Monday, May 26, 2008

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Rubik Cube

Not fair! I wish I could just solve one of these things. *sigh* This little three year old probably doesn't even realize how hard it's supposed to be to do this feat.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Dear Kilt Wearers

Dear Kilt Wearers,

Yesterday, on my way home from a used bookstore (one of my favorite places) I saw a bumper sticker that intruiged me. It said:Naturally, this brought to mind other "real men" claims such as "real men cry" (or don't cry, depending on who you ask), "real men wear pink," "real men wear purple" and any other "real men" claim you of which you can think.

What do these claims imply? Surely not all "real men" do these things, and surely there are some who cry not, wear pink, etc, who are not "real men" (whatever does that phrase mean anyway?).
And do these claims further imply that if anyone wears a kilt or cries or wears pink that they are a "real man?" I know plenty of women who do these things (well, I don't know many who wear kilts).

Obviously if you have Scottish ancestry you oughtn't be ashamed of it, but why would anyone otherwise have cause to wear a kilt? And even if you are part Scottish what would it accomplish to do such a thing?

All of these wonderings from one little bumper sticker. What are your thoughts, kilt wearers? readers?


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Prince Caspian {Movie Review}

Yes, a new age has begun in Narnia, but the focus of this newest rendition of the classic Narnian tale "Prince Caspian" falls short of the mark the book left for it to reach.


With continuous comments such as
Lucy: "I was so tall"
Susan: "You were older back then"

Peter: "I wasn't always a child"

the movie would have more aptly been title Back When We Were Grownups but, since that title is already taken, perhaps Remember When We Were Grownups would also suffice.
There are obviously certain items that must be changed in any translation. There are some forgivable translation "errors" and some unforgivable ones. This movie is riddled with both.

I understand why they had to begin the movie in the fashion they did (though they could have made it harder for the Pevensie's to figure out they were in the ruins of Cair Paravel), but seriously, must Peter be portrayed in such a high-and-mighty fashion?

Peter (to Trumpkin): "High King Peter, (pause) the Magnificent"
Susan: "I think you could've left the last part off"

So, I do understand why they would cause such an adjustment in Peter, but that causes focus to shift from what Lewis emphasized in his work, and completely adds an unnecessary dimension to the story. But I can understand their rationale.

But must Susan and Caspian "fall in love?" I was seriously hoping they would not add that in the movie (not to mention it could cause for a sticky situation in Dawn Treader). I mean COME ON, really. Again, it totally detracts from Lewis' work (and the kiss was even more unnecessary than their feelings for each other).

Susan: "Why don't you hold on to it [her horn]. You might need to call me again."

Susan: "It never would've worked, anyway."
Caspian: "Why not?"
Susan: "I am 1300 years older than you..."

Adding the White Witch definitely added conflict to Disney's version, but utterly went against Lewis' intentions. Lucy was still herself, Reepicheep rocks, and Edmund's character came across nicely (in fact, him and Peter seemed to have swapped places from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, which shouldn't be the case AT ALL, but ...), but Aslan played a terribly small part in the movie when he permeates the book.

I did (thankfully) know going into the movie that it did not stick to the book. The article (in World magazine) that I read said that most fans would be pleased with the movie rendition, and that only the die-heart purists would be disappointed. That would be me.

So, I said that Prince Caspian was a "Must See Movie" do I know have cause to eat my words? Yes and no. In spite of all of the problems in adaptation that I pointed out (which only scratch the surface of some interpretive issues) I actually really did enjoy the movie (in spite of the stupid "romance" which detracts, even if separating from the film from the book), as long I did not at all compare it to the book. As a movie not based off of a novel it was pretty good. But, like almost every movie adaptation, it misses the mark ... big time when compared to the actual novel. However, great lessons can be learned from this latest edition of Prince Caspian. You may not want to take your small children to go see this movie even if they were okay with the first movie (this movie has more violence and "fantastic" [in the classical sense of the word] creatures), but Caspian is worth seeing.

1.5 out of 5 stars.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

'CRIME AND ETHANOL': Unintended Consequences

This is a follow-up article from this post.
Crime and Ethanol: Unintended Consequences
By Chuck Colson

Biofuels are one of the major reasons you and I are paying more for groceries these days. For most of us, it is just an inconvenience. For many around the world, however, it is a catastrophe. Last week, United Nations Special Investigator Jean Ziegler called the use of biofuels, such as ethanol, a "crime against a great part of humanity."

In the past, global food crises were sparked by natural disasters and bad harvests. What makes this food crisis a crime against humanity is: We caused it. And like many man-made problems, this one can be traced to our false worldview.

Here in the United States, egg prices are up 35 percent; milk up 23 percent; and bread up 16. For most Americans, who on average spend 10 percent of their income on food, these increases squeeze our budgets.

But for the "great part of humanity" Ziegler talks about, it is a lot worse. In countries like Ethiopia and Bangladesh, people can spend 70 percent of their income on food; so even modest increases in food prices can impair their ability to feed their families. And price increases for the staples they depend on have not been modest: Wheat prices have doubled and corn prices quadrupled in the last year.

Rising food prices are causing social instability. According to the World Food Program, "33 countries in Asia and Africa face political instability as the urban poor struggle to feed their families"-which is why the president and Congress are talking now about increasing aid to these countries.

While the rise in food-staple prices has many causes, as Ziegler noted, one of them is definitely man-made: the use of cropland and food-staples to produce bio-fuels such as ethanol. He called "transforming hundreds and hundreds of thousands of tons" of foodstuffs into fuel "absolutely catastrophic for the hungry people."

Look at it this way: It takes 510 pounds of corn to make 13 gallons of ethanol-that amount could "feed a child in Zambia or Mexico for a year," while it fuels your car only for a week!

Ziegler is not alone; the IMF (International Monetary Fund) has raised grave concerns, and Secretary of State Rice recently spoke of the "unintended consequence from the alternative fuels' effort."

What is maddening about this is that the biofuel effort is fueled by politicians handing out massive subsidies to the farm belt and pandering to glassy-eyed environmentalists. Every presidential hopeful who participated in the Iowa caucuses had to sing the praises of ethanol. That is why John McCain stayed away, because he opposes the subsidies.

Now, I am all for farmers making money on their crops. They deserve it. But no politician with a shred of integrity can deny that it is more important to feed a child in Zambia for a year than to feed your car for a week. And-as if I need to remind you-this is an election year, so ask your candidates where they stand on this tragic political folly. And call your members of Congress to tell them how you feel.

A properly informed worldview is the key here. Two non-Christian worldviews have merged to bring about this crisis: one that sees maintaining political power as an end in itself, and one that sees the environment as our chief concern, even at the expense of humans.

We Christians insist on the proper use of government: that is, to restrain evil and promote justice. And we believe in proper environmental stewardship. But we insist that people, especially the poor, must come first.

from Breakpoint's May 7, 2008 newsletter

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Codes and Ciphers

Matthew Lewis

Contributing Writer

When we think of codes, we usually think of spies, espionage and intrigue. Although codes have been used extensively by various governments, codes are used in many other ways as well, not just in spy rings.

Codes are all around us. One of the most famous codes is the Morse Code, used for many years in telegraphy. Invented by Samuel Morse, his code allowed letters of the alphabet to be sent long distances. Short electrical signals were the "dots," and long electrical signals were the "dashes."
Another code that you see almost every day is a bar code which can be found on almost everything you buy at the store. These black bars and the spaces between them can be read by optical scanners, which then read the code, feed the information into the computer, match that code to the code on file, then register the correct price on the cash register.

In written messages, a code normally substitutes words with other words. For instance, a military leader might use a code where "enemy" would be written as "flour barrels." He would use a codebook to look up each word he needed to use in his message. When his soldiers received the message, they would use a matching codebook to look up the real meanings. Codes like this have the weakness of falling apart completely – and permanently – if the enemy can get hold of just one of your codebooks.
On the other hand, a cipher normally relies on a key, which is the method used to decipher, or figure out, the message. Ciphers usually have two advantages: they are generally harder to crack than a code, and they are typically less cumbersome to use. For instance, look at the following (very simple) cipher and see if you can decipher it before you read any further:
3-15-4-5-19 1-14-4 3-9-16-8-5-18-19 8-1-22-5 16-21-26-26-12-5-4 16-5-15-16-12-5 5-15-18 20-8-15-21-19-1-14-4-19 15-6 25-5-1-18-19. 2-21-20 20-8-5-25 1-12-12 8-1-22-5 20-8-5 19-1-13-5 16-21-18-16-15-19-5: 20-15 16-18-15-20-5-3-20 9-13-16-15-18-20-1-14-20 9-14-6-15-18-13-1-20-9-15-14.
As you've probably noticed, this cipher works by substituting numbers for letters. 1 represents A, 2 represents B, and so on, with a dash between each letter so the numbers can be read properly. The key to this cipher is the numbering sequence. You could change the cipher by using 1 for Z and 26 for A. Either way, someone would need to know the key to read the message.

Julius Caesar used a cipher in which each letter was represented by the letter three places to its right in the alphabet, "wrapping around" to the beginning for the letters X, Y and Z. With this cipher, "time for lunch" would be written as "wlph iru oxqfk." The key to this cipher is the "letter shift." You could easily use the same principle with a letter shift of five or six positions, or by changing the direction of the shift.

Ciphers can be cracked (figured out without the key) in several different ways. Frequency analysis is one way. By knowing how often certain letters are normally used, a cryptographer (someone who studies codes and ciphers) can sometimes figure out which symbols in a message represent which letters. For example, E is the most common letter in the English language. So, if you wrote a cipher where each letter was represented by a different letter, and if you chose P to represent the letter E, a cryptographer could probably figure out that P meant E just by realizing there were more P's than any other letter in your message. Frequency analysis works best on longer messages since correct guesses are easier to identify.

Now that you know a little about codes and ciphers, let's try to make our own. Say we'd like to send the following message:

I want pizza for supper.

We'll start with a simple substitution cipher, where A stands for Z and vice-versa, B stands for Y, C for X, and so on. Therefore, our message will now read like this:

R dzmg kraaz uli hfkkvi.

That's pretty scrambled. But someone who knows what they're doing can break that pretty easily, especially if our message was longer. So, let's make it a little more complicated by reversing the whole thing:

.ivkkfh ilu zaark gmzd R

Not bad, but anyone who knows the basics of English grammar will be able to figure out that we reversed our message just by noticing that we start with a period and end with a capital letter. So, let's eliminate punctuation and capitals:

ivkkfh ilu zaark gmzd r

We're getting there, but we've left a clue that could help someone break the message. Since "A" and "I" are the only letters that can be used as entire words, the letter "r" sitting all by itself there at the end must actually represent one of those two letters. While not particularly useful on a message this short, a longer message with more "r's" in it would be easy to decipher with this clue. So let's run everything together into one long string:


There--that's not world-class, but it should stump your friends for awhile! To decipher your encoded message, all you have to do is reverse it and substitute the encoded letters for the correct ones. This will give you "iwantpizzaforsupper," which is easily recognized.

Now that you know a little bit about codes and ciphers, see if you can come up with your own! Just remember that your messages should be as easy as possible to decipher for someone who knows the key; in other words, don't make it so complicated that it takes a long time to read your own messages!
Modern ciphers use mathematical formulas called algorithms to encrypt messages. Most of these ciphers are impossible to crack (or even read) without a special computer program, and computers must be used to encrypt the message. These types of ciphers are very difficult to crack even if someone knows exactly how they work, as long as the key is kept a secret. This is a little hard to explain, so let's use a little project as an example. I'll give the instructions first, then get back to the computerized ciphers afterwards.

An early encoding method used a device called a scytale (rhymes with "Italy"), which you can easily make yourself. You'll need two or three rods or dowels of different diameters, a pen, and some long strips of paper about half an inch wide. Choose a dowel and start wrapping the paper around it as shown in the diagram. You may want to tape the ends in place.

Now, write a message on the paper, lengthwise along the dowel, one letter for each turn of the paper. When you get to the right-hand end of the dowel, go back to the left end and start a new row of letters. When you're finished writing your message, unwind the paper and you'll have a random-looking sequence of letters that won't make any sense at all. The message can only be read by wrapping the paper around the right size of dowel. Take turns writing scytale messages with different sizes of dowels and decoding them!

Now, think about a computerized cipher again. Someone can know exactly how the cipher works, yet still be unable to crack a message because they don't have the key. A scytale works the same way, since an enemy could know exactly how to read the message (wrap the paper around a rod), but without the key (a rod of the correct diameter), he still could not read the message. Modern computerized ciphers work on more or less the same principle.

I hope you've enjoyed this brief foray into the exciting world of codes and ciphers! tnU nli txe mit h,e ppa icy ehp nir !g
Matthew Lewis, a homeschool graduate, is the web developer, and occasional columnist, for Home School Enrichment Magazine. Matthew is a self-described computer geek who enjoys doing things during his free time which he says would sound much too boring to be mentioned here.
This article was originally published in the Sep/Oct '07 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more details, visit
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