Tom Pittman's WebLog

(or something like that)

2006 September 29 -- Movies on the Cheap

WIRED magazine articles are getting more and more worthless every month, but once in a while there is a little nugget. Not even an article this time, it was just a one-column sidebar extolling public domain movies available for free download. I decided on a medium file size and downloaded five flics in something over an hour -- basically during supper. The Lost World was at least as good as some of the $5 bargain DVD movies I got at Wal-Mart.

The most impressive movie -- and the most highly rated on their site -- is Night of the Living Dead. This horrific film is not for kids nor the faint of heart. It helps if you have a strong sense Biblical teaching, so you know these things can't happen, but it still made my hair stand up a couple of times. It was made during that nihilistic period of American history when bomb cellars and radiation poisoning were popular fears. Like the sci-fi books from that era that I have been reading, their non-science zombies were explained as some kind of "mutation" activated by radiation.

This movie, like many fictional stories, carried a message. I'm sure the film maker had no such intention, but one of the salient lessons (if you can call it that) coming out of it is the evil that lurks in the human heart. So many of the killings were not done by the ghouls, but by people trying to save their own lives. Jesus said "Whoever tries to save his own life will lose it." This movie is a remarkable insight into that truth.

2006 September 22 -- Seller's Market

I was looking to open a separate web domain for some of my work. The web hosting ad in the magazine had an attractive offer, so I called and signed up. Fortunately, I was wary enough to postpone getting the domain name.

Fortunately, because their "Control Panel" web pages are inaccessible to me. Their tech support people were friendly enough, but not very knowledgeable. I guess their script called for them to ask the client to run some unix network diagnostic tools. The only problem is, this is a Mac, not unix. There is no terminal window, no command line, no unixy tools to destroy the system. That's why I use the Mac: WhatYouSeeIsWhatYouGet, there's no magic under the hood that requires a system administrator to operate. I tried to cancel the deal. Except the only way to cancel is through their servers that don't work. I called the business office, and they told me I had to send them the cancellation letter in writing with a signature. I think I will save a copy to send the credit card company, should it become necessary to dispute the billing.

So I went flipping through magazines -- three different ones -- looking for other web hosting ads. There used to be a lot of these, but today I found only one other vendor. I did see a couple more hosting companies mentioned in the 1and1 ad. Curious that they do not run their own ads; maybe they figure the free publicity from their competitor is sufficient. I guess it is, if their servers work and 1and1's do not.

But I tried, the other host with their own ad. Their prices are more than double the competition, and their web site is much less clear about what you get for all that money. What is clear in their license agreement is that they make no promises whatsoever about uptime (despite that the sign-up page promises 99%), and that they can shut your site down for any reason at all, or for no reason -- and you have no recourse. But they do clearly forbid you operate any site that even indirectly benefits from spam (not a bad idea, really), which they unfortunately define to be any (even one-time casual) unsolicited mention of your services or site anywhere on the internet, apparently including the ads they offer to place for you on Google and other search engines. That's not such a great definition of spam, but when you get down to it, all ads are spam. It's just that we tolerate some of them because they pay for services we want, like TV and magazines and Google searches. The stuff we call "spam" is obnoxious for one reason only, because they contribute nothing of value to their victims. I suppose there is no simple and legal way to distinguish the beneficial ads from the parasites.

The bottom line is that nobody is going to use's services on the basis of their guaranteed promises. There are none.

Are you surprised? You shouldn't be. Not long ago I went to whatever site offers a "free" Flash player for download. At their suggestion, I read the EULA. They explicitly forbid me to download and run it on my PC. The Microsoft EULA also basically makes no promises about any of their system software working, but you are forbidden to do anything about it if it fails. "Sucker!"

The lawyers expect people to ignore the license agreements they "agree" to. These draconian documents are there only to screw the customers who make trouble.

The vendors get away with this nonsense because they are a monopoly. Try finding a competitor to Windows that runs all the commercial software out there. Linux? Not a chance. Try finding a program to play Flash movies that isn't marketed by Adobe. Or a program to open PrettyDarnFoolish (PDF) documents, such as the only way you can download tax forms. They have a monopoly.

I am reminded of a novel whose author envisioned a bleak future (36 years later, the publication year 1948 with the last two digits reversed) where everything was illegal. That way they could capriciously throw anybody in jail at any time, because it was impossible to live even one day without violating some laws. Some of the Federal regulations have gotten that bad, but the Constitution was intended to prevent it. You should be able to live a productive and meaningful life without breaking any laws (just not in agriculture, not today). The software vendors seem to want to hoist you on the same petard that the Constitution tried to prevent.

2006 September 19 -- But Liars Figure

Figures don't lie, they tell us.

TIME magazine breathlessly reports that "working men in the U.S. who drink alcohol" earn 10% more on the average than abstainers. Notice that they do not tell us the average for all men, because the average income for the vast majority of people who were fired for their drinking problems, like those too drunk to seek employment, is $0, far below the average income of non-drinkers.

I am reminded of the great international car race during the Cold War. The Soviet news media reported that the Soviet entry finished a glorious second, while the American vehicle struggled in next to last. The American press noted that only two countries participated.

The spirit of Pravda lives on in TIME, the weekly fiction magazine.

Hmm, I seem to have used this "But Liars Figure" title before. Same rag, different lies.

2006 September 18 -- Black Despair

The $5 DVD bin had over 500 packages, some of them double (or more) features. I picked up one box with four DVDs containing 20 early John Wayne flics, mostly his first black&white B movies from the 1930s. One reviewer called them "forgetable" but I've seen worse in modern fare. But 25 cents is a pretty cheap movie.

In another package was a double-sided disc with two racist Black movies. They both had big-name leading actors whose excellent performance lent a lot of credibility to the distasteful stories.

I really enjoyed Morgan Freeman's portrayal of God in "Bruce Almighty" -- in fact I can't think of a movie I've seen him in where he did not display superb acting talent. His Malcom X in "Death Of a Prophet" credibly came across as a kindly and compassionate minister working to help his people. That's not the Malcom X that I remember reading about in the news media at the time, but they are the same media who today (wrongly) savage President Bush and the creationists. If some of my nearest family members cannot be trusted to honestly and candidly tell me the whole truth -- and they are Christians -- why should I believe the press, who have no such claim on absolute Truth? About the best I can hope for in this case is deferred judgment, two radically different accounts of the same person, told from different agendas, with no way for me to evaluate the truth.

The flip side portrayed a much more brutal culture, more closely matching what I have seen in the press. James Earl Jones and his supporting cast did a fine job of drawing me into the wretched existence of their characters in "The River Niger". Racism, anger, violence, and hate for "whitey" pervaded the story. It made the Watts riots understandable, if not excusable. The movie helped me believe people really live that culture. But it did not convince me that their anger is justified.

You see, I have a bigger perspective. First, if all the people of African descent in America thought that way, there would be Watts-style riots every year, all over the country. There are not. I do not have a lot of contact outside my own narrow culture, but the people I have met, and those I read about, they have the broader picture too. Martin Luther King did not share those attitudes. Neither do Tony Evans and Senator Obama. It's not about the color of their skin. Of course they have disadvantages, but nothing like the problems in Sudan.

Reading in Isaiah today, I noticed this remark by God to His people: "If only you had paid attention to my commandments, your peace would have been like a river." James Earl Jones' character kept coming back to a poem he was composing about the river Niger. God has a better river, flowing down from His throne and flanked on both sides by the Tree of Life. Jones' character died at the end, but the anger and the hate remained.

Last week I was trying to help somebody see how anger flows from an inadequate appreciation for God's goodness and power. Yesterday my advice came back to me, as that same person trashed my little place in the world. Was I angry? Well, I shouldn't be. God is bigger than one person's puny misanthropy. God is Good. What one person destroyed, God can replace with something better. Even if He chooses not to, I am so much better off than 99% of the people around the world. I live in a peaceful town much nicer than the Watts of that movie, and even there they are far richer than most of the people in every other country of the world. What is there to be angry about? God is Good.

If anything, I should be using the resources God continues to shower on me to accomplish His agenda. I try to do that. The Puritans tried to do that 400 years ago, and it made the USA the wealthiest country in the world, where the poorest and most downtrodden Blacks are better off than the vast majority everywhere else. Malcom X -- even the kindly Muslim preacher of the movie -- had it wrong. Martin Luther King at least had the right God, and the right perspective on God.

In the John Wayne movies, the good guy always wins. There's hope in that. That must be why there are so many of those movies. In the real world, Good wins. In the reel world, Good also wins.

2006 September 13 -- Matthew 24 in Perspective

The Dispensationalists insist that everything in Jesus' Matthew 24 prophecy is still in the future, after today. They are wrong.

The Preterists insist that everything in Jesus' Matthew 24 prophecy happened in 70AD. They are also wrong.

The key to understanding Matthew 24 is in verse 15, which the Evangelist carefully points out is obscure, using the words: "let the reader understand." It is a reference to Daniel's "abomination that causes desolation." Anybody aware of Jewish history knows that reference so accurately describes Antiochus Epiphanes that the anti-supernaturalists argue for a late composition of Daniel. Daniel's prophecy was fulfilled two centuries before Jesus spoke those words, and yet Jesus makes it yet future again.

If not twice, why not three (or more) fulfillments? Nothing in Jesus' teaching restricts it to a single future event. The Matthew 24 prophecy predicted both 70AD and some future event or events.

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2006 September 12 -- The Problem With Preterism

Like all "ism"s, Preterism -- the eschatological view that all (or at least almost all) the predictions in the Bible about the future have already been fulfilled -- suffers from our need to be consistent and logical at the expense of the data. Theological consistency usually involves selecting one or a few verses in the Bible to be primary, then ignoring or "spiritualizing" away everything that seems to disagree with it. Calvinists give preference to a few verses in Romans on the sovereignty of God, and deprecate or explain away the verses that invite us to choose. Preterists give preference to "this generation" in Matt.24:34 while ignoring the obvious fact that some of those things simply didn't happen in 70AD.

The verse I have never seen a Preterist adequately explain is Acts 1:11. Most Preterists say nothing at all about it. They want Jesus to "return in the clouds" in some mystical way in 70AD. It seems to me strange that this Second Coming, which is so important in Jesus' teaching, gets no ink at all in the Canon of Scripture after the fact. Now I have no quarrel with an early composition of the New Testament -- certainly all of it before the end of the first century, while the eyewitnesses were still around to corroborate the message -- and perhaps (although I personally doubt) all before 70AD, but the church fathers also make no mention of this Second Coming as a finished fact.

There is no way, however, that Acts 1:11 could have happened in 70AD. Jesus had just gone up into Heaven on some kind of celestial elevator, and the disciples are still peering up into the actual fleecy white clouds that he disappeared into, when this angel shows up and tells them to get on with life, Jesus is coming back in exactly the same way, a physical descent in the same elevator they had just seen go up. Nothing like that has ever happened. Yet. At least some "partial Preterists" acknowledge that Jesus is still coming (see DeeDee Warren's eclectic PreteristSite).

Wild interpretations of 2000-year-old texts whose authors are not here to defend themselves abound, but Preterism has a practical problem in today's world: it doesn't explain what we see. One of Preterism's more vocal proponents, Gary DeMar, correctly sees that your theology affects how you live in the world, but he's clueless about the world we live in. He seems to think we can take the USA back -- well, we never really were there, but some people think of it as "back" -- to a theocratic state under God's law. I think that's a fine idea, and the Bible clearly shows it coming in the future, but DeMar's future started in 70AD, so he is convinced that theonomy is the way to go. Wake up! The USA is moving the other direction, toward atheism. There are parts of the Bible that predict that kind of anomie, but in DeMar's view those are past and gone.

There are pockets of the world where Christianity is ascendant: China, Korea, sub-Saharan Africa, and large parts of South America. After Christianity activates their economy, these areas will probably move on to apostasy like the USA and especially Europe (where Christianity is practiced by much less than 10% of the population). DeMar is not telling us a different future for China and Korea, he is imagining a turn-around in the USA, where we are already in decline. His own organization is called "American Vision" not world vision or China vision.

Sometimes I think that DeMar is a closet evolutionist. Contrary to all evidence, he wants to believe that the world is evolving to become a better place, that the influence of Jesus Christ is increasing and (Real Soon Now) God's Kingdom will encompass the whole earth in reality and not merely in his own imagination. Like the Darwinists he debunks so well, he is mistaken.

At least the Dispensationalists, who have their own problems reading the Bible correctly, can accurately see the flow of history. They are looking for that Second Coming and know that the world is not evolving to be better. When Jesus comes again (on that celestial elevator), then the world will be a better place. Until then, we have a rescue effort. The Dispies are doing that, the Preterists are not.

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2006 September 1 -- Reflections on Driving Cross-Country

California is widely known as the "Granola State: the land of the fruits and the nuts and the flakes." They deserve the distinction. Every other state in the Union numbers their highway exits by mile from the south or west end of the highway; California only recently started the practice, and it does not seem consistently related to the mile markers (which mostly don't exist anyway). Every other state picks out a section of highway to be under construction, then blocks off at 45mph all but one lane in each direction for several miles -- even on nights and weekends when there are no construction crews to be seen. I always bragged that California blocks off only a couple hundred yards between midnight and 5am while crews were actually at work, then pulled up the cones so traffic could pass during the day. So what do I find the very next time I drive to California? Eight miles of one-lane 45mph construction zone on both sides of the freeway just inside the border, with not a single worker to be seen anywhere. A sign proudly proclaimed it as "Damaged Bridge" -- nevermind that the bridges (both of them in that long stretch, both sides) looked fine and were only 100 yards long. Farther into the state construction sites were more rational. It must be the influence from those other states near the border.

California also has a goofy speed limit law. The other nearby states post a 75mph highway limit for the wide open spaces; in California the posted limit is 70, but only for cars. The posted speed for trucks and anything towing a trailer is 55 "Radar Enforced." It's a lie. The trucks and cars with trailers all roll along at 70 or 80 with everybody else. In Texas the limit goes down at night to 65 (from 70 in the day), but again, nobody bothers. My friend who lives in Texas tells me the speed limit signs are only a suggestion. The Oklahoma turnpike speed limit is posted "75 no tolerance." They might actually enforce that: as near as I could tell, less than 10% of the vehicles were going 80 or more. Aren't laws wonderful? Your tax dollars at work. Good thing they don't enforce murder and theft laws that way. Come to think of it, maybe they do.

Tennessee drivers seem to get their licenses off the back of cereal boxes: nobody there knows how to drive. Oklahoma drivers probably eat the same breakfast cereal -- except I did notice that under a severe thunder shower the drivers got much more careful with their following distance. Now if only they would be sensible the rest of the time. Or else rain more often.

Colorado drivers have some of the worst manners. They crowd so close together that there is no space for a car in the next lane to move over. They all know that, so 5 miles before your exit, you have to get over into the right lane -- because there is no way to get across closer to the actual exit -- and then crowd the next driver all the way. I can tell a Colorado driver in California by the fact that he follows too close to see his Colorado plates in my rearview mirror, for 5 miles. California drivers only follow that close when they think it will make the car in front go faster. In compliance with the DMV driver instructions, I slow down in those cases, so most everybody goes around. Except the Colorado drivers, who have not figured out that California drivers are more polite than they are back home.

2006 August 15 -- Rightly Dividing the Word

No nation can survive if its civil government relies upon taxes on property ownership and inheritances.
Biblical Worldview, Aug 2006, p.12
The magazine bills itself as presenting a "Biblical Worldview" but this remark has no basis in the Bible nor actual history. As far as I can tell, the Bible says nothing at all about what can or should be taxed. Historically, every nation has taxed property. No nation ever survives forever, but no nation's demise is a result of its taxation base, and the author never gives any evidence to the contrary.

On the following page this author goes on to link income taxes to the failed Soviet Union; it seems his only goal is the complete elimination of all taxes -- surely an unBiblical notion if ever there was such. None of us like paying taxes, but Jesus (on two different occasions, different contexts) said to pay them. The Apostle Paul repeated that command, basing it on the fact that civil government is a servant of God. The Patriarch Joseph, when he was viceroy of Egypt, instituted a massive income tax.

I think the problem is that we are so used to hearing (but ignoring) platitudinous sermons that say nothing of consequence and without any Biblical support, that we have got out of the habit of reading the text for what it says -- if we were ever in that habit to start with. Several recent examples of this problem in my own experience come to mind.

The prophet Isaiah wrote a lot of very cryptic text, some of it berating the Jews for their callous indifference to God's call to righteousness and justice, some of it offering future redemption from the painful consequences of their sins.

The context around Isaiah 7:14 is about a contemporary siege by Syria on Jerusalem, and God's promise of delivery from that battle. God offers the King a sign, any sign at all, to verify His promise, but the King declines to accept the offer. So Isaiah gives one of his own, the birth of a child, who will not reach adulthood before the siege is broken by another invading army, this time from Assyria (Iraq). That brought its own problems, but the promise was timely fulfilled. The problem of interpretation comes from the 2nd Century BC Jewish scholars who translated that text into Greek using the word "virgin" (PARQENOS). The New Testament writers subsequently picked that idea up and re-interpreted the verse to refer to the birth of Jesus. Well, if they say so, I guess that's what God must have intended. Most Old Testament quotations are not stretched quite so far from their original sense.

Another Isaiah text comes in a context of bemoaning the catastrophe of God's righteous indignation poured out on the Jewish people for their sins, and wishing God would come rescue them. Verse 64:6 comes in the middle of this particular wail, and describes how destitute they feel, that everything has gone bad, even the good things they tried to do were no help. Modern evangelicals like to snip this verse out of its context to make it sound like all good things done by all people throughout all history are utterly worthless. Many parts of the Bible clearly teach a very different message -- not that everybody is righteous, but that good is good and only evil is evil. Perhaps there is a New Tastament re-interpretation to support this modern idea? Not that I can find. Maybe these modernists are right, but I would feel a lot more convinced if there weren't so many Psalms where David brags about his own righteousness.

I was on the phone a while back, and the person on the other end was feeling frustrated because she felt a Christian duty to be nice to a particular jerk hounding her. I guess she was hoping for a proof-text. I didn't find one at the time, but more importantly, I cannot find any place in the Bible that says we should be nice. Jesus was not nice. The Apostle Paul and the prophets were not nice. Paul tells us to live at peace if possible, but Jesus promised that his followers would be hated and persecuted. That's not peaceful; it's not nice. The Bible very clearly tells us to jump in and protect the helpless (like widows and orphans, poor and disabled), but sometimes that requires being very un-nice to the bullies and oppressors. I can't say her particular circumstance counted as rescuing a helpless person from a bully, and sometimes God expects us to endure the difficulties, but other times it's OK to take advantage of legal (and technological) remedies. The Apostle Paul appealed to Caesar when he was being hassled. Even Jesus snuck out of the threatening crowd when it was not yet his time.

2006 August 11 -- Evolution Wins over Fiat Creation

I no longer remember the title nor author, but the story has stayed with me for many decades. The rite of passage in this sci-fi was Education Day, when everybody at that age level (mid or late teens, I don't recall that it said exactly) went to be "educated" in a single day. Their brains were instantaneously implanted with all the knowledge we today go to school for, including trade knowledge. The plot revolved around this one guy who was so eager to be educated that he read books on the subject he assumed would be his given specialty. When the Day came, they flunked him out. It turned out he was one of a small number of highly intelligent leaders who were not suited for the mass injection. He had to learn the old way, from books, as he had already demonstrated.

The whole idea is fiction. People don't learn instantly, they learn gradually, in incremental steps. Of course most education is carefully designed to be incremental, not as a random accumulation of chance events the way the biologists tell us life evolved -- although that also works in education, albeit much more slowly. The sudden burst of insight can only happen to the facts and ideas that came incrementally. The human mind is simply not capable of absorbing an irreducibly complex cluster of ideas and information.

My friend Richard wants people to live in that fictional world. He claims that incrementalism is a better development methodology, but he admits that his own software writing comes in big chunks, more like the irreducible complexity of real creation. He is also unwilling to sell his methodology incrementally, proving the methodology works by using it on itself -- despite that incrementalism actually is a better educational methodology than the Big Bang.

There is a reason for Richard's reluctance. His software development methodology is broken, it doesn't work. If he adopts the notion as a big chunk, he can swallow the problems whole without chewing on them, without even being aware of them. If he were to work his way slowly and methodically through every part of the process, building only on established facts, he would eventually discover the problems I tried to tell him about. His beautiful house of cards would come crashing down into a pile of rubble. I think he knows that, deep in his heart.

It's more fun to live in a fiction world, where things work just so, and everybody lives happily ever after.

I think the biologists like fiction better too, but their fiction is incrementalism. When you actually work through the details and build only on established facts, the evolution model breaks. I went through the exercise 25 or so years ago. Most people, like Richard, are afraid to. Deep in their heart, where they dare not let it see the light of day, they know their model won't stand up under public scrutiny. That's why they never offer any real evidence for Darwinism, only the vague and unsupported claim that it exists.

Come to think of it, that's how Richard tried to present his incrementalist software development methodology.

2006 August 9 -- Winning Debates

It happens to me a lot over the years, at least five times in the past year or so alone.

Somebody comes up with a "new" idea or technology. I examine the idea carefully, so that I understand not only how its proponents want it to work, but also some of its (possibly fatal) flaws, which they neglected to mention. I point these out to the person promoting it, and he makes a token effort to explain to me that I do not yet fully understand his brilliant idea, then when I remain unconvinced and less than an enthusiastic follower, he concludes that I'm stupid and/or a traditionalist unwilling to take on new ideas. Ad hominem character insults I generally take as a concession of defeat by a person lacking the integrity to say so plainly. They are right, of course: they did fail to convince me that their flawed logic is perfect in every detail; they only misjudged the true reason.

Regular readers of my blog here know I'm no traditionalist unwilling to try new ideas, recently for example the test as documentation. You probably also recall me recognizing that a lot of the stuff that passes for "new" technology is really quite old, such as Software as a Service. It's easier to fully understand these older "new" technologies which you have already seen and used.

Most recently -- today for the third time on the same "new" old technology -- is one I first discussed here a couple months ago as "Agile" programming. I'm pretty familiar with the technological issues by now. The problem with it is that the methodology doesn't work with irreducibly complex projects.

I invited Richard to apply his method to the process of convincing me of its validity. He suddenly became persuaded that there is such a thing as irreducible complexity, and that promoting his agenda is an example of it. In other words, he could not apply his incrementalist "evolutionary" methodology to the job at hand. Which was exactly what I intended to show him, except I didn't have to work at it. Of course Richard would probably deny this interpretation of his behavior, but the facts speak for themselves.

2006 July 29 -- 50-Year Time Warp

I mentioned I was reading some old sci-fi I found in my father's library. Most of these stories were written in the 50s and 60s (or earlier). I don't know if he bought them back then, or if he picked them up used more recently. Fifty years makes a significant difference in cultural expectations. Many (perhaps most) of the stories take as settled fact that the cold war ends in nuclear holocaust -- and then go on from there. The electronics they envision for the future (our present) is quite primitive; space travel is quite advanced.

There is one constant: evolution. Not the neo-Darwinism affected by biologists then and now alike, gradual random change over millions of years, but an accelerated version, either triggered intentionally, or else activated by residual radiation from the nuclear wars. It can't be that the effects of the bombs over Japan had not been studied by then, so I must assume it is the same Darwinistic religion that infects the media and power structure today. Real radiation kills, rather than accelerating the presumed positive mutations of evolution.

A curious feature of this evolutionary speculation is the prevalence of psychic powers in the fictional evolved super-humans. I guess the authors suppose that telephathy and psychokinesis are an advance over our present mental capacities, and they cannot imagine any other more advanced state. Or maybe other "advances" simply make lousy fiction.

2006 July 28 -- Barbarians at the Gate

In one of the regular columns in the leftist rag for tech wannabes -- few mainstream media even get near the political center of the country, let alone to the right of it, and WIRED is no exception -- Bruce Sterling cringes at and mostly repeats the dire warnings of British admiral Chris Parry, in which he predicts the demise of civilization on account of two modern world-flattening technologies: jet travel and the internet. Left-wing bigots seldom do their own creative thinking, as this column shows. The doom he predicts is based on evidence that terrorists are currently using the increasing availability of low-cost airfare and world-wide internet access to jump around in and out of countries as if they had no homeland. That is obviously true -- today. But it ignores some countervailing principles.

First and most important is an observation Chuck Colson made before 9/11, that people will give up freedom for security. We already see evidence of it at work in the Patriot Act. It is getting harder and harder for terrorists to fly the skies with impunity. While it hasn't started to happen yet, as the internet becomes more of a vehicle for enabling terrorism, people will not merely allow but insist on policing it. The tiny free-speech minority will get shouted down.

On the other side, and contrary to leftist religious dogma, people are not basically good. Sterling ends with a PollyAnna-ish "for every person who [realizes] it will take serious mental agility to navigate the years to come ..., civilization gains a better chance of survival." That only works if more Good Guys come to this realization than Bad Guys. Later in the same issue, another article bemoans the fact that so-called "theft-proof" automobile ignition locks now delay the thief for less than an hour -- before he drives off in your car. The Bad Guys are never more than a few weeks (or at most months, not years) from overcoming technological blocks.

Me, I think our best defense is what I call the Hezbollah effect: there really aren't that many people of any religious persuasion willing to give up their lives for a lost cause, and even if there are more of them today than there are Israelis, it won't take very many skirmishes of "over 300 Lebanese killed" compared to "dozens of Israelis" to reverse those numbers. When all the people willing to be instantly transported to meet 70 virgins in heaven have already gone to their eternal reward, and when the rest of the people begin to see (why is Osama bin Laden hiding?) that their leaders are not so willing, the battles will stop. Recall that the conflicts are always started by the Islamists, never by the Israelis. It will take a while to get to that point, but it helps that the Israelis have better technology.

2006 July 22 -- Decision by Default

The current issue of Dr.Dobbs Journal has an article "In Defense of Laziness" that stirs a mixed reaction in me. I often used to say that "creative laziness is the foundation of civilization," meaning that inventions are mostly created by people who would rather not do the job manually. C++, the language featured in this article (he just finished writing a book on the language), is not a lazy programmer's language: there are far too many ways to get screwed that are simply not possible in better languages, so programmers must both work extra hard to avoid those pitfalls (the author mentions some of them) and spend extra effort correcting the mistakes that slip through anyway. I know.

The benefit of being "lazy" is that you don't do extra work that turns out not to need doing, but there are also problems with deferring tasks. In programming (the context of this article), you need to think about how the whole program is going to work, and you need to do this in depth up front (as the author of the previous article is at pains to point out) in order to avoid doing a lot of work that doesn't solve the customer's problems. I have recently begun calling this a form of "irreducible complexity" to twit the evolutionists -- because it is fundamentally the same issue: software is the product of intelligent design, and many parts of it must necessarily be designed to work together, and cannot be developed incrementally, while deploying and using the partially finished program. It just doesn't work that way.

But there is another form of laziness staring me in the face at this time, where the inactive person seems to hope the problem will just go away. Problems actually do that, but not with good consequences. Sometimes to fail to decide is to decide to fail.

Some years ago I got into a theological disagreement with the pastor of the church where I was a member, and he invited me to discuss it with a senior theologian in the denomination, whom I highly respected. I did that. I think the denominational dogma must be slightly at odds with what the Bible teaches, but this seminary professor was sure he could adequately support the approved dogma from Scripture -- he just didn't have the time to do it at that moment. A month or so later I asked again, and he still was too busy to deal with it. A year went by, and I asked again. As I suspected, the delay had erased his memory of the difficulty, and he (ahem) "reminded" me that the problem had been fully resolved. I am no longer a member of that denomination.

Three weeks ago somebody took it upon himself to accuse me of "lying" on my web site about his preferred operating system. We volleyed the matter back and forth for a few days, while I tried to figure out what his problem was, and pretty soon it was clear to me that he did not fully understand the nature of virus infection, nor why I blame features in his OS for modern vulnerabilities. When I tried to explain these points more clearly, he started accusing me of ignorance. There are a great many things I do not know, especially about his system, but this is not one of them. Recognizing his thick foreign accent and Slavic name, and knowing that only Americans are true egalitarians, I pulled rank (cited my academic credentials, which I normally don't mention), and he stopped responding. After a few days I asked if he was conceding or withdrawing, and he denied it, just too busy. I don't expect to hear from him again.

Like the theologian, this fellow really believes he is right, but it would take too much time to prove it. And like that theologian, if he did take the time, he would discover that he actually is wrong. That's an unpleasant prospect for most people, but delaying the research (indefinitely) forestalls the need to admit it. Perhaps they know that.

Mr.Parkinson, famous for Parkinson's Law (in its most general form, "The need for any resource always meets or exceeds its availability"), is later said to have come up with a Second Law, "The most effective form of denial is delay." When asked if he could explain this new law, he said, "Yes. Later."

2006 July 17 -- Truth in Fiction

I've been reading these sci-fi novels I picked up in my late father's library. This weekend I finished a collection of Heinlein shorts. He was my favorite author when I was a kid; times have changed. Or maybe I have: all of these stories were written before I started reading a lot of sci-fi. But there are some interesting insights -- something to put flesh on the quote from novelist E.L.Doctorow in TIME magazine, about how novelists are known liars, so they can be trusted to tell the truth.

The previous week I read an A.E.VanVogt story. VanVogt is no friend of traditional family values in this novel, so I thought it all the more remarkable that he offered as an unqualified insight in the thoughts of his hero, that fatherless children do not mature properly. I think it was C.S.Lewis who said "The truth is so big, it's hard to miss all of it."

The first Heinlein story was half the book, and the main character spent most of the story trying to figure out the strange behavior of the other prominent guy, one Jonathan Hoag. At the end we are told that the whole world is a sham -- something like the Matrix movie -- in this case an "art" project of a student in some extra-terrestial super-race, and Hoag is an art critic there to evaluate the artistic merits of his creation, which he could only do by seeing it through the senses of a human within the art form. Heinlein is not known to be Christian so I doubt he intended or even saw the link, but there are profound parallels with the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, who had to become human to do his work of redemption.

Another story in the same Heinlein collection accurately portrayed the frustrations ordinary citizens feel in the face of a corrupt (or even merely inept, which is almost always) government. The timing was exquisite: about the time I was reading this story, I got a "Final Notice" letter from the state advising me that I am in default of my income tax in the amount of $20 (plus penalties and interest), and ignoring the fact that I had already filed a protest (certified mail, delivered a full four weeks before the date of this notice) showing that I had overpaid that tax by more than $300 the previous year. What can you do when the government agents can't (or won't) read? What happens if the courts side with the government? After all, we already know the courts no longer feel themselves bound by the Constitution. I'm starting to wonder if this is a clever way to raise new tax revenues without appearing to raise taxes. Yes, the Feds pulled the same stunt, but they are not so quick with the "Final Notice" trip; maybe they noticed that they still have my money.

My first full-time job after college was Civil Service, a US Government lab. Much of my work was for the personnel director there, so we got to be on friendly terms. He once told me with a straight face, "Civil Service performs a valuable social function. It provides employment for people who would otherwise be unemployable." His exact words, I was so astonished I'll never forget them. I have subsequently seen and heard numerous confirmations of that perspective. Your tax dollars at work. I guess Heinlein must have experienced some of the same fecal governing.

2006 July 14 -- Irreducible Complexity

There seems to be a lot of confusion over what Irreducible Complexity (IC) is all about. It's not a difficult concept to grasp. One would almost wonder if the confusion is intentional, because the implications of IC are utterly abhorrent to atheists. If there is such a thing as IC, and if it occurs in nature, then Intelligent Design has been proved.

Biologist Michael Behe defined Irreducible Complexity as a system of component parts, in which if any single component is removed, the system ceases to function. His example is a simple mousetrap, with four components: 

1. a base,
2. a hammer,
3. a spring to force them together, and
4. a trigger to hold them apart.
The mouse is caught between the base and the hammer, and held by the pressure of the spring. The trigger holds it open until the mouse is in place, then is released to capture the mouse. In Behe's description (from which this picture is adapted) he has subdivided the trigger into two parts, which changes the description somewhat, but not the basic function.

In his book, Behe goes on to describe a very different mousetrap, but with the same four components: a box inverted over the ground, with one end held up by a stick tied to a string. The ground is the base, the stick is the trigger, and the spring function is provided by gravity. Again all four components form an IC system.

Here's a typical perversion of IC, which I received from an otherwise intelligent university professor:

I feel that complexity can usually be analysed, in which case it is not irreducable.
His specialty is computers, and we write incredibly complex programs, which continue to astound me in that they actually work (sometimes). We teach programmers a variation on the classic military strategy: Divide and Conquer. Divide the problem into smaller problems, and solve each of them by the same method. When the pieces become small enough, each one can be solved directly by one of a small number of known algorithms or problem-solving tools. This is the only way we can hope to manage the complexity of large projects. Perhaps this person is simply too busy with his computational agenda to address the question of IC.

Or perhaps he is in denial. There are IC problems in computer programming. It is not that D&C cannot be applied to them, for it can. We can separately analyze the hammer and the spring -- and that is a necessary part of constructing them -- but the mousetrap cannot work if either of them is missing.

Another critic tried to construct a mousetrap out of a single piece of metal, contrived so that each of the four parts of the trap was a different part of the same piece of metal, as if thus we had eliminated the parts. Not at all! He did separately identify four parts; the fact that they were all formed in the same physical piece of metal is irrelevant. The trap only works because all four parts are present and functional.

Yet another critic recognizes the nature of IC, and tries instead to deny that IC occurs in natural systems. He goes to great lengths to show that the hemoglobin clot sequence, which is one of Behe's examples, is different and simpler in some animals. That does not disprove that Behe's example is a case of IC, but only that a different IC system is used elsewhere in nature. In the mousetrap example above, I have reduced Behe's original five components to four, but it cannot be further reduced. Nevertheless, even if Behe is mistaken about the irreducibility of the clot sequence, his numerous other examples remain; this critic did not successfully demolish all of them. It is only necessary for a single instance of IC to occur in nature to prove Intelligent Design.

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2006 July 12 -- God and Science

The current issue of TIME magazine features a 3-page article on Francis Collins, whom they describe in glowing terms as an Evangelical who also believes in evolution. TIME, not noted for its conservative position on either science or religion -- nor anything else, for that matter: their idea of a political conservative is way left of the American mainstream -- is always eager to debunk mainstream Christian beliefs.

Collins, like noted logical positivist Antony Flew and numerous others, came out of atheism to embrace theism. It's a perfectly reasonable step to take, since atheism is so illogical. I doubt any people make it all the way across the spectrum in a single bound. Collins is no exception. God seems to allow for baby steps. That does not make him an authority on the overlap between faith and science.

Twice the TIME article quotes Collins expressing personal reservations about the classic Christian position on creation: "I have trouble with that kind of conjecture," he says at one point, and then later, "this is a very unsatisfactory image." I do not deny that many Biblical teachings, taken at face value, do not match our modern western sensibilities. But Collins is not finding that these notions contradict other Christian teachings, only that he personally is not comfortable with them. That is to be expected. Any fallible human born in sin (that would be all of us) is going to disagree with the sinless perfection of God in one or more issues; otherwise they would be God. It is not reasonable to base our ideas of God on what fits our own notions of good sense; it's much better to base them on what God says of Himself -- or else admit we don't know. Collins is hardly alone in making that mistake; many of the Creationists do too (to their discredit).

The middle ground Collins has reached in his pilgrimage so far is theistic evolution. It's not a very (ahem) satisfying position, neither good "science" nor good theology. It is, as TIME also notes, the position taken by the American Scientific Affiliation, and not many others. I dropped my membership in ASA a few years ago over that very issue. At one time they identified themselves as "scientists who are also Christians." I considered the order significant.

As a biologist, Collins finds "the evidence in favor of evolution is utterly compelling." I wonder why it is so hard to actually see some of that evidence? I have been asking for over 20 years, of anybody doing peer-reviewed (that is scientific) research in any field at all, "What evidence in your field supports the descent from a common ancestor hypothesis better than the alternative(s)?" At universities where I have been on faculty, and anywhere smart people can be found, nobody -- not even once -- has anybody even attempted a properly qualified response.

I applaud Francis Collins in his journey toward faith, and I wish him God-speed in arriving at the destination where he can accept the notion that God might know more than we do, even about science -- especially as it applies to a point in time when God was seeing it happen and we were not.

2006 July 10 -- Home Ownership, Part 2

I don't know why I was looking in that direction. The lights were out, I was trying to go to sleep, but kept awake at that moment by the screeching sound of some punk trying to paint black circles in a parking lot a block away. When my gaze wandered into the open bathroom door, there was an new green glow I had not previously noticed, the same color as the LED power lights on the toothbrush and the shaver, but they should be on the counter; this glow was closer to the floor. Was it a reflection off the polished tile wall from the cell phone by the bed? I put my hand over the cell, but the light in the bathroom continued unabated. Did one of the appliances fall off the counter? I got up to investigate. They were where they belonged. The glow was from a small spot on the floor.

Without glasses my vision is poor, so I bent down to look more closely. It was a firefly, looking very dead but for the continuous (not blinking) green glow. I scooped it up and dispatched it out the back door, still glowing.

I don't know how they get in, but I get a lot of bugs in here. There are screens on the windows, but they do not fit well. Perhaps when the ceiling fan is pulling in vast quantities of air, they get trapped on the screen and manage to crawl to one of the ill-fitting edges. Like the firefly, nearly all of the bugs (flies, spiders, crickets) I see are experiencing some terminal illness, most of them in the beginning stages of CBS (crushed body syndrome).

The first symptom of CBS is usually a catastrophic failure of their protective coloration against the floor or wall. The degenerative disease progresses rapidly; in less than a minute, about the time it takes me to go retrieve a flyswatter, Splat! CBS.

Except in my sleeping area, I like to "live and let live" (spiders especially, because they eat the others), but I spent a certain formative period of my youth in the only place in the world with more bugs and creepy crawlies than the State of Misery. Far too many times I awakened in the middle of the night with some nightmare about a 15-inch tarantula crawling across my face. The spiders -- there are a lot of them -- do a pretty good job, but the big guys tend to come down with CBS.

2006 July 6 -- House and Owner

They say when you buy a house, pretty soon it starts to own you. There's a lot of truth in that.

Case in point: the public water system in this backwoods corner of the State of Misery comes slightly brown. Normally not so you can see it, but over time the water that collects around the feet of the rack in the kitchen sink, and in the toilet bowl develops a slimy brown scum. So I bought one of those blue pills for the toilet tank. The scum didn't come back, but the toilet stopped flushing. It went down after a few flushes and some vigorous plunger action, so I figured there was some kind of blockage in the drain. This analysis was reinforced by the fact that the shower drain has been slow for a year or so. Lye down the shower drain seemed to help, but you can't buy lye any more. Thank our vigilant local governments, protecting us from meth labs. Drain-o was almost as good. Unfortunately, it said not for use in toilets. Not much can be used in toilets (lye works), but I found some liquid that didn't forbid it.

First I tried the liquid in the shower drain. It seemed to work great, but as soon as I put the grate back over the drain, the water started to back up again. Hmmm. Maybe it's not the drain's fault at all?

I filled up a bucket of water and poured it into the toilet. Everything went right down, but flushing with the tank handle still didn't work. The liquid drain cleaner said not to use it with other chemicals, so I removed the blue pill (which was now a mound of blue sludge in the bottom of the tank), and started to wonder if this sludge was clogging up the flush mechanism. I scrubbed all the sludge out of the tank bottom and ran a toothpick up the holes in the rim of the bowl to clear up any clogs there. After a half-dozen flushes, the water started coming through clear, but it still would only go down gradually unless I overfilled the tank.

There is a water stain in the tank at the level the water filled when I bought the house. Some time later the water cutoff valve stopped working and I had to buy a new one. Alas, government regulations means I can't buy a valve that fills up to the level the system was designed to work with; it's a gallon or so short of the water mark. If I push down on the float while it fills, I can persuade it to fill to the water mark -- and it flushes. So I bought some lead fishing weights to get the float to ride lower in the water. Guess what? They aren't lead. The float didn't sink very far. Your tax dollars at work again.

A few more flushes, and the toilet seems to flush OK again, even without the extra weight. The blue pill seems to have been the culprit.

The water faucets in the bathroom were designed for some other purpose than adequately controlling water flow. They have a two-dimensional range of motion, presumably to control flow rate and temperature independently. At least that's better than the house I didn't buy, where the shower faucet has only one dimension of control. I experienced one of those in a motel once, and there is no way to get a reasonable flow at a reasonable temperature. One end of the range controls the flow, and the other end controls the temperature. Which do you want, warm cannon blast, or freezing gentle?

This faucet evidently has a simplistic internal design; you twist it to control volume, and push it right or left for temperature. The problem is that at low flow rates, the temperature gradient is extremely narrow. Worse, the flow is uneven across the temperature range except at full on. Starting hot at a moderate flow appropriate for my low-flow shower head, it stays hot until it completely stops flowing at the middle of the temperature range (the black region in the picture), then comes back on cold on the other side. Increase the flow, and the warm region is very narrow, while the water dribbles out. You only get a full range of temperature when the water is coming out full blast (top of the flow range). Otherwise it is scalding or freezing, except in that tiny controlled region in the middle.

As the water in the water heater cools off during my shower, and as the icy outside water comes in through the cold water pipes, I need to adjust the temperature. Like my previous British sports car, which I steered by "the ouija method" (hold on tight and think about being in the next lane -- and you're there!) I grab the faucet tightly and gently push in the direction I want it to go. If I feel it move, it went too far and I'm about to be scalded (or frozen, as the case may be); I have one second to point the shower head away. Instead I listen for the change in sound, which indicates a differential flow rate, and thus a different temperature, even though I felt nothing move in my hand.

I asked a plumber about replacing the faucet with something that worked properly. He looked at the tile wall behind it and said he could do it, but it would mess up the wall. I guess there is no such thing as "Do the job" contractors in this forsaken place. sigh

It seems that Microsoft software is not the only crummy product I must deal with.

2006 July 4 -- The Science of Fiction

When I was in high school I read every science fiction book in the school library. When I finished them, I read through every sci-fi book in the public library. Science came easy to me.

After a while I figured out that sci-fi is not about science, and stopped reading them. Or maybe there just weren't any more to read. Or most likely, I had more important things to occupy my time.

Last year I was invited to cherry-pick my late father's extensive library. He was into science -- chemistry, I think -- and had a collection of sci-fi paperbacks. Along with valuable theological and linguistic resources, I brought a bunch of sci-fi home. I still have more important things to occupy my time, but a little respite makes tedious work go better.

Last week I read Michael Crichton's Andromeda Strain. I understand it was his first sci-fi novel, written while he was still in medical school. Crichton knows his science. When I read Jurassic Park a few years ago, I set the book down wondering "Did this really happen?" After a while, I began to identify scientific flaws in his story, such as computer bugs that don't happen that way. There was no such doubt after reading Andromeda Strain, the scientific mistakes were too glaring. I guess he got better over the years.

This week I read a collection of novellas by Philip K.Dick. I don't recall reading any of his stuff before, but these were all already old when I was in high school. PKD did not have the science mind of Crichton. Or maybe the decade made a lot of difference. All of these stories were a thinly veiled rant against the Cold War.

Did I say, sci-fi is not about science? Sci-fi uses science and the future as an excuse to to explore social situations that do not -- indeed, scientifically cannot -- exist. Other types of fiction try to explore ideas that are plausible in today's (or historical, as the case may be) social culture. They are intended to be credible, so the reader is drawn into the story as if it really happened. That way the moral objective of the author can be transmitted to the credulous reader with a minimum of resistance. Sci-fi only works on science geeks like myself, as we pretend that the science could work that way. This makes up for the fact that sci-fi authors generally have no better comprehension of social interactions than their readers.

PKD set most of his stories 30 to 50 years into the future (in other words, the last couple decades up through today), and painted a bleak canvas of post-atomic-war "slag and ash." He seemed to think that the Cold War and the nuclear holocaust he considered its inevitable consequence were the product of psychotic government leaders programmed only to hate each other. He understood evil and described it vividly, but he had no comprehension of its cause nor cure. The stories simply did not ring true -- not even after allowing for his atomic war hypothesis. But he had a great reputation in the sci-fi community.

Somehow I don't think I missed much in 40 years of not reading sci-fi. Maybe the other books will be better...

2006 July 3 -- Red-Handed Pseudo-Science

In their breathless groupie style, WIRED magazine -- not known for scientific accuracy -- reports the Neanderthal DNA research of Eddy Rubin even before it has gone through the peer review process. Big Mistake. Fortunately for the rest of us, the guy is so cocky that he wears his methodological flaw out in front where everybody can see it:
DNA from modern humans won't show the predicted level of decay -- that can be tossed out -- p.119
Any high-school science student is familiar with this methodology. You throw out the data that doesn't agree with the textbook. Later in life we give it more sophisticated names like "SWAG" but it's the same dishonesty that made Korean clone jock Hwang Woo-suk famous -- the second time. As a consequence of this procedure,
Rubin's team was able to read only 76,000 base pairs from the Neanderthal -- a tiny slice if you consider that the complete human sequence is 3 billion base pairs long. -- p.121
Small wonder! They threw out all the data that might disprove their hypothesis.

Fortunately also for us, there are enough pseudo-scientists (aka Darwinists) whose theories disagree with Rubin's that they are likely to notice the discrepancy within a year or so of publication. Unlike people (like myself) who see the error more quickly because the result is so wrong, the Darwinists have access to the power structure, so their voice can be heard.

I wonder how long it will take.

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2006 June 28 -- Discovery

This week I received in the mail a card-stock multi-color litho-printed form letter with my name and address dot-matrix printed on one side. Some computer at the Discover credit card processing center noticed that I used to be charging several hundred dollars per month, but recently it was $0.00. Somehow their computer failed to notice that they blocked the card four months ago. Somehow their computer failed to notice that I sent a letter asking for explanation, and got no response. Somehow their computer failed to notice that I sent another letter by certified mail, and still got no response.

Title 15 Section 1691 of the US Code forbids denial of credit for a variety of specified socially motivated reasons, and requires any company denying credit to respond in writing within 30 days after an applicant requests an explanation in writing. It's been two months and I'm still waiting. It's a Federal law, big whoop-de-doo.

I found a copy of the law on the internet; it doesn't give the consumer much opportunity for redress. Every Federal law on the books I have looked at isn't worth the electrons to display it. Many of them are positively harmful to the economy and/or the people of this country.

I'm thinking particularly of Can-Spam ("can" is a verb of enablement; the law enables spammers and disables better State laws which actually worked; predictably spam has increased 10x since this became law), HIPAA (which in my experience prevents patients from accessing their medical records, but exposes the data to the parties who should be denied access), and DMCA (which permits vendors to sell at a profit DVDs which crash my computer and destroy hundreds of dollars of work in process, but forbids me to repair the damage), and the Patriot Act (which results in a net reduction of my security here in the middle of USA), and -- well, I can't think of a law I looked at that was an improvement.

Sometimes I think this country would be better off if they disbanded Congress and sent all the buggers home.

2006 June 17 -- Computer Power

I believe in using the most powerful computer (and software) available. The more power in the computer, the less effort I need to exert to make things happen. Other people -- I guess they like the adrenaline rush from doing things the hard way. Consider a couple (non-computer) examples of power:

Here are two tools for cutting wood. Both will do the same job in the hands of a skilled carpenter. One of them is more powerful than the other, because it takes less effort by the carpenter to do that same job.

There are several scenes in the Matrix movies where the characters do battle using oriental martial arts, and a few scenes where guns are used. This is even more pronounced in Steven Seagal movies. Which weapon is more powerful? Both can kill, but only one weapon kills at a distance. In a battle between a man shooting a gun against a man jumping and kicking and swinging his arms, the guy with the gun wins. Except of course in fictional movies like the Matrix. But the martial arts are more fun to watch. Martial arts work up the adrenaline.

This is about getting the job done expeditiously, not how much fun you have along the way.

I have two computers here on my desk. The older one is more powerful, but it's busy getting the job done, so let me say something about the other one, the one that sits black and silent by its side, the PC. It dual-boots two different operating systems, an electric saw and a handsaw, if you will. Just turning the computer on and off is a representative sample of computer power (times in mins:secs, plus additional Keystrokes and/or Mouseclicks):

System BootTime ShutDown
WinXP 0:25,  K0 0:05, K1
Linux 1:55, K6 0.30, M3
Now I ask you, which takes less time and effort? Which is more powerful? Everything those two systems can do is that same kind of difference. If I want to compile a program, both of them take a lot of fiddling around with parameters to set the compiler up, but to recompile the same program tomorrow, VisualStudio requires only 2-clicking the project icon and choosing one menu item; GCC -- well, everything in Unix is command-line based, so I gotta do a lot of typing to do anything at all. Some people get an adrenaline rush out of that. Other people (me, for example) get our rush out of seeing the job finished. Sooner is better. Computer power gets it done sooner, with less effort.

2006 June 14 -- Web 2.0, No Big Deal

I've been reading a lot about so-called "Web 2.0". It's like the pundits seem to think that promoting a new buzword justifies their existence.

What exactly is Web 2.0? It seems to have two disparate components, AJAX and collaborative content.

AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript And XML) is the composite of substantial browser-based programs written in JavaScript (now officially "ECMAscript" but that messes up the cute acronym), sending and requesting little snippets of information from an XML-based website, so that your visual experience has a more dynamic feel than static web pages downloaded as a chunk from a server. XML (for "eXtensible Markup Language") is a text-based document format something like HTML, but more general and not tied to the specific markup tags relevant in a web browser; it can be used to encode and format just about anything. Microsoft reportedly is converting their Office tools over to an XML-based file format. That means you might be able to look at the document files is a plain text viewer, and if you are really lucky, software from other vendors might be able read and write these files. It also means that Office will save and load their documents even slower than they do now, because of all the extra text conversion. I have spent many years working with text-based files and trying to make processing the data faster; I know.

JavaScript, as knowledgeable internet users understand, is the programming language that lets viruses and spyware and popup adware and other such nasties into your computer. No Java, no viruses. Well, there are also Microsoft-specific macro viruses, and complex image-based viruses. The point is, the only truly safe computing never lets any of those come in. Like here on this computer: No Microsoftware at all, no Java-anything, no Shockwave, not even cookies. And never, not even once, no malware. I don't even need to pay the Mafia -- I mean virus blockers -- for "protection", because nothing gets in for them to delete or block. Like in sex, the best protection is abstinence.

Collaborative content is an interesting idea. It supposes that many people, each contributing a little bit of information, can make the web a richer and more valuable resource. I guess if you are into popularity contests and keeping up with the Joneses and running with the crowd, that might be true.

Me, I'm a contrarian. Most educated people are atheists; I'm a thoughtful Christian. Most computer geeks love unix; I despise it. Most computer users want the latest and greatest (meaning still full of bugs); I want something that works well. It's not that I set out to be different -- OK, a little, once in a while (rarely) -- but I choose my preferences on the basis of the facts, not on the basis of who else is on the bandwagon. If everybody else is doing it, it's probably boring.

So where does that leave me with Web 2.0? It doesn't work on my computer. Besides that, I don't need it.

I don't need the most popular web sites. Google searches are based on popularity, with the result that at least half of what I search for -- it's probably out there someplace (and sometimes other people tell me where it is) -- Google cannot find. I stay away from crowds. I don't go shopping The Day After Thanksgiving.

I don't need the glitz and the animation and the other viruses that clog the average web site. Some web sites don't work at all for me, but almost never anything that is important. Webmasters who want their information to be available, they make their information available -- and I can get it. Those who want to suck their technological thumbs, well I can't look at their drool. Somehow, that does not bother me.

2006 June 7 -- The End of the Constitution

There is little doubt that the Constitution will be amended. The only question is whether it will be
amended by Congress working the will of the people or by judicial fiat.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist
The homosexual activists in the USA are opposed to Constitutional democracy. They are opposed to the the protections offered to American citizens by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution. They want to enact their political agenda, and they know they cannot get it past the voters of America by the democratic process.

Georgetown law professor Chai Feldblum is very clear on her agenda: "The remaining question is whether the champions of tolerance are prepared to tolerate proponents of a different ethical vision. I think the answer will be no." (Quoted in WORLD magazine). There you have it, ladies and gentlemen, plain as the nose on your face: So-called "tolerance" is really nothing but bigotry and hate speech against their opponents.

The WORLD magazine article goes on to quote the bigots as confident that it's a question of when, not if, they will impose their brand of hate on the American public. They themselves admit that the First Amendment protections of free speech and freedom of religion and equal protection of the laws will be demolished by their success.

It's scary world we live in, Islamic bigots in the Middle East and homosexual bigots at home. Both are in a minority, but with political power way out of proportion to their numbers.

At least my God is bigger than theirs.

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