The Humbug Epidemic

“Then rang the bells, both loud and deep, god is not dead, nor doth he sleep.  The wrong will fail, the right prevail with peace on earth and good will towards men” – I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Each year it seems to be that people are less and less cheery at the holidays.  I’m sure that a great deal of this has to do with the state of world affairs.  But, I have to say, when you look back in our history as a country, we have been through worse and were able to maintain a semblance of civility towards one another, especially at Christmas time.  Now that seems we find it acceptable to create commercials for Christmas that have snarky, sarcastic overtones.

How about the eBay commercial where the little girl is telling everyone what she does not want for Christmas, and that everything she’s gotten in the past was basically unappreciated?  Or how about the commercial where the woman hands her Christmas list to the sales clerk and gloats at her being done with her list?  Or how about the one with the woman waiting for Santa to gloat over the fact that her presents are better than the one’s he is leaving? I have to say I am deeply saddened that we have turned Christmas into such a horrible reflection on our society — a society obsessed with owning things.

Although, the coup-de-grace of all things that upsets me about Christmas is that we have television shows on how to ensure that all your presents are returnable.  Yes, returnable!  I think that we must all have been raised horribly, because all we care about is whether we get what we want.  What ever happened to “It’s the thought that counts”?  I guess you better think real good about what your friends and family want, or they’ll just return your gifts.  I have never returned a gift.  I was happy to get anything.  And if the gift didn’t fit, or wasn’t something I could use, I would simply give it to someone who could use it, after thanking the giver profusely.

In addition to this, we have to stop calling it Christmas.  This is probably the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard in my life.  Christmas, is a Christian holiday, now — the time of year derived from the pagan holiday of Yule.  I am terribly sorry if someone is offended that the Christians have a holiday as prolific as Christmas, but that is the way it has always been.  They are not “holiday” trees, they are “Christmas” trees.  They are not “holiday” parties, they are “Christmas” parties.  People who are up in arms about calling things “Christmas” are probably the same people who ensure that the gift receipt is valid so they can take the present back and cash it in.

Maybe this is the reason why we have become so desensitized to Christmas.  We have completely lost the true feeling of Christmas.  It really isn’t about the birth of Christ, it’s about hope, friendship and togetherness.  We are so wrapped up in our little lives, pursuing the next gadget or item we can own, that we forget there are 7 billion people around us.  Christmas is that one time of year where we actually have an excuse to be nice to one another, regardless of religion or race.  We should all be gathering around the fire, keeping each other warm with camaraderie — instead, we get up at midnight to rush to Walmart to buy a shopping cart full of garbage, wrap it in paper, then hand it out to the people around us, hoping we get something better in return.

So in my family, I’ve taken measures to change this, as much as I can in my little world:

1) You will never get a gift receipt from me.  If you do not like or need what I gave you, then pass it to someone who does.  I thought enough to buy you anything, that should be good enough.

2) I have a Christmas Tree, Christmas lights, and Christmas parties.  Holidays is a general term and does not describe Christmas.

3) I will not provide nor accept a Christmas list, unless you are under 10 and it is address to Santa.  Nor will I provide you a list. We should know one another well enough to know what we need.  If you or I do not, then why are we buying presents for one another?  Wouldn’t a nice cup of egg nog together be just as nice?

4) There is always a limit on the amount of money spent and it is guideline, not a goal.  It is more important to get someone one thing they will really like, rather than a car full of mediocre presents.

That’s it.  If we do not break this cycle, then why celebrate Christmas at all anymore.  The only people who stand to gain from Christmas anymore are the retailers.  Quality of products are horrible, deals are always too good to be true, and we are in a recession. 

Its time to stop thinking about our wants, and start addressing our needs.  We need the good cheer that comes from the spirit of Christmas.  We do not need another closet full of gifts we’ll never use.

Advertisements

Cowboys and Aliens – For all you Red Dead Heads

Colonel Dolarhyde: “What is that thing?”
Jake: “Why are you asking me?”
Colonel Dolarhyde: “Because you shot it!”

Last night, I saw Cowboys and Aliens for the first time.  I have to say that I was a bit trepidatious but the only thing that made me watch it was my recent obsession with the Xbox game Red Dead Redemption.  I’m here to tell you that if you love that game, then you’ll love this movie.  There have been a rash of westerns out over the last few years, and coming on the heels of the True Grit remake, this movie already had a great deal to prove.  But if you go into the movie realizing that it is based on a graphic novel, and that it is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, you’ll be just fine.

The basic premise is that a western town has been overtaken by Aliens who have been stealing gold and abducting the locals for experimentation.  Pretty formulaic.  However, what really makes this movie are the actors associated with the film.  The film stars Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde, Harrison Ford, Keith Carradine and Clancy Brown.   (Who wouldn’t love a movie with Mr. Krabs!)  Despite is campy, 50s plotline, the cinematography, the special effects and the acting are top-notch.   There are some slow spots throughout the film, but when the plot finally gets going, it has a great deal of excitement and scares. (The Aliens are very creepy). 

So, if you’re looking for a fun movie, Cowboys and Aliens will be out on DVD on December 6th.  Definitely worth a watch.

Rating: PG-13
Review: 3 Stars

A Programmer’s View of Religion and the Universe [Part 2]

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” – Hamlet I.v

In the first part of this post, I began by explaining the similarities between modern software programming and the fundamental design of the universe.  It is no coincidence that these similarities exist, because at the base of everything is the one unifying language — Mathematics.  All things can be discussed in terms of mathematics, and all things can be quantified, to some degree, using mathematics.  So in order to define the “design” we must look to mathematics.

From this we can draw the conclusion that the architect of the universe is most likely a mathematician, but this is not to say that the architect created mathematics.  Mathematics simply exists and does not require creation, just as the fundamental state of existence does not require creation.  Mathematics and existence simply “are”.  It is very difficult for us to grasp this concept, because everything we see around us was created in some form or fashion, or at least that is the way we see it. 

In software development, there arises a need before there is a plan.  A customer describes the need to solve a problem, and a program is architected, engineered and coded to meet the need.  In all my years as a programmer, I have never seen a program appear out of thin air to meet the need; someone must design it, create it and define its parameters.  If we look around us, we see any number of objects lying on the desk before us; pencil, monitor, keyboard, checkbook, house, building, car.  All these things we created to meet a need or serve a purpose, and we use them until they are broken or no longer needed.  We don’t usually keep things around us, or create things, that serve no purpose.  But what is purpose?

The word “purpose” is a very broad term because we can define it so many different ways in the context of day-to-day life.  For instance, look at the purpose of a fork as opposed to a work of art.  Some would say that a fork has a higher purpose than a work of art because art does not perform a necessary function.  We as humans assign purpose to everything, and if something has not collective purpose, we tend to disregard it.  So we should turn that discriminate eye on ourselves.  What purpose do we as humans serve?  This question is what has spurred the millenia long strife of religion.  We cannot truly assign a purpose to ourselves, as a result, God has become the purpose, as we identify ourselves as his children.  This is not to say that this is wrong, but we must then put ourselves in the same role with our own children.  At the base level, children are a drain on our existence.  Our time and resources are spent to care for them, to teach them, to prepare them to have their own children.  One could argue that a child is no more purposeful than the work of art I mentioned above.  However, with a different understanding of purpose, children and artwork provide some level of entertainment and joy.  They enrich our lives, allowing us to enjoy the act of existing.  But what is existence?

Existence, like mathematics, just “is”.  And that is all we know at this point since we cannot define, or unable to ever define, why something like the universe would exist at all.  According to everything we know about science, it would have been much easier had nothing ever existed at all — a universe of tranquility, energy in a perpetual state of oneness and still. Everything around us all the time is trying to return to this state of stillness, only instead of becoming more still, it becomes more chaotic and more disorganized.  And unfortunately, once you’ve disorganized something, in the perspective of space AND time, you cannot reorganize it.  Time disallows us to ever return something to its exact state.  How is this, you might ask?  That is the realm of entropy.

For today, I leave you with these words to ponder, and I would love to hear comments or observations.

Hugo: Experience It

My whole life I have been an avid fan of the cinema.  In recent years, the calibre of movie has declined dramatically, in my opinion.  This is partly due to the overuse of special effects and CG — lacking any truly original story or content.  My opinion is further supported by the fact that studios are “re-releasing” and “re-making” films, rather than looking for original stories that have not yet been brought to the big screen.

Usually, I get to the theatre in time to see the coming attractions, and I could not have been more disappointed in the prospects for this holiday season.  Re-releasing Titanic, Beauty and the Beast and all the Star Wars films; re-making Snow White, Muppets and Footloose.  (Footloose remade?  Who watched that very dated 80’s film and said “We should remake this movie!”)  I know that we have not run out of ideas, Hollywood has just become lazy.  There are so many works of fiction that have never been released as movies, we should never be remaking or rereleasing anything.  So many classics, fantasy novels and science fiction to choose from.

I must admit that I was very doubtful in spending the money to see Hugo.  The advertisement for the film does not at all truly convey what the story is about, and misleads one to think its something along the lines of Narnia or the Polar Express.  This is not the case at all.  This is a wonderful story about the brilliance of Georges Melies, the visionary Parisian director from the early 20th century, intermingled with a heart-warming tale focused on an orphan searching for his purpose.

I chose to see the film in 3D, as I thought it would be more of a fantasy story.  In retrospect, had I know the subject matter before going to the film, I would not have seen it in 3D, however, I am delighted that I saw this film with the full 3D experience.  The views of Paris, the environments, the dreams — all of it was masterfully woven by the unique vision of Martin Scorsese.  In my opinion, this movie should be viewed as one of his crowning achievements, because unlike all of his other films, this is a movie that can be adored and enjoyed by everyone.  (I saw this movie with my 7-year old daughter who was equally stunned by the movie).

I think I would do an injustice to the film to try to explain it, or dissect it.  Hugo is simply a movie to be experienced.  For all of us who’ve ever felt discarded, forgotten, lost or lonely, this movie will remind you that we’re all in this together.

A Programmer’s View of Religion and the Universe [Part 1]

“Far away, across the field, the tolling of the iron bell, calls the faithful to their knees to hear the softly spoken magic spells”- Pink Floyd

Religion has been a source of tension in our world since we first looked up at the sky and declared the sun and the moon to be gods.  We have all struggled with the search for purpose, wondering why we are here and who put us here.  Its amazing to me that we have come to the point we have in our world, where we are so disjointed in our belief systems, that we have resorted to death and violence in the name of God.  Does anyone else see this as a fundamental problem?

I must be clear that I am not in any way, shape or form proselytizing.  My own religious beliefs are exactly that — my own.  Being human, I think it is necessary for me to impart my own personal findings, as I reach mid-life.  I have spent a great deal of time studying other religions, and will continue to do so, because finding a common religion that we can all accept is the only true way we will reach global peace.  We all know this to be true, because we are constantly trying to get others to believe in the same thing we do.  World peace has become a cliche, or philosophical chimera — which is really quite sad.

I dont’ really need to speak about any religion in particular.  Each religion exists for a purpose, and obviously people who follow a particular faith have found their own purpose within that faith.  We do need to understand the importance of coexistence.  Without coexistence, we never have a hope of overcoming the disparity of thought surrounding the creation and purpose of the universe.  We must overcome our urge to disparage someone else’s belief system, because if you really think about it, every religion has its imperfections.  Imperfections exist because we are all human, and if we were perfect we wouldn’t have any issues in the world.  So obviously we are not perfect, and no religion is perfect if it does not appeal to everyone equally so. 

So I have come to several personal conclusions that I would like to share, perhaps helping you in your own explorations of the mysteries of the universe.  There are so many things that I cannot comprehend.  The vastness of the universe is overwhelming and we are just a tiny, beautiful jewel floating around a luminescent ball of pure undulating energy — one star among trillions of other stars.  It sustains everything that exists on our planet.  There is not one creature, big or small that does not get its nourishment and life from the sun; directly or indirectly.  Without the sun, there is only darkness and cold, which makes me think that the sun and others like it, are a significant aspect of existence.  A significant part of the design. 

I have approached this problem the only way I know.  I have been programming software solutions since the mid 1990s.  Object Oriented Programming shares a striking resemblance to the way that our universe functions.  What is strange is that when you really think about it, the universe really is very similar to the Matrix.  It all begins with the fundamental equations and constants.  We have constants in programming and in the universe — Gravity, Speed of Light, Planks Constant.  We have variables: mass, energy, acceleration.  We have a toolbox of elementary particles, or objects, to build from: strings, quarks, nucleus, protons, electrons.  We have functions assigned to each of the objects we build: attract, repel, fuse.

As a programmer and software architect, it would be silly for me to think if I just throw a bunch of code together it will just work.  There must always be a design.  Even the simplest life-form, or program, is a symphony of interactions that allow the life-form to exist.  Then the question becomes, “Who’s design?”

If you strip away the layers of dogma we’ve created for ourselves, it comes down to two simple concepts: Either there is a design, or there isn’t.  The “intelligent design” we have assigned to God, because we as humans must anthropomorphize  that which we revere.  With the multitudes of possibilities of configuration, it would be silly for me to say that the design comes from something that has been humanized.  God, in my opinion, is most likely something we cannot at all comprehend, because we are very limited in our experience and understanding of the universe.  The entirety of human history hasn’t even been a twinkle in the eye of the Universe.  We are only just getting started.

Looking back to the sun we see that its function is not only to provide use with the energy we need to survive, but through complex interactions, its creates the very stuff we are made of.  This one fact is something that a great many people simply do not understand.  Every thing you are made of came as the result of the fusion happening in stars, and stars that have long since died.  The carbon, the iron, the oxygen we breathe, all came from the death of a star.  Even new stars are formed from the death of other stars.  But the sun is not god, as we learned long ago.  So where do we even start to look for the design?

That is an enormous amount of information to grock in one sitting.  I will continue this article, after the holidays.  I hope you return to read the rest, and provide critique of my conclusions.

 

Skyrim: Elder Scrolls for Xbox 360

Well, when they said that Skyrim would warp your sense of time and priority, they were right.  As you can see, by my nifty twitter feed to the right, that I have been quite engrossed in Skyrim the last couple weeks.  As an avid fan of Bethesda Softworks, and the Elder Scrolls series, I was impatiently awaiting the release of this game from its first announcement. I was so impatient of this game, that I had decided to go to the local Gamestop for the midnight release, which turned out to be a great surprise. 

I live in a small town south of Richmond, Virginia, in a community with at least 15 churches in a 5 mile radius.  When I pulled up to the parking lot at the local strip mall, my hopes were immediately crushed; there were easily 500 other people in line, wrapping around the strip mall like the Midgard serpent.  With the temperature dipping into the 40s, I decided I would have to wait another 10 hours to get the game. Thankfully, I was the first person in line the next day, and now, two weeks later, I am level 18 and 20 hours into the game.

In my opinion, this game is the pinnacle of Bethesda’s achievements thus far.  This game is so completely immersive and enthralling, I can’t see how they could possibly top this.  I have played every single Elder Scrolls game, (17 Years worth!) and I have to say that this is my favorite.  In addition, I have also played the Fallout series, and while it was great homage to the Fallout’s Interplay beginnings, it is not nearly as immersive as Skyrim.

I don’t want to spoil any of the storyline, for those of you who have not been fortunate enough to get your copy yet, but I do have one piece of advice: If you get any game for Christmas, this should be the one.  The sheer magnitude of the world is overwhelming.  Even from the very first ten minutes of the game, and the storyline had been set, that I could simply get used to the world by picking a direction and going off to explore.  One feature, which is presumably enhanced from the Ultima days, is the ability to pick up herbal ingredients from the wild flora and fauna of the world.  You can pick berries, catch butterflies, fish for salmon, go clam-digging or just do some old fashion bow hunting.  There’s something for everyone — and we haven’t even gotten to the quests and storylines.

The UI for the game works very well for the Xbox, in my opinion (having played both morrowind and oblivion on the console as well as PC).  It is quick and easy to find things you need in your inventory, without having to memorize what different icons stand for, as in Oblivion.  Having played the others on the PC, it took me some time to get the same alacrity with the controller vs. using the mouse/keyboard.  It’s obvious that the UI was developed with the console in mind, as it seems that PC gaming is quickly becoming a thing of the past. (At least not as pervasive as it had been).

There are many features to Skyrim that I love, and I have not even explored a fraction of the world as of yet.  Here are my top five, as of this writing:

5) The World is Beautiful:  There are many different environments to explore, each with its own appeal. From snow-covered mountains to swamps.

4) Werewolves are back: This was one of the biggest features I missed in Oblivion, and I am glad that they returned this to the game.

3) Skills System:  Their system has been greatly simplified with the addition of perks. The skills interface, with the constellation UI is very easy to use, and adds to the beauty of the game.

2) Followers/Spouse:  It is always nice to have a little bit of help from your friends.  Some of the quests I’ve done so far may have been nearly impossible had I not had a follower.   The jury is still out on whether we needed marriage added 🙂

1) Dragons: I have played quite a few games that had dragon components, including Dragon age.  The animations, the models and the battle sequences, as well as the rich history of the dragons, makes this by far the most exciting experience for the would-be dragon slayer!

After I’ve gotten further in the game, I’ll post another installment to give a more detailed review of the storylines, the quests and the replayability.

What Rough Beast?

 “Do every act of your life as if it were your last.” – Marcus Aurelius

I am not at all politically inclined — to save my sanity.  I simply do not understand the machinations of the modern political system.  On my 30 minute drive home each day, I listen to NPR, mostly for the Arts value, and rarely for commentary on the state of things.  There have been quite a few pieces about the Occupy Wall Street Protestors, and the people fighting for and against it.  Everyone is making this matter far worse than it has to be.  It is our right, as Americans, to protest injustice in our system.  This is the very thing that our country was built on, the very thing our constitution was written to protect.  We must be allowed to speak, we must be allowed to ask for equality in all things, we must coexist here.  However, we must understand what exactly we are protesting.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is a very important movement because it represents a microscopic look at the macroscopic problem we are faced with, not only in America but in the world as a whole.  Mathematically we would call this “self-similarity” — something exhibited in the structure of fractals.  Recently this has been applied to many things to show that the whole is represented by examining a small part of the entire object or system.

From the global population to each individual household, we can gauge the success of the whole by looking at the part.  When we are looking at the state of America, we can see that individual households are struggling, localities are struggling, on up to state then country.  And then these problems can be propagated down from the world to the individual. So what does this all mean?

The answers to our global problems must begin in each household.  There is no way to sugar coat these issues, or redirect blame to others.  We as citizens must fix ourselves before we can hope to fix the world. 

Protests are important because they shed light on the systemic problems we all face.  And while the Occupy Wall Street protest is focused on the “haves” and the “have-nots” [yes, it really is that simple, no matter how you couch it], it will force us to look at what has caused this chasm between the classes.  Both sides in this, the 1% and the 99% have forgotten that we share a dichotomous relationship.  The 1% cannot exist without the 99%, and the way of life desired by the 99% cannot exist without the 1%.  This means that the 1% are people who provide a service that the rest of us require or want — whether it be a software giant like Microsoft, or a media giant like News Corp, or a bank Giant like AIG.  The 99% create the 1% by needs and wants.  I want an iPhone, so I will give $200 to Apple, and $75  a month to Verizon.   We are not being forced to buy these products.  We want to buy these products. 

The banks failed because we wanted houses bigger than we needed or could afford.  Does a family of three need a 5000 square foot house?  Probably not.  But we live in America where that is possible, but we cannot blame everyone else when we can’t make our house payment.  We have built this empire of wants and needs all on our own.  We need Coach purses, SUVs, LED TVs, Laptops, iPads, Xboxes and Smart Phones.  All these things we think we need, but we really actually just want it.  Blaming the banks for giving us large mortgages we can’t possibly pay is like blaming the bartender for giving you too many drinks that made you sick.  We must have personal accountability. 

I have spent time evaluating my own purchases and how I use them.  I’ve bought things that were fairly costly, only to let them sit in a drawer somewhere, because I “might” need it at some point.  Did I need a smart phone? Not really, I just got it because everyone else had one.  Do I need an SUV? No, I need a compact car for my commute.  But, all these things I bought under my own volition, and as such I have gladly supported the rise of the 1% to suit my own desires.  And this is the rub in it all.  If we feel that the rich are too rich, then we need to stop buying their products that making them richer — otherwise, we need to cherish the things we have and stop complaining.  It’s just that simple.

I understand that people are frustrated that the 1% are so much more well off than the 99%, but we have to accept the fact that we have done all this to ourselves.  We bought the things that made them rich.  We buy these things because we think we need them.  If we want to change this, it has to start with each of us.  Its been said many times before, but we must be accountable for ourselves, and the outcomes of our actions.  We have to evaluate our lives, and only then can we change the world.

Occupy Wall Street has opened my eyes, not only to the perceived injustice, but to the frivolity of my own life.  I want to change the world.  I just thought I would share my opinion, in case you feel the same way.

 

Apocalypse? Perhaps.

It has been a very long time since I’ve had the time to blog. After my spaces account was shut down, I hadn’t had time to set up a new wordpress blog, and get back into the zen of blogifying my brain. But today, I feel compelled to put out my thoughts for everyone else to digest.

As 2012 approaches, every crack pot in the world has come up with some sort of vision, theory, justification, math equation, quantification and pontification about the end of the world, (and/or the Mayan prophecy). From the dawn of humankind, we have prophesied some sort of end to our existence here on planet Earth, but for what reason? Sure, the sun will eventually burn out, first swelling into a red giant, consuming most of the inner planets, then deflating into a glistening white dwarf. And yes, this will most certainly kill everyone still living on the planet. And considering we’ve cut all our spending on space exploration, for the time being, we won’t be finding any methods of leaving the planet any time soon – so we are left with our fears of annihilation.

We have become arrogant on so many levels — too arrogant considering how fragile we are, and how dangerous the universe is. At any moment, the sun can (and has before) unleash a violent flare that could easily change the course of our history. There are so many ways to die in the universe, so many things we can’t ever prevent. We scurry from place to place, most of us blissfully ignorant of the fact that at any moment, without warning, it can all end. Remember the dinosaurs? One day they’re happily eating leaves (and each other), then *BAM!* they are consumed in a fireball that engulfs the planet, nearly extinguishing all life on the planet. Nearly.

I was amused and angered by the ravings of Harold Camping and his disastrous miscalculation of the end of the world, which he had convinced his followers was May 21, 2011. But as you know, the end did not come and many people left their homes, families and jobs to obey the ravings of a madman turned prophet,  who had already been wrong before (not once but twice!). Despite this failure, he still persists in his message that the “Spiritual Rapture” had occurred, and the physical rapture was on October 21st, 2011 — which we also know, has come and gone.  He’s already taken all his followers money and misled them to the point where they must live the rest of their lives, knowing they were misled by a fool. And so many fools have come before him. 

Is there an apocalypse coming? Well what exactly is an apocalypse? If you take the literal definition, it means “total destruction”. If you take the biblical meaning, it is “a disclosure of something hidden from the majority of mankind in an era dominated by falsehood and misconception” or “lifting the veil”. So regardless of how we define it, an apocalypse has happened many times before and will happened again. But it doesn’t have to be something occult or paranormal, such as the wrath of god, or the zombie plague. It will probably be something fairly normal, yet greatly disregarded – like the sun, an asteroid, or the collapse of the technology infrastructure.

So why am I babbling about all this? Because there is a simple fact we all forget — it can all end at any moment. Which means you can only be sure of the moment you’re in, the moment you are living in right now.  One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in my life thus far is the Zen idea of enjoying “Right Now”.  I am just as guilty as everyone when it comes to this.  We are always looking to the horizon, instead of right around us.  Sure, we must plan to some extent, but to what extent? 

I don’t want to look forward to the end of the world.  I don’t want to worry about an apocalypse.  I want to live my life living happily in each moment.  And that is probably one of the most difficult things we as humans have to learn.  Living in each moment, when I actually get to do it, is really quite awesome.  I get glimpses of it in my life, but it is not something I can sustain on a regular basis.  I am working towards it, but we all have to work towards it.  If we all worked together on living for now, we wouldn’t have the problems we have today that threaten our world, and make some people long for the end. [I’ve got my money on Zombie Apocalypse Scenario though]

So the question ultimately becomes, “If it isn’t fun, then why are we doing it?”