How will we live? How will we SURVIVE?!?! Without…

"No, I know I said you could all keep your Internet service. But what I meant was..."
“Now, I know I said you could all keep your Internet service. But what I meant was…”

…the internet.

My family is experiencing a communications crisis as out home Internet access has ceased to exist. And, since our television and phone service worked through the Internet, it is down, too.

(I am posting this through the use of a tiny bit of unused bandwidth in the tracking device my reptilian, [fill in adjectives describing your favorite conspiracy theory bad guys here] overlords have implanted in my brain while pretending to be aliens abducting me. Hopefully they won’t notice.)

It won’t be so bad for me and the missus. We are about to leave this afternoon to head north for some visiting and services/Bible Study/Spokesman Club/quilting action then turning southeastward Sunday morning for North Carolina for COE meetings and a Tomorrow’s World taping. We won’t be back until Friday at the earliest, so we won’t miss it. Boys #1, #2, #3, and #4, as well as for Father-in-Law and Mother-in-Law, will have to bear the burden.

They should be fine, though. Time to rediscover some board games, which the kids really enjoy.

Actually, things may be fixed Monday when the service dude comes. The problem, as best I can tell, is the coax cable connection feeding us our fiber optic input. That is, the problem isn’t our router (power cycled 400 times, now) but lies in the actual input coming into the house or how that input is passed along the coaxial cable or how it is converted for the Ethernet connection. Company’s stuff, so hopefully company will pay to fix it. (Hopefully.)

Still — last night, as it became clear it was more than a “power cycle” problem, it was oddly unnerving. It’s not like a connection to the Internet is necessary for life, love, and happiness, but it did feel like a real “crisis” building.

What would Macgyver do? Be too busy defusing a bomb, probably.

All of that said, as mentioned above my missus and I will be off to Charlotte for some good meetin’s, good fellowshippin’, and good telecastin’ — busy times, so comment moderation will probably be even slower than usual and posting will probably be nonexistent. Have a great week!

My assimilation by the Mac-borg is almost complete…

Here is another notable personal thing from this Feast: It marked a big transition for me from PC-dom to Mac-ville.

I had broadcast my thoughts on this some time back, and this Feast saw a big step. My wife bought me a Mac mini (which I had mentioned might be the most economically feasible step for me to take) right before the Feast, and my mentioned-last-post brother-in-law Wade, in an apparent bid to become The Most Awesome Brother-In-Law In The Universe, brought to the Feast a free Apple Thunderbolt Display to give me. Seriously — a $999 27″ display. For free. It was being discarded as defective and was marked as “no returns”, and in my first two or three days of trying to use it at the Feast I could see why the previous owner may have been frustrated. It did not come on when I first plugged it in, though I tried everything I could think of and all that Google would dig up for me. Apparently the Thunderbolt displays have been a bit buggy and the problem of not coming on (or failing to wake up after sleeping) has been experienced by many — most of whom found a solution in either replacing the unit with a new one (some of whom still experienced the same problem with the new unit) or switching to the supposedly-inferior-but-still-oddly-priced-the-same Cinema Display or else found no solution at all, since repairs did not seem to make a difference. Neither of those was an option for me, however, as this was a “no returns” purchase for the original owner.

The next morning, though, after leaving it on all night with my Mac mini asleep, it work up with the Mini — bright and beautiful! I didn’t let it go to sleep all day, and, sure enough, it lasted all day, even going back and forth from the screen saver (again, but not completely dark since I wouldn’t allow it). In that way, it lasted all day until I shut it down. The next morning, though, it didn’t come on at first, but when I put the Mac mini into sleep mode (by physically pressing the button in the back) and then woke it up, the screen woke up, too. Overall, there have been three incidents, I think, where the screen did not wake up like it should have — including that initial “Wow, it would be so great if this worked! Why isn’t it working?!?!” incident — and in each case it, somehow, eventually did turn on. Actually, more often than not, now, it has just turned on like it should whenever I turn the Mac mini on. Huzzah!

So, it looks like I have a new Apple desktop computing environment to complement my iPad and iPhone. My poor old Windows-based laptop is looking pretty nervous these days, probably thinking that he has had his run and I am about to put him to pasture. Sure, I plan on using my iPad more for traveling in place of my laptop (the keyboard case I have it in combined with the Quickoffice app I have make it a pretty decent laptop replacement for my content-generating purposes), but I’m still not comfortable with giving up the laptop just yet. And I have yet to move my iPhone and iPad over to the iTunes on the Mac mini, let alone any of the massive collection of pictures and documents I have on that laptop, given that the laptop has been my only computer for quite some time. And there is noooooo way I am affording a MacBook anytime soon. (Ha! The thought makes me laugh! Ha! I laugh a second time!) So I think the little guy is safe for now.

And, FWIW, I am still rooting for Microsoft. As irritating as Windows 8 looks, Surface still seems to be alive and kicking, and the OS/Tablet/Whatever Wars are far from over. As far as I am concerned, they are finally starting to get good. And I’m rooting for Android for the same reasons. Not necessarily because I want to ever switch to Android, but they make for great creative competition.

But for now, I am committed to diving into the Apple ecosystem and staying for a while. If I were still about the business of spreadsheets and databases, I would totally still be in Bill Gates backyard camped out (and, yes, I did get MS Word & MS Excel for Mac; I’d be willing to give Pages a chance, but Numbers is flat out irritating to me). But I have to face the fact that (1) my life is about content creation now, and (2) as I mentioned before, I don’t have time to play under the hood with Chewbacca, as much as I would like to be that guy… I need a well-managed digital ecosystem that operates with minimal fiddling, effort, or even thought from me.

And in working on a Mac in a more invested way as “my” computer for the Feast, I have encountered a number of things I knew ahead of time would annoy me, thanks to having to work occasionally on my wife’s MacBook. Yet, there is a logical sense to operating system, to be sure, and much of it seems to be simply a matter or learning a new environment. So far, there has always been a way to do everything I have wanted to do; there is just a different way of doing it than I am used to.

If you are a dedicated Microsofter wanting to curse what you see as a traitorous or hasty choice, feel free to let me know below. Just be nice. 🙂 If you are an Appleonian who wants to commend me and give me some tips and advice, feel free to do so below, as well.

Terrain generators making me long to have my own planet

I had planned a much larger post on this topic, but as the week has gone on, so have my opportunities to write it. So, I’ll settle for a tiny opportunity before my wife and I run out the door for the weekend.

My boys and I like playing with a couple of “sandbox” games on the iPhone and iPad: Eden and Minecraft (generally, Creative Mode) Pocket Edition. I will show some screen shots one day, but for now, I’ll just move on.

It hit me, though, that there is likely some fairly accessible software out there by now that allows one to generate more realistic landscapes from scratch, and searching into that has opened up a whole new world of what’s available–amazingly, some of it for free. I don’t have the time, nor processing power, to delve into it much, but it has gotten my brain twitching in pleasant directions and looking forward to the time when God will grant “all things” to His Family and the adventure finally begins.

It really deserves a larger post, but for now I will just link to a couple of videos. One is a small one: a clip of some birds flying off in a scene created with the software Terragen, a piece of software that has been used in many, many big name movies and advertisements to create completely realistic, yet utterly non-existent landscapes. (The birds in that video don’t impress me as much as the landscape) The other is a longer one, also created using Terragen, then I find just plain pretty (nice little musical piece, too). Then we’re hitting the road. Still, I see some meditating on Hebrews 2:6-9 in my future tonight.

Here’s the vids — which, frankly, don’t even scratch the surface when you start digging around the Internet in the realm of computer-generated scenery, as there are some amazing images and videos out there. And, of course, I can’t imagine that it is even infinitesimally close to what we’ll see with God Family-generated scenery in the future. Have a wonderful Sabbath!

Experience 18 minutes of raw history: Man landing on the moon

What a treat! My thanks to DC for sending me the link to this, and a big hat tip to Watts Up With That? for posting a link to it.

The website firstmenonthemoon.com has assembled an “experience it as it happened” opportunity as you watch video footage from the first orbital lander synced with the dialog going on at Mission Control and the dialog with the astronauts themselves, along with graphics indicating who is talking at each point, an indicator of the landing’s pitch at each moment, and even a reading of Neil Armstrong’s heartrate as it fluctuated throughout the experience.

Almost brought me to tears watching the whole thing with Boy #2. Click on the graphic below to watch it for yourself, and thanks, again, to DC for passing it along!

MoonLandingExperience

Eating some anti-iPad crow

Well, time to eat some crow… I sit here in a hotel in Akron, looking forward to the Spokesman Club Ladies Event tomorrow morning, and typing this blog post on my new iPad using a wireless keyboard. My negative feelings about the iPad (I quote my first review in full: “Bleh. It’s just a giant iPhone.”) are on record on this blog, as are the more positive and enthusiastic comments from others and the warming of my attitude. Here’s a fairly thorough, chronological list for those who are interested in perusing (though I’m not sure why you’d want to!):

You’ll notice that the tone mellows after the initial rant and that the last post–by an anonymous guest reviewer–is pretty spot on and even prophetic in places, given that it was still discussing the 1st generation iPad. But beyond the “warming” noted in those posts, several things have changed since then.

For one, I feel like I am watching Microsoft implode before my very eyes. One of our local malls now has a Microsoft Store, like Apple has its Apple Store. In fact, both stores exist on the same floor of the mall, though mercifully they do not exist side-by-side. If you have been in an Apple Store but not a Microsoft Store, it is easy (with just a little oversimplification) to describe the latter fairly completely by comparing it to the former. The Microsoft Store looks like an Apple Store, except the clean, white, “Ship of Lights from the 1970s Battlestar Galactica” theme is replaced by a more varied and colorful theme that is probably supposed to say, mainly, “Look, we’re not copying the Apple store because, hey, colors.”

20130414-004123.jpg
“All I remember is flying my Colonial Viper, and now I wake up in an Apple Store!”

I was excited when I saw the store was coming to the mall, but now that it is here it is just depressing. The Apple store is always chock full of customers and happy blue-shirted service reps running around helping them buy goodies, while the Microsoft store is almost always completely devoid of customers, with not-as-happy colorful-shirted employees mainly stand there with no customers to talk to unless they are playing X-box games with each other or Fruit Ninja on a big screen. And when I say “devoid of customers” I really do mean devoid of customers. Barren. Just barren.

Back when I was excited about the potential of the new Surface tablets (which did one of their commercials at the Ambassador College campus in Pasadena, by the way–the “angry, dancing school girls” commercial), my good friend and Apple-phile John Robinson sent me some “intervention” e-mails to help me see through the haze, and it wasn’t pretty. While I still have hopes for (a future version of) Surface if Microsoft survives, I’m not so hopeful that Microsoft will survive. I still don’t think that iPad fully demonstrates the possibilities of a tablet computer, and I do like the brief demo that Josh Penman gave me during a visit at HQ where he actually printed a Word document off of his Surface to a local printer with an ease that real computers should be able to do, but none of those things has proven enough to prevent me from submitting to the Borg’s siren call. (“You will be assimilated into the Apple ecosystem. Resistance is futile.”) And the depressingly empty Microsoft store has only enhanced my concerns about the company’s future prospects.

The other things that helped me switch over were minor, but they built up over time. My concerns about the ergonomics and awkwardness of typing on the same geometric plane you were reading were eased the first time I saw Phil Sena using his wireless keyboard Bluetooth-paired with an iPad propped up on an Origami workstation (in fact, the very same set up I am using now). I had long been sold on the quality of MacBook Pros, having seen a few upclose, like Adam West’s, and bought my wife one last year to replace her old, well-used, even-survived-a-sweet-tea-on-the-keyboard-spill MacBook. I knew that various programs would allow you to run Windows software on a Mac if you needed it (still no Apple substitute for MS Access out there that I’ve seen), and I had long thought it would be nice to have a MacBook Pro for myself, or even a desktop Mac (you know–if all of a sudden a meteor made of money landed intact in my yard). I’ve never been anti-Apple–other than for the sake of ribbing Mr. Sena, which someone should do–and I’ve loved every iPhone I’ve owned.

But I have been anti-iPad. And some of my criticisms still stick, methinks. I mentioned the fact that it seems to still fall short of what I would want from a “tablet computer” and I would love for Surface to make that come true with whatever operating system they decide to create, if they survive, after Windows 8 is banished to an OS Nether-realm. I don’t like that the “real Internet” (as the original iPhone commercials used to talk about as they zoomed in on a digitized copy of the New York Times) still isn’t really the “real Internet” (as demonstrated by the fact that my attempts to post this blog in WordPress through Safari were frustrating and forced me to stop and compose most of it in the WordPress App while I go to the full WordPress site to do some final touches). And being micromanaged by the ghost of Steve Jobs is a bit frustrating after being so used to the complete freedom to tinker/modify/accidentally destroy that is PC ownership.

However, I understand the micromanagement concept and the ecosystem that it helps to enable. And, frankly, I’ve been tempted by the idea long enough that I think I will move into the ecosystem completely. I’ve got an iPhone, as does my Beautiful Wife. She has a MacBook Pro. She has an iPad mini I bought for her, and now I have an iPad. (I think she requested a mini because she didn’t think I would spring for a full-sized iPad. Then I bought me one. I might be in trouble…)

My next steps are currently projected to be these: Buy a Mac Mini–which is way easier to imagine affording sometime in the foreseeable future than its more complete siblings–for use as my desktop, and then experiment with an iPad/iPhone-only mobile computing existence. I would sell my current laptop and hope to help pay for part of the cost of getting MS Office (at least Word and Excel) for the Mac. If those steps will happen, when will they happen? I’m not sure, but I will report back if that money meteor hits the yard.

The saddest thing for me? Not that I have to eat some crow. I’ve eaten crow before. It’s not so bad if you cook it right. (Note to undiscerning rumor-monkeys: I don’t mean literal crow.)

No, The saddest thing for me about deciding to switch from a PC-based existence to an Apple-based one is that it feels like Han Solo deciding to sell the Millennium Falcon and get an Enterprise D. But an Enterprise fits my needs better these days, methinks, just like a nice minivan fits my needs better these days than the old 1972 Four-Door, No-Air-Conditioning-In-Texas, Metallic-Blue Chevy Nova named Euclid that, to this day, I still wish I had.

But maybe in a crazy world where J. J. Abrams is directing both Star Trek and Star Wars, anything is possible. (Though if I see a single lens flare in Episode VII, I’m suing.)

And if Microsoft gets its act together and begins bundling Wookies as standard issue, I might be back.

With this, the minifigs will soon take over the world…

Wow. Here I am transferring stuff from my old iPhone to my new, shiny iPhone 5 and thinking, “Wow, what an amazing little device.” Then, along comes this video in my Inbox, putting me in my place…

[Hat tip to DC in Dallas & The Kim Komando Show!]

Warning: I’ve been hacked

A quick warning: Apparently a boat load of e-mails went out from somewhere last night or early this morning that said they were from me but they were not. They used an old (old, old, old) AT&T e-mail address I used to have.

I have no idea where all the address came from, but I recognize the addresses on one of the e-mails sent to me as addresses I have used before, including, for instance, a professor I had e-mailed way back when I began researching 2012 stuff for the telecast. So it is a matter of one of my old databases somewhere being hacked, whether it’s one of my computers or some database kept online by AT&T or whatever.

Any suggestions would be welcome! In the meantime, I’ll be thinking of more ways to warn people and figuring out if I need to clean some computers when I get home late tonight…

Sorry for the inconvenience!

R.I.P., TI-30X IIS

Well, I’ve officially declared my old TI-30X IIS as living impaired. It is gone, awaiting the Great Calculator Resurrection (which will never happen, in the event you were curious–calculator religions are notorious for being completely false).

You were a good calculator, TI-30X IIS. I first met you when the Society of Actuaries approved you for their exams. Before you, in my math teaching days, I was into the TI-81 and TI-85–almost-but-not-quite required instruments in those days of teaching high school calculus. Your screen wasn’t as flashy as theirs and not a single plotted curve graced your display, but you were easy to read, and your history of previous entries plus your ANS button made working with you a breeze and actually made calculating the results of recursive formulas a little fun.

Before I was a teacher, there were the muscular-feeling little HP “Reverse Polish” calculators I enjoyed in my youth. In my inexperience they felt almost counter-culture and arcane and provided a sense of enlightened subversiveness. But you were a welcome return to infix notation: tried and true, warm and comfortable.

You saw me through some rough exams, to be sure! And in these last years, you helped one of my boys put the tedium of arithmetic he has mastered behind him so he could focus on deeper matters of symbolic manipulation. It was satisfying to see you serving again, little buddy.

But, entropy increases, doesn’t it? So here you are… non-functional. The recessed RESET button in your back couldn’t save you this time. You’ll be missed, TI-30X IIS. And if we take you apart and figure out a way to use your solar power strip for something useful–or at least entertaining–we’ll think of you fondly. Farewell.

Will Alcubierre be the real world’s Cochrane after all?

Image representing the warping of space-time by in such a manner as to allow effectively faster-than-light travel by a ship in the “flat” space in the center. (From Wikipedia)

The article on Yahoo News yesterday (actually from, Space.com) about discoveries making physicist Miguel Alcubierre’s concept of a warp drive was exciting to read. You can check it out here: “Warp Drive May Be More Feasible Than Thought, Scientists Say” (Space.com, 9/17/2012).

(As a side note, I can see the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto reading that title and thinking, “Yeah, for some people thinking really is unfeasible,” but that’s another story.)

For those who’ve never heard of the “real life” warp drive scenario, Alcubierre worked out in physics what science fiction writers like to take for granted: the possibility of traveling faster than the speed of light.  Actually, Alcubierre has stated that he was inspired by the “warp drive” of the Star Trek fictional universe. The idea was to take advantage of a loophole in physics’ normal “No faster than light” speed limit. Although matter could not be accelerated to faster-than-light speeds, space-time, itself, has no theoretical speed limit (part of the reason why inflation is considered a legitimate idea in current Big Bang cosmology). So, all you have to do is create a “bubble” of space-time around your ship that will remain constant to you and then accelerate this “bubble” through the intervening space-time between your current location and the location where you wish to be. The “bubble” moves as fast as you like, even faster than light, while you and your ship remain essentially motionless inside the “bubble.” Voila!

Well, not exactly voila… There are numerous practical problems–among them, the need for exotic matter related to “negative energy” and the need for an amount of energy equivalent to the mass of the planet Jupiter. Feel free to check out the Wikipedia article on the matter.

But, according to the Yahoo/Space.com article, the calculations and physics has been refined to allow for a different design of the warp field (“bubble”) generator that would reduce the amount of energy needed to the mass of one of the Voyager probes — still huge (a little mass means a lot of energy), but less than the mass of Jupiter by magnitudes and much more imaginably feasible.

Scientists are still considering the possibility of exotic matter, though I recommend that they begin looking into McDonald’s Chicken McNugget ingredients. You never know, you know?

Personally, I am fascinated by the idea but wonder about the paradoxes that would arise. It is generally understood that Faster-Than-Light (FTL) travel causes causality paradoxes, where effects are observed to occur before their causes (see a discussion here if you are curious and don’t mind space-time graphs), but do we go so far as to say that FTL is impossible because of such potential paradoxes (as does the author of the notes I just linked to)? We like to talk about “Speed of Thought” travel in the Church — is there no resolution to such things? I suspect that there are, and I look forward to understanding those resolutions. For now, though, I’ll stick with STL travel. I’d hate to mess up the space-time continuum in some unforeseen way…

The F-22 Raptor versus the Eurofighter Typhoon: And the winner is…

The F-22 Raptor fifth generation stealth air s...
The F-22 Raptor fifth generation stealth air superiority fighter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, that depends.  ABC News reports today that America’s incredibly expensive F-22 Raptor has been pitted against Europe’s Typhoon in combat simulations (simulations involving real flying, real pilots, and real aircraft, just not real missiles or bullets) and has found that the results are mixed, though not surprisingly so.

In the ways the F-22 was designed to be superior, apparently it was handily so: super stealthy and the most powerful thing in the air for the long-distance attacks that are the new norm in modern air-based warfare. On this level, the F-22 is apparently everything it is designed to be, as reported by those who “fought” against it:

Two other German officers, Col. Andreas Pfeiffer and Maj. Marco Gumbrecht, noted in the same report that the F-22’s capabilities are “overwhelming” when it comes to modern, long-range combat as the stealth fighter is designed to engage multiple enemies well-beyond the pilot’s natural field of vision – mostly while the F-22 is still out of the other plane’s range. Grumbrecht said that even if his planes did everything right, they weren’t able to get within 20 miles of the next-generation jets before being targeted.

That is pretty amazing.

[Note: I don’t know which last name the reporter spelled correctly: “Gumbrecht” or “Grumbrecht” but the mistake is in the original article.]

But in close combat, one-on-one dogfighting, the F-22 apparently has no particular advantage over its European counterpart:

“But as soon as you get to the merge…” Pfeiffer said, referring to the point at which fighters engage in close-up dog fighting, “in that area, at least, the Typhoon doesn’t necessarily have to fear the F-22 in all aspects… In the dogfight the Eurofighter is at least as capable as the F-22, with advantages in some aspects.”

The Eurofighter Typhoon is the second most exp...
The Eurofighter Typhoon is the second most expensive fighter aircraft in the world after the F-22. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Typhoon and its German pilots apparently held their own very nicely in that area. Someone should notify The Royal Guardsmen. (Raise your hand if you get that reference…)

This does not necessarily represent a failure of the F-22, which was designed to be king of the skies from the perspective of modern warfare in the air, which is increasingly considered to be a long distance affair. (I’ve seen the results spun both ways, so who knows?) However, the prospect of German pilots flying Eurofighters going up against American pilots in their newest and best was too fascinating not to post. And while, on one hand, it is easy to imagine a future match up for real given what prophecy indicates is ahead, on the other hand the more likely scenario might be F-22 versus F-22 (after all, they are currently allies, and we share when the price is right) or, more depressing, Americans in ultralights with slingshots versus the F-22’s we sold to Europe for a steal in our “Going Out of Business” garage sale.

With the way things are going, we might be grateful for a lone beagle in a Sopwith Camel. Hopefully Britain won’t have sold all of those, too.

[EDIT, 1/16/2014: As alluded to above, Bible prophecy speaks of a coming conflict of vast scope, with the United States & Great Britain on one side and Europe on the other, with Europe victorious and the US & UK crushed beyond recognition. It may be hard to see now, but prophecy is about highlighting those things that are hard to imagine now before they become easy to see. If you’re interested in putting that prophecy to the test for yourself, here are links to two free books from Tomorrow’s World that walk you through your Bible and history on the matter: The United States and Great Britain in Prophecy and The Beast of Revelation: Myth, Metaphor or Soon-Coming Reality? All the material on that website is completely free (Matt. 10:8), whether you want to read it there, download it as a PDF or e-book, or even request a physical copy or the book to be sent to you.]

The United States and Great Britain in Prophecy   The Beast of Revelation: Myth, Metaphor or Soon-Coming Reality?