Tom Pittman's WebLog

Earlier this year / Later this year
 

2017 August 28 -- OSX Is Soooo Broken

I have all this software that I do all my work on -- mostly using older computers that it actually runs on, because Apple abandonned me. Anyway, this guy gave me a couple newer Apple computers with clock speeds 4x faster than the one I currently use. My compiler takes four hours to completely rebuild itself from sources, and some other stuff I'm working on could take weeks, so I'm strongly motivated to make my tools run on these faster computers.

The trouble is, OSX is soooo broken, OSX DragonDrop doesn't work for my programs and my data files. So here I am, wasting valuable time rewriting the Apple Finder so DragonDrop will work. My rewrite -- which is already tested and running reasonably well in the Mac -- crashed in OSX. OSX is soooo broken, MacsBug (the Apple debugger) also crashed. So I'm trying to find its log file. It writes to the desktop, but no such file is visible. OSX has a zillion "Desktop" folders, and eventually I stumbled across one of them that has the log file.

I decide to move my program out of view -- the worthless "Users/Tom" folder is a good place to hide things you never want to look at, it's already so full of worthless junk that cannot be removed -- but I need to tell my Finder replacement program where its new desktop database file should be. It's in a preferences file in the standard "Preferences" folder. Oh wait, this is OSX, which is soooo broken, there are a half-dozen "Preferences" folders, at least four: Spolight, the new OSX search engine is quadriplegic, so lame it finds only two "Preferences" folders, neither of them containing my file, but it fills up its window with a bunch of unrelated files. That's files, when I asked for folders only. OSX is soooo broken. By poking around in the Apple finder, I located another "Preferences" folder, also without my file. There's a fourth "Preferences" folder somewhere with my file in it, but OSX can't find it nor the file. OSX is soooo broken.

Fortunately, I had the good sense to make a copy of the old Mac System/7 Find File program, which I installed in the Apple Menu Items, and it works well, successfully finding everything on all drives -- by content, but only when I want and ask for it -- and it found all nine "Preferences" folders, one of them with my file in it.

Spotlight does not appear in the menubar in my new Finder replacement :-) but FindFile is there and functional. Pretty soon things will work the way they should. OSX is soooo broken. In case you are thinking I should "upgrade" to a newer OSX, the latest OSX (10.11) is even more broken than 10.4, it won't run any of my software, and what it does do is so broken, 10.4 looks healthy by comparison. sigh I probably need to port my tools to Windoze or Linux, where they might work; OSX is soooo broken, it can't even be programmed in standard C/C++. I hate C too, but my compiler can generate it, and it already works in Windoze (but the latest VisualStudio compiler has a time bomb, so I really need to generate x86 code directly and bypass Microsoft's effort to make their system harder to use than Apple's).
 

2017 August 21 -- It's a Mystery to Me

I gave up on finding thriller novels in this library, but one of the less-than-helpful library volunteers told me they are shelved in with the mysteries, so I decided instead to just go down the Mystery shelves for anything that looked plausibly interesting. The novel I'm currently reading has a skull "Mystery" sticker on its spine, but it's not your classic "whodunit" novel, the murderer is writing in the first person and announced near the beginning that he's the killer.

If there's any mystery about this story, it's the complaint one of my critics offered to my first attempt at a full-length novel: "What's the point?" The blurbs on the jacket  praise it as an insight into the corruption and culture of India -- which it most credibly seems to be -- but that does not justify calling it a mystery.

A large part of the purpose for reading library books over meals and at bedtime is to take up time. It does that, and far more enjoyably than the previous book, a "Best sci-fi and fantasy" of some recent year which is mostly fantasy (violates the laws of physics) and therefore completely fails at the suspension of disbelief that makes a novel interesting. At least White Tiger is credible. Stupid is not entertaining, but the guy makes himself out to be clever (an "entrepeneur") and only touches lightly on the stupidity and corruption of the people around himself, mostly to tell us how he gets around each difficulty, occasionally with luck, but more often (and more entertainingly) with pluck. Americans who deal with third-world people really need to read this book. The rest of us probably need to read it to understand where the USA is headed.

When I was still reading the fiction magazine formerly (but not recently, which is why I stopped reading it) known as "The Weekly News Magazine," they quoted some novelist saying "Fiction writers are the only ones who can be trusted to tell the truth." I wouldn't go that far, but this guy's description of the pervasiveness of evil in India rings true, and matches both what I have seen in my own visits to third-world countries, and also where the USA is migrating as the atheists (attempt to) banish from the public all Christian influence. Three generations (70 years seems to be the magic number) after they succeed, we can expect to see a resurgence of Christian values. It happened in the (now former) Soviet Union, is now breaking in China, and also the Israeli exile during Babylonian and Persian rule. Things never went back to their former glory, but that's Entropy for you.

Mystery novels are the only English usage of the Greek word 'mysterion' which means "a former secret now explained." Most English usage of the word means "absolutely without explanation." Perhaps the library classification of White Tiger as a mystery comes under that category, but lots of other things do too. One such mystery to me is why that guy -- after (ahem) 70 weeks of silence -- chose to re-open communication, given that he's still much too hostile to want to understand anything I say. Oh well, it's Not My Problem. Neither is the corruption in India, but it seems like more fun to read about.
 

2017 August 18 -- Unforgivable

You may recall a couple weeks ago, my host for the weekend and I (mostly) agreed on the nature of the Unforgivable Sin (UFS). I gave a lot of thought to the pastoral problem a couple years ago, and concluded that the danger is real, but if you are worried about it, then you didn't do it. It is not at all necessary to rewrite Scripture and make the UFS into something other than Scripture teaches. Doing so is forbidden by God (three different places, once near the beginning, once in the middle, and once near the end).

Imagine my surprise to get back into the local church, and the deacon who is teaching the adult Sunday School class -- he tries hard, and he reads a lot of commentaries, but this is not what he's good at: he does drywall for a living, not Bible study -- he has been slowly working his way through Matthew since before I started going there, and he came to 12:32 this week. "Final rejection of Jesus" was his interpretation. It's not there in the text, no way. But that's (probably) what his commentaries said.

Forgiveness is an important Christian doctrine -- so much so that Jesus repeatedly told people that refusing to forgive somebody who promises not to do it again (whatever "it" is) is spiritually fatal. I gave a lot of thought to the topic (see my essay "As God Forgave") and I can find no evidence in Scripture for forgiving somebody who is still doing you harm. That would be like God forgiving unrepentant sinners and inviting them into His Heaven while they are still sinning and doing harm to people. It wouldn't be Heaven for the rest of us there. Besides, it's insulting to "forgive" somebody who doesn't think he did anything wrong.

Anyway, this guy decided he didn't want to be my friend any more, but rather than just politely saying so and going our separate ways, he got really nasty and unChristian about it. It cost me a lot of grief and time I should have spent doing other things. He now wants to know if he needs my forgiveness. How should I know? My forgiveness is irrelevant to his eternal destination, he needs God's forgiveness, not mine. It is also irrelevant to his life now that I moved out of his state. It's not like he wants to renew the friendship, nor even apologize for all the harm. But if he wants it, he can have it, only he must ask for it Scripturally. I'm not holding my breath waiting. Hmmm, maybe those folks have something after all, when they insist that dying apart from Christ is the only UFS. Too bad it's not in the Bible.
 

2017 August 12 -- Home Again

I don't know what the problem is (other than old age) but it hurts to sit in my car for hours on end. I didn't used to have that problem. Yes, it got tiresome after driving for fifteen or twenty hours straight, but now it hurts. I had to stop in almost every rest area and limber up.

The program is over, and the kids aced the demo. I thought they should have prepared more, but that seems to be what I need if I'm doing it, not them. They had good answers to the questions -- some of them hard questions -- and it looked very professional. The other team, the neural net (NN) kids, came second, and they spent a lot of time explaining NNs and their technology, and never showed their software doing anything. They (rotating speakers, everybody spoke for a minute or two on their respective slides, then went to the next person) admitted it was still training, "should be done in about an hour." People got up and walked out several times during their presentation.

Bottom line: I did what I went there for. The kids admitted that they had fun, and when asked why they did it that way, they said it was the structure I had offered, but then they bought into it, as giving them understanding and control over the process. Other than access to the camera (which they actually went in and altered), they used no libraries at all, it was all their own code. They had working code at the end of the first week, and improved it from there. As I predicted two months ago, the NN approach that I recommended against was was a black hole from which nothing emerged, and it was still unfinished at the end of the four weeks. NNs are based on Darwinist thinking, and the real world doesn't work that way. But it's religion, they are all convinced it's the way to go -- even the kids in my group, who know better. They must really get that hammered into their heads in school.
 

2017 August 10 -- End Zone

Picking the WIRED magazine up and setting it down several times -- mostly I read it during gaps in other activities -- I noticed the cover art, "What Lie Lies Ahead." With awesome prescience, the artist totally negated their whole feature. Frex, page 52 (good luck finding page numbers in any issue of WIRED) promises that "Software will protect itself." Don't bet your life savings on it. Two months ago I predicted that the AI efforts this summer would fail, whereas the design effort that I personally am coaching would succeed. I could know the latter because I actually implemented it, so if they got stuck, I could bail them out using known technology. The AI part was conjecture, based on the fact that I both utterly failed to get Neural Nets (NNs) to work in my test case, plus it is cutting-edge technology occupying the attention of numerous PhD researchers and their graduate students, so it seems the height of hubris to suppose high-school students could succeed where the pros have not yet. Now, with one day to go, the kids have done everything they are going to do, and I have a hard time not gloating about the accuracy of my prediction. The kids in my group had working code the first week, and spent the rest of the time fine-tuning the results. From what I hear (the reports are somewhat ambiguous) the AI group next door still has nothing.

NNs are designed from the perspective of Darwinist theology. Natural Selection is an awesome way to fine-tune an existing genome to survive changing environmental conditions, but that is the opposite from creating new information. Relative to the WIRED prediction, they have drunk the Darwinist Kool-Aid which supposes that AI can be made smarter than people. It is false. AI can be made faster than humans doing particular things, but malware is NOT being designed by AI, it is being designed by smart people, who will simply learn where the new weak spots are and program around them. Programmers will never be eliminated by AI; if some jobs disappear, some of them will turn to programming malware that beats the security software, and the rest will go to their competitors for jobs beating the malware that beats the AI code.

The final article in this magazine is a compelling story about "deradicalization" efforts to reprogram jihadists to be socially productive citizens again -- until you get near the end, where the author betrays his own political bigotry when reporting that the need for deradicalization will not disappear when ISIS is defeated, because "a threat could just as easily come from the far right as from the world of violent jihadism." It sort of turns his depressing (written immediately after Trump's election) summary into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
 

2017 August 8 -- Google Knows Nothing

One of the local high school teachers, who is in here observing the program with a possible involvement in a lower-level (middle school) feeder program, told me this morning about the latest Google news. I used to say "Google knows all," but now that I see they are a bunch of knee-jerk heterophobic anti-diversity* anti-Christian left-wing bigots, I think I will be less eager to use their services. James Damore now joins Forrest Mims and Robert Gentry in my list of heroes who dared to side with Science (and God) in the fight against the Established Religion of the nation -- and lost their jobs. "Rejoice and be exceeding glad," Jesus said, "for great is your reward in Heaven."

* Unless "gender" refers to properties fixed and immutable at conception as James Damore and good science both insist, then it must necessarily refer to mental attitudes in persons raging against their own God-given DNA (or IMHO, against the Omniscient and Benevolent God who gave it to them), and if it is about mental attitudes, then "diversity" is necessarily and presumed to be "inclusive" (their word) of all differing mental constructs against which people and the corporations they run might discriminate, so firing Damore is hypocritical and anti-diversity. Anyway, if gender is a state of mind, then race should be also a state of mind, so I always self-identify as "native American," and anybody who rejects that label is (like the bathroom wall graffitist three days ago ) bigoted, intolerant, and anti-diversity. So there.
 

2017 August 7 -- Still Reading

I also brought with me a couple back issues of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) to read. As you may recall, the regular BAR column "Biblical Views" is hardly Biblical, and pretty much every time (see "The Bible and Religious Violence" and links) Ronald Hendel's name shows up as author, it provokes some comment from me. I almost jumped up and cheered at his title this month, "Biblical Scholarship at Risk." Non-scholars like Hendel should be at risk. He's a dinosaur who has not yet figured out that he's extinct.

Modern Biblical scholars have moved beyond the nonsense of "JEPD" form criticism still admitted to by Hendel and his atheist friends. The pastor of the church I went to yesterday obviously reads Hebrew -- he accurately pronounced most of the names in Gen.10 which was his sermon text -- but not enough to discourage him from attributing its authorship to Moses. I have found no place in Scripture that supports that attribution, although Jesus and Paul both give Moses credit for the other four books of the Pentateuch. But now that I'm reading the Bible straight through in the original Hebrew (and Greek), it is clear that there were multiple authors to Genesis, because every few chapters, the style of writing changes -- not every few verses as the JEPD theorists like Hendel claim -- but the whole text reads like a sequence of eyewitness accounts, different people giving their observation of their respective point in history. Perhaps Moses collected the documents and put it all together, but we don't know that. In any case, he didn't write the first draft, but preserved the wording of whoever did.

Professor Hendel claims "that modern Biblical scholarship is different from speech about the Bible in churches and synagogues." That may be true in the non-Biblical churches and synagogues he and his atheist friends know about, but it's true in a very different way in the churches I know about, the church denominations that are growing (not shrinking) because they are about Truth, not fiction. We still have "modern Biblical scholarship," but it's more modern than Hendel's JEPD nonsense, and it tells us about the language and culture of the Biblical authors, so we can know what they meant when they wrote what they said they wrote, and it matches (not "different from") speech about the Bible in our churches.

Hendel personally is not at risk, he has a tenured position at an atheist university, but his kind -- the atheists claiming to do "modern Biblical scholarship" -- are both at risk and disappearing, and good riddance. What he (and they) teach are lies and half-truths wrapped in lies. And yes, he should put a "trigger warning" on his courses, so he does not deceive vulnerable students who have not heard the truth about Biblical scholarship -- and certainly won't hear it in Hendel's courses.

But God is bigger than the atheists: for every Christian they turn into an atheist (it happens), we turn two atheists into Christians. En garde, Hendel, you are at risk!

Some 20 pages later in the same issue of BAR, archaeologist William Dever argues against the so-called "Biblical minimalists" who claim that the Bible is utterly worthless as a source of history, indeed that there is no such thing as history. "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God,'" and these folks are indeed fools, because they thereby also deny that they themselves have anything to say to us. Dever quoted one of them saying as much. Dever himself is no fundamentalist, and he insists that archaeology is the standard against which to measure the Biblical texts. He goes on to list Biblical materials that he considers accurate and other not so.

The very next page the article title proudly announces "Archaeology Confirms 3 More Bible People." Throughout history, the atheists raise objections, then -- often a decade or less later, but seldom more than one generation -- new data comes up confirming the Bible over its detractors, NEVER the other way around. Remember that. God got it right at the beginning, we puny humans must dig around. If there's an apparent conflict, it's our data (not God's) that is in error.
 

2017 August 5 -- Only in Oregon

Graffiti on the wall of the restroom in an up-scale grocery store, about where a toilet paper dispenser would go if they had one: "Fact -- There are actually only two genders." Just below it, in a different hand, "Fact -- You don't know what the [expletive] you are talking about." A third addition under that was in yellow and illegible. The cost of living in Portland is substantially higher than Grants Pass, so I suspect that explains why I see so many street people so near where houses sell for $1-million or more. Only in Oregon.

When I moved into this house, the owner took me on a little tour of the neighborhood to show me where I could get food and things. At the end of her street is normally a short walk up to Washington Park, but it's closed. Two blocks over, a second street is also closed to vehicles, but open to pedestrians. So I did that this morning. I can tell that my pot belly is burning away (besides being hungry for no reason, and being able to see my feet again without bending over), I'm tired all the time. So instead of bounding up the steps two at a time as I did in years past, I trudged slowly. The first attraction was a monument which I later found out had been started by TR Roosevelt, but I saw no explanatory signs there at the site. Farther up the hill was an extensive Rose "Test" area, again without labels except for a single information kiosk. Memorizing detailed lists has never been my strong point, so I moved on. The Japanese Gardens came highly recommended, but at $15 entrance fee was much less attractive to a person of limited means. So I enjoyed the rest of the park in the seat of the free shuttle, the driver of which eagerly pointed out attractions visible from the road. One of its stops was the "Max" light rail, but that turned out to be on the far side of the park from where I'm staying instead of one block down the hill. I had seen the busses in town, but I guess they must have been off-duty. Whatever, walking back down was not as tiring as going up.

My friend in Washington last week told me he beat cancer by going on a carb-free diet. Apparently cancer cells cannot burn fat, but regular cells can. I don't think I have any cancer, but I could reduce my grain+sugar intake somewhat -- I just now looked, and the websites I saw seemed to think rice and potatoes are OK, they're just not as convenient as bread and jam, so I probaby won't get serious about it until I get home next week.

The rest of the afternoon (when I wasn't flat on my back resting) I spent making improvements to my compiler. It's one of the few things I can do without the huge screen space on my desktop computer. A full rebuild takes maybe three of four hours. Faster computers exist, but they don't run Apple's fast MacOS (which they replaced with OSX = "Olde Stupid former"). and the newest is x86 instead of running 68K (in emulation). Someday I'll do an x86 code generator and migrate to something more stable than Apple: Win10 apparently still runs Win95 code, and while Linux may be less stable than OSX, that instability discourages malefactors, as there is no single Linux platform (other than shell, which anything *I* control would disable comletely) to target.

I brought a bunch of old magazines to catch up on evenings and now, while waiting on my compile. This WIRED is from February, and their theme of the month is future trends (at which in the past they have done rather poorly, and I expect no better this time). Their lead editorial is a rant against Trump's promise to pull the USA out of global climate initiatives, which I guess a small majority of the country agreed with, given they voted for him. Like author McKibben's colleagues, and without actually citing any verifiable science, nor telling us where his numbers came from, he wants us to believe the vast number of "scientists" feeding at government troughs and therefore beholden to the political biases of the politicians willing to support their "science." He claims that each of the last three summers was record-breaking hotter than the previous, but does not tell us how they measured that. Recall three years ago a Chinese research ship studying global warming in Antarctica got stuck in record-breaking ice and had to be evacuated by additional resources. If these guys want me -- and by extension, the majority of American voters who voted for Trump (although I did not vote for him, I agree with his science) -- to believe their tall tales, they need to provide facts and verifiable data, not just some vague reference to the vast numbers of their colleagues. As science-trained novelist Michael Chrichton pointed out several years before that, "consensus is not science." The editorial finished with the prediction that half or more of the world's energy would come from non-carbon sources in the future -- which is true, not for any alleged "global warming" crock, but only because oil is not replaceable -- mentioning that Denmark was already half on wind sourced energy in 2015, but curiously neglecting to mention that France was more than half off carbon forty years earlier, probably for the same political reason he's on this trip in the first place. Even if the world does warm up irreversibly, the American people (obviously not including dolts like McKibben) are clever enough to solve any problems when they happen, just like we solved the famines in India with genetically engineered rice.
 

2017 August 3 -- One Week (+ One Day) Left

I suggested yesterday that they might want to start thinking about their presentation on August 11, or at least start thinking about when they will start thinking about it. One kid said "Monday," and there was no vocal objection, but this morning another kid started putting together some presentation materials.

Yesterday -- it was scheduled to be 106 outside -- they sent out for pizza. I don't think Oregon knows how to make good pizza: it seems to be geographical, because California (when I lived there) was home to several chains that did good pizza. PizzaHut out here on the coast sucks, but was some of the best pizza around in Kansas (near their home office) and still tolerably good in Misery. Domino's is based in Michigan, so it's much better in Misery than out here on the coast. Oregon has nothing. Maybe they don't care. Half or more of the tech workers at Intel are far-eastern, and the food carts around town specialize in far-eastern ethnic foods, which are pretty good. Pizza -- at least the kind we Americans call "good" -- was invented in Chicago (not Italy: Italian pizza is puny and uninteresting). Oregon doesn't seem to invent anything, perhaps they are too stoned on the local weeds. Anyway, the rest of the afternoon, the kids were goofing off more than usual.

These kids are generally very well-behaved and industrious. Perhaps with only a week to go, the possibility of making substantial improvements to their (already working) code appears less likely, because today even the best programmer descended into a typing-speed competition instead of focus on the project. Others are still working on their respective code improvements. It's pretty chaotic in here.

Apparently the left-wing news media running the weather forecasts are letting their political prejudices mislead their predictions. Yesterday's predicted 106 was downgraded to 99 in the middle of the day when the prediction became obviously improbable. The rumor was they blamed it on "smoke" rather than admitting it was "Global Warming" bias.

Portland is very left-wing eco-centric bigoted. The nearest restroom to where these kids were assigned has no-flush urinals, and the stench is overwhelming. So I go upstairs where the restrooms are more civilized. Coming out with a paper towel in my hand, I looked for a trash receptacle, and had to stop and read the detailed lists of what were and were not approved for this particular container. What a crock. No wonder Oregon is not famous for making the world a better place.
 

2017 August 1 -- Going Beyond the Spec

Six months ago I set out to build a Java wrapper around the C API for the camera we got to use for the summer project. My goal was to make it as simple as possible, so the kids could get to running code quickly. They did so, much faster than I expected, so now they are looking at ways to improve the performance. Some of them have dived into the C code I wrote six months ago, to access features of the camera I did not contemplate. C is a horrible language for writing robust code, and they are indeed having a lot of trouble making their improvements work, but it's great fun -- both for them (which is the prime directive) and also for me watching them test their skills on a low-grade industry standard language.

One of the kids seems quite knowledgeable in Java, and he likes to use features recently added to the language, but which do not contribute to legibility nor better performance. He keeps running into problems -- duh! -- and then comes to me for advice on solving the difficulties. Me, I avoid those fancy useless features, so what can I tell him? "Don't do that!" He muddles through, then he can feel good about solving a language problem that stumped me. That's also "fun" (for him, the prime directive).

I think the kids are getting a lot of pressure in school to do neural nets (NNs), because NNs keep getting proposed as a solution. I guess they are sexy, but they are the topic of advanced research by graduate students and their professors, which suggests to me that high school kids would probably find them to be a black hole from which nothing emerges. That's certainly the experience of the group trying to do a self-driving car component, now in their third week with nothing to show for it. Not My Problem, except that a small subgroup of my kids are now trying to tune their pedestrian-finding code using a NN. If they fail, they still have the Designed-code solution already working and looking good.

Postscript: they got it working, but their description of what they did sounds less like a NN and more like an ad-hoc linear regression tool. But calling it a NN probably carries more bragging rights.
 

2017 July 31 -- Weekend

I found a map of Portland in the grocery store, and their tiny inset for downtown shows the light rail routes, so from that I was able to figure out how to get across town. Next problem: how to buy a ticket? The otherwise worthless transit website told of an "Honored Citizen" (euphemism for senile and/or disabled) ticket at half-price, which it said I could buy after getting on. There are also ticket kiosks at all the major stops, but they all face the afternoon sun and their LCD screens are totally illegible. There is a panel in braille but nothing in plain English. There are numbered buttons, but they are context-sensitive, so there's no way to figure out what button does what when the screen is dark. I asked a passer-by what to do, and she said "I just get on." The train was there, so I did, with cash in hand. And got off again at the transfer point a couple stops later.

Some guy in a neon-yellow-striped vest was fiddling with the kiosk there, so I asked again, and he went through some motions pushing buttons and told me to put my money in the slot. After three quarters it spit out a whole bunch of coins. He muttered something, pushed some more buttons, then handed me a ticket and took my remaining two quarters. He said he'd complained to the city to no effect. I guess he was a service tech, because a couple minutes later I saw him with the kiosk door open, working inside. Because there is no clear correlation between train stops and city streets, I got off at the wrong exit and had to walk a couple extra blocks. Portland might be an OK place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live here. I'd probably say the same for the whole state. Oh wait, I do live here. I still wouldn't want to, but my personal preferences are usually not my top decision-making priority.

The one person who maintained friendly contact with me after BibleTrans fell apart 15 years ago and I scurried off to the State of Misery to get my finances back in order, he's now in Spokane, and I sort of invited myself to visit him one of these weekends while I'm in Portland. He suggested that the highway on the Washington side of the river is more scenic, which suggestion I immediately adopted because it's also not an interstate. I still needed to cross the river on an interstate, but only some 5 miles from the last Portland on-ramp to the WA-14 off-ramp. The Washington drivers are much worse drivers than Ore-gone (but not as bad as Texas), and the state highway people accommodate their bad manners with numerous turnouts. I could see the interstate across the river from time to time, and its traffic was ten times greater, so I was happy with my choice. The trees were indeed lovely -- for the first 50 miles or so, then it turned into boring dry grass. Washington is as stingy with highway signs as Ore-gone, so my "scenic route" was metaphor as well as actual.

It was a delightful visit. The guy has well-developed (and strongly defended) theological opinions, but his arguments were somewhat more temperate than I remembered from previous years. Or maybe I am getting more tolerant of deviant theology. Only three topics came to impass: the author of Hebrews, dispensationalism, and the pastoral problem with the unforgivable sin, two of which I have dealt with elsewhere (but probably need update).

Dispensationalism is the theological doctrine that God operates differently during different periods of history, which effectively divides the Bible into segments, most of which are irrelevant to us in the Church Dispensation except for academic interest. I grew up in a dispensationalist denomination, but as a teen I began to see discrepancies between the dogma and what I was reading in Scripture, particularly what Jesus himself said. Much later I came to the realization that all man-made systematic theologies deviate from Scripture somewhere. My host was gracious enough to suggest that we probably agreed on more than we disagreed, to which I heartily agreed and we moved on to other topics.

Just across the river from Oregon, gas prices went down 20%. Even out in the Washington boonies, where inaccessibility tends to drive prices up, they were 10% below mainstream Oregon prices. Part of that is the Oregon law forbidding self-serve. Ore-gone is not a user-friendly state, why would anyone (other than pot-heads) want to live here?
 

2017 July 27 -- Doing Well

The group I'm responsible for is doing quite well, much better than I expected. I can now walk around the room, and each subgroup is banging away on their code contribution, or else watching the video composite of all their efforts to see how their latest build affected the result. So I watch each one, and it's quite impressive, little green boxes around the pedestrians walking across the screen -- plus a lot of red and black boxes around other image features, which (I suppose) the red and black boxes will be removed for the final demo. They have some live video captured from the street scene upstairs, and their code is not so good on it, so they are spending their effort to fine-tune the parameters.

The point is, I'm siting here doing nothing a lot, so I got invited across the hall to help one or more of the first-year groups. Three days ago, the group's goal was to "identify objects" in a visual image. I suggested that was a little vague (not to mention very hard), and that maybe they might want to start by recognizing simple polygons in a field of white. I suggested she might scan the image the way a TV does, top to bottom, left to right each pixel line, but she wanted to follow the object around its outline. I don't think she had thought about it much, but I offered a simple way to do it. Today she came to me and told me it was working.

Yesterday I got another request from across the hall, a group wanted to detect what guitar string was plucked. They had an array of bytes from the computer sound chip, but didn't know how to determine what the fundamental note was. Somebody wondered if Fourier transfor would be helpful, but I don't think so. Instead I offered them a very simple software filter that I gave a lot of thought to back when I was trying to decode telephone dialing tones ("DTMF") in software. This afternoon the teaching assistant came over to tell me they had it working. This is cool! Both these first-year groups are trying to do much bigger projects, but they have a very good chance of having something that works to show in August, two weeks from now. That's a large part of "fun" which is the prime directive I was given by the director.

So although this is not using a very big portion of my skills and time, I am doing what I'm here for. That's better than the proverbial poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

Speaking of a poke in the eye, my usual ride back to the mansion is not available tomorrow, so I'm looking into public transportation. I can hear the light rail train howling on its tracks outside the window here all night long, and the same system serves downtown near the university, and they have multiple websites -- a couple of which inform me that a 2+hour pass at my age is $1.25 -- but can you find a simple map showing where their public transportation goes on a plain street map, so one can figure out how to get from PointA to PointB? Not that I can find. They have a "trip planner" but you can't tell it "minimum walk" or "minimum transfers" nor anything useful like that. It found two routes from the university to the mansion here, both slower than just walking. Their preferred route had me walking 3/4 mile (half the total distance). Why bother?
 

2017 July 26 -- Montezuma

The dinner of the day yesterday turned out to be an India restaurant. The food was quite good. I was concerned about eating too much lest I need a restroom in a hurry halfway to campus in the morning. Montezuma to the rescue. When I eat something for the first time in a half-year or more, the digestive system says "What's this? I don't have enzymes to handle this, Begone!" The next day the system has the enzymes lined up ready to do their job no problem. Anyway, everything got flushed out before I got in the car to return to the mansion. Which was a good thing, because my parking place was gone when I got back, and I had to search around three blocks before finding something four blocks away. I moved the car back this morning, but all this walking is burning up all those calories I'm not eating, and I feel hungry. It's not convenient to eat -- right this minute, I'm the only one in our room, and we don't leave all the computers unattended while everybody is out to lunch.
 

2017 July 25 -- Porting Over Land

I must be related to Calamity Jane... I got moved to a nice old (vacant: the owner discovered she had hereditary breast cancer and was told to "get out of Dodge," so she got out) mansion in the historic King's Something region of Portland. There is no central heat or A/C, each room has its own fireplace. This being the hot season in Portland, she put me in the lower floor, which is relatively cool. I was given use of the tiny little bathroom on that level, but the toilet wouldn't flush because the water to the tank was turned off. That was easily fixed, so then I thought to test the water to the shower: sure enough, no hot water. It flowed, but never got hot. So I started looking around at the other sinks in the house -- SIX bathrooms, countless bedrooms on four floors -- everywhere else seemed to have hot water. I went back downstairs and heard the sound of running water. I didn't think I'd left it running, and it wasn't the faucet at all, water was coming out under the toilet tank all over the floor. That's obviously why it was turned off. I tried to turn it back off, but it wouldn't. I'm a software guy (not hardware) and I couldn't reach the owner, but I finally connected with somebody who replaced the hose connecting the shut-off tap to the toilet, and also the washer in the tap. It turned out the hot water tap on the tub/shower is on the right; I guess this house was built before they standardized hot on the left. At least it's working now.

The program director has a very detailed idea of what should be happening everywhere, but he is also a consummate delegator, so he wants to "delegate" to me the responsibility of getting to and from the PSU campus and this house. Last night I walked. It was mostly uphill, only 1.5 miles according to Google, but uphill in the afternoon sun felt like 2.5mi, a little tiring but not excessively so, but I dripped on the floor for the next half hour. Today he drove me, but tomorrow I need to walk in. Similarly, he initially supplied the meals, but now I get to find my own. No big deal, except the restaurant (and food cart) meals are huge, so I'm trying to do one meal a day. That's hard to plan.

Sunday I arrived at the director's house (for the location change) while his family was doing a pancake brunch, so I had a couple pancakes and some really sweet (yummy :-) local blueberries. That didn't seem big enough to be my meal-of-the-day, so when he abandonned me at the mansion, I went out looking for something. It's about three blocks to the main drag here, with a steakhouse right across the street. $72+ for a steak seems a little out of my budget. A deli around the corner was already closed, so I settled for a slice of pizza -- it wasn't good enough to regret not getting more. Last night I was too tired from walking back from the university, so I just ate from the munchies I had brought with me from home. Tonight I'll try the deli, or maybe get some stuff at the grocery nearby.
 

2017 July 22 -- One Week

They are supposed to find pedestrians in a live video feed from a windshield-mounted camera. Yesterday they were showing several variations of pedestrian identification in the canned video files I'd prepared for them. They were also able to run the live video from the camera in through their software, but did not identify the pedestrian who walked by on the sidewalk. A few more days and they will have an impressive demonstration for the final presentation. Then they can advance to the much harder problem of identifying pedestrians who are not moving, and/or who are not wearing bright solid colors. If they succeed, so much the better, but if not, they still have an awesome presentation -- and a great line for their college applications.

The director suggested I should walk around and see downtown Portland today. It seemed like a good idea, but my body complains a lot about physical activity these days. I suspect I need more exercise, perhaps in a controlled way, like on the exercycle I've been moving around with me since California. When I get back. While driving around downtown, I saw a bookstore, and since you cannot find road maps at filling stations any more, I parked ($2/hr on the virtual "meter") and sure enough, they had them. I also picked up a freebie walking map of downtown, saw a "cu-rate" shop near the bookstore, and thought they might have a souvenir ("cu-rio") to take home. No such luck, but the lady suggested a book. So I went back and found an autographed something on the Rogue River that might be interesting.

Portland traffic is as bad as Texas drivers: untrained (they know neither the law nor vehicular physics), stupid (couldn't figure it out for themselves) and sociopathic (without remorse for the risks and fear they perpetrate on other people), but after getting out of the center of town and into the local park, the scenery helped to calm my nerves. It was so pleasant, I went back to see it again. Actually, I made a wrong turn, which amounted to driving around a long block through the woods.

Beaverton has some kind of "celebrate diversity" activity every few weeks, so that was the evening event of the day. One of my family adopted an Ethiopian child, so when I saw an Ethiopean food kiosk, I decided to try it. She pronounced it "Domer wot" or something like that, said it meant chicken stew. It was served over rice and quite tasty. There were sides of something yellow I could not identify (perhaps a veggie, but it tasted ok) and something green that tasted like chopped cooked swiss chard. A Nigerian booth served something the guy told me was taro, but tasted exactly like yuca (pronounced "you-cah" and unrelated to our southwestern desert plant yucca) root I had as a child in South America, where it is a staple both in the mountains and (mostly) in the Amazon jungle. Hawaiian taro is much sweeter.

I returned to the B&B tonight and the front door latch came off in my hand. The only person here besides me is the Chinese woman who doesn't speak English, so there's no way to communicate my intention to leave my packed bags in the hall and come back for them after church to load the car. I didn't really want to leave the loaded car in the church parking lot, but now I see no viable alternative. sigh Oh well, God is bigger than these puny problems, and they definitely are puny compared to Christians in "NAMEstan" (North Africa, Middle East, and a bunch of 'stans) and particularly in the country formerly known as Iraq, so I really have no right to whine.
 

2017 July 18 -- Portland

OSX is too lame to maintain my website from, so this is being composed offline for upload when I get back...

I survived the second day of NWAPW. It seems to be going well, better than I'd hoped. The Socratic Method didn't happen. I know how to do it, but it seems to be like losing weight: it takes too much cognitive effort to happen in real time. I'm on my feet "managing by walking around" for only 5 or 6 hours, and it seems OK, but I'm ready to (and did) fall asleep immediately on getting back to some place where that is feasible. The kids may feel the same: come 3pm, they're gone.

The one girl, we have a language problem, I don't understand most of what she's saying and I think she doesn't understand me, so it's hard for me to do my job, which is to make sure they all are having fun. They are weak on catching the vision of the whole team making progress, so although the more technologically skilled among them help the struggling without even being asked, the same guy(s) didn't feel any obligation to make sure they had sample data for the next group to work with. The result is that several times today, groups were waiting for some data to work with. But they are progressing faster than I anticipated.

The director sees his and my jobs as "project management" but he has a lifetime of industry experience doing this, while I have almost none. I always managed one person: me. As near as I can tell, everybody is happy with what is happening, so I can't complain.

Outside the program, I'm playing musical accommodations. He put me up in an Air B&B room for this week; next week he has an apartment lined up. Air B&B has a problem they don't tell you about. Because these are not professional hoteliers running the respective houses, they do not have a lot of experience serving itinerant customers. I arrived last night and the room was not made up after the (apparently late) departure of the previous guest. I had an access code to let myself into the house, but it was empty and nobody arrived to deal with the problem until almost 10pm, and she barely spoke any English, so there was a total breakdown in communication. Eventually the landlord's daughter came in and worked things out, but I couldn't hit the sack before midnight. Apparently they have only one set of linens for that bed, and I had to wait for the laundry to finish. They had towels but no washcloth. No bedlamp. Stuff like that. Air B&B may be suitable for the adventurous, but my adventure of the day had already happened from 9 to 3, and I just wanted to sleep.
 

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. (with related posts)

PermaLink (with related posts)
 

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 input.

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 Agriculture 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 my NN 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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