Sunday, December 25, 2016

Religion explained in simple terms

In recent years, I have been thinking and reading a lot about religions that exist in today's societies or have existed in the past. My motivation for this research is to gain a deeper understanding of how religions work and how they come into existence.

Especially the origins of religions are hardly ever taught in schools. The main problem with discussing origins is that the observer has to take a view point outside a particular religion. Such thoughts usually contradict the teachings of religions that are based on an eternal God with no beginning. Therefore, the start of a religion is usually claimed to be a particular creation story that is defined within the religion itself. A perfect circular reference. My point of view is that of an outsider. This is the only point of view that allows one to talk about all religions in a fair and objective way.

This posting is my attempt to summarize and define religious terms in simple words. My definitions are based on ideas and thoughts of religious scientists and scholars such as Reza Aslan, Richard Dawkins and others. Feel free to disagree with my definitions and tell me about it in the comments. Since this is a sensitive topic for many people, please keep discussions at a respectful level.

  • God(s): A God is a human like being outside the observable universe. Humans can never explore or experience God directly.
  • Belief: The desire of humans to communicate with a God and/or the desire to have a higher being who guides ones life. Often, a belief is coupled with a feeling of submission to a particular God.
  • Prayer: A personal conversation with God. This can either be a monologue or a group activity. Usually, a response from God is not expected.
  • Religion: A predefined language that allows one to communicate with one God (or a group of Gods). Usually, people of one group/tribe share the same religion. People who "speak" one religion have the desire to spread their religion among other people. On the one hand, a shared religion has the power to connect otherwise independent groups of people. On the other hand, two different religions can justify hostility towards a group with another religion.
  • Evolution of religions: Usually, one religion does not completely replace an existing religion when it emerges. It rather merges with pre-existing religions or adopts pagan rituals. This is very similar to evolution found in nature or evolution of human languages.
  • Prophets: A (usually male) human, who claims to be able to communicate directly with God in order to create new rules for his tribe or group of people. Very often, a prophet creates a new group rather than leading an existing group. The motivation behind the claim of divine origin of his words is that people tend to question godly rules less than those set up by a human being.
  • Scripture: A collection of written stories, rules, practices and guidance related to a particular religion. Usually, scripture is written many years after a religion was started or a prophet initiated a new religious movement. Very often, scripture claims divine origin to discourage modifications by humans.
  • Heaven: After death, a religion very often promises a believer to join God in paradise. The model of a heaven both motivates the believer to lead a faithful life and also helps cope with another person's death.
  • Politics and Religions: Throughout human history, religions and politics have been in symbiosis. In pre-democratic times, a divine justification for a political ruler was desired (e.g. By the grace of god...). How could a simple citizen question a ruler approved by god? But also, religious leaders very often have a political agenda. Secular states try to separate religion and politics due to the many problems that arise when religions and politics work together.

This list of my personal definitions is far from complete and I do not give justifications for my points. As time permits, I will try to elaborate on these definitions in future posts.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Long Distance Bus from NanJing to HuangShan

One of the most difficult things to plan when traveling in China is find long distance buses. This is especially true if you do not speak Chinese. There is an online bus search tool. But unfortunately is is Chinese only.

We wanted to book a bus from NanJing (南京) to Huang Shan (黄山). There are only a few results you get when using Google. So, I'll share the details about the bus we finally took on our trip.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Booking train tickets in China

This article explains how you can search a train in China and buy a ticket.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

How to fix a missing uninstall button in Windows XP

I often have the problem that I cannot uninstall some programs in Windows XP. The programs are listed in the "Installed Programs" dialog, but the uninstall button is missing. Today I found a workaround how to re-enable this button:

  1. Open the registry editor (Run: regedit.exe)
  2. Navigate to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Installer\Products
  3. Then locate a subkey where ProductName is equal to the program to fix
  4. Within that key, find a path that starts with C:\Windows\Installer followed by a GUID (e.g. {0A869A65-8C94-4F7C-A5C7-972D3C8CED9E}). Most of the time you will find this value in the ProductIcon value
  5. Copy the GUID to the clipboard
  6. Then navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Uninstall and check if there is a key with that GUID.
  7. If there is no such key, simply add a new key by right-clicking on the Uninstall-Key and paste the GUID (including the { and } characters) as its name. You do not need to add any additional keys or data.
  8. Now the un-installation should work as intended
I found another explanation on the web that said that sometimes there is a NoRemove key in an existing Uninstall entry. This value must be set to 0.
Note: Use all of the above at your own risk!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Multilingual DVB-T Experience for Free

Last week we got ourselves a new DVB-T stick. Unfortunately the software that was provided with it only allows to watch TV in German, even though an English audio stream is attached on some programs.

Even free programs like ProgDVB do not allow changing the audio channel to a foreign language - they want you to buy the Pro version which has this feature enabled.

But I found one program that allows DVB programs to be viewed with all audio streams enabled: Video Lan Client!

Newer versions have a DVB-T access module plus GUI that enables full access to DVB television. The only thing I haven't found so far is a channel list editor that works. Nevertheless the only thing you need to enter is the frequency and bandwidth of the program you want to watch. It should work with most USB DVB-T sticks on the market.

From the Media menu select the Open Capture Device... item. Then select DVB DirectShow option from the Capture mode. Now enter the correct frequency of your provider and set the bandwidth. You can either copy these settings from another DVB program or look them up on the internet.

Now you can select a program stream via the Playback menu. I noticed that the default settings do not enable deinterlacing. This can easily be changed from the Video menu. Finally, the most important setting for me is in the Audio menu where I can set the Audio Track to any available stream.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

How to use Manual Exposure on Canon EOS Cameras

This tutorial teaches you how to use the manual exposure mode or "M"-mode on any Canon EOS camera. I will show some examples from my Canon EOS 400D but the techniques should stay the same across different models.

Why would you want to shoot in Manual Mode when you have automatic modes (P/Av/Tv) that can handle almost any light situation automatically? Because they can do it only "almost". Sometimes the light in a scene is too difficult for the light meter. At other times, you want to get the exact exposure of a scene every time. Then you should consider turning your mode wheel to the "M"-mode.

Exposure Basics
First, I will talk a little about the basics of exposure of cameras. The three factors that control exposure are:

  • Shutter Speed - how long you expose the photo (e.g. 1/200)
  • Aperture - How much light you allow through your lens (e.g. F/8.0)
  • ISO sensitivity - amplification of the light on the sensor (e.g. ISO 100)
Changing one of them will affect the exposure of the photo. If you change another factor, you can compensate or amplify the first change.

1/200 at F/8.0To make this more clear, I will explain it by using an example. Let's say the light meter tells you that the scene you are looking at requires a setting of 1/200s at F/8.0 using ISO 100. The picture on the right was taken with these exact settings.

1/400 at F/5.6If you do not want to have a shutter speed of 1/200s, it is possible to set it to 1/400. As you only will have half the exposure time then, you need to compensate to get the same amount of light in your photo. You can either do this by increasing the ISO to 200 (double the sensitivity) or open up the aperture by one stop to F/5.6.

The two pictures above were made with the described change of the aperture. The second image looks almost the same. By opening the aperture, you will have a more shallow depth of field though.

The following exposure/aperture settings will also produce an correctly exposed photo:
The table only shows one-stop increments. Most cameras support 1/3 stop increments, so there are 2 more possible combinations per entry. For more information take a look at F-Numbers on Wikipedia.

Reading the Histogram
The most important measurement tool for the manual mode will be the histogram. It tells you the exact distribution of tonal values in your photo. This means you can determine if your image is correctly exposed (you can find more information here). I will not go into detail about how a correctly exposed histogram should look like because this depends pretty much on the scene. What is important is to recognize and under- and overexposed image.

The picture above shows an underexposed, correctly and overexposed version of the photo. As you can see, the underexposed image lacks all high tonal values. The overexposed version does look quite OK in the histogram, but the high tone values start gathering at the brightest value. This leads to 100% white pixels in some areas.

Manual Exposure
Now you know all the basics that you need to know in order to operate your camera in manual mode. All you need to do is to set set the initial exposure and then work with the histogram until it looks right to you.

In order not to start with a random guess about correct exposure values, it can help to set the camera into Program mode (P) and copy the suggested values to manual mode. Also, the camera shows the light meter in manual mode. The light meter is the bar that reads -2..1..0..1..2 and has a blinking bar. Try to get the bar to stop below 0 (you need to half-press the shutter button to get it to work).

Then you can adjust your settings by changing either the exposure or the aperture value. Canon cameras support 1/3 stop increments. So when your image is underexposed by one exposure value (EV) or stop, you need to open up the aperture by 3 times 1/3 steps or increase the exposure time by 3 steps (double the exposure time).

On the Canon EOS 400D you can change the exposure time by turning the wheel next to the shutter release button. The aperture can be changed by simultaneously pressing the Av button next to the screen and turning the wheel.

To check your photo's histogram, take a picture and show the picture on your camera. Now press the DISP. button until the histogram is shown on the screen. The histogram has four gray vertical bars on it which are spaced at one-stop increments. This means that if you change the exposure time by one stop, the whole histogram will shift by exactly one bar. This is very useful to estimate how much you should change your settings.

Bar number 2 from the left is the 18% gray bar. This means that your camera will try to balance your picture around that exposure in auto mode. To verify this, you can take a shot of a clear blue sky or a white wall in auto mode. Then you should see a large peak of the histogram exactly there.

Now change the settings of aperture, exposure time and ISO as you like. When you have found the correct settings, you can take as many pictures of the same subject at the same light as you like. No matter what disturbs the camera's light meter, you will not get under- or overexposed photos.

When to use Manual Mode
I use manual mode in the following situations:
  • Night shots
  • When using an external flash (in order to balance between flash and available light)
  • Difficult lit indoor scenes, especially with backlight
  • changing lights that do not affect the subject directly
But you can find out for yourself when to use the manual mode. Whenever you get wrong results for a type of subject, start to think about going manual.

Do not forget to switch the camera back to an automatic mode afterwards. It's too easy to forget that the camera will not set the correct exposure automatically. This can ruin some shots if you don't think about it.

If you have any questions or find some parts of this tutorial not understandable, please leave a comment! I'll try to clarify it for you then.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My Photo on the Cover of the Book Throwing Stones

Cow with bended Horn
Originally uploaded by theowl84
A few months ago I received an email from a publisher from Australia who was interested in putting my picture of a cow on the front cover of a book.

I let them use the photo for free and asked them to send me a copy of that book. Last week I got a copy of the freshly printed book "Throwing Stones" by Michael Dawson where the cow has found its place in a collage on the front cover.

The book is tag-lined "Throwing Stones will change the way you think, and think about religion and underwear". I'm pretty excited reading it in order to find out what it's all about. Then I'm probably write a blog entry about it.