Category Archives: Ze Rest of Ze Ztuffm

God and Public-Private Key Cryptography

Let me begin my essay by saying that I am a Christian, and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at that. My religious views are obviously shaped by my religion, but perhaps what I have to say will be of value to other Christians and possibly even to people of other faiths. My core message is that there is a God, He does speak to us, and there are ways in which we can grow in our understanding.

God does not lay all his secrets out, for all to behold at whim and at will. But He does make available methods by which his secrets can be revealed and, more importantly, understood. These methods are available to all, but employing them requires no small amount of effort.

What I am proposing is not Gnosticism, that these secrets are necessary knowledge in order to gain a happier state after death. Rather, salvation is something that can happen independently of deeper understanding and that the deeper understanding is there for those who seek and desire it. Prefer a simpler life? Not a problem with God. But I do propose that even those who think they are living simply may, by virtue of the way in which they live, still receive revelation, understanding, and wisdom because the way in which they live allows them to decrypt messages from God.

The word “decrypt” leads me to my analogy. I hold the view that God speaks to man constantly, but that man does not always receive those messages. What is not received cannot be understood. Therefore, we must be in a state in which we are able to receive a message from God. That means, we take it in and process it, not just toss it out with the junk impressions we ignore constantly throughout the day. How do we attain such a state? It is different for each person, but generally requires a mind ready to be taught any lesson. Whatever else we do to help sensitize ourselves to promptings from the Divine – abstinence, study, repentance – can add to that preparation.

Perhaps the first few messages from God are simple ones – He is there, He loves us, He has something for us to learn that requires we be away from His presence. These can arrive to us in many ways, but when we are ready to hear these messages, we accept them and we seek verification. I believe that God can send that verification, and it is much in the same sort of way that, when we go to a secure website, we validate the certificate presented by that website. The browser receives the certificate and then checks with the certificate authority that issued it and verifies that the certificate is both valid and unexpired. Once those checks have been done, the browser shows the green lock, etc., and allows us in to the secure website. For the sake of the analogy, the cert is truly valid and the browser is not compromised and other “happy path” conditions are satisfied.

Should there be a problem with the cert, the browser displays a warning and either forbids us to go further or only allows us if we are truly determined and know where to click. So it is in our minds. We can hear messages that seem to have a divine origin, but they simply don’t ring true. There is no edification, no clarity, no resonance in them. The same can happen for actual divine messages when we are not prepared to receive them, but that has more to do with our inability to receive the full message. Without a full message, a partial certificate will fail in its validation check.

But, here, we have a message from God and it leads us to feel at peace. We see things, and they make sense. We feel as though something good is coming of this. I believe that the Holy Spirit will also provide a warm feeling, a sensation within the body that arouses it to an emotional response not unlike love. Your faith may have other words or ways to explain this, but nearly all faiths speak of enlightenments, ecstasies, and epiphanies. This is that such thing.

But this is also only the introductory message, one that can be given freely to all who are ready to receive it. What, then, of deeper understandings?

For more secure transactions, for more engaged communications, we need public-private key cryptography. In this, there is a private key that everyone, even God, has. This private key is used for our own encryption. If we say something that we want someone else to understand and perhaps no one else, we use our private key to encrypt the message.

The problem is that no one will be able to decrypt that message without our private key. This is where the public keys enter into the picture. If you give me your public key and I give you mine, we can use the other person’s public keys as we encrypt our messages in such a way that our own private keys are able to decrypt the messages we receive from the trusted person we have exchanged public keys with.

In computing, those public keys must be validated and communications have to be set up in order to have a trust established that allows the exchange of those keys. This is done with packets and such, and I will pass over the technical details. Readers are invited to read more about how public-private key encryption works, if they are curious about the matter.

In life, our exchange of public keys with God is made through covenants. A covenant is a two-way promise in which each party provides something and receives something. We enter into covenants solemnly and, in that solemn moment, God provides us with what we need to begin to understand Him. In my belief, the first covenant is baptism. In other beliefs, it may be a profession of faith or an act of worshipful devotion, but the promise to serve God is made and, in return, God promises to serve us. This is our key exchange.

At this point, we are able to not just get messages from God, but unscramble them. We are able to take what we receive and find deeper meaning in it. We are able to take the deeper meanings and derive wisdom from them. That wisdom, in turn, helps us to live lives of peace and love, even if there is pain and strife around us.

In proper cryptography, keys are renewed from time to time. So it is with God. We must be about the business of renewing our covenants if we wish to continue to receive wisdom from Him. Failing to renew our faith means the messages we do get are not able to uplift us any more because we cannot decrypt them. If we continue in not renewing our faith, we eventually no longer receive those messages as we once did and we may even think that all that communication was imaginary.

But if we do renew our faith, if we do renew our covenants with God, if we strive to keep ourselves clean, if we treat others with respect and care, if we give help to those in need of it, we renew those keys to understanding and we find treasures of yet deeper wisdom.

I would say that a similar thing happens with close friends and people that we love. Our covenants with them lead us to deeper, more meaningful bonds that can serve as an example of the relationship we should have with God. The same love that I have for my wife and the whole of my family teaches me the way in which I must also love my God, for God is love. It is through love that we prepare ourselves to receive Him and His messages and it is through love that we renew our covenants, that we might continue to receive Him and His messages.

Without love, there is no understanding. Without love, we may as well study random letters instead of scriptures. Without love, we may as well listen to static instead of a message of peace. With love, things become much more clear. Though the lives we live may be trimmed in sadness and hardship, love is able to allow us to see that mortality is only a part of our eternal existence, and that with love we are capable of so much more with that eternal existence. Love, renewed love, is the true key to understanding God. Share the keys of love with others, that they might also come to understand God.

Ranking Seinfeld

Before going to sleep, I like to watch an episode or two of Seinfeld to unwind. I like that series in general because there’s very little in it that gets me in trouble. Shows about married guys making mistakes can be way too stressful, as my wife may transfer the mistake on teevee to me. Not good. No, the guys in Seinfeld are different enough from me that I can count on them to do stuff I’d never do. Hence, it’s great to unwind to.

It’s also one of the best comedy series ever done. Nine seasons of classic comedy. Well, more or less…

See, that’s why I’m ranking them. I have seen other people’s lists and they don’t ring true. They pick episodes because of a cultural impact or because they remember some aspect vividly. I don’t see any criteria used for judging. Without criteria, any system of ranking is flawed. My system is based upon awarding up to 30 points per episode. Here’s how it breaks down:

MAJOR CHARACTERS: Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine can each score up to 3 points per episode, one point per third of the episode as a general rule. Truly exceptional blow-ups, outbursts, etc. can warrant a 4th point – so far, I’ve only awarded that 4th major character point in two episodes, one for Kramer dumping cement into a washing machine (exceptional physical comedy) and one for Elaine’s attempted eviction of a do-nothing boyfriend, culminating in her celebrated “Van Wyck” monologue. That’s it. Everything else can top out at three. To earn a point, the major character basically has to have a decent chunk of lines. If all the character does is play straight man, no point for that third.

In the first season, there are episodes in which a major character appears and has nothing but dud lines. That’s the low end of the scale, for sure.

OTHER CHARACTERS: When other characters make life difficult for Jerry and the gang, the show powers ahead with comedy gold. When the other characters just go on dates with Jerry and the gang, the show tanks. This isn’t a relationship comedy. It may be a show about nothing, but we need to see how even crazy, colorful, larger-than-life characters can get sucked into the nothingness. When the others show up and crack wise, the show is richer for it. Up to five points per episode can go towards what other characters do.

DIALOGUE: When we get those extra zingers, the episode scores dialogue points. This is more than just a great scene: this is a great line, that we want to repeat over and over in order to relish. Up to five points per episode go towards the “No soup for you!”-type lines.

SITUATIONS: For a show about nothing, we still need great situations for the characters to not learn from or to grow personally from. These are the situations that become cautionary fables, the plots to collect cans in New York and drive them to Michigan, the plan to buy back the Cadillac from Jack Klompus, the need to bring Mr. Steinbrenner a calzone. Each major character can score a point for a great situation that they fall into: if all the situations tie into each other, or one goes over the top, situation point number 5 can be scored.

PERVERSE ENDING: Season one tied things up by the end of the show and we were left with nothing to talk about during the closing credits. Later seasons realized the potential for having fate deal one last blow to the characters. They would not learn a moral lesson from these things, but they would potentially sharpen their animal instincts in knowing what to avoid in the future. Up to three points can go towards George showing up in the coffee shop wearing a sheet, Susan licking the envelopes, or an Ohio farmgirl pledging her love to Norman…

ENOUGH ALREADY: Penalty points, no limit on them. When I’m watching an episode and going, “Enough already with this” over a scene or a bit, I take a point off. Season one is loaded with these moments of pain as we endure Jerry or George having a normal date with a normal person that’s just going bad by a little bit. We need things going off the rails. We need explosions on the launch pad. We need avalanches and landslides, not rainy weekends in Vermont.

That’s my rubric. It is somewhat subjective, true. However, it allows me to justify my rankings for the shows and to let me see what’s needed to make a show truly epic instead of just good. I’ll write more about my rankings in the coming days, since I’ve got this spreadsheet of numbers and totals and I might as well get into the science of comedy with this data I’m collecting.

New Web Host

Just moved to a new web host after many great years with my friend, Dave Rolling at Infovue. The seasons change, and he is discontinuing his services. It’s sad that I won’t be getting tech support from a good friend, but life – and the Internet – goes on. Best of luck to Dave and his work, and I know I’ll always fondly remember my 17+ years with his hosting.My new host is bluehost and i got a nice deal from them trough a BlueHost Black Friday Deal.

Are We the Bad Guys?

This is always a good question to ask. There’s a very wry bit by the British comedy duo Mitchell and Webb (no close relation, I think) in which they portray German SS officers on the Russian Front. One asks, “Are we the baddies?” and then notes how they have skulls on their uniforms, and how that’s never a good sign.

I’m currently touring Civil Rights sites in the USA, and although not all the horrors visited upon those who fought for their rights were done by men with skulls on their uniforms, there were clear signs of “bad guy” behaviors that should have been reviewed and then abandoned by those who did not want to be actual bad guys. Keep in mind that merely fighting other bad guys alone is not sufficient evidence of being a good guy. There are lots of times that bad guys fight other bad guys.

So, here’s a checklist of things that bad guys do. If you are doing them, please stop. If people on your political side are doing them, please get them to stop or, failing that, disavow their extremism vocally and oppose it at every turn, so as not to have your own political position undermined by its association with bad guys. Now, the list:

1. INTIMIDATION… this is a big one. When, in response to a reasoned argument or appeal to mercy, one chooses instead to emphasize one’s power of one form or another, that is intimidation. Bad guys are always doing this thing, and it underlines the lack of justification for a particular position.

2. VIOLENCE… this one is frequently employed when the intimidation fails. If one has to initiate aggression in order to maintain one’s views and preferences, one likely has views and preferences that are wrong. At any rate, concessions won through violence are either tainted, temporary, or both. Winning through violence does not imply that one is right: it merely indicates one is perhaps better-armed and/or more desperate and inhuman in the application of that violence.

3. MISREPRESENTATION… this is insidious, as one appears to be offering one thing, but instead proffers another and then uses that confusion to entrap another person. If this happens accidentally, good people resolve the confusion and apologize sincerely without using the language of the contract or agreement to extract unwilling concessions from the other party. Bad guys do this stuff intentionally most of the time and, should they find a bonus area for entrapment, seize upon that, as well.

Individuals are, of course, capable of much more bad stuff. These three things, however, exemplify what groups of bad guys will do in order to further their agenda and increase their power over others. Take a possible scenario with individuals out of the picture and consider instead a group conflict. Good guys can disagree on a political point of view: they do so without resorting to intimidation, violence, or misrepresentation. An opponent is not necessarily a bad guy.

However, as I noted earlier, if one’s side is doing any of the above things, one may be on the same side as the bad guys. If this is not desirable, consider either a gradual or abrupt shift away from supporting that side. In a recent example, both Trump supporters that initiate violence with protesters and protesters that initiate violence with Trump supporters are bad guys. Protesters and Trump supporters can both be good guys, provided they abstain from intimidation, violence, and misrepresentation.

Why does this make a difference? Well, I hold the view that a person’s actions determine a path that person will follow beyond this mortal existence. There is a value to being a “good guy”, no matter what suffering one endures in this life. For those who built up their power through intimidation, violence, and/or misrepresentation, shame, regret, and sorrow await them in the eternity to come. In that sense, there is great value, nobility, and dignity in heeding the words of those who said that mercifulness, nonviolence, and honesty were principles by which to live one’s life.

So, take some time and ask the question, “Are we the bad guys?” If not, hooray, you’re on the path towards light, love, and joy. If you are, then you have a crisis of the soul ahead of you, either now, later in your life, or when you’re dead and can’t do much about it.

Choose this day whom you will serve.

Happy New Thingy

The completion of the annual revolution of the earth is marked with celebration and reflection. Our limited mortality prevents us from doing the same when our sun completes a trip around the galactic core or when our galaxy finishes its path around the central attractor of the local cluster… to say nothing of when the local cluster or its containing supercluster complete their cycles. And yet, nature has the biggest bash of all: after the heat death of the universe, quantum tunneling can lead to a release of baryonic matter and energy, in a new big bang event, starting another cycle on its way. Happy New Year, in perspective.