I went to the dollar store the other day, and totally wasted a dollar on a book.  The Day After Oblivion looked appealing, but then I opened the cover.  Fifty pages in and I stopped reading.  I don’t mind less-than-perfect writing, but I ran into something that bothered me in almost every chapter.

Chapter 3 ends with a windmill repairman taking pictures and “Little does he know the photographs will be the last he takes of ordinary life”.  At the end of Chapter 6, about the same guy: “Gage enjoys the view, having no idea how quickly it will all change”.  Got it the first time – things are changing.

In Chapter 1, the President’s assistant is introduced.  “Chief of Staff Isabella Alvarez consults her iPad”.  In Chapter 4, a long list of meeting attendees includes “the president’s chief of staff, Isabella Alvarez”.  Got it – she’s the chief of staff (or the Chief of Staff, depending on the editor du jour).

In Chapter 2, after the NSA has been cyber-infiltrated, the director of the NSA says “Colonel, I want the best computer operators we have in my office, forthwith”.  No, he doesn’t.  Computer operators make things work.  Cybersecurity personnel investigate breakins (and help them not happen).

Editing bothered me.  In Chapter 3: “Gage pulls up to the closest turbine and kills the engine”.  Of the windmill – really?  By remote control?  No, it’s the car/truck that he turns off.

Technology – well, even basic math – was treated with disdain.  Chapter 3, talking about the big windmills.  “The tower stands 260 feet tall and the blades extend another 126 feet beyond the hub, making the overall height 389 feet”.  No, it doesn’t.  The fact doesn’t matter – it feels like filler, or attempting a minor bit of technology showoff – but it’s wrong.  I blame both the author and the editor.  This is not some self-published bunch of electrons, it’s a real dead-tree book.

In Chapter 4, one of the cybersecurity experts talking to the president is calling out submarines.  “When the submarines surface, there’s a Windows XP chip on the engine that broadcasts the maintenance schedule back to base”.  That hurts my head, between the OS-specific chip, being attached to the “engine” instead of the nuclear reactor, and the idea that they would broadcast private info.  Just no.

In Chapter 5, the cybersleuth decides she’s going to “Look for clues.  Maybe a partial IP address”.  And guess what?  She finds “Maybe a partial IP address.  Three numbers”.  So she “copies the partial address and pastes it into a browser on the NSA’s network. She taps her foot, waiting for a response.  The odds are long, with only three numbers and over six billion number combinations.  She groans when the screen fills with nearly a million hits”.  Umm.  IPv4 addresses consist of four dotted numbers, from 0.0.0.0 to 255.255.255.255.  Some of those are reserved, dropping over a half-billion from the approximately 4.3 billion that 256 to the 4th power produces.  But that doesn’t matter – if she has three of the four, there are only 256 numbers possible.

And don’t get me started on a million results on a page.  Reminds me of the million pixel page – I’d groan, too, if Google didn’t filter down the number of responses.  Oh – am I assuming too much when I think Google?  Well, tell us.  Tell us what site she was visiting.  Tell us if the browser returns results (assuming yes, given “hits”) or tries to go to an invalid IP address.  Luckily, we are told in Chapter 8: “I did find a partial IP address.  Ran it through our database and received about ten thousand hits.  I narrowed the search to include likely bad actors and ended up with about a hundred hits”.  OK, so she was doing a database query, and ignored the 99 percent who were good guys, neutrals, or unlikely bad guys.  It’s OK, though, because “They’re almost certainly spoofing the attack”.  And they would only spoof it from other bad guys – got it.

In Chapter 10, a captain in NORAD makes a decision after North Korea detonates a nuclear device over Kansas (don’t worry – I’m not giving away all the secrets).  “Communications, work the phones.  Send an urgent message up the chain of command to alert them of a possible EMP event”.  As opposed to a non-urgent message, or —

Chapter 13.  The sub with the Windows XP chip gets new orders.  “Captain, we are in receipt of a valid emergency action measure that directs the launch of target package one.  Request permission to authenticate?”. And a bit later: “The message is encoded with a cypher to insure –” Nope – it’s ensure.  “to insure that the order originated from the President.  Quigley calls out the code while Garcia authenticates.  Once the message is decoded, Garcia exhales a breath and says “Captain, the message is authentic” “.  So they read the message before it is decoded.  And they can do cryptography in their heads.  Plus, it’s easy enough that a human can verify it, and assumes the reader and listener do not make errors.  And, ya know, there’s a difference between authentication and encryption.  Authentication could be as simple as a code word – rutabaga – to let you know that it isn’t some random stranger asking you for something.  Encryption jumbles the letters to make it non-readable.  Not the same.

My head really hurts.  I stopped reading after that chapter.  My time is worth more than that.

So I started reading a free book – St. Dale, from Sharyn McCrumb (thanks, Mom and Dad!).  In five pages she had me hooked with her writing style, good characters, believable situations, and an all-round better vibe.  She had me at “It was not the end of the world, but you could see it from there”.  Looking forward to it.  And if somebody wants a partially-read copy of The Day After Oblivion, let me know before I donate it to the library’s free book sale.

Niccolo Paganini was a violin virtuoso who died in 1840.  He was good – apparently very good, playing violins, a viola, and cellos, all from Stradivarius.

He was also vain.  His biographical entry notes

Paganini himself occasionally broke strings during his performances on purpose so he could further display his virtuosity.  He did this by carefully filing notches into them to weaken them, so that they would break when in use.

I admit to a touch of vanity myself, but that isn’t the reason for this post.  I am hoping for bad things to happen – a rainy day would be nice right about now.  I spent an hour or two on Saturday both enjoying the rare 60-degree weather in that week between Christmas and New Year, and winterizing my car’s front and rear windows.  I clean them and protect them according to the Blue Rain method.  They need it more than once per year, but I tend to wait until they really need it.

I also replaced a fuse that was blown, restoring functionality to the power outlet in the center console.  A good day for catching up.

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You might have noticed that we’re celebrating the birth of Jesus. The evergreen trees, the lights, the eternal circle of the wreaths, the stars, the gifts. The nativities with the beautiful baby in a manger. All tied to Jesus, His birth, His attributes.

And yet, just like babies tend to do, Jesus didn’t stay a baby forever. He grew up. He went through childhood and into His teenage years, growing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. I think He irritated His parents – but for once in human history, the teenager was on the right side. He continued to grow, and in adulthood He began His ministry. A few years later, He experienced the truth “It is appointed once for men to die”.

And yet, because the baby Jesus was both fully man and fully God, His death was different than our deaths will be. Because He was sinless, perfect and pure, His death is the only one that could atone for every sin, in His death on the cross. Jesus spent His life giving to others, as an example for us. And now we give gifts at Christmas, because God the Father gave Jesus as a gift to us. Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we would be lost if not for the light of Jesus. Possibly physically lost, as we think about all the contributions that Christians have made across the centuries. Definitely spiritually lost, without a savior. And because You loved us while we were yet sinners, You sent Jesus. Thank You for that, and help us to remember as we eat the wafer and drink the juice. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Sometimes, stories just seem to write themselves.  This one was a juxtaposition (probably from Computerworld) from a few years ago.

inadvertent

I don’t believe that the two stories are connected – but the suggestion is there, as well as the humor.

I was surprised tonight to see something in a similar vein from the New York Times.  I subscribe, and I read with a grain of salt.  But this seemed blatant.

doomsayers

Three links to the same anti-Christian article?  And another one higher on the page.  C’mon, NYT.  I understand there’s a liberal bias.  But put away the sledgehammer.

I got a fortune cookie a couple weeks ago. It said, the whole fortune said “You deserve the best”. I didn’t like it. I don’t like all the commercials telling me what I deserve. I’d be more inclined to believe it if they weren’t pitching that new car, or a two-week vacation, to a million of my best friends at the same time. I get the sense that there might be an ulterior motive.

The thing is, I read my Bible, and I know exactly what I deserve.

Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.

Romans 6:23 starts out “the wages of sin is death”.

And at the end of when Jesus was talking about the sheep and the goats, in Matthew 25:46, He says the goats “will go away into eternal punishment”.

So that’s what I deserve – and incidentally you do too. You are part of the “all” in that first scripture.

But God . . . But God the Father sent Jesus the Son, wholly man and wholly God, to live a sinless life and die an undeserved death on the cross, so that I wouldn’t have to go to Hell.

John 3:17 says ‘For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.’

His death, His resurrection, that’s what we’re celebrating right now. Not what we deserve, but God’s gracious gift. Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, You give good gifts. The gift of Jesus on the cross, the gift of eternal life – that isn’t what we deserve. It’s what You chose to offer us. Your ways are not our ways, and Your thoughts are not our thoughts. And I thank You for that. In Jesus’ name, amen.

A big meal can make you sleepy

Just outside our house Friday evening.

Sunday morning. Summer’s almost over.

This past Monday was a change of seasons – we moved from summer to fall.

And we can see it, too. Days getting shorter, night arriving earlier.

It made me think of one of my favorite Bible verses – James 1:17. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

That phrase – “no shadow of turning” – that’s a beautiful phrase, and it’s true. God doesn’t change, ever. The Jews of that time knew about shifting shadows, whether from a sundial or watching a building’s shadow walk down the street. The day changes, their month was based on the noon’s cycle, and the yearly changes – they were familiar with all of that. They knew about change.

And they knew about God. They knew that He never changed. Pretty easy for them to figure out. The first part of Malachi 3:6 says “For I am the Lord, I do not change”. Pretty black and white.

And yet after Malachi, there was silence from God for 400 years. No prophet, no new word. And then Jesus arrives, claiming to be God. And He was, and *is*, God. Some of the Jews didn’t like that, and crucified Jesus. That’s what we’re remembering now, with the wafer and the juice representing His body and His blood, that we call communion. And three days later Jesus arose, triumphant. God is not dead, and God has not changed.

James reminds us of this with his “no shadow of turning” phrase, and this week I realized that there is no shadow because God is the source of light, and Jesus is the bright and morning star, the light to the world. Hallelujah and amen!

Let’s pray. Father God, Father of lights, thank you for illuminating us. Thank you for Jesus. Thank you for mercy and grace. In Jesus’ name, amen.

It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.

My 11-year-old mobo died. Sad day.  And I wasn’t going to replace the board to preserve the old CPU, memory, and graphics card. I was ready for a new toy.

This toy is a beast. A Dell Precision Tower 7910, outfitted with 2 x 8-core Xeons.  128G memory. 500G SSD and a 10T spinning metal drive for slower things.  I’m planning on running a bunch of VMs on this, having them talk, setting up a house wiki, etc.  Much etc.

The first box got lost (lifted?) between the local package delivery service and my house. The nice folks at MET Servers shipped out the new one while still fighting with the shipping company over what happened to the original.  Plus, they got me overnight shipping tossed in! Thanks, Edwar.

Came in this morning, and I took a break from work to unpack it.  Started it up, made sure it worked, and had to power it off because it was distracting me from my regular job.

Since then, I have installed Fedora Server 30, installed the virtualization software (KVM), added and mounted the spinning rust drive (a NewEgg purchase).  I’m keeping the base machine a command-line box.  GUIs will be for the VMs.  So I had to use lynx to download the graphical workstation ISO – and it worked.  I’m still doing my Google research on another PC, but it’s working.

There are benefits to having enthusiastically worked in the computer field for decades.

And I’m having fun.

Bettie and I went to the jewelry store a couple weeks ago – not to buy something new, but to get something fixed. In her engagement ring, one of the prongs that holds the diamond had broken off. It’s fixed now, and we’re thankful that the diamond didn’t get lost. But even if it did, or if the ring was lost or stolen while getting repaired, it would have been sad, but we still would be married. The ring is wonderful, it’s preciousand it is only a symbol.

Then I thought of our country’s flag, the stars and stripes. It’s the same type of thing – the flag is not the country, it’s a symbol of the country. Respect the flag, honor it – but don’t defend the flag with your life.

And you see the direction I’m headed with this – the wafer and the juice we partake of as we celebrate communion are a symbol of Jesus’s body and blood. That’s true, but not the whole of the truth. Mark 14:22-24 says

And as they were eating, He took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is My body.” And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And He said to them, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.

Jesus never sinned, so He wasn’t lying. I think He meant it in a spiritual way – that *spiritually* it is His body, His blood. And yet it’s more. Philippians 3:10-11 says

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

So there is both the spiritual and physical aspect to communion, both symbol and reality. I don’t understand it all, and I don’t have to. There is a place for mystery. Ephesians 3:20-21 says

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us,  to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Let’s pray. Lord God, the wisdom, the knowledge, the love that You have for us – sinners – is still a mystery to me. And yet I know that I am a sinner saved by grace, through the body and blood of Jesus. Thank You for that indescribable gift. In Jesus’ name, amen.