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The Salvation of Moore's Law

You must admit, it's a cute ad. People from TV invade the Intel briefing room, only to find those therein on hands and knees looking for their newest chip - some clod apparently dropped it. 'It's - uh - not big,' murmurs the chairman. 'Ah - here it is!' And he holds it high at tweezer's end. Even magnified, you can't see it. Our big ideas aren't your big ideas, says the ad, and then everyone sings the Intel song. "Our big ideas" is the phrase we want to hold onto.

Back in 1965 Intel co-founder Gordon Moore had his own big idea, which all technogeeks know by heart. Dubbed Moore’s Law, it decrees that every two years you’ll be able to double the components that will fit on an integrated circuit. His prediction has proven valid. Thus, in my school days, our high school had an IBM 360 computer for "computer science" class. It took up an entire room, required air conditioning, was fed data via punchcard, impressed the daylights out of anyone then, and moved snail-like compared to anything now.

In recent years, scientists have started fretting over how much longer Moore’s Law can hold. It’s not that they can’t imagine chips getting yet smaller. It’s that the tools to make them so will become so expensive that nobody will be able to afford chips made thereby. But now IBM claims to have the answer: use the DNA molecule – the very building block of life – as a scaffold upon which to assemble the new chips! They're cheap, tiny, intricate, predictable, and readily reproducible. Pour your pre-mixed nanotube (strands of carbon atoms that can conduct electricity) goo over them and see it mold into the form you want, much like intricate snowflakes form on molecules in the cold atmosphere. Will it work? IBM swears it will, though it will be 10 years before it reaches production. Once it does, the current crop of designer tools, costing hundreds of millions of dollars, can be replaced with less than a million dollars of polymers, DNA solutions, and heating implements.

Is that clever, or what? "What we are really making are tiny DNA circuit boards that will be used to assemble other components," says Greg Wallraff, IBM scientist. Will IBM, like Intel, start boasting about their "big idea?" If so, who could deny them?

Still, isn't there something incongruous about praising human ability to copy nature, while insisting nature itself arose by pure accident, nurtured only by natural selection? Billion dollar companies, with million dollar facilities, employing the best brains on the planet, building upon generations of accumulated research, and their ultimate accomplishment is, not to design something new, but to mimic something already occurring in nature - a pure freebee once they figure out how to copy it! Even the most impressed-with-himself counterfeiter acknowledges the greater skill and organization of those whom he copies. And even the dumbest construction worker tromping on literal scaffolds, building IBM headquarters, knows those scaffolds didn't just set themselves up. But today's scientists aren't inclined that way. They've mastered a few card tricks, so they figure themselves David Copperfield's equal.

Humans lifting ideas from nature to devise this or that "invention" happens so often that there is a word for it: biomimicry. You can even go here and view the Nature's Top 100 List. But humans giving credit to the originator of the ideas is a rare phenomenon. Today, it almost never happens. It wasn't always like that.

Four hundred years ago Johannes Kepler worked out the laws governing planetary motion. They move in ellipses, not circles, with the sun at one focal point. Over any given time unit, the triangle connecting planets with both focal points sweeps out equal areas of space, regardless of where they are in their orbit. He published his findings in his treatise Astronomia Nova. Sure, he was pleased with himself, but he kept his big head in perspective. He saved his praise for the one who designed what he had only discovered. Smack dab in the midst of his treatise, he inserted:

"The wisdom of the Lord is infinite; so also are His glory and His power. Ye heavens, sing His praises! Sun, moon, and planets glorify Him in your ineffable language! Celestial harmonies, all ye who comprehend His marvelous works, praise Him. And thou, my soul, praise thy Creator! It is by Him and in Him that all exists. that which we know best is comprised in Him, as well as in our vain science. To Him be praise, honor, and glory throughout eternity."

His third law he call the "harmonic law," for he believed it revealed the harmony God had instilled into the solar system. "I feel caried away and possessed by an unutterable rapture over the divine spectacle of the heavenly harmony," he enthused. 

Galileo voiced similar thoughts regarding his own discoveries, as did Newton. And it was only a few generations ago that collecting artifacts of nature in the belief that studying such could teach one about God was a popular pastime. Alas, no more. Is it really inexcusable, as Romans 1:20 states, not to percieve God through the things he has created?


*******  The bookstore


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Chief Superintendent Maigret

My all time favorite author says he's slept with 10,000 women in the course of his life. You gotta admit, that's a lot. From my virtuous vantage point, one wonders if it is even possible. Actually, he didn't say it himself, but it was some reporter who knew his habits made the calculation, and he said 'yeah....that sounds about right.'

The author is Geoges Simenon (1903-1989), largely unknown in the U.S, but one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century, and familiar everywhere else. Many of his novels are so sordid - should one be surprised? - you almost can't read them. I haven't gotten through many, and my motivation to do so quickly wanes. His own mother complained “"Why don't you ever write a book about nice people and good Catholics, instead of all these criminals?'" Indeed, I might not know of this author at all were it not for one remarkable fact: his most famous character, Chief Superintendent Maigret, protagonist of over 100 books and short stories – all murder mysteries - is as upright as his creator is decadent. One almost imagines the author inventing him as a sort of therapy, as if pining like a Michael Jackson of yesteryear for a normality that was never his. (not that he ever expressed any regret over the 10,000)
The impossibly cozy home scenes of Chief Superintendent Maigret and Mdm. Maigret play almost as novelettes within novels – typifying that old-fashioned safe harbor that a person longs for after slogging it out in the rough-and-tumble world. Was marriage ever so tranquil, its participants so companionable? Don’t expect any racy sex scenes here nor even strong emotion, just pure domestic pleasantry. After solving a tough case, there is no better pastime for Maigret than to stroll arm in arm with his wife to the movies.

You wouldn’t expect a series of murder stories would be joyful, but joy, good humor, and a sheer love of life, permeate the Maigret series. Maigret loves nothing more than to roam the streets of Paris, tracking all clues himself, interviewing whomever he can – page after page is unattributed dialog – defying superiors who want him to focus on bureaucratic drudgery and delegate the interesting stuff to underlings. Its from him I learned to savor bistros, sipping coffee or some such beverage (always alcoholic for him) absorbing the comings and goings of passerby. If he must catch a bus, hopefully its an open platform one, not one of those new-fangled jobs that imprison its passengers. He employs patience and plodding police work, and he benefits from the easy camaraderie of his staff. He absorbs scenes and people and clues almost subconsciously, and he arrives at the truth as much through intuition as deduction – not like that insufferable smart-ass Sherlock Holmes on the other side of the channel, who barely notices it’s people he’s dealing with - an atheist, I'm sure - who is wont to reduce everything to ciphers, and who, when case is closed, doesn't go home to his wife but snorts cocaine instead. 

It’s as though Simenon channels all his love of life into these Maigret novels, and reserves his darker broodings (of which he has many) for other works. If there are sordid characters in a Maigret mystery, they are to be found among those he must investigate – do the French really do nothing but tipple and visit mistresses? Or is that only in the author’s mind? Meanwhile, Maigret and his colleagues embody the very essence of normality (just like the police in real life!).

Maigret mysteries explore subtle psychological themes, themes rarely touched upon in popular literature - the interactions of class distinction, for one. Here, Maigret does not have the advantage. He's not an Hercule Poirot, able to look down on all the rest of humanity. The Chief Superintendent is solidly middle class, son of a peasant. Here are excerpts from one of my favorite Maigrets – Maigret in Retirement, in which the Chief is summoned to investigate shadiness amongst the upper crust, and the sleaziest fellow turns out to be an old schoolmate, lowly enough back then, but wealthy and full of himself now:

As the two men were walking along the river bank, it must have looked as though one was holding the other on a leash, and Maigret, as sullen and clumsy as a big shaggy dog, was letting himself be pulled along....The fact was that he was ill at ease….Moreover, he hated people who suddenly spring up out of your past to pat you on the shoulder and address you familiarly....Ernest Malik, in short, represented a type of humanity that had always aroused his aversion.

The fellow strode along with the utmost unconcern, free and easy in his beautifully cut white flannel suit, physically fit, with glossy hair and no hint of sweat on his skin despite the heat. He was already playing the great nobleman showing off his estates to a yokel. "This is where my domain begins...I've a few small boats, since one's got to amuse oneself somehow in this Godforsaken place...Do you like sailing?"

What irony there was in his voice as he asked the heavily-built Superintendent if he liked sailing in one of the slender skiffs visible between the buoys!

And Malik, with an ever more casual air, like a pretty woman toying carelessly with a jewel worth millions, seemed to be saying: "Take a good look, you great lout. This place belongs to Malik, to little Malik whom all of you contemptuously call the Tax-Collector because his father spent his days in a dark office, behind a grating."...Some Great Danes came up to lick his hands and he accepted their humble homage with indifference.

…And in fact Maigret was ill at ease in this setting. Even the surroundings, too smooth and harmonious, irritated him. He felt no petty jealousy but an actual loathing of that immaculate tennis court, of the well-fed chauffeur whom he had seen polishing the sumptuous car. The landing -stage with its diving boards, its small boats moored all round, the swimming-pool, the trimmed trees, the smooth unblemished gravel paths were all part of a world into which he entered reluctantly and in which he felt terribly clumsy.

What Witness of Jehovah hasn’t been there, and felt the subtle condescension of the la-de-da, the stifling atmosphere of wealth? It’s a curious fact that in the public ministry you might find yourself discussing the Bible in a run-down inner city home one hour and in some great imposing manor the next, and be comfortable in both. I’m grateful anytime that happens - that experience of transcending class boundaries - somewhat mirroring this description of Jesus from The Man From Nazareth:

Alike in public and in private he associated with men and women on equal terms. He was at home with little children in their innocence and strangely enough at home too with conscience-stricken grafters like Zacchaeus. Respectable home-keeping women, such as Mary and Martha, could talk with him with natural frankness, but courtesans also sought him out as though assured that he would understand and befriend them . . . His strange unawareness of boundaries that hemmed ordinary people in is one of his most characteristic qualities.

Of course, you're not as likely to be invited inside in the wealthier areas, for the loftier a man's home the more full of himself he becomes, so that he readily imagines himself above fraternizing with some door-to-door minister - a visitor with an inherently humble role. Still, it does happen - receptive people may be found anywhere - and no sooner do you start judging people when you come across someone who overturns all your tidy notions of what to expect.

Again, from Maigret in Retirement (for as usual, the Chief Superintendent does get his man):

With such men, one had a difficult moment to go through, the moment when in spite of oneself one is impressed by their fine houses, their cars, their servants, their manner....One must come to see them like the rest, naked and unadorned...

Isn’t it really just as Prov 18:11 observes?

The valuable things of the rich are his strong town, and they are like a protective wall in his imagination?  

The definitive web resource for all things Maigret is Check it out. Here is a webmaster who keeps up with things both substantial and trivial. If Life Magazine ran an article on the Chief Superintendent sixty years ago, Trussel has it. There is even a forum section. Many months ago, I submitted a review of one of my favorite Maigrets, but it wasn't published. I sulked and sulked but then I got over it. Is the forum even open to all and sundry? Or maybe Truffle didn't think the review was any good. That's always plausible. These folks are really into Maigret...real aficionados, and perhaps not too indulgent with amateurs.

I'm never certain how many Maigrets, if any, I've yet to read. Simenon wrote in French, and only gradually did they trickle into English. His last Maigret I just discovered browsing in the library: Maigret and the Killer. (not to be confused with Maigret and the Killers, an entirely different book) It wasn't on the shelves, though. The librarian said it was in storage, deep in the bowels of the building, and she'd go get in for me. Um...were there other Maigrets down there? I thought to ask only upon her return. Yes, there were quite a few, was the reply. Cool!!! Now there’s a summer pastime! If I'm late with an upcoming post or two, you'll know why.


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Advise and Consent and Sexual Orientation

Talk about politically incorrect!

Senator Anderson punches his gay ex-lover in the mouth. The poor fellow drops face-down in the gutter. Now...there's a lot of things that can happen to a guy when he's punched, but this guy goes in the gutter! Face down! The unmistakable symbolism: that's where he belongs!!*

That's how Otto Preminger treated homosexuality in his 1962 movie Advise and Consent. A former Academy Award winning director, Preminger took bows for his film. Today, he'd be crucified for it. When the movie was re-done for DVD a few years ago , the homosexual sub-plot was replaced with a Jewish one. (even though the original plot was based upon a true incident.)


Times have changed. It's anyone with an unkind word about homosexuality who belongs in the gutter today. The District Overseer can barely believe his own words as he observes: "nowadays, only homosexuals want to get married." Evidence, he maintains, that the world is "upside down."

It sure seems that way from any historical perspective.  In my lifetime, I've seen homosexuality go from reviled fringe to cutting-edge alternative. There once seemed nothing more unlikely than this verse becoming reality:

Therefore God, in keeping with the desires of their hearts, gave them up to uncleanness, that their bodies might be dishonored among them, even those who exchanged the truth of God for the lie and venerated and rendered sacred service to the creation rather than the One who created, who is blessed forever. Amen. That is why God gave them up to disgraceful sexual appetites, for both their females changed the natural use of themselves into one contrary to nature; and likewise even the males left the natural use of the female and became violently inflamed in their lust toward one another, males with males, working what is obscene and receiving in themselves the full recompense, which was due for their error.    Rom 1:24-27

It's an unflattering view of homosexuality, but I don't include it for that reason, rather, for it's implication that homosexuality would become commonplace. Nobody of my generation would ever have foreseen it. Seemingly, the going against what is "natural" was enough to rule it out. When you work with plumbing or electricity, you link the male end with the female end. Always. That's the way it's done. Nobody thinks it's cutting edge plumbing to solder two male ends together, or female. It doesn't happen. And it's always been that way with human sexuality. Doubtless, that's how we came to apply those terms to electricity and plumbing.

Preminger's portrayal plays mean-spirited today, yet it was right in sync with popular sentiment of that time - indeed,  of any time. Homosexuality used to be perverted. Now, however, it is edgy, and heterosexuality....well, a little unimaginative, if not downright dull. The very words straight (inflexible, efficient, but monotonous) vs gay (happy, live life to the full!) are rife with the implication. Tabloids breathlessly speculate about this or that star. Are they attracted to .....yawn, how boring....the opposite sex, OR are they enamored with.....cross your fingers, oh please, please, please....the SAME sex! Yes!! That's what I'm talkin about!!!

It's unbelievable!! How can this be the rage? How can it be mainstream? Yes, as a small fringe...that has always been, but how can it seriously rival "natural" sex attraction? Can they all really have been born that way?

Are any of them born that way? Freud used to say that sexuality was determined at a very early age based on interaction of the parents. He's shouted down today on that point, but is there reason to shout him down? Or is his theory, which implies abnormality, just not what people want to hear today?

Or are there yet other factors at work?

Otto Preminger pioneered in introducing taboo subjects to film: homosexuality in Advise and Consent, rape in Anatomy of a Murder, drug addiction in The Man With the Golden Arm. You can count upon films making abundant use of these juicy themes today, but in Preminger's time they were unheard of. Yet, from Advise and Consent (1962) on, every film treatment of homosexuality was more favorable than the one before. Today, there's no film stigma whatsoever about gays, as there was then. Quite the opposite. The gay character is cool, intriguing, hip, contrasting well with other dullards on the show.

I don't pretend to know how to weigh these 3 factors - genetics, Freud, media - or if there are yet other ones. The endorsement of the psychiatric profession, for example. Excess hormones, for another, readily found in modern food and water supplies. Not that this would cause homosexuality, I don't imagine. But it may push sexuality to be much more fluid, more susceptible to other influences. Pure guesswork on my part. I don't really know. But I'll tell you one thing. Never would my generation have anticipated that sexual identity would be so pliable as it has proved to be. That the Bible forecasts this, against all then-common wisdom, is a major point in its favor.



[EDIT    Feb 21, 2010] The newly emerging field of epigenetics also suggests some possibilities.


Tom Irregardless and Me                 No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’