The Golden Thread

Somehow the math still works. Things may be a dumpster fire here, but the economic situation is strangely detached from reality: the US dollar still has $0.34 on the Canadian equivalent, real estate in Ohio remains significantly cheaper than any Toronto-area bedroom community, and my salary is almost impossible to find on the Ontario job market — and trust me, I’ve been looking!

While Covid-19 shows no signs of slowing down within US borders, and our home country shows no signs of being interested in having their unruly neighbors come over to visit, a few things have improved a little since my last post.

Patrick Corrigan, Toronto Star: Canada-US border

First of all, there are signs of cognitive activity in the President: he called masks “patriotic” and admitted the virus is getting worse. I’m not sure if this is the result of polls showing that the other bigoted old white dude is real competition for November, or if this is just how long it takes for someone like Trump to learn anything new — but we welcome this rational thinking. Hopefully the red hats will follow his lead.

Second, my employer was able to file a correction to our entry stamps. Apparently its not a cheap legal maneuver, but they undertook it on our behalf. Our entry records now show the correct expiry in 2022 — aligned with my work Visa. The correction means we can travel home if/when we need to, and not worry about getting back. The virus related travel challenges remain, but at least 50% of the problem is solved.

We’re 40 this month, and this may prove to be one of the most unusual years of our lives. The debate rages on about a return to school in the fall, and I have a persistent, although minor, medical issue, that may require a follow-up surgery. We don’t really know what the rest of the year will look like, but we’re provided for, safe and mostly healthy, so we’re grateful — despite grumbling to the contrary.

A Tale of Two Countries

I remember the day we heard that Trump had been elected. I was at a trade show with my boss, and we met up that morning in the long hallway leading to the show floor. I said to him, “What has your country done?” and he just shook his head sadly.

Most of Trump’s presidency has had minimal impact on our family. Shortly after he announced his intent to terminate NAFTA, the agreement which provided my work Visa at the time, we finally (after 7 years) won the H1B lottery. This simplified crossing the border, and granted Nicole recognized personhood for the first time in the US — her immigration status still depends on mine, but she has some legal rights now. In the end, the changes to the NAFTA agreement were minor, but we felt safer with our improved status.

So it has been that we’ve been able to ride out the Presidency of a morally repugnant, but mostly politically innocuous, Donald Trump. Since we don’t belong to any minorities, his policies haven’t impacted us significantly. And some of what our Republican-voting friends were hoping for has actually come true — the Supreme Court has tipped toward Conservative leadership (not that it has done them much good), and the economy has performed reasonably well. He’s not a likable person, and some of his fan group is pretty reprehensible, but an argument could have been made that he served his base.

That is until Covid-19 hit. Beginning with denial, following-up with attacks on his own scientific advisers and State leaders, and continuing with threats to de-fund sources of research, Trump led his country into one of the worst possible outcomes. America is exceptional only in its horrifically poor handling of the pandemic. And while other nations are in careful recovery, the US is in resurgence in many densely populated areas.

From the US Embassy in Canada website – the strength of partnership

Its no surprise then, that our home country doesn’t want us back right now. The date of re-opening for the usually friendly border has been moved back at least twice, as Canada (and other parts of the world) watch in horror while our frequently inept State and federal governments scramble to spin the irrefutable, and currently unstoppable, facts of viral transmission in line with their political positions — as if an interpretation of the Constitution will somehow change the behavior of a virus — all while many Americans are indifferent to what’s happening.

But that’s not all. Trump has also put a hold on green cards and H1B stamps through to November, claiming that it will help protect American jobs. Since most H1B Visas (which make up a tiny percentage of the US population) are issued for tech workers, the tech community responded by pointing out the obvious: skilled work forces, regardless of origin, improve American output and create American jobs. But Trump benefits from less educated voters, so he’s not listening. (Not listening is apparently his default state.)

Can I nominate one of these dumb chickens to be the next President?

We are still lucky, though. Ohio’s Republican government has performed well during this pandemic, our mostly conservative community has generally behaved thoughtfully, and our county is fairly safe. I don’t always agree with the political signs I see on people’s lawns, but I haven’t observed any ignorance or hate — “love your neighbor” (or at least “live and let live”) seems to win around here most of the time. Plus, I have a job that allows me to work from home, and the kids have enough space to enjoy the warm weather — we even got chickens for them to raise this summer. So while we’re grateful, the one-two punch of Trump’s leadership in 2020 has a big impact on us…

Nicole and Eli’s Visa stamps expire in September. Normally this isn’t a big deal — when this happens, we take a trip home to Canada, show our work authorization paperwork on the way back to the States, and get a new stamp. But stamps aren’t being issued until at least November (who knows what happens if Trump gets re-elected), and non-essential travel is restricted until July 21. If the border re-opens as planned, that gives us a window of one month to visit home, of which we’ll likely spend two weeks under a mandatory isolation order. If they delay the re-opening by another month (which is likely), that gives us a window of 10 days to visit home, of which 14 will likely be under an isolation order. That’s negative 4 days to visit family and friends…

Biden has said he would lift the Visa holds if he’s elected in November. If that was the only reason to root for his election, I’d feel selfish. But there’s basically unlimited reasons to hope we never have to see Trump in the Oval Office again. He’s turned this great country that we love into an international embarrassment, and there’s nothing we can do about it. We can only hope that our American friends have had enough of this strange timeline, and will vote for the other bigoted old white dude

Why you shouldn’t buy a Mac in 2020…or maybe ever again.

Sad Mac iconThis week Apple surprised no one by announcing they were beginning their transition to “Apple silicon” in their Mac computer line-up. If you don’t know what that means, its sufficient to understand that they are moving from Intel-based computers, to a processor and related architecture of “their own” design.

I put quotes around “their own” because, despite their announcement, everyone knows that “Apple silicon” is derived from the ARM processor — a family of chips most often used in phones and other mobile devices. ARM has been around a long time, and Apple invested in the company back during the Newton era. Intel has obviously been around even longer, but Apple’s use of Intel chips is the stuff of relatively recent history.

This marks the 4th processor migration for Apple, from the Motorola 6502-based Apple I and Apple II computers, to the Motorola 68000 family in the early Macintosh line-up, to the Motorola (and IBM) PowerPC of 1990s processor-war infamy. With each generation, Apple struggled to position themselves against the WinTel (Windows + Intel) hegemony. It wasn’t until 2006, when they transitioned to Intel, that Apple finally found their footing.

Since Steve Jobs’ hostile take-over of the Macintosh project in the early 80s, Apple’s philosophy on computing has been fairly “closed.” Jobs envisioned the computer as an appliance for average people, not a tinker toy for nerds. In the original Mac, this meant unusual screws and an absence of hardware expansion slots. On the iPhone, it meant a “walled garden” where only Apple-approved apps on the Apple-hosted App Store could be installed (unless you were willing to do some serious hacking.)

It took a long time to prove this philosophy out — it was almost a full generation before non-nerds were doing most of the computer shopping. But in many ways it paid off. Macs have a reputation of being stable, reliable machines, and iPhones are the mobile device most people want to own. iOS really represents the logical outcome of Apple’s trend toward locking things down: its an operating system that users aren’t supposed to know anything about, on hardware that customers aren’t supposed to be able to open.

On the Mac, though, there’s always been another layer: under the simple, friendly veneer of the user interface is a powerful Unix shell. And under the sleek case is fairly standard, commodity hardware. The implications of this for the Mac is that despite Apple’s attempts to end their life prematurely, people with a little know-how can keep their Macs running for years. Unlike phones, where people feel compelled (either by fashion trends, or security concerns) to buy a new one every couple of years (don’t do it!), an Intel Mac can last a decade or more as a useful, performant machine. Obviously this is a problem for a company that primarily sells hardware…

Case in point: this is being written on a 12 year old Mac that Apple tried to stop updating in 2016.

Apple zealots will tell you that the move to ARM will let Apple build smaller, faster machines with better battery life. They’re not wrong — ARM rocks for mobility. What they won’t admit is that the move away from commodity hardware will let Apple control the lifecycle of these new computers the same way they intentionally keep the lifecycle of their phones shorter than necessary:

  • With an Intel-based hardware platform, upgrades made for Windows PCs mostly “just work” in a Mac
  • With an Intel-based hardware platform, many parts can be sourced from other manufacturers to provide for repairs that Apple will no longer supply
  • With an Intel-based hardware platform, users can boot Windows (or Linux) to run software that isn’t compatible with “older” Macs
  • With an Intel-based hardware platform, the developer community can create patches to circumvent artificial end-of-life moves from Apple designed to keep you from upgrading to the newest MacOS

It remains to be seen whether the heroic hackers of the world will be able to bring these benefits to new ARM-based Macs, but if Apple’s plan is to make Macs more like iPhones (which it evidently is), you can bet they won’t help us.

The move from PowerPC to Intel was a painful one for the Mac community. Software we owned stopped working, or had to be run through short-lived and poorly performing compatibility tools. Then there was the swallowing of our pride as we collectively had to admit that Intel really did outperform the G4s and G5s we were so proud of. But ultimately, the benefits for consumers outweighed the costs: it was the right move. Arguably, the move to ARM is significantly less urgent — granted, Intel’s track record over the past few years hasn’t been great, but they’re still putting out decent performance at a reasonable price point. Besides, the average Mac user doesn’t care what kind of silicon they’re running on — and they shouldn’t need to. But they should care if a company is deliberately steering them toward a platform of aggressive planned obsolescence and a treadmill of re-buying things they don’t really need.

I’ve put more than two dozen used Intel iMacs and MacBooks back into service for churches, students, teachers and missionaries — all well past the date Apple would like them to be running, and all stable, reliable and with half of them running Windows 10 at least part of the time. They’re really great machines, and I mourn the end of this era. Maybe Apple’s new products will be better than I think; I’m sure they’ll be sexy pieces of hardware. I just hope they don’t become sexy pieces of garbage in a couple years…

Ignorance with Piety

I’ve written a few flaming posts lately — I’ll admit, there’s a level of emotion in my blog that I haven’t mustered in awhile. Unusual circumstances and all. I’ll admit too, its nice to see some engagement and responses to those posts. Of course, such engagement will come with differing opinions, but my post on conspiracy theories seemed to have provoked a significant reaction — and one I’d like to partially address. I won’t post the reply in its entirety, because I know the person, and I’m embarrassed for them (you can read their full thoughts in the comments, if you’d like). But I will engage, in part, to clarify and continue the admonition:

Last month I read a piece that someone had written and people had shared. After I read it, Holy Spirit said to me, “Well, that was the most anti-Christ thing I’VE ever read.”

…I wanted to share this with you because I never saw the anti-Christ agenda so clear before. It really is just anti Christ (opposite of Christ). I used to think that the spirit of the anti-Christ meant that someone would come in shouting, “Down with Jesus!” But, God has shown me that it is a lot more subtle than that. We need to be on the look out for what is exactly opposite of Jesus. We need to be on guard against the devil’s schemes.

My first rebuttal then, is a very important clarification: I am not anti Christ, or a part of the anti-Christ agenda. For absolute clarity, I am a Christian, a believer in Jesus, the Son of God, who died and rose again in propitiation for my sins. His Word, the Bible, and His guidance of the early church that sometimes took the form of signs and miracles, provide Holy instruction for life. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Aside from 10 years of education in a Christian school, and 2 years of my childhood on the missions field, I also have a Certificate of Theological Studies from a conservative Christian seminary. All that said, more often than I would like to admit, I find myself ashamed of those who claim a similar background.

Then, God showed me about this need to believe in science. He said, “So, people are going to put their faith in science, the same science that tried to tell the children about darwinism in schools? That is anti Christ.”

There’s few things that make me doubt a message is from the Holy Spirit more than the person claiming God spoke it to them directly. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but I am saying its rare. God doesn’t really need to breathe blog comments into the average person — He breathed His Word, and He guides through the Holy Spirit, but WordPress isn’t usually where He physically interacts with His people.

In fact, maybe the only thing that makes me more wary about a message that claims to be from God is if the content of that message is opposed to the laws of nature He established. And here again, I’ll grant you our imperfect understanding of how He works, but Biblically, suspension of His ordered universe is a relatively rare occurrence. I certainly am not a proponent of Darwinism (but I’ll do the man the respect of capitalizing his name), although I understand the human need to make sense of what appears to have been a miraculous creation event, but I do expect that in most cases, science is a use of our Imago Dei to learn about, and exert dominion over, that creation. We first practiced the God-given gift of science when we gave names to the animals. (Shortly afterward we were compelled to develop the study of crop science!)

When a repeatably observable behavior in the physical universe is established, then behavior outside that documentable “law” is reserved for the Creator and Orderer of that universe. If the behavior of radio waves transmitted from a radio tower is known, then a dramatic and heretofore impossible change in that behavior, such that it can suddenly cause or activate a virus, is either a) the assumption of a lunatic or b) the miraculous intervention of the Creator of that behavior. Unless God is miraculously causing 5G cell phone towers to give people a virus, then it is not happening. And unless you can show me how a secret change to the behavior of radio waves is a part of His Gospel of reconciliation and salvation, then you are sowing fear.

Second, it was suggested that a person needed to have 3-5 years of schooling in order to have a valid opinion on something. God said, mirror that to the theology that is given. This writer would then believe that no one can tell another person about the Good News of Jesus until they have 3-5 years of schooling. Then, Holy Spirit said to me, “Is that how Jesus got the Good News out? Did He only use learned people? “No,” I said, “He used fishermen, prostitutes, tax collectors, etc

Herein you might be more correct than you think: the best historical estimates are that Jesus spent 3 to 3.5 years with His lay-person disciples, walking with them in earthly ministry. During that time He instructed them, corrected them, and even rebuked them. He educated them until they were ready to lead the church without His physical presence. James, most probably the brother of Jesus, specifically wrote: Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly – James 3:1.

Nonetheless, none of that was my premise. My premise was that people on Facebook who have zero knowledge on the science of viral transmission or radio signal capabilities are irresponsible if they share misinformation on those topics as if it were fact.

First, Jesus never called the common, every day people names. He called names to the Elites of his time, the Pharisees (Matt 12:34), but he never called the common people names.

You’re right, my post was a little harsh. But I wrote it in response to a former church leader with no education on the topics I mentioned, using his leadership position to sow discontent with the government on Facebook. I did not say that Christians shouldn’t share the Good News unless they have three years of education — but since you brought it up, a minimum of three years does seem like a reasonable defense against bad theology.

Then, this morning God asked me to ask you, “What side are you going to be on?”

Skipping over the fact that God probably didn’t ask you to ask me that, I am on the side of reasoned faith. I am on the side of a Creator of the universe who loved us enough that He didn’t thrust us into a random, frighteningly unpredictable world so that we could live in fear of things we don’t understand. He placed us lovingly in an ordered world, instructed us to care for it and then, when we made a mess with our sin, He sent his Son to provide a way for things to be good again. He then called us to share His message of hope with those who need Him (Matt 28:19) — and He specifically told us not to sow fear (1 Tim 1:7, 1 John 4:18, Romans 8:15) or rebellion (John 19:11).

I’ll close this one with another admonition from Scripture:
When I am with people whose faith is weak, I live as they do to win them. I do everything I can to win everyone I possibly can – 1 Corinthians 9:22

I’ll start with myself: I get that I could be more gentle. Many are genuinely afraid right now — and for good reason. A lot is happening in the world, and most of it can be hard to understand. Aside from just dealing with a virus, people have lost jobs, security, and access to loved ones. Events have triggered the exploration of deep sin within our systems. It sucks, and it leaves us all feeling uncertain. I’m probably not winning anyone to my view of the world by yelling at them.

But fellow Christians, as gently as I know how, I have to tell you: you are no friend of the Gospel if you espouse dangerous, hateful, or fringe viewpoints on public forums. When you are unreasonable and uninformed on topics like vaccinations or viruses or the experiences of minorities, it is too easy for the unchurched to extrapolate that you are also unreasonable and uninformed on other topics — like Jesus. Exegeted logically, the Bible, the ministry of Jesus, and His gospel are compelling (or condemning) to anyone who would approach them earnestly. But when you mix your faith in with your fears, and your superstitions in with your beliefs, or your religion with a political party, you present to the world an unattractive, and unjustifiable testimony, and you will win no one. You are not pointing to a loving Father whose hand of providence is active through this tough time; you are not becoming weak for the sake of winning others… you are showing your faith to be too weak to be any good.

Second System Syndrome

In software development, there’s a common error that occurs as a system evolves. The first version is lean and focused on a small initial set of capabilities. Lessons are learned during development, features are added, and bugs are found. At some point, the development team begins to feel that their first version contained too many compromises, and that it would be better just to start over from scratch with new ideas. Competent at managing the existing system, but forgetting some of the challenges of its implementation, the team determines that they’re equipped to start again — armed with the lessons of the past and newer technology and skills.

Invariably, this second system proves way more difficult than the first. While its true that the first system had some real issues, its users are unable to sacrifice features they use at the alter of a clean slate. The relatively short history of software is full of the fall-out: The new version is less capable, users complain. The new version has new and different bugs to work around, customers get frustrated. “The new versions sucks — why couldn’t you just improve the old one?!”

I first learned of the “de-fund the police” movement in a Facebook discussion a couple days before it started trending — and I was alarmed. In the wake of almost continuous police brutality hitting the news, I understand the reflex, but the position that police departments should go away seemed extreme to me. Upon probing the post, I found there’s a little more nuance to the position. Depending on who you’re talking to, “de-fund” might mean “reduce funding” or “fund alternate community supports.” But it might also mean “get rid of all police.”

I have just two thoughts in response:

When bad people make it into the police force, we should have mechanisms to deal with them — but we shouldn’t be surprised: the human race is made up entirely of broken people who will be involved in any system we build! Humanism’s only hope is that we can muster enough good behavior from the human condition to out-weight our flawed natures.

Of course, I don’t believe that humanism is the answer. I believe that part of the situation we’re in is that truth has become relative. We tolerate an extreme right and an extreme left because we’ve all agreed that people can have their “own” truth. We reject absolute truth, but acquiesce to extreme relative truths. There is an Absolute Truth that is not subject to the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights, or to your opinion, or to mine. And without that Absolute, any human system will fail.

I despair though, that the Christian Church — the hands and feet of Jesus who are supposed to be carrying that Truth — has become so focused on advocating a political viewpoint, or an immoral President, or some imagined prophecy, that no one is really interested in what we have to say any more. Others are doing a better job of being salt and light, and we are not hearing the pain that our systems are causing.

I saw a viewpoint on Twitter the other day that makes some sense to me. It suggested that as Christians, who should be in a posture of humbly listening right now, maybe we need a different set of leaders. Maybe those who have been last among us for so long should be first for awhile, so we can hear of Jesus work through the cross that they have been carrying. Let’s not throw out the systems we built. Let us with humility, and repentance for where we have failed to excise the sin in our camp, ask the people who are most impacted by the problems to lead us in fixing them.

Update: obviously my viewpoint on this amounts to an opinion. I don’t have first-hand experience with either policing, or being a victim of white-on-black racism. This article, from someone with both experiences, is well worth reading.

Air Hockey Scoreboard Project

Last year, our church got a donation of an air hockey table, for use by the youth group. It was in nice shape, save for the electronic scoreboard, which wouldn’t keep score. It would light up and make sound when powered, but the score was stuck at “88” to “88.” We resolved to see if we could fix it.

The electronics were wrapped in a plastic banner that crossed the middle of the table, and had only a few wires running to it — one from a puck “catcher” on each side of the table, with a simple switch that was pressed when the puck was present, and one modified ethernet cable running to a small control panel that let you start a timer, or reset the game. Our initial hope was that it would just be a wiring problem, that Ben and I could fix together. It turned out to be much more complicated.

All the wiring was fine, and via various traces, ended up connected to a small logic board — this turned out to be the cause of the problem: it was dead. The board had a part number, but no amount of Internet searching could find a source for a replacement part. We theorized that the actual logic being performed was fairly simplistic, and that we might be able to replicate it with a Raspberry Pi Zero — roughly the same size, and equipped with sufficient GPIO pins to map to the existing wiring. Connecting the puck catchers was easy, and with a little Python code, we could count score and show it on a connected SSH Terminal. The control panel was a little more difficult, but we managed to find a solution for some of its basic functions. The remaining problem was the seven-segment LEDs that actually show the score.

For those we called in some help from an engineering student we know, and managed to come up with the logic to light the LEDs by reverse engineering an array of bit values that could be toggled via the Pi’s GPIO. In theory it was going to be possible to restore displays, and 90% of the functionality of the system. In practice, it didn’t work out that way.

The seven-segment LEDs work in pairs-of-pairs: two LEDs for each player, and double that to mirror the value on the other side of the board. 4 LEDs, with 8 wires each makes for 32 tiny wires that needed to be run. Only half that needed to go the GPIO, since the other half were just mirrored values, but that’s still a lot of wiring — turns out there’s a reason most electronics use a printed circuit board. I briefly entertained designing such a board, and paying to have it printed, but we were still going to run into voltage problems. Once the LEDs were running, very little voltage remained in the little Pi for the blinking lights and buzzers that make the experience fun.

After literally months of soldering, brainstorming, and frequently ignoring the now very-messy project out of frustration, we decided to abandon the banner, and go all in on a Raspberry Pi 3B+ with an add-on display. The logic still worked fine for score-keeping, although I had to come up with a new routine for displaying the score in ASCII characters that filled the screen. The girls each composed a little ditty that gets bleated out by the buzzer when someone wins the game, and Ben designed a mounting shim and 3D printed it. We removed one of the two support poles for the scoreboard, and mounted the Pi to the other — neatly running the wires up the pole. I used plastic cement to attach a reset button and the buzzer to the side of the Pi’s case, providing the key features of the original control panel.

After a successful beta test, we refined the design and improved the crude graphics a little, then installed our new system in the Air Hockey table using most of the original wiring. Its not perfect, but its quite elegant — and I was pleased by how much we all learned putting it together.

Finding Hope in a Long Dark Night

Last night the Whitehouse turned off its lights for the first time in history. The president hid in his bunker while the country he promised to “Make Great Again” burned. There’s no explanation but cowardice, and no voice has emerged to fill the leadership gap. America desperately needs hope, but is left with only anger — two sides with no recourse but to point and shout at the other.

Police form a line on H Street as demonstrators gather to protest the death of George Floyd, Sunday, May 31, 2020, near the White House in Washington. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Part of me wants to attend a protest, and add my voice to those calling for justice. Part of me is saddened by the anger and violence that often results. (We settled for donating to a bail fund.) But the narrative we’re getting from the news is flawed. Not all protests have led to violence, and not all violence has started with protestors. This is a nation that is in tears — and sometimes tantrums — but there is no question that what’s going on is the result of deep pain.

We’re all a little on edge, after months of being locked down by a virus we don’t really understand. But the reality is, the effects have been disproportionately distributed among parts of the American population, creating fuel for a fire that only needed a spark to ignite it.

When you add to that a string of crimes that are blatantly racially motivated, you’ve provided the ignition — and no one should be surprised that this blew up in our face. Those reacting with self-righteous indignation about property damage are ignorantly denying years of systematic injustice. Individual Americans may largely be innocent of intentional racism, but we’re all participants in a system-wide failure to ensure every human being gets the same fair shake. If you live in our neighborhood and don’t believe me, come with me to East Cleveland and see first-hand results.

Between the pandemic, and the social injustice it has highlighted, America is facing a reckoning. We haven’t done all we could — and I’m a part of it. We haven’t loved our neighbor, we haven’t cared for the “least of these”, we haven’t lived up to the ideals this nation was created with. Instead, we’ve withdrawn from our position of global leadership, and turned inward to fight about our right to go shopping and get haircuts — while ignoring our neighbor’s right to a fair trial.

All is not lost, though. This is still a great country — despite its flaws. And there’s no better illustration than this weekend’s space launch. More than just a technical triumph, and more than just a multi-culture, multi-discipline team working together to reach a challenging goal: this weekend’s events are the result of a bi-partisan, cross-administration effort. The end of the shuttle program was a sad day in America, but the Obama administration’s move to allow commercial investment in the next generation of technology created new hope. That hope might have died without the Trump administration’s decision to double-down, and invest in it. Granted, “Space Force” sounded a little funny (and made for an entertaining new Netflix show), but Trump did good here — and that should be called out too.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken lifts off during NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., May 30, 2020. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

For me, and many others, space represents a reaching out. In the same way we are like little children, crying in pain or screaming in petulance from this playpen called Earth, we are also learning to pull ourselves up, to stand on wobbly feet and understand that we are not the center of the universe: we’re just a tiny part. For those who believe in God — or at least something greater than ourselves — its hard to look out into the void of space and believe that our current condition is all there is. It puts our childish problems into context, and provides hope that we can do better as we grow up.

Part of growing up is learning to work together. We have real problems right now… We have a virus with no cure. We have a latent racism that has not truly been healed. We have a wealth gap that is un-crossable by too many people. But if bi-partisan government and private industry can work together to get a couple dudes into space in less than 9 years, maybe we can solve some of these other problems together too…

I believe that part of the solution is a recognition that we are fundamentally broken at a level we cannot fix on our own. Humans are not naturally good — tough situations make that painfully obvious. Our natural tendencies aren’t toward making things better; we really have to work at that. And like children, we need a loving parent to help us figure it out. True hope is found beyond the human condition. And a loving Father waits with open arms to pick us up, and show us what He intended life to look like.

Ignorance with Impudence

It seems like people think a pandemic gives them license to let all their worst characteristics out on display. Here in the States, we went from fear of the virus, to frustration of being stuck inside, to angry protests about rights, to finally just pretending its not a thing any more — all at break-neck speeds. And the few voices that spoke out about the irresponsibility of it all were shouted down awfully fast. Turns out you’re within your rights to show up en-masse armed for battle at a government building — as long as you’re white. If you so much as jog through the wrong neighborhood, or pass a bad check while black, you can be killed on the spot.

I’m aware that somehow this position is a political one. Generally, as a guest in this country, I try to remain politically neutral. I don’t believe that either of the two available extremes are completely right (or completely wrong), and I empathize with those who have to try to vote from their conscience in a two-party system. In Canada, I’d probably be a Conservative, but here in the States, where we have fewer and less nuanced options to choose from, I can’t really align myself with the country’s conservative party, the Republicans. Donald Trump is a reprehensible, vile human being, and that party is increasingly aligned with reprehensible, vile human behavior.

Edit: adding that time the President of the Unites States of America threatened to have American citizens shot by the miltary… via Twitter. Feel free to contrast the statement from that liberal, non-Christian former President.

And this is a source of real despair for me: of the two positions, one claims Christian ideals and Conservative morals, the other does not. But people spewing hate, spouting ignorance, or acting horribly when asked to wear a mask often identify as Republicans. While the rational folks, listening to the guidance from experts, acting in ways that protect others, and decrying the senseless death of people of color… those often claim the non-Christian Democrat party?!

Let’s call these things what they are:

Reprehensible human beings gather their weapons and Trump signs to demand the right to share a virus with the nation’s vulnerable

If you have a position on economic policy or the role of the government, then choosing to align with a particular party might make sense. But if your alignment with that position requires you to turn a blind eye to the suffering of the black community, or block hospitals with your protests, or share an article that suggests that people should die until we develop herd immunity, rather than take a vaccine… If your politics support the kind of behavior we’ve seen over the past couple months, then damn you to hell.

You look nothing like Christ.

Hobby Horse

Susan Kare's original happy MacFor the record, I was 39 years old before I had a hobby.

I mean, I do things outside of work and school, but none long enough to move from amateur to hobbyist. Then, when I got around to picking out a hobby (or maybe it picked me), it ended up looking a lot like my profession.

It’s not though. Its technical, but there’s no way I’ll ever get paid to do it. It’s nerdy, but not in a way that has any commercial value. And its geeky, but not the kind of geeky that redeems itself. And it took 39 years and moving to rural Ohio before I actually had the spare time.

If you want to read about it, there’s a new section of the website and a separate RSS Feed: the Restoration Museum. For everyone else, normal posts will remain in this category.

That Time I Talked to Apple’s Co-Founder

In the fall of 2000, I signed up for a fledgling online auction site called eBay. I wanted to find a relatively obscure piece of Apple Computer kit I’d always wanted, called a Newton MessagePad. I didn’t quite understand how eBay worked, so I offered the maximum I’d be willing to pay on 6 different listings… it was probably a full hour before I realised I’d just committed to buying 6 Newtons! Fortunately, I was out-bid on 5 of them, and only had to pay for one.

Nonetheless, I was a proud owner of a Newton MessagePad 120 — proud, that is, until I learned about the MessagePad 2100. The grand-father of portable computing, killed off in its prime by Steve Jobs in his return to Apple Computer in 1997, the Newton remains an audacious and ambitious piece of computing history.

In 2002, after saving up, I managed to get my hands on an upgrade MessagePad 2000 and began my first experiments with wireless networking and different kinds of after-the-fact hacks and expansions to the long-dead platform. An impressive community of hobbyists had sprung up to keep Newton alive, adding Bluetooth, Wifi, MP3 playing and web surfing. It may have been my first experience in coaxing new usefulness out of abandoned hardware.

I didn’t do much for the community, but I did talk about it a lot — on this very home grown website, and other early-Internet forums. Enough, I guess, that a writer for Wired Magazine found me and scheduled an interview for an upcoming article in his series about the culture of Apple fans. That article appeared a couple months later, and you can still find it if you search the right keywords.

18 years later, that article got me invited to speak at a Worldwide Online Newton Users Conference. Turns out there’s still interest in the little green machine, and more than 70 nerds were gathering online to share their recent hacks, collections and uses for Newt. Of the participants in attendance were some of the original Newt dev team, a well-known tech journalist, and the remaining co-founder of Apple Computers, Steve Wozniak.

Steve was mostly a silent observer — in fact, at first we weren’t quite sure it was really him. At the outset, I challenged the participant bearing his moniker to turn his camera on and prove it. I’m sure we were all delighted when the real deal himself appeared and shared his memories of Newton. He receded back into silence until we had a break. As other participants shut their cameras off to attend to biological needs, I decided to go for broke:

“Is Woz still on?” I asked

A couple seconds of silence…

“Yup! I’m here! I’ve been here listening the whole time!”

“Would you be willing to take a few questions?”

“Absolutely!” says the fabled millionaire, as his camera springs back to life.

He held court with us for 20 minutes. I asked a series of off-the-cuff questions to start the impromptu interview, mostly about nerdy things, but we also talked about teaching kids computers, Covid-19, and travel. After a few minutes I yielded the floor so other participants could pile on. It ended too quickly and Woz remained a silent participant for the rest of the event, but it sure was cool! He’s remarkably down to earth — just one of the nerds, who likes experimenting with technology and talking about his passions. In fact, that’s how Apple started.

The slides for my little talk are hereDownload

They’re mostly just memories, as this event will be in a couple years. But don’t ever doubt the power of technology — and community — to have an impact on people’s lives. The Newton community made a documentary on just that, and its worth watching.