Asking for help without stating the problem you need to solve is like asking for directions without stating your destination.

I’ve read similar complaints from Raymond Chen’s blog a long time ago, so I gather this is not an isolated problem. It seems to be a common problem where people (who are not stupid) ask for help, but because they are thinking so deeply about what they have already done (even if it is completely wrong), they tell you what they have done and not what they are trying to do.

Yesterday an operations support member of staff where I work asked me for help. Here’s how he did it:

  1. He told me which login to use on a remote server.
  2. He then showed me three SQL queries he had tried running, with the results of a fourth unknown query displayed in the grid.

That’s it. He didn’t tell me what the problem was, or why he had tried those particular queries, or how he got to the IDs in the WHERE clause of those queries. I had to ask him what the problem was and what he was looking for. Five times. (Yes, I counted.) And he still didn’t tell me. In the end, I gave him something which may or may not have helped him because he didn’t tell me that either.

Just don’t do that, OK? Surely I don’t need to explain why.

It’s like this… Say you wanted to go to some random place… Sandton City. From here. (Assuming here is someplace in Johannesburg, South Africa.) And you go up to someone to ask for directions and tell them, “Well, I walked out of the office, then went down the lift to the ground floor. Then I walked outside, looked left and looked right, and walked across the road.” And from that, you expect them to know where you want to go and how to get there.

Just don’t.

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How come ghosts wear clothes?


This morning I awoke to a strange sound. It sounded like a vacuum cleaner or some kind of road machinery, droning on and on while I had my morning bath. Actually that was a good thing… it snapped me out of my trance when I dozed off in the bath, having lost track of time playing on the Xbox One last night. (In other news, my Diablo 3 characters are now Paragon Level 479.)

But it occurred to me how amusing it is, the way people respond to strange sounds. Hearing something strange in the middle of the night, many will jump directly to supernatural explanations. The same goes for seeing things that don’t make sense… To many they must be ghosts or aliens. Why?

For many years, I believed in ghosts. I had various unexplained experiences as a child, and of course all of them involved people who came back from the dead. But wait! It wasn’t always that way. When I had sleep paralysis (I think) between the ages of one and three years old, I named the “monster” who lived in my room, the Hugga Pugga. I never claimed it was a ghoul or demon or any of those things. Adults who believed in such things led me in that direction. Being impressionable as children are, I took them seriously. Aunt Mercia was my favourite aunt. I’d love going to her house in my childhood and listening to her stories. I was a toddler, and her being my mother’s sister meant that every fascinating detail she said must be true. She even read Tarot cards, so Tarot must be real. A ghost story here, a dubious memory explained there, and soon enough, I was a believer in the paranormal.

Back then, my mother would simultaneously encourage and discourage my belief. “Those things are taboo… People will look at you strangely if you tell them you’ve seen ghosts.” (Paraphrased since I can no longer remember the exact words.) Of course that implies the supernatural is real, and that supernatural explanations can be found for life’s mysteries. Such beliefs encourage you to look for supernatural signs, and if you do, you will find them…

Oddly, my brother, who is still a devout Roman Catholic unlike me the unbeliever, still believes in those things. (Ok, not oddly. Predictably. And I don’t mean this in any way negative to him or anyone else who believes. I love my brother but I am interested in the way belief works. Using him as an example works for me, since he had an identical upbringing to me and is probably around the same IQ.) Last year he challenged me by asking how I can doubt all these things when I saw them with my own eyes.

But I didn’t. I didn’t see ghosts. I saw ambiguous things and imposed ghostly significance on them, which is what always happens. Ghosts aren’t real. It’s not like I walked around a corner and almost bumped into a spook who introduced himself with, “Hello, I am Bobo the ghostly clown. Because of my life choices I am cursed to forever walk these streets, in this apparel that automatically updates to whatever ghostly appearance is trendy in modern times. Oh, and also Boo!”

Nope. It doesn’t work like that. It’s more like… You see a blurred shape in your peripheral vision where your eyes can’t focus, while walking past a room, and it freaks you out. The shape can be retrofitted to the shape of a human being later, especially when you recall it and tell someone, introducing false memory and filling in that shape. Each time you tell the story, your recollection becomes sharper and the ghost becomes a clear image in your memory… memory that was introduced later and was not something you actually saw. False memory is a fascinating subject and involves more than just ghosts, but that’s way outside of the scope of both my knowledge and today’s post. (Good reading though.)

And if you think about it, why would ghosts wear clothes? It’s a rhetorical question; they would not. No evidence exists for any kind of spirit or soul, and so even if you then think you can stump me with your dubious claim that souls are invisible and undetectable, firstly then… How do you know they exist? And secondly, ghosts would then be invisible and undetectable… the ghosts themselves, never mind their clothes which just so happen to follow whatever trends are popular at the time. A related rhetorical question is, of course, why aren’t there ghost dinosaurs?

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Why do atheists say we disbelieve in “gods” rather than “god”?

First of all, reblogging is cool. Stealing other people’s content is not. There’s a fine line between the two, but seriously (and you know who you are), please stop. At least add your own content. For example, how does your experience as an African American atheist differ from mine as a white South African? (I ask this particularly because many of my black South African atheist friends keep their atheism a secret. They would be disowned by their families as devil worshippers, or be subjected to exorcisms. They find safety in atheist groups on social media, and then even those groups get infiltrated by jackasses who proselytize, or threaten non-believers with eternal torment.) How did you break it to your family that you don’t believe in their religion? How are you treated by your peers, assuming you are open about your atheism? If you identify with my posts, why not refer to them and use them as a starting point for your own introspection? I’m sure you can, and that would be a whole lot better than simply doing the copypasta thing with my and others’ content. In my opinion, a good reader makes a good writer, and I see you have read some excellent content judging by the quality of the stuff you’ve reblogged or copied without attribution.

Moving on, one of the other (copypasta) posts on the blog I found recently via a pingback here, answered the question of today’s title. I figured it would be a good starting point for my own answer to that question, not that anybody has ever asked me.

The answer to the question posed seems obvious to me, but if I think back, I can remember a time when I heard that “atheists don’t believe in gods” and I did a double take. I must have been really young and still a believer, but I can understand how that statement can be confusing.

The confusion arises from the fact that you only believe in one “true” god, so when you say “God”, you implicitly mean that one, whichever one it may be. But there are other religions that you don’t believe in, and you don’t think of. You also project that one god onto everyone else’s beliefs, so even if someone of a different religions talks about god (with the same narrow-mindedness as you), you imagine your particular god.

As an atheist, I don’t believe in your god, or anyone else’s god, and (this is important) I do not prioritize your god above any other, even ones that nobody has believed in for thousands of years. Imagine a hypothetical tree god from some remote island. Let’s call him Joob-joob and pretend he looks like a tree monster from Diablo 3…


Joob-joob the good would-be wood god. (Joob rhymes with wood.)

… I also don’t differentiate between your god and others that I’ve never even heard of. They’re all made up by men. None of them are based on evidence and none exist outside of the minds of believers.

To conclude, you fail to understand that someone else “does not believe in gods” because you imagine only your one is the “real” god and disregard all others of other religions. I don’t. They’re all bullshit. They’re all just claims based on magical explanations for the unknown and wishful thinking, and despite your assumptions, the god of your claim is no more relevant to me than one of a claim made by someone who died several thousand years ago, whose “god” has long since been forgotten.

I bid you a good day, even if you are a plagiaristic arsehole.

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Why don’t you believe?

Someone trolled the South African Atheists Facebook group with, “Why don’t you believe?”

So… This was my answer. I have written similar things here before, but this, in a nutshell, is the simplest answer I have for not believing in god, one that I could type in a minute or two and still get the point across. I hope someone might find it handy…

God is no more than a magical placeholder for the unknown. Here’s why…

Imagine you could draw a straight line to represent all known history of us and the universe, as far back as we can extrapolate… What you’d have is a point at the end, called *now* and a point at the beginning, where it all began.

On that scale, you can add another point, right beside *now*, which represents the first time “god” showed up. Yet by definition, this god must be inserted at the beginning of the line. It is thus a ready-made explanation to put there instead of the dreadful unknown.

In other words, god is just a little box, a placeholder to draw at the start of our straight line, that *by definition* was always there. And by definition we must accept this, despite no evidence and despite the recent invention of this god.

So that’s all god is… a placeholder for the unknown – magical thinking. To insist that god does not need a creator himself is an example of special pleading, because if he doesn’t, neither does the universe. Take away the little box and instead you have the unknown. I’m OK with that. I don’t need to fill it in with some made up explanation.

Insisting that I must believe because it can’t be proven that this made up god isn’t real, is simply an argument from ignorance, as is almost every argument in religious apologetics.

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Do you ever look at yourself and wonder “what if”?

When I was a toddler we had a neighbour, an old woman named Mrs Twine, who gave piano lessons. One day, after I sat with her while she played, she remarked to my parents that I was a natural, since I’d tapped my foot to the rhythm as she played. She wanted to teach me but my parents didn’t allow it. Adult me is about as musical as a potato.

But I do wonder how different my life would have been if little things like that had played out differently. Maybe I was a natural. Maybe in some other universe there’s a me who turned out to be a musician or an artist and found great commercial success. Maybe this other me is famous there? What if?

What if I’d found commercial success? What type of person might I have turned out to be? What if I remained like my brother, and did not reject the religion of my parents? Without my skepticism, would I have been happy in my ignorance, or would I feel that something is missing? What if I settled into white privilege and did not come to care about humanism, equality, racism, feminism and all the things I care about? What if I didn’t become an addict for a while and fall, then gain an understanding of poverty? What if I didn’t fall in love with a brown-skinned girl, never crossed the racial line, never rejected the racism of my upbringing and had a child with someone who isn’t white?

I think that despite all the shit I put myself through, in some ways because of my addiction, I came out of it a better, smarter, wiser person. Though I have my regrets, I am satisfied that (while not financially), I am the best me that I could be… Emotionally, intellectually, and morally. I couldn’t be more satisfied with who I am.

But still I wonder, how much of this me is due to nature and how much is nurture? If things were different, what would that person, that other me, have been like? Would he be likeable? Would he be a good person? I don’t know why I think of these things… Do we all? Do you?

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On drugs, we adjust and it becomes our new “normal”

There’s probably a psychological term for what I’m thinking of, but I wouldn’t know what it is. Anyway, recently I was reading an interview with the former bassist from New Order – I forget his name and it isn’t important anyway. He had published a book, and during the interview, he mentioned how much he loved using all the drugs he’d used, and went so far as to compare them to each other. When you reach that point, when you find it perfectly reasonable to tell anybody why you love using crack and how it’s better than other drugs, it’s fair to say that you have lost touch with reality.

But I saw the same thing in other people, and even in myself years ago. I went from someone who never used hard drugs at all, and didn’t even know where to find them until my mid thirties, to someone who used methamphetamine every day. And somewhere along the way, it became normal. That’s how it works psychologically. When you cross a line and do something new, even if that thing is abhorrent to you, with repeated behaviour you get used to it, and eventually it is normal to you. Almost everybody I knew also used meth, and lived with addiction as an everyday thing.

One day I realized what had happened, and tried to see how it had happened. I could not. However, it turned out that among my “friends”, this insight was unusual. Most of the people I knew who were also addicts, were not self aware. Meth made them paranoid and self conscious, but it did not wake them up to the fact that what they were doing and the way they were living was not normal. And in many cases, many people… I daresay most meth addicts, will never realize what has happened to them. Most addicts, in my opinion, will never get to the point of admitting they have a problem. And that’s sad.

I remember a woman named Tracy, from when I lived in Muizenberg. One day we were talking, and this was right after my girlfriend left the house, and she told me about her child. Tracy was a little younger than me (I think), in her mid thirties at the time. She mentioned her child, a child that was removed about 16 years before, who she had never seen again. And she was OK with it, preferring her life using meth and seeming not to care about what she had lost. She told me this right before she asked me “Do you want to cum?”. At least she didn’t get weird when I turned her down. Tracey is one of those people who will never stop using meth, because for her it is normal.

Likewise, people on meth get used to hearing voices. I remember when it first happened to me – the first time I heard a voice clearly. I’d gone through a long period of hearing muffled sounds that seemed vaguely like voices that I’d hear during loud ambient noise, like wind or rain. But one day, it progressed to something more. I’d said something stupid, something that embarrassed me, to my girlfriend, right before she walked out the house (with another guy and my money to get more drugs)… And the moment I was alone, which must have been ten seconds after I said (whatever it was – I have long since forgotten), I heard my words and my own voice echo back at me. It was frightening. I sat there in shock, “listening” to my own voice mocking me for the next hour.

After that it progressed… and I heard lots of different voices for a few years until I stopped using meth. But as it was when I first heard them, I always knew they were in my head. It never became normal for me, and I never asked Google and random blogs why or if meth made me hear voices, as so many sad people do. Those are the wrong questions, and I saw it as being quite simply this: I heard voices because I used meth.

But not everybody knows they’re using voices. Remember this one I wrote about a while back… He thinks he hears EVP, and uploads recordings he made in his cupboard onto SoundCloud. That guy will never recover. He is too far gone and probably lost touch with reality a long time ago.

Why am I writing this? I’m not too sure as it just came to me when I had a headache and couldn’t fall asleep last night… But it seems to me that as positive as I normally am about recovery and how easy it’s been for me, the dismal reality is that most meth addicts will never even attempt to clean up. Most of them. I cannot emphasize this enough. If you are using meth, you need to realize what you are doing to yourself, and know how important it is to stop before it is too late and you become one of those people who are lost to meth addiction.

Edit… I just read the comments to this blog, and there was one this past weekend by a reader named Adam, thanking me for my insight. It’s great to get feedback like this, and it makes the process of writing about it worthwhile. With no feedback, all I have is the page views to tell me if anyone actually likes what I write, so I really do appreciate your feedback.

It’s worth pointing out that people like Adam are not the ones I’m referring to who are lost. If you’re struggling, you’re more like I used to be. You’re self aware. You know you have a problem. You might still end up one of the casualties who are lost forever to the drug, but you do have a chance, and I hope you’ll end up clean and happy just like me. The people I’m thinking of are those unfortunate majority who never struggle and never stop, but just use until they die.

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Why I don’t debate theists on Facebook any more.

When I first realized how passionate I was about atheism, and as I thought about the person whose argument changed my mind when I still believed at age sixteen, I spent a lot of time in atheist versus theist debate groups. I have since stopped engaging there. I’m still a member, but it just isn’t interesting any more. Here’s why…

People tend to talk over each other…


On the one side you have atheists spending most of the time explaining what atheism is, and asking for evidence, and on the other side you have people who refuse to understand, who gaslight the atheists’ views over and over again, and who, despite being asked numerous times for evidence, present their claims as evidence instead, or hold up things they assume to have been created as evidence of creation. (Circular reasoning.)

While it is true that confirmation bias is the explanation for all those “published study” articles shared by atheists who claim that atheists are more intelligent, and theists who claim that theists are more intelligent, one thing became clear to me in those groups…

The theists in those groups, are idiots, without exception. There are plenty of intelligent people who are believers, but you won’t find them in those groups. Not even one.

The most intelligent arguments for theism I’ve seen there are the ones where the person is smart enough to propose an unfalsifiable position, a creator that exists outside of the bounds of physics, and reality, that can not be detected by any means, that can thus neither be proven nor disproven. And then they follow this premise with the conclusion that their particular god is real, be it Jesus, Allah, or some Hindu gods. They refuse to see the disparity between the premises and the conclusion. If you argue for for a god that only exists outside of known reality, it does not follow logically that you can then assume that your preferred made up god is true, especially if the details of your belief clearly indicate that this god has a relationship with people, and interacts with the physical world. And that’s the most intelligent argument they have. I’m not going into the bad arguments, though I have mentioned them before.

So at the end of the day, it is frustrating arguing with stupid people. It’s almost pointless. The only use is that faint hope that an intelligent theist might read the arguments and be swayed by reason. But that’s not enough to make up for the frustrating waste of time that it is to debate morons.

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