Saturday, March 19, 2016

Your Future Home...

In the New World, what kind of house will you live in?

This has always been an interesting question for me to ponder, and for a variety of reasons. First, as someone who appreciates design and architecture, I often wonder how our homes will look on the other side of Armageddon. It’s likely, I suppose, that in the beginning we’ll build homes with standardized designs. This will make things somewhat more efficient. (It’s also possible that we’ll use modular construction methods, similar to what we’re seeing with recent branch and Kingdom Hall construction.) But as times moves onward, I’d expect to see more creative and innovative home and structural designs.

Secondly, I often wonder about what methods and materials we’ll use to build our homes. In preparation for writing All Things New, one of the research topics that I really delved into was eco-friendly architecture and construction methods. There are some really amazing things being developed these days, and I suspect that some of them may carry on into the future. I thought I’d write about them here in a post, and share some of the images that I think could be glimpses into our future homes.

Concrete is the world’s most popular building material, and for good reason. It can be made easily, formed into all sorts of imaginative shapes, and, if maintained properly, can last for decades. But even concrete is no match for the natural elements. Eventually, with enough exposure to moisture, cracks will form along its surfaces, leading to corrosion.

Henk Jonkers, a microbiologist of the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, believes he may have a solution to this problem–bioconcrete.

Bioconcrete is mixed just like regular concrete, but contains an extra ingredient, a special bacteria. The bacteria lies dormant in the dried concrete structure until cracks form over time, exposing the inside of the concrete to water, which breaks open biodegradable plastic capsules containing calcium lactate, the “food” that the bacteria needs to feed on. As the bacteria germinates, it feeds on the lactate, combines with the calcium, and forms limestone, binding the concrete back together.

So, theoretically, we could use bioconcrete or something like it to create structures requiring little maintenance that could last for centuries. Cool, huh?

Solar Paths & Roads
We’ve drilled the Earth for gases, oils, and minerals, much of it in the name of satisfying our need for energy. The result, as we all know, has been untold harm to ourselves and the Earth itself. We’ll need to find a solution to this problem, and it might be solar power. It’s free, clean, and available practically everywhere. The problem, however, has always been surface area.

The reason we don’t see things like solar cars, motorcycles, and planes at the consumer level is that the amount of space needed to soak up enough energy from the sun’s rays is usually much larger than the thing needing to be powered. (As an example, Solar Impulse 2, the plane that recently embarked on a trans-continental flight relying solely on its solar-chargeable batteries for power, had to be designed with a wingspan of 236 feet to accommodate the unwieldy solar panels, and it can only carry a single pilot. By contrast, an Airbus A380, which relies on jet fuel, has about the same wingspan, but flies six times faster and can carry about 500 people.)

Of course, I’d imagine that with time, solar panels will become smaller, more efficient, and easier to produce. But one interesting solution we may see in the New World are solar paths and roadways. Instead of climbing onto our grooves to install solar panels, the panels would be on the ground. Potentially, we could build a house anywhere along the roadway and “plug in”. Voila! Instant, free energy. Other benefits? Imagine roads with built-in LEDs, which would light up when you walked along them at night, or sensors built into the panels to give warning signals regarding road dangers up ahead. A cool idea indeed.

The only problem? With current technology, manufacturing solar panels requires toxic chemicals and other polluting factors.

Organically-Shaped Pipes
A tremendous amount of electricity is spent on water pumps. Pumps must work especially hard getting water to travel up to the top floors of high-rise apartment buildings, but the energy is wasted in other ways, too. One of those has to do with the current design of pipes.

Computers and machines tend to favor straight lines. Mathematically, they are easier to work with and produce. As a result, the machines we build are often based on boxes and rectangles. However, in actual physical application, things with curves tend to perform much better. (Think aero/hydrodynamics) As time goes on, many of the physical things we use (cars, airplanes, and even clothing), have begun to take on more organic, natural shapes. But other things are still stuck in the rigid ways of harsh angles and straight lines. Pipes are an example of this.

At first glance, this may not seem like much of a problem. After all, pipes turning at right angles make things much easier for architects and manufacturers (again, the math is simpler this way). However, much energy is lost as the water is forced to turn at sharp angles. This also puts extra strain on the pipes themselves.

By contrast, the branches and stems of trees never grow at right angles. The degree is much slighter, which maximizes the efficiency of the energy spent in getting the water to move. This is a engineering element that I hope to see eventually implemented in our New World pipes.

Harmonious Architecture
This one deals less with the technical aspects of building and more with its aesthetics. Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with one of the project overseers at Warwick, who offered all sorts of insights into the building processes being used there. There were lots of amazing details, but one that really stood out to me was the decision made to build much of the furniture used in the Bethel apartments from the lumber cleared from the original site.

How smart is that? Instead of selling the trees to some lumber company and having them hauled off, why not turn it into something useful on-site? It only makes sense that this is how we’ll build in the New World, as well. Less waste, with much focus made on reuse and recycling.

I would imagine, too, that this will eventually be reflected in the architecture itself. Homes will complement their environments in terms of materials used, colors, and styles. It’s an exciting thing to think about, and for me, makes the New World that much more real. Check out the images below for some neat examples of what future architecture may look like…

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Language in the New World

Language is a dynamic, living thing, constantly in a state of flux. Just compare British English and American English, and you'll quickly notice how many differences there are in pronunciation, spelling, grammar, and slang. And those are just two dialects of the same language, with the American counterpart only having developed for about three centuries!
And if you go back further than that? Check out this passage from Luke 8:1-3 from the Wycliffe's Bible, published in 1384:
1And it was don aftirward, and Jhesu made iorney by citees and castelis, prechinge and euangelysinge þe rewme of God, 2and twelue wiþ him; and summe wymmen þat weren heelid of wickide spiritis and syknessis, Marie, þat is clepid Mawdeleyn, of whom seuene deuelis wenten 3out, and Jone, þe wyf of Chuse, procuratour of Eroude, and Susanne, and manye oþere, whiche mynystriden to him of her riches.
I know what you're thinking: Huh? Sounds like a foreign language, right? Although I'm no expert on languages, I'd guess that non-English languages are the same, constantly evolving with the flow of time.

Of course, this poses a lot of interesting questions when it comes to life in paradise. There are currently about 6,000 spoken on this planet, and many of these language groups can't communicate with each other without learning at least a little of each others' language. Clearly, in the new world the language barrier will be a thing of the past. But how? There seem at present to be two possible scenarios: 1) Jehovah will miraculously unify the languages sometime after Armageddon, or 2) We will be required to study and learn a new language.

When I started mapping out All Things New, I quickly realized that I would need to choose one of these premises and stick with it throughout the course of the novel. It was an important element to decide early on, since it would affect a lot of the minuter details in Mitch's story. If you've read that book or The Unrighteous, then you'll already know which option I went with. (Hint: language classes were not part of the reconstruction work.) This blog post will explain why I leaned this way.

Please keep in mind: I am in no way dogmatic about this stance! And truthfully, it doesn't really matter; it'll all work out in the end. But since, from time to time, I do get emails asking why I chose this particular scenario, I thought it'd be worth writing about.

So, why is it that in the novels, everyone miraculously speaks a unified tongue right after Armageddon, you ask?

Well, thinking back to the days directly after the Noachian flood, we know that man spoke one language (or perhaps some dialects varying slightly from the original language Jehovah created Adam with). This, of course, enabled Nimrod to organize the people at that time to build a tower. The purpose behind the tower (to make a god-like name for themselves, and perhaps, as the Insight book points out, to survive a future flood), was in direct opposition to Jehovah's purpose, so he did something no one could have fathomed: he created a host of new languages. The results were immediate: chaos erupted, construction halted, and the people scattered.

Based on this account, it seems that Jehovah used the new languages to, in a sense, 'curse' the unrighteous people of that time. The results have plagued us down to this day. (If you've ever tried to learn a new language, you'll know that sometimes it truly feels like climbing an insurmountable barrier). The question is, Would it make sense for Jehovah to leave this barrier in place after the destruction of this wicked system of things? Or would He reverse the 'curse' from Nimrod's day, miraculously restoring our ability to communicate? To me, the latter seems more likely.

Another reason that I went with this scenario is that He's done it before. In Pentecost 33 C.E., when the Christian congregation was established, an outpouring of holy spirit resulted in the miraculous speaking of foreign tongues. Those first century Christians didn't need to study grammar or write flash cards–they could suddenly speak those tongues fluently, and this was done to facilitate the preaching to foreign-language Gentiles in Jerusalem at the time.

Under the subheading Language in the Insight book:
So, it appears that, when Jehovah God confused the speech of those at Babel, he first blotted out all memory of their previous common language and then introduced into their minds not only new vocabularies but also changed thought patterns, producing new grammars.
Indeed, language and thinking go hand in hand. Mastering a new language thus takes decades, since it requires the learner to reshape their thinking process. (New learners in a foreign language congregation will often lament that they can only give comments 'like a baby'. In fact, from a neurological stance, that is exactly what they're doing: learning the thought process and word formation from scratch, starting at the most rudimentary level and working their way up, as a child does.) And in the end, no matter how fluent the learner becomes, it rarely connects to the heart like their mother tongue.

So, for these reasons, it's my guess that scenario #1 is most likely. However, I am fully willing to be wrong on this point and many others!

Did I miss something? Is there another scenario I'm leaving out? Think we'll study the new tongue instead? Leave your feedback in the comments!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Critical Times Excerpt

You can read an excerpt for my latest novel, Critical Times, here.

And let me just say, I am nervous. Nervous because this book has a very different feel to it than my first two, and I'm not sure how readers will receive it.

Although there was a clear sense of conflict in both All Things New (between the interviewees and the things they faced during the Tribulation) and The Unrighteous (between the Lewis family and the unrighteous resurrected they were assigned to), these were both essentially paradise novels. The protagonists were nearing perfection and part of the enjoyment for the reader was in watching the characters grow. The settings of the novels were relaxing and peaceful, and reading it was meant to be a soothing experience.

Critical Times is a totally different animal. It's got a lot more conflict, as it's set during the most tumultuous period in mankind's history, the Great Tribulation...

I'd say more, but I don't want to spoil anything. Just keep in mind: this isn't another paradise novel!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Wiritng a Novel - Keeping it all Organized

One of the most daunting aspects of writing a novel is the sheer volume of words involved. Not only must they be written, but they must be organized somehow. Otherwise, you're bound to find yourself buried in an avalanche of words, paragraphs, and chapters. Every author has their own way of keeping it all organized, but my personal preference is a piece of software called MacJournal. (Microsoft Word, for the PC and Mac, is capable of some of the features I mention in this post. However, I prefer MacJournal, which is a faster, lighter program.)

The advantage of using MacJournal–as opposed to opening some other word processor and just typing away–is that you can easily organize and label each entry. As the name suggests, MacJournal is primarily a tool meant for keeping a desktop journal, so it automatically (and helpfully) names each new entry with the current date and time. I typically use one entry for each scene in the novel, and I rename it to reflect whatever happens of import in that scene. I also like to add blank entries in between other passages, to help denote chapter breaks.

My MacJournal project for The Unrighteous. Left column shows the entries/scenes for the story. In the 'Notes' section, you can see some of the entries I used for research and plotting.

In writing a novel, I often find myself getting stuck on certain passages and returning to them later. To call attention to these 'orphan' entries, I use various colored labels as tags. (In the screenshot above, I used the red to denote when I'd finished writing and editing each section)

I use a separate folder, contained within the same document, for all my reference notes. For example, any pertinent research I've done, important notes for the characters, facts that need to be checked, or other amendments that need to be made. I find that one of the worst things I can do while writing is to let myself get distracted with minor details, so having places like these where I can stick notes for future editing is a big help.

Another of my favorite features is MacJournal's word count, which is automatically displayed at the corner of the interface. Because I'm always writing with a word count goal in mind, knowing exactly how much I've written during each session helps me clearly gauge my progress.

Have another method of organizing your writing you'd like to share? Feel free to let me know in the comments!