The Magic Beans

“Whenever possible, if you have the opportunity, trade the cow for the magic beans.” — Anon.

I don’t know where I heard this but it struck me as a whimsical way of saying what sages have been saying since the dawn of time — it’s better to take a chance on something great than accept mediocrity with safety. You may have heard it put one of these more creative ways:

“Fortune favors the bold.” – Latin Proverb

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” – John A. Shedd

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” – Wayne Gretzky

“In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take.” – Lewis Carroll

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” – Mark Twain

I’ve long thought this idea shaped my professional life and came here to talk about it. I needed an appropriate picture for the article, so I asked ChatGPT 4 Omni (aka 4o) to create an image. I gave it the quote about the magic beans and it gave me this image:

That’s pretty good for not really giving it much to work with, but the 10-foot-tall smiling cow and the colorful beans all over the ground didn’t seem right.

I asked ChatGPT to “try again” and got this even more terrifying image:

Now the ground is covered with a rainbow of grapefruit-sized magic beans. In the background, a furry elephant looks on, as does a 4-foot-tall house cat.

Pointing out to ChatGPT that it is obsessing over the beans, I gave it this more direct prompt: “Let’s try a picture in landscape format where a farmer walking a cow along a road has encountered an old man, and is trading the cow for a handful of beans.”

OK, now somehow the farmer has ended up with both the cow and the magic beans and the old wizard is nowhere to be found.

I told ChatGPT, “You left out the old man, so the picture is a farmer with a handful of beans and a cow, which doesn’t depict the story at all. Also, I think we should say ‘five or six beans’ instead of a handful.” That caused this image to be generated:

We now have fewer beans in the farmer’s hand, but now he has a basket of them and he’s offering them to the cow? Thinking perhaps I’m giving ChatGPT too much freedom to improvise, I give it a very specific prompt: “Two men are on a country road in a pastoral landscape. One man is leading a cow on a leash. The man is middle-aged and appears impoverished. The other man is old and has a long beard. He has the appearance of a wizard, with a hat and a robe. In one hand he leans on a staff. He is holding his other hand out toward the first man, and we can see it contains 4 or 5 ordinary beans. The men are apparently negotiating a trade — the beans for the cow. The first man is intrigued, but hesitant.”

This is OK, except:

  • The cow has 3 legs.
  • The old man has 3 staffs.
  • The old man is holding a leash attached to the farmer.
  • The old man has spilled the beans on the ground and nobody has any in their hand.

Not wanting to give up, I re-wrote the prompt: “Two men meet on a country road in a pastoral landscape. The first man is middle-aged and dressed poorly. He is leading a cow on a leash. The second man is old and has a long beard. He wears a hat and a robe. In one hand he leans on a staff. He is holding his other hand out toward the first man. In his extended hand are 4 or 5 ordinary beans. He is offering the first man the beans as the purchase price of the cow.”

Now we’re getting somewhere. The cow is the right size. He’s on a leash held by the farmer. Unfortunately, the old man with the staff has spilled all the beans on the ground.

Undaunted, I use the selection feature in ChatGPT to highlight the old man’s empty hand and the pile of beans and write: “You have placed a pile of beans on the ground and none in the man’s hand, where they belong. In all other ways, this is perfect. Can you modify the image so there are no beans on the ground and 4-5 beans in the second man’s hand?”

Finally, I got this image:

The old man has more beans than he should, but I’m calling this a win.

The good news is that this is the best I’ve ever gotten ChatGPT to eventually produce a good image.

Anyway, I came here to tell you to always trade the cow for the magic beans. Years ago I did that when I took my little Bible program to Parsons Technology and built the QuickVerse empire. I left a very secure job as a software developer for the company that let us talk to astronauts on the Moon and which built space shuttles, and traded it for the idea that I might be able to feed my family by writing Bible study software. It worked out well. Then 10 years later I traded the security of that job and started my own company. The two experiences have been very different, but I can’t say I’m not happy with my choices.

Who needs a cow? Take the beans.

“…your business partner said you’re dead.”

I enjoy playing with scammers. At worst, they ignore me. At best, they give me something to post on social media.

From: “John C. Dugan” …
Reply-To: …
Date: Wednesday, January 12, 2022 at 5:59 PM
To: Craig Rairdin
Subject: Your response is highly appreciated

Good day

This is John C. Dugan. The Managing Director of CitiBank Of America USA. We welcomed one Mr. Michael Hilliker and his colleagues whom claimed to us they’re your business partner’s and said you’re Dead

After a brief illnesses and before Death, you gave him the power of
attorney to represent you and receive your inheritance Funds already Deposited in our BANK which contained the sum of US$40 Million Dollars. And he provided a bank account for the remittance of the money immediately to help in doing your burial arrangements. Now are you sure you’re the one corresponding to my email now?

I am waiting for your reply as soon as possible before we can take action over your transaction immediately….

Thank you
John C Dugan.

And we’re off. This is my favorite type of message to receive. The scammer is attempting to get me to contest the assertion that I’m dead and send all kinds of identifying information to prove it — all so that I can collect my $40 million.

But that’s no fun. I’d rather accept the scammers assertion and see how long it takes him to figure out he’s being played.

On Thu, 13 Jan 2022 at 01:19, Craig Rairdin wrote:

Dear Mr. Dugan:

Mr. Hilliker is in fact correct. I am dead. Have been for a while, actually.

You may make whatever arrangements Mr. Hilliker feels are most efficient to take action over my transaction immediately.

Now pardon me; I need to slowly open this squeaky door.

Yours Posthumously,

Craig Rairdin

I know the scammer doesn’t speak English. He’s just going to copy and paste a reply into his next email. I use references to euphemisms about the behavior of ghosts and throw in a $10 word in my signature block to get him to fire up Google Translate.

We’re in luck. He replies:

From: John C Dugan …
Date: Thursday, January 13, 2022 at 2:42 AM
To: Craig Rairdin
Subject: Re: Your response is highly appreciated

You have to looking forward and send me your information for the transfer contained the sum of US$40 Million Dollars. And provided a bank account how you want your funds to be deposit ??

Nice. He attached a copy of his Citibank ID. That signature doesn’t look like “John Dugan”, but it’s hard to argue that he’s not putting his best foot forward. We’ll come back to this ID in a minute. First, my reply:

On Thu, 13 Jan 2022 at 11:49, Craig Rairdin wrote:

Well now there’s the rub. Having shuffled off that mortal coil in which I had previously found myself entwined, I am in fact penniless — devoid of bank, so to speak.

I trust Mr. Hilliker implicitly. Whatever he feels is best. He obviously had a plan before you approached me. Let’s proceed along those lines, wherever they may lead.

In the meantime, it’s my turn to sweep the streets of gold so I must be off.

Gone But Not Forgotten,


Again, we throw out so Shakespearean euphemisms to tax his English skills, and throw in a little word play — “devoid of bank” can mean either “broke” or “lacking a bank account” but is nonsense when you don’t speak English. Wrap it up with a biblical reference and a signature block worthy of a polite corpse, and wait for a reply.

From: John C Dugan …
Date: Thursday, January 13, 2022 at 5:48 AM
To: Craig Rairdin
Subject: Re: Your response is highly appreciated

everything is genuine and legitimate, you have to reconfirm me your bank details on how you want your funds to be deposit??

Obviously, “devoid of bank” went right over his head. Let’s see if I can be more clear…

On Thu, 13 Jan 2022 at 13:37, Craig Rairdin wrote:

Mr. Dugan,

How wonderful to hear from you again. We don’t get much email here.

I have no doubt that you are genuine and legitimate. After all, you did send me a copy of your Citibank ID. You can’t get more legit than that.

As I said, I don’t have a bank account. We may have to arrange to transfer the funds in cash. Where are you located? I might be able to find a group of middle-school girls near you with a Ouija board we could use to communicate in real time.

Excuse me for now. These daisies aren’t going to push themselves up.

Yours Breathlessly,


A friendly response, to be sure, though shrouded in figures of speech to keep him guessing. He goes for the kill, specifying exactly what he wants:

From: John C Dugan …
Date: Thursday, January 13, 2022 at 6:46 AM
To: Craig Rairdin
Subject: Re: Your response is highly appreciated

Reconfirm Personal Information To Enable the agent Proceed With Your Fund
Translation Immediately
Full Name:……….
Contact Address:…..
Mobile Number:…..
Age / Sex:….
Where to drop your package

Now he has me anxious to get my $40 million, so I reply the best a dead person can:

From: Craig Rairdin
Date: Thursday, January 13, 2022 at 7:00 AM
To: John C Dugan …
Subject: Re: Your response is highly appreciated

Name: Craig Rairdin
Address: None
Country: That undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns
Occupation: Harpist
Mobile Number: None (this is a nice place, but cell coverage is lousy)
Age / Sex: The men of your world marry and the women are given in marriage, but here we neither marry nor are given in marriage. Age is irrelevant, as time is no more.

Does this match your records?

I would use these funds to invest in real estate, but I have bought my last farm.

Six Feet Under,


Some Shakespeare, some Bible, some dubious doctrine, and another (extremely clever) witty reference to my current state. Mr. Dugan responds with yet another copy of his ID:

From: John C Dugan …
Date: Thursday, January 13, 2022 at 6:46 AM
To: Craig Rairdin
Subject: Re: Your response is highly appreciated

Here’s my I’d

It occurred to me at this point that I should be able to find that photo on the Internet. After all, “John C. Dugan” found it somewhere. About 3 minutes of reverse image lookups turned up Stephen Krause of Deutsche Bank in Germany. So I replied back to “John” with my findings, including the image of the press release I found on the Web:

From: Craig Rairdin
Date: Thursday, January 13, 2022 at 7:16 AM
To: John C Dugan …
Subject: Re: Your response is highly appreciated

I did some research. We have no record of you here where I’m at, but I was able to find you in the records of the “other place” that departed souls often end up. As of March 2021 your name was Stephen Krause and you were Chief Investment Officer and Chief Financial Officer of Levere Holdings. You came there from Deutsche Bank, where you were CFO. But according to your ID card, you’ve been at Citibank under the name “John C. Dugan” since 2019.

Perhaps that’s why you’re hell-bound.

I’ll put in a good word for you up here.

Your Friend on the Other Side,


And that was the end of that. Just to be clear, the picture is not that of the scammer. It’s just a random photo of a businessman he found on the Web. He didn’t realize I could find it, too. 🙂

Math with Roman Numerals

I’ve been reading (listening to, actually) a book on the state of scientific and technical knowledge in what has traditionally been referred to as the “Dark Ages” (roughly the 5th to 14th centuries). One of the things I became intrigued by was the use of Roman numerals for relatively complex math during this period.

Quick Review

You’re probably familiar with Roman numerals. Conceptually, they’re easy. Letters represent numbers. To get the value of a number written in Roman numerals you simply add the individual numerals (or groups of numerals). Here are the letters you use to represent values up to 3999:

I = 1
V = 5
X = 10
L = 50
C = 100
D = 500
M = 1000

Values are read from left to right, and it is traditional to put the larger numerals first. So III is 3, XII is 12, and DCLXVI is 666 (“let the reader understand”). One complication is that you never write the same numeral more than 3 times in a row, and that a smaller numeral appearing before a larger one means it should be subtracted from the larger value. So 14 is XIV, not XIIII. 3999 is MMMCMXCIX. That being said, the Romans weren’t real picky about how these numbers were written. For simplicity, I’m going to ignore the no-more-than-3 rule from time to time in my discussion below.

I’ll use the symbol => to indicate that I’m rearranging or simplifying.

Adding and Subtracting

Addition with Roman numerals is easy: just put all the numerals in one group and rearrange them. So III + XVIII is IIIXVIII => XVIIIIII => XVVI => XXI.

Subtraction is similar. Convert larger digits into groups of smaller ones if needed for convenience, then just subtract similar numerals from each other. So XXI – III is XVVI – III, which is XVIIIIII – III, or XVIII.

Doubling and Halving

Before getting into the fun stuff (multiplication and division), it helps to think about how to double and halve a value written in Roman numerals.

Doubling is just adding the number to itself. To double a number, just write two of each numeral. Twice XXI is thus XXIXXI => XXXXII => XLII. Twice III is IIIIII => VI.

Halving is similar. Divide each numeral by 2 and append the next lesser numeral if there is a remainder. This is slightly circular, since we’re saying to divide by 2 you divide by 2. If you don’t remember what half of L is, write it out as XXXXX and take half of those X’s to get XX with a remainder of half an X, which is V. To get half of 666, follow these steps:

CCL + half of CLXVI
CCL + L + half of LXVI
CCL + L + XXV + half of XVI
CCL + L + XXV + V + half of VI
CCL + L + XXV + V + II + half of II
CCL + L + XXV + V + II + I


Multiplication is a combination of doubling, halving, and adding remainders. Note that in general A ✖️ B is the same as (A / 2) ✖️ (B ✖️ 2). That is, if we double one term and halve the other term, the result is the same. In familiar terms, 8 ✖️ 3 (24) is the same as half 8 (4) times twice 3 (6). Further note that we can do that again, so:

8 ✖️ 3 = 4 ✖️ 6 = 2 ✖️ 12 = 1 ✖️ 24 = 24

Where it gets tricky with Roman numerals is handling remainders. Consider if we reversed which term was being doubled and which halved in our example above:

8 ✖️ 3 = 16 ✖️ 1.5 = 32 ✖️ .75 ….

While the first attempt actually took us all the way to the correct answer, the second appears to be getting harder and harder. Let’s look at both with Roman numerals:



When the halving leaves a remainder, we can ignore it. I’ll mark those with an asterisk.

* drop remainder



When we have remainders, there’s one more step. We need to add the value from the “double” column to our final result to get our true result (since we technically dropped that value when we dropped the remainder):


We can apply this technique to do arbitrarily complicated multiplication:

39 ✖️ 81

* drop remainder
* drop remainder
* drop remainder
* drop remainder



Now add the value from the “double” column for each odd value in the “half” column.


I’ll leave it to the reader to verify my work.


I’m not sure if there’s an easier way to do vision, but here’s what I came up with. First, we repeatedly double the divisor (the number by which we’re dividing) until we get a value greater than the dividend (the number that we’re dividing). We’ll keep track of the multiplier for each because we’ll need those later.

Consider 365 / 12

In Roman numerals: CCCLXV / XII



exceeds dividend

We now know that XII goes into CCCLXV at least XVI times. We can make a note of that, and also subtract the doubled divisor to see what’s left:

XII goes into CCCLXV XVI times with a remainder of CLXXIII

Now check our list of doubled divisors to see what the biggest one is that goes into the remainder (CLXXIII). It looks like LXXXXVI is the largest value that is smaller than CLXXIII. Repeat the step above. Subtract LXXXXVI from our remainder and add the multiplier to our accumulated multiplier:

XII goes into CCLXV XXIV times with a remainder of LXXVII

Repeating, this time using a multipler of IV and a doubled divisor of XXXXVIII:

XII goes into CCLXV XXVIII times with a remainder of XXIX

Repeating, this time using a multiplier of II and doubled divisor XXIV:

XII goes into CCLXV XXX times with a remainder of V.

Since V is less than our original divisor, that’s as far as we can go.

Again, the proof is left to the reader.


I’m not going to dwell on fractions except to say that the only fractions the Romans seemed to use were twelfths and halves. Each twelfth was a dot following the number. Since we coincidentally divided by 12 in the previous example, our remainder of 5 would be represented as 5 dots following XXX. I believe they were written in some kind of pattern, perhaps like we use on dice or playing cards.

Halves were represented using the letter S. So 7/12 would be “S..” or maybe “S:”.


While this is fun, and while our Middle Ages ancestors could do amazing things using these simple techniques, it’s pretty clear why the hard math was being done using base-10 and place value representation.

Craig’s Reading List

I enjoy reading but go through periods where I’m not reading as much as I’d like. I used to write “book reports” after I finished a book and post them here, but I got out of that habit. In the last year and a half I’ve kicked up my reading again but I know I’ll never getting around to writing my old book reports, so here’s a list of what I’ve read recently. Most recently read books are on top; the list starts at the beginning of 2019, which is at the bottom.


Searching for Bobby Fischer
By: Fred Waitzkin

After reading The Immortal Game, we re-watched the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer, one of our favorites from the 80’s. Audible offered me the book for free, so I read it. The movie is more interesting; the book wanders quite a bit and the reading of it is the worst of any Audible title I’ve listened to. Sentences are repeated (I think they’re unedited alternative takes) and the reader inserts “umms” and “uhs” to make it sound like he’s just speaking off the cuff instead of reading a book.

The Immortal Game: A History of Chess
By: David Shenk

Shenk uses one of the classic chess games in history, a game played by Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky in 1851, as a framework for telling the 1400-year history of the game. Anderssen sacrificed both rooks, a bishop, and his queen then checkmated Kieseritzky (who lost only 3 pawns) in 22 moves in an informal game during a break in the first world championship chess tournament in London.

Agent Sonya: Moscow’s Most Daring Wartime Spy
By: Ben Macintyre

Ursula Kuczynski aka “agent Sonya” is probably the 20th century’s most successful spy who you’ve never heard of. From China to Poland, Switzerland, and the English countryside, Kuczynski was involved in everything from an attempted assassination of Hitler to transferring US nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union, all while raising a family of three children with three different fathers without revealing her clandestine activities.

ENIAC: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the World’s First Computer
BY: Scott McCartney

It’s hard to come to a solid conclusion about the “invention” of the computer. You have to ignore a few people who had some very good ideas a very long time ago and ignore the shortcomings of the machines we look back on as “computers” (such as whether or not they were able to run stored programs or were built for a dedicated purpose). Depending on whose work you ignore, you come to different conclusions. This is one such conclusion.

Seizing the Enigma: The Race to Break the German U-Boats Codes, 1939–1943
By: David Kahn

Yet another book about code-breaking in WWII.

AC/DC: The Savage Tale of the First Standards War
By: Tom McNichol

Ironically, after settling on 120 VAC (at least here in the US) to run your light bulbs and washing machines, we convert a whole lot of AC into DC and heat to run our computers, TVs, cars, and mobile devices.

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette
By: Hampton Sides

The tale of one of the last polar expeditions that fell for the unfounded idea that once you got past the ring of ice that surrounded the North Pole, you’d find a tropical polar sea. And that you could get there by going to an island north of Siberia and just walking. Needless to say, it didn’t work out well. A tragic adventure story with a bit of a surprise ending.

Waco: A Survivor’s Story
By: David Thibodeau

David Thibodeau met David Koresh as a 24-year-old musician and ended up moving to Waco to live in Koresh’s commune. He was one of 9 survivors of the mass murder of their community committed by Janet Reno’s FBI on April 19, 1993, and one of only 2 who didn’t serve any jail time on false charges that were trumped up to cover the failure of the government to honor the rights of its citizens.

This is a fascinating inside account that doesn’t sugar-coat the moral failures of Koresh, but which tells the story of real people who just wanted to learn more about the Bible from someone they believed knew more about it than they did. This was not a suicide cult, not an apocalyptic doomsday cult, and arguably, not a cult at all (though I would be one of those arguing about that last point).

This was a very interesting book. Netflix has a six-part miniseries based on a combination of this book and one written by the lead FBI negotiator.

Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity
By: Carlo Rovelli

My total knowledge of string theory and loop quantum gravity comes from the sitcom The Big Bang Theory. This book makes the case for the latter and does so in a way that non-physicists can understand. That being said, this is heady stuff.

For example, one might imagine that if one built a room, that there are an infinite number of volumes that the room could be. That is, you could divide the room in half as many times as you’d like and you’d never reach the smallest possible volume of the room. Turns out that’s wrong. Not only is there a minimum volume of space, but physicists can tell you how big it is. (It’s got like 19 or 20 zeros after the decimal, so it’s really small.)

Think about space. In between the galaxies (which themselves are huge) are enormous volumes of empty space. What is in space? There’s no air; there’s no gasses of any kind. Maybe some single atoms or molecules every once in a while, but what is “empty” space made up of?

In high school we learned that light has properties of both waves and particles. Turns out “space” does, too. The waves are what we think of as gravity. The particles, or quanta of gravity, are what constitutes space.

Is there an end to the universe? How big is it? Think about our three-dimensional planet. If you set out in one direction and walk in a straight line, you’ll end up right back where you started . Turns out space works the same way. Take off in a straight line with the Earth behind you, and you will eventually be back to Earth.

Yep, reality is stranger than you think.

The Story of Human Language
BY: John McWhorter

This is an Audible book, part of the Great Courses series. It’s about 25-30 hours of 30-minute lectures on human language. This book changed the way I think about language.

Since Bible publishing is my field, I’ve had to come to terms with the idea that every Bible I’ve read is a translation of the original text (which was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). The original languages are no longer spoken except as an academic exercise. Even worse, the characters in the Gospels were probably speaking Aramaic originally, and their words were translated to Greek to be written down. So when we read the words of Jesus, we have to recognize that he’s been translated and re-translated before we read him.

So I have some understanding of the challenges of language and how languages differ. But this book introduced me to how language evolves. You’ll find I’m trying harder now not to argue about “farther” vs. “further”, “on accident” vs. “by accident”, and “ask” vs. “axe”. Just as climate changes, and to argue that the climate as it existed at a certain time is “ideal” and that we should strive to return to that, so does language change, and to argue that we should freeze the “rules” of language at any given instant and force everyone to speak it that way is just spitting into the wind.

Brave new World
BY: Aldous Huxley

I often say that if, in fact, God is directly involved in human affairs, then his giving of Star Wars to George Lucas was his greatest mistake. Star Wars is built on a great premise, but fell apart somewhere in the process of moving from Lucas’s brain to script to screen.

After reading 1984 I figured I should read the other dystopian-future book that most people read in high school but I somehow missed. Brave New World is built on an interesting premise but just isn’t well written. Again, it’s a great idea placed in the hands of a bad writer. There are so many more interesting things that could have happened to the characters. The characters could have actually grown and changed as a result of their experiences. But none of that happened.

Definitely not worth the time.

Breaking Free: How I Escaped Polygamy, the FLDS Cult, and my Father, Warren Jeffs
By: Rachel Jeffs

Years ago I read John Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven, which details the history of Mormon fundamentalism. That book led me to the conclusion that what you and I know as “Mormons” (members of the Latter-Day Saints Church) are watered-down posers. Real, Joseph-Smith Mormonism is to be found only in the child-raping, prophet-following fundamentalist versions of the LDS Church, the most famous of which is Warren Jeffs’ hebephilic cult, which he continues to run from his prison cell near Palestine Texas, where he’s severing life-plus-20 for sexual assault of a child.

This book lacks the in-depth analysis of the theology of the FLDS cult that makes Unfollow so good, though it does address it from a practical side. For example, the author doesn’t argue the scriptural basis for doubting her father’s claim to the title of God’s prophet, but instead argues that a man who molests his own daughters can’t possibly be getting revelation directly from God.

This is an interesting view from the inside of a cult and is a very quick read. Audible thought I’d like it after reading Unfollow, but they’re very different books.

BY: Megan Phelps-Roper

This is the best book I’ve listened to in the last couple of years. The author grew up in Westboro Baptist Church, famous for protesting at the funerals of soldiers, while carrying signs like “God Hates Fags”. She became the church’s de facto online spokesperson on Twitter, where she developed a reputation of delivering pure, unadulterated, Bible-based hate with wit and a smiley face emoticon.

As a person who holds the Bible in a position of great respect and authority, and who went through my own separation from an authoritarian, spiritually abusive, fundamentalist Baptist church 20+ years ago, it was absolutely fascinating to read this story of a person who could both back the church’s belief system and her own rejection of it using solid, Bible-based arguments. Typical books in this genre focus on the control the church exerts over its members, convey significant bitterness, and end up with the author rejecting their faith and turning the same kind of hate back on the church they’re leaving. Megan brings the reader into her family and lays out the rationale for their beliefs and practices. But she just as effectively lays out the arguments against those beliefs and practices.

This book goes beyond a simple tale of leaving a “cult”. It identifies specific strategies and tactics for winning people who are blinded by their deeply held beliefs. In an odd way, I believe people on both sides of controversial, emotional issues would benefit from this book.

The Making of the Atomic Bomb
By: Richard Rhodes

My son-in-law gave me this book years ago and I started into it but it literally starts with a history of the Jewish people from Abraham, progresses through the evolution of science, then lays out atomic theory from first principles. Turns out if you stick with it, it’s pretty good. It’s both thorough and entertaining. It does a good job of addressing the science, philosophy, politics, and ethics of atomic weapons.


Current events kept reminding me of what it must be like to live in an Orwellian dystopia, so I thought I’d revisit this book to refresh my memory. If Orwell had written a prequel that described the cultural revolution that brought Big Brother and The Party into power, I suspect it would read like today’s headlines.

Black Rednecks and White Liberals
BY: Thomas SowelL

This is a series of lengthy essays on race and ethnicity. The history of “ghetto culture” is eye-opening, as are essays on the history of slavery and of black education in the US. Chapters on Jews and Germans are just as good but since I was reading with the present situation in mind, I only skimmed those.

The First Conspiracy
By: Brad Meltzer, Josh Mensch

Read this after reading The Lincoln Conspiracy by the same authors. They take what small amount of information exists about the plot to kill George Washington and stretch it into a book.

The Lincoln Conspiracy
By: Brad Meltzer, Josh Mensch

This isn’t just a good book about the plot to kill Lincoln on his trip to Washington for his inauguration, but also offers insights into the attitudes of the time toward slavery and race.

By: Charles Murray, Catherine Bly Cox

I read this book probably 20 years ago but found it interesting to re-read. This is a good history of the Apollo program and the people who made it work. I’ll probably be back to read more about the space program later. I’ve read a lot about Apollo but am interested in earlier (Mercury and Gemini) and later (Shuttle and ISS) programs.

The Man Who Knew the Way to the Moon
By: Todd Zwillich

The story of John C. Houbolt, one of the earliest advocates of Lunar Orbit Rendezvous, the mission plan that eventually landed astronauts on the moon. The original plan was to launch a giant rocket, fly directly to the moon, turn it around backwards and land the whole, 90′ beast on the moon. Then launch from there for a direct flight home. This is laughable now, but for a time this was seen as least expensive and least risky plan to get people to the moon and home again safely. LOR, combined with Earth Orbit Rendezvous, is what we ended up doing: That is, put a small vehicle in orbit around the earth, have it dock with a lunar lander, go to the moon and enter orbit, send a landing party to the surface while the Command Module remains in orbit, then rendezvous the lander and CM in lunar orbit before heading back to Earth. This book is told from a pro-Houbolt perspective; there are others who argue that Houbolt was just one of dozens of engineers who advocated LOR, and that he wasn’t that vital to the decision.

Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II
By: Liza Mundy

My primary interest in this book is the code-breaking part, but the cultural commentary on the role of women in the early 20th century is also fascinating. This is kind of a continuation of my interest in WWII spy stuff that started earlier this year.

Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon
By: Jeffrey Kluger

I’ve read a lot of books about the space program, since it was a defining part of my childhood, growing up in the 1960’s. This book is mostly the story of Frank Borman and Apollo 8.

In the Enemy’s House: The Secret Saga of the FBI Agent and the Code Breaker Who Caught the Russian Spies
By: Howard Blum

A continuation of my interest in the early CIA and MI6, but definitely the poorest book of the lot.

The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story
By: Douglas Preston

I have an interest in the history of the Americas prior to Columbus, and this seemed like an interesting title about a part of the world (Central America) that I hadn’t read a lot about. Other than very lengthy chapters about global warming and pandemics, this was pretty good.

Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain’s Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War
By: Ben Macintyre

Not my favorite of Macintyre’s books, but still good.

Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal
By: Ben MacIntyre

The Wright Brothers
By: David McCullough

I’ve read other books on the Wright Brothers. This one was pretty good.

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal
BY: Ben Macintyre

The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution
BY: Eric Foner

This book has really helped to re-shape what I understand about the Constitution, federalism, and racism. I think those of us who tend toward conservative political positions tend to quote the Constitution as written and intended by the Founders and ignore the enormous effect of the Civil War and post-Civil War period on how we think about who we are and how we experience America.

Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies
BY: Ben Macintyre

Very fascinating background behind the invasion of Normandy

Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory
By: Ben Macintyre

If you’ve never heard of Operation Mincemeat, you definitely need to read this book. This reads like the plot of an over-the-top Hollywood movie, but took place in real life.

The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War
By: Ben Macintyre

This was the first of Ben Macintyre’s books I read. It is an amazing account of a Russian double-agent who spent years handing over Soviet secrets to the British, which changed history—but you’ve probably never heard of him. The rest of the Macintyre books listed above are all good even though I may not comment on each one.

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
By: Michael Lewis

Saw this movie but thought the book looked more interesting.


The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History
By: Robert M. Edsel

Saw this movie and assumed the book would be more interesting. Not completely disappointed. Well-written.

The Suspect: An Olympic Bombing, the FBI, the Media, and Richard Jewell, the Man Caught in the Middle
By: Kent Alexander

Saw the author interviewed on TV and thought the book would be interesting. It was. Better than the made-for-TV movie version he was being interviewed about.

The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West
By: David McCullough

This was a tough read but turned out to be very interesting. For those of you who, like me, assume the Northwest Ordinance has something to do with Oregon and Washingtonprepare to be surprised.

Inside Trump’s White House: The Real Story of His Presidency
By: Doug Wead

The book does not live up to its title. The author had access to the President and his staff for a very short period of time. There’s no unreported, minute-by-minute account of things you think you know from seeing it on the news. There’s no insight into how things work that you never realized. It’s just an account of the few interviews the author got with a few members of the family and staff.

Game of Thorns: The Inside Story of Hillary Clinton’s Failed Campaign and Donald Trump’s Winning Strategy
By: Doug Wead

Like the next Doug Wead book I read, it lacks both depth and scope. No insights into Hillary’s failed strategy; no real insights into Trump’s winning strategy. These books were hyped a lot on Fox News but really aren’t that good.

The Plot Against the President: The True Story of How Congressman Devin Nunes Uncovered the Biggest Political Scandal in U.S. History
By: Lee Smith

This is a must-read for every American. Most people don’t realize the degree to which the media has hidden an attempt by key members of the law enforcement and intelligence community to overthrow the President. And as of this date (mid-2020) it’s still going on.

Magicians of the Gods: Sequel to the International Bestseller Fingerprints of the Gods
By: Graham Hancock

I’ve read a lot of alt-ancient-history books. I think there’s more to the idea that highly advanced civilizations have come and gone on this planet than most people have even thought about.

The Low-Carb Athlete: The Official Low-Carbohydrate Nutrition Guide for Endurance and Performance
By: Ben Greenfield

I was looking for help figuring out how to eat before doing long runs. This was a little too general and a little too high-performance for me. I’ve subsequently discovered that if I use an electrolyte supplement like nuum tablets in my water, I can pretty much do a morning run for 2.5 hours with nothing but coffee for breakfast. We have a lot of stored energy. Might as well use it.

The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777 (The Revolution Trilogy Book 1)
By: Rick Atkinson

This is the first of a trilogy. It is extremely long and detailed, but interesting nonetheless. I joke that it takes as long to read as the events took to happen.

Wild Bill: The True Story of the American Frontier’s First Gunfighter
By: Tom Clavin

I hadn’t read anything from this period of history, so this was pretty interesting. It dispels a lot of myths about Wild Bill.

Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster
By: Adam Higginbotham

Very interesting read that reveals both the technical details of what went wrong at this massive nuclear melt-down and how a bureaucracy bent on approaching all problems by denying they exist should not be trusted with nuclear reactors.

America Before: The Key to Earth’s Lost Civilization
By: Graham Hancock

I am about an 80% Graham Hancock fan. I haven’t read his books on hallucinogenics and spirituality, but I’ve read most of his books dealing with ancient history. His classic work is Fingerprints of the Gods, which prompted me to read a lot of alt-history back in the 1990’s. Some of his speculation about the lost continent of Atlantis in that book has been disproven over the years, but there is a lot there that will change how you think about history. This book deals with American pre-history and calls into question the commonly held opinion that the first “native Americans” came from Asia across a land bridge that spanned the Bering Strait.

The Reckoning: A Novel
By: John Grisham

I’ve read all of Grisham’s legal novels. His subsequent novels mainly about life in the South have not been as good. This one is told in a very interesting way but is somewhat unsatisfying in the end. The first chapter tells you what is going to happen in the end. The book is not about how we got there, but why we got there.

Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease
By: Robert H. Lustig

One of several low-carb, high-fat diet books I’ve read since adopting a LCHF lifestyle in August 2018. This one is a lot like the others.

Island of the Lost: An Extraordinary Story of Survival at the Edge of the World
By: Joan Druett

Several years ago, I read quite a few lost-at-sea books (I tend to get into a topic and read everything I can find). This book is unique in that it tells the story of two ships stranded 20 miles apart on the opposite ends of the same island at the same time, and how the differences between how each of the captains and crews approached the problem resulted in death for one crew and rescue for the other.

Life Inside the Bubble: Why a Top-Ranked Secret Service Agent Walked Away from It All
By: Dan Bongino

I normally don’t read books by politicians and news reporters about current political situations, but I like Dan Bongino and thought the book might be good. It was OK.

Deep State Target: How I Got Caught in the Crosshairs of the Plot to Bring Down President Trump
By: George Papadopoulos

Everybody needs to read this to understand how the Deep State plotted against Donald Trump to overturn the results of the 2016 election.

Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble
By: Dan Lyons

This is a book about an old guy who gets a job in a tech start-up and faces generational challenges.

The Case Against Sugar
By: Gary Taubes

One of the better books that describes how we got to where the government is recommending a diet that is killing Americans. There are a lot of details to get bogged down in here, but the general theme about Big Sugar shaping everything you think you know about the safety of both natural and artificial sugar is fascinating. You are being poisoned and your sugar addiction will kill you, one way or another, but you are in denial and will happily comply.

Why Diets Fail (Because You’re Addicted to Sugar): Science Explains How to End Cravings, Lose Weight, and Get Healthy
By: Nicole M. Avena Phd

I read this because I thought it would help me understand why people have a hard time sticking with a low-carb diet, but it turned out to be yet another low-carb, high-fat diet book that didn’t offer a lot of new insights (assuming you understand that diets only work to the degree that they reduce the consumption of carbs, and that you are addicted to sugar).

The Curse of Oak Island: The Story of the World’s Longest Treasure Hunt
By: Randall Sullivan

I am a huge fan of the History Channel’s The Curse of Oak Island and have seen every episode. I was looking for a book that went through the history as opposed to proposing new theories involving Bigfoot, aliens, Templars, etc. This is a good review of the history of digging on the island.

About My Low-Carb, High-Fat Lifestyle

In July, 2018, my cardiologist recommended that I get serious about losing some weight. I have been gradually gaining weight over the last 10-15 years despite eating right (low fat, low cholesterol, low sodium) and exercising (regularly running and walking, including running several 5K’s, 10K’s, and 5 half-marathons (13.1 miles). He suggested I attend a free seminar put on by Health Transitions Clinic. HTC runs a medically supervised weight-loss program, primarily for diabetics, so that they can monitor your medications and general health as you lose weight.

Skeptical, I called the office and found out more about the program. I was told that it was basically a low-carbohydrate diet designed for diabetics, those who have been diagnosed as pre-diabetic, and those whose BMI puts them in the overweight or above category. I’m not diabetic, but my weight classified me as obese (5’6″ and 205+ lbs). I spent some time investigating the science behind low-carb diets and decided they were on the right track. Before even going to the free seminar I went ahead and signed up for the 8-month program.

While waiting for the program to start I was given a book to read; Gary Taube’s book Why We Get Fat. I had come to the conclusion as a result of my experience over the years that weight and cholesterol is determined about 90% by genetics and only 10% by diet and exercise. Maybe even 5% diet and exercise. Taube explains how eating carbohydrates (grains, potatoes, and sugar) causes blood sugar (glucose) to increase, which causes the body to produce insulin. Insulin tells your body to store glucose as fat. If we reduce the amount of carbs in our diet, we reduce the blood sugar, reduce the insulin, and reduce the body’s tendency to create fat.

Cutting carbs isn’t easy. You’re cutting out grains (including bread, anything made with flour, pasta, and corn), potatoes (regular or sweet), and sugar (in all its forms, including naturally occurring sugar in fruit and added sugar everywhere). To help you change your habits, the HTC program begins with 6 weeks of “induction”. In the first two, you replace two meals per day with protein shakes that provide your essential nutrients and make it easier to hit the goal of only 20 grams of net carbs (total carbs less dietary fiber) per day. For the next 4 weeks you replace one meal with a shake and up your carb count to 30-50 grams. By the time you get to the end of the 6 weeks you’ve figured out what you can and can’t eat, you’ve learned how to read when your body is really hungry and when you’re just bored, and you’ve lost a lot of weight.

Over the remaining weeks you learn during group meetings how to expand the variety of vegetables in your diet. The group sessions are mostly cooking demos. Recipes for low-carb dishes are distributed.

After the 8-month program I was down 35 lbs (from 205 to 170) and was still losing weight (another 4 lbs over the next 12 months). My BMI is down from about 33 to under 28. When taking into consideration my age and gender, I’ve gone from a situation where my weight has a moderate probability of causing medical issues to where that probability is now low. And I’m still losing weight (I’d like to drop another 10-12 lbs.)

Here’s what I’ve learned in this adventure. If you understand these facts, it will change your life.

  • If you gain weight on the standard American diet, carbs are your poison. Carbs cause you to get fat. Obesity has been found to be directly responsible for heart disease, diabetes, gout, sleep apnea, Alzheimer’s disease, and more. So it’s not exaggeration to  say that the carbs you eat are killing you.
  • Fat doesn’t make you fat. Eating foods that are high in fat is not what makes you fat. In fact, eating food high in fat satiates your appetite, reduces hunger, and helps you eat less. It’s the carbohydrates in your diet that tell your body to convert the sugar in your blood into fat and store it away.
  • High cholesterol foods don’t give you high cholesterol. Eggs are good for you. Eat more eggs.
  • “You have to burn more calories than you take in to lose weight” is a lie. Calories don’t make you fat; carbs do. Stop counting calories. Start counting carbs.
  • Carbs make you hungry. Why do you think restaurants serve bread before you order? It’s because eating carbs makes you hungry so you’ll order more food, especially an expensive dessert. Fat fills you up.
  • You can eat less and not be hungry. The key is eating the right things. I’ve had days where I drink what you might call a low-carb latte for breakfast, have a small salad (greens, broccoli, cauliflower, and cheese) for lunch, and three scrambled eggs with onions, peppers, ham, and cheese for dinner. No snacks. No hunger.
  • Exercise is important to good health, but will cause you to gain weight. You should still exercise. But not for weight loss. The only demographic that has a chance of losing weight from exercise are men under 30. If you’re not a man under 30, you will gain weight as a result of exercise. You should still exercise. You should control your weight with a proper diet.
  • A “diet” can’t be something that you do for a few months to reach a weight goal, then quit. You should think of low-carb as a lifestyle that will last the rest of your life, not a temporary change that will end once you’ve lost those 50 lbs you need to lose.
  • Just because you failed at Weight Watchers or some other diet doesn’t mean you will fail if you choose a low-carb diet. Those other diets don’t work because they don’t teach you how to eat right. They’re doomed to fail because they don’t address why you’re gaining weight. They try to tell you that you are glutton (you just eat too much) and you’re lazy (you don’t get enough exercise). Instead of telling you how to lose weight, they tell you you’re a bad person. Nice. Just what you need.
  • All of the various diet programs are successful only to the extent that you are accidentally reducing carbohydrates. You don’t lose weight at Weight Watchers because you have reduced calories, you lose weight because you’ve cut your intake of sugar in order to cut calories.  You don’t lose weight on a paleo diet because you’re eating like a caveman, you lose weight because you’re not eating Twinkies and bread.


What foods to you avoid?

  • No grains – so no bread, rice, corn, pasta, etc.
  • No potatoes (regular or sweet).
  • No sugar, whether natural or added. So no pop, no fruit juice, no excessively sweet fruit like oranges, apples, or bananas.

What can you eat?

  • Meat, fish, poultry. Fat is OK. Well-marbled steaks, skin-on chicken, and bacon are all OK. No breaded chicken or fish.
  • Cheese and almost-cheese. The closest I come to milk is whipping cream, sour cream, and whole-milk Greek yogurt. No just-plain milk (neither whole nor skim).
  • Eggs. Don’t be afraid of eggs.
  • Veggies, especially dark greens (spinach and kale), broccoli, carrots (in moderation), cauliflower, radishes, turnips, parsnips, rutabagas, tomato (yes, I know it’s a fruit; in moderation), peppers, onions.
  • Limited amounts of fruit. Mostly berries. I like raspberries and blueberries. Johnna likes blackberries. Occasional strawberries. No bananas or other tropical fruits.

What do you typically eat each day?

  • Breakfast is one of the following:
    • Bullet-proof coffee (coffee blended with 1 tbsp MCT oil, 2 tbsp unsweetened butter, 1 tsp dark chocolate cocoa (unsweetened), Stevia equal to 2 tsp sugar, and 1/2 tbsp Metamucil (fiber supplement). My LDL cholesterol was up after doing bullet-proof coffee for breakfast for about 2-3 months. I saw a website that suggested dropping it. My doctor said it was no problem to continue using it and that my LDL (though at the upper limit of 100) was fine. Note: The Stevia I use is from SweetLeaf and uses inulin (a non-digestible dietary fiber) as a filler instead of dextrose, which, ironically, is sugar.
    • 3 eggs with cheese and a couple sausage patties. No juice, no toast, no hash browns. Maybe a few raspberries. Definitely some Cholula hot sauce!
  • Lunch:
    • A salad made with dark green leafy veggies like spinach, kale, and arugula; broccoli; cauliflower; maybe carrots; cheese; and either a hard-boiled egg or grilled chicken. Balsamic vinaigrette or blue cheese dressing.
    • Something egg-based, like a veggie omelet with some bacon.
    • A low-carb protein shake: 1 cup unsweetened “original” Almond milk; 1 tbsp MCT oil or olive oil; 1 scoop Quest Salted Caramel protein powder; 1/2 tsp cinnamon; 2 tsp chia seed. Blend on a fairly high speed to chop up the chia seeds.
  • Snacks: I try to avoid snacks but if I get hungry between lunch and dinner I’ll have one of these:
    • Pecans (about 1g net carbs per handful)
    • Pork rinds (chicharrones) . The spicy pork rinds are best; the plain ones taste like licking a pig. 0-1g net carbs per serving.
    • Amana Beef Snack Sticks. They’re like beef jerky but 0g net carbs. (You have to be careful with jerky and other cured meats; they tend to add things that add carbs.)
    • String cheese or other single-serving cheeses.
    • Coffee-flavored Keto Cups. 1g net carbs per cup.
  • Dinner: Varies. In general I try to have about a 6-8 oz serving of protein and two servings of vegetables.
  • Dessert: If I have anything “sweet” at all it will be a dish of about 8-10 raspberries and homemade, no-carb whipped cream. Alternately, sugar-free Jello with raspberries.

How many grams of carbs can/should you have?

The standard American diet is about 350 grams per day. I find I need to be at or below 20 grams in order to have a chance at losing any weight. That’s considered a pretty intense “Keto” diet. Note those are “net carbs” — so total carbs from the label of the food I’m eating less “dietary fiber”. If I get into the 50-70 gram range I will start to put weight back on.

How do you eat at restaurants?

I don’t go to fast food restaurants, but could. They’re just boring when you can’t eat french fries. Typically I’ll order a sandwich of some kind without a bun. Often you can ask for a burger to be served on greens instead of a bun. Today I ate at a place that had chicken salad sandwiches, so I asked for chicken salad on a bed of spinach instead of bread. Instead of fries I get a salad or veggies. Diet soda, water, or unsweet tea. No dessert.

We’ve ordered pizza and eaten just the cheese and toppings. I’ve ordered pasta dishes with just the sauce over grilled chicken.

In the course of learning how to eat on this diet we’ve found restaurants that either intentionally or accidentally have some really good meals that are low-carb. A number of places offer riced or mashed cauliflower in place of potatoes. A few select restaurants make salads with real greens instead of iceberg lettuce. (Always choose non-sweet, high-fat dressings. Get them on the side so you can control how much they put on the salad.)

Does it work?

In the first year and a half I lost about 39 lbs, or just short of 20% of my starting weight. After 2 years I had a medication change due to chronic asthma, which caused me to gain about 5 lbs. They tell me that’s water, not fat.

I’m not hungry. I’m eating a wider variety of food than I used to, and I’m eating food that tastes better. Clothes fit better. I’m running again; I’m up to 20-22 miles per week (I run three days each week; 5-10 miles per day; longer if I’m training for a race) during the summer. I’ve run two half-marathons (13.1 miles) on a cup of bullet-proof coffee for breakfast and water laced with Nuun electrolyte tablets during the race, including one that was my personal best (2 hours 18 minutes).

I’m off one blood pressure medicine (HCTZ). I’ve dialed back my BiPAP (sleep apnea) pressures and am talking to my neurologist about a plan to re-test and potentially get off it entirely.

After a year my HDL (good) cholesterol was up and triglycerides were down. LDL (bad) cholesterol was also up, but that’s normal in a low-carb diet. There are a couple kinds of LDL cholesterol, and LCHF diets tend to cause an increase in the “large, fluffy” LDL that doesn’t clog arteries, not the “small, granular” LDL that causes problems. The test to distinguish between the two is apparently expensive and rarely done.

Where can I learn more?

I usually send people to for general information on the low-carb, high-fat lifestyle. They are stronger advocates of intermittent fasting than I am. I don’t believe you need to fast to lose weight. Remember, this is a lifestyle change, not a temporary  project. You shouldn’t do anything that you can’t maintain for the rest of your life.

If you’re local to the Cedar Rapids, IA area, this is the program I’m in: Health Transitions Clinic. Tell them I sent you, and you’ll get a discount. Seriously.

Health Transitions Clinic runs the same program at a lower cost at You’re monitored by a physician, nurses, and dietitians.

I’ve read a number of good books on the subject. The Taubes book mentioned above is good. Here are a couple more:

Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease

The Case Against Sugar

It’s Time to Move Christmas to January

Today’s post comes to you from my perch high atop Mt. Crumpit.

I live in Iowa, in the heart of what is colloquially known as “the midwest” – even though it is not really “west” of anything but is more “mid mid” longitudinally. Latitudinally, we are north of most of you but still in the southern north half of the country.

It snows here. A lot, some years. We usually get our first snow on or about Thanksgiving. It may melt before Christmas, but about half the time our Christmases are white. It gets worse before it gets better; we’ll get about two feet of snow over the course of an average winter.

I live in a little town in Iowa. Marion has about 30,000 residents. My office downtown (we call it “uptown” here because we think that makes us sound sophisticated) is in a 150-year-old building across the street from Marion Square Park, which features a pavilion with the roof and footprint of the old railroad station that used to sit about a block east of its current location. About three quarters of the buildings I can see from my window are as old or older than the one I’m in. About a half dozen of them house antique shops.

The week after Thanksgiving, Santa Claus arrives at the park by fire truck and takes up residence in a little outhouse in the park. Kids line up around the block to see him. For the rest of the Christmas shopping season, Christmas carols are played over loudspeakers in the park. If we open our office windows (which we wouldn’t dare do), we can hear the music from the park across the street.

In these parts, looking forward to Christmas is what makes the crappy, cold weather bearable. The thought of Christmas, family, carols, cookies, and presents gives us the strength to get through the first month of winter weather.

The problem is, Christmas comes too soon. Sure, we’re happy basking in the knowledge that the miserable weather is what keeps the rest of you out of our quaint little town the rest of the year. But this twisted schadenfreude is not quite enough to make it worthwhile. Many of us actually leave town and go spend the winter in warmer climes. The rest of us tough it out by virtue of our mid-mid-south-north pluck.

I think it’s time we do something about this. I think it’s time we move Christmas to January. I think there’s a good case for doing this.

First, we need something to look forward to through more of winter. Moving Christmas to January 25 gives us another four weeks to revel in the anticipation and forget about the weather.

Second, Black Friday to Christmas Eve just isn’t long enough to get everything done that needs to be done. Retailers would love having another month of Christmas shopping.

Third, there’s no way Jesus was born in December anyway, let alone December 25th. We all know that a bunch of nascent Catholics abducted the Roman Saturnalia festival back in the fourth century and attached a bunch of churchy language to it. Jesus’ feelings won’t be hurt if we move his birthday celebration. We already moved it once when we decided to celebrate it on December 25.

Fourth, we all know that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is just a thinly disguised way for white people to assuage their guilt over slavery and something about lunch counters and bus seats. It’s kind of insulting to African Americans if you think about it, to think that we can make up for thousands of years of oppression with a Monday holiday. I, for one, am not comfortable insulting African Americans. If we move Christmas to January 25, we could move MLK Day to December 25 and make it the launch day of Kwanza, lending some credibility to a somewhat questionable, made-up holiday. Lending mutual credibility to two somewhat questionable, made-up holidays now that I think of it.

All-in-all, this is a great idea whose time has come. It will let us separate Jesus from the false gods of the Greeks and Romans; will let us give more attention to what will now be the unquestionably valid holidays of Kwanza and MLK Day (further removing us innocent white people from our evil, slave-owning ancestors); and will give us something to look forward to while shoveling driveways at 6AM so we won’t be late for work.

Little known Christmas fact: Did you know the woman who did the voice of Cindy Lou Who also did the voice of Bullwinkle’s side-kick Rocket J. “Rocky” Squirrel? Knowing this makes you smarter than your friends, but will ruin How the Grinch Stole Christmas for you, as you hear what sounds like a young flying squirrel asking, “Santie Claus, why?”


Does the Bible Permit Same-Sex Marriage?

With the recent Supreme Court ruling that discovered same-sex marriage hidden as a constitutional right by the founders, the attention has turned from the legality of gay marriage to the real target of the gay lobby: The destruction of Christianity.

While the court claimed it would not abridge the rights of religious institutions to practice their beliefs (which may not include marrying people of the same gender), it has done nothing to protect the rights of everyday citizens to decline participation in a gay marriage. It has forced bakers to bake cakes for, and photographers to take pictures of, same-sex weddings or face significant fines or jail time. The Supreme Court has thrown gasoline on the fires burning under Christians who would dare refuse to give their assent to what they see as a violation of their conscience.

One of the ways gay-rights activists are pressuring Christians is by trying to argue that the Bible does not address “sexual orientation” and does, in fact, approve of loving, committed homosexual relationships. One of the more popular advocates for this position is Matthew Vines, whose five-minute video has made its way into everyone’s Facebook newsfeed in recent weeks.

After writing extensively about the video in Facebook comments, I’ve decided to summarize those comments here so that I don’t have to keep re-typing them.

First, watch the video.

While it would be interesting to discuss the Old Testament verses Vines cites, I agree that Christ fulfills the requirements of the Law for the Christian, and that Bible-believing Christians are not under the Law. So for brevity, we’ll skip showing the flaws in his brief analysis of those verses.

Romans 1:26-27 are frequently cited by Christians to condemn homosexual behavior.

26For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

Romans 1:26-27 (NASB)

When looking at Romans 1:26-27, Vines tries to argue that “unnatural relations” are made right if they’re done in “love”, “faithfulness”, and “commitment”.

But after Paul describes homosexual sins in Romans 1:26-27, he goes on to describe further what sins God gave them (those who rejected him) over to. These include greed, murder, deceit, and slander.

28And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

Romans 1:28-32 (NASB)

Again, Vines is arguing that the unnatural act of sex (I will call it unnatural in this article because the Bible does and because Vines admits later in the video that it is “unnatural”) between two men, clearly condemned here, is made right because it is done in love in a committed relationship. The argument he is making needs to be applied to the entire content of Paul’s condemnation though. So if unnatural sex is made right because of love, then if we love the person we are murdering, that makes it right. If we’re faithful to the person we are deceiving, that makes our deceit right, because Paul didn’t consider people in a faithful, deceptive relationship. If we commit to the person we are slandering, then it is OK because Paul isn’t describing a committed slanderer.

There isn’t anything in this list of sins that turns into righteousness if you do it with or to a person you love, are faithful to, and are committed to. So it’s not unreasonable to say that unnatural sex isn’t suddenly made right when done in love.

Vines describes the fact that many homosexual acts in Roman times happened between adult men and adolescent boys. He is trying to say that Paul is not objecting to gay sex per se, but to child abuse. But this is an attempt to gauge the behavior of the ancients by our mores and our legal standards. We would arrest and jail a person for having sex with a 12-year-old boy. While it is true that most male prostitutes in Roman times were, as he says, “adolescent” — ages 12-20 — it has only been in the last 100-150 years that our idea that a person can’t consent to sex until they’re 18 has become commonly held. In earlier eras, the age of sexual activity was tied more to puberty, not chronological age.

So the ancients weren’t pedophiles or pederasts per se. They were having sex with other “of-age” men. They just weren’t “of-age” by our modern standards.

Vines claims that the Bible’s prohibition of homosexual acts was really a prohibition on out-of-control lust. But there are two problems with this. First, verse 26 says God “gave them over to degrading passions”. He didn’t just give them over to their passions (i.e. to their out-of-control lust) but rather he gave them to degrading passions. He goes on to explain that what makes them degrading is that they are unnatural. The women exchanged natural relations with men for degrading, unnatural relations with women. The men similarly abandoned natural relations with women and burned in their desire for degrading, indecent (Greek ἀσχημοσύνη, “obscene”, “shameful”), unnatural relations with other men.

So the text simply does not support the idea that God was only condemning out-of-control lust.

Secondly, if we go back to verses 18-23 we see that people rejected the clear revelation of God and worshiped things God created instead of worshiping God.

18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

Romans 1:18-23 (NASB)

Therefore, because they rejected God and worshiped people and things instead of God, God gave them over not to out-of-control lust, but to impurity.

24Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Romans 1:24-25 (NASB)

They exchanged truth for lies, so in verses 26-27 God exchanges natural for unnatural. The emphasis is not on the lust, but on how the lust is manifested. The acts they perform are a picture of the unseen spiritual truth behind them. That is, they exchanged truth for lies, so God allowed them to exchange natural relations for unnatural ones. Instead of looking wise, they look foolish (verse 22) because they don’t even know how to have sex right.

Again, the thing that makes them look foolish was not their unbridled passion as Vines would have you believe but their rejection of God as manifested in their upside down, unnatural, sexual behavior.

Vines admits that God calls homosexual acts “unnatural” but then cites 1 Corinthians 11 as an example of something the Bible calls “unnatural” but that we don’t have a problem with — long hair on men. It’s difficult to use 1 Corinthians 11 as an analogy because it’s a bit of a confusing passage for most people. The general idea is that a woman should cover her head when she prays (or maybe it’s saying a woman’s long hair is given to her for a covering) and that a man should not cover his head when he prays (or maybe it’s saying he shouldn’t have long hair).

Vines says that in 1 Corinthians 11 God says for men to have long hair goes against nature. That’s not exactly correct.

14Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, 15but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering.

1 Corinthians 11:14-15 (NASB)

It doesn’t say that long hair on a man is unnatural, it says that the “nature of things” teaches us that long hair on a man is dishonorable but that long hair on a woman is glorious.

Vines seems to be saying that “unnatural sex” is okay because 1 Corinthians 11 says a man with long hair is doing something “unnatural” and we all know men with long hair and there’s nothing wrong with that. But whatever 1 Corinthians 11 means, it does seem to be saying that long hair (or some kind of head covering) on a man while praying is a bad thing, not a good thing. So Vines is arguing that because we do this wrong thing (long hair on a man), then this other wrong thing (gay sex) is okay. This is a classic case of two wrongs not making a right. Note that it doesn’t matter whether you think 1 Corinthians 11 is to be moderated by cultural considerations or not. The argument here is that because Matthew Vines thinks we don’t have to follow whatever 1 Corinthians 11 says, then it’s OK not to follow what Romans 1 says. This is bad exegesis and bad logic.

Vines says that most people interpret “natural” and “unnatural” in 1 Corinthians 11 as a reference to cultural conventions. But this, too, is not the case. The pertinent passage is this one:

6For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.

1 Corinthians 11:6 (NASB)

The standard for “disgrace” here isn’t explicitly stated. Paul implies by his Greek grammar that it is disgraceful but there is no explicit reference to Old Testament law to justify this. So many assume this must be a reference to culture. That is, “if it is a disgrace (in our culture) for a woman to have her hair cut off (and it is)… let her be covered”. Those who argue a cultural interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11 say that it is not a disgrace in our culture for a woman to have short hair, so she doesn’t have to be covered.

As you can see, the cultural argument doesn’t have anything to do with whether “nature” teaches us that long hair on a man is dishonorable (verse 14).

Vines asserts that the concept of sexual orientation did not exist in the ancient world. It is true that homosexual sex was rampant in the Roman Empire, and at least according to Wikipedia, freeborn Roman men did not care whether their partners were male or female. But this was considered by the Jews to be a particularly “Gentile” vice. It was universally condemned in Jewish culture. Paul grew up in that culture and clearly distinguished between “normal men” who had sex with women and the malakoi (transgendered/transvestite men) and arsenokoi (homosexual men) who had sex with other men. Yes, they may not have had 5 or 51 or 63 genders or however many liberals claim there are now, but they knew the difference between natural and unnatural, “straight” and “gay” sex.

These are in fact the words Paul would have used to describe men who alter their appearance to look feminine and those who engage in homosexual activity whether he had a “concept of sexual orientation” or not. It’s not intellectually honest to change the meaning of those words two millennia later then claim he’s not talking about what he would’ve been talking about in the context of his time.

Vines goes on to say that while Paul took a dim view of gay sex, he had no knowledge of loving, committed gay relationships. Again, this is the argument that if I love the person I’m sinning with, then it isn’t sin. This just isn’t true and isn’t supported anywhere in the Bible.

He says the Bible doesn’t address the issues of sexual orientation nor same-sex marriage. But it does. He cites six places where the Bible addresses sexual orientation. It consistently condemns homosexual practices. And while we don’t see anything about same-sex marriage, we see a lot about marriage, and it always, always describes it as being between a man and a woman.

Matthew Vines is a sexually dysfunctional person who, as he says at the beginning of the video, went to the Bible to justify his sin. He’s not unlike every other Christian who has tried to twist God’s words to condone his or her own particular sin. His analysis of the text is weak at best; dishonest at worst. While this video is well-produced, it does not change what the Bible calls “sin” into righteousness. Bible-believing Christians are well-advised to look elsewhere for insight into this subject.

About the Picture

The picture with this article is of Sergius and Bacchus, two 4th-century Roman Catholic saints whose friendship has been abducted by gay Christians and turned into the story of the first gay marriage or some such nonsense. This is why real men reject society’s pressure for them to have BFFs with whom they share their true feelings and do yoga together. They don’t want somebody to come along in 1600 years and gay-marry them posthumously.

Working Without a Net

In 1988 we took our kids to Circus World in Baraboo, WI. We had the good fortune to see Enrico and Debbie Wallenda performing on the high wire. The crowd was small, so we had a chance to chat with them after the show.

I noticed that, while they performed without a safety net, they had laid out some tumbling mats under the wire, which was some 20-30 feet in the air. “Why bother with the mats?” I asked Debbie. “Our insurance company won’t let us perform without safety equipment,” she said.

2015-06-04 07.57.00Enrico and Debbie come from a family of circus performers that goes back to the 17th century. They grew up on the wire. They know what they’re doing. The safety net is unnecessary. It would just slow down their set-up and be one more thing they’d have to carry from show to show. And it would be an insult to them. Amateurs need and use safety nets. The Wallendas just don’t fall.

Well, they do, but no more than once each.

I’ve been programming since about 1974 and doing it professionally since 1982. I remember my ham radio buddies talking about these cool new things called “microprocessors” in 1972, and was actively programming for them through the entire history of the “personal computer revolution”. I wrote a machine language debugger for the Motorola 6502 just for fun back in the early 80’s. I was working with touch screens in 1982 while the company that would eventually put one on an iPhone was just beginning to experiment with mice and graphical user interfaces.  I wrote drivers that allowed CP/M systems to store data on “magnetic bubbles” that raced along a track driven by an electromagnet. I was writing code to calculate position using GPS when there were only about 8 GPS satellites in orbit and we had to calculate what ridiculous time of the morning we’d have to come in when we would be able to see the required minimum of three of them at the same time for testing our software.

Over the years I’ve programmed in assembly language, Pascal, PL/I, Modula 2, FORTRAN, COBOL, SNOBOL, LISP, BASIC, RATFOR, C, Forth, JOVIAL, Ada, C++, NewtonScript, PHP, Objective-C/C++, Perl, Java, JavaScript, C#, and VBScript. I’ve written a number of compilers and interpreters for lesser-known and proprietary languages. I’ve written programs for Atari, CP/M, MS-DOS, VMS, Windows (desktop and server), Mac OS and OS X, Newton OS, various flavors of Unix, Windows CE, Palm OS, Android, and iOS.

When I’m making updates to the scripts and pages on our Laridian website, I operate directly on the live server. From time to time that means if you happen to be on the page I’m on when I make a mistake, you’ll see an error message when you load the page. But that happens only rarely. When working on a critical part of e-commerce code, I might test on a private page before going public, but often that isn’t practical.

Running a beta testing program with outside testers, especially for a platform like iOS (which requires encrypting the app in a particular way that allows only selected devices to run the program), is difficult and time-consuming. So most of the updates I do for Mac and iOS programs are just tested by me before they are shipped. Often, I’m a better tester than real customers, because I know the scope of the changes I’ve made to the code, and I know where it is susceptible to error. For example, all the testing of synchronization of user data was done in-house. I was able to set up both common and unusual situations to verify how the system would handle the data without putting any real customer data at risk. When the time came to put that system online, it just went online without any beta testing.

So I sympathize with the Wallendas. That safety net takes a lot of time to set up. We know we’re not going to fall. And it takes away from the perception of professionalism — anybody can walk a tightrope when there is no harm in falling.

But when we fall, we fall hard.

Last weekend I shipped an update to PocketBible for iOS that was not tested by outside testers. The majority of the changes were to accommodate the larger screen of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. I have an iPhone 6, and I can emulate the 6 Plus in the development environment. Those changes were well-tested.

The other type of changes were related to what happens when you change the password on your Laridian account. Previous versions of the program assumed you were logging into a new account when you entered a different password, so they blocked you from sync’ing your notes, highlights, and bookmarks with the server (so as not to corrupt the “other” account’s existing data, nor corrupt the data on the device with data from the “other” user). Furthermore, they would delete all your books (assuming, again, that you are a different user with a different library of books). The new version of the program records the Laridian customer ID you’re using while sync’ing your database with the server, and only complains about your user data if, when changing your password, you log into a different customer account. Furthermore, it doesn’t delete your books. (I plan to handle that a different way in future releases.)

So while testing the screen-size changes on the iPhone 6, I also tested the new way of determining if you had logged into a different account. It worked great. What I didn’t count on was that Apple had completely changed the way certain user interface objects worked on the iPad sometime in the year since I had issued the last PocketBible revision. As a result, iPad users couldn’t update their data to support the new customer ID tracking method. My testing on the iPad consisted of bringing the program up and trying a few things to make sure it wasn’t completely broken. Since the bulk of my changes were related to laying out the user interface on the larger iPhones, my testing focussed on making sure I didn’t break any layout code on the iPad. I already knew the customer ID tracking worked from my tests on the iPhone.

I joked with one long-time PocketBible customer that I didn’t want to take time to do a beta because I knew he would find problems that I would have to fix. So I shipped version 3.2.0 without the benefit of his help.

Once Apple approved the new version and I installed it on my iPad and saw what was happening, I knew I was in trouble. I began thinking about how those tumbling mats were going to feel when struck from this height.

When Karl Wallenda fell to his death from 120 feet, the family went ahead with their show the following weekend. That’s what professionals do. In my case, I admitted to the mistake immediately, pulled the app from the App Store, posted prominent notices on our blog and on Facebook, and went to work to find the problem. By 2 AM I had the first round of fixes made to the code. After a short nap, I found and fixed the rest of the problems (which required examining about 300 places in the code) and was ready for beta testing by mid-afternoon. We went through three beta versions in 24 hours, and I didn’t upload the final build to Apple until I had a clean bill of health from the testers.

Apple cooperated by approving my request for expedited review, and accomplishing that review within an hour.

In the end I was able to stand up and walk off the mats under my own power. The fans were great; they encouraged me by applauding through the whole thing. I was concerned that some would want their money back, but I got not a single complaint.

While I probably won’t be shopping for a safety net, I may consider doubling the mats.

VBScript/Classic ASP Function Parameters

I know that VBScript passes parameters by reference, but I seldom take advantage of that feature. So when I need it, I am always able to convince myself that I’m misremembering. So here are the results of a recent test to remind me:

function Three(N)
	N = 3
	Three = 0
end function

dim x
x = 1
Response.Write "<p>x = " & x & "; Three(x) = " & Three(x) & "; x = " & x & "</p>" & vbCrLf


x = 1; Three(x) = 0; x = 3

An Open Letter to Those Who Send Their “Sympathy”

This is the eighth in what has unfortunately turned into a series of articles. Here is the seventh, and here is the first

Since writing this, I’ve spoken to a person who knows Helen personally and confirms that the suspicions expressed in this article as to the source of these cards are true.

We have one of those US Mail “cluster boxes” at the entrance to our subdivision. Apparently the rising cost of postage doesn’t cover the cost of walking all the way to my front door, like it does for the homes a block away in an older neighborhood. As a result, I don’t pick up my mail very often. Maybe once a week or even once every other week. So our mail ends up coming in very large batches.  I normally sort the mail into “open eventually” and “recycle right now” piles. The former is divided into “business” and “personal” mail. Business mail gets taken to the office. Personal mail tends to sit unopened. All my important bills are paid automatically. What could be worth opening?

Today I received two hand-addressed envelopes, sent to me by my first initial and last name, and both sent from Oklahoma City, OK. Neither had a return address. One was sent three days after the other. It’s unusual to get a hand-addressed letter these days, so I opened the two cards right away even before finishing the sorting.

They were sympathy cards. That’s odd, because nobody close to me has died recently. They were unsigned, but each had a Bible reference hand-written inside. This is not an unusual way for Christians to wish each other well — sending along a Bible verse for encouragement. Nobody ever actually looks those up — or they’re so familiar that we don’t need to. But since I wasn’t expecting any sympathy cards and since these were unsigned, I thought the verses might contain a clue as to the identity of the sender and the reason he or she sent them.

They did.

The first passage cited was Matthew 12:36-37:

36But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. 37For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.

The second card cited Luke 6:45:

45A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

Not your usual sympathy-card verses.

Both passages share the theme of judgment for good and evil words. Was someone trying to acknowledge something good I had said, or rebuke me for something evil? Given that they were sympathy cards, I can only assume the sender is saying that I or someone close to me should (or will) die for something evil I said. But who might think that of me?

I checked the postmark. Who do I know in Oklahoma? Nobody!

Wait… I do know somebody in Oklahoma!

Turns out Helen Joanne Pearce, my favorite Florida felon, is from Chickasha, OK — about 40 miles from Oklahoma City. Her parents still live there — at the address Helen cited in her petitions against Doug and me when she asked the court for an injunction against each of us. When Doug went to his hearing in March, Helen’s dad had come from Oklahoma to accompany her. I don’t know if he came for my hearing, since I stayed home and sent my High Priced Lawyer in my place. My High Priced Lawyer doesn’t care whose daddy shows up for the hearing, so he didn’t say if Helen had anyone with her.

Did Helen’s parents send the threatening cards?

The first card was sent three days after the judge dismissed Helen’s bogus petition for lack of jurisdiction. The second card was sent three days after that.

If Helen’s parents have been to this site they know I’ve never involved them in this matter. I have no intention of harming or even visiting them. I’ve never threatened them, never spoken to them, never even exchanged emails with them. I’ve never published their names or their address in connection with my investigation of their daughter’s fraudulent activity. I’ve never asked anyone else to contact them on my behalf.

My only concern for them is as a fellow parent of adult children. If I was in their position I would want to be aware of my daughter’s bad behavior for a couple of reasons. First, so that I could encourage her to change her ways and take up an honest profession. Second, so that I could be planning ahead for the future of my grandchildren in the event she ends up doing time for her multiple felonies.

Is it possible these anonymous cards are from someone else? Perhaps a disgruntled customer? Sure. But I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years now and I can tell you the usual odd stuff I get in the mail isn’t anything like this. It’s usually end-of-the-world prophecy newsletters, but I’ve also seen perpetual motion machine investment opportunities and — my favorite — a brochure on the benefits of castration for holy living. This is different.

And it’s unusual to get something anonymous. Most people want you to know who they are, because they see themselves as living prophets — the most important people on the planet.

And what a coincidence that this shows up at a time when I know I don’t have any heated discussions going on with customers, people on Facebook, members of my church, neighbors, etc. but I do have a rather incendiary website dealing with an un-convicted felon with ties to the location from which these cards were ostensibly sent.

And what a further amazing coincidence that the handwriting matches samples of handwriting in my possession known to be from Helen’s father.

So, Mr and Mrs Helen’s Parents, if these cards didn’t come from you, let me know. If they did come from you and you’ve thought better of it, I would welcome an apology. If I’ve misunderstood your message, I would welcome any positive contact from you to make it more clear.

In the meantime, I want to make sure this information is made public so that if I or a member of my family goes mysteriously missing, law enforcement will have a place to start. At a minimum, even if not involved in the death of me or a family member, the sender is already subject to up to five years in prison for sending threats through the US Postal Service (18 USC Chapter 41).

I am intentionally not posting pictures of the other card nor the envelopes. I am not posting any of the evidence I have that backs my assertion that these threats are from Helen’s parents. This is done in an effort to not elevate this aspect of the investigation, since it involves a third party against which no allegations of wrongdoing have been made as pertains to Helen’s fraudulent real estate activity.