Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Dealing with Jewish Condolences

A recently retired LCC math teacher who had moved to Santa Fe just lost his wife in an unexpected and tragic accident. He is visiting Eugene this week so that a local memorial service for his wife can happen this weekend.

His wife was Jewish, and occasionally attended TBI. One thing he and I have corresponded about was Jewish mourning customs. It seemed responsible to share with him a "heads up" about how his wife's Jewish friends will typically express condolences--and to then share my comments here in case they can be of help to others as well.

Most of Jewish grieving traditions are based around community, in three ways, although there are of course also traditions about what happens at a Jewish memorial service. These traditions are helpful and good things, but they can take someone not used to them by surprise.

First, the community cares for the family in mourning so that the family can focus on mourning. This is traditionally done for an entire week. As a mourner, don't be surprised if Jewish friends offer to bring you prepared meals, to babysit, to clean your house or do yard work, or in other ways try to do the tasks of day-to-day life for you with the purpose in mind of allowing you to focus on mourning. In some cities it is even traditional for a person to stay at the family's home to answer the phone, so family members need not do so.

Second, everyone gathers to share stories that highlight the virtues of the person who died, to inspire everyone present to better practice those virtues and in doing so honor the deceased with their lives. This is traditionally done at the family's home after the memorial service, but sometimes happens at the memorial service. If no time is set aside for sharing stories as a group then Jewish friends will likely try to share their stories one-on-one. As a mourner, if you don't want Jewish friends to start conversations with you by their describing what they admired about the deceased (as spotlighted by an anecdote or two) you may have to explicitly say so. If you have young children who would not remember or understand the stories, you might want to redirect this Jewish habit into contributions of written stories which can be valued by these children in future years.

Third, Jewish people traditionally donate money to a charity that the deceased supported rather than buying flowers. As a mourner, don't be surprised if Jewish friends don't send flowers, or if they ask to where they can donate money in honor of the deceased and his or her values.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

WoW Metal Prices

I'm sick with a cold. :-( I feel really wiped out. I think I caught it early last week when I was out in the rain.

This is one of those times when I am glad God postponed the full effects until a holiday weekend, so it didn't interfere with my past week's productivity, but given that small miracle why didn't God just cure the cold entirely?

I was hoping to catch up on e-mails today. There are some friends I really want to write too. But I'm too fuzzy-headed. I don't think they want to receive an email in which I only say "Urk, I'm congested and can't think straight."

I'll probably do some mining in the World of Warcraft game later today. The guild vault is low on metal bars at the moment, and mining is an easy and relaxing thing to do. It's better to help friends in a game than do something not even remotely productive, like watch a movie. I'll chat with my friends while my gnome rides around in the Badlands or the Searing Gorge looking for mithril ore.

The game world has many kinds of metal. Merely to keep my guild contributions planned well, here is a list of the ones that are easy for my gnome to gather, and how many gold a set of 20 metal bars is worth on the Auction House.
  • Copper (1), Tin (1.3) and Bronze (1.5)
  • Iron (4.5) and Steel (5)
  • Silver (11) and Gold (15)
  • Mithril (15) and Truesilver (20)
  • Thorium (30)
  • Dark Iron Ore (3 to 8)
  • Fel Iron (30 to 35)
  • Adamantite (50)
The prices above are a "fair" average sale price for the Auction House (on Feathermoon server). Much of the time metal bars are offered for sale with a minimum bid one-and-a-half times this, but then do not sell.

UPDATE: I tried mining for a few hours and discovered the above analysis is actually meaningless. It takes twice as much Adamantite as Thorium to make a metal bar but Adamantite bars are not twice expensive. But my character is in Nagrand and has a Mote Extractor. What potential income I lose mining Adamantite in that area is more than made up by the motes I gain from mining and from using the Mote Extractor. It's more efficient to mine in Nagrand and sell my motes for whatever lesser-valued metals the guild needs.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Falling Asleep on Time

A recent post of Shamus's turned into commentors sharing their tricks for falling asleep on time when they might otherwise stay up too late. Since I already typed it, I might as well share my tricks on my own blog too. Fortunately this is not much of an issue anymore. I used to have a lot of trouble falling asleep promptly, but have much less now.

What do I do to help myself fall asleep “on time” when I need to but am not inclined to?

(1) I avoid eating or drinking during the two hours before bedtime. I’m not sure why this helps, but it does.

(2) The conventional wisdom that having your internal thermostat cool down helps with falling asleep is true for me but apparently only at the end of such a cycle. I fall asleep more easily after a warm shower but only if the shower happens a full hour before bedtime.

(3) Enough exercise during the day is important. I like running on the nearby bark-paved running trails, or doing some weight lifting. Again, this wakes me up for a couple hours so I need to do the exercise at least two hours before bedtime.

(4) Stretching or relaxing also helps, this time no earlier or later than about two hours before bedtime. I’ll take time to pray, do tai chi, lie on my back on a “foam roller”, etc. The trick is to do this late enough it is of actual help in physically relaxing me before bedtime, but early enough I do not get frustrated if I cannot mentally relax while I am physically relaxing.

(5) If I can finish something on my to-do list that I would otherwise be tempted to think about while trying to fall asleep, do that something.

(6) Some steady background noise helps me if my brain is used to it. I can plug in an electric fan/heater in the living room to become acclimated to its noise and then move it to the bedroom when I go to bed.

(7) For the half hour before bed I do something really boring that requires my attention but gives my brain nothing to replay in my mind as I try to fall asleep. World of Warcraft fishing is ideal.

A Sock Plan that Almost Worked

Over a year ago I wrote about the nice Towncraft black "Acrylic Blend Cushion" socks I wear year-round, for sale at J.C. Penny. Three pairs for $9!

Well, I finally needed to buy another bunch of socks. Towards the end of December a whole bunch began to get holes, all at once. I guess that means I rotate through them evenly.

So I go to J. C. Penny and find out that my plan is in trouble. The Towncraft brand has been discontinued! What socks do I get?

As it turns out, at least in the realm of socks, Towncraft is not really discontinued but merely renamed Stafford. There is still a Stafford "Acrylic Blend cushion" which feels exactly the same but is not quite as dark a black. Customers are now nudged to buy two packages at once: instead of costing a plain $9 each the packages cost "$12, buy one get the second half price".

So I purchased my four three-packs of socks and should be set for more than another year. Hooray for nice socks!

Friday, January 18, 2008


This blog post is the draft of a future vocabulary essay on forgiveness. It was prompted by my admiration for a book recently given to me, The Peacemaking Pastor, combined with my studying Mark 5 this week.

The seventh chapter of The Peacemaking Pastor does an excellent job describing the fullness of scriptural forgiveness. I was pleased to find that everything discussed therein appears condensed into a short story from Mark's gospel.

As a preface, some context...

In Mark 5 we read about three stories which tell us successive truths about the Kingdom of God. The theme of what the Kingdom of God is like--and especially how it is like family--is part of the broader context, a section of Mark bracketed by accounts of Yeshua interacting with his family (3:19-35 and 6:1-6) and commissioning his core disciples (3:13-19 and 6:6:6-11).

These three stories describe how Yeshua offers salvation: how people may enter the Kingdom of God.

They are clearly based on historical events but are not necessarily accurate as history. For example, Mark writes about a single man possessed by a legion of demons whereas Matthew 8:28-34 tells of two possessed men. Apparently Mark simplified the story because the point of the story is for us to identify with the possessed and his readers would make that identification more easily with only one individual. (Such minor editing is normal in first-century biographies, which were always written to teach the reader how to admire and relate to the famous person.)

The first story (5:1-21) is about how Yeshua came to earth to overcome Satan. Yeshua begins in a more holy location, but crosses an expanse to visit a troubled place. There he meets someone living a graveyard life, controlled by Satan's influences. He frees the person from Satan's control. The person then wants to return with Yeshua to the more holy location but is told his mission is now to spread the news of his deliverance to others living in the troubled place.

The second story (5:25-34) is about how Yeshua offers forgiveness and healing to any with the faith to reach out to him.

The third story (5:22-24, 35-43) is about how anyone Yeshua reaches out to receives life, even if all of their circumstances seem to be death.

That's the context. Now let's look in detail at the second story.
..and many people followed, pressing all around him [Yeshua]. And a certain woman who had had an issue of blood twelve years and had suffered a great deal under many physicians. She had spent all that she had, yet instead of improving she had grown worse. She had heard about Yeshua, so she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment; for she said, "If I may touch even his clothes I will be cured." Instantly the hemorrhaging dried up, and she felt in her body that she had been healed of the disease.

Yeshua, immediately knowing within himself that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothes?"

His disciples responded, "You see the people pressing in on you; and you ask, 'Who touched me?'" But he kept looking around to see who had done it.

The woman, frightened and trembling because she knew what had happened to her, came and fell down in front of him and told him the whole truth. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you: go in peace, and be whole from your disease."
This short story is tells us all about how Yeshua understand forgiveness.

First, he recognizes the serious of the offense. The woman was ritually impotent because of her infirmity. While working her way through a crowd she had touched many people, causing them to now be ritually impotent, which could have been very dangerous for them if they went into the Temple complex.

Furthermore, she had touched Yeshua while he was on his way to deal with a life-and-death situation. As it turns out this did not hinder him: Yeshua's holiness always cures the ritually impotent state, rather than being threatened by it. But the woman did not know this: she was potentially removing Yeshua's holiness before his attempt to pray about a life-and-death situation. Apparently she did not know about the daughter of the synagogue official either: she was not deliberately choosing to take her own healing at the cost of another person's life. But by touching Yeshua without his permission she effectively had made that choice.

So her offense was serious. Her desperateness had led to carelessness. If the circumstances had been only slightly different (if Yeshua was not inherently greater than the state of ritual impotence) she would have caused the death of a young girl.

Yeshua's disciples do not understand this since they do not know that the touching involved someone who was ritually impotent. They wonder why Yeshua is making a big deal out of being touched in a crowd. But Yeshua refuses to proceed until the offense has been dealt with.

Scripturally, to forgive is not to ignore an offense or pretend it is less serious than it really is. (There is a different concept, the Hebrew salach, hopefully translated accurately as "pardon".) True forgiveness requires looking clearly at the offense before dealing with it.

Second, the woman confesses. She is not merely regretful or apologetic, but explains "the whole truth". She admits to the attitudes that caused her selfishness. She admits to the specific action that caused offense. She accepts responsibility for her action rather than claiming her motives deserve pardoning the offense. She is willing to accept the consequences for her action. (Two final steps for a complete confession are not included in the story: she does not share how she had taken steps to avoid repeating the offense, and she does not explicitly ask for forgiveness.)

Third, Yeshua accepts her confession by calling her "daughter". For Yeshua, forgiveness is always about being a part of God's family. (See also Matthew 5:23-24, Matthew 18:15, and Luke 17:3.) As an impersonal judge God can at times pardon an offense while upholding justice. But only as a loving father can God forgive his child. And only as children forgiven by the Father can have the strength to be forgiving as often as necessary (Matthew 18:21-35).

Fourth, Yeshua explains how God perceives the offense and tells her God's verdict. Scripturally, forgiveness is completely unrelated to whether punishment for the offense is lightened or removed (see Second Samuel 12:12-13). Within his family God is usually as merciful as he can be while upholding justice. In this case, God saw the woman's great faith. Her selfishness was less significant to God. So she was healed, pardoned, and free to depart in peace.

To model scriptural forgiveness when we receive an offense we must also act with as much mercy as we can, while upholding God's justice. Scripture and prayer provide sufficient guidance about God's verdict for an offense and how to implement it compassionately. Forgiveness is not about the offender or offended getting the result they want, but that everyone allows God to get the result he wants. Only then can people truly depart in peace.

Secular psychology often claims something very different: the healthiest result for anyone who is offended is to pardon the offender. In other words, we should pardon an offense because otherwise we will dwell on the offense and how it weigh upon us and festers in our psyche does us great harm. This is not true: a situation receives wholeness when everyone accepts God's verdict. Extending a pardon inappropriately can allow the offender to ignore his or responsibility to fix the sinful attitudes and desires that led to the offense (Matthew 15:18-19, James 4:1).

Whether the offender was punished or pardoned, allowing an offender who is forgiven to depart in peace can be difficult. The offended person must accept God's verdict as sufficient and thus no longer dwell on the offense, talk about it with others, bring it up in conversation to humiliate the offender, or otherwise allow the forgiven offense to impair the relationship between two children of God.

Fifth, Yeshua makes a promise. On the surface he says that the woman's affliction will not relapse. But what Yeshua is really saying is that he accepts God's verdict in all the ways previously mentioned. Just as the offender should confess aloud to the offended, the offended should promise aloud to the offender that forgiveness is complete.

To summarize, the five parts of scriptural forgiveness appearing in this story are:
  • Yeshua recognized the seriousness of the offense
  • The woman speaks a complete confession
  • Yeshua affirms how forgiveness belongs in God's family
  • God's view of the situation is found, and God's verdict occurs
  • Yeshua speaks acceptance of God's verdict
It is important that Yeshua's followers understanding the depth of scriptural forgiveness, so they can live it! People who are never taught the difference between forgiveness and pardon will neither have peaceful lives nor demonstrate God's wisdom.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Bruchah for Chocolate and Coffee

My wife likes chocolate and coffee, and once asked me if there was a traditional Jewish blessing for beans to match the standard blessings for bread, fruit, and vegetables.

There isn't.

But at the recent IAMCS Conference, a friendly native Hebrew-speaker named Tzahi Shapira Kehilat Ahavat Ammi helped me compose the following, based upon the traditional blessings and Psalm 37:4

Barooch atah Adonai, Elohay-noo, Melech ha'olam, boray
Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, creator of

gargee-reem tehee-reem beesh-veel meeshalot lee-baynoo.
delicious beans for the desires of our hearts.

The word "beans" in Hebrew is actually unusually tricky. The plural is gargee-ray when it refers to one variety of beans, but gargee-reem when it refers to a mix of kinds of beans.

I suppose this bruchah works for chili too. My wife makes a great chili!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

LCC Budget Woes Update

A while ago I mentioned that the community college where I work is having budget problems.

(More detailed financial data is available online, but not accessible without an employee number. Other LCC employees can go to at the last choice in the Employee Services menu.)

These problems are now severe enough that the college can no longer "invest" in part-time employees. By that phrase I'm trying to refer to how the college had a pool of capital to pay new part-time employees this school year until it receives next year the state funding that reimburses the college for this expense.

To be clearer, the state gives the college funds to pay part-time employees based upon the number of students and hours taught by the college's part-time employees. But this money arrives a year or so after the classes are taught. The state first needs to check how many students stayed enrolled the entire term and then needs to turn its own bureaucratic gears. So the college needs to have a bit of money in reserve to pay for hiring new part-time employees: those new hires would need to be paid for a year until the college receives back state funding for them.

Part-time employees are the most profitable part of the college budget. Also, for certain classes there is always more student demand than available classes. So the obvious way for the college to help its budget woes would be to hire more part-time faculty to teach more classes. But it cannot do that, because it has used for other expenses the pool of capital intended for hiring new part-time employees.

Flip-Flop Fatigue Mats

One present I got my wife for Chanukah was a new fatigue mat for the kitchen. She likes have something soft to stand on when cooking. (I do too!)

She had found out about these fatigue mats made from old flip-flops. A local store sells them so we don't have to pay for shipping from the manufacturer.

It's working great!

Priorities of Help Groups: Time vs. Money

I mentioned earlier that I had ironically first thought about last year when staying at a hotel casino and exposed to people gambling.

There are two casinos near Eugene. Both are on Native American land, of course. From what I understand they are very different.

One is apparently a success story: located far away from large towns and cities so it is not a source of temptation to local residents, it has provided income for the Native American tribe that runs it, which has been wisely used to help bring many in that tribe out of poverty and productively into working for other tribe-run businesses. I know that families with many kids often stop there on RV trips through Oregon because the overnight RV fee is inexpensive and all guests receive a coupon for a free breakfast.

The other is apparently the opposite: it is located in a sizeable town it has become a problem to local residents, it lacks any history of using its profit to help the tribe that runs it, and it has a huge public relations problem.

In any case, because nearby casinos exist, Eugene usually has a few of its freeway billboards advertising a government-funded organization that helps people overcome a gambling addiction.

While visiting that casino I realized that I had never even heard of (let alone seen a paid advertisement for) any group in Eugene offering help to people whose addiction was about wasting time rather than wasting money. That seemed odd because Eugene is a college town. With a tenth of our population being the local college students I am sure as many lives are in trouble because of time-devouring addictions as money-devouring ones.

The prominent existence of a group to help with gambing, but lack of the existence of a group to help with time-wasting addictions, made me wonder about how differently society sees time and money...

First, does the government, who funds such help groups, value its citizens' money more than their time?

Second, do churches and other sources of counseling that lack government funding (and were once the only public sources of counseling) still do a sufficient job with helping people overcome time-wasting addictions so that the government has not yet needed to supplement their efforts?

Third, how much does society consider a person's money a more public matter than the person's time? For example, many people are in public, legal trouble for not paying alimony, but I've never heard of anyone getting in similarly public trouble for not paying enough attention to their spouse. Also, those who are wealthy are socially are expected to be financially charitable, but those who have free time are not similarly pressured to do volunteer work.

I don't have any nicely packaged answers to these questions.

Monday, January 14, 2008

WoW Temptations: Overly Social

The game is fun because it is a social environment for friends to do things together. The adventures a character has are usually repetitive and boring endeavors that few people would choose for recreation if they were playing the game alone.

The game provides many ways to keep track of and chat with your friends. This allows for a common temptation: once you have friends, you want to keep spending time with them.

For me this is the only addictive aspect of playing the game.

As a college math instructor I have coworkers but normally do not spend much time with them. I even carpool to work primarily just because it is nice to spend an extra fifteen minutes chatting with a coworker rather than be on the bus.

As a minister I participate in the local monthly pastor's prayer meeting, and know a large number of other local ministers. However, I spend little time with them. My (unfortunately uncommon) status as someone knowledgeable about the first-century roots of my faith means when I am spending time socially with other ministers it usually turns into a historical and theological discussion rather than simply being together as friends.

As a leader I spend a lot of time with my students and congregants, but I cannot have a "normal friends" relationship with these people. I must remain in a position to give encouragement, counsel, or correction. This limits how much I can be a normal friend.

The result is that I usually have very few normal friends and none I just relax around on a regular basis. I don't normally miss having normal friends. But when I am able to have them, I treasure it and see how they help me be relaxed and healthy. Last fall I even began grilling fish, largely as an excuse to invite congregants over and use the activity to relate to them as normal friends instead of as congregant and minister.

Furthermore, my friends from World of Warcraft were exempt from my wife's earlier secrecy about her pregnancy. Because of her gluten intolerance her risk of miscarriage was very high until the end of four months. She did not want to tell people happy news if it meant potentially having to later deal with telling each of them sad news or receiving their condolences. But my game friends were not in her social circle at all! I could talk with them about being the husband of a wife facing a difficult pregnancy when I had no one else to talk to about that huge part of my life for four months.

As with other game-related temptations, the game itself does not create the temptation which could become an addiction. I like to spend time doing fun things with friends because I've always enjoyed doing so! It's not that the game teaches me to feel that way.

As with other time-management issues the temptation has obvious solutions: to spend time with these game friends in ways that I really value and which bring me lasting enjoyment, and to schedule my time and keep aware of my mental state so I only spending potentially productive time as social time by intentional choice.

I could also be intentional about getting to know a few friends well and only playing the game when our characters travel together: not making other friends, and postponing game play if those friends are not currently playing. Once my ministry work becomes time consuming again I may need to do this as well.

WoW Temptations: Questaholism

Most of what a character does in the game is solve quests. Each quest is pretty quick, taking five to twenty minutes to complete. In that way the game is actually quite convenient to play for only a few minutes during a break from work.

However, a character can be doing up to twenty-five quests at once, and usually these overlap.

For example, a man asks my character to retrieve his sentimental pocket watch from his farmhouse which bandits have taken over. Also, the local sheriff asks my character to slay a certain number of bandits and bring back their bandannas as proof. Also, the field in front of the farm house has been filled by goblin-made machines to scare the neighbors, but one neighbor is not frightened away and has asked my character to destroy a certain number of these machines.

Completing all three of the above to-do items now takes forty minutes, not twenty. Moreover, on the way back to return the pocket watch my character meets two people who will now offer me other questing opportunities. Then the sheriff, after thanking me for a job well done, has more work for my character also.

Thus a person who feels content in completing a single quest can play the game for 20 minutes (or less) and end such a game session with a feeling of accomplishment. But a person who is becomes focused on finishing every bit of work nearby will get caught up in a never-ending blur of to-do items. This might even appear to be more efficient: why not defeat the full quota of bandits and machines while at that farmhouse?

I've always been the kind of stereotypical male who goes shopping by going to the store, walking directly to the items on the shopping list, buying those, and coming home. At one time, a number of years ago, I even typed a shopping list with all the grocery store items I normally used arranged in columns that corresponded to the aisles in the grocery store, so I would never have to backtrack as I shopped.

At the same time I can understand how someone not as content with checking off a single to-do item would face a temptation to do quest after quest, never feeling content that the adventure was had reached a satisfying stopping point.

People are born knowing how to feel content an happy in a task well, even if it is a small task with more work to come (consider toddlers who applaud themselves after building the most trivial block tower). But a common vice is to lose this ability. Then people become vulnerable to the temptations that turn people into workaholics.

WoW Temptations: Welcoming Wearyiness

I started playing the game because my wife was so tired during the first four months of the pregnancy. She wanted my company but lacked the energy to do anything together, even to watch a movie together. After she got home from work I needed to be in the same room as her while she read for an hour or two, and to remain interruptible so that I could care for her when she needed help. With World of Warcraft, I could be with her in the ways yet also be spending time with friends. Both of my wife and I felt spoiled by the arrangement, even if we would rather have been able to do more together. It was certainly vastly superior to some traditional types of husbandly recreation such as spending time with friends at a bar or bowling alley.

Now that my wife has energy again, I have found I need to resist a certain temptation to play the game when I am too weary to be productive but not tired enough to fall asleep.

The game is great for when I am such a state. It is just as fun and social as when I am more alert and clear-minded.

Such a brain-weary state used to be my nemesis. When I ran a congregation I was so busy that I tried my best to always either be productive or be sleeping. Of course there would be a few hours each week, usually among weekday evenings, when I got weary and would waste time on the internet (I don't have a television) because my brain was too worn out to do more productive work but my body was not yet tired enough to sleep. This benefited my friends and family because I would find funny things to link to in my blog!

Now those hours each week I spend playing World of Warcraft. I'm no more or less productive because of that change in how I spend my brain-weary time.

However, I no longer am quite as diligent about having a regular sleeping schedule and getting regular cardiovascular exercise with running, biking, or skateboarding. If I have a few more hours of "worn out" time each week because I am not as disciplined... well, it does not seem to be much of a loss because I get to spend that time with friends and a fun game.

It is probably healthy that I don't have such a packed schedule any more. I'm noticeably happier in general, and enjoying an overall increase in productivity, because it is mentally healthy to have switched to something more fun and social in my hours of mental weariness. However, I do need to be alert to the temptation of lazily allowing my amount of brain-weary time to increase.

Now I typically play the game a little when I get home after teaching math, to wake myself up a bit before doing something productive. After teaching three copies of the same math class my brain needs a little excitement! Then I face a different temptation related to brain-weariness: after re-energizing myself I need to stop playing the game and switch back to being productive instead of playing the game during potentially productive time.

So far neither of these temptations is very large. But even as a very self-disciplined person I can sympathize with someone surprised by or not used to these temptations.

WoW Temptations: Comparing Ourselves to Others

In real life there are many people who feel an irrational need to have the beauty of a professional model, the physical fitness of a professional athlete, or the net worth of a professional investor.

Not me! I'm quite content being mediocre.

In World of Warcraft there is a level of elite equipment available for the sake of professional gladiators. Some players like pitting their characters against each other in arena combat. As with real life wrestling matches there are competition brackets (but based on experience rather than weight). It is advantageous to get an arena character to the top of his or her experience bracket, stop questing for experience, and shift to getting the best equipment available for that bracket.

There are two kinds elite equipment. Most of it is can only be obtained by traveling to a certain enemy, defeating the enemy, and being lucky that the enemy drops the desired item instead of one of the other three or four possible items that the enemy's defeat could yield as treasure. Other, rarer elite equipment could randomly be found among any treasure and is usually sold at the auction house for exorbitant prices.

For a normal character doing quests the elite equipment is complete irrelevant. As I mentioned earlier almost all quests become trivial by teaming up with even one other character. Having an unusually powerful weapon or piece of armor is never necessary.

Moreover, characters gain experience quickly and a character doing quests is soon eligible to use the next tier of equipment. It seems a waste of time to spend time getting the best possible equipment for a (non-arena) character's current level of experience. Time spent repeatedly traveling to and defeating a certain foe until it yields the desired treasure item could be more significantly used to complete quests and gain more experience.

Despite how clearly irrelevant elite gear is to most characters I meet many players who long for it. As with other temptations, the game itself does not promote this vice of feeling unhappy unless you can "keep up with the Joneses" who are the professionals at what they do. But if a player is susceptible to that temptation then the game can feed the fuel of that kind of desire.

WoW Temptations: Hoarding Money

The game has in-game money (gold coins). A character always has a certain amount of coins, a certain amount of liquid assets.

Within the game there is very little need for these coins. Most characters have a small set of fixed expense needs:
  • Weapons and armor get worn out with use and need repairs. This is typically the largest expense category. However, a good guild will provide a daily allotment of funding for repair bills that is more than adequate for most characters.
  • As a character accumulates experience he or she can be trained to have new skills and must pay for this training. This series of one-time expenses is noticeable but typically is much less than repair bills.
  • Three times (at levels 40, 60, and 70) a character can purchase a better riding animal. These are very expensive one-time purchases. A character can adventure without the riding animal appropriate for its level but will move more slowly than its peers, which makes working in groups very annoying to other players. Since working in groups is the point of the game these purchases are more truly needs than luxuries.
  • To travel in between major towns a character typically takes a "taxi" by riding a flying creature who conveys the character quickly from one town's "taxi station" to the other. This costs a very minimal amount of coins.
There is never a need to spend time specifically earning coins. The rewards a character gains from quests will nearly cover the above expenses even if the character's guild is not paying repair bills.

If a character has a guild that pays repair bills, or if the character sells its surplus equipment to others at the game's auction house it will have plenty of coins for the above expenses.

Most characters have a slightly more complex financial life because they learn a complimentary gathering and crafting profession. For example, my character can mine and smelt metal ore (gathering) and us the resulting metal bars to build metal engineering devices (crafting). Occasionally a character will have some interesting crafting projects to work on that require more gathered materials than the character owns. Just as often, a character has gathered more materials than its recipes currently need. A good guild allows characters to share gathered materials so all guild members can create their interesting crafting projects. In any case, the gathering and crafting professions are tangential to the rest of the game: a character can be completely successful without pursuing either, or by only pursuing either when convenient.

Finally, there is the auction house at which characters can sell and buy items they do not want. Once again, using the auction house is never a necessity. There are a very few quests that require a gathered or crafted item a character might not be able to come up with by himself or herself. But these quests can be skipped, or help can be obtained from guild-mates or even complete strangers.

That's all there is to the game's economy. Unlike real life there is never the risk of a large, unplanned expense. No one has to worry about paying for unexpected car repairs, a water heater that breaks, a leaky roof, or a new baby. In the game a player can easily tell if his or her character has the coins to pay for that list of fixed expenses.

I have never met or even heard of a player whose goal was to have a character with as many coins as possible. But I often meet players who wail, "If only my character had a few more coins."

This is like real life. No matter how large your bank account is it cannot provide security or happiness. Anyone can get deathly ill, be in an accident, or need to take care of family or friends suffering from illness or accident. People who have not learned to be happy with a moderate income will not be made happy by a larger income.

At the same time, people often want to buy something nifty at the store (at the auction house) or do something interesting through recreation or travel (craft a fun item that requires expensive materials). There is a temptation to overestimate how much we will enjoy obtaining a certain something. There is a second temptation allow the pleasure of obtaining a pleasant thing reduced to a fleeting pleasure because by looking at the next pleasant thing to desire.

So, as in real life, the secret in the game to financial contentment is to budget your expenses, save up for your few large upcoming expenses, and occasionally buy yourself a treat that you really value and which brings lasting enjoyment. If the game teaches this to a generation of teenagers that's a more important lesson than is taught by most games or television shows.

Also, as in real life, the money we say we own is not really ours. In real life it is God's money which he lets us manage. In the game the Terms of Use clearly state that the game company owns all players' characters and items (as is necessary for the company to be able to ban accounts of players who misbehave).

Unlike real life, the game abounds with incredibly generous people. Partly it is because it is easier to be generous with pretend money. Partly it is because the lack of unplanned expenses allow players to be generous with their surplus without worry. And partly it is because people more clearly understand that they do not own the coins their characters carry.

WoW Temptations: Self-reliance

In the game people play a character who becomes more capable.

Some of this improvement is based upon equipment: a character will be a marginally more competent adventurer if it can get the next better weapon, armor, riding animal, etc. More significant is how many points of experience a character accumulates from finishing quests and defeating foes.

There is never a point in the game where a character absolutely needs to be slightly better to succeed. Any desire to have a slightly more capable character is a creation of the player, not part of the game itself.

In fact, most quests are designed for one character but players are encouraged and provided tools for teaming up others. If a character is teamed up with even one other then almost all quests become quite trivial.

This parallels real life. Marginal self-improvement is insignificant compared to have a few good friends who can help. If my car breaks down, my basement floods, or I lose my job then maybe learning or improving a couple skills will make a big difference in my quality of life, but for most people a support network of friends would be the immediate and pressing need.

Nevertheless, I hear many players wail, "If only my character had the next better such-and-such..."

Self-reliance can be a temptation. The game itself does not promote this vice, but it allows people with that desire in their heart constant opportunity to practice it.

WoW Temptations: Introduction

World of Warcraft is famous for its addictiveness.

Humorously to me, the first time I thought about the game this year was not when my brother convinced me to start playing but a few months earlier when I visited my sister and her family in their small town in Minnesota. Their local nice hotel is part of the nearby casino. The few times I walked from my hotel room to the restaurant I passed people playing slot machines and thought to myself, "Haven't these people heard of World of Warcraft?" Why would anyone do something as boring and solitary as play a slot machine when there were other addictions available that were so much cheaper and more fun?

Now that I have played the game, I have seen that the "core" of the game is actually not addictive at all. Ask anyone who just finished collecting four Marsh Walker tendrils! Most quests are repetitive and not very exciting, and most of what a new player does is quests.

However, the game presents a complex and well-developed setting and social community. There are many ways this setting and community create temptations. And any temptation can be addictive.

As a pastoral counselor I find it very interesting how the various temptations within the game world are similar to real life issues and provide insight about human nature and struggles.

So I have a lot to write about insights I've gained by playing World of Warcraft. But it seems fitting, giving the game's reputation, to start by taking about the game world's temptations and what these show about human nature.

To avoid an absurdly long blog post, I'll format this topic as a series. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Modern Life and a Hospital Pregnancy Curriculum

The local hospital has classes for expecting parents.

(I like the word "expecting". My wife is the one who is pregnant. But I'm also expecting. It sounds nicer than "increasingly impatient".)

This seems a clear sign of modern life. Our parents and grandparents live far away; they will certainly visit soon after the baby is born and in some sense stay near by phone and e-mail. But it would be irresponsible to assume they have already taught us how to parent, or will do so in the near future, or will always be reachable if we have a quick question.

As another a sign of modern life, people can register for those classes online.

I found it humorous that, as yet another sign of modern life, the online registration form has two fields to type in "name" and "support person". Since my credit card gives airline miles and my wife's does not we used my name, which was apparently to be used by the hospital for both billing and attendance. That left us a little confused about who to put as the support person since leaving out her name entirely seemed inappropriate. So we put in the field for support person both our names in the format "my name, for her name" which seemed a bit wordy but at least accurate.

Random Literature

These links would never go to a party together, but with a blog post I can force them into each other's company.

What if Edward Gorey drew the Star Trek story about tribbles?

Forty-Four Turkish Fairy Tales, if you need more politically incorrect short bedtime stories.

Russian science fiction, featuring the story that was made into the computer game Stalker.

Reviews of and links to old interactive fiction (text adventure) games.

Funny Signs

Be aware!

Be safe!

Trust no one!

Level One Human

A cute onesie for nerd parents.

Your infant won't fit in, but then it's not easy being green...

World of Warcraft Links

I mentioned earlier that I had started playing World of Warcraft. Since it is a social game it is a great topic to blog about, so unlike my hobbies of martial arts or skateboarding or comics I will create a new blog post topic for the game.

Before discussing the ways the game is interesting I should share some links, so my friends and family who play the game can see how I play it.

My character is a gnome named Raconteur on the Feathermoon server. I belong to a group of friends (a "guild") named Divinitas (armory, WarcraftRealms).

Being pretty new to the game, I often need to look up infromation on the WoWWiki. Most of what I look up is information about my character class, to use when planning a new talent specialization plan. Sometimes I read about an instance (long adventure for a group) after doing it once, to see what I missed.

Now and then I will also refer to Thottbot quest help if a quest in the game is too vague about where to go or what to look for. The website WoWLocater is sometimes helpful in using the provided clarification.

I used to waste time reading the official rogue discussion now and then, to help learn what to do as a rogue, but have stopped doing so since the forum is very repetitive.

Usually I play with no add-ons enabled. I do have Gatherer, Recount, and WoWEcon installed so that I can enable them if I wish.

UPDATE: Ooo, my blog's first spam comment! Someone anonymously left a link to a site illegally selling WoW hacking software and in-game gold. I can't find out how to remove the comment's entire existence but I can remove its content.

Cloth Diapers

My wife wants to try using cloth diapers with our son. She has two motivations: it saves a lot of money, and is better for the environment.

Neither of us thinks that disposable diapers are evil. We're planning on use those, as well, during the first months when so many extra diaper changes are needed each day. It makes no sense to own enough cloth diapers for those early days. Disposables are also nice on certain occasions when traveling.

My wife read a lot about cloth diapers online. Cloth diaper technology, like so many other things, has changed a lot since I was young. (I was not surprised: for our anniversary my wife got me a pair of hiking boots, my first pair since being a teenage Boy Scout. Hiking boot technology has also come a long ways.)

Now there are two key phrases to describe kinds cloth diapers, neither of which applied thirty years ago.

The first is one size fits all. These diapers use snaps to change size, so you do not need to buy an entire new set of cloth diapers as your baby grows.

The second is all in one. These diapers have both a an absorbent inner layer and a non-breathable, waterproof outer layer. They also have their own fastening so no outer layer is needed to keep them on the baby.

All cloth diapers seem to use optional liners: washable pads for extra absorbency overnight, and thin disposable cloths to make clean-up easier.

There are many kinds of cloth diapers for sale, but the internet cloth diapering community has consensus that if you can afford the up-front cost of a set of one size fits all, all in one cloth diapers then you won't regret it. (In my mind the archetype of this kind of purchase is a large LCD monitor: the people who can afford them never complain that they wasted their money. However, my wife and I can afford a set of high end cloth diapers, but not a large LCD monitor.)

The most popular brand of one size fits all, all in one cloth diaper is bumGenius 3.0. Its main flaw in version 2.0 was that the velcro fasteners did not last as long as the rest of the diaper, so that was fixed for version 3.0 and now it receives very few negative reviews.

We also plan on trying Happy Camper Bum Wrappers, because it is a good idea to try two brands to see how they fit the baby slightly differently. For a few babies fit really matters.

Since we have a high-efficiency front-loading washing machine, our water and electricity bill for washing these will be low. Hopefully we'll be among the many satisfied users of cloth diapers.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Math 25 Packet

At the end of December I mentioned that I had finished writing the new Math 25 workbook.

Perhaps some day I'll blog about how writing the workbook affected me. But I don't think I have anything very insightful or productive to share.

The current copy is online here.

If you are interested in practical math for money (investments, mortgages, etc.), health and cooking, scale diagrams, and so on then please check it out and send me feedback!

I've already found many typos. That file copy will be updated at the end of the term. The workbook is being used this term by a co-worker who will find even more typos. We'll probably fix the file all at once.

Office Hour Blogging

Winter term is underway!

Almost all of my file prep-work for the term is done. I still need to compose the two midterms and final exam for the class. But I wrote all of the practice exams, quizzes, etc. during December.

All of my math files are available on my math website. Even the quizzes and tests are there, so I can easily share them with other Math 20 instructors who know the password.

Thus I am back to blogging during my office hours when I have nothing more productive to do. Huzzah for a convenient time to blog a little!

eBay confusion

I returned from traveling for almost a to find my email inbox has a handful of mysterious messages supposedly from an eBay seller, encouraging me to keep bidding if I was still interested in an item. This surprised me, for I do not have an eBay account and have never used that website!

The item being sold was this camera.

The emails I received were not form letters produced automatically by the eBay system (as a bid is out-bid) but were friendly, slightly chatty, and once mentioned there were actually two such cameras if that was of interest. However, they were clearly part of a scam, since they each had a different reply address, and one did an obviously fake job at pretending to be from the eBay system.

There is indeed a real eBay member with the name David Van Slyke who was bidding on that camera. If this eBay account is fake and part of a scam it part of a quite elaborate scheme, for that would mean the person behind the scam created a number of fake reviews dating back to 2005, for no reason other than to create trouble two and a half years later!

I contacted eBay help and was told that my email address is not associated with any eBay account. Perhaps it was a few days ago, but if so it was not removed after the first messages were sent, so if I were home to check my email and investigate promptly the fake nature of the account would have been caught.

As odd as the alternative is, it seems to me more likely that a third party took from a legitimate eBay sale my first and last name, from these took a lucky guess at my gmail address (which resembles my name) and wrote emails to it from a number of addresses for no apparent reason other than to confirm if that gmail address existed and cause confusion.

Strange! It's not like any kind of spam I have received before.