Tag Archives: science

Forty Minute Story “Blind Date”

“Will sir be dining alone this evening?”

The Maître D shook Allen out of his stupor. He’d been standing in line for what felt like an hour, though in reality it was really only ten minutes.

“No. I have a reservation for two under Greenly.”

“Ah, excellent sir. Right this way.”

It had been a while since Allen had been to a restaurant like this, and judging from the menu it would be an even longer while til he did again, but tonight was about trying something new. Someone new.

The table was the same as the ones at every other restaurant in town. A long line of single booths looped all along the wall of the restaurant. Each was barely wider than the person sitting in it, and they ate from tables attached to the booth in front of them. This restaurant tried to make it a little fancier than the rest, the booths were carved wood instead of metal, and curtains were used for privacy instead of the usual glass sliding doors.

The host drew the curtain aside to reveal a small headset resting at Allen’s table.

“If sir would like to put this on I can seat you with your party.”

Allen nodded.

He slipped the band on in front of his eyes and adjusted the headphones larger. Apparently the last person who’d used this set couldn’t have been much bigger than a child. The cold metal table in front of him was replaced with an elegant white table cloth, with polished silverware and crystal glasses. His fellow diners were seated at other tables around him, though their conversation was just a simulated white noise to add to the atmosphere. The only conversation he’d be able to hear would be that of his dinner companion.

“Would you like anything to drink?” The waiter asked Allen.

“I’ll have a glasses of Pinot Noir, the Coppola will be fine thanks.”

“And for Madam?”

“Yeah, I’ll have a large, no make that an extra large diet coke.”

“Very good.”

Allen’s date had come into focus on the other side of the table. While he waited for the waiter to bring his wine, a plastic cup with a long straw appeared in front of Diane, his date and she took a long drag.

“Sorry, just had a lot of Chinese for lunch, and that General Tso’s is giving me heartburn. You must be Allen. You look the same as your profile, only cuter.”

Allen blushed, it had been a long time since he had been on a date, and he wasn’t ever sure how react to someone as forward as Diane. Actually most people were forward, it was Allen who was unusual. Something about the anonymity of not actually being in the same physical location gave most people the license to say whatever they’re really thinking.

Fortunately he didn’t have to think of anything to say as Diane was just getting started.

“Wow, fancy place you’re going to. Must have wanted to impress me, but really I’m a pretty easy girl to please. As long as it’s meat I don’t care if it’s been ground and put between two pieces of bread, or glazed with a red wine reduction. So what do you do that brings in the big bucks anyway?”

“I’m … an accountant.”

“Wow, I’ve never dated an accountant before. Is it really as boring as they say?”

Allen chuckled, “Probably more.”

The waiter tapped Allen as the shoulder as he laughed, “I’m sorry sir, but if you could refrain from speaking out loud. The sensors will pick up your thoughts just fine.”

“Oh, right. Sorry.”

“Are you ready to order?”

“Well … my date’s having a double quarter pounder with cheese and a large fries so whatever’s your equivalent.”

“Very good, surf and turf with hasselback potatoes.”

Diane smiled, “So that was your real laugh, huh? I’ve never been a fan of those thought laughs myself. Laughter’s about an uncontrollable burst of expression. It’s not something your brain registers internally. It’s your whole body, and they haven’t made the sensor that can pick up on that.”

“No, I suppose not. So what do you do?”

“Telemarketing. Just going from one cube to another. Don’t even need to change headsets.”

“What’s it like being in so many people’s heads?”

“‘Bout what you’d expect. Half of them are thinking about what I’d look like naked, and the other half want to rip my head off. It’s the ones that want both that I worry about.”

Allen thought about laughing, and he laughed.

“See that’s not the same is it. Next time go to a place with kids. There’s no way they can keep the little buggers quiet, so you can use your real voice whenever you want.”

“You’re probably right. You’ll have that burger eaten before my steak ever arrives.”

“Well you can always share my fries.”

Allen chuckled, briefly for real, then more in his head as the waiter shot him a look.

“So which are you thinking about?”

“Hmm… excuse me?” Allen asked.

“Are you wondering what I’d look like naked or are you really just wanting to hang up on me?”

Allen smiled, “I think I’d like to hear more.”

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Filed under Writing

A Wrinkle In Time (15 and 50 years later)

Though I have no shortage of books to read on this Kindle, I am always looking for more. Madeleine L’Engle has always been someone whose thoughts on writing have been invaluable to me, and her early stories some of my first forays into fantasy and Science Fiction. I recently revisited A Wrinkle in Time, a book I have not read for at least 15 years, and thought I would share a few of my thoughts on it now as an adult.

Deep Language, Deep Concepts: L’Engle doesn’t shy away from complex aspects of physics, nor the vastness of human literature, right down to a character who speaks mostly in quotations. That said her explanations are eminently elegant, describing the folding of space and time as an ant traveling across a crease in a skirt.

Evil is presented without pulling punches as well. The seductive, powerful and empty qualities are all explored as well as freezing cold and blackness. While a giant brain might be a rather literal metaphor for a force of pure logic, it nonetheless conveys the lack of heart and the disgusting aspects of evil.

Memorable Characters: The three women, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which are a hoot while at the same time revealing their higher nature. Charles Wallace is beyond precocious, a child adult who speaks in his own form of lateral logic. Even as a small child you can tell he is something different and it will be interesting to see how he grows up in the later books.

Meg as the main character is going through her own journey, seeing the fallacies in her father while also learning about her strengths, and the appeal she has for others. I do think the romantic aspect of her relationship with Calvin moves a little faster than seems logical with these characters (I didn’t know anyone who was 12-13 who pulled someone in for a passionate kiss). It almost seemed like what someone at that age would fantasize about romance, instead of the real thing. That said, Meg changes a lot in this story and her growth is only bound to continue.

50 years later: There were definitely aspects of the planet Camozotz that felt like other things of its time. The planet reminded me some of The Village from The Prisoner and a couple of Star Trek: The Original Series episodes. The planet lives on conformity, every decision made by IT and every irregularity harshly dealt with. That said the story ages well, both from the time it was written, and from the time I first read it.

Not Christian Fiction: L’Engle’s best work incorporates some aspects of Christian faith without making them the main thrust of the story. Later works of hers are not as well balanced, but in this story she is in fine form. This balance is the same I try to strike in my work, and one that will take time and reading more great works like this one.

In short an uplifting and exciting young adult story that still resonates with adults. Recommended.

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Filed under Books + Publishing

This Doesn’t Mean War

I’m a Christian and I believe in science.

It’s a strange day we live in when that sentence (or its reverse) seems to be a contradiction in terms.

On Monday I finally got a chance to clear a NOVA program on fractals from my DVR. For those of you not familiar, Fractals are complex geometric shapes. They have self similarity (if you zoom in or out the shape looks basically the same), and are often produced by a simple algorithm or equation which is iterated (fancy math talk for repeated) thousands of times. Fractals can be used to describe all kinds of things in nature, from a bolt of lightning to mountain ranges, to the capilaries in your hand to the leaves on a tree. In many ways fractals are the mathematics of nature.

Fractals have been an interest of mine since elementary school. As a programmer they offer me a way to express visual art and provide unique programming challenges. The NOVA program was right up my alley but one thing one of the scientists said bothered me. The thought was basically this, “[Fractals are] all over in biology. They’re solutions that natural selection has come up with over and over and over again.”

Let me just make it clear I’m not bothered by evolution or the idea of natural selection. In fact, I’m quite comfortable with these being the mechanisms that God used to create man (more on this later).

What bothered me is that it seemed to be completely irrelevant to the discussion. What we know is that fractals can describe nature, and they are present all around us. But nothing in the rest of the program, or the science as I understand it, gives any reason why this is evolutionarily advantageous. I have a speculation as to why but it only goes so far. Basically fractals are really simple ideas that give rise to complex structures (in other words it doesn’t take a whole lot of information to make a complex object). This is why fractals were and are commonly used in computer graphics. Instead of mapping every crag in a coastline or mountain, a simple algorithm can generate something that looks real and takes far less memory. This enabled one of the first CGI sequences “The Genesis Effect” from Star Trek II.

This is a very digital way of thinking, we have limited space and resources and so we need to describe things as simply as we can. But is nature digital or analog? It would seem to me that nature does not have “memory limitations” in the sense we understand them in computers. It is certainly elegant that a leaf has the same basic structure as the tree it is attached to, but is elegance an inherent property of evolution?

I believe that the statement was an expression of faith, a faith that natural selection is a force that can use fractals as a solution to practical evolutionary problems. Again, this faith doesn’t bother me, it’s when it is expressed as fact that I grow concerned.

Natural selection is proven scientific fact, a force of nature. But is that force of nature something that is a random or inherent property of the universe. Did natural selection rise up on its own or was it a rule designed by a creator?

Science doesn’t answer this question as proven fact, and neither does religion. Their answer is based on faith.

Science is one way that we as humans increase our knowledge of the universe, religion (in my case Christianity) is another. Why do we as humans seek to limit our understanding to one or the other? I’m not just calling out scientists, there are far too many of my Christian friends who dispute global warming and climate change despite the Bible’s call for creation care. I understand that science produces measureable facts, and I think it is unwise to dismiss such things as pure hokum. Inferances from data can be wrong, but that’s why there is peer review, and more study. But no scientist would say that they could definitively prove God does not exist, and it would be a fool’s errand to try.

So why make the statement that fractals are a solution natural selection uses? Regardless of the mechanism behind it, it is simply fascinating that nature which we once thought to be complex can be described in a such an elegant way. Why not leave it at that? From my perspective, I find it deeply fascinating that science and mathematics has enabled us to understand our world in better ways with each generation. We are getting to see a little of God’s engineering, God’s design. If it’s different than what we first thought, that’s because we are only growing in our understanding.

Faith in God and Faith in Science are not a contradiction in terms. Let’s play nicer on both sides, let’s prove what can be proven, and leave the rest to faith.

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Filed under Faith + Life