Sunday, December 25, 2011

Free Horizons and Another New Book Update

The Kindle version of my short story and poetry collection, Horizons, is currently available for free for the next day or so (until December 27th). Be sure to check it out over on Amazon. There is also a paperback  giveaway ongoing over at Goodreads (see sidebar at right) until December 31st..

Also, as of tonight, I just crossed the halfway point on the rough draft of my next book, which will be my first non-fiction offering. At this point the work has no official title, but it is shaping up to be a nine chapter book which will explore the multitude of connections between Scripture and the weather. I'll be posting lots of interesting bits of information over the next few weeks on this topic, and things look to be on track for an early springtime release.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Define "Preachy Fiction"

Today's post is part of the CW blog chain and the topic is "Gifts of the Heart". Please be sure to visit the posts by other writers (see sidebar at right).

Years ago, I used to just sit down with a notebook and just write. I did not look at what the books were on the bestsellers list or take a poll of my family and friends to see which topic would be the most popular with them.

Then, about a decade ago, I began to wonder what it would be like to incorporate more overtly Christian themes into story. I wanted to add these elements because they were organic to the story and not because it was the latest trend or because I wanted to see how much sermon material I could pack into a novel.

So I started looking around at various forums and reading some distinctly Christian novels. I also "reverse engineered" some novels (both Christian and secular) and read a lot of blogs. Over and over on forums and in articles I kept seeing a familar theme: don't write preachy fiction or worse, don't write agenda-driven fiction.

I thought to myself, "What's preachy fiction?"

In the meantime, I kept reading my Bible and saw God move in some dramatic ways.

Then I started seeing awkward but well-meaning conversations of how to stay true to Christianity but not write preachy fiction. Often times this was accompanied by comments about the current state of the CBA, the CBA's rules, how agents just don't understand, how readers are just misguided, or that current Christian fiction was not edgy enough and needed more gore, violence, or whatever. Then there were comments about how to work Christian "themes" into a story without any type of reference to a Bible, Jesus, or God in any recognizable way.

Throughout all these conversations I kept thinking, "Who are these people truly writing for? Are they writing for themselves or for an ever-shifting market?"

The reality is, in a profession filled with rejection, writing Christian fiction will probably garner you even more persecution, even if your writing is top-notch. Will this cut into sales? Who knows. Yet the Bible talks about being persecuted for being a Christian, whether you are a farmer, a trucker, a writer, a lawyer, or a football player. After all, numerous prophets in the Old Testament were persecuted for their message (and God even told some of them this would happen ahead of time) and Jesus makes it clear persecution will happen.

So again I ask, what's preachy fiction anyway?

If you have a Christian character in your story and your book is read by an atheist, does that make the book preachy?

If a character cites a Scripture verse and makes a stand based on their faith, does that make the book preachy?

If you create characters with authentic traits that also have a Christian worldview (complete with real-world struggles) yet the reader cannot relate to them because they never attended church does that make a book preachy?

Let me put it another way. A while back I watched the movie Tron Legacy in 3-D. Great special effects aside, I noticed the story seemed to have a Zen/Buddhist feel to it. I then read reviews about the movie and did not see any comments anywhere about it being "preachy".

Likewise, I'm sure someone could write a book or make a movie with characters that have completely relativistic worldviews that continually contradict one another. Would that make it preachy? Would anyone even notice?

What if someone makes a movie which is filled with non-stop gore, has heads being severed and blood pours forth in every other scene for the sake of being edgy and "realistic"? Would anyone call that movie preachy?

Not likely.

What about books like Animal Farm, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and others of that nature? Aren't there inherent messages in these books? Although they really don't deal with Christian themes they are generally not considered "preachy". What if you want to write a book similar to these and it contains a Christian character or two?

Congratulations! You just wrote a preachy novel!

Nowadays it seems if a writer feels led to write a story which contains Christian themes, characters, or gasp...a message...then it runs the risk of being categorized as "preachy" or "agenda-driven". After all, readers read solely to escape and don't want to think. Right?

Or so lots of articles tell us.

At what point, though, does a writer stop writing for themselves (or God) and write based on whatever way the critical wind blows? By the way, the critical wind always blows, regardless of whether you write with Christian or secular content. At what point does a writer lose interest in what they are doing because of this?

Whatever happened to working on your craft, putting out the best stories that you can, and writing from the heart? Either your writing ability is a gift or it isn't. Is it better to put that gift to use or bury it in your backyard?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Random Tech Bits

This week's post brings a few interesting bits from around the 'net...

First up, here is an interesting use of the Kickstarter funding site: steampunk themed playing cards. If the artist ever decided to mass produce these, I could see them selling really well at a game store. The color version is very well done.

Continuing on with the steam theme, here's an article about the world's small steam engine.

Here's an ominous article about giant methane "fountains" that they recently found in the Arctic. One could only imagine what would happen to our atmosphere if they fully released their contents all at once.

And lastly, I noticed this animation video the other day. It's too bad Animusic hasn't released any new screenshots or given any updates on their Animusic 3 DVD yet...but in the meantime it looks like other people are beginning to take the basic idea and run with it.

Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Brief Update

I'm going to reduce my posting time here during the month of December. There are lots of reasons for this, but the main one is the busyness of the holidays and the fact that I'm making significant headway on the next book simply by not blogging. I often do not have the greatest amount of free time to write and so I have to be judicious in my approach some days. I did some re-evalutating a few days ago, and when push came to shove, I realized the time I was spending here, although important and useful, is taking away from my writing books.

My short term goal is to have a rough draft of the next book (my first non-fiction offering) done by Christmas. That's kind of a crazy pace, but as of tonight, it is fully outlined and ready to be written. In case you haven't noticed, the subject of this book is going to be weather and the Bible. Before the month is over, I'll list the basic contents of the book, which, as of today, is still untitled.

Also...until December 14th, 2011, each paperback title of mine at can be ordered with a 25% discount. During checkout, use the the following coupon code: BUYMYBOOK305 for up to a maximum of $50 in savings. The books can be found here.

By the way, if anyone wants to offer up a guest post, I'm all for it. Just leave a comment or contact me via e-mail.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Time Out

I think I'm going to take a brief time out from blogging. It will only be for a week or so, but right now I need a break. Although I've been steadily putting up content for months now, last night I realized I need to step back for a bit and reevaluate where things are heading with my book writing and my blogging. On a side note, I do have plans for three new books in the works (one non-fiction, two fiction) that I hope to release sometime next year if possible. More details on those projects in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, some nice reviews have come in from a recent Goodreads giveaway I did. They can be found here and here if you are interested. I also plan on having a Goodreads giveaway for Horizons soon, too...and probably within the next couple of weeks.

Be back soon.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Playing God, Part I

Do you watch many movies? If so, I'm sure you can come up with a list of your favorite actors/actresses at a moments notice, or maybe even your favorite director. When it comes to historical movies, for example, I've watched many interviews where the actor or actress will describe their process for "getting into character" and sometimes they even talk about the hours they put in trying to prepare for a particular role. The pressures and standards they are held to seem to be higher when they try to represent a person out of history, especially a well-known figure.

Yet Christians do the same thing everyday, whether they know it or not. People who know little about Jesus (or maybe are turned off by the church) will likely consider any believer to be a representative whether they feel like being one or not. As a representative, however, it can sometimes be easy to fall into the trap of substituting ourselves in God's role instead of pointing people back to God himself. Unfortunately, there are usually a lot of drawbacks to "playing God" instead of pointing people to God. In a sense, instead of being a signpost we end up becoming a stop sign.

It seems like people are always looking for a physical representation of God in some form or another, even to the point of creating their own representation and turning the created item into an object of worship. Some preachers also like to substitute their own philosophies or even their own representations of the Word in place of what the Word actually says. It's difficult enough that we are imperfect representations of the real deal, but when a preacher puts their own spin on the Word to make themselves feel better or even in a sincere effort to make someone feel better, the results can be long lasting and in some cases devastating.

None of this is new, however. This type of thing happened in the Old Testament era, and can be found in the Corinthian church. Consider I Corinthians 1:12-13 (NKJV):
"Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?"

In verse 17 Paul adds (NKJV):
"For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect."

Here Paul can see several divisions within the early church already appearing, and instead of pointing people back to himself, he steps out of the way and points them back to Christ. This is a tough task because it's tempting to take credit for a great message. I've heard innumerable stories over the years, too, though, of where a person stopped going to church because of something a pastor said to them. Usually this was because the person was dealing with a stressful or tragic situation and needed answers. It's difficult, however, for a pastor to know where a person is coming from sometimes when approached with such questions. Even if they do know, it doesn't mean that's what God would say in that instance.

Next Monday, I'll cover more on this topic and look at some ways that we can get out of the way.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Horizons Now Available

Just in time for Christmas...Horizons is now available in paperback here. A Kindle version will also be available within the next few days. Although this is a relatively small collection (under 100 pages), it covers a broad range of topics in the form of short stories and poetry.

Here is the back cover copy for the book: 

If God does not play dice, does He ever play marbles? A gambling weatherman finds hope in the heart of a hurricane, amidst mounting losses. An ancient message arrives to a futuristic church...but is it too late?

Here are six short stories and twenty poems whose themes range from rollercoasters to fatherhood to the aftermath of a summer thunderstorm. From an underground library to a remarkable rescue in a Christmas Eve blizzard, each story is a venture to a new horizon.

In addition, three more books are in the works and will become available over the next 1-2 years. The next book to be released will be non-fiction, followed by another novel, Race the Sky, and a much larger short story collection, Corridors. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Word Counts Are Overrated

There. I said it.

I was reading this post about traits of successful writers, and his comments about daily word counts resonated with me. I often see an abundance of posts on forums and blogs that talk about the importance of writing daily but few that talk about writing in streaks or bursts. In fact, that almost appears to be shunned or frowned upon as if it were an act of laziness or unprofessionalism.

I disagree, and here's why.

For some writers, having a word count goal is a great motivational tool. For others (like me) I tend to work in bursts. I've tried to write on a daily basis and reach word count goals, but for whatever reason they do not work. My writing quickly turns into diatribes about my writing, which is kind of strange really. I find I am much more productive if I take breaks instead. It is NOT indicative of laziness, because if you actually saw how much work I put into an individual book or story, you'd quickly realize the amount of planning and editing I do is sometimes a little ridiculous. Suprisingly enough, for novels I do quite a bit of outlining.

For example, my novel, Theft at the Speed of Light, took fifteen years to write. There are four very different versions of it that all represent efforts to get the story right. Yet I did not work on it every single day during those fifteen years...sometimes I went for months or even years without working on it.

Another upcoming novel that I hope to start and finish next year is Race the Sky, which is about stormchasing. I already have one version of the novel written, but I was unhappy with certain parts of it. The new ideas that I intend to add to it will transform it into a completely different book, but I will also bring the vivid storm chase scenes from the old version with it. I have also sunk several years of research into this book already, mainly by reading chaser diaries online, going through books, and watching every single storm chasing video I could. That's hardly laziness, and I fully expect this book to be written in a big burst that will stretch across several weeks. Leading up to it, I may not write much of anything for days or weeks.

My main point here is that as writers, we all work a bit differently. Word count goals may be a great way to keep you motivated, but for some of us we need breaks because we work so intensely on any given project, and maybe even to the edge of burnout. Word counts on those "burst" days could easily reach into the thousands and when you average all the numbers out over a year, you'll find the same goals are reached: productive writing. In the end, isn't that what counts?

How about you? Do word count goals work for you? Or do you tend to work in streaks?

Monday, November 21, 2011

When to Leave a Church, Part II

Last week, I addressed some issues that were occuring locally and some warning signs on when it might be time to move on and find a different congregration. Although this seems to becoming a more common thing nowadays (and I'm sure we can all come up with our own lists of legitimate reasons to leave a congregration), this week I wanted to point out a couple of issues that seem to be contributing to these issues.

First off, some context. In I Corinthians 3, Paul talks about divisions that were already coming into the church back then. In other words, as Solomon once wrote "there is nothing new under the sun," (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Even in the Corinthian church, there were many obstacles to overcome such as the numerous gods and goddesses that were previously worshipped in the region. Funny how some things are coming full circle now.

In this instance, however, I'm seeing a couple trends that preceeded some of the unusual issues I mentioned last week. The biggest one by far is biblical illiteracy. With the abundance of reading devices, access to the internet, endless Bible study availability, this is actually surprising. Yet time and again I find it amazing how few people "do their homework" when examining a new set of teachings...including the pastors/preachers themselves. Maybe it is due to the excessively busy lifestyles that Americans tend to lead nowadays.

Another piece to this puzzle also seems to be what I wrote about in this post. Why is it that so many people can power their way through 1,000 page novels or non-fiction books in a matter of days but can't even read a chapter a week out of their Bible? They'll even go so far as to read books about the Bible, but seriously struggle with day-to-day or even weekly reading of the Word on their own time. Again, with the abundance of resources and Bible translations out there, I find this amazing. While it is true that not all are called to teach out of the Word, basic reading seems to be an incredible struggle.

The other potential factor here is that we may be in the End Times. There is lots of commentary on either side of this issue, but some relevant verses here can be found in Matthew 24 and in II Thessalonians. Both speak of a falling away before Christ returns, which is in sharp contrast to some of the current teachings making their rounds that try to promote a theology that "God is powerless" unless we act (or get out of the way) and that we (the church) are the ones who will bring about Christ's second coming. Again...this goes back to basic knowledge of a handful of Bible verses.

Ultimately, whether an individual or a family decides to move on from a church due to heretical teachings is a personal decision. A case can be made to try to "hang in there" and stand on the Word in the hopes that others will listen. At some point, however, it may be time to walk away and move on to work with those who will listen.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Nine Things

Today's post is part of the blog chain (see sidebar at right). This month's topic is "nine things". Please be sure to visit the others' posts, too. 

One thing I continually try to work on in my fiction writing is character development. At times, though, I've found it difficult to come up with original characters. So over the years I started to develop a "system of lists" as a means of avoiding writer's block in this area. The lists are organized by categories: occupation, hobbies, traits, and psychological needs.

How this works is that I usually start with an occupation, and then match it with a hobby, then add some traits, and finally combine it with a psychological need. In other words, it's kind of like an assembly line for characters. You don't need to start with the occupation, though, and often times I'll freely draw connections between the lists or try out different combinations to see what is the most interesting.

So, here are eighteen words from each list to help you with your own writing (nine things times two ='s the eighteenth...get it?):


trucker, cook, inventor, musician, doctor, plumber, teacher, drifter, firefighter, librarian, jeweler, clockmaker, woodworker, banker, chemist, farmer, carpenter, resort owner


rockclimbing, music collector, gambles, teaches, plays golf, stargazer, weaves, plays chess, hunts, writes, does crosswords, marathon runner, paints, has no time for hobbies, sculpts, plays in a rock band, hikes, draws


shortsighted, free-spending, aggressive, passive, analytic, impulsive, picky, honest, punctual, carefree, manipulative, meticulous, opportunist, conceited, control freak, comical, hypochondriac, intuitive

Psychological Needs/Motivations

wants to fall in love, vengence, needs to be right, to discover truth about the past, wants to help everybody, running from past life, needs to win, to right a past wrong, to be in control, misses church, medical quest, lost parent or sibling, need for acceptance, to conquer things, poor as a child, needs lots of friends, wants to be alone, social justice

And, since I normally post tech-related links on Fridays (and since this was a low-tech post), here's a link to a video that shows the strange phenomenon of "bioluminescent waves". Not really tech-related, but colorful nonetheless. Oddly enough, this effect is a result of a red tide.

Lastly, here's an article describing the effort to build two ten-story Tesla coils in order to study lightning. It's one of the more intriguing uses of the Kickstarter funding program I've seen.

Have a good weekend.

Monday, November 14, 2011

When to Leave a Church, Part I

Are we in the Last Days church? Some days it really looks like it.

The other week some "new" teachings being introduced at a local church were brought to my attention. I did some research which involved looking at both sides of the issue (pro and con) and also watched multiple sermons by this particular teacher. I then brought the research to the attention of one of our small group discussions and was met with some resistance. I prefaced my comments by saying that the information I was bringing forth was nothing personal and that I knew some people had spent years studying this particular preacher's works. Some eye-opening comments came forth and none of them were based on comparing things with Scripture.

The meeting ended with me choosing to leave early and seriously questioning what direction the church was moving. I soon realized that perhaps it was time to move on to a different congregation.

I then sat down and compiled a short list of the reasons why I, and others, would have grounds for leaving a particular congregation. They included:

  • When it becomes more interesting to find "gold dust" in a Bible than actually reading what's on the pages
  • When people become more focused on the "experience" rather than learning anything from the Word
  • When you point out substantial errors in the new teachings that directly conflict with the Word and no one seems too concerned about it
  • When there is talk of a lack of "unity" over the new teachings, not because they are unbiblical, but because they are "new"
  • Little to no comparison of the "miracles" with what Scripture teaches
  • There is widespread twisting and spinning of Scripture in the new materials being taught

As you can probably see, some of this has to do with an ongoing "signs and wonders" movement that is sweeping the churches around the world. Often times these "signs and wonders" are attributed to the Holy Spirit, but is that really what is happening? Or is it a confusion of true miracles with false signs mixed in? Why is every supernatural event being attributed to the Holy Spirit? These verses came to mind as I was doing research:

II Thessalonians 2:7-10 (NKJV) states:
"For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved."
Matthew 24:24 (NKJV) states:
"For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect."
In Acts 17:11, the Bereans were commended by Paul for searching the Scriptures to see if his teachings were true and worthy. I saw none of that occuring with these recent events. I even willingly offered to compare the new sermons and teachings with what the Word actually says. There did not seem to be much interest in that. Although there is hope in this situation, it brings to light a much bigger ongoing issue that shows little sign of improvement.

Next Monday, I'll cover what I think is leading to this phenomenon and where it may be leading next.

Have you ever left a church you've attended for a long time? What led you out the door?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Random Tech Bits

To offset the heavy duty post I have planned for next Monday, today I thought I'd follow the usual Friday routine as of late and share some tech related links.

Here's a link to a video for a Microsoft Kinect-based instrument. Very creative and I'm curious to see what direction this project takes in the future.

Here's one from on "quantum levitation". I'm not sure how to describe the video, other than it looks like a smoking pancake levitating above and around a track.

This one has been around a while. It's a tornado vs. a train. You can probably guess who wins.

If you've never been to the Computer History Museum, there's always the opportunity to check out their videos here

Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Storms From Above

A few weeks ago, I saw this video taken from the International Space Station as it orbited around the Earth. Around the 22-second mark in the video, there are bursts of lightning from storms occurring on the surface. It's a fascinating view, and yet it reminds me of the verse from Psalm 24:1-2 (NIV - 1984) which reads:
"The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for He founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters."
That's everything, including the sky, the clouds, and even the lightning bolts. To illustrate further, in Job 37:3 (NIV - 1984) it reads:
"He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven and sends it to the ends of the earth."
Or even Job 37:11 (NIV - 1984) it states:
"He loads the clouds with moisture; he scatters his lightning through them."
A little more ominously, in Job 38:35 (NIV - 1984) God tells Job:
"Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?"
The other week I mentioned how storms can be an act of God, and here I discuss how the phrase "global warming" will take on a whole new meaning in the future. A lot of times, though, I'll see reports that comment on the increasing severity of certain types of weather (the recent Alaska superstorm/hurricane/blizzard for example) but God (as usual) is almost always left out of the equation, despite the use of terms such as "disaster of Biblical proportions" or "epic" or "record-breaking".

Granted, an individual weather event does not necessarily mean that a certain city or region is getting punished for anything, but the potential does exist and there is a Biblical precedent for this. That said, from Scripture it's pretty clear who controls the weather, even down to the individual components such as a lightning bolt.

Next Wednesday, we'll take a look at how certain elements of heaven are often compared to the weather and what conclusions can be drawn from that.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fact in Fiction

How much of any given novel is truly "fiction"? The answer depends.

One of the stories for my upcoming collection, Horizons, for example, has a bit of an autobiographical twist to it. The story involves a down-and-out bookstore owner whose car crashes into a snowbank in the midst of a snowstorm. On a seemingly lonesome highway, allies suddenly appear when he least expects it.

At the risk of giving the story away, what happens next really did occur to me on a lonely highway in the middle of a snowstorm. I wasn't working at a bookstore at the time, but I was returning home from the late shift at a nearby restaurant. For the story itself, I altered the looks of the people that came to help, but I did not change how they worked that night to pull me out of my situation. You'll have to read the actual short story to see what happened that snowy night, but this made me think of an age-old question when reading other authors' works of fiction: how much of the story really happened to them or somebody they knew?

Sometimes, such as in the case of Hemingway, you can see where he got his inspiration for a book such as The Old Man and the Sea. Then if you try to read interviews with the author, the line between fiction and reality seems purposely blurred. It's pretty much impossible to tell what events in that book happened for real and which ones did not.

This tension sometimes leads to peculiar conversations. I remember being asked by a couple of people if the events in An Echo Through the Trees really happened to me. My answer: it depends how you look at it. Have I ever had to go and rescue someone who we thought was lost in the woods at night? Yes (turns out they weren't lost, though, but late in coming back to camp). The main character in that story also freezes his feet. Have I ever experienced that? Yes. I pretty much froze my feet after a long game of snow football in knee deep snow. Not fun. Have I ever written letters for months or even years and not gotten replies? Yes.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Maybe a better way to describe this process is that an author will sometimes, but not always, draw from personal experience and then use those experiences as a sort of palette to paint with. The end result may not look anything like the original event, but in many cases, there might be a connection. Again, though, it really depends on the author as to how much "fact" they want to put into their fictional characters.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Still Going

It's Wednesday, and that means it's time for another outdoors or weather related post. This week, however, I'd like to take a brief detour from the heavy duty posts I've been making as of late (see the 130 pound hailstone post here or the one about increasing twister sizes). Instead, I'd like to mention a strange trend in our garden: frost-defying Brussels sprouts.

When I read the package of seeds this past spring it mentioned about how the plants could tolerate a frost. Okay. What they didn't mention was that the things appear to be able to tolerate multiple frost events and keep growing. It's November according to the calendar, but these things are still sprouting.

I sense the potential for science fiction material here.

After reading this week that genetically modified mosquitoes are being developed and that some have already been released into the wild, part of me wonders if these things in the garden have been tinkered with, too. I mean, why not? Are there genetically modified bees pollinating the garden? Sometimes I think some scientists seriously underestimate the complexity of the natural world that they are manipulating.

With the first snow of the season just around the corner, I'm thinking by Thanksgiving I'll be harvesting sprouts in a snowbank.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Gosub Genesis

In some versions of the BASIC programming language (especially those that support line numbers), there are a pair of commands named GOSUB and RETURN. GOSUB means to branch to a particular subroutine and at the end of that subroutine there should be a corresponding RETURN keyword. In code it looks something like this:

10 REM *** My program ***
20 PRINT "Hello there ";
30 GOSUB 100
40 END

100 REM *** Print a name ***
110 PRINT "Dear Reader"


Hello there Dear Reader

...where the initial code jumps to the subroutine at line 100 and when that is finished, it sends control back to the command that follows the GOSUB call (in this case, line 40). The basic purpose of subroutines is to put pieces of repeatabl/reusable code in one central location so that they can be used later on by many different parts of the program.

Along these lines, a thought occured to me: is the Bible like a giant set of programming instructions complete with subroutines, loops, and variables? When you look at the Bible as a whole, there are thousands of places where the book as a whole refers back to itself, either in the form of a historical event, or by quoting statements God made in previous verses.

For an example of what I mean, let's take the Book of Genesis. Several books of the New Testament refer back to portions of Genesis:

Matthew 22:31-33 (NKJV):
"But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching."
Luke 3:8 (NKJV):
"Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones."
Hebrews 11:17-19 (NKJV):
"By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense."
Other examples can be found in John 8:33, Romans 11:1, Galatians 3:8, Acts 7:2-26, and countless others.

I can't think of any other book in existence that refers back on itself so often. Although dictionaries are self-referencing, too, people don't usually attempt to read them straight through. With the Bible, this self-referencing takes place going forwards (prophecy) and backwards. Yet this does not take place within a self-contained takes place throughout the history of the world.

Is it then possible that the Bible is not only a love story and a explanation of salvation, but also an incredibly complicated piece of source code? I mentioned before in an earlier post how some have compared DNA to computer code. So then is it also possible God was in the business of programming thousands of years before the first transistor was even developed?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Random Tech Bits

Here are some collected technology stories from around the web this week...

Here's a "holodesk" being developed at Microsoft. I'm not sure what the potential real world uses of this will be, but the video in the article shows the manipulation of 3-D virtual objects with a pair of hands.

Apparently the Japanese have developed a "spherical flying machine". I find it amazing no one has developed this before now. For some reason, I immediately thought of the flying camera drone in the movie, "They Live", with Rowdy Roddy Piper.

Here is a video (originally found via that uses carbon nanotubes as a cloaking device. Apparently it works by rapidly heating up a sheet of nanotubes that generate a sort of heat-related mirage. When they get it to work in air it could be very impressive...although there would be an obvious heat signature to any device using this.

In other news, I have a book update. I should be finished with my next book, Horizons, within the next few days. I'm hoping to publish it via Amazon by November 1st. It will be available in both paperback and Kindle format. More details on Horizons can be found in this post.

The next book beyond that, which will be non-fiction, is already well underway and will hopefully be finished early in 2012.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Are Storms an Act of God?

Does God send storms? It depends who you ask.

According to the Bible, in some cases storms can be used to send a message.

Consider the following from Haggai 2:15-19 (NKJV):
"‘And now, carefully consider from this day forward: from before stone was laid upon stone in the temple of the LORD—since those days, when one came to a heap of twenty ephahs, there were but ten; when one came to the wine vat to draw out fifty baths from the press, there were but twenty. I struck you with blight and mildew and hail in all the labors of your hands; yet you did not turn to Me,’ says the LORD. ‘Consider now from this day forward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, from the day that the foundation of the LORD’s temple was laid—consider it: Is the seed still in the barn? As yet the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have not yielded fruit. But from this day I will bless you.’"
At first glance, these verses discuss an act of discipline by God towards the Israelites. Yet it is an act of discipline that comes to an end (verse 19). Although it illustrates a bit of judgment on one hand, right along with it is grace. The same idea can be found in Amos 4:7 (NKJV):
"I also withheld rain from you, when there were still three months to the harvest. I made it rain on one city, I withheld rain from another city. One part was rained upon, and where it did not rain the part withered."
Does this mean every storm or raindrop that falls from the sky is an act of God, though?

If you subscribe to the clockwork universe theory, the answer is no. Local weather events are merely part of larger system set in motion by God eons ago. From Wikipedia:
"The clockwork universe theory compares the universe to a mechanical clock wound up by God, or initiated by the Big Bang. It continues ticking along, as a perfect machine, with its gears governed by the laws of physics, making every single aspect of the machine completely predictable."
This theory implies that God kickstarted the process and has not intervened since. Yet the Scriptures I listed above indicate otherwise. 

That may be all well and great, but the verses I used above were from the judgment-filled Old Testament. Right?

In Revelation 16:21 (NKJV), it talks about hail, too:
"And great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent. Men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, since that plague was exceedingly great."
What is the "weight of a talent"? According to Wikipedia, it was probably around 130 pounds at the time Revelation was written.

Read that again slowly: 130 pound hailstones. The largest hailstone on record in the United States was about eight inches across and weighed 1.93 pounds. It fell in Vivian, South Dakota in July of 2010. To achieve a 130 pound hailstone, each stone would have to be greater than 14 inches across!

Then there's a curious incident that occured on April 26, 1877 in Minnesota. Governor John S. Pillsbury called for a day of prayer after a statewide infestation of grasshoppers. A massive sleet storm soon arrived and killed all the grasshoppers. In Cold Spring a chapel exists in memorial of this event.

On a side note, it's funny that in an age where American culture tries to evict God from their textbooks and legal documents that insurance companies still often use the phrase "acts of God" to refer to disasters brought on by floods, earthquakes, etc.

Are all storms an act of God? What do you think?

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Fallen Icon

In a couple of days, a new biography of Steve Jobs will be available, written by Walter Isaacson.

As someone who has spent the majority of their life programming in one language or another (over a dozen at last count), I owe a lot of that to Mr. Jobs and the machines that he and Steve Wozniak created years ago. The first computer I ever owned was an Apple IIc, and I pushed it to its limits by learning BASIC, Pascal, 6502 assembly language and machine language. I developed my own 3-D house drawing program, wrote a full-blown word processor, and was working on my own programming language by the time I stopped working on the machine (in 1992). I even started working on my own operating system, which was essentially a stripped down version of DOS 3.3 with a rebuilt cataloging system.

I look back fondly on those days now, and all the people that made home computing possible. It opened up incredible doors for me, as well as thousands of software engineers elsewhere in the world. Yet with Steve's passing the other week, I wondered where he stood in terms of his faith, or if he even had one. According to this article over on Yahoo!, it sounds like we may get some more insight into his beliefs:
"A new biography portrays Steve Jobs as a skeptic all his life -- giving up religion because he was troubled by starving children..."
Somehow I think there is more to the picture than this statement, and according to this article he was a least as recently as 2008. Maybe the biography will delve into those issues or maybe it won't. Whatever the case, I can understand his skepticism.

You see, it's hard for a software engineer (or many engineers really) to trust in the concept of God and take it exclusively on faith. Many of us are highly logical people, sometimes to the detriment of our social skills. Many of us also love to solve complex problems. Yet at the same time we can hung up on details that most people would just gloss over or not fret about. Perfectionism can make this issue even worse, which can be great in some respects (i.e. shipping a solid product) or make us difficult to get along with because things have to be "just right".

Yet I've also seen God connect with engineers in some funny ways that only an engineer could appreciate. I've seen God provide abundant evidence via the most surprising means that shows that faith can indeed be rewarded with action.

For example, when I was working on my book Theft at the Speed of Light, I went through moments of doubt and some days I just felt like giving up on the whole story. After all, I had been working on it for over a dozen years and I had rewritten the thing several times over. Yet for the third and fourth versions of the manuscript, I decided to incorporate the story of Jonah into the main storyline because the main character resembled him.

Something peculiar happened when I did that. Whenever I felt like giving up and started walking away from the manuscript, I'd get a gentle reminder from the most unexpected sources. What was the reminder? Jonah. I heard references to Jonah on television, on the radio, in sermons, saw it in books, etc. every time I felt like giving up. It got so ridiculous that I started writing them down. It pretty quickly became obvious where the reminders were coming from. In another post, I'll elaborate more on this subject, but I'll leave you with one more anecdote.

One cold January weekend, while I was ice fishing on Lake of the Woods in subzero weather, we flipped on a radio in the fish house to pass the time. The radio was only on for a half hour, and we picked up some obscure station from Chicago. During that half hour, I heard two references to Jonah. As you can probably guess, I was not working on the manuscript at the time because I didn't feel like it anymore. Yet here I was, up in the middle of nowhere, in a tiny ice house on a huge lake, and I hear that.

So did Steve know God? Only God really knows the answer the that, but hopefully the upcoming biography will shed some light on the subject. I still wish I could have met him while he was alive, and maybe someday I'll get the chance to meet (and thank) Woz.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Harvest of Miracles

Note: Today's post is part of the monthly blog chain. Please visit the other great posts by other writers on the sidebar at the right. This month's topic is "harvest".

This year, like many other years, we planted a garden.

We started everything from seed this year, which was a first. The spring weather, however, was not all that promising. It was cold and rainy for weeks on end. We went ahead anyway and put everything in the ground, and went on vacation. During that vacation, the temperature warmed up but the rain didn't stop. In fact, one day the temperature jumped to 100 degrees. We thought for sure the garden would go into shock or be fried when we returned.

But it didn't. In fact, it turned out to be our best garden ever. We pulled in hundreds of cherry tomatoes, a dozen green peppers, a few dozen cucumbers, some snap peas, and some nice Beefsteak tomatoes. We even had sunflowers that grew over six feet tall. We canned salsa and spicy green tomatoes and gave produce to some relatives in need. What was amazing is that the warm weather continued past September and into the second week of October.

This past week I started to clear out the garden for winter, which meant uprooting both good plants and weeds, while adding some compost. For some odd reason, I thought of this verse in Matthew 13:30 (NKJV):
"Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.""
All of the plants in our garden got the same amount of water, attention, and Miracle-Gro. Yet, it took until September before the green peppers began to flourish and October before buds started appearing on the Brussels sprout plants. As I was clearing out some of the tomato plants, I found several that were growing more horizontal than vertical. Had I staked them properly, though, they would have been six feet tall!

As I looked over the plants and dropped them in the trash, I realized they all had responded to the Miracle-Gro in some way or another. Some were late to the party, while others created produce regardless of the weather. In short, they persisted in growing despite the circumstances.

Now if God does a miracle in your life, what do you do with it? Do you keep it to yourself, or worry about the response from people when you share what has happened? Do you think people will look at you like your some kind of nut if He healed you or changed your financial situation? Do you believe it when other people share what He has done in their lives or take a wait-and-see approach? Why do so many people hesitate to share a bona fide miracle in their lives?

I'm coming to realize more and more that much of this comes back to doubt...doubt whether God really is who He says He is, and whether He can back up His word with action. Or we don't think He can pull us through situations with difficult co-workers, family members, or even addiction. Or we've let the world reduce God and the Bible to nothing more than an intellectual argument. Or we've bought into the lie that spiritual gifts don't exist anymore and that all the prophecies in the Bible have been fufilled already. Or, maybe it's the whole persecution thing that hangs us up, despite every book in the New Testament having something to say about the subject.

I know what it is like to live in times of popularity (well, somewhat), as well as times of obscurity. I know what it is like to post an online comment and watch it soar like a rocket as well as posting comments that seem to make threads drop like a stone (lots of those!). I've taught Bible studies where lots of people routinely showed up, and grumbled during other ones where only a handful showed up because the topics were difficult. I've even read in multiple places about how blogging about either religion or politics is counterproductive, unless it is part of your "platform".

In the end, though, the obscurity won't matter. The number of times I've posted online won't matter. The count of individuals showing up for studies won't matter either, nor will it matter how many books I've written.

What will matter is if I watch my friends get tossed into the fire because I refused to speak up or share what God has done in my life with someone in need. In the end, when the gardener picks us all up by the roots and looks to see what we've done, I hope the "miracle grow" that was put into my life produces a bountiful harvest, imperfect as I am. I know I fail at this sometimes, but every day brings another chance to reach a little higher into the sky.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hidden Parallels

About a year ago I came across an unusual passage in the Old Testament that seemed to foreshadow Jesus' resurrection. It occurs in Genesis 29:1-10, where Jacob is watering some sheep as Rachel approaches him. The key verse is found in Genesis 29:3 (NKJV):
"Now all the flocks would be gathered there; and they would roll the stone from the well’s mouth, water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the well’s mouth."
I found interesting how this parallels the Resurrection account found in Matthew 28:1-2 (NKJV):
"Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it."
In both situations, a large stone covers an object (in the first case a well, in the second a tomb), both provide water (the well provides water for the sheep, Jesus provides living water), and in both situations the stone was "rolled away" to provide access to the water. I've tried to find out the name of this particular well, and if in fact it is Jacob's Well, but to no avail. The larger point is that I've seen many passages like these over the years (other than the obvious ones that always get written up in books) but wonder if there are more hiding in plain sight in the text.

Likewise, there's an eerie passage in Joshua 10:16-27 about the fate of five Amorite kings. It, too, deals with caves, stones, and people being "buried" in the caves. In this case, however, the kings are first trapped inside a cave, then brought before Joshua, only to be hung on trees, and returned dead back to the cave. For example, verse 27 (NKJV) reads:
"So it was at the time of the going down of the sun that Joshua commanded, and they took them down from the trees, cast them into the cave where they had been hidden, and laid large stones against the cave’s mouth, which remain until this very day."
I don't know how common of a practice this was during those times, but again there are some odd parallels to the Resurrection account, but in a contrasting way. In the future, I'll discuss some more of these parallels and cover more about caves in the Bible.

How often do you find connections between the Old and the New Testament?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Random Tech Bits

Lots of interesting technology news this week, but unfortunately, some of it is sad.

For starters, Steve Jobs passed away along with Dennis Ritchie (the creator of the C programming language). I don't know where I would be today without either one's contributions to technology, especially since I first learned how to program on an Apple II computer and eventually learned C and C++ in order to build a substantial 3-D game engine project. I spent countless hours tinkering with BASIC, 6502 assembly language and even Pascal. On the Apple IIc alone I built a fully functional word processor, a basic painting program, worked on building my own operating system, built a 3-D drawing program (circa 1989), and even started building my own programming language. I even tried to launch my own software company with a friend in high school, but eventually gave that up. By the way, if you are into 6502 programming, here's a fun site.

In other news, this product looked particularly intriguing. It seems as if 3-D printers are taking some more substantial strides forward, and I think letting kids get their handle on them could result in some truly amazing creations. If done right and if the price is kept affordable ($800 is a little out of reach for most kids right now), this product could be as big as Lego bricks. The one drawback I'm seeing right now is the price of replacement plastic powder (used for printing models), but I'm wondering if it would be possible to use something like recycled plastic.

Additionally, the Origo article also mentions another website that might be used in conjunction with the printer. That can be seen here.

More 3-D news...this time in the form of the "Personal 3-D viewer" device from Sony. See the Ars Technica article for more details. For some reason, the video in the article makes me think of the old Maxell commercial with the guy in the chair. Maybe Sony should make a similar sort of retro/future ad.

In the world of writing, Amazon is making some significant inroads into Europe, as explained in some articles here, here, and here. This is great news for those interested in overseas markets, and especially if you are producing e-books and can access some translation help.

And, from the life-imitating-fiction department comes word that a mall in Australia is planning on installing technology that will track shoppers via their cell phones. I discussed a similar idea in my book, Theft at the Speed of Light, although in that case it involved using tracking bracelets that doubled as a credit payment device.

On a non-technical note, you might want to check out Victor Travison's ongoing series about the Wizard of Oz. Here are parts one and two, and more are on the way.

Have a good weekend!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Taking the Giveaway Plunge

Well, here it goes. Over the next few weeks, I'm going to start giving away some books. Right now, I only have a handful of each novel on hand, but it's a start. The giveaway will occur over at Goodreads if you are interested.

Speaking of giveaways, there are a couple of short stories available for free on Smashwords (see sidebar to the right). Eventually, one or both of these will be rolled into a larger collection sometime next year. So far, about 110+ copies of the short stories have been downloaded...which is great considering they've only been available for a few weeks.

Also...a third book, Horizons, will be coming out in the next couple of weeks. In fact, here is the cover for it:

Horizons will contain the following short stories: "For Keeps", "Splinters", "A Letter to Laodicea", "Snowbound", "Voices Still Unheard", and "The Last Holdout". It will also contain twenty poems that I have written over the past couple of decades, along with some new material. The cover image is from a recent summer trip we took to Lake Superior. There was a lot of fog near the shoreline when this picture was taken, giving everything an eerie look.

By the way, as I've mentioned before, please be sure to check out the CW blog chain (see sidebar at right) for some great entries from various writers on the topic of "harvest". My entry will be coming next Wednesday.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Global Warming Overdrive

Often times when the subject of climate change comes up, the topic of melting polar caps and rising seas comes with it. If the polar caps melt, where will people go to live? Will they race to the mountains, or build large boats if the seas start rising? Will whole island countries be inundated by the oceans, and will wars start as a result?

Perhaps it will never come to that point in the first place.

Consider Revelation 21:10-16 (NKJV), where it reads:
"And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west.

Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal."
Since 12,000 furlongs is roughly equivalent to 1,400-1,500 miles, this passage speaks of a gigantic cube or maybe even a pyramid. I began to wonder...where on Earth would you put such a massive structure? Putting the center of it on the site of modern day Jerusalem would mean that part of it would stretch out over the Mediterranean Sea, while the other end would be somewhere in far eastern Iraq. To the north it would cover parts of Turkey, and to the south it would go into the Sudan. Architecturally, that seemed a little unrealistic given the current topography of the land in that region of the world.

I then recalled another passage in II Peter 3:10 (NKJV) which states:
"But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up."
Now if this event occurs before the New Jerusalem is lowered from the clouds, does that mean many of the seas and oceans would have been boiled off? If so, that would make it easier to drop a giant cube onto the landscape, because it would solve the water problem. It may or may not take care of the canyons left behind when seas evaporated, however. Then again, a 1,400 mile cube coming down from above would probably crush anything in its path.

Going back to the sea level issue, though, even if the levels fluctuate a bit, they will never wipe out everything, as God told Noah in Genesis 9:11 (NKJV):
"Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
Will the ice caps melt enough to wipe out whole nations and destroy some (but not all) coastal cities? In Job 38:8-11 (NKJV) God tells Job:
“Or who shut in the sea with doors, When it burst forth and issued from the womb; When I made the clouds its garment, And thick darkness its swaddling band; When I fixed My limit for it, And set bars and doors; When I said, ‘This far you may come, but no farther, And here your proud waves must stop!’"
Maybe the issue of the entire planet being burnt up is a little more significant. This time, however, it won't have anything to do with carbon emissions.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Are There Bibles On Other Planets?

Scripture does not really seem to specify one way or the other if there is life on other planets, let alone the Bible. That said, the Bible has a few things to say about the stars in general:
Genesis 15:5 (NKJV) - Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
Translation: there are a lot of stars up there.
Psalm 147:4 (NKJV) - "He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name."
Translation: Considering what we currently know about the size of the universe (or at least the number of stars based on Hubble observations and other telescopes), that's a lot of names. To me, it would seem a bit strange to create so many suns and worlds without any life on them. Whether we can actually reach any of the habitable worlds or whether they can reach us is another matter altogether. It's quite possible God has placed each world far enough apart for some reason unknown to us.

Consider some more verses:
Psalm 8:3-4 (NKJV) - "When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?"

Job 38:4-7 (NKJV) - "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?"

Job 38:31-32 (NKJV) - "Can you bind the cluster of the Pleiades, or loose the belt of Orion? Can you bring out Mazzaroth in its season? Or can you guide the Great Bear with its cubs?"
It is apparent from these verses that God has ultimate control over not only the Earth, but the stars themselves. To think that He could break apart constellations is nothing short of amazing, although it would make sense considering He made the stars in the first place.

Again, though, I ask the question: are there Bibles on other planets? My answer is: why not?

Although this is only speculation, perhaps those Bibles even fit together with our own. As long as they are logically and truthfully consistent with what we have, then it is possible.

In addtion, throughout the Bible, God has this interesting trend of revealing more and more of His plan to us...whether it is in the form of temples, salvation, etc. Notice, too, how in Scripture the temples seem to grow in size and complexity as time goes on. For instance, comparing the mobile Tabernacle in Exodus to the temple built by Solomon to Ezekiel's temple to the New Jerusalem. Perhaps, then, too, there will come a day when God will reveal those other worlds to us and maybe with it that the Word truly is consistent...on Earth and everywhere else.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Who Controls the Weather?

It's not who you think.

A while back, I happened to finally get around to watching the movie, An Inconvenient Truth. I took a few notes, because although the data looked intriguing, there were a lot of tenuous connections being made in the film, and I wanted to research them later on my own.

The take home message, however, was this: it's our fault.

Is it really though? I've been collecting a few interesting nuggets over the past few months in regards to this issue, that seem to paint a much more complicated story.

In fact, the more I started to study the whole climate change/carbon emissions issue, the more unusual some of the material became (ClimateGate issues aside). For example, in one talk available online, I came to find out we've been reduced to an equation. Some interesting solutions were presented in that video, but the fact that people were being viewed as part of some grand algebraic problem to be "solved" is a little unnerving. Plus, such thinking also opens the door to all sorts of nefarious uses when it comes to legislation.

A more thorough analysis could theoretically be carried out, however, if we had spacecraft orbiting all of our Solar System's planets. More specifically, if those spacecraft could be in orbit for decades and continuously collect data on the solar wind, temperature, etc. from several different locations then we might have some more interesting data. Yet despite all those hypothetical efforts, would it really account for an often-neglected factor in climate change and the weather itself?

On Wednesdays over the following weeks, I'll illustrate in detail that other "factor" and bring the question "Who Controls the Weather?" to a completely different level.

So...who do you think controls the weather?

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Decade in Waiting

It's been a long wait.

Approximately ten years ago, I read about something called a Rocket e-Book (which actually was released in 1998). I also heard about the SoftBook. The idea sounded intriguing, but as far as I could tell, the general marketplace just was not purchasing them in any meaningful volume. In some cases, the e-reader price was prohibitively expensive, thus slowing mass adoption.

I figured that eventually someone would get the technology/cost issues right and that the obvious benefits of an e-reader would catch on with the masses. To think that you could reduce a whole bookshelf full of information into a tablet sized device sounded amazing. So, I waited.

And waited. And waited some more.

Then, just about the time I had forgotten about the idea of e-books (unless you count pdf files), the Kindle and the Nook took off. I first noticed a disruption in the way agents were handling queries (not replying, or having submitted a manuscript and then getting no reply) and stories appearing all over the web about e-books. Little did I know at the time how disruptive such technology would be.

But throughout this whole time I kept writing. Whatever the medium, I knew that someday I would find a way to get it in front of a larger audience. I even handsold some paperbacks a few years back with some success, although the price was too high per unit to keep doing that. I offered them for sale at a deep discount (nearly 50% off the POD price) because that put them on a level with mass market paperback prices. Book sales went briskly, but when it came to being able to order them online or in a bookstore, inevitably there was some sticker-shock involved.

Nowadays an author can easily put works up online and the mass distribution system is in place (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, etc.). The old argument that now the market will be "flooded with junk" only works if that is all that is being put online. If the author, however, strives to make a better book each time out, then readership will be found in time. Quality books may not always find a home, but quality writing plus mass distribution/easy access is a game changer.

For those of us who have steadily kept writing over the years, never giving up because they love the art of putting words to paper, this is a moment of opportunity. Likewise, for those of us who have been quietly stockpiling manuscripts, poems, and stories, the playing field suddenly looks a bit more level now.

My late uncle once told me I should "flood the market" with my writing. At the time, it sounded like an interesting idea, but I didn't see how that was even technologically possible. So I kept stockpiling material and kept pushing my stories along, stuffing them in boxes, storing them on disks, etc. Yet when I finally met someone with a Kindle reader, I realized it was time to stop stockpiling and start sharing.

Soon, yes, very soon, there will be a flood of books on the market, but understand this "flood" did not build up overnight. It has been a decade in waiting.

It's a new era indeed.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Coming Home

Note: This post is part of the monthly blog chain. Please visit the other members' posts (listed to the right).

When I was a kid, I remember going to a local school carnival with a relative. Like many carnivals, there was plenty see and do, and even winning the cheap, plastic trinkets seemed interesting (plastic frogs, anyone?). So when it came to the spin art machine, I was naturally intrigued. I was given a couple bottles of paint and told to draw something on a piece of white cardboard. I decided to draw a house, complete with walls, a roof, a window and a door.

Then the operator proceeded to turn the machine on. I watched in horror as the walls and roof flew out in all directions and the door exploded. I came home with my picture but I wasn't sure what to think of it. In minutes, it hit the trash.

Writing, I think, is like spin art sometimes. We put our creations to paper, only to watch the world take it for a "spin" and well...who knows what they think of it in the end. Or, we drop our ideas onto paper and keep tinkering with them until the end result is nothing like what we started with.

Around that same time in my life I also began writing stories. Lots of them. But they were all humor-based or science fiction in nature. In fact, I wrote three and a half "novels" and never seemed to miss an episode of Doctor Who.

Then I seemed to "grow up" (whatever that means) in my writing, but that was more a less a result of some peer pressure at the time. I started writing on different, more "serious" topics, wrote some poetry, but never really came back to science fiction or writing about outer space.

I kept reading science fiction stories, however. I also read Hemingway, Bradbury, some Mark Twain, and a bunch of James Thurber stories. I kept watching science fiction movies and have recently been catching up on a lot of old Doctor Who episodes that are now coming out on DVD, thanks to BBC.

Over the last couple of years, however, I've hit a wall in terms of the content of my stories. It took me a while to figure out why, but then it became obvious: I wasn't writing what I wanted to anymore.

Complicating matters was the fact that I read the Bible cover-to-cover (finally) and listened to a Bible study by Chuck Missler and Dr. Mark Eastman, titled "Alien Encounters". The study is quite good and the research they presented is eye-opening. It completely changed my perspective on a few topics and threw a massive wrench into my thoughts about writing science-fiction ever again.

As a result, I noticed I started viewing movies with aliens differently. I've also noticed an uptick in movies (or even some books) lately that are science fiction in nature, but somehow also seem to slip in some cheap shots at Christianity along the way. Why can't they leave the issue alone altogether, and tell a straightforward sci-fi story? At the very least, it would be nice to see more stories that somehow incorporate Biblical elements in a way that doesn't shred a person's faith in the process. Although the Bible does not talk of life on other planets, it does not exclude that possibility either.

All these issues aside, I've come to realize that I need to go back, at least in some measure, to what drew me to the process of writing stories in the first place: humor and science fiction. So, I've quietly started writing both types of stories again. I intend or writing some steampunk-themed stories, along with some tales set in outer space. Although my early attempts may look like that spin art house I made years ago, I think some type of happy compromise can be made between the world of science fiction and the truth of the Word.

Sci-fi, I'm coming home.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Over The Falls

Ever heard about people going over Niagara Falls in a barrel? Good thing no one ever tried that on this particular river, however.

Here is a picture of Devil's Kettle Falls, which has to be one of the stranger waterfalls I've seen over the years. At the top, the river splits into two streams, with the right half falling down onto the rocks below, and the left half pouring into a rock cauldron of some sort. Apparently, the local DNR has been unable to figure out where the water goes once it enters the chamber. Logs and dye have been dropped into it but no one has been able to figure out where the water goes from there. Perhaps into an underground cavern or a lake?

One thing I learned on our past road trip is this: the number of rivers pouring into Lake Superior (including this one) is amazing. By looking at various websites, I've cobbled together a good two dozen rivers or more just on the Minnesota side alone, and many of them have waterfalls. Many of the falls are impressive, although this time of year the water levels looked quite low, but I'm sure in the spring with the runoff it would be more spectacular.

P.S. Sorry for the brevity of this post, but I've been busy with book cover design and working to release a short story by this weekend. Additionally, by October 1st, I'll release an entire short story collection.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Who Shows Up

Ever run a Bible study? It's an interesting study in human psychology and at times it's unpredictable despite the best preparation beforehand. Sure you can spend a few hours gathering resources, reading articles, making handouts, studying the text ahead of time, etc. but it is difficult to sometimes judge how many people will actually show up.

Case in point: over the past few weeks about ten to fourteen people have shown up. This made it relatively easy to keep discussion going because with that many people you inevitably get a wide range of viewpoints. But when only three people showed up a couple weeks ago, I cringed. We are going through an eight-part DVD series, but those episodes only take up twenty-five to thirty minutes. The other hour and a half, well...

As usual, I prepared a substantial amount of discussion material to play off of the video segment. One of the ideas I had for that week, a brief trivia game, was meant for a group of about ten people. After some thought, I decided to go ahead with it anyway. I also went ahead with some articles I printed off. And do you know what happened? It still worked out.

Two of the guys also mentioned some reading material of their own (before I started the video). What they didn't know was that their discussion fit right in with the video segment even though they had no foreknowledge of what was in the segment. This isn't the first time this has happened, and it certainly won't be the last. Why? Because no matter how many people physically show up, if you're spending time in the Word, God always shows up.

Another example: I can't count the number of times we've sat around the room and when prayer time rolled around, we counted off into groups of three only to find the ones we were grouped with were the ideal people to pray with. It didn't matter how many people showed up, where they sat around they table, or whether we numbered off by threes, or fours.

So keep in mind if you ever lead a study, whether a crowd or a handful of people show up, God always shows up.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Whatever Happened to Spirograph?

The other day I was in a creative drawing mood and for some reason, I thought of an old product I remember from childhood: Spirograph.

For the fun of it, I did some research on Amazon. I expected the product to have long ago been discontinued, but instead found a product that did not look much like its fabled predecessor. In fact, on Amazon, the reviews are less than glowing. I looked at the regular Spirograph and at the Deluxe version.

For the regular version, there are eight five-star reviews, and twelve one-star reviews. For the deluxe version, the results look even worse. There are seven five-star reviews, and nineteen one-star reviews.

What happened to Spirograph? Or, more accurately, what happened to the version I grew up with?

Apparently, several of the reviewers had the same response. Although I have not purchased either product, looking at the available images the products seem like stripped down versions of the original (even going so far as to make the gears thinner). The spirograph I remember had gears, pins, rings, and bar-shaped pieces of plastic that the gears could rotate around. That version now sells as a collectible, ironically enough.

For such a creative and yet fundamentally simple product, I wonder why they didn't expand on the good thing they had going and add more, if slightly different shapes to the mix. Perhaps different shaped gears, for example. I guess I'll never understand why some companies choose to tinker with a good thing.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Gone Waterfalling

This weekend, I'm going on another waterfall tour. We did this last year, and with great success. Initially, our trip started out with a visit to Duluth, but on a whim, we decided to visit a nearby park that had a waterfall in it. What we found was astounding. By the end of the trip, we visited five waterfalls in all, and as you can see in the picture to the left (Caribou Falls), some of them were larger than I expected.

So this year we decided to go and visit more waterfalls along the North Shore of Lake Superior. We may not get to every fall that is available, and by my tally, there are a dozen or more to go. In all, there are probably nearly two dozen waterfalls along the North Shore or on the rivers that flow into Lake Superior, and so that is a lot of ground to cover. The journey is just as interesting, however, as getting to the various falls often involves half-mile to two-mile hikes through the wilderness.

In the process of gathering the information for this trip, I came across a great site which shows a lot of pictures and details about each set of falls. This site also includes more falls in the Great Lakes Region, and it would be interesting to visit those, too, someday. Until I get more pictures this weekend, here's a shot of High Falls on the Baptism River:

Friday, August 26, 2011

What Was In Your Wallet?

Every once in a while a new piece of technology comes along that promises new opportunities. Case in point: a couple of weeks ago, a few articles came out about a new "epidermal electronics system". The system consisted of flexible circuits that could be placed on human skin in the form of a patch, and could have a wide range of uses from medical testing to gaming to monitoring.

Along with this technology announcement came some commentary on whether it was the "mark of the beast" or not. Truth is, there have been (and probably always will be) numerous candidates for this distinction already, such as implantable RFID chips. What's interesting, though, is the repeating pattern that these technology releases seem to take.

First, the application often starts off with something really beneficial, such as medical uses. Then, there is often a shift to tracking the elderly (for Alzheimer's or dementia patients for example) and then maybe the suggestion that the technology could be used to track children (to prevent abductions). Throw in some suggestions for inventory control uses (i.e. tracking of warehouse products) and then the idea of "let's use this for our monetary system!" appears like clockwork.

Although this sounds like a technically advanced way of solving multiple problems at once, let's look at some ongoing isseus first.

Identity theft and data breaches are still on the rise.

If you look at some recent news articles (here, here, here, and here) you can see the numbers involved in recent data breaches are incredible. The variety of targets also is increasing along with the numbers involved in each incident. In any given week, you can probably find articles that point to thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of individual accounts getting hit or information being stolen. Has every one of those potential victims been notified by the institutions involved? It's doubtful.

Quantity over quality.

For all the emphasis placed on "security" and privacy notices being sent to all their customers, some institutions are still a little more concerned about processing transactions in volume rather than getting the information right. Ever check your credit report? It doesn't take much to find unusual things appearing on it, and unfortunately, the only advocate for getting that changed is you. And, as if to make it worse, the burden of proof rests on you, the consumer, to prove that a particular transaction is not yours.

Encryption buys time.

With the every increasing prevalence of powerful computers in the hands of consumers, coupled with the widespread increase in online purchasing, the risks for seeing commerce websites getting hit increase dramatically. Although encryption is great, not every retailer uses it, and many don't realize that an algorithm that works today could potentially be cracked tomorrow. It's an ongoing race for researchers, and all that encryption is going to do is to ultimately buy the retailer time.

The bottom line is this: just because a new technology surfaces, it does not automatically mean that the underlying problems that exist in society are going to be solved overnight. No, in fact, all it pretty much does is push the issues into new realms where anything goes and it's anybody's guess how it will all play out in time. Identity theft is not going away, and giving everybody a chip on their hand (or forehead) is not going to change that.

Besides, there is more involved in the whole "mark of the beast" issue anyway, and that can be found in Revelation 14:9-10 which reads:
"Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, "If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation.""
(There are actually multiple verses that deal with this issue...Revelation 13:17, 14:9-11, 15:2, 16:2, 19:20, and 20:4 for starters).

Although the oft-quoted Revelation 13:7 implies a financially based "mark", there is an implication of worship along with it. In short, a lot of other things have to come together before pronouncing an individual technology as "the mark". That said, there are plenty of other factors already in play that should give those implementing such technologies and those accepting them pause for thought.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Book Update: Horizons

Just a brief update today on the latest book I'm working on. It is a collection of poems and short stories that span a broad range of topics, and it is tenatively titled, "Horizons". There are six short stories and twenty poems in all, and it will be available in both Kindle and paperback formats. I haven't finished the back cover copy yet, but I'll be releasing that soon. I expect this book to be available by the end of September or at the latest, early October.

The short story names are as follows: For Keeps, Splinters, A Letter to Laodicea, Snowbound, Voices Still Unheard, and The Last Holdout. Some of the topics of the poems include bicycling, rollercoasters, dreams, and even storms.

Some of these stories and poems have appeared elsewhere, but this is the first time they will be gathered together in one place. Many thanks to Paul Chernoch, and other readers/writers that have helped me along the way with this project, especially when it came to critiques, commentary, and suggestions.

In addition, I'm also working on another, larger non-fiction project which will then be followed by a novel that contains similar themes. More details on that soon, too.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Between Persecution and Prosperity

I've been noticing a growing trend over the past couple of years in sermons and books. For many years (in some sectors at least) the prosperity Gospel was being preached. Although there were scattered complaints about it, I wasn't seeing much in terms of books or full-blown sermons on the topic.

Now it appears a bigger backlash has arrived, but unfortunately, it is morphing into a whole new Gospel of its own. For lack of a better name, let's call it the "persecution Gospel".

Often, this type of Gospel begins with commentary about America, or wealthy Americans who have too much "stuff". "Stuff" can mean electronic devices, SUVs, boats, furniture, big houses, etc. In other words, excessive materialism. The commentary then typically shifts to the individual, and ways the individual should reduce the amount of "stuff" in their life and how that "stuff" interferes in their walk with God.

Good points, but here is where things start to veer off course.

This is then often followed by examples from other countries where persecution is rampant, or where spreading the Gospel is a crime. This is sometimes followed by graphic visual examples of beatings, prisons, or churches going up in flames. Follow that with some Scripture, and the net effect is supposed to make a person question their lifestyle, give away most or all of their possessions and ultimately feel guilty about the way they've lived their lives over the past decade or so. In some cases, people have walked away from their jobs altogether.

So what is a believer supposed to do? Should they buy into the "name it and claim it" theology with all its trappings (i.e. "you just didn't have enough faith, that's why your kid wasn't healed!") or should they throw it all away and live as poor as possible?

Unfortunately the Biblical truth is actually somewhere in the middle.

Scripture does talk about persecution. Yet it also talks about being blessed, and in some cases, that blessing may come via financial means. I've seen this numerous times. It really depends upon a person's heart and how they handle money.

What both "Gospels" seem to do is put the focus on man. In the "name it/claim it" version, the act of prayer is turned into an act of the will (i.e. having enough faith) and God is giant vending machine at your service. In the persecution Gospel, everything in your life needs to be junked...even if God gave it to you at some point, because, after all, possessions get equated with idols. Yet I'm sure one could find examples of people without many possessions who still have an idol problem.

So where is the line between self-indulgence and being blessed by God? It runs through the Bible.