Tom Pittman's WebLog

Earlier this year

2017 July 7 -- Love Is Selfish

We parted on such negative terms, I doubted I would ever hear from him again, but most people seem to think that "Time heals all wounds" (no medicine required). The necessary medicine of course is repentance & forgiveness, but people are taught that "apology is a sign of weakness" -- and they're right! But God's strength is made perfect in weakness. If and while you think you are strong, you are probably too "strong" for Heaven.

Anyway, this guy sent me an email this week asking me to affirm the theological point that broke things up two years ago:

Quick question: Is God's love conditional?
I responded with a "Quick answer: John 14:23." I half expected him to argue against the plain sense of the verse, so I was prepared to ask him,
In your understanding, is the English language word "if" usually associated with unconditional or conditional kinds of things? Is the English language helper verb "will" usually associated with unconditional (true for all time) or future (contingent on prior prerequisites) kinds of things? Do you have any good reason to believe the English language Bible translators erred in using those two words in that verse?
But I guess the brainwashing at his church is wearing off, or something. He allowed as he wanted more verses to proof-text with, and I replied that if God intended us to proof-text that concept, He probably would have given us more verses to do it with. You need to understand that there are absolutely no verses that say God's love is unconditional. There are (I think) less than a dozen verses in the whole Bible that even mention God's love for people at all -- John 3:16 isn't one of them -- and then only for good (obedient) Christians (and Jews), never for unbelievers.

The biggest problem is that the modern English word "love" is not at all what the Bible means when the same word appears there. Preachers can try to redefine it all they want, but people will still think of the modern selfish behavior we call "love" when they hear those verses read. "Love" is selfish. When I "love" cherry pie, there is only one thing that word can mean, and it is my own selfish appreciation for what I hope to stuff in my mouth. When women "love" their husbands, or mothers "love" their sons, they mean by it a clinging, grasping capture of the guy to prevent him from doing the hard (possibly dangerous) work God gave him to do. When men "love" their women, it is even more selfish: they want sex. There may be a few guys who love their wives the way Christ loved the church, but you don't notice them.

The word usually translated "love" in the Bible is not at all like how we understand the word, and to keep on using it is to mislead the people trying to make sense of the Bible. The people who want to be affirmed, they will feel affirmed even when God has no such intentions (repent!) and the people who (correctly, Jesus said so) see Truth, Justice, and Duty as more important will walk away without knowing that God agrees with them. They will be lost on Judgment Day, and the preachers are at fault. God will hold them accountable. He said so.

2017 July 5 -- God of Yin & Yang

The acronym "CCM" stands for "Contemporary Christian Music" (the order is significant). The important thing about contemporary artistry is that they no longer care about evoking emotions in people, it's all about control, basically jerking you around. The "Christian" part is pretty nominal, maybe they might mention God or Jesus, more often only in a 2nd-person pronoun "you" which is overwhelmed by a majority of first-person pronouns "I"/"me". Most of the songs they sing in church celebrate Self. The "Music" part is even more remote, no melody nor harmony, just a driving beat.

OK, maybe they are more about Jesus than Buddha or Mohammed, so that makes them "Christian". Jesus said there's only two sides to the fence: either you're in or you're out. So when they tell us to stand for the songs, I stand. There's no music to read, so I watch the bass player to see if I can read his fingers and hum that. I don't see any value trying to learn songs that "worship me." But if they ever repeat the "Me above all" song, I think I will sit down. It starts out OK, (presumably Jesus, but not by name) is "Above all powers / Above all kings," which is Scriptural enough, but at the end the song writer has him defer to "Me above all." It's totally wrong. Jesus Christ is above all, not me. I don't even have a place at his table unless I deny myself. But that was a month or two ago.

This week it was another song that seemed to start out Biblically enough, a reference to Job 1:21, "The LORD gives and the LORD takes away; blessed be the Name of the LORD." But there was something wrong, something that bothered me more than all the previous times I heard it. Throughout the whole song, the giving and the taking away are carefully and equally balanced, like Yin and Yang, like the Light side and the Dark side of the Force. The God of this song is dualistic, equally dispensing good and evil. The God of the Bible is Good and never evil. Bad Things Happen, but God didn't do it. In the Job story, Satan did it. God is still sovereign and Satan doesn't blow his own nose without God's permission, but it's permission, not command. Job spoke his praise line in the middle of catastrophe only. When things were good, he offered sacrifices. The outcome is different for the different situations, because the cause is different.

I get the impression these song writers don't read their Bibles very carefully, sometimes not at all. I would hope for better in a "conservative" denomination, but I guess that's too much to ask for.

2017 June 27 -- Relationship, Not Inference

The April ChristianityToday article "Es Complicado" starts with a half-page quote from A.W.Tozer. I hear a lot of recommendations for Tozer, but whenever I try to read his stuff, it doesn't connect. At least not like C.S.Lewis. I think I now know why.

The bombshell in this piece was about two thirds of the way through, maybe a little less, another Tozer quote (or maybe only an "inference" ;-)

"The God of the Bible is a Person, knowable not through inference, but through relationship."
My problem is trying to understand exactly what Tozer -- or author Peter Johnson, if it's not a direct quote -- mean by "inference" and "relationship."

I know what inference is, I actively use it every day. There is nothing I know that I do not know by inference. Even the people I know and spend or spent a lot of time with, all I know of them is through inference. I cannot imagine any other way to know anything at all. I hear people speak, and I infer that my ears are working correctly and that they are using the same language I learned as a kid, and that the words they use match the definitions I work with when I use those words -- or not, as today. When they speak non-representational words, I infer what I hope is a correct sense from the context. More often than not I get that wrong, so I adjust the rules I apply in my inferences to (hopefully) get it better next time. Earlier this month, some guy passed me on the street screaming vile words at me, words which I inferred to be linked with physical violence. My inference was spot-on. Not only did he physically assault me as I attempted my escape, but he lied to the police about what happened. Fortunately, the local DA saw through his lie, but not before I had ample opportunity to infer the truth of the Psalmist's advice, "Don't trust princes (government), trust God." But I digress. I'm still working on the "trust God" part. Inference is what scientifically trained people do with data. Everything we see and hear and feel is data.

But somehow, I don't think this guy sees inference in the same light I do. That's an inference from the fact that my understanding of the word does not fit in his context, plus the assumption that he's not lying to us. Obviously the editor(s) of CT thought he was telling the truth, or they wouldn't have printed it. That's another inference.

"Relationship" is another word that I cannot fit into that context. The dictionary definition of "relationship" is about connectivity, but that's not how people in the church -- nor anywhere else -- use the word. I happened to mention my frustration with this word to a woman who proceeded to insist that it really is about connectivity. Her own "relationship" with her first husband was over long before the divorce. Huh? The connection is still there, she's living in the same house with him and they have a legal connection called a Marriage License. What's gone is not the connection, but the affirmation. People in the church, and women everywhere, use the word "relationship" only in contexts where substituting "affirmation" makes sense, and usually in contexts where "connection" does not make sense -- like this woman's broken marriage.

So what is this guy saying about God? Forget the "inference" nonsense, what does he mean when he says God can only be known by "relationship"? Does he mean that you can only know God when God is affirming you? The whole Bible speaks a different story. There's some "God loves you" in the Bible, but not nearly as much as people want to believe. The wrath of God is revealed against all unrighteousness. "Get the behind me Satan" was spoken to Peter, the first of the Twelve Disciples. If you just look at how much space God devoted to affirmation compared to harsh criticism, this is not a "relationship" (meaning affirmational) thing.

"God is love," people insist, but there are only two verses in the whole Bible that say that, both in the same chapter, where the context is not about God affirming people, but the two verses are only offered as incidental support in John's much larger exhortation that people ought to live the Golden Rule with respect to other people. It's not about describing attributes of God, nor placing "Love" at the top of any list -- if anything, "Holy" should be there.

So is Johnson trying to tell us that connectivity is the way to know God? I am connected by accepting the finished work of Jesus Christ on the Cross, and going to church on Sunday, and reading the Bible every day, and praying, and giving God first place in my life, but the connectivity is inferential. I infer from what the Bible says that those are good things to do. Jesus said "If you love me, you will keep my commandments [and only then] the Father will love you." So I do that. On Judgment Day, Jesus tells us, many will come and say "Lord, Lord," but the Judge will point to your works, not your "relationship." You yourself, he tells us in another context, will give an accounting, and by your own accounting you will be judged. So like the great Apostle, I need to "beat my body into subjection..." Is that affirmation? Is that connectivity? No, it is careful inference, drawn from a careful reading of the text while eschewing preconceived notions about what God might be saying there.

So I don't know what to do with Tozer -- except maybe to relegate him to the same space I give to Max Lucado and Bill Bright ("God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life") and the other froth-mongers.

For more discussion on "relationship" see my essay "The Counterfeit Religion of Relationships" and related links.

2017 June 20 -- Neural Nets and Darwinism

I got myself signed up to mentor a computer camp next month. I guess I mentioned it a couple times (like last month and last year) because I've never done anything like it and I expect the qualifications I bring to the job is knowing the technology. Well, the technology is far too vast to know all of it, so I convinced him to do a project I knew how to do, then went and actually did it to prove they could.

One of the kids wasn't interested, he wanted to do the same thing with neural nets (NNs, a technology I knew nothing about). I said so, then proceeded to learn what I could from the net. Google is wonderful, if you know how to spell it (and sometimes even if you don't) you can find tutorials and explanations on the internet. There's lots of stuff on NNs, mostly vague generalities. There's a reason for that. But I found several references to a NN written in 11 lines of Python (a programming language). The code was absolutely unreadable.

But it gave me the idea to look for it in C, and sure enough, some professor in England had done it, a NN in only 30 lines of C. It was readable and well-explained, so I decided to try it. C and Java are almost identical (except for library code, where everybody is different), and I program every day in Java, so I got it working -- sort of. It goes through the motions, but gives wrong answers, even after thousands of "training" runs. The prof said not to start all the weights at zero, and suggested random numbers. I did that. What he didn't say is that those random numbers are essential, it cannot work any other way.

I'll try to explain. Thirty lines of C is an incredibly tiny program. The basic neuron code is five lines, repeated to drive the synaptic information forward, and then to drive the "back-propagation" (learning) backward after you tell it how wrong its guess was. Every neuron in a net of thousands of neurons is exactly identical, the only difference is the different weights applied to the synaptic data feeding forward from the image sensor. If you start with all the same weights, then every one of those neurons will give exactly the same result to the next layer, and the "learning" part will give exactly the same weight adjustments to every neuron. They may bounce around, but they will do it in unison, with absolutely no discrimination based on imput.

So how does God's NNs (the human brain) work? I suspect the neurons are not wired up 100% in parallel, they are pre-programmed to do certain cognitive functions. We know that humans are programmed to recognize faces, and the very few people with a brain defect in that part of their brain simply cannot do it, although everything else they do is perfectly normal. Sorry, no link: it was in a WIRED article several years ago, but I can't find it again (probably wrong search terms ;-) It's against Darwinist religion to allow for God, and the Christians have abdicated their responsibility to be telling the Truth to the scientists and technologists, so nobody knows what a crock of baloney Darwinism is. Based on their religion (not science, which goes the other direction) the Darwinists all believe that accumulating random variations gives rise to intelligent behavior. The real world doesn't work that way, nor do the NNs.

When you read the comments carefully, they admit it's "more of an art than science." Meaning that intelligent designers are injecting their intelligence into the program, the same as programmers have been doing for seven decades. Except the NN programmers are doing it covertly, under the table. Maybe if you are lucky with your initial weights and back-propagating code, it might work, but probably not. Real intelligence never came about by luck, never will. It is always put there by a Designer (or programmer) who is smarter than what he is designing ever will be.

I taught for a while at Kansas State University, which is an Ag school. One of their strengths is entomology (insects) because grasshoppers eat wheat and wheat is a major crop in Kansas. They also have departments in Ag Econ, Plant Pathology, even Bakery Science (how to bake "balloon" bread, from wheat). One of the entomology grad students told me that the biology profs don't tell their students the whole truth about evolution, at least not the masters and lower, but they have to tell the truth to the PhD students, because they cannot do their dissertation without it. I got the same feeling about neural nets, the promoters don't tell you the truth until you are too invested to pull out of the fraud. That's too bad.

So I cannot help the kids who decide they want to do it in NNs. They will fail. It's called "entropy" and we can do anti-entropic things like refrigerators and programming computers, but only by design and a lot of hard work. Maybe the program director can find somebody who works with NNs and can tell the kids where to inject their intelligent design so people don't notice that's what they are doing, and then they can succeed. That person is not me. Three days ago I thought it might be, but now I know better.

Postscript, 10 days later -- I kept fiddling with the code & found some coding errors, then fiddled some more with the weights and formulas on a reduced version of the problem: hand-coded 3x5-pixel images repeated over and over. After some 500 training runs it was able to recognize all but one of them. When I increased that to almost 900 training runs, it failed on two of the ten test data (which is exactly the same as the training data). It reminds me of early descriptions of the Lenski E.Coli experiment (before they noticed how bad it made Darwinism look, and stopped reporting anything after 10,000 generations), where somewhere around 15,000 generations the previously rising fitness curve turned south. Although my program now (sort of) works, my opinion of neural nets has not changed.

Careful, anti-entropic Design will beat the socks off any Darwinistic accumulation-of-errors approach to solving a problem, as I previously observed when I butted heads with Darwinist Richard Dawkins, 29 years ago.

2017 June 19 -- Ararat

I am most familiar with the title geography in connection with Creationist literature, so I didn't know what to expect. It turned out to have little or nothing to do with the mountain, except as a backdrop for a rather jumbled story about the Turkish genocide of the Arminians in (I think it was) 1915. I'm seeing a lot of stuff about that pogrom, perhaps because it happened 100 years ago, and the Turks still deny it.

It's not often a movie grabs me like this one. Mostly they are barely worth watching (or not at all: another one in the same batch, I turned it off less than halfway through). We are seeing a new nihilism in fiction comparable to the 60s. I brought home a book, a sci-fi collection "The Best of the Year" and half or more of the stories I didn't finish (some, the editor's introduction was enough of a turn-off).

Thinking about the Armenians reminded me of Martin Niemoller's famous quote -- he modified it a lot over the years, so it's hard to find a definitive version, this one from the Congressional Record when he spoke to them October 14, 1968:

When Hitler attacked the Jews
I was not a Jew, therefore I was not concerned.

And when Hitler attacked the Catholics,
I was not a Catholic, and therefore, I was not concerned.

And when Hitler attacked the unions and the industrialists,
I was not a member of the unions and I was not concerned.

Then Hitler attacked me and the Protestant church --
and there was nobody left to be concerned.

I shouldn't complain about the BlueRay player I watch these on, because I didn't pay for it, and although it plays more DVDs than my computer, the quality is poor. "Quality," the people who do business in that industry tell us, "is conformance to specifications." The primary specification for a movie player is that you get to watch the movie. So the highest quality player I ever experienced was VHS (on dry days or if the A/C was on). Even when the media was damaged, there was a (possibly snowy) picture and you could hear the sound. And you could fast-forward over the commercials to watch what you're there to see. This modern player behaves like it was made in China, so more often than not, you press a button and it says "Cannot operate" instead of doing The Right Thing. I carefully review these disks for dirt and grime, but even if I see nothing, most movies experience 2-, 3- or 10-second dropouts one or more times. Once it just hung in what we call "the blue screen of death" when a computer does it. There was no way to watch te rest of that movie. I think it must be a problem with the BlueRay technology, because the movies that said "Also on BlueRay" wouldn't play at all on my computer.

2017 June 10 -- Tutoring Math

A few years ago, a friend at church, one of his sons wanted to go into the Army Rangers, which among other things required that he pass some qualifying tests. He felt weak in math, so I was tasked to get him up to speed. He became reasonably good at answering problems quickly -- these are timed tests -- until he decided he didn't want to be in Obama's Army and lost interest. I can teach somebody, but only if they want to learn.

Before that, my sister was coaching her kid. He didn't want to learn, but she did. I was astonished, she had always played a bubble-head, but she picked right up the deep methematical concepts. But she wanted to. We talked on the phone, she read me the problems, and I explained it, and she got it, well enough to teach the kid.

More recently another family member is re-inventing her career, and had the same problem, she felt weak in math. This time I prepared some written crib notes, how to ace the test without doing a lot of math, which I call "Mathophobe Medicine." You might find it interesting and/or useful (or know somebody who does).

Maybe I can generate some income doing local tutoring and math or computer coaching. If you want to learn.

2017 June 1 -- Zen Sci-Fi

Most sci-fi authors are atheists -- I blame the church leadership for making them unwelcome (see links here) -- but only first- and second-generation atheists can handle the illogic of atheistic science. If everything is random chance, then there's no reason to expect the study of nature to yield understandable rules, so why bother? The Christians (and nobody else, ever) invented modern science, because we have a logical God. The atheists may refuse to bow the knee, but they cannot deny that the Christian worldview (including science) works, and it made Christian nations -- first Germany, then England, and now the USA (on the way down) -- the richest and most powerful in the world. If they go through the motions, they get the results, even without believing why it's so. So atheist sci-fi is also (mostly) credible.

I think Gregory Benford is the first sci-fi author whose religious preference is Zen. It's not overly obvious, just a lot of religious words not in my dictionary, like "zazen" (Google knows all: "za" is Japanese for sitting, sitting as for zen, that is, cross-legged). Any other author would have written "cross-legged" and we all would have understood. But he's promoting his religion. After a while he mostly went back to ordinary English. Except today, just past halfway through, he devotes a couple pages to pseudo-scientific support for vegan diet. If it were true, then why is it that in a study of all the centenarians (100+ years old) a while back, every one of them ate red meat twice a day, all 400 of them?

One of the deep philosophical roots of Zen is that true Reality is incomprehensible. This insight (if you can call it that) is reflected throughout Benford's novel by whole paragraphs and even pages upon pages of semantic gibberish, English words jumbled together so as to completely deprive them of any straight-forward sense. In case you did not notice, modern science was invented in post-Reformation Europe, and not by Zen Buddhists in the far east. There's a reason for that. Most of Benford's novel is readable, I doubt the publisher would have taken it on otherwise. Oh wait, Simon & Schuster is only the "distributor" not the publisher. There's a reason for that. Today, three decades later, self-published books are printed one at a time and sold through Amazon. Whatever.

Reading farther into this book, I think that the author is not really into Zen at all, but only using it as an excuse to escape the restrictive mores of his cultural heritage, so he can engage in (or at least fantasize about) kinky sex. I could have gotten it wrong, but I was under the impression that Buddhist enlightenment comes through leaving physical desires behind. The Christian spelling of the same idea is "mortifying the flesh," and that's not what he wants to think (and write) about. So I find myself skipping over whole pages and chapters that have nothing to do with the main story line. I saw several more books on the library shelf with his name on them, but I didn't bring any home.

The guy cannot escape reality. Even his kinky sex partners demonstrate monogamous jealousy, the woman clinging and the guy also trying to save the world. Yes, really, the same pair of priorities we saw in MoonSeed and Transformers and other fiction -- because it's real. The dust jacket on the book says the guy is married. That explains it: he's writing from experience.

2017 May 29 -- Forgetting Anger Management

I have this knack for making people unspeakably angry at me -- literally: so angry they cannot trust themselves to talk to me and tell me why. Sometimes I can tie it to a recent disaffirmation (they were wrong and I had the temerity to say so), more often I have no clue. James tells us "The wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God," and I have no desire to tempt people to sin, but how can I prevent it if I don't know what I did?

The first such incident I recall was a guy I went into business with. He was an elder in his church, but I guess I knew less about him than I thought. My best guess (but it's only a guess) is that he took offense at a joke. Jokes are like that: somebody gets hurt. I try not to tell jokes any more. Paul told Timothy to avoid them, but everybody else (not the butt of the joke) thinks they are great fun. I once got called "the most joyless person I ever met."

Another person was the wife of one of the board members of the ill-fated non-profit I was briefly associated with. She refused to be in the same room with me -- when I helped them move, she conspicuously was elsewhere -- and even the guy refused to tell me what the problem was. I guess it would bother me less if they weren't slandering me in the church I left in California after I moved to Misery. They also moved out of state, and I guess he forgot about it (it's been 15 years) because he put me on his email list for family news. So I got up the courage to ask if she was now able to tell me what I did, and she replied that she'd forgotten it. What can I do? It was serious enough for her to cause me significant harm in the past, and now she cannot remember it?

Another board member got so mad he literally couldn't see straight. To this day I don't know why. After I moved out of state, he was at some conference near where I was, and he wanted to visit (at a restaurant), but I was on eggshells the whole time. He never brought up the past and neither did I, but how can I renew a friendship that is so brittle, when I don't even know how to prevent another blowup? I guess he sensed that, and I never heard from him again.

In another context, I wrote up an essay on how we should forgive other people "As God Forgave Us" with particular emphasis on repentance. When I screw up, I want to repent of it and not make the same mistake again. How can I do that if people won't tell me what I did wrong?

I guess it was four churches (and two states) ago, I had done my research comparing the churches in town, and this church had young people (meaning it was not dying), so I told the pastor about my problem making people angry, with the hope -- I think it worked -- that it would help him to not be another casualty. He eventually retired, and I neglected to give the same speech to the new pastor they brought in. I guess he kept his emotions under control, but the tension was too much for me and I decided I had to leave. Then I found out how angry he was at me. If he tries to renew the acquaintance, I don't know what to say. Was I too honest again? He didn't say.

My long-term policy is not to fight a pastor in his own church. If he's so far wrong that I cannot worship God there -- I go to church to bow before God; defending the faith requires a different posture -- then I need to find a different place to do what I go to church for. I've done that a few times, I hope (but do not honestly believe) never more. As part of my protection against recurrence, I try to remind myself that there are only two categories in God's eyes: Believers and Lost. The Believers "confess Jesus Christ as LORD and believe in their heart that God raised him from the dead." That's pretty broad and includes a lot of people whose churches I wouldn't go to. The "Jesus as Lord" part means that He gets to tell you what to do, and you do it.

I have no idea where God draws the line to let the "oops, I didn't mean that" people in and keep the "I wanna be in control" = "me above all" people out, but the more selective He is, the harder I need to work at being on the up side of it. And if God is more inclusive, then I need to be careful not to overly offend those controller types who happen to be pastor at the church where I park my fanny on Sundays. They don't want to know when they are Wrong, so the Second Great Commandment requires me to give them what they want, and just not say anything (insofar as it is possible, short of damning them to Hell in my silence). It's one of the reasons that people like me do not feel welcome in American churches (see links here). Half of the American people are Thinkers like me, and most of them never darken the door of a church. The evangelists and pastors will one day answer to God for their negligence. Their problem, not mine, I'm still trying to fix the problem, but it doesn't want to be fixed.

2017 May 23 -- MoonSeed

I can't really recommend it -- despite what the promo blurbs on the back cover say, his science is more Darwinist religion ("believing what you know ain't so")  than testable science. There are several things he could have gotten right -- but didn't. One that sticks in my mind is when the Lunar lander is descending to the surface of the moon in computer-controlled bursts of rocket firing, and during the long gaps between the short bursts of power, our hero can "feel" the switch over to lunar gravity. Hogwash. If the rockets are not firing (and there's no air to offer support and braking), he's in free-fall and cannot feel a thing. You only "feel" earth's gravity because there is something (the ground, or air if you are sky-diving) holding you up. In outer space you can "feel" gravity only when your rocket is firing to oppose (or assist, it doesn't matter) the gravity. It's the rocket power you feel, not the gravity. It's not like I've been to space and can tell you from experience -- but then neither did this author, he admits to getting it second-hand from visiting the NASA space center and reading books.

Besides the Darwinistic "millions of years" which he keeps repeating over and over like it's an important part of his story, there's the dust on the moon. Before the Apollo landing, scientists were worried that the accumulation of "millions of years" of dust would be "dozens of feet thick" -- Baxter even mentions geologist Thomas Gold by name (p.440) in that connection -- into which the lander would likely sink without a trace. When they got there, it was only one inch thick (I saw the photographs of the astronauts' footprints). The accumulation of micro-meteorites over the eons, and the battering of the rock surface by larger arrivals has got to build up a lot of dust. Unless the moon (like the earth) really is only a few thousand years old. Baxter has the typical atheist's snide view of (theistic) religion, so he's stuck with the "millions of years" mantra, and the dust is a problem he fictionalizes into existence in other parts of the moon. It may be good (atheistic) religion, but it's bad science, and it makes the story harder to read.

I mention this book because he's the third author to correctly observe the difference between men and women in their take on "relationship." I didn't see him use that word, and he eschewed the "L-word" until very late in the story. Most novelists are either writing feminazi political correctness (like this guy, mostly) where there is no difference between men and women except that the women are smart and the men are stupid, or else ignoring women like traditional fiction. But occasionally an author comes along who has actually observed the differences. I first noticed it in Vince Flinn novels (see "Relationshipism Gone Bad" three years ago), and then in guy flicks like Transformers the following year (see "Love in Fiction"). Although Baxter puts a disproportionate number of women in positions of power and authority, he still offers that same insight where the woman wants to cling to the hero and hold him back, when he has a world to save. Three times.

It's almost a register difference in the language, a difference between how men and women speak. Baxter understands dialect differences -- and mentions a few differences between American and British English -- but he's sloppy: most of his action is set in England and Scotland, but he has the Americans thinking in British English -- wearing "Air Jordan trainers" (not tennis shoes), riding the lift (not elevator) and carrying a torch (not flashlight) to see in the dark. It's like his science, he just didn't do his homework. Maybe people don't care and buy it anyway. He uses "asimov" as a verb in this story, but I have no idea what he meant by it, perhaps something like "MacGyver" -- the author Asimov never made blunders like that.

There are several Baxter books on the sci-fi shelf at the library, but it will be a while before I bring home another. I read novels when I'm too tired to work, but reading this nonsense is too much like work.

2017 May 12 -- Flash Point

For a novel with the copyright date the year before 9/11, James Huston's scenario looks astoundingly prescient. The author has spent time in the military as a Navy pilot, and he writes what he knows. This is the third in his series, but the first two the Bad Guys were only nominally Muslim but mostly stupid (is there a difference? ;-) I'm only halfway through this story, and several major characters make a point of criticizing "the Crusaders" (Americans) as if the Crusades were all our fault. It's a bogus blame, but I don't know yet if Huston sees it or not.

You see, the Crusades were not the start of the conflict, they were a defensive reaction to Islamic hegemony that began more than three centuries earlier, when the bloody Muslim conquerers ran over not only Israel and North Africa but also (previously Christianized) Turkey and eastern Europe and pretty much all of what is now Spain and southern France. Check it out. The Crusades were a reaction, good military strategy (taking the battle to the enemy's home turf). They basically put an end to Islamic expansionism for almost a thousand years. The Muslim militarism seems to have awakened again, not so much because of what the West has done to them, but rather because they happened to be sitting on a cash cow (oil) to pay for their evil adventures. I personally think the "carbon" hokum is just that -- a political strategy to attack a Republican President who was mostly to the left of the Dems on most issues, an issue essentially unrelated to real science -- but if it helps get this country off our addiction to Arab oil, that would help to end the terrorism paid for by that oil.

2017 May 6 -- Thinking about the Future

After the university decided I was too honest for them -- or more likely, they had a misbegotten fear that I would invoke state law against them -- I spent a lot of time working on my heart's project, a program to translate the Bible into languages that don't have it yet. I had a little bit of outside funding around the turn of the millenium, but God did not give me skills in that arena (which is why I went to work for the university), so it's mostly "pro bono" (for the benefit of humanity, rather than for pay). The software works and you can download a copy that runs on your own PC, but it needs a huge exegetical effort (I estimated ten man-years) by qualified people, and assembling and motivating a team like that (let alone paying them) is another thing God did not make me good at. Besides, I was starting to run out of money.

So three years ago, BibleTrans was stabilized and waiting for God to make the next move, and I was about halfway through reading the Bible in the original Hebrew, spending a lot of time wondering about the word meanings, and it occurred to me that an interlinear Hebrew Bible with popup definitions would be a handy tablet program, maybe even marketable. So I started learning Android. It wasn't that hard, I was already programming everything in (my own dialect of) Java, but I got bogged down on making the dictionary machine-readable. I still want to do that, but it seems to have morphed into another pro bono project, with still no revenue after three years.

About a year ago, another family member started falling down and was hospitalized, and it occurred to me that I was getting up in years and needed to be near somebody who cared enough to speak to my future emergencies. About the same time I was preparing to move to Oregon (there's family here) a friend from a long time back called and I got myself volunteered to mentor his computer summer camp, also in Oregon. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I've never done this kind of thing, so I spent a lot of time working out the technology, then preparing training materials so the kids can work on a fun project that they are likely to succeed at. Silly me! I wanted some nice graphics to illustrate the technology, but I don't have image creation software to do what I wanted, so I wrote it. More time down the drain, but the pictures came out nice (you can see them here). Now I'm waiting for other people to do their part of the preparation on that project -- I'm not even in charge, so I wait.

Before I left California 15 years ago, I did all my work on a speedy Mac IIci. The CPU itself was only 30MHz, it was the MacOS/6 that made it so fast: I measure computer speed not by how fast its clock, but how fast I can get my work done, which most of the time is limited by my typing speed. MacOS/6 had working script capability that got lost in S/7 and never recovered. True Unix has shell scripts, but OSX is neither Mac nor true unix, and there is far too much of what I normally do on a computer that is not scriptable in OSX. Besides other serious problems. Anyway, when I went back to working on my own computer hardware, I was doing things that were too big for the IIci memory and were compute bound for hours, so I did it on this PPC tower I got in 1999 (but used only for long compute-bound jobs, like recompiling my compiler). OS/9 is substantially slower than OS/6, but the next couple years I spent recompiling the compiler a lot, so I never got the IIci out of its box.

I redid the compiler to run in background (and compile itself), so now I can do other things while the compiler runs -- like right now -- and while there are still bugs, it's pretty stable. As part of this preparation for the summer camp, my host gave me a couple "faster" OSX computers that still run the MacOS in "compatibility mode" but not very well: drag-n-drop fails, and that's how I run the compiler. So this last two weeks I've been working on a Finder rewrite to run on those computers. There's a lot to do, but most of it is very similar to what I was already doing in BibleTrans. A couple days ago I got to the place where I need to make drag-n-drop work, and I suddenly realized that I need to use AppleEvents, which the current compiler does not support. In fact, that's probably why drag-n-drop fails in OSX. This is all dead (pre-OSX) technology, so there's no need to implement more than the bare minimum. But doing so is way faster than trying to come up to speed on a proprietary system like OSX, which Apple can (and does!) change on a whim, requiring a vast expenditure of time tracking it. At least Android is built on standard Java.

When I started work on my compiler, and later on MOS ("Mac-like Operating System"), I was thinking about making it available to the public. That takes far more effort than making it "good enough" to use myself, and I don't have enough useful years of life left. Fixing the compiler to run on the newer computers, which clock four times faster (for compute-bound jobs) than this tower, which clocks 12 times faster than the IIci did, is probably worth the effort of a few days. Then I need to "fish or cut bait" on my Android project, or else get serious about getting some positive cash flow.

2017 May 1 -- Sunday Drive

It was another sunny Sunday afternoon, so I decided to explore some more (see "A (Rare) Sunny Sunday" last year). California is some 50 miles to the southwest on US-199 (and maybe 55 miles southeast on I-5). I'm still looking for alternative routes to Portland that don't involve I-5, and besides, I hadn't seen the ocean in a couple decades. Some of the scenery on US-101 is spectacular.

The drivers on 101 aren't much better than on I-5, but at least there are opportunities for escape: What do you do when you find yourself in the same room with a sociopath? You leave the room. This one truck driver must have been sampling the local produce -- the most visible commercial product in the first town north of the border is some form of "weed" -- because there's no way a sane and well-trained driver can believe that following six inches behind the small car in front at highway speed is safe for the other driver. As is my custom, I look for a wide spot in the road, then gradually reduce my speed veeerrry slowly until it's safe to pull off. Only this guy also pulled over and stopped in front of me. I've experienced road rage before, so I calculated when he would be least able to pursue his attack, and floored it after he set foot on the pavement. I have a sporty little car, which accelerates quickly, but this guy started across the highway as if to intercept me. Fortunately, there was no traffic in the opposite lane, so I swung wide. He yelled something as I went by, it sounded a little like "You OK?" Of course I'm not OK, you just tried to kill me! But I wasn't about to stop and say so.

When he caught up with me again, I got off the highway, and he went on by. His truck did not have a "How's my driving?" phone number on it, but I was reminded of one of the exhibits in a computer show I went to, back when I was doing that sort of thing: The booth was completely empty except for a large photograph pinned to the back wall, a North American Van Lines truck parked on its side in a highway median, with a handwritten caption: "Our exhibit." If you want your stuff to arrive safely, you might consider finding some other carrier than North American -- at least other than North American Container Something based in Eureka.

Anyway, my preferred route back over the hill was blocked with snowdrifts across the road deeper than my car's clearance. Maybe if I had a 4-wheeler with a high clearance, I might consider it (there was one set of tire tracks through the snow, probably workers); the sign where that road turned off from the local county road said something like it was not maintained for winter driving. OK, so it's almost summer. Farther in, another sign said "Not recommended for (something or other vehicles) between November (something) and May 31. Oh. There were a lot of fallen trees across the road, but they had all been cut to leave a one-car-wide gap. There were fallen rocks on the pavement, but not so many I couldn't steer around them. It was actually fun negotiating the hazards, maybe even evidence that I haven't lost my marbles yet. Wrong interpretation. The only thing it proved was that God is more gracious than I am stupid. Mostly: He let me bungle a couple or three hazards, so I wouldn't forget Who is God.

Next on my map was the BLM road I tried last year. It was a lot more twisty and narrower, but a mile or so in I came to a landslide, big car-sized rocks piled up across the road, leaving only three or four feet of pavement unblocked between the rocks and the ravine off to the side. My car is small, but not that small.

The only remaining route across the hills (other than back-tracking through California) went rather north and came back south on I-5. It was getting late, so I decided to let this hand-me-down Garmin GPS thing my friend gave me a couple months ago tell me the best route (if it knows). The map gives better directions. The Garmin said there were a couple more miles before the next turn when I saw the road I'd seen on the map whizz by. I turned around and took it, iand the Garmin figured out where I was, then adjusted the estimated arrival time downward ten minutes. So now I'm driving on I-5 but the weekend crazies are still out, and I happened to see a sign that looked like it was saying there's a stretch of US-99 paralleling I-5 starting at Myrtle Creek, so I took the exit, and for the next hour or so, Garmin kept trying to tell me to turn around and go back. A couple of times it tried to tell me to get back on I-5 going NORTH. At that point I quit looking at it. I could hear it muttering from time to time, but the volume is so low I couldn't make out any words, and I never could find where to turn the volume up.

The Garmin got so confused, it no longer showed where I was going. Fortunately, it was a clear night, and the crescent moon offers an excellent compass: after sunset, the cup points east, so as long as it looks like a "D" I'm headed south; if the cup points up, I'm going west -- I did that for a while, on a county road that wound around and shaved another ten miles off I-5. If the moon is behind me, then I'm going the wrong direction. It was a winding road, and there were a few times when it headed north or east, but on the average it went south. After I crossed over I-5 and didn't get back on (especially not going north as directed by Garmin), it revised my expected arrival time another ten minutes sooner. Most Oregon roads have brightly painted lines along the edges, but all the paint on this old county road was worn off, and it was hard to see where it turned in the dark -- I even missed one bend -- so I slowed down. That was when the arrival time started back up. Whatever.

Oregon is a lot more stingy with highway signs that (frex) California, so I may be on the right road according to plan, but it's hard to know. It's also easy to take a wrong turn. Last night after driving what seemed like hours on this winding county road, I knew I needed to be heading easterly back to I-5, but the Garmin was telling me to turn right (west?) onto Cow Creek road. It had been nagging me to turn right onto Cow Creek road for the last half hour -- including where there was no road there to turn onto, so I didn't trust it very much any more. But there was a hand-painted wooden sign nailed to a fence post, and it seemed to have an arrow pointing to the right for Glendale, and Glendale was the southernmost I-5 access before it went over the pass, so I took it. Garmin kept telling me to get off and go back north. Even when I pulled into my driveway, it said I needed to get back on I-5 northbound, and that I had an hour before arriving. I have no idea where it thought it was taking me, I successfully reprogrammed "Home" to be Grants Pass when I first got it home, and it couldn't be trying to take me all the way back to Portland (it's previous "Home" because that's three or four hours, not one. Maybe it thought I needed to go back to where I went off the directions before it could finish the trip. Whatever. I tried to review where it thought it was taking me, but I no longer can figure out how to access that part of its storage. Oh well, I'm no worse off than before I had it ;-)

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