Sunday, March 19, 2006

OpenSource for Everything

Odd how many of these I am currently using...

(I differ for IM, using Trillian for Windows and Fire for Mac. The alternatives recommented by the above link may indeed by superior, but I can't imagine how. Trillian even has ultra-cool variable semi-transparency for its windows.)

UPDATE: I realized these websites do not list free Bible software. If you use Windows, e-sword is not Open Source, but it's free and as good as anything that costs money.

Countering Islamic Propaganda

As long as I'm discussing propaganda, there's this article that does de-bunking. Someone made a list of "Top 20 Musim Inventions", but only 10 really are...

UPDATE: The above link has gone bad; now its content is here. However, an even more thorough debunking of all 20 claims has been written by Jay.Mac here.

Countering Palestinian Propaganda

For a long time I've been looking for a thorough and well-written rebuttal of the Palestinian Authority's rewriting of history that has somehow become accepted as truth by so much of the media.

I finally found one! Big Lies, a 36-page PDF file written by David Meir-Levi and distributed by Front Page Magazine.

UPDATE: Today the Jerusalem Post had a related article about the URWA, which references this older article for context.

UPDATE: In yet another timely application, folks from the American Thinker and Martin Kramer debunk an essay from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government (full version here).

Festivals of Fire and Ice

A quick comparison of Iran in March 2006, Harbin in January 2005, London in February 2006, and a cartoon about dalmations (to no overall point, they just fit the poem).

(With apologies to Robert Frost)

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Whole Foods

In Eugene, a big local issue is the impending arrival of a Whole Foods store.

And the people who argue (quite reasonably) that we already have plenty of local and small "health food" grocery options are quite upset, even without having read the recent report on the Whole Foods chain by Slate!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Imperial March with DJ Effects

This is for Mr. Clark, to finish up a conversation at the swing dance last night...

Behold, the mildly entertaining Star Wars Imperial March with DJ effects.

Pedometer Update

I wore the pedometer yesterday, as a test for a day when my wife and I go swing dancing in the evening and I bicycled to and from work. Well over 20,000 steps, by enough to excuse a large numer of false counts. Yay!

(Note that swing dancing, with its many quick triple-steps to fast music, is a somewhat unfair way of accumulating steps. Walking or bicycling up a steep hill is far more work per step than a small shift of weight on the dance floor. But it's still fun to find out that I might do 20,000 of anything during a day.)

UPDATE: Thursday was a stay-at-home day. I don't get nearly 10,000 steps when I am at the computer and doing a few household chores. Friday and Saturday were non-bicycling days but with (very different kinds of) real work happening, and those both coincidentally turned out to have near 10,000 steps.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

What Money is Useful For

I've never heard a sermon on Luke 16:9, in which Yeshua advises his followers to use their money to "buy friends".
And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.
It seems a bit uncouth. Not devious, but base.

I realize that my paraphrase of "buying friends" puts a biased slant on the issue.  Yeshua is partly discussing a practical strategy for a society without insurance policies: when you have money be generous to your friends who do not have much, so that when your circumstances switch they might reciprocate.

One evening last week, my wife and I had a long conversation about people's spending habits. Towards the end of this conversation we wondered if people could be categorized as those who valued money for the security it can provide (the people who save unbudgeted money) and those who valued money for the comforts it can provide (the people who spend unbudgeted money).

This was a somewhat amusing dichotomy, for money really does not do either of those well. It can provide some security, but savings can quickly vanish and many kinds of troubles cannot be fixed with money. It can provide some comforts, but real lasting contentment cannot be purchased -- those who try always desire buying yet more things.

The two things that Yeshua suggests people do with money (give to charity and buy friends) are at least things that money does do well. Those who need food or clothing can be fed and clothed. And people to whom you have been generous often help you in your times of need.

UPDATE: Proverbs 17:8, 13, 23 add more practical advice. A gift (not a "bribe", as is sometimes translated) can be precious in the eyes of the giver if used to help him prosper. But do not use gifts to reward evil, or the evil will worsen. And do not give gifts in secret, for then it perverts justice (i.e., it becomes a bribe).

A Temporary King

In First Corinthians 10:24-25 we read that Yeshua is only temporarily the King of the Kingdom of God. In the World to Come, after Yeshua's enemies have been humbled, he will deliver that role of Kingship to God the Father.

Is there a name for someone who is temporarily a king in this manner?

I know of some similar ideas, such as regent: an heir of the king who is given the reign "early" before the old king dies, or a person who rules until a young king reaches adulthood. But the duration of a regent's reign is dependent upon the status of the otherwise proper king. Yeshua has a reign whose duration is dependent upon a mission's completion.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Confused about Boasting (2nd Corinthians)

My sermon for last Shabbat focused on the difference between three types of sub-cultures. I put an overview chart online here. (I'm not quite sure how to make a good congregational web page out of this material.)

The sermon was about how we all participate in all of these types of subcultures, and the Good News applies to all of them but in different ways (although it always proclaims, "You need not work for what the culture primarily values, for God is freely giving this to you!").

For example, I grew up in a family that was very much an "individual responsibility" culture of innocence and guilt, am now living in a liberal city with the politics of a "greater good" culture of virtue, and work in an academic department that values my work based on an "esteem culture" of honor and shame.

(The last point might need some clarifying. In all academic departments I have known, including the math department at LCC, instructors receive very little peer review or oversight. I am valued by the department because of positive student feedback each term and because I participate intelligently in faculty discussion of pedagogy. In other words, people have heard I am good at what I do and yet I am still trying to improve. But how well I actually teach is not measured, either by virtue (do my students go on to be successful in more math?) or by guilt (do I actually cover 100% of the material I am responsible for teaching?). I trust I would measure well if I was measured in these ways, but it doesn't happen.)

As an example of a theological idea from the sermon that was new to most people, grace is actually technical term in the honor-shame suculture of the Roman Empire that included first-century Judaism. A ruler had "grace", which meant he was part of the family of the gods, and was thus above all normal human striving for honor; he should instead only focus on giving honor to others, and on helping the gods govern and care for people. There are clear parallels to all of these points in the Good News.

A point I did not make in the sermon was that boasting is also a technical thing in an honor-shame culture. It is the most gentle form of an honor challenge. People do not challenge someone who is socially inferior (that would be a shameful and bragging waste of time) or who is socially superior (that would be presumptuous and also shameful). So the smallest type of honor challenge -- the simplest way to try to gain honor -- is to boast to a peer.

As a contemporary example, if I said to another LCC math teacher, "All of my students who are failing are coming to my office hours," that could be an attempt to gain honor. (As an aside, it's not true, sadly. I have some math students who are failing but not seeking help!) My boast would be implying that I am so approachable and helpful that everyone who needs my help is seeking it out. The other teacher would then respond by either giving me honor ("That's great!") or by trying to match or exceed my boast ("Same here! And Bob's students come to my office hours too!").

Anyway, I just re-read Second Corinthians and that letter is full of stuff about boasting. Paul does not seem to be entirely self-consistent in his talk about how to boast properly and what he is boasting about. I'd like to understand it better in terms of the honor-shame dynamic, but need some help.

UPDATE: More here, including the idea that the Greek term is "glory", not "grace".

Anti-Semitic Cartoons

The furor over the Danish Cartoons has led to a new and Israeli contest to create anti-Semitic cartoons.

It is a healthy thing to be able to laugh at yourself. And it is a timely moment to affirm that other peoples' lies do not, in and of themselves, hurt you.

I found none of the Israeli cartoons as purely spiteful as some of the real thing, but many were funnier.


Someone shared this video (from Google Video) of a very skilled juggler who times his routine with a piece music that has varied tempo and "hits". As someone who swing dances and also tries to do something interesting on the "hits" of the music I found it a remarkable show.

A Test of Habits

Some people are experimenting with using a mouse for web surfing but without using the mouse button. It's a fun site to play around with for a few minutes: Don't Click It!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Subdivision of GPA

Many math department faculty at LCC are into discussing pedagogy and other aspects of being effective as instructors and as a department. (This is part of what makes the job a nice one.) Yesterday there was a "colloquium on grading" whch involved spending an hour discussing grading philosphies and strategies while snacking.

This morning I had a related idea -- something big and odd enough to be worth posting here, rather than only on the online discussion forums used by the math department faculty to process ideas.

At the "colloquium on grading" it was of course mentioned that there are two basic ways to rank a student by assigning a grade. A normative rank compares the student to others in the class. An objective rank compares the student to an impersonal set of standards.

Instructors at LCC may pick which they do. I could create a syllabus that said, "Each test is designed to spread out student scores to compare you. This class will be graded on a curve," and that would work if I wrote appropriate tests. Or I could create a syllabus that said, "Each test is designed to measure what percentage of the topics you have mastered. Your score on the test will not be curved," and that would also work if I wrote appropriate tests.

Currently the college bookkeeping system blurs together how a student has received nromative and objective rankings. All grades are averaged into a GPA.

It would make more sense if a student is assigned two GPAs, with the grades from their normatively ranked classes and objectively ranked classes kept distinct throughout their community college career. (A weighted average could still be on the student's transcript for applications that ask for a single GPA.)

This would make an LCC student's transcript more valuable to local employers. Certain jobs require people who are unusually competent at a range of things: the people that consistently perform at the top of their class. Those employers would value having a student's normative GPA distinct. Other jobs require people who can be trained on-the-job: people that retain a high percentage of what is presented to them. Those employers would value having a student's objective GPA distinct.

The cost of such a change would primarily be a financial issue determined by the flexibility of the college's database software. (The small cost in time for professors, before entering grades, to check one box to select between "normative" and "objective" is trivial compared to any increased value of having an LCC degree.)

The timing of such a change would be a delayed effect. If grades were thus categorized starting in the 2006-2007 school year, this would be practically ignored until the Class of 2010 became the first class with dual-GPA transcripts.

UPDATE: My wife says the issue is math-centric, and ponders if any other departments do any objectively ranked grading. I respond by conjecturing that the popularity of objectively ranked grading will increase as government funding continues to increasingly favor having schools (of all kinds) demonstrate that they teach skill proficiency.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Something a blog linked to...

An interesting essay: "When Equality Matters".

As an aside, I noticed the themes of this article fit the Good News. God is not an "equalizer" in how he treats people. Individuals are often treated as being very different: personality which is acknowledged, strengths which are recognized, actions which are rewarded, and gifts which are received. Yet God does desire -- and provide -- that everyone have equal opportunity to have real liberty and equal opportunity to have eternal prosperity.

Ten Thousand Steps

I have no idea who first created the goal of taking 10,000 steps per day, and Google won't tell me. But that goal has become very popular.

Curious, I purchased an inexpensive pedometer after reading that these can be attached to your shoe while cycling.

Today I wore it all day for the first time. Bicycling to work logged 2,300 steps. Bicycling home logged 2,500. In both cases I rounded down since bumps in the road must have generated some false counts. I know there were not too many false counts since I checked a few times along the way while counting my pedaling, and because I average more than one pedal per second (and 60 sec/min * 30 min = 1,800 sec). So even being on the conservative side I can can use 2,100 steps for each direction of the commute.

While at work I took 5,300 steps. Here the pedometer was on my waist, and accurate.

So that's 9,500 steps and it's not even dinner time. Hooray!

Friday, March 03, 2006

Shark Spies

Who says that science is boring? Now scientists have remote controlled sharks, putting all other remote controlled toys to shame.

Now the Navy Sharks just need lasers. Or poisonous dart guns, like the missing military dolphins. Or even robot arms.

UPDATE: If you have remote controlled shark envy, there is an answer.

UPDATE: Toys with lasers! (Warning: link has sound)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Massively Multiplayer Online Pong

Well, perhaps I should not put this under the category of "enjoyments". But it's certainly amusing. I did enjoying seeing it once, and laughing at its existence.

The never-ending massively multiplayer pong game!

(Not to be confused with NET-Pong, for those who personally like to control the paddle and really must play with a friend far away.)

A Distinct Israel

Stuart Dauermann wrote yesterday in his blog an essay that included a list of scriptural verses about how Israel is a people God has made distinct from other peoples, and which God still wants to be a distinct people.

His essay's point is that some cultures can be presented with a "vanilla gospel" that as much as possible lacks cultural context and only speaks about issues such as love, being children of God, and being helped by God's Spirit being allowed to dwell within us -- but the Jewish people cannot be effectively addressed by any gospel that ignores their special scriptural status and role, and their special history of thousands of years of relationship with God.

Harold Kushner makes a related comment in his book To Life! While discussing the Sinai/Moav covenant, he links the concept of being distinct with the concept of being observant:
And what is in it for us, the Jewish people? Our reward will be the sense of God's presence...When the prophets want to threaten the Israelite people with the worst punishment they can imagine, they warn them that God will remove His presence from their midst and turn them back into an ordinary people again...

Not only the second half of Exodus, but the rest of the Bible and virtually everything that has been written about Judaism since biblical times [is] an attempt to answer the question: How do you hold on to the feeling of standing before God at Sinai?...Exodus's answer, Judaism's answer, is that you do it with special deeds and with sacred times and places. Three thousand years of scholarship and history are commentary on that notion.

This is the core of why being a distinct people in God's eyes is a cultural issue. Not only are the Jewish people set apart by God, but they are set apart by God in certain ways that have become a culture of "sacred times and places".

This is why a Messianic Jewish congregation is not -- and cannot be -- simply a church that does Shabbat instead of Sunday, and the Jewish holidays instead of Christmas and Easter. You cannot take a Christian culture and plug into it the Jewish "sacred times and places" and create the cultural dynamic of being "the descendants of Jacob whom God has set apart and been interacting with for thousands of years". (There are some groups that try this! But they tend to have no Jewish members, because the attempt fails so miserably at being anything like an actual Jewish culture.)