Smash Qwirkle!

July 23, 2015

Qwirkle is a great game for all ages. But for really young kids, it can be too slow.

So, we have developed a game called “Smash Qwirkle” for the younger kids. The goal is to end the game with the tallest tower. Towers are made by stacking up tiles of the same shape.

The “star” tiles are “smash” tiles. You don’t stack those. You throw them at other people’s towers and try to knock them down.

In serial mode, each person in turn takes one tile from the bag and plays it.
In parallel mode, every player takes one piece and plays it, without waiting for the others.

Smash Qwirkle is best played while sitting on the floor.

Pi points to the infinite

June 19, 2015


My name is John. We probably just met. Maybe we swapped business cards. But a
business card doesn’t really tell you about someone. So, here’s this. It’s
a bit of my story. I hope you like it and maybe you can relate to some of it.

But first…a picture!

peace, love, pi

(Yes, that’s me in the reflection. I love doing that!)

This sticker jumped out at me in a random parking lot. I’m definitely a math geek, which helps me do my job as a computer programmer.

But for me, math goes way beyond just practical application. Math makes me think of deeper questions. Meaningful questions. Like…

Why is (π) pi never-ending?

Pi fascinates me. I have it memorized to 70 decimal places. (Way more than is usable.) I could memorize digits until I die and still it would keep going on. Forever!

Pi is everywhere, too! Every circle, sphere and planetary orbit is governed by Pi. The curvature of a rainbow and the circumpherence of a water droplet. The frequence of radio waves used to carry the Web over WiFi at the coffee shop. And donuts, too! (I love donuts.)

So…why would a fundamental constant of mathematics—no, the Universe—not be more rational? After all, it would certainly be easier if Pi were 3. Or 3.5. Or 22/7.

But it’s not.

What does that tell us?

  • That the Universe is trying to be annoying? Nah, probably not.
  • That an alien race has embedded knowledge in binary at the tail end of Pi? Nope, but I’ve heard crazy theories like that.
  • That there might be things that stretch our minds as we to grok them? Yeah, I think so.

Pi is a sign post

Pi points us at the infinite. No matter how many decimal places we record, there’s always more. It’s an “undiscovered country” that we simply will never fully experience.

Some mathematicians devote their whole lives to calculating and memorizing Pi. I’m pretty happy with my 70 digits. For me, another 10 digits would be cool, but ultimately, it’s just numbers. There has got to be more to infinity than cold numbers.

Infinite mind

Human experience isn’t content to just discover the facts. Facts are boring by themselves. They only are exciting when they reveal something about a person, esp. about a person we want to know better.

As I think of Pi, its infinite irrational continuation, I wonder about the Person being pointed to by Pi. Pi is far beyond human understanding, but could there be Someone who does understand Pi? Someone who has an infinite mind?

Proof and discoverability

Mathematics is the basis for all sciences. We use logic to reason out proofs for theorems, based upon certain axioms that we accept as true at the beginning of each proof. (Yay, geometry!)

There’s no reason to throw out logic when pondering the Infinite. In fact, we should embrace logic, but be prepared to challenge some widely-held axioms. (Just as Einstein challenged the axioms held by Newtonian physics.)

And sometimes, there’s no substitute for actual experimentation. Like Christopher Columbus, we may have to embark on a journey of discovery to prove out a theory.

The Great Experiment

Hypothesis: I can discover the Someone with the Infinite Mind who is pointed to by Pi.

Or, put in plainer English: “I can really find and know God…and that He’s pretty amazing!”

Pi is just one small fingerprint of God. There are many (infinitely!) more to be found. As a reference, check out the Bible. I find this statement to be one of the most compelling:

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. —Acts 17:24-27


I gotta warn you: This experiment is not for the faint of heart. You can’t do it half-way. But, it does come with a guarantee:

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. —Jeremiah 29:13

Jesus and the scientist

I could tell you a lot of awesome things about Jesus. But you’ll find them, too, in your own on-going experiment. And more!

I could also tell you some things this experiement taught me about myself, the scientist. The biggest is that I’m not as good as I thought I was. It’s actually kinda freeing to know that. And you’ll find out stuff like that too.

Just keep this in mind: Jesus isn’t quite what you imagine–he’s better!

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. —Revelation 3:20

How to start

This is your experiment. It’s going to be different than mine. But a good way to start is by reading the Bible. If you’re philosophical, you’ll probably enjoy the book of John a lot. If you’re very matter-of-fact, then start with the book of Mark. They’re all good, and can be read in any sequence.

As you read, record your observations and questions. You can find answers in the Bible itself, though it may take some study to find them. When I need help, I ask God (aka, “pray”). Sometimes, I compare notes with someone else who is running this experiment. (If I’m around, feel free to ping me.)

Boldly go!

Many people told Columbus that he’d never make it. But those people had no proof to the contrary, and Columbus did indeed cross the Atlantic. (Technically, he never made it to India, but he did cross the Atlantic and come back.)

Even today, some people will tell you not to bother looking for God, but…maybe they just haven’t found Him. Don’t let that hold you back. Boldly go and seek out the Infinite, Amazing God!

Pi to 70

Here’s how I memorized it and would repeat it verbally:

3.14159 2653589 79323 84626433
83279 50288 41971 69399 37150
58209 74944 59230 78164


The quotes are from the New International Version of the Bible.

When God buys dinner

June 15, 2015

Sometimes, I get overwhelmed by life, stress, bills, whatever. Then, I need a clearer understanding of God’s amazing power, and how little my problems are compared to His greatness.

In Numbers 11:31-32, God provides meat for the Israelites. How much meat? Well, let’s make an estimate, just for fun.

In v. 32, the Bible says, “No one gathered less than 10 homers.” The footnote in the NIV says that’s about “60 bushels.” A bushel is about 2,150 cubic inches, according to Google.

There were about 600,000 men in the camp (Exodus 12:37). This number fluctuates a bit, but it’s good enough for our estimate. (In Numbers 26:51, the number is 601,730 males.)

Assumption #1: Only the men gathered meat, but each one gathered enough for himself and his family.

Now, how big is a quail? According to Wikipedia, the Common Quail is somewhere between 7 to 8.62 inches long. I picked 8 inches and cubed it, for a total volume of 512 cubic inches. (Probably overly large, but go with me, OK?)

So, the total number of birds is:

600,000 x 60 bushels x (2,150 cubic inches/bushel) / (512 cubic inches/bird) = 151,171,875 birds

That’s a lot of birds!

I did some searching for quail meat yield and rough meat weight per bird. I’m no expert, so my numbers might be way off. Here’s what I’m going with:

One quail weights about 111g.
Cooked yield is about 45.8%

Therefore, the total weight of cooked quail meet is:

151,171,875 x 111g x 45.8% = 7,685,276,640 g

That’s over 7,685 metric tonnes of meat! (By comparison, the USS Virginia is 7,900 metric tonnes.)

Now, for the big question: How much would that cost in today’s dollars?

Again, a rough search for quail meat (frozen) was about $16/lb. So…

7,685,276,640 g x (1 lb/454 g) x $16 = $270,846,754

Awesome. Isn’t God able to meet our needs? If he can deliver $270M worth of meat overnight, can’t he also take care of our needs?

Things I won’t miss about That Horrible Gig

March 9, 2015

Once, I had a horrible gig. Because it was so bad, I wrote down this list, so that I would never forget how awful a gig can be–and, by contrast, how good I have it now.

To those who knew me then: I have changed names to avoid lawsuits, but if the shoe fits…

I have NOT changed names for tools, whose reputations precede them.

I am thankful that I have no more of this to deal with after I left That Horrible Gig (THG):

1. All-night deployments. (10 PM to 6 AM, baby.)
2. Lack of Systems Analysis by people who should have done it already.
3. Big boss blustering. (And thinking that he actually accomplished anything by it.)
4. VersionOne sucks. (And management abandoned JIRA, which is so much better.)
5. Even so, nobody uses VersionOne, so we lost critical details. All the time.
6. Email threads. (Lost critical details? Yep.)
7. “Waterfragile.” (I coined this term, but you can use it, too.)
8. Too many walls: the IT Paranoia Department, Linux Admins, Server Management Teams who don’t have root (seriously!).
9. Systems Analysts and Project Managers doing architecture.
10. One hotshot Junior Developer refactoring everything. (Beware coders who never push their changes until it’s a huge pile of commits.)
11. The best people leaving because THG doesn’t recognize/reward greatness.
12. Microsoft Lync overwriting my status update.
13. Management making crappy decisions.
14. Management not consulting the technical people who know better.
15. Monolithic legacy framework built by monkeys…in knickers.
16. Hiring people then…not training them.
17. Hiring crazy people. (Who drop off the face of the planet with hardware that contains copies of proprietary software. Until you sue them to get it back…maybe.)
18. Rootless installs, and…
19. Compiling packages, and…
20. Manually managing dependencies, because of…
21. So-called “Linux admins” who are scared of linux package managers.
22. Long-time employees laughing about having to miss holidays with family due to work deadlines. (Beware people who call themselves “crazy” all the time–they might be!)
23. Having to watch a server admin run manual commands that I give them, because I’m not allowed to run them myself.
24. Not having root access to all the servers I support.
25. All sudo access expires after 10 days max. (Just plain stupid.)
26. Thick accents that are hard for me to understand. (I’m not opposed to working with people from different linguistic backgrounds. But I got tired of fighting to understand people who just didn’t care if I understood them or not. It’s a real refresher to work with people who know how to communicate clearly–whatever language they use.)
27. Microsoft Lync’s sucky screensharing.
28. Contract renewals.
29. Reporting hours against projects that don’t match what I’m working on. (I was commanded to report my hours that way, because it made other numbers match in some report I never saw. I had to finally give up and do what they wanted. I hope they stop that particular shell game.)
30. A username that consists of a letter and 5 numbers. (Welcome to THG, “x12345”! Nothing says, “You’re replaceable,” like that kind of username.)
31. Trip reimbursement torture. (3 hours to file one trip reimbursement request. No joke.)
32. Staffing Agency often asking for hours worked because THG’s Sucky Time System doesn’t talk to Staffing Agency’s systems. (It’s an “IT” staffing agency, right?)
33. Too many layers, too little information sharing at a high level (aka, Chapter 5 Resources). (So many of the failings listed here are directly resultant from this one.)
34. Microsoft Lync dying and losing conversation history.
35. Bad data everywhere and nobody takes responsibility for fixing it.

There were a few positives that are worth mentioning:
1. My immediate supervisor watched out for me and trying to give me space to innovate.
2. There was one shining star on our team who learned and grew at an astounding rate; it was a joy to work with him and watch him take off.
3. Fat paychecks.

Was it worth it to leave? Absolutely. If this sounds like where you are, get out ASAP. Thank me later. :)

Wycliffe: a retrospective

November 23, 2013

An acquaintance asked me recently, “So, how did that whole Wycliffe thing work out?” I gave an answer off-the-cuff, but it really didn’t satisfy me. This is a better answer, I think.

There are still a lot of things about Wycliffe Bible Translators that I admire. I still find the stated mission to be compelling: to give people access to God’s Word in their heart language. (Have you read your Bible lately? In your own language?) I still like the people and admire their work ethic, humility and self-sacrificial service to God. I still have a lot of friends from my Wycliffe days. And, despite it having its own fair share of large-organization disfunctions, I still consider the overall organization to be a world-class exemplary organization. (And that opinion includes the entire “federation” of organizations involved in global Bible translation.)

So, what went wrong? Why are we (Andrea and I) not still serving with Wycliffe? After wrestling with this question for four years, it really comes down to this: For whatever reason, God in His sovereignty did not want us to continue.

Truly, Andrea and I had done our best. One afternoon in the summer of 2008, I finally came to the end. We had been living on about half of our budget for months. We had tried everything we knew to turn things around. We were worn out, emotionally and physically. I found myself outside in the back yard, unable to push the lawnmower one more step. (I didn’t know at the time, but I had contracted CMV and another virus at the same time.) During the next two weeks of doctor-prescribed bed rest, I realized that we could simply not go on any longer with the way things were. I had to say goodbye to the dream and let it go.

Beyond that, I really don’t know. But I’ve found that it’s OK to say, “I don’t know” and just trust that God does know. (And that bit of wisdom might be worth all the pain and heartache it took to learn.)

So, here’s the short answer: We would still be serving with Wycliffe, if we had had enough financial support; but God knew that, so he removed the financial support. And that’s OK.


Faith-based missions is two-sided: missionaries are supported by partners. We had great partners, who gave sacrificially and supported us not only financially, but emotionally and in prayer. In the large, they were (and still are) our family and friends. They “get” Bible translation, too. And they have been gracious all along as we launched, flew, and finally came in for a hard landing from the missionary flight. I will never feel like I have said it enough: Thank You.

2000 Honda Odyssey

July 25, 2013

So, I saw this thanks to Facebook friends. Here’s the original post…for as long as Craigslist lets it stay up. I’m copying it here, for–well–posterity, I guess.


So it’s come to this for you. Looking at used Odysseys on Craigslist. I was like you once. Thought I had given up on myself as we only had one child at the time. And there I was, certain that I was selling a piece of my soul. For what? So that I could take a child, a jumperoo and two bikes with me wherever I went? And to what end? Would it make me feel more like a man to know that my 4×8 sheets of plywood were staying dry in the back of my minivan? As it turns out. . ..yes. Yes it would.

Questions you may have about our sweet ride.

1. How many miles of pure adrenaline have you put on this baby? A: 100,000. Total is has 152,000. All heart pounding.

2. Am I giving up on myself if I drive a minivan? A: Yeah. But its not forever and you have a lot of crap to drive around and you’re tired of playing Tetris to fit everything in the car. I gave up on myself for years. 8 glorious years of transporting every last piece of baby gear, soccer gear, bikes, plywood and random stuff my wife made me bring.

3. When you say “smooth tranny” – we’re still talking about the van, yes? A: Yes. No tranny problems here. Never had a worry about it.

4. Will I need to get more friends to fill this thing like a party bus? A: No. You’re days of looking for friends are over. Friends come to you now. Why? Because you’re new nickname is Seven Passengers McGee. And everyone wants to take a ride with S.P. McGee.

5. Is there anything festive about your ride? A: You mean like a Christmas tree? You’re in luck friend. The dashboard on this car is filled with expensive and well thought out warning lights. While we’ve loved seeing the gas light come on from time to time, it carries a mere fraction of the thrill of the check engine light! Did you know what an O2 sensor was before you became an adult? After you learned, did you care? Well, as far as we can tell, its what makes the check engine light come on. And does not affect performance. So, it comes and goes and we leave it there like a little message that says – hey! The festive dash lights still work. But we can talk about that.

6. When you priced this van so low, were you thinking that you might have underpriced the cost of a dream come true? A: Yes. Yes I did.

7. Do you love new tire smell as much as I do? A: (single tear). That’s why this baby has new tires.

8. I get tired of whistling. Does this vehicle come equipped with some sort of music generating device? A: Yes. It plays one CD at a time. And is able to tune in to MULTIPLE radio stations. Eureka! Who comes up with this stuff?!!!

9. Is stopping important? A: Depends on how fast you want to get where you’re going. And this baby has never had a problem stopping. At the moment, however, it does like to do what I call a “celebrated stop”. It makes a bit of a squeal to say “We’re stopping! Hooray!” But let’s be honest here. I’m clearly a big deal. I don’t have time to be driving to Les Schwab and getting new brakes at this point in my life. Not when I have to mow the lawn. Refer to item #6.

10. The small dent in the passenger power sliding door. . that included for free? A: You’re welcome.

11. I have a utility trailer in which I like to keep my mother in law during long drives. Does this come with a trailer hitch? A: Yes. What you tow behind it is up to you.

12. I feel like this Craigslist ad is unnecessarily long. Do you feel like you’ve taken up too much of my time? A: If you read the entire thing, that’s on you. You could be emailing right now to get a piece of this action and you are wasting time reading a pleonastic car ad such as this? (small sense of pride).

13. Did you have to look up the word pleonastic? A: Yes.

14. Did you have to sound it out? A: Just buy my [sic] van. It’s awesome. And it’s below blue book.

Email for details. Thanks – Chris

Good News for those in Sinking Boats

July 17, 2013

CAVEAT: This analogy isn’t perfect. And I don’t know if I’ve heard anything like this before, but please let me know if you have, so I can link to it.

We each start life in a boat, adrift on the sea. Sadly, our boats are leaky to start with (due to “Sin”, but that’s another conversation). Almost as soon as we are able to make our first choice, we start to poke holes in our boats (by committing sins). The holes make our boat start to sink, so we start bailing out the water (with good works). We think that if we bail fast enough, we’ll stay afloat…which seems like it could work, except at the same time–even while we bail–we are poking more holes.

The answer is not to stop bailing and meditate, as some religions suggest. And we really don’t have the ability to plug the holes, either–it’s just not how the boat works, though there are many people selling what they call “hole repair kits”. The answer is to get out of the leaky boat!

So, Captain Jesus pulls alongside in his leak-proof Ship. He extends a hand and invites us out of our leaky boats, into his leak-proof Ship. Here is where we make our most important choice: do we accept or reject his offer for assistance?

Atheists stop their ears, close their eyes, and say there is no offer for help. Agnostics say they can’t really tell if there is an offer, but that’s because they aren’t looking for it and instead are looking elsewhere (but I personally can’t figure out where). Some people have chosen not to accept the offer for help, and instead are busy bailing with their religious buckets (even “cultural Christians”), attempting to plug holes with faulty “hole repair kits”, or a zillion other activities which don’t address their sinking situation. Worse, some people have decided that they need to go around and throw rocks at other people’s boats (violent religions), or pull people out of their boats into their own boat, so that they are all sinking together (cults).

On the Ship, there are many people who have accepted the offer. They no longer worry about bailing or plugging holes. Instead, they think about two things, mostly: (1) the goodness of their Captain and (2) how to help others out of their sinking boats.

I say “mostly” because they are still unlearning a lot of the habits that they gained while they were sinking, so they still are a pretty unruly crowd. Some of them go through the motions of bailing or plugging every now and then, esp. when they first arrive on-board the Ship. Some of them still heave rocks at the smaller boats! But the Captain does not allow that to continue, and is very stern about that, and does not allow it to continue. (Matthew 18:6 and Acts 5.)

The end of the story goes like this:

Some people never accept the offer to join the Ship, though it is always near at hand. They choose to do things their own way and trust in their own leaky boat. And, in the end, they sink. They enter eternity without finding the Source of joy, happiness, and comfort, which is Jesus. An eternity like that is lonely, dark, and comfortless–in a word, Hell.

But those who accept the offer are on the Ship, and it does indeed dock in the port of Heaven. Here there is no weeping, no tears, no pain, no mourning. (Revelation 21)

Why wait? Don’t miss the Ship!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.