Tom Pittman's WebLog

(or something like that)

2007 July 31 -- Foolish Stubbornness

It was an old Roy Rogers flick, before he played his own name. Roy was still the hero, but one of the supporting characters was an old geezer who ran the stage line. He was so convinced the new railroad was sabotaging his business, that when the real saboteur started in on the railroad the old guy couldn't recognize it was a third party trying to get them at each other. It almost destroyed his stage line, until Roy stepped in to rescue him from his own foolishness.

I know people like that. I wish I didn't. There's no Roy to rescue them.

2007 July 30 -- Progress

I'm trying to put together a new downloadable version of my work-in-progress. I paid somebody to type in the section headers for the (public domain) ASV Bible, so I need to rebuild my Greek New Testament database. It's a 3-day run on this aging 400MHz PowerMac. The program is written in T2, for which I have several compilers: one compiles to 68K code, which runs in emulation on the Mac, another compiles to C++ which (on the PC) compiles to x86 code for running on the 2GHz PC. Last week my 3-day run lasted four days and finished with numerous data errors, so I decided to port the whole program (with its data files) over to the PC and take advantage of the estimated 3x speedup from not emulating, times the 5x clock speedup, so it should run there in substantially less than 5 hours.

The same source code actually runs slower on the PC. One segment that runs 15 hours on the Mac has already run almost twice that long on the PC and is only half done.

Now I have to ask myself, Why is that? Could it be that Apple really bungled their decision to move to the x86 platform? Or is it the performance hit that C++ confers? I never expected a 40x penalty. 2x maybe, but wow.

This seems to be another one of those "credulity" things. The decisions that we all must live with are not made on the basis of facts nor reason, but some other irrational factors. There are good and sound (business, not performance) reasons for Apple switching to x86, but the choice of C++ over better languages offers no benefits at all other than the ego of the programmers.

2007 July 23 -- Credulity

America is doomed.

Even the folks who imagine themselves to be thinkers, don't.

I was hunting around for a picture of the WTC South Tower tipping slightly and collapsing, as the physics would predict, and almost all the pictures Google turned up were on sites arguing against the physics. It seems that everybody sees a glimpse of an idea they like, then they pick it up and copy-paste the bogus arguments without even thinking them through. I watched this process up close with one person promoting the 9/11 hoax, but I see it all over, with a wide variety of topics. I see the same process going on in the minds of pagans arguing Darwinism and Christians arguing against it. The wimps arguing against our military presence in Iraq, and equally the rednecks arguing for it. One set of geeks arguing for Windows, the other set for Linux.

Rarely somebody with enough celebrity clout happens upon (but never actually thinks up) an idea that makes sense, so when the unthinking masses seize it for their own, they get it right -- but it's purely by accident. Some ideas are testable, so the bogus ones prove themselves faulty; most ideas cost too much (money or political capital) to be tested, so they just keep getting repeated. This is the substance of urban legends. Bill Gates is not going to give anybody any money for forwarding this email.

Today the next guy in the grocery line was wishing he spoke Arabic, so he could go work for Osama bin Laden.


2007 July 19 -- System Reliability

They don't get better. Apart from debugging my own code, the MacOS (9.0.4, the last of the robust releases, before they started degrading in anticipation of OSX; 6.0.5 was even sturdier) runs reliably for thousands of hours. Thanks to DMCA, which keeps quality software off the market, the DVD player is the most common cause of hard crashes, usually when the media is scratched or dirty. The last non-DVD crash I had was several years ago, when Netscape touched a poisoned website.

WindowsXP is far flakier. Pretty much the only thing I use it for is compiling and testing my software. The Turk/2 programming language prevents or catches most of my own code errors (and the debugger intercepts the rest) so my code almost never crashes the system, but the Microsoft VisualStudio development environment gets goofy every 100 hours or so, requiring a complete reboot of the system. Yup, that's what I'm waiting for, as I write this. Using Hibernate, WinXP boots up and shuts down in a few seconds, but a hard reboot takes several minutes. Today it froze, requiring me to power it down (hold the power button for 5 seconds). A couple more reboots for good measure, and it's back and running.

Linux has a much worse reliability record. Hour for hour, I get more hard freezes in Linux than any other system, by at least an order of magnitude, maybe several. To be fair, I should point out that the only thing Linux does for me that WinXP doesn't do better is play movies. WinXP as delivered doesn't play any media. I downloaded a freebie player, but it stopped working after a month or so, and took out the sound driver on its way out. One of these days I need to rebuild the system from an older backup. Mepis Linux plays the movies, right out of the box. Yesterday I downloaded the latest Ubuntu Linux, but it doesn't do anything useful. At least it boots up, which is more than most Linux distros are able to do for me. Anyway, the Mepis movie player occasionally freezes the whole computer, MTBF something less than 100 hours. We can't blame this one on DMCA, their player is OpenSource.

I don't use Apple's Linux knock-off (OSX), there's nothing useful it does for me. I went to the local Apple dealer to try to convince him to sell me a secure computer, but he didn't want to. Or couldn't. I'd read in one of the trades that the Apple "Darwin" kernel is open source and can be recompiled by users, but he denied it. Oh well. I can't get a recompilable Linux either. The learning curve is pretty stiff on these systems, so I may need to wait until I have the time to spend on it.

Bottom line: media players are the worst culprits for taking down systems, but the commercial systems are more robust than the freebies. So far, older is better.

2007 July 16 -- Repairing Relationships

This person wanted a favor from me, but was unready to accept it at a time I was able to deliver. The next time we met was decorated by a torrent of hostility. "This is not a good way to treat somebody you want favors from," I said, to no avail. Venting one's anger at being rebuffed is a natural response, but not particularly wise if you want further favors. Most people I know either break off the relationship or stifle their rage. Breaking it off was not an option in this case, but I denied the next opportunity for a similar favor by quoting the words I heard earlier the same day.

The verbal barrage I had heard was vindictiveness. I recently got the same abuse from another fellow with no obvious need for favors from me. I prefer to think of my response (in both cases) as "behavior modification." Venting your anger is not appropriate for maintaining personal relationships approved by God. I cannot stop anybody from doing it, but I don't need to reward it with optional services. He decided he didn't need the relationship, and I have not heard from him since.

The experts in interpersonal relationship management -- my sister is a professional in the field and often gives me excellent advice -- recommend setting boundaries. They also tell us to discuss the issues in terms of how "I feel when you do this" rather than making categorical assertions about the other person.

I bungled it with my (now former) friend when I touched what I didn't know was for him a sensitive topic. After I saw his reaction I apologized (and never repeated the fault), but he refused to accept my apology. It was all downhill from there. Perhaps he sees no undesirable consequences to this particular antisocial behavior, and thus no need to change it. I prefer to look beyond this life to the eternal impact of our present actions, but as he told me in his final kiss-off, it takes two to tango.

The other person still needs favors from me. Repairing the damage of sin is never pleasant, but we can get over this and I believe we will. Sin needs to be repented, which means (at the very least) that each of us learns what behavior to avoid, and then we get along just fine. Until the next misunderstanding, and then we deal with that one too. Relationships work that way. They break when somebody refuses to accomodate the other person as God commands [Eph.5:21].

2007 July 14 -- Significance

I think the denomination was promoting a new hymnal to our church, and one of the team members started the presentation by asking what people want more than anything else. The reply from the audience surprised me, but it struck me as profoundly true. I no longer recall where the presenter wanted to go with it, but I believe most people wake up one day and realize that their life is insignificant. That realization is usually called "Mid-life crisis" (MLC) and it often drives people to react in totally irrational ways. As if that would help.

I first confronted the question in my own life long ago, and resolved it theistically: If there is to be any meaning or significance in my life, it must come from God, and it can only come about as I actively seek to conform to whatever God wants me to become. The more I look at it, the more I realize that it's not about me at all. That's why I'm forced to the conclusion that John Piper's Desiring God is utterly wrong-headed. So are the other kinds of silly things people do in MLC, like getting a fast sports car or ditching their marriage or poking ridiculous things through various parts of their skin.

So what kinds of things do qualify as significance-enhancing? I no longer know. Wealth and political power are transitory at best. Sic transit gloria mundi, the Latin phrase says; "Fame is fleeting."

Family psychologist Dr.Dobson and other MBTI Feeler types want you to believe "relationships" are permenent and significant. I suspect they are no more valuable than the other stuff. With the possible exception of Dobson, whom I never met, the people who argue most strongly for relationships seem most eager to break them off catastrophically, which pretty much makes their claims a lie. I spent ten years nurturing a relationship, only to have it dissolve in a puff of smoke when that person reached MLC. Everything I invested is a total loss. Nothing of significance remains. Nothing.

I would like to believe the work I'm doing on BibleTrans might could be significant, but I no longer have any basis for believing that either. At my age, my father was working on what he believed to be a definitive systematic theology. He died without finishing it. Even if he had finished, nobody would publish something like that from an obscure author. Sic transit. Am I doomed to the same fate? I don't know.

This I do know: there is nothing among my available options that makes more sense than working on the software. If God chooses to make it happen, it will happen. If God's plan for my life is total obscurity, there's no way I can outwit God and succeed otherwise.

At least programming is fun, which is more than I can say for the other stuff.

And I can still keep an ear open in case God changes my course again.

I do have some direction: The First and Second Great Commandments. God is in charge, not me. That's the First Command. The second is like it: Nothing I do is for my primary benefit. That rules out silly body decorations and expensive fast cars. I like good food, but its primary goal is to keep the body going for other purposes (that is, to benefit other people), not my personal gratification. I try to run this analysis on just about everything. The software is for the benefit of other people. Even those wasted ten years were intended to benefit the other person, nevermind that I failed.

Jesus does not offer any consolation to the fellow who took his talent and tried to invest it wisely, but the luck of the market was against him and he lost everything. Sometimes I wonder...

2007 July 11 -- What It Means

The movie was "Day of the Wolves" about a clever multiple robbery in a small town. The story was credible and well-done, with a nice surprise twist at the end. It was even in color, which is unusual for freebie downloads. But what caught my attention was not the details of the crime, but the subplot where the town chief of police got fired for being too zealous about apprehending hooligans who also happened to be a city council member's kids. He was invited to "resign" and offered a good recommendation. I've been there.

It got me to thinking about what people really mean by what they say, when the words don't match the semantics of the message. Semantics is my professional specialty, but I'm concerned with the real meaning, not the superficial message in the words. Some examples:

Give me your resignation.
We want to fire you, but we don't want to be bothered with fabricating a plausible cause, and we sure don't want to deal with a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Related to that, and usually accompanying it,
I'll write you a good recommendation.
It's not my idea to fire you, but if I don't then my job is on the line.
I had a problem with that when I first heard it. "When are you lying?" I wondered, "now (to me), or in that 'good' recommendation? Suppose the prospective employer asks, 'Just between you and me, why did you let him go?' What are you going to say?" It took me a long time to realize this is code for something other than what the words say.

We have a whole collection of euphemisms for euphemisms for excretory functions and apparatus. Did you know the original flush toilet was invented by Thomas Crapper? His name became a euphemism for the function, and then slowly devolved into a vulgarity for which we substitute ever more novel euphemisms. Good thing for the poor fellow that he is long gone.

One I heard a long time ago and liked so much I use it myself rather frequently:

When do you turn into a pumpkin?
which means
What time do you need [me] to leave?
This has the interesting property that it is instantly recognizable by everyone who grew up in the American (and possibly British) culture, and by almost nobody who learned English as a second language. It is of course a reference to the carriage in the children's story "Cinderella", which had been magically formed from a pumpkin, and reverted back to its original state at precisely midnight.

I think it might be fun to put together a collection of these neologisms some day. For now I'll leave you with a particularly enigmatic one I keep bumping into:

which means
What you said makes me so angry, I cannot think of any polite reply.
I never would have guessed it, except that I had it explained to me, by way of projection. I got into some kind of disagreement with this guy, who petulantly insisted "We will deal with this in person or not at all!" So I obligingly got in the car and drove 75 miles to meet his demand. When I arrived, he was in the middle of some family altercation (see a pattern here?) and sent me away. He woke me up the next morning with a phone call. Fully awake I'm a slow thinker, but here this guy was berating me over what, I could not figure out. I was still trying to make some sense of his tirades before giving an answer, when he noticed the silence and accused me of being angry. Angry? I had not yet figured out if there was something to be angry about! I do not suffer anger in silence, but this guy did, as I subsequently learned.

I get this response more often than I care to count, almost always over some misunderstanding. I don't know any cure for misunderstanding, other than politely going over the problem areas to resolve the differences. Silence doesn't do that, but at least it lets me know that the other party is on the verge of completely losing control, and that any effort on my part to communicate would be counter-productive.


2007 July 9 -- Unusable Software

The pastor's wife is trying to get some relevant information up on the church website. The site had been set up by a former intern who is now a missionary in South America, but he did not finish the job. So she asked my help and yesterday handed me the reference manual for the site management software.

On the second line of the introductory "Welcome" page of the manual I saw immediately why she could not figure out how to put stuff up there -- and why Patrick did not finish the job he started: "...the most powerful and versatile Open Source..." There was no need to read any further, this is software designed by geeks for geeks, and utterly unusable by anybody else.

I did read further. The Joomla manual is as hopeless as every other OpenSource GPL software I ever tried to use. It tells you how to do a few things that no real user ever would want to do, but in such a way that you can understand it only if you already know how to do those things. It does not tell you how to set up your web site and put the things there you might realistically want there. Well, maybe it tells you those things too -- but only if you already know how to set up your web site and put things on it.

Recall, I am a geek. I write software professionally. That's why I volunteered to help out.

Not much chance of my being a help. Nevermind what the manual says of it, Joomla is not "powerful" software if it can't do the job, and it can't do the job if nobody can figure out how to drive it.

I think if this were my web site, I'd throw out Joomla and write my own. That would be easier than trying to make sense of Joomla.

2007 July 7 -- CBS

It's spider season again.

Most of the spiders I see around the house are suffering from a fatal disease I call "CBS" (Crushed Bug Syndrome). The first symptoms are usually a massive failure of their God-given protective coloration, which normally hides bugs of all varieties from being seen against the trees and dirt of the great outdoors, lest they be eaten by hungry birds. There are no birds in the house, hungry nor otherwise, and the "trees" are white and flat, the "dirt" rather lighter than outside. Although it (like the kitchen counter) has artificial bugs and dirt flecks in the pattern to hide the real stuff, it is largely ineffective for spiders, especially the sick ones near death from CBS. Splat!

Ants often suffer a different fatality. Singleton scouts looking around for leftovers get CBS, but if they got away and brought their cousins to raid the kitchen, that's what they get (Raid). If there are enough of them milling around, I can usually tell where their path home is -- they see me coming and rush home in a hurry, through a crack in the window sill or under the electrical wall plate. Thoroughly wetting the entrance area usually keeps them away for a month or so -- until they find another non-fatal entry.

Like I said, it's hard to see the ants against the kitchen counter -- until they move. I don't understand why any diligent housekeeper would want a counter-top that looks like last week's crumbs and a bunch of ants scattered all over it. Maybe housewives are lazy and want to blame the actual crumbs on the pattern? I wouldn't want a white carpet, but a solid-color kitchen counter would be so much easier to keep clean and thus less of a temptation for foraging ants than the bespeckled mess that came with this house.

At least we don't have roaches. In California the only way to rid the apartment of roaches was to go over the house and fill every crack and pipe-hole, and then keep the kitchen obsessively clean. All crumbs swept up immediately and down the drain. No food allowed outside the kitchen for any reason. Empty cans and bottles rinsed out; other garbage like chicken bones and fruit cores go out to the dumpster immediately. I still rinse my cans and jars before dropping them in the trash.

Come to think of it, I am the bug in some people's life. And like me and CBS, they want to blame the end of the relationship on some problem in me, rather than their own active termination efforts. Yes, I can be annoying, but even spiders have a place in the ecosystem (they rid the house of other bugs). Spiders really don't want to be smacked, and neither do I. They are smart enough to hide; I'm not.

2007 July 5 -- Logic Loses

We don't become effective witnesses by winning intellectual arguments. Building a better case than one's opponent does not guarantee that he or she will be persuaded -- David Brickner
I continue to be utterly astonished at what convinces people. It's not logic and facts, nevermind what they say. Somebody famous once said "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time..." In the past I didn't believe that, but I'm rethinking my position. I recognize that Truth may be unavailable to people who reject the God of Truth, but I used to believe Christians should be more logical. They are not. I would expect MBTI Thinkers, who allegedly value Truth and Justice over "relationships", to submit to logic and facts, but although many more people imagine themselves Thinkers than act like it, even the true Thinkers shut down their reasoning capacity in the face of what Al Gore calls "inconvenient truth". Of course Al Gore did too. Scientists (especially those with no obvious profit incentive in "global warming") are beginning to dispute that particular political fairy tale this year, so we don't hear so much about it.

Have I also abandonned reason? One fellow thinks so, but he was unable to offer any rational evidence of it, only appeals to speculations he could not support with facts. I tend to be "brutally honest" with myself. The only fiction I allow myself to believe is that "everybody has the same God-given number of brain cells; nobody is smarter nor stupider than anybody else (unless they fried their brains with drugs)." Or filled it up with ideological drugs like TV. If I can think more clearly than the next person (so I figure), it is only because I don't muddle my head with TV or drugs or sports stats or romance novels.

It's getting harder for me to sustain that fiction.

Whenever I am tempted to think I am all alone, I remind myself of Elijah. God told him that he was not alone, there were 7000 men of Isarel, "all whose knees have not bowed down to Ba'al and all whose mouths have not kissed him." [1K.19:18] Ba'al was the god of commerce (personal gain), and is still widely honored today -- even among so-called Christians. Surely God still has His 7000. Sometimes I would like to meet one.

God told Elijah something else at the same time, that he had a job to do, get on with it. I guess I do too.

2007 July 4 -- Patriotic Fourth

I used to say that "Apple Computer is like the USA government: way ahead of whatever is in second place, and all parties are actively trying to close the gap." Apple succeeded at their quest and not only traded places with Microsoft/Wintel, they kept right on going for third. They haven't made it yet, because Linux is really bad, but Apple is still trying.

The USA government has a fair distance to go, as there are still far more people who want in than out. For a while the government actually turned around and started going the other way (staying ahead), but from the political campaign promises I see bandied about, the future prospects are bleak.

So I'm not very much of what you might call "patriotic." I hear a lot of noise outside as I write this, but I'm not going out to watch the show. When I was much younger, there was a popular Sunday School song, "This world is not my home, I'm just a-passing through..." I feel that way more strongly now than then [Heb.11:13-16].

Part of this comes with an increased focus on Godly values. Other people worry about money. I used to worry about money, but now I recognize that God is much more skillful at making the right thing happen financially than any amount of my worrying can accomplish [Matt.6:19-33]. I'm not in the half of the country who hate the current sitting President (I wasn't much of a fan of his predecessor), but given the likely administration turnover at the end of next year (let's face it, Bush squandered most of his moral capital), I don't expect to be whining about the mess the other team makes nearly as much as the lefties whine about Bush today. Not that they won't be making a bigger mess, but only that God is bigger than the politicians [Prov.25:1].

For a while I worried about getting my software project done before I turn into a senile pumpkin; now I recognize that God is bigger than my scheduling concerns [Matt.6:34]. For the first half of this year I worried about losing a friend whose values seem to be going in the opposite direction from mine; now I just remind myself: who do I want for a friend, him or God? [Jas.4:4]

Who indeed. sigh

2007 June 30 -- Turning It Off

I don't have a TV.

There's a reason for that. A couple of them, actually. At first it was the mind-numbing addictive drug quality of TV programming: not having a toob in the house meant I couldn't get hooked on it. But the programming has deteriorated significantly in the last 30+ years. Or maybe my standards have gone up. I watched quite a bit of TV the two nights I spent in a motel last January when the power was out. It was so bad, I spent most of the time watching MythBusters reruns. Even that got tiresome, but I did learn enough about thermite to recognize the hoax in some recent 9/11 claims. The 60-year-old black-and-white movies I download from are more entertaining than modern TV. Well, most of them.

Recently I just stopped watching a few things. Some of the downloaded movies were just not worth it. Some of the DVDs I borrowed were so filthy, I didn't want that garbage polluting my mind. Some people think it's funny. They are wrong. One writer recently claimed that "Moral discomfort is the root of comedy." That's a lie. Maybe he thought saying so was funny.

This is not my normal way of doing things. When a good cook (like my sister) prepares a meal, I eat it the way it's served, without adding salt or pepper. I try to enjoy the theatre or cinema the way the writer or director envisioned it. I read books (including the Bible) the way the authors meant them to be understood. I try to hear the symphony the way the composer imagined it.

But there are exceptions. I mostly don't patronize fast food like Mickey Dee, it just isn't worth it. I don't read pornography, and I don't listen to gangsta rap "music". One of the movies I turned off was a plotless series of rock music songs. I didn't listen to that stuff when the movie was made (I was a teen at the time, it was aimed at my age), and I don't need to start now.

Turning the garbage off is often the smart thing to do.

2007 June 29 -- Truth vs Power

It came to me in a flash this morning.

I'm an off-the-scale MBTI "T". My highest value is truth (I like to think "T" stands for "Truth"), the moral absolute around which everything is organized. For a long time I had a problem with "F" types, whose highest value is affirmation (they prefer the word "relationships"), but I pretty much made peace with that conflict over the years. Except every once in a while I get into a tussle with somebody who likes to think of themselves as "T" despite that they are promoting these "relationships" during the fireworks. I used to think they were really closet Feelers, but as of this morning I no longer believe it is a T/F conflict at all. It's all about "J" personality types.

The real problem is that those people want to exercise power over others.

I'm a "P", I don't play that game, but they can't tell. If the particular battleground is something I don't much care about, I let them win and we are both happy. That's the "P" way.

If they choose to challenge me on a matter of Truth, I fight for that. Logic is about truth, and I make my living at it, so I've gotten pretty good at defending the truth over the years. Almost anybody who tries to take a position that lacks factual or logical basis can't hold it against me. If, as is generally the case, they see the battleground as a power conflict, they become very unhappy that I didn't let them win.

I have not the slightest interest in winning or losing, I just want to make sure I'm on the side of truth.

It's not "my" truth. Truth is absolute. Either I choose to be where the truth is, or I'm fighting a losing battle. I choose Truth.

Everybody else -- at least those who make a contest of wills out of this -- wants power. Truth is unimportant, winning is everything. If I argue the Thinker perspective, they defend the Relationships side of the discussion, just to force me to lose. Except they can't. I don't defend losing ideas. I tried that in grad school, and I didn't like the outcome ("Tom, it's a theorem!" Who can fight math or logic?) so I don't do that. I don't always start out on the Truth side, but as soon as I figure out it's over there, I hustle my buns over there.

I suppose it's no fun fighting a guy who either wins (because he happens to be right), or else moves away from the losing position so quick you can't beat up on him.

I have not figured out how to deal with that problem, how to let people win often enough that they don't lose control of their emotions and start throwing things, yet without endorsing wrong myself. I suspect it can't be done.

2007 June 27 -- Power

Another movie, "X2" is a not-very scientific sci-fi about mutants with fabulous new super-powers, each one different, most of them some kind of "para-normal" (occult) thing like teleportation or telekinesis masquerading as the next step in human evolution. Of course evolution really doesn't work that way, not even in the fiction the Darwinists teach. That was remarkable enough in itself, but today I'm interested in a remark made by one of the mutants in praise of his colleague, something like "awesome power" (it might have been a different adjective), as he wielded his particular paranormal (ahem) power in battle against the evil military normals. Yeah, the bad guys in these movies are always military or corporate. It's fiction, the writers can invent any scenario they want, nevermind the disconnect with reality.

X2 was obviously a sequel to something. There was a back-story not completely told, names mentioned that the viewer was expected to know who these people were and why we should love or hate them.

Another recent DVD is really a serial, "Dragonball-Z" (they tell me it's a TV program), again with a back-story incompletely told. I guess what I looked at was the second (or maybe third, but I doubt it) season. The tie-in with X2 (besides the super-powers) is the emphasis on "power". Dragonball-Z is Japanese manga anime (animated comics) dubbed into English. In X2 the super powers are effortless, a flick of the wrist, but in Dragonball-Z it takes great effort, with grimacing and grunting and roaring. In X2 there was very little of these powers used on other mutants in a contest of power, but in Dragonball-Z that's all it was. There were these elite evil Saiyans from some distant planet, and the other-world super-heroes on earth were trying to protect the earth from destruction by the Saiyans, who generally had greater powers than the locals.

In Dragonball-Z the evil Saiyans wore an electronic power meter hanging off one eye, which allowed them to measure the power level in their opponents, thus presumably to properly strategize their own resources. They were particulary suprised when the power of Gohan increased visibly on their meters.

It is this fixation on power that attracts my attention today. It's a human obsession. When you have power, you can force your will on other people; when you lack it, other people force their will on you. Like choosing your battle fields in last week's movie, "The Ranger, the Cook, and A Hole in the Sky", so you win. Forcing your will on other people is the original sin, "You shall be as gods!"

There is only one God, and amazingly, He does not force His will on people. He makes things happen His way without forcing anybody. Although He has infinite power, He does not use it that way. That's why I call the fixation on power a human obsession. Godly people -- I mean Christians and maybe Jews, because the Muslims really don't get it -- can trust God to make things come out Good; they don't need power to force things. The Muslims and the Hindus and the atheists need and depend on power (their own). Buddhists can draw personal power from the nebulous All, which idea I suppose is reflected in Dragonball-Z.

Every once in a while I get into a contest of wills with one of these power-obsessed people. They try to force their will on me; I just do what I believe to be The Right Thing in that situation -- which usually isn't what they had in mind -- so they grimace and grunt and roar (or their modern equivalents, cuss and scream and flip me off), trying to get their power level to rise higher than mine. Guess what? Their power is worthless! God wins.

They hate that. More's the pity.

Of course when people lose control over their emotions, they start doing irrational things, so I need to be prepared to duck. I get used to that. Jesus didn't duck (he got crucified), but I'm not Jesus.

2007 June 22 -- War by Other Means

The movie was "The Ranger, the Cook, and A Hole in the Sky", a nostalgic look back on a 17-year-old's summer in the Forestry service. What made the story arresting was the underlying strategy the various characters used in waging their interpersonal conflict.

Seventeen years does not grow wisdom in a youth, so here's our hero playing cards in the dorm after hours, and the cook (who is cleaning up in the kitchen, not playing) sets him straight on a minor point of the rules. The kid challenges him to a card game, and he replies that he "never plays cards against [his] coworkers." The challenge is repeated over several days, always more hostile, until the head ranger invites the cook to show the kid why he doesn't take up his challenge. The cook sits down, shuffles the deck a couple of times, spreads it out into a perfect fan, and says "I do this for a living." He shuffles the deck again, cuts, and deals the top card face up, the ace of spades. Cuts again, and the top card is another ace. Four cuts, four aces. He gathers up the cards, shuffles several more times, and invites our kid to cut. Then he deals -- very fast -- five poker hands, and invites the kid to turn up his hand: nothing, just random low-value cards. He turns up the second hand, four jacks. The third hand, four queens. The fourth, four kings. With a pregnant pause, the cook taps his own cards (still face down) and says "I would bet on my hand." Then he turns over four aces. The cook is a professional card sharp, and does forestry in the summers just to get out.

Later in the story we are told about the gamblers in town who want to fleece the rangers, but their payroll is taken out to the guys in the field so there is no spending in town. At the end of the summer the head ranger sets up a game between them and the cook (about whose skills the town sharks do not yet know), in an attempt to recover his losses from the previous summer. The sharks expect violence when the rangers lose, so they arrange for bullies and guns to protect their winnings. The rangers are similarly prepared.

What is going on here? It's very simple: people choose their battles on the basis of their best skills. The kid thought himself a good card player, but did not know his opponent. The cook was a little tubby (hardly in shape for fisticuffs), but the rangers spent all summer in outdoor work; they could trounce him. Although he could beat them at cards, they could (and would) change the venue to a battlefield they could win at. The same thing was going on in the hotel in preparation for the planned trouncing (both ways).

This is interesting to me, because like the cook, I am particularly skillful in a form of combat that few people match. The whole country is in the same position: the ambitious and enterprising people emigrated to the New World in the 17th century, so we had a national surplus of sharp inventors. Other countries had fisticuffs (armies), but we had technology. This is still true today. Science is about logic and facts, and while I may sometimes be weak on facts, I can deal four aces in logic. And because the real world physics is largely logical, logic often makes up for missing facts. Like the cook in the movie, I win on that battleground. I make my living at it. Sometimes people come at me on my turf, like the kid in the movie, unaware of their deficiency. They lose, and like the losing card players in the movie, they get exceedingly angry and start throwing things.

Unlike the cook, I'm not always smart enough to stay out of a fight with people who have the edge on some other battleground, and can thus move the conflict over there. Logic is not necessarily fast. I can take my time on my turf; my opponents soon discover that if they push for speed, they can often overwhelm me. Each of us presses for the battleground where we have the best odds. It's human nature.

I need to be more like the cook, and stay out of those fights.

2007 June 18 -- Trust

The current issue of PCWorld starts off with a news story on the (lack of) security in so-called "Web 2.0" web sites, particularly those that allow users to post content, such as MySpace and the various recent Google offerings (the original Google search engine, which continues to work fine in older browsers, is not at risk).

What seems most remarkable to me is the dissonance between the level of trust users bestow on bug-ridden computer software known to be under continuous assault by evil persons bent on wreaking mayhem, as compared to their lack of trust in public persons of apparent (and probably actual) fine moral character, who have been ratified by a majority of the sensible people in this country, and which public persons are themselves under continuous assault by evil persons bent on wreaking mayhem. The difference of course is that the computer software fails daily under barrage from at most a few hundred Russian and Chinese attackers, at an annual cost to the economy of billions of dollars, whereas the current administration loses maybe one or two persons per year while continuing to do his job in the face of hostility from nearly half the country.

What is not different is the people guilty of this inconsistency. They are the same techno-geeks whose magazines uniformly (and pretty much without reader opposition) join the assault against conservative politics -- I know, because I read these magazines, and I look at their risky Bush-bashing web sites. Not all of them, of course: I'm a technologist by profession, both unwilling (absent adequate eyewitness evidence) to criticize the people God placed over this country, and also unwilling to open up my mission-critical computer to hostile nasties. But if there were more people like me, then there would be more web sites that worked for people like me.

Actually, there are a lot of secure web sites -- just not the ones who claim to be secure. Like, how much are you willing to trust the used-car salesman who tells you, "Trust me"? Google Maps used to fail, but then they got Religion. Yahoo maps used to work on my secure browser, but now they fail. Google wins my attention. The sites who promote glitz over content effectively self-select themselves out of the market. Their choice, but I think it foolish.

2007 June 16 -- Selling the Sizzle

Some 25 years ago I think it was, I read a book on salesmanship by a master salesman, Hank Trisler. He really had only two insights; the whole book was essentially just an exposition and explanation of these two points, which I will call Trisler's Laws:
T1. People buy on emotion, then justify with facts, and
T2. People buy for their reasons, not ours.
I'm not big on emotion, but T2 profoundly resonated with something my father taught me as a child. All my life, but especially after reading No Bull Selling, I have made it a point to pay attention to what other people have to say. They don't often pay me the reverse courtesy, but that's usually their problem, not mine.

Over the last year or so I have started to appreciate the truth in T1. Marketers have known this for a long time, maybe 25 years? National ad campaigns sell the feeling, not the facts: "Have it your way" they say, and "It just feels good." Those ads don't touch me, but they obviously work on a lot of people, or the big bucks wouldn't be there.

Now the amateurs are taking up the technique. Maybe they aren't amateurs, but the product they're selling is not so obviously commercial. Take the 9/11 conspiracy theory. It doesn't take anybody very long to do the math and see that they have no case, but they don't sell it on the math and the logic, they push videos. Motion pictures are the ultimate emotion machine, relentlessly forcing you to experience all these sensations at the director's pace, not slow enough to see the damning details nor think about what's really going on. That's how magicians work: "watch this moving hand over here, while I slip something over on you over there." Text lets you think, but video is all about experience and feelings. You can search the internet for text, but the only way to search for videos is using text. Go to any of the 9/11 conspiracy sites, and all you see are videos. We can know that words lie and that liars figure, but videos can be staged, photoshopped, and animated, yet we just feel like they're Truth Incarnate.

I think it was a YouTube video that convinced the normally reserved Missouri citizens to vote government-funded human cloning into their state constitution last year. Google paid $1.6 BILLION for YouTube. They figure they got their money's worth. They are not stupid. The videos are stupid. The people who watch the videos are stupid. But not Google. Videos are emotional selling machines.

Where is the emotional sizzle in the 9/11 videos? Just look at the accompanying text. It's hard to find, but there is some. It's all about political hatred. They hate the Bush administration so bad they (literally) can't see straight. They drank the koolaid. It doesn't matter how illogical or self-contradictory the claims, it doesn't even matter that some of their conspiracy "facts" were happening before Bush was elected, whatever facts there are only justify a decision already made for emotional reasons.

I have feelings too. I have no particular love for President Bush (I voted against him), but feelings do not have the final say in my life. That place is reserved for logic and the Word of God. I (ahem) feel sorry for the people who let their emotions control them, it really is hard for them to think clearly and see straight. In the long run that is self-destructive.

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2007 June 15 -- The Time Is . . . 18:88am

I changed cell phones. It seems that corporate greed has so overwhelmed the service providers that they can only offer new equipment (with its consequential contract lock-in) to customers lured away from their competitors, instead of just reprogramming the old phone's accounting chip to the new login specifics. We are all the losers.

The alarm clock on the old Samsung device was easy to get to and easier to set; the new LG (I think that stands for "Lowest Grade") alarm keeps going into some unwanted mode that requires repeated initialization to restore the desired ring tone and activation. When the Samsung alarm sounds, a quick press on the outside button silences it; LostGauze keeps ringing until you open it and hit the "End" button -- but wait! It's not over, you must sequence through the whole menu apparatus to turn the bugger off. Otherwise it rings again at some random future time.

Samsung had a clear and bright display that could be seen even in sunlight without opening it; LightGone is so dark after a few-second timeout that you can only read it in a darkened room, and not at all under any circumstances in broad daylight. I could flip open the old phone without detaching it from my belt, and thus look down to read the current time, like a watch, from its outside panel; LessGeneral switches the outside display out to a meaningless logo when opened, so you can't read the time at all. I tried turning the phone upside down to read the time from the inside panel, but the numerals are too tiny to see from that distance. Which brings me to...

Both phones use fonts designed by idiots. Some sizes are readable, some have two slightly different figure "8" glyphs, one of which they use for zero. At least the outside time display on the Samsung was readable; the tiny inside LG time tells me it's 18:88am, which might really be 10am or 10:08 (obviously there cannot be an 8 in either the minute tens or hour position, but I need to do the calculation before I know (only approximately) what time it is. Keying in a new number on the Samsung uses their goofy 8-for-0 font, but at least it switched to a readable font after the 10th digit goes in, so I can review the number before placing the call; LuckyGuess uses a readable font for entry, but not in the phone book.

Samsung had a 4-function calculator that was very hard to use (probably designed by the same idiot who did the fonts); on the LG their calculator (if they have one) is so hard to use, I can't even find it. I probably couln't read the answer anyway.

Samsung politely chirped when you plugged it in, and showed a green LED when it was fully charged; LameGame gives no indication, you have to look at the tiny icon (which is of course dark).

Progress sucks.

2007 June 4 -- The Show Must Go On

I got volunteered to help out in the sound booth at church yesterday.

I think there are two different kinds of techno-geeks, those who know how things work, and those who can drive them. It takes different skills. I understand the physics and the electronics, and I can more or less figure out how the software must work. The people who drive the sound board and the PowerPoint computer are pretty clueless about how things work, they just do what I call "the video game" thing, fiddle around with settings until it seems to do what they want. Occasionally they really mess things up, like the week somebody turned down the settings for the hearing-impaired transmitter. Nobody had a clue why the elderly folks weren't getting anything. So they called in the service rep to repair it. At that point I offered to learn what's going on to prevent the service charge again.

It's one thing to know where the electrons are going, but it's quite another to turn the dials and flip the screens in real time. I'm not good at that, I think too slowly.

We got the song lyrics set up in the software they bought last year to display that stuff. There is no obvious way to slice the text up into separate screens. You can insert special "Verse" tags, but that does not have the desired effect, unless you also insert blank lines. The singer who provided the text thought she could copy the divider and paste it where she wanted to split it into separate screens. The colored blue "Verse" tag and its blank lines copied and pasted just fine, but it didn't work; you had to use the hierarchical popup menu. Sometimes I think software designers are idiots. As the joke goes, "I are one."

The preacher brought in his sermon notes on PowerPoint, the Microsoft way of putting so much stuff on the screen that people can spend all their attention looking at the schmaltz instead of paying attention to the sermon. Probably just as well, most sermons are not worth listening to. A few years ago, when word processors with fancy formatting were just becoming available, they did a study comparing students who used a word processor to students who just typed their papers; the word processor papers were significantly lower quality. I suspect people have a fixed amount of time and effort they are willing to spend on a presentation (or term paper), and the more time they spend on the visual display -- which is very time consuming -- the less they have on making their message clear and persuasive. Edward Tufte has a lot to say against PowerPoint; Don Norman offers a more reasoned balance. Neither of them identify the root problem.

Anyway, we fiddled around a while getting the sermon notes into the presentation software, then he removed his CD. My first thought was to notice that he had opened the file directly off the CD, without copying it to the hard drive; what if the program wanted to look again? As it turned out, the program had it all in memory -- there is no power protection on this computer, but I guess if the power goes out, they have worse problems than the loss of the presentation -- but the operating system noticed the missing CD partway through the service, and put up a dialog which interfered with the presentation sequence: we lost half of a song over that. A more skilled operator would have dismissed the dialog and lost nothing.

Most of the songs yesterday were these modern "7/11" (seven words, repeated eleven times) songs that they play endlessly on the Christian radio stations I don't listen to. I don't know those songs. I don't want to know them, they are all about "me". I want to sing about God. But that's a different gripe, maybe a different post. Fortunately the guy running the sound board knows them, so I got him to transition the slides.

Jesus had no PowerPoint, no sound system. He just talked. There's something to be said for that.

2007 May 25 -- Vista, Like It or Not

When Apple's "obsolete" operating system (OS-Ex, a face-lift on a 40-year-old "modern" system which replaced their 15-year-old "aging" system) was first released, the Mac magazines were filled with articles on how to type in arcane command-lines to do what the (real) MacOS does easily in a couple mouse clicks. Now that Vista is news and the Mac ("What's a Mac?") is not, the PC mags are similarly filled with arcane command lines -- yup, you still need to do 19th-century command-line stuff in Vista -- and other work-arounds for the hapless early adopters. Need I say it? I'm not one of them.

Microsoft has announced that XP is toast after next year, so I'm eventually stuck with using the latest turkey out of Redmond, but from the reviews I haven't seen much to like. The magazine writers all seem to like the user interface; me, I don't even like the native WinXP interface, but at least it lets me revert to something usable. I suspect you can turn most of the distracting and performance-hogging Vista garbage off too. They say that the security is better, while out of the other side of their mouth they remind users to upgrade to the latest commercial security rentals. It seems that Vista blocks a few more nasties than WinXP -- which still leaves a bunch of them free rein. Even the best of the commercial anti-virus software only snags 94% of the *known* malware, and none of them catch more than 75% of "zero-day exploits" (most only catch half of them).

I read that Vista actually has taken my advice -- actually, it's such a good idea, they probably thought of it themselves -- and blocked their web browser from doing anything dangerous. Unfortunately, it's badly done, so nearly everybody turns the feature off. That's not a lot of help.

My gung-ho Microsoftie friend tells me that almost everything I want in computer security is already there in Windows, just that nobody knows how to use it. I could believe that: everything out of Redmond is hard to use. I asked him about specific protections; he didn't reply. I offered to pay for a properly configured laptop. No answer.

2007 May 22 -- Bank (Non)Privacy Notice

The banks send them out every year or so. They all use the same words, carefully crafted by some slimy lawyer to appear to offer privacy while actually promising nothing at all. On the front, in large bold letters, "Your Privacy is important to us." The truth is buried about 3/4 of the way through, where the average customer will tire of the fine print before getting to it, and then couched in a double negative to make it hard to understand:
We do NOT disclose any information about you to anyone, except as permitted by law.
Notice the capitalized "NOT" so it looks like this is telling you what they won't do. The key phrase is the exception. They are required by law to disclose information about you to Federal authorities and other law enforcement agencies with a proper court-ordered warrant, but this is not about what is required by law. It excepts any and all disclosures not expressly forbidden by law.

This one sentence tells you they intend to disclose anything they choose, at any time, to anybody at all, so long as it's not illegal. They don't need a piece of paper to tell you they won't violate the law. The sheriff can tell you that.

So why the piece of paper? Thank your local bumbling Congressman.

A few years ago people started worrying about identity theft and the privacy of their personal information. There is no Constitutional right to privacy, it was invented by the King of the land (who wears nine black robes), and what the King gives, the King can take away. The take-away part is called the Patriot Act, but that's another story. Financial institutions have always shared your data with each other; I guess they think it helps them avoid getting scammed by petty crooks. The bankers' lobbyists have fatter wallets than the privacy lobbyists, so the Federal law only requires banks to tell you what their policy is. Thus the little piece of paper.

Perhaps somebody assumed that disclosure would lead to competition, which would lead to better security. That may be true, but the law does not require adequate and meaningful disclosure; the fine-print legalese that few people bother to read and even fewer can understand is sufficient to meet the letter of the law. By hiding the truth like this, they effectively evade the spirit of the law.

Your taxpayer dollars at work.

Later today I went to the bank to discuss my concerns. The manager gave me his memorized speech about the Gramm-whatever Banking Act, and concluded that it comes down to a matter of trust. He hit the nail on the head square on. I do not have a lot of trust for businesses who use deceptive documents like his. If there were any competition, I would take my business elsewhere. Unfortunately, all the banks around here (and probably everywhere) use the same national bank service resources; they differ only in their name and logo. Oh well.

2007 May 14 -- Constantine

From the story line, I would guess that the screenwriter for this flic is an atheist who grew up in a Catholic family. He knows the vocabulary and the gestures, and he obviously thought there was a good story there, but he does not portray a credible conflict between the supernatural forces of Good (God and His angels) and Evil (Satan and the demons). It's more of a video game, where humans with quick reflexes, good luck and knowing the right incantation can beat out the demons and angels alike. Our title hero, John Constantine, even outwits Satan in a modern Faustian turnabout. Twice.

What is completely lacking here is a theology of grace. Constantine damned his soul to perdition by committing suicide, but somehow got a postponement on his execution. Now he figures that he can earn his way to Heaven by fighting off the demonic forces trying to invade the earth, and dispatching them back to Hell. The angel Gabriel (correctly) tells him that won't succeed, but incorrectly offers him a different work of righteousness to earn his ticket up. Self-sacrifice is indeed a Christian virtue, but inadequate in classic Christian theology to expiate for one's other many sins. So this is modern Catholicism, not the classic stuff that Jesus invented.

The movie plays spiritual discernment as just one of several paranormal phenomena. Constantine has some of these extra abilities, and his supporting heroine has some too (but she starts out in denial). Other people are just clueless.

The credits indicate that this theme came out of the superhero comic genre. I could believe that. For video gamers, who get to play the part of their superhero, I suppose this is a fun fantasy. I tell people "I write games; I don't play them." I think a more interesting story line involves somebody with ordinary abilities doing good. Somebody I can imagine myself in their shoes.

Oh well.

2007 May 12 -- Karma

I have often said of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, that it erases karma. I considered the idea original.

There is nothing new under the sun.

Today I read, page 34 in the current ChristianityToday, and interview with Ram Gidoomal, a former Hindu now Christian politician in London. Right there on the first page: "I believe Jesus died for my karma."

Karma is the debt load of past sin and failures. In Hindu thinking that extends past to previous incarnations, but even without that problem, we carry around a debt load from our own bad choices. The Apostle Paul called us "slaves" to that debt load and in bondage to sin, but by faith we can be free of the load, free to do good as God intended us.

The title of this interview is tellingly "Christ, My Bodhisattva". According to Wikipedia, "a bodhisattva has the compassionate determination to aid all beings on their quest for the highest state of development." What a wonderful title for the Christ! It's true.

Bravo, Mr.Gidoomal!

2007 May 3 -- Phil

Phil is one of the few -- perhaps only -- MBTI Thinker guy I have met in the Christian church who has not been completely browbeaten into mush by the Feelers who control the Christian institutions. Everybody else either capitulates or leaves the church. Phil defends himself by pretending to be insane. But it's only a pretense. Well, some of the time.

Phil recently sent me a link to his CaptainFaris blog. Besides the usual blather, he has some incisive insights. Like last Sunday, "Publicity is vital to the terrorists and fatal to the defenders." He also explains why this is a no-win situation for an open society like ours. In other words, there's not much we can do about the national security issue, short of becoming something else that none of us want.

The rest of Phil's blog is more of the same, brilliant insights, with occasional trivial posts not worth reading. Oh well, such is the nature of blogging.

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