Sunday Dec 26, 2004

Santa & CS Lewis

Being Christmas, I can relate to the old "joke" that there are three stages in a man's life:

  • First, you believe in Santa,
  • Then, you are Santa,
  • Finally, you look like Santa!

I'm in Stage 2, trying my best to delay the onset of Stage 3 :-)

On a more serious note... and speaking of Christmas and Santa... I'm sure we've all found ourselves, at some point this season, reflecting on that epoch event in history for which the Christmas holiday (root: Holy Day) is fashioned. Church services around the world are standing room only events, filled with many folks who will not set foot in a church again until next Christmas... unless of course someone they care about gets married or dies in the meantime.

We all learned in The Great Election (Bush -vs- Kerry) what a farce exit polls can be, but I was just thinking that it would be interesting to perform an exit poll following Christmas Eve church services, with a single multiple choice question. A question that CS Lewis developed in his classic book "Mere Christianity" [1952], particularly in Chapter 4. It might go something like this:

Christmas Eve Church Service Exit Poll Questionnaire:

Q: Which of these best describe your opinion of who Jesus was?

  1. Liar:  He wasn't who he said he was... He purposely misled people.
  2. Lunatic: He actually believed what he said, but it wasn't true. He was delusional
  3. Legend: Others made up the story later. He never made the claims.
  4. Lord: He is who he said he is. His claims are true!

And compare the results to the same population as they existed from work some mid-week day in, say, March. Hmmm.

I added choice #3 to Lewis' choices, because I think some might actually pick that as the "safe" option. Even though most serious scholars and historians, even those who are devout atheists, would not deny that Jesus existed, was a great teacher, made claims of divinity and equality with God, performed wonders and healings, and was eventually crucified, ostensibly because his teachings threatened the elite power base. Regardless, it is a reveling question... rather the answer to it is revealing. But it's hard for many to think about, because the answer has profound implications for the rest of one's life (and beyond). There is actually a Stage #4 in the "Santa Progression"... when the bell tolls, the No. 2 pencil is finally put down, and the test is handed in for grading. This is one test where Gene Kranz's (NASA, Apollo 13) famous saying rings true... "Failure is not an option". Thankfully, we've all been given the answer in advance, and it's an open book exam!

Saturday Dec 18, 2004

A Wife's Christmas Present

I enjoyed Scott Dickson's blog entry on the Joy of Christmas, as well as his quest for a gift for his wife.

http://blogs.sun.com/roller/page/scottdickson/20041218#fourth_sunday_in_advent_christmas

I just got home from Best Buy on a similar quest (my wife, not his :-). My wife has been on me for a year to upgrade our home network. Which is strange, since I'm a computer professional and general techno-geek, and she is a wonderful stay-at-home homeschooling mother and wife who can't quite figure out that you don't have to hit CR after each line in a word processor.

Anyway, she now has a laptop. So do I. My Toshiba M2 has built-in wireless. We both need to print. So I bought her a Linksys Wireless-G PCMCIA card for her laptop, a Linksys Wireless-G Router for our home, as well as a new HP 6840 Wireless-G printer (our current printer in a few years old). The printer is on sale for $150.00 (if you also buy a Linksys router, which I did), and is natively network-aware and can be shared with up to 5 computers concurrently.

http://tinyurl.com/7xhsa

I know... you might think those were for me :-). Yes, I'll have to get something else for her as well. But I'm going to have fun refreshing my home network over the break. And she will think I'm the smartest man alive. At least, she'll lead me to believe she thinks that :-) I might even buy a wireless bridge and hook a SunRay 1 up in the living room, using a PC running the new SunRay Server S/W that runs on Linux.

Friday Dec 17, 2004

History Lessons by Bill Petro

Bill Petro worked for Sun for 11 years in a senior marketing position. He is now with EMC in similar role. However, I only knew him thru a series of automated e-mail notes I get from time to time throughout the year. He has a passion for researching and writing short historical narratives on several topics. One topic that I find interesting is a series called "History of the Holidays". You can sign up so that you get these delivered to your in-box just in time for the specific holiday. Or, you can go here and simply read them on-demand: http://www.billpetro.com/HolidayHistory/

Given the currrent season, here are two examples. A possible scientific explanation for the Christian star of Bethlehem, and the event that is remembered by the Jewish during Chanukah:

http://www.billpetro.com/HolidayHistory/hol/xmas/star12.html

http://www.billpetro.com/HolidayHistory/hol/xmas/chan12.html

Thursday Dec 16, 2004

What is Truth? Not Scientific Theory

Masood Mortazavi and Geoff Arnold recently debated the concept of "truth" on BSC (blogs.sun.com). I appreciated the pointer to:

http://www.iep.utm.edu/t/truth.htm

Here, the "International Encyclopedia of Philosophy" [IEP] defines "truth".  They suggest that "The principal issue is: What is truth?". Ironically (I say that because philosophy and religion seldom mix) in John 18:38, that exact question is asked of Jesus:

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=50&chapter=18&verse=38

At the end of the page on truth, the IEP summarizes that science really isn't about truth, but simply about describing hopefully useful models that allow us to predict and extrapolate the impact of actions and responses in meaningful ways. For example, a scientific model of gravity was useful to the original human "computers" that calculated ballistic trajectory for weapon systems. The formula was certainly useful, but not "true". Here is what the IEP says at the end of their description:

Giere recommends saying science aims for the best available 'representation', in the same sense that maps are representations of the landscape. Maps aren't true; rather, they fit to a better or worse degree. Similarly, scientific theories are designed to fit the world. Scientists should not aim to create true theories; they should aim to construct theories whose models are representations of the world.

That really makes sense to me. It is important to remember that representative models (aka: "scientific theories") are often incrementally refined (and occasionally rejected and reworked) over time, as we attempt to improve the approximation of perceived reality. This is a natural result of our insatiable appetite for scientific discovery. Even when a theory is repeatable and validated thru experimentation, this does not "prove" the theory as true... but simply gives us additional confidence that the model is useful within the context and range of the observations and experiments to which the model has been subjected.

Too often some will lock on to a particular model (aka: scientific theory) in its current form and declare it as irrefutable truth! Just look at the theory of evolution! Wow - talk about a religious topic for some who hold that science has "proven" as fact a model. Evolution is particularly weak because it is based on blind/partial observation without experimental validation. This model is under increasing attack from the scientific community itself. As a lover of science, I applaud those who look forward to the evolution of the theory of evolution (and every other scientific theory), and who promote with an open mind scientific discovery and the reworking of obsolete or incomplete models. I'm particularly interested in "myth busting" theories to which the scientific community holds to with religious fervor. That in itself should be a red flag that a philosophical agenda has blinded their purity.

Thursday Dec 09, 2004

LOTR TCG

I'd never played a "trading card game" before.... But one of the joys of having children is the excuse to indulge in games and activities that childless adults (unlike childish adults :-) might never have the nerve to attempt.

These games are different from games involving a standard deck of playing cards, in that there are many cards that people collect, but a small subset is selected for one's "deck" to play a particular game. Deck selection is part of the strategy.

My son has some friends that have taken to the "Lord of the Rings" TCG. It is an amazingly complex and strategic game that actually mirror's Tolkien's story line quite well. Two or more players can play. Each person's deck will have 30+ good guy cards (your Fellowship) and 30+ bad guy cards (the Shadow force), a Ring-Bearer, and 9 "Site" cards, which represent locations in Middle Earth.

The object is to get your Ring-Bearer thru site #9 first. You get there first by having your Fellowship of Companions and Allies fighting your opponent's Minions. You can also win by having your Minions kill your opponent's Ring-Bearer, or "corrupting" him. So in a sense, there are two games going on at once.

Each turn has 7 phases, in which you fortify your Fellowship, allow opponents to position their forces, adjust weapons and conditions for battle, perform archery actions, then assign all surviving Companions and minions for combat, and finally perform the actual skirmish, and then regroup for the next turn.

This is a fun game with lots of dynamics and strategy.... And having a 9 year old gives me a good excuse to play :-)

When he was younger, he went thru a "phase" when kids in the neighborhood collected Pokemon cards, sure that their cards would be worth a fortune someday! And not really knowing how to play (if there even was) a game associated with the cards. Now, the "worth" of a LOTR card is its ability to help secure victory in the game, not some hope in future riches or presteige in intrinsic "cuteness" or "coolness". Maybe a sign of maturity? Not to dis all those beany baby collectors out there ;-)

The LOTR  TCG  was developed by Decipher. They publish "free" starter decks you can download, print out, and cut to size. There are a dozen or so strategy articles that discuss each "phase". There are suggested "deck" designs depending on your strategy (swarming orc minions, hobbit or men based fellowship, lots of archers, trolls, etc). There are detailed color images of ALL 1200+ cards on-line. And there are starter instructions, as well as the 22-page Comprehensive Rulebook 4.0.

A $10.00 starter deck (per player) is all that is needed, if you don't want to print out the free decks. But you'll soon want to augment your deck with other card types that assist your Fellowship or your Shadow Minions. Again, purchase 11-card booster packs, or just print out high-res card images from Decipher and cut to size.

There is a video tutorial, as well as a downloadable interactive tutorial for the PC. The release schedule for new expansion packs goes thru 2007:

http://www.decipher.com/lordoftherings/index.html

Click on "card list", "strategy", "rules", etc.

BTW, the new extended version of the last LOTR movie (Return of the Kings) will be available next week. I've put off buying the DVDs. Now I should be able to buy a package with all three extended versions.

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