Good Morning November 30th, 2016

Good morning on this the thirtieth day of November, in the year of our Lord 2016.

So I came across a decent example of how internet atheists seem to be astonishingly ignorant. My friend Eve Keneinan posted this:

Which then resulted in some atheist coming in and saying this:

There are several things to unpack here, the first of which is the assertion that one can believe anything one wants without needing any reason for it. While technically true, this is just unrelated to real human beings, who in the push-and-pull of real life with other people who demand reasons if you want them to cooperate with you need to have either reasons or superior force. And if you’re getting your way by superior force, it will not be in a middle ground between individualism and collectivism. This is an appalling ignorance of how human beings actually work. It is technically true that you can hold the principle, “everyone should have exactly three teaspoons per day of icecream, no more and no less” without any sort of justification for it. But the moment you try to actually make people conform to your idea—or even just live by it yourself—you will rapidly find people demanding a good reason why they should be thus limited or compelled (depending on how much they feel like eating icecream) and in short order you’ll find them doing whatever they feel like. Yourself very much included, as people on diets so often find to their chagrin.

And if the atheist in question is trying to claim that people just naturally feel like running governments in a balance between extreme individualism and extreme collectivism, this is purely delusional. Just try to find someplace without people who don’t care what others want, they just want the government to impose stability. And just try to find someplace without people who don’t care what the rules are, they just want to do what they want to do.

Yet again we come across someone who looks around at what people largely raised in a religious setting tend to do as adults, without ever realizing that people tend to behave as they were raised, but don’t tend to raise their own children as they were raised if they differ in dogma from their own parents. And people really under-estimate just how powerful the impulse to be selfish is in children. Let’s just say it takes way more effort to produce, “OK, you can have it” than it does, “I want it.”

And then there’s “regression to the mean applies.” Pro tip: if you’re going to use technical terms, first learn what they mean. Regression to the mean is a biological concept, not a behavioral concept. It refers to things like height and intelligence and speed. A tendency among living things is for the offspring of extreme individuals to tend closer to the mean. This is because the genetic and environmental factors which lined up by chance to produce an extreme phenotype probably won’t randomly line up as well in the extreme individual’s offspring. You can kind-of-sort-of extend this concept to behavior, but behavior is often too complex to even define a “mean behavior”. More importantly, this means “mean” in the sense of, “mean of the population”, not “mean of the trait”. Thus while you might occasionally get unusually large elephants or unusually small elephants, their children will tend to be more average-sized for an elephant. It does not mean that elephants in general are trending towards a not-too-big-not-too-small size for an animal, so elephants are getting smaller while mice are getting bigger.

Secondly (or is this thirdly?) regression to the mean is in all cases only a heuristic. It is literally the opposite of evolution, where changes accumulate and children are more extreme than their parents until one eventually gets an entirely new species. (And there’s also just random mutation where maybe your child just has a membrane between its fingers and you didn’t.) Regression to the mean only applies to cases where there is some complex set of coincidences required to achieve an extreme effect and there is no selective pressure favoring the extreme effect.

Then of course the final three tweets mostly just demonstrate some combination of an inability to read and an inability to think. What kicked this off was stating that absent a force which pushes people to a mean between individualism and collectivism, they will naturally gravitate toward the extremes, which extreme depending on a personality trait which I specified. His last three tweets only state that if people naturally gravitated toward the middle, then that’s where they’d tend to end up. No kidding. The entire point of what I said was: that’s not what people gravitate towards. People gravitate towards license or protection, i.e. individualism or collectivism, depending on whether their ambition or their fears are stronger. Balancing the two requires something capable of saying yes to ambition some of the time and no to it other times; yes to fears some times and no to fears sometimes. Only dogmas can say to inclinations, “this far and no farther, here your proud waves shall break”.

There is of course a selective pressure involved. Dimwits who don’t know what they or anyone else are talking about have an easier time writing because there’s no requirement for it to be related to a complex environment (human beings, biology, what was said, etc). So it’s a mistake to draw from the multitude of insipidly ignorant, thoughtless atheists one encounters on the internet that all atheists are insipidly ignorant and thoughtless. And especially not that insipid ignorance is limited to atheists. It certainly isn’t, but in organized religions there is a check on ignorance which helps keep it from becoming insipid, specifically the organization where people who don’t know recognize that there are people who do, and will defer to them. Humble ignorance is a very different thing from arrogant ignorance; it is only the latter which is insipid. Since atheists have no organization (unless, I suppose, one is in a cult like Richard Dawkins’ cult), they tend to be left on their own. They can of course cultivate humility, but if they do it is all on them to do so, as there is no structure given to them which will tend to inculcate humility. (This is of course a thing railed against by ignorant fools, “religion teaches you to not think for yourself!” they cry, as if somehow thinking badly for yourself is superior to deferring to others. Most of the time this is probably not even sincere; it’s usually of the implicit form, “don’t let someone else tell you what to think, let me tell you what to think”.)

Good Morning November 29th, 2016

Good morning on this the twenty ninth day of November, in the year of our Lord 2016.

So I’m actually writing this on my lunch break rather than first thing in the morning, but better late than never. I’ve been toying around with the idea of also recording these blog posts and turning them into a podcast. It seems that in the modern world, or at least in modern America, people who read things that are written are somewhat dividing up into two groups: those who read written words, and those who “read” them in audio formats. Especially significant in the latter, I believe, are all of the people who are cursed with a commute to work. Then having taken in a fair amount of writing, and having relatively little time outside of work after the time for their commute has been subtracted, they don’t have much time to read with their eyes. As such, this makes for in a sense two audiences, so that making recordings of the written word would mostly reach people who wouldn’t find it otherwise, rather than being redundant.

These daily posts are fairly short, so it wouldn’t take all that long to read them and then edit out any coughs, and I looked into it and wordpress supports the way itunes reads podcasts, since basically a podcast is just an RSS feed to a page with embedded audio. So I might give it a try. On the other hand, I need another time commitment like I need a hole in the head, as my grandmother used to say. It’s an idea, anyway, and it’s encouraging that I’ve gotten the feedback that people like my voice—generally people say it’s calming—though of course that’s self-selected feedback. (Who would listen to my videos if they hated my voice?)

Changing subjects, I’ve been thinking about The Order of the Wilds again. I’m coming to really like the basic idea—an rpg-minecraft hybrid game about warrior/mage who ventures out into the wilds to make them safe—and I think it could be extended in various ways to give it a lot of replay value. It would be fairly easy to add side-quests and alternate types of games. For example, there could be small settlements on the edges of the wilds, hermits, ancient ruins, etc. That could be a nice direction for expansion if the game gets at all popular (we’re talking about a release date like 3-10 years in the future). And the core game, of taming the wilds, has a lot of replay value in itself, I think, as long as the cities actually populate and are interesting to interact with. That’s more work than pure terrain would be, of course, but I think it can be done without requiring a team of 100 people. A big part of indie game developing is knowing your limitations and having a sense of what can be done on the cheap and what needs paid professionals (and then finding the intersection of those things and what would be fun to do).

I’ve also finished my first quick read-through of the Vulkan tutorial, and it confirms my initial suspicion. Vulkan is very verbose, because it is explicit about everything it does, but on the other hand a great deal of the setup work turns into functions you write that handles being explicit in the particular way you want to be, then you just use those and Vulkan becomes as easy to use as openGL or DirectX, but it’s faster (in some cases) and works better (in theory). So I think that soon I’m going to actually sit down and start really going through the tutorial with my editor open this time, actually writing code along with the tutorial.

I’m also working on a response to a question I got from a friend’s nephew about religion and probability. As so often happens it’s very easy to ask in a few words a question which can only be answered in many paragraphs. The basic question is about how it seems unlikely for anyone to actually correctly describe reality, though it’s put in probabilistic terms. In some very loose sense it’s a more intelligent variant of the popular meme, “there are 5000 gods but only yours is right”. The thing is, I need to address it from several angles simultaneously: on the one hand it presupposes knowledge is constructed, in the kantian fashion. On the other hand it also seems to presuppose that revelation isn’t true, because otherwise what human beings can get right isn’t very relevant if God simply told us what’s true. What a man can lift on his own is irrelevant if you know someone strong is helping him to do the lifting. There’s also simply the misunderstanding of probability, which says nothing about one-off events, though that’s comparatively minor to the other two. I suspect that my primary thrust will be about how things cannot be legitimately evaluated for truth on the assumption that they’re false. Even that’s a big subject, so I suspect it’s going to take me a while to formulate my response (especially since I’m going to try to keep it relatively brief).

Good Morning November 28, 2016

Good morning on this the twenty eighth day of November, in the year of our Lord 2016.

I’m very unclear on why the schools and childcare facilities have off today, but it means a long day of trading off who’s watching the kids so that both my wife and I can get our work done. On the plus side, it also means trading off playing with the children, which is much more fun, at least when no one is screaming in anguish that some trivial thing went wrong. When it comes to children I don’t mind the drudgery of cooking food and doing dishes and laundry and cleaning excretory organs and such, but people’s displayed emotions tend to influence me a lot, so all of the anguish and heartache over practically nothing (“oh no, the lego piece didn’t go on. Aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!”) is the hard part for me. But when no one is screaming, it’s great.

Not that it’s all that significant either way; the joys and the pains of parenting are both incidental to the real reason to do it: to participate with God in the act of generous creation. God made us out of nothing, and we make children out of ourselves and our environment. In so doing we become God’s creation of our children, and so by God’s gift we participate in God’s creative action. In a real sense part of God’s gift to us is to incorporate us into himself. The incarnation is the most striking aspect of this, but it is foreshadowed in our ability to create out of something (only God can create out of nothing). And this is of course why we must all take up our crosses and follow Christ; we are by God’s gift incorporated into God, and carrying his cross is, in Christ, part of God. There’s a fascinating thing Jesus said about how there is more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over 99 who had no need of repentance; it seems like even God can fear, though for us not for Him.

And it is participating in this that is the point of parenting: creating new people so that you can then give more to them. We feed them and clothe them and teach them how to speak and think and ultimately how to be human; and all this we do not because they have given anything to us, or because they will give anything to us, but because they can receive it. It is not strictly true that the love of God is unconditional. It is not conditional on what we have done or on whether we will do anything for God, but it is (necessarily) conditional on whether we are capable of receiving it. This is also why it is utterly pointless to ask whether any created thing has a better lot than another created thing. The infinitude of God’s love means that every created thing will be given the maximum it is possible for it to receive; and there is no point in asking why you won’t be given what you couldn’t receive even if you were given it.

Incidentally, this incorporation into God is also why evil is possible; because it is given to us to be God’s goodness to each other, we can reject this incorporation into God and thus his goodness will not flow through us. This privation we call evil. It does not mean that we can prevent God from being good to his creation, only that by rejecting our role of being some particular goodness of God to his creation, we can make him have to give it in some other way, probably at some later time. As it has been said, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Or as Freidrich von Logau put it:

Gottes Mühlen mahlen langsam, mahlen aber trefflich klein,
ob aus Langmut er sich säumet, bringt mit Schärf ‘er alles ein.

Translated by Wadsworth as:

Though the mills of God grind slowly;
  Yet they grind exceeding small;
Though with patience He stands waiting,
  With exactness grinds He all.

Good Morning November 27, 2016

Good morning on this the twenty seventh day in November, in the Year of our Lord 2016.

I recently read a review of the movie Jerry Maguire which is a twenty year retrospective. Given that I first saw the movie in high school, it turns out it’s been a while. And yet I remember the movie surprisingly well. Or rather, as we do with all movies, I remember pieces of it very well. (In general, I’ve discovered, no one remembers the boring parts of Dr. Strangelove. To me they’re memorable as examples of how much Kubrick wasn’t a great director, which is relevant because I took part of a course in college about how he was. Anyway.) Probably the most famous scene was “You had me at hello.” which was a great response to a heartfelt speech by Jerry, and—aside from the overly clever and blunt dialog—possibly the most realistic scene in the movie. Very little in life is ever decided by the content of impassioned speeches.

The other very famous line from the movie—”You complete me.”—is far more questionable. As a fun thing, I know someone who had a guy try to use that line on her. It was only a year or two after the movie came out, and if I recall correctly, she suppressed a laugh in favor of simply telling him not to quote a movie at her. Ah, teenagers. It’s bad theology, of course, since only God completes people, but if one gives it the benefit of the doubt, it could simply be a reference to complementarity. Complementarity is the idea that men and women are different in matching ways that work well together. But this is nearly the opposite of being completed, at least in the sense of being happy, because complementarity is a tension. It is ideally a tension with respect, but it cannot be anything but a tension. If one is too swift where the other is too slow they will balance each other out, but it will not be a restful balance. If one thinks too much of the moment while the other thinks too much of the future, it will again be a balance, but not an easy balance. And of course it will only be a balance when both have an idea of the Aristotelian mean between the two competing virtues which they embody so that when this tension is resolved near the ideal, both will recognize that this balance is better than if they had gotten their own way without compromise. That one should not always get one’s way unchecked is something only ever learned, it is never instinctive, and it is never restful. Our souls are restless till they rest in God. So like so many things in art, it’s a good line if you take it the right way, and a terrible line if you take it the wrong way.

Good Morning November 26, 2016

Good morning on this the twenty sixth day of November, in the year of our Lord 2016.

Holidays make for very busy times, and as I’ve discovered over the years, about sixteen times so when you have little children you’re responsible for. Especially when they’re around other people’s little children they’re responsible for. My brother-in-law and his wife are over, staying with my parents-in-law, and so that makes for five children ranging from ages three months to seven years. The amount of energy and ability to create trouble seemingly out of thin air (but really by using couches, chairs, walls, and floors) is astonishing.

Which also gets to the heart of the failure of a great many philosophies. Both communism and Objectivism are failures if anyone ever tries them, though of the two communism will always be worse because Objectivism does nothing to stamp out the religious impulse in man which will make the Hobbesian fight of all-against-all more cooperative, while communism will generally murder all of the religious people, or die trying (it never managed to succeed completely). Be that as it may, one of the biggest failings of both is that they seem to have been constructed for a race of men who is never born and who never dies. This seems to be a trait common to beliefs popular among relatively rich people; they take little notice of how life is actually lived, especially for the common man, and extend this moment into forever.

Both Marxism and Objectivism assume that all people are economic producers, but children are not economic producers. Of course marxism and objectivism don’t literally assume that children don’t exist, but they both treat children so unrealistically that they might as well assume children away. Marxism collectivises children, but in general the only people who love children enough to put up with all of the work and stress and misery and pain that raising children entails are the child’s parents. There are people who step into the role of parents, but they bond to only a few children who they believe will stay with them forever; they act like parents and have the same needs as parents. And among these needs, commonly, is the need to teach one’s children and the need to have a strong bi-directional bond with one’s children. Marxism gives these to the state; though in practice it did generally leave children with their parents rather than turning all children into orphans (as it should have) because however unrealistic marxists are, they weren’t suicidal. The most dangerous place in the world to be is between a healthy parent and its child.

Objetivism isn’t very coherent, and I do think that sometimes it’s just repudiating some collectivist concept which no sane person (but alas too many marxists) have espoused, but under misleading terminology. Having said that, it was very clear from the first 150 pages of Atlas Shrugged that Ayn Rand doesn’t really believe that children are children; they’re all miniature adults. Presumably she knows that babies have nothing to trade their parents, and equally presumably she came up with some explanation to cover this glaring flaw in her scheme, but until you actually raise children (Rand never did), you don’t have any sense of just how much raising children is carrying a very cute cross with more than a few splinters in it. It’s good work. It’s worthwhile work. It’s a participation in God’s boundless generosity and therefore a source of happiness. What it isn’t is comfortable work. If you don’t tap into the source of all life, it is soul-crushing work. All good work is, of course; you must exert energy to lift heavy things, and if you don’t eat, you will exhaust yourself quickly lifting heavy things. All really good work is like that. It takes from you because you have something to give. Only God gives to us without asking or needing anything in return. That’s why God is the source of all success, and why saints get so much done.

Good Morning November 25, 2016


Good morning on this the twenty fifth day of November, in the year of our Lord 2016.

I hope those of you who celebrate had a happy thanksgiving yesterday. It was so busy I wasn’t able to write a post yesterday, but I did put out this video:

So far it hasn’t triggered as many atheists as I thought it might. Just one in the comments and a few on Twitter. I mean it very sincerely, so who knows, perhaps the core of well-wishing discourages argument. Maybe the title “Happy Thanksgiving” (or being posted on thanksgiving) just discourages viewing.

Speaking of comments, I’ve noticed I’ve been finding it harder to be patient with the really dumb comments on youtube. I’m happy to argue with people who disagree with me, but when a comments consists of both obviously missing the point of what I said and then making a few bare assertions with no argument of any kind, it’s very hard to see how there’s any value in that. So far I haven’t really moderated the comments on my videos in any way (unsurprisingly, the comments on my blog posts, though significantly fewer, tend to be much higher quality). Youtube comment sections aren’t exactly known for their quality, and I’m not looking to get into the censorship business. On the other hand, I’m getting tired of comments which are simply a mean-spirited waste of time. I suspect that deleting them will be tilting at windmills, but I might do it ad-experimentum.

In other news I’ve been reading the Vulkan API tutorial more, and I downloaded lwjgl (Light Weight Java Game Library, it’s basically what the name implies, and is used by Minecraft and other games). I’m really interested in tinkering around with it, so I think I’m actually going to give it a shot. The earliest I could possibly get Order of the Wilds done is several years from now, so don’t expect anything, and I’m not giving up on novel writing, youtube videos, or blogging either, so in the best case I won’t have much time for it. Oh, and I’m still going to be working on making longbows, too. At any given time I have way more hobbies than I can possibly fit into the hours of the day, and these days add three little children on top of that. (The full-time job as a programmer is a constant.) Like I said, it’s a good day when I get done half the things I want to. 🙂

Have a good day and God bless you.

Good Morning November 23rd, 2016

Good morning on this the twenty third day of November, in the year of our Lord 2016.

The second set of replacement fluorescent bulbs has arrived, so I’ll be able to replace those in the upstairs light fixture which is above the stairs. It will be nice to have lights which turn on when the switch is thrown. Which of course brings up the issue of how much we can take modern technology for granted. Thousands of people’s work goes into light bulbs producing light on demand with a switch, some of them probably long dead. The house was built in 1953, so if the electrician who ran the wires was 16 then, he’d be 79 now. He might possibly still be alive, but it’s not likely. (Our hypothetical electrician would have been born in 1937 and spent his early years living through the rationing of World War II.) The copper in the wires would have been turned into wire some time before that, and the copper ore smelted into copper before then, and the copper ore dug up prior to that, and the copper mine discovered still earlier. Then there are the people who operate the power plant which supplies us with electricity, and the people who built the plant before them, and so on.

We live in a very complex world, in the west, and are far more interdependent than we like to think. But this also means that we also benefit each other more than we tend to think about; rich and poor, there are tends of thousands of people who do things which our lives are better for, and on the eve of Thanksgiving (here in America) it’s a good time to think about them.

It’s also a good time to contemplate the reality of complex entities. So many people are reductionists, thinking that the composite things we see in this world are mere illusions and their composite parts are the only reality. Our bodies are just cells and our cells are just sub-atomic particles, etc. They’re never consistent with this, of course, since to be consistent with it would be to be completely inhuman, but I think it’s good to consider the reality of composition since in our contingent world, all things are contingent and thus have another reality behind them. Or in other words, nothing in this world is God. If you make God the minimum qualification for reality, nothing in our world is real. There is, then, a subsidiary reality which is real, since there is clearly something besides God.

Good Morning November 22, 2016

Good morning on this the twenty second day of November, in the year of our Lord 2016.

I’ve been watching the music video for Lindsey Stirling’s Hold My Heart, featuring ZZ Ward:

The imagery is very interesting. I’m thinking of doing a video about this at some point, but there’s a curious visual style in music videos used to convey the idea that we’re watching something of great importance.

One of the very common ones is backup dancers. When you have several people moving in sync with the main singer, it makes them seem important. Several people concentrating on one person ordinarily means that there is something important about that person, in the moment, anyway. Also that the person who is the focus, and where all the backup dancers can see them, is being copied also suggests importance. People usually only copy what’s worth copying.

But it’s interesting how ZZ (an initialism from her name, Zsuzsanna) is presented. She’s dressed very ornately, in a large chair, and is moving with large, exaggerated movements. It looks very important, but why? If that were in real life it would look absurd. Anyone who has known a goth is familiar with the absurdity of self-important presentation, even when it looks good in stillness. So why does it work? ZZ is pretty, but not breathtakingly so. And the way she sits in the chair reminds me of Lady Catherine from the A&E/BBC co-production of Pride & Prejudice (the one with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle), and yet here it looks good. Why?

I submit it’s because of the camera work. Lady Catherine is an antagonist in Pride & Prejudice, and the camera keeps its distance from her. It lingers unflatteringly, after moments of activity into moments of stillness. The camera clearly doesn’t like her. Whereas with ZZ, the camera moves in a way to suggest it’s entranced by her. It lingers on unimportant moments where something is about to happen, as if anticipating something good, then cuts away before they happen, as if we couldn’t bear that much greatness. It’s very subtle and I’m not describing it well, and I don’t mean to suggest it’s manipulating the viewer. It’s an art form; all (beautiful) art consists of suggestion. Reality comes to us at its own pace; art works by suggesting more of reality than fits in a moment, but since the art itself is real, it can only do that by suggestion, not by actuality. “Art unveils worlds of meaning” is how I heard Heidegger said it. This is also, I think, why Nietzsche hoped for the overman through art; because art suggests more reality than fits into a moment, it suggests the possibility of a greater reality than we have access to at present. Alas, only beholding the beatific vision can actually contain that. The only one who could ever be the overman poor Nietzsche hoped for is God himself.


Good Morning November 21, 2016

Good morning on this the 21st of November, in the year of our Lord 2016.

So I’ve been reading a tutorial on the Vulkan API, which is a code library for doing 3D rendering using a video card. It was designed recently  by the same people who made the previous standard (openGL) to reflect what modern video cards are like, and to be able to get maximum performance out of them. Since everything new is better (*wink*) I decided to check it out, especially since any game I write won’t come out for years (little children leave little time and are more important). It’s low-level and I can see how it would be high performance; it’s also complicated and certainly not designed to be easy to use. I kind of think I’m going to give it a try.

One of the cool things about games in general, and possibly especially about 3D games, is that it’s very doable to build them in pieces, where one tinkers with parts, occasionally adding features. Which is fun, low-stress, and rewarding. Terrible way to get something done on a deadline, but a great learning experience.

Which brings up the interesting topic of tinkering. Curiously, tinkers were originally itinerant tinsmiths who would fix tin goods, especially, I believe, pots and pans. At first glance this seems a bit strange, and tin has a very low melting point—less than 500 degree Fahrenheit. If you stick a pot over a fire, the outside of it will be exposed to temperatures higher than that. However, upon further research, it turns out that tin was used to line the inside of the pots and pans. Tin sticks well to iron, and unlike iron doesn’t rust. A very thin layer of tin on the inside of a pot or pan would prevent corrosion, but would be at very nearly the same temperature as the food which, especially if water is used in the cooking, will not go much above the boiling point of water. The result is pans that won’t rust. Apparently lots of other things used to be made of tin because it was easy to work; tinsmiths therefore had to be very adaptable to fixing whatever someone had made before them. Also curious is that whereas iron tends to be worked hot, tin tends to be worked cold. (Hence someone who smiths iron is a blacksmith, from all of the soot, whereas someone who works tin is a whitesmith, because it’s so much cleaner, I gather.)

Anyway¸ whatever its origins, tinkering has come to mean trying things and working things out for oneself and making things work without a detailed plan beforehand. (Especially doing so in stages on something that has some functionality already) No one wants to travel over a bridge which was made by tinkering, but a great many things do work this way, and it’s a great deal of fun to tinker on things. This is especially true of software, I think, where by keeping a copy of the old code around before one started tinkering, in the worst case you just toss out the changes that didn’t work and try something else. It’s sort of a compromise between the hard work of starting from scratch and the very easy work of playing video games; the rewards come easier than the former but not as easily as in the latter, but they do have the reality and permanence of the former, if not always the durability. Like with most good things, the key is balance. Narrow goods must never be allowed to become universal, or they become tyrannical. But, kept in their place—in balance with other goods—they can blossom and become very good indeed.

Good Morning November 20th, 2016

Good morning on this the 20th of November, in the year of our Lord 2016. It’s amazing how much children scream. Not when they’re in pain; granted they scream a bit then, but I’ve found that children are often more stoical about physical pain (in the sense of stubbing your toe) than they are about disappointment. They build so much expectation into everything, and at the same time have no filters on the emotions they present to the world. The problem for adults is that not only do we heavily filter the emotions which we present to the world, but we know that other adults do the same thing and so we interpret how strong their emotions really are by inverting this filter. In essence, if people are wrapping their mouths in a thick scarf when they talk, we then hold a megaphone up so we can hear. Well, this works very badly when someone is not filtering their emotions, just like holding a megaphone up to someone’s mouth would work badly if they’re speaking at normal volume. The result is kind of exhausting. It also doesn’t help that children are changing all the time so you can never really get used to them, because by the time you have they’re behaving differently.

In other news, I’ve started reading a tutorial on the Vulkan API. (It’s a new, high performance 3D rendering API.)  It looks interesting, though a fairly large amount of work, but on the other hand one thing about games in general and especially 3D games is that you can start small, implementing just one thing, then eventually start adding things to it. I don’t have the time to be doing this, of course, but what the heck; if one waited to have time for things, one would never get anything done. I think that I might try out rendering procedurally generated terrain, and then walking around in it. How hard can that be, right? 😉

Good Morning, November 19th 2016

Good morning on this the nineteenth of November, in the year of our Lord 2016. I missed posting yesterday, but today will make three out of four, which isn’t too bad. Yesterday was very busy, as you might imagine, and since I’m hoping to write each day in the morning, a friday morning meeting made it hard.

I had a curious exchange with a commenter on one of my videos (Atheism vs. Meaning) where he basically took what I said to be something completely different and concluded I was very wrong. This happens to all people with surprising frequency; a great many people never ask what another person means by their words, they only ever ask what they themselves would have meant by the words the other person said. There’s a great line Father Brown has in the story The Invisible Man:

Have you ever noticed this–that people never answer what you say? They answer what you mean–or what they think you mean. Suppose one lady says to another in a country house, `Is anybody staying with you?’ the lady doesn’t answer `Yes; the butler, the three footmen, the parlourmaid, and so on,’ though the parlourmaid may be in the room, or the butler behind her chair. She says `There is nobody staying with us,’ meaning nobody of the sort you mean. But suppose a doctor inquiring into an epidemic asks, `Who is staying in the house?’ then the lady will remember the butler, the parlourmaid, and the rest. All language is used like that; you never get a question answered literally, even when you get it answered truly.

But this very often goes wrong; the fellow in question thought that when I said that atheism must deny meaning, that I meant that all atheists must be unhappy. As a matter of fact they are, because all fallen creatures are unhappy, but that’s beside the point for the moment. I was discussing meaning, and for some reason all he could hear was that I was discussing practical happiness. It’s very annoying when people have arguments with other people and use me as a stand-in for the people they want to be arguing with.

On another subject, I learned that Minecraft was inspired by the game Infiniminer (which never really became popular). They had in common the block-based world and mining; minecraft added in a quasi-rpg element with swords and spells and crafting items out of the things mined. This got me to thinking about what sort of game I would make inspired by Minecraft. I’ve never successfully made a game before; the closest I got was a slightly playable top-scrolling space fighter game. I may someday go and finish it, as it would be fun to play, and in any event it will be some time before I actually have time to seriously code on my own projects any more. Between work and three children, I don’t really have the spare brainpower left over. (Mostly it’s the kids; young children need a lot of time and emotional energy, and they come first.) But I think I hit on an interesting idea for a game which I would like to make some day. (The other game I’d like to write is a realtime strategy game in the genre of StarCraft, which I intend to call Violent Conflict Resolution, and feature the ability to write up complex orders for units before playing, so the game is more about strategy than instructions-per-minute that one can issue. I just don’t like twitch games, whether first-person-shooter or realtime strategy.

Anyway, the idea I came up with is this: Order of the Wilds. The main character is a wizard in the Order of the Wilds, which is an order of warrior wizard engineers who vow to go into the wilderness and make it fit for mankind. The basic idea is one would start off in a city, then go off into the wilderness, far away, conquer the things which spawn monsters, drive away tribes of monsters, etc. then found a city and make a road back to the original city. After doing that, one would go do it again, conquering more of the world. The founding of the city would probably consists largely of building the city wall and a church, which would suppress the undead from rising. I’m thinking that like minecraft it would be a voxel-based world where one can put things anywhere, as well as be able to mine for resources. I’m thinking that the warrior-sorcery engineer would, after taking his vow, venture forward with three things, aside from clothing: an enchanted hand-pick, which would never break and could be used to mine anything (basically like fists in minecraft, except making a tiny bit of sense), a magical backpack of holding which would explain why one can carry around many cubic meters of stone, and a cloak, which can be used for camouflage and sleeping at night in the wilderness.

I’m thinking that unlike minecraft, it would have a variety of weapons, and unlike most RPGs, the different weapons would actually have different sizes. This way a spear gives you a long range but stops working if the other guy gets too close. A long sword would have a longer reach but would be slower than a short sword, etc. Also possibly different woods can be used to made different kinds of bows, etc.

Incidentally, a warrior-engineer-wizard is not as absurd as it sounds; the roman army proved how useful it is to have all of one’s soldiers be engineers, too. And while RPGs often follow highschool stereotypes of jocks-versus-geeks being developed into fighters versus wizards, in reality exercise and mastering one’s body help with mastering one’s mind; further I think most good magic systems require physical endurance to work magic; since magic is basically a human being a conduit for magical energy that exists ubiquitously in nature, it makes vastly more sense for them to need endurance to withstand channeling the energy than to be capacitors who store it up as mana and then expend it. The latter is workable, and still much better than AD&D 2nd edition mechanics of memorizing spells that get wiped from one’s memory (and worse, memorizing a spell more than once if one wants to ask it more than once!), but I think a unified stamina system makes vastly more sense.

Another interesting dynamic I was thinking of added is having a minecraft-like food system, and having male and female characters as options where the male character is stronger but needs more food. This is:

  1. Realistic
  2. An interesting balance

I’m thinking it won’t be a huge difference, especially given that either way the character is a wizard and enchanted weapons and armor (and generally useful spells) will tend to even things out anyway.

This does introduce one problem when it comes to sacraments, though. It would be possible to make a male character a priest, which takes care of the availability of sacraments. On the other hand, being a priest might well complicate things; warrior-priests are in a very strange place, to say the least. On the other hand, doing without the sacraments for a while is doable—I don’t believe that sailors had ready access to the sacraments, for example. And it will be possible to travel back to the original city, so possibly it could be a thing periodically restocked. Perhaps the character could carry around a small gold box with a supply of the consecrated host as a special exception made for exceptional circumstances. And the order of the wilderness would make sense as a religious order. Granted, magic and religious orders don’t go together in our world, but that’s largely because magic consists of harnessing demons to do one’s bidding. In a world where humans can act as conduits for natural energy, magic would be natural, and so there would be no tension. And magic could be easily made rare by, for example, requiring the wizard to embed a special gemstone into his chest; the ability to be a wizard would be as limited as the gemstones, and therefore arbitrarily limitable. (This would also work well with a religious order, because the powers of the kingdom would possibly supply such stones to the order who uses them to expand kingdoms into the wilderness.)

Overall I think this fairly workable, and at the same time not so grand in scope that it’s utterly undoable for a small team. Some work needs to go into trade-offs; game mechanics like weapon length/range are very easy to do since the combat engine needs to take distance into account anyway. And a seeded, programmatically generated world takes work, of course, but way less money than hiring a ton of artists and voice actors does. Anyway, it’s going to be quite some time before I get a chance to start on it, but I may take a look at lwjg3 just to see how much work getting anything at all done is. There’s no harm in playing around a little before a serious start. 🙂

And on a random note, it is amazing how much my one year old daughter loves David Hasselhoff’s version of Hooked on a Feeling. Her brothers before her loved it, too, though.

Good Morning, November 17, 2016

So, consistent with my intention of writing something off-the-cuff each day, here goes. 🙂

It’s amazing how much work is involved in doing the simplest thing in an older house. In the upstairs there are some recessed fluorescent fixtures which look like they date from the 1950s when our house was built (I just looked it up; fluorescent lights were commercialized in the 1920s) and the ballasts are probably original. (If you don’t know, fluorescent lights work by passing electricity through an inert gas which excites mercury vapor to emit UV light which gets absorbed by a coating on the glass which then fluoresces in the visible spectrum. The problem is that as the gas becomes progressively ionized it becomes a better conductor, so on its own it would behave like a short-circuit and blow your circuit breaker in moments. The ballast prevents this by limiting the current to the maximum operating current.) Anyway, the lights have been deteriorating, and recently stopped working altogether. I had taken one out in order to blow some insulation into the attic, and so I finally replaced it.

Or rather, modified then replaced it. I had ordered some LED tube replacements which fit in place of the old fluorescent tubes but require the fixture to be rewired so the bulbs are directly wired to the house current, bypassing the ballast. That was the easy part. Unfortunately some previous owner of the house had taken the light fixture out before, and the old metal-clad electrical wiring only just stretched to the box; so instead of taking the trouble to put it back in, they just spliced in some NM cable (NM stands for non-metalic, it’s the plastic-jacketed wiring that one is used to seeing in new residential construction) and left the splice open above the ceiling. This violates the national fire code rather badly in two ways:

  1. Junctions between electrical wires should always be in electrical boxes (there are a few exceptions for special devices which are not relevant here).
  2. Those electrical boxes should always be accessible without having to rip out drywall. Decorative covers are fine, but it is not OK to bury a junction box in a wall. (Again, there are a few devices approved for that sort of thing, but it’s not relevant here.)

So I did go to the trouble to actually pulling the metal-clad original wiring back into the box. Given that the light fixture was essentially wedged between two joists and a tight fit with the plaster, this wasn’t easy, and moreover it would have been great to have an extra arm or two, but eventually with a fair amount of sweat and dirt falling on my head, it was in, and wired correctly. It’s nice having light in the upstairs hallway again. I can recommend those LED replacement bulbs, by the way, if you have any 2 foot fluorescent fixtures to replace. There aren’t many options that I can find, so I’m very glad of that. By contrast if you want to replace 4ft bulbs, there are tons of options, including ones stocked at local home improvement stores.

I also had an interesting conversation recently with a friend about a youtuber’s commentary on a Star Trek episode, and how this commentary seemed very at odds with the person’s often aggressively-taken political stance. Using fiction as escapism is a very common thing, but I think we mostly think of it as escaping the details of life. Whether it’s the stress of too little money or too much work or boredom or problems in a relationship or whatever, these are all specifics that one wants to escape from. But I think that there are also people who use fiction to escape from the hideous consequences of their philosophies of life. For example, I suspect that most Materialists suspend their disbelief in free will and read fiction as if the choices the characters made are real choices, and are not pre-determined by the initial configuration of the matter which makes up them and their environment. This is somewhat analogous to what Chesterton said in Orthodoxy about how poetry nearly saved Cowper:

Perhaps the strongest case of all is this: that only one great English poet went mad, Cowper. And he was definitely driven mad by logic, by the ugly and alien logic of predestination. Poetry was not the disease, but the medicine; poetry partly kept him in health. He could sometimes forget the red and thirsty hell to which his hideous necessitarianism dragged him among the wide waters and the white flat lilies of the Ouse. He was damned by John Calvin; he was almost saved by John Gilpin. Everywhere we see that men do not go mad by dreaming. Critics are much madder than poets. Homer is complete and calm enough; it is his critics who tear him into extravagant tatters. Shakespeare is quite himself; it is only some of his critics who have discovered that he was somebody else. And though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators. The general fact is simple. Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion, like the physical exhaustion of Mr. Holbein. To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.

(For those not familiar with Chesterton, he is only arguing in favor of mysticism in its proper relation to reason; he is not denigrating reason. In fact he wrote a biography of Saint Thomas Aquinas which was very high praise of perhaps the most reasonable man who ever lived, and Chesterton very specifically praised Saint Thomas’s use of reason.) There is a great deal of pseudo-intellectualism in our day, which I think accounts for the popularity of reductionist philosophies. Materialism reduces everything to matter, Marxism reduces everything to economics and class conflict, Freudianism reduces everything to sexual instincts, and so on. (These are not perhaps the most popular forms of reductionism today, at least in name, but the modern forms are mostly just variants of these older forms.) The basic pattern of reductionism is simple: it’s hard to understand the world, and it’s much easier to understand the world if we shrink the world down to one idea. Why people want to understand what is obviously just a phantasm in their head inspired by the real world, I cannot say, but I think it’s related to so many people going through so much schooling where fairly ordinary people are told that they’re very smart. Trying to make sense of being very smart but the world not being very intelligible results, I think, in solving the cognitive dissonance by shrinking the world. I suspect this is done not so much because people want to think well of themselves, but because they want to think well of the authorities in their lives, and those authorities can only be thought well of if they themselves are as smart as they’ve been told. So far from hubris, I think it’s a very mis-placed humility; at its heart is trusting the world far more than it should be trusted. When Socrates was told that he was the wisest man, his conclusion was that it was because he knew his limits. It’s a good lesson for all of us, though Socrates lived in the wrong time and place to benefit from God’s self-revelation to us.

Anyway, I think that many people who are trapped in these reductionist systems feel the strain of being a human being living in a box that isn’t big enough for a worm, and they are desperate for some relief. And this is a role that fiction plays for them. It lets them, for a time, escape the cramped universe they’ve been stuffed into. Pray for them.

It’s a Good Day When I Get Half the Things Done I Want To

So I haven’t been writing on this blog much lately, which follows the pattern of other blogs I’ve run over the last 15 years or so. To some degree it’s natural that I have a lot of pent-up things to write, then once I get them out the rate at which I write new things is reduced and then with a reduced frequency of writing I fall out of the habit. I’ve also never really had a popular blog, which is fine—I’m happy to write for whoever reads it, as I trust God to put what I write in front of who should read it, however many or few people that is—but it doesn’t provide the same sort of motivation as knowing people are expecting one to post things. But the other trap I fall into is writing a fair number of edited essays, I tend to build up the expectation (for myself) that everything I write will be like that: an important subject, addressed in a considered way. Which is great, except that it requires a lot of work and therefore a lot of time.

So I think I’m going to be posting a lot more in the Rambling category, as I can find five minutes a day to talk about whatever is on my mind. It won’t be as worth reading, but it will probably be more personal and some interesting points might come up in the process. And as the subject of this post indicates, given that I’ve got several big work projects, and three young children who need a ton of attention and work, not to mention a household to do half the maintenance on, I’ve got to be careful to keep my secondary activities small or they just won’t get done for the next few years. Not that I’ll never post a more essay-like post in the other categories, but at least for the moment here’s the plan.

Speaking of blogs, I finally signed up for an RSS reader a month or two ago, and it’s really nice. (The reader is called newsblur. There’s a free, limited but useful, version; the premium, unlimited, version is $24/yr.) It does a reasonably good job, but as much as anything it’s great to have an RSS reader again.  It was a really awful thing that google did when it killed off RSS readers by offering their free (and reasonably high quality) rss reader, then killing it off. I suspect that the blogosphere took a big hit from that, as RSS readers are an excellent way to keep up with blogs. I don’t know whether google did that on purpose; this is the sort of thing to which Hanlon’s Razor (never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity) can explain. Still, you never do know. There is a fair amount of malice in the world. Not as much as many people think, but more than people who have led sheltered lives tend to think, too.

And if you’re interested, I finally got my review of the movie Legion up. Back to editing the audio for chapter four in my project to do a full reading of Chesterton’s masterpiece, Orthodoxy.