Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Does History Repeat Itself?

There is an old saying that history repeats itself. If we don't learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. Until I researched for this article, I was unaware that there are people that actually occupy their time trying to figure out whether or not the perception of history repeating itself is true. There is even a website to debate whether or not history repeats itself:

For the sake of this discussion, I am not speaking of some spooky Deja vu, nor of specific events happening again, whether here or in some supposed parallel universe. I am speaking of a pattern of action and reaction that, with some reliability, can be anticipated/expected. For example, in its simplest form, if a parent anywhere in the world leaves a desirable treat out in the open, tells the child not to touch it until dinner, then leaves the child unattended....chances are that child will repeat a well-known pattern (history) of "sneaking" a taste, a bite, or even gorging.

In more complicated cases such as those who try to find similarities in national and world history, it is not the details of the events themselves that are important. Rather it is the somewhat predictable (imperfect) human character. Especially now (post World Trade Center attack) the whole world is on heightened alert that repeats of tactics used by terrorists can occur, indeed, will occur. (In these case, world security forces are indeed analyzing not only human types and personalities, but the details of how attacks are orchestrated and carried out.)

"If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience." This quote is attributed to George Bernard Shaw. Whether intended as tongue-in-cheek humor or a serious note, there is one observation I’d like to make about this: It is not that man is incapable of learning, it is that he arrogantly refuses to learn. One reason that I have observed for this arrogance is that each generation thinks it is smarter than its predecessors.

In particular, as a person who enjoys discussing Bible topics with others, I notice that people discount the Bible as an irrelevant, ancient writings, produced by superstitious people. Yet they will not even give the Bible a chance. They will not look into it to see what life-experiences it contains that can aid them. They both ignorantly and arrogantly reject the idea of getting to know the book because they are modern, they are enlightened with secular education, they have issues that they think just are not covered in the Bible. What they don't know is that God covers sufficient events in the Bible to cover all principles of living that we will ever experience regardless of what generation they occur in. It IS very relevant to our modern day.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Borg-ified Body

(I revisited this article on 4/6/2017 and discovered some links are dead so I removed them. Others I updated.)

We are just a few days away from year 2015 and I thought it would be a good time to time-capsule (mental snapshot) where we stand with becoming Borg. Here are the personal accessories to which the word “smart” has been applied:

Smart Glasses (and competitor: Smart Telepathy)

Not really a "smart" device category per se, but honorable mention because it falls into the category of mechanizing (Borg-ifying) our body: Three cheers (albeit hesitant) for thought-control devices and “brain augmentation” (brain-to-computer interfaces).

I think that pretty much covers the whole body. Did I leave anything out?

Note: In designating “personal accessories,” I am excluding the appliance industry which includes smart refrigerators, smart ovens, smart washer and dryers, and more. Additionally, I am not including smart TVs. I also didn't include "older" technologies such as so-called bionic body parts -- knees, legs, arms, etc.

(As far as forming a Borg collective, we've already done that through social media.)

Resistance is futile! You will be assimilated.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Types of Christians

I met a man today that wouldn't agree to even a 30-second presentation I had prepared about the Bible. “No thanks, I’m set.” What I wanted to tell him is “Really?! That is amazing because I don’t even feel I am ‘set.’ Challenging myself every day to work on my imperfections, to remember to pray daily, to work hard at loving my neighbor, all of that is a challenge as an imperfect human.” But then he interrupted me again and said “If I got any closer to God, I’d have to die and be in heaven.” He explained that he goes to church and tries to be good. I finally got one point in. I wanted to choose my words carefully to see if he’d take the bait. I said: “Actually, there is at least one more step you can take before that extreme.” He looked at me puzzled. (I thought to myself “Good! I got his attention.”) I waited a moment to see if he’d interrupt me again. He didn't. So I continued “Years ago I concluded for myself that instead of merely going to church and listening to what someone else tells me God says, I needed to try reading the Bible on my own.” He admitted he hadn't done that. Like myself, he was retired from secular work so I encouraged him to sit down every day for only 10 to 15 minutes and start reading the Bible. He agreed it was a good idea.

After several hours, I sat and reflected on the experience. I thought of all the types of people I encountered in my lifetime. Here are the major categories:

Foxhole Christian: Those who, when faced with extreme circumstances, cry out to a God they may never have even believed in. (Compare Luke 12:16-21)

Armchair Christian: Those who love philosophy and expound on their intellectual viewpoints and engage in philosophical debates with others. It is more a game of mental chess, perhaps even playful banter, than a committed viewpoint. The end result is not to determine a course of action, but rather to see who can play the best game (of words).

Pew Warmer Christian: Those who go to church once a week to have their consciences appeased. They go, they listen and sing, they leave. “That’s it for God for this week, honey.”

Active-Authentic Christian: These regularly read their Bibles and make efforts to apply the Bible’s principles in their lives. They realize that Jesus was not about sitting in a church and then doing nothing with the experience to help others. Rather, they make efforts to speak with others about the Bible because of the seriousness of its message. These are the rarest and most authentically Christ-like individuals. They are humble and readily admit they are both imperfect and do not know everything. They realize that God gave each individual free will and a conscience. With that realization, they accept that people can choose not to believe as they do. God is the judge, not us.

Extremists: These are very opinionated and condemnatory of those not agreeing with them. They may resort to verbal, or at times even physical, abuse of those not bending to their viewpoints. In the days of the early Christians, they were the persecuted, not the persecutors. The Bible makes it quite clear that true Christians are not physical warriors.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Is Christmas Christian?

There is the ideal of Christmas (loving neighbors and families caring for one another), and then there is the reality. The reality of the season is what gives atheists and non-Christians the fuel they need to discredit those who participate.

Within the last week (third week of Dec.2014), an article of road rage where a woman with a SUV rammed and ran a Honda off the road was arrested. Road rage is nothing new, but if “the season” were truly motivating people toward kindness, you’d think it not be something we’d be reading about.

But even more shocking was the “cute” article of letters written by children to Santa. One girl wrote a message that included a drawing of a pony. For decades I've seen such letters. They are usually filled with promises to be good and pleas for fulfillment. Not this girl. She wrote: “You better bring my pony this year or there will be consequences!” Whoa! Is that a threat? Then, there was the little boy that was even bolder: “I've got three words for you, Santa: ‘I Hate You!’” He then explained, “You never bring me what I ask for.” (I read both these on my phone, but when I went back to find them, I couldn't remember which news reader I was using. I searched for an hour but to no avail.)

Forget the rude and disrespectful attitude. How about the feeling of entitlement –the demanding from a complete stranger something just because they want it? How about the completely selfish viewpoint. While children in foreign countries would be happy with just playing with a box or sticks, these kids DEMAND more. Is this holiday breeding love and generosity or is it breeding selfish, self-absorbed brats. I take you back to the woman at the outset to answer that question.

There is a saying associated with Christmas that goes: “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Ask most people “why” Jesus is the reason and, if they can come up with any reason at all, it is usually that “it is because Jesus was born on December 25th.” Problem is, scholars in most all religions have proven that is not true. The reason “Jesus is the reason for the season” is because “Church forefathers” (aka Catholic Church), in their attempt to appease pagan worshipers of the sun, told them that the birth of the sun (winter solstice) could become the birth of the “son of God.” From there, other peoples fabricated and embellished all these stories we now have about Saint Nic. As to what month Jesus was actually born in—we don’t even know that much with any certainty. Most feel it was in autumn.

I could go on to enumerate all the negative side effects of this celebration, but the news has done a wonderful job of that already. On the positive side, it is a real relief to people when they discover what a huge lie Christmas is. Instead, like myself, millions have learned what true Christianity is and what it is based on. Jesus himself said there is more happiness in giving than in receiving. Coupled with that are the fruitages of true Christian living. These are daily traits, not just once a year for a few weeks.

In short, as a Christian who truly respects Jesus, I have concluded that the celebration known as Christmas is an insult to Jesus. (More information)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Jesus Is Our Savior

Infrequently I hear people say that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not Christian. Since that is a lie or at very least a misconception, I work hard to explain the facts and truth of the matter. Normally, I end up going into a lengthily explanation. For decades I’ve struggled to find a brief explanation. I think I finally hit on it….

We believe what Acts 4:12 says about Jesus: “There is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must get saved.” Indeed, Jesus is the designated savior of sinful mankind, which includes all humans. But now focus on the part that says “has been given.” Who did the giving of Jesus’ name? The answer is found at John 12:49 where we read that “the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak.” Yes, the one Jesus taught us to pray to at Matthew 6:9 with the words “Our Father in the heavens,” God himself, is the one that pointed to Jesus in prophecies as being the Messiah.

Does God, “our Father” have a name? At Psalms 83:18 we read: “May people know that you, whose name is Jehovah, You alone are the Most High over all the earth.” (Other translations) Yes, the Father’s name is Jehovah and that is why we primarily call ourselves Jehovah’s Witnesses—because the Father, Jehovah, is the one that Jesus himself directed that we should pray to and worship.

In short, then, Jesus is God's means for saving mankind from sin and death. He is God's spokesman (John 1:1, "the Word"), and, as the "son of God," is second in command.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Productive Activity

Jehovah has always been an active personage. These actions are productive and act in the interests of good for everyone. To be like Jesus, a “son” of God, we need to imitate both our Creator and Jesus. For those claiming that they are active, either playing games, reading, or sports, none of those things benefit others nor can they claim to be productive. That is, there is no end benefit or product that helps anyone, possibly including even themselves. For those that claim they are providing a living for their family, while admirable, if they are not also promoting God’s interest in saving lives and advancing his Kingdom, how can they claim to be doing the work assigned to us by none other than Jesus himself. Indeed, what kind of a "son" is someone that doesn't do what his father tells him to do?

Above is my reflection on this article.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Hemingwrite vs Other Options

The Great Human-Experience novel! (Forget "the Great American" novel--I aspire to much higher goals.) Every time I read an article about writing or writers, I get a hankering for “putting pen to paper.” But those days of using such writing tools are actually long gone for me. I keep challenging myself to become more and more “digital” and living my life in the cloud. (Heaven knows my head has been in the clouds most my life!) Most of what I write is with a computer. I no longer own a desktop PC, I am completely mobile with a laptop, tablet and phablet.

Just today (12/12/2014) I was reading about a new device whose market focus is writers. It is called the Hemingwrite and is currently being crowd-funded. My knee-jerk first impression was that it is so 1990’s retro--looking very much like other LCD small displays with nearly full-sized keyboards. (The latter can be had for under $100 on Amazon, while the Hemingwrite is reportedly going to cost between $400 to $500.)

The Hemingwrite promotes itself by claiming it is a “distraction free” writing tool. OK, I guess if you are an obsessive compulsive that needs to check your email, social feeds and texts every few seconds, that might be a benefit. But won’t you have your phone right alongside you anyway? Those wanting to work distraction-free on computers can easily do so by turning off wifi or closing the email agent (thus preventing emails) and muting or turning off their phone (a blood-curdling scream is heard in the reverberating distance). That is a much cheaper solution than buying yet another device to lug around. And speaking about “lugging,” the Hemingwrite is not a lightweight! It weighs 4 pounds, which is heavier than some laptops and decidedly heavier than all tablets today.

But coming back to how I “write”  these days: Lately, the idea of “writing” with a keyboard seems like a contradiction in terms and completely unnatural. Real writing is done with pen (pencil) and paper. And so I’ve come full circle. Instead of using a keyboard, I’ve recently discovered it is much more natural to use Smart Note (the “paper”) and a Samsung 12" Galaxy Note Pro with stylus. (In fact, this article was written using those items and subsequently exported and polished inside Google Docs.)

I already mentioned that the Hemingwrite weighs 4 pounds and will cost upwards of $500. Compare that to the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 which is $800 but weighs only 1.7 pounds. (Alternately, the Samsung Note 10.1 weighs only 597 grams and costs as little as $300.) Both run Android and have a great stylus, a much clearer and larger screen, promote natural handwriting that is converted immediately to typewritten text, plus numerous other bells and whistles. Using the aforementioned Smart Note, that text can be exported to PDF, uploaded to the cloud, or copied directly to any text editing app even an SMS texting app. Adding pages, inserting, deleting, and editing text is easy using the app’s “natural” gestures.

Really, my stylus-based solution is much more cost effective and productive than the Hemingwrite. But what if you absolutely want, no indeed, demand a keyboard?  Then your options are even less expensive yet more powerful. Chromebook laptops are as cheap as $200 on Amazon and can create offline and online documents . Once you are online, the offline docs are backed up to Google Drive. Don’t like Chromebook? No problem. How about a nice inexpensive Windows-based system also within the $200 to $300 range. Most of those have at very least Notepad or Wordpad. Beyond that, free programs such as Apache OpenOffice can be installed.

In short, I feel Hemingwrite is a step backwards, an unnecessary and archaic device adding more weight to carry around. Its predecessors had their heyday. Today’s solutions are cheaper, lighter, and more robust.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

MyScript Smart Note (Android App)

When I first acquired my Samsung Note2, I thought I would be able to take handwritten notes on it in full screen like a tablet. Turns out that the best it could do was use sticky-note-sized area to write notes that were not transferable to editable text. Alternately, using the Samsung keyboard with the SPen I could write on a space at the bottom of the screen and it would immediately convert it to typewritten text within the text input area of several apps. For example, within an email, there are fields for recipient, subject, and body of an email. Within each of those text areas, depending on which was the current selection, when I start writing at the bottom of the screen (the area reserved for the Samsung keyboard), it would immediately convert what I wrote to typewritten text.

Lastly, there is an option, but only within some apps, that opens up a scripting window and permits several lines of text to be handwritten. This is a feature only found on the Samsung Note devices. But its implementation is limited and again the screen area is very small. So I bought myself the Samsung Note Pro 12.2 thinking that it would provide a larger input area. Yes and no. The area is only slightly larger and the ink size is correspondingly larger so that it is a “wash,” (no benefit). What I wanted was a full-screen entry area akin to a typical sheet of paper.

Enter MyScript Smart Note. I had seen iterations of this app on the Play Store for years but disregarded it because I thought I already had the functionality that it was bringing to the table. Turns out I was wrong. It brings exactly what I’ve been missing--full screen editing. One benefit for non-Samsung Note users is that the app is useful to them as well.Although using a finger as a stylus is possible, if you don’t already have one, I’d recommend getting a stylus if you want to use this app.

Besides full screen input, MyScript Smart Note provides very intuitive editing motions for inserting, joining and deleting text. If you buy the full version (under $3) you can add pages, add workbooks and more. Although the videos the company provides show many of the editing functions, it is more geared as a marketing video than a tutorial. In the right top of the app’s screen is a three-dot icon. Tap that and then tap help to get the full in-app tutorial with detailed explanations.

To be clear, MyScript Smart Note does not becoming another keyboard usable in other apps. It provides a full screen input area within itself. The text can later be copied and pasted into any other app. The document itself can also be exported to PDF. There are other features such as drawing and inserting pictures that I didn’t cover here.

As an ending note, my first app from this company was its calculator. With it, the user can hand write any formula and it is not only converted to typed text but it formula is resolved to whatever the result would be. For example, if you write “2 + 2” and wait just a moment, the app will display “2 + 2 = 4.” I find this much more intuitive and easier than using a 10-key calculator and I actually have known how to touch-type (without looking) on a 10-key since my teens. (My father was an accountant and taught me.)