Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Library Audiobook Mysteries

My grandmother enjoys mystery novels.

I am thinking of getting her an MP3 player so we could listen to audiobook mysteries together and have another thing in common to talk about.

I somehow grew up without reading the classic mystery novels that define the genre. In contrast, the bookshelves at my wife's mother home are lined with such books.

Curious, I made a list of the authors for which my mother-in-law owns the most books and then searched for how many audiobooks for each author are part of the Eugene Public Library collection. The results are:
  • Agatha Christie: 53
  • Lilian Jackson Brown: 21
  • Dorothy Gilman: 13
  • Dorothy Sayers: 4
  • Josephine Tey: 1
  • Dell Shannon, Susan Dunlap, Amanda Cross: 0
Clearly the Eugene Public Library's audiobook collection is not a representative sample of mystery writing that features female authors.

I repeated the experiment with a few other major mystery novelists who were male.
  • Ross Macdonald: 9
  • Dashiell Hammett: 4
  • Gilbert Keith Chesterton: 1
  • Raymond Chandler: 0
Not a whit more representative.

For the fans of mystery novels out there, what audiobooks should I first request the library acquire?

Quarters, Dollars, and Pennies

I'm still working on collecting all of the state quarters.

I also found out that the currently minted dollar coins are of a more convenient size than the older silver dollars, and they look cool.

I have started carry a few dollar coins with me in my diaper bag. Smiley gives them to homeless people asking for money: he learns charity and they get a small amount of financial help that is also a weather-proof conversation piece.

I also got a roll of them for my math department office. Most mornings I taught, I purchased a toasted bagel for $1 and it was nice to use the dollar coins for that. I simply find coins more pleasantly tactile than bills.

The Federal government has finally announced when it will stop minting pennies, which should have happened when I was a child. It would be nice if pennies were replaced by a $5 coin. Except for grocery shopping, most of the places I spend money I spend only a few dollars at.

UPDATE: Oops. The "stop minting pennies" was an April Fool's joke. A new trouble with doing an internet search while blogging to satisfy a random curiosity!

Assorted Bad Math

I sometimes come across articles describing abuse of statistics. Only a few of these would be appropriate to share with Math 25 students.

Here are two, about cell phone charges and circles in graphs. Here is a close-up of the graph with circles in the latter.

Assorted Politics

During 2009 I blogged much more about investing and the economy than ever before. Had I realized how much, I would have created a post category for investing. Oh well.

I sincerely hope both issues are boring in 2010 and I have no need to muse about them!

Remember to take advantage of adjusted capital loss for your 2009 taxes! Tomorrow will be the last day to sell depreciated investments and have the tax man absorb part of the sorrow.

Here are some final investing/economy links from my bookmark folder, to wind up the topic for the year.

Back in October there was an article in Forbes comparing the current recession with the Great Depression. It mentions Milton Friedman, whom I have blogged about fairly often in 2009, so I link to it now. It concludes by discussing the velocity multiplier, which is way down. Another article continues the discussion by describing other problems the low multiplier causes. A third article adds a bit more about how bonds play a role.

Here is a catchy slideshow about the spread of unemployment by county. Working less is not always a bad thing, as this article describes. (Personally, my wife and I are both working fewer hours than we did before little Smiley was born, with only a happier life from all the changes. A similar story even if our work week reduction was for family reasons instead of being caused by the recession.)

My blogging this year has occasionally betrayed my preference for Small Government at the Federal level. Classical Values rants about the 2008 Farm Bill, which is a intriguing read even though he exaggerates current problems. In contrast, City Journal reports about one event where the power of local government was needed when a supposedly benevolent charitable organization failed to help people in need.

Finally, Greg Mankiw graphs the "dead zone" that traps people in poverty.
Notice that as earned income rises from about $15,000 to $30,000, income after taxes and transfers is roughly flat. Indeed, it could even fall. The bottom line: If you are poor, the government is inadvertently ensuring that you have little incentive to try to improve your condition.

New Math 20 Lectures

Blogging has been scanty this month.

Much of the reason is spending holiday time with family in Southern California. I try to arrange my internet identity so that finding me or my cell phone number is easy but finding my home address is impossible. But I cannot be sure there are no paths from my name (and thus blog) to my home address, so publicly advertising that I am away from the house for a few weeks seems a needless risk. Thus I postpone blogging about holiday stuff until I return home.

I also have been working a lot on the RPG and on math preparations for next term.

The math work is more interesting to blog about. About half the topics from the previous math class are not used in Math 20, but are needed in the next math class. Traditionally all the review topics are dealt with during the first two weeks of class. But this causes two problems. First, the students do not see new material until the third week, which means students that do not have time in their busy lives to handle Math 20 do not realize this until annoyingly late in the term--and too late to receive a financial refund if they drop the class. Second, those review topics that are not needed until after Math 20 are rusty or forgotten by the time they are useful.

So I am moving the review topics not needed until after Math 20 to the very end of the term. This will solve both problems. I am also adding to my lecture slides a lot of the talk about study skills and class pacing that I do aloud each term, for the benefit of students who miss a class.

Today I finished revising the first lecture. The links will change soon, but for now you can compare the old and new versions if you are interested.

Best Chai in a Tin?

I once wrote about how my wife makes chai in a big pot during the Winter.

One of my holiday presents this month was a tin of Masala Chai from Pet's Coffee & Tea. It's remarkably good. Although still not the same as making it from scratch the way my wife does, it's close.

Previously I have tried chai from Stash Tea and other companies and never found any that are at all close. It is reassuring that someone can package good chai in a tin.

Charitable Giving Graphs

It is almost the end of 2009. Lots of people are doing year-end charitable giving before the tax year is finished.

TaxProf had an recent article about charitable giving, with nice graphs.

Remember, scripture advises using your money for charitable giving and to buy friends!

Car Problems

We drove from Eugene to San Diego to visit my grandmother for Chanukah and my wife's family for Christmas.

Our car is old enough it burns oil, but normally not a noticeable amount in 16 hours of driving. We made sure all our fluid levels were refreshed before leaving Eugene and stopped thinking about it.

However, it seems that 16 hours almost all at once and at freeway speeds does burn almost all the engine's oil. We began to hear alarming noises near Dana Point. We took the car to the Laguna Niguel Auto Center.

A common problem when very low on oil is broken connecting rod bearings, since these are supposed to be completely submerged in oil. Raul the Mechanic removed the oil pan confirmed the connecting rod bearings were broken but the connecting rod and crank shaft were not damaged, and made repairs.

Raul did not use oil additive, which our car likes. The engine noise was louder, and the engine differently responsive, until the additive was used. Now our car sounds and behaves as we are used to.

UPDATE: How was driving that far with little Smiley? He is amazingly good in the car, but lousy at sleeping in a motel room. At the end of the drive we are sane but needing sleep. Favorable roads and weather graced us.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Keep the Blog's RSS Feed?

I am thinking of switching my blogging from blogspot to just using a text editor and having each month be a page on my website.

I know I would be too lazy to manually update an RSS feed for blog posting. Would any of my blog's readers care if the blog's RSS feed disappeared?

(Legibility would improve. I would lose the feature of displaying posts by category. I'm not sure what else would change.)

UPDATE: Okay, I'll keep the blog in its current format. Thank you to those who commented!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Nice Day with Family

Friday night was not only Erev Shabbat but the last night of Chanukah. It began a very nice day!

My family is visitng my wife's parents and brother. Vacation has been nice.

I have been enjoying reading Craig Keener's commentary on John and got to do that more as the evening began. Later we lit the Chanukah candles and had a nice Shabbat dinner. I had a nice walk around the neighborhood with Smiley riding on my back in our Ergo. We got to look at holiday lights and even at one house dance.

(A house had lights that blink in time to music, combining two of Smiley's favorite things. If only the object thus decorated was not a house but a big truck!)

After Smiley was asleep, my wife and bother-in-law played a RPG adventure. I fell asleep listing to my JNT audiobook, which was a treat for I only recently figured out how to get it to play its tracks in order.

In the morning I got to do much of the typing up of the RPG adventure. That day included three "walks" around the neighborhood that mostly turned into meeting and playing with the neighbor kids, as well as playing with Smiley inside. I got to do a lot of blogging. I relaxed and had some prayer time. I even managed to find a one-page dungeon from the 2009 contest that needed almost no work to use that evening.

But after dinner the very nice day ended. Smiley has caught a cold, and his nasal draining buildup caused him to throw up twice in a very messy way, exacerbated by our not having our usual precautions in place at grandma's house. So no RPG adventure or relaxing audiobook on Saturday evening: clean-up and laundry instead. Smiley's breathing troubles interfered with his sleeping so he woke up flustered at 1am. I held him for an hour until he fell asleep again, and was awake much of the night as he made more coughing noises but did not himself waken.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Construction Eating Kit

We're not getting this for Smiley, but it is utterly cool.

Some Spiritual Lessons

Back at the end of October and in early November I wrote about what I have been up to: where God has been most active in my life, and all the things I do besides parenting and math teaching.

So this December I probably will not send out a holiday or New Year's card to friends and family. (My wife and I have done that most years since our marriage, but not every year.)

But this past year has taught me some spiritual lessons that are worth sharing with friends and family but did not fit into either of those previous blog essays. So here they are, in no particular order.
Many religions teach about being constantly mindful of God. But scripture calls us to something deeper: to be constantly conversational with God.

Becoming a parent did not lessen my sense of personal entitlement. But it did compact it. I can pack a whole lot of entitlement into enjoying my morning cup of tea before I leave for work or Smiley wakes up. Spiritually this is as problematic as if all that entitlement was spread out through the day.

God's great love is seen in his eagerness to suffer so much for children he knows will continue to be distant and resistant to being fixed. (His greatest suffering happened once, to bring nearness and health to his distant and hurting children. But that event, although awe-inspiring, was not about his greatest frustration nor most enduring demonstration of love.)

A good father allows his children to help, or even participate while imagining they are helping. For example, I let Smiley "help" me pushing the wheelbarrow even though it only makes that task slower and trickier. Thus it is appropriate that salvation, something done for us and to us for which we must agree and make room but we cannot help, was provided through a personality other than fatherhood.

Yeshua did evangelism by saying "come and see" and visiting people. His goal was very friendly disciples whose lives were visibly full of his life. I again need to work on having greater kindness and warmth.

SI Unit Stimulus

I had an interesting thought about a month ago, as I taught about SI Units to my Fall term Math 20 class: since the Federal government is wanting to employ people during this recession, why not take some steps towards switching to SI Units?

Merely changing all speed limit signs to kilometers per hour would provide many temporary jobs, and nearly all cars on the road show their speed measured that way.

I'm not sure what other switches would not cause too big a ripple of bother in industry, but there must be some similarly easy first steps towards SI Unit use. Switching to SI Units will eventually happen anyway; we might as well use that work as recession stimulus.

Loving and Truthful

About a week ago I heard a nice religious saying. A friend on Facebook used it as his status message.
It’s easy to stand for truth if you don’t love, and easy to seem loving if you forfeit truth. But living for Jesus requires both.
I think it is attributed to Rick Warren, but I am not fluent in Twitter abbreviations. Perhaps it was authored by someone else and Rick Warren merely tweeted it, and my friend then relayed it.

Whomever wrote it, it's a worthy saying to ponder on the last day of Chanukah as we conclude a week of personal rededication and purification.

Board Books of Mimicry

Smiley is enjoying two board books from the local library that allow him to mimic what the person or penguin is doing on each page.

The first is I Can by Helen Oxenbury. The second is Busy Penguins by John Schindel.

For either book he usually prefers to have me cause a stuffed animal to do each page's action. But he will also manipulate the stuffed animal, and sometimes is in the mood to act out the actions himself.

More First Sentences

A week ago I mentioned when Smiley first used spoken syntax, saying "Yurm-yurm choo-choo."

Since then he has possibly said three more sentences.

He does not say the word upstairs but does describe things as "up high". Three days ago he used that adjective phrase with a noun for the first time. He was downstairs with mommy, and saw me upstairs, and said "Da-da up high".

Two days ago he coughed after drinking milk before his nap. He probably said "a cough" since using the indefinite article would be much more typical of his speech. It sounded like "I cough," but that unlikely case would be his first use of the personal pronoun.

He has recently become find of "hi". Today while eating breakfast he waved a mommy who was baking in the kitchen. "Hi, ma-ma. Ma. Hi, mommy," he said as he continued waving.

Free RPG Rule PDFs

Recently Michael Wolf's blog has featured three free role-playing games, downloadable as PDF files.

I'm sharing theme here for my brother-in-law. He enjoys reading about RPG rules that use only six-sided dice, because it is an interesting intellectual challenge to use only these common dice to create satisfying game mechanics for a RPG.

The first two of the three free games use only six-sided dice, an in very different ways.

The first free game is an abbreviated version of Fantastic Adventures in Tabletop Entertainment named Free FATE. The download is here.

Free Fate uses two six-sided dice for all skill attempts. The character's skill and the difficulty of the attempt are given matching numerical ratings, for example "fair" is 2 and "great" is 4. The two dice should have different colors, and one is named the Plus Die and the other is the Minus Die. Only the lowest rolled die has effect, and its value is either added or subtracted from the character's skill. So a character who is "great" at the skill who attempts something of "fair" difficulty would succeed if the Plus Die was the lowest with a total of 4 plus some die value; success would also happen if the Minus Die was 1 or 2 and the Plus Die was higher, for then the total would be 4-1=3 or 4-2=2, still equal or greater than the attempt's difficulty rating.

The second free game is Mini Six. The PDF download is here.

Mini Six uses six-sided dice quite differently. Skills are rated not with a numeric value but with a number of dice, and attempts are rated with higher target numbers such as 11, 21, or more. A character with 4 dice in a skill would roll that many six-sided dice and sum them when making a skill attempt; one of those six-sided dice has a distinct color and its 6's cause it to be rolled again (perhaps more than once if more 6's happen), which allows a character of low skill a tiny chance of success in a difficult skill attempt.

The third free game does not use six-sided dice, but I will link to it for the sake of completeness. It is Chill, Third Edition, and the PDF of its quick start rules is here.

UPDATE: The link to the Free Fate file has been changed, as requested in the comments.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sansa Fuze Tag Pickiness

In August I wrote about my Sansa Fuze mp3 player.

Today I was putting different songs onto it and some were not appearing in the Genre categories. Some online research told me the problem was that the Sansa Fuze only is happy with id3v2 tags using the ISO 8859 character set.

Fortunately, the utility EasyTag can be quickly asked to change all the id3 tags in my entire music folder to that format. The processing will take a while, so I will check back in the morning.

UPDATE: I found another problem. The Sansa Fuze does not like the tag "number of tracks in album". Removing it fixes the mis-sorting of tracks I had been experiencing in one album.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Horror versus Thriller: Hellblazer

Today there is freezing rain outside. It is probably the end of a week of bitter cold.

(In Eugene, until the very end of December, it never snows. If there are clouds then they trap the daytime heat and keep the night time low above freezing. If there are no clouds then the city's heat escapes and both days and nights might be below freezing, but without clouds there cannot be snow! The only chance of snow is right when a stretch of several frozen and cloudless days end, such as today.)

It is a good day to talk about one of my favorite comics, the Hellblazer graphic novel named Freezes Over.

But to start, I need to expound about what makes a tale a horror story...

Back in 2006 I wrote on Shamus's blog about how the literary genre of horror has merged with the genre once called thriller. More recently I studied the horror genre because of its similarities to political intrigue. The relevant summary is that today a movie is called a "horror film" if it has frightening moments and gore (what used to be called a thriller) rather than the older definition of having an atmosphere of eeriness, helplessness, desperation, and confusion.

Personally, I have no interest in movies or comics that are thrillers. Unlike many people, I do not find quick frights at all entertaining. But I do enjoy a creepy setting where something is disturbingly abnormal and the protagonists have to experience it while they are outclassed and really just want to be somewhere else.

Enter John Constantine.

His comic book series has been published for many years, and has seen many writers. (The Freezes Over story is four comics, #158-161, written by Brian Azzarello.) Initially Constantine was an occult expert who could outsmart both criminals and evil creatures. The local library has those stories, but when I looked at them they held no interest for me.

Eventually the writers decided he had a unique superpower they named serendipity. Unless he really tries hard not to, Constantine will always say the right thing.

It is a fascinating literary device.

Foremost, it allows Constantine to share the reader's foreknowledge that the story's ending will be happy. Constantine will survive, the bad guys will be punished, and innocents will be saved. This greatly aids the realism in the tales without breaking the fourth wall: Constantine would never suspect he is a comic book hero, but he has reason to act like one anyway.

Second, it fits well with the original horror genre. The serendipity power wants to punish the bad guys but requires Constantine to talk to them. So Constantine always gets captured and threatened, and often gets beat up. He (and the reader) usually lacks any idea about how he will escape or how badly he will be treated before he eventually emerges victorious. Those four key qualities of a true horror story--eeriness, helplessness, desperation, and confusion--are quite compatible with his superpower.

Third, the superpower is not intelligent or alive but can take over Constantine's life. Unless he carefully monitors what he is about to say and do, he almost lacks free will as the serendipity puts words in his mouth. To complicate matters, the power only tries to protect innocents: many of Constantine's friends and allies are not innocents and often they get killed during his adventures. Constantine seldom knows if he could have done something different to save them: all he knows for sure is that they would still be alive if he completely avoided his superpower, but then other people would probably have died, and in any case Constantine cannot quit because he is addicted to fighting evil and needs his serendipity to survive that. Thus the comic fits the horror genre not only because of the stories but even by the very nature of the protagonist's superpower, which prompts the reader to think about free will and the value of life.

(At this point many blog readers might complain that I am misrepresenting Constantine by only presenting one side of his character. That is a valid criticism but I will ignore it. I am discussing the side of Constantine that I most enjoy, in preface to describing why a particular adventure is so great.)

Enter the events of Freezes Over.

The story is easy to summarize. A huge snowstorm has closed the roads in rural Britain and drivers looking for a place to wait out the storm collect in a roadside bar. The bar's owner, his wife, and the bar's three regulars are soon joined by a family of four, a trucker, Constantine, and three violent criminals making their escape after committing a murder and robbery crime. There is also a car in the parking lot with someone in it; Constantine notices this as he arrives, and talks to the man, who is a serial killer. By always saying the right thing, Constantine convinces the serial killer to commit suicide in his car, and then inside the bar arranges circumstances so that the three violent criminals end up dead but no innocents are hurt. The bar owner's wife hits someone, and is hit back. The father in the family of four threatens someone with a gun and gets shot, but only suffers a minor shoulder wound.

The story has absolutely none of the magic or occult stuff that characterized the early Hellblazer tales. The characters and their actions always seem quite real, except for Constantine who in this story gives his serendipity full reign to direct him. But everything Constantine says makes sense in the end: why it was important that he initially act like a weak jerk, then he became spooky, and then gruff and tough. Azzarello's writing is superb.

Key to the story is a regional legend about The Iceman, a monster that the bar's regular customers fear. Constantine is initially ignorant of the legend, but after hearing it he weaves it into most of what his serendipity causes him to say. He uses the legend to manipulate people, until at the very end of the story he debunks his own myth. The reader of the story is prompted to think about the power of myth and how myths control us because Constantine is himself aware of the similarity between his superpower and myths: both heartlessly control people, but both are necessary. He says:
All I'm sayin', is choose the right words and you can talk a person into just about anything... I been doin' a lot of sayin' tonight... keeping a legend alive is a good thing... Faith and fear's what it is. The glue of humanity. It's important s***. An' like any dirty job..."
Finally, the story's eeriness stays with the reader in a good way. A real horror story makes us more grateful to have life, health, and family. Not because it implants fears about an imaginary monster hiding around the corner, but by reminding us how fragile our lives are--how much we owe to quiet, predictable days, the ability to enjoy what we already have, and the generosity of providence.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thursday Milestones

Back in September I mentioned that Smiley had started pretending. His imagination has passed two more milestones.

First, he now clearly cares about his stuffed animals in ways he did not before. He not only hugs them for his own comfort, but he pretends to feed them, gives them a blue cloth to hold, takes them for rides in his doll stroller, and becomes distraught when they fall down as if they could get hurt.

Second, he today did his first pretending that involves imagining an object is something completely unlike what it really is. Before he would drive toy cars on the ground, pretend a bowl had food in it, etc. Today he pretended two of his wooden blocks were bottles of lotion, and used them to put imaginary lotion on my cheeks as we do after I shave.

He also used grammar for the first time today.

As a bit of preface, I need to share that during the past few days he changed how he said "yummy" from yurm-yurm to nyum-nyum and his usage also broadened. Yurm-yurm always meant precisely yummy: "that is something am looking forward to eating, or am enjoying eating." But now nyum-nyum can describe anything he enjoys: for example, yesterday afternoon he said it repeatedly while being happily reunited with two of his stuffed animals after his nap.

This afternoon I had to interrupt him playing with his duplo train to change his diaper. Before taking him off the changing table, I asked him, "Do you want to go back to your train, or do you want to help me with laundry downstairs and climb on the bed?" (I fold laundry after bringing it up to my bed, and being allowed on the bed is an unusual treat.)

He replied, "Nyum-nyum choo-choo." I'm not sure if that involved an adjective or a verb ("enjoyable train" or "I'll enjoy the train"). But either way, I think it was his first spoken syntax.

This morning he also did something new with toys. He had built a tower of duplo squares (at his age we've restricted his duplos to train cars and 2-by-2 cubes to minimize his frustrations) but wanted it to be even taller. So he went into his cupboard and took out three pieces of wood. He appeared unsure exactly what he wanted, but using gestures he asked me to add the wood to his tower. I stacked the wood on the floor and set the tower on top of it, which pleased him.

Except for using some toys as containers and other toys as items to put inside, this is the first time I can think of that he combined types of toys to do something.

Finally, he still cannot do color matching.

He owns a bunch of eight-sided dice of different colors. These were initially merely things nice to put inside containers, or share with people. Then they became small blocks to stack. Later they also became small things that work well as cargo for his toy dump truck and front loader to carry. Eventually we can use them to help learn numbers (both counting how many dice and looking at the numbers on the dice) and colors.

Anyway, today when he asked me to read his book about colors I wondered if he could match the dice to the colors shown in the book. He did much better than randomly, picking the green and yellow dice when looking at those pages in the book. But when I repeated the experiment with colored blocks he no longer made any correct matches. He must have been lucky.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Monk Puns

Jewish humor has the village of Chelm.

I propose a new archetype: the pun-fortunate Monastery of Mendelian Monks.

In its early days, the Abbey of Saint Theodore was only famous as a place where heretics were judged. In 1822 a violent, midget warlock was caught speaking with the dead. He was brought to the abbey in chains, to be sentenced by the abbot, but the next day escaped. The abbot hired a boy to run through the nearest town to warn people about a small medium at large.

Many monasteries are known for their practical yet beautiful gardens, and the Abbey of Saint Theodore was no exception. However, in the late 1800s its location near the sea allowed that abbey, during the life of Brother Bruno, a monk with particularly brilliant culinary ability, to also be famous for its fish and chips. Bruno's fame lasted nineteen years, until a scandal happened when a food critic from Prague visited the abbey and discovered that it was actually the chef's assistant, Brother Alvin, that prepared the fish so exquisitely: Bruno himself only had skill with potatoes. Soon all of Prague was gossiping about Alvin and the Chip Monk.

Brother Alvin the fish chef also became famous for his failed theory that a meditative trance could prevent pain during surgery. (All other Mendelian Monks used special herbs they had developed, which could numb an area quite well.) Alvin tested this idea himself while having a tooth pulled. The trance did not lessen the pain; he could not transcend dental medication.

After the Order of Mendel was established in the early 1900s, the Abbey of Saint Theodore became a hub of biology research. Initially the monks only had success in developing new kinds of plants. Their attempts to breed lizards were all disastrous cases of reptile dysfunction.

Inspired by their success in creating new and beautiful plants, some of the Mendelian Monks began selling flowers. The abbot was horrified at monks using their order's secret knowledge for personal financial gain, and ordered a stop to all selling of plant material. But one monk ignored the decree. The abbot could not discover which monk was rebellious until he hired a detective named Hugh Hurvl. In gratitude the abbot proclaimed that only Hugh can prevent florist friars.

In the 1920s the Mendelian Monks found how to breed marine mammals that could live forever if fed seagull meat. An immoral monk participating in that project began to trap seagulls on a nearby private beach owned by a nobleman named Count Rulf. Rulf noticed footprints on the beach and thought robbers were visiting the beach at night to plan a burglary, so he purchased two trained lions to patrol his property. The next day the monk encountered the lions, but used his secret Mendelian animal lore to put them to sleep. However, after trapping another seagull that monk was seen by the Count and arrested for transporting gulls across sedate lions for immortal porpoises.

Another famous Mandelian Monk was Brother Hiltguard, who by day saw genuine, glorious visions of his Lord but by night was plagued by nightmares in which his Savior spoke to him with urgent words impossible to understand because the Son of God had steaming, putrid breath. Brother Hiltguard always walked barefoot, even in Winter, and the soles of his feet grew so tough that he could walk comfortably on snow. The rest of his body was not as resistant to cold, however, and he died of pneumonia: a super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.

Busy Outings

Today was a very busy day!

Smiley used to have a limit of three stores before he would melt down, frustrated at switching so much between being in and out of the car. But today we managed ten!

I've never heard of "shopping patience" as a developmental milestone, but perhaps it should be.

We went to St. Vincent de Paul's because they are currently accepting donations of styrofoam peantus and we had a big box of those to get rid of. Then we went to REI to return a plastic mug that made tea taste like plastic. Next to REI is a Used Bookstore I have been curious about, so we stopped there and Smiley got two Little Golden Books. Then we went to Hartiwck's to return a strange kitchen gadget I had bought as a joke gift for my aunt, only to have my wife had remind me I had given her one years ago. Then we drove to the local State Tax Office to pay our quarterly taxes so I would not need to do so next month during the busy days as the Winter Term started. Then we went to Toys 'R Us to buy a car window shade for Smiley's window. Then to True Value, where we returned a salt and pepper shaker set we did not need and bought more storage boxes for Smiley's closet. Then to OfficeMax to donate empty inkjet cartridges. Then a snack at the Supreme Bean coffee shop, which was supposed to be a treat for Smiley but he was too busy flirting with another customer to eat. Finally to Safeway, since we needed more organic whole milk before his nap.


Can you tell I don't like driving somewhere just to return something? Items to return tend to collect in the car's trunk for a month or more, and eventually I do a bunch at once.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Dutch Sheets on Intercessory Prayer

Last week I finally finished reading Intercessory Prayer by Dutch Sheets.

The book took me a very long time to read, because it is exactly the kind of book I cannot stand. Some people find it very readable to learn theology from anecdotes and poor scholarship. But my mathematician's mind prefers a concise set of assertions and supporting facts, and I wince at Biblical word studies formed from abusing Strong's and invoking the "Law of First Mention" (at the very least use the BDB and check on every instance of the word in scripture)!

However, I know many people who are really fond of the book. So, for the sake of discussions with them, I finally finished it.

I was determined to find worthwhile teaching in the book, to talk about with my friends. I extracted about one idea per chapter, which I reorganized and paraphrased below.

I should also add that I do appreciate what the book attempts. The topic of "spiritual warfare" is huge in contemporary Christian circles and certainly deserves a short, readable introduction to the subject. The book, although a poor match for me, has helped many people. As far as I know, no similar but better book is out there. Internet resources are no better: for example, the website Prayer Warrior even lacks its own articles directory!)

I also enjoyed learning a bit more about Duch Sheets. Before reading the book all I knew about the author was from reading his response to the Lakeland scandal last year. (That statement was mentioned by friends in Israel who pointed out that Pastor Sheets, by claiming he must obey God and become a self-appointed spokesman for others, was actually exemplifying the lack of consultation, confirmation, and submission for which he apologizes. It wasn't the most favorable introduction to the man.) I do enjoy anecdotes about how God has used people--just not in the middle of a chapter teaching theology.

Without further caveats, here is the "good parts" version of the book.

We are distributors of good things God provides in Yeshua's name (pages 41-42, chapter 3). What do we distribute?
  • meetings of God's mercy and God's justice (page 51, chapter 4)
  • experiences of God's presence (page 52, chapter 4)
  • the Holy Spirit hovering over a person or place (pages 122-123, chapter 8)
  • removing evil through our helping bear its pain and suffering (pages 66-67, chapter 5)
God does not automatically provide these good things if we fail to distribute them. Some sufferings could have been avoided, but happened when God's people neglected to do this distribution (page 32, chapter 2).

When praying, we can benefit from God-given timing (pages 82-83, chapter 6) and aim (pages 96-98, chapter 7). To paraphrase, we must actively follow directions to distribute those good things from God.

Part of distributing good things from God is to pray for the removal of what prevents the distribution from being received. Prayer itself accomplishes much; prayer is more than merely asking God to accomplish something (pages 200 and 208, chapter 12). Similarly, the words spoken by prophets themselves accomplished much and were not merely a declaration of what God was accomplishing (page 225, chapter 13).

People resist perceiving God and receiving from God when they exalt themselves, their plans, or philosophies (pages 168-175, chapter 10). Counters to these three exaltations were carried in the Ark (Aaron's rod proclaiming God's authority, mana that reminds us of God's provision, and the tablets of the Sinai covenant) and should similarly be visible in the lives of Yeshua's followers (page 192, chapter 11).

The Adversary, despite lacking the authority to do so, still attempts to use his power to oppose what God is doing (page 153, chapter 9). God does not automatically protect his people from the Adversary; we are told to stay alert because God often prefers to warn us about opposition so that we may participate in resisting it (page 237, chapter 14). Therefore, a fifth good thing we distribute is warnings about and prayers against the Adversary's attacks.

Fleming, Mocking

It's been a long time since I wrote about any audiobooks.

Lately I have been listening to James Bond books from the local library. They are great as audiobooks: not too many characters, fast pace, and pleasant balance of plot and setting.

I especially enjoyed one I recently finished, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

It had the normal elements of a James Bond novel: our hero has to travel, falls for a beautiful girl, is menaced by a thug of stereotyped nationality, gets captured but escapes, and returns for an exciting final clash with the evil mastermind. (Note the lack of gadgets, car chases, and other traits found only of the films. Also, in this novel the beautiful girl is a genuinely strong woman and Bond gets happily married, which would never happen with the film Bond.)

Moreover, the novel also contains a terrific parody of the College of Arms that must have been the inspiration for Pratchett's similar scene in Feet of Clay. Besides being entertaining, this chapter was encouraging because Ian Fleming was clearly mocking his own country and enjoying doing so.

As I mentioned above, part of the formula for a Bond novel is a henchman to the evil mastermind whose merciless thuggishness is "explained" by invoking a racial-national stereotype, the spy story equivalent of how in a fantasy setting Tolkein has Saruman employ orcs that are inherently brutish. This literary device is unquestionably out of date and politically incorrect. But I'm willing to go along since the author also enjoys fictional parodies of his own culture and leaves no evidence that he himself believes any of his novels' insulting generalizations.

My next audiobook is Anathem by Neal Stephenson. I hope it works. I have only read Snow Crash by that author, which I enjoyed, but that is no evidence that the new novel will work well as an audiobook.

Wrapping MP3s

There is a now-standard Linux utility for merging MP3 files named mp3wrap.

Unfortunately, it often plays havoc with the duration of the resulting file. I finally found what fixes this.

The utility ffmpeg is the needed tool, and the command is:
ffmpeg -i FileName.mp3 -acodec copy NewFileName.mp3
Then delete the old file.

(While searching for the solution I also came across Ubutnu hotkeys and themes, which I do not care about but some of you might enjoy.)

Smiley's Early December Words

In mid-November, Smiley had two vocabulary-related developmental breakthroughs.

First, he began saying many more words repeatedly and correctly. Before then he understood many words but used few himself.

Second, he began the toddler habit of recognizing that certain words had two syllables but incorrectly saying the word by repeating the first syllable (for example, pup-pup for puppy).

Here is a list of the words he uses repeatedly and correctly at this time, for anyone who is curious...
bir (bird)
boow (bowl)
bubble (bubbles)
burmp (bump)
bu-par-par (butterfly)
ca (car)
co (cold)
da (dad)
dah (dark)
die (diaper, dice, drive, dry)
ha (hot)
joo (juice)
ight (light)
tay (okay)
no (nose)
po (pillow)
pum-pum (pumpkin)
pup-pup (puppy)
sta (star)
up high
aye (yes)
yurm-yurm (yummy)

Smiley probably does not know any colors yet, but he does enjoy repeating the color names after we say them while pointing to objects. He may be using blue correctly more often than not, or that might be a string of coincidences.

He has favorite bits from the alphabet and counting songs. He says "8, 9" and "w, v" a lot while playing or in the car. Less frequently he'll say "a, b, c" or "2, 3" or other letters or numbers. (He gets w and v out of order because I often sing the alphabet song backwards.)

His apparently bizarre version of butterfly is a blend of the English butterfly and the Hebrew parpar. That word is one of the few my wife realizes she knows in English, Hebrew, and Spanish and she enjoys quizzing him with all three when reading picture books ("Where's the mariposa?").

Smiley's Favorite Catalog

In December we receive even more catalogs in the mail than usual.

For about two months Smiley has been old enough to enjoy looking at them with mommy. The household item catalogs are useful for his vocabulary practice. The clothing catalogs are useful for practicing color names. But his favorite catalog is the Heifer gift catalog with all of its photographs of animals.

Board books tend to have illustrations of animals, not actual photos. They almost never have llamas or water buffaloes. They are smaller, too: he likes turning the bigger pages.

We have not used that gift catalog in a couple years. But the charity does good work and is well ranked, so I expect we will use it again sooner or later.


Usually the Rochester Review that my wife receives lacks articles of interest to me. But this month's edition had a fun article about a class that teaches the Python programming language using little robots.

I fondly remember Logo from my elementary school days. I'm glad the modern version is even cuter and includes enhancements like obstacle detection.

Of course, when I was a kid the classroom computers were Apple IIe, and the teacher had one of my nerdy classmates hack the Logo disk to make it able to be copied...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Smiley's Thanksgiving Non-Dinner

Thanksgiving day is going very nicely. Smiley is especially excited and entertained by playing with two of his cousins.

He took a long nap this afternoon (after yesterday being four hours deficient compared to his normal sleeping). We woke him up at the end of dinner. By then his cousins had finished their meal and so they were quite distracting to him while he was eating. He ate very little of his dinner, even though he likes yams, stuffing, and especially cranberries mixed with carrots and orange juice.

Wanting to avoid waking up hungry in the middle of the night we let him have a special treat at dessert time: his first ice cream from a bowl. (Previously he has had frozen yogurt in a bowl once, many months ago, and an ice cream on a stick more recently.)

Ice cream for Thanksgiving dinner is certainly not traditional, but it was a nice treat on a day not renown for normally healthy eating.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Winter Food

During the Summer my family ate a lot of my wife's yummy and spicy tofu cabbage salad.

Now it's nearly Winter. Previously, this cold season was the time I felt most restricted by needing to live in a gluten-free house. Growing up, Winter mornings almost always had oatmeal, and often also had English muffins.

But this Winter will be better. My wife has developed a yummy quinoa porridge recipe that can replace oatmeal as a delicious warm breakfast, and she has found a great gluten-free English muffin recipe at the blog of Gluten Free Girl.

We're still working on modifying the English mufin recipe to use our healthier flours. So far our attempts have produced a tastier muffin but it is a bit too dense and chewy.

Updated Toddler Nutrition Log

Back in June I shared the toddler nutrition log we were using.

We no longer use it, but I finally got around to "finishing" it by adding a note that explains how large is each serving size.

It was quite useful for a few months. It helped my wife and I got used to the different nutritional needs of our growing boy, and made it easier to keep track of what he was eating on days when both of us spent time at home with him while the other was at work.

November Economy Summary

Two articles posted today on Fidelity's website summarizes the November economy:
The stock market tends to form V bottoms and rounding tops. Perhaps we're beginning to map out such a top now.
Also note that the nation's change in unemployment has entered a new stage:
The hardest hit [in October] were younger workers and those with high school or lower education. Workers younger than age 24 lost nearly half a million jobs, while adults (those over age 24) with less education (high school or lower) lost 508,000 jobs. On the other hand, adults with more than a high school education gained 463,000 jobs.
It appears that my Math students, seeking a community college degree, are doing the right thing.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Messianic Vision in a Gentile Church

Two weeks ago a friend from the IAMCS wrote a nice e-mail to me. One thing he said probably deserves a blog post.
It must be a great loss to have no Messianic community for worship and fellowship.
Actually, it isn't.

I certainly did miss the Messianic Vision. But my family has recently found a nice church named The River that allows us to continue being part of all six points within this plan of God.
  • As a church, it naturally can't be a synagogue. But two of the local synagogues are happy to have Messianic Jews visit, so my family can still participate as much as we desire in local synagogue life. (Sadly, this is currently quite limited by my wife's extreme gluten sensitivity.
  • The group is big on discipleship and making our lives appropriately like Yeshua's.
  • The pastor is knowledgeable about the Jewish roots of his faith and the significances of Yeshua's Jewish identity.
  • It is a good place for Jews and Gentiles to be worshiping together.
  • The group was expressly founded to be welcoming and helpful to people with big life-problems. Eugene, like many medium-sized cities, has its share of churches whose members look and act respectable to an extent that people struggling with addictions, poverty, family problems, etc. do not feel like they fit in. The River is not one of those. Because of this church purpose, the natural human aversion to God's difficult refining is talked about and not tolerated.
  • The River does little for Israel, but is at least more pro-Israel than the city's biggest synagogue!
I had earlier tried visiting the churches nearest my house (in case there was a sense of neighborhood I could be part of) and a Shabbat-keeping church (so I could worship on Shabbat). But I kept having the same problem: on many weekends only Smiley and I attended because of my wife's extreme gluten sensitivity. It just was not working to try to regularly worship without my better half!

I'm sure there are other churches in Eugene or Springfield that fit the Messianic Vision as much as The River. But for my family The River is best because several gluten-free families go there. So folks there know what precautions to take so gluten-sensitive people stay healthy.

Anyway, back to my friend's e-mail: worship and fellowship.

I still do the Messianic Jewish style of worship dance at home. That's really enough. I also dance in worship at any church I visit; I don't mind doing it alone. I suppose that if I wanted, Eugene has enough young believers that at any church I really joined instead of merely visiting I could probably rally together a group that also enjoyed learning to worship in that way. (I have not yet tried at The River.)

Regarding fellowship, a church is much easier than a Messianic Jewish synagogue. Part of this is the gluten: in a synagogue it is difficult to do anything without challah crumbs everywhere.

The other part of better fellowship is having less arguments. At a church led by the Holy Spirit people ask, "What is God telling us about how to worship?" In my experience, God is able to answer this question a lot more clearly (usually because people hear His answer more accurately) than when Messianic Jews instead ask, "What is God telling us about how to worship Him while using Jewish culture?"

Any of Yeshua's followers can have a more meaningful and sensible walk with God by knowing more about the ancient Jewish background of their faith. It is nice to know what the writers of scripture had in mind when they wrote what they did! But in many Messianic Jewish synagogues more time is spent discussing the ancient and modern Jewish applications: how to act, think, relate to God, and relate to other people.

As someone who grew up Jewish I love that culture immensely, yet at the same time it has been so refreshing to live a year almost without any discussions of what a rabbi said. Those discussions about applications were always much more divisive to community than helpful to spiritual growth.

So do I miss the Messianic Jewish worship? Only a little. Dancing in a group in unity is indeed part of why that type of movement is worshipful. Do I miss the Messianic Jewish fellowship? Not yet.

Would I miss the Messianic Vision? Tremendously, but I still get to be a part of that even without a Messianic Jewish synagogue.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


When I was little, one of my family's favorite car songs was Magalena-Pagalena.

I've found four versions online, none of which completely match what my family sang. I know we had more verses than below, but I can't remember them.
Oh, Magaleena-Pagaleena-Roomastina-Iodina-Hoka-Poka-Loka was her name.

She had four hairs on her head, two were alive and two were dead.

She had two eyes in her head, one was blue and the other was red.

She had three teeth in her mouth, two pointed north and the other pointed south.

Below her waist she had two hips, they were as large as battleships.

(mournfully) A ten truck truck hit Magaleene, (quickly) the fellow had to buy a new machine!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Turkey Jumping Parade

A group of wild turkeys lives in our neighborhood.

On October 12th, six of them visited our house. Normally they walk around the front yard and then go uphill to more interesting places.

But that day they arrived through the back yard. The marched, single file, to the back of our house. Then they flew up onto our roof, and walked across it. Then they flew down to the front yard before leaving to the sidewalk.

Smiley and I were inside the house, and stuck by how much noise the large birds made on the roof.

It was like a children's book that has never been written.
Six wild turkeys walk in the back yard.
   Gobble, ka-gobble, a-gobble. Gobble, ka-gobble, a-gobble.
Fly onto the roof!
   Thump, bump, thump. Thump, bump, thump.
Walk across the roof!
   Pitter, patter, scritch. Pitter, patter, scritch.
Fly down to the front yard.
   Flap, flop, flup. Flap, flop, flup.
Bye bye, birds! Bye bye, birds!

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Oregon Travel and Activity Survey Ethics

My family is participating in the Oregon Travel and Activity Survey.

I normally ride the bus weekly. On Tuesdays I take Smiley to the library for their Tiny Tots story and singing time. Parking at the library costs money, but the library is across the street from the downtown bus station. So we park a little ways away and take the EmX.

I bicycle with Smiley often (last week only three times, but it was rainy). But not daily.

The survey provoked an ethical issue that made me laugh. I noticed I wanted to be sure to take the bus and bicycle on the day I record all my family's traveling, to promote those modes of transportation. I found it humorous that my subconscious would never stoop to lying on the piece of paper but was quite willing to fudge the data by altering my behavior.

Toy Trucks

Smiley is still crazy about trucks. (In the car he'll happily read his truck-themed picture book all the way to Trader Joe's.)

So I decided to get him some toy trucks. I was surprised that the toy store had so few that were sturdy and medium-sized.

There were lots of tiny, metal Matchbox-sized trucks, but those are always underfoot. And Tonka makes large sturdy ones, of course. But in between nearly all the toys were flimsy plastic and full of buttons, lights, and noises. Now what Smiley needs!

But John Deere makes what I wanted. Hooray!

I cannot find the dump truck and front loader I got online, but they seem to be a variation of this 1/64th scale series. I also got him a Gator with big puffy tires that will be easier to push around in the yard.

Some day he'll be old enough for a Big Loader set. That was a great toy. I bet the Big Trak has been replaced by something else to teach programming a list of instructions.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A Personal State of the Union

I was hoping to write this soon after Rosh HaShanah. Oh well.

When I was young I had a framed painting in my room of a boy pulling a wagon. The caption read,
Please be patient with me. God isn't finished with me yet.
My mother once had a tee shirt that said,

God put me on earth to do certain things, and I'm currently so far behind that I will never die.
Both seem to be true for me lately. As I was doing some self-inspection and life introspection before and during the Days of Awe it occurred to me that I've never blogged concisely about all my projects.

So here we go.

(Note that I don't count parenting or teaching or being a good husband among my "projects" even though these take up most of my waking hours. So I won't write about them in this essay even though they dominate my life.)

Scriptural Concept Studies

On the website are a bunch of essays about the scriptural understanding of some concepts.

I'm supposed to be writing more of them. They can be a great aid to viewing the world as Yeshua did. I have not seen anything else like them on the web.

Since the middle of 2007 this has been the only public "ministry work" God has specifically told me to do. But it is not helpful to my family, so I have not devoted much time to it this year.

The task is to take my old sermons from the years P'nei Adonai was a congregation and extract word-studies and concept material from what I learned those years through study and prayer. The concept essays have a certain format, so I would also need to do some research to fill out any missing parts of the format (for example, a concept I studied in Biblical Hebrew but not in Biblical Greek).

I also need to edit the existing essays to add scholarly footnotes and citations.

This project is in one sense the most important, because I know God wants me to do it so that what he taught us at P'nei Adonai does not get forgotten. But I have not been told a time limit, so I focus for now on things that help my family.

Role-Playing Game

This year I've spent a lot of time designing a role-playing game specifically for adventures played with only two people (narrator and hero/heroine).

I think this is a unique niche. I don't know of any other such RPGs. A few others work acceptably with only two people, but not great. My wife and I can't be the only nerds who have wanted such a thing!

Along with the game mechanics I've developed a fantasy setting whose design also promotes adventures with a single hero or heroine. Lately God has been helping me with this, which is exciting.

This project is almost done: the game mechanics are complete and the setting is nearly finished. There's no reason to try to publish this in paper form.

I will continue to add maps and adventures as I make them for my family's use, but that's a much smaller bit of work.

Two Math Books

Most high school or community college math classes are low on real-life applications.

So I've written a workbook about real-life problem solving math applications. The book is appropriate for Math 25 at LCC, and could some day be published for general use. I am waiting for more "testing" at LCC before I pursue publishing it.

I've also just started a workbook to teach fun math: using some famous patterns, puzzles and pictures that have delighted mathematicians through history to teach about how mathematical thinking can be fun even for people who don't like arithmetic or algebra.

Unlike the concept essays and RPG I have no evidence that God wants me to be doing this, so it's very much a back burner project. But maybe, God willing, I'll some day have published a beloved pair of math textbooks, the ones we all wished we had in high school: Real-Life Math and Fun Mathematical Thinking.

Two Fantasy Novels

How many children's fantasy novels can you name that besides having a fun adventure also teach important spiritual truths (if the reader is old enough to notice)?

Not many, right? It's a another niche that needs more filling. Even the Narnia books often only have virtue/vice lessons and Aslan making deus ex machina appearances.

A few years ago God helped me write two children's fantasy novels, Windsong and its sequel The Sandy Isles. Both describe, better than any other children's adventure stories I know, how knowing God only adds adventure and suspense to life. The first novel is about what it means to be a good person; the second about being a good couple. The novels also prompt us to question our assumptions about what a messiah might be like (or avatar if the reader had that type of religious background).

Years ago I actively tried to send these to publishers. I found out that only a few secular publishing houses have any interest in children's fantasy, and all of those require working with an agent. I could pursue a religious publishing house, but that might needlessly limit the audience.

I keep praying about whether I should restart trying to publish. So far God has not told me to do so.

When I was leading P'nei Adonai I expected that some day, after the congregation ended, I would be helped to write a matching third novel about what it means to be a good community. But apparently that isn't part of God's plan.

Other Games

In years gone by I designed many board games. A few are online again. Some day, when I have time, I'll share more of them.

This is just a fun thing. It's not anything God has asked me to do or helped me with.

Other Writing

Similarly, over the years I've written many poems and short stories. Some day a bunch of them will be on my website. But this is also low priority.


Last night Smiley suddenly had a high fever. Since his afternoon nap he had been irritable and clingy.

We're not sure how high the fever was, but our digital thermometer read 101.2 Fahrenheit in his armpit so it was at least that. We started him on toddler ibuprofen, which soon removed the fever.

Currently none of the colds going around in Eugene have both a sudden onset of fever and muscle aches. Also, the seasonal flu has not yet reached Eugene. So anyone with both those symptoms nearly certainly has H1N1. My wife was wiped out by that flu for most of last week. Smiley cannot tell us about muscle aches, but it's nearly certain he caught the H1N1 flu from my wife.

So Smiley visited the doctor today. We had a nice bike ride there and back.

Although Smiley is currently almost symptom free (just more tired and clingy than usual), the high likelihood he has a flu caused the doctor to give us a guarded recommendation for prescribing Tamiflu (drops twice per day for five days).

The drug is still quite effective against Oregon's H1N1. It will probably do very little: perhaps shorten the duration of Smiley's flu by one day.

But the small chances, that we'll probably not see, are what matter most.

There's a small chance that Smiley could experience Tamiflu side effects. Among toddlers these usually look like aggravation, caused by spaciness, confusion, or even hallucinations. If his behavior changes we stop the medicine and the side effects soon stop too. (This chance is supposed to be very small, but both the doctor and drug store had lately seen more cases of it than the official statistics predict.)

There's another small chance that Smiley could develop pneumonia. Pneumonia can be extremely bad news for a 19-month-0ld. The chance of him developing pneumonia is affected by lots of current conditions and impossible to know accurately, but is probably greater than the chance of Tamiflu side effects. And if it did happen it would be much a more dangerous problem.

Tamiflu's main benefit is that it reduces the chance of pneumonia to nearly zero. We're basically swapping a chance of pneumonia for a chance of a few hours of spaciness/confusion. That's an easy choice.

UPDATE: Someone comments, "People are more likely to be trippy in Eugene?" Heh.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Local Messianic Composer

A friend of mine who lives in Lebanon, Oregon, has been writing Messianic music.

He has finally collected extensive samples his music on a web page.

If you like his work and have contacts among recording studio folk, please contact him! He also enjoys doing home concerts.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Jim Henson versus Spike Jonze

I have not yet seen the Where the Wild Things Are movie. I would like to see it in the theater, but I'm not in a rush to do so.

I've seen an earlier film adaptation of a Maurice Sendak book. I'm not sure if Spike Jonze can fill Jim Henson's formidable shoes, and I'm quite certain Max Records cannot fill David Bowe's tight pants.

Tangentially, Sendak’s version of King Grisly-Beard is one of my favorite childhood books.

3D Again

The laptop is an Acer Extensa 4620Z, which has an Intel GMA X3100 graphics card. This card should run 3d games, but poorly for modern games. But the card lacks GLSL support.

The laptop only has Ubuntu on it. I've learned to live without any 3D games since Ubuntu was unable to make that graphics card run even the most primitive 3D games.

Until a few days ago: Ubuntu 9.10 is now out and it handles the graphics card flawlessly.

Not Sick

I was either caring for a sick wife of myself sick for all of last week.

Now we're healthy, so I'm blogging again.

Because of a combination of rainy weather and ill parents, Smiley had more time than usual watching me process his videos this past week. Lots of new ones on BlipTV.

Conservation of Worry

In July I wrote about what I've inaccurately nicknamed "conservation of risk".

Something else similar only in name is what I've nicknamed "conservation of worry".

The idea is that parents (especially moms) are kind of programmed to worry a certain amount about their kids. Now that life in America is amazingly safe, all that instinctual need to worry gets channeled into making mountains out of mole hills.

Parents used to have genuine worries about their children starving, dying of illness, being eaten by wild animals, and so forth. These are quite rare now. So we worry about pacifiers, allergies, television, BPA in plastic, child car seats, and other minor issues that would have been laughably small concerns even a few generations ago.

I probably do this as much as most dads in Eugene.

Child car seats are actually a great example. Insurance companies have known for years that child car seats do very little to prevent fatalities (although they help prevent less serious injuries). All of the time and money this country has invested in child car seats could have saved many more lives if instead applied to disease research. However, as a parent I can see a change by buying a child car seat for me child: no similar feedback happens from donating money to cancer research.

Crime is a revealing issue. Violent crime rates have been decreasing, but worry has not decreased because crime is makes a convenient worry item. (Especially in a culture where we are comfortable with steps to prevent fires but not shootings in schools.)

I just wrote about vaccination again. Now I'll add, sort of as a concluding post-script, that it makes a lot of sense to me that parents who have little need to worry about their children dying of illness instead worry about the potential harm of "what big medicine wants".

After all, if we were really rational creatures then we would spend the time saved by our laundry machines sitting and watching them, enjoying half an hour of relaxation, rather than rushing on to the next chore. (Hm. Conservation of hectic-ness?)

Herd Immunity

I've written three earlier posts about vaccinations. A few October news articles can help me elaborate.

There is an effect nicknamed herd immunity that can allow vaccines to protect even the unvaccinated. Depending upon the disease, if enough people are immune then the disease lacks a large enough pool to stabilize.

For example, rubella is not very contagious, so if 80% of the population is immune then rubella cannot prosper with only 20% available to attack. Measles is quite contagious, so 95% of the population needs to be immune to squeeze out measles.

Now, H1N1 is so amazingly contagious that I doubt we can hope for herd immunity. We'd need more than 95% immune but sometimes vaccinations don't cause enough of an immune response to work, and some people are not candidates for vaccination.

Also, some diseases don't need to be fought with mass vaccinations. For example, chicken pox is not very dangerous to most kids and suffering through the disease provides a much more thorough immune system response than a shot. That's why parents of normally healthy kids have for generations been using "chicken pox play dates" instead of vaccinating against chicken pox.

But let's ignore H1N1 and chicken pox. This essay's point is that vaccinations like the MMR are enough to create herd immunity, and those three diseases are dangerous enough that parent's certainly don't want to use "measles play dates" instead of a shot!

That's why it's a problem when too many parents opt out of vaccinating their children. By ruining herd immunity, their choice is putting other people at risk. It's especially sad because their choice is often based on prejudice and ignorance.

I would not want government to require vaccinations, but I fear something like a resurgence of measles will happen before vaccinations are no longer villified.

H1N1 might cause the social change despite the fact it's probably not able to be fought with herd immunity. Americans are seeing many young people die within a few months (usually due to complications, not H1N1 by itself). As a culture we're not used to being culled. Our people in poor health generally either take medications to keep living reasonably well, or die at a slow rate. Seeing many people simultaneously suffer and die has not happened for a few decades. Now our illusion of health entitlement is shattering.

Friendship Not Conspiracy

Last month I wrote some about the fundamentalist Christian home schoolers I knew.

The day after that essay, the news contained a pair of articles that provide a great example: first, an article about network television promoting the "I Participate" project; second, an article describing the secular slant of that project.

(Curious, I searched for local volunteer opportunities near my own zip code at and As alleged, neither suggests any of the multiple opportunities to help veterans within 10 miles of my zip code. But I did not see other "liberal" bias.)

I know of no comprehensive online database of local volunteer opportunities. It is commendable that an organization is trying to create one.

I also know what I would do if I were assigned the task of creating one. I would start with a web search and the phone book but those ideas would soon be used up, so I would change to asking those I spoke with at non-profits what others they have heard about.

Thus I'm not surprised at all to learn of a feedback loop of idealogical slant. As an example, in Eugene and Springfield there are both liberal and conservative groups who give food to the hungry and I know from having talked to them that they are much more familiar with others of their kind.

So I do not agree with those news articles that there is any evidence the "I Participate" project is deliberately trying to promote secular values. Rather, I expect its database is still quite incomplete and more the result of relationships than research.

But do you catch how this would be perceived by someone taught to see a "political America" in which secular and religious folk battle to define the priorities of a "secular America"?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Sign Your Children have Waited to See

Last week I read two news articles that made me think about "Tomorrow".

I don't mean "the Future". There's a difference between Tomorrow and the Future, constructed from decades of literary structure. Everyone yearns for Tomorrow, but many people fear the Future. Saying Tomorrow is here speaks of progress and stability, but saying the Future is here speaks of uncertainty caused by changes to which we must adjust. People strive to create Tomorrow, but only try to predict the Future. Tomorrow's theme song is as upbeat as the Jetsons, but the theme song of the Future keeps changing on us while retaining slightly dark undertones.

The first article told me that magnetic monopoles not only had been discovered but were being manipulated in labs.

If you were never a physics major then I can't explain why that's big news or seems like Tomorrow. But I think I'll remember the scene--the loveseat, laptop, open blinds showing a window full of Autumn colors--as vividly as the morning in high school when I woke up to my radio alarm clock telling me the Berlin Wall was broken.

The second article talked about the EU starting a new project, funded with the equivalent of ten million pounds, to monitor social networking.

I almost laughed aloud. Some bigshot in the EU must have asked for information from Project Echelon and been politely but firmly refused. So now the EU is starting a tiny and wimpy imitation? Meh. Computers won't be a Miniluv two-way entertainment device for years. Little Brother is watching.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Gluten in Dry Roasting

My wife discovered a long time ago that her gluten sensitivity was triggered by most brands of roasted nuts.

Here's a web page explaining why. Basically, two common processing methods try to increase salt adherence by applying a coating of wheat gluten or two coats of both wheat gluten and gelatin.

Of course, the equipment is not thoroughly cleaned before nuts not destined for salting are processed.

I wonder how many brands of roasted nuts are not vegetarian (because of gelatin)?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Yom Kippur 5770

My family visited Temple Beth Israel for Yom Kippur.

For the start of the High Holy Days, to help enter an appropriate mood of introspection and repentance, we drove farther to visit a Messianic congregation. To end the High Holy Days, to conclude with communal yearnings and pleas, it seemed most appropriate to be with the Jews of our neighborhood.

What follows is lengthy, but I expect my family and friends might enjoy glimpsing inside my head.

I have only visited Reconstructionist services a few times. During the Erev service I tried to immerse myself but too often found myself analyzing what makes that Jewish philosophy unique.

What I found most noticeable (and interrupting to my own habits of worship) was how Reconstructionism is uncomfortable with such surrender. More traditional Jews, including Messianic Jews, are very willing to have God do things to them. But that evening even the Avinu Maklenu was modified so the phrase oseh eemanoo l'ma-an shemcha was translated "help us for the sake of your name" instead of "do to us for the sake of your name".

Both Yom Kippur services emphasized the theme of can we be doing more? This is a worthy topic for the day but seemed out of place as the primary theme. The teshuvah seemed incomplete despite very genuine confession because the goal of perfection was replaced with a desire to do more good deeds. The liturgy still identified vices and the need to turn from them, but no longer directed participants to face any specific new direction. The community expressed its sincerity in waiting for and pleading with God to abolish evil, but then asked, "What will we do?", which is almost a non sequitur.

Yom Kippur needs a balance between teshuvah and relationship: we have disobeyed our Father yet he will help us become better children, we have ignored our King yet he is a faithful provider and ruler, we have failed our communal calling yet God still makes us a people and his people. To me, it seemed Reconstructionism only distantly and vaguely held up any light or goal to aim for, and thus inescapably overemphasized relationship. The community was not walking together along a path to perfection. It had confidence in doing good deeds but not growing visibly in holiness.

I did benefit from hearing and thinking so much about doing good deeds. I myself often display the other imbalance, focusing in prayer and deed too much on surrender to God and not enough on kindness and warmth. Those two Yom Kippur services were healthy for me.

After the Erev service and a night's sleep I was ready to focus better. The Morning service was much more worshipful.

I asked God many questions, and heard some answers. Three issues are worth sharing.

First, I asked for guidance. Since Sar Shalom closed, the local Messianic Jewish movement has been adrift and nearly inactive. Indeed, to speak strictly there remain "Jewish followers of Yeshua" but there is no more local "Messianic Judaism" since there is no IAMCS or UMJC congregation through which people can participate in the specific movement of God shepherded by those two organizations.

Would God tell me what would happen during the new year and my role in it? I had realized a few days earlier that my work with P'nei Adonai began in mid-2003, making my lack of ministry activity during 2009 in one sense a Sabbatical year. I would not have been surprised if God asked me, on Yom Kippur, to soon start something.

But God didn't. He said my Sabbatical time will end later. However, my personal laxness needed to end immediately. I will need personal momentum well-established before I can be an example for others.

Second, I asked for courage. I dealt with tremendous spiritual warfare during the years I led P'nei Adonai. As one small example, during those years it was normal for me to have a nightmare any time I slept. I was not sure why I would dream about people I cared about suffering, but trusted God was toughening me up for some purpose. It was sometimes strange to see family in the morning, or congregants on Shabbat, healthy and happy in contrast to what happened in my nightmares. Yet we all do suffer, and one day we will stand more alive than ever.

In any case, I was certainly aware that one reason I did not miss doing ministry work was the near absense of spiritual warfare in my life since Sar Shalom closed. A big advantage of doing little for the Kingdom of God is that God's enemies don't bother to oppose you! Returning to the trenches would require courage.

God told me I would have the courage I would need. That reply was not very comforting, but a sufficient answer. And any answer was encouraging.

Third, I asked for more relationship with God. He told me two stories. I have not retold them as well as I wanted, but those links lead to the best I can do at this time.

Most of the work to develop the RPG's setting I did myself: I tried to be prayerful but heard very little from God. Then, during Elul, there was a breakthrough. It began with more of my own thinking, but soon God contributed advice about how to honor him in an fantasy adventure setting. (I would have loved to blog about it during those weeks, but it happened to fast and intensely.) I had saved religion for last as I deveoped the setting; religion quickly became the most well-developed aspect and everything else needed revision to reflect a new and better foundation.

For God to tell me two stories (and he tells them better, both had much more detail and made me cry) using the fantasy setting we developed together was deeply touching.

Currently that setting has two purposes: it allows my wife and I to play a RPG together, and it helps me tell stories to Smiley. Perhaps I'll hear and share more stories set in that setting. It could become something for a broader audience. After all, God had me write stories in 2001 and 2002. I certainly would not mind if my new "ministry work" was more about being a storyteller and less about running a congregation.