Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Mac ports migration: Cleanliness is next to—or in this case necessary for—functionality

Short version: If you installed/used mac ports (formerly darwin ports i think?) under Mac OS 10.8 say, and you're now running 10.10, follow the instructions in https://trac.macports.org/wiki/Migration and skip no steps. In particular don't skip sudo port clean all, though it may take a long time (over 45 minutes in my case).
(Some) details follow.

A few years ago I installed some software on this macbook® pro using the marvelous and wonderful mac ports system. Then, more recently, after interminable nags from Apple®;’s Software Update™ program, I succumbed and updated "Snow Leopard" (?) to Mac® OS X® Yosemite™.

The fly appeared in the ointment when I tried to use the “old” ports with OS X Yosemite. I got a bunch of messages about how this and that were incompatible, and was urged to follow instructions at some web address, which redirected me to https://trac.macports.org/wiki/Migration; this has clear, detailed instructions on What Must Be Done. And so I followed them. Sort of.

I did something silly, though, which messed things up for a while. I got to the part that says “sudo port clean all” and after 5-10 minutes of seeing stuff scroll off the page, I said, "Hurmpf, I don't know we really need to do all that. I mean, I don't recall having any partly completed installs."

I can hear you now. "You idiot! What about the one that aborted and told you to do the migration??!" Exactly.

So I repeated the instructions. When I got to the "clean all" part, I ran that command under time(1) and went for a swim. I came back and found it still running! To add to my vexation, I had cats (Tiger Lily and Maka) fascinated by the smell of pool-water on my feet. The "sudo port clean all" took nearly 46 minutes. That's right, the better part of an hour.

I followed the rest of the instructions on the page and everything Just Worked. Good news.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Why we thought it was a good idea

Some years ago I read about the paradox that whereas parents report lower levels of happiness during the child-raising years than childless couples do, they later remember those years as happier times than their childless counterparts.

I've wondered about this on and off, and a few days ago found a possible explanation. I was reading Atul Gawande's marvelous book Being Mortal, where he mentioned an interesting study of patients who experienced painful medical procedures while awake. (The experiment was one of a series recounted by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow.) These patients were asked throughout their procedures to rate the level of pain on a scale of one to ten. “At the end, the patients were also asked to rate the total amount of pain they experienced during the procedure.” (237)

The patients' final ratings were not even close to the sum of their moment-by-moment ratings; rather, “[t]heir final ratings largely ignored the duration of pain. Instead, the ratings were best predicted by what Kahneman termed the ‘Peak-End rule’: an average of the pain experienced at just two moments—the single worst moment of the procedure and the very end.”(237)

Indeed, it seems to apply to a lot of experiences in life, not just surgery and child-raising.

In my own case, as I look back on my own experience in raising two wonderful daughters, I remember the positive experiences more than the negative ones. When we were living in Japan, our younger child attended local schools. They had taken the kids to visit a shrine, and our daughter reported to us that the children had been expected to stand in a certain place, bow, and clap. (No church-state separation there!) "But of course I didn't do it," she added.

She had interpreted the ritual -- correctly I think -- as a prayer to the god of that place, and I was so grateful that our young child had the spiritual discernment to understand she was being asked to worship another god, and also the intestinal fortitude to resist the pressure to conform.

I also recall keenly when our older daughter, then 13, said to a roomful of parents and school officials, "I want to know what will be done to address what happened today." (What had happened didn't include physical violence, but a teacher did behave quite badly. I do not think she was a bad person, but she was certainly in the wrong job.)

The principal, momentarily dumbfounded, asked what our daughter had in mind. "She should apologize to us," she said, "and some of us should apologize to her." Did I mention that our daughter was 13 when she said this?

Do I remember any negative experiences? Well, there's what probably amounted to the stupidest thing I've done as a parent -- which I don't think I've confessed on this blog.

There were times when I was sure one of our kids had reached a new plateau of unreasonableness (this happened more than once). I remember that it happened, and I remember using that bit about the new plateau (I was pleased with myself for coming up with it too). But I don't remember with any clarity what triggered the exasperation, or even the feeling itself; those memories have faded into oblivion. I also know that we had some nights of very little sleep, some hours of continuous screaming and wailing from a restrained child, epic cleanup experiences (you don't want to know), discussions about why you really shouldn't bite your sister, and other things like this... but not very clearly.

Which may be why someone referred to them as "Collin's perfect children": I know my daughters aren't perfect, but I have a hard time locating their faults.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Wednesday I finally remembered what I taught on Sunday…

I led a discussion on 1 Thessalonians 3:6–13. Here’s the background, which you can read in Acts 16-17:
Prompted by a vision, the apostle Paul went to Philippi to tell people about Jesus. Many came to faith, but others beat him and threw him in jail. Paul went to Thessalonika, and people came to faith there. But opposition arose after some weeks; he had to skip town in the dead of night. He went to Berea, his persecutors followed him, and he went on to Athens. There he asked his escorts to send Timothy and Silas to him as soon as possible.

But Paul was so worried about the Thessalonians that he sent Timothy back to encourage them and see how they were doing under persecution. (Apparently Timothy was somewhat lower-key and could come into town without getting arrested, or having a riot erupt.) Timothy met up with Paul in Corinth, where Paul was so happy and relieved that he wrote this letter, which we call 1 Thessalonians.

Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “Night and day we pray most earnestly” (3:10) that God would open the way for him to visit them again and encourage them in their faith.

Here’s how I approached the passage in my teaching: Since God is the principal actor in any Bible narrative, what is God doing in the lives of the Thessalonians? What do they do to cooperate with God, vs hindering his work in their lives?

How about in the life of the apostle Paul? What’s God doing, and how does Paul cooperate or resist God’s work? Look at all the persecution Paul has faced! Does anybody hate your work so much that they follow you from one town to the next to persecute you? As Paul endures persecution, and maybe considers quitting, do you think he’s perhaps learning something about what’s really important in life?

Of course, all that is just so much historical conjecture unless we ask the question: What is God doing in your life and mine, and how can we cooperate with, or resist, God’s activity in us? I look at Paul’s prayer, and I think of questions like

  1. What happened to the Apostle Paul as he prayed “night and day most earnestly” that the Lord Jesus would clear the way so that he could help someone grow in his/her faith? What would happen to me if I prayed like that?
  2. If God wants to make my “love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else,” (3:12) how can I cooperate with God’s work? How can I hinder it?
  3. How can I cooperate or hinder God’s work when he wants to strengthen my heart to be blameless (3:13), etc.?
We discussed those questions, and I closed with Paul’s prayer from Philippians 1:9–10:
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ…
Like many church attendees, I promptly forgot what happened on Sunday. But my innovation was this: I forgot even though I was the one who had done a lot of the talking.

Fortunately, I eventually remembered on Wednesday morning. Here’s how it happened. “Desmond”(not his real name) is in a recovery program in our area, and I’ve been meeting him on Thursdays, but a few times we had trouble finding each other. We tried changing our meeting time, but we had not been able to get that nailed down. I was quite disappointed at not being able to meet him, and suddenly I remembered: What if I were to pray night and day most earnestly that God would open the way for me to get together with him? D’oh!

Turns out I didn’t have to pray very long. Desmond replied to my email (he doesn’t have a phone) the same day; we decided on 1:00pm. I thanked the Lord for this encouragement. I might have remembered to ask him to keep the way clear for Desmond and me to actually see each other this time.

You guessed it—something came up. I got to Desmond’s place, and someone at the desk said he’d already left for an appointment (this is the thing that suddenly came up). Desmond had emailed me, but I don’t check my home email frequently while at work. Was I disappointed!

“But God” had heard my prayer, even if I hadn’t actually said it. I turned around, and there was Desmond, walking down the steps. I offered to give him a lift, saving him a bus ride, so we did get to see each other. We talked about our families, and we encouraged each other to walk with the Lord. I dropped him off at his appointment... and I forgot to pray with him. But we do have a plan (and a specific time) for next Thursday. Here’s what I came away with:

  1. What would happen to me if I prayed like Paul?
    I think I’d remember more often who’s in charge, and who has the ability to make things happen.
  2. What would happen to me if I actually remembered on Monday, say, rather than Wednesday, what was said on Sunday? Especially if it was me who was saying it?
    I guess we’ll never know the answer to that one.
  3. Why is it that God wants to do his work through people who forget he’s in charge, who can’t remember what’s preached (even if they’re the ones preaching it), and who forget to pray for/with people?
    Because there is no Plan B! As I was writing this, John’s words came to mind: “And of his fulness all we have received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ”
As our pastor likes to say, there is nothing like the church—a crew of motley sinners who often don't even remember who’s in charge, but God uses them—uh, us—to bring about his kingdom on earth. Does anyone dare say to God, “Good luck with that”?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

“Let us make…”

Couldn’t sleep the other night, or maybe it was early in the morning, and I recounted (silently, because the lovely Carol was still asleep) the creation story. As I’ve written elsewhere, it’s not a chronology, but the wording and sequencing give us important clues about the author’s purpose.

When I got to the creation of humanity, it hit me that the language changed:

3And God said, “Let there be light,”

6And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters …”

9And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered …”

11Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation …”

14And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky …”

20And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.”

24And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures …”

26Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, …

From Genesis 1
Seven times God commands something into existence, or commands the land or water to produce or teem with something. But in the eighth instance of this formula we get “Let us make mankind in our image…”

What does it mean? What is the writer (traditionally, Moses) trying to tell us here? If we read the rest of the paragraph, that might give us a clue.

26Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

The first thing that stands out is God himself taking responsibility for creating humanity, vs. telling the water to teem with living creatures (1:20) or the land to produce living creatures (1:24). Though in both those situations God is the one doing the creating, the sea and land seem almost to be intermediaries; they receive the commands to produce animate life.

When God creates mankind, however, no intermediary is mentioned; God simply says, “Let us make mankind…”—indeed, no command precedes the creation of humanity. After he creates humans, he gives us a few commands:

  1. Be fruitful and multiply
  2. Fill the earth
  3. And subdue it
  4. Rule over sea, air and land creatures
Commands 1 and 2 are shared with other creatures (the sea creatures at least); commands 3 and 4 are unique to us.

I suppose the point of this is to tell us that the creation of humanity was a special event. Though we are obviously created beings, God gave us a unique role, with unique responsibilities, and we have a unique relationship with him. It’s not just that we were created in his image; we are regents, ruling with his authority.

Wait—maybe that’s what “image” and “likeness” (verse 26) mean: besides being personal, rational, volitional, emotional beings (as Larry Crabb, Jr. says) we are also to be like him as we rule for him. Which is actually special enough.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A programming surprise

Many years ago, when I was in graduate school and most of my colleagues hadn't even been born yet (!), I took a class on computer architecture. Part of the class involved programming a function/subroutine to compute the nth Fibonacci number in various machines' assembly languages.

Later, when I started interviewing candidates for programming jobs, I would ask them to describe their approach, and then write code to do that computation. I did that for some 25 years or so, but one day, I saw an answer I could not have imagined beforehand. Well, maybe if I had done a lot more reading and thinking about the mathematics of it I might have... Anyway, I wanted to share it with you so I wrote it down here.

Missing the Point in Hebrews 2—for many years

I don't know how many times I’ve read the first two chapters of Hebrews, but recently I saw something that I somehow missed for years. Chapter 1 begins without much of a preamble:
In the past God spoke to our fathers at various times and in various ways through the prophets but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his nature…
from Hebrews 1:1–3
The author then shows how Jesus is greater than the angels, and ends the chapter with this: “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14). And then chapter 2 begins with this:
We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the word spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking.

Hebrews 2:1-5
I find these verses fascinating. First, we must pay careful attention “to what we have heard”—what’s that? In 1:2 we read that God has spoken by his Son, but for all these years when I read those verses I was focused on the Son and forgot to notice that when God spoke, he had something to say!

Fortunately the author tells us that what God has spoken was “a great salvation” (2:3). What salvation is this about? Well, it was something announced by the Lord (Jesus I think; God and the Holy Spirit are mentioned in the same sentence). What did the Lord announce? A few things come to mind:

  • The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe this good news! (Mark 1:15)
  • God loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16, as you probably already knew.)
  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (and more: Matthew 5:3-10)
  • Truly, truly, I say to you, she who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and is not condemned; she has passed out of death into life (John 5:24)
  • And I give eternal life to them, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My father, who has given them to me, greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the father's hand (John 10:something)
  • I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will never die (John 11: something)
The author of Hebrews does answer one question for us definitively: if we wonder about this salvation—is it about this world, this life only, or [also] about the world to come?

I actually have wondered about this, because I had the impression that first-century Jews and Christians thought of “salvation” as mostly being about life here on earth. Didn't people want to make Jesus king by force? When Jesus healed people, didn't he say “your faith has saved you” (emphasis added)?

But the author of Hebrews is talking about the world to come, as we read in verse 5. And he gets even more explicit after that:

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory an honor, because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.

Hebrews 2:9–11
Ah—another clue! Jesus suffered death, and by God’s grace he tasted death “for everyone.” Which reminds me of the Christmas carol, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”—particularly this part:
Mild he lays his glory by
Born that man no more may die
And here's another: God brings many persons to glory, and that too has something to do with salvation and with what Jesus suffered.

That salvation, wherein God brings us to glory and makes us holy, also has to do with becoming a sibling of our Lord Jesus. Come to think of it, that reminds me of Psalm 68:

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy habitation.
God sets the lonely in families,
he leads out the prisoners to prosperity;
but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.
Psalm 68:5–6
Indeed, being rescued from loneliness, being adopted into a family where Jesus is my brother—not only for this world, but also for the world to come—that’s sounding pretty good.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Meditation: emptying my mind?

But her delight is in the law of the Lord
        And in his law she meditates day and night
She is like a tree planted by streams of water
 which yields its fruit in season
 and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever she does prospers.
from Psalm 1
What meditation is the psalmist talking about? There are some kinds of meditation whose adherents try to empty their minds; this isn’t that. Someone told me that the word translated “meditate” has the sense of ruminating—chewing on something slowly; we meditate on something, as a cow chews and re-chews grass.

Joshua is instructed about the book of the Law: “Meditate on it day and night,” (Joshua 1) and do everything written in it. There’s a promise, viz., of prosperity and success, for those who meditate on and obey the teaching. In the New Testament, Paul says to let our minds dwell on whatever is good, honorable, right, pure, lovely and so on (Philippians 4). The Bible, in other words, tells us to meditate on God’s teaching, to give our hearts to what’s in heaven, to think about good things; it doesn’t commend the practice of emptying our minds.

But does the Bible forbid it? Is it actually harmful to try to think of nothing? Is it a sin? Or might it actually be beneficial?

Here’s what I make of it: Besides being told to think about certain things, we’re also told not to think about others: Don’t plot harm (Proverbs 3:29), don’t envy the violent (3:31), etc. It’s probably better to think of nothing, versus plotting evil against one’s neighbor.

In that sense, emptying one’s mind is neutral: it’s not actively bad (vs. scheming iniquity) nor actively good (cf. meditating on God’s goodness and love). Indeed, sometimes it may be positive: in Psalm 131 the writer talks about quieting himself like a weaned child. What’s a weaned child thinking about? Not much! And in Psalm 46, an oft-quoted verse instructs us to “Be still and know that I am God” (46:10).

Now there is a passage in the New Testament where Jesus talks about what happens when an evil spirit leaves a person and nothing takes its place. I read it and wondered if it might refer to emptying one’s mind. Here’s a possible interpretation: If I empty my mind of evil thoughts and don’t replace them by something else—meditating on Scriptures, say—then they may come back more powerfully than before. Here’s the parable:

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”
Matthew 12:41–45
After re-reading it in context, I don’t see how it could possibly mean that.

Here’s the situation: Jesus is talking with some hostile Pharisees and teachers of the law. They say Jesus is casting out demons “by Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (12:24). They demand a sign (12:38) from him. Jesus replies (12:39): “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Jesus then explains that foreigners will condemn the current generation of Israelites because they listened to God’s message when it came to them, and the leaders of the Israelites (who really should know better) refuse to listen to Jesus.

The parable about impure spirits comes immediately after this. It’s from that, and the last sentence above (“wicked generation”) that I conclude that the parable is directed against those hostile to him. I did a quick search on my shelf and on the web, and the commentators think the parable refers to unrepentant Israelites and (by extension) others who hear Jesus and yet reject him.

Luke’s account is similar: though the sequencing isn’t exactly the same, Jesus gives the parable during a confrontation with people who say he’s driving out demons “[b]y Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (Luke 12:15) or testing him by asking for a sign from heaven (12:16).

So I don’t think this parable is warning followers of Jesus against being still (Psalm 46:10) or quieting oneself (as in Psalm 131).

But the Scriptures encourage us to take positive action with our thoughts, too: meditate on instructions from God (Psalm 1:2–3; Joshua 1:8), think about things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely (Philippians 4:8); devote ourselves to prayer and thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2ff).