Tom Pittman's WebLog

Last year / Later this year

2020 May 22 -- Switches

I'm in this large entry foyer just inside the double-door anybody would call the "front" door if it faced the street (but it doesn't) and it has a cathedral-style ceiling with this electric chandelier hanging down to normal ceiling level, and this older gent was fiddling with light switches and not finding one that turned the chandelier on, so I went over to the four-switch panel by the door and tried them one at a time (they were all off) and none did the one light I was trying to turn on. Finally the owner walked over and flipped the second switch on (in the same panel) and the light came on.

Me, I try to understand things, and this did not make sense. Maybe my hand missed that particular switch -- perhaps hitting the one next to it twice -- or maybe I failed to get it all the way on (despite that I felt the switch give). I decided that maybe I flipped it too fast for the lamps to turn on (many new LEDs have a latency up to a half-second or more), and said so. The host said, "No, it's a three-way switch," as if that explained it.

When I think of a switch being "three-way" it's because there are three positions for the part you push or turn to stop in, and that would certainly explain the data I had, but (I later checked) all these flat toggle switches in the house have only two positions: top-in and bottom-in. The owner, who in a former life was a journeyman electrician, seems to enjoy thinking I'm an idiot, and excoriated me for trying to tell a professional his business. "When there two switches, it's called three-way, and if you have a switch in the middle it's called four-way," he insisted. Me, I don't care what it's called, I want to know how it works.

I guess the electricians label the switch by the number of wires you need to connect up to it for it to work correctly, but all the light switches in any house I ever saw have only two positions -- except if there's a dimmer, it's a separate control, either turn or slide the same knob in a different direction, or else a separate slider entirely -- and one of those two toggle positions turns the light on, and the other position turns it off. The usual case uses a single-pole, single-throw (SPST, on or off) switch in series with the light being controlled, up is on, down is off (in England it's the other way around, like my picture here).

My father was also a second-career electrician like this guy, and he explained for me the electrical connections for having more than one switch control the same light. For two or more stations, you still put all the switches in series with the light, but you use single-pole, double-throw (SPDT) switches at the ends. The toggle connects the center pole to one side or the other (not both; on rotary switches they are called "stators" because they do not move, so I'll call them that here, although I'm sure the electricians have their own term) and the center pole on one switch goes to the power, and the center pole on the other goes to the light. The two stators on each switch connect respectively to the two stators on the other switch. If both switches are down, current flows from the power to the "down" stator (it used to be opposite to the switch position, but I think now it's on the same side) and thence to the down stator on the other switch and back out the center pole to power the light. With both switches up, the circuit is completed through the other of the pair of wires, and the light is still on. When the switches are in opposite positions (either way) the first switch energizes one of the wires, but the other switch selects the unenergized wire to connect through, so the circuit is open (no light).

You can add as many switches to the circuit as you like, but the additional switches must be double-pole, double-throw, and you insert them between the two SPDT switches at the ends. A DPDT switch is essentially a pair of SPDT switches ganged together so they both connect to their up stators at the same time, or else both to their down stators. The two wires coming from the SPDT switch on the end feed respectively to the two up stators on the DPDT switch, and then cross over to feed the two down stators; the two center poles connect to the pair of wired leading to the next switch in the chain. Here you see two DPDT switches, one in each position. The one on the left crosses the energized and unenergized circuits, and the one on the right sends them straight through:

So imagine that you have only the two SPDT switches on the ends, and they are both up, and the light is on (above right). Then you cut into both wires in the middle and insert the DPDT switch, thrown in the down position, so each center pole connects to its own down stator, one of which is connected to the up wire, and the other to the down wire continuing on to the other SPDT. Either the up wire is energized all the way through, and the light remains on (or is restored, since it went out while you were inserting the third switch), or else the down wire is energized all the way through. Throw both SPDT switches down, and the other pole of the DPDT switch is connected to the hot (down) wire coming in, and its center pole continues to keep the down wire hot coming out, and the light stays on, just as it did before you inserted the DPDT in the middle. Throw one end switch only, and it still behaves as if the middle DPDT weren't there. When you throw the DPDT switch to its other position, it effectively crosses the wires, so the end switches must be opposite to complete the circuit. You can do that any number of times.

Now a SPST switch has two pins to connect wires to -- these days it's just a hole for each wire: strip the wire 1/2" and poke it in the hole -- and a SPDT switch has three pins/holes, one for the center pole, and one each for the up and down stators. Logically a DPDT switch has six pins/holes, but assuming that most electricians (obviously excepting my host ;-) their knuckles drag the ground, I would bet that "four-way" wall switches you buy in a hardware store today all did the crossover internally and have only four holes to poke the four wire ends into, so you pretty much can't get it wrong.

The point of all this is that every wall switch has only two positions, up and down, and one of them the light is on, and the other position the light is off. Which of those positions is on and which is off can change by throwing another switch in the circuit, but there are still only two positions, up and down, and one of them the light is on, and the other position the light is off. There is no third position. There is no third condition of the light. Unless you have a dimmer, but this chandelier did not.

Slow LEDs was not the explanation: later in the evening, after it had sat off for a while, I experimented flipping the switch on and off quickly, and the lights immediately ramped up to partial brightness, than ramped down again. Only incandescents do that, not LEDs. A closer look at the bulbs, and I could see the single-strand filament.

I still don't know why the lights didn't come on when I was trying to do that, but I'm known to be clumsy, so missing the switch is as good a hypothesis as any. It certainly had nothing to do with it being a three-way switch (or not).

Speaking of which, I had an electrician doing some work in a house I was buying -- I had to get the fuse box replaced with breakers before the insurance company would insure it -- and I don't remember why he was messing with the switches at the two ends of the hall, but there he was. So I asked him to reverse the wires so that when both switches were down the light would be off, and he replied "You can't do that because they are 3-way switches." Which is nonsense. That's why I say that electricians' knuckles drag on the ground. All you have to do is cross at one end the pair of wires connecting the two SPDT switches. You don't even need to mess with the wires. So after the guy left, I unscrewed the plate over one of the switches, pulled the switch out (still hanging on its wires) and rotated it top for bottom, then pushed it back in and screwed everything back together. Presto! It helps if you understand how things have to work.

I worked for a while with a company that made electrical products (my software inside) and they would go to trade shows to demonstrate their wares. New York City required all vendors to use union electricians to do all the electrical work on the trade show premises. The VP-Engineering (he was the one I got the "knuckle-dragging" line from) designed their booth so that there was nothing electrical to do except to push the plug into the power outlet. They paid the electrician (I think it was) a half-day at union scale to do that one task, which even an ape could not mess up. I guess they had to pay another half-day at take-down at the end of the week to pull the plug out. "Cost of doing business," he'd tell me. I learned a lot from that guy.

2020 May 21 -- Unix Goes Down

You recall from four months ago (see "Worse than a Cricket") my troubles with this phone designed by an idiot. I wanted to write them a letter to suggest they make an ADA-compliant phone (that is, usable by Americans with Disabilities) but could not find a contact address of any kind for Alcatel, the putative vendor. When I Googled the company name, Wiki tells me that they no longer exist. It turns out that Lucent, which was formerly known as Bell Labs (the inventor of Unix) was badly losing money and had been bought up by some French conglomerate Alcatel, which immediately began losing money, so they sold out to Nokia, who promptly sold off everything except Bell Labs (probably to keep the patents they owned). The phone I got at the turn of the year was designed more than four years ago by a failing company that does not exist any more (small wonder: Unix will do that to you) and apparently somebody is still selling off the stale worthless inventory for whatever they can get.

Moral of the story: Unix is bad for business.

2020 May 4 -- Random Thoughts at the Beginning of the Week

Three months ago, when I was reading some of the so-called "Imprecatory Psalms" -- there are a lot of these Psalms that call down God's Wrath on the wicked, but we Christians tend to skip over them -- my thought was (at that time) "This is not my problem." Last month that changed. Today's Psalm -- 94 -- is another one of these, and again I was thinking "This is not me today." Thank You God.

These Psalms serve an important place in Scripture, but like the detailed instructions for Temple sacrifice, they are (mostly) not for Christians today. They are still part of the "ALL SCRIPTURE" that the great Apostle tells us is "profitable for doctrine," and so on, just not me today. God's Kingdom (and His Word to that Kingdom) is bigger than just me today.

So I'm thinking about how, in the words of yesterday's meditation, I'm "done with the anger." It got me connected with family where the Church failed. Most of my life I lived alone. Church (and work) were all the family I had. I spent a lot of time talking to my sister on the phone, but that was for her, not me. People at church used to say -- maybe they still do -- "Church is our family," but I always thought it was a lie. One guy I distinctly remember saying it, he later left that church over their choice of a new pastor. It was a lie, or at best wishful thinking. But as little as it was, that was all the family I had. Until now. The Church self-destructed. My house here is self-destructing -- this is Ore-gone, where everything "goes to pot" (literally) and the whole economy suffers -- even the web server for the Colorado church service I tried to watch yesterday self-destructed (I suspect they couldn't handle the surge of Sunday morning traffic during the Ban). Blame the eunuchs. Maybe this family connection will self-destruct too, but it's not my problem. Not today.

Today I am God's little channel for turning back entropy. Entropy is the scientific principle that Things Run Down. That's how we can know that Darwin's hypothesis is Wrong. God (Who is outside the system and therefore not subject to the laws of the Nature He created) is the only possible Source of anti-entropic activity. As the previous week's meditation reminds us, God is Good and generous: He freely gives His sun and rain to all people, the righteous and the wicked alike, and He also has given His anti-entropic creativity to everyone who manages to push back the onslaught of degradation, the righteous and the wicked alike. But we (Christians) know Who to thank, and He explicitly invites us to ask for more. If we want it.

You might recall my posting on "Christian Women in Science" two months ago. Women are really smarter than their defenders give them credit for, and one of them (Jennifer Edminster) sent in (and CT printed this month, but not yet available online) this very insightful response:

Women remain uniquely equipped and overwhelmingly inclined to fill the role of bearing and nurturing the next generation. It is obvious why most women opt for careers that are more flexible and less demanding. Boys are the ones in trouble. They are less likely to finish school or to complete college. They are more inclined to abuse substances or to be incarcerated. Let's stop demanding contrived 50/50 gender parity in all occupations. Why not celebrate the fact that women have the freedom to choose careers based on inclination rather than emulation of men?

2020 April 22 -- Crypto-Autism

I've mentioned it before (frex, "UnTech" last year), the IEEE Spectrum sometimes has some very insightful articles. This month one was particularly arresting, given my social circumstances. The brief article abstract (subtitle?) at the front announcing "Google Glass helps autistic kids understand facial expressions through augmented reality therapy" gives a good summary of how they understand what they are doing. They have a lot of pictures -- evidently taken all on the same day (the kid is wearing the same clothes) but in different surroundings. The kid is wearing this Google Glass apparatus, which has a camera and a tiny view screen above his right eye -- I checked: they don't make a version for left-eyed people like me -- which captures whatever the kid is looking at, then in software identifies faces and whatever emotion the face is showing.

The software was developed for merchants looking to see how potential customers react to their products, and the article goes on to tell of some of the hurdles they overcame from limited processing power in the head-mounted device, and how to deal with faces that the commercial software does not recognize. Merchants don't care about occasional dropouts, they are looking for an average, but if one of the caregivers or a therapist's face is mistaken, the therapy will fail. Anyway, it's a clever idea, and they seem to be on-track for getting FDA approval so people's insurance (read: everybody else) will pay for it.

What grabbed me is that they reported some astonishment at how well it worked with autistic kids. That tells me that autism is probably misunderstood: "...the shocking 600 percent rise since 1990 in diagnoses of autism in the United States. What if autism is not a physiological disorder at all, but only reflects the increase in double-wage households where the parents are both gone all day, and the child care is farmed out to non-family babysitters, so the kid does not get the kind of one-on-one attention he would have gotten fifty or a hundred years ago? Nobody is there to train him to look at the person who is talking to him, but this therapy puts up an icon in his field of view that reminds him, in a fun sort of way, when he's not looking, or when he needs to pay attention to the facial emotions of the other person. Kids aren't stupid, they just don't know that's what you are supposed to do.

Me, I know for a fact that the informational bandwidth of speech is pretty low, and I detest sitting through a video that has been dumbed down for below-average people. Once the kid figures out that he doesn't need to pay that much attention, he won't. Instant autism. It probably happens at some singular phase in his mental development, like the ability to understand metaphors happens around age 12, and if the mother isn't there pushing him to get it right, well, he doesn't starve, he isn't beaten, so it must be OK. Once he goes through this therapy, he can adjust his habits (harder than getting them right the first time around, but not impossible), hence the astounding reported success rate.

I eventually figured out that I'm different from everybody else. Everything Robert Fulghum needed to know he learned in kindergarten, and I didn't go to kindergarten, so I didn't learn those things. I can hear people just fine without looking at their faces, better when I was younger, but still pretty good. When I was in high school I was too nearsighted to read the blackboard and the teacher's face was just a blur, so I looked elsewhere (like at the text book). Maybe I still do. It didn't occur to me how much importance some people put on you looking at them until I read this article. Maybe that's why they get so angry at me. If that's the case (I wouldn't know, they never tell me), then it's their fault for not accommodating my disability. A pastor who is not protecting and helping the disadvantaged people in his flock is just plain incompetent. But he probably has no better understanding of the situation than I do -- which without opening up some communication is zip.

2020 April 20 -- Clue Deficit Disorder

I have this incredible skill, I can arouse unspeakable anger in people. Literally: they can't (or won't) speak to me to tell me what got their dander up. The anger part I can pretty much figure out: one guy shouted at me so loud you could hear him all over the college, another couldn't see straight. Really. I previously thought that was just an expression. Me, I'm basically a pacifist, if I knew what I did to cause it, I wouldn't do that. Or maybe I didn't do anything. Maybe they are just angry because they don't love Jesus as much as I do, and my just being there makes them look bad. Or not. Mostly I have CDD.

Yeah, that must be it. When the Government put American churches under the Ban a month ago, at least one of the churches here was more Godly than the others, they already had small groups going, and they advised their members to continue meeting in their small groups. I know one of the families, and they told me that their group decided they were too much "at risk" and chose to discontinue meeting. Right there, it was like God telling me, "Tom, you can have a ministry to this family!" But I was too tangled up in my own selfish needs. God needed to get out His two-by-four.

You heard that joke, right? There was this farmer back east somewhere, who had a reputation for his way with animals, they'd do anything he wanted, all he needed to do is speak to them in a soft voice with gentle words. So some guy visiting from out of town heard about it and decided this is something he had to see. So he went up to the guy and asked about it. "Sure," he said. "See that mule over there?" He walks over, reaches down and picks up a short 2x4 and WHAM! Hits the mule on the side of the head. "Hey, wait a minute, I thought you only used a soft voice and gentle words?" the visitor cried out. "I do, but you gotta get his attention first."

God is Good, and God is Sovereign. Satan doesn't blow his own nose without God's permission. "All things," the Great Apostle told the Church in Rome, "work for Good to those who love God, who are His Elect." There is no promise to the wicked there, even if they are carrying out God's wrath on His own people. Three times Jeremiah reminds us that God gave "all these lands into the hand of my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon..." Nebuchadnezzar was not a person of faith when he did those horrible things to God's people, he had his come-to-Jesus moment much later in life.

I already knew I was not doing anybody any good where I was, but I was not paying attention. What they did to me was cruel and heartless, not a Christian thing to do by anybody's definition. But God did not give me the gift of Evangelism, to rescue wicked people from their wickedness. That's somebody else's job. So I called up this family, and they were happy for me to bring them a message from God's Word. Nothing big and fancy, but definitely a gift from God. As Jesus said, "Two or three gathered together..." there is His church. Read them yourself.

My atheist friend thinks this virus is going to destroy the American economy. I wouldn't know, but the American church is doing their part in taking out the foundation of what made this country the richest country in the whole world. I can't do anything about that: when God sent Nebuchadnezzar in to destroy Jerusalem, Jeremiah was one of the victims. It is the nature of sin that innocent people get hurt. But God paid Job back double for everything he lost (see "The Job Affair"). God has no creditors. Bad Things Happen, but God is Good. I just need to do what God gives me to do.

2020 April 11 -- (Not) Pastoring the Flock

My friend Mark, who has for many years been a friend to me at those times when nobody else would (including today), offered this awesome insight on the closing of churches:
Churches who are closed for the coronavirus outbreak are, by their own admission, providing non-essential services to the community!
I thought rather highly of the pastor in Tampa who got himself arrested because his church was carefully arranging the chairs in their sanctuary to comply with the six-foot separation between groups of people who came together (and sat together) and adjacent groups, while providing the essential services that churches provide to their community of believers (and others).

At least one church here in this town told their members to continue meeting in their small groups in homes. I suggested the idea to another pastor, but he took offense. After I had been agonizing over it for a while, Mark came to me with this Scriptural insight:

Then the disciples came to [Jesus] and asked, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?" He replied, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit." -- Matt.15:12-14 (oNIV)
Jesus warned his disciples (and with them the future pastors everywhere) not to abuse their position of authority, which warning is repeated in several epistles, including (indirectly) Heb.13:17, the verse they like to wave over you when demanding your submission. The problem is, it's really hard to comply with God's instructions to the church leaders -- especially here in the USA, where pastors are mostly self-selected, with the result that only those least qualified get the job. In the New Testament the pastors were selected and appointed by the local bishop who was appointed through the church leadership, so there was some independent accountability. The process eventually fell into a different abuse, so maybe Churchill's remark on national governments applies here too: "Democracy is the worst of all possible governments, except for everything else that has been tried."

The point is, people who cherish the feeling of power they get from their (God-given) authority feel threatened by anybody with an independent link to a Higher Power -- whether because they read their Bible in Greek (one pastor pointed to mine and said "that red book strikes terror on the heart of every pastor who sees it in the hand of a parishoner"), or if they have the Gift of Prophecy (which is the real reason so many pastors are Cessationsits). So they want to "Kill the Messenger."  It was true of Jesus in Jerusalem and Martin Luther at his trial before the Diet of Worms. It is still true of Christians in third-world countries in the "10/40 window." I am in good company.

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted -- 2Tim.3:12

2020 April 7 -- Kill the Messenger!

I spent a substantial portion of my impressionable youth in a social situation devoid of peers who considered mendacity to be acceptable behavior. Like the Ten Commandments (now no longer) on school walls, that has a profound effect on a person's moral fabric. In particular it totally devastates communication in the typical American social environment, including in churches, because you have the liars assuming that everybody is a liar like themselves, and the truth-tellers assuming that everybody (similarly like themselves) always or mostly tells the truth.

It happens to me when I go to church and assume that the Bible is true and a moral imperative binding on all people everywhere, whereas everybody else in my demographic social group only claims it to be so, but they do not live like they believe it.

In every church where I have spent any time, there are a handful of people -- sometimes but not often including the pastor -- who actually live the Christian life. I think of them as God told Elijah when he was whining about how Jezebel had "torn down Your altars and killed all Your Prophets, and I alone am left," and God said "I have reserved 7000 men of Israel who have not bowed the knee to Ba'al and whose lips have not kissed him." The Apostle Paul extended that image to include his own time, and sometimes I like to extend it farther to include Gentiles in the Christian church, no matter how corrupt their official theology. Maybe it's a push, but the idea is certainly consistent with what Jesus taught about the weeds in the field.

So I try to get along, wherever I find myself, if the preaching isn't too far from Scripture. But every once in a while I open up and say something a little too honest for the local ministry, and Bam! No Christian virtue in those guys. No place for "repentance" or forgiveness, we don't like (read: understand) what you are saying, so Kill the Messenger. They never tell me what's wrong -- which suggests to me that they cannot defend their position, or that it does not conform to Scripture as closely as they pretend -- they just give me the bum's rush (I assume) before I can infect their congregation with something so obviously True.

2020 April 4 -- Hosanna!

Hear me, O God, as I voice my complaint;
  protect my life from the threat of the enemy.
Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked,
  from that noisy crowd of evildoers.
They sharpen their tongues like swords
  and aim their words like deadly arrows.
They shoot from ambush at the innocent man;
  they shoot at him suddenly, without fear.
They encourage each other in evil plans, they talk about hiding their snares;
  they say, "Who will see them?"
They plot injustice and say, "We have devised a perfect plan!"
  Surely the mind and heart of man are cunning.
But God will shoot them with arrows;
  suddenly they will be struck down.
He will turn their own tongues against them and bring them to ruin;
  all who see them will shake their heads in scorn.
All mankind will fear;
  they will proclaim the works of God and ponder what he has done.
Let the righteous rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him;
  let all the upright in heart praise him! -- Psalm 64 (oNIV)
I read one Psalm each day on its day of the month, and many of the early Psalms are cries of anguish (mostly) from David, but also some from the sons of Korah. Several times this year I explicitly thought, "This is not my problem." Today it is my problem.

The so-called Imprecatory Psalms give Christian theologians problems, because (some of them) they seem to be calling down God's Wrath on the wicked, and we are supposed to pray for our enemies, not against them. Today David only asks for God to hear his complaint, and predicts God's eventual Righteous Judgment. No problem for Christians, we (like God Himself) wish for all people to be saved, but we understand that there is a Day of Judgment for those who refuse God's salvation. Sometimes things are so bad, we wish God would hurry the Day along, and the imprecations are a suitable prayer at that time -- with the understanding (as the Psalmist almost always did) that God is in charge, and He will Do The Right Thing.

The most charitable spin I can put on my own situation is that the guy has an anger management problem. Many people have that problem. This guy was in a position to do me harm, and apparently he got angry enough to do to me the cruelest, most mean-spirited thing he could think of that wouldn't get him arrested. He has a circle of advisors, but they didn't have the cojones to tell him "This isn't right, don't do that." Well, they've known him a lot longer than I have, so maybe they saw the ferocity of his rage and decided that less damage would happen if they threw Tom under the bus. And maybe they were right, in a secular selfish sort of way, but I saw the face on one of them, and he was very unhappy with the outcome.

I still don't know what got him so riled. The letter over his signature appears to be a pack of lies, but he is known to deviate from the truth when he is angry. So I still don't know. The trouble is, he's a nice, God-fearing guy otherwise, just not one to admit it when he's wrong. That could be a problem for him on Judgment Day, but it's his problem, not mine. Except now I have to go make a whole bunch of new friends. sigh

God is Good, even when Bad Things Happen.

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, a time of rejoicing, and I get to deliver the homily at a small-group setting, where they previously would have had nothing. "Hosanna" is Hebrew for "Save us now," which is what the people said in the road as Jesus their Messiah came by on a donkey in fulfillment of the Prophecy. It's sort of what David was saying in his Psalm, but with a positive spin. Jesus was there to save them. Jesus is still here to save us. I first heard this sermon in Jerusalem the day before Palm Sunday, where the preacher pointed out that the people were quoting from Psalm 118:25,26. His text was from Luke, who quotes the people saying

"Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the LORD!" -- Luke 19:38
but the original Hebrew he quoted -- (sounds like) "Barook habah v'shame adonay" -- "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD" left out, or rather the people added, the word "king" ("hamelek" in Hebrew, inserted after the first word). The same story is in all four Gospels, but only Luke gave us the people's words instead of quoting the Old Testament text directly. Mark added a line not in the other Gospels (and not in the Psalm they were quoting)
"Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!" -- Mark 11:10
Mark and Luke were writing to Gentiles, so they realized that we need to be reminded what the good Jews on that road in the first century already knew: This is a Messianic Psalm, and the One Who Comes in the Name of the LORD is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and we all look to Him for salvation. Hosanna!

Except Luke left out the Hosanna, it's a Hebrew word that would have been misunderstood -- and was misunderstood in later years -- by Gentiles who know no Hebrew: most people today think it's a shout of praise, not a request for salvation. I did too, until I learned Hebrew.

2020 March 31 -- Obeying Man Rather Than God

The photo shows Algerian police padlocking a church door while Christians stand around recording the event on their phones. The next picture shows the same Christians continuing to meet under a tent. It happens in Muslim and Communist countries where the Bad Guys are afraid of the Christians, because we Christians have a reputation for liberating people from bondage to the Devil.

It also happens (this month) here in the USA where we Christians have no such reputation. Instead, we roll over and play dead, preferring to obey human authorities rather than God. After they shuttered the church I go to, I called around town looking for one that was in obedience to God. Mostly I got no answer, sometimes the message on the machine said they were cancelled, sometimes they gave their regular meeting times -- I considered going around at that time to see, but later realized it would be futile. One pastor answered the phone and said that they could still meet while complying with the directive because "(unfortunately)" they had few members coming so that they could sit the required 6 feet apart. I hopefully asked if they were therefore meeting, and he said no, "because all the old folks would come."

Well, Duh! That's what it's all about, and if you are cancelling services because the old folks would come, you are setting yourself as God over their right to obey God, and you are no better than the Algerian Muslims and the Chinese atheists. I didn't say that, but I was deeply offended. *I* am one of those people he has pre-empted from the most important activity of our week.

I was madder when ObamaCare was signed into law (see "Appealing to Caesar"), but less this time mostly because I realized that the time is quickly coming and is almost here that John 21:18 applies directly to me -- perhaps not in the way Jesus explained it to Peter, but certainly in the way that happens to old people in that one pastor's church, and to old people everywhere: somebody else makes our decisions. I did that to my mother, and my time is coming. My mother didn't like everything that happened to her, but I had to report to the court everything I did on her behalf. Maybe that pastor feels the same way, or maybe he just likes imposing his will on people too weak to defend themselves, whatever, it's coming to a theater near you too. And it's here now for me today. Blech. I saw my mother's anger and resolved to practice contentment so I wouldn't be in the same pickle. I made some progress but I guess I haven't arrived yet.

2020 March 5 -- (Some Kind) of Honor

This appears to be a Saturday matinee series of novellas (shorter than a novel, longer than a short story) around the theme of the alien species "treecat" which in its home world is an arboreal 6-limbed somewhat sentient cat-like critter who is empathic (feels human emotions but not actual thoughts) and otherwise not known to be as intelligent as they really are. The library didn't have the first in the series, so I began with the second volume (out of perhaps a couple dozen, including prequels and spinoffs, but the library only had three or four).

I'm guessing (there are so many fan sites that finding actual history is difficult) that the editor and sometime author (of two stories out of the five in this volume) invented the treecat, then invited other authors to contribute to the story line. This book essentially introduces their first contact with humans, then develops how they made their way to other star systems -- notably the capital planet of the monarchy under which their home planet is tributary.

Although the first author is female, she wrote like a guy for the first half of her story, then switched rather abruptly into chick-lit (inner turmoil and relationships) mode for the rest of the story. The editor himself contributed the second story, but he couldn't seem to make up his mind who he's writing for: sometimes his female characters are guys with female pronouns, sometimes they are chick-lit fodder. Mostly he's an American who has drunk the Kool-Aide -- "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (pronounced 'people') are created (pronounced 'evolved') equal..." -- trying to write about royalty, which are not only not equal, they don't even think the same as commoners. His crown princess desperately wants to be otherwise when she is introduced. She gets over it in the next story, but that is a different author (another female, obviously so from the get-go; I didn't finish it). It turns out that "Honor" is a woman's name, which was not clear from what I read in the blurb at the library, or it wouldn't have come home with me. Too many female lead characters, so I gave up. That's why I keep a stack of four here ready to read. sigh

Things could be worse: I could have no significant library at all, so I'm not complaining. I'm only in the "C"s in the mysteries, so even after I finish the sci-fi -- currently in the "R"s, but (some of) this series is shelved under the collection title "Worlds of Honor" instead of the author name, but not the first they had shelved -- I still have more years of reading mysteries than my expected life.

2020 March 2 -- Christian Women in Science

ChristianityToday (CT) tries really hard to present a balanced perspective on denominational distinctives and (as you know from my previous postings here) American politics except in science, (where they lean heavily to the left and against the best science, as measured by conformance to reality rather than political correctness). This month is no exception. Some (usually more conservative, that is, Biblical) denominations preach a "complementarian" view of gender, where men and women are seen as equal before God but complementary in nature, that is, women are better at some things than men and vice-versa, while others adopt a more "egalitarian" perspective which holds that men and women are exactly the same in every respect except reproductive organs. Probably most denominations try not to take a position on so contentious a topic. Science and our uniform experience both clearly support the Biblical view, but only women dare to publish any scientific research saying so, and far more women devote their energies to arguing from the unsupported egalitarian perspective about the unfairness of it all. So it was no surprise to see ten full pages devoted to women in science (the lead author was female, again no surprise), and another 4+ pages to how the Democratic party is reaching out to Christians this election year.

Most of the CT article is devoted to the profiles of "Six Christian Women in Science You Should Know" prepared by another author (also female) whose credentials (unlike most of their authors) CT did not disclose in the usual place (but she is listed in the staff page as "Science Editor" whose uncritical interview with Ackerman I wrote about a year ago. Consistent with the political correctness of the whole enterprise, half of the six are obviously non-white, which (by their own admission, if you do the math on the numbers they offered) is not representative at all. So like most such pieces in publications everywhere, this is promotional rather than factual information.

Although nothing in the article clearly said these six were members of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA, see my remarks last week) the article lead-in identified the "Christian Women in Science" organization as part of the ASA. Maybe the science editor is (like many journalists) just lazy, and has a small number of people she assumes represent the whole of the domain, so they are the only ones she asks any of her (already known to be not very incisive) questions of. Or maybe her bias -- against conservative Christians who are also scientists (the order being significant), see my letter they didn't print a year ago -- is so bad, she cannot even see it. That hardly makes her qualified to lecture the rest of us on bias.

The first woman she interviewed spent more of her 13" on what it's like to be a black woman than on the good and useful science she did. Maybe she gets more brownie points for being "disadvantaged" than she does for doing good science. That's sad. Or maybe the author did it to her. That's even sadder.

The second woman is a paleoclimatologist who "felt drawn to the missional dimension of climate change," which, as you already know, is left-wing politicians corrupting the objectivity of people who should be more honest than that -- especially when they claim to be Christians. She collects sediments and stalagmites to learn about the Earth's past climate. "It's kind of like reading a page out of a history book," she said. "We can also use it to answer questions about how and why climate is changing today..." Unfortunately, she will get wrong answers because of the 2Pet.3:5,6 effect.

The third woman was said to have 44 patents from working for IBM. The context implied that these were all with herself as the sole inventor, but I searched Google to see some of them, and in all those I found she was listed as one of several inventors (which is what you'd expect in a huge corporation like IBM). Most of them were software patents, and the last time I looked, software patents were mostly worthless, simply a mechanism for large corporations to block small innovators from doing obvious things (which technically are unpatentable) because of the cost of litigation. Her current start-up is looking to do something with AI, which I tell people is about "artificial stupidity." I'm not saying she isn't smart -- one of those patents related to making a Jacquard (computer-controlled) loom do "smart weaves" recently earned her a PhD somewhere -- but the hype exceeds the actuality.

It's not that the guys are smarter than the women. If women (and minorities) were willing to work the long hours on a single train of thought, and stop spending so much of their cognitive energy on defending themselves from feelings of disadvantage, they would surely do as well as the guys.

The final two pages of this piece focussed on why they -- presumably the authors, but perhaps including also the editor(s) -- think this "gender gap" (their words) exists, while carefully ignoring the elephant in the room:

Once in school, ... women seem to drop out of science careers at higher rates than men -- a phenomenon some refer to as the "leaky pipeline."

I guess it never occurred to them that the probable cause of that "leaky pipeline" is the excess pressure high-school counselors put on young women (over guys) to enter STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) careers, and when they get into it and discover they don't really like doing linear thinking because their brains are wired up differently than the guys, so they come to their senses and go for something more suited to their biological advantages over the guys.

So is there a way forward to greater inclusion of Christian women in science? Perhaps. But it may require substantial investment. The larger cultural issues related to how boys and girls are raised, what they grow up aspiring to do, how they are treated in the workplace, and how we divide household labor are daunting...
That is actually very insightful. I'm sure we could alter the percentages significantly if those high-school counselors put more energy into persuading boys to get pregnant and become mothers... oh wait, God sort of put the kibosh on that one. You'd think the Christians would figure that one out, but you see, American Christianity is no longer about Truth, pretty much all of the pastors will tell you it's about "relationship." Women do that better than guys (just look at who's in church), but relationship doesn't do science, it takes instead a large dose of linear thinking.

It isn't just how the kids feel about themselves, there's also the fact that when a couple of straights get married, biology sort of kicks in and they want kids -- well, she does, and he goes along with it because he wants to keep her -- and the employers know and understand that if she asks for maternity leave, they must give it to her or lose her, and the cost of replacing her as an employee generally exceeds the cost of that leave, but that's still more costly than having a guy there who will put in the hours doing what he likes doing. It gets worse: because women have bigger nerve bundles connecting the two halves of their brains, they multi-task much better, so they are not forced as very young children to learn sequential thinking the way the guys are, and it's the sequential thinking, not the multi-tasking, that is crucial for STEM-related careers. Most guys don't learn it either, so they become football players and carpenters and truck drivers.

Notice that nobody is asking why guys feel excluded from (or self-select not to go into) careers in grade school teaching and nursing. Yes, there are guys in those fields, probably about the same proportion as women in science.

2020 February 25 -- Gospel of Love

For more than a decade I've been saying that the "gospel" preached in most churches ("God loves you...") is neither taught in the Bible, nor likely to attract men whose personal values tend more toward Truth, Justice, and Duty.

For several years now ChristianityToday has devoted their prized last page to "Testimony" = interesting stories about how people came to faith. Some have been atheists or other high-profile people formerly hostile to Christianity, but the current (March) issue is the first time I've seen a science-minded atheist attribute his conversion to "love."

At first I was inclined to shrug and suppose maybe I'm just weird and allow that the unBiblical message must really work after all -- God can do anything He wants to, including making donkeys and stones and "love" talk, especially if His preferred method is not working -- but after thinking about it for a while I realized that the guy said it was the experience of love from the people, not anything spoken from the pulpit, that convinced him. I have not seen much of this kind of Biblical Doing Good in the churches, but the church where I park my fanny these days seems to be an exception. So I still think that if we preached a Truth-based gospel rather than love-based, this guy might have had less reason to avoid us for so long. I still agree that treating people kindly -- that's what convinced this guy -- is commanded throughout Scripture, and we should be doing it always, but sometimes (I should think: always) kindness means telling them the truth, and the Christians have better truth about science than the atheists do. We Christians (not the atheists) invented modern science.

Toward the end of this "Testimony" the guy tells us that he is now an active member in the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA, an association of scientists who are also Christians: the order is significant). I was a member also for a while, but it annoyed me that they tended to put their science ahead of Scripture. I didn't want to be supporting that precedence, so I dropped out (see my blog postings "Humpty Dumpty Semantics" and "God and Science" more than a decade ago). The facts of science better support the Biblical model of Creation over the Darwinistic fiction, but the atheists -- and even the Christians in the ASA -- won't tell you that (see my essay "Biological Evolution: Did It Happen?"). It's our fault for not emphasizing Truth in our message to the world. But the preachers -- ask them! -- disagree. Maybe (like the scientists) they think they know more than God does.

2020 February 24 -- Amazonia

I returned most of the last half-dozen sci-fi books I got from the library after only a chapter or two, either too much inner turmoil or too much cussing. This one is more of a thriller and probably doesn't even count as sci-fi except for a fictional herbal drug thought to regenerate lost limbs and organs, but after about 50 pages I'm liking it a lot more than most library books. No gutter language that I noticed, the Good-Guy lead character has self-sacrificial personal values that would have better fit a missionary in the Amazon Basin of Brazil.

I spent several years in the Amazon jungle (eastern Peru), so this is like "Roots" for me (see also my blog post a decade ago). Before the text begins, they show a map identifying some of the places mentioned in the text, including several where I have actually been, and more that I have read about in other places. Most curiously, a tribal group of short people featured prominently in this early part of the book, Yanomamo, turns out also to be the (named) model for the fictional tribal group of the movie I watched yesterday, which was set partly in the Amazon jungle of southern Venezuela (but filmed in Hawaii): the two speaking parts among the tribal extras imported from Venezuela were identified in the credits as Yanomami. The flick itself was interesting only because it demonstrates clearly the spiritual vacuum left in people's lives by the Established American Religion (atheism), but it wandered off into near-death-experiences as their substitute religion. I guess Kevin Costner, while he may be a good actor like Harrison Ford and Robin Williams, is not so good as Ford at choosing scripts to act in (but better than Williams, see also my blog post "Rotten Movies" seven years ago).

Another 150+ pages into the novel, the soldiers are starting to cuss like -- well, soldiers -- but at least not very often. Some of the things the story describes, I remember from being there, so obviously the author has some experience of the Amazon (or has done very good research). One of the soldiers leaned against a tree to relieve himself, and I thought "That's dangerous, there are ant trees in the jungle: you touch one and a zillion stinging ants come out to protect their turf." A hundred or so pages later the soldier leaned against another tree, and it was an ant tree. Our ant trees had small 1/4" ants, but in this story they were the fiercely stinging 1" ants called "sapagncari" by the natives where we were; in this story the name was similar (different native language, probably the same etymology) "supay chacra." The adventurers in the story were told to shake the bugs out of their shoes before putting them on in the morning; six decades later, I still shake my shoes out every morning. The natives in the story fished by beating some kind of botanical sedative into the river water, then collecting the fish that floated to the top, same as when I was there. After a while the sedative wore off, and the fish that were left behind eventually woke up and went on with their life. The gringos used dynamite which killed everything (but not in this story). These things are what makes this a fun read for me.

Alas, in the second half all that was gone. Everybody -- including the Good Guys -- had deteriorated into fallen sinners, the "sci" part of the "sci-fi" was explained by (not very good) Darwinism, and the Russian guy introduced as the team's computer expert didn't even know that you cannot eradicate a computer virus by taking the hardware apart. As invented by Fred Cohen (he came and made a presentation at the university when I taught there), computer viruses are strictly software, and you get rid of them by restoring your software from a clean backup -- you did have a backup, right? And the Bad Guy who inserts a virus into a computer must know more about the system and the application software than the guy who controls the computer; that wouldn't be the case when the Bad Guy was introduced as a pharmaceutical exec. The author clearly has more knowledge and experience with the Amazon jungle than with computers. Oh well.

2020 February 17 -- Warm Fuzzy Guy Flick (Not)

You can tell a guy flick, it's about going fast, making loud noises, and breaking things. Chick flicks are filled with inner turmoil. This one couldn't decide. These two guys -- I think there were loosely modelled on Jobs+Wozniak -- were friends since college, and they went into business making an insanely great automotive product that they hoped to sell to Chrysler. That's the guy part. Then one of them accidentally sees his partner's wife adulterating on him, and he feels an obligation to tell his friend. That's the inner turmoil part. The filmmakers worked hard to make it more complicated, and maybe the average American might think so. Me, I was more bothered by the waffling.

Truth is a moral absolute, but most people prefer otherwise -- unless they are the ones being lied to. Watching this flick made me feel a little like Isaiah, "Woe is me, for I live among a people of unclean [lying] lips..." When I was much younger, I thought about truth sort of like a cartoon I once saw, the preacher standing fully dressed (including his clerical collar) in the shower with the water turned off, and around the corner his wife talking on the phone, "Mrs. Smith? I'm sorry, the Parson just stepped into the shower..." What she said was the absolute truth, but the intent was to deceive. Once I figured out that the moral issue here is the intent to deceive, not the actual words being used, I had to take a stricter standard on myself. I won't say I got it perfect now, because there are people who can make things very unpleasant if they don't like the raw truth. Fortunately, God mostly protects me from that.

Truth is a moral absolute, but telling the whole truth all the time does not appear to be (except under oath in court). Jesus gave his Disciples some hints about the End Times, and they wanted more, like When? He said in no uncertain terms, "None of your business." Yet he still called them "friends." I have discovered, rather to my dismay, that people mostly do not want the truth about their own situation. Especially Christians, but this flick was not about Christians. Good people (not the liars and thieves) mostly treat me the way they want to be treated, not necessarily how I want to be treated; on the other hand, as near as I can figure out, applying the Golden Rule means figuring out when they don't want the truth and shut up. I can do that, but it's a lonely life. sigh

It was not a fun flick.

2020 February 10 -- Wow, a Whole Month

I got busy last week trying to make my JavaScript game do everything it's supposed to do, and even forgot to check the "Old Stupid Former=eX" (OSX) computer for email from my cousin who recently contacted me. Now I see I've been busy a lot longer, because I don't often go a whole month with no postings. But two topics came up this weekend.

I've been reading -- slower than usual, partly because it had a slow start, and partly I was working longer hours and therefore falling asleep quicker when I got to bed -- this sci-fi novel that I just now finished. It's set in the distant future, but it's not clear how far, the dates are in the 25th century, but that might be a different calendar because several hundred years must have passed since star travel went to distant stars with people frozen in stasis, or maybe the author is optimistic about when these things will start. At first I thought it was a million years in the future, but then I realized that was an extinct alien race who died out 999,900 years ago, so it said nothing about humans.

The author is obviously a Darwinist: several times major characters refer to "evolution" of various alien races, but otherwise he has made an effort to get his science right -- until the end where it gets goofy, but then as a Darwinist, he is forced to believe in unlimited progress, so million-year-old species should have invented a few things that seem impossible to present-day physics. It does seem odd that his human technology is good enough to do "Turing" simulation (an obvious reference to the Turing Test which I mentioned here in "Artificial Immortality" a couple years ago in connection with the idea of extending life past the body in a computer simulation, perhaps in reference to the same item as the source of his projected technology), yet his main character still cannot trust AI assistants to get his thoughts correct.

Anyway, one of his main characters starts off in the story as an archeologist studying the artifacts of this exctinct alien species. Another main character is the weapons officer on a starship, but she is improbably thinking along the same lines, with her internal turmoil going like this:

Perhaps, the Triumvir mused, in a few million years other beings would arrive on Resurgam, sharing something of humanity's curiostity. They would want to learn of the planet's history, and in doing so they would take core samples, reaching far back into Resurgam's past. Doubtless that deposited layer of dust [from human occupation] would not be the only mystery they had to solve, but nonetheless they would mull on it, if only fleetingly. And she had no doubt that those hypothetical future investigators would come to a totally wrong conclusion regarding the layer's origin. It would never occur to them that it had been put there by an act of conscious volition...
That last line there caught me up, because it is so close to what the Darwinists do today in trying to interpret the layers of the earth's crust, except the volition in our case is God's, not human. Of course, as a Darwinist himself, the author had no such parallel in mind. This woman is (obliquely) said to be of Russian descent, and constantly throws in an untranslated (Russian?) epithet svinoi, which I Googled, and a couple hits suggested it might mean "porcine" or pig-like, but mostly it fails translation. The bottom half of the first page of hits are posts by readers of this book trying to ask what the word means, which I last saw in other sci-fi novels with invented words that readers were trying to make sense of. I may have mentioned them here once or twice in the past.

The author is clearly trying to show off that he is well-read, constantly throwing in literary terms from our own history (but little or none invented from his story's more recent past, as other authors are careful to do). Usually his references do not use the term consistent with its original meaning, but only because he could adapt the words to the context in the book. For example he has his main character saying "I have to go this extra mile, just so I can silence these phantoms." The "extra mile" is Biblical, but its purpose there is not to make some logical or polemic point, but rather because we Christians are expected to do for others what we want done for us (the Golden Rule, see my recent essay "The Law of Love"). This same guy goes on to express (to his wife, as he leaves on what he sees as his life's purpose or destiny, see also my blog post "Love in Fiction" five years ago) what all American guys understand about the word "love" as used by the women they know:

You tried to talk me out of it because you love me. And what I was doing -- what I was going to do -- hurt me more, because I knew I was betraying that love.
Like all women, she was trying to talk him out of doing this dangerous Quest, because she "loved" him. It was not for his benefit, but because she selfishly wanted to keep him for herself. That is how women use the word, and all the guys know it. Except the preachers.

One of my movies of the weekend was "The Young Karl Marx." It's a 2017 French flick (occasional dialogue in English, but mostly in French and German with English subtitles) probably because only the French so have their political heads in the sand as to allow this kind of puff piece to make any profit. I suspect it partly came to be because of the turn of American politics to the left in the wake of Trump's election. I thought it remarkable that at the end they quoted from Das Capital with lines and phrases that seemed to describe, a century and a half later, the abuses of modern corporations who are increasingly abandonning God's Golden Rule for what has been ironically called "The Golden Rule of Business: Those who have the gold make the rules." After they took the Ten Commandments off the school walls, the political system in this country has effectively given people permission to do what the the rest of the world has been doing all along, which is why America became the richest country in all the world and in all time -- but we are on the way down. The Marxists (and the makers of this film) do not realize that they are the cause of the problem, not the solution. Their rule over Russia, China and other atheistic countries made things far worse there, not better. Watch for serious Marxists to run against Trump this year, and tremble. However, like Trump and Obama before him, even if they win, they cannot pull off everything they want, the political system here is too slow. But if they get in and try, then it will be undone the following election. American politics has been like that since the first Bush. Half the country hates the current sitting President, and the other half hated his predecessor. These days the margin is so small between them that it oscillates back and forth every couple elections. Anyway, the movie was made three years ago, but I was the first to check it out of the library. It says something about the politics of librarians as compared to the public at large.

2020 January 10 -- Sci-Fi Decameron

The science in this novel is pretty weak -- like there isn't enough gravity on this chunk of rock (in orbit as part of the rings around a planet) to hold the damsel in distress who landed on it, but "so long as she stayed on the front end of it, she wasn't going to get thrown off." Except the physics doesn't work that way. If the rock is moving toward her, when they collide, she will bounce off; if they are going the same speed and she reaches out and touches the rock with a hand or foot or the seat of her space suit, she will bounce off slower. It's not like the rock is being independently accelerated in the direction of its "front end," she and it are both subject to the same inertial and gravitational forces, so there is nothing holding her there except the micro-gravity of the rock.

But it's definitely a guy book: lots of references to "naked ladies" (not "women" and never any "naked guys") and bosoms (spelled "Bazooms" when it's in the chapter title), and most of the women in the story seem to be either currently or previously in the business of prostitution (with no regrets, unlike the Real World), but the foul language is mostly (except near the end) toned down, and there are no explicit sex scenes. It wouldn't be worth a mention here but for the focus on religion.

I think the author Resnick thought he was writing a modern Decameron or Canterbury Tales, because the entire book consists of nothing but a collection of stories offered by the various characters in this tavern off on some distant planet, plus their interactions between the stories. The author is himself in the story business, so he is at pains to distinguish his author character's "embellishment" of the tales for some forthcoming "history" book from the painter character's doing the same thing in his art. Resnick clearly understands the hypocrisy (pointed out by another character in the discussion), which makes his treatment of religion so much more devious, or maybe just ignorant

With the possible exception of Orson Scott Card (and my own unpublished and unpublishable efforts, like Lazir), all sci-fi treats religion with hostility, either great (from a militant atheist perspective) or mild (accepting it as a tolerable opinion not shared by the author). This guy is in the latter category, most obviously from a state of ignorance. His preacher character carries a Bible and refers to it frequently, most often inaccurately. The author's opinion is summed up dismissively 12 pages from the end, where the author character Bard defends his own "embellishment" of the facts:

The greatest history of all is the Good Book that the Reverend Billy Karma totes around in his pocket," answered the Bard. "How accurate do you think it is?"

"So much for setting down the facts," said Max.

The preacher did not dispute this analysis as he did anti-religion remarks by other characters in the room. In another place, Billy Karma states "God is a mighty understanding critter." You need to understand that "critter" is the hillbilly pronunciation of "creature" = created being. No honest preacher worth his salt (except the Mormons, who carry their own Book around instead of the Bible) would claim that God is created. Not that Resnick portrayed Billy Karma as either particularly honest or worth his salt, but people who are not themselves Christians -- that is, they never gave it an honest evaluation -- tend to think of all preachers as slightly more despicable than used car salesmen.

But then Resnick portrayed almost all his characters as dishonest to a greater or lesser degree. Not all of them, because everybody (including Resnick) really in their heart of hearts believes in moral absolutes, of which Truth is a prime example. But most such people want to make exceptions for themselves and their personal heroes.

The religious bigotry that really got me was fairly early in the book, where one of the (non-human) characters was telling about himself and how he got a super-smart computer to answer his hard questions -- like "I'm not even a mammal, and my race has three sexes, so why am I attracted to big-breasted women?" (The computer answered that it was a universal constant he shouldn't lose sleep over.) -- The important question being: "If God made me, who made God?" It's really a good question, which neither the fictional computer nor Resnick himself knew the answer to, but he couldn't let it lie, so he decided to refute the "First Cause Argument" instead, in the words of this computer:

"To disprove it one need merely show that not everything has a first cause...

Consider the set of all negative integers. The last cause, the highest number, is minus one. The next-to-last cause is minus two. And the first cause, minus infinity, cannot exist."

This is philosophical nonsense, about on the same logical level with his physics, but it's the kind of pseudo-logic atheists use to convince themselves of a position they have chosen for reasons other than logic. There are several problems with it, the first being that numbers are not physical objects or energy that can exist or be caused, they are merely abstractions for describing and arranging the things that can be caused. The first cause of any number is the person who wants to count things. And the first cause of negative numbers is the perverse person (we call them mathematicians) who wants to count the things he does not have. So in that sense the first cause of negative numbers -- if it is a number at all -- is (positive) one, not some abstract minus infinity. Mathematicians all know this, because any proof by induction (which mathematical principle Resnick, in the words of his fictional computer, is actually but ignorantly using) they start at zero, and then go in any direction they choose from there. And the principle of mathematical induction does not prove there is no such thing as minus infinity (or plus infinity), because those are valid mathematical concepts just like ordinary numbers, and (like ordinary numbers) they exist only in the minds of the mathematicians and the computers they program, and as ink on paper -- oh wait, it's the ink that exists and has a cause, but the ink is not a number, it only represents a number. Then he repeats the same silly argument with fractions, to show it's not "just a fluke." Hey, if you want to prove there are no such things as solid foods by demonstrating that tea is a liquid (which does not prove anything about solid foods), then it's not just a fluke when coffee is also a liquid, you still have not proved anything.

The stories are moderately entertaining, more so to average guys than feminist women, and certainly less entertaining to people who care about math and science and God. The first page, where most authors list their previous books, has several with "Future" in the title and a few that are obviously fantasy (like "Unicorn" in the title). My policy is to avoid all books by authors with works classified as fantasy, so I probably will not be taking any more of his books home from the library. Oh well.

2020 January 9 -- Explore-A-Nation

I read magazines in the Reading Room. When I was younger I worked longer hours, so when I got around to eating, I was too tired to eat much, so I spent less time in the RR. I think things are slowing down for me, both my ability to sustain a productive work regimen far into the night -- it still happens, but more like once every month or two instead of every day -- and also the biological processes for dealing with the larger amount of food ingested because I'm too tired to work. In the Goode Olde Dayes I got my news from "news" magazines, but they stoppped printing news, and I stopped reading them. Now I wait for somebody to mention it in church, then go home and look it up on Google. That happens once every month or three, and doesn't seem worth any more time than I spend on it. Which leaves tech magazines for the RR. The binding on the WIRED mag -- neither news nor tech, but it's something to read -- makes it very difficult to read while holding it in one hand: they used to be a quarter inch thick, which made the paperback binding necessary, but those days are gone and they don't have the sense to revert to the simple staple-based binding. Whatever. So I read freebie mags from the IEEE (which used to get stacked up unread) and from some nonprofits I send occasional donations to. I tried ConsumerReports, but they are aimed at people with more dollars than sense, and I don't like their politics, so I let the trial subscription lapse.

So the IEEE Computer Society, of which I have been a member for 40+ years, sends out this freebie compendium of stuff gathered from their other rags, most of it not worth spending productive time on, but here I am in the RR, so whatever. I mentioned here in my blog a few things worth commenting on (see for example "The Edge of Computers" and "STEAM" and "The Emperor's New Naked" last year). Today the title topic in an issue devoted to data visualization is "Exploranation" which title looks like it should be about getting on a bus or train (or car) and travelling around the country to see things, but they rather thoughtlessly put together the two words "exploration" and "explanation" to come up with something they hoped reflected on their government-funded research -- is there any other kind? Especially as foolish as this? -- into data visualization tools. As I got farther into this vague generalized description, it began to look like getting on the bus was a good metaphor for what they are trying to do.

At first they made out like they were trying to organize the data so that clients could explore the data and see whatever there is to see in it. But they kept using the word "story" like they were trying to build a pre-masticated pablum with a consistent "fake news" back-story. They even suggested that their product worked better at promoting the deception (not their word) if they used live "guides" (their word). You get on this electronic tour bus and it goes where the promoters decided to go, and you see what they arranged for you to see, and you pay a ton of money for the priviledge.

Two of the magazines I have consistently read over the decades are Biblical Archaeology Review -- (BAR) you've seen my comments from time to time, most recently on the passing of the editorial torch from the founder to an academic who does not understand how the Real World works (see frex "The Gender Divide" and "BAR's Women Issue" last year) -- and ChristianityToday (fewer blog comments, probably because they are not so stupid). Anyway, because Christian values drive the wealth production in this country, there are a lot of "Visit Bible Lands" tours advertized in the pages of these two mags for the people with more dollars than sense. I don't consider myself to be one of them, but visiting the Holy Land was high on my bucket list, so I went on the cheap and mostly just wandered around. But I did sign up for one tour bus to do Qumran, En-Gedi, and Masada, none of which were on my original list of things to see. It gave me a basis for comparing the tour bus mode of operation to just walking around and looking at things.

So ComputingEdge and WIRED are the tour buses of what's happening in computers; "just walking around" is more like what I got paid for. ChristianityToday and BAR are the tour buses of what's happening in things Biblical; "just walking around" is what I do every morning -- and for the last dozen years or so, in the original languages. It goes a lot slower than reading in a language I'm comfortable with (English), and one of the results is that I see things from a different perspective than one gets while whizzing by on a tour bus. I tell my computational students that OOPS ("Object Oriented" programming systems) has the same effect on their programming quality. The Real World is not "object oriented" so they must work harder to fit their problems into that way of thinking, and the harder work (not OOPS itself) helps them to think more clearly and deliver a product with fewer bugs than if they used an easy language like C.

So I'm reading in Isaiah, and yesterday it was chapter 4. It's a short chapter, six verses, and I read the whole chapter, but the first verse really got me:

In that day seven women will take hold of one man and say, "We will eat our own food and provide our own clothes; only let us be called by your name. Take away our disgrace!" [oNIV]
The (old) NIV translation tones down some of the anti-feminism that is so startlingly clear in the original Hebrew. "In that day," the Prophet says, there will be no feminazis. Sure, they will work to earn their own food and clothing, but that's not what matters. First off, there are vastly more women than men (seven to one is probably a poetical ratio reflecting a large discrepancy), sort of the reverse of what is happening in China today because of their own self-genocidal efforts. But the women are not the top of the power structure! They are clinging to men to get legitimacy they cannot achieve on their own. Where did the men go? It doesn't say, but I would guess, probably to war. Despite the fantasies of mythical legends like Amazon and a few goofy places like modern Israel, women are not warriors. The women themselves mostly know it (and say so, even the feminists among them). "In that day," feminism will be dead.

So what day is "that day"? Isaiah has been using that term frequently in these early chapters as a reference to some future time of reckoning and justice. Chapter 4 goes on to tell us some of the other things that will happen "in that day," for example, the pillar of cloud (smoke) by day and the pillar of fire by night -- probably the same thing, but you could see the light from the fire in the dark, but only its white smoke in daylight -- which led the Israelis through the desert and away from Egypt how many thousand years ago, will be reinstated over Jerusalem. That has never happened. Yet. The smoke filled Solomon's temple so the priests were unable to enter, but it was contained. "In that day," it will be over the whole city, and so hot (we are told in the last verse of the chapter) that people will need "booths" to protect them from its heat. The column of heat will have meteorological effects, so that those booths also protect from the "storm."

My friend subsequently reminded me that there also are women in the final verses of the previous chapter, which I had neglected to see as linked. There were no chapter divisions when this was written, so Isaiah may indeed have been thinking of these women (in both chapters) as the same group of people, "daughters of Zion," but I'm inclined to think the wicked women in chapter 3 might be different from the women in this verse. If I'm wrong about that, then the Israeli women in particular will have abandonned their feminism "in that day," which seems to me unlikely unless the whole secular world culture goes that way. At least (I now see) chapter 3 does confirm my previously unsupported supposition that their men had been killed off in battle.

I started chapter 5 today, and it begins with a parable about God's vineyard, which He did everything possible to make it productive and profitable, but it only produced rotten grapes. So God gives up on it, breaks down its protective walls and even stops the pleasant weather (God can do that). Jesus retold the same story in Luke 20, but he blamed the tenants. Bad Things Happen -- or rather, Bad Things are caused by Bad People -- but God is a God of Justice. Either you get with His program, or you are in deep doodoo. I have been stewing longer than I ought over the horrible phone Cricket sold me (see "Worse than a Cricket" last week), but that phone is like God's vineyard: Bad Things are caused by Bad People, but God is a God of Justice. Not my problem. Well, the phone is, but not really: I only need to make and receive calls away from home one month out of the year, and rarely otherwise. I don't need to text people. Many -- make that most -- people of the world have far worse problems than a phone made by Bad People. They will get their Just reward, but it's not my place to give it to them (the Bible teaches that too, just not here).

All this from "exploring a nation," walking slowly through the text, rather than riding the pre-packaged tour bus on Sunday morning.

2020 January 2 -- Worse than a Cricket

You know what is worse than a Cricket (phone)? A newer Cricket! Recall a year ago I had to get a new clamshell phone to replace the account I used to have, and Cricket was cheaper (per month) and waaay cheaper (hardware/software, but that's quality, not in price) than the competition. Did I mention the quality was low? It was so hard to use -- as a result I now tell people that if there are two ways to do something, and one of them is user friendly, the unix (=Linux, =KaiOS, the software on the Cricket disaster, see also my essay "Why No Smart Phone" a couple years ago) programmer will invariably do it the other way; and if there's only one way to do it and it's easy to use, the unix programmer will still choose the other way -- so I mostly kept this turkey turned off. It broke anyway (I didn't drop it, it just crumbled in my hand!) and could not be taped back together. I was disinclined to give the failed Chinese Junk manufacturer any more of my money, but after thinking about it a few days, I realized that the $75 price of another of the same device amortized over its one-year life is still cheaper than paying $40/month at every other carrier, even assuming their Chinese Junk products don't break. Which is probably a bad assumption. DON'T BUY CHINESE. I will pay extra for products made anywhere but China, but mostly I don't get the choice.

All the things that were wrong with last year's model are still wrong with this new one, PLUS a bunch of new things are broken in the software. What can I say? It's unix under the hood. I couldn't find a way to set the speed-dial for the one person I need to call (once every two or three months), but there was this new "Favorites" thing that I wondered if it might be it. DON'T TOUCH THAT DIAL, it's irreversible and clutters up what little screen space this thing offers, and makes dialing that person SLOWER, not faster. I called the Cricket customer support number, but the guy had such a thick India accent I couldn't understand him. He told me where the Speed-dial option was to be found, but he didn't know about "Favorites" and gave me the Alcatel (manufacturer) phone number. Their robot wanted a whole bunch of numbers, which when I keyed them in, he went back to the top of his script (but softer, so I could barely hear him). Maybe hitting the "Factory Reset" option will clear it out -- along with everything else I already put in. Maybe some other time, if I'm sitting somewhere with nothing to do. That's not today.

It turns out there is a way to remove somebody from the Favorites category -- and as I later found out, when the last is removed, the category disappears -- they offer you the opportunity to delete the contact. Although you got there from inside the Favorites category, they listed everybody in the whole Contacts list, so I guessed that the only way is to delete that person from the whole phone and resisted the temptation. So I was whining about this [expletive deleted] phone to my niece, so she fiddled around with it and and deleted her own number from Favorites -- and, as I guessed, from the whole phone. Then she put her entry back in. I guess the horrible, counter-intuitive text entry mode does not annoy her like it does me.

Every other electronic device, you hold the power button down for five seconds, and it goes OFF, but not this turkey: all it does is pop up another menu where "Power Down" is the farthest choice away from the current selection. You can't get to it, because the contact bounce on the navigation ring is so bad, it just skips over the power-off option. If you are lucky enough to land on the power-down option, you must move your finger to a different button to complete the task. Unlike the saner products we are all used to, it's not something you can do in a hurry. If you just stay on the off button, it reboots the system and puts up a silly smiley with the label "something to smile about" (all lower case, the way the unix programmers write). Maybe so, but definitely not this phone. I thought it might be faster to just pop the battery out, but I think somebody else thought of it first, so they made the battery cover exceedingly hard to pop off.

The contact bounce on that navigation ring also makes it really hard to use the phone for what you want to use the phone for, it keeps popping up "Apps" that do nothing useful. Oh well, it just gives me one more reason to not turn the bugger on.

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