Monday, February 10, 2014

Preparing for The Second Coming

It is a glorious time to be alive. We live in the latter days: the priesthood and its ordinances have been restored, the gospel is being preached to all the earth, and the kingdom of God is being established in preparation for the return of it’s king, Jesus Christ. What a blessing to be one of the servants that is preparing the kingdom for his return.

But not all of us will be ready when he comes. There is a dire warning about this in the parable of the ten virgins. When the bridegroom came, only five of the ten virgins were prepared. As Elder Oaks once pointed out, "the arithmetic of this parable is chilling" because the virgins represent the members of the church. All ten of them knew he was coming but only five were prepared.

What will cause some of us to be unprepared for Christ's return? The Lord reveals one prominent way in a prophecy to the early leaders of the church:
"And after your testimony cometh wrath and indignation upon the people. For after your testimony cometh the testimony of earthquakes. … And … the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests, and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds. And all things shall be in commotion; and surely, men’s hearts shall fail them; for fear shall come upon all people." - D&C 88:88-91
The terrible destruction and commotion will cause faith to be overcome by fear, even among many of the faithful saints. We cannot allow this to happen. We must be sanctified; we must be strong..
"For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man” - Mosiah 3:19
The Spirit is trying to warn us and prepare us. It is trying to show us how to shed the natural man. Do we listen? Can we hear it?

Every week when we take the sacrament we are promised “that we may always have his Spirit to be with us”. Always. I don't know about you, but that promise is not always fulfilled in my life. Our responsibility in the covenant is simple: take upon us the name of Christ, keep his commandments, and always remember him. I struggle with the third part to "always remember him."

There are too many distractions in this life, too many ways for us to forget about Christ. The adversary has made it very easy for us to vegetate, be entertained, and waste time.

The parable of the talents warns us about this. It tells of a master who would be gone traveling for a long time so he divided up his goods among three of his servants. When the master finally returned, he asked his servants what they had done with his goods (talents) while he was gone. Two of them made good use of the talents they had been given and were blessed.
Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
But the third servant was cursed for doing nothing with his talent while the master was gone.
cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness
What a terrifying prospect. We cannot afford to waste time and become an unprofitable servant.

There is hope in what the master says to the faithful servants. If we yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit then we will be found ready when He returns, be welcomed into his kingdom, and be crowned with eternal life and joy.

Adapted from a talk I gave in church on February 9, 2014.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Eudaimonia and the Abundant Life

Eudaimonia is a Greek word which means happiness, welfare, or more correctly a flourishing life.
"The best understanding of eudaimonia is not that it's some point reached; it's not some transient state, but a veritable form or mode of life. It's life of a certain character and stripe, properly described as a flourishing life." - Daniel N. Robinson, The Great Ideas of Philosphy, 2nd Edition, Course Guidebook
How to obtain eudaimonia was a common point of discussion in early Greek philosophy. Aristotle proposed that eudaimonia was obtained when we fulfilled our essential nature as human beings. This can be better understood by examining animals. A fish cannot fulfill it's nature when it's out of water. This is where we get the phrase "a fish out of water". A fish needs to be in water, a bird needs to fly, a horse needs to run. Likewise, we are only happy when we can fulfill our essential nature.

Philosophy has never been able to definitively answer what human nature is, but the gospel of Christ has the answer. It teaches us that our essential nature is divine. We are children of God, and as children we have the potential to become like him.

The gospel of Jesus Christ also teaches about a concept similar to eudaimonia called the abundant life. "The abundant life is a spiritual life" which promises rewards of happiness and prosperity (though people disagree on whether prosperity includes a promise of material wealth).

Despite it's teachings on the abundant life, I don't think that the gospel adequately explains why righteousness makes us happy. Why does doing good satisfy our conscious?  It can't be purely due to the delayed gratification of eternal life. The other common answer is that the Spirit of God endows us with happiness as a reward for righteousness, but if we are to become like God then we must be able to feel that on our own.

Aristotle's teachings on eudaimonia is the answer. Righteousness makes us happy because it fulfills our divine nature as children of God. This also bring a new level of clarity to the 13th Article of Faith:
We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
Eudaimonia. The Good Life. The Abundant Life. Eternal Life.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Perfect Woman

Yesterday my wife asked me to envision the perfect woman and then make a list of her virtues. She pleaded with me to have an open mind and not let it become a list of virtues she has or a list of virtues I wished she had. Here is what I came up with; order has no significance.
  • Loving, capable of being a mother to anybody, but not pron to spoiling
  • Faithful, spiritual, prayerful
  • Graceful
  • Intelligent in conversation, but not determined to win arguments
  • Humorous, but not raucous
  • Musical
  • Humble, but not shy or awkward
  • Confident, but not prideful
  • Capable of leading, but never desiring to [1]
  • Understanding of human emotions
  • Socially proper
  • Organized but no OCD
  • Capable of cooking every day without the family tiring of her food [2]
  • Frugal
  • Long hair [3]
"A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband" - Proverbs 12:4

[1] The wife in Legacy is the best example I can think of. She's able to take charge when she needs to.
[2] This doesn't mean she has to cook every day, just that she could if needed to.
[3] I added this after my wife pointed out that I didn't have any physical attributes in the list. I didn't think I needed any, but then I realized I always envision good women as having long hair.

Friday, July 13, 2012

My Mysterious Double Cron

One of the websites I manage at work has a cron associated with it that ran every Monday morning at 1:00 AM to process outstanding invoices.
0 1 * * 1 php cron_script.php >> cron_script.log 2>@1
The script worked beautifully until June 18 when everyone who was charged was billed twice. I first thought my script must have a bug, but further inspection proved that wasn't the case[1].

The output log only had one entry for June 18, so I was inclined to blame it on network errors[2].

But most signs showed that the cron had run twice, at almost the exact same time. I was reluctant to accept this because cron is a stable library, but the evidence was overwhelming. The order of the double-charge pairs was perfectly sequential.
If both executions weren't at almost the exact same moment you would see something more mixed.
We could see that from the responses we get back from our credit card processing company and store in the database, information stored in the eCommerce software to show customers when they were charged, and history that our credit card processing company keeps.

So the cron ran twice but logged its activity once. After much debate, the only plausible solution we could divine was that the NTP update script also ran at 1:00 AM and caused the clock to drift backwards a few hundred milliseconds and repeat 1:00 AM. We could explain the log file having on entry by assuming the first execution obtained an exclusive lock on the file.

But then I did some research and found out that NTP almost never drifts the clock backwards (especially not for such small intervals as we were expecting) and redirecting output in the shell to a file does not lock the file.

Our theory was sufficiently busted, and now we have no possible explanations for both anomalies:
  • How did the cron run twice at the same time?
  • Why did the output only get written to the log file once?
Surely it must have been cosmic rays.

[1] Technically my script did have a bug in that it allowed people to be billed twice if the script ran twice at the same moment. That has since been fixed by applying an exclusive lock to the logfile. But I realize now that the fix is insufficient. I have a better idea.

[2] We have had other problems related to network errors between us and our credit card processing company. My inclination to blame the network wasn't random.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Innovator's Framework

The most shocking conclusion of Clayton M. Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma is that good managerial practices can lead a company to failure when dealing with disruptive technologies. Good managers lead companies by pursuing high profit margins and delivering what their customers want. But Christensen proves that those methods only work for sustaining technological development and not for developing disruptive technology. That is revolutionary. Christensen clearly explains how to avoid the same failures that Sears, Woolco, and many other companies have experienced.

Christensen also offered an eye-opening explanation of the migration of capabilities within a company. It explains why resources are more important to a startup while process, values, and culture are more important to a mature company. I thought about my experience at a startup where I work. When I joined two years ago, there was no process -- for anything. The three programmers sat in a room next to each other and just coded. Now we have bug lists, version control, and development environments. Our values are also starting to coalesce into a company culture. I enjoyed being influential in the development of that culture. But it will be time for me to get a new job when this period of development ends and employees become just another programmer.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Developing Useful Talents

I played a lot of video games when I was little boy. I spent many hours on classics such as Road Rash II, NFL Blitz, Super Mario World, and Mario 64. But then I grew up and realized how much video games waste time and money. Any benefit which video games may provide can be obtained through cheaper and more fulfilling means. Yes, video games can be avenue for socializing in person, but they aren't the best avenue. At least games like Boggle and Scrabble enhance a skill worth having. Instead of idling away our time and money we should be developing useful talents.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Privacy on the Internet is a Fallacy

Privacy on the internet is a fallacy which we need to stop pursuing. Somehow we have allowed consumers to believe that their personal information is safe, secure, and private on the internet. Consumers have no problem knowing that friends of friends can freely stalk them, but riots ensue when personal information is mined by Google to enhance their user experience. This is akin to announcing an engagement in Relief Society and expecting the news to stay there. Ignorance is the sole cause of this illogical behavior. We must stop allowing ourselves to be deceived by the fallacy of a private internet.