Divine Code

Carl Sagan was a smart guy.

It was Carl Sagan that first got me interested in any kind of science.  Not, mind you, interested enough to actually study any of the hard sciences (I wound up in Speech Communication), but interested enough to appreciate science and what it has brought us.  More importantly, he taught me to question things, rather than relying on blind faith that it works that way because that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

That, by the way, is what’s known in logic circles as tautology.

Anyway, back in the day, Sagan wrote a rare piece of fiction called “Contact.”  You may or may not have heard of it, may or may not have seen the movie.  Both the book and the movie were relatively harsh on religious extremism.  Interestingly enough, though, I would argue that both the book and the movie had a serious religious bent in and of themselves.  There are concepts of taking things on faith and messages hidden deep in pi.

At some point, fairly late in the book, someone is calculating pi to about gajillion decimal places and comes across an interesting anomaly: the normally random patterns of this famously irrational number drop zeros and ones for a while and go back to random digits.  The zeros and ones are binary code and, when plotted out, draw a circle.

It’s posited that the circle is a message.  From whom is never really addressed, but it’s assumed the message is from some sort of creator.

That got me thinking, slowly pinging away at a problem over the decades since I read “Contact.”  All major religions have a book that contains all their important information about how to be a member of that religion, what it means to be a member of that religion, and what you’re supposed to do to people who aren’t a member of that religion. That text becomes the focal point for the religion and also serves dual purpose of ending all arguments (it’s not in the book, it doesn’t exist) and beating people about the head and shoulders.  NOTE: Not all religious folk do this, but it does happen.

Ultimately religious texts are unassailable from an argumentative position.  In order to be a member of a religion, you usually have to believe that the text that defines the religion was divinely inspired or divinely created.  Therefore, no external argumentation can occur.  The book was written by God, end of story, end of debate.

This is why arguing about religion is ultimately a huge waste of everyone’s time and both sides’ time would be better served shouting Mad Magazine quotes at each other.  Either you believe the text was divinely inspired or you don’t.

Now, all religious texts are open to some form of analysis and interpretation by believers.  This is why there are multiple sects of all large religions.  At some point in each religion’s life cycle, someone will start to question something and a whole new sect of the religion will ultimately spin up, divided between the supporters of something old and the supporters of something new.  Each portion will then usually continue to grow.

It’s actually kind of like an amoeba that way.

So, anyway, after I read “Contact,” I started to wonder if there actually is a message buried in there somewhere.  In some ways it makes sense.  Why would a creator leave his or her mark in the form something as open to interpretation as a book?

I suspect, if you dig deep enough into the natural world, you’ll ultimately find the code that runs the universe.  While the heady thrill of scientific triumph will be nearly overwhelming, the code itself will probably be pretty simple.  I suspect we’ll find definitions of how things can interact with what other things to create ever more complex things.  This is your low-level code, kind of like what runs on your BIOS.  Things like the code that define a tree or a dog or you, will be high-level code.  Low-level code usually stands on its own and only needs hardware to run on.  High-level code depends on low-level code and runs on hardware but is more mutable.  This could explain why there’s so much diversity out there, but only to a certain degree.  The rules in the code will define what works and what doesn’t work and that’s why we don’t see 100′ long ants taking over.  The low-level code defines basic functions like how the universe is glued together.  Higher level code defines how elements form, chemicals react and so on.

I guess this would make children a perfect example of instantiated objects based on polymorphic code.

Since Carl Sagan was such a bright guy, I have to wonder if he didn’t come across this same idea, but decided to simplify it for easier ingestion.

Now all we need is a universe decompiler and a lot of free time to see if anyone left comments in the code.

There’s good martial arts and there’s bad martial arts

Spend any amount of time in the martial arts world and you’ll quickly figure out a couple of interesting things:

  • There’s a huge amount of ego
  • There’s a huge amount of misinformation

Not much you can do about either of these things.  For all the lip service given to being patient and gentle and generally not being a dick, there are a bunch of people who are impatient, rough, and dicks.  I’ve never met the man, but I’ve heard stories that Steven Seagal could be a real dick on the set of his movies.  I like to think they’re just stories because I actually dig his Aikido, but you can never tell.  Every system I’ve ever studied has had at least one jerk who thought they were God’s gift to the martial arts.  Some had more.

There’s something about fighting that brings out the worst in people sometimes.  If you’re studying an art and think you’re surrounded by jerks you might want to find another place to study.  If there’s only a couple, just do what I do: smile, nod, and basically ignore them.

Which brings us to the second problem.  Misinformation about the efficacy of any given system is fairly natural.  You have to realize that most people who are teaching martial arts have never really had to use them.  They’re only repeating stories they’ve heard in the past about such and such master who could smash walls with his fists.  Any thorough student will sift through the material and decide what they think will work and what they don’t think will work.  It doesn’t mean the style is worthless, unless there’s nothing that looks usable, it just means there are things that will work better than others.  There are techniques in Kenpo I would never try because it seems like they just won’t do what they should do.  The rest of the system is fine, but there’s always a few thing that you look at and think, “Man, that’s just dumb.”

Hopefully your school encourages hands-on practice with the techniques because that’s really the best way to figure out if you’ve got something viable.

Then there are things like this:



If your school is teaching this, turn around and walk out.

No one in their right mind would think Monkey Steals The Peach could be anything but a joke.  As an aside on this, the author has completely misunderstood Iron Hand training, which is actually a real thing.  Apparently my school used to do a variation on Iron Hand back in the 80s and 90s, but quit for some reason or another.  Probably because of how it can malform hands.

I know, I know.  You’re not supposed to be able to learn martial arts from a book, so there’s one strike against Monkey Steals The Peach right there.  I do, however, believe you can learn some aspects of a martial art from a book, but only if you’re already fairly adept at a different one, and whatever you learn will be tainted by what you already know.  I’ve read up on Krav Maga, but I always approach it from a Kenpo perspective.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just something to be aware of.


This weekend was one of AKKA’s bi-annual black belt tests.  We 41 people testing for everything from Junior 1st Black all the way through 5th Black.  A couple of my former (and sometimes current) instructors were the 5th degree guys.

My son was a support person for a guy from our school who was testing for his Junior 1st Black.  I was there to keep an eye on my son and generally help out.

So, a quick congrats to everyone who tested, you all did a great job!  BTW, Invincible was the theme this year.


The Lion Dance from the opening ceremonies.


Father’s Day

My dad in early June of 2001.

He was riding his bike home and went straight through a turn-only light and got clobbered.  By bike, I mean Harley and by clobbered, I mean flung 60 feet or so into a concrete embankment.  The young woman driving the car that hit him was terrified and crushed.  If she ever stumbles across this (which I doubt) I hope she knows I bear her no ill will.  The accident was not her fault, it was just one of those random events that shakes up the worlds of the people who experience it.

Still, I prefer to not dwell on his death save to say I believe each of us has a heaven.  My dad’s heaven probably consists of loud motorcycles, guns, and young women who are smart (but not quite as smart as him) and are into skimpy clothes.

I prefer to remember my dad’s life.  He was every inch the caricature of masculinity: divorced multiple times,loved guns, rode Harleys, used to race motorcross.  He was a giant in many ways and I loved him very much.  So, with that in mind, I’d like to share a few tidbits and stories.

Once, when I was visiting him in Arizona we were eating a some fast-food restaurant when a young woman from college came in.  My dad took one look at her and told me I should ask her out.  I tried to explain to him that I lived and went to school in New Mexico and this was Arizona.

His response?

“You’re thinking buy.  You need to think rent.”

His first piece of advice when I got my first car?  Bear in mind now, this was a beat-up ’65 Volkswagen Beetle with no headliner, no carpeting, and torn up seats.  The back seat was about a foot wide and made out of some kind of vinyl that had seen better days.  So, anyway, my dad’s first piece of advice?

“Don’t get anyone pregnant in the back seat.”

He also patiently told me that I should never kill anyone, but if worse came to worse and I had to, to use a bow and arrow because guns already had too bad a rap.

From the outside, he seemed a larger than life character, brash and boisterous, and full of ill-conceived advice about women, politics, and guns.  Tear away that facade, though, and he was different.  I remember going to Arizona for a speech and debate tournament once and he came down to see me.  Somehow or another, the guys I was sharing a room with managed to take off with both keys so my dad and I sat in the Motel 6 parking lot talking.  It was at that time that I actually got to know him.  I found out a little more about why he and my mom got a divorce and what he was really like when you stripped away the veneer.

He wasn’t actually a bad guy, he just really liked for people to think that he was.

His final piece of advice to me on women.  “Treat them right because, you know, they really deserve it.”

So, those are the moments I choose to remember.  He was a good guy and I really miss him sometimes.

This weekend, my son and I were at the AKKA Black Belt weekend.  My son was officially acting as support for one of the other kids in the school that was testing for his junior black belt.  I was kind of along for the ride and wound up remembering why I took the art up in the first place.  It was the kind of father/son bonding that I hope feeds into his memories, so some day he can tell his son or daughter the story of the time he punched me in the jaw and kicked me in the nuts.  I was assisting with a blocking lesson and my son was one of my students.  My blocking was slow and he got a little exuberant.  I hope he remembers times like that and how I looked him square in the eye and said, “I’m totally gonna tell mom.”

So, happy Father’s Day to y’all.  I hope you have some good memories or, better yet, a dad you can talk to without using a Ouija board.