Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Blog Moving...

I think I've been trying to maintain too many things on this blog. It was originally meant to chronicle my journey with Christ--why be putting in technology, reviews and the like? It's almost as though the more I try to focus on Christ, the more other things are trying to grab my attention!

The Lord has really been speaking into my heart about this, and I think it best that I relocate my blog to another place. After some prayer, I've chosen Wordpress. Not sure why (considering I've never really been attracted to it), but I'll go with it. You can find the new blog (A Man Aflame!) here.

So Blogger, it's been great. You served me well, but it's time to move on. Later!

Yours in Christ,

Monday, 20 December 2010

On Being Trouble-Free...

Today's devotional over at BibleProphecyUpdate was titled Opposition. The focus was on the hardship that one may suffer in trying to do God's will. This really spoke to me, because it gave a timely reminder that, while God did not promise an easy life, He did promise the grace to get through it. When the disciples had been faced with persecution by the chief priests et al (as per Acts 4), they did not pray that their opponents or obstacles be removed. Instead they asked for boldness. At first, I'll admit this sounded a little crazy. Why would you NOT want the sources of your troubles to be blasted away, wiped from the face of the earth as if they never existed? Okay, well maybe 'wipe' is a tad strong, but you get the idea. Troubles suck, therefore, removal of said troubles might just equal good life? Or does it?

The False Attraction of the Trouble-Free

The fact of the matter is that everyone wants a trouble-free life (I'll admit that even I do some of the time). But at the same time, it's important to recall that while trouble-free might sound all nice, it doesn't really get you where you need to go. What do I mean by that? Well for one thing, as paradoxical as it might sound, trouble builds faith. And the greater your faith the less fearful you will be. You need to go through the fire, much like a sword that's being forged, before you can truly be effective for God. As it is written in James 1:2-4:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

This signifies therefore that being trouble-free isn't all the rage as one might think. I personally believe that if we were all comfortable we'd never extend ourselves to achieve anything great. Achievement is rooted in dissatisfaction and discomfort, and it is commonly perceived that this is because it drives us to either change our circumstances or make ourselves better in order to overcome them. But even that is a worldly perspective, and I'm sure there are self-help books aplenty that will support that. But what does the Word say about it?

God, the Shield in the Storm

Notice, the shield in the storm. God will not remove the storm, but He will keep you through the dangers. After all, where would faith be? The challenge trusting God that He will enable you to overcome your circumstances (just like the disciples did) not to believe that changing yourself will help. We oftentimes run into brick walls when we try that because we pursue paths outside of God's will. Boldness is found within God's will as He will enable us to achieve His mandate. Being outside of God's will, on the other hand, amounts to walking off a lit path straight into the dark forest where a lot of things that aren't nice are waiting. Between things that aren't nice, and a lit path with a guide, I'll choose the lit path everytime. So let's stick to that and remember that the Lord's grace is abundant; there is no such thing as an insurmountable problem for God.

Til next time,

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The Adventures of WikiLeaks and the Tower of Babel (v2.0)

Tower of Babel -- courtesy of NWCreation.net

The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11)
 1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
 3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
 5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building.6 The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
 8 So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel—because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Julian Assange plays a modern day Bourne in this lifetime, except with a secret army of "hacktivists" sympathetic to his plight. It's not exactly incredible that all this whistleblowing has exploded into an action movie--in my opinion it was bound to happen sooner or later. Free speech and censorship will always be problems faced by our generation. I do not foresee our successors having an easier time either. What information should reach the hands of other people is oftentimes a very careful decision, not one to be taken lightly. But how can you withhold information and yet claim "transparency"? That my friends, is the quintessential paradox that the governments of the world must ultimately face, and it's not hard to see that the balance between free speech and censorship is excruciatingly precise. In any event, that's a whole 'nother story for a whole 'nother time.

The Need to Be Connected

While reading through an article posted yesterday on Mail Online, I noted that a community of hacktivists, known most daringly as "Anonymous", might be gearing up for an all-out cyber-war. Of particular amusement was their use of the phrase "chaotic good" which is sure to be an oxymoron hackneyed for years to come. They did raise an important point though about information and power. From the dawn of man, the two have always gone hand-in-hand, with both good and bad consequences (Adam was the first of us to learn this the hard way, which consequently made the Fall really hard as well). It's helped us get the upper hand in a war. Or to discover new scientific proofs for solving medical problems. It even helped make the Internet what it is today. Lots of good stuff! But the one thing that more knowledge never seems to do is create peace. Remember the Manhattan Project in WWII? The information on nuclear fission could really have been put to better use other than creating radioactive glass in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Sadly though, it ended up being utilised to such ignoble ends. Maybe knowing too much is a bad thing? Is the Internet then, as the Information Highway, potentially creating another dilemma where information has no arbitration and there is no control over use? Anonymous disagrees, saying thus:

'The internet is the last bastion of freedom in this evolving technical world. The internet is capable of connecting us all.
'When we are connected we are strong. When we are strong we have power. When we have power we are able to do the impossible. This is why the government is moving on WikiLeaks. This is what they fear. They fear our power when we unite. Do not forget this.'

Wait a minute. Haven't we heard this before? Didn't a bunch of guys in the old B.C. try the very same thing....and the Government on High replied in the negative? I'm beginning to see a trend here. In the past we built a tower to hold us all. There wasn't much purpose to this--in fact history has always shown that too many people in one place tends to be a really bad thing (unless they're all sheep). Eventually, they will destroy one another simply because they are, well...different. Look at the world throughout the ages. Despite geographical separation--we still have wars! But I digress. The tower would have accomplished something that we long for today. I am alluding, in no uncertain terms, to a state of "connected-ness". Abraham Maslow was definitely on to something when he came up with the hierarchy of needs.

It's not really accidental that the needs that are, to a great extent, dependent on other people and perhaps the society at large are closest to the top of the pyramid. This is not to say that you go through the needs in order, only that they exist and are rather relevant to our day-to-day existence. The long and short of it is that people like others to recognise and acknowledge them. Being connected makes this even easier because we can then participate in many circles and, after a while, build our own reputations. We fall into a give-and-take cycle, oftentimes unconsciously as we take in new information, process it and either output an action or some new data. In essence however, we become what we eat, because the information we digest shapes our very beings as well. As a result, we need more and more of it everyday.

Information Bees

So we've gone and built the web to meet our needs. It used to just be an internet highway, but now it's really more like a very large chatroom with millions of people exchanging millions of bytes at mindblowing speed. We've gone from simply absorbing content, to reading, 'liking' and 'sharing' via all sorts of social media services to feed our addictions. And to think this all started in the same way as the Tower of Babel, except the people DARPA said they wanted to build a network with computers instead of a tower with bricks and tar. Pretty much the same principle implemented using information and data, which we build upon exponentially from year to year.      

By and large, people and businesses thrive on information today like bees thrive on nectar. Why is that? Because information makes things happen. It moves us to do things that we would otherwise not be equipped to do without it. But in all of this, it is important to remember that since humans are like walking boxes of chocolate, you really never know what results you'll get (sorry Forrest, it just seemed appropriate). Which is exactly why too much information, while it sounds great, can also be, well....not-so-great. If it gets into the wrong hands, there's a high potential for a lot of moving and shaking in Tower 2.0 in some very terrible ways.   

Knowledge and Peace

Thus, to put it succinctly, yes, the Net is great for sharing information, but let us be more responsible in how we use it. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against WikiLeaks. I personally believe that transparency is something that most governments purport to uphold--but sadly fail to execute with the proper diligence which is its due. I do, however, take issue with the content of the leak in this case. It should be noted here that none of the documents leaked were actually 'Top Secret' (check out this CNN video) but even so, one has to take into account that all those cables were diplomatic information which is, by extension, crucial to peace talks. We have here the typical situation as mentioned earlier, information/knowledge can be applied to both good and bad ends. Never mind that the Internet is the 'last bastion of freedom'. That in and of itself is all the more reason for us to treat its stakeholders very, very carefully. You're dealing with people in a tower that have the propensity to either help...or harm one another (and it seems we're pretty good at the latter). As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:12: '"Everything is permissible for me"--but not everything is beneficial.' And that last leak, while definitely permissible if one believes in transparency for transparency's sake, may not be as beneficial as one thinks. For the record, during an online chat session with Mr Assange, a British diplomat took him to task about the potential for a diplomatic meltdown to occur as a result of his actions. There hasn't been an answer forthcoming, at least not one that has been satisfactory.

As the large amount of recently leaked data spreads to other rooms in Tower 2.0, it will be interesting to see the reactions. We've heard a lot of condemnations and allegations, but that's to be expected. The question  now is, where does this new information become power and in whose hands will it find itself? That, dear reader, only time will tell.

Yours in Christ,

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Spatiotemporal GIS processing?

While browsing The C Initiative earlier today, I happened upon a post by Milton, one of my MIS colleagues, titled Spatial Intelligence. The article distilled the core benefits of comtemporary GISs which currently give their audience visualised capabilities operating primarily over distance. As an enabler of decision-making I would even venture as far as to say that it is one of the most powerful technologies known to man since the advent of the conventional IS. Why do I say this? Because it takes something that is commonplace in much of our decisions (even implicitly) and sets it in a highly visible position. I'm speaking of course, about the variable of distance. Even more important is that fact that distance is often a parameter in viewing and/or organizing other pieces of data in which we might be interested, such as income, age, population spread and density, and even disease/infection patterns. Thus, as Milton indicates, a GIS is a rather apt bridge between spatial data and spatial intelligence.

All in all, said article was an interesting read. The GIS of today can be an extraordinary tool when put to good use. But it has a particularly huge limitation in that it's capabilities are largely concerned with spatial processing. Given thus, the representation of the data given will necessarily be largely static. What if we were to add a temporal element such that a GIS would not only be concerned with distance, but could perform temporal modeling? What would be the benefits which would accrue subsequent to such an implementation? Would spatial intelligence gain anything new? 

The answer is...that depends. As Dr Duggan once said, you can't very well design a solution and go in search of a problem. There has to be a need for it. And I don't think that need has reached critical mass as of yet--but let's stretch our imaginations a bit. Where would be need time to be involved in a geographic representation? Truth be told, whenever we use a GIS we tend to focus primarily on only one variable changing while all others usually remain (fairly) constant. But the other variables may very well be changing as well. How then do we quantify and explore relationships between pieces of information that may very well vary with time? For example, what if we wanted to validate the hypothesis that people of lower incomes would opt to carpool (despite having public transport in the area) in districts where crime was prevalent and roads were bad? A single static representation of geographic data would assist perhaps in mapping out what routes were bad and how the transport system could best serve said districts by promoting the least expensive paths. It would also help the NWA in seeing where exactly the offending roads lay thus allowing them to be targeted before further deterioration. But it still doesn't help us to find out the answer to our question.

The fact of the matter is our answer would lie only in observations taken over a period of time. Also known as the 4th dimension, time is becoming an increasingly non-trivial variable in decision-making. Nothing speaks more powerfully than the power of historical data brought to bear in making predictions and forecasts. But to do so we must first determine correlations (and reliable ones at that) amongst all components that we seek to investigate. In the case of our example, we would be looking at income distribution, public transport availability, road wear, and crime. Some of these might be related but time gives us the ability to reason over which relationships are actually sensible. in so doing, the prime benefit is that of a robust data model that can be used to build interactive charting for shared use by more than one primary stakeholder (in this case the JUTC and NWA). This reinforces once of the key tenets of application design--that of reuse, which in turn makes for robust IS implementations and extensions. I daresay that spatiotemporal processing, if implemented  successfully could be the next ICT wave to rock the world of computing for decades to come!     

Your friend in Christ,

Friday, 19 November 2010


I wrote this for a competition originally at Samantha's ETP blog, but originally drafted it against one of my favourite Bible verses. It can't be entered as a result since it's supposed to be themed based on a quote by Lweis Carroll, but never mind that. It's not exceptional writing anyway, just more of a stream of thought that just kind of came out of nowhere. I thought of my wife while I wrote it, and the hope we have that someday, she can be seizure-free. I really do love her dearly. Well here it is...


Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:27(NIV)

She stirs beside me each morning. I look up at the ceiling, contemplating what new challenges we will face. It is not an easy thing to watch a loved one struggle with such a debilitating condition. Her eyes flutter lightly and she grimaces. I can tell that even in her sleep, a raging migraine is storming, bringing her to an eventual rude awakening. I silently get out of bed, and go to the kitchen to get her some water. It’s almost 7:00am, that hour of the morning where birds are singing their morning songs, getting ready to face the glory and wonder of a new day. Would that we could be like them! To have a song upon waking, a song of freedom even! But not today. Someday perhaps. For now there is only faith. Faith that the Lord will bring us through, for it is only by His grace and mercy that we are saved. For in adversity, when we are weakest, is when He shines brightest. I do not know the day nor the hour when my lady will be set free...but I do know that it will happen. As I bring her pill pack, I smile. I smile because I know this will not be forever—only for a time. As long as we are alive, there is hope. Our comfort is in the promise of God, not in those of men. I whisper a prayer and stroke her brow lightly bringing her to the surface ever so gently. Despite the pain, she smiles. And it is for that smile, that I will keep going.

Written By: Joshua E. Thomas

Wednesday, 17 November 2010


So I was going through one of Chuck Smith's Bible studies on the book of 2nd Chronicles (check it out here 2nd Chronicles 18-20) and I've noticed an interesting trend. For one thing, almost every single king falls prey to his/her own devices and starts setting up temples of Baal and Asherah poles, and sometimes this happens almost right after triumphing over a significant obstacle by virtue of the mercy of God. It gave me cause to pause, because these kings aren't the only ones guilty, we are too.

Why do we do that? It reminds me of what Paul says in Romans 7:15 -- "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." How peculiar! We really are born in sin and shaped in iniquity. It's almost as though we'll believe for a while, God will overcome, and then...party! "Hey guys, let's go set up an Asherah pole!" Yeesh. Most disturbing of all is that I see myself in all of that..."okay God I have an exam in a week, I need your help!" and this is me after not having fed on His word for ages, much less even had a devotional. If people make time for what they are interested in, then I am certainly guilty of not being interested enough! And so were the people of the time as depicted in the book of Chronicles.

Having recently been married, I've had to ask myself some very hard questions--the most common of which must be "Do I have what it takes?" Some might say this is taking place after the fact...but really and truly, I think everyone returns to that question time and time again, both before and after. Checks and balances I suppose. I pray almost constantly that I'll be a good husband--that I'll love my wife faithfully and that I will learn to lead by the example set forth by Christ. But to fill such big shoes...is a daunting task. When the care of another is in your hands, one's perspective of the world changes somewhat and it really requires some amount of personal fortitude to deal with. But at the end of day, it all comes down to brokenness doesn't it. I can't do this alone. One of my favourite verses is John 14:14, in which Jesus says "Ask me for anything in my name and I will do it." It is always with the grace of God that we are empowered to do just about anything at all. I pray that, unlike some of those kings, I will not forget this.

Things are different now--a boy is now a man. Childish things are gone and it's time to get serious about my convictions, goals and dreams. May the Lord grant myself and my wife (and just about anyone finding themselves in a similar position) the courage, strength and love to overcome all obstacles both here in the present and also in the future.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

No Risk...No Reward?

The other evening a friend of mine and I were having a discussion. He is 1 of 2 pals I have that have been interested in the faith for a long time, but are still having some trouble taking that step to give their lives to Christ. The long and short of it was that he didn't know who to believe (though the conversation lasted the better part of an hour and I was off-shift at the time...that's essentially what it came down to). He had tried reading the Bible but kept saying that it did not make sense. This was interesting food for thought, but I wasn't surprised. The Word itself says in 1 Corinthians 2:14:

"The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned."

This is one thing in particular I am fearful of. Non-Christians reading the Word in isolation don't know what to believe because they do not take the crucial step of believing in God first. It's like trying to come into contact with God without commitment. If your heart isn't geared towards truly understanding the character of God, how can you try to seek Him? Psalms 34:8 says "Taste and see that the LORD is good". God is and always will be a personal God.

Listening in on part 2 of "Stop Acting Like a Christian, Just Be One" at LifeChurch.tv provided some fresh insight on the matter. I have always held to the tenet that people make what they want of their lives. They'll advance all reasons for avoiding situations that they think might cause them harm, and advance all the benefits for the situations that they think might being them well-being (even if it really doesn't). In fact, it is often perceived that living the life of a Christian is "hard". The world says this and it's commonly believed so as a result many people will try to investigate the lifestyle while being on the outside. But what many people don't know is that...you don't change yourself when you become a Christian. Christ changes you. If you could change yourself--you wouldn't need Christ. The Word itself says:

"And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." (Romans 12:2)

The most difficult part of the process is surrendering control of one's life to Jesus. Draw closer to God and He will draw closer to You. Stay far from Him--stay on the other side of the street, look through the window or binoculars or whatever--and you're doing nothing but wasting time. We all have choices to make...and all of them involve a measure of risk. You can give up the world's carnality to save your life--or you can give up your life to embrace the world's point of view. Many of us avoid this because we don't deem it as a decision that needs to be made. But quite frankly, not taking this seriously means you've already made a decision--and it's one that won't benefit you in eternity. The time is ever closer. Where does your fealty lie?