsorship.

On a second and more important note, I believe Muslims across America need to come together and address the root cause of this sponsorship suspension. The initial opposition from the Florida Family Association that forced Lowe's hand may be racism or bigoted or extreme.

Predominantly Muslim countries among global leaders in searching for homosexual pornographic content

The Islamic view on homosexuality is well known. Not only is it forbidden in the religion, but it is also a punishable offense in certain Muslim countries. A recent Gallup poll below highlights the negative attitude of Muslims in Western countries towards homosexuality. 
This trends gains strength in Muslim majority countries. A Pew Global Attitudes Survey indicates that besides Western Europe and the Americas, the majority of polled citizen from Eastern Europe, Russia, Ukraine, East and Southeast Asia, Africa, South Asia and the Middle East believe that homosexuality should be rejected. Included in these regions are obviously the countries whose populace is mostly Muslim.

None of these surveys are surprising.

Dec 10, 2011

The top 10 songs that bring back memories

Music has played and continues to play a big part in my life. Some music, and in particular, some songs bring back intense memories, some are good memories and some not so. Here is a list of my top 10 memory-evoking songs in no particular order and the memory I attach to the song.
  1. Ace of Base - The Sign. 7th grade crush. Whatever!
  2. A-Ha - Take On Me. Cheese puffs, RC Cola and records. Good old days!
  3. Culture Club - Karma Chameleon. Growing up in the 80's. Loved that time.
  4. Dexys Midnight Runners - Come on Eileen. Same as above. Who doesn't miss that music?
  5. Somewhere over the Rainbow - Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwoʻole. Grandparents. Miss them.
  6. The Foundations - Build Me Up Buttercup. Crushes suck. This song is beautiful.
  7. Louis Armstrong - What a Wonderful World. Life, love, nature really are incredible.
  8. Bon Jovi - Livin on a Prayer. My time in New Jersey. Loved this place.
  9. Snap! - Rhythm is a dancer. Karachi. My hometown.
  10. Lighthouse Family - High. Broken heart in college.

Dec 9, 2011

Top 10 ways to save money as a PhD graduate student

As most of us graduate and PhD students know, the stipend isn't exactly a gold mine. But it suffices. There are, however, ways of stretching that stipend out quite a bit so that you can enjoy some things in life more? Here are my top 10 suggestions.

  1. Travel: When you travel, couch surf. Its the way to go. You'll save on hotels, and plus if you're traveling abroad, you'll stay with people who may be willing to show you around. What can be better than touring a new place with an expert?
  2. Groceries: Start couponing! It sounds like hard work but it is so easy. I don't understand why everyone doesn't do it. You can save 50% or more on everyday groceries. Just get the local or regional newspaper every Sunday, and keep the "Smart Source" and "Red Plum" inserts. Then go to one of the many couponing websites that already match the coupons you have to the grocery stores in your area like Coupon Mom, Generous Savings and Living Rich With Coupons. Don't believe the show "Extreme Couponing"; you don't need a lot of space to store the free or extremely cheap stuff.
  3. Commute: Skip the car, bike to work. Or take the campus bus. But try and avoid your own car as much as possible. Besides, its healthier too.

Dec 7, 2011

Google searches for phrase "Is there a God" increasing dramatically

Google insights for search allows one to compare and contrast the phrases that people are Googling and how that interest shifts over time. The data is scaled out of 100 and prior to the scaling, is relative to the total number of all searches (the insights for search website has more information about the scaling). As a result, one can compare interest in certain search terms with other terms.

I noticed an interesting trend this morning.

As the chart below shows, interest in the phrase, "is there a God" has skyrocketed over the past 4 years. I had put the phrase in quotes, as that forces the ordering of words. Some of the the other terms also show slight increases. I'm not claiming that this implies that atheism is on the rise, but that the relative interest in understanding religion, or the lack thereof, seems to be on the rise.
Relative number of Google searches for various phrases questioning God as a function of time
What is odd is that "is there a God" is the only phrase I found that increased so dramatically. Some of the other phrases that I have not shown on the graph did not show such a dramatic rise. Thinking that there might have been some event around 2008 that caused the spike, I Googled this term myself and did not find anything out of the ordinary that would cause it, like a song, movie, famous quote, or event. There is, however, a website called but I don't think searching for that website can account for such a sharp rise in the search for this phrase.

Just thought I would put this out there.

Interesting stuff.

Dec 4, 2011

Pakistan leads internet in twisted sex-related keyword searches

Since Google Trends started releasing their data on global keyword searches, it had been well known that Pakistan leads the entire world in Google searches for the keyword "sex". I had read the initial news reports on this with amusement but never investigated it myself...till now. What I found out surprised me.

First of all, just to confirm the results, as of December 4th, 2011, Pakistan still leads the entire world in total volume of searches for the keyword, "sex". Rounding out the top 10 are:
  1. Pakistan
  2. Vietnam
  3. India
  4. Egypt
  5. Morocco
  6. Indonesia
  7. Malaysia
  8. Turkey
  9. Greece
  10. Poland
Interesting to note that 7 of the top 10 are predominantly Muslim majority countries (I included India just because it has a sizable Muslim population).

I can't prove why Muslim countries seem to be leading the way in this unflattering trend, but I think I have an explanation for this.