Friday, December 29, 2006

Not Quite the End of Vacation Week

I have not been blogging much this week. My wife took Tuesday through Thursday as vacation days (she automatically got Monday and Friday off) so we could have a whole week of vacation together. She has been getting my time, so I have not done much blogging or e-mail.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 39

These, of old, attained unity:
Heaven attained unity in its clarity.
Earth attained unity in its tranquility.
The angels attained unity in their activity.
The deep attained unity in its fullness.
Creation attained unity in its fruitfulness.
Kings and princes attained unity in ruling by worthy example.
Unity sustains these.
If heaven was no longer clear it would fragment.
If earth was no longer tranquil it would shatter.
If angels were no longer active they would dissipate.
If the deep was no longer full it would be exhausted.
If creation was no longer fruitful it would become extinct.
If kings and princes no longer ruled by worthy example they would fall.
For greatness has the humble as its root.
The exalted is built upon the lowly.
Therefore the kings and princes call themselves orphans with meager inheritances.
They regard the humble as their root!
Too much honor leads to no honor.
Do not shine like jade on display.
Be a lowly foundation, scattered like gravel.

We fulfill our purpose
and maintain our identity
through unity with Yeshua.
In this manner we are useful to others,
and are honored without seeking honor.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 38

Pure virtue does not focus on itself as virtue;
therefore it has virtue.
False "virtue" always asserts itself as virtue;
therefore it has no virtue.
Pure virtue makes no ado and is not self-serving.
False virtues make ado and are self-serving.
Kindness makes ado, but is not self-serving.
Propriety makes ado and is self-serving.
Rituals of etiquette make ado, and not finding response, bares the arms and become aggressive.
After the Way is abandoned, false virtues are asserted.
After false virtues are abandoned, kindness is asserted.
After kindness is abandoned, propriety is asserted.
After propriety is abandoned, rituals of etiquette are asserted.
Rituals of etiquette are the mere husk of loyalty and good faith, and the beginning of disorder.
Knowing what will come is merely fruit of knowing the Way.
Focusing on future trends is the beginning of folly.
Therefore, the mature Saint is concerned with the substance, not the husk.
He focuses on the seed and not the fruit.
He prefers what is within to what is without.

Focus on Yeshua, not virtue.
The more you know Yeshua
the more virtuous you will become.
But focusing on virtue will not
help you get closer to Yeshua.
After people stop focusing on Yeshua
first they design their own morals
then they try offering kindness to everyone
then they invent norms of socially correct behavior
then they become aggressively legalistic
and finally there is chaos.
Those who follow Yeshua
will see this as it happens.
But do not focus on it!
Focus on Yeshua.

A Cute Tiny Bunny

Just because.

More C Stuff

The Chanukah party went very well.

Today I'm finally blogging again, and following the C theme I might as well link to some modified carols for Christmas, and some classic text adventure games for people who need another holiday present.

Today I'm grateful I don't work in retail and have to deal with cheating complainers, nor do I still live in the cold snow. (Although ice rainbows are cool.)

UPDATE: Fake combat machines!

Noka Unmasked

Last Thursday was a day of letter C activities.

My wife and I hosted a Chanukah party that was also a Rosh Chodesh prayer meeting. I had to clean house, clean the bird cage, and bake cookies. I also worked more on my sermon composition, and laundered clothes.

For a short diversion, I read a fascinating article about chocolate.

I had never heard of a chocolatier in Texas named Noka. Apparently they and the chocolate-maker who supplies their couverture form the axis of the unscrupulous of the chocolate world. A reporter from the DallasFood website exposed them. Now they're in trouble.

The Yeti from Pluto?

Irregular Webcomic has another interesting essay: how the Mi-go of H.P. Lovecraft's The Whisperer in Darkness are based on the Tibetan Yeti although not in physical resemblance, and how this relates to the history of Pluto.

Is Linux the Protestantism of Operating Systems?

Heh. Only Steven Den Beste would write about how the cultures of Linux users and Protestants are meaningfully similar. (Warning: his essays have a random anime image at the top of the page which may or may not involve scantily dressed female protagonists.)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Today's Joke: Two Kids Before Surgery

Two little kids are in a hospital waiting room before surgery. The first kid leans over and asks, "What are you here for?"

The second kid says, "My tonsils are coming out. I'm a little nervous."

The first kid says, "Don't worry. I had that done when I was four. They put you to sleep. When you wake up they give you lots of ice cream."

The second kid then asks, "What are you here for?"

The first kid says, "A circumcision."

The second kid replies, "Oh no! I had that done when I was born. Couldn't walk for a year."

Plagarism in Jordan

Here's today's serious political post, about academic plagarism in universities in Jordan.

I have friends who once visited Jordan and encountered an unexpected barrier to philosophical discussions: most of the people they talked to would refused to reason through a line of thought, preferring instead to mentally file it away until brought it to a family or religious leader.

I wonder if these habits are related symptoms of trusting the establishment more than your own power of deduction, or if the plagarism issue is just something that would happen in any academic setting that allowed it.

Cartoons about Politics

Tired of discussing politics? Instead try matching up today's political issues with cartoons!

There's a new microwave gun for the military. Some people are worrying less about catastrophic global warming. More evidence a single meteor wiped out the dinosaurs.

This requires much less time or intelligence than writing witty alternative meanings to government signs.

UPDATE: Another inappropriate pair -- news of less Arab aggression. (I don't read ScrappleFace regularly. I'm glad Mr. Ott's still silly.)

UPDATE: I shouldn't mention global warming, even humorously, without a link to ocean acidification, which a knowledgeable friend of mind suspects will be the most significant part of the story, and which is much more clearly due to humanity.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 37

The Way never makes any ado and yet it does everything.
If the kings and lords would follow the Way then all things would mature naturally.
If, as they develop, desire begins to stir within them then the Way's primal simplicity would influence them.
This alone can subdue people's desires.
Being without desire they would have peace, and All-under-heaven would settle naturally.

God has good plans for all things.
If people would simply let God's plans happen,
we would all prosper in peace and wholeness!

When is a Private Military Contractor not a Mercenary?

Fascinating topic. Completely new to me. But given examples I've learned last term about police departments benefitting from firearms training by private companies, this is not surprising.

Floating Battle Stations

Now and future.

Bill Roggio's Suggestions

Bill Roggio offers some well-reasoned suggestions for America helping Iraq, based on first-hand observations and interviews.

UPDATE: These graphs comparing America's military spending to it's GDP are relevant, even if they end in 2003.

UPDATE: And here's a chart with number of active duty military personnel.

Video: When Will We Become Lebanese?

There's a video on YouTube that directly but politely attacks favoring ethnic/religious identity over national identity. Given the context in both Lebanese and global politics I find this fascinating.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Moving DVDs to iPod, and Casette Tapes to MP3s

Last summer, before traveling to a work conference, my wife got a video iPod. It was both her birthday and anniversary present.

Unfortunately, the software that the Circuit City salesperson recommended for moving DVD movies and shows to the iPod is terrible. It has too many shortcomings to list. There is a free alternative. It may require two steps, but does allow you to do nice things like record any show from a DVD that has more than one show it.

Originally Handbrake is for the Mac OS, and on that platform works well in one step with a nice interface. With Windows XP things are more complicated:
  • Two Simple Steps: First, use Handbrake to change the movie to a nice computer file. The main interface for the Windows XP version (download it here) of Handbrake is still under development, so this produces an AVI file but neglects to put on that extension so you should do that manually. Second, use Videora to change the AVI file to a file type and screen size the iPod likes.
  • One Complicated Step: Use the link above entitled "download it here" to not only find the most current version, but also read about how to use the command line interface to force Handbrake to create an MP4 format file of the desired screen size. This is complicated because command line parameters depend upon the screen size of the original DVD.
I have not done this process in a while, but was reminded of it today when I came across an article about using free software to change casette tapes into MP3 files.

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 36

What you wish to contract, you must first allow to expand.
What you wish to weaken, you must first allow to strengthen.
What you wish to tear down, you must first allow to build up.
What you wish to take, you must first allow to give.
This is wisdom from seeing the subtle: the soft and pliable overcomes the hard and inflexible.
Just as fish should not be taken from the deep, the state's weapons should not be displayed.

Let Adonai own the world.
He has plans for all things
in their proper time
to prosper and recede.
Be part of his plans;
do not try to force the world.

Humility, Frailty, and Strength

Here's an article describing the history of liberal and conservative thought in academia and think-tanks. I assume the article lacks falsehoods, but do not know enough to claim the article is "accurate" since it might lack a sufficiently broad perspective.

In any case, one of its observations made me think about something I had not considered. While discussing a book by Andrew Sullivan, the article's author writes:
Here, fundamentalism violates the central conservative tenet, the admission of universal human frailty, and betrays the Reagan-Goldwater heritage, Sullivan says. In the second half of his book, he outlines a better conservatism, taking the humility of the French essayist Michel de Montaigne and the British philosopher Michael Oakeshott's "radical acceptance of what we cannot know for sure" as the starting point of responsible politics.
I typically think of both liberals and conservatives by comparing them to libertarian philosophy. It's not that I agree with American libertarianism, but as an educator I easily focus on the issues of personal responsibility, efficiency in helpfulness, accountability, and safety.

But now I ponder in what ways liberals and conservatives consider people as frail or having fortitude? As expert decision-makers or humble searchers after wisdom?

How do these latter questions relate to the fundamental axiomatic differences between the general liberal and conservative world-views: are they part of the axiomatic distinctions or corollaries?

Telepathy for Teenagers

I vaguely remember a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon in which Calvin tells Hobbes how important it is to cultivate low expectations about yourself so you won't dissapoint your parents and will more often be judged successful.

My mother was once horrified by my brother's friends' telephone use. She had been disappointed in my brother when he was a young teenage boy because when he was on the phone with his friends almost all he said was "Huh," "Uhuh," "Cool," "Sounds good," and other variations of affirmative grunting. Wasn't he being rude in not holding up his side of the conversation? Then, one day, my brother invited a bunch of his friends over and my mother observed that they all used the phone in that way. Apparently all those phone calls had almost no information content at all!

I was reminded of that story by my previous post about Maxwell's Equations, brainwave sensing electrodes, and telepathy. We have the technology to build a hat that differentiates between a handful of electrical impulses generated by the brain, and for each sends a signal. If we built two of those hats and added to each a receiver and earbud speaker we could make each of the handfuls of signals correspond to a certain message played to the headset. Would that count as telepathy? Why or why not?

The other time my mother was truly and unexpectedly horrified was when my brother and I rented The Terminator and she watched it with us. In one scene, Arnold gets into a station wagon parked outside a suburban home. "Oh my goodness!" my mother exclaimed. My brother and I had no idea what was alarming, so she explained, "He didn't have to adjust the seat! So there's a 6'2" housewife out there!?" Sigh... talk about interrupting that willing suspension of disbelief.

Would Telepathic Aliens Use Keyboards?

Yesterday I came across two interesting articles. The first was David Morgan-Mar's amazingly eloquent explanation of Maxwell's Equations, which I enjoyed thoroughly. The second was a news story I didn't actually read about the current state of technology for reading brainwaves to control a robot or computer.

A week ago I spent a little while thinking about how a race telepathic aliens would invent computers. (I think I was in line at the grocery store.)

In the science-fiction setting for my RPG, the players are exploring a planet that once had a high-tech civilization but was mysteriously abandoned. I'm considering making that ancient and high-tech alien race telepathic.

How would high-tech machinery from a telepathic alien race work? For many machines language is not an issue. Piloting a vehicle or operating a shop tool are not usually language-dependent procedures.

But computer terminals, whether for a full computer or merely the access panel to open a door or use a computerized dispenser, are all about language.

If the telepathic aliens used a written language they probably would use some sort of "keyboard" appropriate to their appendages. After all, in real life typing is faster than writing even though our current keyboards are designed to slow down typing.

If the telepathic aliens lacked a written language (perhaps they have long lifespans, very long-range telepathy, or even a single global consciousness) then they might never have used keyboards. Then, given a reasonable assumption that their brains alse work using electrons so their telepathy uses some sort of electromagnetic waves, the aliens would probably have input devices that picked these up directly.

Ta da! Those science-fiction thoughts ran through my head. Yesterday I found articles about electromagnetic waves and real-life input devices that pick them up. Now you get a RPG blog post to read.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 35

He who grasps the great Image [the Way] will seem welcoming to All-under-heaven.
Those who flock to him will suffer no harm, but will dwell in peace and unity.
Music and dainties will make a passing stranger pause,
But words uttered about the Way seem stale and flavorless!
Looked at, they are not worth seeing.
Listened to, they are not worth hearing.
But used, they cannot be exhausted!

The life we gain through following Yeshua is attractive.
People recognize how it fills our lives with harmony.
But the same people are not interested
in being taught by or about Yeshua,

because Yeshua's words are only understandable
to those who rely on Adonai.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 34

The great Way is neutral; it may go left or it may go right.
All things depend on it for their existence, and it denies them not.
When a work has been completed, it does not claim the result.
It loves and nourishes all things, but it does not lord this over them.
Thus it may be named with the humblest things.
All things will come before it, but it does not lord this over them.
Thus it may be named with the greatest things.
Because it never asserts its own greatness, therefore its greatness is fully achieved.

Why is Yeshua is worthy of worship?
Through him Adonai created the world.
Also, one day all will kneel before him,
but until that day he is completely humble.

American Generosity

An article about a study showing conservatives are more charitable than liberals ties in with a recent similar but less scholarly report on 20/20.

Here are other articles about how charity helps the economy, and about the mindset of wealthy donors who find the phrase "giving back to society" to be just one more example of a common liberal mindset that wealth is a zero-sum game.

Moreover, now even conservaties can support a higher minimum wage!

More Middle-East Politics

Four quick tidbits, on quite different issues:

(1) In August I commented on Noah Pollak's view that the most significant result of the recent conflict between Israel and Lebanon was showing the "rational actor" Arab states that the U.S. and Israel are happy to favor them when Iran hits the fan. This week's news includes two related incidents.

First, Saudia Arabia has declared support for Iraq. This is a remarkable cooperation of Sunni and Shiite, prompting some speculation that the U.S. is letting Saudia Arabia deal with Iran. (Previously, the U.S. and Israel played "good cop, bad cop" with Iraqi nuclear development. Since Israel's military is a bit over-extended right now, it makes sense that Saudia Arabia might be given a turn.)

Second, Nancy Pelosi has picked Rep. Silvestre Reyes to chair the House Intelligence Committee. But Reyes does not know whether Al Queda is Sunni or Shiite.

(2) Due to the publication of Carter's biased book, a PDF file is being circulated that points out his bias. The file is simply a summary of a few newspaper articles and other rebuttals to Carter's historical blindness and revisionism. (My own comments back in this post are relevant.)

(3) Regarding airports, Chabad of Seattle learned that making an ill-planned stink about Christmas decorations causes backlash, but manages to save face. Meanwhile, a moderate Muslim in Arizona speaks out against the "flying imams" and their recent episode.

(4) I wrote earlier about honor-shame cultures. Most of these, whether in American workplaces or Arab politics, promote and avoidance of responsibility since with repsonsibility comes an opportunity for failure and blame. (I am reminded of the woman in the 12-minute version of the documentary Obsession who says, at 3:44, "Nothing can be done wrong by Arabs, it always is the West.") Here is an intersting article describing how avoidance of responsibility is handicapping political progress in Iraq.

Happy Chanukah!

Happy Chanukah!

Today I don't have any scheduled appointments. My work is simply to prepare a sermon for tomorrow.

I'm not going to do a lecture-style sermon, but instead prepare a game people will participate in that goes over the events of First Maccabees.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Memorable Monsters

Last night I worked until almost 1am, and this morning I had to get up at 6am. I'm a little behind on sleep and need a break after a workday in which several important things got done.

So I'm going to sit in a recliner, maybe take a nap, and pray about ideas for monsters.

I've recently downloaded kMoria for my PDA. It's fun to play that game again. (Is it sad that an individual's free port of Moria from Unix to the Palm OS works better than a big company's port of Lego Star Wars II from the Xbox to PC?) Moria reminded me of something from my childhood, one thing the old (2nd Edition) D&D game did well: it had memorable yet systematic monsters.

I'll start this discussion with it's set of common humanoid monsters (which it stole from many types of mythology).

These main humanoid monsters could be ordered in increasing toughness. (I probably don't remember correctly, but the ordering was something like: kobold, goblin, hobgoblin, orc, gnoll, lizardman, ogre, minotaur, troll, ettin.) This nice ordering meant the narrator could fine-tune the challenge of an encounter: do the good guys meet five kobolds, or three goblins, or a hobgoblin with two goblin servants?

But equally important was that each kind of humanoid monster had a distinct, if stereotypical, personality and social setting. Orcs were not simply bigger goblins, and goblins were not simply bigger kobolds. Some of these humanoids typically traveled in big groups, others normally did not. Some formed groups of equals, whereas others formed groups with a leader that was abnormally tough. Some of these humanoids used melee weapons, some used ranged weapons, some used both. Some only fought, some also cast spells, whereas some carried and used magical potions. Some would readily flee if outmatched, whereas others would stubbornly fight to the death but perhaps in their futile combat still inflict a lasting disease or curse on the heroes.

The game used this set-up repeatedly. There was a similarly arranged selection of dragons, giants, lycanthropes, and undead. I can't remember the details as well, but the game-play usefulness was identical: within each category of monsters their systematic heirarchy of toughness allowed combats to be precisely as challenging as the situation required, yet the types of creatures were memorable enough that a storm giant was not simply a bigger hill giant.

This is the last component my science-fiction setting needs. Although it is a science-fiction tradition to have the protagonists encounter new aliens that are unknown and thus unpredictable, this cannot be the norm in a role-playing game. The players want to be able to strategize, so they must have at least a rough idea what they are up against.

This does not mean the players are handed a guidebook explaining the newly colonized planet's flora and fauna. Perhaps an early adventure has them rid a recently established settlement of a few Screaming Leapers that have been preying on the colonist's chickens. Then in a later adventure the heroes are traveling when a larger pack of Leapers attacks them. Then in an even later adventure the heroes must explore a cave complex and deport or kill the many Leapers who have made those caves their nest, and in the caves the heroes find out that Leapers at home have atypically large Warriors and a Queen, like ants do.

For now I don't need even one category of alien-monster systematized with memorable distinctions among category-members. I just need a few alien-monsters to use in the first few adventures. I could rely on my own creativity, but as someone who prays I'll first check to see if God has any ideas.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Refusing to be a Victim

Another quick thing from an e-mail, worth pondering.

Someone sent me a link to Bill Maher interviewing Netanyhu on HBO.

I don't own a television, and have never heard of Maher. I've also never seen Netanyahu giving an interview. I'm not sure if this is typical of either of them.

What interested me most was Netanyahu's final point, which I will paraphrase: many Americans are exalting victim-status but since WWII the Jewish people (especially in Israel) are refusing to be victims any longer; thus Israel is treated with unfair harshness and anti-Israel myths are accepted in an emotionally-fueled but factually-incorrect attempt to find a pure victim.

Things I Learn while Catching Up on Email

Interesting. Israel is helping Vietnam's farmers. Apparently this is nothing new.

Let's Say Thanks

This is nifty: Xerox has put up a website that allows you, for free, to send a postcard of thanks to American military personnel serving overseas (all places overseas).

Water Rat vs. Fire Pig

A friend from China told me about all the weddings on 12/6/2006. Apparently days with 2's or 6's are considered auspicious.

Moreover, 2006 is also a popular year for weddings so that children can be born next year. Something I never knew was that the Chinese Zodiac has elements for the years (gold, wood, fire, water, earth) as well as the animals I know from placemats at restaurants. Since the Chinese word for "pig" sounds like the word for "blessings", a child born on the year of the Gold Pig is believed to be born to financial blessing.

Sounds sensible for people who believe in that sort of thing, except that next year is actually a Fire Pig year, not a Gold Pig year as my friend reports many people mistakenly think. Someone was confused, and rumor spread.

I guess I'm a Water Rat, which makes me wonder where Mole, Badger, and Mr. Toad are in this whole scenario.

Jewish Artwork and Exodus 20:4

A friend in Eugene makes Jewish artwork.

This painting, in particular, is an interesting one to discuss because it exemplifies an issue that Jewish art must deal with.

In Exodus 20:4 we are told not to make a "likeness" of anything real.

(A word-for-word translation of the verse reads, "Do not make for yourself a carved image, or all likeness that is in heaven from above or earth from below or water from under the earth." Hebrew grammar works a little differently, allowing the word "all" to mean "any" in this case.)

So most Jewish painting, at least until modern times, avoided any real-life subject matter. What, then, is painted?

The painting I linked to shows one traditional option: using words to make up the subject. In this case, the flames are made of the two Hebrew words Shema Yeshua ("listen to Yeshua"). If you visit a local Judaica shop (or search for the phrases "Jewish calligraphy" or "Jewish Illumination") you can find examples of more complicated pictures made entirely out of words. Here's a fairly simple one. I'm having trouble finding a complicated one using Google.

Another option was to use mythical creatures as decorations. Here's an example.

Using complex geometric shapes or decorations that might be called Celtic or Arabesque by most Americans is also very traditional.

It certainly avoids having to debate whether your church coffee shop should display contemporary art with nude human subjects!

Spirit, Soul, Body, and Heart

I just read an interesting article that talked about one view on how "body" and "spirit" work.

Unfortunately, I do not have an article on the website that discusses this, so I cannot share a link to a nice discussion.

For those interested in doing your own study, I will say the following...

In English, a single person may have many names that differ by each highlighting on of that person's relationships. For example, a woman might be referred to as "Judy", "Mom", "Daughter", "Wife", "Sweetie", and "Boss".

In Biblical Hebrew the same concept applies to the part of us that cannot be touched.

As an abstract thing it is called "soul". The Hebrew word is nefesh, which literally means "thing that breathes". The word is used to apply to most land animals, but not insects and other "swarming creatures" that do not have lungs.

As something in relationship with our body it is called "heart". The Hebrew word is lev, which simply means "heart". As examples, scripture refers to people making decisions with their heart or being tempted by their heart, because of how the body is a factor in these.

As something in contrast with our body it is called "spirit". The Hebrew word is roo-ach, which literally means "wind/breath". This word is used when the soul's lack of tangibility is being emphasized, when highlighting the quality of being alive instead of dead (which also cannot be touched), or when the soul is troubled (or having other feelings) but the body is not.

In regards to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit one scriptural metaphor (of many) is about spoken words being carried by our breath. The Father "breathes" out his Spirit, which bears the "living Word of God". (See Isaiah 55:11 and other verses.)

Monday, December 11, 2006


Well, I've finally finished grading final exams, determining the fair curve for both classes, and entering grades.

Tomorrow I have my first day of "vacation". I have 86 messages in my personal e-mail inbox that need replies. (I caught up with work e-mail as part of procrastinating grading.) Then, if it's not raining too much I might finally make it back to one of Eugene's skate parks. Then I should start this week's sermon.

UPDATE: Heh. After two days I'm down to 23 messages, and no skateboarding.

Cute Pictures

Today's cute pictures: a giraffe licking a squirrel, and teddy bear awaiting a holiday dinner at the food pantry.

Are giraffes a lot quicker than I thought? I can't get that close to a squirrel!

Role Models and Heroes

When I taught elementary school in inner-city Rochester (NY), one of the primary issues was the lack of role models for the students.

Most of those students knew no African-American adults with happy and successful careers, except perhaps their teachers and principal. (And who wants those jobs in the inner-city?) So rap artists and professional wrestlers were the role models for the boys. The girls often had even fewer options. This lack of role models had predictably unhelpful results.

I was reminded of this when I read that some fans of the Firefly television show were treated to most of that show's cast showing up to a cancelled convention. Reading the fan's comments at that last link was very touching.

The cast surely have a lot of integrity, and it may even be fair to call them heroes. They pay attention to these fans from a television show that last aired in 2002. They made a movie in 2005 (Serenity) to wrap up loose ends in the show's plot. They spend some time helping fan websites. Now they visited an unofficial fan gathering that was taking the place of a cancelled official event.

But it's also a bit creepy how much some of those fans who left comments are yearning for heroes. Moreover, these actors have families and careers. I'm guessing that when they signed on to Firefly that they never thought they themselves (not just the characters they would play) would become other people's heroes.

I'm glad my congregants and most of my math students think I do a good job. But if anyone said they were my fan, or I was their hero, I'd be a bit worried. I know of plenty of truer heroes: men and women forsaking their safety, dreams, and economic comfort to bring help to troubled places.

Kudos to those actors from Firefly for filling the shoes heroes wear.

How regrettable it is that today's world has so many unsung heroes.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Spoiling Myself

A few years ago I tried to not act at all on entitlement or spoiling myself.

After all, entitlement is one of the "seven deadly sins". The Latin word avarita has become avarice (greed) but the original meaning of the word is slightly different: more than desiring wealth or power, avarita is desiring anything that we believe is justly ours.

My experiment didn't work. Once I stopped consciously doing anything to spoil myself, I would unconsciously seek that out. My experiment did more harm than good.

Since then I've usually used chocolate and tea to spoil myself. When I want to spoil myself in other ways, it is easy to resist because I do have nice chocolate and tea.

Occasionally, God asks me to fast from these items, besides on Yom Kippur. I am not entitled to them, even if I do normally use them to spoil myself.

Besides being enjoyable, these splurges are inexpensive. My normal dark chocolate is one of the Trader Joe's "Pound Plus" bars. This is quite inexpensive (more than a pound of Belgian 70% cocoa for less than $4). My favorite teas are two "pearl" teas from the Stash Tea Company: Silver Beads and Phoenix Pearl Green. Those appear expensive, but only use 4-5 "pearls" of tea per 2.5 cup mug of tea, so one package makes hundreds of cups of tea.

My brother and father are difficult to shop for. Fun and fancy tea that unrolls as it steeps is a good Chanukah present for them, too.

I'll probably never sit in any of the world's fanciest cars, nor eat the world's most famous fancy meals. But I can regularly and affordably enjoy some of the world's best chocolate and tea.

UPDATE: My kitchen scale tells me 150 "pearls" of tea weigh .15 of an ounce. The scale confirms that a bag contains 3.5 ounces of tea, so there are about 3,500 "pearls" per bag. Thus if I use 5 "pearls"per 2.5 cup mug of tea, I get 700 mugs of tea per bag. That's quite a bit cheaper than most bagged tea!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

In a Post-Diplomatic World

My generation sees a world our parents and grandparents are making increasingly post-this and post-that. We are skeptical about defining ourselves as beyond things past, like a frail old man or dissatisfied out-of-shape cubicle worker. We desire a firmer grounding.

Now there is a new term. The world has become post-diplomatic. (The official term is more respectable: transnational progressivism. But it means the same thing.)

The most important political distinctions are now about ideologies, not nations: Sunni, Shiite, European, Islamicist. In most political discussions, the term American is now about an ideology, not a nationality; the term Christian is about a political ideology, not a religious faith; the term democracy is about an ideology and no longer differentiated from a republic.

Nations can engage in diplomacy with nations, but not with ideologies. Ideologies are not accountable to diplomatic pressure. Thus tyrants say opposite things in different languages while being treated liked honest politicians, the U.N. is ineffective at shaping any nation's policies, and America follows "the Bush Doctrine".

Moreover, you can declare war on a nation, but must fight outside any conventions of war when combatting an ideology to promote other ideologies of democracy and well-being.

So, what should America do in a post-diplomatic world?

If we can no longer rely on support or strength from allies then we simply a single player in a tit-for-tat environment.

How do you beat the tit-for-tat strategy? As the saying goes, behave almost tit-for-tat but with a small and random chance of nuking the moon.

In other words, America needs to:
  • be very clear about describing its vital self-interests and how strongly it will fight to support each of these,
  • otherwise usually behave in a tit-for-tat manner,
  • with each tit-for-tat response have a public, random chance of a dramatic and disproportionate response.
These dramatic and disproportionate responses must be positive or negative, to match the corresponding tit-for-tat response. When offering in a tit-for-tat response, the president would describe the response and then roll some dice in a live broadcast. If dealing positively with an ally, maybe we would grant some special trade status or a lot of bonus foreign aid, just because of randomness. With dealing negatively with an enemy, maybe we would stop all our foreign aid for several years or help a third party conquer them, just because of randomness.

The idea is that tit-for-tat is a nearly optimal strategy, but can be improved by making use of human greed and fear.

This idea can be implimented through the procedures and rules of our republic. Politicians could determine which massive "carrots" and "sticks" our country would potentially use randomly, and how randomly they would occur, through their campaign platforms and in Congress.

Yes, this idea is deeply offensive to any ideals of fairness. Since World War II ended and significant regions were almost arbitrarily made into non-democratic nations, fairness has not been an option. Fairness is impractical until the U.N. is replaced by a union of only representative governments.

Aren't you glad our president is a cowboy and not a mathematician?

By the time my generation ages into political leadership, please leave us with a nicer political foundation than game theory.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Reasonable Approach to Nuke the Moon

Perhaps the most famous essay at IMAO is entitled "Nuke the Moon".

One of the more recently quoted comments from Little Green Footballs, comparing French and Iraqi ingratitude and troubles, is here (warning: delayed page load and scroll).

Glenn Reylonds is asking for short and pithy paragraphs with a recommendation for the current Iraq situation.

Tomorrow I'll explain the practical wisdom hidden in Frank's essay, and link all three posts.

A Fancy Pen

In an earlier post today I mentioned the idea of a pretty pocket knife as a kind of men's jewelry, and my grandfather's rule that no man should feel guilty about spending money on something he would own for the rest of his life.

I guess I wear four pieces of jewelry. I wear my wedding ring, which looks like two gold bands joined by a small loop of platinum. I wear my engagement ring on my other hand: a silver ring from the Signals catalog that says "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine" in Hebrew. I wear a necklace that was a wedding present from my wife. And I almost always carry my fountain pen.

I started carrying a fountain pen in graduate school. I had a green Waterman Phileas. I thought it odd to spend $20 on a pen, but it wrote very nicely, lasted for ten years, and let me use fun colors of ink.

I learned that if I had an expensive pen I did not lose it. With cheap pens I lost them as often as anyone else.

Eventually, last year, the nib broke and I replaced the pen with a black and gold Namiki Vanishing Point. This is the least expensive gold nib fountain pen, a step up that makes a big difference in how nicely it writes.

Do I write enough that having a gold nib fountain pen is worth the cost? Some days, but not usually. As a pen it's needlessly expensive. But as jewelry its very pretty and not expensive, and men don't get many options for jewelry. Perhaps most importantly, I write more handwritten letters than I otherwise would.

Legos in Comics

A while ago I wrote about getting Lego Star Wars II.

It turned out to be not so great for the PC. The manufacturer did a shoddy job when porting it from the Xbox. The cutscenes are choppy, often move in sloth-like slow motion, and cannot be skipped. There are a few bugs specific to the PC version.

For better entertainment, for those who have teens very fond of legos but only a PC for games, I recommend some comics involving legos.

Shipwrecked with Three Computer Games

A question going around is what three non-internet computer games you would want if they were all the recreation you did for three years.

Admittedly it's a silly question. The answers most people gave on the page I linked to show one reason why: computer games do not offer enough of an outlet for creativity. They have come a long way (warning: link has sound) but this progress has been too often in graphics rather than game depth or breadth.

My choices would all be based on creative outlets:
  • Whichever real-time strategy game has the best scenario editor. I have not done this since I actively played Age of Empires II, so I assume a newer game currently takes this title. (I made nifty edenic and post-apocolyptic maps for that game.)
  • Whichever first-person-shooter game has the best scenario editor. I have not ever done this. A long time ago I played Thief II, and the best part of that game was its fan community and the missions they made, as well as the spillover into an amazing Unreal Tournament mod. (Apparently in the games Thief and Thief III you are not a good guy. In Thief II you were a thief simply burglaring to pay the rent in the first mission, where you discovered about an evil plot to kill all the city's inhabitants. For the rest of the game you were a good guy, being sneaky while trying to save the city.)
  • Whichever computer role-playing game had the best campaign editor. I have not ever done this either, but know some recent games have specialized in this feature. Too bad Ancient Domains of Mystery has no such feature.
Game play itself would get really old after a few months. I'd need to be able to create things to share with friends and family once I returned from isolation.

The Wonders of Technology

Here's more silly news.

My grandmother, Bubba, bought herself a portable DVD player last week.

Now, Bubba has a strange ability to break high-tech gadgets. The one time she tried using my PDA it stopped accepting input until I reset it. My family jokes that the CIA should employ her to visit enemy nations as a tourist and touch their computers.

So she was understandably nervous about using this, even though she can operate her car's CD player without problems.

She tells me about the purchase on the phone, and her plans to keep the DVD player in its box until a friend or relative visits who can show her how to use it.

I tell her a quicker plan: I'll find the manual on the internet and then call her again. With both of us looking at the same manual we can get it working.

So my grandmother goes shopping and gets her first DVD. The next day we talk on the phone as she sorts out which cords she cares about, how to attach and remove the external battery, and how to start, pause, and eject the movie. Everything works great.

When I was young and computers were new, who would have guessed that technology would work this way?

Whee! (Sorry for the pun.)

This is silly news: the new Nintendo Wii is not only fun, but for some American kids too much exercise.

Quality Sharp Objects

The P.E. class in Tai Chi which I took at LCC this past term went nicely. Doing Tai Chi is pleasant. I think regularly doing a lot of stretching helped me even more than learning Tai Chi.

As I mentioned before, this past term was the Chen style short form. Next term I am taking the class again, and the topic will change to the Tai Chi Sword form.

Oregon is one of the knife-making capitals of the world. This state makes some beautiful knives. It's like jewelry for men. People who like knives have heard of Benchmade. People who spend a lot of money on knives also know the name William Henry.

So far I have only benefitted from Eugene having an amazing cultery store with employees who are fun to talk with and willing to let me interact with knives way out of my price range.

They also let me hold their swords. Oregon makes few swords; the best in that cutlery store are from Hanwei Forge. Perhaps after completing next term's Tai Chi Sword class I will splurge and get myself a moderately nice one. (At this point I know very little about Tai Chi Sword and cannot make an informed decision about how a real Tai Chi sword is better than a wooden one.)

I could invent an excuse to get myself the Benchmade knive I linked to above, but I won't. I already have a small, very pretty, and sentimental knife on my keychain that helps me open shrink-wrapped packages and such. I have no need of a quality pretty knife, and my belt is already busy with a cell phone and PDA.

My grandfather had a saying that no man should feel guilty about spending money on something he would own for the rest of his life. (Because so very little of our money is spent on anything besides housing, food, clothes, utilities, home maintenance, medical bills, etc. -- and men tend not to buy jewelry.) That is a wise saying. But it is also true that buying something I would seldom use or enjoy is silly.

Back before I was married I owned no kitchen knives. I had a nice, fairly large, folding pocket knife. Why would I need more? I never did while camping! (I also didn't own a scissors. Surprisingly, this only caused any difficulty once or twice a year.)

These days the knife I use most is an inexpensive Joyce Chen cleaver. My wife and I have nicer kitchen knives, but I've found that like using a cleaver for nearly everything, even cutting apples.

UPDATE: I saw that Benchmade Opportunist again today. It did not seem as pretty as the last time I had looked at it. I wonder if one store's copy had a slightly more nice piece of wood than the other, or the wood had a better grain?

The Christmas Season is Starting Early

As a Messianic Jewish minister, I have many discussions in December about religious holidays.

Messianic Judaism does not celebrate Christmas (we have Sukkot to commemorate the Messiah's birth) but teaches that Christians can celebrate that holiday appropriately . Also, Judaism must deal with similar issues about pagan influences in Purim customs.

Today a friend sent me a link to a talk about the pagan roots of Christmas, presented by Rabbi Lawrence Keleman. If you take the time to contrast this talk with the Christmas essay linked above you will see how the talk confused the official stances of religious leaders with the overly revelrous practices of laypeople. For example, it mentions how Christmas was outlawed in much of Puritan New England. But when discussing this bit of history it implies that excess in Christmas revelry was accepted, not fought, by by church leaders in England.

Every religion has such issues. But just because laypeople acted irresponsibly in the name of religion does not mean their religious leaders approved.

I earlier mentioned Purim: most American Jews today are ignorant of how their European ancestors filled that holiday with pagan customs, and would be embarassed if they found out. It is a bit ironic that Yochanan's account of Yeshua's teachings this time of year (during Chanukah) begin with a warning not to throw the first stone.

UPDATE: This article had some information about the history of Christmas trees that was new to me.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The City Does an Online Survey

The city of Eugene is doing a cultural activities survey, trying to gather public opinion about how the city should spend tax dollars to promote cultural activities.

An online survey for this purpose is a pretty interesting idea. After all, we live in a republic, not a democracy, and none of our city government officials ran on a platform involving cultural funding choices: they genuinely do not know how to represent the populace, and are politely asking.

I wonder how well it is being promoted. I only heard of it as an LCC employee. Fellow Eugenians, spread the word and make your voice heard!

Finals Week Finally

Sorry I've been away from the blog (and most non-work-related e-mail) for most of three weeks. The end of the term has been unusually busy. Now it is finals week and I have free time again!

This morning I took some chores to work with me. I had a pile of charitable donations to write checks for and send out. Only two students visited my office hours today, so I got those done then. I also had a pile of letters to write, most of which I finished while proctoring a final exam today. It is nice to be catching up on chores.

(Besides the usual business of teaching, I have had the car fewer days per week than usual. I had not realized how much an extra 30 minutes of commute time each direction adds up! Also, during the past month I have been in the most intense span of my allergy shots. I finally made it to the high-dose bottles of antigens. During the past month I only received one set of shots per week, but three times the sessions left me exhausted: I went to bed early the night of the shots and also needed a nap the next day. That didn't happen last Thursday, so I seem to be past that hurdle. This is happy news since I could really make use of those five or six hours each week I was sleeping extra!)

Friday, November 24, 2006


Warning! This blog causes your monitor to emit rays at more than 670,616,629 miles per hour!

Of course, this faucet is equally dangerous. That might be cool in the downstairs (laundry room) bathroom, and would appropriately surprise my brother-in-law next time he stayed with us overnight since he sleeps downstairs. But it's a bit expensive for a silly splurge.

Fish for lunch

Eugene has a wonderful fish and chips restaurant. I've recently discovered I enjoy their inexpensive Pacific cod as much as their Alaskan salmon or Pacific halibut.

I'm glad that the restaurant carries fish choices approved by the Seafood Watch, as indicated by the links above.

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!

(The holiday has a surprisingly hotly debated history!)

Almost everyone enjoys this holiday. I still have work today, writing a sermon for tomorrow, but am enjoying Thanksgiving leftovers and taking a break now to do some blogging.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 33

He who knows others is shrewd;
He who knows himself is enlightened.
He who conquers others has power;
He who conquers himself has strength.
He who knows contentment is rich;
He who acts intentionally has purpose.
He who departs not from his allotted place will live long;
He who dies without perishing has life.

Society values shrewdness, power,
and contentment in your social role.
Those who follow Yeshua value enlightenment
inner strength, and purpose in our eternal role.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Warning Signs for Tomorrow

My early discussions about special relativity and time travel reminded me of the site warning signs for tomorrow! Beware of nonstandard spacetime!

Zogg and Livejournal

A long time ago I linked to The Cuddly Menace, a silly parody of a Little Golden Book.

Through this site of scans of old magazines and books I found some wordless pages from that book. But I don't think I'm about to photoshop another parody.

Livejournal has some really strange communities. Why would the vintage magazine crowd pick Livejournal? (The jumping crowd I can understand. Classic!)

Nice palace, too.

UPDATE: Wow. Follow the last link to the author's journal for more amazing touristy photographs. I always wondered what those big ceramic vases were for.

Pavement Drawings

Oooh. Pretty.

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 32

The Way, unnamed from eternity, had unconstrained potential. Humble, it was inferior to nothing in the world.
If a ruler follows it everyone ruled would follow. Heaven and earth would be in harmony and send down sweet dew.
Not needing to be told, people would follow commands from above.
As soon as it had form it was named.
The name exists so the Saint knows where to abide. One who knows where to abide is safe from all danger.
The Way wants to flow into all things as torrents flow through valleys to the river and the sea.

Yeshua took on birth and life
that we could know how to abide in him.
This cleans our consciences
by removing the evil inclination.
Then we abide in Yeshua,
and he abides in us,
like rivers of living water.

Bright Fire

Today during my lunch break I got to watch a chemistry professor ignite 15 grams of thermite.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 31

Truly, fine arms cause evil tidings loathed by all beings. The man who follows the Way avoids them.
In domestic protocol the left side is the place of honor, but in military protocol the right side is the place of honor. Why is this?
Since fine arms cause evil tidings they are not instruments proper for a nobleman.
Only as a last resort he wields them, for he values peace and quiet above all.
When he fights he finds no beauty in it.
If he found beauty in it he would be taking pleasure in the slaughter of men!
Those who take pleasure in the slaughter of men will never control all things.
On joyful occasions the left side is the place of honor; on sad occasions the right is valued.
The civil minister stands on the left but the military commander stands on the right:
It is as if he is already mourning those whom he will slaughter.
When the military commander must slaughter many men he should bewail such need with sorrow and lamentation.
Upon a victory in war, his priority is to honor the dead with proper mourning and funerals.

Those who follow Yeshua need not use violence against men.
They are apart from the world
in their responsibility to honor Adonai.
Pity the soldier, who must use violence
to manifest the plans of men.
Support the soldier, who is also set apart from the world,
but is set apart in his responsibility to honor the dead.

Kitten War!

Today's cute site: Kitten War!

It's a site that shows you pairs of cute kitten photos and you pick the cutest of the pair. I know my wife will enjoy it.

Tom's Apples - This Year Through Mid-December

One of the benefits of living in Eugene is Tom's Orchard. They have over 20 varieties of apples. All are wonderful.

The store has a tasting table set up, with the plates of apple slices arranged from sweet to sour.

The signs and staff are helpful in assisting customers pick apples for certain purposes (baked textures, storing well in the garage for months, etc.).

Last year was not a good year for apples, and Tom's closed before Thanksgiving. This year they are staying open until Mid-December.

Tom's Orchard is at 909 East Beacon Avenue. The phone is (541) 688-6753. They have reasonable hours, but are not open every day of the week. If you are in Eugene and have not shopped there, try it!

Saved from What? (Book Review: The Way of the Master)

A friend gave me a book that his church is using: The Way of the Master, by Ray Comfort, based upon this program by the same name.

The book has some virtue in stressing how important it is to represent God and the Kingdom of God. But it has a grave theological flaw common to much of American Christianity.

Scripturally, Yeshua saves us from slavery to sin. Before we have faith in Yeshua we are "stuck" being unable to live as virtuously as we would like. Our willpower will never be enough, no matter how much we make deals with ourself or ask God to strengthen it. There is no outside help from God available because God will not send his Spirit into someone enslaved to sin. In Isaiah's words,
Behold, Adonai's hand is not shortened, that it can't save. Neither his ear heavy, that it can't hear. But your iniquities are a separation between you and your God. And your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.
Faith in Yeshua allows us to escape slavery to sin. Then God can send his Spirit into us. The apostles call this "making us innocent" (dikaiosune). Just as the word "innocent" in English means both not being guilty and being pure inside, in Greek the same two meanings apply. We are legally in a better position before God, and also able to be pure.

(Note: the word dikaiosune is usually translated "justified", which is accurate but often not meaningful to people, or "righteousness", which is a very bad translation.)

Despite what is often taught, Yesuha's sacrifice does not make our crimes forgiven. Rather, our repentance and faith in Yeshua allow him to forgive us. (If you doubt this, read First John 1:7-10 again.)

Here's a metaphor that came to me this weekend, while discussing theology after Shabbat services. Like all metaphors it has its weaknesses, but it might help here:
Imagine you are in a different country with slightly different traffic laws, and a king.

You don't have a driver's license. No matter how well you drive, you cannot do so legally. The king cannot hire you to work for the government as a courier, or in other ways treat you as a driver without compromising his own justness.

Also, you don't drive perfectly. You have earned a few driving tickets.

Later, you get your driver's license. Now you can drive legally! The king, and everyone else, can relate to you as a legal driver. But you still have those tickets.

You do what is necessary to deal with the tickets, and finally have a clean slate as a legal driver.
In the metaphor, our faith in Yeshua's sacrifice is like gaining the driver's license. Our repentance is like subsequently dealing with the tickets.

My main point is that we are saved from slavery to sin. In particular, we are not saved from God's wrath. God is not angry and eager to punish sinners. Scripture describes God as prefering mercy and hesitant to punish. But he is a just God, and will not compromise his justness. He will only extend so much mercy to people still enslaved to sin.

(Think of how you would be more willing to be forgiving, and more just in acting forgiving, to a friend or family member who got his or her alcoholism under control, than if that person kept getting drunk and into trouble.)

So Ray Comfort's book might inspire followers of Yeshua to do more for God's Kingdom. But it does some harm in perpetuating false theology about being "saved from God's wrath".

In particular, it would be a terrible manual for how to talk about Yeshua to unbelieving Jews. Jewish people know quite well that God is not uptight and wrathful. When a Christian tells an unbelieving Jewish person that he or she needs to escape God's wrath, that only reinforces in the Jewish person's mind the idea that Christians and Jews must be worshipping two very different Gods, even though the Christian says otherwise.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 30

He who leads others in following the Way will not control things by force of arms.
Those things like to turn against their wielder.
Wherever armies were stationed thistles and thorns will grow.
After a great campaign bad years will follow.
A skillful follower of the Way conquers by being resolute. He dares not conquer through violence.
He accomplishes but does not boast,
Gains victory but does not show himself,
Leads but does not flaunt his success.
He does what is necessary when there is no other choice: forced to conquer, he does not use violence.
Governance claimed through rallied strength has a temporal foundation, and thus is not of the Way, and short-lived.

Yeshua leads us to fight Satan, not people.
Soldiers have a terrible job that lacks choice.
Followers of Yeshua have the luxury of shunning evil,
and only rarely being forced to do spiritual warfare.
Trust Adonai to raise up and cast down rulers.

Nerd Warfare

I mentioned earlier that Nerf dart gun tag would be fun to do in the math department, after hours.

I should have expected that some people are much more nerdier than I am. A company makes a toy pistol that shoots balls of velcro. Now you don't need to look absurd wearing a Nerf target vest: just wear a sweater.

Of course, even nerdier people would just shoot little ninjas at each other. And the real nerds already have a USB missile launcher hooked up to their computer.

Eratosthenes and the Lemmings

I remember being taught in Elementary school that in the time of Colombus most people thought the Earth was flat. That's a myth. Eratosthenes (an ancient Greek) knew the circumference of the earth to within 1.4%.

One reason I like math is, even if it's hard, at least your teachers only teach you true things.

I recently found out that the mass suicide of lemmings is another myth, and was in fact perpetuated by Disney's murder of lemmings! Snopes has the story. (Be warned that I have FlashBlock installed, so I am not sure what advertisements this site normally displays.)

Sudoku and Horse Stance

A while ago I linked to my PDA version of Sudoku. I'm still enjoying it a few times a week. For example, it's a good thing to have with me while I am waiting after an allergy shot.

Two nights ago I had an idea. My Tai Chi would improve if I practice standing in a low Horse Stance more. Perhaps if I played Sudoku on my PDA while in Horse Stance, I would be able to stay in the stance longer because I was distracted.

This worked a little. On "Easy" level my game took 4 minutes and 36 seconds to finish, and a few times I had to pause the game (turn off the PDA) and stand up, to give my legs a break. But it was definitely more interesting than only practicing Horse Stance, and added an interesting bit of urgency to finishing the Sudoku game.

Tea Infusers and Socks

This past weekend I finally figured out how to use the ceramic tea infuser that came with one of my mugs. I had been putting loose tea in it and then adding hot water. But then quite a bit of tea went down through the holes. I realized if I added the hot water first, then a lot of the tea would initially float, and have expanded in size by the time it began to sink.

It's a bit humbling to have been using a tea infuser incorrectly.

Something I had successfully figured out a few years ago was that matching socks was the worst part of doing laundry. So for that year's holiday present, I asked my wife to get me a bunch of socks that were all the same. This has worked nicely. I wear a black Towncraft "Acrylic Blend Cushion" sock: those are thick enough for Winter, not too thick for the rest of the year, and are really inexpensive at J.C. Penny.

(Doing laundry is normally one of my chores. My wife still has many varieties of socks, most of which are white socks in nearly similar pairs that are a pain to match up. But my socks' half of that work has been eliminated!)

This was a boring post, but I could not pass up the chance to write something entitled "Tea Infusers and Socks".

UPDATE: Okay, I admit it. I will need to replace some of my socks soon, so I shopped for some on Friday during one of my very rare trips to the mall. I had some trouble determining which ones they were at the store; black socks look a lot alike. Having finally identified them, I'm blogging about them so I'll have a record of which ones they are a year or two from now.

Bridges and Special Relativity

I wrote earlier about how Bridges can cause problems when measuring time.

My brother-in-law wrote back, saying that Bridges can cause problems in actually allowing travel backwards in history, beyond their effects of messing up accounting. His argument was not quite thorough, but it show me that my earlier example is deeply flawed.

In that example, I had treated Bridges as teleportation devices, similar to "transporters" from Star Trek. Transporters would cause problems when measuring time, as I described. It would also allow very blatant conflicts with causality.

(This link explains how nicely, if you understand spacetime diagrams. I'm not sure how readable spacetime diagrams are to most people. I did my undergraduate physics thesis in Relativity. I was glad to see my professor's book, at the time a draft photocopied and bound by Kinko's, is now in print and getting rave reviews.)

But Bridges are more than teleportation devices. They are actual physical connections, like the "wormholes" modern physics believes are possible but without any messy tidal forces or event horizons. So my other example was deeply flawed because the pilot could have spent most of trip standing halfway through the Bridge, with one side of his/her body on Earth and the other side on the spaceship.

Phrased most simply: Bridges can cause two locations, moving at velocities and/or accelerations, to become one frame of reference.

(In the language of special relativity: a setting with Bridges has no inertial reference frames.)

Duh. I should have seen this sooner.

Anyway, all science-fiction settings are faced with the problem that all three the following cannot co-exist:
  • the Principle of Relativity
  • a constant speed of light
  • faster-than-light travel or communication
(The Principle of Relativity states that the laws of physics behave identically in all smoothly moving inertial reference frames. In other words, if you were alseep on a train that always moved completely smoothly, upon waking you would not be able to tell if the train was currently moving or stationary until you uncovered the window.)

Many science-fiction settings discard the constant speed of light. For example, lasers create slow-moving "bolts" of photons in Star Wars and Star Trek. While this might not seem a detail of the setting related to a spaceship "drive" that moves the ship faster than light, it still renders futile most attempts to apply special relativity to the setting.

Other science-fiction settings disallow faster-than-light travel and communication. Firefly is probably an example.

For my setting it does not make sense to try to explain how special relativity shows causality paradoxes or allows traveling back in history just because the Principle of Relativity has nowhere to be applied. There are no smoothly moving inertial reference frames to work with: even to be locations for an experiment whose results differ in violation of the Principle of Relativity.

Moreover, my setting also lacks a constant speed of light! Here is a brief narrative to explain:
Imagine two very long spaceships with lots of windows pass each other in opposite directions. These spaceships are so long that a laser beam turned on at the center of a ship, traveling to one of end, takes a measurable amount of time.

One spaceship has two lasers at its exact center. These simultaneously shoot laser beams towards targets at the front and back of the ship. Within this ship, observes see the targets are hit simultaneously.

You are sitting in the other ship, in a room that has two Bridges that lead to the front and back of the other ship to give you a simultaneous view of both targets.

During the duration of the laser beam progress, you see the front of the other ship has moved slightly farther from the laser firing location and the back of the ship has moved slightly closer. Nevertheless, through the Bridges you see both targets hit by the laser beams simultaneously.

Thus the two laser beams, from the point of view of your ship, must have moved at different speeds.
In real life, the two target impacts would not be simultaneous in both locations. This has been experimentally observed with how muon travel relates to muon half-life decay: scroll down in this article for an example.

But in my setting, it would not make sense for you to observe the two target impacts as simultaneous when looking through the Bridges, but not simultaneous when looking through the windows of both spaceships. That would contradict my description of how Bridges work.

So I finally have the answer to my question. In what ways do Bridges make the setting unrealistic?

First, a beam of light must behave like any other projectile in moving faster when cast from a fast-moving source. Second, there are no frames of reference to which special relativity can apply.

(At this point a physicist might wonder how the setting would be affected since Maxwell's Equations now involve a non-constant speed of light. But since my setting is for adventuring, not laboratory work, I will ignore this issue.)

There may be more effects, but I do not now have time or brainpower left to consider them.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

After an Election

Lane County election results are here.

I don't have time now to share any musings. Please consider this post a place-holder.

UPDATE: Well, it has been a week and I am at a loss for anything worth talking about. I am glad that the Democrats are following a somewhat moderate course. I am grateful for the chance of a "moderate Muslim" voice to be heard in politics and publicized in the media. I share others' hopeful skepticism that campaign promises about minimizing pork and extremism will be honored.

UPDATE: Am I worried about the Iraq war going badly if troops are withdrawn? Not if it happens a little at a time, as seems the most likely scenario. A change in 20,000 troops is not statistically significant.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

In Space, No One Can Hear You Sing Happy Birthday

UPDATE: I realized later this week that the following narrative is deeply flawed. Bridges are not merely teleportation devices. For more commentary, see the newer post here.

For those blog readers not familiar with general relativity, here is a more detailed example of how Bridges allow time travel.

Note this is not "time travel" as in some stories, where people move back and forth in history. What happens is much less dramatic: objects do not age consistently in space, and Bridges let you see this happen quite clearly.

(Thanks to this site for doing the math for me. I just used their calculations for my own application.)

Consider a spaceship that leaves Earth, and accelerates at 2 g's for 100 days, until it is moving at about six-tenths the speed of light. It is heading for a destination six light-years away. But because it is moving at a relativistic speed this distance, from the point of view of the spaceship, shrinks to only 4.8 light-years.

From the point of view of the spaceship, this trip takes 8 years (4.8 divided by 0.6). From the point of view of someone watching from Earth, the trip takes 10 years (6 divided by 0.6).

Now, complicate the scenario by assuming the spaceship has a Bridge going back to Earth. In fact, you are the spaceship's pilot, but you live at home and only pilot it as a "day job". According to your watch, you spend half your time on Earth, and half you time at work on the spaceship.

When do you celebrate your birthday?

From the point of view of your friends on Earth, you do this every year from the Earth's point of view. You have ten birthdays during the journey's duration with a party on Earth involving chocolate cake. Of these terrestial celebrations, people on board the spaceship looking back at Earth through super-telescopes only see four of them (the light from the other six birthday parties is still on it's way from Earth to the destination).

From the point of view of your friends in the spaceship, you have a birthday every year from their point of view. You have eight birthdays during the journey's duration with a party on the spaceship involving vanilla cake. Of these celebrations, people on Earth looking at the spaceship through super-telescopes only see two of them (the light from the other six birthday parties is still on it's way from Earth to the destination).

So how many years older are you when you arrive at the destination? Two? Four? Eight? Ten? Or maybe 18, since you've eaten a total of that many birthday cakes?

Clearly not two or four: those are artificial constructs of the fact that light is still en route. No one in either point of view thinks you have really had so few birthdays. But the other answers are somewhat defensible.

Also, any other number greater than eight could be a defensible answer if we had yet another Bridge going to a location visited often with a third point of view. After all, some spaceship pilots might have a more active social life than you do!

Traditionally, physicists say that an object's "true" age is its age from its own point of view. But the fictional existence Bridges destroys the concept of an object "having" a meaningful point of view. Remember that you spent half your time on Earth and half on the spaceship -- neither point of view was inherently more "yours" than the other.

(Of course, you wear a watch and it measures your personal passing through time. But only things with you at all moments during that journey experienced aging as you did. Your body still gets old and wears out in the normal human way, but to other people not following you through Bridges to work and back your rate of aging seems jumpy. Watches are nice, but the fact remains that if every room in your house is actually on a different planet then you have no idea when to pay your annual property tax; the government must either give up property taxes or do taxes separately on each planet when a year passes in its point of view.)

So the existence of Bridges does not allow you to do as paradoxical a thing as going back in history to kill your own grandfather before he had any children. But it does at least mean nothing has an absolute "age". Your library books can still have a due dates, but you might have only eight days to read a book that the library thinks you checked out for ten.

One almost-final note: having a home away from home at a location moving at relativistic speeds unfortunately only means that while there your friends and family left behind perceive you as having lost time. You can't catch up on sleep by taking a Bridge someplace to get a few extra hours for rest.

This seems backwards to real physicists, but we can check by going back to our first scenario. From the point of view of the Earth, six years after you arrive at your destination all the light moving from the spaceship to the Earth during the journey will have finally arrived. At that point, from the Earth point of view, sixteen years have passed but they only saw you eat eight vanilla birthday cakes. So through telescopes your friends and family see that you age half as fast on the spaceship. But they know that's a trick of the light, because a few minutes after you arrived (six years earlier) you took a Bridge home and told them in person of your successful end to the journey.

As a final note, remember the grandfather issue? Well, if you let your own kids play on spaceships (which, after all, can move at a lot more than six-tenths the speed of light) you might be approached a surprisingly short time later by adult grandchildren you never new you had. That's not really time travel. It's just that your own kids are so bad a keeping in touch (sigh), and light moves so slowly...

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 29

Some people feel forced to take all things and control them.
I have seen it cannot be done.
All things are set apart and thus contained together.
People cannot rule them.
He who acts, spoils things. He who grabs, loses things.
For things naturally rush ahead, then lag behind;
Pant warmly, then breathe coolly;
Become strong, then become feeble;
Start afresh, then decay.
Therefore the Saint accepts things as they are. He avoids forcing things. He avoids extremes.

Let Adonai own the world.
Learn to enjoy how he gives and takes away.
Help him with his plans, which are better than our own plans.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Property Tax

While I'm waiting for two cords of firewood to be delivered I'll mention something quick. (I have ministry and math work to do, but I don't want to start something and be soon interrupted.)

The current ballot has several property tax measures.
  • The library wants to renew its property tax income, and is polite enough to decrease the amount from the current level because the city has agreed to pay the difference.
  • LCC wants money. I've already written about how cost-effective community colleges are. This measure is largely acting as insurance in case state measures 41 and 48 pass, to help dampen the damage of that possible scenario. But LCC is also being polite by asking for far less than it might lose if both those measures pass.
  • The city is asking for money to buy more local park land. This is not as polite a measure, since it is being publicized as a park-development measure when it is actually primarily a land acquisition measure. I'm not sure why the measure's supporters are doing this; enough of Eugene is anti-growth that it will probably pass either way.
  • The Soil and Water Conservation District wants a little property tax money too. I don't know much about what they do, but there website makes their activities sound worthwhile and they're only asking about $15 per year.
Anyway, the point of this was supposed to be how fair property taxes are. It's just also nice that most of the places wanting a bit more are asking politely.

Income tax can be avoided if you are working illegally or get paid without the government's knowledge. But property tax is paid by everyone, whether directly because you own property or indirectly as you pay rent.

Furthermore, property tax does not have all the complications that politicans and laywers get paid to wrestle over, such as inheritances and which location(s) generated income. It uses the market element of house size to determine how much tax to pay. Since nearly half (warning: link is a boring PDF) of the property tax goes to school districts, it makes some sense that bigger families pay more than average. And since Eugene is liberal, it makes sense that wealthier families to pay more.

I hope state measures 41 and 48 don't pass. (The state government has a track record of spending money poorly, but causing lots of other people to lose their jobs does not seem an appropriate remedy.) But if they don't, and due to these property tax measues I I wind up paying more in tax instead of less next year, I won't mind. The increases are small, property tax is a nice way to do tax, and most of those asking for more tax revenue did so politely.

Star Wars Math

As long as I'm inviting people to find math/physics problems with my RPG setting, I should also share a few of Irregular Webcomic's jokes about the Star Wars setting.