Thursday, December 20, 2007

How to Win the War on Christmas

In the yuletide season, I wish everyone I meet a jolly "Happy Christmas!" Some do not take kindly to this greeting, and protest, "I don't observe Christmas!" If you do not observe Christmas, that is your choice, but these people act as if I'm trying to offend them. I wouldn't be offended if a Muslim wished me a happy Eid al-Adha, for example, I know they're just trying to be friendly.

So, to those who go beyond simply not observing Christmas, to being anti-Christmas, I respond to them saying, "Do you want to have an un-merry Christmas? May you be devoured by a horde of wild boars on December 25!" This shuts them up quickly, when I wave my totemic staff and they discover that I am the High Shaman of the UMBC Wild Boar Cult.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Pork rinds, also, the dentist.

There should be vegetarian "pork" rinds. I only ever had pork rinds once, but, right now, I have a hankering for them.

I went to the dentist a couple of weeks ago, and he told me that my wisdom teeth are impacted and need to be taken out, and that I grind my teeth. I hadn't really noticed either, or if I had, had just gotten used to them, but ever since then, they've been driving me crazy.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

William Carey and the Star Trek Juror

Barbara Adams, one of the jurors for the trial regarding the Whitewater scandal, showed up dressed in a Star Trek officers' uniform. Her motivation, she said, was that this was an important trial, and she thought that the values of Star Trek ought to factor into the outcome of the trial. Who can argue with that? She specifically cited inclusion, tolerance, peace, and faith in humankind as important values she sees in Star Trek, and I think those are good things for a juror to keep in mind. And if the story ended there, that would have been super.

The kicker is that she got kicked out of the jury for talking with the press about dressing up in uniform for the trial. Jurors ought not talk with the press -- who can argue with that?

A lot of the people who go to Star Trek conventions, I'd wager, are not Star Trek fans. Sure, they may dress in embarrassing costumes. No, they do dress in embarrassing costumes:

The thing is, though, that the Star Trek fans that are busy learning Klingon and watching the original series in their mom's basement aren't being about what Star Trek is about.

William Carey was a Star Trek fan. The man went on missions to seek out new life and new civilizations, and to go where the church had not gone before. He violated the Prime Directive, trouncing the caste system, infant sacrifice, and suttee. At the same time, he tried to make the gospel applicable to the cultures of India, rather than forcing Indians to accept western culture to be Christian, and he put muscle behind this by learning many languages and translating the Bible into them. William Carey got the best of what Star Trek is about, and a couple of hundred years early. Who can argue with that?

Monday, December 10, 2007

New Product Idea: Pop-Up Textbook

When I was a child, I read oodles of pop-up books, and was mesmerized by them. There should be pop-up textbooks, where Isaac Newton springs up into your FACE and you can pull a tab and help him discover calculus.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

New Product Idea: Mini Combo Washer/Dryer

I hate it when I wake up in the morning, and I don't have any clean trousers because I forgot to do laundry the night before. When I do remember the wash, I hate it when I have to mosey on down to the basement, barely awake, to extract my trousers from the dryer, first thing in the morning. I hate it when I put on cold clothes in the winter.

If I had a Mini Combo Washer/Dryer, none of these problems would affect me. I wouldn't have a dresser, just a rather large hamper. Then, every morning, I would toss the clothes I would need for the day into the Mini Combo Washer/Dryer, which would have them ready for me, nice and fresh and clean and warm, right as I step out of the shower. (The clothes would get clean very quickly, because it's only like one shirt and one pair of trousers.)

No worries about forgetting laundry the night before! No moseying into the basement on a cold winter morning! No cold clothes!

Also: I could wear my favorite trousers a week straight and not smell funny.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

For the Grinch: How to Steal Christmas

If I were the Grinch, and I were to want to bring Christmas to a screeching halt, this is what I would do. Rather than sneaking down each chimney in Whoville to steal all of the presents and the Christmas tree and the roast beast, I would sneak down each chimney and deliver one puppy. Whovillian parents would wind up taking care of the puppy after a couple of weeks, and they would resent whoever gave their child a puppy. Then they would not have Christmas again, to prevent receiving any more puppies. (Alternatively, they would wind up liking puppies, which is okay, but, I would keep delivering more and more puppies each year. One can only handle so many puppies.)

Also, I intend to mail my parents a box with airholes this year for Christmas. (Now I'm talking about real life, not what would happen if I was the Grinch.) Have you ever gotten a package with airholes? If you get an unexpected package with airholes, you think, "Hey, I have a surprise animal that might be venomous, and I might not want to take care of it. Who would send me an animal as a present?" I'm not sure what I should put in the package, though. Any suggestions? Snacks are always good, but something that needs airholes might be even better.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Some things should not be combined

1 If, hyphothetically, one is up until 8AM doing a numerical analysis homework on polynomial interpolation, one ought not listen to the "Philosophy Bites" podcast on the drive home "to stay awake". The risk here is not that one will fall asleep at the wheel, but that when one gets home, and hops in the sack, one will have dreams in which Thomas Hobbes' political philosophy involves finding Hermitian splines. Also, there was a fox in my dream.

Also, if there were all-you-can-eat buffets, where you would pay a little extra so that the waitstaff will fetch your food for you, that might be nice. "Excuse me, miss? Would you be so kind as to fetch me some terrible pizza? AND SUCCOTASH?"

Thursday, November 1, 2007

It's a Reformation Day Miracle!

I was just catching up with The Office at; as I watched episode 401, I was surprised and delighted to discover that Darryl and Pam are Presbyterians. It's a Reformation Day miracle! This is, quite possibly, the most positive media portrayal of Presbyterians. (I'm pretty sure that Darryl and Pam are PCUSA, though. Apostates.)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Reformation Day

Today, October 31, is Reformation Day in the Protestant Church, the anniversary of Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. As such, I will be going out Reformation caroling, singing such songs as:
  • No Pope, No Cry
  • I Shall Not Indulge Thee, Johann Tetzel
  • I Don't Want To Eat (A Diet of Worms)
I will be accompanied by Smashing Pipe Organs, the Huldrych Zwingli tribute band.

The Prestige 2

I have an idea for a sequel to the movie, The Prestige. It begins as David Copperfield, having learned the secret of time travel, from Albert Einstein, rescues Angier, who was left dying at the end of the first movie. This precipitates a multilateral magician's war, between Angier, Borden, and Copperfield. Cutter, the guy who played Alfred in Batman, also tries to top them with his amazing tricks, but is stopped by David Blaine, who, using his demonic powers, has summoned foul zombies in turn-of-the-century England, to overthrow London. Dumbledore seduces all the magicians, and they unite, using the art of stage illusion to halt the zombie invasion and bring an end to David Blaine's reign of terror. The movie ends as Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and David Oreck, the inventor of the Oreck Vacuum cleaner, all convert to the Amish church.

Also, all of the characters will be played by Johnny Depp.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Best UMBC Police Log

Props to Karis for digging this up:

TRAFFIC ARREST -- 9/13/2000, 4:50pm A UMBC student was observed parking her vehicle in the wrong side of the roadway against the flow of traffic at outer Hilltop Circle and South Administration Drive. When the officer attempted to provide assistance to the subject, she refused to comply with the officer's orders. When the officer requested her driver's license and registration, the subject fled the area in her vehicle. A slow-speed pursuit ensued on Administration Drive to Lot 10. She discharged a passenger and ignored the officer's commands to turn the vehicle off and produce identification. The subject continued to drive away on inner Hilltop Circle, stopping at the traffic light at the intersection of Hilltop Circle and Hilltop Road. Again refusing to comply with the officer's commands, the subject made a U-turn at the green traffic signal. A second police vehicle joined in the pursuit. Traffic congestion forced the vehicle to stop a stop at the entrance to Research Park Drive. A UMBC student assisted the officers by blocking the route of escape with her vehicle when the subject attempted to pull to the right and continue fleeing. Again refusing repeated demands to turn the vehicle off and get out, she placed her hands on the controls of the vehicle, indicating to the officers she was going to continue fleeing by the only remaining path that was blocked only by officers on foot. The officers then made a forced entry into the vehicle by breaking out a rear window and physically extracting the subject. The subject continued to resist arrest process, clinging to the steering wheel, screaming obscenities and making threats to do bodily harm against the officers. She was transported from the scene and the vehicle was impounded. She was charged with 5 traffic charges and 2 criminal charges. The district court commissioner set bail a $2,500.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A well-designed toothbrush

I only use electric toothbrushes. I'm too ADD to brush regularly without the POWER of SCIENCE. When I travel, though I have trouble, because they don't normally make travel electric toothbrushes, or cases for them, or whatever, so that I can toss the toothbrush into my book bag and not get toothpaste residue on my calculator.

I recently bought a shiny new Crest toothbrush, and it came with a plastic cap to go on the toothbrush. Why hasn't anyone else done this before? It just snaps on to cover the bristles.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

He must really like hiking

We got our backpacks because some guy died. Dad bought a sailboat from the widow, and she threw in these ugly, uncomfortable, faded orange backpacks, mainly to get rid of them.

One time, Dad took Spencer and me out backpacking on the Appalachian Trail, with our ugly, uncomfortable, faded orange backpacks. We came across a man who was wearing a hiking vest with oodles of pockets, he was drinking out of a CamelBak, and he was using two trekking poles. After we got out of earshot, I said, "That guy sure likes hiking." Dad said, "He likes buying stuff."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Whenever I open a new package, maybe it's shoes or luggage, and I find a silica gel packet, I can help but think, "mmm, delicious."

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Footprints poems for non-Christians

If you're an American Christian, you've probably come across the Footprints poem, and found it inspirational and not sappy. If you're not familiar with it, here it is:
One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky. In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only.

This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord, “You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”

The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”
In order to make this Internet weblog more accessible to people who aren't Christians, I have come up with some other Footprints poems, for people of other worldviews.

One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach alone. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky. In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. There was only ever one set of footprints. This didn't bother me, because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I would just solve my problems myself.
Zen Buddhism:
A monk named Seizei was walking along the beach with his master, Sozan. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky. In each scene he noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only.

This bothered Seizei because he noticed that during the low periods of his life, when he was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, he could see only one set of footprints, so he said to Sozan, “You promised me Sozan, that if I followed you, I would find enlightenment. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”

Sozan replied, “This flax weighs three pounds.” And Seizei was enlightened.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Smart People Ratio and Other Signs of Dumbness

We were all packed into the kitchen, four of us, all college graduates, unusually smart people, if I do say so myself, we were trying to set up a coffee maker.

Is it working yet?
No. These instructions suck!
It's plugged in.
What does L2ERR mean?
The beans are in the grinder.
And we put in water, right?
There's nothing in the manual about an L2ERR.
Did we set the clock?
Look at this sentence in the manual: 'Please to insert beans here for desired coffee amount'
Why did you buy this coffee maker?
Did we break it?
It's new, it should be fine.
But, it's plugged in, right?
Crap crap crap.
Push that button.
What is an L2ERR?
No, let's try to set the clock on the thing.
...and so on, for about half an hour.

And then, someone just closed the lid to the coffee maker, and it hummed on its way, grinding the beans and beginning to drip.

Too many smart people in one place is a sure sign of stupid. What are some others?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Two Stupid Product Slogans

  1. Running late? Run a red light!
  2. Hard liquor: for when tough guys feel like drinking out of dainty glasses

Thursday, July 26, 2007


With the Web 2.0 and the tubes and all, and IP addresses, you might not have seen commercials on TV lately. Here are things I learned from commercials tonight.

  • Cal Ripkin's induction to the hall of fame is news
  • A sandwich commerating Cal Ripkin's induction to the hall of fame is news
  • Lotteries have a positive expected payoff
  • Everyone likes horseracing, and you should, too
  • The Nissan bottom line is the cheapest price you will pay
  • Herbs and fruit have something to do with making you have pretty hair with which to impress an ENTIRE MOTORCYCLE GANG
  • People will argue violently over the type of pizza they will consume
  • A crowd of people will follow you about, if you pick the right cell phone network, impressing mobsters that were about to bring you harm
  • Target supports teachers (if you give them key personal information and customer loyalty, in the form of a Target credit card)
  • This car will keep your child from wetting his pants
  • This will make you have pretty skin
  • This is a call on your iPhone
  • Amstel Light beer will make you as cultured as a craftsman of musical instruments
Now you know everything that is true. Ever.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Transformers Personality Test

What type of Transformer are you? Take this test to find out! You can play along at home, by keeping track of your answers to each question.

Question 1:
Which do you prefer:
a Helping people
b Blowing stuff up

The End

If you picked a for Q1, you are an Autobot. If you picked b, you are Decepticon.

The medium is the message

Once, some time ago, I had a friend who was in a rather committed relationship. His girlfriend then abruptly broke up with him using a text message. I know nothing of the content of the message, but what seemed to be very difficult for my friend was the coldness with which he was dumped.

A few years ago, I was working in a lab. One of the janitors, Derrick, befriended me. Derrick never struck me as the sharpest nail in the bucket. One time, we were talking:

D: What kind of degree are you working on?
A: I'm getting a Ph.D.
D: So in a few years, you'll be Dr. Alex?
A: Yup!
D: Will you have patients?
A: What do you mean?
D: When people get sick, will they come to you?
A: No, I won't be that kind of doctor. I think I'd like to be a professor, maybe in Australia.
D: You know what they have in Australia? Crocodiles.
A: That's true, but I probably won't-
D: I hope you don't get eaten by a crocodile.
A: Thanks, Derrick. I'll be careful.

Now, I didn't get very much useful information from Derrick. I'm pretty sure, though, that "I hope you don't get eaten by a crocodile" means "You're important to me"; Derrick helped me have a good day when my boss was being a pooter. Confused as he was, Derrick had loving people down pat.

This idea, that the medium is a weighty chunk of the message, has important implications for our understanding of what revelation is and what it could mean. Revelation ought to mirror redemption.

If God is a loving father, well, I don't know my dad by reading a book that he wrote. I don't know my dad by obeying a government structure, or by coming to a consensus with my brothers and sister as to who our dad is. I emphatically don't know my Dad through babbling incomprehensibly. I certainly don't think of what I wished my dad was like, and then say that's what he is.

Redemption is simple enough that a child can get it, and it's the most difficult thing in the world, not difficult like studying calculus or digging a ditch, but difficult like saying I'm sorry or listening to Grandma tell a mundane story, only more difficult than that.

I've heard of a professor who, when asked a question in one of his quantum mechanics classes, would write Schrödinger's equation up on the board, saying, "That's all we know, and that's all we need to know" and then proceed to work out the answer from there. I think revelation is like Schrödinger's equation, simple, knowable, reliable, but difficult and confusing.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Why arguing for creationism is, in my opinion, ill-advised

Some time ago, I explained why I think that arguing in favor of Intelligent Design is almost completely misguided; rather than suggesting that ID is false, I said that only a very few people are even qualified to have such a discussion. In response, crooked deep down wrote
However, wouldn't you say that, for some people, what they perceive to be incontrovertible scientific evidence against the Bible is a fence that keeps them from loving Jesus, and we can help them along in their journey if we can knock a hole in that fence?
It's important to remember that crooked is a young earth creationist, so the discussion is completely re-framed, we need to distinguish between three positions:
  1. Young earth creationism
  2. Theistic evolution (ID)
  3. Atheistic evolution
This astute reader observed that there are really two reasons to talk about theory of origin:
  1. To convince somebody to accept Jesus
  2. To reassure yourself that the Bible isn't inauthentic
One of the hiccups with ID is that it attempts 1, but not 2. That is, ID points us to an unnamed creator, but it doesn't make it any easier to read Genesis 1-3 as basically historical.

Young earth creationism attempts both, but fails altogether, because it is deeply incongruous with astronomy, geology, paleontology, paleoanthropology, and archeology, even when just considering the contention that the earth is 6,000 years old (or so). The FAQ is the best place to start that I've found.

As far as the science of it is considered, I think creationism is pretty dumb, but I prefer not to think ill of creationists (exception: Kent Hovind). For the most part, creationism makes sense, if you've mostly been exposed to creationist literature. I think of creationism like I think of urban legends, people believe because people they trust believe, and that's completely reasonable, most of the time.

I don't think that belief in YEC is neutral; I think that it is destructive because of how it misrepresents nature and falsely engenders distrust in the scientific process. One example of how YEC harbors misinformation is in crooked's response:
For example, we might say that much-touted radiometric dating relies on a lot of assumptions that might not be true, or the whole thing with the decay of the earth's magnetic field being seemingly incongruous with an Earth much older than 10,000 years.
Again, I don't suspect any malice or evil on the part of crooked, or on the part of whoever told him that, but this is a good example of how YEC, like an urban legend or conspiracy theory, shows part of the information to produce misunderstanding of the whole.

Yes, the earth's magnetic field is currently weakening. This is normal. The contention that the earth can't be much older than 10,000 years depends on the assumption that that the magnetic field has been weakening monotonically, that is, that it has always been weakening. This is simply a very bad assumption; we know that the magnetic field, rather than decreasing steadily, fluctuates periodically, this is called geomagnetic reversal.

We know that geomagnetic reversals have taken place, many times, from several pieces of evidence, namely variation in magnetic polarity in adjacent rock layers. For example, at places where new rock forms continuously, like at the mid-Atlantic ridge, the magnetic polarity of a bit of the rock is like a snapshot of the earth's magnetic field from when that bit of rock was formed. Measurements like this actually confirm the geomagnetic reversal theory, and emphatically point to an old age for the earth.

If I had a friend who was considering becoming a Christian, but felt as if the Genesis account of creation didn't match with science, rather than teach him YEC, I'd instead tell him that Genesis 1-3 was actually written to be understood as myth. George E. Mendenhall's article, "The Shady Side of Wisdom" provides a good explanation of this. (This article is very difficult to find; if you want a copy, ask me.)

Mendenhall demonstrated from linguistic analysis that the text had a late date of authorship, based on the use of certain words that are relatively new. This, alone, doesn't take away from the understanding of the Genesis account as inspired, we just need to read it as an inspired myth that tells us much about who we are and who God is, but not so much about actual history. This isn't even a new idea, Augustine, among others, thought of Genesis 1-3 as basically mythical.

This is what I'd tell a friend considering becoming a Christian.

I hope that I walked the line between calling YEC the way I see it, but not being mean to my creationist readers. If you want to talk, well, origins, check the FAQ first, then drop a comment.

Monday, July 23, 2007

What is Christian agnosticism?

I am a Christian agnostic. I need to explain what I mean by that, because I'm not aware of anyone famous who means by that what I do. One of my friends has told me that in talking with me, he needs to remember that I truly mean both words; not a compromise or a middle ground between both viewpoints, I genuinely mean both things.

I was pretty happy as an evangelical Christian, but I doubted a lot, especially over the course of the past year or so, and I couldn't find many plain answers, so that landed me in agnosticism. I am not trying to persuade my Christian friends to change their beliefs or actions in any way, except to recognize that many of the evidences for the truth claims they make are not as solid as they might think; doubters and nonbelievers ought not be dismissed saying, "They don't believe because they don't want to", belief in God ought not be considered obvious.

In particular, the Christian agnostic label falls strangely on evangelical ears, and understandably so, because of the evangelical emphasis on salvation through personal faith in Christ. While I might use those words to describe what I think, I mean something a little bit different by "faith" and "Christ", and I want to be careful not to play a linguistic shell-game -- I do believe something different from evangelical Christians. I'll talk a little more about Christian agnostic soteriology later, but I do want to describe what I mean by "faith" and "Christ".

When I say that I have faith in Christ, I don't mean that I make any particular truth-claim assertions about the existence of God, the historicity of Jesus, or the inspiration, authenticity, or inerrancy of the scriptures. Instead, I mean only two things:

  1. Living like the Bible says that Jesus lived is the best way to live.
  2. I am not Jesus.
Point 1 seems to me to be reasonable. I need a compass for my life. Some people think that the best way to pose this compass is in terms of values, like courage or honesty or respect, or in terms of a goal, like financial success, world peace, an end to poverty, or having a family. I think that it's more powerful to have a person as a compass. We never see big, abstract goals come to fruition, and values are ambiguous, but I come face-to-face with people who cook my lunch, play croquet with me, who give me hugs, or tell me jokes. The ineffability of God, the unfathomable beauty of compassion, self-sacrifice, and courage, I can only apprehend when wrapped up in a person.

Point 2 is more subtle, and you can tell, by seeing what people in our culture think. There seems to be an understanding that "good people" deserve to go to heaven, regardless of how they relate to God. There is a general agreement that Jesus things like loving people and listening are good things. What is missed, though, is that I'm not the main character in the story of my life, and that if I was, my story would be a very sad and boring one.

Dan Liebert, Verbal Cartoonist, wrote:
If they ever make a musical about my life, there will probably be a lot of songs about jacking off and pizza.
One of the funny things about The Onion is its stories about Don Turnbee, describing the challenges he faces in fast food restaurants (in one, he isn't sure what to do with extra ketchup packets, so he stockpiles them). The joke, as I understand it, is that The Onion reports on life not based on what is really important, but on what Don Turnbee, for instance, would think is important.

Don Turnbee is lame, and I don't want to be lame.

There was a guy I knew once, I took classes with him. He's a very good person, an excellent student, and a good friend to have. He was just stunningly lame. He was the reincarnation of Marty McFly's dad from Back to the Future, with bonus lameness for looking like he accidentally stepped into the wrong decade. He wore coke-bottle glasses and velcro shoes and a Mister Rogers sweater. You could ask him about President number, say, 23, and he'd tell you more than you ever wanted to know about Benjamin Harrison -- when and where he was born, when he took office, his family members' names, his cabinet... I had to check Wikipedia to know that we ever had a president named Benjamin Harrison. Every day, at noon, he'd say, "High noon, time for lunch".

The thing that I always wondered about this fellow was whether he was aware that he was lame. I think that if you're lame, and don't know it, that's bonus lame points.

I very much like the Jesus Prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
I think that the theology behind that prayer is the best lens through which I can see the world. The repentance in the Jesus Prayer is my antidote for lameness, found by my embracing my lameness.

The purpose of this world view is up in the air. At the least, it can function as a layover on a spiritual journey. It's nice, because it insulates living a good life and having a wise direction from doubt in the goodness of God. That is, if I can find God to be real, and basically congruent with who the Bible describes Jesus to be, I can find inspiration and hope from that, but, if not, I still have some idea of what the right thing to do is.

One major problem with Christian agnosticism is that it doesn't give me much hope. I don't know that God will make everything turn out well in the end, and I would like to be able to have that hope. I don't necessarily think that Christian agnosticism is a good idea, but it's what I've got to deal with right now. One of the good things about Christian agnosticism is that if there's anything at all to the Christian claims in the existence and goodness of God, and the historicity and divinity of Jesus, I'll find them to be true, eventually, by God's grace.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." -- Matthew 5:8

Awesome Scott Adams quote

Another reason why Scott Adams will be canonized in the First Church of the Christian Existentialist:

You need a healthy ego to endure the abuse that comes with any sort of success. The trick is to think of your ego as your goofy best friend who lends moral support but doesn’t know shit.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A prayer book that ought to be written

I have an Orthodox prayer book, and it's pretty cool. The daily prayers in it I've found to be enriching and challenging. Prayer books are nice, because sometimes I'm not on great terms with God; just like you put stakes in the ground and tie a sapling to them, to help the sapling grow straight, prayer books help me learn how to pray straight. Still, I feel like there are some situations that aren't covered. In the prayer book I have, there are prayers like these:
  • For the Priesthood
  • At the Table
  • For Repentence
  • Before Commencing any Task
  • Of Single Persons
  • Before a Journey
  • For the Sick
and so on. I guess it would be helpful to me to have a prayer book with prayers with titles like these:
  • When I Don't Like Jesus
  • For a Homeless Person that I Meet on the Street
  • When my Computer Crashes
  • When Nothing Makes Sense
  • When I Get Cut Off in Traffic
  • When Someone Needs a Friend, and I Don't Want to be That Person's Friend
  • For a Blown Test that I Didn't Study Enough For Because I'm a Slacker
I've looked hard on Amazon for a prayer book like that, and I'm pretty sure it doesn't exist, one that confronts mundane, everyday situations that suck with an understanding of God as holy, other, supernatural, and beautiful; either the realness of my situation or the holiness of God is compromised.

Here's a pretty cool prayer by Philaret, Patriarch of Moscow:

My Lord, I know not what I ought to ask of Thee.
Thou and Thou alone knowest my needs.
Thou lovest me more than I am able to love Thee.
O Father, grant unto me, Thy servant, all which I cannot ask.
For a cross I dare not ask, nor for consolation;
I dare only to stand in Thy presence.
My heart is open to Thee.
Thou seest my needs of which I myself am unaware.
Behold and lift me up!
In Thy presence I stand,
awed and silenced by Thy will and Thy judgments,
into which my mind cannot penetrate.
To Thee I offer myself as a sacrifice.
No other desire is mine but to fulfill Thy will.
Teach me how to pray.
Do Thyself pray within me.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

A story about a monk and Satan

This is a story I read in a book of quirky Orthodox stories.

One time, Satan disguised himself as a beautiful angel, and went to visit a monk, to tempt him. He came to visit this monk during his evening prayers, who looked up at the apparition, and said, "Oh, you must have made a mistake. I'm not holy enough to be visited by an angel. Perhaps you should try the next cell over." And Satan's plan was thwarted.

The Job who was never rich

I write this from Alabama. Alabama is a strange, strange place. Stores have names like Winn Dixie or Piggly Wiggly, people eat at Twix 'N Tween, there are towns with names like Six Mile, Tuscaloosa, and Remlap (so named to spite the Palmer family). The people talk funny, over-stressing their vowels (Winn of Winn Dixie can be stretched into three syllables: we-ya-inn). Everyone has a truck. The nearest tofu is half an hour away.

On Friday, we visited with some old family friends. I don't pay much attention to what other people say when we pray, I don't know why, I just have trouble focusing. Don's blessing over lunch on Friday is still messing with me, though.

When Don prayed, he thanked God for good friends and good food, as clear signs of God's Goodness. Don has a deep and sound acceptance that God is in control, so we can sleep soundly at night.

Don is dying of cancer. He has 10 kids. He's never really had a well-paying job. His hair is falling out.

I'm 22. I'm a graduate student. I am happy and healthy. I have amazing hair.

From where I'm standing, it seems that God is doing his best to look like a happy delusion, if he's there, at all. If God's so good, what's he doing about poverty, hunger, or disease? And if people believing in God is so important to God, then why hasn't he made it a little easier for the other 4 billion of us that aren't convinced?

Don's idea of who God is messes with me. Some people have very good lives, and credit God with providing them with their blessings, so their thinking that God is good and sovereign seems reasonable, but their proof of God can be written off as confirmation bias. On the other hand, while everything is falling apart for Don, he still loves God and thinks God is good. Don doesn't seem to be believing out of desperation, he's not stupid, he's not naive. What has Don seen that I haven't, that he considers God being a good god a tangible reality?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Fixing the Mac Trash Can UI

In Mac OSX, there is a trash can that lives on the dock. One of the neat things about Mac OS is how it emphasizes that everything goes from somewhere to somewhere -- a file doesn't get deleted, it goes into the trash can, and you can pull it back out again, which I do sometimes, because I get overzealous and throw things away that I ought not.

When the trash can is empty, it looks nice and clean and sharp, the sort of trash can you'd carry about with you to impress people. When it is full, it looks dirty, and, when compared with the rest of the shiny icons on my dock, I feel a great need to empty it.

The thing that is broken about this interface element is that it looks full, even if there is only one teeny text file in the trash can. I don't need to know when there is at least one file in the trash can, I need to know when there are so many large files in the trash can that it needs to be emptied, so that I can download more anime. The trash can shouldn't ever be emptied, unless I need to free up some disk space -- emptying it at any other time is inefficient, and unnecessarily risks permanently deleting an important file.

So, there are really two problems here: the trash can tells me not when it's full, but when it has at least one file, which is useless information, and when it has at least one file in it, it tells me that I ought to empty it when I really shouldn't.

What I just did, to break the habit of compulsively emptying my trash can, was set it so that it always displays the empty trash can icon. If you're a Mac user, you can do this too, I found instructions at InterfaceLIFT. When you get to the part where it says "open .", instead, type "cp trashempty.png trashfull.png".

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Fasting from Christianity

Incarnational ministry is getting to be hip, which is good, because Jesus started it. When we help poor people, sometimes it helps to be poor, too. When we help kids, it helps to do kid things with kids, like playing play-doh and having nap time and drinking apple juice. When helping people of a certain ethnicity, it helps to take on as many elements of their culture as possible, things like food, dress, language, expressions, and folklore. Incarnational ministry is important for two big reasons: it puts us close to the people we're helping, so we can understand them, and it puts them close to us so that they can trust us and be open to our help.

When we help the unchurched, though, how can we do that incarnationally? That is, I spend maybe one day a week talking with non-Christians. I don't get their lifestyles, though, because I'm spending the other six in church, two bible studies, prayer groups, and leadership team meetings. I listen to Christian music (though by no means exclusively) and I read a lot of Christian books. Andy Crouch quotes Nathan Beirman's book Bringing Heaven Down to Earth, in which Nathan quotes a play by Daniel Jurman, who, speaking for Daniel (of the lion's den), says, "In every way that is unimportant, let them make us Chaldeans.".

I'd like to maybe spend a month, at least, fasting from Christianity. That's not to say that I'd be avoiding Christ, or living in revelry. The fast would focus on half of the point of incarnational ministry -- just understanding people who don't know Jesus. Avoiding Christianity might not be particularly helpful, in and of itself, in reaching the unchurched. Yet, there are so many cultural elements of Christianity that are unimportant. I don't need to listen to Audio Adrenaline, I don't need to go to Bible study or church or potlucks, I don't need to read so many Christian books, I don't need to wear Christian T-shirts. A bunch of those things are pretty good, but I could do without them for a month. (Some of those Christian things are so bad, I ought to avoid them forever.)

What do you think I ought to give up in my fast from Christianity? What should I keep? How can I become an agnostic or a nominal Christian, "in all ways unimportant"?

Great Christian Woman Authors

On my bookshelf, I have a lot of C. S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, John Piper, and James Sire, and I'm starting to accumulate some Barth and Kierkegaard. I also understand that I ought to be reading J. I. Packer, Eugene Peterson, Spurgeon, and Edwards. I disagree with a lot of them, a lot of the time, especially Schaeffer, so that tells me that I'm probably reading the books I ought to read.

I have a couple of good Christian books by women, but they're not the sort of thing that will be read in a hundred years. (Notable exceptions are Corrie Ten Boom and Edith Schaeffer.)

Now, I don't hold that men are automatically better authors, leaders, and theologians. Rather, I'd probably mostly point to women as my primary spiritual influences. Who are some good Christian authors that are women? Why do you think that my bookshelf is so unbalanced?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Why arguing intelligent design is unproductive

I grew up reading many books on how to argue creationism, to defend the faith from the evolutionists. When I got to college, I saw that arguing creationism wasn't working at all. This was very strange, because I knew all the arguments. What I didn't realize for a very long time is that science interprets itself. Science is a communal endeavor, and it grows through discussions, not arguments. The standard of truth in science is now basically postmodern.

Science is very different now than it was a hundred years ago; it is staggering under its own weight. Science has become a community of specialists. About a half a dozen people in the world understand what it is that I'm doing for my research right now, and why it's important. If anyone outside of that very small group wanted to double-check my work, it would probably take him weeks of reading old journal articles, doodling on marker boards, asking questions, and messing about with computer simulations written in Fortran.

When articles that I write go up for peer review, the validity of my work is considered by some of the few people who can actually understand it. The confidence that scientists outside that circle can place on my work rests on the trustworthiness of my reviewers. In short, scientific truth is determined by the community. This is a postmodern standard of truth.

We scientists would like it if everything we knew in science could be reasoned from first principles, or tested quickly and easily in a lab setting. We don't want to have to use a postmodern standard of truth, but we have little choice. It's not quite so bad as it sounds; because science is based on experimentation, observation, and reason, it doesn't become unhinged from reality nearly as quickly as disciplines which are based more on opinion and ideology. And science works; we've sent astronauts to the moon, our life expectancies are much improved over what they were a hundred years ago, and I can buy a pizza for a dollar and cook it in four minutes.

If I, as an individual, were to argue against the consensus of the entire scientific community, I would be presumptuous. Thomas had the luxury of being able to touch the holes in Jesus' hands and feet, and the wound in his side; then he could believe. The scientific community is composed of people who are as skeptical as Thomas, but, when it comes to theory of origin, the evidence is not as plain to us as it was to Thomas. No one person can understand biochemistry in sufficient detail to be able to consider whether it is probable that even a single cell came about by chance. When it comes to problems that require such a high degree of specialization, it is unreasonable to expect a scientist to take my word over that of the community.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Why I like a chalk quote

Previously, I mentioned that some people on campus are writing little tidbits on the exterior walls of the academic buildings. I want to write a little musing on this quote:

Life contains two tragedies.
One is to not get your heart's desire.
The other is to get it.

We see the first tragedy all the time in the movies, but we rarely see the second. In Talladega Nights, Ricky Bobby loses his status as the top NASCAR driver. In Stranger than Fiction and in Joe Versus the Volcano men wrestle with their mortality. In UHF, George Newman's struggle is finding a lifestyle that grants him the freedom to imagine. In I Heart Huckabees, Tommy Corn and Albert Markovski want to protect the environment. In all of these movies, the hero's struggle is in trying to gain or keep his heart's desire.

More rare, though, are movies about a hero already having his heart's desire and suffering in the despair, "Is this all there is?". (The Aviator is a notable exception.) This is odd, because this suffering is very real, it happens all the time to rich, successful, famous people. When you hit the top, where do you go but down?

When I saw Return of the King for the first time, I was overwhelmed at the end. The Fellowship led the fight against Evil and won, but what next? Aragorn had a kingdom to rule, Sam had a family to love, and Frodo and Gandalf left for the Undying Lands. But what happened to Legolas and Gimli? The Hobbits had been fighting for their homes, Aragorn, for his kingdom, but Legolas and Gimli were fighting because they were warriors -- that's what they do. What does a warrior do when there's no one left to fight?

Dogs chase cars. What would a dog do if it caught one?

"I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a chasing after the wind."

Thursday, April 19, 2007

New Product Idea: Placebluetooth

I like to talk to myself, but people look at me funny when I do.

Solution: Placebluetooth. It looks like a Bluetooth headset, but it doesn't actually do anything. Except make me look not-crazy!

(Note: The "place" in Placebluetooth isn't pronounced like a place you go, it's like the "place" in "placebo".)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Tragedy Reveals Insanity

I remember April 20, 1999. I was in eighth grade at the time. Being 420 day, there was mild disorder at my school, students acting out a lot. We had a sub for math class, and we were so mean to her that (I kid you not) the entire class got referred to the office twice. We answered all of the math questions with 420, asked the sub about what she thought of Dawson's Creek (she was an avid fan), and were generally obnoxious. It was good fun, though. That was sixth period. At some point during seventh period, the last for the day, word was drifting through the school about someone getting shot in Colorado. When I got home, I watched the news.

The next day, my school was closed. When we got back, we heard that the killers were goth kids who played Doom and listened to Marilyn Manson. We had school closed another time that year, from a bogus bomb threat. Trenchcoats were banned from the school dress code.

I remember September 11, 2001. I was riding to community college, I think with Matthew. We heard something strange on the radio about the World Trade Center and an airplane. I sat through my 9:35 AM western civ class, and went to physics class after that. Campus closed before lab was supposed to start; everyone went home. I hitched a ride from one of the other math tutors. When I got home, I watched the news.

The next day would have been my first day working at the Army Research Lab, but the military base was closed. We heard it was radical Muslim terrorists. I wondered if it was the end of the world; I'd seen the Left Behind movie and knew that the end of the world had something to do with mayhem in the Middle East. I saw this article on The Onion once, and it reminds me of the mentality we had shortly after 9/11. We baked cakes, had candlelight vigils, memorial services. The Senate sang "God Bless America".

What I find striking about attacks and massacres is that we follow a pattern; each tragedy is basically the same as the one before. The evil event happens, then we close schools or businesses for a day, we mourn the loss with candles and American-flag cakes, and then we have a witch hunt. People who play violent video games or Dungeons and Dragons, watch violent movies, listen to rock or metal, social outcasts, religious radicals, and the neurologically atypical, we now know, are the most likely to go on a killing spree.

The witch hunt is my personal favorite phase of the recovery process, because I find that, with each new killing spree, I fit the profile of a mass murderer more fully, which is funny, because I don't feel like a mass murderer. I flinch when I set mousetraps, afraid I'll get snapped. I just happen to like Dungeons and Dragons, Half-Life 2, Reservoir Dogs, Metallica, and Jesus, and I have ADD and anxiety problems.

I don't understand the American response to tragedy. At least, I hope I don't. I hope my best guess as to why we act the way we do is incorrect.

On September 11, about 3,000 people died. We baked American flag cakes, had candle light vigils, and the Senate sang "God Bless America". Every day, kids die from hunger and preventable disease, ten times as many as died in the attacks on September 11. Why does death get our attention some times, but not others?

Perhaps poverty and starvation, the AIDS epidemic, disease from bad drinking water, and the slave trade don't make good news, because you can't express the evil behind the pain in a sound byte. We remember the image of flames and smoke coming out of the World Trade Center. Starving kids don't make for captivating TV. If that were all there were to the inconsistency of mourning American tragedies while ignoring global atrocities, that would be awful, but, still, understandable.

But, then again, the Indian Ocean Tsunami was newsworthy. There was wreckage and devastation. There were before and after pictures. Before: village. After: debris. And there is no debating the severity of the devastation: 180,00 people died -- sixty times the number that died from the September 11 attacks. The Tsunami made the news, and some people gave to the Red Cross, but where were the candlelight vigils and car ribbons saying "Support Burma"?

Here's my hypothesis, and I hope it's wrong. I think we care most about tragedies when they happen to people like us because our response to tragedy is rooted not in mercy and grief, but in fear; we react the most when we see people die in ways that remind us that we could die tomorrow. I see the starving kids on the commercials on TV, and I feel guilty, perhaps, or pity, but not fear. I see starving kids and think, "They are dying and need help", but, other college kids get shot, and I think, "I could get shot, too." And then Seinfeld comes back on, and Kramer makes a salad in the shower, and I laugh, because, seriously, who makes salad in the shower? That's gross!

Perhaps this explains why we pay attention to mass murders here, while ignoring mass starvation overseas. I can't think of any other reason why we bake cakes and have memorial services and make Facebook groups in memory of the dead, while we generally fail to act to help those who are still living. This inconsistency enrages me; our response to tragedy is not compassion, it is the American folk religion. Not that I am not grieved by the losses at Virginia Tech on Monday, it's just that it makes more sense to me to grieve a thousand times that every day, for the kids who are starving. I just can't mourn enough. I can't start a thousand Facebook groups a day, or have a thousand moments of silence, or a thousand memorial services. If the deaths from 9/11 were worth a cake, I'd need to bake ten cakes a day to keep up with deaths from starvation, as if that would help matters.

I'm frustrated because I don't feel nearly enough empathy for starving kids, AIDS victims, the poor, and slaves, and you can tell I'm not doing enough because I continue buying and consuming and tuning out.

What about the witch hunts? Those get to me.

Here's my hypothesis on the witch hunts, and, again, I hope I'm wrong. I think the witch hunts come about because, at the back of our minds, we're not only asking "What if I get shot, too?" but "What if I go on a killing spree, too?" We listen carefully, trying to find some way to prove that we are categorically different from the killers, so we don't have to worry that we'll become them. Victims enter the heaven of being remembered as martyrs, murderers are sent to the hell of being remembered as villains. The murderers get remembered longer than the victims, most of the time. Can you name one person killed by Jack the Ripper? Lizzie Borden we might remember as having killed her father and stepmother with an axe, but we don't remember either of the victims' names.

So we blame Dungeons and Dragons, violent video games, extremist religion, atypical neurology, so that we know for sure that we are, in fact, good people, incapable of causing such an atrocity. We can continue to feel good about ourselves by refusing to empathize with killers.

The way that I find myself responding to Columbine, to 9/11, and now, to the Virginia Tech shootings, is identification with the killers, because I can't help but relate. Like Dylan and Eric, I like violent video games. Like the September 11 killers, I am deeply religious, and concerned with some of the same global issues that they were. Like Cho Seung-Hui, I am a loner who listens to alt rock. I don't see what's so very different about us. I suppose I was a bit dismissive earlier about how I'll obviously never become a mass murderer. I am capable of the same evils that these killers are; my evils just don't make the news.

For people like me, we have an alternative way of coping with the idea that we could be evil, we victimize the killers, and shift the blame elsewhere; this happened after Columbine. It's been explained to me that Eric and Dylan were excluded, and if someone had just reached out to them, the Columbine massacre could have been prevented; the real fault lies on the football players and cheerleaders who overturned some outcast's lunch tray. Then, we outcasts cope by blaming and hating the popular kids.

I can fool myself into thinking that nerds and losers like me aren't evil, just misunderstood; when we do wrong, it's the fault of the society around us placing on us undue pressure. But I know what I'm doing. I take pride in being a hipster, but I know that in shifting the blame, I affirming that I'm a mainstream American, the only difference is I'm wearing Groucho glasses.

The only authentic way for me to rebel against this culture is to say that I am capable of great evil, I do great evil. It's not the D&D, or the video games, the music, the religion, or the ADD and anxiety. It's not the American society around me. I am evil; I could attribute it to negative external influences, but don't really need the help in being evil. I'm worse than the mass murderers; at least, they're being consistent within their world views of despair and martyrdom. I am a hypocrite. I don't do that much more for social justice than the average American, I just talk about it more. I'm lazy and afraid and judgmental.

To stay there, to revel in the despair of my evil, is nihilism. It would work, but it's too easy of a way out. I think that I'm too good and important and unique to do that. I could try to change, to become better than I am, but I have tried to change, and it's gotten me right where I am. I try to find Life by changing myself. I can't stand Madonna, and she's doing the exact same thing that I am, shaping her image to become the woman she wants people to see, and she's been doing it longer than I have, and she's better at it than I ever will be.

"Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?"

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Mac Getting Things Done Applications

I'm ADD. The most direct way that this impacts making code, doing dishes, and writing a letter to Grandma is that I have difficulty in clarifying the exact steps that I need to do to get a project done, and so I get really overwhelmed and go watch the GodTube (Slogan: Broadcast Him). Then, it's three hours later, and I don't know how that happened.

The Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology has been priceless for me. Merlin Mann on 43 Folders probably has the best musings on the topic, on the whole Interweb, so I won't be too pedantic in describing the method.

The shortest summary of GTD that I can give is:
  1. Break down each complex project you have to do into short, concrete steps
  2. Categorize each step in each project according to contexts
  3. When working, try to do a handful of things with the same context at the same time, even if they're from different projects
(Yes, I know there are five steps to GTD, and these three correspond to about two-and-a-half of those. These three steps here are the most important, in my opinion, to a GTD app.)

The kicker is that you have to re-collate your task lists depending on whether you're planning (sort tasks by project) or working (sort tasks by context). The method lends itself to simple, specialized applications that can do this one thing and do it well. The remainder of this post is 1-paragraph reviews of nine GTD applications for Mac; I've tried each of these personally.

My idea of an optimum GTD app is the following:
  1. Sorts tasks by projects and contexts, and doesn't do much more
  2. Cooperates with Quicksilver
  3. Tight keyboard commands -- almost to the point of being easy to use cheerfully, keyboard-only
Other people do not share my philosophy, and I respect that; if you're looking for something else, my reviews won't be so helpful. Also, I only consider apps that run locally on a Mac (webapps put me too close to Interweb distractions).

Each review is of the form:
Name of app
Which of my three criterion does this app meet?
One line review
One paragraph review

Kinkless GTD
Free, requires OmniOutliner Pro
Probably Merlin Mann's favorite GTD app
Simple, QuickSilver, Keyboard
Kinkless was the first GTD app I ever tried, and I still like it very much. It's a set of Applescripts running on OmniOutliner Pro, which is pricey, if you don't have it, but worth the money, and not just for Kinkless. I quit using kGTD for one reason: you have to manually sync, and, for a sufficiently large GTD database, this takes about 30 seconds. While I'm waiting for the sync, I mosey on over to, and all of a sudden, it's three hours later, and I don't know how that happened. I can't afford any program that takes 30 seconds to do anything. The developer of Kinkless is helping Omni make OmniFocus, and so Kinkless is dormant indefinitely.

Simple, QuickSilver
My favorite GTD app
I like Actiontastic because it syncs instantly and automatically and does only does three things (inbox, planning, and doing), so I don't waste time fiddling with it. My beef is that the interface is clunky; you can't drag-n-drop multiple items simultaneously, and you can't enter a context or project using the keyboard alone -- I'm a keyboard-only junkie. This should be changed in the 1.0 release, coming in a couple of months. Until then, it's good enough for me. Bonus: a web app that syncs with your local app is forthcoming.

Free, donationware
GTD app that does more than I want it to, and not very well.
iGTD has some very nice features, like a calendar to specify a due date, flagging several tasks that become viewable separately from the rest of the task list, and projects broken down hierarchically into sub-projects. However, having the tasks viewed in six tabs, with, at worst, something like eight sub-tabs, is excessive. The keyboard interface is about as clunky as that of Actiontastic, but with so much more to do, this is even more of a hindrance. I could take an app as complicated as this, but it really needs good documentation for the idiosyncratic interface; the documentation is cursory, in moderately broken English. iGTD is rapidly becoming popular, but it looks like many of the iGTD users haven't considered Actiontastic. Yann provides a good discussion of the differences between the two, and explains why Actiontastic is his preferred choice, and for slightly different reasons than my own.

Midnight Inbox
Shareware, $35
So big, it could invade Tokyo, plus it has a "yak timer"
Midnight Inbox is much more polished than, say, iGTD; if you're a fan of GTD apps that can do everything, this is a good one. I'm not, though. There are six major modes you can work in, which makes sense, on a certain level, because this puts the entire GTD methodology (5 steps + reference material) in one app. The thing is, though, that there doesn't need to be a one-to-one correspondence between steps in GTD and features in a GTD app. For example, collect and process don't need to be separate modes; when I collect, I dump stuff into the in bucket, and when I process, I kick stuff out of the bucket, I use one bucket in two ways. When I do monthly review, I take a notebook to a coffee shop, and respond to a questionnaire I wrote for myself -- I don't want to touch my GTD app that I use for my runway-level decisions.

Shareware, $20
Quicksilver, Keyboard
Buggy and poorly organized
This one isn't worth considering at all. There is no good reason that a dialog box has to pop up for each task I add. There is no good reason that, although I specify a new project or context in the new task dialog box, a corresponding project or context is not created. There is no good reason that a task can be viewed in detail in a side panel *and* in a dialog box. And then, in my five minutes of playing with it, two or three widgets have gone invisible and reappeared. This scares me.

25 pounds
Middle of the road in terms of complexity, feels like a beta.
The keyboard interface is okay, but not as tight as it should be; for example, the space bar doesn't do anything when it could be used to check a completed action. The only way to edit a task is in a dialog that is very busy. It does more than Actiontastic or Ghost Action, but less than Kinkless or Midnight Inbox. Not worth the price.

Thinking Rock
A handy starter app
It's made out of Java, so it doesn't feel like a Mac app, which is a bad thing. The interface relies on icons with meanings that only make sense when you see what they mean. For example, "Do ASAP" is a running man and "Delegated" is an index finger, which makes sense, but when I see an index finger, I don't instinctively think, "Oh, that's the universal symbol for delegation." I like the idea of a GTD app that looks like the flowchart in the Getting Things Done book, which is helpful for someone learning the methodology. However, it still falls under the same problem as Midnight Inbox of trying to force a one-to-one relationship between steps in GTD and modes in an application, which isn't necessary for users familiar with GTD. Thinking Rock might work as training wheels for someone just starting to learn GTD, and, out of the several applications reviewed here that try to do all of GTD, this one seems to do that most plainly. I don't have much use for it, though.

Got a spare monitor?
Only Photoshop is allowed to have multiple windows. I use two monitors, and this one app's four windows that come up at startup cover both of them. What you're supposed to do with these four windows isn't as obvious as it ought to be. I spent about 15 minutes with this app, and didn't get anywhere. I would have tried harder, but it just took starting the app up to tell that it was trying to do more than I'd like a GTD app to do; I didn't really need to go any further.

Ghost Action
Shareware, $20
Simple, QuickSilver
Ghost Action = Actiontastic + $20
Ghost Action is very similar to Actiontastic. The only obvious difference in their appearance is that Ghost Action uses the Cocoa brushed aluminum interface (like Finder), while Actiontastic has a plain, grey gradient (like iTunes). And Ghost Action has a calendar widget. Both can sync with iCal or an iPod, both have essentially identical interfaces. It's really quite freaky how similar they are. But Actiontastic is free.

GTD is very simple. I want a program that sorts tasks by context or project, and doesn't do much more. I don't want an app that does all of GTD, because some GTD has to happen on index cards, when I need to collect an idea, but I'm not near my computer. Some GTD happens in a coffee shop, when I ponder high-level things like where my energy goes and why I've avoided doing the dishes this past week.

Stuff on a calendar is technically GTD, but calendar programs are already quite good at managing hard landscape, and don't need to have GTD ideas of project, context, and energy put on them -- if I have a meeting on Wednesday at 2:30, I have a meeting on Wednesday at 2:30, and it doesn't matter if I don't have the energy for the meeting, or if it fits with the main project or context I'm working on that I day, I still have to go to the meeting. Yet, I see hard landscape being mixed with next actions in most of these apps, in ways that they probably shouldn't mix.

In mechanical engineering design, we have a saying: "No one needs a drill. Some people need holes, though." I don't need a GTD app. I need to do the dishes, make code, and write a letter to Grandma, and I need a little help figuring out when and how to do those things.

Chalk Quotes

On campus, someone (probably a performance art major) has written quotes in chalk in foot-tall letters on the sides of various brick buildings. I like this quote:

Life contains two tragedies.
One is to not get your heart's desire.
The other is to get it.

Someone else wrote a quote, paraphrased here:

I wrote in chalk on a building
This make me poignant

My roommate, Matt, would like to write this quote:
Just because you're offended
Doesn't mean you're right

Amazon Purchase

I like buying things from Amazon, because my orders are processed by robots, so no one asks questions. Just now, I placed an order for:
  • Barth for Armchair Theologians
  • Joe Versus the Volcano (the first Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie)
  • Muppet Show: Music Mayhem & More (CD)
  • They Were Eleven (quite possibly, the worst anime in the universe)

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

A Pirate Joke

Q. What did the pirate say when his ninja friend died or purchased an agricultural complex?
A. He bought the farrrm!

Monday, April 2, 2007

A story about the earth and the sky

Ignatius didn't look at the sky, so he couldn't see the sun. Bob didn't look at the earth, so he couldn't see the car in the swimming pool. Neither looked in a mirror to see what his eyes looked like.

Not trying to be cryptic

Our generation doesn't believe in propositional truths. We believe in story truths. I'm experimenting with conveying transcendental truth with stories. Can transcendental truth be so true that you only need to tell a story to convey it?

I'm not trying to be cryptic as I tell stories, but, rather, I'm experimenting with communication, to see if storytelling is the least cryptic way to communicate. Let's see how this works.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Cars in swimming pools and confused hipsters

You never know when you'll accidentally drive your car into a swimming pool. In this article, there's a video that tells one story: notice how bewildered the woman who sunk her car looks. Cars crash into swimming pools all the time. Twice in February, 2007, alone. The crisis of sunken cars in suburbia does not discriminate, no matter how famous, or powerful, or smart you are, you may be out driving one day, only to find yourself, and your car, suddenly submerged. One of the members of The Who crashed a car into a swimming pool, on his 21st birthday. How would you feel, cold and dripping wet, sitting on the pool deck in a stranger's back yard, wondering how you're going to get your car out?

A sidewalk evangelist came to campus to campus today. This is as absurd as a car in a swimming pool, because the wingnuts that this guy attracts aren't willing to honestly consider his point of view, he's not sowing on good soil. This is actually as absurd as two cars in a swimming pool, because the wingnuts try to convince the evangelist that he's wrong, and he's not really listening with the intent of changing his point of view.

One of the hipsters became very angry. The idea that sinners ought to go to hell is offensive to this hipster, who yelled at the evangelist; these quotes are as exact as I can remember:
"God loves everyone!"
"Everyone is going to a good place when they die, no matter what they believe!"
"Who are you to judge me? God doesn't judge me!"
"God is love!"
The dialog became more unstable:
Evangelist (calm, but loud, as always): Yes, God is love, but God is also just.
Hipster (spit coming out of his mouth): No! God is pure love! God doesn't judge anyone!
Evangelist: So we shouldn't judge child molesters?
Hipster (still yelling, angry): We should take those damn child molesters, and we should love them! I follow Jesus, and Buddha, and John Lennon! I'm the greatest man in the world, and all of you should think the same about yourselves! [I am not making any of this up, especially this last bit. You know that I am not that creative.]
Around then, the hipster left in a huff.

In UHF, Weird Al's character, George Newman, is leaving a desperate message on his girlfriend's answering machine, having accidentally stood her up for dinner, "Teri! I'm sorry! Come on, give me one more chance, please! Come on, Teri! Teri! Oh! Oh! I'm in hell! I'M IN HELL! TERI! TERI! PICK UP THE PHONE!! PICK UP THE PHONE!! PICK UP THE PHONE! OH! OH! TERI!" It's funny, because I know that I do things like that, I have my own little existential crises, and they're that pathetic; I laugh at myself, and that's probably a good thing.

I saw this hipster screaming angrily about how much God loves everyone, and my first reaction was to laugh. He was very confused though, and this was obvious to everyone but him. It's not right to laugh at someone else's existential crisis. I was wrong. This is very sad, and I should have cried.

I suppose laughter would have been appropriate, if the hipster, himself, would have seen that his absurdity was on a par with that of a car in a swimming pool. Upon his seeing that his presuppositions had reached their logical conclusion, this could have been the beginning of a beautiful transformation. Every time that I watch UHF, after George gets dumped by Teri, I laugh as he tries to get her back, for his own sake, and fails, because I know that his rejection and failures, the absurdities of his life, open the door for him to realize how much he needs other people, and how he should be more concerned for other people than for his own dreams. I wonder if this hipster will experience a similar transformation.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Blogs are really stupid. They're generally not worth reading. I just made this one, and it took, what, 3 minutes? Anything that is this easy to do is crap. I made this blog because my old one, which I won't even link to, sucked, because I wrote it when I was a teenager, and I didn't know anything. I'm 21, and I still don't know anything, and you still shouldn't listen to me. Go listen to an old person, or take a walk. Or look at pictures of cars in swimming pools. Seriously, even that would be a better use of your time.

How this blog works:
1 I get cranky and mouth off
2 I write up the ranting on the blog
3 I have conversations with my friends, I start to rant something I've blogged about, and then say, "Oh, did you read that post on my blog?"
4 Here is where you come in. This is important. You lie, and say yes. I ordinarily say that lying is bad. This time, it's good. Lie to my face and tell me that you've read the post, and it'll save you the rant, and it'll keep me from shooting my mouth off one more time (it's not good for my soul).
5 We get on with the conversation, talking about more important things

This post was completely self-indulgent. I told you to look at cars in swimming pools.