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.