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16 June 2012

The Amazing Alan Turing

When I first heard that 2012 marks 100 years since the birth of Alan Turing and that Manchester, my home since 2010, would be host to many of the events to mark his centenary, I pulled out my old drafts of The Turing Horse and thought it would be an appropriate and serendipitous time to bring new life to the story.  How the hypermedia story finally got that new life is told in the TweetFiction Experience, but what's really struck me now are the insights from the first of the public lectures I was able to attend for the Alan Turing 100.  I barely made it to Andrew Hodges lecture on Alan Turing's life and was dumbfounded to learn just how absolutely amazing Alan Turing was and that much of his work was done here in Manchester.

Andrew Hodges showed us how Alan Turing was not your run of the mill mathematician, interested only in abstract theories, he had a passion for applying the theories to the real world and lived the bridging of the gap between theory and application.  He not only conceived how a method (rule, algorithm, or procedure) could be represented with numbers and thus mathematically, he applied the representation to the concept of a machine capable of processing such rules and instructions (read programs), to process the numerically encoded instructions and solve any number of problems. He then extrapolated on the possibility of a machine intelligence and devised the Turing Test, a concept for testing for the presence of artificial intelligence.  While the first computers and their programs were machines with the encoding of the instructions physically built as part of the contraption, he conceived of The Universal Machine which separated the processing or computing from the instructions or programming, thus you did not need to build a new machine for each new problem.

I cannot wait to incorporate the insights gained from this lecture into The Turing Horse; it raised so many questions!  How would the foundations leading to computing and Machine Intelligence have evolved on the other worlds they encountered?  Can I extrapolate a plausible set of AI Epiphanies from the other worlds?  What would the impacts of their findings be on the AI Facade?  Would they have their own theories on how machine intelligence evolves and would that change their approach to preserving biological intelligence?

I'm hoping to learn more at the other events in Manchester marking 100 years since the birth of the amazing Alan Turing; stay tuned!!!

21 April 2012

TweetFiction Experience

One of my dreams, since I was in 5th grade, has been to write science fiction and I have dabbled here and there over the years with my most creative spurt in the mid 1990's at UNC Greensboro where I took two Fiction Writing courses and a course in Science Fiction as well as learning about hyperfiction at the ACM European Conference on Hypermedia Technology in Edinburgh.  My friend Joe has been encouraging me to pick up my writing over the years through the odd email, comment or media reference.  One of the more creative attempts was his response to a discussion group in which someone was looking for stories in which the Artificial Intelligence had a little more depth of character than is traditional. He cited The Turing Horse, story I had written while a student at UNCG, as a reference even though it had not been published!

At the beginning of this year, I resolved to pick up my writing again, in part inspired by the success of one of my dear friends who is working on a sequel to her wonderful book Myrtle Takes Tea.  Stacey, and her husband, Nick, shared with me their experiences in writing and integration of social media forms such as Twitter and Facebook.  The discussion brought back to mind The Turing Horse. I had been struggling with this one; it had originally been written as an email epistolary (a story told in letters), but the ending never quite worked.   All this discussion about twitter, blogging and social media got me thinking, "perhaps the next incarnation of The Turing Horse could be in the blogosphere, as a form of hypermedia fiction!"

On my way back to Manchester from their home in London, I sent out a lone tweet that would change everything: Is anyone using twitter as a medium for short fiction? #shortshortstory   I didn't get much response back and pretty much left it there, but about a month later one of my writer friends from UNCG days, Chris C., had received the tweet and asked me if I was going to be entering the TweetFiction Twitter stream contest.  Contest, what contest?

The BSFA Tweet Fiction Twitterstream short short fiction contest
The British Science Fiction Association was founded "to encourage science fiction in every form" and during Olympus Eastercon 2012 they challenged writers to tweet good short science fiction or fantasy in 134 characters or less through their TweetFiction Twitterstream #TBSFA contest.  I took up to the challenge on two fronts!

The first front was to tell The Turing Horse as a series of stand alone tweets, but I didn't want to just leave it there.  2012 is the centennial celebration of 100 years since the birth of Alan Turing, whose Turing Test concept had been inspiration for the original short story.  I could not pass up this opportunity to launch The Turing Horse as a hypermedia fiction blog, tying in real world stories and events into the work of fiction, and I really enjoyed setting it up!!!!

The second happened in the course of writing and reading the fiction of the TBSFA TweetFiction contest; I had more stories to tell! I began converting other short stories or story concepts from over the years into TweetFiction shorts.  Here they are:


TweetFictionBackground
Know how fast you're going? Speedometer. Check. Know where you are? GPS. Check. So, when do you want to go to in #Schrodinger's car? #TBSFA Schrodinger's Car - draft short story
The 5th Atheist Crusade killed 99% of true believers, a few prayed giving thanks 4 all. One final Crusade & the sun never rose again. #TBSFA The Last Sunset - draft short story 
The first signs of the deadly black hole cluster devouring galaxies came from afar, as the stars in the sky shifted from red to blue. #TBSFA Brand new
Werewolf grooms for her / She plans . . . he'll join her tonight! / Surprise! Vampire pups. #TBSFA #haiku Nuzzles and Bites, No Howling - short story combined with my friend's sequel The Dog Catcher   retold as tweet and haiku
Travel to the alternate universe was impossible, but data was easy & once the alternet was setup the movie downloads were to die for. #TBSFA Story Concept inspired by desire to view episodes for TV shows cancelled or great films that were ruined (e.g., Firefly, the fifth season of Babylon 5 that would have been produced if JMS's notes on 5th season hadn't been lost at hotel during convention, Alien Ressurrection with the ending filmed as Joss Whedon' had intended, and many others)
Earl breathed, tucked his tail & sprinted, Tires screached & cheers chattered down from the trees and telephone wires. #RiteOfPassage #TBSFA Squirrel Rite of Passage Story Concept
Timemachine connects to iPad, launches chron app, quick check of 2morrow's stocks & he's rich! iOS 9 installs...update failed. Retry? #TBSFA Chrond Geek Fiction Short Story Concept inspired by the notion of alternative uses of the crond unix process
The dark elf pulled the jack of the smart gun from his temple No way! he yelled at the producer That dragon's real, princess can burn #TBSFA Merging two role playing games in consecutive years of StellarCon: Drow Quest, an AD&D game in which dark elves are on a quest to save the evil princess from the good dragon, and Drow Quest II: Sweet Home, Seattle a Shadowrun game in which the dark elves from the original Drow Quest are transported to a cyberpunk world in which magic and technology coexist, provided new technology and are sent on missions as part of a reality TV show: "ratings are high"


A culmination of encounters and events inspired me to pick up my dream to write science fiction again; You have to pay attention to see how God works in our lives; sometimes, on reflection, you can see His fingerprints in serendipitous events that only become apparent on later reflection and I think that is why we are called to meditate on these things.  I'm grateful to my friends and family for continuing to encourage me.  I hope it makes for some fun reading along the way.

Next, I need to figure out how I can get some of those short stories published as eBooks . . . .



Update 07 May 2012:   
Chris. has won two tickets to Beyond the Border - Wales International Storytelling Festival for his entry in their Twitter contest:  "Eyesight. Wits. Tongue. Sword. All should be sharp." Way to go Chris!!!!  

BSFA has advised they will be announcing the winners of their TweetFiction contest on 9th of June 2012 at something called the AGM.
 

06 April 2012

The Passover Season

When I look out my window, I see the dead and dark tree limbs returning to life with budding green leaves as we shift from the death and despair of winter to the hope and new life of spring. It is a seasonal shift, reflected in the season of Passover and Easter.

In The Selfless Way of Christ, Henri Nouwen describes how tied our lives are to the Christ-event,
What is truly taking place in our lives is not determined by random ups and downs of our personal and communal lives, but rather by the events of Christ's life being realized among us in and through the church.
It is Advent, Christ is coming;
it is Christmas, Christ is being born;
it is Lent, Christ is suffering;
it is Holy Week, Christ is dying;
it is Easter, Christ is risen;
it is Pentecost, Christ is sending his Spirit.
That is what is truly happening! All other events -- personal, social, or political -- derive their meaning from the Christ-event.
Nowhere in the Coptic Orthodox tradition is this experienced more fully than during Holy Week (Holy Pascha) following the Great Lent which ends today.  We follow the events that happened during this week in real time:
On Palm Sunday, we follow the Lord Christ on His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We then follow the Lord Christ on His way to the Cross through the Passover or Holy Pascha, the Passover that the children of Israel were commnded to keep in remembrance of the Lord passing them over in the last plague against the Egyptians . . . passing them over because of the lamb's blood on their doors. It is the Passover that foretells of the sacrifice of the Lord Christ on the Cross, that we may be passed over in the final judgement. 
The Holy Pascha readings follow the older reckoning of days. On what we would normally term as Sunday evening, we find the beginning of Monday with Monday Evening. Mornings and evenings throughout Holy Week are steaped in prayer and worship. The path of Christ to the Cross is experienced through prophetic readings from the Old Testament, interpretations and meditations from the early Christian fathers, and readings from the New Testament in which the prophecies are fulfilled. 
On Holy Thursday we learn of the betrayal kiss of Judas, who was one of the disciples, performed miracles, and, yet, he fell, setting the Lord on the path to the Cross. Oh Lord, that You would give us the strength to be firm in our faith and not betray You! Thursday is also the day in which the Lord washes the feet of the Apostles, teaching them that true leadership is to serve with a heart of humility. Holy Thursday is sometimes referred to as Covenant Thursday, as it is when the Lord declared the new covenant with the Last Supper, the Passover meal that declares the new Passover.
On Good Friday, we follow the Lord as he is tortured and crucified, those same voices who heralded His entry into Jerusalem, now condemn Him to death. The services end as Joseph of Arimathea takes Christ's body down from the Cross to bind in linens and spices and place in Joseph's tomb (see John 19:38-41). 
On Bright Saturday, we sit outside Christ's tomb from midnight to early Saturday morning readings from prophecies, the New Testament and all of the Book of Revelations, culminating in an early morning Liturgy. 
Then later on Saturday, Sunday evening by the old reckoning, a lovely Liturgical service from 7pm to midnight during the peak of which the lights are dimmed and with a loud noise, the seal of the Tomb is broken and Christ is Risen!!! , Death is defeated and the Feast of the Ressurrection on Easter Sunday is celebrated!!!
If you want to learn more about how the Coptic Church celebrates Easter,  Premier Christian Media has produced a wonderful presentation called A Very Coptic Easter or follow the Coptic experience as they trend #CopticPascha on Twitter.

For my Western Christian friends, I mourn the passing of Christ with you this Good Friday, for my Jewish friends, I wish you a blessed Passover, for my Orthodox friends, well you know, Thok, te ti gom . . .

References:
  1. The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life by Henri Nouwen (UK)
  2. Holy Pascha Readings on Amazon (US, UK) - also available on Kindle in both countries!!
  3. A Guide to Holy Pascha

03 January 2012

The Jesus Prayer or The Prayer of the Heart



Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thess 5:16-18

What does it mean to pray without ceasing?  Well, obviously, it means praying all of the time,
  • Not just at church
  • Not just after we wake up or before we go to bed
  • Not just before a meal
  • Not just when we need help
  • Not just when something terrible happens
It means, praying when you are playing, when you are eating, studying, laughing, crying, talking, reading, writing, bathing, sleeping,  How can we pray all the time?

The Jesus Prayer, also called the Arrow Prayer or the Prayer of the Heart, is an answer to this question.

Let's look at some sample prayers in the Holy Bible
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Luke 8:10-14

The tax collector prayed in humility with a spirit of repentance, the Pharisee, who had the outward appearance of a man of prayer, prayed out of pride, but not from his heart.
Then it happened, as He was coming near Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the road begging. 36 And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant. So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he cried out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he had come near, He asked him, saying, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
He said, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.”Then Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.
Luke 18:35-43 (and Mark 10:46-5)

What a powerful prayer!  This humble prayer stopped Jesus in his tracks and his prayer was answered.
From these two, we have the Jesus Prayer in its most common form:

Lord, Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

A shorter form is one we hear throughout the Divine Liturgy, especially when we are called to pray . .  . . . 

Lord Have Mercy (Kýrie, eléison,)

How does the Jesus Prayer help us to pray without ceasing? Are you familiar with The Tetris Effect?  Tetris is a very addictive game in which you repeatedly focus on aligning shapes that are falling with matching forms.  After playing for a long time, you begin to see Tetris everywhere.  I've had a similar experience when playing chess over and over again for an extended period of time to the extent that, when placing my coffee cup on a table, I placed it just so in order to arrive at checkmate!  Through repetition, the Jesus Prayer will enter your heart and you will begin to see the Lord everywhere.

There are three stages of repetition:

  1. Prayer of the Lips (body) - say the words
  2. Focused Prayer (mind) - the meaning
  3. Prayer of the Heart  - not something we do, but something we are

Repeating the prayer brings us closer to God and to repentance and to shift away from sin. When it rests in our heart, we even pray while we are sleeping . . .
I sleep, but my heart is awake;
Song of Solomon 5:2
Try it, repeat the Jesus Prayer over and over and over again, following the rhythm of another activity that we do without ceasing:
(breathe in) Lord, Jesus Christ, son of God, 
(breathe out) have mercy on me, a sinner.
Just try it, and see if it doesn't make a difference in your life!

24 December 2011

What Christmas is All About

We can be inspired by the example and courage of this young boy reminding the viewers what Christmas is all about, directly from the Holy Gospel! OK, so it is a cartoon, then we can be inspired by Charles Schulz' courage in the presentation, many artists these days could learn from his example!  

always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you
- 1 Peter 3:15 NKJV
Stand up and listen to the Holy Gospel, a reading from the Holy Gospel according to our teacher Saint Luke (as read by Linus) . . .


Luke 2:8-14 (KJV)


From  Charlie Brown Christmas

28 June 2010

An Insight on Nationalism in the Church

As an American/Egyptian convert to the Coptic Orthodox Church, I am constantly seeking insight into the balance between living as a Christian in balance with national identity. This is a balance, that I find in my personal experience, is often a challenge in Orthodox Christian communities. In attending St. Barbara's Church in Chester, I was encouraged by the insights from Saint Paul found in the below sermon on the Epistle Reading (Romans 10:1-10) for the day, in which Saint Paul balances his love for his own Jewish heritage with his love for the Roman gentiles in the context of the Gospel.

Sermon on the Epistle Reading
From today's apostolic reading we learn, on the one hand, about St. Paul's love for his own Jewish people and followers of the old Law; and on the other, we hear explicitly that our salvation comes not through the Law but from Christ, whose followers we are in our capacity as Christians. There are two sets of distinct moral teachings resulting from today's first reading:

  1. As Christians and therefore as followers of Christ, we need to respect and love the nation through which we came into the world with a true and healthy sense of patriotism which must never degenerate into a nationalistic approach. St. Paul himself loved his own people and sho should we, each one of us, in our double capacity as children of the Church and also as children of our own nation. But as Christians we are obliged at the same time to love all people, because all people, irrespective of skin colour or language are our brothers and sisters in Christ, being made in the same image of God as we are ourselves. This is why St. Paul, while praying for his own Jewish people, nevertheless calls 'brothers' all Christian gentiles of Rome whom he wants to bring into the light and truth of God. The Apostle's example is therefore vividly clear: on the one hand love for his own people while on the other brotherhood to all peoples.


  2. Today's reading reminds us all that we all have, at our own disposal the means for personal salvation as well as for moral Christian conduct: the Church with its hierarchy, whereby we receive the necessary Divine and uncreated Grace of God, the Holy Scriptures, the Holy Tradition of the Church containing its own living memory of all that the Lord has done and said for our salvation, and the teachings of our Arch-Pastors who teach us the word of the Truth, i.e., Christ Crucified and Risen from the dead, Who lives and remains with us in the Holy Spirit to the end of the ages. Amen.


26 July 2008

Your Calling - A Gift for You and Others

I was struck by some of the dialogue in Krista Tippet's interview with the late Irish poet and philosopher John O'Donahue on Speaking of Faith - The Inner Lanscape of Beauty. Here are some notes I took while listening to the program.

We spend so much time at work, and the loneliest scenario is when you find someone who is in the wrong type of work and they do not have the courage to move on to work that is more in line with what is in their heart and demonstrates the strength and gifts within that person. In Greek, beauty is calling. Beauty is not a neutral thing, but something that is actually calling you. This calling is the heart of our creativity. A person following their calling is a gift to those around him. Such a person's work is an expression of their inner gift and provides an incredible service to us all.

The struggles that we have, the suffering, are things that we push against towards manifesting beauty in our lives. There is a tendency to think that growth should be delivered when it is actually struggled towards as we push against the negativity that surrounds us. The negativity is an impetus that spurs us onward. Following our calling can help us to transfigure what has hardened or been wounded within us.

Good wise leadership is leveraging this kind of imagination in the workplace, usually practical imagination, but the real fruit comes when you stand back and see that the spirit and soul dimmensions are not luxury items, but are the source for enabling everything to flow and unfold in a new way. The invisible world can be leveraged for spirit and guidance in areas of ourselves that have been forgotten.

Key Questions:

  • When is the last time you had a great conversation in which you overheard yourself things that you never knew you knew, or you received something that filled a space within you that was empty?
  • What are you reading? Why do we read books? That is where the wisdom is. Go back to the sources and trust your own encounter with them.