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November 17, 2014

The Gospel Coalition | Latest Articles

Mothering in the Internet Age

Our mothers and grandmothers relied on their pediatricians to answer their parenting questions. Their mothers relied upon the experience of their own mothers and other older women. Now, internet research has become an integral part of mothering. Need to know why your child wets the bed? Want a natural remedy for diaper rash? Want the latest research on delaying vaccinations? The internet has an answer for all of these questions. Several answers, actually.

Between websites and message boards and Facebook groups, women have access to more parenting data and advice than ever before. Mothers can keep up with the latest safety standards and nutrition trends. They chat with women across the country whose children have the same ailments. They can even connect with other mothers online during a midnight feeding!

Given the wealth of information, do younger women still need older women when it comes to mothering? I’ve seen the research-oriented culture of modern mothering drive a wedge between young women and older women. Older women mock young mothers for being so safety-conscious. Younger women dismiss older women because they don’t know the latest car seat safety standards, or they suggest that the baby would sleep better on his stomach.

In Titus 2:4-5, Paul commands older women to “train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” Young women need to learn these things every bit as much today as they did in Paul’s day. And older women are uniquely suited to teach them.

Let Older Women Take the Pressure Off

Somehow, research has become a core responsibility of mothering. Internet research, whether on birthing methods or sleep cycles or teething treatments, predictably yields conflicting answers, so it inevitably generates anxiety. You can’t follow the advice of the medical establishment and the naturopaths, but you’ll have the voices of both in your head telling you that you’ve made the wrong choice. While an honest search for the best answers drives research, it can make mothers feel accused on all sides.

While an honest search for the best answers drives research, it can make mothers feel accused on all sides.

If you look to message boards to find out how to protect your children and give them a good start, you will find that your work is never done. You won’t be able to please all of the virtual authorities in your life.

In contrast, older women who have been mothers can bring empathy and reassurance to a young woman in the throes of self-doubt. They remember what it was like to go for months without a full night of sleep. They can assure her that her baby will sleep eventually, even if that day seems far off. They can tell her it’s okay to put on a video when the children are sick. Experienced mothers can put into long-term perspective the decisions that, in the moment, seem to be of life-or-death importance.

Let Older Women Challenge You

What drives a mother to exhaustive internet research? Primarily, it is love for her child. When you love your children, you want to do everything in your power to protect their lives, health, and hearts. Mothers don’t choose to love their children; they just do. Isaiah asked the question, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?” The implied answer suggests that such a thing would be highly unnatural.

Yet Titus 2 tells us that there is an unnatural aspect of loving children, one that needs to be taught. Perhaps this is the kind of love a mother needs to show to her son when his behavior brings her shame in public. Perhaps it is the kind that lets a daughter make mistakes, even though everything in a mother’s heart wants to rush in and protect her from consequences.

When we only receive advice virtually, we can protect ourselves from criticism that hits too close to home. But you may need your own mother to point out to you that you don’t discipline consistently when you are tired. Perhaps you need a loving neighbor to tell you that your son has been lying. You may need your daughter’s teacher to help you see that you’re putting unnecessary pressure on her. While this sort of observation may sting, a wise older woman can help you bring your insufficiency before your gracious God, even as she is helping you to see it.

The internet gives us access to a wide variety of knowledge, and that can be a gift from God. We should give thanks for the web’s wealth of information without making it a substitute for the relationships God has ordained to teach us to love. You need an older woman in your life to tell you that, contrary to what online voices communicate, you’re not really in control of your child’s life—God is. And that is good news.

by Betsy Childs at November 17, 2014 06:01 AM

Living Faithfully in a Pluralistic Culture

Several weeks ago, Michael Gerson argued that evangelicals ought to be more introspective about how they engage culture. Citing a recent study showing that many evangelical millennials are turning away from “the embattled, political subculture of their parents,” he explained, “A desperate, angry, apocalyptic tone of social engagement alienates many people, including some of the children of those who practice it.”

For the most part, I agree with him. I, too, think “a purely reactive model of politics is not attractive, even internally.” Yet this advice is incomplete and insufficient:
There is an alternative. A commitment to civility, rooted in respect for universal human dignity. A passion for the common good, defined by inclusion of the most vulnerable. A belief in institutional religious freedom and pluralism for the benefit of everyone, including non-Christian faiths. 
Gerson tells us to commit, to care, to believe—acts that when driven by mere moralism will inevitably lead to failure, frustration, and exhaustion. If we want the freedom and courage to serve, not condemn others in a pluralistic culture, we need more than advice calling us to pursue the common good. We need the power to lay down our lives.

Calling and Assignment

One of the most significant ways we can serve our neighbors in a pluralistic culture is through our vocations. In 1 Corinthians, Paul highlights two aspects of vocation—calling and assignment: “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned him, and to which God has called him” (1 Cor. 7:17, emphasis mine). While calling is about our vertical relationship with God, assignment is about our horizontal relationships with others. Tim Keller writes, “Our daily work can be a calling only if it is reconceived as God’s assignment to serve others.”

In the fall, though, both our calling and our assignments are broken. Instead of feeling welcomed and loved in the presence of God, the man and the woman feel naked and ashamed (Gen. 3:7). Instead of serving one another in love, they turn on each other and shift blame (Gen. 3:12-13). Jonathan Edwards reflects, “Before, and as God created man, he was exalted, and noble, and generous; but now he is debased, and ignoble, and selfish.”

Failure to Thrive

In our vocations, this self-centeredness often works itself out by enticing us to see our assignments as opportunities to honor and exalt ourselves, not to love and serve others. Instead of asking, “How, with my existing abilities and opportunities, can I be of greatest service to other people, knowing what I know of God’s will and human nature?” Keller says, we ask, “What will make me the most money or give me the most status?”

We use our assignments to distinguish ourselves from others, not serve them, especially when the other is a person with whom we fundamentally disagree. In “the culture of shut up,” we would rather silence our opponents than engage—much less, love and serve—them. We refer to “our tribe” and use language like “us” and “them.” We mischaracterize their views, painting them in their worst, not best light.

True Freedom and Courage

The gospel, though, gives us the freedom and courage to serve others, not condemn them, because it shatters any sense of pride and arrogance. When we see that Jesus, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, did not grasp for equality with God, but “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7), we see that assignment is not about honoring or exalting ourselves, but about serving others (see Mark 10:45).

And we serve them no matter how other they are because, in the incarnation, we see that Jesus became the other for us. He left perfect communion with the Father to become man and live among broken, sinful, and rebellious people—people like you and me—so that we might join his family (John 17:1-26). The cross has the power to restore not only our calling with God, but also our assignments with others (Eph. 2:14-16).

This enables us to serve all types of people because, even though our differences may be significant, we do not expect our neighbors to see as we do, because we know that “a person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven” (John 3:27). As John Newton writes,

He has graciously accommodated himself to my weakness, borne with my mistakes, and helped me through innumerable prejudices, which, but for his mercy, would have been insuperable hindrances: I have therefore no right to be angry, impatient, or censorious, especially as I have still much to learn, and am so poorly influenced by what I seem to know.

Therefore, we can be committed to civility with all people, as Gerson advises, because we recognize the grace we ourselves have been shown in Christ (Rom. 5:8). We can be passionate about the common good because God’s providence is our hope (Eph. 1:3-14). And we can believe in institutional religious freedom for the benefit of everyone, including non-Christian faiths, because we know that no one is converted through the power of the state, but only through the power of the Spirit (John 16:13).

The good news of Jesus Christ gives us the humility to love others in a pluralistic culture because it is more than mere advice calling us to civility. As Thomas Watson once said, "If civility were sufficient to salvation, Christ need not have died." The gospel is power (Rom. 1:16). It gives us the freedom and courage to lay down our lives in service to others because we know that, hidden in Christ, we will be lifted up once again (Col. 3:3-4).

by Bethany Jenkins at November 17, 2014 06:01 AM

America’s Pastor

Grant Wacker. America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 2014. 448 pp. $27.95.

For two of the three most influential Christian ministers of the 20th century, manner of death became central to their legacy. Felled by an assassin’s bullet in 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. (b. 1929) became a martyr to the cause of civil rights. Pope John Paul II (b. 1920) suffered publicly through various ailments until death ended his tenure in 2005. We cannot underestimate such open agony at the end of life, considering that his successor opted to retire in 2013.

The oldest of the trio, Billy Graham (b. 1918), recently turned 96. Unlike King, he will not likely die a martyr as he lives out his days in the family cabin near Montreat, North Carolina. Unlike John Paul II, he retains only nominal leadership responsibilities. Since the end of his public ministry in 2005, Graham’s influence has waned to the point where many 20-something evangelicals can’t identify him or else view him solely as a figure of distant history.

I don’t know how many of these young believers will pick up Grant Wacker’s new book, America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation. But I highly recommend they do so. Wacker, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Christian History at Duke University Divinity School, adds to the voluminous Graham literature with a scholarly yet captivating narrative that situates Graham alongside King and John Paul II as the men most responsible under God for shaping our current spiritual climate, especially in the United States.

Wacker covers much of the familiar ground with Graham. But his new book should not be seen as a substitute for William Martin’s A Prophet with Honor, the standard biography due for imminent re-release. Wacker, an acclaimed scholar and self-described "partisan" evangelical sharing Graham’s faith, seeks to answer two key questions: how does Graham’s story explain the unexpected growth of evangelical faith in America, and how does it illustrate the interplay between religion and American culture more generally? By the second page of the book Wacker projects his basic thesis: “[Graham] gave [Americans] tools to help them see themselves as good Christians, good Americans, and good citizens of the modern world at the same time.” Subsequent chapters explain how he did so as a preacher, icon, Southerner, entrepreneur, architect, pilgrim, pastor, and patriarch.

Long lauded for humility, Graham has confessed to many mistakes in his remarkable career. Yet as we’ll likely see with official tributes upon his death, nothing has tarnished his uniquely broad appeal. I would welcome additional clarification for his infamous interview with Robert Schuller, but his example of evangelism counters one strange interview about the uniqueness of Christ. He confused and even angered conservatives when he returned from his 1982 trip to the Soviet Union and noted the surprising religious freedom in the Communist country. But no one could object to his efforts to foster world peace and preach the gospel behind the Iron Curtain. Given the reputation of the late President Richard Nixon, Graham rightly regrets that he did not discern the depth of his close friend’s conspiratorial and paranoid tendencies, illustrated by lengthy Oval Office recordings of private meetings. Those recordings incited one of Graham’s most recent apologies, for disparaging remarks about Jews in the media. Because of his track record, many Jewish leaders forgave Graham for these remarks he does not remember offering. Wacker covers all these incidents with detail I had not previously seen in other works about Graham.

More importantly, Wacker uses these stories to identify the essential mystery with Graham: it’s not always easy to discern how much he shaped America and how much America shaped him. We claim to see clearly in retrospect how he traded access to the White House with such close friends and President Lyndon Johnson in exchange for supporting the widely discredited Vietnam War. But Graham is not so easy to dismiss as a sycophant. He resisted the rise of the Religious Right he unwittingly helped create with his evangelism, institution-building, fundraising, and public persona as chaplain to the stars, especially on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He became less partisan as the country sorted in red states and blue states. Chastened by his public failures, he stepped back from politics just as many other pastors jumped in.

So who is the real Graham? Wacker wonders:

Which was normative, the savvy CEO or the simple preacher? The uptown sophisticate of the downhome country boy? The globetrotting absent father or the attentive family man? The name-dropping partisan of the White House or the humble servant of the church? Above all, the self-promoting entrepreneur or the self-effacing saint? (27)

Graham himself barely hints at this mystery with an aw-shucks tone and an unseemly penchant for name-dropping in his autobiography, Just As I Am. But Wacker aims to solve it. He writes, “From first to last, Graham displayed an uncanny ability to adopt trends in the wider culture and then use them for his evangelistic and moral reform purposes” (28).

I can’t argue with that clear, incisive summary. If the description fits Graham then it fits the evangelical movement he helped to carve out between fundamentalism and liberalism and led for about 50 years. We seek access to the halls of power, sometimes for our own glory. But we also want everyone from Wall Street to Main Street to hear the good news that Jesus can save people from their sins. Many of us come from humble backgrounds and preach that gospel with the hint of a Southern accent—not too much to alarm the elites, but not too little lest we be accused of forgetting our roots. We vote our values as responsible citizens. But we largely work within a system that eschews radicalism and frustrates bold efforts to address social ills.

We identify with Graham, because he is one of us, and he shaped us. As Wacker observes, “[Graham] possessed an uncanny ability to speak both for and to the times” (316). That’s why we evangelicals followed him for decades and why the world’s leading historians will continue to account for him long after we, too, have followed him to the far side banks of Jordan.

by Collin Hansen at November 17, 2014 06:01 AM

One Big Fluke

You only get 1,000 lines of code a week

This week you're going to write a huge amount of code. You're going to get a lot done. You're going to ship something big. If something goes wrong, you'll be there to fix it. You'll root-cause any issue. You'll deploy at midnight to save the day. The only thing holding you back is the problem you're trying to solve.

Such an approach to building and launching works for quite a long time. When you're first starting as a programmer you're tasked with implementations that seem like "a simple matter of typing" in hindsight. Once you hit your stride, it feels like nothing can stand in your way. As time goes on, the complexity of the problems you confront grows exponentially. The balance between time spent thinking vs. implementing shifts towards design. The difficulty of shipping becomes more social than technical.

My advice for senior developers: Spend your time wisely. Imagine you can only write 1,000 lines of code this week. Is what you're doing today the most important thing? Are you the only person who could write the code you're writing? If not, why isn't someone else doing the work? You need to make your 1,000 lines count as much as possible. Your work must have leverage. Your 1,000 lines should be the essential core that enables a team of programmers to write another 10,000 lines effortlessly.

Eventually the same idea applies to everything else. You can only have 4 meetings this week. You can only send 20 emails. Make them count. Maximize the time/impact tradeoff. Let go of the things you know you can do that someone else could do just as well. Choose to do only the things that nobody else can do.

The exception to this is solidarity. Just because your time is valuable doesn't mean you're above it all. You need to carry your own weight just like anyone else. If you don't know the nitty gritty of your team first-hand you're useless.

by Brett Slatkin ( at November 17, 2014 05:56 AM

The Frailest Thing

Reading Frankenstein: Chapters 11–13

Earlier posts in this series: Walton’s Letters, Chapters 1 & 2, Chapters 3 & 4, Chapter 5Chapter 6, Chapters 7 & 8, 9 & 10


I’ve been a bit delinquent with the Frankenstein posts of late, but I intend to make up some ground by covering chapters eleven through sixteen in this post and the next. These chapters are the heart of the book, structurally and thematically. In them, the Creature assumes control of the narrative, sort of. Throughout these chapters it is his voice that we hear narrating the two years between the moment of his creation and the present encounter with Frankenstein; but we should remember that the Creature’s words are being reported by Frankenstein’s to Walton. It is still, in a sense, a filtered account, even though it is presented to the reader in the first person. I don’t think this should throw into question every detail of the Creature’s account, supposing that Frankenstein has necessarily misrepresented him; but it may be wise to read the Creature’s story with a certain suspicious attentiveness.

Had Shelly chosen to narrate her story from a more conventional third person perspective, we might imagine that the moral of the story would have been more straightforward, or that our sympathies would have more readily coalesced around one of the two central characters. The multiple first person perspectives complicate matters and injects a certain moral ambiguity into the story. As in our own real-world experience, hearing multiple accounts of the same sequence of events from motivated witnesses forces us to assume the responsibility of making judgments about whom to believe and to what degree. Often, we find that there is no obvious way of arriving at an “objective” account of the events and, knowingly or not, we fall back on our own proclivities and sympathies. We may also find, given our access to multiple perspectives, that the sequence of events unfolded with a kind of tragic unnecessary necessity. Things need not have transpired as they did, different decisions could have been made; but, given the limited perspective of the interested parties, it is hard to see how they could have done otherwise.

In his discussion of tragic plays, Aristotle observed that the tragic hero cannot be either wholly deserving or wholly undeserving of his fate. The emotional force of the tragedy depends on this ambivalence. If we think the hero entirely deserving of their fate, the play amounts to a comedy in which justice is served. If we think the hero entirely undeserving of their fate, then we will think the play a farce. Aristotle offers Sophocles’s Oedipus as the perfect embodiment of this tragic ambivalence of character. In my view, Shelley achieves a similar effect with both Frankenstein and the Creature, hence the emotional force of her story. And this effect she achieves principally by allowing us to hear each of them tell us their own stories. This isn’t merely a matter of emotional payoff, though; the meaning of Shelley’s story is inextricable from this tragic form. The meaning of the story, on my reading, also hinges on recognizing the Creature’s experience as a microcosm of human civilization, and that becomes apparent very early on in the Creature’s story.

In chapter eleven, the Creature describes the earliest hours and days of his existence, during which he comes to terms with the physicality of his being. Over the course of several days, his ability to perceive his surroundings is sharpened, as is his ability to navigate the world with his body. As he acclimates to having a body, the Creature also begins to express himself with “uncouth and inarticulate sounds,” the beginnings of language. While still in this state, he encounters a fire left by wandering beggars. The fire fascinates him and its usefulness is immediately apparent to him. Like a hunter-gatherer, he soon finds that he must abandon his fire in search of food. He does so and subsists on berries and nuts until he stumbles upon the abode of a shepherd where he finds bread, cheese, milk, and wine. The shepherd symbolizes a more settled life than that of the hunter-gathers, and the foods the Creature enjoys are all the product of human cultivation, none of them are naturally occurring. Finally, he moves on and enters a village. He is awed by the homes and their gardens. But, in a pattern that will recur unfailingly, this place that is at once an expression of humanity’s skill and ingenuity is also the setting for the Creature’s first encounter, apart from his initial abandonment, with “the barbarity of man.” Having innocently entered a home and frightened its inhabitants, the Creature is chased out of the town by a barrage of blows and projectiles.

The Creature then comes upon a modest cottage in the woods and he crawls into a hovel attached to one of the cottage walls. Here he is able to live unnoticed, and, through a crack in the wall of the cottage, he is able to observe the family that inhabits it. This family consists of an elderly blind father and his two grown children, Felix and Agatha. We learn later that they are exiles from France living in Switzerland. At this point, the Creature regarded them a saintly ,if also melancholy, brood. Watching the sacrificial kindness Felix and Agatha display toward their father, the Creature’s emotional life is awakened. “I felt sensations of a peculiar and overpowering nature,” he recounts, “they were a mixture of pain and pleasure, such as I had never before experienced, either from hunger or cold, warmth or food; and I withdrew from the window, unable to bear these emotions.” The chapter closes with the Creature seeing the family read together before turning in for the night. At the time, however, he knew nothing of the “science of words or letters.”

Through this perhaps too-convenient plot device, Shelley will account for the Creature’s continuing education, intellectual and moral. To this point, though, we might read Shelley’s portrayal of the Creature’s life as an early nineteenth century mashup of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Erikson’s stages of psycho-social development, and the history of human civilization. The Creature, then, is a symbol of human civilization. Better yet, Frankenstein and the Creature together, are a symbol of the dual and tragic nature of human civilization.

Throughout chapter twelve, the Creature continues to watch and learn from the family that he begins to affectionately refer to as his “friends.” There is an innocence to the Creature’s early observations. He is confused by a sadness that he perceives alongside their amiable and caring manner. Felix, whose name means “happy” in Latin, was “the saddest of the group.” To his simple mind, they had all that he could possibly wish for. They had a warm home, food, and their mutual companionship. But after a considerable period of time passes, he realizes that one source of their sadness is, in fact, their poverty. They were often hungry, and the Creature often witnessed Agatha and Felix go without food so that their father might eat.

Witnessing that act of self-sacrifice awakens the Creature’s conscience. He had till then been stealing from their stores in the night, but now he felt the pain that he was unwittingly causing them and learns to make do with whatever food he can gather from the surrounding woods. Moreover, he is moved to act in kindness toward his friends. Noticing that Felix spent the better part of the day gathering wood, the Creature begins to gather wood in the night and deposit it on their doorstep. He then watches with pleasure their reaction and the better use that Felix is able to make of his time.

In much of what follows the Creature becomes increasingly aware of the “godlike science” of language, in both its spoken and then its written form. By observation and imitation, he acquired a rudimentary vocabulary, and he decides that he will not present himself to his friends until he has mastered the ability to speak with words. During this time, the Creature had also become aware, by seeing his reflection in a pool of water, of his physical deformity. An anti-Narcissus, he was convinced “that he was in reality that Monster that I am” and he was filled with feelings of “despondence and mortification.”

But he continues to imagine, foolishly he notes, that he might be able to help his benefactors overcome their sadness and that he might even be accepted by them despite his deformity. Reviving a theme in Frankenstein’s narrative, the Creature is also comforted and encouraged by the onset of spring and the reawakening of nature. Spring also brings a new member of the household whose story reveals the other source of the family’s sadness.

Chapter thirteen introduces a young Arabian woman named Safie. Her arrival cheers the family, especially Felix. And in another just-so plot turn, she does not yet speak French. As she is taught to speak and read by the family, the Creature, observing her lessons from the fortuitous crack in the wall, finally learns to speak fluently and to read. He also gets a survey of human history via Volney’s Ruins of Empires, a radical critique of prevailing governments and religions written in the aftermath of the French Revolution. He learns about the ancient empires of the Middle East, the Greeks, the Romans, and the Christian Empires of the medieval age. He also learns of the discovery of America, and he “wept with Safie over the hapless fate of its original inhabitants.” Reflecting on what he had learned, the Creature offers the following meditation that expresses the same tragic duality that he himself and Frankenstein embody:

“Was man, indeed, at once so powerful, so virtuous, and magnificent, yet so vicious and base? He appeared at one time a mere scion of the evil principle, and at another, as all that can be conceived of noble and godlike. To be a great and virtuous man appeared the highest honor that can befall a sensitive being; to be base and vicious, as many on record have been, appeared the lowest degradation, a condition more abject than that of the blind mole or harmless worm. For a long time I could not conceive how one man could go forth to murder his fellow, or even why there were laws and governments; but when I heard details of the vice and bloodshed, my wonder ceased, and I turned away with disgust and loathing.”

Not only do Frankenstein and the Creature both symbolize and embody this tragic paradox, neither of them fully realize the degree to which this tragic paradox runs through both their beings. This blindness is their tragic flaw; it is the blindness induced by their own peculiar forms of hubris. For Frankenstein it is a hubris born of knowledge, and for the Creature it is the hubris born of a self-righteousness that stems from victimhood. But all of this is not quite obvious yet.

Frankenstein also gets a lesson in political economy via Felix’s lectures to Safie: “I heard of the division of property, of immense wealth and squalid poverty; of rank, descent, and noble blood.” He realizes that human civilization values nothing so much as the combination of noble lineage and great wealth. One of these two will get one by in life, but, having neither, a person is ordinarily “doomed to waste his powers for the profits of the chosen few!”

All of this leads the Creature to lament his pitiable situation. He was uniquely powerless and alone: “no money, no friends, no property” and hideously deformed for good measure. Then we get a remarkably Pascalian comment:

“I cannot describe to you the agony that these reflections inflicted upon me: I tried to dispel them, but sorrow only increased with knowledge. Oh, that I had for ever remained in my native wood, nor known nor felt beyond the sensations of hunger thirst, and heat! Of what a strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind, when it has once seized on it, like a lichen on the rock.”

Our ability to imagine ourselves other than we are is both our greatest virtue and the source of all our misery. Knowledge and desire are both a curse and a blessing. Again, a note of tragic paradox is sounded. The only escape from this condition, this thoroughly human condition, was death–a state, the Creature feared, he did not yet understand.

The more he learned through his observations of the family, a family he came to love, the more miserable he became. He became increasingly aware of all that he did not have and all he could never have. He was without friends and relations, without mother and father. He was alone and plagued by one question: “What was I?”

by Michael Sacasas at November 17, 2014 01:50 AM

Caelum Et Terra

November Miscellany


The Thing About November

I walked in the local wood today near dusk. The leaves are all but gone, only a few of the underbrush shrubs bearing tatters of color. The rest of the world was muted, grays and browns and beiges, the sky leaden.

The woods were silent and strange, not a stir in the brush. The fallen leaves on the path no longer rustle, having been broken by the rain and time, softened. I heard a lone cardinal make its one note winter ‘pip’ sound, but the only other thing I heard was a deer, from the sound of it, far off, crashing through the forest.

It is supposed to snow tonight, and I saw a few flurries.

It occurred to me that the grimness of February makes the whiteness of real winter, pure and clean, so much more beautiful, welcome.

To everything a season, and all that.

The Source

Grace does not ‘build on nature’ as the scholastics claim. Nature rises and flowers out of grace.


If I had another daughter I would name her ‘Isis Ebola’. She would probably fit right in with her older brother, Y2K.

Tradition and Idolatry

The so-called traditionalists are sinking deeper into the fever swamp. I have seen essays in various sites proclaiming that Pope Francis is a heretic and the time has come for a schism of the Real Catholics. I myself have been called an idolater on another blog because I really like Francis and see his insistence on the primacy of Love as prophetic, which apparently means he is my substitute for God.


I love Francis for the strange synchronicity of his unlikely pontificate occurring just as I am emerging from a long spiritual crisis which left me with the existential bones of faith: God, Jesus, Love, what Francis calls the encounter with Christ.

Is not blind traditionalism, which absolutizes a relative good, however lovely and satisfying, more akin to idolatry?

Beautiful human constructs – liturgies, icons, all the trappings of worship- are good. Indeed I cannot live long without them. But when attachment to one of them obscures the very heart of the truth that we claim to believe, that God is indeed good and loves us? Or that the ineffable mystery we name as ‘God’ is in fact Love, and we are dear to him, however that may seem hard to believe sometimes? Or that we are all brothers and sisters and that the God specially loves the poor and marginalized?


Francis is only recalling us to the primacy of love, with mercy as the center.

Tradition is not static, and neither is love.


by Daniel Nichols at November 17, 2014 01:20 AM

November 16, 2014

The Urbanophile

The Ideology Driven Privatization Backlash

A couple of incidents recently highlight how many communities have taken a sharply negative turn when it comes to privatization. A look at the cases in question however, shows that the objections to it appear to be as much ideological as performance based.

In Indiana, a group of seven counties through which the Indiana Toll Road passes want to buy it themselves from the bankrupt operator and its bankers.

The Indiana Toll Road lease was an unambiguous win for the state of Indiana. Was it perfect? Of course not. But those seeking to portray it as a bad decision always have to cite some peripheral defect. They can’t talk about core matters like the roadway condition, which is in better shape than ever and now with electronic toll collection, nor its operations, which are solid. Nor have I ever seen a critical financial analysis that was remotely credible. (One study in an academic journal that got a lot of airplay used ridiculous discount rates in their analysis, including literally 0% in one of their primary scenarios. This is what they are reduced to in trying to undermine the deal’s logic).

The bid by these counties seems motivated more hostility than logic. La Porte County Commissioner David Decker says, “The nonprofit would not be beholden to shareholders who siphon all the money off. We want to put money back into the road.”

Let’s analyze this a bit. The road is bankrupt, so the shareholders aren’t “siphoning” anything off at this point. I suspect that Cintra and Macquarie (the original lessees) protected themselves well in this deal, however. I’m not crying for them. But the concessionaire did go belly up.

Then there’s the idea of putting the money back into the road. Where were these counties when the state was running the road and letting it deteriorate so badly? There were some truly decrepit stretches of highway, especially in Lake County. Where were all these counties back then? If the public sector is so much more responsive and attentive to public needs, why didn’t the state ever fix this when it owned it? Why didn’t the state ever install electronic toll collection? I started telling INDOT they should install this as far back as the O’Bannon administration, but nothing ever happened. It wasn’t until the privatization deal that money did indeed start getting invested back into improving the road.

Then there’s the counties’ proposed financial structure. The private company paid $3.9 billion and went broke. These counties think that they can pay $3.7-4.1 billion for it, and make a profit of $38-50 million per year even after they – get this – pay a private company to operate the road anyway. How is that supposed to work? Yes, they can issue tax exempt bonds at a lower interest rate. But they want to limit repayment only to the toll road revenues, so that will limit their rate savings. Also, they won’t be able to take advantage of the huge tax write-offs from depreciation and such that the private company had available. I’d have to see the details on this, but it’s quite a financial claim they are making. They are basically saying that they can buy the road back from the bankers and run it at a profit of $50M higher than the bankers could. (Remember, any profits the banks might actually make would surely factor into their sale price). That seems a bit dubious. If it’s really true, every county in American ought to think about turning themselves into a private equity fund to invest in infrastructure assets.

Then there was an article in the Guardian talking about Hamburg voters approving a measure to buy back their electric and gas utilities that were privatized a few years back, or reclaim them when the contracts end.

Again, let’s ask what the problem is. Has the private operator breached its covenants? Have they provided poor service? Have the prices been at issue? No, no, and no. The article talks about pricing as a factor in some “remunicipalizations” of utility service, but not here. Instead what we see is that the real driver is political:

In Hamburg, activists launched the Unser Hamburg, Unser Netz (Our Hamburg, Our Networks) campaign in 2010 after noticing that the city’s existing contracts with Vattenfall and E.On were set to expire. The campaign brought out a wide range of supporters: environmental groups said buying back the grids would give Hamburg more control over its energy systems, and make it possible to really drive the city’s Energiewende transition away from coal and nuclear power and towards renewable energy.
The motorways running in and out of Hamburg are lined with giant windmills, slowly churning the air, constant reminders of the country’s ambitious green goals. Shifting the city’s energy transition into higher gear was one of the key promises of remunicipalisation.

The referendum ballot proposed not only to take back the city’s energy grids, but to institute as a binding target “a socially just, democratically controlled and climate-friendly energy supply from renewable sources”.

It seems pretty obvious that the drive to buy back the utility was driven by greens, who hope to use political control to implement their preferred energy generation schemes. In short, it’s about ideology. The article quotes a professor saying that privatization itself is promoted for ideological reasons, but here we see de-privatization happening in the same way. A touch of the increasingly anti-infrastructure bias of the German electorate comes through as another ideological factor.

Lest you say “it’s about climate change, not ideology,” the policy response to climate change very much falls within the political and ideological sphere. The German greens are, as the article notes, anti-nuclear. The Green Party driven, legally mandated decommissioning of Germany’s zero emissions nuclear infrastructure is a big reason why the country is still constructing coal plants in the first place. That doesn’t seem very green to me.

I’ve not hesitated to rake bad privatization deals like the various parking meter leases over the coals as bad public policy. But in these cases we see moves to cancel privatization deals coming from a root of ideological bias, not the public interest.

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

by Aaron M. Renn at November 16, 2014 11:26 PM

CrossFit Naptown

SWIFT Workout 11.17.14

120 Double Unders (240 single unders)
100 Floor Wipers
80 Floor Press (same weight as floor wipers)
60 Second Plank Hold
40 Goblet Squats
20 Pistols to a Box (on a box/ regular pistols)

by Coach Jared at November 16, 2014 11:24 PM

CrossFit NapTown Holiday Party

Monday’s Workout:

Overhead Squat with 3 Second Pause
Heavy as Technique Allows


Workout of the Day:
9-7-5 reps of
Front Squat (225/155)
Bar Muscle Ups

*scale weight as needed
**20-15-10 reps of your pull up SCALE for bar muscle ups


The Ho-Ho-Holidays are Here!

Yup, that is right folks. It is officially that time of year again. There have been snowflakes in the city, I have had to scrape my car before heading in for the 5:45am class, and the Christmas decorations are out ready for sale at all local retail establishments. Do not worry, you have not missed Thanksgiving, but it is still time to start talking about Christmas! As per usual, we will be having a lovely CFNT get-together for the holidays hosted by the hilarious team over at Comedy Sports. However, this year has the potential to be slightly outside of the norm. Here are the details:

We have 100 tickets for a show at Comedy Sports on Mass Ave. on December 20th. If we sell less than 100 tickets, then the show will be at 10:00pm at the Comedy Sports location and those in attendance will have the opportunity to buy food and drink from the establishment. IF WE SELL 100+ TICKETS, then the event will be hosted at NapTown Fitness (our Capitol location) at 8:00pm. If this comes to pass, it will be BYOB and food.

The price of the tickets will be $20 in either scenario.

If you are interested in attending (which all of you should be because it is a blast), then please email with your name and how many tickets you will need (members are encouraged to bring friends and family alike out for this event).You can also include in that email what payment method you would like to use: cash, check, or charge your account.

Be on the lookout for more details to come as we get an idea of which scenario will play itself out. As always, do not hesitate to ask questions!

Jena R and Jane B getting ready to wod in Christmas sweaters in honor of the holiday season....don't worry this will be back soon!

Jena R and Jane B getting ready to wod in Christmas sweaters in honor of the holiday season….don’t worry this will be back soon!


by Anna at November 16, 2014 10:33 PM


When Monitoring a Behavior Makes it Worse

I’ve been doing some idle life-logging experimentation for the past two months with a Google Form and some simple Matlab analysis (project repo here). It was partly motivated by trying to operationalize some of my thinking around habit formation and falling off the wagon/getting back on, and partly by the vague idea that I might in the future unbundle Tempo into small idea chunks and rebundle those into an app, instead of writing a second edition.

In the two months, I learned a few interesting lessons big and small. Some were about the right way to log and analyze behaviors, others were about the nature of behaviors and habits themselves. All very interesting.

But perhaps the most interesting thing I learned was about the very idea of monitoring behaviors (with anything from a diary to an app) is that if you measure a behavior, it generally gets worse before it gets better, if it gets better at all.

Kinda like if you think too much about how you work the brake and accelerator while driving, you’ll suddenly start fumbling/jerking awkwardly like a student driver.

I think there are two things going on here:

  1. When you bring up any habit for conscious inspection with a tool, you regress from unconscious competence to conscious incompetence (see shu-ha-ri). This happens because most of your later mastery is unconscious, and paying conscious attention to what you’re doing suspends the unconscious parts.
  2. When the habit is a creative habit, there is an additional factor. For an uncreative habit, feedback of error via inspection or monitoring triggers dumb corrective actions. If you’re drifting out of your lane and your fancy new car beeps, you just steer back in. But if your monitoring is telling you that your “hit rate” for successful blog posts as a fraction of all blog posts is falling, there is no obvious action you can take to fix it. So being sensitized to the gap just increases anxiety, which makes performance worse.

The first is a manageable problem in a thoughtfully designed tool that foregrounds and manages the trade-off by setting the right expectations: “warning: this logging/monitoring app will make things worse before it makes it better, like any skill-learning aid.”

The second is a much more serious one. When the right response to a feedback error is a creative action, the tradeoff is between knowing more about the “stuck” situation versus heightened anxiety that prevents you from doing much with the data. Arguably, in this regime, the right way to handle the tradeoff is to turn off the monitoring and go open-loop for a while, trusting creative play behaviors to generate an event that unsticks you.

I think this is why common self-improvement goals like weight loss run aground once you hit the existing homeostasis point.  If your body set-point is say 150 lb and you are at 155 lbs due to too much Thanksgiving and Christmas over-eating, the diet-and-exercise routine in response to what you see on the scale everyday is enough to get you back to 150 lb. But if you’re hovering in the noise zone around 150 lbs (say +/- 2 lbs) and want to move the setpoint itself to 140 lbs, you need a creative lifestyle shift.

Watching the scale daily is not helpful in achieving this goal. You need something else.

I am not entirely sure about how to approach this interesting problem, but for starters, I think it’s useful to segment tools and behavior modification projects into two kinds: sustaining projects (no set points need to move, no creativity needed) and disruptive projects (set points need to move, creative insights needed). They are two very different regimes of behavior modification, and inspection/feedback/monitoring tools work very differently in the two regimes.

I believe we fall off the wagon when we have to shift between these regimes.



by Venkat at November 16, 2014 07:48 PM


God Demonstrates His Righteousness

Text: Romans 3:21-26

We’ve been discussing justification by faith these last few weeks, with a special emphasis on Romans chapter 3. Last week we set up the “problem” with a discussion of sin and the role of the law in revealing sin. This week we move to the next component, which is really the central component, the justice of God. As we will see, the righteousness of God which is revealed in justification is both His righteousness and the righteousness by which we are declared righteous. The two are the same in Christ so that God may be righteous in declaring His people righteous, the just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Our justification is also God’s justification, as in it He demonstrates His righteousness.


This word righteousness is very important in the book of Romans, and right in the first chapter we read that “in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’” (Rom. 1:17). But as obviously important and central as this word “righteousness” is, its meaning has been the source of considerable controversy. To begin, you should know that the English words “righteous” and “justice” are the same word in both Hebrew and Greek. Furthermore, the term “justification” shares this same root, and so “justification” can also be translated “vindication” or “rectification.” While each of these terms has slightly different connotations and emphases, they all come together in the biblical word for righteousness.

But beyond the definition of the word, there have been two interpretations of the expression “the righteousness of God.” Some readers have taken it to refer to God’s own attribute of righteousness, which would mean that “the righteousness of God” in justification is the way in which God acts and judges. He does so fairly and rightly. Others, however, have read the expression as “the righteousness from God” and understood it to mean a righteousness which God gives to His people. It would be this righteousness “from” God that is then the basis of justification for the Christian. They are given something from God which then secures their justification.

Martin Luther felt precisely this tension as he worked through the doctrine of justification, and he explains what the two interpretations meant to him:

I had conceived a burning desire to understand what Paul meant in his Letter to the Romans, but thus far there had stood in my way, not the cold blood around my heart, but that one word which is in chapter one: “The justice of God is revealed in it.” I hated that word, “justice of God,” which, by the use and custom of all my teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically as referring to formal or active justice, as they call it, i.e., that justice by which God is just and by which he punishes sinners and the unjust.

… I meditated night and day on those words until at last, by the mercy of God, I paid attention to their context: “The justice of God is revealed in it, as it is written: ‘The just person lives by faith.’” I began to understand that in this verse the justice of God is that by which the just person lives by a gift of God, that is by faith. I began to understand that this verse means that the justice of God is revealed through the Gospel, but it is a passive justice, i.e. that by which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written: “The just person lives by faith.” All at once I felt that I had been born again and entered into paradise itself through open gates. Immediately I saw the whole of Scripture in a different light. I ran through the Scriptures from memory and found that other terms had analogous meanings, e.g., the work of God, that is, what God works in us; the power of God, by which he makes us powerful; the wisdom of God, by which he makes us wise; the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God. I exalted this sweetest word of mine, “the justice of God,” with as much love as before I had hated it with hate. This phrase of Paul was for me the very gate of paradise.  (Preface to the Complete Edition of Luther’s Latin Works ((1545)))

Luther took that second option, understanding “the righteousness of God” to be a righteousness which comes from God and is given to believers. This righteousness of God, then, is the miraculous way by which sinful humans can be declared just in the sight of God. It is a free gift of grace and the miracle of our salvation. For Luther, taking the expression this way made all the difference.

The Two Are One

Now I love Luther and believe that his role in the Reformation was a monumental and essential one. I believe that he was a man chosen by God to change the world and rescue the church. I am not at all interested in marginalizing Luther in some sophisticated “progress of history” sort of way. And yet, for all that, I don’t think Luther quite got it right here. He rightly noted the tension between the two interpretations, but I think he stopped too soon. As I have argued and as I will attempt to explain in more detail, these two interpretations really come together as one. While the justice of God is certainly “given” to believers, thus making them “just,” it remains the case that God’s own character is being explained and defended by the Apostle Paul. God’s own righteousness must be demonstrated for our salvation to be complete.

This becomes clear in Romans 3, especially verses 22 and 26. Let’s review that passage:

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe…

Notice that this “righteousness of God” is revealed, and it is revealed “to all and on all” who believe.” Consider that. It is revealed to all who believe. They see it. And it is revealed on them. It appears in and through their salvation. It is said to do this “apart from the law.” “The Law and the Prophets” gave witness to this righteousness, but they did not reveal it. This all would support the position that the “righteousness of God” is something that God gives to His people through the work of Jesus. While the Old Covenant had surely revealed God’s character, it had not provided the justice required for human salvation. It had proclaimed it, but it had not made it manifest in the lives of God’s people.

But then keep reading:

God set forth [Christ Jesus] as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Clearly God’s own character is being described here, as Paul says that God had “passed over the sins that were previously committed” until this present time. This doesn’t mean that God never made any judgments in the Old Covenant, but it clearly means that He waited to pour out the fullness of His wrath, the entirety of divine justice. He waited for the incarnation of Christ and the death on the cross at Calvary to fully “demonstrate His righteousness.” And he did this for a reason: “that He might be just and the justifier.” God chose to work this way so that He could maintain His own righteousness. There could be no unjustness, no failing to punish evil, and no favoritism. But God also did it this way so that he could be “the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” God had to punish evil, but He also desired to save His people.

So we see that Luther was indeed right to read “the righteousness of God” as the special gift of the New Covenant, the grace of the work of Christ. And yet this gracious gift, given to us, is nonetheless still united to God’s own righteousness, His just treatment of sin and His upholding the equity of all creation. God could not deny Himself, and yet He swore to save His people. This meant that He would have to do something dramatic. He would have to take matters into His own hands.

Justice And Justification At The Cross

This idea of uniting God’s justice with His salvation goes back to the Old Covenant. In fact, it goes back to the idea of “covenant” itself. Once God swore to take a people unto Himself, their salvation became part and parcel to God’s faithfulness to that promise. In other words, their salvation became a matter of justice.

David writes in Psalm 31:1, “In You, O Lord, I put my trust; let me never be ashamed; deliver me in Your righteousness.” Notice that God’s righteousness is the vehicle of salvation, and it does so because David put his trust in God. Again, Psalm 143 he says, “Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear to my supplications! In Your faithfulness answer me, and in Your righteousness. David goes on to plead for mercy, “Do not enter into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight no one living is righteous” (Psalm 143:2), and so there can be no thought that God delivers David because David is righteous. No, God delivers David because God is righteous. He had chosen David and promised to make him king and preserve his life. Psalm 85, a song which Israel’s past forgiveness but current state of oppression says this, “Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him… mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed” (Psalm 85:9-10). In other words, the psalm is saying, we know how God works. He is always both merciful and just at the same time. Fear Him.

This is ultimately fulfilled in the cross of Christ where Jesus is “set forth” by God “as a propitiation by His blood.” The word propitiation means the satisfaction of wrath, and we must remember that “wrath” is here a legal term and not merely an emotional one. Curiously, the text says that God “passed over the sins that were previously committed”? What could this mean? We know that it doesn’t mean that God never punished sinners in the Old Covenant. He did so often. What it means is that He provided a temporary “postponement” of justice in order to prepare the way for true salvation. He did not require the true wages of sin immediately. God allowed sinners to live and to experience the benefits of forgiveness apart from the satisfaction from justice.

But what about those all those animal sacrifices and the temple? Didn’t those bring forgiveness? No. Hebrews 10 says, “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). Those sacrifices were “a shadow of good things to come” (Heb. 10:1). They always and only symbolized the work which God would do in the future, and that future became now at the cross. “The present time” is the 1st century, immediately after Christ’s death, and it continues throughout the New Covenant wherever the gospel goes. God’s righteousness continues to be demonstrated as we preach this message. God demonstrated His justice in the death of Christ, when “He who knew no sin became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). And in this one divine act, God was shown to be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.


All of salvation history, from the Garden of Eden onward, was working together in a consistent way to bring us to Calvary. We have to understood this if we are to rightly understand the Bible, and if we are to rightly understand the work of Christ on our behalf. In fact, even the punishments and judgments of history were consistent parts of God’s plan to bring us all right where He wanted us. He shut us up under judgment so that He might show us His righteousness and His mercy, all at once.

And so what does this mean for us today? The first is that God is indeed righteous. He always acts justly. He always does what is right. And while it is true that God Himself defines what is right, it is also true that He has revealed that standard to us and promised to hold Himself to it. Thus it is not a tautology to speak of God being just, and His actions in history were therefore necessary to demonstrate His righteousness. Our God is not a liar. He is not inconsistent. And He is not unfair. Not even when He saves us.

Secondly, we see the solution to our guilt. What can you do when, in your search for justice, you discover that you are yourself unjust? What recourse do you have if you are the bad guy? A sinner in the hand of an angry God can only be saved by one thing—that same God. And that’s what happened at the cross. God gave Himself on our behalf. Jesus is God, you know. And while He is also the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, Trinitarian theology explains that God the Father beget His entire nature in birthing the Son and so, mysteriously, the two are both fully and wholly God. Jesus is God in a unique mode of existence, but He is, as Colossians 2:9 says, the fullness of the Godhead. Thus God took the punishment we deserved in order to satisfy His own justice.

Thirdly, this is the solution to the world’s guilt and the universal cry for justice. God settled all accounts at the cross, and the fact that Jesus took on divine wrath is in fact the reason that we can give up our personal wrath. It is the reason that we do not get to take vengeance. It is the reason that we are to love our enemies. While we should respect law and order and are allowed to seek political and civil remuneration, we must never confuse these things with final and ultimate justice. This is true because earthly justice is, by definition, limited and imperfect. It isn’t useless, but can only do so much, and so we must guard our hearts to never confuse earthly courts with divine judgment. There is coming a day when all deeds will be brought to light and everyone will get what they deserve. You can find comfort in that. And of course, the way to avoid bearing the brunt of ultimate justice then is to place your faith in Christ now.

This satisfaction made by Christ continues to be effective on our behalf, even when we do our very best to mess it all up. Justification by faith does not mean that you are justified because you were good enough to believe. “Faith” is not some sort of really easy work. No, even if your faith is weak and wavering. Even if you stumble time and time again. Even if you don’t understand it all and you don’t know exactly how you feel on the inside. Even if all of these imperfections are in your life, believing in Jesus means believing that God took care of things. The Cross is where the work was done, and this should bring you an invincible assurance. You are not putting faith in your faith but rather in the cross. And as we have said before, this means faith in God, that He is Who He says He is and that He can do what He has promised.

This is the exclusive way for guilt to be taken care of. There are no other options. Nothing can be added. There aren’t even any mechanisms or other systems which are attached to this or by which the atonement is mediated to you. No, it’s just God. Believe. You see, if we add anything to this story, we are not only attempting to put “works” on our side that need to be done, but we are also saying that the work which God did was insufficient. In doing this, we fail to justify God. We rob Him of His righteousness. And what sort of righteousness can a person ever hope to have if they are denying the righteousness of God? None. Works righteousness is a non-starter. It fails before it ever begins.

So people of God, put your trust in Christ and only in Christ. He is the site of God’s justice and of your justification. Believe. Believe and fear. God is just. Believe and rest. God is the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Believe.

by Steven Wedgeworth at November 16, 2014 07:31 PM

Zondervan Academic Blog

Gratitude and Generosity (I) [Awakening Faith]

Every good and perfect gift is from above. (James 1:17)

Recognize to whom you owe the fact that you exist, that you breathe, that you understand, that you are wise, and above all that you know of God and hope for the kingdom of heaven and the vision of glory — now darkly as in a mirror but then with greater fullness and purity (1 Cor. 13:12). You have been made a son or daughter of God, a coheir with Christ. Where did you get all this, and from whom?

Let me turn to what is of less importance: the visible world around us. What benefactor has enabled you to look out upon the beauty of the sky, the sun in its course, the circle of the moon, the countless number of stars, with the harmony and order that they exhibit, like the music of a harp? Who has blessed you with rain, with the art of farming, with different kinds of food, with the arts, with houses, with laws, with states, with a life of humanity and culture, with friendship and the easy familiarity of family?

Who has given you dominion over animals, those that are pets and those that provide you with food? Who has made you lord and master of everything on earth? In short, who has endowed you with all that makes humans superior to all other living creatures?

Is it not God? And is it not he who asks you in turn to be generous above all other creatures and for the sake of all other creatures? We have received so many wonderful gifts from him — will we refuse to give him this one thing, our generosity? Is that not shameful? Though he is God and Lord he is not afraid to be known as our Father. Will we respond by denying our brothers and sisters?  [Continued next Sunday . . . ]

Gregory of Nazianzus


Awakening Faith DevotionalAwakening Faith: Daily Devotionals from the Early Church

by James Stuart Bell and Patrick J. Kelly

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by ZA Blog at November 16, 2014 01:30 PM


bitpocket: Your in-house drop box

I have three i686 machines at the moment, all three of which are running Arch. One acts as a wireless relay to the other two (thanks, create_ap), and shares its wired connection with the two others.

It also is set up to sync itself against the Arch repositories once a day, and then I manually rsync between the other two and share the downloaded updates. This saves me the drag of triple-updating machines, since my in-house wireless connection is considerably faster than the wired line.

Anything leftover or specific to one piece of hardware — like video drivers — gets downloaded normally, when a specific machine does its update.

I do end up doing some double-back synchronization, from satellite computers to the central hub. That’s more of an insurance measure or to make backups of individual packages that were downloaded to specific machines.

All that rsyncing back and forth relies on sshd of course, and it gets a little tedious having to re-enter passwords on every rsync, but I don’t know if there’s anything to be done about that. It’s the nature of the beast.

I thought perhaps working a little bit with bitpocket might give me some ideas, since bitpocket is intended as a do-it-yourself Dropbox-style network storage tool, built upon the mighty rsync.


It did and it didn’t. bitpocket runs into much the same issue as I had, where I needed to supply a password four times — actually five — to get the proper access across the network and update the master folder on the central machine.

I don’t hold that out as a fault of bitpocket though, since whatever setting or configuration I’m after to solve my own problem isn’t bitpocket’s responsibility. I shall pursue that independently.

bitpocket itself is rather useful, and very easy to set up. Supply a proper folder and identity for your server machine, create a folder for a corresponding copy on the client, and just call bitpocket from that folder. bitpocket can check for updates, synchronize new files, delete old ones and generally handle everything as it should be done.

bitpocket has some other features that are nifty, such as the ability to tell you what will be updated (in other words, what changes exist since the last sync) and delete protection, where it moves “deleted” files into a hidden folder, in case you make a mistake.

If you already do fairly regular rsyncs against a master machine, or if you just want to streamline the process of keeping work folders up to date, I can see where bitpocket might improve upon a long chain of rsync commands.

In my case, I really need to find out how to authenticate rsync without being prompted each time, and follow through with that. (Edit: I figured it out, thanks. I just needed to generate an key, and move it over to the server. ;) )

Tagged: client, cloud, file, server, storage, sync

by K.Mandla at November 16, 2014 01:15 PM

wifite: Why fight it

All right, all you wannabe hackers. All you up-and-coming security freaks and as-yet untested marauders of the airwaves. If you don’t know much about wireless security but still need to look the part for your clique, wifite has a solution for you.


By the author’s own admission, wifite is intended to streamline penetration attempts on wireless signals. I’ve done enough with simple signal cracking to know that, at its best, unlocking a network can be a little time-consuming, and require a small measure of expertise.

At its worst, I can only imagine the time and effort it would take. :|

So if you’re mostly uninformed and need a means of getting revenge on your next door neighbor, or if you’re already an expert and just don’t want the hassle of juggling three or four programs, or if you foolishly relinquished your password to the Windows wireless access tool and now you can’t remember what it was … wifite has all the shortcuts for you.

Just about everything with wifite is to my liking. Plenty of information up front, buckets and buckets of color, a menu-driven system and feedback galore. It’s relatively light and relatively easy to work. If you can pick a number off a list, wifite can do the rest.

But success in wireless security, in spite of what Hollywood might tell you, isn’t just a matter of pushing buttons and getting a password. If you don’t know or understand what wifite is doing, then, as the author suggests, you should probably do a little homework first.

So don’t take wifite as some sort of springboard to the elite ranks of wireless crackers. You won’t win any points among the knowledgeable geeks by stealing your ex-girlfriend’s wireless password if you let it be known you used wifite in your criminal escapade.

Find out why it works, how it works and when it works, and then wifite will make more sense when you put it to work.

Tagged: security, wireless

by K.Mandla at November 16, 2014 01:00 PM

One Big Fluke

The final draft of Effective Python is done. Stay tuned for a sneak peak of the book's contents before publication.

by Brett Slatkin ( at November 16, 2014 08:20 AM

Wilfred Hughes::Blog

Editing Julia code (with Emacs!)

I’m a big admirer of the Julia programming language: it’s a fast general-purpose language with a nice syntax, macros, and a decent package manager.

No respectable up-and-coming language should be without good editor support. I’ve been polishing the Emacs mode, and learnt a lot about the language. If you’re writing Julia code, or integrating an editor, this should be interesting to you.

Syntax highlighting

Syntax highlighting is hard, and it’s rather challenging in Julia. We’ll look at some corner cases of syntax highlighting in Julia, so I’ll show code snippets along with screenshots of how this code is currently highlighted in Emacs.

I’ve written a complete Julia syntax highlighting test file which exercises all the different syntactic features of the language. You can use this to test Julia support in your editor of choice.

Highlighting function calls

Julia supports two ways of declaring functions, which the docs describe as ‘basic’ and ‘terse’.

function f(x,y)
    x + y

f(x,y) = x + y

We want to highlight keywords (such as function and end) and to highlight function names (f in this example). This is pretty straightforward: we can write a regular expression that spots either the keyword function or a symbol followed by something roughly like (.*?) =.

We can also define functions in an explicit namespace. This is also straightforward, we just highlight the last symbol after the dot.

function, y)
    x + 1

A function definition may also include type variables. This isn’t too difficult to handle either, we just need to adjust our terse regular expression to step over the curly brackets.

elsize{T}(::AbstractArray{T}) = sizeof(T)

function elsize{T}(::AbstractArray{T})

However, highlighting gets harder with nested brackets.

cell(dims::(Integer...)) = Array(Any, convert((Int...), dims))

At this point, our naive regular expression falls down. We need to count brackets, or write a crude parser. The Emacs editing mode doesn’t yet handle this case.

Macro usage

Highlighting macros is easy. There are some awkward syntactic edge cases but these don’t affect highlighting.

@hello_world! foo

Built-in functions

Julia has a lot of built-in functions. After some discussion, we felt that it wasn’t worth special-casing functions that are keywords in other languages, such as throw and error.

error("foo", bar, "baz")

Strings and characters

Julia has a lovely syntax here, but it takes a little care to highlight correctly.

For characters, Julia uses single quotes, but it also supports ' as an operator. This gives very readable mathematical formulae.

# Characters
x = 'a'
y = '\u0'

# Not characters
a = b' + c'

Julia’s string syntax allows multi-line strings, triple-quoted strings, regular expression literals, byte array literals and (particularly nifty) version number literals.

x = "foo
x = """hello world"""
x = "hello $user"
x = r"foo.*"ismx
x = v"0.1"
x = b"DATA\xff\u2200"

We are handling most of this syntax in the Emacs mode, but it’s not perfect yet. I think we should highlight interpolated values in strings. See my test file for a full set of examples.


Julia’s comment syntax is also very nice. There are single-line and multi-line comments, and they support arbitrary nesting.

# I'm a comment.

#= I'm a 
multi-line comment. =#

#= I'm a #= nested =# comment. =#

Emacs makes it easy for us to support all this different variants, so we’ve supported this for a long time.

Type declarations

You can declare your own types in Julia.

type Foo
immutable Foo

abstract Foo <: Bar

This is mostly a case of knowing all the keywords for type declaration, so it’s straightforward.

The operator <: is particularly tricky. It is used in type declarations to declare subtypes, but it’s also used a boolean operator to see if one value is a subtype of another x <: y. I believe this is impossible to highlight correctly in all cases.

# I can't see how to highlight the first 'T' here.
same_type_numeric{T<:Number}(x::T, y::T) = true

We can cheat by having a full list of built-in types in our highlighting code, so we highlight most subtype declarations correctly.

Type annotations

Julia supports optional type annotations in functions and on variables. These are simple to highlight, but we need to get :: right before dealing with quoted symbols.

f(x::FooBar) = x

function foo()
    local x::Int8 = 5

Variable declarations

Julia has a local keyword which lets you introduce local variable bindings. I’d love to highlight this correctly too.

global x = "hello world", y = 3

let x = 1
    x + 1

function foo()
    local x = 5
    x + 1

This requires parsing to handle correctly, so we don’t handle it yet. We can’t simply look for commas, as there may be arbitrary Julia expressions used.

# 'b' is not declared as a variable here.
global x = foo(a, b), y = 3

Colons and quoting

The hardest part of Julia’s syntax is :. There have also been users confused by this syntax.

# Quoted symbols
x = :foo
y = :function
[1 :foo]

# Not quoted symbols
x = :123
for x=1:foo

I’ve opened a pull request that enables Emacs to handle the most common usages correctly, but this is very hard to get right in all cases.


Finally, Julia has a really neat numeric syntax. It supports all the literals you could possibly want. It also lets you write 2x as a shorthand for 2 * x, which makes many equations in Julia much more similar to a maths textbook.

x = 0x123abcdef
x = 0o7
x = 0b1011
x = 2.5e-4

# Equivalent to '2 * x'
y = 2x

The Emacs mode currently doesn’t highlight these, but we probably should. Some Emacs modes highlight numbers, some don’t, but for a language with a focus on scientific computing, it would make sense to highlight numbers. It’s particularly helpful to help readers see that 2x is two separate symbols.


Julia’s syntax isn’t completely set in stone, but I doubt much of the syntax will change in ways that affect highlighting. The syntax favours readability over simple parsing (a great tradeoff), so writing a highlighter takes some careful thought.

Once you’ve got syntax highlighting working, it’s much easier to handle indentation. I think Emacs’ ability to indent Julia is pretty good (this blog post is plenty long enough without getting into indentation) and this is because it can fairly robustly identify block delimiters for highlighting.

Finally, it’s also desirable to have as-you-type syntax checking and linting. Flycheck will add support for this using Lint.jl as soon as Lint.jl/Julia performance is good enough to run on demand without a persistent process.

If you do encounter a bug with Emacs and Julia, there’s a ‘julia-mode’ issue label to track any bugs.

Happy hacking!

by Wilfred Hughes ( at November 16, 2014 12:00 AM

November 15, 2014

sacha chua :: living an awesome life

Weekly review: Week ending November 14, 2014

I’m going to be out of commission for the next little while, probably resurfacing sometime late December. I’ve scheduled lots of posts in advance (I learned a lot over the past two weeks!), so you’ll still keep reading stuff, but I might be even slower to respond to things and I’ll probably stay close to home. Nothing to worry about, just something I have to take care of. Good thing there’s enough slack in my life for stuff like this.

Blog posts


Focus areas and time review

  • Business (23.2h – 13%)
    • Earn (9.3h – 39% of Business)
      • E1: Plan how I can work from home for the next few weeks
      • Earn: E1: 1-2 days of consulting
    • Build (8.4h – 36% of Business)
      • Set up faster searching with ace-jump, isearch, helm-swoop
      • Drawing (1.4h)
      • Delegation (0.0h)
      • Packaging (0.0h)
      • Paperwork (1.5h)
        • Review bookkeeper feedback for tax return
    • Connect (5.5h – 23% of Business)
      • Coach Lucas on programming
  • Relationships (16.4h – 9%)
    • Follow up on insurance paperwork
  • Discretionary – Productive (15.9h – 9%)
    • Emacs (0.3h – 0% of all)
    • Quantified Awesome
      • Add want interface for groceries
      • Fix edit screen
      • I can restore an item
      • I can clear all crossed-off items
      • I can see when it was last synchronized
      • Our lists are synchronized
    • ER for I2
    • Cancel GICs
    • File insurance claims
    • Find a Japanese plain past tense practice tool
    • Find a Tableau e-book and put it on my laptop/tablet
    • Find an e-book for learning Japanese and put it on my laptop & tablet
    • Go through a Jasmine tutorial
    • Go through a QUnit tutorial
    • Minna no Nihongo Chapter 13-16
    • Move my dentist appointment
    • Set up folder synchronization for my tablet
    • Write about beginner steps for testing
    • Writing (7.5h)
  • Discretionary – Play (12.9h – 7%)
  • Personal routines (24.5h – 14%)
  • Unpaid work (4.5h – 2%)
  • Sleep (70.7h – 42% – average of 10.1 per day)

The post Weekly review: Week ending November 14, 2014 appeared first on sacha chua :: living an awesome life.

by Sacha Chua at November 15, 2014 08:25 PM

Justin Taylor

A New Film on Selma, Alabama (1965), and the Best Thing to Read

I am really looking forward to this new film, Selma, coming out in January 2015:

If you want to do some historical background reading before seeing the movie, you can read the first 200 pages in final volume of Taylor Branch’s fantastic triology, At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68 (currently at bargain price at Amazon—while supplies last, I assume).

by Justin Taylor at November 15, 2014 07:57 PM


A CIDER Unsession at Clojure/conj

I’ll be talking about the evolution of CIDER at the conj, but I won’t be able to show much (in terms of features) during my talk. Luckily, however, beside the talks we also have the option for unsessions. Here’s my proposal for one such unsession…

I’d like to do a more extensive demonstration of the general workflow with CIDER and all the cool things we’ve done recently and I’d also like discuss with our users (and potential users) existing problems, ideas for improvements and the future direction of the project. If you like my idea you can show your support for it here.

Feedback is important and I’d like to get as much as possible to make CIDER better!

November 15, 2014 06:17 PM

A Profiling Extension for CIDER

Edwin Watkeys has just released a profiling extension for CIDER, based on his library profile. The profiling data you’ll get is rather crude, but it’s still better than nothing and is certainly nicer than what you’d get by using time.

Here you can see the extension in action:

Check out the documentation of both projects for more details.

November 15, 2014 06:16 PM

CrossFit Naptown

SWIFT Workout 11.16.14

Death by Front Squats (*Rack or Floor)
15 Minute Max
NOTE****- If put weight down 2 Burpee Penalty

1o Minutes of Suicides

Death by Push Ups (hardest scale)
15 Minute Max




by Coach Jared at November 15, 2014 05:50 PM

The Art of Non-Conformity

Thoughts on Running & Depression from a 30-Mile Canyon Run

They aren’t my thoughts. Even though I like to run and sometimes struggle with depression, these thoughts come from Rob Krar, a new ultrarunner who holds the speed record for the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim run.


“For the longest time I think I was in denial that I had depression, and when I got in these episodes I would be mad at myself … and I would fight it. The biggest change for me was to accept it, recognize that I’m going into the hole, and just embrace it.”


by Chris Guillebeau at November 15, 2014 05:30 PM


hexe: In the flyweight competition

I’ve been holding off on the next hex editor because the last one, dhex, was so impressive that I knew whatever came next wouldn’t stand much of a chance.

Today I’m comfortable showing hexe though, because I think hexe’s claim to fame isn’t split-panel diff viewing with four-directional panning effects. I think it has other praises worth singing.


hexe by default will confine itself to a narrow vertical band that is obviously intended to fit comfortably in an 80×24 terminal space. It does, however, allow you to set the number of columns of hex code, so you can, with a little trial-and-error, stretch hexe to fit your terminal width.

hexe also adopts a very readable color scheme, wisely putting whites on blue and sometimes reversing text for selections. Perhaps that was intentional, or perhaps the author just likes white and blue. ;)

Size is where hexe tends to shine. As you can see on the home page, the code files that make up hexe are barely 4Kb in the Arch version I cobbled together, and the packaged tar.xz file costs me a mere 11Kb of disk space. Installed, yaourt -Qi says it’s 34Kb. I’m comfortable allowing hexe 34K of my hard-earned X-gigabytes, for some fundamental hex editing capabilities.

Memorywise, I notice that the amount reported by tends to vary with the size of the file that’s loaded. I don’t expect that’s uncommon. Just to be fair, opening hexe with no file in an 80×24 terminal emulator shows up as 550Kb on a machine with a gigabyte available. The image you see above required 2.2Mb, and that was a thousand-line file of random words.

So if you are exceptionally tight on memory — exceptionally, like this tight — you might find it more comfortable to fall back on hexe, as opposed to the Cadillac hex editors we’ve seen in past weeks.

hexe keeps most of its key commands on screen. CTRL+T will switch between display modes, if you need another number system to get the job done. I should mention that insert mode occasionally gave me screen artifacts, where columns and data were smudged, even if the file output was clean.

hexe is in AUR, but the source files have been updated and the md5sums in the PKGBUILD are no longer correct. I don’t see hexe in Debian.

And if you think this is the last hex editor I have stashed away, you are sadly mistaken. … ;)

Tagged: editor, file, hex

by K.Mandla at November 15, 2014 01:15 PM

ngincat: Four lines of bash, plus netcat

Sometimes I run across small feats of wizardry that don’t really impress much as a solid and whole application, but are worth mention anyway.

Lonnie sent a note about ngincat, a tiny http server written in bash around netcat.


It’s not bulletproof, it’s not secure and probably not a great idea outside your home network or maybe as an intra-office gizmo. But doggone it, that’s pretty darned cool for four lines of bash.

And in part it’s no surprise, since netcat is only the ultra-wickedest network tool out there, save maybe socat or nmap.

As for a true case use, I’ll see if I can combine this with vee, and end up with the leanest functional in-house blogging site known to man. And I’ll surf it with the world’s smallest graphical browser, just to be sassy. ;)

Tagged: http, server, web

by K.Mandla at November 15, 2014 01:00 PM

Zondervan Academic Blog

Extracurricular Activities 11.15.14 — Hebrews vs. Hellenists, Suicide and the Bible, & Sexual Orientation

Larry Hurtado Explores the Dubious Divide between “Hebrews” and “Hellenists”

It is a curiously widespread assumption that there was some major theological divide in the Jerusalem Jesus-movement (church) between the “Hebrews” and the “Hellenists,” but that is also a dubious assumption, as shown some time ago now in an important (but often overlooked) study: Craig C. Hill, Hellenists and Hebrews: Reappraising Division Within the Earliest Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992). One reviewer (James W. Thompson) wrote: “The scholarly world will learn from this book that we can no longer speak of the radical division between the Hebrews and the Hellenists.” It would appear, however, that the lesson is still to be disseminated and absorbed.

Scot McKnight on Reinhold Niebuhr and Christian Realism

Who is the most influential American theologian of the 20th Century? In some circles the name Charles Hodge (Princeton) or BB Warfield would immediately be mentioned, though Hodge is a 19th Century theologian with a 20th Century influence. Others might say Walter Rauschenbusch, but in his book The Journey of Modern Theology, Roger Olson probably gets it right with this:

Ben Witherington Explores a Biblical View of Suicide

The recent case of Britanny Maynard and her move to Oregon in order to commit physician assisted (or at least physician plus drugs assisted) suicide, has reopened the debate about what we should think about suicide in general, and doctors willing to violate their Hippocratic oath to assist others in committing suicide. I am not here concerned with the debate in the larger culture, but rather would want to talk about whether Christians should, under any circumstances, be in favor of such a thing, perhaps as a lesser of two evils solution to a problem, as seems to have been suggested in a recent blog post on this very website, Patheos. I would like to list several major reasons why Christians should not be endorsing such a practice at all.

Al Mohler Shares His Change on Sexual Orientation View

As I explained in my address, I had previously denied the existence of sexual orientation. I, along with many other evangelicals, did so because we did not want to accept the sexual identity structure that so often goes with sexual orientation. I still reject that notion of sexual identity. But I repented of denying the existence of sexual orientation because denying it was deeply confusing to people struggling with same-sex attraction. Biblical Christians properly resist any suggestion that our will can be totally separated from sexual desire, but we really do understand that the will is not a sufficient explanation for a pattern of sexual attraction. Put simply, most people experiencing a same-sex attraction tell of discovering it within themselves at a very early age, certainly within early puberty. As they experience it, a sexual attraction or interest simply “happens,” and they come to know it.

The Rise of Christianity in China

Perhaps most surprising, given its status as a “foreign” religion and its close association with an earlier era of gunboats and imperialism, Christianity (particularly the Protestant variety) has been the big winner in the competition for Chinese souls. If it continues to spread at its current pace, the country is very likely to be home to the world’s largest Christian population within the next 15 years. For China’s authoritarian leaders, who despise and fear any force not under their direct control, this seemingly unstoppable trend is very disturbing.


Extra-Curricular Activities is a weekly roundup of stories on biblical interpretation, theology, and issues where faith and culture meet. We found each story interesting, thought-provoking, challenging, or useful in some way – but we don’t necessarily agree with or endorse every point in every story.

If you have any comments on these stories, we welcome you to share them here. We hope you enjoy!

–The Editors of Zondervan Academic Blog

by Jeremy Bouma at November 15, 2014 12:00 PM

Greg Mankiw's Blog

Elmendorf for CBO Director

Roll Call speculates about who the next director of the Congressional Budget Office might be. This is a key decision facing the newly elected GOP-controlled Congress. After giving a talk at CBO on Thursday and participating in its Academic Advisers Panel on Friday, I am reminded how impressive the CBO staff is and how important the institution is to the policy process. (FYI, my own affiliation with CBO dates back to the summer of 1978, when I was an intern there.)

So who should the next CBO director be? There are a lot of reputable economists on the Roll Call list. Many are friends of mine. All things considered, however, I believe there is a clear choice: Doug Elmendorf.

Someone recently said to me that the CBO director is not really a player in the political game. He is more like the referee. That analogy sheds light on why Doug is the right person for the job. What do you want in a good referee? Competence and impartiality. Doug has demonstrated both. He is a superb economist and, over the past six years as CBO director, has shown himself to be scrupulously non-partisan.

I understand that GOP leaders may be tempted to put their own stamp on the Congressional Budget Office. But sometimes the benefits of continuity transcend ideology and political affiliation. Ronald Reagan reappointed Paul Volcker, and Barack Obama reappointed Ben Bernanke, despite the fact that both Fed chairs were initially appointed by a president of the other party. In the same spirit, I would encourage the GOP congressional leaders to reappoint Doug Elmendorf as CBO director.

by Greg Mankiw ( at November 15, 2014 10:45 AM

John C. Wright's Journal » John C. Wright's Journal

Scientist Lands a Probe On a Speeding Comet and Feminists Shriek About His Shirt

If I wrote this in a parody SFF story, no editor would buy it. It is too far beyond belief.

Feminists: We need to fight negative stereotypes like women caring more about fashion than science.
Comet? What comet? EEEK! LOOK AT THAT SHIRT!! Some big, strong man, HAAALP! Protect me from seeing that shirt. Eek! Eek!

Dr. Matt Taylor is a freaking hero, okay? We should do like the crowd at the end of the movie V FOR VENDETTA and all of us, each and every man in America, buy the same shirt. And the Guy Fawkes mask.

(Hurray for Catholic spies blowing up heretic kings with gunpowder! Why anarchist Alan Moore or the dunderheads of Anonymous picked our icon for his ideal, I have no idea.)

I think this is the shirt. Please let a sharp eyed reader can correct me if it is not.

And the young lady who sewed it makes this comment ( and says she has set up this account for people who want to buy from her:

They are sold out at the moment. Buy one for Matt Taylor! Buy one for the comet! Buy one for Guy Fawkes!

Below the cut is the picture of me in my shirt. Yes, this is exactly what all faithful Catholics dress like. Every day.

gunner girl for vendetta

A word of warning:

Anyone who makes the comment in the remarks below that this shirt was tasteless or unprofessional for a public appearance will be deleted without warning or remark. Shut the full cup, as folks less polite than I are wont to say. You well know, or should well know, that this is not the issue here.

The issue is this: The termagants, bullies, and harridan harpies who vexed this weakling to the point of tears, on the day which was his triumphant crowning achievement and should have been the happiest of his life, they are not modest Christian women objecting to a tasteless shirt, nor are they scientists worried that their profession create a dignified public appearance.

The harpies crap on the feast. That is their role. That is who they are.

They are filth, pure and simple. Don’t give them any cover or concealment by making their madness sound sane.

If you thought his shirt was tasteless, then land a flying interplanetary probe on your own comet first, jerkmouth, and you can wear a godzilla-dam mothra-flocking neon TUXEDO with saint Catherine wheel epaulettes and twin buttock rockets up the tails for your news conference, if you like. Until your accomplishments in life match his, shut your odious, oleaginous, obnoxious trap.

It was his lucky shirt. Given to him by his lady. He just did something no one else his history has ever done, ever.

For now, applaud. Just applaud. Don’t be petty.

by John C Wright at November 15, 2014 06:05 AM

Englewood Christian Church: We Blog! » ERB

ERB Weekly Digest – C.S. Lewis, Anne Lamott, Theology Kindle Bargains – November 14, 2014


Kindle ebook bargain! Only $2.99!
The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis by Alan Jacobs


*** I’ve been traveling for most of this week, so there’s fewer posts than usual.  We should be back to normal next week…



Reviews, etc. posted this week on The Englewood Review of Books website:

  • Anne Lamott – Small Victories [Excerpt]
    An excerpt from Anne Lamott’s brand new book… Small Victories: Spotting Improbable moments of GraceAnne Lamott Hardback: Riverhead, 2014. Buy now: [ ] “An essay collection that tackles tough subjects with sensitive and unblinking honesty…Lamott is refreshingly frank…[and] has the rare ability to weave bracing humor seamlessly with earnest, Christian faith.” —Publishers Weekly

  • Theology Ebook Sale from HarperOne!
    In honor of the upcoming American Academy of Religion conference, HarperOne is making these important theology ebooks available for $2.99 each!!! Prices good through Nov 21… Sorry, the publisher has limited this sale to the United States.   *** $2.99 By Diana Butler Bass *** $2.99 By Miroslav Volf *** $2.99 By N.T. Wright *** […]

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by csmith at November 15, 2014 04:08 AM

JB's Circuit

Review of Jama, ARM Techcon and TSMC OIP Shows

October issues of the “Silicon Valley High-Tech Traveler Log” – with Sean O’Kane and John Blyler

Three events from TSMC, ARM and JAMA Software highlight the breadth and depth of IP development that (hopefully) results in manual-less consumer apps.

A few week’s ago, I attended three shows -  Jama’s Software Product Delivery SummitTSMC’s Open Innovation Platform (OIP) and ARM’s Techcon. While each event was markedly different there was an unintentional common thread, i.e., all three dealt with the interplay between hardware and software IP systems – albeit on different levels of the supply chain.

Each of these shows characterized that interplay in different ways. For TSMC, it was a focus on deep semiconductor manufacturing-related IP. Conversely, Jama Software dealt with product delivery issues for which embedded hardware and application software played a major role. Embedded software on boards running the company’s flagship processors and ecosystem IP hardware peripherals was the focus at the ARM Techcon. Why are these various instantiations of IP important?

Read the rest of the story at: IP-Based Technology without Manuals?







by jblyler at November 15, 2014 12:01 AM

November 14, 2014

Front Porch Republic

Some Permanent Things In Print


In an endnote to The Idea of a Christian Society, T.S. Eliot makes this categorical claim: Conservatism is too often conservation of the wrong things: liberalism a relaxation of discipline; revolution a denial of the permanent things. Ours is an…

Read Full Article...

The post Some Permanent Things In Print appeared first on Front Porch Republic.

by James Matthew Wilson at November 14, 2014 10:35 PM

Weekend Reading



  • Uber’s Next Billion-Dollar Financing Could Be A Convertible Debt Round: {TechCrunch}
  • Baidu’s CFO on the future of search:
  • The Founder’s Guide To Selling Your Company:
  • Need a Loan? Let’s Look at Your LinkedIn Profile First.
  • Americans’ Cellphones Targeted in Secret U.S. Spy Program: {WSJ}
  • Introducing data center fabric, the next-generation Facebook data center network (already allowing Facebook to increase its intra-building network capacity ten-fold with 50x improvement possible): {FB Engineering Blog}




Venture Capital


by Jason Spinell at November 14, 2014 10:12 PM

Jon Udell

The Nelson diaspora

This will be our first winter in California. I won’t miss New Hampshire’s snow and ice. But I’ll sure miss our regular Friday night gatherings with friends in Keene. And on Monday nights my thoughts will turn to the village of Nelson, eleven miles up the road. There, for longer than anyone knows, people have been playing fiddle tunes and celebrating a great contra dance tradition. On a cold winter night, when the whirling bodies of the dancers warm up the old town hall, it’s magical.

Gordon Peery, who for decades has accompanied the dancers on piano, once lent me a DVD documentary about the Nelson contra dance tradition. In a scene filmed at the Newport Folk Festival in the mid-1960s, the Nelson contra dancers appeared on the same stage as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. I had no idea!

Here’s a video of a couple of minutes during a typical Monday night dance. To most people who don’t know the building, or the village, or the people, or the tunes, or the tradition that’s stayed vibrant there for so many years, it won’t mean much to you. To a few, though, it will resonate powerfully. That’s because Nelson, NH is the origin of a contra dance diaspora that spread across the country.

Although we aren’t contra dancers, we visited from time to time just to savor the experience. Then, a few years ago, in search of musical companionship, I began attending the jam that precedes the dance. There, beginning and intermediate musicians to learn how to play the dance tunes, mainly ones collected in these two books:

The Waltz Book opens with a tune written by Bob McQuillen, who played piano at the Nelson dance decades until his death in early 2014. And the book closes with a tune by Niel Gow, the Scottish fiddler who died in 1807.

The Waltz Book also includes a couple of Jay Ungar tunes, including Ashokan Farewell. Most people think it’s a tune from the Civil War. In fact Jay Ungar wrote it in 1982, and it became famous in 1990 as the theme of Ken Burns’ documentary about the Civil War.

The New England Fiddler’s Repertoire might also have included a mix of recent and traditional tunes. Instead it restricts itself to “established tunes” — some attributed to composers from the 1700s or 1800s, others anonymous. But it’s full of reminders that people have never stopped dancing to those traditional tunes. Here’s the footnote to Little Judique:

February 12. Played for a Forestry Meet dance in a barn with a sawdust floor at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. The temperature was 15 degrees below zero.

- Randy Miller, dance journal, 1978

As I page through these books now, and continue to learn to play the tunes in them, I’m grateful to have lived in a place where they were celebrated so well, and to have participated (in a small way) in that celebration. How will I continue that here? I don’t know yet, but I’m sure I’ll find a way.

by Jon Udell at November 14, 2014 10:05 PM

CrossFit 204: Winnipeg, Canada

What’s He Building in There?

"He's been pounding nails into a hardwood floor."

“He’s been pounding nails into a hardwood floor.”

With that hook light on the stairs,
What’s he building in there?
I tell you one thing, he’s not building a playhouse for the children …
What’s he building in there?
We have a right to know.

–Tom Waits

Soundtrack: What’s He Building in There?

Many of you have asked about Coach Brett’s construction project in the front lobby, and we can confirm it is not another pull-up rig or squat rack. It is also not the beginning of our long-promised rooftop patio, spa and water slide.

Brett’s actually moving the change rooms into the main lobby to make better use of our space, and we’re converting the back room into a studio for massage and physiotherapy.

The goal, as always, is to keep offering more to our members, and many people have told us they’d love to have more services located in one place to save them a trip elsewhere. We’re planning to connect with care providers and professionals who understand what we’re doing in the gym and can help our members take care of themselves and improve their health.

We’ve got the fitness end covered already, but now we want to place added emphasis on elements that support and optimize fitness: rehab, prehab, restorative work, mobility improvement, and so on. Our yoga program is also a part of that.

Stay tuned for more specific details to come shortly, as well as details on our upcoming lecture series.

Also, expect things to get a whole lot brighter in the main gym. We’re doing the lights shortly as well.

And now you know just what he’s building in there.

by Mike at November 14, 2014 09:53 PM

John C. Wright's Journal » John C. Wright's Journal

No newspapermen did his job, no, not one

Neo-neocon writes:

I wondered who had found those videos of Gruber, and someone has covered that story, too. It’s a great one:

Rich Weinstein is not a reporter. He does not have a blog. Until this week, the fortysomething’s five-year old Twitter account had a follower count in the low double digits…

Weinstein dates his accidental citizen journalism back to the end of 2013 and the first run of insurance cancellations or policy changes. He was among the people who got a letter informing him that his old policy did not meet ACA standards.

“When Obama said ‘If you like your plan, you can keep your plan, period’—frankly, I believed him,” says Weinstein. “He very often speaks with qualifiers. When he said ‘period,’ there were no qualifiers. You can understand that when I lost my own plan, and the replacement cost twice as much, I wasn’t happy. So I’m watching the news, and at that time I was thinking: Hey, the administration was not telling people the truth, and the media was doing nothing!”

So Weinstein, new plan in hand, started watching the news. “These people were showing up on the shows, calling themselves architects of the law,” he recalls. “I saw David Cutler, Zeke Emanuel, Jonathan Gruber, people like that. I wondered if these guys had some type of paper trail. So I looked into what Dr. Cutler had said and written, and it was generally all about cost control. After I finished with Cutler, I went to Dr. Gruber. I assume I went through every video, every radio interview, every podcast. Every everything.”

Read the post:

by John C Wright at November 14, 2014 09:15 PM

Pale Moon and Firefox

I switched to Pale Moon immediately after Firefox forced its CEO out of office on the grounds that he once made a contribution to a pro-Prop 8 group. But I did not set my browser to register my pageviews as non-Firefox views. I saw these instructions today on my publisher’s site, and I here reprint them, if you are in a like situation:

Fortunately, it is trivially simple to turn this off and cause the browser to correctly report itself as PaleMoon.

Create a new tab.
Type “about:config” into the Address Bar as if it were an internet site (URL).
Type “compatMode” into the Search box that will appear right below the Address Bar.
On the line general.useragent.compatMode.firefox there are three settings: user set, boolean, true. Click on “true” and it will change to false.
Close the tab.

That’s it. Web sites will no longer incorrectly attribute your pageviews to Firefox. This is important, because Firefox’s only real value is in its brand, and as the number of reported Firefox users continues to fall, Google’s rationale for propping up Mozilla is reduced as well.

by John C Wright at November 14, 2014 09:00 PM

Feed: » stratechery by Ben Thompson

Podcast: Exponent Episode 025 – Twitter and Taylor

On the newest episode of Exponent, the podcast I co-host with James Allworth:

We discuss Twitter and its strategic options, as well as YouTube’s new music service, Taylor Swift and Spotify, plus the special return of the garbage truck song.


  • Twitter Sharpens Its Strategy to Win Over Investors – Wall Street Journal
  • Ben Thompson: There are Two Twitters; Only One is Worth Investing In – Stratechery
  • Ben Thompson: Twitter’s Marketing Problem – Stratechery
  • Daniel Ek: $2 Billion and Counting – Spotify
  • Taylor Swift: For Taylor Swift, the Future of Music Is a Love Story – Wall Street Journal
  • Ben Thompson: What Taylor Swift Gets Right – Stratechery (members-only)

Listen to the episode here

Podcast Information: Feed | iTunes | SoundCloud | Twitter | Feedback

The post Podcast: Exponent Episode 025 – Twitter and Taylor appeared first on stratechery by Ben Thompson.

by Ben Thompson at November 14, 2014 08:53 PM

CrossFit Naptown

Open Gym 11am – 1pm

Come in today and work on some Mobility, Skills, or make up a WOD from this week.
See you here today!




Every think to yourself… How should I sleep? 

by Coach Jared at November 14, 2014 08:48 PM

HERO WOD – Bring Warm Clothes




7 rounds for time of:
11 deficit handstand push-ups
1,000-meter run




U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Thomas “Ozzy” Crowell, 36, of Neosho, Missouri, died Nov. 1, 2007, near Balad Air Base in Iraq. The special agent for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Detachment 301 at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois sustained wounds from an improvised explosive device that struck his vehicle. Crowell is survived by his wife, Carol; two sons, Eric and Ian; and his mother, Peggy Whipp.







CARPOOL: Will be meeting at CrossFit NapTown parking lot at 8:15am.

The caravan/carpool will be leaving at 8:30am as we must be there NO LATER than 9am to receive proper instructions.

If you will be arriving straight to Gleaners please be there no later than 9am.
NOTE: It is a 20 minute drive from CFNT!

by Coach Jared at November 14, 2014 08:37 PM

SWIFT Workout 11.15.14

Partner WOD:
3 Rounds
500M Row/ Max Wall Balls
80M Sprint/ Hold Barbell in Overhead Position
40M OH Walking Lunges/ Max One Arm Dumbbell Snatch



by Coach Jared at November 14, 2014 08:30 PM

The Frailest Thing

Reframing Technological Phenomena

I’d not ever heard of Michael Heim until I stumbled upon his 1987 book, Electric Language: A Philosophical Study of Word Processing, at a used book store a few days ago; but, after reading the Introduction, I’m already impressed by the concerns and methodology that inform his analysis.

Yesterday, I passed along his defense of philosophizing about a technology at the time of its appearance. It is at this juncture, he explains, before the technology has been rendered an ordinary feature of our everyday experience, that it is uniquely available to our thinking. And it is with our ability to think about technology that Heim is chiefly concerned in his Introduction. Without too much additional comment on my part, I want to pass along a handful of excerpts that I found especially valuable.

Here is Heim’s discussion of reclaiming phenomena for philosophy. By this I take it that he means learning to think about cultural phenomena, in this case technology, without leaning on the conventional framings of the problem. It is a matter of learning to see the phenomena for what it is by first unseeing the a variety of habitual perspectives.

“By taking over pregiven problems, an illusion is created that cultural phenomena are understood philosophically, while in fact certain narrow conventional assumptions are made about what the problem is and what alternate solutions to it might be. Philosophy is then confused with policy, and the illumination of phenomena is exchanged for argumentation and debate [....] Reclaiming the phenomena for philosophy today means not assuming that a phenomenon has been perceived philosophically unless it has first been transformed thoroughly by reflection; we cannot presume to perceive a phenomenon philosophically if it is merely taken up ready-made as the subject of public debate. We must first transform it thoroughly by a reflection that is remote from partisan political debate and from the controlled rhetoric of electronic media. Nor can we assume we have grasped a phenomenon by merely locating its relationship to our everyday scientific mastery of the world. The impact of cultural phenomena must be taken up and reshaped by speculative theory.”

At one point, Heim offered some rather prescient anticipations of the future of writing and computer technology:

“Writing will increasingly be freed from the constraints of paper-print technology; texts will be stored electronically, and vast amounts of information, including further texts, will be accessible immediately below the electronic surface of a piece of writing. The electronically expanding text will no longer be constrained by paper as the telephone and the microcomputer become more intimately conjoined and even begin to merge. The optical character reader will scan and digitize hard-copy printed texts; the entire tradition of books will be converted into information on disk files that can be accessed instantly by computers. By connecting a small computer to a phone, a professional will be able to read ‘books’ whose footnotes can be expanded into further ‘books’ which in turn open out onto a vast sea of data bases systemizing all of human cognition. The networking of written language will erode the line between private and public writings.”

And a little later on, Heim discusses the manner in which we ordinarily (fail to) apprehend the technologies we rely on to make our way in the world:

“We denizens of the late twentieth century are seldom aware of our being embedded in systematic mechanisms of survival. The instruments providing us with technological power seldom appear directly as we carry out the personal tasks of daily life. Quotidian survival brings us not so much to fear autonomous technological systems as to feel a need to acquire and use them. During most of our lives our tools are not problematic–save that we might at a particular point feel need for or lack of a particular technical solution to solve a specific human problem. Having become part of our daily needs, technological systems seem transparent, opening up a world where we can do more, see more, and achieve more.

Yet on occasion we do transcend this immersion in the technical systems of daily life. When a technological system threatens our physical life or threatens the conditions of planetary life, we then turn to regard the potential agents of harm or hazard. We begin to sense that the mechanisms which previously provided, innocently as it were, the conditions of survival are in fact quasi-autonomous mechanisms possessing their own agency, an agency that can drift from its provenance in human meanings and intentions.”

In these last two excerpts, Heim describes two polarities that tend to frame our thinking about technology.

“In a position above the present, we glimpse hopefully into the future and glance longingly at the past. We see how the world has been transformed by our creative inventions, sensing–more suspecting than certain–that it is we who are changed by the things we make. The ambivalence is resolved when we revert to one or another of two simplistic attitudes: enthusiastic depiction of technological progress or wholesale distress about the effects of a mythical technology.”


“Our relationship to technological innovations tends to be so close that we either identify totally with the new extensions of ourselves–and then remain without the concepts and terms for noticing what we risk in our adaption to a technology–or we react so suspiciously toward the technology that we are later engulfed by the changes without having developed critical countermeasures by which to compensate for the subsequent losses in the life of the psyche.”

Heim practices what he preaches. His book is divided into three major sections: Approaching the Phenomenon, Describing the Phenomenon, and Evaluating the Phenomenon. The three chapters of the first section are “designed to gain some distance,” to shake loose the ready-made assumptions so as to clearly perceive the technological phenomenon in question. And this he does by framing word processing within longstanding trajectories of historical and philosophical of inquiry. Only then can the work of description and analysis begin. Finally, this analysis grounds our evaluations. That, it seems, to me is a useful model for our thinking about technology.

(P.S. Frankenstein blogging should resume tomorrow.)

by Michael Sacasas at November 14, 2014 08:14 PM

John C. Wright's Journal » John C. Wright's Journal

Much Needed Moral Clarity from Sarah Hoyt

Sarah Hoyt writes about the nature of Utopianism, and gives reasons why the the Utopian revolution, mean to turn men into angels, always end up turning them into devils. She explains a point which always confounded me, namely, why there is a strong streak of sadism in Leftism, when the individual Leftists themselves seem mild and meek and cowardly to the point of masochism. I am grateful for the illumination.

Read the whole thing, by all means.

But here is a sample:

Revolutions like the US, which changed governance but didn’t presume to change the way people worked, in their minds and hearts, don’t turn into cannibal feasts. OTOH revolutions like the French, where people descended/aspired to changing the names of the weekdays and the months, in order to construct a completely different humanity, inevitably end up in a pile of blood-soaked corpses.

So do revolutions like the Russian and the Chinese, and others.

The difference is this: these revolutions make functioning as a normal human a crime. This requires changing your very thoughts and the way you process reality. And they presume to divine from your smallest actions, your most casual lapses, that you have commited a thought-crime.

This, of course, requires special people who can look into the actions and every day assumptions of others and tell them where they went wrong.

The process is bad enough when done by a minister or another nominally trained person. (I am not talking here of ministers in normal denominations, who are usually trained and don’t want to remake humanity, just get it to behave a little better.) In extreme cases, it creates Jim Jones. It is nightmarish when done by the left, which means it is done by people given power and authority to do this by the grace of totally arbitrary characteristics: where they were born/when/what pigmentation their skin has/what happens to be between their legs/whom they like to sleep with. This is not an exhaustive list, but it should give you an idea that none of these attributes is magical, and none of them should confer the authority to discern and judge the secrets of other’s hearts.

But the SJWs believe it does. They believe someone who is born with more victim cards, even if the person was in fact born very wealthy and never experienced a day’s hardship, immediately can judge them and tell them when they’re exhibiting “privilege” which is a taint that attaches to other seemingly arbitrary characteristics, no matter how poor or downtrodden people born with them are.

This sets them up to be abused in exactly the way that Synova describes. Worse, it sets them up to join the mob and wail for the blood of innocent people in whom one of these “anointed ones” discerned guilt. Not to do so, might mean they were tainted with the guilt themselves, after all.

By this process, they saddle themselves with psychopaths as leaders (yeah, some of the anointed ones are merely true believers, but that kind of power inevitably attracts psychopaths and sadists) and make any organization, place, country or government they take over into hell on Earth, instead of the utopia they imagine.

The state of irrationality is demonstrated by the commenter who thought I was RH because of our “similar rhetoric.” There are in fact not even mild similarities between an extreme leftist and myself. BUT both of us made him feel pain. So, therefore we are similar and possibly the same.

That means the commenter had the ability to think/react/avoid pain of a nematode, if that high.

I would enjoin those people caught in the vortex of accusation/appeasement/abasement to take a good look at what they’re doing.

A society where the rules have to be divined by special individuals (no? Would any rational human being think of “lady” as an insult, till the SJWs declared it so?) is not conducive to liberty. It’s not conducive to kindness. It’s damaging to the ability to think.

In the end it makes you animals, joining a mob to avoid being killed.

I suggest if you are caught in it, or suspect you might be, that you re-read Animal Farm.

Oddly enough, I recognize that name of the blogger who, on James Nicoll’s site, accuses Sarah Hoyt of being Requires Hate. He used to leave fewmets regularly on my blog. Since his comments were routinely toward the Nutbag side of the Nutbag-to-Sadist spectrum of Leftwing politics, I would have assumed it far more likely than he himself is Requires Hate than any otherwise.

by John C Wright at November 14, 2014 07:00 PM

eighty-twenty news

Postfix authentication isn't general enough

I want to set up Postfix SMTP authentication so I have two different passwords to authenticate with: one main one that gives me access to both SMTP and IMAP, for my own use with trusted clients, and a separate one that gives me the ability to send messages via SMTP only, and that will not work for IMAP.

The reason is that gmail will not let me send mail as an auxiliary mail identity through its own SMTP servers anymore, and requires a username and password to authenticate itself to my own SMTP servers. Since I’m unhappy giving gmail my main email password, I decided a second gmail-specific password would be a good idea.

This turns out to be difficult.

Postfix will authenticate either against Dovecot, or using Cyrus-SASL. Cyrus-SASL can talk to a number of things, and one of them is a SQL database, but it won’t let you use crypt for the passwords stored in the database. That’s a showstopper there. The other alternative is to back Cyrus-SASL with PAM, but that involves figuring out PAM. Painful, and another link in the (already long) chain: Postfix → Cyrus-SASL → PAM → Database.

I’ve asked on the Freenode #cyrus channel about the possibility of getting a patch for crypted SQL-database passwords accepted, but no replies yet.

There are a couple of patches out there that get close to what I want; the best (but still not quite right) is this one. It needs work to support other crypt schemes and to extract salt properly.

Perhaps I will give in and learn how to configure PAM…

Update: At the suggestion of the kind people on #cyrus, I’ve decided instead to set up a separate account on my email server for gmail to log into, and simply forward any mail that’s delivered there (by accident, presumably) to my main account.

by tonyg at November 14, 2014 06:49 PM

Doc Searls WeblogDoc Searls Weblog »

Summer vs. School

This was me in the summer of ’53, between Kindergarten and 1st Grade, probably in July, the month I turned six years old:

1953_07_paradiseI’m the one with the beer.

And this was me in 1st Grade, Mrs. Heath’s class:

Grade_1I’m in the last row by the aisle with my back against the wall, looking lost, which I was.

Some kids are good at school. I sucked at it until my junior year in college. That was when I finally grokked a rule: Find what the teachers want, and give them more than that. When I shared this insight with my wife, she said “I figured that out in the third grade.” She remembered sitting in class at her Catholic grade school, watching the nun go on about something, pointing her pencil at the nun and saying to her eight-year-old self, “I can work with this.” Which she did, earning top grades and blowing through UCLA in just three years before going on to a brilliant career in business.

Don’t get me wrong. I learned a lot in school — probably just as much as the other kids, and maybe more than most because I read a lot and was curious about approximately everything (which is still the case). I also enjoyed hanging with friends and doing what kids did. But I hated the schooling itself: the seven lessons teachers were paid to deliver

  1. Confusion
  2. Class position
  3. Indifference
  4. Emotional dependency
  5. Intellectual dependency
  6. Provisional self-esteem
  7. Submission to authority

But Summer was paradise.

One big credit for that goes to Grandma Searls, whose birthday is today. She’s top left in the first photo, which was shot at her house in the woods in what’s now Brick, New Jersey. (Back then it was still in the Pine Barrens — a more delightful region than the name suggests.) If Grandma was still around, she’d be 132 years old. (She died in 1990 at nearly 108.) She was our family matriarch, without the regalities, and one of the world’s most loving and welcoming people. Gatherings like the one above were constant and wonderful, all summer long.

I also want to give a big hat tip to Nancy Gurney, one of the other faces in the back of the room in the second photo. Nancy has put together this Bogota High School site for our graduating class: 1965. I didn’t go to Bogota, but I did go to Maywood elementary and junior high schools, which fed into Bogota High back in those days. When I look back at the old photos on the site (of which the second above is one), only fun memories come back.

by Doc Searls at November 14, 2014 05:27 PM

Front Porch Republic

Playing With Turtles


Spring Arbor, MI

(Editor’s note: Like any real front porch, FPR seeks to be a place where children are valued and welcome. Much of what we do seeks the seriousness of a child at play. This is, to my knowledge, the first piece we’ve published where the prominent voice is a young child. I am confident readers will find it as charming, and as worthy of being of being part of a conversation on a porch, as I did.)

Berry, Wendell. Terrapin. Illustrated by Tom Pohrt. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2014. $25.

Children are often our most honest and astute critics—whether we want them to be or not. They have an uncanny ability to sense our needs, to reduce our imagined complexities into the simplicities they actually are, to  encourage us that life is good, and to remind us that there is beauty in recovering a childlike vision for the world. The brightness of such a childlike vision cuts through the shadow of our adult familiarity, inviting us to see the world as it could be, not merely as it is.

We can be thankful that in 1936 Stanley Unwin had the foresight to trust children as shrewd readers and judges of children’s books, employing his ten-year-old son, Rayner, to read and compose a report on J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Rayner wrote,

“Bilbo Baggins was a Hobbit who lived in his Hobbit hole and never went for adventures, at last Gandalf the wizard and his Dwarves persuaded him to go. He had a very exiting [sic] time fighting goblins and wargs. At last they get to the lonely mountain; Smaug, the dragon who guards it is killed and after a terrific battle with the goblins he returned home — rich! This book, with the help of maps, does not need any illustrations it is good and should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 and 9.

That Rayner’s review of The Hobbit remains part of the prelude to the story of Tolkien’s literary legacy is poignant in its own right; yet, it also serves as inspiration for what my eight-year-old son Owen and I offer here: a co-written review of Terrapin for young and old alike.

When I learned that Terrapin would be released this fall, I pre-ordered the text before I knew what I was getting myself into—because those of us who are drawn to the works of Wendell Berry often purchase any work that bears his name; I hope that’s a forgivable flaw. I was surprised, though, when I read the blurb online (which can also be found on the inside of the front dust-jacket) and found that Terrapin was a collaborative effort—not solely the work of Wendell Berry. The book is, in fact, the fruit of the co-labor of award winning illustrator Tom Pohrt, seasoned book designer David Bullen (a longtime collaborator with Jack Shoemaker, Editorial Director of Counterpoint Press), and the poems of Wendell Berry. The impetus for the work was Tom Pohrt’s, and he “spent years gathering those poems of Wendell Berry’s he imagined children might read and appreciate, making sketches to accompany his selection.” But it is over the last few years that Pohrt and Berry began a dialogue “in which the poet [came] to advise the illustrator on the natural history of the animals and the plants seen so intimately in the poems”—a dialogue which culminated in Terrapin.

I was struck by Terrapin’s claim to be a collection of poems accompanied by illustrations that would appeal to and be appreciated by children because, though Berry’s poetry has likely been called many things, it was hard for me to imagine them as “child-friendly.” My hesitation at this claim was not because Berry’s poems are inappropriate for children, but because they are weighty, complicated, and thoughtful—not exactly the sorts of attributes we assign to children’s literature (not, at least, if we hope to raise happy children).

Let me say from the outset that I am glad to have been proven quite wrong in my hesitation. Having recalled the story of Rayner Unwin’s involvement in vetting The Hobbit, I thought it might be good to test the claim that this is a book for children by reviewing it with my son. I asked him if he would be interested in reading the poems and engaging the illustrations with me—he was happy to do so. But lest you think Owen does this sort of thing on a regular basis, I should say a bit about him. Owen is our eldest, an eight-year-old boy who doesn’t stand out in a crowd. He’s not particularly precocious (I give you my word!): he likes playing soccer, creating in Minecraft, has to be told to hang his coat up and put his shoes away, and has already established a small group of friends who are really very good boys, even if they are moved by a sort of humor most of us adults grow out of. He is, though, a voracious reader, and has been encouraged by his teacher to pursue good and challenging books. He reads so much that we often cannot get him to put his books down—even at the dinner table. And though his taste in reading is wide-ranging, from fantasy to mystery to adventure, he is already drawn to good writing and is beginning to form opinions about which books he reads are good or bad and why he imagines they are such.

Owen and I sat down on two different occasions in the last week to read Terrapin; the first was on a Saturday, and the second was in the evening on a school day. Our Saturday session went more smoothly than the school day one, mostly because he was tired at the end of a long day of work. Our plan was simple: I asked him to begin with the cover and to move to the first poem, observing as he went. When we got to the first illustration and poem, I asked him to read each poem aloud, after which we would discuss what he thought of the poem and illustration together. Owen has never read poetry that isn’t singsongy and childish—so I was surprised when he was able, with almost no help, to read through the poems in the collection with ease (below we’ve included three recordings of Owen reading); he did not hesitate at the frequent enjambments and only needed help when he came to the few words he did not know—a testament to the clarity of each poem’s content and the appropriateness of the vocabulary level throughout.

As Owen began to ruminate on each poem and illustration, I sat next to him with my computer and typed, verbatim, what he said. We’ve decided, in this review that, for the sake of truth to writing, I would not edit what Owen said beyond adding context and brief clarifications—his words stand on their own as a testament to the beauty and power of Terrapin to call out profound observations from a thoughtful child. Therefore, what we offer now is a glimpse at a handful of poems and illustrations that particularly moved Owen, some for their humor, some for their beauty.

Perhaps Owen’s favorite poem of the collection was “A Squirrel.” When he turned to the page, he said to the rest of the family, “I want you guys to hear this one! It’s funny!!!” As he read the poem aloud, he laughed when he got to “Some hairs were missing from his tail / Where a hawk just barely missed a meal.” He was quick to point out how well the illustration added to the joy of the poem. When I asked him why he liked the poem and illustration so much, he said it was because “it has a hint of funniness and action,” and “because in the picture the squirrel’s standing on the tree showing his tail that is bare, he’s looking surprised, like he had no idea what just happened.” We have a squirrel who lives in our back yard and is known to us as Nutsy—so there was an added pleasure for us in this poem. Owen also noticed that the poem rhymed; and though he wasn’t able to identify the rhymes as couplets, he was nonetheless intrigued. When I asked him why we like rhyming, he responded, “Huh, why do we?” I had to help him along a bit by asking how it made the poem sound, to which he replied, “It just makes it feel fast almost, like it happened really quickly, because if you read it really fast, ‘He’s in no haste,’ it means he doesn’t care about anything in the world, he just feels great, nothing can bother him; although then there’s, ‘He should have hurried,’ and then the hawk swoops down and he’s hasty and he tries to get away.” That the poem and illustration work together to help a child appreciate the harmony of form and content is surely to be admired.

One thing we hoped to convey in our review is that Tom Pohrt’s illustrations are not childish, but child-friendly. He does not condescend to his audience; rather, he invites us to regain a childlike vision of the world, by which we see that beauty abounds even in our backyards. In his reading of the watercolor that accompanies “October 10,” Owen reminded me that I ought not see the leaves falling in our yard as the sign of seemingly endless work. As he contemplated the image, he noted that “They look like their leaves are golden and brown and red and they’re swaying in the wind with the sound of the leaves falling.” I was struck by all he saw in this image, and prodded him to say a bit more—“The leaves look like they are dancing elegantly in the wind like dancers.” My wife heard him say this too and was moved by his playful metaphor. And I sat somewhat ashamed at my need to recover a view of the world in which leaves are like dancers. After a brief pause, he concluded: “That’s funny, the poem is ‘October 10,’ and the page is the 10th page!”

I was perhaps most surprised by Owen’s reflection on “The Sorrel Filly,” one of the longer poems in the collection. My assumption was that he would find the poem to be too long, that he might lose his concentration and thus the meaning in the poem. When he finished reading, he said that he liked the watercolor, which shows a filly standing in the midst of a field, “because it shows a lot of detail: it lives in a field near what looks like a pond by the woods and the sun is setting.” Figuring that he would not have much to say about the poem, I asked if he wanted to move on or if he wanted to say what he thought the poem meant. He told me that he “liked it because it was explaining how everybody can want money and then once they’ve sold the thing that they think will give them money, they suddenly realize that the horse is what they loved and spent time with.” Surprised that he had noted what seemed to me to be a complexity of the poem, I asked him what made him think that. He answered me with the poem’s own words: “Because at the end of the poem he says ‘Now in the quiet I stand / and look at her a long time, glad / to have recovered what is lost / in the exchange of something for money.’” In my silence, he restated his clear and moral reading: “He was blinded by the greed of money until he finally realized that his filly is worth more than money.”

Owen also laughed at “My Nose,” a self-deprecating poem wherein the speaker imagines others may mistake his nose for sundry vegetables: “It looks really funny because it’s him and he’s looking like he isn’t feeling good because of his nose; and he has a frown; he sort of looks silly and sort of embarrassed maybe. He looks really concerned about his nose.” He was also fond of the short poem, “Walnut St., Oak St., Sycamore St., Etc.,” because it “goes along with the title because they’re all names of the trees and street. It sounds like he’s saying they flew away and went on signs; and the picture shows that there are the trees and he’s walking on the path, it just looks realistic. It makes you feel like you want to go there, and it sort of comforts you because it’s warm and it looks like the trees are shading the path and there’s a field in front of it.”

That Terrapin evoked out of Owen his true childlikeness was most evident to me in the title poem, “The Terrapin.” It was a joy to watch him read the poem, contemplate the watercolor, and imagine what it would be like to be a creature whose home is on his back. Owen vacillated between the sorrow of loneliness and the joy of independence: “He might be sad that nobody comes; but he might be happy that he’s left alone, because predators might attack him.” He tried to imagine what it would be like to have one’s home on one’s back: “Wherever he goes, he’s never gone from his house! Like it’s just magically floating over his head all the time; he doesn’t have enough room for furniture; he isn’t afraid that he can lose his house because it’s always right with him. That would be nice, always having your bed right on your back!” Indeed, that would be nice.

To be sure, there were a few poems that gave Owen more trouble than the others (e.g., “To Know The Dark” and “Planting Trees”). Nevertheless, Owen and I believe that Terrapin accomplishes what its blurb boasts: to be “the perfect gift for children, grandchildren, or any lover of the book as physical object.” And Owen would like our readers to know that he thinks Wendell Berry “is very experienced and he takes his time and doesn’t rush through things; he puts some thought into it,” and that Tom Pohrt “takes his time too and does his best to make the book beautiful and elegant and realistic.” Best of all, Owen was moved to creativity by Terrapin: “It inspires me to work together and illustrate and do poems because they are easier to do than big books I think, but you still need to put a lot of thought into them.” In the end, we believe that Terrapin would appeal to “a reader that likes poems that are in the middle-area of difficulty,” and we “recommend that you read this and would give it 5/5 stars!”

Owen R. Baker and Jack R. Baker

[Links to Owen reading “The Terrapin,” “A Squirrel,” and “My Nose” on Soundcloud:


The post Playing With Turtles appeared first on Front Porch Republic.

by Jack Baker at November 14, 2014 04:44 PM

The Brooks Review

∞ The Nock

I’ve long struggled with how to transport small bits of cables. Since I primarily use the GORUCK GR1 these days, I’ve just been using the internal pockets in the bag to hold cables. This works well, except of course when you want to find a cable.

Often I struggle to find a cable as I buy short and stubby ones to carry with me, or give up assuming I left the cable at home. So I’ve needed a better system for some time now.

One that came to mind was to out to use a Tom Bihn clear organizer pouch. This worked well, but didn’t seem to fit the use as well as it could, and I constantly struggled with it for various reasons.

I met Brad Dowdy while I was hanging around XOXO last month and made a note to look at his goods on Nock. I drooled over the stuff for some time, but knew I didn’t need any, as I rarely even carry one pen with me. And then I happened to see the Sassafras Five Pen Bi-Fold and what caught my eye was that it is shown with a pocket knife in one of the slots. Hmm.

I picked it up right away to see if it could solve some of my cable woes.

As you can see I am using it to hold one pen and two styli. On the two pocket side I have the pocket knife I normally leave in my bag, as well as pretty much all the cables I ever need.

Here’s an exploded view for better visualization.

There are two things I like about this:

  1. It’s really easy to use with no zippers or velcro and yet it keeps everything in it’s place.
  2. It looks really good and the bright orange/red color means I can easily find it in my bag.

Before I always pulled out just the cables I needed, because my system was ugly and clunky. Now, with the Nock, I just pull out the bi-fold with my computer and leave it sitting off to the side — it looks good and it’s easier to just have it out and ready so I never have to dig for cables.

What a great little carrying case.

Note on the Cables

You can pick up those stubby little cables from Incase here, the Bamboo Stylus, the Paper Stylus, my pen, the Apple USB adapter and SD adapter, the knife, but you can’t buy the thumb drive, they don’t make that one anymore.

Please consider becoming a member to support my writing. All writing is 100% member funded.

by Ben Brooks at November 14, 2014 04:02 PM


VIS 2014 – Friday

Wow, that was fast! VIS 2014 is already over. This year’s last day was shorter than in previous years, with just one morning session and then the closing session with the capstone talk.

Running Roundup

We started the day with another run. Friday saw the most runners (six), bringing the total for the week to 15, with a count distinct of about 12. I hereby declare the first season of VIS Runnners a resounding success.

InfoVis: Documents, Search & Images

The first session was even more sparsely attended than on Thursday, which was really too bad. The first paper was Overview: The Design, Adoption, and Analysis of a Visual Document Mining Tool For Investigative Journalists by Matthew Brehmer, Stephen Ingram, Jonathan Stray, and Tamara Munzner, and it was great. Overview is a tool for journalists to sift through large collections of documents, like those returned from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Instead of doing automated processing, it allows the journalists to tag and use keywords, since many of these documents are scanned PDFs. It’s a design study as well as a real tool that was developed over a long time and multiple releases. This is probably the first paper at InfoVis to report on such an extensively developed system (and the only one directly involved in somebody becoming a Pulitzer Prize finalist).

The Overview paper also wins in the number of websites category: in addition to checking out the paper and materials page, you can use the tool online, examine the source code, or read the blog

How Hierarchical Topics Evolve in Large Text Corpora, Weiwei Cui, Shixia Liu, Zhuofeng Wu, Hao Wei presents an interesting take on topic modeling and the ThemeRiver. Their system is called RoseRiver, and is much more user-driven. The system finds topics, but lets the user combine or split them, and work with them much more than other systems I’ve seen.

I’m a bit skeptical about Exploring the Placement and Design of Word-Scale Visualizations by Pascal Goffin, Wesley Willett, Jean-Daniel Fekete, and Petra Isenberg. The idea is to create a number of ways to include small charts within documents to show some more information for context. They have an open-source library called Sparklificator to easily add such charts to a webpage. I wonder how distracting small charts would be in most contexts, though.

A somewhat odd paper was Effects of Presentation Mode and Pace Control on Performance in Image Classification by Paul van der Corput and Jarke J. van Wijk. They investigated a new way of rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) for images, which continuously scrolls rather than flips through page of images. It’s a mystery to me why they only tried sideways scrolling, which seems much more difficult than vertical scrolling.

Capstone: Barbara Tversky, Understanding and Conveying Events

The capstone was given by cognitive psychology professor Barbara Tversky. She talked about the difference between events and activities (events are delimited, activities are continuous), and how we think about them in when listening to a story. She has done some work on how people delineate events on both a high level and a very detailed level.

This is interesting in the context of storytelling, and particularly in comics, which break up time and space using space, and need to do so at logical boundaries. Tversky also discussed some of the advantages and disadvantages of story: that it has a point of view, causal links, emotion, etc. She listed all of those as both advantages and disadvantages, which I thought was quite clever.

It was a very fast talk, packed with lots of interesting thoughts and information nuggets. It worked quite well as a counterpoint to Alberto Cairo’s talk, and despite the complete lack of direct references to visualization (other than a handful of images), it was very appropriate and useful. Many people were taking pictures of her slides during the talk.

Next Years

IEEE VIS 2015 will be held in Chicago, October 25–30. The following years had already been announced last year (2016: Washington, DC; 2017: Santa Fe, NM), but it was interesting to see them publicly say that 2018 might see VIS in Europe again.

This concludes the individual day summaries. I will also post some more general thoughts on VIS 2014 in the next few days.

by Robert Kosara at November 14, 2014 03:46 PM

John C. Wright's Journal » John C. Wright's Journal

He Gets It

There is someone out there whose faith in Leftism was shattered by Gamergate, and the scales fell from his eyes. I had assumed Leftists, one and all, would do their typical Doublethink trick and ignore reality, and not see what the media is. My faith in mankind is restored.

After Tuesday, I don’t know that I can call myself a liberal anymore.

It’s not that I don’t want to call myself a liberal. After all, as I understand liberal ideals, I still believe in most of them, if not all of them.  No, I guess I’m not a liberal anymore because Bustle, The Verge, Salon, Polygon, Kotaku, Gamasutra, The Mary Sue, The NY Times, The LA Times, The Washington Post, MSNBC, and others spent the last 2 months telling me I’m no longer wanted as an unashamed, voting liberal.  They did this based on my primary hobby and the Y chromosome I was born with.  They did this after some of them told me I was dead or needed to die for the crime of holding my primary hobby as a part of my identity.  They did this because some people I don’t know made threats against people I’d never heard of before; subsequently, I was told I needed to die because of my Y chromosome and my hobby.

And for what?  The nebulous notion of making gaming “better” than it is now?  To stroke the sense of entitlement of self-proclaimed “game developers”?  To turn game developer into the third vocation in human history that is competence optional behind politician and journalist (apparently)?  Equality of Outcomes between AAA game development, good independent game development, and terrible independent game development?  An esoteric notion of games as art, based on meaningless definitions of “gamer” and “game” combined with a pejorative definition of “consumerism”?  A wanton desire to usurp the will of the consumer and the creative process?

I hope character assassinating gamers without regard for collateral damage over the last 2 months was worth it.

Tuesday resulted in several firsts for me.  I’d never voted full ticket—not in 20 years of participating in my civic duty.  I did on Tuesday.  I’ve often considered or voted for third party candidates when at the polls over the last 20 years.  Tuesday I did not.  Over the past 20 years, I’d spent between 2 and 6 weeks studying candidates and ballot measures to be as informed as possible.  This election cycle, I was finished in hours.  On this day, I stand before you to say that I did my part to hand the Legislative branch of the American government to the Republicans.  Not that one vote matters in the grand scheme of things, but every traditionally Democratic vote that goes Republican is a two vote swing.  So the Republicans own the Senate, but not with a “super majority” to completely dictate terms legislatively.

From my new perspective after Tuesday, it’s one down and three to go: Super majority in the Senate, the Presidency, and one Supreme Court justice.  I’m disgusted for writing that last sentence.

What choice did I have?  It would appear that the DiGRA was right—The Playful is Political.  It would also appear that my politics are now a matter of survival for pieces of my identity that I hold dear.  It can never be emphasized enough that 10 news outlets on the same day said I was dead or needed to die because of those parts of my identity.  Will I forgive?  Eventually.  Time heals all wounds, after all.  Will I forget?  Never.  The imgur’s will exist forever, as will the archives and screen caps of everything the hypocrites, charlatans, and their willing media puppets said and did to make me question two parts of my identity: gamer and liberal.  It is only by force of will and self-determination that I don’t let those people immure me in self-doubt and regret.  Right now, there is virtually no price too high for them to pay for what they tried to do to my identity.

There are roughly 730 days until Election Day 2016.  The media that drove me away from my political leanings is going to need every one of those days to convince me that bashing gamers from August 28th until Tuesday was just a misunderstanding.  They will need every one of those days to convince me that my input into the liberal ideology is valued regardless of my hobbies, support for GamerGate, or my gender.  The alternative is to hand both the Legislative and Executive branch of the US Government over to Republicans, and as I found out on Tuesday, it is well within my capability to do so.

by John C Wright at November 14, 2014 03:36 PM

Crossway Blog

Grabbing Imagination by the Hair

This is the final post (part 1, part 2, part 3) in a four-part series on the imagination by Matthew Ristuccia, senior pastor of Stone Hill Church of Princeton in Princeton, New Jersey. He is the coauthor (with Gene Edward Veith Jr.) of Imagination Redeemed: Glorifying God with a Neglected Part of Your Mind.

Imagining Ezekiel

In a previous post, I told the story of how I became aware of the importance of imagination in the Christian life. It occurred while reading the Book of Ezekiel—in particular, his four visions, which are long sprawling segments of a long (forty-eight chapters) and often difficult to understand prophecy.

The second prophecy (chapters 8 through 11) begins in a fierce way. Ezekiel, who is in exile just outside Babylon, is meeting with the elders of the Jewish community there. Before the group can get into the agenda for the day, the prophet is grabbed by the hair, picked up, and taken away by God himself. As Ezekiel records in the text, the Lord “put out the form of a hand and took me by a lock of my head . . . and brought me in visions to Jerusalem” (Eze. 8:3). It is a painful beginning to what would be a most painful vision. Transporting him to the Holy City, the Lord pulls back the curtain on all sorts of abominations taking place in the courts and chambers of the Most Holy Temple.

I wish I could list for you “the five reasons” why God launched this vision by grabbing Ezekiel’s hair. Alas, I cannot. But there is one thing I’m sure of: it must have hurt. To be grabbed by the hair and, as the text records, then picked up? Yikes, it must have really hurt. I’ve been bald since my late twenties, and what little hair I have left is cut short, so it’s been over thirty years since anyone could have grabbed me by the hair. But before that, it happened once or twice. And it hurt.

The point is, when God grabbed Ezekiel’s hair, he also grabbed his attention. And in grabbing his attention, God grabbed his imagination. “Wake up, Ezekiel. I have some things to show you—really hard things that you’re not going to like.” The Jerusalem vision that then unfolded filled the prophet’s mind with pictures: agonizing pictures of detestable worship. Pictures that he nevertheless recorded with painstaking detail in order to grab the attention of his contemporaries.

Disciplining Our Imaginations

To do God’s work, our imaginations frequently need to be grabbed. Deliberate actions and firm measures are often required to take our imaginations captive to the gospel. That’s certainly been my experience. My imagination so easily strays. As the long-standing hymn says:

Prone to wander; Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.

To have my imagination “set on the Spirit” (Rom. 8:6-7), there are times when I must grab it. Here are two of the many ways I have learned to do that:

1. I regularly examine my imagination to see what’s in there.

In the book I’ve written with Dr. Gene Veith, we call this an “imagination audit”: taking time to thoroughly investigate what is taking place in one’s imagination. My practice is to include an audit as a part of my prayer time every day or two.

I ask myself questions. What sorts of pictures are running through my mind? What imagined futures are holding me captive to fear? What images are firing my lust? What advertisements or TV scenes are haunting me? What memories just won’t leave me alone?

By God’s grace, I call them out, confess them for what they are if necessary, and turn to Christ for cleansing and renewal. I want Christ and his glory to drive me . . . not an unexamined imagination.

2. I take time to memorize, meditate upon, and listen to Scripture.

It never ceases to amaze me that God chose to reveal his truth through words and through a person. After all, as the Lord of all technology he could have chosen some very different media. He could have left us indestructible DVDs and an easy-to-use player. He could have painted unforgettable pictures. He could have dropped down an Xbox and a salvific game.

But instead he chose words. A book designed to teach us about his Son. Like a palate cleanser in some fancy meal, I find that my imagination is washed and refreshed by returning to the unadorned words of Scripture. So as part of grabbing my imagination, I meditate upon God’s word. I memorize it. I listen to it read with others. I do this because I never want to discount the power of God’s written truth to set my imagination on him.

Matthew P. Ristuccia (DMin, Dallas Theological Seminary) has served as senior pastor of Stone Hill Church of Princeton in Princeton, New Jersey, since 1985. He is a nationally published columnist and author, and the coauthor (with Gene Edward Veith Jr.) of Imagination Redeemed: Glorifying God with a Neglected Part of Your Mind.

by Matt Tully at November 14, 2014 03:19 PM

CrossFit 204: Winnipeg, Canada

Regional Reduction

The crew from CrossFit Invictus competes at the 2009 CrossFit Games.

The Games have come a long way–and they’ll continue to evolve.

In light of Dave Castro’s recent announcement about changes to the format of CrossFit Games Regionals, I can accept some things.

I can accept some concern over travel, and I can accept some requests for more details, which are no doubt forthcoming. I can also accept thoughtful evaluations and discussions of the new structure.

What I can’t accept is the suggestion that the changes are somehow unfair to competitors.

If you look online, you’ll see a number of people vocally expressing their displeasure because only 20 athletes from each region will make it to the “super regional.” These people are convinced that the move to reduce the number of athletes at the regional level will somehow reduce participation. Or they suggest it’s somehow unfair to those athletes who trained all year and now might not make it to regionals. Or they feel like it’s unfair that 2014 regional competitors from 21-48 are getting tossed to the curb in 2015.

All of these suggestions are ridiculous to me.

It gets harder to get to regionals every year. That is fact. Simply based on increasing participation numbers, your chances of making the regional level go down every year. More and more athletes compete, and the tip of the spear becomes that much sharper from year to year. The Open had 26,000 participants in 2011, and it had over 200,000 in 2014. If you set your sights on regionals, you’d best be prepared for a difficult road regardless of how many spots are available.

This is a competition to find the fittest person on Earth. Think about that for a moment. This is not a competition to find the 48 fittest men in Canada West. The whole thing ends with one person on top of the podium in California, and if you can accept that, you have to accept that only 20 will go to regionals.

Back in the day, you could literally just show up at the CrossFit Games and register to compete. Does anyone think this is a reasonable way to run the competition in 2015? Of course not. Sports evolve: More or less teams make the playoffs, playoff structures change, scoring systems change, rules change, leagues expand. And so on.

I’m not suggesting the search for the fittest on Earth shouldn’t involve broad participation. It should, and it does. That’s what the Open is for. And that’s why it’s called the Open. Anyone can enter and test his or her fitness. But only a few go on to the next round.

Great athletes get eliminated in every round of a 100-m competition at the Olympics. Should they add more lanes to the 100-m final to encourage more participation? No. There are eight spots in the final, and they need to be earned. Consequently, the spots are that much more precious. I’d suggest the race would be just as exciting if there were but four spots in the final, and I’d suggest the 2015 super regionals will be thrilling as 40 very evenly matched athletes fight it out.

I’m also not swayed by arguments that one bad workout could keep a deserving athlete out of regionals. That idea is flawed. Only those who are at regionals deserve to be at regionals. The rest had some weakness or didn’t perform as they could have. No one gets a bye or a do-over. That’s part of sport. Ask 2008 Olympic gold medalist Matthias Steiner what one bad second can cost you in sport, and know that proving your fitness is just as important as having it.

Complaining about a lack of regional spots simply doesn’t seem like the pastime of a fierce, strong-willed, mentally tough competitor I’d want to see on the floor at regionals or the Games. A fierce competitor would channel Noah Ohlsen and tell Castro, “I’ll see you at regionals even if you only take five athletes per region.” Then he or she would start training with renewed dedication.

If 21 isn’t good enough anymore, real competitors aim for 20—or much higher—and they don’t worry about the details. Real champions rise up to any challenge, and I wouldn’t expect to hear many Games athletes complaining about the new system. Doing so is unbecoming and shows a lack of confidence. They’ll be in the gym training while others are typing snide remarks on Facebook.

Only 20 athletes from each regional will advance to the super regional. Only 40 will go to the Games. Only one will win the Games.

Don’t let that disappoint you. Let it motivate you.

Edited Nov. 14 to correct number of athletes who will qualify for the CrossFit Games.

by Mike at November 14, 2014 02:34 PM

Workout: Nov. 17, 2014

Nice position, Tamara!

Nice position, Tamara!

14 minutes:

Even minutes: 5 squat cleans, AMRAP double-unders

Odd minutes: 5 shoulders-to-overheads, AMRAP lateral burpees over the bar

by Mike at November 14, 2014 02:30 PM

Workout: Nov. 16, 2014

Neil of Dawn Patrol!

Neil of Dawn Patrol!

Front squat 10 sets of 3

Rest 1 minute between sets

5 rounds of:

100-foot sled sprint

12 wall-ball shots


10 minutes on handstand walks


21-15-9 reps of:

Deadlifts (225/155 lb.)

Handstand push-ups

by Mike at November 14, 2014 02:26 PM

Workout: Nov. 15, 2014

Catherine of Dawn Patrol.

Catherine of Dawn Patrol.

In 25 minutes: 2-position snatch

First rep from the floor, second rep from the hang.

With partner, 10 rounds of:

Row 200 m each.

Total is 2 km each.

by Mike at November 14, 2014 02:14 PM

The Urbanophile

Chicago’s Corporate Culture

Here’s another episode of Carol Coletta’s Knight Cities podcast. This is an interview with Chicago Community Trust President Terry Mazany with interesting thoughts on Chicago’s culture. My commentary is below the audio player. If the audio doesn’t display for you, click over to Soundcloud.

The bulk of the show is taken up with a discussion of a community dinners event the CCT (Chicago’s community foundation) put on to celebrate their 99th anniversary. This may or may not be of interest to you. But the beginning is Mazany’s take on Chicago’s culture.

I’ve always struggled a bit with the classic consulting SWOT framework (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). That’s because I have trouble classifying things. So often to me internal factors can be strengths or weaknesses depending on the context. For example, the same personal qualities that are our strengths are generally also weaknesses in other ways.

So it is with culture. Chicago has a very powerful civic culture. I won’t claim to have it fully defined. But like everyplace it has its own way of doing business. As Mazany notes, this culture involves a very powerful and engaged corporate sector, including at the CEO level. This is something I’ve noted has long disappeared in so many other cities.

Obviously things like a corporate orientation have their downsides, as I and others have written about elsewhere. Also obviously Mazany is going to present Chicago’s culture as a positive. Since this is his show, let’s stick with that for today.

I think it’s pretty clear that Chicago’s strong corporate and philanthropic leadership played a key role in preserving Loop as the region’s commercial heart, especially during the nadir of downtowns in the 70s and early 80s. Chicago did lose HQs to the suburbs, but even suburban based CEOs have played a big role in backing downtown Chicago. The corporate sector also has raised a lot of funds for civic projects like Millennium Park. One can certainly complain about the cost overruns and corporate logos, but a lot of private money went into this and many other things. Business leaders, notably Lester Crown, were the big promoters of the O’Hare Modernization Program.

Without a doubt, the corporate culture of Chicago is a big part of what had made the city work. That’s part of why simply copying the projects and techniques of other cities doesn’t necessarily translate to success. It’s the values and culture and other attributes of the city that lies beneath the projects, etc. that are often the real differentiators.

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

by Aaron M. Renn at November 14, 2014 02:07 PM


aewan: For the Klimt of the console

I’ve seen about three or four ASCII art editors for the console now, and it’s becoming clear that each one has unique features that are very appealing, but misses out on something another one offers.

After I found cavewall, I figured any other ASCII art editor was going to fall flat. After all, cavewall had a slew of features that I hadn’t thought possible in text-art program, and didn’t expect to see again.

And along came aewan.


The ASCII Editor Without A Name actually includes layer management, much like you’d see in GIMP or That Other Graphics Program which shall go unnamed and unlinked. The one that starts with “foto” and ends with “shoppe.”

If you’re skeptical, so was I, but aewan pulls it off quite gracefully. And those layers are the key to copy and pasting, moving blocks of images, creating stamp pad effects and even transparent stamping. It’s amazing.

You can add dozens of layers to text drawings, set their visibility, name them and rearrange them. Set their dimensions and move them around until you complete your masterpiece.

aewan has hotkeys for the color palette, a menu-driven interface with key commands for some of the most important features, and can save all your work into a file that (supposedly; I didn’t try it) can be used in a pager to display animation effects.

Wow. :shock: That’s impressive for a program that saw its last update in 2005. My hat is off. Again. For that alone, an incredibly rare and immeasurably valuable K.Mandla gold star is warranted: :star: Well done.

But … I can see where some features from cavewall don’t appear in aewan. cavewall has adjustable stepping features for example, making line drawing and the like more convenient. aewan doesn’t have that, or if it does, I don’t recall seeing it.

aewan does have a specific line-drawing mode though, and that’s quite handy. Pressing the hyphen or pipe symbol actually draws the appropriate extended line, so you can draw in continuous bars, instead of just the text character. But vertical lines aren’t as easy with aewan as they are with cavewall.

And neither aewan nor cavewall has the polygon drawing and editing features that were in textdraw. But that’s only black-and-white, and so loses an edge to cadubi, which behaved more like a colorized stamping program that could import images rendered by caca, and edit them.

So I’m at the point now where each of these has a particular feature that makes it shine, but misses out on something mastered by its brethren. Perhaps at some point a Grand Unifying Text-Based Art Tool will appear. And it shall be known as GUTBAT, and the people shall rejoice. … :roll:

Tagged: art, draw, edit, illustrate, image, text

by K.Mandla at November 14, 2014 01:15 PM

tuxrip: If I only had a DVD around here somewhere …

Now I find myself in the same odd situation as I did around the beginning of the year, with a potential DVD ripper in hand, and no DVD to test it.

tuxrip is about a decade beyond its last release. But considering it’s just a bash script that works the strings between mencoder, vorbis-tools, libogg and a few other fundamental libraries, I am not surprised that it still seems to work.


The first time you run it you’ll need to configure it for your machine, and the tuxrip --config wizard will guide you through that. If you make a mistake, I would suggest just hand-editing the .tuxriprc file it creates, which will save you time over re-running the setup.

After that though, I’m afraid I can’t be of much assistance. I see by the home page that there are still a few steps beyond what you see in the screenshot and actually ripping a DVD, to include managing quality settings and a bit more.

I have no doubt that it works, although I wonder if between now and 2005, there haven’t been some advances in both DVDs and encoding that might make tuxrip seem quaint. And I fear it might require a little work to bring it into line with, for example, Blu-ray Discs or x265, just to name one or two off the top of my head.

Already some of it is showing its age: the AUR package installs all the dependencies but you’ll still have to add in mencoder, which isn’t part of mplayer now. (I don’t see a Debian version.)

All that is … assuming it works like it still did. You’ll have to run it through to the end and tell me how it goes. I suppose I should hunt down a real DVD, just for times like this. … :roll:

Tagged: dvd, encode, encoder, rip, ripper

by K.Mandla at November 14, 2014 01:00 PM

sacha chua :: living an awesome life

What could I do if I showed up in a bigger way?

I’m reading Ben Arment’s Dream Year: Make the Leap From a Job You Hate to a Life You Love (2014), and there’s a reminder in here about the choice between the fear of failure and the fear of insignificance. “Choose the fear of insignificance,” the author says. And I think: Hmm, actually, I’m okay with insignificance (or minor minor minor significance, in any case). Stoicism reminds us that after thousands of years, very little of this will matter. But maybe I should care a little bit. Since I’ve done all this work to minimize the fear of failure anyway. I might as well play on that side of the equation.

I’ve been thinking about this recently because I’m wondering whether I should take this experience in social business and make something bigger out of it. I could probably negotiate something with my main consulting clients so that we could get ideas or even code out in the wider world, or I could independently develop something that they and other people would be welcome to use. I haven’t quite sorted out what that would be like yet, but I imagine it would start off as open source components, then possibly consulting and product development once I’ve established a reputation in that community.

Of social business, Emacs, and blogging, though, I like Emacs the most. There’s something about it. I like the community a lot: interesting people doing interesting things, and a remarkably flexible platform that has kept me curious and fascinated for years. If I were to show up in a bigger way, I suppose that would involve writing more guides, and maybe understanding enough of the core of complex things like Org and Emacs itself so that I could contribute to the codebase. I tend to focus on workflow more than bugfixes or new features, though… I think there’s something interesting in how people use the same things in such different ways. Maybe I’ll write more about my evolving workflow, using that and personal projects as excuses to keep tweaking.

As for blogging, there are bucketloads of people who are happy to give other people advice on what to do and how to do it. I’m interested in keeping it unintimidating and useful for personal learning, but I’m more excited about and curious about those other two causes. Still, I can show by example, and I can offer advice and encouragement when people ask.

What are the differences between this slightly bigger life and my current one? I think part of it is related to the way that I’ve been minimizing my commitments during this 5-year experiment, being very careful about what I say yes to and what I promise my time towards. Part of it is taking the initiative instead of waiting for requests or sparks of inspiration. Part of it is working more deliberately towards a goal. It’s not going to be a big big life, but it might be interesting to experiment with.

The post What could I do if I showed up in a bigger way? appeared first on sacha chua :: living an awesome life.

by Sacha Chua at November 14, 2014 01:00 PM

Zondervan Academic Blog

Mark’s Gospel is Jesus’s Story on Steroids! — An Excerpt from Mark Strauss’s “Mark (ZECNT)” Commentary

9780310243588In recent decades there has been a number of new approaches to the gospel, one of which is so-called narrative criticism. Considering how story-driven we are as a culture—and as people—this seems to be a good development within gospel studies and exegesis.

On Tuesday we explored how Mark Strauss engages the Gospel of Mark using this approach in his new Mark (ZECNT) commentary. Today we extend that exploration with an excerpt giving more insight into Mark’s story of Jesus.

Like any narrative, Mark’s also balances a number of literary devices, complete with point of view, narrators, plot points, characters, climax, setting, denouement, and everything else that makes a story sparkle.

Read Strauss’s thoughts on Mark’s story of Jesus, and why he calls it “a gospel narrative on steroids!” (15) Then add his resource to your library to help you make Jesus’ story come alive to your people.

Mark’s gospel starts off with remarkable speed and energy. The author wastes no time with lengthy stories about Jesus’ birth and childhood or genealogical lists tracing his legitimate messianic ancestry (as in Matthew and Luke). There is no exalted prologue identifying Jesus as the self-revelation of God and placing him within the scheme of salvation history (as in John). Within a few short paragraphs, Jesus is baptized by John, anointed by the Spirit, acclaimed by God as “my beloved Son,” and tempted by Satan in the wilderness, and he embarks on a ministry of preaching the kingdom of God, calling disciples, healing, and exorcism. This is a gospel narrative on steroids!

The Mighty Messiah and Son of God

The first half of this energetic story is characterized by three main themes: authority, awe, and opposition. Mark begins by identifying Jesus as “the Messiah, the Son of God” (1:1), and this messianic authority is on display at every turn. Jesus’ message is the arrival of God’s eschatological reign through his own words and deeds. He calls disciples, who drop everything to follow him; he captivates his hearers with remarkable teaching; he commands demons to come out of people, and they obey. He heals the sick with a compassionate touch; he quiets a storm with a strong rebuke. The response to this is awe and wonder. The people are amazed at his authoritative teaching and his power over demons. They marvel when he heals the sick. The disciples stand in shock as he quiets the storm with a command. They wonder, “Who, then, is this, that the wind and the sea obey him!” (4:41).

Such audacious deeds attract not only acclaim but also opposition. The religious leaders of Israel are scandalized when Jesus claims to forgive sins, hangs out with sinners, and treats the revered Sabbath commands as apparently optional. They begin to plot against him, seeking a way to eliminate this upstart who challenges their influence with the people. Unable to deny his mastery over demons, they accuse him of being in league with the devil, casting out demons by Satan’s power. Jesus responds by dismissing their authority and accusing them of standing in opposition to the work of God. By rejecting his authority they are blaspheming the Spirit of God, who is at work in him. Israel’s “insiders” — the religious elite — have now become outsiders to the true people of God. In an implicit denial of their leadership, Jesus chooses and appoints twelve disciples, modeled after the twelve tribes of Israel and representing the restored people of God. His true family, the household of God in the kingdom age, is made up not of those who share physical descent from Abraham, but of those who do the will of God (3:34).

Everything Jesus says and does in the first half of the gospel confirms the author’s initial claim: Jesus is indeed the mighty Messiah and Son of God (1:1). His popularity grows and grows, and he continues to amaze all who encounter the power of God through him. In a second wave of remarkable miracles, he casts out a “legion” of demons, heals incurable disease, raises a young girl from the dead, walks on water, and twice feeds massive crowds with a few loaves of bread and fishes. Yet he is also secretive and circumspect about his identity. He repeatedly silences demons and commands those he heals not to tell anyone about it. A sense of mystery and paradox surrounds his identity. The question, “Who is this person?” hangs in the air. It is as though the narrator is saying, “Yes, he is the Messiah, but there is much more to it than this.”

This theme reaches a climax at the midpoint of the gospel. Jesus takes his disciples away for a retreat to Caesarea Philippi, north of Galilee, where he asks them a question, “Who do people
say I am?” (8:27). Their response shows a variety of popular views: John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets. But when he asks them, “Who do you say I am?” Peter responds for the rest, “You are the Messiah” (8:28 – 29). The gospel narrative has been building to this climax: Jesus’ words and deeds have confirmed the truth about his identity. He is indeed the Messiah and Son of God. Yet here the narrative takes a shocking and dramatic turn.

Instead of affirming the traditional role of the conquering and ruling Messiah, Jesus predicts that he will be rejected by the religious leaders, arrested, and crucified, and that three days later he will rise from the dead. When Peter objects to this defeatist attitude and rebukes Jesus, Jesus rebukes him back, accusing him of acting as Satan’s agent and pursuing a human rather than divine agenda. It is God’s purpose for the Messiah to suffer and die!

The Suffering Servant of the Lord

If the first half of the gospel presents Jesus as the mighty Messiah and Son of God (1:1 – 8:30), the second half develops the theme of his suffering role (8:31 – 16:8). Three times Jesus predicts his death. Each time, the disciples miss the point and respond with some act of pride and self-interest. In response, Jesus repeatedly teaches that anyone who wants to be his disciple must take up their cross and follow him. Whoever wants to be first must be last, and the path to glory is through suffering. This theme climaxes after Jesus predicts his death for a third time (10:33 – 34). Two of his disciples, James and John, approach him and ask for the seats of greatest honor beside the king when his kingdom is established in Jerusalem. The other disciples are indignant, and Jesus must gather them together again for a lesson on humility.

He contrasts the world’s model of leadership with his own:

You know that those recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their
great ones exercise dominion over them. But it is not so among you. Rather, whoever
wants to be great among you will be your servant, and whoever wants to be first will
be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and
to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:42 – 45)

Here we have the essence of Mark’s story. Though Jesus is indeed the mighty Messiah and Son of God, his role is not to conquer the Romans. It is to suffer and die as a ransom payment for sins. This is a far greater achievement than physical conquest. He will provide victory over humanity’s ultimate enemies: Satan, sin, and death. Those who would be his disciples must follow his path, taking up their own cross and following him in a life of self-sacrificial service
— living for the kingdom and for others rather than for themselves… (15-19)

Mark (ZECNT)

By Mark Strauss

Buy it Today:
Barnes & Noble
Buy Direct from Zondervan

by Jeremy Bouma at November 14, 2014 12:49 PM

Kitchen Soap

The Infinite Hows (or, the Dangers Of The Five Whys)

(this is also posted on O’Reilly’s Radar blog. Much thanks to Daniel Schauenberg, Morgan Evans, and Steven Shorrock for feedback on this)

Before I begin this post, let me say that this is intended to be a critique of the Five Whys method, not a criticism of the people who are in favor of using it.

This critique I present is hardly original; most of this post is inspired by Todd Conklin, Sidney Dekker, and Nancy Leveson.

The concept of post-hoc explanation (or “postmortems” as they’re commonly known) has, at this point, taken hold in the web engineering and operations domain. I’d love to think that the concepts that we’ve taken from the New View on ‘human error’ are becoming more widely known and that people are looking to explore their own narratives through those lenses.

I think that this is good, because my intent has always been (might always be) to help translate concepts from one domain to another. In order to do this effectively, we need to know also what to discard (or at least inspect critically) from those other domains.

The Five Whys is such an approach that I think we should discard.

This post explains my reasoning for discarding it, and how using it has the potential to be harmful, not helpful, to an organization. Here’s how I intend on doing this: I’m first going to talk about what I think are deficiencies in the approach, suggest an alternative, and then ask you to simply try the alternative yourself.

Here is the “bottom line, up front” gist of my assertions:

“Why?” is the wrong question.

In order to learn (which should be the goal of any retrospective or post-hoc investigation) you want multiple and diverse perspectives. You get these by asking people for their own narratives. Effectively, you’re asking  “how?

Asking “why?” too easily gets you to an answer to the question “who?” (which in almost every case is irrelevant) or “takes you to the ‘mysterious’ incentives and motivations people bring into the workplace.”

Asking “how?” gets you to describe (at least some) of the conditions that allowed an event to take place, and provides rich operational data.

Asking a chain of “why?” assumes too much about the questioner’s choices, and assumes too much about each answer you get. At best, it locks you into a causal chain, which is not how the world actually works. This is a construction that ignores a huge amount of complexity in an event, and it’s the complexity that we want to explore if we have any hope of learning anything.

But It’s A Great Way To Get People Started!

The most compelling argument to using the Five Whys is that it’s a good first step towards doing real “root cause analysis” – my response to that is twofold:

  1. “Root Cause Analysis*” isn’t what you should be doing anyway, and
  2. It’s only a good “first step” because it’s easy to explain and understand, which makes it easy to socialize. The issue with this is that the concepts that the Five Whys depend on are not only faulty, but can be dangerous for an organization to embrace.

If the goal is learning (and it should be) then using a method of retrospective learning should be confident in how it’s bringing to light data that can be turned into actionable information. The issue with the Five Whys is that it’s tunnel-visioned into a linear and simplistic explanation of how work gets done and events transpire. This narrowing can be incredibly problematic.

In the best case, it can lead an organization to think they’re improving on something (or preventing future occurrences of events) when they’re not.

In the worst case, it can re-affirm a faulty worldview of causal simplification and set up a structure where individuals don’t feel safe in giving their narratives because either they weren’t asked the right “why?” question or the answer that a given question pointed to ‘human error’ or individual attributes as causal.

Let’s take an example. From my tutorials at the Velocity Conference in New York, I used an often-repeated straw man to illustrate this:

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 3.45.24 PM

This is the example of the Five Whys found in the Web Operations book, as well.

This causal chain effectively ends with a person’s individual attributes, not with a description of the multiple conditions that allow an event like this to happen. Let’s look into some of the answers…

“Why did the server fail? Because an obscure subsystem was used in the wrong way.”

This answer is dependent on the outcome. We know that it was used in the “wrong” way only because we’ve connected it to the resulting failure. In other words, we as “investigators” have the benefit of hindsight. We can easily judge the usage of the server because we know the outcome. If we were to go back in time and ask the engineer(s) who were using it: “Do you think that you’re doing this right?” they would answer: yes, they are. We want to know what are the various influences that brought them to think that, which simply won’t fit into the answer of “why?”

The answer also limits the next question that we’d ask. There isn’t any room in the dialogue to discuss things such as the potential to use a server in the wrong way and it not result in failure, or what ‘wrong’ means in this context. Can the server only be used in two ways – the ‘right’ way or the ‘wrong’ way? And does success (or, the absence of a failure) dictate which of those ways it was used? We don’t get to these crucial questions.

“Why was it used in the wrong way? The engineer who used it didn’t know how to use it properly.”

This answer is effectively a tautology, and includes a post-hoc judgement. It doesn’t tell us anything about how the engineer did use the system, which would provide a rich source of operational data, especially for engineers who might be expected to work with the system in the future. Is it really just about this one engineer? Or is it possibly about the environment (tools, dashboards, controls, tests, etc.) that the engineer is working in? If it’s the latter, how does that get captured in the Five Whys?

So what do we find in this chain we have constructed above? We find:

  • an engineer with faulty (or at least incomplete) knowledge
  • insufficient indoctrination of engineers
  • a manager who fouls things up by not being thorough enough in the training of new engineers (indeed: we can make a post-hoc judgement about her beliefs)

If this is to be taken as an example of the Five Whys, then as an engineer or engineering manager, I might not look forward to it, since it focuses on our individual attributes and doesn’t tell us much about the event other than the platitude that training (and convincing people about training) is important.

These are largely answers about “who?” not descriptions of what conditions existed. In other words, by asking “why?” in this way, we’re using failures to explain failures, which isn’t helpful.

If we ask: “Why did a particular server fail?” we can get any number of answers, but one of those answers will be used as the primary way of getting at the next “why?” step. We’ll also lose out on a huge amount of important detail, because remember: you only get one question before the next step.

If instead, we were to ask the engineers how they went about implementing some new code (or ‘subsystem’), we might hear a number of things, like maybe:

  • the approach(es) they took when writing the code
  • what ways they gained confidence (tests, code reviews, etc.) that the code was going to work in the way they expected it before it was deployed
  • what (if any) history of success or failure have they had with similar pieces of code?
  • what trade-offs they made or managed in the design of the new function?
  • how they judged the scope of the project
  • how much (and in what ways) they experienced time pressure for the project
  • the list can go on, if you’re willing to ask more and they’re willing to give more

Rather than judging people for not doing what they should have done, the new view presents tools for explaining why people did what they did. Human error becomes a starting point, not a conclusion. (Dekker, 2009)

When we ask “how?”, we’re asking for a narrative. A story.

In these stories, we get to understand how people work. By going with the “engineer was deficient, needs training, manager needs to be told to train” approach, we might not have a place to ask questions aimed at recommendations for the future, such as:

  • What might we put in place so that it’s very difficult to put that code into production accidentally?
  • What sources of confidence for engineers could we augment?

As part of those stories, we’re looking to understand people’s local rationality. When it comes to decisions and actions, we want to know how it made sense for someone to do what they did. And make no mistake: they thought what they were doing made sense. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have done it.


Again, I’m not original with this thought. Local rationality (or as Herb Simon called it, “bounded rationality”) is something that sits firmly atop some decades of cognitive science.

These stories we’re looking for contain details that we can pull on and ask more about, which is critical as a facilitator of a post-mortem debriefing, because people don’t always know what details are important. As you’ll see later in this post, reality doesn’t work like a DVR; you can’t pause, rewind and fast-forward at will along a singular and objective axis, picking up all of the pieces along the way, acting like CSI. Memories are faulty and perspectives are limited, so a different approach is necessary.

Not just “how”

In order to get at these narratives, you need to dig for second stories. Asking “why?” will get you an answer to first stories. These are not only insufficient answers, they can be very damaging to an organization, depending on the context. As a refresher…

From Behind Human Error here’s the difference between “first” and “second” stories of human error:

First Stories Second Stories
Human error is seen as cause of failure Human error is seen as the effect of systemic vulnerabilities deeper inside the organization
Saying what people should have done is a satisfying way to describe failure Saying what people should have done doesn’t explain why it made sense for them to do what they did
Telling people to be more careful will make the problem go away Only by constantly seeking out its vulnerabilities can organizations enhance safety


Now, read again the straw-man example of the Five Whys above. The questions that we ask frame the answers that we will get in the form of first stories. When we ask more and better questions (such as “how?”) we have a chance at getting at second stories.

You might wonder: how did I get from the Five Whys to the topic of ‘human error’? Because once ‘human error’ is a candidate to reach for as a cause (and it will, because it’s a simple and potentially satisfying answer to “why?”) then you will undoubtedly use it.

At the beginning of my tutorial in New York, I asked the audience this question:


At the beginning of the talk, a large number of people said yes, this is correct. Steven Shorrock (who is speaking at Velocity next week in Barcelona on this exact topic) has written a great article on this way of thinking: If It Weren’t For The People. By the end of my talk, I was able to convince them that this is also the wrong focus of a post-mortem description.

This idea accompanies the Five Whys more often than not, and there are two things that I’d like to shine some light on about it:

Myth of the “human or technical failure” dichotomy

This is dualistic thinking, and I don’t have much to add to this other than what Dekker has said about it (Dekker, 2006):

“Was the accident caused by mechanical failure or by human error? It is a stock question in the immediate aftermath of a mishap. Indeed, it seems such a simple, innocent question. To many it is a normal question to ask: If you have had an accident, it makes sense to find out what broke. The question, however, embodies a particular understanding of how accidents occur, and it risks confining our causal analysis to that understanding. It lodges us into a fixed interpretative repertoire. Escaping from this repertoire may be difficult. It sets out the questions we ask, provides the leads we pursue and the clues we examine, and determines the conclusions we will eventually draw.”

Myth: during a retrospective investigation, something is waiting to be “found”

I’ll cut to the chase: there is nothing waiting to be found, or “revealed.” These “causes” that we’re thinking we’re “finding”? We’re constructing them, not finding them. We’re constructing them because we are the ones that are choosing where (and when) to start asking questions, and where/when to stop asking the questions. We’ve “found” a root cause when we stop looking. And in many cases, we’ll get lazy and just chalk it up to “human error.”

As Erik Hollnagel has said (Hollnagel, 2009, p. 85):

“In accident investigation, as in most other human endeavours, we fall prey to the What-You-Look-For-Is-What-You-Find or WYLFIWYF principle. This is a simple recognition of the fact that assumptions about what we are going to see (What-You-Look-For), to a large extent will determine what we actually find (What-You-Find).”

More to the point: “What-You-Look-For-Is-What-You-Fix”

We think there is something like the cause of a mishap (sometimes we call it the root cause, or primary cause), and if we look in the rubble hard enough, we will find it there. The reality is that there is no such thing as the cause, or primary cause or root cause . Cause is something we construct, not find. And how we construct causes depends on the accident model that we believe in. (Dekker, 2006)

Nancy Leveson comments on this in her excellent book Engineering a Safer World this idea (p.20):

Subjectivity in Selecting Events

The selection of events to include in an event chain is dependent on the stopping rule used to determine how far back the sequence of explanatory events goes. Although the first event in the chain is often labeled the ‘initiating event’ or ‘root cause’ the selection of an initiating event is arbitrary and previous events could always be added.

Sometimes the initiating event is selected (the backward chaining stops) because it represents a type of event that is familiar and thus acceptable as an explanation for the accident or it is a deviation from a standard [166]. In other cases, the initiating event or root cause is chosen because it is the first event in the backward chain for which it is felt that something can be done for correction.

The backward chaining may also stop because the causal path disappears due to lack of information. Rasmussen suggests that a practical explanation for why actions by operators actively involved in the dynamic flow of events are so often identified as the cause of an accident is the difficulty in continuing the backtracking “through” a human [166].

A final reason why a “root cause” may be selected is that it is politically acceptable as the identified cause. Other events or explanations may be excluded or not examined in depth because they raise issues that are embarrassing to the organization or its contractors or are politically unacceptable.

Learning is the goal. Any prevention depends on that learning.

So if not the Five Whys, then what should you do? What method should you take?

I’d like to suggest an alternative, which is to first accept the idea that you have to actively seek out and protect the stories from bias (and judgement) when you ask people “how?”-style questions. Then you can:

  • Ask people for their story without any replay of data that would supposedly ‘refresh’ their memory
  • Tell their story back to them and confirm you got their narrative correct
  • Identify critical junctures
  • Progressively probe and re-build how the world looked to people inside of the situation at each juncture.

As a starting point for those probing questions, we can look to Gary Klein and Sidney Dekker for the types of questions you can ask instead of “why?”…

Debriefing Facilitation Prompts

(from The Field Guide To Understanding Human Error, by Sidney Dekker)

At each juncture in the sequence of events (if that is how you want to structure this part of the accident story), you want to get to know:

  • Which cues were observed (what did he or she notice/see or did not notice what he or she had expected to notice?)
  • What knowledge was used to deal with the situation? Did participants have any experience with similar situations that was useful in dealing with this one?
  • What expectations did participants have about how things were going to develop, and what options did they think they have to influence the course of events?
  • How did other influences (operational or organizational) help determine how they interpreted the situation and how they would act?

Here are some questions Gary Klein and his researchers typically ask to find out how the situation looked to people on the inside at each of the critical junctures:

Cues What were you seeing?

What were you focused on?

What were you expecting to happen?

Interpretation If you had to describe the situation to your colleague at that point, what would you have told?
Errors What mistakes (for example in interpretation) were likely at this point?
Previous knowledge/experience

Were you reminded of any previous experience?

Did this situation fit a standard scenario?

Were you trained to deal with this situation?

Were there any rules that applied clearly here?

Did any other sources of knowledge suggest what to do?

Goals What were you trying to achieve?Were there multiple goals at the same time?Was there time pressure or other limitations on what you could do?
Taking Action How did you judge you could influence the course of events?

Did you discuss or mentally imagine a number of options or did you know straight away what to do?

Outcome Did the outcome fit your expectation?
Did you have to update your assessment of the situation?
Communications What communication medium(s) did you prefer to use? (phone, chat, email, video conf, etc.?)

Did you make use of more than one communication channels at once?


Did you ask anyone for help?

What signal brought you to ask for support or assistance?

Were you able to contact the people you needed to contact?

For the tutorials I did at Velocity, I made a one-pager of these:

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 4.03.30 PM

Try It

I have tried to outline some of my reasoning on why using the Five Whys approach is suboptimal, and I’ve given an alternative. I’ll do one better and link you to the tutorials that I gave in New York in October, which I think digs deeper into these concepts. This is in four parts, 45 minutes each.

Part I – Introduction and the scientific basis for post-hoc restrospective pitfalls and learning

Part II – The language of debriefings, causality, case studies, teams coping with complexity

Part III – Dynamic fault management, debriefing prompts, gathering and contextualizing data, constructing causes

Part IV – Taylorism, normal work, ‘root cause’ of software bugs in cars, Q&A

My request is that the next time that you would do a Five Whys, that you instead ask “how?” or the variations of the questions I posted above. If you think you get more operational data from a Five Whys and are happy with it, rock on.

If you’re more interested in this alternative and the fundamentals behind it, then there are a number of sources you can look to. You could do a lot worse than starting with Sidney Dekker’s Field Guide To Understanding Human Error.

An Explanation

For those readers who think I’m too unnecessarily harsh on the Five Whys approach, I think it’s worthwhile to explain why I feel so strongly about this.

Retrospective understanding of accidents and events is important because how we make sense of the past greatly and almost invisibly influences our future. At some point in the not-so-distant past, the domain of web engineering was about selling books online and making a directory of the web. These organizations and the individuals who built them quickly gave way to organizations that now build cars, spacecraft, trains, aircraft, medical monitoring devices…the list goes on…simply because software development and distributed systems architectures are at the core of modern life.

The software worlds and the non-software worlds have collided and will continue to do so. More and more “life-critical” equipment and products rely on software and even the Internet.

Those domains have had varied success in retrospective understanding of surprising events, to say the least. Investigative approaches that are firmly based on causal oversimplification and the “Bad Apple Theory” of deficient individual attributes (like the Five Whys) have shown to not only be unhelpful, but objectively made learning harder, not easier. As a result, people who have made mistakes or involved in accidents have been fired, banned from their profession, and thrown in jail for some of the very things that you could find in a Five Whys.

I sometimes feel nervous that these oversimplifications will still be around when my daughter and son are older. If they were to make a mistake, would they be blamed as a cause? I strongly believe that we can leave these old ways behind us and do much better.

My goal is not to vilify an approach, but to state explicitly that if the world is to become safer, then we have to eschew this simplicity; it will only get better if we embrace the complexity, not ignore it.


Epilogue: The Longer Version For Those Who Have The Stomach For Complexity Theory

The Five Whys approach follows a Newtonian-Cartesian worldview. This is a worldview that is seductively satisfying and compellingly simple. But it’s also false in the world we live in.

What do I mean by this?

There are five areas why the Five Whys firmly sits in a Newtonian-Cartesian worldview that we should eschew when it comes to learning from past events. This is a Cliff Notes version of “The complexity of failure: Implications of complexity theory for safety investigations” –

First, it is reductionist. The narrative built by the Five Whys sits on the idea that if you can construct a causal chain, then you’ll have something to work with. In other words: to understand the system, you pull it apart into its constituent parts. Know how the parts interact, and you know the system.

Second, it assumes what Dekker has called “cause-effect symmetry” (Dekker, complexity of failure):

“In the Newtonian vision of the world, everything that happens has a definitive, identifiable cause and a definitive effect. There is symmetry between cause and effect (they are equal but opposite). The determination of the ‘‘cause’’ or ‘‘causes’’ is of course seen as the most important function of accident investigation, but assumes that physical effects can be traced back to physical causes (or a chain of causes-effects) (Leveson, 2002). The assumption that effects cannot occur without specific causes influences legal reasoning in the wake of accidents too. For example, to raise a question of negligence in an accident, harm must be caused by the negligent action (GAIN, 2004). Assumptions about cause-effect symmetry can be seen in what is known as the outcome bias (Fischhoff, 1975). The worse the consequences, the more any preceding acts are seen as blameworthy (Hugh and Dekker, 2009).”

John Carroll (Carroll, 1995) called this “root cause seduction”:

The identification of a root cause means that the analysis has found the source of the event and so everyone can focus on fixing the problem.  This satisfies people’s need to avoid ambiguous situations in which one lacks essential information to make a decision (Frisch & Baron, 1988) or experiences a salient knowledge gap (Loewenstein, 1993). The seductiveness of singular root causes may also feed into, and be supported by, the general tendency to be overconfident about how much we know (Fischhoff,Slovic,& Lichtenstein, 1977).

That last bit about a tendency to be overconfident about how much we know (in this context, how much we know about the past) is a strong piece of research put forth by Baruch Fischhoff, who originally researched what we now understand to be the Hindsight Bias. Not unsurprisingly, Fischhoff’s doctoral thesis advisor was Daniel Kahneman (you’ve likely heard of him as the author of Thinking Fast and Slow), whose research in cognitive biases and heuristics everyone should at least be vaguely familiar with.

The third issue with this worldview, supported by the idea of Five Whys and something that follows logically from the earlier points is that outcomes are foreseeable if you know the initial conditions and the rules that govern the system. The reason that you would even construct a serial causal chain like this is because

The fourth part of this is that time is irreversible. We can’t look to a causal chain as something that you can fast-forward and rewind, no matter how attractively simple that seems. This is because the socio-technical systems that we work on and work in are complex in nature, and are dynamic. Deterministic behavior (or, at least predictability) is something that we look for in software; in complex systems this is a foolhardy search because emergence is a property of this complexity.

And finally, there is an underlying assumption that complete knowledge is attainable. In other words: we only have to try hard enough to understand exactly what happened. The issue with this is that success and failure have many contributing causes, and there is no comprehensive and objective account. The best that you can do is to probe people’s perspectives at juncture points in the investigation. It is not possible to understand past events in any way that can be considered comprehensive.

Dekker (Dekker, 2011):

As soon as an outcome has happened, whatever past events can be said to have led up to it, undergo a whole range of transformations (Fischhoff and Beyth, 1975; Hugh and Dekker, 2009). Take the idea that it is a sequence of events that precedes an accident. Who makes the selection of the ‘‘events’’ and on the basis of what? The very act of separating important or contributory events from unimportant ones is an act of construction, of the creation of a story, not the reconstruction of a story that was already there, ready to be uncovered. Any sequence of events or list of contributory or causal factors already smuggles a whole array of selection mechanisms and criteria into the supposed ‘‘re’’construction. There is no objective way of doing this—all these choices are affected, more or less tacitly, by the analyst’s background, preferences, experiences, biases, beliefs and purposes. ‘‘Events’’ are themselves defined and delimited by the stories with which the analyst configures them, and are impossible to imagine outside this selective, exclusionary, narrative fore-structure (Cronon, 1992).

Here is a thought exercise: what if we were to try to use the Five Whys for finding the “root cause” of a success?

Why didn’t we have failure X today?

Now this question gets a lot more difficult to have one answer. This is because things go right for many reasons, and not all of them obvious. We can spend all day writing down reasons why we didn’t have failure X today, and if we’re committed, we can keep going.

So if success requires “multiple contributing conditions, each necessary but only jointly sufficient” to happen, then how is it that failure only requires just one? The Five Whys, as its commonly presented as an approach to improvement (or: learning?), will lead us to believe that not only is just one condition sufficient, but that condition is a canonical one, to the exclusion of all others.

* RCA, or “Root Cause Analysis” can also easily turn into “Retrospective Cover of Ass”


Carroll, J. S. (1995). Incident Reviews in High-Hazard Industries: Sense Making and Learning Under Ambiguity and Accountability. Organization & Environment, 9(2), 175–197. doi:10.1177/108602669500900203

Dekker, S. (2004). Ten questions about human error: A new view of human factors and system safety. Mahwah, N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Dekker, S., Cilliers, P., & Hofmeyr, J.-H. (2011). The complexity of failure: Implications of complexity theory for safety investigations. Safety Science, 49(6), 939–945. doi:10.1016/j.ssci.2011.01.008

Hollnagel, E. (2009). The ETTO principle: Efficiency-thoroughness trade-off : why things that go right sometimes go wrong. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.
Leveson, N. (2012). Engineering a Safer World. Mit Press.



by allspaw at November 14, 2014 10:34 AM

Mastering Emacs

Emacs's switch to Git

After nearly ten months of hard work, Eric S Raymond (esr) has finished the transition from Bazaar to Git, and in the process cleaned up 29 years of ossified CVS references and other source control flotsam. ESR calls it “geologic strata” and he’s not even kidding. 29 years of continued development makes it unavoidable. If you haven’t been keeping up I suggest you read his article on the conversion.

The move to Git, I think, is a big one. Like it or not, but it won the source control fight. Bazaar lost (not that it ever had a chance of winning); Mercurial lost too (and it did have a chance of winning.) Git’s the right choice; it will significantly reduce the barrier to entry for new developers — well, you still need to sign over your code to the FSF, but it’s easier.

Lars Ingebrigtsen has written a great tutorial for newcomers interested in contributing to Emacs. I had no idea it was that easy to find and push bug fixes out. There’s a fancy Emacs package, debbugs, that makes it easy to do so (obviously.)

I hope the switch to git will renew interest in committing to Emacs.

November 14, 2014 09:55 AM

The Gospel Coalition | Latest Articles

TGC Spotlight 11.14.14

TGC Spotlight highlights TGC articles from earlier in the week, previews articles coming next week, and links to items around the web that you might have missed. 

Around the Web

What You Should Know About the Space Probe that Landed on a Comet

What is the comet-landing story about?

On Wednesday, November 12, a robotic spacecraft created by the European Space Agency named Philae became the first to land on the solid, central part of a comet. The comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, is 300 million miles from Earth.

What is the purpose of the mission?

Comets preserve ancient organic molecules like a time capsule, so scientists are hoping samples drilled out from the comet will help them understand how our solar system was formed.

Why is the mission important?

As Daniel Brown, an astronomy expert at Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom, says: “Apart from the amazing scientific results, the sheer challenge and ambition of such a mission is outstanding and illustrates how our space exploration of the solar system has become more advanced and successful. It gives us much to hope for in future missions.”

Can you give me some impressive stats related to the comet and the mission?

Planning for the journey began 25 years ago, and the mission itself took 10 years (the lander was launched in 2004).

Philae, which weighs 220 pounds and is the size of washing machine, traveled 6.4 billion miles in route to the comet.

The comet is 2.5 miles in diameter, has a mass of more than 10 billion tons, is traveling at 40,000 mph, and is shaped like a rubber duck.

What is a comet? (short version)

A celestial object consisting of a nucleus of ice and dust and, when near the sun, a “tail” of gas and dust particles pointing away from the sun.

What is a comet? (longer version)

Comets are like “dirty snowballs,” fragments of rock and ice left over from the formation of stars and planets, that are guided by the gravity of nearby stars and/or planets (or in our solar system, the Sun.

Comets in our solar system are derived from rock and ice floating around in the a debris field called the Oort Cloud. When the gravity from a large passing body, like our Sun, becomes strong enough, some large chunks of ice from the comet get pulled away from the cloud and head toward the Sun. As that ball of ice gets close enough to the Sun, its heat begins to melt some of the ice that makes up the comet. The melted ice becomes a gaseous tail that extends away from the source of the heat (in this case, the Sun). The tail is pushed out by the Sun’s solar wind.

Quick Takes

• Andrew Wilson parodies an all-too-common view in "The Case for Idolatry: Why Evangelical Christians Can Worship Idols".

• Breaking off a relationship because of pornography use can be a rational, justifiable, and moral reaction to a problem, says Mark Regnerus, but such actions contribute in ways not often noted to our broad retreat from marriage.

• Sanctification parenting is primarily concerned with the spiritual growth of your children. Reputation parenting is primarily concerned with the spiritual reputation of the parent. Whether we’d like to admit it or not, says Aaron Earls, reputation parenting is our default mode of parenting.

• The question atheists do not have an answer for, according to Ravi Zacharias

(For even more links, see the "Remainder Bin" at the end of this post.)

Featured TGC Articles

5 Common Small Group Myths (And The Truth To Help Transform Your Group) | Steven Lee

What you believe about why you are in a small group will dictate how you behave in that group.


Parenting Teaches Us To Be Better Children Of God | Winfree Brisley

French assumptions about the nature of children and the role of parents are not only helpful in informing our parenting, but also in reminding us of the character and nature of our heavenly Father as revealed in the book of Habakkuk.


Extra-Ecclesial Gospel Partnerships: A Mess Worth Making | Ryan Kelly and Kevin DeYoung

If we enter into extra-ecclesial partnerships such as TGC or T4G, granting their inherent limitations, they can serve a useful purpose in supporting the local church, encouraging pastors, and defending the faith.


Your Church Is Without A Senior Pastor: Now What? | Gavin Ortlund

Interim periods can be confusing and dark times in the life of any church. But what if God intended to use these seasons to grow and shape us according to his purposes?


To Engage The World Means Being Present In It | Tom Nelson

Jesus emphasizes that we shine his light in our good works. Our good works take on many dimensions, and we must see that our daily work is a significant part of the good works that glorify God.


Featured TGC Contributor Articles

A Theology of Healing in Six Questions | Justin Taylor

In Andrew Wilson’s latest article in Christianity Today he shares that his two children have regressive autism and he helps us process through a theology of divine healing.


Not That Kind of Homosexuality? | Kevin DeYoung

The Bible has nothing good to say about homosexual practice. That may sound like a harsh conclusion, but it’s not all that controversial.


Discipleship in the “Age of Authenticity” | Trevin Wax

Charles Taylor describes our secular age as “the age of authenticity,” a description that could easily fit the dominant narrative of most Disney films.


Barber Shop Grief | Thabiti Anyabwile

I’m still moved by the story “Tara” told. A beautiful young woman full of an infectious bouncing joy that helps her glide rather than walk. Normally beaming with a face-wide smile, she was, for Tara, sedate.


The expansion of the soul | Ray Ortlund

“I want to see a focused vision of spiritual maturity — the expansion of the soul is the best phrase I can use for it."


A Prayer When Feeling Relationally Vulnerable | Scotty Smith

Dear Lord Jesus, we were made for you, and have been redeemed to connect with you deeply—to enjoy an intimacy, union, and communion, of which our best relationships are only a hint, a whisper, a symbol.


Love When’s | Jared C. Wilson

When is God love?


Coming Next Week at TGC

Mothering in the Internet Age | Betsy Childs

Contrary to what online voices communicate, you’re not really in control of your child’s life—God is. And that is good news.


The Church Needs Men and Women to Be Friends | Jen Wilkin

Can men and women be friends? They not only can, but they must.


When You Are in Between Jobs | Luke Murry

Unemployment can be seen as a scarlet letter, but it shouldn’t be. Here are 10 ways to use your unemployment to glorify God.


Upcoming Events

TGC Bay Area Regional Conference (November 15th) 

The Bay Area chapter will host its third conference in Walnut Creek, CA on the theme, Revival and Reformation. Featured plenary speakers include D. A. Carson, Léonce Crump, Collin Hansen, and Jon McNeff. This team of plenary speakers will take us on a journey to explore how God works through prayer, the Word, leadership and persecution to precipitate gospel renewal and strengthen the church.

Albuquerque Regional Conference (March 20-22, 2015)

Assembled Under the Word: Preaching and Christ. Speakers include Alistair Begg, D.A. Carson, and David Helm.

2015 National Conference (April 1-15, 2015)

Heading Home: A New Heaven and a New Earth. Speakers include Tim Keller, D.A. Carson, John Piper, Mark Dever, Voddie Baucham, Philip G. Ryken, Ligon Duncan, and many others.

Remainder Bin

American Culture

Supreme Court to hear Obamacare subsidies case
Lawrence Hurley, Reuters

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Friday to hear a legal challenge to a key part of the Obamacare health law that, if successful, would limit the availability of federal health insurance subsidies for millions of Americans.

The fastest-growing new religious movement
Gene Veith, Cranach

One expert says that worship of “Holy Death” is “the fastest-growing new religious movement.” I suppose it is fitting that a culture of death has a religion of death.

2 Pastors, 90-Year-Old Man Charged With Feeding Homeless
Assoctiated Press

To Arnold Abbott, feeding the homeless in a public park in South Florida was an act of charity. To the city of Fort Lauderdale, the 90-year-old man in white chef’s apron serving up gourmet-styled meals was committing a crime.

It’s Official: Mormon Founder Had Up to 40 Wives
Laurie Goodstein, New York Times

Mormon leaders have acknowledged for the first time that the church’s founder and prophet, Joseph Smith, portrayed in church materials as a loyal partner to his loving spouse Emma, took as many as 40 wives, some already married and one only 14 years old.


Doctor to appear in court in UK’s first gender abortion prosecution
John Bingham, The Telegraph

Doctor exposed in Telegraph investigation served summons to face conspiracy allegation in landmark sex-selective abortion private prosecution.

Children’s Rights, or Rights to Children?
Alana S. Newman, Public Discourse

If it’s okay to buy and sell sperm, eggs, and wombs, then why is it not okay to sell other human tissues or organs? If it’s okay to sell one’s reproductive parts, why is it not okay to sell one’s sexual parts, as in prostitution? If it’s okay to pre-sell and pre-order children via third-party reproduction, what is so wrong with buying and selling children who are already born or conceived?

Why Don’t People Want to Donate Their Organs?
Tiffanie Wen, The Atlantic

Around 21 Americans die each day waiting for transplants. What’s behind the reluctance to posthumously save a life?

Combining The DNA Of Three People Raises Ethical Questions
Rob Stein, NPR

In a darkened lab in the north of England, a research associate is intensely focused on the microscope in front of her. She carefully maneuvers a long glass tube that she uses to manipulate early human embryos.

Christianity and Culture

A Christian Tightrope Walker?
David Murray

Can you be a “Christian Tightrope Walker.” Is tightrope-walking a legitimate Christian vocation? Does repeatedly mentioning God sanctify whatever job we do?

Pastors Don’t Need To Enter Politics—They’re Already In It
Peter J. Leithart, First Things

As pastors, pastors command unfathomable spiritual resources, the only resources with potential to transform the world. What Samuel Wells has said about the Church applies to pastors in particular: God gives “boundless gifts,” supplies “everything they need.”

The Warrior Wives of Evangelical Christianity
Emma Green, The Atlantic

The intense focus on sexuality, purity, manhood, and womanhood in certain faith communities—and its consequences.

Why Christian Groups Lead the Biggest Relief Efforts in the World
Christopher Hale, OnFaith

Organizations like World Vision give the lie to negative stereotypes about Christian work in the world.

Are We Seeing Another Global Great Awakening?
Donald Devine, The Federalist

A series of books have explored varying reasons why belief in God is high across the globe. Except for a few holdouts.

Religion in Latin America
Pew Research

Latin America is home to more than 425 million Catholics – nearly 40% of the world’s total Catholic population – and the Roman Catholic Church now has a Latin American pope for the first time in its history. Yet identification with Catholicism has declined throughout the region, according to a major new Pew Research Center survey that examines religious affiliations, beliefs and practices in 18 countries and one U.S. territory (Puerto Rico) across Latin America and the Caribbean.


Minneapolis schools to make suspending children of color more difficult
Alejandra Matos, Star Tribune

Minneapolis public school officials are making dramatic changes to their discipline practices by requiring the superintendent’s office to review all suspensions of students of color.

Family Issues

Paternity Leave: The Rewards and the Remaining Stigma
Claire Cain Miller, New York Times

Social scientists who study families and work say that men like Mr. Bedrick, who take an early hands-on role in their children’s lives, are likely to be more involved for years to come and that their children will be healthier.

4 charts that show how an intact family affects kids’ economic futures
Natalie Scholl, AEIdeas

Today, Brad Wilcox and Robert Lerman have a must-read piece at NRO on “what’s happening to the American family and why it matters for the health of the American Dream.” Here are four charts from their article that show that young men and women “who grow up in an intact, two-parent family have a leg up in today’s competitive economy.”

Health Issues

Loneliness is a disease that changes the brain’s structure and function
Research Digest

Loneliness increases the risk of poor sleep, higher blood pressure, cognitive and immune decline, depression, and ultimately an earlier death.

New Prediction Model Could Reduce Military Suicides, Study Finds
Benedict Carey, New York Times

Military doctors could reduce suicides among soldiers with psychiatric conditions by using a new screening system that flags those at highest risk of taking their own lives, a new study suggests.

International Issues

Pakistan Christian community living in fear after mob killings
Shahzeb Jillani, BBC

The fertile landscape in Chak 59 of Kasur district in the Punjab province is dotted with hundreds of brick kilns.

Marriage Issues

Why the Supreme Court May Have to Rule on Gay Marriage
Matt Ford, The Atlantic

With a decision to uphold same-sex-marriage bans, the Sixth Circuit creates a division that only the justices can resolve.

In For the Long Haul: Factors Contributing to the Marriage Crisis
Hilary Towers, Public Discourse

A model developed by developmental psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner, paired with the example of the pro-life movement, may demonstrate a new way forward in rehabilitating marriage.

Judge overturns same-sex marriage ban in South Carolina

A U.S. judge on Wednesday ordered South Carolina officials to stop enforcing a ban on same-sex marriage, ruling the state is bound by a regional federal appeals court decision that struck down Virginia’s ban.

Supreme Court Lets Marriages Go On in Kansas
Adam Liptak, New York Times

The Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed same-sex marriages to proceed in Kansas, lifting a temporary stay issued Monday by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Sexuality Issues

Evangelicals and the LGBT Community: What Does the Future Hold?
Andrew T. Walker, Public Discourse

Evangelicals are learning to model both grace and truth when discussing homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

Sexual Orientation and the Gospel of Jesus Christ
Albert Mohler

As I explained in my address, I had previously denied the existence of sexual orientation. I, along with many other evangelicals, did so because we did not want to accept the sexual identity structure that so often goes with sexual orientation.

The Pornographic Double-Bind
Mark Regnerus, First Things

Contrary to what is sometimes asserted, women have the right to be annoyed or upset by porn. It’s not a good thing. It’s spiritually draining. But we often overlook another casualty of pornography (and the human reaction to it): relationships that fail to launch.

Trouble In Transtopia: Murmurs Of Sex Change Regret
Stella Morabito, The Federalist

Transgender people who regret their sex changes typically get buried in venom rather than loved.

by Joe Carter at November 14, 2014 08:01 AM


VIS 2014 – Thursday

Thursday was the penultimate day of VIS 2014. I ended up only going to InfoVis sessions, and unfortunately missed a panel I had been planning to see. The papers were a bit more mixed, but there were agains some really good ones.

InfoVis: Evaluation

Thursday was off to a slow start (partly because of the effects of the party the night before that had the room mostly empty at first), but eventually got interesting.

Staggered animation is commonly understood to be a good idea: don’t start all movement in a transition at once, but with a bit of delay. It’s supposed to help people track the objects as they are moving. The Not-so-Staggering Effect of Staggered Animated Transitions on Visual Tracking by Fanny Chevalier, Pierre Dragicevic, and Steven Franconeri describes a very well-designed study that looked into that. They developed a number of criteria that make tracking harder, then tested those with regular motion. After having established their effect, they used Monte-Carlo simulation to find the most best configuration for staggered animation of a field of points (since there are many choices to be made about which to move first, etc.), and then tested those. It turns out that the effect from staggering is very small, if it exists at all. That’s quite interesting.

Since they tested this on a scatterplot with identical-looking dots, it’s not clear how this would apply to, for example, a bar chart or a line chart, where the elements are easier to identify. But the study design is very unusual and interesting, and a great model for future experiments.

Another unexpected result comes from The Influence of Contour on Similarity Perception of Star Glyphs by Johannes Fuchs, Petra Isenberg, Anastasia Bezerianos, Fabian Fischer, and Enrico Bertini. They tested the effect of outlines in star glyphs, and found that the glyph works better without it, just showing the spokes. That is interesting, since the outline supposedly would help with shape perception. There are also some differences between novices and experts, which are interesting in themselves.

The only technique paper that I have seen so far this year was Order of Magnitude Markers: An Empirical Study on Large Magnitude Number Detection by Rita Borgo, Joel Dearden, and Mark W. Jones. The idea is to design a glyph of sorts to show orders of magnitude, so values across a huge range can be shown without making most of the smaller values impossible to read. The glyphs are fairly straightforward and require some training, but seem to be working quite well.

InfoVis: Perception & Design

While there were some good papers in the morning, overall the day felt a bit slow. The last session of the day brought it back with a vengeance, though.

Learning Perceptual Kernels for Visualization Design by Çağatay Demiralp, Michael Bernstein, and Jeffrey Heer describes a method for designing palettes of shapes, sizes, colors, etc, based on studies. The idea is to measure responses to differences, and then train a model to figure out which of them can be differentiated better or worse, and then pick the best ones.

The presentation that took the cake for the day though was Ranking Visualization of Correlation Using Weber’s Law by Lane Harrison, Fumeng Yang, Steven Franconeri, and Remco Chang. It’s known that scatterplots allow people to judge correlation quite well, with precision following what is called Weber’s Law (which describes which end of the scale is easier to differentiate). In their experiments, the authors found that this is also true for ten other techniques, including line charts, bar charts, parallel coordinates, and more. This is remarkable because Weber’s law really describes very basic perception rather than cognition, and it paves the way for a number of new ways to judge correlation in almost any chart.

The Relation Between Visualization Size, Grouping, and User Performance by Connor Gramazio, Karen Schloss, and David Laidlaw looked at the role of mark size in visualizations, and whether it changes people’s performance. They found that mark size does improve performance, but only to a point. From there, it doesn’t make any more difference. Grouping also helps reduce the negative effect of an increase in the number of marks.

Everybody talks about visual literacy in visualization, but nobody really does anything about it. That is, until A Principled Way of Assessing Visualization Literacy by Jeremy Boy, Ronald Rensink, Enrico Bertini, and Jean-Daniel Fekete. They developed a framework for building visual literacy tests, and showed that this could work with an actual example. This is just the first step certainly, and there are no established visual literacy levels for the general population, etc. But having a way to gauge visual literacy would be fantastic and inform a lot of research, use of visualization in the media, education, etc.

The Podcasting Life

Moritz and Enrico asked me to help them record a segment for the VIS review episode of the Data Stories podcast. You can listen to that in all its raw, uncut glory by downloading the audio file.

by Robert Kosara at November 14, 2014 07:16 AM

Table Titans

Tales: The Deadliest Foe


Nature is deadly

I’m the Dungeon Master for a home campaign with a few friends. In our game we use a homebrew system for skill checks in which a natural 1 doesn’t just fail, it fails spectacularly and often hilariously. Similarly a natural 20 isn’t just a critical success, it’s an unbelievably…

Read more

November 14, 2014 07:00 AM

The Gospel Coalition | Latest Articles

The Space Between

Eric O. Jacobsen. The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. 304 pp. $25.00.

The church I pastor has a strong commitment to place: the neighborhoods we live in, the streets we travel, the businesses we frequent. In a city known for sprawl, this commitment isn't easy to practice. Recently, our elders have been deliberating whether future officers ought to live within our parish. One suggested, "What matters is how you live, not where the dirt under your bed is located." Another countered, "I agree, but doesn't it matter where the dirt under your front porch is located?"

What do you think? When you walk out of your front door, does the first space you step into affect your ability to live faithfully as a Christian? Does it have any bearing on biblical priorities like evangelism, justice, hospitality, and community?

Eric Jacobsen, a Presbyterian pastor in Tacoma, Washington, believes it does. His 2003 Sidewalks in the Kingdom argued that Christian theology comports well with New Urbanism, a burgeoning urban-design movement that resurrects pre-World War II principles for creating mixed-use neighborhoods built more for pedestrians than for cars. His latest, The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment, provides a more comprehensive framework for thinking practically and theologically about place. The book’s three main sections summon Christians to orientation, participation, and engagement in this central aspect of our existence.

Jacobsen writes with the mind of a professor and the heart of a practitioner, weaving history, theology, illustrations, and practical examples into a compelling portrait of life lived well before God and with others. Church and civic leaders will find it especially insightful, but so will soccer moms, college students, and cubicle-dwelling commuters. All who embrace his perspective will find themselves more self-consciously drawn toward wisely built places, and more committed to improving fragmented ones.

God's Gift of Place

As the title suggests, Jacobsen focuses not on buildings but on the spaces people cultivate between them—those marked by features like sidewalks, plazas, alleyways, yards, and parks. Such places aren't just static arrangements of asphalt, stone, and foliage but enacted spaces that demonstrate a "dynamic interaction of people and props in a particular place through time" (17). In other words, they're the places "where the story of our salvation is played out" (26).

If such concerns seem spiritually incidental, Jacobsen reminds us that Scripture holds place in high esteem—starting with its grand narrative arc that begins in a garden and ends in a city. In between, God's promise to root his people in a particular place fueled their hopes and fed their sorrows for centuries. Even our Savior's identity was tethered to a place: Jesus of Nazareth. What's more, Jesus preached about a kingdom of shalom, or peace, that extends to every facet of human existence, including the material world he declared "very good" and commissioned us to cultivate. This kingdom is here already, but not yet in its fullness.

God, Jacobsen argues, has given us four underappreciated gifts for participating in his already-but-not-yet kingdom: the gift of embodied existence, the gift of a place in which to thrive, the gift of community, and the gift of time. How we steward each is shaped by—and also shapes—the built environment around us. Sound theology shapes healthy environments, and healthy environments help us enact sound theology.

Places of Shalom

Consider your experience of favorite places. Can you walk to multiple, varied destinations safely, pleasantly, and in a reasonable amount of time? Does the arrangement of space naturally invite neighbors and even strangers into conversation? Do natural features, buildings, and monuments complement and enhance one another, creating a distinctive ethos in which generations of memories are embedded? Are essential goods and services easily accessible on foot? Wherever such features obtain, a healthy theology of place is on display, encouraging relationships across lines of class, ethnicity, ideology, and culture.

Jacobsen draws from multiple disciplines to furnish readers with a serviceable vocabulary for interpreting the elements of good placemaking. Expressions like "town fabric," "streetwall," "aspect ratio," "enclosure," "virtual thresholds," "third places," and "outdoor rooms" describe phenomena that non-experts recognize instinctively but don't have the categories to understand or appreciate. As he warns early on, "This book just might change the way you look at everything" (24).

Wise living is as much about anthropology as theology; how we understand God's character and our own design. Accordingly, Jacbsen’s first section, "Orientation," asks readers four questions: Who are you? Where are you? What are you? and When are you? His answers pave the path toward a God-centered, kingdom-oriented, embodied human identity while charting the various historical and philosophical sidewinds that have blown us off course in recent decades. Of particular interest is the 20th-century emergence of a rationalist, mechanistic approach to urban planning. The catastrophic failures of high-rise public housing projects stand as blighted monuments to its folly.

Car Trouble

In Jacobsen's account, the chief emblem of disordered place is the automobile. Not only are we "more likely to find places of shalom in environments built before the proliferation of automobile culture" (275), but we tend to make our cars into idols of individualistic self-determination. Jacobsen defines idolatry as "placing something in the center of our existence that has no business being there" (53). It's hard to imagine a better description of almost any environment built in the last 60 years. Factors as mundane as curb radii and street width have made our places hospitable for fast-moving cars and hazardous for slow-moving pedestrians. Yet in general, "environments designed for slower navigation may be better suited for the faithful living of an embodied human" (40). Rather than consumeristically asking, What would Jesus drive? Jacobsen encourages us to consider "why in the United States we have built a world in which Jesus would have to drive an automobile to participate in daily life at all" (207).

Other modern innovations such as central air conditioning have drawn us away from front porches that for centuries drew people into conversation with each other and their neighbors. It's now possible to drive from an air-conditioned home garage to an office parking garage and back, spending entire days without interacting with a single stranger. Consider the corresponding effect on loving our literal neighbors and sharing the gospel with them.

That said, Jacobsen is no Luddite; wisely embracing the benefits of cars, air conditioning, and communications technology simply means working against their unintended side effects. The way to shalom is neither nostalgia nor revolution but God’s way of redemption. He even cites my own city of Atlanta—a former posterchild for suburban sprawl—which is now building an innovative Beltline of trails, parks, transportation, and workforce housing around little-used rail lines to reconnect our balkanized intown neighborhoods.

Redeeming Place for People

Jacobsen's second section, "Participation," explores the arenas of family, church, and politics. Few Christians would disagree that these are primary fields for exercising our faith, yet too few have considered how the built environment tends to misshape them. Older generations still remember when children roamed their neighborhoods in safety for the bulk of daylight hours, yet moral decay alone can’t account for the shut-in contrast today. Could single-use zoning and terminal, cul-de-sac street layouts (misguidedly created to insulate us from moral decay) be contributing to why we no longer trust our neighbors—or even know their names? Could the scarcity of actual physical public squares help explain why our political climate is so toxically polarized?

For centuries, one of the most common spaces around church buildings was a cemetery. For newer churches today, it's more likely a vast parking lot or multi-story parking deck, increasing the physical and psychological distance between our worship and the unbelieving world around us. Is it any wonder that effective evangelism requires so much more time and energy to build bridges between faith and unbelief? What percentage of our church budgets are dedicated to engineering "community" that used to occur naturally where we live, work, learn, and play—and with a far more diverse set of participants than the typical age-and-stage compartments of modern church life? Lifestyles of spiritual commuting have dis-jointed and dis-membered the whole body of Christ.

Jacobsen's third section, "Engagement," draws more unsettling concerns about environmental sustainability, social justice, creative work, and even bodily health—all of which are dear to the heart of God and profoundly affected by the environments we build. Can you guess the "greenest" city in America—that is, with the lowest carbon footprint per capita? New York City. And Jacobsen cites Harvard economist Edward Glaeser, whose research found that “urban density provides the clearest path from poverty to prosperity. . . . [It] turns out that the world isn't flat; it's paved" (218). How and where we pave it will directly affect the holistic well-being of our friends, family, and neighbors.

Loving and Resting in Place

The Space Between concludes with two chapters exploring existential, relational, and aesthetic factors that most obviously affect the practice of our faith. Our Christian calling to show hospitality to strangers, so central to the biblical social ethic, requires physical links between public, social, personal, and intimate levels of belonging. The nature of the spaces between them will either help or hinder our ability to traverse them. And when we're not working, the built environment will either invite us to rest or goad us to keep working.

"Love bonds us to the place where we live," Jacobsen says, "but our love can also shape the place we live" (240). Jesus loves our places in his world, and one day he will return to redeem them fully for his glory. Until then, should we not love them, too—and avail ourselves of every resource he's given us to improve them?

by Walter Henegar at November 14, 2014 06:01 AM

The Scientific Romanticism of ‘Interstellar’

Warning: This review contains spoilers. Stop reading now if you don't want to know what happens in the film.

 the new film directed by Christopher Nolan, attempts to say something profound about human relationships and meaning, a goal that by itself is worth celebrating. What the film tries to say is a little more ambiguous.

If Interstellar were a religious text, the dogma it encodes could be called something like “scientific romanticism.” This belief system would hold that science will solve all of our problems one day, even the ones that by definition resist empirical observation and thus exist outside the purview of science (see Sagan’s Contact for another dogmatic specimen). Scientific romanticism works well as a narratival contrivance, but when employed to spice up the lives atheists who otherwise think that they have a clearer-headed view of the universe than those troglodytic believers, it can expose the scarcity of meaning available to those who eschew belief in God.

The story is formed around a father-daughter relationship between Cooper (Matthew McConoughey) and Murph (a character portrayed by three actors, Mackenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain, and Ellen Burstyn) that is poignant and real and, at one point, drew tears from your humble reviewer and father of daughters. That relationship is really the main plotline holding the story together, but regrettably it is never fully worked out. After two and a half hours (and almost a century) of longing for reunion, father finds his daughter again through remarkable circumstances. They share a joke, and then dismiss each other after a couple minutes. The audience is expected to suspend disbelief with such swift transitions, common in the film.

Utilitarian Value of Love

The father-daughter relationship, however, has another job to do. It provides the audience with an example of one those seemingly unscientific ideas like love that are so valuable to humanity because . . . because . . . they can help us make better gut decisions? This seems to be the point of Murph’s insistence for her father to “STAY” or Dr. Brand’s (Anne Hathaway) desire to visit Edmunds’s planet (a planet named after a former astronaut) instead of the planet of Dr. Mann (Matt Damon). Love informed the right gut decision.

Love’s value is apparently utilitarian, not ontological. It serves a purpose, but it has no value by itself. In these terms, the self-love of Dr. Mann and the survival instinct that animates his betrayal of our main characters is perfectly legitimate. Cooper calls him a coward because he seeks to preserve himself at the cost of the mission, but we might be reminded that, at this point in the film, Cooper is guilty of the same thing. The elder Dr. Brand’s plan A is a hoax, earth is doomed, so why not return to your loved ones? Dr. Mann is completely justified in his actions, so why all the sinister music while he is doing his thing?

Love is transcendent, the younger Dr. Brand says, but what that means differs from what it means in a world created and sustained by a personal God.

Which raises the question of meaning. The movie begins with a welcome conflict between science (Cooper’s empiricism) and mystery (Murph’s ghost), which is further complicated by the deliberate ignorance of the post-food crisis world in which they live. There are things we can observe and understand and those we can’t. Notably, the analysts at NASA all conclude that the gravitational anomalies are messages from “them,” presuming an unseen but personal force identified with what? Aliens? Spirits? Deities? Future fifth-dimensional humans? No one asking questions about God is given a fair hearing.

We find, however, that some of these anomalies, Murph’s ghost for instance, are actually the work of Cooper himself operating in a fifth-dimension-for-dummies control center located within a black hole. Mystery solved. The mystery is you. There is also a strong hint here that the agents behind all of this are a higher, future form of humans, manipulating gravitational anomalies like trails of bread crumbs. This “you of the gaps” theory is basically the notional twin of the “God of the gaps” theory so derided by critics of certain forms of creationism. If you encounter mystery, you can chalk it up to you, just a better future you. How’s that for special pleading?

Where Can Meaning Be Found?

Even so, we are never given an explanation about the meaning of the events that unfold on the screen. Is this all not the natural progression of cosmic activity in a vacuum? Should the audience be moved merely out of solidarity with our species (which again would justify Dr. Mann’s actions as much as Cooper’s)?

These are not meta-type questions irrelevant to the movie itself. They actually get at the issues the movie is exploring. How ought we to evaluate decisions in life? Where do we find meaning?

The problem is that the scientific romanticism of Interstellar can only describe events in ever more complex networks of causes and effects. It cannot explain events. It cannot provide a foundation for meaning. We get the what and the how (most of the time) but not the why. We get much sound and fury, but thin signification.

That said, Interstellar is still a moving film; at points it is breathtaking. Nolan provides a vividly produced simulacrum with expansive extraterrestrial panoramas imagined and shaped deliberately for the IMAX screen, just like those floating lanterns in Tangled were destined from birth for 3D screens. Some of these scenes are literally wonderful in their construal. Yes, it suffers from several severe plot-holes (apparently in the naturalistic universe of the film, the deus ex machina is one god who is not dead) and even more problematic idea-holes. But the movie is still worth seeing.

by Scott Redd at November 14, 2014 06:01 AM

4 Dangers for Complementarians

I am not ashamed to be complementarian. It has never been a dirty word for me, because I’ve grown up seeing godly expressions of it in my family, and hearing compelling arguments for it from my ministry heroes. More than anything, C. S. Lewis books like Perelandra have shaped my thinking about gender. (For anyone curious, I’ve summed up why I’m complementarian here.)

Though I don’t particularly emphasize this point in my theology, it often generates a strong reaction when it comes up. In my setting in Southern California, actually, it is often regarded as antiquated and inherently sexist. And throughout our culture, it seems to be getting only more and more controversial to affirm, with the TGC Confessional Statement, that “men and women are not simply interchangeable, but rather they complement each other in mutually enriching ways.” We might expect even stronger backlash in the years and decades ahead.

But as I’ve grown in my friendships with people on different sides of this issue, I’ve observed many who are less hostile to the idea of complementarianism but nevertheless avoid the term. People in this demographic fall somewhere between complementarianism and egalitarianism; they often have a high view of Scripture; they often oppose aggressive feminism; they often like some complementarian ministers (say, Francis Chan or Tim Keller); they may even line up pretty closely to complementarianism on paper.

Why, then, do they reject the term? Sometimes they are simply confused or conflicted on the issue, but most often, they had a bad experience with a particular person or group that goes under the “complementarian” label.

I think we need to engage with people in this middle demographic differently than we do with more aggressive egalitarians and feminists. And I don’t think it’s a sign of compromise to listen to some of their critiques. After all, some of the problems they are reacting against are real. At times complementarians have used provocative and unhelpful language; at times we have been ungentle in our tone; at times we have overstated what complementarianism entails; and tragically, in some complementarian cultures the gifts and contributions of women have been squelched or at least muted.

Of course, many people will disagree with complementarianism—often quite vehemently—no matter what we say or do. But the truth is offensive enough without our help. We don’t need to add to its offense with our own faults and foibles. I therefore list four dangers to which we should be particularly sensitive, even while we stand firm in the face of pressure from our more aggressive critics.

1. Stereotyping gender roles.

In cultures where complementarianism is embraced, it can be all too easy to confuse the essence of masculinity or femininity with one particular expression of it. But marriages and church cultures patterned after complementarian convictions will not always look the same; they take on shape and beauty as expressed through particular personalities, cultural locations, and relationship dynamics. The foundational principles do not change, of course—but the exact feel does. Kathy Keller puts this well in The Meaning of Marriage: “the basic roles—of leader and helper—are binding, but every couple must work out how that will be expressed within their marriage.”

In a recent interview about their helpful book on the topic, Andreas and Margaret Köstenberger put it like this: “Scripture doesn’t give a lot of detail as to how God’s design for man and woman is to be worked out, so a traditional division of labor (women in the kitchen, changing diapers; men at work letting women do all household chores) doesn’t square with the biblical design.”

For people who have grown up in a home in which the wife tends to do the dishes, laundry, and cleaning, and the husband tends to work a job, mow the lawn, and get the oil changed, it can be only too natural to simply assume that this is what complementarianism should always look like. So we should be careful to clarify for people—most of whom have not studied this issue in depth—that embracing complementarianism need not always require embracing these kinds of culturally conditioned roles.

Moreover, household divisions of labor are not the only area where this principle applies. To take just one more example, consider the potential for stereotype with respect to personality or temperament. Among those operating with a more traditional mindset, one often hears claims like these:

  • guys are less sensitive or less emotional than girls
  • guys are less talkative than girls
  • guys like sports more than girls 

And so on and so forth. It is unfortunate when people stumble over complementarianism because they associate it with such assertions; they are stereotypes, not biblical mandates.

2. Failing to clearly distinguish complementarianism from various kinds of patriarchalism and hierarchicalism.

Many people in our culture think only in two categories on the meaning of gender: conservative vs. progressive. But in truth, biblical complementarianism—like the gospel it pictures—will subvert both progressive, egalitarian mindsets as well as traditional, hierarchical/patriarchal mindsets that tend to assign men a more basic role in society than women. It will stand out as different, as beautiful, as an alternative, not merely in 21st century Manhattan, but also in ancient India, medieval Europe, and 1950s America.

Because we may err in multiple directions, it is not enough simply to affirm complementarianism over and against egalitarianism. We must also affirm complementarianism over and against any other alternative to the beauty of Ephesians 5. If people only hear us pushing in one direction, we make it easier for people to lump us together with others pushing in the opposite direction. We say, “egalitarianism is wrong”; they hear, “patriarchalism is right.” If we distinguish the biblical view of gender from both its progressive and conservative alternatives, we position people better to perceive its nuance and beauty and depth.

3. Defending complementarianism zealously, but failing to live it out beautifully.

There is a real danger at hand when the (difficult) goal of defending complementarianism becomes so prominent in our vision that it sidelines the (even more difficult) goal of living it out in a beautiful, life-giving way. Theological integrity is hard and important; godliness and love equally important, and probably harder. But to affirm the truth without also applying it to ourselves is not just incomplete: it is actually a step backward.

We should labor to show that complementarianism is not merely biblical, but beautiful. Our target is not merely “faithful” or “right”; it is also “wise” and “winsome.” Insofar as depends on us, our church cultures should be places where people genuinely feel welcomed, valued, safe. Doubtless some will see any expression of complementarianism as a threat. But others may say, upon experiencing church cultures following the example of Christ (including his respect for women), “This is beautiful. This makes sense. I see how this can work.”

4. Failing to celebrate the contribution of women.

We should be enthusiastic about the myriad ways that God calls and uses women. Too often this comes across as a concession from complementarians, rather than something to rejoice in. And too many complementarian churches are not just “male led,” but “male heavy” in their various ministry spheres.

In the Bible, women are involved in ministry in many different ways. Just to pick out one example: many women throughout the Old Testament were prophets (Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, and so on), and in the New Testament the gift of prophecy is clearly given to both men and women (Acts 2:17-18, 21:9, 1 Corinthians 11:5). In our complementarian settings, do we seek to accommodate anything like this example? Even if we are cessationist, do we seek to implement the principle? Do we make equal room for both genders to exercise their spiritual gifts toward the body?

May we not be more afraid of affirming what is forbidden than we are of forbidding what is affirmed. And whichever error we are tempted toward on this issue, may the Lord give us grace to find the narrow path marked by both courage and humility, the path that leads to both truth and beauty.

by Gavin Ortlund at November 14, 2014 06:01 AM

CrossFit Naptown

Gleaners Tomorrow & Eleiko Max Out Day Next Saturday


Back Squat
5 Second Pause
HATA (Heavy as Technique Allows)


5 Rounds every 2 Minutes
10 Pushups
10 S2OH




CARPOOL: Will be meeting at CrossFit NapTown parking lot at 8:15am.

The caravan/carpool will be leaving at 8:30am as we must be there NO LATER than 9am to receive proper instructions.

If you will be arriving straight to Gleaners please be there no later than 9am.
NOTE: It is a 20 minute drive from CFNT!





unnamedOn Saturday, November 22nd ELEIKO will be at CFNT showcasing their top of the line “weight lifting” equipment. If you have never lifted with our one ELEIKO bar your mind will be blown on the 22nd. Learn more here on their website: Eleiko Sport Website

noun: weightlifting; noun: weight-lifting
  1. the sport or activity of lifting barbells or other heavy weights. There are two standard lifts in modern weightlifting: the single-movement lift from floor to extended “over head” position (the snatch ), and the two-movement lift from floor to shoulder position, and from shoulders to extended “over head” position (the clean and jerk ).

In addition to ELEIKO coming we will be hosting a FREE Mock Olympic Lifting Meet for CFNT members. This will be limited to the first 30 people who sign up. Spots have been filling up so please let Coach Kevin, Jared, or Peter know as soon as possible with your interest.

As part of the mock meet you only get 3 attempts to hit your maximum lift in each of the two movements. You also will be on a “stage” in front of your peers. If you feel like you want to test your skills in this type of environment talk to coach Kevin or email Advanced/upper intermediate lifters will benefit the most from this.

Have NO worries, the 9:30am and 10:30am class will run as normal that day, but the WOD will be 1 rep max Snatch and 1 rep Max Clean and Jerk. You will have as many lifts as we can fit into class to reach your 1 rep max. So same idea, but with out the pressure. Great for most of us. 

What does that mean? Lots of Clean and Jerks and Lots of Snatches on November 22nd.

Simply put, on November 22nd, you all will have an opportunity to win “Eleiko PR Prize Packs” for everyone who PR’s. T-shirts, Metal Water Bottles, Shakers, and Drawstring Bags (examples of prizes)

More Details to come next week.

Lifting heavy on Saturday, November 22nd will be open to all CF NapTown members. This will be an Inner Box Event running roughly from Noon-3:30pm and no outside participants allowed.

by Coach Jared at November 14, 2014 02:55 AM

Doc Searls WeblogDoc Searls Weblog »

Winter arrives

It’s already snowing across eastern Pennsylvania and much of New Jersey and upstate New York:

first snowStill raining steadily here in New York, but hey: snow might come. Either way, Winter’s here.

by Doc Searls at November 14, 2014 02:54 AM

November 13, 2014

The Brooks Review

Using VSCO Cam for iPad

Shawn Blanc:

All in all, I’m so glad to have a native VSCO Cam app for my iPad. Though it’s not a life-changing revolution to my photography workflow, it certainly is something I’ll be using.

No extension (still) for use in means it is still a Siloed area and there are far better options than VSCO cam at this point for photo editing on your iOS devices.

I’ll have a full post next week about how I am no longer using my Mac for photo editing.

Please consider becoming a member to support my writing. All writing is 100% member funded.

by Ben Brooks at November 13, 2014 11:44 PM

CrossFit Naptown

Gleaners Volunteers: Saturday Information


Snatch Balance

3 Minute AMRAP
10 Russian KBS
10 Goblet Squats
10 Side to Side Twists (Abs)
Score = Reps

3 Minute Rest

3 Minute AMRAP
10 Russian KBS
10 Goblet Squats
10 Side to Side Twists (Abs)
Score = Reps




Gleaners-e1329712319638CARPOOL: Will be meeting at CrossFit NapTown parking lot at 8:15am.

The caravan/carpool will be leaving at 8:30am as we must be there NO LATER than 9am to receive proper instructions.

If you will be arriving straight to Gleaners please be there no later than 9am.
NOTE: It is a 20 minute drive from CFNT!

It’s nearing Thanksgiving, a time to review what you are grateful for and give back to others who might not be as fortunate (arguably we should do this all the time, but I digress). Working out with your fellow CrossFitters is fun, but how about taking it ‘outside the box’, and working together in a different capacity? Take time this fall to step outside of the gym and give back. It will make you feel great on a different level than working out does, and it will feel damn good!
Saturday, November 15 from 9am-12pm- we will be volunteering as a group at Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana.
1. What does Gleaners do?
Gleaner’s mission is to lead the fight against hunger. Ultimately, Gleaners reaches thousands of people who need assistance. They are the working poor, the unemployed, single parents and the elderly. They are the homeless, the disabled, the mentally ill. They are battered women, victims of disaster and helpless children. They are families, friends and neighbors throughout Indiana.
2. What’s the address?
3737 Waldemere, Indianapolis 46241
3. What will we be doing?
We will either be filling Backsacks or CSFP, see descriptions here:
Backsacks: You will help assemble the 10,000 bags Gleaners distributes each week to kids in need. There are grocery bags that travel on an assembly line in which you will place one of the 15 items that go into each bag.

CSFP: Commodities Supplemental Food Program (senior boxes):You will be assembling boces of supplemental food for low-income senior citizens. A box travels down a conveyor belts and you place items in the box. Once all the items are placed in the box, the box is inspected, taped, labeled, and stacked on pallets.

Screen shot 2014-10-14 at 11.56.04 PM Screen shot 2014-10-14 at 11.56.16 PMScreen shot 2014-10-14 at 11.58.28 PM

by Coach Jared at November 13, 2014 11:18 PM

Front Porch Republic

Localist Roundup: Now With Even More Black Friday

This piece counts the cost of U.S. military action against ISIS.

In other news, Wal-Mart is set to make Black Friday a Thanksgiving week-long event.

Meanwhile, this piece criticizes nostalgia in politics.

Lastly, this article indicates that most Americans are despairing of being able to control whether companies (or the government) acquires their personal information.

The post Localist Roundup: Now With Even More Black Friday appeared first on Front Porch Republic.

by Josiah Duran at November 13, 2014 11:14 PM

The Brooks Review

Tablet Writing Setups Are Not About the Angles

Thord D. Hedengren:

The angle and strain of an iPad writing setup, featuring an external bluetooth keyboard, and a decent stand, isn’t a valid reason to use a laptop. They’re the same. No, scratch that, the iPad’s potentially better, since you can move the components around any way you like.

Please consider becoming a member to support my writing. All writing is 100% member funded.

by Ben Brooks at November 13, 2014 11:01 PM

The Frailest Thing

The Best Time to Take the Measure of a New Technology

In defense of brick and mortar bookstores, particularly used book stores, advocates frequently appeal to the virtue of serendipity and the pleasure of an unexpected discovery. You may know what you’re looking for, but you never know what you might find. Ostensibly, recommendation algorithms serve the same function in online contexts, but the effect is rather the opposite of serendipity and the discoveries are always expected.

Take, for instance, this book I stumbled on at a local used book store: Electric Language: A Philosophical Study of Word Processing by Michael Heim. The book is currently #3,577,358 in Amazon’s Bestsellers Ranking, and it has been bought so infrequently that no other book is linked to it. My chances of ever finding this book were vanishingly small, but on Amazon they were slimmer still.

I’m quite glad, though, that Electric Language did cross my path. Heim’s book is a remarkably rich meditation on the meaning of word processing, something we now take for granted and do not think about at all. Heim wrote his book in 1987. The article in which he first explored the topic appeared in 1984. In other words, Heim was contemplating word processing while the practice was still relatively new. Heim imagines that some might object that it was still too early to take the measure of word processing. Heim’s rejoinder is worth quoting at length:

“Yet it is precisely this point in time that causes us to become philosophical. For it is at the moment of such transitions that the past becomes clear as a past, as obsolescent, and the future becomes clear as destiny, a challenge of the unknown. A philosophical study of digital writing made five or ten years from now would be better than one written now in the sense of being more comprehensive, more fully certain in its grasp of the new writing. At the same time, however, the felt contrast with the older writing technology would have become faded by the gradually increasing distance from typewritten and mechanical writing. Like our involvement with the automobile, that with processing texts will grow in transparency–until it becomes a condition of our daily life, taken for granted.

But what is granted to us in each epoch was at one time a beginning, a start, a change that was startling. Though the conditions of daily living do become transparent, they still draw upon our energies and upon the time of our lives; they soon become necessary conditions and come to structure our lives. It is incumbent on us then to grow philosophical while we can still be startled, for philosophy, if Aristotle can be trusted, begins in wonder, and, as Heraclitus suggests, ‘One should not act or speak as if asleep.’”

It is when a technology is not yet taken for granted that it is available to thought. It is only when a living memory of the “felt contrast” remains that the significance of the new technology is truly evident. Counterintuitive conclusions, perhaps, but I think he’s right. There’s a way of understanding a new technology that is available only to those who live through its appearance and adoption, and who know, first hand, what it displaced. As I’ve written before, this explains, in part, why it is so tempting to view critics of new technologies as Chicken Littles:

One of the recurring rhetorical tropes that I’ve listed as a Borg Complex symptom is that of noting that every new technology elicits criticism and evokes fear, society always survives the so-called moral panic or techno-panic, and thus concluding, QED, that those critiques and fears, including those being presently expressed, are always misguided and overblown. It’s a pattern of thought I’ve complained about more than once. In fact, it features as the tenth of myunsolicited points of advice to tech writers.

Now, while it is true, as Adam Thierer has noted here, that we should try to understand how societies and individuals have come to cope with or otherwise integrate new technologies, it is not the case that such negotiated settlements are always unalloyed goods for society or for individuals. But this line of argument is compelling to the degree that living memory of what has been displaced has been lost. I may know at an intellectual level what has been lost, because I read about it in a book for example, but it is another thing altogether to have felt that loss. We move on, in other words, because we forget the losses, or, more to the point, because we never knew or experienced the losses for ourselves–they were always someone else’s problem.

Heim wrote Electric Language on a portable Tandy 100.

Heim wrote Electric Language on a portable Tandy 100.

by Michael Sacasas at November 13, 2014 10:36 PM

CrossFit Naptown

SWIFT Workout 11.13.14

Headstand and Handstand Progressions

1) Beep Test

2) 1000M Row Time Trial

by Coach Jared at November 13, 2014 10:36 PM

SWIFT 11.14.14

Full Tabata of Each Movement:
(8 Rounds: 20 Seconds ON : 10 Seconds OFF)

Hollow Rocks
Back Squats (body weight, 1/2 body weight, 1/4 body weight or bar bell)
American Kettlebells
Handstand Hold



by Coach Jared at November 13, 2014 10:35 PM

Cliff Click's Blog

Hacking in H2O

In preparation for H2OWorld – I written a couple of blogs to help people quick-start in hacking in H2O.  All of these talks blend engineering, math and Big Data – and need nothing more than a really basic (free) Java development environment.



by cliffc at November 13, 2014 09:04 PM

512 Pixels

Dig Up an App →

This week, on Connected:

This week, Stephen explains Net Neutrality to the Europeans, Myke explains YouTube Music and why Evernote Context doesn’t bother him before Federico explains how bit rot in the App Store makes him sad.

This episode was made possible by:

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by Stephen Hackett at November 13, 2014 07:58 PM

The Art of Non-Conformity

“The Voice In Your Head Isn’t Lying” : Sara Lovett’s Quest

This is a quest case study. (Read others or nominate yourself.)

Before it became a popular social media experiment, Sara Lovett had an original idea: to reconnect with her 166 Facebook friends in person. She quit her job, got in her car (sometimes with her poodle, Stanley), and drove across three countries to see everyone.

Here’s her story.

Tell us about yourself:

My name is Sara Lovett. I was born in Epsom, England and moved to Dallas, Texas as a teenager. After college, I dreamed of emulating actress Marian Seldes. To tide me over, I took an office job. I know now that whenever you tide yourself over, your dream fades off into the corner marked “hobby.” Corporate America sucked me in, and it felt like living on Ambien. 

I sleep-walked my way through twenty years of a life that I had allowed to choose me. What surprises me most is that I didn’t put up much of a fight. It was only two years ago that I finally asked, ‘How did I get here?’ One September morning I awoke with the pressure of all those lost years. I could no longer allow fear to determine my outcome. So first, I wrote a novel. Then, I had an idea: to visit all 166 of my Facebook friends, face-to-face.


Outside my great grandmother’s house in Fulham, London with my second cousin Jimmy.

Why did you decide to undertake your quest?

The novel I wrote was about relationships. It got me thinking about what friendship really means, what it has meant to me, and what it is evolving into today with the onset of social media. Friendship has made a new home for itself inside of a machine, and I wanted to know my friends again. Despite the machine’s best intentions, the longer I waited to see my friends in person, the more they were evaporating into images I wasn’t connected to anymore.

On my 47th birthday, I committed to visit my 166 friends in 64 cities in 365 days. Almost immediately, I wavered. I was scared to leave my familiar life. And then, a friend of mine had a heart attack, dying on his 48th birthday.

This man lived a life full in the purpose of who he was and making a difference. I wasn’t doing that, which made me lose self respect—and that shifted me into gear. Waiting was no longer an option.

I quit my corporate job, put all of my things in storage, grabbed my poodle, and set off.


A Richland college reunion, 25 years later with Jackie, Leigh, Bobby, myself and Christie.

What were the costs associated with visiting all your Facebook friends (and how do you cover them)?

In total I spent almost $36,000. I had saved up about $30,000, raised $1,000 on Indiegogo, and the people I had worked with closely in my job gave me an additional $500. Towards the end I cashed in some stock which boosted me, and both my parents and my brother gifted me with money that saw me through. I was also sponsored by two friends who had started their own businesses.

Tell us about a low point in your journey:

While in Oregon, the worst possible thing I could imagine happened to the person I hold dearest to me. My best friend Stephanie’s husband died suddenly, two days before his daughter’s 2nd birthday. I stopped my quest and went back to Texas. I was so angry that this man who embraced life all with the passion that no one questioned, has been pulled kicking and screaming from all that he had come to understand as holy and beautiful to him.

The funeral was an outpouring of celebration for his life. It encompassed all of him, each nook and cranny—the challenging and the joyous. Three endearing, emotional, funny, heartbreaking filled hours of memory fueled tales of himself. So many people spoke that there had to be an intermission. This is someone hundreds of people would miss.

Leaving Stephanie afterward was hard. I wanted to stay and shove off my whole damn project. Except that making sure I completed my journey and connected with people before I died was why I was on the road. I stayed with Stephanie for a few weeks, then flew back to Oregon, still not really wanting to go but knowing I had to.

One of the last times I was with Stephanie and her husband.

Have you met any interesting people?

Re-meeting people I’ve known for years allowed me to also re-meet myself. My friends are my best way to understand the last twenty years of my life, to show me how I got where I am today. Reconnecting in person with each of my friends, I began to see how we had each woven our individual tales in through each other’s. Some of those friends included:

  • Stephanie, with her strength in this time of the loss of her husband and the unconditional love towards her child
  • Jane, dealing with her teenage son’s suicide, six years before. A still fresh wound that she lives in every day, offering up the truth that yes, we grieve, no it never ends, and yes it’s okay to live in that, to talk about it, to not suppress any of it until it heals
  • Sarah, polyamorous, euphonium playing, raising a teenager within a home that surrounds an atmosphere of pure art
  • Bill, an ex-acting teacher, who now works with soldiers returning from the war with PTSD using Shakespeare to help channel the anger, sadness, and horror of their experiences
  • Paul, my brother and a successful writer

I could go on for all 166.


Visiting my brother Paul in Oregon.

What advice would you give to someone else considering a quest?

Once that switch goes off in your head, it will not switch back. It will not give up on you no matter how many years you stroll by it. It will never feel like the right time, you will never have enough money, and the truth of yourself will not reveal itself to you until you strip yourself of all that you know is not who you are, and just begin.

Believe the voice in your head; it isn’t lying. There is no downside to undertaking something that has meaning to you. Even if it’s something that will take you a month, a year, ten years to accomplish, you will be honoring who you are to a depth that few know the feeling of.

What did we miss?

I have been blessed with good friends and remarkable friendships. There were times on long stretches of driving when I looked back at fear and wonder what I had done, throwing all my money in the air and letting it settle at the train tracks, airlines, gas stations, and friendship’s doorway.

But at each reconnection I found what inspired each person, what they had found, were seeking, creating, lacking, dreaming, dreading and celebrating. In short, I truly knew them. What I met at the end is best described in the concept of Ubuntu: I am the best version of me, because of my interactions with you.

What’s next?

I am writing a book about my experience called, “Follow me to Friendshipland: The Story of Facebook on Foot,” and working on a one-woman play based on those same experiences.

Follow along with Sara’s quest at her website, Leap2Now, or find her on Twitter at @leap2now.


by Chris Guillebeau at November 13, 2014 05:09 PM

Roads from Emmaus

Redeeming the Time by Nurturing Community

St. Nektarios the Wonder-worker / Seventh Sunday of Luke, November 9, 2014 Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. An experienced senior priest once said to me, “Make the place you are into Paradise.” This saying occurred to me […]

The post Redeeming the Time by Nurturing Community appeared first on Roads from Emmaus.

by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick at November 13, 2014 04:13 PM

The Art of Non-Conformity

6 Discoveries from Near and Far: Volume XIX


I. Around the World

Things I found on long walks in foreign cities, or perhaps when someone posted them on Twitter.

II. On the Blog

A few posts you may have missed on the blog this week.

III. A Blast from the Past

Something from the AONC archives.



by Chris Guillebeau at November 13, 2014 04:03 PM

Feed: » stratechery by Ben Thompson

An Update on the Stratechery Membership Program

Last spring I wrote a series about the future of journalism:

  • Part 1: FiveThirtyEight and the End of Average – link
  • Part 2: The Stages of Newspapers’ Decline – link
  • Part 3: Newspapers Are Dead; Long Live Journalism – link

In the third installment I wrote:

More and more journalism will be small endeavors, often with only a single writer. The writer will have a narrow focus and be an expert in the field they cover. Distribution will be free (a website), and most marketing will be done through social channels. The main cost will be the writer’s salary.

Monetization will come from dedicated readers around the world through a freemium model; primary content will be free, with increased access to further discussions, additional writing, data, the author, etc. available for-pay.

A few weeks later I launched Stratechery 2.0, my perhaps quixotic attempt to put my quite literal money where my mouth was.

That was a little over six months ago, and since that time I’ve gotten questions about how things are going. I tend to be private about such things, so I haven’t replied, and truthfully, I feel a bit sheepish right now. But I think if any number is worth celebrating it is the number 1,000. I passed that number of active subscribers earlier this month.

Back in 2008 Kevin Kelly wrote:

A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author – in other words, anyone producing works of art – needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.

Making a living is about right. I’m not getting rich by any means, but I’m doing ok financially by doing what I love professionally, and that’s pretty awesome. So that’s my answer to all those asking: I’m doing great.

More broadly, while nothing is assured, it looks like I might have been on to something when it comes to the viability of writing on the web. There is a lot of doom and gloom among journalists especially about how the Internet has profoundly disrupted publications built on an analog business model, but I think to focus on what has been lost is to overlook what has been gained. There is a flora of new journalism that is only possible because of the web, and I truly believe we are only getting started.

Most importantly, for anyone reading this who believes they truly have something unique to say, please go for it. It is possible to make it on your own, and the world needs your voice.

The foundation of Stratechery remains free posts on the main blog, and five Daily Updates a week with 12~15 pieces of analysis about topical tech news. You can sign up here.

I did want to share a few important updates about the membership program:

  • I have consolidated the membership program down to one level: $10 a month or $100 a year. Now all members not only get the Daily Update every weekday, but also access to the (very active) Stratechery Forum
  • Speaking of the Stratechery Forum, it has been relaunched as a Stratechery-hosted (responsive) message board for all members, with hundreds of posts in less than two weeks. Relatedly, I am ending on-post comments
  • I have ended the sponsored post program. While I am a believer in native advertising, I wanted to focus my incentives behind the membership program both in regards to post frequency as well as customer service. My thanks to the sponsors who supported Stratechery over the last six months

Now, more than ever, this site and the members who subscribe to the Daily Update are my livelihood (although I do offer strategic consulting). I truly feel blessed and would like to sincerely thank every member who has signed up to date, and anyone who signs up in the future.

As always, I aim to make it worth your while.

The post An Update on the Stratechery Membership Program appeared first on stratechery by Ben Thompson.

by Ben Thompson at November 13, 2014 03:23 PM

The Urbanophile

Back to Vlasic

Image via OC Mini Market

Earlier this year a trend called “normcore” got a lot of press. Normcore is a fashion idea based on wearing boring, undistinguished clothing such as that from the Gap. Jerry Seinfeld is a normcore fashion icon.

While normcore was at least in part a joke, I think it illustrates why trend chasing by uncool cities will never make them cool. So you live in some place which isn’t on everyone’s list of the coolest cities. You read all about what’s happening in places like Brooklyn with micro-roasters, micro-breweries, cupcake shops, and artisanal pickles, and you’re like wow, my city has all that now, too. We’ve arrived.

No you haven’t. Do you think for a minute that the cool kids are going to let you just catch up and join the club? It doesn’t work that way. By the time you get to where they were, they’ve moved on to something else. You’ll never catch up doing it that way.

The idea of normcore, though probably just ephemera, shows how quickly the script could be flipped on you. Just as you finally master pretentious esoterica, the cool kids suddenly revert back to ordinary.

I wouldn’t be totally surprised to see something like that happen, actually. While I shouldn’t underestimate the ability of creative people to continue playing leapfrog to new levels of local, bespoke, exclusive, etc., at some point that trend will be played out. Then were do you go? Back to the comfort of ordinary.

Just when your Rust Belt burg finally has seven different artisanal pickle purveyors, don’t be surprised when the New York Times does an article talking about how the latest trend in Brooklyn is Vlasic kosher dill spears. (In an era in which Millennials are under huge financial pressure, this, like the sharing economy, would also be conveniently a matter of self-interest). Heck, maybe they already have and I just missed it.

Again, it’s like the way that these industrial towns abandoned their local culture to pursue cool city culture, only to have those cool cities re-appropriate working class culture – Pabst, workwear brands, etc – for themselves. Now these Rust Belt cities are re-importing their own culture back as supplicants. Remember, back in the 90s, the cool cities list used to frequently include the number of Starbucks locations as an indicator. Things change fast.

I like being able to get a good cup of coffee in these industrial towns now. I think it’s great for cities to have nicer stuff. But don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that by itself will change your relative standing in the marketplace.

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

by Aaron M. Renn at November 13, 2014 03:15 PM

Crossway Blog

Things You May Not Know About Bible Paper

What's the Big Deal?

A few weeks ago we posted a crash course on Bible cover materials, and now we turn our attention to the interior of the Bible.

You may have seen buzzwords like “opacity,” “PPI,” “ghosting,” or “readability” flying around the internet, especially when it comes to “high-quality Bible paper.” So what’s the big deal? It’s just paper, right?

The production of Bible paper is so technical that only a handful of companies in the world make it. The average ESV Bible, without any extra study content, has more than 700,000 words, and the ESV Study Bible has over 2.2 million words! Arranging this much content in an organized, cohesive, and readable way is a remarkable feat in and of itself. Then there’s printing everything on paper—a challenge that can only be described as a lesson in paradoxes and chemistry. Once produced and run through massive printing presses, the pages are bound (sewn or glued), then finished off with a cover.

You could make the case that Bible printing is one of the most complicated printing projects in the world.

Key Terms

Here are some some key terms to know related to Bible paper:

  1. Opacity: transparency of the page: measured by how much light shines through a sheet (measured by a numerical rating of 800–1,600)
  2. Show-thorugh: the degree to which print shows through on the opposite side of a page (often referred to as “ghosting”)
  3. PPI (pages per inch): a measurement of the number of pages in an inch of paper (measured by a numerical rating of 70–90)
  4. Formation: used in describing the degree to which the pulp and fibers of a sheet of paper are, or are not, evenly dispersed.
  5. Lignin: an organic substance found plant cell walls. Lignin is a fortifying substance, like a glue that binds fibers together and allows plants and trees to stand upright.
  6. Titanium dioxide: the most widely used white pigment because of its brightness and very high refractive index; Titanium dioxide is employed as a pigment to provide whiteness and opacity to products such as paints, coatings, plastics, papers, inks, foods, medicines (e.g., pills and tablets) as well as most toothpastes.

Common Types of Bible Paper

There are three main categories of Bible paper:

  1. Groundwood
    • Brownish or oatmeal colored paper
    • Most commonly used choice for books and newspapers because of its low production cost
    • The lignin in groundwood paper begins to deteriorate when exposed to air and sunlight, causing the paper to yellow and become brittle
    • Typically a thicker paper (low PPI) which means it has high opacity
    • Commonly used in economy Bible editions
  2. Free sheet
    • Most commonly used paper for Bible production
    • A chemical process pulls out the lignin, which makes protects the paper from discoloration but decreases its opacity
    • In order to improve the opacity, titanium dioxide (in powder form) is injected into the pulp
    • Titanium dioxide increases opacity because of how it refracts/scatters light, thereby keeping light from shining through the page
    • Increased titanium dioxide = increased opacity
    • Increased titanium dioxide = increased cost
    • Has high PPI compared to groundwood paper
  3. Blended
    • A middle ground: has gone through the free sheet process, but still has some groundwood pulp in it
    • PPI is higher because of free sheet components
    • Retains more opacity because of groundwood components
    • Difficult to tell the difference between a blended and freesheet page with the naked eye
    • This type of paper is new to the marketplace, so it is still unknown how much the paper is affected by yellowing and deterioration

Identifying High-Quality Bible Paper

In light of this information, the question naturally arises, “How will I know high-quality Bible paper when I see it?”

Well, there’s no magic formula, but it comes down to a variety of factors and your prefernces. The next time you’re looking for high-quality paper, consider this checklist:

  1. Opacity: Minimal or significant show-through?
  2. PPI: What is the paper’s numerical rating? Does the thickness make the Bible too heavy and/or bulky?
  3. Formation: Hold a page up to a light and look for splotches or inconsistent amounts of light being allowed through the page.

Think of “high-quality Bible paper” as being on a spectrum rather than in a static, black and white category. There are some widely accepted non-negotiables (opacity, PPI, and brightness), but the rest comes down to subjective preference (whiteness, creaminess, texture, etc.). In the end, “high-quality” is in the eye of the beholder.

by Lizzy Jeffers at November 13, 2014 03:12 PM

Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

Georges Florovsky’s Model of Orthodox Ecclesiology

By Dr. Lewis Shaw From Window Quarterly 2, 3 (1991); ACRAG c. 1991. (Source) Editors’ note [from Window Quarterly]: George Florovsky (1892-1979) is one of the most eminent Russian theologians of this century. The son of a Russian priest, he graduated in arts at Odessa University (1916), subsequently lecturing there in philosophy (1919-20). Leaving Russia ... More ›

by Guest Author at November 13, 2014 03:07 PM


VIS 2014 – Wednesday

Wednesday is more than the halfway point of the conference, and was clearly the high point so far. There were some great papers, the arts program, and I got to see the Bertin exhibit.

InfoVis: Interaction and Authoring

Revisiting Bertin matrices: New Interactions for Crafting Tabular Visualizations by Charles Perin, Pierre Dragicevic, and Jean- Daniel Fekete was the perfect paper for this year. They implemented a very nice, web-based version of Bertin’s reorderable matrix, very closely following the purely black-and-white aesthetic of the original. They are also starting to build additional things on top of that, though, using color, glyphs, etc.

The reason it fits so well is not just that VIS is in Paris this year (and Bertin actually lived just around the corner from the conference hotel), but it also ties in with the Bertin exhibit (see below). They also made the right choice in calling the tool Bertifier, a name I find endlessly entertaining (though they clearly missed the opportunity to name it Bertinator, a name both I and Mike Bostock suggested after the fact – great minds clearly think alike).

iVisDesigner: Expressive Interactive Design of Information Visualizations by Donghao Ren, Tobias Höllerer, and Xiaoru Yuan is a tool for creating visualization views on a shared canvas. It borrows quite a bit from Tableau, Lyra, and other tools, but has some interesting ways of quickly creating complex visualizations that are linked together so brushing between them works. They even showed streaming data in their tool. It looked incredibly slick in the demo, though I have a number of questions about some of the steps I didn’t understand. Since it’s available online and open-source, that’s easy to follow up on, though.

VIS Arts Program

I saw a few of the papers in the VIS Arts Program (oddly abbreviated VISAP), though not as many as I would have liked. There were some neat projects using flow visualization to paint images, some more serious ones raising awareness for homelessness with a large installation, etc.

The one that stood out in the ones I saw was PhysicSpace, a project where physicists and artists worked together to make it possible to experience some of the weird phenomena in quantum physics. The pieces are very elaborate and beautiful, and go way beyond simple translations. There is a lot of deep thinking and an enormous amount of creativity in them. It’s also remarkable how open the physicists seem to be to these projects. It’s well worth watching all the videos on their website, they’re truly stunning. This is the sort of work that really shows how transcending art and science can produce amazing results.

InfoVis: Exploratory Data Analysis

This session was truly outstanding. All the papers were really good, and the presentations matched the quality of the content (almost all the presentations I saw yesterday were really good). InfoVis feels really strong this year, both in terms of the work and the way it is presented.

The Effects of Interactive Latency on Exploratory Visual Analysis by Zhicheng Liu and Jeffrey Heer looks at the effect latency has on people’s exploration of data. They added a half-second delay to their system and compared to the system in its original state. It turns out that the delay reduces the amount of interaction and people end up exploring less of the data. While that is to be expected, when asked people didn’t think the delay would affect them, and a third didn’t even consciously notice it.

Visualizing Statistical Mix Effects and Simpson’s Paradox by Zan Armstrong and Martin Wattenberg examines Simpson’s Paradox (e.g., median increases for entire population, even though every subgroup decreases) in visualization. They have built an interesting visualization to illustrate why the effect occurs, and make some recommendations for mitigating it in particular techniques. This is an important consideration for aggregated visualization, which is very common given today’s data sizes.

Showing uncertainty is an important issue, and often it is done with error bars on top of bar charts. The paper Error Bars Considered Harmful: Exploring Alternate Encodings for Mean and Error by Michael Correll and Michael Gleicher shows why they are problematic: the are ambiguous (do they show standard error or a confidence interval? If the latter, then which one?), asymmetric (points in the bar appear to be more likely than points over the bar, at the same distance from the bar’s top), and binary (a point is either within the range or outside). Their study demonstrates the issue and then tests two different ways, violin plots and gradient plots, which both perform better.

My Tableau Research colleagues Justin Talbot, Vidya Setlur, and Anushka Anand presented Four Experiments on the Perception of Bar Charts. They looked at the classic Cleveland and McGill study of bar charts, and asked why the differences they found occurred. Their study is very methodical and presented very well, and opens up a number of further hypotheses and questions to look into. It has taken 30 years for somebody to finally ask the why question, hopefully we’ll see more reflection and follow-up now.

I unfortunately missed the presentation of the AlgebraicVis paper by Gordon Kindlmann and Carlos Scheidegger. But it seems like a really interesting approach to looking at visualization, and Carlos certainly won’t shut up about it on Twitter.

Bertin Exhibit

VIS being in Paris this week is the perfect reason to have an exhibit about Jacques Bertin. It is based on the reorderable matrix, an idea Bertin developed over many years. The matrix represents a numeric value broken down by two categorical dimensions, essentially a pivot table. The trick, though, is that it allows its user to rearrange and order the rows and columns to uncover patterns, find correlations, etc.

The exhibit shows several design iterations Bertin went through to build it so it would be easy to rearrange, lock, and unlock. Things were more difficult to prototype and animate before computers.

Bertin's Reorderable Matrix

The organizers also built a wooden version of the matrix for people to play with. The basis for this was the Bertifier program presented in the morning session. While they say that it is a simplified version of Bertin’s, they also made some improvements. One is that they can swap the top parts of the elements by attaching them with magnets. That way, different metrics can be expressed quite easily, without having to take everything apart. I guess it also lets you cheat on the reordering if you only swap two rows.

Replica of Bertin's Reorderable Matrix

They also have some very nice hand-drawn charts from the 1960s, though not done by Bertin. They are interesting simply because they show how much effort it was to draw charts before computers.

Wine Chart

Note the amount of white-out used above to remove extraneous grid lines, and below to correct mistakes on the scatterplot.

1960's Scatterplot

I was also reminded of this in the Financial Visualization panel, where one of the speakers showed photos of the huge paper charts they have at Fidelity Investments for deep historical data (going back hundreds of years). Paper still has its uses.

In addition to being interesting because of Bertin’s influence and foresight, this exhibit is also an important part of the culture of the visualization field. I hope we’ll see more of these things, in particular based on physical artifacts. Perhaps somebody can dig up Tukey’s materials, or put together a display of Bill Cleveland’s early work – preferably without having to wait for him to pass away.

Running and Partying

The second VIS Run in recorded history took place on Wednesday, and that night also saw the West Coast Party, which is becoming a real tradition. The first session on Thursday morning was consequently quite sparsely attended.

by Robert Kosara at November 13, 2014 02:29 PM

Zondervan Academic Blog

Your Guide to Translating Clausal Relationships in the New Testament — An Excerpt from “Interpretive Lexicon of New Testament Greek”

9780310494119Sometimes a resource comes along you didn’t even know you needed until it does.

That seems to be the case with the new An Interpretive Lexicon Of New Testament Greek. This handy guide analyzes prepositions, adverbs, particles, relative pronouns, and conjunctions to help you intuit relationships between clauses and sentences and aid your exegetical process.

In the excerpt below, authors Gregory K. Beale, Daniel Joseph Brendsel, William A. Ross describe this exegetical handbook in this way:

“The [Interpretive Lexicon of New Testament Greek] examines and categorizes such key words found in the Greek New Testament that indicate relationships between clauses and that are therefore integral to conveying and supporting a main idea (or main ideas) in communication.”

Read their excerpt to not only better understand the relationships between clauses and sentences, but how this guide will benefit your translation of meaningful communication from New Testament Greek.

Meaningful extended communication is built on relationships (often logical) between the statements or propositions we make. When someone says, “Since it is cold outside, therefore I am going inside,” the first proposition (“it is cold outside”) bears a certain logical relationship to the second proposition (“I am going inside”). In this instance we are helped in discerning the logical relationship by the key linking words “since” and “therefore.” In other cases, the relationship between distinct propositions is not signaled by a linking word or other verbal sign. But the relationship still plausibly exists. So, for example, one might say, “It is cold outside; I’m going inside,” and we may safely infer the same logical relationship as in our initial example, even though the words “since” and “therefore” are not present.

In communication we are always implicitly assuming or intuiting these relationships between clauses and sentences, whether we are aware of it or not. Everyday communication is thus built on meaningful relationships between the statements we make. Likewise, the New Testament’s communication entails meaningful and logical relationships between statements or propositions. These relationships are especially apparent in genres using more explicit logical arguments — in particular, in the New Testament epistles. They are a little more difficult, though not altogether impossible, to discern in, for example, poetic literature and narratives.

Attempting to discern logical relationships between propositions (which some refer to as “discourse analysis”) is a way of (1) making explicit what we might otherwise assume, in order (2) to test whether our assumptions are correct or incorrect or in need of refinements, with the result that (3) our understanding of a text is strengthened as we trace out an author’s flow of thought in support of a main point.

With this in mind, this Interpretive Lexicon of New Testament Greek is intended as an aid for discerning logical relationships between propositions in order to enhance exegesis. The specific help that this Lexicon provides is a taxonomy of functions performed by key Greek connecting words, particles, and other markers. In the example sentences given in the first paragraph above, the key words “since” and “therefore” helped to signal a certain kind of relationship (in the example, a logical relationship) between two clauses. Similarly in the Greek New Testament, words such as ἐπεί and οὖν signal certain meaningful relationships between clauses.

In short, this Lexicon examines and categorizes such key words found in the Greek New Testament that indicate relationships between clauses and that are therefore integral to conveying and supporting a main idea (or main ideas) in communication. These words include prepositions, conjunctions, adverbs, particles, and relative pronouns, among others, as our title suggests. Note that while great effort has been made toward thoroughness in this Lexicon, we have not exhaustively treated all New Testament Greek prepositions, adverbs, particles, and the like. Rather, we have focused on the most common words, or words that are otherwise significant for discerning logical relationships between clauses.

For each Greek word considered, the various relationships between propositions that the word may represent or indicate are listed and various English renderings are suggested for translation. A very cursory explanation of analyzing logical relationships (i.e., a kind of discourse analysis) and the methodology used to label and categorize the use of Greek words is given below. (5-7)

An Interpretive Lexicon Of New Testament Greek

By Gregory K. Beale, Daniel Joseph Brendsel, and William A. Ross

Buy it Today:
Barnes & Noble
Buy Direct from Zondervan

by Jeremy Bouma at November 13, 2014 01:44 PM

Emacs Redux

Quickly Open an Info Manual

Every Emacs user knows that Emacs ships with plenty of built-in documentation in the GNU info format (they don’t call it a self-documenting editor for no reason). Most Emacs users know how to access that built-in documentation with C-h i (M-x info) and some Emacs users even know that the Emacs manual can be opened directly with C-h r (M-x info-emacs-manual).

If you know the name of the manual you’re looking for, however, there’s a nice little-known alternative to using C-h i - the info-display-manual command. When you run it you’ll be prompted in the minibuffer for the name of the manual you’d like to view (manual name completion is available).

To give you a more concrete example of the command’s advantage over info let’s try to open the Emacs Lisp manual with both commands. With info you’ll have to type the following:

M-x info RET m elisp RET

And the alternative would be:

M-x info-emacs-manual RET elisp RET

If you like the command I’d suggest binding it to some keybinding:

(define-key 'help-command (kbd "C-i") 'info-display-manual)

November 13, 2014 01:25 PM

Emacs's Development has Migrated to Git

The long wait is over - Emacs’s development has finally migrated from bazaar to git.

Now you don’t have any excuses not to contribute to Emacs!

If you’re wondering where to start I’d suggest taking a look at this short article.

November 13, 2014 01:19 PM


stag: A good find, and a good tool

I got an e-mail from hakerdefo last week with a link to stag, which is an mp3/ogg/flac tag editor for the console, and this one is quite interesting.


I sense a lot of potential here. It seems to have all the requisite parts — a tree browser, a list of files to edit and a panel of tag data, all connected via the TAB key.

To get you started with stag, remember that the directory panel in the upper left only shows folders. I was stuck for a little while wondering why stag couldn’t “see” the files in a folder, until I realized it was expecting me to press the spacebar over a folder to add all the files in it.

Do that, and the files will appear in the right panel, as candidates for editing. Press TAB to bounce to the right, and you can again navigate up and down again with the arrow keys.

Now pressing the spacebar marks a file for editing, and you jump straight to the bottom panel and the available tag info with ENTER. If you press ENTER on a selected tag, you’ll be able to edit it along the lowest line of the screen, and press ENTER to submit it to that file.

You’re not done yet. Press TAB twice more to navigate back to the file window, and press “s” to save one file, or “w” to write them all to disk. And your work should be done.

I am thrilled with stag because it can handle editing more than one tag at a time. If you use the spacebar to highlight more than one file — or use the slash with a regex string for more control — then enter the info panel, differing tag info will disappear, and matching tag info will remain in the display.

Edit anything you like down there, and the information is held for all the files that are selected. Tags marked with an asterisk need saving. Write the files all out again, and you have multi-tag editing, in a nutshell. :D

From there it becomes a quick matter to mass-correct or mass-fill music tags, correct dates or misspellings, or just about anything you could want to do.

There are a couple of things I’d like stag to do, and hakerdefo mentioned one or two of these as well:

  • Mass-erase specific fields, or even erase an entire tag, down to nothing. Sometimes that’s necessary. :roll:
  • Read tags from filenames and apply them as tag data. Some CLI tools will do this, and it doesn’t seem like a huge task.
  • Read tag data and apply it as filenames. Again, some CLI tools can do this, so it can’t be too preposterous.
  • An acknowledgment that files have been written to disk. As it is the cursor jiggles over a little, but no other visual cue that your changes have been applied.
  • Offer some sort controls over the file panel. If you were to open a giant folder of mixed files, you’d never find what you were looking for. Similarly, I have a tendency to look for particular things in order, and it’s weird to see things scattered out of sequence, like they are in that screenshot.
  • Color, and this time it just makes sense to me. You have three panels with a selection bar that bounces between all three. Adding color to each panel would make things easier to spot, and make the selection bar stand out dramatically.

I’m very pleased with stag, mostly because I think it has the potential to fill the gap at the Linux console for a proper, fullscreen tag editor application. It has a little way to go before it stands up to something like EasyTag, but I sense the Force is strong with this one. ;)

Tagged: audio, editor, music, tag

by K.Mandla at November 13, 2014 01:15 PM

iimage: Index your images

A long time ago we looked at album, which ran down a directory of images and created a clickable album as an HTML page. Here’s one that does much the same thing: iimage.

2014-11-06-2sjx281-iimage-01 2014-11-06-2sjx281-iimage-02

iimage is just a bash script that relies on imagemagick‘s convert to create thumbnails, and adds the remaining touches to a folder called .tmp. It does not alter or move your original files, but all my attempts (and the instructions) suggest you have to call the script from the folder where your images lie. Let me know if you find a way around that.

iimage’s output page is very clean and modest, so if you’re looking for something a little more outlandish, you might have some HTML editing in your future. iimage is nothing if not exceptionally neat, with all its product files arranged and ordered. I like that a lot.

Judging by the help flags, iimage can recurse through folders, but I didn’t try that, so I don’t know if recursed directories produce linked pages in the final product. iimage can also update files it has created previously, so you should be able to simply add or remove images to the folder, and generate fresh files without rebuilding everything from scratch.

iimage also will apparently generate an AUTORUN.INF file, which I believe would trigger a full desktop environment to open the index, if you were to burn all of this to a CD and spin it up. I might be wrong on that, but it’s an excellent addition if it’s true.

I see that the date on the most recent version is 2009, but I had no problems aside from dropping the script into the right folder to get everything built. I don’t expect there will be many inconsistencies or technical issues, at least until imagemagick or one of the underlying programs shifts gears.

iimage is apparently not in either Arch/AUR or Debian, which is a shame. But perhaps you can say you got something new from K.Mandla today. … ;)

Tagged: create, index, manager, photo, picture, site, web

by K.Mandla at November 13, 2014 01:00 PM

sacha chua :: living an awesome life

The Google Chrome extensions I use

Richard wanted to know which Google Chrome extensions I use. Here’s the list:

  • AdBlock: I still see ads, but I probably see fewer ads than before.
  • AngularJS Batarang: Great for debugging AngularJS applications.
  • Extension: I use this on my phone. Still thinking about how I can get something working with Org Mode and my phone. Might replace this with MobileOrg.
  • Application Launcher for Drive (by Google): I hardly use this, but it seems like a good idea.
  • Boomerang Calendar: Recognizes dates in e-mails and makes it easy to create appointments. Might not need it after Google improves its interface some more.
  • Boomerang for Gmail: Great for delaying replies, following up in case of non-response, or getting things to turn up in your inbox after a specified delay.
  • Capture Webpage Screenshot – FireShot: Can come in handy for full-page screenshots.
  • CSS Reloader: Handy during development.
  • Don’t track me Google: I use this mainly to remove the annoying Google redirection that happens when you copy links from search results without clicking through them. This way, I can copy and paste cleaner URLs.
  • Dragon Web Extension: Theoretically allows me to use speech recognition to control Chrome. I still haven’t gotten Dragon Naturally Speaking to be part of my workflow.
  • Evernote Web Clipper: Evernote is a great way to stash things I may want to refer to later.
  • Feedly: The extension lets me quickly subscribe to blogs. I prefer reading them on my phone, though.
  • Google Docs: Handy for sharing documents and editing them online.
  • Hangouts: I use this for video chats.
  • LastPass: Free Password Manager: Handy for storing and sharing passwords.
  • RescueTime for Chrome & ChromeOS: Tracks the sites I visit. I’m not doing anything with this data yet.
  • Rikaikun: Helps me learn Japanese when I hover over kanji.
  • RSS Subscription Extension (by Google): Displays a feed icon in the address bar if the site has alternate links to feeds. This way, I don’t have to hunt around for the right link.
  • Send from Gmail (by Google): Makes Gmail the default handler for e-mail addresses.
  • Tampermonkey: For injecting the Javascript that Skewer needs so that I can interact with webpages from Emacs. Could probably get away with using a bookmarklet instead. This tends to slow down Chrome, so I enable it only when I’m planning to develop.

What extensions do you use?

The post The Google Chrome extensions I use appeared first on sacha chua :: living an awesome life.

by Sacha Chua at November 13, 2014 01:00 PM

The Finance Buff

Solo 401k CP 214 Notice: Much Ado About Nothing

Letters (0108)

Whenever I get a letter from the IRS, my heart rate goes up. I’m afraid they are telling me something I don’t want to hear.

The latest letter from the IRS is quite strange. It’s about my solo 401k plan. For more background on solo 401k, see Solo 401k When You Have Self-Employment Income. The IRS letter tells me that I may have to to file a 5500-EZ on paper or a 5500-SF electronically for the plan year ending on December 31, 2014.

The filing isn’t due until July 31, 2015. Why do they remind me now in November, 8 months before it’s due? It’s way too early for a reminder.

I have been filing 5500-EZ. They know that. Why send reminders to people who already have been filing? It should be the opposite: remind people who haven’t filed. Of course if people have never filed, the IRS doesn’t know whether they have a solo 401k. So when they can’t reach out to people who really need a reminder, they just remind people who have already been doing it.

As to the choice of filing 5500-EZ on paper or filing 5500-SF electronically, the IRS obviously prefers that you do the electronic 5500-SF. They assure you that the data will be excluded from online search. They even produced a video about it. Thank you very much. I’m staying with the 5500-EZ on paper. It only takes 5 minutes. See Form 5500-EZ For Your Solo 401k.

Now I see that enough people must be confused by this CP 214 notice. The IRS had to put up a FAQ page for it. It occurs to me it would be easier for all involved if the IRS didn’t send this reminder notice to begin with.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Jason Dean]

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Solo 401k CP 214 Notice: Much Ado About Nothing is copyrighted material from The Finance Buff. All rights reserved. ( b87e8215d24496480249d6aaf20c77ea )

by Harry Sit at November 13, 2014 12:54 PM

Front Porch Republic

The Bombadil Option


Manchester, CT

“Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow,

Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow.

None has ever caught him yet, for Tom, he is the master:

His songs are stronger songs, and his feet are faster.”

Rod Dreher is well known in these parts for his interest in the Benedict Option. I share the interest, but there are times I despair for it. It’s a group effort after all. What do you do when you’re group-less, though, when you’re as alone as Elijah in a cave? What then? When I’m feeling melancholy and all alone, that’s when I pop open a bottle of my best craft beer and I exercise what I call the Bombadil Option.

Everyone forgets about merry old Tom Bombadil. Peter Jackson did. He could find time for videogame eye-candy, but jolly Tom was expendable. Early on in The Lord of the Rings even Gandalf writes him off. It‘s easy to do: he’s a sidelight, a detour, he’s off the main path. What is he in the story for anyway? Local color? Comic relief?

Nope: I think Tom’s the point.

What do you do after you’ve saved the world, when all the derring-do is done, and there is nothing left for which to quest? Ride about aimlessly reliving your adventures like Merry and Pippin—in your old armor, singing the old songs? I sure hope not; that would be melancholy. In the end, as I recall, when his great task was finally done, even wise old Gandalf pays Tom a visit. And there’s that telling reveal when Frodo asks Goldberry who Tom is. Her response?

“He is, “ said Goldberry, staying her swift movements and smiling.

Frodo looked at her questioningly. “He is as you have seen him,” she said in answer to his look. “He is the master of wood, water and hill.”

“Then this strange land belongs to him?”

“No indeed!” she answered, and her smile faded. “That would indeed be a burden,” she added in a low voice, as if to herself. “The trees and the grasses and all things growing or living belong each to themselves. Tom Bombadil is the Master. No one has caught old Tom…. He has no fear. Tom Bombadil is master.”

I try to keep this in mind when the Gandalfs of the world try to send me gallivanting off on an adventure.  I’m not immune, mind you. At times I feel the stirring, and sometimes I even ride off to try and save the day. But eventually I come home again. And after that?—wistfully stare out the window and long for significance?

Or should I gather water lilies for my Goldberry and enjoy her charms; eating the food she has prepared for me and sitting by the fire and laughing as I recall the queer antics of badgers? I think so – because that’s the world I’m made for, the world I go to save when the lust for derring-do sweeps me along. That’s the world I’ve been given to serve as master.

Now, Tom’s not uncaring; it’s just that he cares for what is near and dear. And all the power in the world could not tempt him to leave it. Quests? He takes Frodo’s precious ring and performs a magic trick with a laugh and hands it back to him. Frodo for spite tries to play his own trick and he puts it on. But Tom isn’t fooled and looks right at him.

“Hey! Come Frodo, there! Where you be a-going? Old Tom Bombadil’s not as blind as that yet. Take off your golden ring! Your hand is more fair without it.”

Nor is Tom indifferent; he comes when called. That’s how the hobbits met him; they had fallen under the spell of a wicked old willow. Merry and Pippin were trapped inside and Sam had been the only one to keep his wits. After Sam save him from drowning, Frodo we’re told, without any clear understanding of why he did so, ran along a path crying, “help! help! help!” And that’s when he hears—

“Hey dol! merry dol! ring a dong dillo!

Ring a dong! hop along! all al the willow!

Tom Bom, jolly Tom, Tom Bombadillo!”

And here Tom does save the day. If you’re in the Old Forest eventually you really will need his help—it’s a dangerous place. Many of the residents have grown mean and spiteful, full of envy for things that get around on two legs: Old Man Willow, the Barrow Wrights, and even those “nightly noises” the hobbits are told to ignore while they’re in Tom’s house.

While Tom’s not much for traveling, in another way he does often. Tom goes places without leaving home. He goes down, way down—all the way to the beginning. Once more Frodo asks—

“Who are you master?”

“Eh, what?” said Tom sitting up, and his eyes glinting in the gloom. “Don’t you know my name yet? That’s the only answer. Tell me, who are you, alone, yourself and nameless? But you are young and I am old. Eldest, that’s what I am. Mark my words, my friends: Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn.”

Tom knows the roots, and he knows the songs. And because he knows the songs, he is the master.

Now, singing, what does that bring to mind? Ah yes, the music of Illuvatar and the Ainur in The Silmarillion: creation was a song. Tolkien masterfully hides the significance to Tom’s singing—it seems to be nonsensical rhyming along the lines of something by Lewis Carroll. But even Jabberwocky draws on the roots—we know deep down what the frumious Bandersnatch is without quite knowing how we know.  

Here in New England we have people with roots that go way down. We still have a few old Swamp Yankees here and there, living in dilapidated homes, some tracing their ancestry back 4 or 5 generations. Some of my parishioners live in homes that predate the revolution by 50 years. Mostly these folks are as colorful and quirky old Tom, but few are jolly. Sadly most resemble Old Man Willow. 

I think Tolkien is saying something about roots here. Sometimes rooted people can be very unpleasant, downright nasty. There is more than one way to live from the roots.

For some, roots run deep, but not deep enough. These folks resent everything that moves: the people who have moved away for one. They’re bitter for being left behind, and they blame the leavers for taking what has been lost with them. And new comers only make things worse—bringing their fancy ways, ignorant and presumptuous, driving up property values, and raising taxes, tooling around in their fancy foreign cars taking their fat kids to a soccer practice in the new park where people used to hunt. If roots could kill, these would. I seem to recall Old Man Willow using a root to hold Frodo under the Withywindle. 

But longer roots go down to things that don’t change. Those are the roots that Tom knows. He’s in no hurry to get anywhere besides home, because what he’d find when he arrived he’s already got at home. His joy comes from knowing the oldest songs, the songs that made the world, those little ditties that seem like nonsense to people without sense. 

Bombadil isn’t curmudgeonly, because he’s like Peter Pan, the boy who won’t grow up. He’s young because he’s the oldest. His songs are the same ones the morning stars sang in the beginning. He knows them because he heard them on the first day. And nothing can master him because any tune conjured up by an old willow, or even the Dark Lord, is just a perversion of a tune he knows by heart. He can sing their songs aright. Tom’s roots are so deep they make him light on his feet – no catching him! His songs are stronger songs, and his feet are faster!  

Confession time: most of the time I’m either on a quest, or I’m Old Man Willow, cursing the passing of things once loved. But there are days when I hear an older tune and I feel like dancing. Those days I’m jolly Tom and I put on my bright blue jacket and my yellow boots and I go out to gather water lilies for my lady because I truly have no place to go, and I have nothing better to do. 

C. R. Wiley is the Senior Pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Manchester in Manchester, CT. He has written for Touchstone Magazine, Modern Reformation, and Relevant On-line. He is currently writing a book on householding for Crossroad Publishing.


The post The Bombadil Option appeared first on Front Porch Republic.

by Chris Wiley at November 13, 2014 12:09 PM

Is Your Company Relevant to Customers’ Lives?

Empathy is famously considered to be a central principle of effective design, and for good reason. You’d be hard-pressed to design a successful product without first understanding the consumer—what’s important to her, where her priorities lay, etc. Similarly, businesses should make other strategic decisions, about topics such as marketing, retail experience, and mission, based on their knowledge of what customers are truly looking for in life.

I believe that if your company is focused on trying to convince customers why they should buy your product, you’re on the wrong track. The bigger question is how your company can offer something that might contribute to consumers’ lifestyles and to their most ideal visions of themselves. If you can nail this point, you’ll have loyal customers for life.

I recently read that, for example, Microsoft has recently amended its corporate mission. It now seeks to help its customers achieve productivity, and to find a way to make that enjoyable. I honestly can’t think of a better mission for a software company, especially in the modern context of constant distraction and noise. And when you think about it, it’s true that for most of us, it’s not the software itself that we want; we want the results. We want the deep feeling of satisfaction we get from a day of efficient work. This may seem insignificant, but I think it’s likely to cause seismic shifts in the way Microsoft designs products.

As I wrote in a recent piece, Nikon also represents a great example of a company that has moved beyond “customer service” by actually helping customers expand their photography skills. Companies in all sorts of industries can imitate this approach by asking themselves: how can they help people meet health goals? How can they enable people to save time, so they can spend it with their families? How can they help people learn a new skill? Make new friends? The product design, the customer experiences, and even the marketing messages need to reflect the answers to these key questions.

And the answers to these questions may even provide a strong lead on how to fix retail. We’ve all resigned ourselves to the belief that all customers want is convenience, which is why they shop on Amazon. But customers want other things as much, or possibly even more, than they want convenience. For example, connectivity is still extremely important to people—and if retail stores can find a way to make their in-store experiences an opportunity for engagement with other people, they might find a way to get bodies back in the stores. Alternatively, in-store experiences and programming could also seek to entertain or educate customers, instead.

Local DC bookstore Politics & Prose represents an excellent example of how this kind of strategy can help a company not only survive, but thrive, even in a dying industry. Politics & Prose is only expanding its presence in DC, primarily as a result of the way it’s positioned itself as a community mainstay. It offers excellent live readings, book clubs, and writing workshops that all leave customers thinking about the store as if it were a second home. That’s a very particular example, but there’s no reason why it couldn’t be emulated by bigger corporations.

Developing these sorts of approaches takes time. But if your company is ready to embrace uncertainty and test hypotheses, it might find new ways for it to remain relevant to customers’ most significant wants and needs. And strategies like this can help ensure that you’re building a long-term relationship with customers, rather than just offering a one-time exchange.​

by Kate Jenkins at November 13, 2014 09:00 AM daily

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I’ve now become the sort of curmudgeon who not only insists on a mechanical keyboard, but gets custom key caps to replace the Windows keys.

Because they are distasteful.

November 13, 2014 08:00 AM

Table Titans

Proclamations: Val figure - pre order


I'm so excited I finally get to type these words: the pre-order for our Val the Barbarian vinyl figure is live.

This project started in San Diego two years ago after I bought a comission from an amazing animator/illustrator named Victoria Ying. Victoria painted a watercolor of Val for me and…

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November 13, 2014 07:00 AM

Tales: Great and Mysterious Tully


One of my all time favorite NPC's was a leathery old vagabond lovingly known as Tully. No matter who was DM-ing or what world in the great multiverse we found ourselves adventuring, Tully always seemed to pop up. Typically he’d appear on a street corner or at a tavern as the party was…

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November 13, 2014 07:00 AM

The Gospel Coalition | Latest Articles

To Engage the World Means Being Present in It

Jesus employs the metaphors of salt and light to communicate the pervasive impact people transformed by the gospel bring to the world. Speaking to his followers, Jesus states,

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 5:14–16)

In all aspects of our lives, including our workplaces, we display to those around us the light of the glory of Christ who indwells us. Jesus emphasizes that we shine his light in our good works. Our good works take on many dimensions, and we must see that our daily work is a significant part of the good works that glorify God.

Faithful Presence

One of the ways that we are salt and light and act as redemptive agents in this broken world is to live out a faithful presence in the workplace. Woody Allen once observed that 90 percent of life is simply showing up. These words reveal some instructive wisdom for us. Sociologist James Hunter has thought a great deal about cultural change and the Christian’s faithfulness in the late modern world. Hunter reminds us that, first and foremost, Christ is faithfully present to us. He then makes an important point when he writes, “Faithful presence in the world means that Christians are fully present and committed in their spheres of influence, whatever they may be: their families, neighborhoods, voluntary activities, and places of work.” As followers of Jesus, we are called to a mission of engagement in, not withdrawal from, the broader world. To faithfully engage the world means we must be fully present within it.

A large stewardship of our calling in the workplace is faithfully showing up every day and demonstrating to others around us our good in and through our work. Seeking to live out a faithful presence in our workplaces means that we incarnate the gospel by doing good work and being exemplary workers. It means that we extend common grace to our coworkers and our customers and seek their good. As image-bearers of God, who is a worker, we must remember that our work has intrinsic value in itself and is to be an act of worship. We also must grasp that our work has instrumental value in that it provides for our economic needs, allows us to care for the needs of others, and creates a sphere of influence for the gospel to be lived out and shared.

Bringing Our Faith to Work

For many of us, when we think of bringing our Christian faith to work, our thoughts turn toward a kind of ethical behavior or even bowing our head and saying a silent prayer before we eat lunch. Of course these are good things. Yet when Dave and Demi Kiersznowski embraced the gospel and later began their successful and innovative Kansas City-based gift company DEMDACO, they desired to allow the biblical story of work and the broad redemptive implications of the gospel to shape their entire organizational culture.

Dave and Demi would be the first to say that DEMDACO is not a Christian company; but called by God to be business leaders, they are committed to modeling faithful presence in the workplace. Many of their work colleagues do not profess the Christian faith; some do not profess any religious faith at all. But DEMDACO is highly intentional about nurturing a corporate culture that holds up the high value of each person, the intrinsic value of work itself, the importance of seeking the common good, and bringing a redemptive influence to work, the worker, and the workplace. A relentless commitment to pursue work as it ought to be reflects the biblical storyline of work and makes its way into the purpose of the company.

DEMDACO’s purpose is stated this way: to lift the spirit by providing products that help people connect in a meaningful way and by pursuing business as it ought to be. As business leaders who are also devoted followers of Jesus, Dave and Demi have given me, and many others who have the delightful privilege of knowing them, an ongoing glimpse of the multifaceted influence the gospel is to have on our work and the workplaces we indwell. Observing the rich theology of vocation and work that permeates Dave and Demi’s calling as business leaders, I have been given a hopeful glimpse of what work was originally designed to be, and I find myself savoring an appetizer of what our work and our workplaces will one day be in the future. 

Without knowing Christ, you and I will never experience the life for which we were created. Without knowing Christ, your work will never be all that God intended for it to be. Without knowing the One who created work, your work will never be ultimately fulfilling. The good news of work is that we can be transformed—that our work can be transformed.

For helpful advice to pastors from Dave Kiersznowski (and Katherine Alsdorf) about integrating faith and work in local congregations, see "Rethinking Work," filmed at The Gospel Coalition 2013 National Conference. 

This excerpt is adapted from Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work by Tom Nelson. Copyright © 2011. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187,

Editors' note: TBT (Throwback Thursday) with Every Square Inch: Reading the Classics is a weekly column that publishes some of the best writings on vocation from the past. Our hope is to introduce you to thoughtful literature that you may not have discovered yet and, as always, to encourage you to know and love Christ more in all spheres of your life.

by Tom Nelson at November 13, 2014 06:01 AM

The Ennobling Humanity of ‘Fury’

The French film director François Truffaut believed there was no such thing as an anti-war film because “to show something is to ennoble it.” In the 50 years since Truffaut made that remark, Hollywood has churned out hundreds of war movies that have proven his point. David Ayer’s Fury, the latest in the war genre, is no exception, though it makes a valiant effort to show the soul-crushing ugliness of warfare.

Fury is set in last days of World War II, as the Allies invade Germany and attempt to snuff out what remains of the Nazis’ will to resist the inevitable. “It will end, soon,” Don "Wardaddy" Collier says, “But before it does, a lot more people have to die.”

Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) and the crewmembers of his tank, named Fury, have seen their share of death. As they film opens, they're the only tank in their battalion to have survived the most recent battle, in which they lost their assistant tank driver. His replacement is a recently enlisted Army typist named Norman Ellison. Norman has not only never seen combat, he’s never even seen the inside of a tank.

Norman is the proxy for the movie’s audience—and a symbolic proxy for America. In the beginning of the film Norman (like America) is a reluctant warrior, straining to keep a clear conscience. But as he experiences the evil and destruction of the enemy, he soon becomes (like America) a Nazi-killing machine.

While the “hero’s journey” symbolism is overly obvious, the film is nevertheless effective in portraying the realities of war. The dirt and grime and blood have caked over everything and seeped into each character, leaving a layer of crust over their humanity.

This perspective comes through most powerfully in the most tense and affecting scene, which, oddly enough, takes place in a dining room rather than on the battlefield. Wardaddy and Norman attempt to take a short reprieve into normalcy, but the other crewmembers won’t allow it. Like demons dragging a soul back into the pits of hell, three drunken crewman refuse to let their comrades even briefly forget the horrors they’ve endured.

Such casual cruelty reveals these men aren’t true friends. In the civilized world they would have nothing to do with one another. Yet they are bound together so strongly by their shared trauma that they would give their lives for one another. Fury displays more depth in that 10-minute scene than most war movies achieve in their entire running time.

When Fury is focused on such scenes of characterization, the film almost achieves a level of greatness. A prime example is the scenes that focus on Boyd "Bible" Swan (Shia LaBeouf). Boyd is a committed, Bible-believing Christian. (He would have been, at that time, considered a fundamentalist, though today he’d pass for an evangelical.) Grilling Norman about his faith, Boyd asks if the new crewmembers is a “mainliner.” When Norman says he’s been baptized, another crew members responds, “That ain't what he asked you."

It’s rare to find any film, much less a war movie, a supporting of such strong and enviable faith. It’s even more rare to see a range of characters display a type of biblical literacy that would, admittedly, have been more common in that era. Consider the following exchange prior to the heat of battle:

Boyd: Here's a Bible verse I think about sometimes. Many times. It goes: “And I heard the voice of Lord saying: Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? And I said: Here am I, send me!”  

Norman: [Mumbling] Send me.  

Wardaddy: Book of Isaiah, chapter six.

Unfortunately, the last third of the film shifts gears and turns into a “last stand movie.” If you’ve seen any of these types—from Rio Bravo to 300—you can predict every move. The early parts of the film present an honest portrayal of combat, including the “good guys” committing a range of war crimes. But the last sections resorts to the fist-pumping, Nazi-killing heroics modern audiences have come to expect in films about the “Good War.”

If the film had ended on an earlier scene (possibly after a bombing when a particularly hardened crew member tells Norman, “That’s war”) it would have achieved greatness. Instead, it slides into an anticlimactic ending, making it merely a worthy addition to the war movie canon.

Still, Fury is worth seeing merely for its characters and the way it displays individual scenes of humanity. While it isn’t the great anti-war movie we’ve needed since World War II, the film’s portrayal of conscience and decency and heroism proves Truffaut was right: to show something is to ennoble it.

by Joe Carter at November 13, 2014 06:01 AM

A Missing Piece in North American Worship

Imagine you're going to church. The worsip band is on stage. You see on the screen all the normal information: Copyright Vineyard Music, 1998; in the key of B flat, written by Brian Doerkson. The worship band starts up, but you notice something strange, because the song says a lot of things to God that sound rude: Lord, how could you let that happen? Why did you abandon me? I'm one of your own. Why didn't you protect me? If you had been there, this never would have happened (John 11.21)! And this hurts your cause too, Lord. People are scoffing at you in your absence. Come and visibly intervene for me! But no matter what, I will trust you forever. No matter what, you are my God forever.

That's the situation we get in the Book of Psalms: a miktam, of David, to the tune of "Doe of the Dawn"—those titles head the hymns we approve and also the laments that strike us as rude. But both equally count as worship in the Bible, even though for many of us, asking lament-type questions sounds like the opposite of worship.

Could I suggest, knowing I'm generalizing, that we in North America need to "biblicize" and complicate our worship by making lament a regular feature? To be a real biblical lament, it has to include a confession of trust and unconditional loyalty from the lamenter; without that, it's just complaining. But I also want to emphasize that, unless we lament, we're being unbiblical and unhelpful.

Reasons for Lament

Lament witnesses to and proclaims the Lord Jesus in his fullness. You have probably noticed how some Christians know only the meek and mild Jesus. Others know only the returning King, come to tread the winepress of his wrath.

Laments acqainst us with the full character of Christ—not just in his trial, sufferings, and death, but much earlier in his life, too. We won't fully know the one "intimate with grief" (Isa. 53) without these texts. They witness forward to the suffering of the Messiah, where God won the greatest victory possible for his cause in the form of the greatest defeat imaginable. We as Christians participate in this suffering and death (Matt. 16.24, Rom. 6:1-4, 2 Cor. 4:10; and note the original context of Paul's quotation of Psalm 44 at the end of Rom. 8). Without laments, we won't fully understand and "see" our Savior who died in shame and defeat and was raised in victory. It will be easy to worship a shallow version of Jesus without these psalms.

Our contemporary worship scene, by too frequently neglecting laments, unintentionally excludes people. There are people in every church service whom God is baptizing into the way of the cross, the way of following Jesus. But it can be hard when you come to church bleeding and beaten, you want to worship, you know you should be worshiping, and everyone around you seems so happy and carefree. Biblically, asking the questions of lament, together with a confession of trust, is an act of worshiping and honoring God, not dishonoring him. It is a ministry to Christians who are hurting, who are struggling with the distance and inactivity of the God they are trying to trust, to shape and interpret their experience through the genre of lament. You will help those Christians draw nearer to God than they ever have before.

Lament will also deepen our music. Too much of our worship music songs sound like U2. I own several U2 albums, so I am in sympathy. And there is something genuinely worshipful about their sound. But too many of our contemporary worship songs sound like the same song, over and over. In contrast, the Book of Psalms shows great variety in individual compositions—you can hear individual voices in different poems, and the “music” of the poetry varies greatly as well, sometimes resonating in pain, sometimes joy. Remember that music does not just accompany lyrics and singing, but actively shapes the audience’s response. Worship music that carries some pain without destroying harmony can help represent the fullness of Christ’s person and include all his disciples in worship.

Plea to Songwriters

If any Christian musicians are reading this article, you would do a great service to God’s people if you can provide us with music and lyrics for reverent, painful, trustful, God-honoring laments. Can you find ways to hold forth the One “intimate with grief” (Isa. 53), now reigning in glory at the right hand of the Father, but still bearing the scars of his torture? Can you find ways (musically and lyrically) to help Christ-followers lift up their agony and their trust to Christ?

Such music may not always be easy to hear. And perhaps not everyone will appreciate it, or even fully understand. But you have an opportunity to present the crucified and risen Lord for us as we learn what it means to take up our crosses.

by Eric Ortlund at November 13, 2014 06:01 AM

5 Essential Phrases for Every Talk to Youth

So often in youth ministry, we can make assumptions about students that either alienate part of the audience or neglect essential substance.

We assume that they know what certain words mean. We assume that they are Christians who know the gospel. We assume that they can connect the dots between the theology taught and their practical life.

When I give a talk, I try to never forget to use these five statements.

1. If you’re not a Christian . . .'

More so than any other demographic, students are in the midst of a fluid, dynamic journey. Because of the way they rapidly progress through different developmental phases, teenagers are constantly facing questions related to their identity and place in the world. They are trying to figure out whether or not they will follow Jesus. No matter how “Christian” a youth group may appear, one must always acknowledge students who do not identify themselves as Christians just yet, or kids who are “closet agnostics.”

By acknowledging non-Christians in the audience, you are communicating that they are welcomed in the group. You are saying that they are allowed to carefully and patiently think things through with God. You also give yourself an opportunity to address questions that they may have but do not ask. I usually ask these type questions by saying, “If you’re not a Christian, one thing you may be wondering is . . .” When we do not make this statement at some point, we risk alienating non-Christian kids and creating an atmosphere where they may feel the need to fake it to feel included.

2. 'What this word means is . . .'

Have you ever read a legal contract? Did you understand any of the words? Did you feel helpless and stupid because you were agreeing to something, when in reality you had no idea what you were signing off on? People often use jargon as a way to create an “insider culture” that makes others feel on the outside. Often, Christian leaders use this same practice when they use biblical and theological terminology without explaining their terms.

Students need to boost their Christian vocabulary; it’s helpful for them to know words like justification, sanctification, sin, and faith. At the same time, while we use Christian lingo, we also need to explain what it means for two reasons. First, this prevents us from alienating students without a long church history who have no idea what we’re talking about. Second, it helps these powerful words stay fresh, rather than trite.

3. 'Here’s where the gospel comes in . . .'

If we do a Bible study or Sunday school lesson without bringing the talk back to the basic gospel, we have wasted precious time. We all need to hear the word of our need for God and of his loving grace every day. Even if you are teaching on Proverbs and nothing in the text openly relates to the gospel, you can remind students that we have no ability to act on God’s wisdom without calling on and receiving the generous grace of God.

Explicitly proclaiming the gospel—not just saying the word gospel but articulating the reality of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, is essential in each talk.

4. 'Let’s open our Bibles to . . .'

Regardless of the type of talk we are giving, all talks needs to have a basis in Scripture. Not only when we exegetically teach through books in small group or Sunday school, but also when we are doing topical talks, working from a biblical passage is key.

We need to model for students Word-centered ministry and Bible-centered life. We also need to protect ourselves from error by making sure our talks fall within the bound of what the Bible teaches.

5. 'Here’s why this matters when you walk out of these doors . . .'

Biblical and theological knowledge have inherent value, but they carry far more weight when students understand their significance in the context of their whole life. In Matthew 4:4, Jesus teaches, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Christ points to his words of truth as necessities for life. When we simply teach kids doctrine with no practical application, we reduce Christianity to an academic exercise rather than the fuel of each day.

Given where students are developmentally, most of them cannot make the connection between biblical concepts and their life without a person explicitly explaining it. Furthermore, kids in this instant gratification culture want to know how matters relate to their life right now. This is not a cry for moralism or “relevance” (in the trendy sense of the word), but it does mean that kids need to know why the sovereignty of God affects their college decision and how the incarnation informs their use of social media. 

by Cameron Cole at November 13, 2014 06:01 AM

John C. Wright's Journal » John C. Wright's Journal

Call it the Stupidity of the American Voter or Whatever

Dear Gamergaters and SFWA members and my fellow journalists,

You have seen the Gaming industry attacked by these folks, the science fiction field and the media capitulate to them. But they are also in your federal government, behind the scenes, pulling strings and in your pocketbooks, pulling your life and life’s work out.

You have never heard of Professor Gruber erenow? Nor have I. That itself should tell you something. Those who work in this way are not men like Alexander Hamilton.

I received this letter from CatholicVote, which so exactly sums up my outrage, and my belief in the contrast between the Catholic vision of the world and the Morlockian vision of the so called Social Justice Warriors, who are neither warriors, nor just, nor fit for social life, that I need add nothing.

Read the letter. Click on the link below, please. Listen to the sneering contempt in his voice, the infantile pitch, the condescension. This man is the John Scalzi of the Federal Medical Insurance Industry. He is the male Carol Costello. He is Anita Sarkeesian.

The curtain has been pulled back.

This week a video surfaced of Professor Jonathan Gruber, the architect of Obamacare saying:

Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really really critical for the thing [Obamacare] to pass…. Look, I wish…we could make it all transparent, but I’d rather have this law than not.”

Are you surprised?

Defenders of Obamacare call us selfish, uncaring, and downright evil — all in an attempt to defend their Big Government solution. They make us out to be the enemy and yet rarely end up helping the poor, vulnerable, or the uninsured they claimed to champion from the start.

Is there a better way?

Catholics believe in a different vision. We believe that people are gifts from the Creator, filled with enormous potential. That free people are creative, industrious, and generous. That no challenge is too big because the combined gifts and talents of everyone in society, when unleashed, can solve even the biggest problems. It’s the secret of America’s success.

But now politicians and their friends tell us we aren’t good enough to be free.

Defenders of Obamacare don’t believe people can be trusted with the freedom of picking their own doctor, choosing their own health insurance plan, or negotiating the type of healthcare they want. They certainly don’t believe in the power of free people and morally constrained markets to solve problems. And of course, they insist that Americans are just too selfish and greedy to care for people that need help.

Instead, THEY will decide what is best. And impose it on us all. Because we are all just too stupid to know better.

And they call this ‘social justice.’

Watch the video with your own eyes:

Supporters of Big Government, Inc always claim to be a friend of the poor. They claim exclusively to be the only people caring about “the little guy.”

How can you really say you care about someone when you lie to them and call them stupid?

The elite in Washington love to pass gargantuan 2,000+ page laws that launch a blizzard of rules and regulations – and spawn a hornet’s nest of lobbyists and consultants looking for their piece of the pie.

This is not the Catholic way. Compassion and justice cannot be built on a lie.

The vision of the human person proposed by the Catholic Church is far greater.

And far more beautiful.

America should give it a try.

by John C Wright at November 13, 2014 04:47 AM

Caelum Et Terra

Two Religions


I was raised in two religions. Everyone is. There are always gaps, some greater than others, all infinite, between ‘God’ and any human articulation about God.

The two religions  I was taught were both the Roman Catholic faith, in the years immediately before Vatican II.

The first religion, which affected me deeply, told me about Baby Jesus and the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Mother and singing angels and saints who could fly and heal. It was big on mercy and love and forgiveness. This was accompanied by the mystery of the Latin Mass, which I served at the altar. It was a rich and sensual religion, and I remember volunteering to serve funeral Masses, not only because I wanted to get out of school, but because I loved holding the censer and watching the smoke rise up from the coals, inhaling deeply.

And miracles were not just long ago and far away. The nuns told us about Fr Solanus, who had lived down the highway in Detroit and healed people and bilocated and read hearts and was also a Tigers fan, like us.

It was a religion rich in mystery, and one incident, when I was maybe ten, illustrates this vividly. I was getting ready to serve at a parish mission, run by Capuchin friars from Fr Solanus’ monastery. I was preparing candles in the sacristy when I looked out the window, which opened onto the twilit parish cemetery. Just then a friar, cowl up, head down, strode past, reading his breviary, silhouetted against the graveyard. It was spooky and impressive, like all good religions.

This religion also introduced me to Mother Mary, whom I loved, as every Catholic child did. I knew that she, and her Son, loved me, and I loved them too. I used to say that I only came to love Jesus when I ran to him at 23, scared to death of evil and sin, needing salvation. But in fact I always loved Jesus, not that he was always central in my thoughts or I tried to do what he said, or even what the Ten Commandments commanded. But I loved him.

His father I was not so sure about. He was the guy Who slew and struck down and smote.

The other religion, as articulated by the Sisters of St Joseph at St Agnes school, told us a lot about this ‘God the Father’, about how He was just, so just that even if we were really really sorry for disobeying our parents or stealing candy or touching ourselves He was not satisfied until we had suffered enough to satisfy His perfect Justice. This was going to be our fate after we died, because hardly anyone had suffered enough to satisfy Him on this earth. Furthermore, in this religion Baby Jesus and the Sacred Heart were replaced by a more pissed-off Christ, the one who is our Judge. However, there was hope. Besides the fact that Mary, who loved us, could intervene, like any mother, and soften her Son’s Heart, the saints had accumulated even more merit than they needed to get into heaven and the Church had a sort of bank account of the surplus stuff. If we said certain prayers we could take time off of  ‘Purgatory’ with the merit of those much holier than us. And so we did, racking up years and decades off of the horrible fiery place, which was presented as a sort of temporary hell. Me, I did not bother with such small potatoes, and went for the ‘plenary indulgences’, which were like a Get Out of Jail card from Monopoly, a game I heartily hated.

Somehow, in spite of this evil human construct, I still was impressed enough with the mysterious stuff to experience overwhelming awe when meditating (yes, that is the word) about God and eternity, sitting in church when I was seven, even though I felt guilty afterwards for not paying attention to the Mass.

I am still sorting out these religions, though I am beginning to sometimes understand  the real one more clearly.

I am not picking on one version of traditional Catholicism. For this all was soon replaced by a very different Roman Catholicism, one with earnest people strumming guitars, with lively tunes and strange ideas. Which in fact were very powerful at first, but did not wear well. But as someone who actually sat by a campfire and sang ‘Kumbaya’, circa 1966, by a riverside near Toledo, on a vocational retreat at the seminary of a missionary order, I have to admit that it was moving.

The first time.

Nor was it so simple to separate the several Catholic religions: that night, lingering in the spare modern chapel, lit only by candles, the Blessed Sacrament on the altar, I profoundly experienced the presence of Jesus.

Every version of the Christian faith distorts the simple reality of God, adds human concepts and fear or reaction to fear.

And that is, perhaps, why I love this pope so much. He seems to never forget that at the heart of all else, before all human tradition or law or respectability there is Jesus, there is God.

And there is Love.

by Daniel Nichols at November 13, 2014 03:34 AM

Cal Newport » Blog

Deep Habits: Obsess When Needed


An Obsessive Digression

For the past two weeks, I’ve been trying to prove a bothersome theorem. It’s not particularly flashy, but I need it for a paper. More importantly, it felt like it should be easy and I took it personally that it’s not.

Predictably, I began to obsess about this proof — by which I mean I took to returning to the proof again and again during breaks in my working day. It became a staple during my commutes to and from work, and began to hijack blocks of time from my otherwise carefully constructed schedules.

Earlier this week, the weather was nice, so while waiting out the traffic at home in the morning I sat outside in my backyard with my grid notebook (something about grid rule aids mathematical thinking) and, as I had been doing, noodled on the theorem.

Except this time: something shook loose.

I scribbled notes for an hour, drove to campus, and set about trying to formalize my new idea.

It didn’t work.

But now I had the scent. Long story short, six hours later I had a proof that seems to work for a more or less reasonable version of the problem (time will tell).

I started that day with a pretty elaborate time block schedule. It was ignored; as was my e-mail inbox; as were several pretty important administrative obligations. But the important thing is that I think I finally tamed that damnable theorem.

Obsession as Productivity Tool

In my work as a theoretician, (bounded) obsession of this type plays an important role in productivity.

A main theorem in this 2014 paper, for example, was finally proved on the metro, whereas the main theorem in this 2013 paper was cracked on a speaking trip to Canada (I started working on it when I arrived at the airport in D.C. and had the key points nailed down by the time my limo arrived at the hotel in Waterloo) . In an interesting coincidence, the breakthroughs in this 2014 paper and this 2011 paper both happened while stuck at home during (different) snow storms.

In all cases, if I hadn’t allowed the relevant problem to evolve into an obsession, I might not have solved it. They required lots of hours of deep thinking under lots of conditions: both products of obsession.

With this in mind, my contention in this post is that this trick of the theoretician is relevant in many more fields.

Important things are hard to do. Obsession supports hard accomplishment.

The challenge, of course, is keeping the obsessions under control (a somewhat oxymoronic task), and learning when to unobsess when progress stalls too much (at best, 1 in 3 of my obsessions yield theorems).

In the final accounting, however, obsession remains a tool that’s not talked about much but should be, as it often plays a key role in elite level knowledge work.

by Study Hacks at November 13, 2014 02:34 AM

November 12, 2014

John C. Wright's Journal » John C. Wright's Journal

Star Wars On Women

An update on the war on women!

This is a take off on a recently gone-viral video, to which I will not link, which shockingly revealed that young men are from time to time attracted to busty women seen walking alone in the bad sections of town, and the less well brought up will wolf-whistle or say hello.

Good thing our Progressive friends were alert enough to notice this epidemic of males being different from females, and good manners being different from bad.

Since our Progressive friends are shameless lying weasels, brain damaged with self inflicted ideological brain damage, or have sold their souls to Beelzebub (researchers, neurologists and theologians are still debating which is the most likely explanation) they do not know good manners are better than bad, nor that men are different from women. It is something the rest of us have known since roughly the early Paleolithic Age, which is why we painstaking developed over generations a series of laws and customs designed to accommodate the differences between the sexes, and to encourage good manners and discourage bad.

This is why they have been saying this over and over again for decades.

I assume their shock is that no one believes them. Since they decided on the anti-reality side of the War on Reality, it is an academic question whether they are sincere in their speech, and believe nonsense because of a weasel heart, brain defect or demonic possession or all three, or they are insincere and know that the nonsense they utter is meaningless blither, and feel no shame, due to a weasel heart, brain defect or demonic possession or all three. Neither option redounds to their glory.

If they were serious about protecting women from catcalls and low-class lust, then they would support and applaud chivalry in men and modesty in women, instead of hating and demeaning it, and treating an offer of escorting a women to her car in a dark parking lot as sexual harassment instead of a courtesy.

But they are not serious. They want power, money, applaud, and the appearance of occupying the moral high ground, and so the Left complains about non issues and falls mum when real issues raise their heads.

Say, feminists, point me to your gone-viral videos denouncing Islamic misogyny, genital mutilation, veiling laws, stoning, rape customs, and honor killings.

by John C Wright at November 12, 2014 09:30 PM

Don't Eat The Fruit

What Can We Learn about Video Churches from Mars Hill’s Closing?

It’s been a while since I’ve written here, but I did put together a piece about the video satellite model of churches for OnFaith. As I write in the piece, I’ve always been a bit skeptical of the model since I want to favor in-the-flesh personal encounters and avoid celebrity preachers and branded models of church.

However, when I actually talked to churches using this model, I found that some of them had actually thought through a lot of the common objections and come up with creative ways to overcome them. Here’s how it starts:

At the Acts 29 Conference in Dallas, Texas last week, the recent events surrounding Mark Driscoll and the network he founded were in the air. But as one attendee commented to me, the pastors there weren’t focused on Driscoll himself so much as what they could learn from Mars Hill Church’s recent decision to dissolve its video-powered network of 13 churches.

As of January 2015, each Mars Hill Church location will either become an independent church or will cease to exist. And as the satellite model of churches continues to develop nationwide wide, the larger question, not just for Mars Hill but for churches and denominations of all kinds, is whether the video satellite model is a viable way to do church.

Continue reading: Is the End of Mark Driscoll’s Church a Sign for Satellite Churches?

by John Dyer at November 12, 2014 08:56 PM

512 Pixels

The politics of Net Neutrality →

MG Siegler:

Coming out in favor of net neutrality is pretty much the easiest high ground one can grab. The President knows that his Republican counterparts will largely take the unpopular position defending the business interests of the telco companies under the guise of free market weasel-speak.

The only slight friction for the President here is that his strong stance puts Tom Wheeler, the FCC chairman that he appointed, in a tough spot. It’s a lose-lose for Wheeler. If he supports the President’s position, he’s a White House stooge. If he opposes it, he’s the fall guy. And it sure looks like he’s getting ready to oppose it…

But the President had to know this as well. I mean, he appointed a former telco lobbyist to the position of FCC chairman. People were outraged about this for about five minutes. Now we see why this was such a dumbfoundingly bad idea. I don’t care how much money Wheeler raised for the President, it’s a bad idea to appoint the most biased person possible to such a position of power.


by Stephen Hackett at November 12, 2014 08:39 PM

Split the baby →

Brian Fung and Nancy Scola, for The Washington Post:

Huddled in an FCC conference room Monday with officials from major Web companies, including Google, Yahoo and Etsy, agency Chairman Tom Wheeler said he has preferred a more nuanced solution. That approach would deliver some of what Obama wants but also would address the concerns of the companies that provide Internet access to millions of Americans, such as Comcast, Time Warner Cable and AT&T.

“What you want is what everyone wants: an open Internet that doesn’t affect your business,” a visibly frustrated Wheeler said at the meeting, according to four people who attended. “What I’ve got to figure out is how to split the baby.”

Well, shit.


by Stephen Hackett at November 12, 2014 08:10 PM

John C. Wright's Journal » John C. Wright's Journal

Superversive Blog: Christian Magic — Part Two

The beautiful and talented Mrs Wright holds forth on the topic of Christian Magic:

In Part One, Deeper Magic From Before the Dawn of Time, I discussed the philosophy, the idea, of Christian Magic. In this second part, I want to give some practical examples.

First, the definition: Christian Magic is when objects or ideas from the Judeo-Christian tradition appear in the story as part of the magic. By magic here, I mean specifically “a mood of mystery and wonder,” and not “the occult” per se.

Also, I am differentiating between this use of Christian ideas and stories that have a pious nature. By pious, I mean a kind of assumption that Christian and holy things are good but everything else is bad. In case not everyone understands what I mean by the term pious, as applied to writing, here is an example from the work of fanfiction, Hogwarts School of Prayers and Miracles:

“Tell me how to get to this heaven place!” Harry cried wistfully, clapping his hands together. Sometimes the wisdom of the little ones is really amazing. We think we grownups know it all; but then God speaks through the mouths of little ones; and shows us how we are all mortals struggling along the path of life. Humility.

 This is a superb example of what Christian Magic is not.

Pious stories do not feel magical. There is no mystery, no wonder. Instead, the basic assumption is that everyone (who matters) already agrees with the premise, so things “we” agree with are praised and everything else is trashed.

In stories of Christian Magic, on the other hand, the Christianity is introduced in the same mood and manner as the rest of the magic.

And now, some examples:

First, I will include, yet again, the quote from C. S. Lewis about deeper magic from before the dawn of time. Yes, we just read it in part one, but it’s that good…

It means that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.” (Aslan, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.)

At this point, perhaps you are asking, is there Christian Magic, outside of Narnia? The answer is yes—even if no one else does it quite so well.

An early example of Christian Magic comes from the book Dracula. We now think of it as par for the course that crosses drive back vampires. So much so, that many vampire stories have to take time to establish that crosses do not affect vampires, if they don’t want readers to assume they will. But when the matter came up in Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, it was new. (Or rather, it was an old folk lore idea brought to light in a new way.)

By all means, read the whole thing:

by John C Wright at November 12, 2014 08:00 PM

Greg Mankiw's Blog

512 Pixels

Cutting the Cord →

My friend and fellow Volunteer State citizen Bradley Chambers, over on Tools and Toys:

With the growth of social media, video games, and streaming services, many people are finding they don’t use their cable subscription enough to justify the continued expense. We get our news, entertainment, movies, and TV shows through other channels now. This guide is about getting the right gear to make a smooth transition away from cable or satellite into cheaper alternatives.

I would say you should send this to Instapaper, but Tools and Toys is just too pretty not to visit directly.


by Stephen Hackett at November 12, 2014 07:17 PM

The Brooks Review

Flashlight — Spotlight’s missing plugin system

Amazing bit of work, bringing a lot of power to Spotlight.

Please consider becoming a member to support my writing. All writing is 100% member funded.

by Ben Brooks at November 12, 2014 06:50 PM


The Bible and Dr. Peter Enns

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to post, but this episode went up last week. We chat about Peter Enns’ review of Andrew’s review of Enns’ book. It makes sense on the show.

Soli Deo Gloria

by Derek Rishmawy at November 12, 2014 06:22 PM

512 Pixels

Greg Mankiw's Blog

John C. Wright's Journal » John C. Wright's Journal

Building a Library

An expectant father has paid me the high honor of trusting my judgement and asking me what books he should buy and stock in his nursery for this children. And he hopes to have many (may God hear him!)

I will recommend some books, but I’d like to hear your recommendations as well, dear reader.

But first I will recommend that no matter what you read to your kids, dear fathers and fathers-to-be, that you just READ TO YOU KIDS!

I am in the habit of reading to my children every night, weekdays and weekends, except on days set aside for novel writing, when the wife reads to the kids. I have done it regularly as sunset every night since their infancy, and also told stories orally, the most successful of which is my version of Jack and the Beanstalk. (In my version, Jack owns a pressure suit, and so can endure the drop in pressure and temperature as he climbs to the stratosphere).

The upshot of it is, that my kids heard  all my favorites from when I was a child, including science fiction books and fantasies, that otherwise they never would have heard or read, and to this day I spend an hour each Sunday reading to them from the Bible, or from CS Lewis, or from GK Chesterton, or from Peter Kreeft. They are teenagers, but are bright teenagers, and none of this material is over their heads (except that the allusions and references of Chesterton I need to stop and explain. And the stopping and explaining usually turns into digressions, lectures, jokes and side material. Chesterton’s THE EVERLASTING MAN is being read so slowly, since I stop for a digression every paragraph, perhaps every line, so that we now call it THE EVERLASTING BOOK.

Making it an unbreakable habit to read is much more important than what you read.

That said, let me frame my recommendations in terms of what morals they teach.  For as ‘Wright’s Ninth Rule of Writing’ states, every story teaches a moral, whether intended by the author or not. Whatever the winning behavior is, whatever behavior in the tale leads to success, achieves the stated goal, that is the moral being taught and the example being presented.

First, for youngest children, I suggest pictures books with simple rhymes and tales.

My personal taste does not run to GOOD NIGHT MOON nor to THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR. I very much do not like Eric Carle’s compositions. I suggest finding older books, like THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD by Watty Piper. For one thing, in older books the little boys and girls get treats like knives and candy. I also recommend MOTHER GOOSE. Go with the classics.

Second, for children a little older, anywhere from toddlers to teens, I very, very strongly recommend anything by Dr Seuss.

Best of all, Dr. Seuss has simpler books like ONE FISH, TWO FISH, RED FISH, BLUE FISH for little kids and simplest reading level, all the way up to his Bartholomew Cubbins stories. He covers the whole range of childhood reading.

So I recommend everything by Dr Seuss, except for THE BUTTER BATTLE BOOK, and THE LORAX, which I regard as grotesque propaganda, shameful, and reprehensible.

Dr Seuss is a genius, sparkling with wit and imagination, and, best of all, as a grown-up you will not get weary rereading and rereading him. (In case you do not know yet, children have much more stamina than grown-ups, and do not weary of hearing the same thing endlessly repeated.)


The morals of Seuss are always simple and solid: don’t be as stubborn as the Zax, for example, but be as stubborn as Marco fishing at McElligot’s Pool. Always pick up after yourself as the Cat in the Hat. Be as true to your word as Horton the Elephant, but not as generous as Thidwick the Moose. If you err, as did King Derwin of Didd, say you’re sorry. Be imaginative. Be creative. Go beyond Z.

Be careful to pick up older copies, which have not suffered political correctness correction. For example, in TO THINK THAT I SAW IT ON MULBERRY STREET, the little boy, Marco, see a Chinaman, not a Chinese Man, eating with sticks.

For slightly older, let me recommend any of the Oz books by L Frank Baum, with the exception of the first one, THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, which I think is inferior in quality. Skip that one and read MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ first, and get to Jack Pumpkinhead and Tip. The books are charming, endlessly inventive, but there is nothing in them to shock or scandalize child or parent. Dorothy never acts ‘edgy’ or even disrespectful.

The moral of Oz is one so often repeated in our day it has become overused and even corrupt, but, nonetheless, it is still a good one: judge men not by their outward appearances and oddities.

Because the book is in the public domain, do not be deceived, but double check to confirm that the version includes all the original illustrations by John R. Neill and his color plates. The copy I have has several pictures removed, either due to the expense of color printing, or because of political correctness.

Jinjur's Army

The Winnie-the-Pooh stories by A.A. Milne are a must-read for children, as are Alice’s adventures both in Wonderland and through the looking glass.


In the same ‘must read’ category I put C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series.

Upon each rereading of Lewis, I am more and more impressed. There are depths beneath depths here, and humor, and courage, and the savoir of fresh baked bread, the beauty of silver stars, the boldness of two edged swords. There are beauties that will break your heart. But, it is most important, nay, it is crucial, to read them in the order written, NOT in chronological order. Some idiot at the publishing house decided to put numbers on the spines of the book in the internal chronology order, which spoils various surprises and ruins various effects. A HORSE AND HIS BOY is the fifth book, not the second, and THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW is the sixth, not the first.


My personal favorite is VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER, which I just finished reading to the kids yesterday (at the time of this writing). My life would be poorer if my five year old did not know about Reepicheep and his bravery and courtesy. Had they never seen the silvery sea at the edge of the world, overgrown with lilies, they would have missed a wonder. Since my children are Christians, they are delighted rather than disgusted to recognize Jesus dressed in a pantomime lion suit: and the points the author makes are both profound and very artfully inserted. At no point is there anything trite or trivial or condescending toward the younger reader.

The morals in Lewis work on several levels, both plain and subtle, and he deals with the kind of things most children’s books shy away from, such a treason and death.

Prydain is a solidly crafted series, and the heroes are shown as possessing the typical boyscout virtues of being trustworthy, loyal, helpful, and so on. (My kids love the gargling voice I do for Gurgi and the scatterbrained voice I do for Eilonwy.)


I will also recommend a sadly overlooked gem of a book by Carol Kendall called THE GAMMAGE CUP. I had liked it as a child, but, upon rereading, I thought it a superior work of craftsmanship.

Again the theme hardly needs repeating in our modern times, but the book is a paean to non-conformity, but also a warning against complacency. Sometimes old enemies do appear again. In this book you can read about my hero and idol, Walter the Earl, the quixotic antiquarian of Slipper-on-the-Water. He is myself reincarnated as a Minnipin.

I reread this as an adult to my own children, and was surprised at its depth and characterization. There are scenes in the wilderness where the exiles are learning cooperation and self discipline, and our heroine Muggles unexpectedly finds herself in a leadership role; there are dreadful scenes when one of the group is captured by the goblins and poisoned; there are scenes of battle as martial and valiant as anything in a book by Robert E Howard or Edgar Rice Burroughs; there is a romance so briefly mentioned yet so sweet that a child might miss the profundity of it.

I also read WONDERFUL FLIGHT TO THE MUSHROOM PLANET by Eleanor Cameron to my kids, or tried to, since this was a book from my youth I liked as well. As it turned out, rereading it with adult eyes was a bit of a disappointment. It was like KRULL compared to STAR WARS. The characters are flat, the plot boring and unfocused, the stakes are low, and there is no moral to the story, no theme.


My lovely and talented wife has read to them WEIRDSTONE OF BRISINGAMEN and its sequel MOON OF GOMRATH. The scene where the children are trapped underground seeking to evade the Svarts was too scary for my boys, so we have not read all through.

Older yet, I enjoyed reading the short stories of Bertrand R. Brinley in THE MAD SCIENTIST’S CLUB.

These scientifically minded kids of the Club are slightly less honest than boyscouts, since they frankly are pranksters, and the grownups in the stories are usually comedy relief and figures of fun, but all stories them emphasize hard work and inventiveness, and the boys have an old fashioned decency I find refreshing.


I was very pleasantly surprised that my boys at a young age could follow and understand both A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Dickens and TREASURE ISLAND by Stevenson.

I was disappointed that when I read them DOCTOR DOLITTLE by Hugh Lofting, they seemed uninterested.

When they reached the age they could read for themselves, I continued to read to them at bedtime, it being nearly the only time I have to see them all day. My crowning moment as a Father was when I read to them A PRINCESS OF MARS, and so my boys have been exposed to science fiction, and will never be muggles again.


The moral of A PRINCESS OF MARS, of course, is that true love conquers all; not even the wide abyss of interplanetary space can keep true hearts apart, nor death itself; and that you should kill anyone standing between you and your princess with a longsword or radium pistol.

And to keep your word, and to know that even men who seem to be monsters, like Tars Tarkas, can be faithful friends if treated kindly and nobly.

The children’s godfather, Uncle Bill, read to them the luminous THE LAST UNICORN by Peter S Beagle, a particular favorite of mine as it is the second fantasy book I ever bought with my own money as a child (The first was DREAM QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH by Lovecraft).

Every single line is quotable. The moral here is rather subtle, but poignant, which is that beauties and marvels that people have forgotten how to see walk yet among us on footsteps as delicate as a doe’s. The whole tale is about the dangers of despair and self-deception. The deeper message is that magic is wondrous, but cannot save anyone. That is what self sacrifice is for. That is what heroes are for.

And finally I will recommend one other book, this by Padraic Colum (whom sharped eyed readers will notice wrote a blurb for KING OF ELFLAND’S DAUGHTER) called THE KING OF IRELAND’S SON. And even sharper eyed reader will note that the illustrations are by Willy Pogany, who is a famous illustrator from the period.

Finally, let me ask my readers, any one who cares to comment, to recommend good, solid, non-politically correctified kids books?


by John C Wright at November 12, 2014 04:39 PM

sacha chua :: living an awesome life

Dealing with uncertainty one step at a time

Sometimes it’s hard to plan ahead because there are just too many factors to consider, too many things I don’t know, too many divergent paths. I can come up with different scenarios, but I can’t figure out a lot of things that would make sense in all the likely scenarios. Some of the scenarios are exciting, but some of them are also scary. They’re hard to hold in my mind. They fight my imagination. I can’t plan straight for these. I can’t come up with step 1, step 2, step 3. At best, I can come up with if-then-elses, but I still have to wait and see how things turn out.

Sometimes it’s easier to take life one day at a time, because if I think about too large a chunk, I start getting lost. Sometimes it’s better to not focus on everything that’s needed, just what’s needed right now.


It rattles me a little bit because I’m more used to seeing clearer paths. Or do I only think that I’m used to that?

Let me try to remember when I felt that sense of clarity and certainty. I was certain about taking computer science; I loved programming even as a kid. I was certain about teaching after graduation; I loved helping people learn. I was certain about taking a technical internship in Japan; it was an interesting thing to do. I was certain about taking my master’s degree; it was a logical next step, necessary for teaching, and the research was interesting.

I was not certain about being in Canada, and I was often homesick during my studies. But I was certain about W-, and now this place also feels like home. I was certain about IBM and about the people and ideas I wanted to work with. I was certain about saving up an opportunity fund so that I could explore other things someday. I was certain about starting this 5-year experiment with semi-retirement.

So I’m familiar with what it’s like to plan for a chunk of certainty – half a year, four years, decades. It feels good when a plan comes together, when I can see how each step leads to a future I’ve already lived in my head.

I am certain, now, that I’m going in roughly the right direction. I don’t know exactly how it will work out, but I know that it will be interesting.

Ah! There it is, I think, the thing I’m trying to grasp. The future Sacha of this five-year experiment is fuzzy in my head. That evaluation point is only two years away now, and I should be able to imagine her more clearly. But aside from a few abstract characteristics (future Sacha is a better developer and writer, future Sacha continues to be happy, future Sacha gets to work on what she wants), I don’t have a good sense of her yet – not with the same solidity of past futures. I’m not sure what to put on that Conveyor Belt of Time (as Mr. Money Mustache puts it) aside from generically-useful gifts to my future self: decent finances, relationships, skills.

Circling back to the metaphor that emerged while I was drawing and writing my way through this question, I suppose this is like the difference between hiking along a trail with a view – or even unmarked ground, but with landmarks for orienting yourself – versus exploring the woods. Not that I know much of the latter; I’ve never been lost in the woods before, never strayed from the safety of a trail or the sight of a road. (Well, except maybe that one time we were hiking along the Bruce Trail and got turned around a little bit, and we ended up scrambling up a slope to find the trail we really wanted to be on.)

I can learn to enjoy exploring, knowing that in the worst-case scenario, I’ve got the figurative equivalent of supplies, a GPS, emergency contacts, backup batteries and so on. I can learn to enjoy observing the world, turning questions and ideas over, noticing what’s interesting about them, perhaps cracking things open in order to learn more. I can learn to take notes, make maps, tidy up trails, and leave other gifts for people who happen to wander by that way.

Ah. That might be it. Let’s give that a try.

The post Dealing with uncertainty one step at a time appeared first on sacha chua :: living an awesome life.

by Sacha Chua at November 12, 2014 04:24 PM

The Brooks Review

∞ The UnderFit Shirt Update

When I crowned my ‘best undershirt’ I chose UnderFit because it was modern, exceedingly comfortable, and held up well. That is all still true.

Recently, however, the company reached out to me to send me a couple new shirts from their new production line. There are two big changes:

  1. The v-neck has been deepened.
  2. The stitching has been vastly improved around the openings.

I’ve thought a bit about how to write up my thoughts, as the changes don’t warrant and entirely new post, but they warrant something more than just a link list posting.

At first glance the two above points don’t look like they matter, but shirts are a really funny thing, because the smallest of details can mean the world of difference between comfort and hate.

I didn’t test the new v-neck shirts, instead I tested the crew neck versions this time. I can’t imagine the v-neck changes would be anything but good, but take these updated thoughts as only directly applicable to the crew neck shirts.

Crew Neck

The crew neck shirt is like a Michael Jordan commercial, the neck line lays flat — really flat. Even after a few washings these shirts still lay flat. It’s the one aspect of the shirts that I really like.

They are mannequin perfect around the neck.

However, I’m not a fan of the crew neck. This is outside of style reasons, I simply find the cut of the neck on these shirts too uncomfortable. This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this with crew neck undershirts, in fact most that I try (which are made as true undershirts) have the same problem: I dig at the neck constantly to keep it from touching me.

I really can’t stand the neck of a crew neck shirt touching my actual neck area, which is why my undershirts are v-neck. I have no doubt, though, if you love crew necks these shirts will be top billing for you.


Underfit mentioned updated stitching, and they weren’t kidding. I don’t know much about this stuff so here is my thoughts on what I do notice:

  • I’ve never had a problem with the old stitching.
  • The old stitching always made the shirt look cheaper.
  • The new stitching looks robust, but is still comfortable, and now looks very nice.

In other words: the shirt feels and looks like it is worth the price now at the cost of nothing for the wearer.

Updated Recommendation

I’ve updated my recommendation from ‘recommended’ to ‘extremely recommended’ for this shirt.1

Please consider becoming a member to support my writing. All writing is 100% member funded.

  1. Not that I have any kind of true rating system. 

by Ben Brooks at November 12, 2014 03:21 PM

John C. Wright's Journal » John C. Wright's Journal

Go go Gamergate!

What can you do?

Friends, if you want the so called Social Justice Warriors and their agenda of defeminized woman and immasculate men and sexual perversion and abomination to fail, and their tactics of gossip and backbiting and anti-White racism and anti-Christian bigotry to fail and fail hard, you are probably wondering what you can do to help.

The answer is that you can do simple and persistent things.

Here is a message from my publisher:


  • Support the good. Don’t support the SJWs in any of their flavors.
  • Get on Twitter. Tweet once with #OpSkyNet. Retweet and favorite one #GamerGate tweet per day.
  • Email one Gawker (or other #GamerGate target) advertiser per week.
  • Join Recommend. Write one Game- or Book-related reco, good or bad, per week and I’ll add it to the appropriate list. Be sure to follow me first so I will see it.
  • Try an indy game from a #GamerGate developer.
  • Submit an article to Reaxxion.
  • Speak out. Do a blog post. Tell a friend.
  • Stand by those under attack, especially if you don’t agree with them. The primary SJW tactic is 3rd Generation. They cut off, isolate, then swarm. They can’t do that if you refuse to permit them to separate you from their target.

He says more and the topic, and with more authority than I can muster:

and here

And, for those of you interesting in what the media thinks of Gamergate (and I mean that sliver of media which is not owned, body and soul, by the Progressives) , I am pleased to see signs of support:

The reaction in the press has been bewilderment and, then, apoplectic rage, driven at least in part by a media establishment that sees video gamers—the supposed dorks and basement-dwellers of popular imagination—mounting a credible and effective defence against the liars, frauds, neurotics and attention-seekers who have already destroyed morale and wrecked culture in the comic, sci fi and fantasy worlds.

by John C Wright at November 12, 2014 02:51 PM

The Urbanophile

7685 Frames of Netherlands

This week’s video is a timelapse of the Netherlands by Pengcheng He. I hope you enjoy. If the video doesn’t display for you, click over to You Tube. h/t Likecool

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

by Aaron M. Renn at November 12, 2014 02:22 PM

Crossway Blog

The Truth About Paul David Tripp

WARNING: What you are about to see is probably completely real and might be disturbing to some.

The Truth About Paul David Tripp from Crossway on Vimeo.

Learn more at

by Matt Tully at November 12, 2014 02:22 PM

Midweek Roundup - 11/12/14

Each Wednesday we share recent links we found insightful and helpful. These are often related to Crossway books, Bibles, or authors—but not always. We hope this list is an interesting and encouraging break for the middle of your week.

1. How to critique a theological giant

Ortlund qualifies,

Jonathan Edwards is way out ahead of me, and probably you, both in living and in theologizing on the Christian life. But the student, standing on the teacher’s shoulders, may on occasion glimpse something the teacher doesn’t. Cautiously, we proceed. (p. 178)

The way Ortlund does this is a model of how to critique a theological giant. He spends the rest of the book exulting in what Edwards teaches us about the beauty of God. His final chapter is merely a grace-filled, non-hagiographic footnote to that.

2. Christ and Pop Culture reviews God in the Whirlwind by David Wells

The overall sense I gather from reading this book, as well as No Place For Truth and God in The Wasteland is that Wells would see pop culture as part of the problem, or at least an extension of the pressures of modernization (something he focuses heavily on in No Place For Truth). He’s not a big fan of TV shows, that much is for sure. Wells is not directly attacking or condemning pop culture, and his book serves as a great resource for thoughtful Christians wanting to engage and interact with pop culture in light of the holy-love of God. Wells gives readers a big vision of a big God and helps to orient us to what we most desperately need.

3. Jonathan Dodson on how to make evangelism more believable

Use Gospel Metaphors

When Francis Schaeffer was asked what he would do if he had an hour with a non-Christian, he replied by saying he would listen for fifty-five minutes. Then, in those last five minutes, would he have something to say.

What does Jesus say “in the last five minutes?”

“And you will have treasure in heaven and come follow me.” Notice Jesus’s change in vocabulary. He appeals to a longing, not for eternal life, but for “treasure in heaven.” Why change the words? Because he knew what the young wealthy man loved most, his treasure. So Jesus, being a good evangelist, not only dignifies and devastates; he delivers the gospel in a way that makes sense to his listener! He appeals to his deep longings. How? By appealing to his desire for treasure, but with the greater, superior treasure of Heaven — life with God.

4. 9Marks reviews Dispatches from the Front

This is the kind of joyous education one receives while reading Tim Keesee’s beautiful, affecting, and poignant Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World’s Difficult Places. The book is a collection of journal entries, written across several years and bookended by what appears to be an occasional prologue and epilogue.

Because of this, it’s somewhat difficult to subject Keesee’s work to a standard “review.” He doesn’t give the reader arguments to parse or specific exhortations to either heed or reject. Instead, his message is a simple one: From the Balkans to the former Soviet Republic; from China to the Horn of Africa; from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea to Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan; from Southeast Asia to Afghanistan and Iraq—God is sovereignly and graciously saving people through the proclamation of the gospel.

5. Jon Bloom on the joy of Christmas

There’s nothing wrong with a little aesthetic, nostalgic Christmas romance. God made us sentimental beings to increase our enjoyment of and gratitude for his many past graces. But if the romance and nostalgia become the substance, the pursuit of our Christmas celebrations, then they become deceptive — mirages of joy that disappear as soon as we reach for their illusive promise.

And that is what Christmas has become for so many: a joy mirage, or perhaps a joy fantasy. This can be true even for Christians. When we look for joy in our traditions rather than through our traditions, joy short-circuits. Looking for joy in the Christmas trappings and traditions is like opening a beautifully wrapped package with a tag that reads “Joy Inside,” only to find the box empty. That’s because our Christmas traditions don’t so much house joy as much as they point to joy. If we want our joy voids filled, we must look less at Christmas and more through Christmas to where indestructible, unspeakable joy really is.

by Nick Rynerson at November 12, 2014 02:21 PM


cuse: For this, I shall recuse myself

I have spoken previously on my lack of musical skill or talent, and it has come back to haunt me again with cuse.


cuse is a midi sequencer written completely in ncurses, with a fantastic colorful interface, drop-down menus, load-and-save functions, horizontal scrolling on playback, pop-up dialog menus, a slew of track functions and specific controls … almost all of which is completely lost on the vulgar, like me.

Add to that my meager luck with midi applications — I think timidity++ was the only thing midi-ish that has ever actually worked for me — and you can see why I should probably sit this one out.

I’m impressed though, even if I don’t know what I’m doing with cuse, or how to use it properly. If you have more experience with it or can offer some basic advice to a noob like me, I’d be happy to get it.

For the mean time, I’m content with lots of color, a fullscreen and full-width display, easy-to-navigate menu access, nifty peak level animation, steady horizontal panning and a slim running profile. I shouldn’t need to know how to use it — all that is more than enough to keep me happy. :)

cuse is in AUR and will require libcdk as a dependency; the cdk version I got out of AUR was out-of-date, but just needed a version correction and updated integrity sums before it would build. cuse itself gave me no problems.

I don’t see this in Debian. Come on, Debian! Let’s get going here! ;)

Tagged: audio, midi, music, sequencer

by K.Mandla at November 12, 2014 01:15 PM

msdl: Ripping the format of the Evil One

I kid. There’s nothing inherently evil about mms:// format streams. Not that I am aware of, anyway. :???:

And if you should still stumble across an mms:// URL and wish to access it, you might think back to earlier this year, and mimms. For almost a year mimms languished on this blog in a dubious working-or-not-working state, mostly because yours truly, despite razor-sharp Googling skills :roll:, couldn’t find a live, working mms:// stream.

Well all that changed this morning, and I can now vouch for both mimms and … msdl.


Better late than never, I suppose. :roll: In my defense, I’m only partly to blame for that, since Microsoft apparently deprecated mms:// format sometime around a decade ago. So finding a working stream depended on a lot of factors beyond my control.

Aside from all that, msdl seems to work with the same alacrity and wild abandon as mimms. I do notice that they both have speed indicators and basic progress counters, which is good.

mimms adds the .wmv extension to its output, while msdl apparently lets the stream determine its filename. Neither way is an issue for me.

msdl has a healthy number of options available as flags, and I particularly like the speed controls and the verbose option, and the option to stop streaming after a set period of time.

While I’m at it, I should be clear that msdl doesn’t just stream mms:// URLs, but can handle rtsp:// as well as a few specialized formats. So no, K.Mandla is not investigating software that only works with a decades-old, deprecated stream format. :|

Trust me, I’m a professional. ;)

Tagged: download, manager, mms, stream

by K.Mandla at November 12, 2014 01:00 PM

The 21st Thing To Remember If You Are or If You Love a Person with ADD

From June Silny’s 20 Things to Remember If You Love a Person with ADD article on Lifehack:

True love is unconditional, but ADD presents situations that test your limits of love. Whether it’s your child, boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse or soon-to-be spouse, ADD tests every relationship. The best way to bring peace into both your lives is to learn a new mindset to deal with the emotional roller-coaster that ADD brings all-day-every-day.

Understanding what a person with ADD feels like will help you become more patient, tolerant, compassionate, and loving. Your relationships will become more enjoyable and peaceful.

Despite its wild popularity, having racked up over 1.7 million likes on Facebook, that article is probably the single most frustrating summary that I’ve come across in more than 25 years of reading about ADD and ADHD.

It’s not that the piece doesn’t make valid points about what those of us with ADD and ADHD often deal with on a daily basis. It’s not like there isn’t a benefit to a loved one better understanding the range of possible challenges we face. It’s that, ultimately, the article (and it’s companion on why we should love having ADD) encourages us to embrace these facts and then stops. Chances are, if you’re reading articles on why you should love having ADD or ADHD or how your loved ones can cope, you need to start taking concrete steps to deal with it.

Like the quoted article says, I have an active mind; I’m not a great listener; I struggle to stay on task; I have more than my fair share of anxiety; I find it difficult to concentrate when I’m emotional (or when I’m not); I get hyper-focused (often by complete nonsense); I’m highly impulsive; I’m emotionally and physically sensitive; I can be unexpectedly intuitive; I have foot-in-mouth disease, I’m known to think outside of the box; I’m impatient, disorganized, forgetful, overly ambitious, wildly passionate and prone to more than my fair share of procrastination. Throughout my life, the upsides of many of these traits have helped me to stand out and achieve, but unmanaged, the downsides have continually held me back. They have challenged every personal and professional relationship I’ve cultivated, every ambition and endeavor I’ve attempted.

Embracing Isn’t Enough For Us

While these Lifehack articles don’t explicitly tell us to stop improving once we’ve embraced these facets of ourselves or our loved one, I struggle with the fact that they don’t actually encourage us to do anything about it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s this: Understanding and embracing your nature is an important step toward self-improvement, but eventually you have to build up the courage to deal with your challenges. For yourselves, but more importantly for your loved ones.

When I was finally able to make peace with the fact that I’m not quite neurologically “normal,” I became a far happier human. What I didn’t become was a more effective one. When my wife decided to embrace the challenges of daily life with an ADHD-addled man-child, it became easier for her to forgive my related shortcomings. What it didn’t become was easy.

ADD and ADHD, or any similar neurological disorders for that matter, are valid reasons for our challenges, but they aren’t valid excuses. And as anyone who carries their ADD or ADHD into adulthood can attest, understanding employers and significant others are in short supply. In fact, the understanding and exceptions we receive in our youth often fail to prepare us for this all-too-common reality. For most who carry these challenges into later life, no amount of desire and no amount of loving is enough to overcome those challenges. Left unchecked, our nature will get in the way.

You Need To Take The Next Steps

If you really want to excel, if you really want to honor those who love you, then own your challenges and begin to take steps to mitigate your nature. Feel free to read all the articles that tell you how special you are. Feel free to share resources that help loved ones grasp what you’re up against with your ADD or ADHD. Then take everything you’ve learned, take advantage of your loved one’s newfound understanding, and use it as a tool to attack your challenges.

Do you have ADD or ADHD? Is it getting in your way? Understand what you can about your nature. Embrace who you are and likely always will be. Then start seeking the help or identifying the steps needed to deal with your challenges.

Do you love someone who has ADD or ADHD? Is it affecting your relationship? Understand what you can about what your loved one is dealing with. Embrace that you’re not always going to understand the way they work. Then encourage them to do the work needed to improve, and be there when they fall short along the way.

Need more specifics on what to do next? Stay tuned.

Update: June Silny, the author that inspired this rant, posted a follow up on the same day that this piece went live. It’s titled If You Love Someone Who Has ADHD, Don’t Do These 20 Things and takes a far more proactive approach. I recommend it for those looking for a starting point on what to do next, and hope it gains anywhere near the traction of the initial post.

My favorite bit:

ADHD isn’t an excuse for an irresponsible lifestyle. It just means that what comes easy to you, may be difficult for them. It doesn’t mean that they can’t do something, it means that it’s harder for them. Simple tasks that you take for granted; such as opening mail, trashing junk mail, and placing your bills in a “to be paid” folder, feel like a climb up Mt. Everest to a person with ADHD.


by Michael Schechter at November 12, 2014 12:30 PM


RuboCop plugin for RubyMine

Good news, RubyMine users!

Yesterday Marcel Jackwerth released the initial version of a RuboCop plugin for RubyMine/IntelliJ IDEA. Here’s the plugin in action:

November 12, 2014 12:16 PM

Front Porch Republic

If Sartre is Right


“If man…is indefinable, it is because at first he is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he will himself have made what he will be. Thus, there is no human nature…” Jean-Paul Sartre, in ‘Existentialism is a Humanism’

A man will be what he will have made himself to be.

Aristotle would concur. But for Aristotle all the drama of this statement is rooted in the fact that there is a human nature. A man can choose to respond to the ‘given’—or we could say the gift—of human nature. Will I put first things first, according to the order that I discover? It is up to me; nobody can walk the walk for me.

But if Sartre is right, the only walk there is, is the walk I or others will choose to walk. I am master not only of my own actions, but of good and evil itself.

A sign that Sartre is wrong is not that he has pointed out too great a burden. Rather, he has not comprehended something yet greater. The greatness of a good that is for man, but not designed by man.

Aristotle: “[the distinction of good and evil] may be thought to exist only by convention, and not by nature.” Indeed such may be thought.

But when we lay our head on our pillow tonight, we should rest assured: the true goal of our self-making-through-action is already written, and it is something we could never have conceived. Our glorious burden is to transcribe it, to make it a reality in our lives.

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) is a major figure in the philosophy of existentialism.

Originally posted at Bacon from Acorns

The post If Sartre is Right appeared first on Front Porch Republic.

by John Cuddeback at November 12, 2014 12:10 PM

Zondervan Academic Blog

What’s the Difference Between Classical and Social, Relational Trinitarianism?

(Can’t see the video? Watch it here)

9780310498124In recent decades there has been increased interest in the doctrine of the Trinity. Two views dominating such interest are the so-called (1) classical and (2) social, relational views of the Trinity.

Paul Molnar is one theologian who is shaping this discussion. He is a contributor to the new Two Views of the Doctrine of the Trinity which maps the distinctions between these two dominant views.

But how are they different and distinct? Molnar explains in our video by clarifying their positions:

  1. Classical View: “Unless we know who God is eternally—as the Father, Son, and Spirit—based on his revelation to us, we can’t really say anything about God relating with us humanly in history.”
  2. Social, Relational View: “Theologians chart from experiences of relationality within history to try and explain who God is.”

Watch the rest of the video for a solid introduction to trinitarian differences and then engage the two views book yourself.

by Jeremy Bouma at November 12, 2014 12:02 PM

May 16, 2013


RethinkDB 1.5: secondary indexes, batched inserts performance improvements, soft durability mode

We are pleased to announce RethinkDB 1.5 (), so go download it now!

This release includes the long-awaited support for secondary indexes, a new algorithm for batched inserts that results in an ~18x performance improvement, support for soft durability (don't worry -- off by default), and over 180 bug fixes, features, and enhancements.

Upgrading to 1.5? Make sure to migrate your data before upgrading to RethinkDB 1.5. →

Secondary indexes

Support for secondary indexes has been the most requested feature since we launched RethinkDB, and has been in development for over six months. It required a massive amount of server work and involved modifying almost every part of the codebase: the BTree code, the concurrency subsystem, the distribution layer, the query language, the client drivers, and even the web UI.

We worked hard to make sure secondary indexes are extremely easy to use. Here's how you'd create a secondary index on the last_name attribute:


Then getting all users with the last name Smith would be:

r.table('users').getAll('Smith', { index: 'last_name' })

Or you could retrieve arbitrary ranges of the index. For example, all users whose last names are between Smith and Wade:

r.table('users').between('Smith', 'Wade', { index: 'last_name' })

Listing and dropping indexes is also a part of the API:

r.table('users').indexList()             // list indexes on table 'users'
r.table('users').indexDrop('last_name')  // drop index 'last_name' on table 'users'

In addition to manipulating secondary indexes via ReQL, you can perform these from the admin UI:

You can define compound indexes, and even indexes based on arbitrary ReQL expressions. Secondary indexes can be used to do efficient table joins, and are sharded and replicated along with the rest of the database. Learn more about how to use secondary indexes in the documentation.

Batched inserts performance improvements

Since the initial release, RethinkDB has supported inserting batches of documents. Instead of inserting multiple documents one at a time:

r.table('users').insert({ name: 'Michael' })
r.table('users').insert({ name: 'Bill' })

it was always possible to insert a batch of documents in one command with a single network roundtrip:

r.table('users').insert([{ name: 'Michael' },
                         { name: 'Bill' }])

However, the server had always executed batched inserts by translating them to a series of single insert commands. While sending the data in a single network roundtrip reduced the network latency, it still had very poor performance because the server would have to flush each document to disk before moving on to the next document.

The 1.5 release includes a new insert algorithm that flushes changes to disk in batches while maintaining the guarantee of consistency in case of power failure. This algorithm drastically improves performance of batched inserts. While not something we'd call a benchmark, inserting 100 medium-sized documents went from 2.8 seconds to 160 milliseconds on a development system, and the ~18x performance improvement is consistently reproducible on different batched insert workloads and types of hardware.

Soft durability mode

Early in the development of RethinkDB, we made the design decision to be extremely conservative about durability and safety of users's data. In this respect RethinkDB is like any other traditional database system -- the server does not acknowledge the write until it's safely committed to disk. While this is a sensible default for a database system, many of our users pointed out that they're using RethinkDB for storing access logs or clickstream data, or as a persistent, replicated cache of JSON documents. These scenarios might require trading off some durability guarantees for higher performance.

The 1.5 release includes support for relaxed durability (off by default, of course). For tables in this mode, the server acknowledges writes as soon as it receives them, and flushes data to disk in the background. Flushes normally occur every few seconds, or if there are too many dirty blocks cached in memory.

Hard durability can be turned off when creating a table via the advanced settings in the web UI or in ReQL:

db.tableCreate('http_logs', { hard_durability: false })

You'll notice that write performance on tables with hard durability turned off is about ~30x faster than normal tables. Note that the data still gets flushed to disk in the background and is consistent in case of failures. For those familiar with MySQL's InnoDB engine, RethinkDB's soft durability is similar to setting InnoDB's innodb_flush_log_at_trx_commit to 0 (more info on this setting in InnoDB).

You can change the durability mode for an existing table via the admin CLI:

$ rethinkdb admin -j localhost:29015
localhost:29015> set durability http_logs --hard

Many more enhancements

The 1.5 release includes many more enhancements -- check out the changelog for a complete list. Here are a few more notable changes:

  • For super-fast insert performance, RethinkDB now supports noreply writes that allow writing data over the network without waiting for a server acknowledgment. This mode allows for an apples-to-apples benchmark comparison with MongoDB.
  • The Data Explorer in the web UI now supports electric punctuation, as well as a toggle to turn it off. This can make typing queries in the data explorer much more pleasant.
  • The web UI will now check if there is a new version of RethinkDB and inform you if you need to upgrade (the check is done as a simple AJAX request from the browser, and can be turned off).

Looking forward to 1.6

We are already hard at work on the 1.6 release. This release should be quick and easy, and will include many ReQL enhancements. We will also focus on continuously improving performance with each version. However, the next release isn't set in stone. If a feature is important to you, let us know.

by RethinkDB at May 16, 2013 07:00 AM

November 12, 2014


VIS 2014 – Tuesday

The big opening day of the conference, Tuesday, brought us a keynote, talks, and panels. Also, a new trend I really like: many talks end with the URL of a webpage that contains a brief summary of the paper, the PDF, and often even a link to the source code of the tool they developed.


That VIS would ever take place outside the U.S. was by no means a given. There was a lot of doubt about getting enough participants, sponsors, etc. to make it work (and a ton of convincing by this year’s chair, Jean-Daniel Fekete).

That made it especially interesting to hear the participant numbers. There are over 1,100 attendees this year, more than ever before. They also more than doubled the amount of money coming from sponsors compared to last year, which is very impressive. VIS outside the U.S. is clearly doable, and even though the next three years are already known to be in the U.S., I’m sure this will happen again.

One number that was presented but that I don’t believe is that there were supposedly only 79 first-time attendees. That doesn’t square with the different composition of participants (fewer Americans, more Europeans), and besides would be terrible if true.

Alberto Cairo: The Island of Knowledge and the Shorelines of Wonder

The keynote this year was by Alberto Cairo, who gave a great talk about the value of knowledge and communicating data. Perhaps my favorite quote was that good answers lead to more good questions.

There is a lot more to say, and I want to really do his talk justice. So I’m going to not go into more detail here, but rather write it up in a separate posting in the next week or two.

InfoVis: The Joy of Sets

The first InfoVis session started what I hope is a trend: ending talks with a URL that points to a website with talk materials, the paper, and often even the source code of the presented tool. This is how work can be shared, revisited, and make its way beyond the limited conference audience.

The first paper was UpSet: Visualization of Intersecting Sets by Alexander Lex, Nils Gehlenborg, Hendrik Strobelt, Romain Vuillemot, and Hanspeter Pfister. The system allows the user to compare sets and look at various intersections and aggregations. There are many different interactions to work with the sets. Because there are so many views and details, it’s almost like a systems paper, but good (most systems papers are terrible – another rant for another day).

OnSet: A visualization technique for large-scale binary set data by Ramik Sadana, Timothy Major, Alistair Dove, and John Stasko describes a tool for comparing multiple sets to each other. There are some clever interactions and the tool also shows hierarchies within the sets while comparing.

Rounding out the sets theme was a paper I didn’t actually see the presentation for, but I want to mention anyway: Domino: Extracting, Comparing, and Manipulating Subsets across Multiple Tabular Datasets by Samuel Gratzl, Nils Gehlenborg, Alexander Lex, Hanspeter Pfister, and Marc Streit. From what I gather, it presents a query interface and visualization for sets and subsets, and it looks quite nifty.

InfoVis: Colors and History

I’m a bit conflicted about DimpVis: Exploring Time-varying Information Visualizations by Direct Manipulation by Brittany Kondo and Christopher Collins. They developed a way to show time in a plot so that you can navigate along the temporal development of a value (rather than use a time slider that is disconnected and doesn’t show you history). While that makes sense to me in the original example they showed, a time-varying scatterplot, I’m a bit less convinced by the bar chart, pie chart, and heatmap versions of it.

A paper I missed, but that seems to have stirred some controversy, is Tree Colors: Color Schemes for Tree-Structured Data by Martijn Tennekes and Edwin de Jonge.

“Blind Lunch”

The reason I missed some of the papers in the InfoVis session is that I was one of the people hosting a table for what is called a blind lunch. This used to be called Lunch with the Leaders, which may have sounded a bit too ambitious (and scared off potential leaders who didn’t necessarily consider themselves that), but at least it made more sense. Everybody knew who they were signing up with, and nobody was blindfolded as far as I’m aware.

It’s a good event though. I had a chance to chat with four grad students and share my wisdom about industry vs. academia. There are also a few more activities as part of the Compass program for people who are about to graduate, or just generally want to get more perspectives on the job situation in academia and/or industry.

Panel: Data with a cause: Visualization for policy change

One of the things I was looking for the most at VIS this year was the panel Data with a cause: Visualization for policy change, organized by Moritz Stefaner, with speakers from the OECD, World Bank, and the World Economic Forum.

The panelists all had interesting things to say about what they are doing to make data more accessible, make it easier to share their reports and other materials, and provide means for people to talk back. There are also some interesting issues around the different types of audience they want to serve (economists, policy makers, general public) and the general unease when handing out data to the unwashed masses.

What I was missing, though, was a bit of controversy and actual discussion. For such an important topic, it was a very tame panel. There were some really good questions to be asked though, like one coming from the audience about the responsibility of organizations not to reinforce the winners and losers through their data, and what they might do about that. I also asked about the availability not just of tables, but of the underlying data. I have some more to say on that topic in future postings.


One of my favorites of the conference so far is Multivariate Network Exploration and Presentation: From Detail to Overview via Selections and Aggregations by Stef van den Elzen and Jarke J. van Wijk. I don’t seem to be alone in this, as the paper also received the Best Paper Award at InfoVis this year.

The system they developed shows multivariate graphs, and allows the concurrent display of the network and the multivariate data in the nodes (even including small multiples). What’s perhaps most interesting is the fact that they allow the user to make selections to aggregate the graph, essentially building a sort of PivotGraph to see the higher-level structure on top of the very detailed, hairball-like, graph.

Because they are showing the detailed network first and let the user create an overview version, apparently Jarke van Wijk suggested to name the system Namrediehns – i.e., Shneiderman spelled backwards, since it’s Ben Shneiderman’s famous mantra (overview first, zoom and filter, then details on demand) in reverse.

This was much funnier the way Stef van Elzen did it of course, and in particular with Ben Shneiderman sitting there in the first row, directly in front of him.

VisLies, Parties

It remains a crime that VisLies is not a regular session, but a meetup that is tacked on and usually at a time when everybody is at dinner. I think it’s a really great idea, and there should be room for it in the regular program. It deserves a lot more attention and attendance. I missed it this year again.

There were also two new parties, the Austrian Party and the NYU Party. I really like this new tradition of parties to connect people and reinforce the community aspect of the conference. It does mean even less sleep than before, though.

by Robert Kosara at November 12, 2014 08:46 AM

Table Titans

Tales: Home on the Range


Our group was playing D&D 4th Edition for the first time, and I was a Shardmind Warlock. I had been given a scroll earlier in our adventurers that would magically lead us to a secret herd of horses, the most majestic in the kingdom. After some debate with the DM, we had decided that a Shardmind’s…

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November 12, 2014 07:00 AM

The Gospel Coalition | Latest Articles

Your Church Is Without a Senior Pastor: Now What?

When a church loses its senior pastor, it is natural to grieve. Those interim periods can be dark and confusing times—and they often come more frequently than we expect, and last longer than we want.

But are there any opportunities afforded by an interim period? Could God use such a season for good in the life of a church? To get wisdom on these issues, I spoke with Phil Douglass, professor of practical theology and director of the DMin program at Covenant Theological Seminary.

Phil is the wisest person I know regarding the practical dynamics of church life, including the challenges involved with transition.

A lot of people may be tempted to view interim periods at their church simply as a time to "tread water." How should we think theologically about interim periods? In your experience, how can God use these times for his good purposes in the life of a church?

Interim periods can indeed be a valuable time in the life of a church. Among other things, they can help the leaders of a church to determine with greater clarity God’s ordained ministry direction for their particular church. In Romans 12:4–6, Paul writes that “as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us . . .” 

We usually interpret this passage in light of the gifts Paul lists in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and elsewhere. That is certainly valid. But the principle of this passage also applies more broadly to entire churches. My observation from having studied some 200 churches is that not all of the gospel-oriented churches in a town or region have the exact same gifting and calling. Rather, individual churches have predominant “gifts that differ according to the grace given” that make them distinctive in their ministry role in the community. And when particular churches focus with greater intensity on their God-given gifts and strengths, their fruitfulness in ministry increases significantly. 

I unpack these themes more thoroughly in my book, What Is Your Church’s Personality: Discovering and Developing the Ministry Style of Your Church. Churches facing transition might find it a useful resource, especially the appendix where I provide a diagnostic designed to help churches better understand their unique calling and giftedness.

When should a church hire an interim pastor? What are the benefits of having an interim pastor?

A general “rule of thumb” is that if the previous pastor served at the church eight or more years, an interim pastor may be helpful. An interim pastor can also be helpful if a church has experienced significant turmoil or some sort of moral or spiritual crisis. An interim pastor performs several functions at once. He can help lead the church through a period of mourning and transition (this often lasts around two years). He can also assess particular areas of weakness or need, attempt to resolve conflict, and provide stability for ministries and finances. The most important role of the interim pastor is to help prepare the church for a new pastor who will be a good fit for the ministry style of the church while not neglecting his own distinctive ministry approach.

How can the elders and staff of the church adjust during this transitional time in order to care most effectively for the needs of the church?

The elders and staff need to provide clear vision, strong leadership, and consistent pastoral care. This can provide a sense of stability amid what is for many people an unsettling time. The elders and staff need to recognize that in many situations, the departure of a senior pastor will feel like a death to people in the church. They might find value in becoming acquainted with the grief cycle model developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her classic book, On Death and Dying. Some aspects of the grieving process are:

  • Denial as a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept the realities related to the loss of a beloved pastor. This may affect some people more than others. People who were particularly close to the pastor may be simply unable (for a while) to accept the facts surrounding his departure.
  • Anger can be manifested in different ways. People may be angry with the departing pastor himself or with those perceived as driving away the pastor. Knowing such anger is part of the grieving process may help some be less judgmental.
  • Acceptance is the final stage. It is natural to feel sadness, regret, fear, and uncertainty during this time. These emotions are not bad; rather, they show that the person has at least begun to accept the reality of the loss of their pastor.

What issues should a church tackle before the senior pastor comes, and what issues should the church wait to let the senior pastor handle?

The elders and staff should deal proactively with any major conflicts among the members of the church, especially those involving clashes over differing ministry styles and the primary direction of the church’s mission. Also, if there are any obvious transitions in staffing that need to be made, the elders should go ahead and make those changes and absorb whatever “heat” may result.

If the church has plateaued or is declining, then the elders should encourage the new pastor to make adjustments related to the mission of the church. Usually, however, such changes should occur after the pastor’s first year, and should be made with sensitive attention to the church’s primary ministry style and to the particular needs of the community.

Do you have any advice on how a church should form a search committee? Are there any common mistakes?

The most common mistake is for a church to form a search committee that includes people with widely different styles of ministry and visions for the church. This hampers the process. Instead, the elders should first determine the primary ministry style and vision of the church and then recommend to the congregation nominees who fit it.

Another mistake is including the most vocal and opinionated people in the church on the search committee, or those on some particular personal crusade. Such people often want to be involved and are willing to commit time and energy to the process, so it can be tempting to give them a role. But the reality is that such people often reflect their own agenda more than the needs of the entire church. It is better to ask people who represent the mainstream of the church to be a part of the committee.

by Gavin Ortlund at November 12, 2014 06:01 AM

The King Who Never Married

It’s an odd story when the king never marries. Ancient kings not only married, but also married again and again. And if dozens or hundreds of wives could not suffice, there were always concubines.

Wouldn’t a king who never married be some kind of lesser king?

Ancient Expectations

The laws concerning kings in Israel read, “Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold” (Deut. 17:16-17). Not many horses, many wives, nor excessive wealth; but some horses, some(?) wives, and some wealth.

When Israel finally demanded a king, Samuel warned them that most kings would not be content with some and instead acquire many (1 Sam. 8:10-18) of all of the above.    

Ancient Examples

It is no surprise then to find that even the good kings did just as Samuel had predicted. If you only have Sunday school snapshots of King David’s life (David anointed by Samuel, David and Goliath, David and Jonathan, David as King) it is easy to create the false impression that King David’s downfall began in 2 Samuel 11. In other words, he was doing so well until his sin with Bathsheba and against Uriah.

When you read through 1 and 2 Samuel systematically, David’s sin with Bathsheba is not some puzzling exception in his behavior with women, but rather another choice in a long series of abuses of power. See 1 Samuel 25:39-44; 2 Samuel 3:12-16; and 2 Samuel 5:11-16. He did not have as many wives and concubines as his son Solomon (1 Kings 10:26-11:8), but neither king seemed to have a narrow definition of "some."      

Christ’s Environment

In Jesus’s day we see similar expectations about marriage for those in power. King Herod had John the Baptist imprisoned because John dared to challenge the legitimacy of Herod’s marriage (Mark 6:14-29). The Pharisees asked Jesus about the right to divorce one’s wife for any cause (Matt. 19:1-12). The scribes and the Pharisees brought only a woman to be punished for adultery (John 8:1-11).

Not only was marriage for leaders expected, but again marriage to multiple women was common (even if created through loose divorce laws).    

Christ’s Exception

So what do we make of the fact that Jesus was the king who never married? When everyone else had a hard time limiting themselves to one, Jesus limited himself to none. He was not opposed to marriage or to women—just the opposite. In choosing not to be married, he elevated the dignity of every woman.

His mother was unexpectedly pregnant as a teenager but spared from divorce (Matt. 1:18-25). He spoke prophetically against the divorce culture of his day that primarily hurt women (Matt. 5:31-32). He restored a young girl to life and healed a woman suffering for more than a decade from disease (Matt. 9:18-26). He commended the faith of a Canaanite woman and healed her daughter (Matt. 15:21-28). He initiated a conversation with the Samaritan woman and offered her living water (John 4:7-42). He defended the woman caught in adultery and challenged her to sin no more (John 8:1-11). On the cross he spoke of provision for his mother (John 19:26-27). And when he rose victorious over the grave he appeared first to women (John 20:11-18).    

He was the King who took nothing, but gave everything. He was the King who married no one, but served and gave his life for everyone.

It is an odd story where the King never marries, but it’s the greatest love story ever told. 

by Petar Nenadov at November 12, 2014 06:01 AM

Patiently Pursuing Authentic Relationships

Evan Zibell has been working as a personal trainer at a gym in Chicago since 2011. He holds a BA in biblical languages from Moody Bible Institute. Evan is in the process of becoming a licensed paramedic and lives in North Chicago with his wife, Kristina.

How do you describe your work, what you do every day? 

I am a physical trainer at a fitness center on the North Shore of Chicago. My average day consists of training 6 to 12 individuals for 30 minutes each, as well as carrying various responsibilities at the gym. During our sessions, I coach their exercise forms, help them think about how to integrate their fitness goals into their daily life, as well as track and manage their progress through several different workouts. 

As an image-bearer of God, how does your work reflect some aspect of God's work? 

While I can see my line of work being performed in a manner that actively reflects God's intended image-renewing in myself as I witness to others, I confess that this is unfortunately not always the case. Sometimes I feel like my job is just that: a job. And yet, many times, half the workout is spent discussing religion, which they bring up.

Individuals who exercise on a regular basis and take care of their bodies usually experience greater joy and self-fulfillment. Most of my clients are from the corporate world, where they must appear put together. In the gym, there is no façade—they trust me with their weaknesses to help make them strong. 

How does your work give you a unique vantage point into the brokenness of the world?

I work in a wealthy community. Most of my clients are CEOs, business owners, attorneys, and financial advisers. They all have four things in common: (1) gain knowledge in their field by experience, (2) often take (or have taken) a great amount of risk, (3) work hard in their respective occupations, and (4) attribute their success to “luck.” Most are not fully devoted Christians or committed to any one manifestation of faith. My clients are incredibly transparent about their lives, which is why I have thought that, for jobs like mine, a degree in counseling would be extremely beneficial.

Jesus commands us to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” How does your work function as an opportunity to love and serve others?

I put my clients through fairly painful experiences. They curse me and thank me in the same breath. But many demonstrate imitable perseverance and self-care. I genuinely love and care for the people I train, many of whom are not Christians. I wish I could say that I have made a great impact on their faith, but I believe it is they who have made an incredible impact on me. Most are not shallow or superficial, but are hardworking, generous, and wise. I don't interact with people any longer as objects to be "worked on," but rather approach people as individuals who might open my eyes to understand the gospel better. The gospel ought to be experienced through authentic relationships, not through hidden agendas. I am learning to trust that God is renewing this world through those who are his image bearers, and that he can use me to be a witness to the gospel.

Editors' note: The weekly TGCvocations column asks practitioners about their jobs and how they integrate their faith and work. Interviews are condensed.

by Paul Maxwell at November 12, 2014 06:01 AM

God Has Spoken

Gerald Bray. God Has Spoken: A History of Christian Theology. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. 1,260 pp. $55.00.

As one who has undertaken the writing of a historical theology that follows a topical-chronological structure, I am intrigued by and appreciative of Gerald Bray’s distinctive approach to this discipline. Noting the recent renewal of trinitarian theology and underscoring the church’s common confession of belief in the triune God, the research professor at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama, thoroughly addresses all the topics expected in a substantive historical theology volume, and does so according to a trinitarian framework. This unique approach in and of itself is enough to attract great attention to God Has Spoken: A History of Christian Theology.

Bray’s headings, along with the timeframe to which they roughly correspond, are eight in number. Part One, “The Israelite Legacy,” establishes the early foundation of the church through a discussion of Christianity and Judaism, specifically how the former parted from the latter yet inherited much from it (e.g., its Scripture and its beliefs in the oneness of God and divine creation). Parts Two and Three treat “The Person of the Father” and “The Work of the Father,” the church’s theological focus from the first through third centuries. The radical address of God as “Our Father,” taught by the church’s founder to his disciples (Matt. 6:9), launched Christian theology. At the same time, a potential rift between God the Creator as set forth in the Old Testament and God the Redeemer in Jesus Christ loomed large and demanded the early church’s attention. They also had to address, within the context of monotheism, the relationship between the Father who is God and the Son who is God. Further, the church developed a doctrine of the creation of the world and of people as divine image bearers, along with the doctrines of providence and predestination, all within a growing trinitarian framework and against the specter of Gnosticism.

With the Gnostic heresy over, the church then turned (Part Four) to “The Person of the Son,” its focus in the fourth and fifth centuries. Orthodox Christology was hammered out in the context of challenges in the form of adoptianism (Bray’s corrected spelling), Arianism, Apollinarianism, Nestorianism, and Eutychianism. Nicea, Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Constantinople, Augustine, and more were key markers along the road to the church’s never-overturned Chalcedonian consensus. Even then, however, monophysitism, monothelitism, and iconoclasm would not allow the church to rest from its Christological labors.

While the church occupied itself with matters concerning the identity of the Son, other issues simmered and eventually came to the forefront, attracting the attention of the two halves of Christendom. One issue was the Son’s sacrificial work on the cross—and the Western church leaned toward soteriology. The other was the person of the Holy Spirit—and the Eastern church leaned toward pneumatology. Accordingly, Part Five treats “The Work of the Son,” the focus of the Western (Catholic, and eventually Protestant) churches during the medieval and Reformation periods. Various views of the atonement, diverse viewpoints of the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper, the development of the sacramental system, the invention of purgatory, the doctrine of justification, Martin Luther’s contribution, as well as (briefly) that of John Calvin find treatment in this section.

While the Western church was devoting itself to soteriology, the Eastern church was focusing (Part Six) on “The Person of the Holy Spirit.” To appreciate the divergent roads these two halves of Christendom have taken, this section returns to biblical affirmations about the Spirit and the development of the early church’s pneumatology—focusing on personhood, deity, and trinitarian relationships—culminating in the medieval controversy (and ultimate East-West split) over the double procession of the Spirit. Bray concludes with a brief treatment of the current state of the filioque question.   

Part Seven, “The Work of the Spirit,” covers the period from the Reformation through today, focusing on disputes over the Spirit’s work as determinative for the major differences between the Catholic Church and Protestant churches. Accordingly, this section covers ecclesiology in its many expressions (Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist, Anglican, Baptist, Methodist), practices (baptism, the Lord’s Supper, polity), and doctrines (covenant theology, extent of the atonement, assurance of salvation, the works and gifts of the Spirit, Christian living) at length. Bray concludes with a brief treatment of Wesley’s Christian perfectionism, the holiness movement, revivalism, and Pentecostalism/the charismatic movement.

Part Eight, “One God in Three Persons,” concludes with the many issues that face the church in the modern period. Attacks abound. The first barrage came against the doctrine of the Trinity, and today virulent atheism is on the rise; at the same time, Christian theology is experiencing a revival of trinitarian theology. With the modern advance of the cult of reason, the issue of biblical and ecclesial authority is a perennial issue, as are the question of the suffering of God and the very credibility of theology itself.

God Has Spoken concludes with two helpful chronological lists of persons and of events.   

Because of its trinitarian framework, this volume provides relatively easy access to material that addresses the historical development of theology proper, Christology, pneumatology, and the Trinity. However, it does not lend itself as well to knowing where to turn for discussion of the progress of other theological loci: bibliology, anthropology, angelology, hamartiology, ecclesiology, and eschatology. These topics are scattered throughout the book, meaning that readers must work their way through several sections, with occasional help from the (non-exhaustive) index. Using the doctrine of Scripture as a first example, the canon of the Old Testament is treated in chapter 1, and the canon of the New Testament is presented in chapter 18; chapter 19 covers other important ground, like the relationship between Scripture and church tradition. Similarly, theological anthropology is presented in terms of its Jewish background (the image of God, chapter 2) and its shaping through debates about Christology (chapter 11). Angelology (chapter 20) is slipped under Part Seven, “The Work of the Holy Spirit.” Ecclesiology appears regularly and often (e.g., "The Body of Christ," chapter 12; "The Coming of Christ’s Kingdom," chapter 14; "The Presence of God," chapter 17; "The Preservation of the Church," chapter 19; "The Mystical Body of Christ," chapter 21). Even as the book progresses trinitarianally and chronologically, it often reaches back to earlier developments of doctrines, developments that were not presented in earlier chapters.

Readers will need to decide for themselves the fittingness of this trinitarian approach to structuring historical theology. Whatever their assessment, they will be challenged by a refreshing, highly creative, well-researched book that is a tour du force among histories of Christian theology. To my knowledge, no theologian has ever undertaken to compose a historical theology with a trinitarian scaffolding. Moreover, the breadth of Bray’s command of his subject matter, executed in this unique way, is formidable, yet his writing is concise and engaging. God Has Spoken: A History of Christian Theology has my highest recommendation.

by Gregg Allison at November 12, 2014 06:01 AM

Front Porch Republic

Oneself as Another in the Controlled Burn: A Dispatch


Low flames and smoke and visions of the eschaton.

Read Full Article...

The post Oneself as Another in the Controlled Burn: A Dispatch appeared first on Front Porch Republic.

by Jason Peters at November 12, 2014 05:42 AM

CrossFit Naptown

NapTown Barbell Club Updates


Sumo Deadlift
HATA (Heavy As Technique Allows)


Mainsite WOD
5 rounds for time of:
9 Deadlifts
6 Hang Power Snatch
3 Overhead Squats



NapTown Barbell Club is Changing!

For the better!

New Additions. Lifting Platforms!

New Additions.
Lifting Platforms!

photo 2

Please be respectful of this area. NO WODS on these platforms that involve high repetitions.

Some of you may be unaware, but we have a Barbell Club here at CrossFit Naptown. This is a class for ALL SKILL Levels. Don’t let the term “Club” fool you, this is for YOU!

The Goal: To improve on, and, possibly, compete in Olympic weightlifting!
Yes, that means the Snatch and Clean & Jerk.

Previously, it was thought that this club was just for the aspiring competitors; fear not, it is for everyone! We have worked to improve the mission of this club so that it appeals to not only the avid weightlifter, but also for the beginner that wants to improve his/her lifts.
Q: Why Do I need to improve my Lifts?
A: To increase your strength, improve your coordination, jump higher, run faster, and make your CrossFit WOD times go down!

Therefore, here are the changes STARTING DECEMBER 2nd:

1) There will be three weightlifting templates going on at the same time! The new cycle will start DECEMBER 2nd!
Q: What does this mean?

Program 1: For those who feel the need to just work on the lifts, for technicality, not for strength. The same template will be used for the casual drop-in or member who feels the need to sporadically work on their lifts.

Program 2: For those who are strong, but don’t quite meet the proficiency in the lifts and could be defined as intermediate lifters.

Program 3: For those who want to compete and meet the proficiency in the lifts.

Q: How do I know what template is for me?
Easy! Come to class and we will quickly and decisively put you where you need to be. A single generic template isn’t for everyone, we want to treat you as you are and improve on where you need to!


a. Tuesday Afternoon: 11:30am – 1:30pm
Tuesday Night : 7pm- 9p

b. Thursday Morning: 6:30am – 8:30am
Thursday Night: 7pm-8:30pm

c. Saturday Morning: 9:00am – 10:30am

NOTES: For the Tuesday Afternoon and Thursday Morning Sessions, there will be a coach on hand for just weightlifting and will conduct just like a class. There will be programming for you to do, you just need to show up!

3) Thigh factory will not be going anywhere!!!! This equates to LOTS OF SQUATTING.

4) For those that don’t know, there is a Facebook page for the NapTown Barbell Club for all up to date/daily announcements for the club, a place where you can also track your progress by posting on the site.


In Summary:
TUESDAYS @ 11:30-1:30P AND 7-9P…
THURSDAYS @ 6:30A-8:30A AND 7P-8:30P…
SATURDAY @ 9-10:30.
These will all be Olympic weightlifting ONLY with programming provided, just show up and do work! These will count just like a normal class.

Any questions? Per usual, contact Peter or Jared, as well as myself, Coach Kevin. I am excited for these changes and to bring a new level of weightlifting to CrossFit NapTown. Let’s make the gym stronger!

-Coach Kevin


photo 3

photo 1

by Coach Jared at November 12, 2014 02:35 AM

Practically Efficient

Clink and sync

Gabe Weatherhead and Bradley Chambers. . .

Two guys with demanding day jobs. Two guys with families. Two guys that find the time to make amazing things by mixing some spare time with their passions.

Two guys that inspire me to do more.

And two guys with two very different new products. . .

Bradley wrote another book in his Learning to Love series: Learning to Love Google Drive (available in the iBookstore and outside of it). And thanks to Gabe's new app, TapCellar, beer journaling is a thing in my life.

Now join me in drinking and reading to both. Here's to the crazy ones, especially the ones that ship.

by Eddie Smith at November 12, 2014 02:09 AM

CrossFit 204: Winnipeg, Canada

Workout: Nov. 12, 2014

Kurtis can help you start your snowblower if needed.

Kurtis can help you start your snowblower if needed.

PLEASE NOTE: A drain issue has put our bathrooms out of order. We have plumbers coming, but the bathrooms will not be fixed in time for the 6:30-a.m. class. Please plan accordingly. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience.

5 sets of 1 2-position clean + jerk

Clean from floor, hang clean (no dropping)


Incline bench press, 3 reps

Work to the heaviest load you can manage for three reps. Use a spotter.

3 sets of max strict pull-ups

3 sets of max weighted dips

Target 8-10 reps and use a load that will allow you to hit those numbers.

by Mike at November 12, 2014 01:41 AM

CrossFit Naptown

SWIFT Workout 11.12.14

10 Minutes to Complete
1 Minute each Round:
Max Strict Pull ups w/ or w/o a Band
Max Hollow Rocks
Max Dips in Rings or Box

5 Minutes of Rest

10 Minutes to Complete
1 Minute each Round:
Max Pistols (to a box, standing on box or RX)
Max Burpee Broad Jumps

by Coach Jared at November 12, 2014 01:27 AM

SMBlog -- Steve Bellovin's Blog

If it Doesn't Exist, it Can't be Abused

A number of outlets have reported that the U.S. Post Service was hacked, apparently by the Chinese government. The big question, of course, is why.

It probably isn't for ordinary criminal reasons:

The intrusion was carried out by "a sophisticated actor that appears not to be interested in identity theft or credit card fraud," USPS spokesman David Partenheimer said.


But no customer credit card information from post offices or online purchases at was breached, they said.

Perhaps it was regular espionage:

But some analysts say that targeting a federal agency such as the post office makes sense for China as an espionage tool. For one thing, the Chinese may be assuming that the U.S. Postal Service is more like theirs--a state-owned entity that has vast amounts of data on its citizens, said James A. Lewis, a cyber-policy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Second, he said, the trend in intelligence is the same as in the commercial sector: amass big sets of data that can be analyzed for previously unknown links or insights.

"They're just looking for big pots of data on government employees," Lewis said. "For the Chinese, this is probably a way of building their inventory on U.S. persons for counterintelligence and recruitment purpose."

That sounds likely to me, but I fear that this may be a self-inflicted wound. According news reports last year, the Postal Service is is recording all mail: who sends mail to whom? Could that have been what the Chinese were interested in?

Studying communications patterns is known as traffic analysis. It's a venerable intelligence technique, and a powerful one. It's even been in the news of late, as "metadata". The external appearance of a message--who it's from, who it's to, and how long it is (which you can approximate for mail if you can see the postage) tells a lot. Everyone who has ever waited for an acceptance decision from a college knows the difference between a thin letter and a thick one; the same sort of thing is done by intelligence analysts.

Let me give an example. Suppose, when examining all mail to a person, you see a letter indicative of employment--perhaps a tax document, in January or February-- from a defense contractor to that person. You also see a what appears to be a debt collection letter and a letter from a bankruptcy law firm. (The Postal Service program takes photographs of the front and back of every letter. How long these are retained has not been disclosed.) It's a pretty good bet that the addressee is in financial trouble; he or she may also have a security clearance and almost certainly knows people who do. A good target to recruit as a spy?

Identifying people with access to sensitive information can be simpler. According to 32 CFR 2001.46(c)(2)(i), certain types of classified information can be sent by registered mail. It may be possible to spot such letters by the patterns of communication.

The usual information targeted, though, is likely to be far more routine but probably more valuable. A change in the volume of correspondence between, say, a drone manufacturer and a company believed to make some of the parts they use is likely indicative of a change in production rates. For that matter, the correspondents of a drone manufacturer might suggest who the suppliers are, and thus give hints about manufacturing techniques and the drones' capabilities. (A paint manufacturer? Do they make stealth coatings? A different engine supplier? Perhaps more range or a faster aircraft?)

The point is that the theft of this database (and it's not known publicly if it was even targeted, let alone accessed) couldn't have happened if it doesn't exist. The decision to collect and store this data enabled the problem. Yes, mass surveillance systems can help solve crimes--but they can also lead to crimes.

There's more. The Postal Service knows everyone you communicate with by paper mail. (Yes, there have been abuses reported.) The phone company knows everyone you call. Your ISP knows all of your email contacts. And law enforcement can get all of this without even probable cause, just a certification that "the information likely to be obtained is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by that agency".

November 12, 2014 01:26 AM

Caelum Et Terra

The Option


Doesn’t Rod Dreher really want The Eggs Benedict Option, where all the Special Christians go off and have church and eat gourmet food?

I know, it is a derivative idea, this notion that the enlightened ought to remove themselves from the corrupt world, one I articulated twenty years ago. And it was derivative then, rooted in an earlier tradition of Catholic Worker farms and Little Ditchling and Graham Carey and the Distributists.

I have long since become convinced that any group of modern Christians that does anything like that will end up creating a disaster. Nor do I believe that is the strategy that is laid out in the documents of Vatican II, which when all is said and done and the last contemporary traditionalist and the last modern modernist are long gone will remain the blueprint for the Catholic Church for the foreseeable future.

And besides, the original Benedict never thought he was retreating to the wilderness to ‘transform western civilization’ or save the world or whatever.

He just wanted to be alone with God.

by Daniel Nichols at November 12, 2014 12:48 AM

The Brooks Review

The Truth About the Wars

Daniel P. Bolger:

What went wrong in Iraq and in Afghanistan isn’t the stuff of legend. It won’t bring people into the recruiting office, or make for good speeches on Veterans Day. Reserve those honors for the brave men and women who bear the burdens of combat.

Please consider becoming a member to support my writing. All writing is 100% member funded.

by Ben Brooks at November 12, 2014 12:21 AM

Outsourced Bits

How Not to Learn Cryptography


People often ask me how to get started in cryptography. What’s interesting is that most of the time they also want to know how I personally got started. This is interesting to me because it suggests that people are looking for more than a list of books or papers to read or set of exercises to solve; they’re really looking for a broader strategy on how to learn the subject. In this post I’ll discuss some possible strategies.

First, let me stress that I am only considering strategies for learning crypto design and theory. Also, what I have in mind when I say “learning crypto” is not getting to the point of understanding an average paper, but getting to the point of generating such papers yourself (or at least the ideas in them). If your end goal is crypto engineering then the strategies may or may not be helpful—I’m not an expert so I can’t really say either way ( though I’d like to think that improving your understanding of how primitives and protocols are designed can be helpful).

I should say from the outset that the way I personally got started in cryptography is probably one of the worst possible ways to do it. It was highly inefficient and had a very low probability of success. This was mainly because I didn’t have the proper background when I started and I didn’t have the right resources at my disposal. These two things are very important and one of two things is likely to happen if you don’t have them: {(1)} it will take you so long that you’ll get fed up and give up; or {(2)} you’ll become a crank (and believe me, there are a ton of cranks out there selling crypto products).

When devising and implementing your strategy, you should keep these outcomes in mind because it will be very important to avoid them at all costs.

How to Do It

The best strategy for learning crypto design and theory is to get a Ph.D. at a University with a cryptography group. Getting a Ph.D. in some random field like mechanical engineering or biology does not count! If you are interested in symmetric cryptography (i.e., block cipher and hash function design and cryptanalysis), then a good place to start are European Universities since a large fraction of the experts are there. If you’re interested in crypto theory then the US or Israel. Of course there are strong groups in each area everywhere.

If you have found a University and are trying to evaluate the group is, then a very rough sanity check is to look at their publication record. If this is a theory group then you should be looking for CRYPTO, Eurocrypt, Asiacrypt, TCC, FOCS, STOC publications. If this is a more applied group, then you should be looking for publications at CCS, CHES, IEEE Security and Privacy (also known as Oakland) and Usenix Security. CRYPTO, Eurocrypt and Asiacrypt are not necessarily good indicators of quality for applied crypto. If this is a symmetric crypto and cryptanalysis group then, in addition to CRYPTO, Eurocrypt and Asiacrypt, you should look for papers at the major international competitions, Fast Software Encryption (FSE) and Selected Areas in Cryptography (SAC).

But you shouldn’t get too caught up in this, however. The publication system in cryptography is screwed up so you shouldn’t necessarily dismiss group {A} because it has less STOC papers than group {B}; or less CCS papers than group {C}. This is just a very coarse metric that—absent of any other signals—can be used to distinguish between very good groups and very bad ones. Another good thing to check is where the students that graduate from that group end up. Do they end up with jobs that you would like?

So why is getting a Ph.D. from a good group the best strategy? Simply because it is the most efficient way to learn the material. The background needed for crypto is not part of a traditional education, neither in math nor in computer science, so it’s unlikely that you’ll have learned what you need in undergrad. So you have two choices: {(1)} learn it on you own; or {(2)} learn it in graduate school.

In grad school you will have a set of classes carefully chosen and prepared for you. You’ll have an advisor that will guide you through the process, telling you what you need to learn, what you don’t need to learn, what your weaknesses are, what you need to improve, what problems to work on and the best strategies to solve those problems. You’ll also have fellow students that will help and motivate you throughout.

Note that for most Ph.D. programs in computer science you don’t have to pay anything. Your tuition is taken care of by the department or by your advisor’s grants. In addition, you receive a stipend which takes care of housing, food etc. So if you’re in a position to devote {5} years of your life to learning cryptography, then I think grad school in a crypto group is by far the best strategy.

How Not to Do It

So you can’t go to grad school or you can but somewhere without a crypto group and you still really want to learn crypto design and theory. Here is one possible strategy—the one I used.

I’ll assume you have a standard systems-focused computer science undergrad degree. In my case, for example, I had a strong systems background in undergrad (e.g., compilers, OS, networking, architecture) and a very weak theory background (just calculus, intro to algorithms and a linear algebra class so bad no one ever attended). To be brutally honest, this kind of background is useless for cryptography and if this is the point at which you’re at then you have to understand that you’ll be starting from scratch.

There are three things you should be shooting for: {(1)} developing mathematical maturity; {(2)} learning how to debug; {(3)} acquiring the basics.

By mathematical maturity, I mean the ability to understand and use basic mathematical language, notation and concepts. It’s basically having the right context in place for doing math. Knowing how to parse mathematical statements and proofs and generally-speaking, knowing how to read between the lines and how to fill in the missing pieces.

By debugging, what I mean is that you have to get to a point where you can reliably tell whether you have fully understood some idea or not. When you are starting out and working alone, this is extremely difficult especially for an area like cryptography which can be so subtle. If you don’t acquire this skill, however, you will end up a crank: that is, someone that has read a lot, understood very little, and is completely unaware of how confused and wrong they are. Many people who are self-taught end up like this so you have to be careful.

The problem with most of the advice given for learning a hard subject is that they focus on the third stage; typically by pointing to papers or books. But papers and books are useless if you don’t have the first two skills.

Acquiring Mathematical Maturity

Of course, the easiest way to acquire mathematical maturity is to get an undergraduate education in math [1].

Maturity is probably the skill that takes the longest to acquire. Math and theoretical areas of computer science are expressed through definitions, theorems and proofs. A definition is a precise description of some object or process. A theorem is a precise statement concerning some object or process and a proof is an argument as to why the statement is true. You should be comfortable with this paradigm because everything you will see further down the line will be expressed this way. But understanding this paradigm means you’ll have to be comfortable with basic notions like quantifiers (i.e., existential and universal), basic proof structures (e.g., direct and by contradiction), basic logic, elementary probability, etc.

By comfortable, I don’t mean a casual, superficial understanding of these things. What I mean is you should be able to properly formulate definitions, theorem statements and proofs yourself and be able understand why some formulations are better than others.

You shouldn’t think of mathematical formalisms as pedantic, boring and academic. Yes, in some cases they can be overkill because you may have a good intuitive understanding of an idea, but there will be times where your intuition fails and that’s when having a good grasp of the formal approach will help you. Cryptography, in particular, is very unintuitive so formalism is even more important—especially when you are starting out.

Most books on cryptography will not help you acquire mathematical maturity because it is assumed that the reader has it. If you are coming from a purely systems background though, you may not have had the opportunity to develop it (as was my case, for example). And reading math books is usually even worse since mathematicians learn this stuff very early on.

So what can you do? The approach I took was to just read everything I could find in math, theoretical computer science and cryptography. Once in a while, I would get lucky and find a paper with a decent explanation of some basic concept (e.g., some basic probability argument or a slightly more detailed proof structure) but most of the time I had to reconstruct the missing the pieces and context on my own.

Obviously, this is easy to do when you have the basics but it is incredibly difficult and frustrating when you don’t. As you can imagine it took forever to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. Therefore, the ideal approach would be to find a book or lecture notes that focus on this stuff. And—luckily for you—Timothy Gowers has written an excellent series of blog posts on these very things so you should read them:

  1. Basic Logic

    1. And & Or

    2. Not
    3. Implies
    4. Quantifiers

    5. Negation
    6. Converse & Contrapositive
    7. Handling Variables

    8. Summary
  2. Functions
    1. Injections, Surjections etc.

    2. Domains, Co-Domains, Ranges, Images etc.
  3. Permutations
  4. Definitions
    1. Definitions

    2. Alternative Definitions

  5. Equivalence relations


Being able to detect whether you’ve made a mistake is an important and difficult skill to acquire in any subject. This is exacerbated in security and cryptography since we cannot ascertain the security of something experimentally. Luckily, in crypto we do have a methodology for debugging: namely, provable security. The provable security paradigm (or more appropriately, the reductionist paradigm) consists of the following steps. One first formulates a security definition that captures the security properties/guarantees that are expected from the system. Then, one describes a cryptographic scheme/protocol for the problem at hand. Finally, one proves that the scheme/protocol satisfies the security definition (usually, under some assumption).

The provable security paradigm originated in the {80'} and has been used ever since in the cryptography community to analyze the security of many primitives. There are many benefits to this paradigm but one of the main ones is that it is a great debugging tool. When trying to prove the security of your primitive, you will sometimes find that the proof will not go through for some reason and, more often than not, it is because of a subtle weakness in your protocol that you did not pick up when first designing it.

I want to stress that the provable security paradigm is not foolproof and that it has its limits. For example, there are entire areas of cryptography like block cipher and hash function design where its usefulness has, historically, been very limited. Also, problems can occur if the definition being used is wrong or too weak for the application being considered. And, of course, there could be errors in the proofs of security. So the framework should be used with these limitations in mind because a blind adherence to it could lead you astray.

In my opinion the best place to start learning the provable security paradigm (and crypto in general) is the textbook “Introduction to Modern Cryptography” by Jonathan Katz and Yehuda Lindell. I really wish this book was out when I was learning crypto because it would have saved me a huge amount of time. The book teaches you all the basics of cryptography while explaining how security definitions work and how to prove various constructions secure. Unlike many mathematically-inclined books it goes over the details of proofs and doesn’t just leave everything as an exercise (which can be incredibly frustrating for people who are trying to learn the material alone and without any background). After Katz-Lindell, I would recommend “Foundations of Cryptography Vol. 1 and 2” by Oded Goldreich. These texts, however, are a lot more advanced and you likely won’t need the material unless you are doing research.

Learning the Basics

Of course, another crucial step is learning the basics. The simplest thing to do here is to just read Katz-Lindell. In addition you can also watch Jonathan Katz’ and Dan Boneh’s MOOCS which are here and here, respectively.

Putting it All Together

So you’ve read Timothy Gowers’ blog posts and acquired the basic mathematical concepts, you’ve read Katz-Lindell and understood the basics of provably security and you’ve watched the MOOCs so you know all the basic cryptographic primitives and what they are used for. At this point you should be able to read crypto papers and follow along. What you may not be able to do, however, is design and analyze your own crypto protocols. To make the jump from understanding other people’s work to creating your own, I think the only thing you can really do is to formulate your own problem and try to solve do it. Whether you succeed is not important, what matters is that you will be applying everything you learned at once and this will force you to understand how these ideas relate to each other and interact.

While I think it’s a good idea to work on your own problems at this stage to gain experience in applying what you’ve learned, it is very important to keep in mind that you don’t know what you’re doing yet. In particular, you may have gained a false sense of confidence after reading the books and watching the MOOCs so if you’re not careful you’ll be headed down the path of crankdom. To avoid this, it is crucial that you get feedback on your ideas from people who are more experienced than you. This is not an option, it is crucial! [2]

But how do you get experts to give you feedback if you don’t know any? This is a difficult question that I faced as well at one point. Here’s the trick I used. I basically got to the point where I could hold a semi-intelligent conversation with a professional cryptographer. This does not mean that I could impress them. Just that I knew enough of the basic concepts and techniques that I could have a reasonable {10} minute conversation about some crypto paper I had read. Once I could do this, I tried my luck. For example, I attended crypto seminars at Universities close by. This lead to me talking about research with professors there and eventually starting to work on projects together.

What is important to realize here is that people—especially successful people—are very busy and they just don’t have the time to teach you cryptography. If they are professors, then they already have students they are working with and if they work in industry then they have interns and an employer they are committed to. So if you want to learn from them you should have something to offer.

But what can you offer if you are just starting out? Well, if you think about it you have one thing that they don’t: namely, time. Remember that these experts are very busy so they probably have a ton of project ideas they would like to work on but that will never see the light of day. What you can offer to them is your time. You can start by implementing their ideas and evaluating them experimentally (this is assuming you have a strong engineering background). By doing this you are providing value to them and, most importantly, you get a chance to demonstrate that you have a good work ethic, that you are committed and that you are easy to work with. On your end, you will learn and internalize their ideas better and put yourself in a position to possibly improve upon them. Once you have a good working relationship and some preliminary ideas on how to improve their work, you are well on your way.


So these were my high-level strategies for learning cryptography. If you can, just get a Ph.D. at a place with a good crypto group (remember that Ph.D.’s in computer science are effectively free). If you really can’t do that for some reason, then you can try out the second strategy I outlined. But you should realize that it will be painful.

Good luck!


[1] A math education will teach you the building blocks from which most cryptographic protocols are built (e.g., number theory, algebra etc.) but it won’t teach you specifically how to design crypto primitives and protocols or how to understand and analyze their security.

[2] At one point when I was just starting to learn crypto I wrote up some ideas I had. Someone I knew agreed to do an introduction with a well-known cryptographer so I could send him my ideas. After reading my ideas, he (very politely) told me that what I was doing made no sense, explained why and then (again very politely) proceeded to explain why working together would be too difficult given the stage at which I was. This was one (by far) of the most important stages in my development. This small feedback that he provided made me realize that I had acquired a false sense of confidence and that I still had a huge amount of work to do! Looking back, this was invaluable and I’m grateful to him to this day.

by senykam at November 12, 2014 12:14 AM

November 11, 2014

Mr. Money Mustache

Are You Giving the Shaft to your Future Self?


mustache_sawUnfortunately for me, one of the concepts I find most annoying to read about happens to be one of those the mainstream financial media likes to write about the most: The hard times that have befallen Hardworking Americans*, and how it is entirely the fault of the system in which we are all stuck.

Depending on the day, this same underlying story comes dressed up in different clothes:


  • The middle class wages have stagnated (while the rich keep earning more) so life has become too tough for us.
  • The cost of living in ExpensiveVille* has grown so high that people can barely scrape by on $150,000 per year.
  • Education has become so costly that students must take out $200,000 loans, which then burden them until at least age 50.
  • Americans are headed for a retirement crisis. Most people are still broke by age 50, which means they will have to work until at least 80 (because of course it would be impossible to live on only Social Security benefits).
  • The 1991 recession and subsequent economic upheaval hit Martha hard. After 30 years of rising wages as an executive in a typewriter company,  she found herself without a job and competing with other CEOs for jobs at the local K-Mart.
  • Bill and Jenny worked diligently at their jobs as well as caring for their two kids. But when the 2007 credit crisis hit, they lost one income even while the value of their Las Vegas house was cut in half, leaving them with a mortgage that was $100,000 underwater. Foreclosure was inevitable.


The dangerous thing about all these stories is that they sound so plausible. Income inequality has indeed been growing, as have house prices in expensive cities.  We do indeed suck at saving, and executives do sometimes end up falling far down the pay scale in the event of job loss. But there is one thing the journalists never say, and that most of us don’t like to admit:

In almost every tale of financial woe, the real villain is the victim’s Past Self.

These people had been giving themselves the shaft for years or decades without realizing it, and it was this shafting that allowed The System to get them down later on. So what the newspaper describes as a medical bankruptcy could in fact be a Caribbean vacation bankruptcy** “victim” who happened to have the bad luck of getting sick when almost out of money. A foreclosure caused by the recession could very well be more attributable to commuting 25 miles to that job for the preceding 10 years in a GMC Tahoe. 

In fact, if you’ve ever blown a dollar on frivolous spending, and years later find yourself a dollar short due to the arrival of hard times, it’s not the hard times that broke you. It was that dollar blown long ago. Because a dollar is not an ephemeral phenomenon like today’s weather, it is a permanent accessory that sticks with you for life if you allow it to do so.

All this may sound harsh, it’s really just an expansion of one of my favorite concepts in personal finance: the idea of a present, past and future self.

You’re Borrowing from Yourself

Every financial transaction you make today is not so much a deal with a mortgage company, car dealer or department store. It’s a deal with your future self. After all, when the 20-year-old version of you borrowed $32,000 to buy that fully loaded Honda Accord, who ended up having to pay it back? The past self got the new car with no responsibility, and her successor in the present holds the result: a debt hangover and a car that’s now worth only a tiny fraction of the new price. Past You gave Present You the shaft.

But it goes further than just money. While your life as a baby has everything to do with the random luck of genetic composition and what sort of parents you were handed, you quickly get the opportunity to start influencing things yourself. By the time you get to my age, almost all of the features of your daily life, both the jewels and the turds, gifts and shaftings, are things deposited on the Conveyor Belt of Time by earlier versions of you. You have your Past Self to thank for all of this. But until you acknowledge that, you can never become the generous benefactor that your Future Self deserves.

The Tragic Comedy of Rich Country Recessions

Every ten years or so, our furiously strong economy takes a very short breather.  Instead of setting a new all-time record for economic output every quarter, sometimes it only matches its previous all-time record. This is called a “sluggish” economy and we usually fire the president over it. Sometimes it even goes down a percentage point or two. This is called a “Severe Recession”. Millions of us lose our homes and we fume about how irresponsible the bankers and politicians were for lending us so much money before taking away our jobs. What they are missing, of course, is how ridiculously vulnerable we all made ourselves back when the times were still good.

Now is the Time to Stop the Shafting

Suppose you’ve just graduated into this booming economy and scored yourself a great job. Sure, you have some student loans, but they are easily dwarfed by your new Big City Salary. Do you celebrate by buying a car, a house, adopting a couple of dogs, getting married and immediately having several kids like everybody else does?

Holy Shit No!!!

A new graduate with outstanding student loans is like a person riding a unicycle in November, just before the start of an icy winter. Balance is tricky, but it can be done. The pavement is dry now, but you know that ice is coming. So do you jack up the seat of the unicycle another 20 feet and balance a few fire-juggling elephants atop a broomstick which extends from your hat? Do you open a can of grease with your other hand and squeeze some onto the tire of the unicycle, and then start pedaling through town to go see if you can find a half pipe to bust out a few frontsides? Again, “Holy Shit No” would be wise advice to your future self.

You slow down the unicycle, set your feet on the ground, and adopt a stable stance. Then you gently set down and free the elephants, find yourself some winter boots, a coat, gloves, hat, food and shelter. With continued preparation and ingenuity, you can be out making snow angels and watching the winter moons, instead of having your frozen and crushed body blackening in the shadow of the elephant corpses, being nibbled away by raccoons until the eventual maggot infestation when the spring thaw comes.

The strange part to me is that while most people would consider this lesson in Unicycle Strategy to be self-evident, when it comes to money they are right there at the elephant shop adding the broomsticks and grease to their shopping cart. So let’s set this gruesome metaphor aside and consider a more reasonable financial strategy. Something that will prove to be a gift to your future self rather than a crushing lifelong hindrance.

Getting Started 

When you move out of Mom and Dad’s house, your first job is to set your eye on the prize. You want a fulfilling, happy life with plenty of challenge and reward, but hopefully a minimal amount of tiresome bullshit (TB). As it turns out, the amount of TB you must endure is inversely proportional to the amount of control you can gain over your own life. And control is something you build through a combination of skills, a wise yet optimistic attitude, time, and of course money.  Thus, everything you do should be done with an eye on building those four factors.

Buying a Car brings you no skills, wisdom, free time, or money. Nothing except a hole in your wallet. So you do it with an eye on efficiency and minimizing cost. Spend no more than four months of your net monthly savings, with an upper limit of $12,000 until you are at least a millionaire. Then make that machine last at least ten more years.

Choosing a Place to Live is not about kitchen countertop surfaces or closet arrangements. It’s about putting you in the center of where you want your life to be. You can always decorate and optimize, but you cannot teleport. So location is everything, even if it means downsizing or renting instead of buying. Living in the right place gives you back time, energy, and friends.

Your Job is a convenient source of income, but it is not your lifeline or your identity. Never be afraid to shop around for a new one, switch careers entirely, or dabble in your own businesses which may very well grow to be more lucrative than your main job.

Kids and/or Large Animals are not just things you pop out or pick up because hey, they are snuggly. These are enormous and fantastically expensive commitments, because they dictate where you will live, drive, and how much time and energy you’ll have left to work for money. It is a wonderful luxury that we can all afford these things if we prepare for them in advance. But make sure you’re on very firm ground before jumping in.

Good old-fashioned Hard Work  is almost always a gift to your future self, because it builds skills and earns you money. And the satisfaction you get from the subsequent lifetime of looking back on all that hard work is even better than the money and skills.

Maximizing your Luxury and Convenience right now may feel like a reward to your present self, but the belly full of expensive food will be converted to a turd on the conveyor belt by the time your future self retrieves the results. You leave your future self poorer, fatter, and with fewer skills. You may create a pleasant memory or two, but memories of hedonism are less satisfying than those of hard work.

This last rule applies to all categories of life, from purses to pickup trucks, iPhones to international travel. You can safely buy them if you have more money than you need, but you can also safely forego them without losing an atom of happiness or life satisfaction. Of course, we will all enjoy breaking this rule and indulging occasionally, but in general the rule is to put down the golf clubs and pick up the tool belt a little more often.

 The Reward at the End

You could live your entire life as described above and it would still be a fine, deeply satisfying existence. By building strength and character, you design away the worry and whining that dominates modern life. It’s simply the right way to live. But there is pleasant little side-effect: standing here in the future and unwrapping all these gifts as they come off the belt.

I’ve always been almost pathologically focused on creating a better future for myself and anyone who happens to be along for the ride. I endured four years of relatively horrible engineering classes because I knew they were the ticket to a good job. The happiness of the resulting jobs easily made up for all that hardship, but I was already looking ahead at the next step: how to invest all that money to make the future even better. Every beer foregone, barbell lifted, bike pedaled, and fence post hole dug through hard soil in hot weather was done with the benefit of the future self at least partially in mind.

But suddenly I have noticed that I am that future self, and the rewards keep piling up. This bonanza of gifts from the past has been ongoing since about age 21, and yet I still have 60 years to live.

It still blows my mind each Monday that I never have to go to work: I can thank the 25-year-old version of me for that. Here at age 40 I can still sprint through the park with my boy or enjoy a long day hoisting roof rafters and balancing on ladders: I owe this good health to the generosity of my past self as well. Even my pleasantly warm bare feet, which sit comfortably on an Oak floor heated to a toasty 80 degrees by a DIY radiant heat system*** as I look out the window at a snowstorm, are owed to the October version of me, who crawled around for hours in the dirt of the crawlspace to thread and connect all those hundreds of feet of PEX pipe. Thanks, dude.

The rewards are great, but the very act of giving (both to yourself and to others) is just as great. So with that in mind, I’m going to fold up this computer and get back to work, sending some more gifts into the future.


* You can insert your own city or country name here, as this phenomenon of crybaby journalism is a global phenomenon.

** Actual example from one of my less pleasant landlord experiences

*** It’s Alive! I am working on the long-awaited follow-up article for you, but this system is a joy to use, and it looks like the project’s plentiful naysayers will end up defeated.

by Mr. Money Mustache at November 11, 2014 11:26 PM

Front Porch Republic

Catholic Corruption That Begs for Martin Luther


  The story of government-induced corruption and other such ills of centralization is nothing new for the Front Porch Republic. Thus, the developing story of how such issues are now haunting the Roman Catholic Church in Germany (and, as a…

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The post Catholic Corruption That Begs for Martin Luther appeared first on Front Porch Republic.

by Peter Daniel Haworth at November 11, 2014 10:24 PM

eighty-twenty news

Thoughts on Common Lisp

I happened across a few notes I made back in October 2011 regarding my experience of using Common Lisp for the first time.

2011-10-14 14:23:55 tonyg

Yesterday I hacked on ~/src/cmsg/lisp.

Network programming wasn’t so hard to get a basic socket listener up and running.

Streams are horribly broken though. No clean separation of encoding from binary I/O. Swank vs raw Slime streams differ, which led to some interesting issues when experimenting with my I/O code interactively. flexi-streams help take away some of the pain, but it’s still pretty awful.

The loop macro is neat. Feels like comprehensions. Comprehensions are pleasant in Erlang and Haskell, and I remember enjoying SRFI-42, but Racket misses them1.

The lack of proper tail recursion is HORRIBLE. Forces some very nasty code. E.g. the tagbody thing.

That everything-is-an-object is GREAT. I wish Racket had this.

Racket’s match is awesome. Totally awesome. Common-lisp pattern matching is in PARLOUS state. There’s nothing remotely close to as nice as Racket’s match. There is no common standard.

Exceptions on end-of-stream simplify the programming of network layers.

2011-10-19 08:06:10 tonyg

The multiple-values implementation is kind of nice, especially in those places where it enables subtle design touches like using floor to get both quotient and remainder at once. That particular example appeals to me also for its mnemonicity: using truncate instead of floor gives you the other variant2.

  1. It seems clear to me today that I had been overlooking Racket’s for, for/list, for/hash etc. I’d still like to see something more general that abstracts away from the variations in these, though.

  2. (the difference is the same as the difference between R6RS’s div/mod and div0/mod0, respectively).

by tonyg at November 11, 2014 09:34 PM

Nicholas Nethercote

Quantifying the effects of Firefox’s Tracking Protection

A number of people at Mozilla are working on a wonderful privacy initiative called Polaris. This will include activities such as Mozilla hosting its own high-capacity Tor middle relays.

But the part of Polaris I’m most interested in is Tracking Protection, which is a Firefox feature that will make it trivial for users to avoid many forms of online tracking. This not only gives users better privacy; experiments have shown it also speeds up the loading of the median page by 20%! That’s an incredible combination.

An experiment

I decided to evaluate the effectiveness of Tracking Protection. To do this, I used Lightbeam, a Firefox extension designed specifically to record third-party tracking. On November 2nd, I used a trunk build of the mozilla-inbound repository and did the following steps.

  • Start Firefox with a new profile.
  • Install Lightbeam from
  • Visit the following sites, but don’t interact with them at all:
    3. (which redirected to
  • Open Lightbeam in a tab, and go to the “List” view.

I then repeated these steps, but before visiting the sites I added the following step.

  • Open about:config and toggle privacy.trackingprotection.enabled to

Results with Tracking Protection turned off

The sites I visited directly are marked as “Visited”. All the third-party sites are marked as “Third Party”.

Connected with 86 sites

Type            Website                Sites Connected
----            -------                ---------------
Visited              3
Third Party             5
Visited         25
Third Party              1
Third Party                  1
Third Party            1
Third Party           1
Third Party             4
Third Party    3
Third Party   6
Third Party                 1
Third Party      1
Third Party              1
Third Party           1
Third Party            1
Third Party             1
Third Party            1
Third Party             1
Third Party            4
Third Party              4
Third Party               1
Third Party     7
Third Party              1
Third Party             2
Third Party           1
Third Party             1
Third Party              2
Third Party         2
Third Party             1
Third Party               1
Third Party                1
Third Party              1
Third Party           2
Third Party          1
Visited          32
Third Party              1
Third Party     1
Third Party           1
Third Party          1
Third Party   1
Third Party    1
Third Party   3
Third Party        3
Third Party         5
Third Party       1
Third Party   1
Third Party         1
Third Party               1
Third Party        2
Third Party     2
Third Party              1
Third Party              1
Third Party            1
Third Party               1
Third Party         1
Third Party         2
Third Party            1
Third Party          1
Third Party               1
Third Party               1
Third Party      2
Third Party            1
Third Party   1
Third Party    2
Visited            21
Third Party                 2
Third Party             1
Third Party            1
Third Party             2
Third Party                2
Third Party        2
Third Party        1
Third Party              1
Third Party                 1
Third Party           1
Third Party               1
Third Party              1
Third Party           2
Third Party                1
Visited                14
Third Party              1
Third Party          1
Third Party           1
Third Party            1
Third Party       1
Third Party         1

Results with Tracking Protection turned on

Connected with 33 sites

Visited              3
Third Party           0
Third Party             1
Visited         12
Third Party              1
Third Party                  1
Third Party           1
Third Party            1
Third Party             4
Third Party              1
Third Party           1
Third Party            1
Third Party             1
Third Party            1
Third Party                 1
Third Party            3
Third Party          1
Visited           5
Third Party              1
Third Party           1
Third Party   1
Third Party               1
Visited             3
Third Party                 2
Third Party             1
Third Party        2
Visited                 7
Third Party              1
Third Party          1
Third Party           1
Third Party            1
Third Party       1
Third Party              1


86 site connections were reduced to 33. No wonder it’s a performance improvement as well as a privacy improvement. The only effect I could see on content was that some ads on some of the sites weren’t shown; all the primary site content was still present. was the only site that didn’t trigger Tracking Protection (i.e. the shield icon didn’t appear in the address bar).

The results are quite variable. When I repeated the experiment the number of third-party sites without Tracking Protection was sometimes as low as 55, and with Tracking Protection it was sometimes as low as 21. I’m not entirely sure what causes the variation.

If you want to try this experiment yourself, note that Lightbeam was broken by a recent change. If you are using mozilla-inbound, revision db8ff9116376 is the one immediate preceding the breakage. Hopefully this will be fixed soon. I also found Lightbeam’s graph view to be unreliable. And note that the privacy.trackingprotection.enabled preference was recently renamed browser.polaris.enabled. [Update: that is not quite right; Monica Chew has clarified the preferences situation in the comments below.]

Finally, Tracking Protection is under active development, and I’m not sure which version of Firefox it will ship in. In the meantime, if you want to try it out, get a copy of Nightly and follow these instructions.

by Nicholas Nethercote at November 11, 2014 07:36 PM

Justin Taylor

A Theology of Healing in Six Questions

In Andrew Wilson’s latest article in Christianity Today he shares that his two children have regressive autism and he helps us process through a theology of divine healing. Here is an excerpt that concisely summarizes the issue:

Why doesn’t God always heal?

He does, eventually.

Does God always heal us if we are certain he will?

Not necessarily.

Why not?

The effects of Christ’s victory over death aren’t fully realized yet.

Should we assume sickness is a gift from God?

No, unless, we’re prepared to stop taking medicine or visiting doctors.

How can we see more healing?

Pray, fast, believe, and persevere.

How should we pray?

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).


by Justin Taylor at November 11, 2014 07:34 PM

Daniel Lemire's blog

The hubris of teachers

Today, kids left and right carry the label of some learning disability. Instead of telling kids that they are dumb or lazy, we narrow it down to some problem. It is clearly progress on the face of it. However, when I see that, in some schools, over 10% of all kids have received some kind of disability label by the time they graduate… I worry.

There might be some hubris at work. Do the experts know as much as they claim to know?

A favorite pet peeve of mine is the importance we put on grades as predictors of success. I have spent a great deal of time reviewing graduate students for scholarships in national competitions. I had a nearly perfect GPA myself. I was expecting the undergraduate GPA of students to be strongly correlated with the success at the doctoral level. What I found time and time again was that the correlation was weaker than I expected. Students who do very well as undergraduates often fail to shine as graduate students, and students who disappoint as undergraduates can sometimes do remarkably well as PhD students.

Given a choice, schools should prefer students students who got better GPAs. However, I would abstain from predicting the performance of a given student in graduate school given his GPA.

It is not that grades and tests do not matter, it is that we should use caution and humility when interpreting them. It is relatively easy to make statistical predictions, but it is very hard to translate these statistical predictions into reliable individual predictions.

In my opinion, the greatest mathematician of all times was probably Galois. Coming out of nowhere, he created a deep, useful and engaging mathematical theory that is still, today, viewed as highly original. You are using technology directly derived from Galois’ work today, even though he died in 1832 when he was 20 years old. However, we find that teachers regularly complained about Galois’ uneven results, lack of application, and so on. It seems that he could not focus for long on what his teachers wanted him to do. He was a pain as a student.

This is not uncommon, Gurdon, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medecine, was similarly a difficult student:

“His work has been far from satisfactory… he will not listen, but will insist on doing his work in his own way… I believe he has ideas about becoming a Scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous, if he can’t learn simple Biological facts he would have no chance of doing the work of a Specialist, and it would be a sheer waste of time on his part, and of those who have to teach him.” (source)

Everyone should use caution when judging others, but I believe that educators should be especially careful. They may not understand nearly as much as they think about the mind of their students.

by Daniel Lemire at November 11, 2014 06:50 PM