Thursday, 14 August 2014

SI prefixes explained

This is a Tic Sliver:

Kilontic Sliver would be the new version of this guy, if Wizards ever print him. Otherwise, he'll have to stand in.

So you should have no question in your minds as to who's coming next.

Anyone want to guess at an appropriate mana cost for Yottantic Sliver?

Thursday, 7 August 2014

The Word became flesh

This is in response to a post by NaClHv regarding the interpretation of Genesis 1 and John 1. There are two points which I wish to elaborate on, in a way which goes beyond the scope of his post, and so this is more appropriate to its own post than to a comment against his.

Before I begin, I'd like to reiterate several points which have been made more eloquently on NaClHv's blog than I could state them myself. This is all about interpretations, not facts; and we can disagree on interpretations while still maintaining fellowship, respect, and the understanding that our salvation doesn't depend on getting the "right answers" to these questions. If you disagree with my position here, that's great! Disagree from an intellectual and Scripturally-valid basis, and we can discuss the matter. I'm not married to these ideas, and if other facts come up that disprove my interpretation, or if an alternative interpretation proves to be a better fit for the facts than mine, then I will adjust my thinking in response. So, with that out of the way, on to the content.

John 1:14 says that the Word became flesh. What does this mean? How are we to interpret it? The Greek word used here is Λόγος ("Logos"), the same root from which we get the English word Logic. John 1:1 talks of this Logos being "with God" and, in fact, being God. Is it too far-fetched to understand this "Word" as being a person of the Godhead, described as "The Logical One", later on acquiring the name "Jesus"? He then "became flesh", taking on the exact same form as one of his figurines, and spent some time among us, before achieving the ultimate purpose of dying and being resurrected.

And with that interpretation, quite a bit of John 1:1-18 becomes literally true. Jesus was there right from the beginning of time (albeit not with that name, but the same Person was present), and was directly involved in the work of creation. God sent the man named John, as a witness to Jesus and as a herald to carry a message in advance of the greater Person who followed him. Verses 11 through 13 basically summarize the transition from the Children of Israel to the Church of Christ - God is no longer primarily focusing on those of physical heritage, but of spiritual acceptance. The "We" in verse 14 is, of course, restricted to John's contemporaries, as those of us who live in the 21st century didn't actually witness Jesus' glory first-hand, but that's still literally true.

Verse 4 is the least clearly literal part of this passage. "In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind." God is the source of all life, but a literal interpretation of that life being somehow contained within Him, and the life being literally light, does stretch acceptance somewhat. Similarly, the repeated reference to "light" is plausibly metaphorical rather than literal (although Book of Revelation suggests that this, too, may be quite literal). But interpreting these metaphorically isn't inconsistent with interpreting most of the chapter literally.

What does all this mean, then, as regards Genesis 1? Well, there are still some parts that cause confusion, but I would hold that again, most of the text can quite plausibly be taken literally. From what we know of nature (thanks to science), we understand that time can flow at different rates for different observers. We also know that the Bible often describes things as they appear to us here, even if that's not strictly accurate (look at Eccles 1:5-7, where a simple interpretation suggests a geocentric universe); so it would make sense for the days to be as observed here on the surface of the planet. (Yes, even though there weren't any people here until nearly the end.) This is the view posited by Dr Russell Humphreys in his book "Starlight and Time": to summarize, God created a ball of water at least two light years in diameter, the mass of which made a black hole, and then He directly spread it out (turning the black hole into a white hole), with the event horizon crossing this planet's surface about on the fourth day of Creation. While I do have neither the scientific nor mathematical skill to test his theories, I can at least look at his overall explanations and how well they fit the Bible, which they do quite adequately.

If it's true, then, that most of the universe is over a billion years old, but this solar system is less than ten thousand years old (courtesy of gravitational time dilation), then we solve a number of problems, but of course it has its own consequences. For instance, if we accept that this planet has experienced only those millenia, we MUST then accept that there was no time for evolutionary development, and therefore that God must have simply spoken all those different plants and animals into being - we must accept a literal (or at least largely-literal) interpretation of the week of creation. And fossils must have come from some form of cataclysm, not from being laid down over megayears of regular processes. All of this conflicts with the interpretations that many modern scientists make on the basis of the facts they see before them; but at no point is there a conflict with the facts themselves.

It's always possible to draw a metaphorical meaning out of something. Most of the Bible is meant to be taken literally, and I believe that literal interpretations are superior to metaphorical ones, if they have the same interpretive and predictive success. So I believe that it makes more sense to take Genesis 1 and John 1 at face value first, and fall back on calling them pure metaphor only once we have exhausted reasonable options for literal interpretations.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Sentient life outside of this planet

Yes, it's a popular scifi subject, but I'm going to look at this from the point of view of the Bible. (This post was partly inspired as a response to a post of NaClHv's, and I said I'd wait for his next post before engaging in detailed discussion, but I believe this is not the thrust of his series, so this can hopefully stand alone.)

Is there life on other planets? Frankly, the only answer I can give is "we can't know". But here are some points that we do know:

  1. All humans are descended from Adam and Eve. The New Testament is quite clear on this: Adam is the patriarch of our earthly race, just as Jesus is of the heavenly.
  2. The entire universe was affected by the sin of humanity. Even inanimate objects are affected.
  3. God is just, and will not punish people who have not sinned. It's hard to find a citation for this, because there are no such people; but we know that God is righteous, and detests injustice, and if He defends someone described as "innocent" in legal terms (who is still a sinner), how much more someone who has actually never sinned!

So our universe can't have anyone in it who was capable of deciding to not sin (apart from Jesus, who willingly and knowingly took on all the consequences of sin). That means that there cannot be any sentient humans who are not descended from Adam, nor any other sentient races. We're not going to send a spaceship out and discover alien races that look almost identical to humans except for some facial differences. What we'll find will either be nothing at all, or non-sentient life (plants and such), or actual humans whose ancestry traces back (even if they don't know it) to Adam and Eve, and who are themselves sinners in need of a Saviour.

(Aside: How could there possibly be humans on other planets? If we don't have space travel technology now, and aliens didn't give it to us, how could the ancients have travelled to other stars/planets? Well, that question assumes we're constantly getting better, which isn't exactly a proven fact. There are plenty of periods of history we know little about, and if someone hit on a means of using quantum tunnelling to flee from the oppressive Roman empire, or to find a new life away from the threat of Babylon, or whatever, then it's entirely possible the skills and technology departed with the small group of colonists who used it. This differs only in scale from the questions of "How did the so-and-so people get to such-and-such island?", and it's quite reasonable to believe that technology for ocean-going ships was discovered more than once in history. Personally, I would suspect that there aren't any humans on other planets, but scientifically and philosophically, I can't rule out the possibility. Which would mean that the Great Commission applies to space travel... this could be fun! End aside.)

The genealogies in the Bible never go beyond Adam (other than to conclude "the son of God"), and early humans can be identified by their generational positions relative to Adam. The entire Bible assumes that Adam is the beginning of the human race. We are told that Adam is not the son of some sort of "proto-human" or non-sentient primate, but was formed from dust and breathed into. God didn't take the product of millenia of evolutionary development and say "Okay, this one's good enough to be called human". He made people in His likeness. We, in some way, look like "little God figurines". (Or at least, we did when we were perfect. Now we're little damaged figurines, but I suspect we're still somehow recognizable.) And of course, we're genuinely capable of thought and action, unlike the figurines that we make ourselves, and we all have our own identities. In so many ways, humans are special; we're not just "really smart animals", and we're certainly a lot more than bags of chemicals and electricity. We are God's representatives here on earth.

Random thought to leave you with: Does that mean the church is an embassy? Or is it more like a High Commission?

Sunday, 3 August 2014

MUD client installation

RosMud is still being partially supported, even though I'm not planning to do any major development on it. There is an issue with the current installer and some of the newer Windowses (most notably Windows 8) as regards security settings; the main program runs fine, but the installer is rejected. The simplest solution is to unzip the archive manually. Start by downloading this, which is exactly the same code but without the installer:

Then unzip that into c:\RosMud, overwriting any files you have from a previous installation. Don't worry, all your settings are safe! You should now be on RosMud 1.7.0.

But there's a better option, and that's to install Gypsum. Installation instructions can be found here:

Yes, Gypsum officially supports Mac OS X (the instructions are specific to OS X Mavericks, as that's all I've tested on, but may work on other versions too). Gypsum also supports Linux, and in fact that's where I do most of my development, but as there are so many Linux distros, it's harder to give step-by-step instructions. Check your package manager (apt, synaptic, yum, pacman, etc) for Pike and git; if you can get Pike 7.8.866 or 8.0, that would be ideal. Then clone the Gypsum repository and run Gypsum!

$ git clone git://
$ cd Gypsum
$ pike gypsum.pike

If you're comfortable compiling C projects from source, building the very latest Pike will often improve Gypsum. Talk to me directly about why that is, or just spin yourself up a Pike 8.0.3 (as of 20140803) and see how things go.

The last time I posted, Gypsum didn't have many advantages over RosMud. That has now changed.

* The plugin interface is far less fragile than RosMud's, meaning that Gypsum doesn't have RM's occasional tendency to crash. It's also easy enough for anyone to work with - you don't need a C compiler now.
* Gypsum works with Unicode, rather than Windows-1252. You can work with text in other languages (even RTL languages like Arabic, although imperfectly), symbols and emoticons from the upper reaches of Unicode, everything. All text is sent UTF-8 encoded, as per many other clients and internet standards.
* Lots of ancillary information that RosMud had separate windows for is now on the status bar. Wastes less screen real estate that way.
* The Threshold Time Clock is now a full-on timezone conversion tool. If you don't use Thresh, you can still make use of this; it understands "local" (meaning your own time), "Thresh" (time in Threshold RPG), and every timezone in the Olsen database, like "America/New_York" or "Europe/Madrid". Conversions between timezones can be done extremely easily.
* Support for proportionally-spaced fonts. Probably not something you really want to do with MUDding, but if you like text to lay out that way, go for it.
* Command history search. Type the beginning of a command, hit Ctrl-Up, and it'll find commands you entered that start with that prefix.
* Idle killer / keep-alive. (This is the same as RosMud has, but is an advantage over most other MUD clients.) This is fully compliant with the rules of Threshold RPG, and does not affect the server's view of your idle time, but will help you get past routers that disconnect you for idleness.
* Numpad Navigation can use any key on your keyboard, not just the numeric keypad.
* Per-world aliases. RosMud theoretically had this, but it was never actually made available.
* Inbuilt pop-out editor. RosMud has this as a largely undocumented feature; it's now fully documented, and integrated into Minstrel Hall. (Integration with Threshold RPG would be welcomed; it will need server-side support though.)
* Settings import from RosMud. No need to throw away all that configuration you did!
* Live updates. Just choose Plugins|Update Gypsum and, normally, it'll bring you up to the most recent version! No restart required, you don't even need to disconnect.
* Quick reconnect. Just type "/c" in any tab and it'll reconnect to the world you last were connected to in that window. If you have, for instance, separate worlds for your main and alt (with autologin), this can keep them conveniently in their own tabs.
* And heaps of little features that I didn't think of while brainstorming this. :) Yeah, I know it's a cop-out, but given that I'm using Gypsum exclusively, and putting through an average of five commits (changes) per day, there are going to be all sorts of things done.

And that constant stream of improvements means there'll be more advantages as time goes on. If you're a programmer, feel free to dig around in the code; it's all open source, and should be mostly readable (there are a few obscurities here and there, but not too many). I want this to be the best MUD client for Thresh or Minstrel Hall, and you can help me make it so :)

Friday, 11 July 2014

Part IV in the Trilogy of Scientific Research

After over a year of silence, the story continues! Where are they now... deep inside a 150g box of Roses. (A rose by any other weight...) Three boxes matched this pattern consistently:

* 1 Chocolate Bliss
* 1 Hazelnut Praline Crisp
* 1 Strawberry Cream
* 1 Classic Fudge
* 1 Chocolate Supreme
* 2 Caramel Deluxe
* 1 Orange Chocolate Delight
* 1 Hazelnut Whirl
* 1 Turkish Delight
* 1 Vanilla Butter Caramel
* 2 Peppermint Cream
* 1 Cherry Heaven

We also have an unusual case of a statistical outlier. With some research into two 450g boxes, one perfectly matched the distribution from last episode, but the other had one extra Turkish Delight! Apparently the Cadbury authorities approve of our research, sending us a bonus of the best type of the entire set. Close with a Looney Tunes style focus on the FIVE Turkish Delight in a lovely small pile!

Friday, 9 May 2014

Christianity and physics

I came across a new blog recently, written by a man whose username is "Salt and Light": naclhv. He posts about Disney's "Frozen", about physics, about Christianity and salvation, and the future of science. Makes for great reading... go have a look!

What I want to focus on here is his predictions about science, based on a Christian world view. Among other statements, he declares that people are special - that we're more than just bags of chemicals or sophisticated neural algorithms. I want to go one further: This universe was built for people to observe. Yes, this entire universe has us as its focus - we are the pinnacle of God's creation, and as such, we are central to everything that this world, this solar system, this galaxy, this universe, has to show us. The heavens declare the glory of God, but it's to us, and not to animals or rocks or computers, that they declare it.

(Caveat: I am not a scientist, and some of the details of the science here may be wrong. Most of my "research" has just been reading Wikipedia. This is not meant to be a scientific analysis, but a philosophical one.)

What does that mean for science? Start with the well-known double-slit experiment: whether something's a wave or a particle depends on whether you're looking or not. Even more so, it's possible to "un-observe" between when the equipment sees something and when a person does. That is to say, it's not enough for a photon to pass through a known location based on which slit it went through; that state has to be collected and understood by a person.

In theory, it should be possible to construct an experiment in which the which-way information can be observed by a human, or by a monkey, or by a rock, or by a computer - and that, in each case, the other three entities will be unable to know which slit the photon went through. I predict that a human seeing something will collapse the quantum state, but the other three will not. That is how we are special: it is only a human's observation that "counts". Yes, this is a bald claim without any scientific basis. I might be proven wrong, but that's what science is all about anyway - make a prediction, see if you're right :)

This is similar to how virtual worlds are often built. Ray-tracing would be infinitely complex if every photon of light were simulated, so instead the simulation works backward, seeing what could possibly reach the observer (camera). In a MUD, it's common to represent connected users (observers) as primary references, and then quietly drop from memory anything that isn't referenced (directly or indirectly) from one of them; so, for instance, the room you're sitting in has to exist, because you can see it, and objects in that room have to exist in order to compose that room, but an art gallery with nobody looking at it (that's most of them, right?) could be flushed from memory and loaded the next time someone walks in. Maybe this universe is the same - if nobody's looking at that particular photon, it doesn't bother to collapse it, but if someone is, well, it needs to properly exist.

Adam's sin cursed the entire universe; if there were anything else as important as we are, then it'd be horribly unfair on it/them to have been tarred with our brush. We're not simply the next evolutionary level after monkeys, and we're definitely not just another evolutionary step along the way to an even better type of being; we are the masters of this universe. This isn't man's universe, but it's a universe for man to be king of; and it would make logical sense for the universe to take some shortcuts when it won't affect its king.

Maybe I'm right, maybe I'm wrong (more likely, a combination of both); but this is what my understanding of God leads me to expect of the universe, and that, at its heart, is science.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Installing Google Chrome on Debian Jessie

Today I installed the latest unstable Debian Linux (Jessie) on one of our computers, in order to be able to use a particular flat-bed scanner (needed a newer version of something than Debian Wheezy ships). That part worked beautifully, but as this is a workstation, I needed to install Google Chrome - which didn't, because of a dependency problem: Jessie ships libudev1, Chrome depends on libudev0.

So far, it appears that Chrome will run just fine with libudev1, which means that this is all that's necessary to run Chrome on Jessie:
Section: misc
Priority: optional
Standards-Version: 3.9.2
Package: libudev0
Version: 147
Depends: libudev1
Description: libudev0 dummy for Google Chrome

Run that through equivs-build (from the 'equivs' package), then install the resulting package. Chrome will then install (you may need 'sudo apt-get -f install'), but not run. Then locate (in /lib somewhere - for me, /lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/ and symlink it to
sudo ln -s /lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/{1,0}

Et voila! Chrome working with Jessie.