Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Crisis Of Faith

I left the fellowship of my faith when I was not yet even an adult, twenty years ago. Since that time, I've been a privately practicing Mormon that has remained faithful, but kept a healthy distance from the establishment of the LDS Church. I did this because I found it difficult to varying degree to sustain the Church Leadership in everything they do, and the core message that the LDS Church is the absolute one true faith on the Earth.

Never feeling as learned as I could be, I've filled my bookshelf with works on philosophy, metaphysics, mythology and religion trying to garner a greater understanding of the world. I read ancient literature to give myself a better handle on how people in biblical times wrote. I read and (admittedly) skim various versions of core religious texts.

I often turn to science to fill in some of the blanks, or at least explain them. Looking at things like how the universe was likely formed, the arrangement thereof, and all the energies intrinsic to it didn't make me less religious. The more I look at science and the various paradoxes found within the more I believe there is a God, not less.


This is chiefly what religions peddle in. By design, each religion does the best job it can granting the flock or membership a degree of certitude about God, the afterlife, and a righteous lifestyle. Necessarily, each purports to be the “true” church having figured it out better than all the others. My wife once asked if it was possible if all religions could be true, and not true, at the same time. I think she is very wise.

Truth is a very influential particular of an elite body of concepts that make up the most important universal, a collection of things called Virtue. I don’t believe that religions or Gods can possess or be the source of such things, but they can be the paragons of them and even embody them. To that end, any faith that claims it can withhold Virtue or agency from a person in the name of God is treading in the most dangerous of hypocrisy.

The notion that there is a single true Church runs contrary to every one of Gods other works. From the very largest objects in the universe to the very smallest, variety is always necessarily present. God does, in grand fashion, make this obvious everywhere one looks. It is not a single universal type of star that lights the night sky, but a multitude of variety.

More to that line of thinking, The God of the Old Testament (or the Torah if you prefer) tells Abraham (among others) he will be the father of a multitude of nations. Not a single nation run by a single church with a single set of beliefs, but a multitude. That word appears in virtually every translation of the scripture I’m referring to.

mul·ti·tude noun \ˈməl-tə-ˌtüd, -ˌtyüd\
: a great number of things or people

If one looks to the Latin origins of the word and pokes around a bit, one finds multitudin-, multitudo, from multus and the word meliorate somewhere on the same branch. To ameliorate is to make something that is not so great, better. It is the beginning of something good. I take in the context of that scripture that God was telling Abraham that these things would occur by necessity to make things better for others to form a greater basis for seeking Virtue.

The most foolish and fanatical people I've bore witness to run on pure certitude, letting it flow through their veins giving life to every misguided thing they do. Worse, the more certitude they have, the less likely they are to examine their beliefs or the actions they take in the name of those beliefs. They operate without the need to seek Virtue, certain that institutions, society, and control external to a person’s agency is the way to solve all the world’s problems.

I don’t think certitude is dangerous for just religious people. I think an Atheist running on absolutes and certitude is just as dangerous to themselves and others as a devout Christian doing the same. To hold science as the single belief to rule all others is as problematic as holding the Bible to the same standard. Everything necessarily has leaks, flaws, and gaps that should make a rational and reasonable person at least wonder. I think we have the ability to possess both an imagination and a rational mind for a reason.

Why Does God

Most religions hold that God is holy, righteous, and the embodiment of all things good and virtuous. If that is truly the case, would that God ever do anything to infringe the agency or choices of others? Would he or she use their obviously more expansive ability to make choices (intrinsic to being a God) to infringe the choices of lesser beings? I can conceive of very few examples where that would be possible.

The Old Testament (or Torah, I like the Torah) does a good job of showcasing instances where God had to step in and take direct action on Earth. In every instance it seemed to be possessed of two key components, preserving or increasing agency for future humans relative to the event, and maximum deniability. If a city was so wicked that all who would be born there would find their agency infringed from the moment they drew breath to the sum of their whole lives? That city would meet an unfortunate end. 

Likewise, I think that God allows things like war and genocide to persist to give us the opportunity, collectively, to make our world as awesome or shitty as we want. Given the population and variety of people in the modern world, access to technology, and so forth, we have an even greater degree of agency than ancient peoples had. If war, famine or genocide occur on the planet, it is because we are choosing or allowing it to happen, not God.

If the whole world decided to just work together to make the best possible place to live, we could do it. We have the means at our disposal, the manufacturing capacity, and the substance of culture to make it a reality. The world isn't the dark place it sometimes is because of some grand celestial agenda, we are choosing as a race to make it this way. People aren't killed in war zones or on crime ridden city streets because God needs more angels, it’s about the choices we make.


The wisest individuals I've ever known were profoundly compromised by doubt and have many questions. The more they came to know and understand, the more the world would open up to them and illustrate just how much they do not know, and never will. If they answered a single question there would be a hundred more as a consequence and behind the answers to each of those, a hundred more, and so forth.

To possess incertitude one must merely possess questions about everything around them and be free of assumptions to that end. Most societies and faiths look down on individuals that possess doubt as being people who lack conviction. The truth is that this is usually the opposite. These are individuals usually lead intensely examined lives checking and double checking everything they do. They are not satisfied with seeking Virtue for a couple hours on Sunday or by putting a check in the mail for their favorite charity once a year. They are on a mission to learn whatever they can in this life. They live in every moment as themselves.

Incertitude has an extremely ethical sibling called Pessimism. This quality, properly honed, can protect someone leading an examined lifestyle from all kinds of (technical term) baloney. The world is full of crap designed to mislead you, leave you bereft of your agency, and outright harm you. A healthy pessimism is often the best armor against human negligence, greed, and avarice.

We don’t do anything in a vacuum. People who live an examined lifestyle are oddities, worth writing about, and worth watching. If one decides to live in such a way, others will be taking notes and trying to discern why or how you do all of your things. Pessimism isn't just a countermeasure to protect yourself, but also one for all the folks that might be quietly following your digital or real world footsteps.

Incertitude will rarely grant you the wisdom to know what you must do, but it is essential to the process of selection to that end. I think this is more than half of figuring out life, assuming God’s own ethical nonintervention being essential to agency. This isn't to say you should never do anything, but that you should figure out what it is, and do it now. Make sure whatever that is gives you and those around you more choices, not less.

Crisis Of Faith

These beliefs run contrary to the LDS Church. Speaking strictly for myself, I can’t profess to know with certitude that the Mormon Church is true or that Joseph Smith was a prophet. Likewise, I hesitate to say it isn't true as well. It is unlikely that in this life I will possess a traditional testimony, and certainly not the sort any Bishop would thank me for sharing. This isn't to say I don’t believe in a great deal of what the Church teaches, but that to core ideas designed to employ institutional certitude as a substitute for real conviction, I simply can’t subscribe.

Joseph Smith spoke of the economy of God relative to the leadership of the Church. To assume there is always a person on the Earth capable of setting aside their agency, denying a state of perdition, and being a true revelator and prophet is difficult, all things considered. Such individuals are going to be extremely rare. I’m not saying it is impossible, but that the idea that such a person exclusively speaks to the same tiny percentage of the world’s population since the 1800s isn't remotely economical. Do I think the Mormon Church was possessed of a true revelator and prophet at some point, and that they brought some actual truth into the faith?

Yes, and we’ll likely never know who that was exactly or the total sum of his or her contributions. I have theories, but no certitude relative to that.

Does that mean that all faiths potentially possess truth as my wife suggested? Would the duration the church has existed and the number of adherents make it more or less likely a true revelator and prophet has contributed to their doctrine? Is one of the active or dead faiths on the Earth possibly more “true” than the others?

Yes, no, maybe… but only relative to individuals in any case. I think there is probably a church more suited to my individual spiritual needs but that may not be the case for my neighbor. I’m still trying to figure all that out, and still be a good person. It is super hard.

The problem is that the various churches ask that I hold myself higher than others or make assumptions about their authenticity based on spiritual beliefs designed to govern me alone. It feels as arbitrary as claiming superiority over someone else because my tailor made pants don’t fit them. They would have me believe in absolutes and adopt certitude on things that I can’t ethically subscribe to. I think it may have been one of the few things I figured out young, but only realize now. There is no church or faith that will accept a person like me, but there are many that might tolerate my presence.


I will not contribute to institutional tyranny that asks that I hold myself as being closer to God than someone else on the basis of their identity as it relates to intrinsic qualities like race or gender. I can’t assume that the way I live my life could be universal to everyone or that anyone else could do as I've done and prosper spiritually. I will love and draw people close on the basis of the virtues they choose to embody.

Do I think that everyone should abandon their faith, science, atheistic notions, agnosticism, nihilism, or other belief set? No, but I think they should be a little less sure they've found the universal answer for them and everyone else.   

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Watching The News, Apple vs. Microsoft

I get this vision of two warriors running across the field toward one another, weapons held high, fierce expressions on their faces, blood churning in their veins... and at the moment that should have been impact, they missed each other entirely. Looking around, they realize they are in the castle of their enemy alone, and no one is home. So they pull up the draw bridge and call it good. The peasants are confused, but continue on nevertheless.

This is basically what Apple (maker of devices) and Microsoft (maker of software) has done.

To look at all Microsoft alleges to do in the near future they are unifying their software, making it look horrible, and attempting to have it run across all their devices. I don't know what that means. They'll have an OS that looks good on a 480 x 800 resolution phone and a 4K monitor hooked up to a video editing workstation?

Looking at the leaked photos for whatever it is that comes after Windows 8 makes me cringe. The look of it (the software) gives me a feeling one can liken only to disgust and dread. It is the opposite sensation of what one feels picking up a Surface Pro 3 (a device). Microsoft is making some very compelling devices that has pushed the industry to make an array of computing options I've been waiting over a decade for.

I owned a Surface Pro 1, and loved it. All the things I would have changed about it came to pass with the release of the Surface Pro 3. It's a lighter color, an aspect ratio closer to paper as opposed to an HD display, and thinner/lighter/etcetera. The keyboard has a strange spring to it, mimicking the tactile feedback of a traditional keyboard. It still has great, maybe even better pen input depending on what you're doing. If I'd know it would be so good, I would have held off getting my Thinkpad Yoga.

I may have still chosen the Yoga anyway, but it would have been a really tough choice.

Meanwhile, Apple is making the same aluminum clad clam shells, touch only tablets, and smartphone they have for the past few years. That none of their devices have more than a single use form factor or pen input is pretty discouraging. Even more discouraging is that Yosemite and iOS 8 (software) looks incredible, capable, and extremely advanced.

I'm aware that my device usage isn't typical or even representative of 1% of computer users. Very few people decide one day they are going to design and render games for a smartphone platform and work as a self-published author, then go shopping for a machine that can allow them to do all that, while replacing all the paper on their desk. Most people don't think about port selection, input options, or screen resolution to that end and seek out the perfect device to that end.

Also, I'm aware that not everyone uses every single feature of their phone for things like self promotion, checking stock prices, email, browsing, schedule keeping, file sharing, photo taking, and the occasional game. I don't consider myself to occupy even the top 25% of truly tech savvy users, but I think a lot of the design choices Microsoft is using feels like a heartfelt appeal to the very lowest common denominator. Granted, the leaked images of the next version could (please God) be fake and not at all what it will look like or represent how it will function from the desktop on down.

Apple's Yosemite has a feature called Continuity that looks incredible. Basically, much of what you start or do on your phone or tablet can be continued or finished on your Mac and vice versa I'm sure. You also have access to many of the features on your phone via your Mac. Windows has virtually nothing like this, and where they do the applications are so barren and featureless they aren't worth using.

I really want a Hackintosh Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga running Yosemite and an iPhone with a slightly larger (but just shy of phablet size) screen than the one they make now. I love Windows Phone but I don't think it will survive the transition Microsoft is proposing.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Dangers Of Brand Loyalty

I've waited about three years for Microsoft to deliver a core computing experience with Windows Phone. Two of those years was spent waiting for the same thing with Windows 8. I'm fairly certain with the changing of the guard in Microsoft's leadership that user experience I crave is never coming. In the process of all that I did something I rarely do, and was loyal to a brand.

What Microsoft had with Windows 8 was wondrous, full of excellent potential, and the beginning of a UX I'd wanted since tablet PCs were even a thing over a decade ago. I shed my Apple Inc. gear and bought a pair of excellent Thinkpads by Lenovo. I had faith that Microsoft would eventually deliver on touch enabled productivity applications, core computing experiences, games, and a shifting UI paradigm that would shift when I pushed a single button.

PC manufacturers responded with a dizzying array of devices that had touch screens and built in digitizers. The Surface Pro hit the market and I waited with great anticipation for Microsoft to iterate on the Windows 8 experience and deliver on all they had promised. I couldn't wait for a core computing experience that sync'd to the cloud across all my devices and would allow me to keep my schedule, files, and friends at my finger tips.

As my promotional schedule ramps up and my life gets more busy and I make more contacts I need technology that can aid me in keeping track of it all. Microsoft has no interest in providing that to independent professionals that aren't hooked up to a corporate network. All my attempts to get my devices to talk to each other and keep in sync have run into some issue I can't resolve.

With my third book hitting the market soon I've got a promotional schedule I have to keep, allies to keep in contact with, files to juggle, and I need to be able to view it all wherever I go. It's frustrating because there is so much good hardware for Windows right now and Microsoft is choosing not to support any of it. Between that and the damage done to Nokia, I doubt my next phone will be running the Windows Phone OS.

I'm going back to being a mercenary when it comes to devices. Whoever makes the best guns is what I'll buy. Right now that's a Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga and an iPad Mini I picked up over the weekend. Now, I just need to find a decent phone that will do all the things I need it to, if such a thing exists.

Alright, I'm done bleeding about this. Done.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Windows Phone 8.1 - Initial Thoughts

I’m a goof and had been waiting for Windows Phone 8.1 to come to my phone over the air. My development partner had pointed out to me before this wasn't necessary, and then pointed it out to me again. 
I downloaded it.

My thought stream as I’m trying it out for the first time:

The first thing it does is let you know about new settings.

Wi-Fi sense is an interesting feature. It basically turns your phone into a signal addict that will send your data over any network, secure or otherwise. It will also allow you to exchange Wi-Fi network access with people in your contacts list making the secure networks everyone uses less secure.

I turned it off.

The next feature it tells you about is the ability to automatically update your Store apps.

I turned it off.

After that, there’s a feature that lets apps share your “advertising ID” for “experiences” across apps.

I turned it off.

Scrolling down my home screen, I found a Data Sense app.

Declined setting a data limit and removed it from my home screen.

Moving over to the applications list, I see they've made some changes.

The Battery Saver feature is an app now, cluttering up my app list.

We've got Cortana… I’ll have to try that out later.

FM Radio app. For some people, this could be a thing.

Podcasts app. That’s promising, if it’s decent.

Storage Sense app… appears useless with all options greyed out. Neat.

Xbox Video app… meh.

Swipe down notifications menu is pretty decent.

Checking the Calendar App. The way it renders your schedule is better, and I like the visual changes. Still can’t set events to reoccur beyond a handful of options. It’s still useless, even years later.

I still need a mail app per email account cluttering up my home screen. Not happy about this.

Internet Explorer... switching between tabs is better, faster, and so forth. Hurrah.

Settings menu…

Notification+actions stuffs. Nice that they let you customize the notification area to this degree.

NFC option to turn off or on. I’m pretty sure that’s new. Hurrah.

Project to my screen option. Don’t remember that being there. 

Wife is home, gotta go.