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.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Steampunk Laptop

Ok, this is too interesting to pass up. Check out this link.

The artist at this particular site is now beginning to take orders for "steamkpunk laptops". The technical specs look pretty impressive and current, and the lid customization options look like a lot of fun (functioning clockwork gears, maps, etc.).

On a side note, I've also been looking into making some attempts at writing some short fiction that would incorporate steampunk technology. I'm not sure what direction that will take. Lots to research!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Invisible Evidence

(This post is part of the blog chain. The topic this month is "august" in majestic, grandeur, etc. Please check out the other writers' links to the right of this post as there are some great entries to read.)

Today, I've decided to post a picture of a mountain. It is a colorful mountain--full of life, strength, and grandeur. It is a mountain many have climbed, yet no one has conquered in its entirety. It is a mountain that stands above all other mountains, and although many pictures have been taken of it, none of them ever captures its full character. It is indeed majestic (or, "august") and breathtaking all at the same time. It even offers refuge from a storm.

What? Don't you see it?

The evidence for its existence is abundant. Thousands of books have been written about it. The effect it has on a person is also readily apparent if you know where to look. Much like a magnetic field or the wind blowing across a prairie, the impact can even be measured and documented. One look at the mountain and a person's life could be altered forever for the better.

But what is the name of this mountain? The mountain is the Word. And that Word has the power to change a person's life. It is a rock that one can build their life upon and be sure of its foundation, even in the worst of storms.

Perhaps at this point, though, I should mention that to see and navigate this mountain, it takes one extra piece of equipment: faith. Now this "faith" is not just wishful thinking, or even the power of positive thinking. It is genuine and true, and no matter how weak or wavering it is, God responds to it.

Ironically enough, belief in this mountain also produces a mountain of evidence. It's not hard to find examples of deliverances from addiction, restored marriages, physical healings, restored hope, and cases where lives have been completely turned around. I even stopped drinking coffee because of it (and no, I'm not a Mormon).

Yet, as I've said above, this is a mountain that no one person has ever mastered. Even if you think you know every square inch of it and have heard or seen it all before, God has a funny, gentle way of pointing out all that you've missed. I'm reminded of the game of Othello, where on the box it used to have the slogan, "A minute to learn, a lifetime to master."

How about you? Do you think you'll ever get to the bottom of the Word? What evidence has God produced in your life?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fibonacci In a Shell

In our yard this year we planted a couple of mammoth sunflowers. We love roasted sunflower seeds, but the only kind I have ever eaten are the ones out of the store. So this time, we decided to try and grown them on our own. I didn't know how many to plant, but the seed package insisted that each plant could produce hundreds of seeds.

The plants are about six feet tall right now, and just this past week the flowers opened up. Considering that it is now August, they are a bit behind in terms of the growing season here.

Still, "hundreds of seeds" seemed like a stretch. The first thing I noticed about the giant plants was the spiral pattern inside the flowers themselves and how tightly wound it was. I then went and did some research on Wikipedia, and discovered that :
"The florets within the sunflower's cluster are arranged in a spiral pattern. Generally, each floret is oriented toward the next by approximately the golden angle, 137.5°, producing a pattern of interconnecting spirals, where the number of left spirals and the number of right spirals are successive Fibonacci numbers. Typically, there are 34 spirals in one direction and 55 in the other; on a very large sunflower there could be 89 in one direction and 144 in the other. This pattern produces the most efficient packing of seeds within the flower head."
That's what I like to read: "This pattern produces the most efficient packing of seeds within the flower head." Translation: more seeds!

Then, there is this random tibdit: sunflowers can be used to extract toxic metals from the soil. I have no idea how that works. Maybe I don't want to know, either.

Still, the fact that a six to ten foot plant emerges with tons of seeds that are efficiently packed is pretty amazing.

Monday, August 15, 2011

One Author, Many Books

The other day I got into a discussion about the Book of Isaiah. The question came up about who actually wrote the book, and whether there was one author, two authors, or several. I did not have an immediate answer, although I had heard of the "two authors" theory before.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that is not the real issue. If two people wrote the Book of Isaiah, does it change the message? Does it alter the accuracy of the information? We read encyclopedias, which we trust are filled with facts, yet they are compiled by several authors.

In the case of Scripture, however, this verse out of II Timothy 3:16 (NKJV) is pretty instructive:
"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness..."
Likewise, in Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJV) it says this:
"Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
Then, there is John 1:1 (NKJV) which says "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

Now I will concede, for example, that there are parts of Deuteronomy that could not have been written by Moses. Case in point...Deuteronomy 34:5-6 (NKJV):
"So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD. And He buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth Peor; but no one knows his grave to this day."
Moses could not have written that as he would have been dead. Again I ask: does that change the validity of the information? Does that change the accuracy of the account?

Okay, but let's say the multiple author issues really bothers you. Fine, disregard the book (perhaops at your own peril). Here's the unusual part, though. As I've mentioned before, if a particular book of the Bible is thrown out, the message still comes through. If you throw out Isaiah, the passages about the Millennial Kingdom can still be found elsewhere (Ezekiel, Zechariah, Revelation, etc.). Passages about Christ's first coming can still be found all over the other Old Testament books. The list goes on and on.

Yet, oddly enough, in one of my Bibles, it even goes so far as to suggest the Book of Isaiah is like a "mini-Bible" in that the first 39 books deal with Old Testament style judgments, and the last 27 books describe a message of hope like the New Testament.

What do you think? Does it matter how many people wrote the Books of Isaiah, Deuteronomy or other books of the Bible?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

We've Been Reduced to an Equation

Back in February 2010, Bill Gates gave a Ted talk (found here) that explored the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions on a global scale. Included in the talk was a formula that looked like this:

CO2 = P x S x E x C

...where P = Population, S = Services, E = Efficiency/energy for each service and C = The amount of CO2 put out for each unit of energy

He made two mysterious comments in the speech, however. The first one was that in order to stop global warming, we would need to get the carbon dioxide levels to zero. That means the left side of the equation would be equal to zero. He then went on to explain each factor on the right side of the equation, starting with the letter P. He mentioned how the world's population will soon climb to nine billion people. Then came this curious statement:
"Now if we do a really great job on new vaccines, health care, and reproductive health services we could lower that by perhaps 10 or 15 percent."
Wait...what? How does improving on vaccines reduce the population? What did he mean by "reproductive health services"?

The rest of his speech was spent discussing the other factors in the equation and how we will be unable to get the last factor reduced to zero (especially by using fossil fuels). He also mentioned the need to create a new system on a "global scale" and the need for "energy miracles".

Now I'm all for using various creative sources of energy (wind, solar, etc.) but this equation is unsettling. First of all, the left side assumes quite a bit. What were the levels of carbon dioxide like in the atmosphere prior to the Industrial Revolution? Have they risen and fallen naturally over the centuries? Scientists do not have a thousands of years worth of data to look at in this regard and there is another factor in warming that was not addressed in this talk at all: the effects of the sun itself.

Implicit in the equation (and the talk itself) is that we are the ones in control of the planet's temperature and that at some point, things will be pushed into "crisis mode". Will that crisis involve reducing various factors in the equation (including population) in order to turn down the temperature of the planet to...get people?

I think we are giving ourselves way too much credit (or blame, depending on your perspective).

What do you think?

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Implications of Creation

I've usually found it interesting when engineers make an effort to emulate what they find in the natural world for one reason or another. For instance, consider the recent efforts to make robotic insects, birds, and dogs. Applications range, of course, from new spying devices to improving our means of flight to making toys. Yet months and months of planning, design, experimentation, and testing go into each one of these robots.

Now if you held one of these devices in your hand and studied its features, it would not take long to realize that these devices were "created". Their design was not an accident, nor did they evolve from a pile of plastic parts and electronic components. In short, each device has a designer or a creator.

Why can't we apply the same logic to living things in the environment?

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Kind of Time Machine, Part III

Note: This is the last post in a series. Part I can be found here, and part II can be found here.

Last week I discussed about how the Bible could be considered a type of "time machine" and pointed out an example of a set of verses where history, prophecy, and current events converged. This type of moment occurs often in the Bible. In addtion, the message of salvation occurs so frequently in the Word that it is as if a clear effort was made to prevent attempts at "jamming" the message.

But wait...don't we live in an age when e-reading devices are becoming popular, where we have so many choices in terms of media, and people are reading more than ever? Yes, we do, and although we now have more Bible translations than ever, there is another phenomenon that is occuring: fragmentation. I discussed that topic at length in this post.

In terms of electronic reading devices, however, fragmentation has a peculiar effect. I've noticed when reading Bible verses online or on a reading device, it tends to split the book into pieces, which is a bit more disorientating when compared to being able to flip the pages of a paper version. Some context is inevitably lost, but somehow the overall message still gets through.

Why is that? If you split apart a typical non-fiction book into small pieces and try to read those pieces at various times throughout the week, it's pretty easy to lose the meaning of the book. Not so with the Bible. In fact, if you tore every physical Bible into pieces and scattered the pages to the four winds or burned them all in a fire, the message would still get through.

An example of this fragmentation and destruction can be found in Jeremiah 36:22-23. In this passage, a scroll containing words from Jeremiah (transcribed by Baruch) was read in front of Jehoiakim, king of Judah:
"Now the king was sitting in the winter house in the ninth month, with a fire burning on the hearth before him. And it happened, when Jehudi had read three or four columns, that the king cut it with the scribe’s knife and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the scroll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth."
Despite the king's efforts to destroy the scroll, it was followed by this in Jeremiah 36:27-28:
"Now after the king d burned the scroll with the words which Baruch had written at the instruction of Jeremiah, the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying: “Take yet another scroll, and write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll which Jehoiakim the king of Judah has burned."
Although this is an Old Testament example it is reinforced in the New Testament. In Matthew 24:35, Jesus states, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away."

Hmmm. Sounds like this particular time machine is indestructable, too.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Fishing in the Dead Sea, Part II

Note: This is the second and final post in a series. The first part can be found here.

Last Monday, I mentioned about how the Dead Sea's unusually high salt content currently makes it unsuitable for fish and marine life. I also talked about how there is a restoration plan for the Dead Sea.

Iin Ezekiel 47:1-12, it talks of this restoration. When a new temple is established in Jerusalem (see Ezekiel chapters 38-46), there will be a river that flows out from under the threshold of the temple. In Ezekiel 47:8-12 it speaks of this new river:
"Then he said to me: “This water flows toward the eastern region, goes down into the valley, and enters the sea. When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed. And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes. It shall be that fishermen will stand by it from En Gedi to En Eglaim; there will be places for spreading their nets. Their fish will be of the same kinds as the fish of the Great Sea, exceedingly many. But its swamps and marshes will not be healed; they will be given over to salt. Along the bank of the river, on this side and that, will grow all kinds of trees used for food; their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. They will bear fruit every month, because their water flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for medicine.”
One half of this river flows into the Dead Sea, while the other half flows towards the Mediteranean (see Zechariah 14:8). These verses also talk about the marshes not being healed, of trees that will not fail along the river, and even of fishermen returning to En Gedi.

In other words, God will heal this particular region and flood the sea with fish. How, exactly, the salt will be removed from the sea is a mystery, but this follows an interesting pattern found elsewhere in the Bible. That pattern is one of the giving of law, followed by lawbreaking, then judgment, and finally restoration. This same pattern occured with the nation of Israel (the giving of the Law through Moses, their gradual drifting away from God, followed by the exile and their restoration to the land).

Much like the Dead Sea's future restoration, anyone can experience the kind of restoration God can offer. This can be found in II Peter 3:9 where it states:
"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."
Like the Samaritan woman in John 4, the offer of "living water" stands for anyone who is willing to receive it. And discussed above, the living water will flow again, too, someday on a grand scale in what some might consider the most lifeless region on earth.

What about you? Do you think God can restore anyone no matter what condition they are in?