Friday, March 30, 2007

Stuff on Cats

Actually, one more quick post as a Shabbat present for everyone.

I mentioned earlier the websites with silly cat pictures.

Someone has since shown me Stuff On My Cat, which is often even sillier.

UPDATE: Apparently there was once even a website that allowed people to easily make silly cat pictures.

Long Hair

This past week has been very busy, with preparing to teach a math class I have never taught before, preparing taxes, and preparing for the congregational seder. The longest block of time I had to relax was Monday evening, after I had gotten my monthly allergy shots and because of them was too tired to do anything.

That evening I shown this post about how people took care of long hair before the invention of modern hair care products and techniques. It was an interesting read, especially since my hair is now down my back to the bottom of my shoulder blades.

One of the links at the bottom of that post was the Long Hair Community, which was just the type of thing my fatigued brain was looking for. I read some of those articles for an hour or so. Later, my wife recommended the Beauty Brains website as well.

I quickly realized that women "geeking out" about long hair was as much a specialized form of communication as scientists or computer gamers "geeking out" about their topics, in both abbreviations, jargon, and habits of speech. The most humorous example was how it took me a moment to realize that CO meant "conditioner only" instead of "carbon monixide".

A lot of what I read I did not understand well, which I attribute mostly to the specialized language, but also ascribe some guilt to the exhaustion induced by the allergy shots.

I did get a few ideas to try. None of these will be surprising to most people with long hair. But I'm just a guy whose wife wanted him to grow his hair out, and no one ever taught me these things.
  • A wooden comb is nice for long hair. Unlike a brush with plastic bristles, it does not collect hair and that grey lint stuff. Since it is wooden it has no seams, and thus does not snag.
  • I was shampooing and conditioning my hair most mornings. This is not necessary. These days, conditioners are almost as good at removing gunk as shampoo. Now I am trying shampoo once or twice per week to get rid of oil and grease, and the other days using conditioner in the manner of shampoo. I shed a lot less hair in the shower this way.
  • From what I read, wet hair is more fragile than dry hair. I should minimize brushing/combing my hair after my shower, doing my thorough brushing/combing before. I'm willing to try this, but cannot tell any difference over the past few days.
Well, time to go to bed. I do have a big backlog of things to blog about, both ministry-related and otherwise. Maybe you will begin to hear about such things on Tuesday, after the congregational seder is done.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Thoughts about Worship

I was recently at a very nice discussion about what it means to be a worshipper, and to be a worship leader in a congregation. Here is a copy of my notes from that discussion. Credit for ideas, and thanks, go to Ted, Charles, Lynn, Russ, and three others who many not want their names publicized.
  • Worship is expressing love and adoration to God without self-consciousness. Since worship is ascribing worth to God it can be done in private, but is more "true" when done in public.
  • If we are afraid of not appearing polished or acceptable, we will not be able to properly focus on God.
  • Worship aids creativity, artistic expression, and revelation.
  • Liturgy helps remind of us all the kinds of things we should say to God. Prayer without liturgy helps us learn about ourselves.
  • Music is "Messianic Jewish" if it has the perspectives of a Hebraic worldview and the Messianic Jewish vision.
  • One purpose of gathering on Shabbat as a congregation is to create an opportunity for each person to offer something to God. This is traditionally song, scripture, teaching, or revelation (see First Corinthians 14:26). It can also be anything that helps others worship, even the hospitality of making the room conducive to worship by setting up nicely, greeting people, playing music, or otherwise modeling or promoting an atmosphere of freedom led by the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Worn Out

Okay, enough blogging for today. I'm getting all worn out.

Turn Signal Bumper Sticker


I want a bumper sticker with the motto of Tom Foster, a high school math teacher I had: "Homework is the foundation of civilization". But I'd put it up at my office, not on my car.

Dr. Helen ponders what bumper stickers say about their owners' personality. Now I'm a little worried.

Out of Print Comic Books

I only collect a few comic books: Ps238, Astro City, Lone Wolf and Cub, and Usagi Yojimbo. Except for PS238, which has not yet released such a compilation, I wait for the comics to come out as a book-bound "graphic novel".

The first is just cute. It's about an elementary school for kids with super powers. It is the reason I go to the local comic book shop a few times per year.

The second is, in almost every issue, a literary masterpiece. It begins with a series of adventures of comic books characters that are quite similar to familiar ones, but ten times as interesting and human. Then it did a long story arc that was the most interesting exploration of faith I have ever seen in a comic book. Recently it was exploring how living in a place with superheroes would affect the lives of normal people. Sadly, it seems to have stopped being written sometime during the last year.

The third is a classic about a child growing up in a world of violence, corruption, and lechery -- living in that world but not being of it. There are a lot of striking parallels between his dedication to bushi and a believer's dedication to Yeshua. I find reading the issues I own is not only entertaining but a reminder to not become soft, or compromise my dedication to a life dedicated to God. I certainly would not recommend this last comic to kids, and I find books 19-26 too repulsive to enjoy (these focus on a really unpleasant villain, an expert in poison who is vile in many ways). It is a completed series, but I do not yet own all of 1-18 and 27-28.

The last explores the same themes of honor and purity within the corruption and violence of Edo-period Japan. But it's written for kids. Rather than being one long story, Stan Sakai is retelling classic Japanese myths and legends using animals. His characters are wonderful, and what make the comic worth owning. In some way's it is a Lone Wolf and Cub for children, but that is not really describing it well.

Anyway, I recently saw two places on LiveJournal designed for people to share scanned copies from their favorite out-of-print comics. For example, here are unusually interesting stories about Doctor Octopus and the Hulk. Clearly most of these site's readers would buy copies if they were available: this is the collector fan-community "geeking out" together. I wonder if the comic book artits and publishers are upset at the copyright infringement or not? Perhaps they must avoid encouraging this but are quitely appreciating knowing which old comics to both reprinting without losing significant business?

Two Bridges



Nina Lobkovskaya

Last Thursday I got to see another slideshow put on by Nathan Fendrich. I learned, among other things, about the role of women in Russia's "Great Patriotic War".

During WWII, the Russian army was known for its snipers, most of whom were women. Among the Russian army during the war, the most famous and inspiring of these was Nina Lobkovskaya. She joined the army at 17, and by the age of 20 had over 300 kills, mostly interrupting the Germain supply caravans.

Women were also dominant among the night bombers. I assume that, like the snipers of Veshnyaki, these were full-time soldiers. But I also imagine someone smiling at the children she put to bed, then heading out the door to do another bombing run.

I wonder why no computer game is about these women? A classic WWII PC game, Call of Duty, has several scenarios about Vasily Zaytesev, probably because that game was made shortly after the film Enemy at the Gates. Since game companies so often gripe about their inability to make games appealing to young women, you would think they would do more than watch a movie, and do the little research required to find out the most famous sniper of all was named Nina.

UPDATE: As long as I'm describing Russian military stuff, has anyone else noticed how the knife-throwing technique of Russian commandos is identical to that of Japanese shuriken darts?

Bread is Dangerous!

Here is some humor for the gluten-intolerant.

MySpace and Instructor Reviews

I have a MySpace page now.

At LCC, students do on-line class evaluations at the end of each term.

Ideally they would provide thoughtful and constructive comments about the class content and textbook (departmental decisions) and the instructor's teaching style, testing style, willingness to provide extra help, etc. Sadly, students rarely say more than a sentence or two.

Even more sadly, their comments are not accessible to other students wondering about which instructor to take a class from next term. Ideally the comments would be visible anonymously but linked to relevant statistical information (i.e., the brief comment "Easy class" is not very informative if made by someone who always earns A's in math, just as the comment "Very confusing" loses credibility if the commentor has enrolled in the class three times and always drops it during the third week).

There are two websites that try to fill the need of students reading each other's class evaluations. One is at MySpace, and only visible to people with a MySpace account. Some of my students talk about it, and others wanted to know the link. Thus I needed to get an account, to be able to see the page and send out the link to my students.

The other place is, which I first heard about from P.D.

Needless to say, neither of these sites provides any information about the commentor to help a reader know how much to treat the comment as relevant or credible, and few of the comments are verbose enough to provide clues.

It is also true that often students simply do not know why choices were made or what alternatives are available. For example, a mediocre textbook might unfortunately be the best one available for that topic, or an apparently strange item included in the class's content might be required by state law. But for most issues of this type are not relevant to the reader looking for which instructor to study under: there are no alternatives or reason to select one instructor instead of another.

Use snail mail, Luke!

Well, at least one R2D2 Mailbox has appeared in Eugene now, next to the Law School at U. of O.

That's pretty cool, but not as extreme as this Honda.

Now we just need Yoda fire hydrants.

Or a big Balrog in cavernous Japanese sewers. (If you have ever actually been part of an argument about whether a Balrog has wings, go to the head of the class.)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Everyone Panic!

This is for all the parents of those two-year-olds who express being mildly distraught by running around in circles crying and/or yelling for help.

Schizotypal for God!

I recently read a very interesting lecture by Robert Sapolsky about four neurological conditions and how they relate to religion. Since Sapolsky is lecturing in a manner quite antagonistic to God I'll recommend that my devout readers postpone reading his lecture until after I finish introducing concepts in this blog entry. Also, I am only going to discuss the schizotypal personality, since it is the only item that normally relates to ministry work.

First, recall all of the instances of a bell curve in the distribution of human traits. With all sorts of physical characteristics (height, weight, arm strength, keeness of eyesight) most people in a population are "average", a few people are above or below average, and the further from average the fewer the number of exceptions.

Some mental traits also fit this pattern. People might hotly disagree on what IQ tests really measure, but in most populations the scores on IQ tests definitely fit a bell curve.

Psychologists have, fairly recently, been finding more mental traits that fit a bell curve. One of these mental traits is what American Christian culture might call "dysfunctional legalism". Someone that is noticeably above average in this is said to have a schizotypal personality; someone extremely above average is called schizophrenic.

Notice that I'm not voicing any opinion about how much this variance is due to nature or nurture. Like IQ scores, I'll leave that discussion to others.

Consider the observable tendancies that accompany diagnosis of schizotypal personality. I'll describe these observables as I often see them in ministry work:
  • treating a source of authority (i.e., scripture) as if it had a single, unarguably obvious interpretation
  • unrecognized superstitiousness, including the habit of trying to understand every circumstance as a meaningful message
  • inability to discern if thoughts, visions, and dreams of from God or not, manifest as a track record of fruitless and often contradictory decisions based on what were claimed to be revelations
  • overly suspicious, continually anxious in social situations, and showing a refusal to see excessively worrying about tomorrow as a sin (Matthew 6:24-34)
  • difficulty maintaining emotionally close relationships, manifest in a complete lack of close friends (usually besides a relative or two)
  • eccentric and odd appearance and behavior
What is new news in the field of psychology is not that people have such traits, but how this collective set of traits normally appears in an "average" amount, with some people having more or less than average amount of this collective set of traits, exhibited among the population in an extent that follows a bell curve pattern.

As a minister I sometimes have to deal with people visiting the congregation who are clear examples of this "dysfunctional legalism". They are never happy people demonstrating the peace and joy of knowing God intimately. They are "high maintenance" and for the duration of their contact with the congregation try to suck up as much of my time as they can and also create small problems as they interact with congregants.

To some very small extent I can help these people let God give them more peace and joy. I try. The congregation would be a very poor example of the Kingdom of God if I and other congregants did not try. These people are trying to be devoted to God -- often trying very hard. But it is not working. No one understands them, and they are often haunted by the suspicion that that even God does not understand them, made worse by their conviction that they understand God very well.

Helping such people is always fatiguing work, and once they move on I always wonder if the benefit will wear off after a few weeks. So it is very interesting to now read Sapolsky's lecture and other essays that share how psychologists are finding that what I've dubbed "dysfunctional legalism" is a well-ingrained part of personality by adulthood, and similar to height and wieght in both distribution through the population and in difficulty to change.

More Blogger Navbar


I suspected as much, but finally had time to check...

Regarding my "generic webpage" Blogger template (see this recent post), the code I eventually found needed to be put near the end of the file to include a Blogger navbar at the bottom of the page actually works as part of the HTML of any webpage. For some reason this seems quite amusing.

The most recently created blog of the user who is logged in to Blogger seems the default for if the navbar is used to search or add an entry to "this blog" on a non-blog webpage.

I doubt there is any useful application for this. It's just silly, something in the wrong place.

(I suppose if someone really blogged a lot, they could give themselves the ability to start a new blog entry at a moment's notice by creating a two-frame page as their web browser's home page, of which the bottom frame was nothing but a 30 pixel high Blogger navbar.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

American Jewish Demographics Update

I wrote a long post a while back.

Some more recent but quite similar statistics are discussed in this news article.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Making Blogger Bend Backwards

This blog post is a short tutorial about how to use Blogger to make what appears to be a normal web page.

Why am I inventing and sharing this? Some instructors at LCC are experimenting with ways to have students prepare online portfolios.

If you have clicked on my Moodle website for my Winter term Math 20 classes you have seen what works well within the LCC community for dealing with online learning. But all of these options for grading, commenting on assignments, and so forth are not really what a student wants perspective employers to see.

A nice, clean, stand-alone webpage is needed, with which a student can make an e-portfolio. Here is an example of a college that has such a thing. The students there use special (not free) e-portfolio software to edit a template that creates a simple page with a header image, some text, a picture or two, and links to their best assignments.

Since LCC is having a budget crisis, I was asked to help design a free solution for our students to use. They can already put assignments online using Moodle; all that is needed is a nicer presentation for potential employers. So I spent a couple hours this afternoon forcing Blogger to do the job.

(I admit half that time was spent figuring out how to move the Blogger navbar to the bottom of the screen. Arg. But I would not want college policy to be violating the Blogger terms of service, nor to trouble a barely computer-literate student by removing the obvious "Customize" link to update the page.)

Now anyone can make a simple web page, after being shown the basics about the P, IMG, and A HREF tags, by following the following directions.

(a) Make a new blog using Blogger.

Go to and make a blog. Go ahead, do that now in a second browser tab or window.

First you will need to set up an account with Blogger, if you do not have one already. Then it asks you a few quick questions to determine what your blog's URL will be and what it looks like. Pick any template, since we are about to delete it anyway.

(b) Replace the template

After making your blog, you are automatically put into the screen where you make your first blog entry. Type anything and then click "Publish".

If you want, click "View Blog" to see what you are about to destroy. If you do this, click "Customize" on the Blogger navbar at the top of your blog to return to settings.

Go to where you can change your template. Click on the "Template" tab at the top of the screen, and then "Edit HTML" just under that.

Now you see all this complicated HTML in a scrollable sub-window. Click anywhere there, and then use CTRL-A and the backspace key to delete it all.

Use copy-and-paste to replace all that HTML with the contents of this file. (Use CTRL-A a second time to select all of that file for copying.) Click "Save Template".

(c) Edit the template

Finally edit the bottom of my text so the paragraphs, images, and links are what you want.

(Some more detail for those who know a little about HTML: in between the BODY tags it works like a normal web page, with a few idiosyncrasies about needing to formally close P and IMG tags; just don't change anything in the HEAD section or what is above that.)

Yang Tai Chi Sword 55 Story

My Tai Chi Sword class at LCC is almost done. The test was today. Thursday is my last class. As a fun extra credit assignment, I put the names of all 55 movements into a story, in order, and read it during class. It was not difficult: all term long the movement named "Big Bird Opens its Wings" has made me think of Sesame Street, and the rest just flowed from there.

Note that these names are not standardized in English; an example of a listing is at the bottom of this page. Here is a video of the entire form, which I think I've linked to before. (The 55 movement form is rare on the internet, but the nearly identical 54 movement form abounds.)

I am not a Sesame Street expert, unlike one of my classmates. I had to use Wikipedia to find names such as Lew Zealand, and was unaware that Gonzo had never made a cameo apperance on Sesame Street.

For most readers this will probably be little more than a long exercise in poorly forced grammar. :-) But if you know the form, this is very silly.

All of Sesame Street was in the last stages of Preparation for the Chinese New Year's art contest. The paintings were being hung in Mr. Hooper's store for everyone to see.

Gordon and Susan had painted a winged horse flying through the night sky, making Three Circles around the Moon and then soaring over the Big Dipper. "We liked the past year," they explained to Mr. Hooper. "A winged horse represents something leaving too soon."

Big Bird had painted a scene of birds: three swallows and four phoenixes. He explained to Kermit, "The Swallow Flying Over Water flies straight at a goal, while the one Sweeping Right and Left over the prairie has no New Year's resolutions."

The Count had painted the entire Chinese Zodiac. To himself he stated, "Twelve animals (hah hah hah hah!), in a circle around the moon and the Little Dipper." Thunder and lightening happened briefly outside.

Oscar had painted animals making use of trash: a Swallow Flying Back to its Nest with bits of string, and a Weasel Chasing a Rat to get a fluff of comforter filling both wanted to use as a pillow.

Big Bird continued his explanation to Kermit. "The four phoenixes are a barbershop quartet. This Phoenix Raising its Head is the bass about to sing the low note in the series of four notes a barbershop quarter always starts with. Their first song is 'Molasses to my pancakes like a Wasp Flying back to its Hive.' The Phoenix Opening its Wings is the lead. The tenor is the phoenix that appears to be looking at the Count's Little Dipper. The Phoenix Opening to the Right is the baritone, ready to complete the chord."

Ernie arrived next. He explained his painting to Mr. Hooper, "A recent event with cookie crumbs in bed made me unhopeful about New Year's resolutions. They seemed as elusive as a Chinese dragon. So in my painting, that's me, Holding a Fishing Pole, trying to catch a water Dragon Walking on the lake bottom. Behind me, between my hands and chest you can see the moon. It looks like I'm Embracing the Moon in My Arms. That's because I'm grateful to have so much, even if I cannot always have my New Year's resolution. Then a Bird Flies Out of the Wood and the water dragons all want to chase it. This Black Dragon Swings its Tail and that Black Dragon Jumps from the Water after the bird. The bird will escape. But to show how strong the dragons are, see on the lake side how I painted the twisting and broken flowers? Its flight made Wind Whirling away the Lilies."

The store got noisy as the Yip-Yip aliens arrived. They had a small sculpture of animals going "Yip yip!". A lion did so as that Lion Shakes its Head. A tiger did so too (the alien carrying the sculpture did so by Holding the Tiger Head). A wild horse did so in fright as it nearly ran off a cliff. After the Wild Horse Jumps Over a Canyon it landed near a cliff, so its front hooves had dug in to the dirt, Holding Back the Horse from the Cliff.

Big Bird had another painting. "Snuffleupagus made this one," he said.

"Don't be silly, Big Bird," said Gordon. "There no Snuffleupagus."

"If it looks like a toddler painted it, that's because it's hard to paint with your snuffle," Big Bird continued, ignoring Gordon. "In this painting he and I are going sailing. That's me on the dock, Stepping up to Point the Direction to sail in. He is using his snuffle to make our old boat cushions nicer, Sweeping off Dust Left and Right. Those are the oars we'll use for Pushing the Boat."

"By the way, Gordon," added Big Bird. "I like Susan's and your painting. I like the matching curves where a Meteor Chases the Moon in a matching arc to the Winged Horse Flying Across the Sky."

Grover arrived with something big covered by a sheet.

"Is it a sculpture?" asked Kermit.

"Um…" hesitated Grover. He Lifted Up the Curtain and revealed something that looked like a combination Ferris wheel and marble run. Turning a crank, the Wheel Turning had Zodiac animals that picked up white marbles at the bottom and dropped them off at the top.

"I'm humbled," muttered Big Bird. "None of my contraptions are so nice." His face drooped, like a Swallow Picking up Dirt, and he sat down with a sigh. Big Bird Opened His Wings and then let them droop.

Grover explained his contraption. "The white marbles are moons, to symbolize luck. The Zodiac animals are Scooping the Moon from the Sea Bottom and then Embracing the Moon in Their Arms. I'm not sure why I did moons underwater. I guess I tried to make it look like a reflection on top of water but couldn't. Anyway, they all Search the Sea Bottom and move marbles except for this rhinoceros that always holds his marble. This Rhinoceros Looking at Moon is greedy and won't let go. He likes last year's luck and is trying to hold on to it.

Camilla the chicken entered, with a painting she had made of her and Gonzo in a circus act. Gonzo was with her to explain it. "She has been upset at me," he said. "She says that if she is a chicken I am a silly goose. I'm not a goose! But in her painting she's the one firing Gonzo the Great from a cannon, and it is entitled 'Shooting the Goose.' She shoots me into the sky, past a constellation of a Black Dragon Showing its Claw, but the dragon does not grab me. As I circle around the earth like a Phoenix Opening its Wings I eventually come back down and land in a field of marshmallows, bouncing wildly, Sweeping Left and Right. So that's 'Shooting the Goose.' She won't explain the marshmallows to me."

Gonzo's own painting was of a queen's palace. "These are scenes from the Arabian Nights, I think," he said. "The princess is reclining on pillows. A Monkey Presents Fruit to her: peeled grapes, since she is a fancy princess. In the background her servant is Sweeping the Floor Left and Right since princesses don't have to do housework. Her best friend is not royalty, of course. That's the Fair Lady at the Loom. There are tame but fierce looking animals too: a White Tiger Sweeping its Tail, and the other tiger of which the princess is Holding the Tiger's Head."

Lew Zealand entered, carrying his bucket of boomerang fish. His painting was also about fish. "I am eager for a New Year!" he said. "So I paint two thousand Fish Jumping Over a Dam. That is my expectant rushing!"

Bert finally arrived. He looked at Ernie's picture. "You've added another dragon," he said. "That Black Dragon Winding Around a Pillar underwater."

"Yes," said Ernie. "What did you paint?"

"I painted Mr. Hooper," said Bert. Mr. Hooper blushed. "He always gives good advice. I painted three old men who all represent him. This one is a Saint Pointing in the Direction. The pointing is about advice. This old man is Presenting Incense to the Sky. See my face hidden in the moon above the smoke? He's giving me smoke, which represents advice. Third is an old man Whirling Away the Plum Flowers. Those are my bad habits, and his advice helps me get rid of them."

The last Muppet to arrive was the two-headed monster. He carried a painting with a small bronze plaque on it that read, "To learn we must balance what is heard and what is read". The painting was a very stylized and abstract, but still clearly showed a student holding two things. The student was Holding a Tiger Head that had unusually big tiger ears, and was also Holding a Decree Tablet.

"Nicely done!" said Bert. "That looks very authentic."

Pleased, the two-headed monster proceeded to sound out opposites: "Yin, Yang, In, On." Then it reverted to its old habit of sounding out two-syllable words, taking a minute to put together the word "Happy" and then quickly able to add "New Year!"