28 September 2007

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A call from Antonio

In order to really appreciate this recent history, I'll need to relate a couple more stories beforehand.

First, one about an old missionary companion. He and I were companions in Santo Tirso, Portugal for the summer of 2001. It was very hot one Sunday afternoon in June, and we decided to stop for a break. We were a little down-trodden because we weren't having much success. Particularly, Elder H was more or less "fed up" with missionary work that day (it happens to every missionary some time during their mission).

We decided to take a minute to make a goal and ask the Lord to consecrate our efforts. Indeed, part of this was just to motivate Elder H, and helping him get out of his slump; however, I felt impressed to tell him that the Lord would hear this goal, answer our prayers, and lead us to a family that would be baptized before the end of July. We wrote down the goal, what we had to do to achieve it, and set out again.

The following Friday, we were thin on work, so we stopped. I asked Elder H, "is there any family at all that you and your last companion visited that seemed promising?" He said, "well, there was this one family with 6 kids. They seemed really open." Great! We went to go visit them.

They were a very happy family, though they had very little. The cupboards were empty and, we learned later on that they were about to be evicted from their apartment. The wife had just left her husband due to abuse, and she was trying to take care of all six kids, ages 3-13. Parenthetically, it amazes me the extent to which the human being can suffer and still find a way to survive.

The first time we actually visited was the following Monday, which I believe would have been July 2. The mom cried during our first visit as all the stress came out of her during the closing prayer. I thought that she wouldn't invite us back. She might feel that it was just an additional stress to think about God and religion during this season of her life.

However, she did. The second visit went much better, and they wished to be baptized! Four of them were of baptismal age out of the seven (remember that the father wasn't around). We set out to prepare. We introduced them to many of the ward members, and helped them get to Church each Sunday.

During these weeks, I came to understand that Elder H had never had a baptism in his entire mission. He had been out for 18 of his 24 months. For those unfamiliar with missions, a missionary will often judge the success of his mission by how many people join the Church under his tutelage. While this isn't always a good measure, you can see what happens to missionaries who don't baptize someone for three-quarters of their mission: They feel like they are a complete failure.

Anyway, one night, we went to drop off some invitations that we had made for them to distribute to their family and friends. It was almost 10 o'clock at night, which was our curfew, so we only had a few minutes. They weren't home. Now, where would a family with little kids be at 10 o'clock at night? Odd. We left the invitations at the door and went back out to the street.

Once we got to the street, we saw a car pull up. It was our Ward Mission Leader, Bother Magalhaes! He rolled down his window and said, "We thought we'd do a Family Home Evening with your family tonight!" He pointed to the back seat which had all six kids and Rosa, the mom, squished together! It was an amusing sight seeing them pile out once the car stopped.

The kids started running around as soon as they got out, and Rosa, Brother and Sister Fernandes, Elder H and I stood around talking about the Family Home Evening they just had. It turns out that Sister Fernandeswas going to help Rosa get a job at the sewing place where she worked and Brother Fernandes was going to help Andre, the oldest boy, do some work for him to get the family some more money. Further, the Fernandes were moving, and they offered to rent the place where they were now living to Rosa so she could live closer to Famalicao (where most of the ward lived), and have a more sustainable rent.

I was completely floored. The Fernandes seemingly came out of nowhere to scoop this family out of their beleaguered situation and put them where they could be a happier and safer family. Two weeks before, they had accepted the invitation to change their spiritual lives, and now the Lord was already blessing them with temporal blessings as well.

Eventually, the conversation ended. Rosa and her kids went into their house, the Fernandes drove home. Elder H and I walked quickly to our car to get home before curfew.

Now, in our car was a little tape player since the car had no radio. It was a recording of a number of gospel songs. We started the car and turned the music on. The very first song that came on the tape player was "Just Hold On". It's a beautiful song, and the words go something like this:

The message of this moment is so clear,
And as certain as the rising of the sun.
If your world is filled with darkness, doubt, and fear,
Just hold on, hold on, the light will come.

Anyone who's ever tried, and failed
Stands much taller when the victory's won.
So those who've been in darkness for a while,
Just hold on, hold on, the light will come.

It's a lesson every one of us must learn:
That the answers never come without a fight.
If there's anyone who's struggled far too long,
Just hold on, hold on, the light will come.

And the lyrics go on, but I can't remember all of them. The Spirit testified to us in that moment that Elder H's wait was over. He was going to see an entire family baptized!

A few days later, we were driving somewhere else, and, in the middle of a conversation we were having, he said, "You know, Elder Cummings, if this family actually gets baptized, maybe my mission will actually mean something."

To this day, I am still moved when I imagine that evening with the Fernandes and Rosa and when I imagine Elder H and his reflections on the matter.

They were baptized on July 29, 2001, according to the promise that we received from the Lord a month previous.

I tell this story because of the miracle that conversion often is and the lasting effect that it has on all parties involved. It requires a change of heart on everyone, even the missionaries doing the preaching. It is all worth it.

Anyway, this post actually took me a lot longer than I thought. I am going to need to continue the story tomorrow about Antonio.

23 September 2007

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Scripture Study Plus

I can't tell you how excited I am right now about a new SourceForge project that I just found:

Scripture Study Plus


It is an open source development effort to provide an online scripture study tool where a person can highligh, cross-reference, tag, discuss, and share, all to enhance their personal scripture study! I can't tell you the number of times that I have looked for something like this (or started it myself), and found nothing. Now, this is something!

I've already sent my name in to be added to the project so that I can start pounding away at it immediately. Honestly, I'm almost giddy right now with anticipation to get started!

22 September 2007

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Today, I didn't really like my job...

I find myself in a slender demographic nowadays: I love my job, and I get paid well for it. As a computer programmer, I get to solve challenging problems everyday and they they thank me for doing what I would do with my spare time anyway by paying me for it!

However, today was not like that.

Each year, Kristi does a 5K in Boise, Idaho with her mom, aunt, grandma, and basically every female member of her family. It's for a good cause. Well, I guess it's for two good causes if you include Kristi's sanity. The run this year falls on this weekend.

About three weeks ago, when discussions about the 5K started, she mentioned that she didn't know what she was going to do with Isaac. Since the trip takes the whole weekend, she usually takes Remi. He has a cousin up there that is his age, so it works out nicely. However, Isaac presented a problem. So, I volunteered to take care of him for the weekend. For some reason that I will never understand, she was completely shocked. :)

Anyway, I realized my mistake when my Project Manager called me this morning and asked about my availability for some weekend work.

*slap to the forehead*

Oh, right! The roll is next weekend. Of course I can help during Isaac's nap time.

Well, "help during Isaac's nap time" turned into now 10:15 PM, and I'm still working on bugs. I got Zac to bed at about 8:30, so it has been faster since then.

See, I was looking forward to a fun weekend with just Zac and I. So, today I had to basically pacify him for much of the day, while I crunched away on bug after bug.

Oi.

I love programming. I love parenting. I don't love programming while parenting.

20 September 2007

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Why Can't People Talk About Hurdles?

You know, I've observed something over the past while that baffles/intrigues me regarding human relationships. It's the fact that many people instinctively shy away from conflict, and, moreover, many of those same people avoid anticipated conflict, whether or not that would have been the outcome.

Take an example today with a business that I am working with to develop some candles for me. I need them developed right away for a conference at the beginning of November in California. Actually, I needed them for a conference in October, but that isn't going to happen anymore due to my conversation with the gal there today.

The situation began back in June when I emailed them to ask if they did custom candle molds. I didn't get a reply. I emailed again, stating that I was interested in a large quantity, etc., etc. to try and get a swifter reply. No reply. I decided that I must not sound serious enough, and so I called them directly. Finally, a person! They said that it was expensive, but that they did provide that service. I was happy to investigate, and so I sent them my pi cookie cutter with the expectation (and explicit instructions) that they would call me to start the discussion.

Nothing happened. I waited for about two weeks, and then I called them again. It turns out that they had made some prototypes and they were going to e-mail me, but they just hadn't, yet. They said they would email me pictures of the prototypes, which I thought was great. We talked for a while about the different possibilities, and I was excited.

Basically, nearly all talk stopped after this. It seemed that they were wholly disinterested unless I called them to remind them that I wanted to give them all of this business. I decided that I would look elsewhere for a business that was pro-active in taking care of me. As it turns out, there appears to be no one in the United States who is willing to make custom candles except these guys.

After a month of searching for another manufacturer, I called them back in August. They had never sent emails, has apparently lost the prototypes, and had no more idea what they were going to offer me than the first day that we talked. So, we talked over the same options again and we settled on the fact that they were going to put a proposal together for what they think would be best with respect to making pi-shaped candles.

Nothing ever came. No proposal in an email, no telephone calls, no prototypes in the mail. Nothing. I diligently called them once a week (we had a standing call) to ask them about progress. Each week, nothing had been done, and each week there was more of a "well, since we haven't started, yet, we should really get going" tone in their voice. Yet, they still did nothing.

Up to this point, I had been extremely nice and understanding. So, today, I finally shook of a little bit of the nice guy and told them plainly what I thought of their business practice. They either needed to simply tell me whether or not they could provide the solution.

I think that the jolt woke them up a bit and they finally gave their two concerns. The first concern was that the copper cookie cutter wasn't going to work and that they needed me to get someone to create a ceramic mold for them to use. Oh, my goodness! Had they just told me that in June, I would have had a ceramic pi mold in their hands in July! Why did they try to avoid the conflict and not tell me three months ago? The second concern was price (which we had never discussed to this point, though I had requested pricing many times). They were concerned that the price of these custom candles was going to be way over my budget. We had never talked about pricing, and yet, this was what was keeping them from making progress! It turns out, when they finally quoted a price, that it was a lot cheaper than I was planning on.

In my opinion, it comes down to the fact that they avoided the conflict of me turning them down as my manufacturer because of the mold and the pricing. Yet, after they brought it up, I was totally willing to accommodate! I really have no idea why they were so concerned. Had they just brought these things up in the beginning, we could have created a roadmap so I would have the candles in my hand right now. Instead, because they were wishy-washy about it, I was carted along for three months, and now, I can't have the candles for another six weeks while I get this mold ready.

If they weren't the only custom candle mold shop in the US, I'd be looking elsewhere. Not because they wouldn't do a great job, but because they didn't seem to care about my businesses needs enough to bring up problems as they arose; they simply let it slide until the problem became unsolvable.

18 September 2007

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Featured Article #4

As of September 24, 2007, all four of my geek articles on wikihow.com will be or will have been featured articles.

Check it out:
Honestly, I'm very happy. However, I'm not sure how this should affect my view of myself as a writer. Is it simply topical, or do I really have an eye-catching, thought-provoking fist? I think that I need to try something other than math or the gospel. I'm not sure what, though...

17 September 2007

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Living in the Spirit

There is a set of verses in Galatians that I really like. It is Galatians 5:22-24. These talk about the fruits of the Spirit, and encourage us to bring forth these fruits by "living in the Spirit".

This Sunday, I had the Sunday School lesson (I trade off with another gentleman, Gil Wilburn), and, to my delight, the topic was "Living in the Spirit". This meant that I would have the chance to talk about one of my favorite topics.

I'll give the overview, here, and I'll go into more detail later on of what we talked about.

First, I dropped a garbage bag in the middle of the room that was full of garbage. I did this before class began. After Brother Lunceford had given the opening prayer, I asked everyone if the room was clean. There are a couple of jokers in the classroom, but everyone understood. When might we decide that it was okay to leave the garbage there? "Oh, it's tied up, isn't it?" It will be fine for a while." "Oh, I'm too busy right now." The best one was: "Oh, I'm just not sure that I'm ready to throw it away, yet."

We talked about how there is garbage in each of our lives that we decide that we aren't quite ready to take out, yet, for whatever reason. What about those bad movies on your shelf? "Well, I paid a lot of money for them." What about the super-sugary diet? "Well, I'm really stressed right now." Etc., etc.. Often, we are like the monkeys that "see no evil," "hear no evil," and "speak no evil"; we shut our eyes, ears, and mouth to the bad things that we are doing, and, sometimes, justify it with an "out of sight, out of mind" attitude.

We turned to Acts 19:19 where some of the converts in Ephesus, instead of stowing away their witchcraft under the rug or selling it on eBay, burnt it. Indeed, once we decide that something keeps us from God, we ought to have courage and be rid of it. A relative of mine did this when President Hinckley spoke in General Conference against gambling. He could have sold his gambling stuff on eBay, but, instead, he threw it out.

We talked about a lot of different ways that we "shove our 'favorite' sins under the rug" and resolved together to put them away.

We next talked about the important step of recognizing the Spirit when He enters our hearts. I spoke of a wish I have to see the parting of the Red Sea to see if there are hand prints along the side of the water. I think that, much like we might see the impressions of the Lord's hands against the raging water, so do we see the Lord's hands in a very powerful way in our lives where he holds bad the pain, the persecution, etc., and leaves the peace and joy of the Spirit. Indeed, the way we would see His hands at the Red Sea would simply be by seeing where the water was displaced. Which tells you better that He is there? The impressions against the water or the physical hand. Indeed, neither is better. So it is when we feel the peace and joy of the Spirit when, by the looks of things, we ought to be feeling hatred, fear, or doubt.

We finished up by talking about something that I've touched on already in one entry. It is that, in our 6000 years of recorded history, we have never found a way to adequately describe spiritual experiences. By referencing the same scriptures that I mentioned in the other entry, we came to understand that the reason is because God has made us incapable of such an action. Why? Because, some things, he wants to reserve for Himself. He stands at the gate, not just to make sure that no one unworthy goes in, but also because He wants to be the one to welcome us into Heaven. He also wants to be the one to send His love into the heart of one of his children via the Holy Ghost--he doesn't want anyone else doing that for Him. We share experiences, bear testimony, etc., and then God has a reserved part that is just for Him. Now, He gets to testify to them how much He loves them and how much He wants them to be home with Him again.

It was a good lesson. I was touched when Sister Fackrell came to tell me that the Spirit had answered one of her prayers during the lesson. That tells me that the Spirit was there.

15 September 2007

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Gross National Product and The Great Train Robbery

The other night, I had a uniquely vivid dream. I was at a train station with a co-worker of mine, Trent. We were walking beside a black coal train that was stopped on the track. We were musing about how the government calculates the Gross National Product and what it actually means.

At a certain point, it occurred to me, as it happens in a dream, that we could find out the answer to our question because attached to the train were two solid gold cylinders. We located the cylinders. Each was about the size of a thick pen, and each had an engraving along the side; one with the initials GNP and the other, GDP. We understood that upon investigation of these tubes (whose initials referred to Gross National Product and Gross Domestic Product), we would better understand the principle of the Gross National Product.

We looked at one another wondering whether or not the train needed them. We understood somehow that the solid gold cylinders were not essential to the running of the train, so we took them for examination with every intention of returning them before anyone noticed that they were missing.

A feeling of foreboding overcame us that, even though they weren't essential to the operation of the train, some official would be looking for us soon and we would be in trouble. So, we headed away from the train station as quickly and calmly as we could until we reached a forest area. No sooner had we reached the seclusion of the trees than we heard an alarm sound. We were certain they were looking for us.

We understood that our explanations that the train didn't really need the tubes and that we were just going to examine them weren't going to placate them. They were simply weren't interested in raising their nose beyond the rule book, so to speak.

We heard the bustling and yelling of a man getting closer, and we found a cave to hide in. We each found a natural bench inside the cave, lied down, and pretended that we were asleep. The man entered and was obviously irate. He pointed right at us and started loudly and accusingly calling to us. When we didn't respond. We simply kept pretending that we were asleep. Because this was a dream, the plan worked.

His attention was diverted to the 30-40 people that were now standing in a circle around him. They had come due to all the fuss and ruckus. He pointed at each of them, screaming loudly about the fact that someone had taken the two tubes and that they were going to be in very big trouble. I remember that my impression of his anger was that of a school principal towards some seriously belligerent students.

I realized that something bad was going to happen to these innocent people if Trent and I didn't pipe up, so I slowly sat up. I felt if I sat up slowly enough, I wouldn't attract attention and suspicion to myself. I raised my hand amidst his tirade, and he whirled about, turning his blazing eyes right at me. He said, "You took them!" His tirade reached another level, and I remember scarcely being able to keep my composure. I didn't incriminate myself, but I simply said, "I can explain." He told me how much trouble I was in, etc., etc., but I simply kept my hand raised as it had been before.

Finally, he stopped and resignedly asked, "What do you have to say, then?" I explained as quickly as I could that I was unaware of how important the cylinders were and that we had only extracted them for study and would have returned them immediately upon completion.
He told us to follow him and took us away from the crowd of people. My angst subsided a little bit (perhaps because I knew that the other people were safe), but I was unsure of what was going to happen next. He walked us toward the train and asked for the cylinders. However, we simply passed by the train. As we were passing it, the man bent the cylinders and tossed them to the ground.

I remember most vividly feeling profound sorrow and loss at his action. I asked him, "Why would you do something like that?" In a somewhat sorrowful, yet resolved tone, he said, "They're just symbols." An impish grin stole across my face for a half-second as I looked at Trent and realized that the man was on our side after all.

We walked passed the train, and I remember the dream progressing, but not what happened for the next little while.

Eventually, the fuzziness because vividness again, and here is what made this dream unique. Now, I was in a completely different scene. I was talking with Trent at work and we were walking out to our cars. I became excited, and I began to explain the dream that I had just had to him. (Remember this is still in the same dream.) I explained it to him in roughly the same detail that I just explained to you.

We kept getting stopped by this or that, like the fact that he didn't take his car and would be taking the bus. I offered him a ride in my car, etc.. Everything that I did, though, was an attempt to keep Trent around longer so I could explain more of this dream. I never got to the "symbols" part of the dream with him--that's were we ran out of time.


Now, I've had dreams within dreams before, but this was a dream where I had the dream and then I had a dream where I explained the previous dream to the dream "waking" version of the person that was in the dream with me. Just explaining it is tough...

Whenever I have a vivid dream like this, I wonder whether or not it means something. Perhaps it is just emotional garbage, my brain resting, or whatever. Then, again, maybe not.

13 September 2007

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If they build it

As you know, Remi and Zac have been sick with croup, which means that it took a little longer to get them to bed. They needed to take their medicine at 10:30, so, instead of putting them down at 8:30 and waking them up, we just kept them up.

What does one do for two hours with a 3- and 1-year old? Play-doh!

Here are some pictures of our endeavors:

This is Isaac's neo-classic apple in applesauce:


This is Kristi's practical, yet provocative donut:


This is Remi's experiment of Realism with Strawberry and Banana:


And this is a snake under a woven blanket by yours truly:


Here's the whole family's artistic endeavors for the evening:


Sadly, they were subsequently mashed into big balls of nothing and we had to put everything away. But the extended beauty of our dinner table lasted for a while...
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Bo may know baseball...

But I discovered today that I don't. I played my first game on our Ward softball team, and though the pitches were coming at about the pace of a turtle walking through peanut butter, I still couldn't snag them. I managed to hit one that fouled, so I guess that's a start.

Anyway, I'm playing for the camaraderie, not the competition. I'm so bad at softball that, if I tried to play competitively, I'd just get frustrated and would probably make enemies instead of friends.

12 September 2007

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Sick kids...

Are probably the worst thing on the planet. That is, to have one of your own kids be sick is probably the worst thing on the planet. That is, to have one of your own kids be sick and seeing them so sad and not knowing what to do except give them the medicine that the doctor prescribed and pray that the Lord heals them quickly is probably the worst thing on the planet.

Remi and Zac are both sick tonight. Remi was diagnosed by the doctor today with croup due to the inflammation of his larynx, and it appears, at least for now, that Zac is demonstrating the same symptoms. Apparently, croup is very painful, but it usually peaks after the second day, and then drops off. That being the case, today is the second day of Remi showing symptoms. (Crossing fingers...)

11 September 2007

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An Ode to Football

For the sake of posterity, here is an email that I received from my sister just the other day:

I was bored in class last night. So, Brad and I each wrote song lyrics
for my new passion: Football. (For reals, his are really good. Mine,
below, are just plain hilarious)

Also, I had "Hey there, Delilah" in my head as I wrote them.

Good morning sunshine, have you got the remote ready
I know you and I are busy, but the game's on now

Oh, it aint just a game
No, It's a way of life.
And I know they'll lose if I don't watch

I'm actually not that lazy; my day's actually packed.
I gotta watch the quarterback get sacked.
The next twelve hours are really very busy
To see all thse games at once aint that easy

Oh, it aint just a game
No, It's a way of life.
And I know they'll lose if I don't watch

You never know when there will be an upset
There are reasons for Divisions, after all.
Oh, now that's a bull crap call.
Hey, come on, get that ball!

Oh, it aint just a game
No, It's a way of life.
And I know they'll lose if I don't watch

Don't you worry, he didn't get hit that hard
The team just really needed that one last yard..
So there really was good reason and after all, 'tis the season.

Oh, it aint just a game
No, It's a way of life.
And I know they'll lose if I don't watch

=)..........I am such a dork!
Kim

And, so, to let Kimmie know that she is not a dork (or not the only dork), here is a parody of "Sixteen tons" that I wrote when I was 16 during the 1997 NBA Playoffs (Jazz vs. Bulls):

If the Mailman comes by, you betta step aside.
A lotta men didn't. A lotta men died.
In one fist, the ball, the other, the mail,
If he doesn't getcha, then the rest of 'em will.

(chorus)
Ya' work 13 years and whadaya get?
Another year older and so little respect.
So, Bulls, just quit yer whinin' 'cuz we don't care
'Bout Jordan's earplugs or Rodman's hair...

I can't remember the rest, but there where three verses plus the chorus. It was some pretty intense basketball that year...
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NFD -> NFR

Well, I decided that they were right. I rewrote the article with a completely different tone, and I like it quite a bit more than the first. Check it out:

How to Double Your Salary and Half Your Weight Using an Algebraic Loophole

09 September 2007

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We Have Lift-Off


Remi got a new bike for his birthday (August 26th) this year. We just got around to purchasing the helmet today. I was very surprised at his selection. It was a nice blue helmet with a bear on the side. No problem. However, there was a really cool "Bob the Builder" helmet and another cool "Hot Wheels" that we also offered as choices. But, no; the blue bear helmet and Remi were obviously a match made in Heaven. It works out though because the generic helmet was something like 10 bucks cheaper. Phew!

We also got around to repairing the training wheel. Remi felt very official in his new helmet and with the socket wrench that we used.

He can't quite ride the bike, yet. However, he can't quite use a socket wrench, yet, either, so at least we're consistent.

08 September 2007

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Fountain of Youth Bed


We've decided that our bed is definitely not for old people. In fact, I believe that we have also ruled out middle-aged people. See, getting onto our bed is a little like getting into a semi-truck cab without he little step to help you out. With the semi-truck driver quietly chuckling at how much trouble you're having.

To exhibit the height of the bed, I employed (enslaved?...he wasn't really paid for it...well, except for the food, clothes, and free rent that we give him everyday...) my 3-year-old, Remi, to stand beside the bed.

Yes, feel free to guffaw for a moment at the poor photoshop job in the shorts. He just had his underpants on at the time of the picture, and I figure that he looks more appropriate in some shorts.

Anyway, you can clearly see that Remi is standing next to the bed, and that, being about 37" tall, his head still doesn't reach the top! In order to get onto the bed without resorting to standing on the window sill or something, I place my hands on the bed, harness the power of midichlorians, jump, do a half-gainer, and allow my parachute to open as I land safely on the bed. (When I have more time, I'll demonstrate with pictures!)

It's a nice bed though. Since we bought it, we don't have kids jumping on the bed to wake us up in the morning. ("Mommy! Daddy! The sun is out!" is Remi's favorite strategy/reasoning) It's also nice for acrobatics and dramatizations of the kids falling of cliffs, etc. as we did tonight before our family scripture study.

And let me tell you, executing dramatizations of the kids falling of cliffs using a 40" bed is also a great way to keep yourself young. :)

07 September 2007

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Form Tag Library

So, I'm feeling pretty nerdy right now because, even though it is 11:30 PM on a Friday night, I am working on company code from my home computer for my salaried job. There really is no other benefit other than the geek factor of working on something right now that I think is pretty cool.

See, we have, over the past year, been developing a nice set of tag-libs and other form helpers to make it easier to draw up forms with appropriate validation, formatting, i18n, etc. We are currently using a utility powered by DWR for shared client/server validation, tag-libs for the formatting, and our market and locale-sensitive CMS for i18n. Put them together, and you get a whole lot of functionality for a form while keeping the form looking like what is finally generated on the page (as opposed to having a trillion scriptlets, javascript helpers, etc. scattered around until, from the jsp, you have no idea what the page will look like).

Right now, I'm working on some tag libs for higher-level components like Credit Cards and Addresses.

Sadly, since this is work, I can't get into a lot of detail, except to say that I plan to one day base an open source project off of the experience that I am gaining in developing it.

06 September 2007

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Spiritual Things Can't Be Communicated Person-to-Person because God Wants to Tell Us Personally

Boyd K. Packer related a personal experience in his talk "Candle of the Lord." He described a conversation that he and a fellow flight passenger had about faith. The man insisted that because President Packer couldn't describe his spiritual feelings, then they weren't real. President Packer shrewdly asked the man whether or not he had ever tasted salt...

"Such an idea came into my mind and I said to the atheist, 'Let me ask if you know what salt tastes like.'

'Of course I do,' was his reply.

'When did you taste salt last?'

'I just had dinner on the plane.'

'You just think you know what salt tastes like,' I said.

He insisted, 'I know what salt tastes like as well as I know anything.'

'If I gave you a cup of salt and a cup of sugar and let you taste them both, could you tell the salt from the sugar?'

'Now you are getting juvenile,' was his reply. 'Of course I could tell the difference. I know what salt tastes like. It is an everyday experience—I know it as well as I know anything.'

'Then,' I said, 'assuming that I have never tasted salt, explain to me just what it tastes like.'

After some thought, he ventured, 'Well-I-uh, it is not sweet and it is not sour.'

'You’ve told me what it isn’t, not what it is.'

After several attempts, of course, he could not do it. He could not convey, in words alone, so ordinary an experience as tasting salt. I bore testimony to him once again and said, 'I know there is a God. You ridiculed that testimony and said that if I did know, I would be able to tell you exactly how I know. My friend, spiritually speaking, I have tasted salt. I am no more able to convey to you in words how this knowledge has come than you are to tell me what salt tastes like. But I say to you again, there is a God! He does live! And just because you don’t know, don’t try to tell me that I don’t know, for I do!'"

...So are our spiritual convictions, President Packer explained; one must experience them to understand them for a verbal explanation doesn't suffice.

I've often wondered at the fact that, with as resilient to linguistic gaps as our world's languages are, our millennia of existence have not been enough time for us to devise a mechanism for verbally conveying spiritual convictions. Think about the changes that have overcome our society in just the past hundred years, and I believe that you will find that our language has consistently kept up with changing concepts, technologies, etc. without missing a beat. So, then, why haven't we even come close with spiritual things after 1000s of years of trying?

Well, I have a theory, and it lies encoded in 2 Nephi 9:41. It says of the gates of heaven: "...and the Lord of Hosts standeth at the gate, and he employeth no servant there...". Elder Neal A. Maxwell gave a nifty interpretation (I need to find the talk) of this when he said that a reason that the Lord is there in person at the gate, and no one else, is because he wants to be the one to greet us personally into heaven and personally show us the mansion he has prepared for us. I think that this is a magnificent interpretation from an inspired individual with regards to the relationship that the Lord would like to have with us in general.

In general, then, I believe that there are certain times where the Lord employs no servant at all because he wants to be the one to introduce us. One of these times is spiritual experiences. We notice time and time again in the scriptures (see D&C 76:114-116 3 Nephi 17:15-17, etc.) that the partakers of the experience they had with Jesus could not be described. I like the verse in 3 Nephi where it says that "neither ear that heard not eye hat seen." I believe that it says these because what they experienced cannot be heard nor seen; it can only be felt.

Does it not follow, then, that the reason for this is because there are certain things that the Lord wants to introduce to us himself? He has hampered my ability to explain these things because He wants to be the one to tell you, and He will not be employing me to do that kind of work for Him.

Can we see, as a side-note, why it is so offensive to the Lord when we try and force spiritual things? That's not what we has hired us for. In fact, that is the one thing that he has disabled us from doing so that he can do it himself.

I had a brother at Church explain his convictions by saying that pure truth isn't found in words or in anything else regarding the five senses, but instead is only communicated heart to heart. This makes a lot of sense to me considering the thoughts above that he employeth no servant, including the five senses to communicate true conviction.

This perspective is truly testimony-building for me because I can see the Lord's hand in the molding of our everyday language.
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The Atonement Is the Power to Strengthen As Well As the Power to Heal

I had an Institute teacher before my mission, named Brother Frogley, who stated that he felt we emphasized too often in the LDS church the healing power of the Atonement while forgetting the strengthening power that it also offers. Just like it has been said that it is better to have a railing at the top of the cliff than an ambulance ready at the bottom, I believe that it is also important to say that it is better for us to fortify ourselves against temptation than to repent for temptations to which we have succumbed.

There are a number of scriptures that talk about the strengthening power of the Atonement. My two favorites are found in Ether 12:27 and D&C 84:33. The first says that the Lord's grace (read: Atonement) is powerful unto "making the weak things strong unto them." The second says that he that is faithful unto the obtaining of the two Priesthoods is sanctified by the Spirit "even unto the renewing of their bodies." I'm sure that there are a number of scriptures that you can think of that refer to a time when the Lord strengthened His children as opposed to just fixing the problem.

From this perspective, it is easy to understand that we ought to seek the Lord for help in fortifying ourselves such that what normally would have caused a problem in our lives, be it temptation or affliction, is no longer a disturbance to our everyday happiness and eternal progression because we are now "stronger than that."

To take a mundane example, I'll speak of my love of onions and my love for my wife. I love onions on a lot of things including, but definitely not limited to, hamburgers, pizza, salad, and soup. However, my wife hates the smell of onions on my breath. Now, I can either have this be a constant temptation and sacrifice, or I can allow the love of my wife to overpower my love for onions. This is just what I have done. I tell you, when we go out to eat, there is neither sacrifice nor temptation in my heart when I ask that they hold the onions because making my wife happy is a far higher priority than making my tongue happy. The loving relationship overcomes a temporal love.

A brother at my ward mentioned that he felt that the Atonement was not just the power to evolve the behavior (giving us strength to resist the temptation), but that it was also the power to keep the person from being tempted at all by x-y-z temptation. I found this very intriguing because, as Elder Oaks said in his October 2006 General Conference address, the Atonement has the power to heal everything. I have no reason to believe that this does not include our temptations.

This fits with my concept of God and the relationship that He wants to have with us. The scriptures are clear that the Lord wants to have a relationship with us as close as a husband and wife have (the bride and bridegroom parables, for example). I commented to my wife the other day that she and I have no rules in between us. Why is that? Of course, it's because we know each other so well that we almost automatically know what will make each other happy or sad. Moreover, we respect each other so much that we have no desire to do those things that make each other sad. They are not even temptations. This state of relationship is obviously because we have opened ourselves up enough to become emotionally tied together in such a way that does not exist with us and any other mortal in the world.

If the Atonement is the "At-ONE-Ment" and the purpose of our life is to develop a relationship with God, doesn't it make sense that the Atonement is supposed to help us develop this relationship and that this relationship will enable us to know what we should and shouldn't do and have no desire to do the things we shouldn't? I think it does.

Perhaps one last point in this stream of thoughts: The Apostle Paul teaches us that we receive a new heart and become a new creature in Christ. It seems to me that the idea is that the old, deceivable one gets replaced with a new and more immunized one. "...they had no more disposition to do evil..." was the phrase used to describe the state of being in which the Nephites found themselves after King Benjamin's discourse.

What would change in you if you saw the Atonement as a railing in addition to an ambulance? "Permission" and well as "forgiveness"?
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Proving that Pi Equals 3

...proves to be less of a pain than you might originally think. In fact, it's no problem at all to unravel millennia of careful mathematical postulation with just one simple trick. Can you spot it?

Given: a=b

(1) pi*a^2 = pi*a*b (multiplying pi*a)
(2) 3*a*b = 3*b^2 (multiplying by 3*b)
(3) pi*a^2 - 3*a*b = pi*a*b - 3*b^2 (subtracting (2) from (1))
(4) pi*a^2 - pi*a*b = 3*a*b - 3*b^2 (adding 3*a*b and subtracting pi*a*b on both sides)
(5) pi*a^2 - pi*a*b + a*b - b^2 = 4*a*b - 4*b^2 (adding a*b and subtracting b^2 on both sides)
(6) pi*a*(a-b) + b*(a-b) = 4b*(a-b) (factoring out common terms)
(7) pi*a + b = 4*b (removing common terms)
(8) pi*a = 3*b (subtracting b)
(9) pi*b = 3*b (substituting a for b since a = b)
(10) pi = 3 (removing common terms)

Therefore pi=3.

Spoiler ahead! If you want to figure it out yourself, then don't read on just yet!

The trick is actually the same employed over and over to prove all kinds of things in math, including that 1 = -1 and 1 = 2, among the more famous. Take a look at step 7. This is where the error is. In order to remove the terms, we must divide, right? Well, if a = b, then a - b = 0, thus we are dividing by zero, which is a big math no-no. Aside from being a fun trick to throw at your math students, it is a great example of why we can't divide by zero. Indeed, if we allowed it, then we can prove all kinds of false statements in our system!

Try your own hand at it for a minute. What other "convenient" conclusions can you come to? Can you prove that the world is like this math t-shirt? Maybe prove that e = 2 or that sqrt(2) = 1.5 or, if you're really adventurous, prove that pi = e!

Now, consider branching out into other illegal areas of math. :) How about negative square roots? What kind of false statements can you arrive at using that loop hole?

Just for fun, here is another fake proof. See if you can find the error:

(1) John = Time * Money (or anyone that you want to stick it to...)
(2) Time = Money (Time is Money)
(3) John = Money * Money (substitution)
(4) Evil = sqrt(Money) (Money is the Root of Evil)
(5) John = Evil

Of course, here the problem is in (4) because Paul said that the love of money was the root of all evil...har-de-har-har...oh, well, it was funny to me...

05 September 2007

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Gdata-Backed Applications

So, after a few trial runs, I am seriously considering Gdata as the Data-Access layer for my next project: An appointment booking and review site for my tutor students.

I first tried it out on this site. I didn't want to develop a database and an admin for this website, and I didn't want to just settle for blogger, which does labels, but doesn't seem to have the cool categorization functionality that I was really hoping for. None of the weblog alternatives were looking good either.

Enter Gdata. I learned of this nifty API that Google provides for query and CRUD operations for all of their applications, including Blogger. After poking around for a bit, I also learned that it is super-duper easy to use (if you are a programmer). As it's already feeling very late tonight, I'll just post the link, and you can see for yourself:

GData Blogger API Overview

Now, with very little programming, I was able to suck the blogger data onto these pages, quite seemlessly, and separate them into categories, like I was wanting to do.

Just days later, I was realizing that, for my t-shirt website, I needed to have a reminder go to my phone three-days after an order was placed to remind me, "Hey, if you haven't shipped this order, yet, you better get a move on!" All I did was, at the end of each order, use Gdata again to create a new calendar item on my Google Calendar, which defaults to remind me via my phone. That wonderful piece of integration took only a couple dozen line of code.

Lest everything look like roses, there was one problem, but it was web host related. I speak of the curl proxy that GoDaddy requires all secure requests to go through. Having a curl proxy is not a big deal, but the fact that it doesn't accept POST requests is astonishing. So, there was a little bit of hacking, but the problem had already been solved by people much smarter than I. I gladly accepted their generosity. :)

This, I believe, is incidental to GoDaddy, though. Otherwise, both times GData was very easy and just right for what I needed.

Now, for the tutoring appointment and review site. I'll use Blogger to log records regarding tutoring visits, the Calendar for appointments, etc. I'll build a presentation layer that will give the booking functionality on top of the normal free-form scheduling, and I'll probably use labels for the individual tutoring students. Perhaps, I will try to do the billing letters through Google Docs, but I'm a bit wary that this might be more work than it's worth.

Anyway, I look forward to trying it out.

04 September 2007

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NFD

The tag that I never thought I'd see on an article that I'd submitted: Nominated for Deletion.

To be really articulate: It sucked. I thought it was some of my finest work, and, hours after posting it to wikihow.com, it was nfd'd with the claim:

The inaccuracy reflects jocular intent.

Now, at the top of the article is a stark image of a piece of paper with a big red 'X' through it couched beside a paragraph indicating that, due to "Accuracy Issues," discussion would ensue and the article would be reviewed in a week or so.

The real irritation, I suppose, is not that the fellow tagged it, but the reason for which he tagged it. Of course there is jocular intent! Perhaps more accurately, the tongue-and-cheek is laid on pretty thick to make a pseudo-point regarding a fundamental principle of mathematics.

Anyway, despite the irritated tone of this post, I am open to suggestions that he or others would like to make if it truly is a little over-board.

Here is the wikihow.com link:
How to Become an Irrational Number Liberator and Prove That Pi Equals 3

Here is the discussion page, if you would like to give your two cents:
Discussion Page for 'Pi Equals 3'