Saturday, September 29, 2012

Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen

My wife & I were watching what seemed like a two-hour-long movie on TV. We didn't know until about three-quarters of the way through it that it was a movie sponsored by a purportedly “Christian” organization. The storyline focuses on a male teen about ready to graduate from high school with full scholarship to the university of his choice. He was a likable youth, popular in school, star athlete, highlight at every party, and easy going. He was not the least bit religious and thought of religious people as emotionally “needy” and just plain strange.

Then, in quick succession, his life takes a number of bad turns. He finds out his girl friend is pregnant and his parents are getting a divorce, and some of his close friends turn on him (I wasn't quite clear on the reason for that.) Through a series of events, he finds himself willingly talking with a religious youth counselor. The young man says he isn't religious and feels very uncomfortable in the setting. But after a while he lets his guard down and pleads to understand why all these bad things are happening in his life. (At this point, I had to chuckle--he in effect tries to shirk his own responsibility in the matter of his girlfriend being pregnant and implies that God should have stopped it!)

But the real “stick in  my craw” (aka, annoyance) was what the youth minister said in response: “Nobody knows why God allows bad things to happen to people.” What about you? Have you ever heard a reasonable explanation as to why God allows bad things to happen, or have you also resigned yourself to the answer that there is no answer? It really is not that big a secret but apparently people are not being taught it by their religions. And no, this is not based on mere personal interpretation. It is based on solid research and reasoning and simple scriptural principles that anyone can understand.

The springboard scripture I like to start off with is 1 John 4:8,9. There, John, a man who personally knew and spent extensive time learning from Jesus, said that if we've made any other conclusion about God except that he loves us, we really do NOT know God at all. Then he goes on to talk about one tangible way God demonstrates his love--by allowing his son's life to be put in harms way to provide a ransom for us to live. So God (Jehovah) went to great lengths to demonstrate how much he cares. To illustrate: Imagine you have an adult son whom you treasure and love as much as your own life. You both are on a fishing boat when you notice a large ship sinking. You both are skilled fishermen and very adept swimmers. You want to throw a lifeline but your son dives in the water to save as many as possible. He is able to save many, but stops breathing in the process. You drag him aboard and after several tense minutes, you successfully resuscitate him. Although he willingly gave his life, you had the knowledge and power to bring him back again. But it doesn't negate the sacrifice you both made to save others.
That is what God and Jesus did.

some might say: "But if Christ’s life “saved” us, why are we humans still suffering? The human condition hasn't changed before or after Jesus came to earth.” Part of the reason that may be true in their lives is that they still haven’t found the true global brotherhood of believers that are unitedly living in peaceful co-existence amidst a world in chaos. For the time being, that Christian brotherhood is source of real peace and comfort. They also have not yet discovered just how concrete and tangible a benefit it is, to have an accurate understanding of the Bible. Having those two things helps people finally make sense of what is happening in this world. But what about the fulfillment of Jesus’ words at Matthew 5:5? It reads: “Happy are the mild-tempered ones, since they will inherit the earth." That time will come but in the meantime there are issues to be resolved--and these are the big reasons why God has allowed bad things to continue on earth.

There are two lies that Satan told that needed time to be addressed. The first issue is a lie Satan told the first humans (Adam & Eve). He said that God was selfish and wanted all power, knowledge and control to himself. Satan told Eve that there was a way to enlightened freedom--by disregarding the direction God had given them.
Have we humans successfully, happily set our own standard of good and bad and been able to have human rule that truly satisfies everyone? No, instead, mismanagement, unfair treatment, adamant disagreements, oppression, war, and much more have gone from bad to worse. Yet mankind still insists they can work out their own ways. Just look at the promises being made by politicians and world leaders today. In lands espousing democracy, each successive political candidate promises to “fix” what the prior administration hadn't fixed--and yet it never gets fixed. What conclusion are more and more people coming to realize from this? Just as the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah wrote: “"I well know, O Jehovah, that to earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step." (Jeremiah 10:23)

The second lie that Satan said is mentioned at Job 1:8-11. This time, he attacks mankind as a race, claiming in front of God that the only reason some people are faithful to Him is because of the personal benefits they receive. Satan claims that humans are basically selfish and have no pure motives for trying to befriend God. Yes, Satan taunts God every time we selfishly pursue a wrong course. This is the reason God encouragingly reminds us: “Be wise, my son, and make my heart rejoice, that I may make a reply to him that is taunting me.” (Proverbs 27:11) So Job, and others like him down through history, have proven that even in the severest of trials, they will not disown God or compromise their integrity.

There is much more that can be said about this, but those two main points help to answer the reason why God has continued to allow wickedness to exist. First, it has taken all these centuries, all the different forms of human rule, all the individuals with their new ideas, to come forward and prove Jeremiah’s words as true--we really cannot rule ourselves successfully. Second, it also takes time for generations of people to come and go in order to build up a mound of testimony that there are indeed people that would go so far as to sacrifice their own life in order to prove that they unselfishly love God and humbly obey his direction.

In the meantime, because mankind has chosen and continues to choose an independent course, God allows the suffering we incur from our own choices to affect us. However, as mentioned, He provides the both the Bible and the true Christian brotherhood to help us cope. So now the question comes back to you (each one of us). God didn't make the provision of his Son’s sacrifice so that only a few people would benefit. The apostle Peter, another close associate of Jesus, wrote: “Jehovah is not slow respecting his promise, as some people consider slowness, but he is patient with you because he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) This is yet a third reason why the conditions in this world continue--God is patient with us collectively in the hopes that some individually will come to a realization that they need to get their lives right with God. Does seeing the issues Satan raised make you want to take a stand on God's side? What can you do besides living a "good life"? If you'd like to know what is expected of us, I'd be happy to discuss that with you. But please note, just as in the past when God has acted against disobedience, at some point his patience will run out for this world. At some point, loyal ones deserve and will receive the benefit mentioned at Psalm 37:10,11.

Index of Blog Articles

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Free Will Is Not a Free-For-All

This article expands on a previous article that briefly mentioned free-will.

When some hear “free” they equate it with “all you want, all you can take.” However, guests that do exactly that at a dinner are considered rude and socially uncultured.  Social events are just that, a means for socializing, not for emptying the pantry.

When some get a driver’s license, they think it entitles them to do just about anything possible within the laws of physics. They drive as if they “own the road,” being rude, cutting people off, driving recklessly without consideration for pedestrians, speeding and running red lights and stop signs. But that is not the way state laws intended people to view a driver’s license. It is a document that implies you have taken a certain amount of training and passed an on-road driving test. Had you driven poorly during that test, you would not have a license. So the license means you understand you are to conduct yourself responsibly, lawfully, and with consideration for others on the road. We are free to travel on public roads but it is not a free-for-all. We are free to do many things as long as it doesn’t break the vehicle codes or endanger life.

The first time your parents left you alone at home, they did so with the trust that you would respect their wishes and their property. Although you are free of their immediate supervision, chances are they left you with a list of expectations. If they return to find you have broken their trust, you likely will not be trusted to be left alone again for a long while—(not to mention that you will probably be punished for whatever blatant disregard you may have shown).

What do the three items above have in common? They illustrate that freedom is not the same as a free-for-all. We are expected to exercise restraint and good judgment for the freedom we are given. These aptly illustrate the faculty of free-will that God is said to have given us. Within the limits that he sets, we are free to drink alcohol (in moderation), we are free to enjoy sex (within the heterosexual marriage arrangement), we are free enjoy sports (as long as it does not flagrantly disregard safety and the value of life), we are free to do many things as long as it doesn't break God’s laws.

So a driver who misuses their freedom of travel and drives recklessly may find that they lose not only the freedom of travel but are now caged in a prison cell. Likewise a person that uses their freedom as an excuse for loose conduct will find that they have lost God’s favor and, eventually, lose their future opportunity for life. So we all have a choice—act responsibly with the freedom we have, or act irresponsibly, thinking only of what we want regardless of how it affects others or our relationship with God.

Index of Blog Articles

Friday, September 7, 2012

Pigeonholing God (or, God-In-The-Box)

It surprises me as I go about my outreach program how many people pigeonhole God, stuffing him into a convenient box in the back of their mind and opening it on Sunday when they “go to church.” I recently met a woman in her 70s who, after my introduction, piously announced, “Well, I believe in the Lord Jesus as my savior” and then arrogantly challenged, “do you?” I affirmed that I do indeed believe in Jesus but before I could get another word out of my mouth she cut me off and said, “well then, there is nothing more for us to discuss” and closed her mind (and door) on me.

As I reflected on the conversation I thought how clever she was with her question. Regardless if I had said “yes” or “no” to her question, her response would have been the same, “Well, there is nothing more to discuss.” In actuality, this person, like so many I’ve met do not enjoy talking about their faith. I’ve had some use the excuse that I’m cheapening God by talking about him outside of “church.” (They likewise abruptly ended the conversation because they likely knew I would point out that Jesus preached publicly, and not just in the Jewish religious meeting place known as the Synagogue.)  I have also met those who say they don’t discuss their faith with strangers. In saying that, I have to wonder if they even know they are completely disregarding what Jesus told his disciples to do (Matthew 28:19,20) Finally, there is vast multitude of those I meet that say, “I have my own religion” or “I just went to church on Sunday” and then turn aside from me. All of these people put God in a very convenient little box that they open whenever they feel they want to.

So for those claiming to follow the Christianity that Jesus outlined and not whatever flavor of belief the “churches” of today espouse, what is the Bible-endorsed, Bible-promoted attitude and actions to incorporate into your life regarding your relationship with God? First of all, the two “Greatest Commandments” come to mind. The first was to love God with every fiber of our being (not stuff him into the back of our mind and relegate him to one day of the week). Think about it: If we loved God like we love so many other things in our life, wouldn’t we enjoy talking about Him? For example, I have interests in photography and wireless technology and engage in lively online discussions about those topics—as do hundreds of others. So for those that excitedly discuss personal hobbies and interests but then turn around and treat God as of little consequence, what does that say about them? If that were your best friend, your girl friend, you mate or someone else in your life and you treated them that way, how would they feel?—Unappreciated, unimportant?

Even in everyday mundane things such as sports scores and teams, politics, and such, if the person we are talking to doesn’t agree with everything we say, we still enjoy their company. Why does talking about God and the Bible have to be so different, so rigid? In my observation, there are two classes of people that act this way. First are the ones that really have not come to know the Bible (and hence God) that well, so they are embarrassed when they meet others that do know and can show them things they may never have considered. Second are the ones that adamantly have a closed mind to anything but their own opinion on matters related to God and the Bible. These self-righteously condemn anyone that doesn’t agree with their viewpoint. They don’t even want to share what they DO know and demand you leave them alone.

The second of the two Greatest Commandments was to love our neighbor as ourselves. Anyone reading the book of Acts (following the “Gospel” accounts in the Christian Greek scriptures) can readily see that Paul, an “apostle to the nations,” made every earnest yet respectful & calm effort to reason not only with the common people but even with Roman leaders of the time. In like manner, those who adopt the Christianity taught by Jesus and practiced by his early followers recognize that the greatest love we can extend to our neighbors is to bring them the same message of hope and comfort that helped us. We don't just accept the message and then bottle it up inside, not willing to discuss it. Instead, we let our light shine.

"But what if opposing views surface?" That actually is bound to happen. In those cases, I remember advice I was once given: “Its okay to disagree, but you don’t have to be disagreeable.” I was told that by a friend one day when, years ago, I used to become argumentative. Now I’ve learned to respect that others are entitled to their viewpoint just as much as I am to mine. I also remember that when I go from inside to outdoors, my first reaction is to squint and block my eyes from the bright light. Metaphorically, our eagerly sharing the light of Bible understanding can have the same effect. Sometimes people feel the light is intrusive. So I respect their choice and try to part company on a friendly note.

I hope that anyone reading this gives consideration to their viewpoints regarding discussing God. If you truly love your creator, talking about him should be as natural as anything else you discuss. If someone has a differing viewpoint, consider why they view it that way. See if you need to adjust your viewpoint, but don’t shut them out and don’t relegate God to some box called Sunday church.

Index of Blog Articles

Friday, August 31, 2012

Bible Answers About Homosexuality

I was recently asked how the Bible feels about homosexuals (aka “gay” people).

Below, I consider the following three questions:
  1. Does God discriminate against homosexuals?
  2. If people can’t choose to live the way they want, how is that “free will”?
  3. Some say homosexuals are “born that way.” How do you respond to that?
Lets start with an illustration: In "free countries" (my experience is only with USA), no matter which race or ethnic background, no matter which religious affiliation, no matter what your financial situation is, you can be equally accepted and respected as a citizen as long as you obey the laws. But say someone of a certain religion is caught in illegal financial ventures; or say that someone of a particular ethnic background is repeatedly arrested for reckless drunk driving? Or what if either a rich or poor person is caught shoplifting? In each case what got the person in trouble is not their skin color, beliefs or status, it was their actions, their conduct.

The same goes with our relationship with God. Acts 17:30 says that whatever past experiences we had in life, he is willing to overlook our past conduct as our having acted in ignorance of what God required. The apostle Peter (at 1Peter 1:14) wrote that those who have come to know God, need to conduct themselves as obedient children, transformed from their former life styles. What were some of those lifestyles? Paul, at 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 mentioned four different sex acts that were disapproved, two different financial wrongs as well as being greedy, a drunkard and other things. But then Paul wrote "but that is what some of you were." Yes, regardless of a person's past, if they truly want to be accepted by God and are willing to obey "the laws of the land" (the  Bible), he is willing to accept them on equal standing as anyone else.

So just as a former alcoholic or a person given to fits of anger can be accepted by God if they control themselves, so too a person who used to be actively homosexual can be accepted as a friend of God. I am not discounting that sexual urges and attractions are very strong and are different from being a drunk or brute. I know that controlling or changing sexual desires is not like a light bulb or light switch. For some I've known, they are never able to get over their attractions to the same gender. But the point is that they keep those feelings controlled by reflecting on how merciful & loving God has been to them and how much they appreciate being accepted by Him in spite of their inward desires. Note this statement by one of Jesus’ apostles recorded at Acts 10:34,35 "For a certainty I perceive that God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him." Yes, if we are willing to conform to God's direction, we can all be equal in his sight.

What then about the question: If God gave us free will and freedom of choice why can't someone choose to be homosexual? Again, by illustration, lets say a loving & caring parent tells their child to play only within fenced area of their yard and to stay out of the busy street. The parent doesn't put a dog chain on their child--they have freedom of movement. A child could choose to disobey and go out in the street. But would that be in their own best interests?  Also, how would the parent feel about the blatant act of disobedience? The child is risking his own life by being in the street & is straining his relationship with his parent. Similarly, God gave us sex & wants us to enjoy it--within the fenced area of heterosexual marriage. But he doesn't prevent us by turning us into robots and he doesn't chain us by preventing us from choosing wrong. If we want to go onto the streets of moral danger, away from the safety outlined by our Father, we can do it.

Question: I heard that people are born that way. What does the Bible say?
God wants to give everyone a chance to be at peace with Him, otherwise it wouldn't be fair. So since the Bible says that those practicing homosexuality cannot get God's approval, it would be unfair if God made them in such a way so that it would be impossible for them to win God's favor. There have been many reported instances of both men and women who were homosexuals and changed. True God did not make each of us individually. We are imperfect offspring from a long genetic line. But even people with strong dispositions toward sex, substance addiction and even mental diseases have successfully come to know and serve God. So it is not impossible to do what God and Jesus ask of us to prove our love for them.

So to recap the questions and answers from the beginning:

  1. No, God does not discriminate against people based on their background. He does discriminate against acts of which he disapproves. However, those willing to conform to his direction, whether they were previously gays, drunkards, thieves, or whatever else the Bible says God frowns on, can be accepted as his friend.
  2. Free will means that God does indeed grant people to choose their own course in life. However, just as drunk speeders choose to drive, doesn’t mean their conduct is without consequences. Rejecting God’s loving direction has consequences. It is much better to accept that what God wants of us is for our own good.
  3. If it were really true that we have no choice in our sexual preferences, and that a homosexual has no choice, then, since God in his Word, The Bible, condemns the act, that would mean that God is not fair and intends to punish them even though they can’t help themselves. But God IS fair and anyone can change to meet his requirements.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

How Useful Are Smartphones?

If you have a smartphone, you appreciate all the various ways you can use it. But just how many actual, practical ways are there? I've enumerated at least 41 of them along with the 30 things (many of them are actual physical devices) that the smartphone replaces.

In this spreadsheet, I walk through a "day in the life" of a smartphone user. Read across the rows. The spreadsheet is designed with the headings: Activity, Before Smartphones, Since Having A Smartphone and Notes. As you read each row, I try to progress the Activities as if they were happening all in a single day.

As to the 30 tangible and non-tangible devices it replaces:
  • Clock or watch. (For local & world time)
  • Alarm clock
  • Calendar / Day Planner
  • GPS navigation device
  • CD or MP3 player
  • Audio recorder
  • Newspaper
  • Magazines
  • Books
  • Computer (in some cases)
  • Radio
  • Fax machine
  • Restaurant guide
  • Yellow pages
  • Maps
  • Camera
  • Notepad
  • Flashlight
  • Level
  • Small ruler
  • Art guide
  • Grocery coupon system
  • Mirror
  • Egg Timer
  • Stop Watch
  • TV
  • TV Remote (requires phone with IR)
  • Photo Album
  • Compass
  • Dictionary
There are probably more, but these are the ones I could think of.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Understanding Sin

Ask most people that read the Bible what sin is, and they will respond by enumerating various vices. While the Bible does address that matter, that is not the full definition of sin from God’s standpoint. Case in point. Notice the following quote from Paul’s writing to the Hebrews at Hebrews 11:24-27.

“ By faith Moses, when grown up, refused to be called the son of the daughter of Pharaoh, choosing to be ill-treated with the people of God rather than to have the temporary enjoyment of sin, because he esteemed the reproach of the Christ as riches greater than the treasures of Egypt; for he looked intently toward the payment of the reward. By faith he left Egypt, but not fearing the anger of the king, for he continued steadfast as seeing the One who is invisible. “

Note that there is no mention of Moses rejecting vices--although they must have been present and available to the royalty in Egypt. But that is not Paul’s point. Instead, the “temporary enjoyment of sin” was directly equated with being associated with the pagan royalty in that he “refused to be called the son of the daughter of Pharaoh.” But why is it wrong to accept wealth, prestige, power and royal heritage? Why is that considered a sin?

Two thoughts come to mind here....

"O man, who, then, really are you to be answering back to God? Shall the thing molded say to him that molded it, 'Why did you make me this way?'" (Romans 9:20) Yes, God made mankind and has the right to define and designate our purpose. Regarding our assigned purpose in life, Jesus said: “Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness,” and our material needs would be taken care of.

“It is easier for a camel to get through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to get into the kingdom of God.” -Matthew 19:24 Once we start to focus our efforts on our own desires and our own will, it becomes increasingly difficult to submit to, to trust in, God’s will for us.

So coming back to Moses, sin is more than vices. It is failing to put God first in our life, to have complete confidence and trust that he does and will care for our needs. Sin of this sort can seem so innocuous, so innocent—“we’re just trying to make a living, get ahead in life, make ourselves comfortable.” Yet that is exactly what Moses rejected. In general then, sin is failing to meet up to our God's expectations, a falling short of a mark as if our lives were arrows and our direction in life missed the bull's eye.

Index of Blog Articles

Friday, August 17, 2012

Wild Dogs and Patent Meat

Do you remember the old western movie bar fights? One jerk starts it and then its a free-for-all. You sort of wonder how in the world everyone got into this fight. It seems staged and absurd. But then I reflect on the current round of lawsuits between just about every wireless manufacturer in the world! But to me that resembles something even more animalistic, like wild dogs fighting over a kill--that's my patent! No, that's my patent! No, that's his patent!

There has been much discussion on the web (I follow PhoneDog, DroidDog, PhoneScoop and a few others) about who the winner will be and what the losses will be. Everyone seems to agree that the biggest losers will be the consumers. After considerable thought (and I'm sure someone will refine this), what really needs to happen is:

1. The patent system needs to be overhauled.

2. Vague and/or generalized patents (square device, swipe gesture, etc) need to be revoked. At some point the whole issue of "look and feel" needs to be re-examined and refined. If a potentially patentable item has truly unique characteristics apart from shape, texture or color, consideration needs to be given to just how truly new, unique and inventive the item is. I've seen episodes on Shark Tank where people come in with little more than pencil with a twist--and the Sharks immediately point out the absurdity of it.

3. An arbitrator needs to be delegated by the various international trade commissions and that person(s) needs to sit down with ALL the players & decide an amicable solution to the remaining REAL patentable inventions. Since this is a world market, standardization needs be reached to keep the world players (device OEMs) on a fair playing field across the globe.

4. Fair compensation for any true infringements that doesn't kill any of the game players is determined and distributed over a l-o-n-g course of time, reducing the weight of the load.

5. A new competition business-model is created by the arbitrator and all players are required to sign it. This will include a new international consortium of technical operations that is developed to review claims of abuse going forward.

At some point in the process above, pending patents need to keep flowing through the process. In order to accomplish that and yet not be undone by future decisions as the arbitrator's office gears up, a task force can be assigned that works closely with the arbitrator's office. (For example, I know that recently one vendor submitted a patent request addressing the design of flexible screens. I don't know where that is at in the process.)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Coming Soon To A Phone Near You

Its not often we're given a peek into the future with any reliability. Recently PhoneScoop interviewed Sprint regarding how they (Sprint) select and deploy new equipment. One of the most intriguing items in the article was Sprint's "Key Focal Areas For Roadmap Selection" chart. It is reproduced below.

You will note that the grid shows a short timeline of approximately 24 months (across the top) and, down the left margin, what we can expect to see for 1) Displays, 2) OS, 3) Cameras, and 4) Processors.

I am very impressed with the "Displays" section. Although we have yet to see it, supposedly Sprint is preparing to deploy one or more devices with color e-ink screens. In case you are not aware of the technology, e-ink was made popular in e-readers. The benefit of this technology is that it can be read in direct sunlight. (Perhaps you remember this commercial.) As a sample of one vendor's progress, watch this YouTube video on Fujitsu's latest technology in this field. Another benefit of this technology is that batteries can last up to a month before recharging. How does that compare with the smartphone you're now using?

The next major item in Sprint's timeline is Flexible Display technology. While their chart shows a scroll-like sheet coming out of pen-like tube, there are other ways of doing flexible displays.

The last mentioned was Tactile Screen. This is not something I'd heard about before seeing Sprint's chart. Here is one video demonstrating the technology. It is really exciting in that it could replace physical keyboards on phones and still give users that tactile feedback they want.

Regarding the rest of the progressions, I really wasn't that excited. You'd pretty much expect those things to take place. I have just two observations that may be notable: 1) Regarding OS, did you notice "Tizen"? It is an OS written completely in HTML5. Will that make customization even easier? Time will tell. 2) Regarding camera technology for phones. The chart shows that by the end of 2013 or possibly beginning of 2014 we will see 16 megapixel cameras. While some may drool over the idea, anyone who knows the technology will tell you that it is not necessarily a good thing. Instead of just introducing higher resolution images, it also introduces greater noise in the image. What would be more exciting is to see larger sensor chips, bubble lenses, and other advances that receive no attention from phone manufacturers.

Other news regarding e-ink manuafacturers
Plastic Logic
Triton Color
Mirasol (This last one is not e-ink. It is yet another new technology.)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Photosynth Cylindrical Shooting

I had read that Photosynth could be used for virtual tours, but upon more reading I found that it can also be used to create a spherical and cylindrical walk-around of a small object. After reading the cautions and advisories, I was all set to create my first cylindrical view. (By cylindrical view I mean either that the camera is stationary and the object turns on a center axis OR the camera walks around a stationary object to see all sides.

So here is my first attempt at it. For some reason, using the controls at the bottom works better with this Photosynth than trying to directly click the images themselves. It was created using 24 individual photographs. I set my camera to its lowest resolution of 8megapixels to shoot this so that there would be no memory worries. (Microsoft claims that there are no memory constraints with the online app, but I just wanted to play it safe.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Panoramic Portrait Position

I've been reading up on various photo tricks in preparation of a trip I hope to take soon. I've become increasingly interested in panoramic photos. I recently learned about Microsoft ICE (used for stitching panoramas that were taken from a single stationary position) and Photosynth (which permits the photographer to take his viewers on a virtual tour in and around a location). Both are free and both require a bit of forethought.

Normal panoramas are 180-degrees or less and those teaching the subject usually recommend a tripod. One nice feature of ICE is that neither a tripod nor single camera orientation are required. However, other customary photo-stitching programs usually expect a single orientation and this is the subject of this post.

If you try to use a tripod and a portrait orientated shot, you will get more distortion because of the lens turning on an imaginary axis that accentuates the issue. After thinking about that issue, at first I thought a monopod might help, but I can neither afford any more equipment at this time nor do I want to carry anymore equipment. One particular video made me think of a solution that may help portrait panos. Although  that video addresses camera shake and not panoramic photos, it was all I needed.

On your typical tripod, the unit that the camera attaches typically swings up (for putting the camera in portrait framing). On the leg of the tripod that is closest to swung-up position, extend only that one leg to a height where the viewer will be at your eye level. Now imagine a line between the bottom of that one leg and the lens. Position the camera so that that line sets your vertical level. My Canon 7D has a electronic level that shows both vertical and horizontal leveling. Once you have a sense of your vertical level, and your lens is flat against that imaginary plane, you need only pivot on that one leg as you rotate to take each frame.

I learned some other things from another video regarding preparing for taking panoramic images. Here is a recap of those lessons:

Good Technique for Pano Prep

Hardware: Setup on tripod. If a zoom lens, set to mid range. (Reduces distortion).

  • Photographing in portrait position (camera turned sideways) can cause greater distortions in stitching, but has added benefit of greater breadth in image. (Untested, but more overlap may help here.). One aid is simply put an object on the ground as a reference point that you hold your lens over it and rotate with lens centered above it (which means hand-held photography instead of on tripod).

  • Note: The worries associated with panoramic photos are not relevant to Photosynth photography.

Plan: Determine ahead your pan start & end points

PreScan: Scan the "horizon" of your planned pan without taking a pic to ensure that everything you want in the pan will be visible.

Exposure Averaging: Take 2 or 3 test shots: Pan-Start, Mid, Pan-End and check histogram. As much as possible determine an average that will get the whole pan correctly exposed. Reason: You want Manual mode and manual focus so that the whole pan, when stitched, will appear evenly exposed as if it truly were a single image.

  • With Auto, Av or Tv, take your readings, determine best mid-point focus and from the test shots and set your focus and exposure.

  • Start with a small aperature (large number above 10). This will ensure more is in focus than is out of focus.

Manual: Finally, set to Manual mode & manual focus and proceed to take your pan shots, remembering to include adequate overlap in each image so that alignment in the stitching program will be easy.

  • Adequate overlap is up to 50%. It is not less than 25%.

Below is a portrait pan I took. In the photo I annotated the problem areas.

Here is a simple illustration to indicate the tilted tripod method I used. The grey dash-line indicates the imaginary vertical plane against which the lens and one leg of the tripod match to. The brown line is the one extended leg of the tripod, the blue is the camera and the red the part on the tripod that connects to the camera. I tried to illustrate that the camera was in portrait.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Creative Photography

I started taking pictures when I was in my mid teens. But I had never given any thought to using the camera as a means of creative expression beyond composition, framing and exposure. I recently found a gentleman who, as of this writing, is probably around 21 years old and already is running a business with his Nikon and Photoshop. His website is

I was/am very impressed with his creativity to the point that I wanted to try one of his ideas, but with a twist of my own. Although I do not believe in ghosts, I wanted to see if I could use his idea to create a ghost-like image of myself. It really wasn't all that hard to do. I used Paint Shop Pro version X2.

Here is the process for creating it:

Took two pics of my bedroom, one with me, one without me.

Layer Stack:
Me in pic
Me not in pic

With the pic of me in it, cut out me.
Deleted layer with me in it
Duplicated cutout of me.

Layer Stack:
Me not in pic

Process on the Blur Layer:
Blur pic with outward explosion
Duplicated above explosion and rotated 45-degrees right
Flattened two blur layers
Applied “Chrome” effect
Changed blend mode to Screen, opacity to 59%

Completion Process
Select Me-CutOut and change opacity to 36%, “normal” blend mode
Took eraser set to 50% hardness and step 10 and went around edge of blur.

Final product:
Top Layer: Me CutOut
Middle Layer: Blur
Bottom Layer: Me not there

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Canon Digic Processors

Its been a while since I’ve written a geek article. Over the last couple weeks I’ve been talking with a peer who is considering getting the new Canon EOS 650D (aka Rebel T4i or EOS Kiss X6i). When I got my Canon EOS 7D, he really envied me—he just couldn’t justify the cost. Well, now he is taking a cruise that will take him to the same vendor I got my 7D at (on St. Thomas island). He has had a number of questions of my experience with the 7D because it and the 650D share some similar specs.

However, we started discussing the “brains” of the cameras. Mine has two Digic4 processors. The 650D has the latest generation of the Digic5 processor, but only one. Supposedly, going tooth to tooth, one Digic5 is 6 times faster in processing the image than one Digic4. Besides speed, improvements in handling noise at higher ISO’s are also noted. There are other benefits, but supposedly those are the big two.

In reading a Wikipedia article, Canon has used those claims with each successive iteration of the processor, but not without justification & good reason. For example, the new 1D series, using two Digic5, can shoot 14 frames a second with an ISO of over 200,000 (204,800). The 650D can shoot at 25,600 ISO. The highest ISO my 7D can shoot at is 12,800, half of the 650D but it can shoot 8 frames per second, three frames faster than the 650D and 6 frames slower than the 1DX.

During my reading/research, I also learned a bit more of the process flow inside the camera. There are three major phases. The first is the image capture. This takes place on the CMOS sensor. Next is the image processing; this takes place in the logic chips (Digic processors), handling white-balance, saturation, color correction & much more. Finally, there is the image storage that writes the image to the memory card.

(The last few iterations of digital cameras, at all levels of consumerism, actually divide the "write" process into two separate pieces: First, the image goes to a buffer that is essentially "live" and "fast" memory. Second, the buffer holds the image while the much slower storage card is written to. If you turn off your camera while the buffer is clearing its contents--sending it to your storage card, the camera is designed to remain on until the buffer is cleared. Thus you are not in any danger of losing an image. If you try taking a set of burst photos, you will audibly detect that the first few shots sound very fast compared to the rest. The reason is that the buffer has become full and the bottleneck of image traffic is slowing down the operation while the data gets written to your card. This is reason enough to ensure that you buy the highest write-rating speed of card for your new camera. Especially with the new 18 and above megapixel cameras. You don’t want your burst photos or movies being ruined by write speeds.)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Is God Cruelly Vengeful?

In Exodus 32:10, God gets angry at the disobedient crowd that Moses is leading and suggests to Moses that he (God) exterminate the crowd and build a nation from Moses' offspring. After Moses expresses sincere concern over that idea, verse 14 says: "And Jehovah began to feel regret over the evil that he had spoken of doing to his people."

Since Jehovah is perfect and cannot make even a mistaken judgment, how can it be that after Moses appealed to Jehovah, he (Jehovah)  “began to feel regret over the evil that he had spoken of doing”? This is particularly a good mental challenge because an online Jewish Bible of this verse renders this passage as:  “And HaShem [God] repented of the evil which He said He would do unto His people.” 

That would definitely make it sound as if God had done something wrong, which he needed to correct. The version of the Bible that website claims to be using is the Tanakh, which is the Jewish Bible. This includes all the books Christians know as the Hebrew / Aramaic writings (aka “old testament”).

However, I have a copy of the Tanakh that I bought more than 20 years ago. It was printed by The Jewish Publication Society with a copyright of 1985. It renders that verse as: “And the Lord renounced the punishment He had planned to bring...” This conveys the idea of rescinding an official decree. Further, one of the reference works the online version says it used renders that verse as: “God refrained from doing the evil that He planned for His people.”

Those two works together most probably carry the closest rendering to convey the correct idea to the English reader--God rescinded the decree, held back his decision, calmed his heart. According to W.E. Vine's "Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words," the original Hebrew word, "nacham," meant to have a change of heart, a change of mind, a change of action-plan.

In complete harmony with this research is the comment in the October15, 2010 Watchtower, which states: “In Hebrew, this expression can simply mean that Jehovah did not bring about the calamity he stated that he was inclined to bring upon the whole nation.” It then cites that a similar passage that occurs in Numbers 14:20, which, according to the New World Translation reads: “Then Jehovah said: ‘I do forgive according to your word.’” Yes, Jehovah was moved by Moses' unselfish concern for the peoples and his concern that God's name not be besmeared by those that would wrongly conclude that God's righteous judgment was a sign of weakness--inability to provide for the people and control his temper. Although God was fully justified and capable of carrying out his will either way (to use Moses as a foundation for a new society or continue using the crowd following Moses), as the Watchtower notes, it more likely that God was testing out Moses to see how he would react to the proposition.

So why then do our English Bibles use words & phrases like "felt regret" or  "repented"? There are several possible reasons. The King James version is one that uses the word "repented." Perhaps in the 1600's that word was understood to merely mean a change without implying a wrong that needed to corrected. Another contributing factor is knowing which manuscripts were used in any particular English translation. It is interesting that the NIV uses the word "relented" (to soften or relax) and the Amplified renders it that God "turned from the evil" he had mentioned doing.

All this reminds me of the need each person has to accept the personal responsibility to gain accurate knowledge of God and not merely accept things at the superficial level and thus make wrong conclusions. For me, the basis I examine any confusing scripture on is the belief that “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and that he is dependable. (Speaking of God's stalwart determination being as solidly fixed as a rock (like the Rock of Gibraltar), Deuteronomy 32:4 says: “The Rock, perfect is his activity, For all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice; Righteous and upright is he.”)

Another lesson learned: Although God is Love, and a God merciful, abundant in loving-kindness and slow to anger, he is also a God that exacts justice on those stubbornly wicked. (Exodus 34:6,7) So we would never want to turn God's patience and undeserved kindness into an excuse for behavior that God disapproves. (Jude 4)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Future Rewards

Every once in a while I come across an idea that I think would be excellent to help prove or at very least support what I believe the Bible’s teaching is regarding death and resurrection.

  • Unlike mainstream Christendom, I believe that we were created as living souls (aka “beings”), not that we have some non-physical component in us called a soul. (Genesis 2:7)
    • KJV, DRA(Catholic Douay) “became a living soul”;
    • NIV, AMP “became a living being”;
    • GNT, “the man began to live”

  • Sometime (not long) after Adam had the breath of life breathed into him and he “became a living soul,” he was told that, if disobedient, at death he would merely return to the ground, “for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:19)
  • Jesus and indeed the whole of the Greek Scriptures (“new testament,” as some call it) attest to early Jewish converts to Christianity as already having common knowledge that being resurrected was supported and taught in the Hebrew/Aramaic scriptures (“old testament”).

I felt sure that I should be able to find proof of this belief in Jewish teachings today. So I wondered: What hope of future reward or what hope for the future is there for a loyal Jew (or “Hebrew,” as some prefer)? To that end I read a few websites that cover the idea(s). Surprisingly (or maybe not), those of the Jewish faith, living as our contemporaries, do not have have one common belief.

Here are the three search phrases I used and a few choice returrns:

  • what is the future reward for faithful jews
  • do jews believe in an afterlife
  • did ancient hebrews belief in resurrection

Essentially, it seems the Jews, down through centuries of influences from peoples worshipping “foreign” deities, have had their faith compromised by philosophies not found in the Bible. Even though Jewish scripture canon has no teaching of an immortal soul, some teach that humans do indeed have such. The result of this belief allows them to adopt and adapt the unscriptural belief of reincarnation. It also has the belief of “a nonphysical place where only the intellect remains to ‘bask in the Glow of the Divine Presence.’” This quote was taken from the first link cited above. Even the author admitted: “Nobody is quite sure what this means” But one thing I could not find was any indication just what they would be doing in this Divine Presence. The author does state that: “The logic goes that if the afterlife is only intellectual, only those who used their intellect would want to be there in the first place. Otherwise, they will simply cease to exist, ….” So intellectual ones get to bask in the Divine Presence but I guess they are too much in awe of the presence to do much else than stare in amazement. My words may sound unkind or glib but I truly do not mean them that way. It is my honest conclusion from reading the links above. (In fact, after reading the notes of the first link, I actually gained respect for the objective research that was done.)

The second link at least partially supported my hopes that Jewish belief would back up my Christian belief in the resurrection. The only “pop my bubble” concern is that it is not a unilateral belief across Jewish believers. Instead it really becomes just another point of contention between me and others. They will point to Jews who believe in reincarnation, an immortal soul and other such things as proof of their roots just as firmly as I will point to those that agree with my point. So that line of proof cannot be pursued with the expectation that it will authoritatively answer the question.

Reflecting again on the article in the first link, I was intrigued by the author’s assertion that the holy canon of Jewish writings (Hebrew/Aramaic scriptures) only supported the idea that those writings concentrated on the “present.” The reward for obedience was peace with God during the immediate lifetime of each generation. He claims there was not a dwelling on what happens after death or any expectation of future resurrection. And although to the greater degree that was true--God’s message to each generation dealt with loyalty now and the resultant blessings--just because the spattering of support for coming back as a human again are minimal, that doesn’t reduce the fact that they are there, even as the second cited link makes clear.

So here is what makes sense to me:
  • God created humans to live on the earth. (Psalms 115:16 “As regards the heavens, to Jehovah the heavens belong, but the earth he has given to the sons of men.”)

  • Death was not originally in God’s scheme of things. As evidence of this, the faithful angels have lived for millenniums. Adam’s death would only occur if he were disobedient. Otherwise the threat of death would have been inconsequential if Adam would die regardless.

  • God would not have put all the effort that he did into preparing Earth for mankind only to abandon those plans because Adam & Eve sinned. (Isaiah 55:10,11 “For just as the pouring rain descends, and the snow, from the heavens and does not return to that place, unless it actually saturates the earth and makes it produce and sprout, and seed is actually given to the sower and bread to the eater, so my word that goes forth from my mouth will prove to be. It will not return to me without results, but it will certainly do that in which I have delighted, and it will have certain success in that for which I have sent it.”) (The “word” regarding God’s wishes for the earth was that man should live in a beautiful garden-like home forever. That “word” has never changed.)

  • If God had planned for obedient mankind to eventually live in heaven, why didn’t he just put them there in the first place? He had already created angels there--why not just put us there to begin with as well? (The response that we had to be tested is illogical and unscriptural.)

  • Just as a fair & good landlord evicts bad tenants but does what he can to keep his good tenants happy, God plans to evict those that are immoral and ungodly so that those that love God and neighbor can live in peace. (Psalm 37:10, 11 “And just a little while longer, and the wicked one will be no more; And you will certainly give attention to his place, and he will not be. But the meek ones themselves will possess the earth, And they will indeed find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.”)

  • Those who have died and will yet die before the fulfilment of the above point are not cheated. They will come back to life as humans on earth to enjoy the life promised in Psalms 37. (Matthew 5:5 “Happy are the mild-tempered ones, since they will inherit the earth.” See also Matthew 6:10; Revelation 21:3,4)

As a sidenote, I had previously mentioned that it appears one particular teaching of the Jews says they will bask in God’s glory but doesn’t explain it. What I have come to believe is that the small number of those being invited by Christ to heaven have a very specific purpose. (Revelation 20:6) Their rulership will be directly over those “meek” ones that will inherit the earth.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Silence is Golden

The following reflections are on Lamentations chapter 3

After we've done something wrong (even "blowing it, big time"), when we are called to account for the issue, we may accept the punishment at first. But it is easy to begin feeling we are being unjustly punished when the situation seems to go on without end. Such was the case of the Israelites who were punished by their God for not only individual, personal transgressions against their God, but also national sins, communal guilt.

In the clips below, you will notice I cite them in reverse numeric order. The purpose is to accentuate how the writer of Lamentations builds his "line of reason."

Verse 39" "How can a living man indulge in complaints, an able-bodied man on account of his sin?"
Yes, our imperfect tendency is to start complaining. But we would never want to minimize the situation that got us in the mess we're in. Especially when we are praying to God about our situation, complaining would not demonstrate true repentance nor respect for the one we are speaking to. True remorse would help us appreciate we haven't any ground to stand on when it comes to self-justification, minimizing our guilt or even feeling we've paid enough.

Verse 37: "Who, now, has said that something should occur [when] Jehovah himself has not commanded?"
We might even start trying to "reason" with God, claiming that the time that has passed is more than enough payment (punishment) for the sin. We might, in effect, say that "something should occur" to release us. (Especially if/when we leave Jehovah, what our actions say is: "I've waited long enough. Jehovah should have acted by now.") But who are we to say that guilt for the punishment has been satisfied? Is that not up to God? If he has "not commanded" it, then what can we recall that may help us to cope?

Verses 31, 32: "For not to time indefinite will Jehovah keep on casting off." For although he has caused grief, he will also certainly show mercy according to the abundance of his loving-kindness."
Yes, first we need to keep in mind that Jehovah is not unrighteous. He is not cruel and, unlike prison systems in this world, his terms of punishment are not cold, blanket application of rules, but a carefully designed training for our growth (Hebrews 12:11). In the meantime...

Verse 26: "Good it is that one should wait, even silently, for the salvation of Jehovah."
Yes, here is the theme, "Silence is Golden." Sometimes decades of waiting may have to be endured. And though this hardly seems comforting to those that have endured a long time, it does demonstrate that type of person God wants us to be. Do we truly treasure, as verse 24 says, that "Jehovah is my share"? If so, then we will agree with the writer of Lamentations who continued in verse 24 with: "that is why I shall show a waiting attitude for him." In this regard, I remember a Hollywood disaster movie where a father told a son to wait for him at a specific location and he would come for him. Even when the situation got desperate, the (adult) son took whatever precautions he could to follow his father's direction. Now, Hollywood movies always exaggerate things but it does drive home the point that if a son can trust his father that deeply (and some in real life do), why can we not also trust our heavenly Father just as much if not more. If he tells us to wait, then wait.

So, when things are not moving as fast as you think they should, don't give into desperation and into feelings of worthlessness. Don't give up in your service to God. Don't give out on your faith or desire to live.

Waiting silently is never easy for us--and I can speak from my own personal experience. For over 17 years I've waited for changes that would once again give me a sense of restoration, a sense of worth, a sense of being valued, a sense of belonging. Sometimes I've been less patient than others. Recently a companion recommended possibly seeking a change of situation by moving elsewhere. He told a true story of man who likewise felt worthless. He moved to foreign country and reestablished a life for himself, one where he felt appreciated and valued. I cannot fault anyone for the decisions they make to better their life. However, for me & my situation,  that would seem like an attempt to take matters into my own hands instead of waiting on Jehovah to raise me up and dignify me in the midst of my brothers.

The whole of the 71st Psalm is very fitting here; especially verse 21. Although I have no desire to be "great," it would just be nice to feel I have a worthwhile purpose and am a valued member in the congregation of God. And so, I keep waiting; and I've resigned myself to the possibility that I may die waiting.