Thursday, August 31, 2006

God: Simple Prayer

Two weeks ago my church's teaching pastor did a sermon on keeping prayer simple and honest.

Amybear has come to a couple of bible studies with me. I usually lead at least one group prayer there, either to start or close the lesson. One of the things she said that really struck me was that I "sound different" when I pray. Maybe it is just that when I pray I use my public address voice not my normal one. You know, talking from the diaphram not the throat. But I had to wonder whether I was being honest or open in my prayer or whether I was putting on a show.

Last week my senior pastor gave a sermon on using liturgy and written prayers to improve your prayer life. He said that this was an unusual thing for a Baptist to talk about, but that he had found it helpful himself. He also had noticed that many people good Baptist pray the same prayers week after week. As if they had a liturgy all their own.

I don't really have any interest in written prayers. Maybe I can write my own down, but I don't generally get much out of reading or praying through someone else's. I get bored and drift off. I feel like I'm going through the motions or putting on an appearance before God. It just doesn't feel like me. On the other hand I do notice I have self-made liturgies. I am definite one of those people who prays similar prayers on a regular basis. I had to wonder whether I was getting myself into a prayer rut through my own poor prayer habits. As if I was robbing my prayers of genuineness through the other extreme.

I must say that my own prayer life is obviously pretty mixed. I think where I need to go next is to invest more time into prayer and also focus more on having a conversation with God. Talking with him instead of talking to him or at him. No formal language, just talking with God about my day in much the same way I talk with Amybear when I get home from work. Moreover I need to include important components like listening into my prayer times.

Wheels: Big Iron in My Old Home Town

Turns out Evolution Performance, creators of a 10-second Mustang GT500, are just down the street from my parents. I must drive past there at least once a week and yet I never noticed it.

Fun: Celebrity Duets

Physics Geek, Jesus Freak says the show is pretty ok. It probably won't make it onto my Tuesday lineup though. Amy and I have a workable tuesday TV schedule. We watch Dead Like Me and follow it up with Eureka. Both are on Sci-fi and are pretty good, although we may start looking for something at 8 since Dead Like Me only has about 30 episodes.

Wheels: Stupid Intersections

From Steve:
...why on earth are there intersections in Delaware where two lanes form, one which turns right and one for drivers turning left or going straight? That doesn't make any sense! If you are going to have two lanes, have one for people turning left and the other for people turning right or going straight. That way traffic doesn't get backed up for the person turning left and/or impatient people don't swerve into the lane for drivers turning right only and nearly cause an accident.
These sorts of things annoy the heck out of me too. Even more so because I realize that some engineer probably was paid good money (probably our money through taxes) to design that crappy intersection.

Sometimes I wonder who does the traffic designs in Delaware. I look at the awful traffic flow at Christiana Mall and the equally horrible design of Brandywine Town Center and I wonder if the same people are behind them. Maybe there is a big group of traffic contractors that win a lot of bids through low prices and poor work.

Of course the mall and the town center may have been designed with the buildings first and everything else afterwards. They did the traffic flow as best they could given where the building and parking lots had to be. People getting into and out of there to shop was an afterthought.

Politics: The Economy Stupid

Are you pessimistic about the state of the economy? A lot of people are. Back Talk wonders why. He backs up why not with a lot of graphics using economic trends from the past decade.

There are things to be concerned with though, like the current decline in the housing market. Historically the housing market is not a bubble that bursts. People don't go broke overnight as in the stock market. Real estate bubbles deflate over a long period of time, usually due to inflation and slowly declining housing prices. Since I don't own a home yet, it doesn't bother me as much and Amybear and I may be able to take some advantage of this when we purchase a home.

The weak dollar doesn't bother me much at all. In general in discourages outsourcing to stay in the US, encourages stateside production, and helps our imports. I am more worried about the national debt (which is a big reason for the weak dollar) than the weak dollar itself.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Politics: Duck Season! Wabbit Season!

Conservative season! Thanks Ryan, now I remember why I don't send UD very many alumni contributions. The university: where "free" speech costs ten thousand dollars per semester and prior approval from university authorities.

Review: McD's Sweet Tea

I'm a lover of sweet tea. I have been since Amy went south for grad school. But the only place to get Southern-style sweet tea in the Delaware/Maryland area is Chick-fil-a. Nestea's "sweetened" teas just don't cut it. Well now McDonalds is offering a big cup of sweet tea for only a buck. I stopped there this morning since I already had a hankerin' for a McGriddle. The tea was quite good seemed to be fresh brewed from some sort of stainless steel aparatus in the back instead of mixed from powder. If this keeps up the Sweet Tea event horizon separating the South from the Not South might have to go the way of the dodo.

Blogging: Green-Eyed Monster House

Anonymous Opinion is buying a house. I'm officially jealous. Amybear and I are hoping to be homeowners within a year. First we need the money and a home we want. Our ideal house sounds a lot like Anon's, three bedroom with two and half baths. We'd like a yard for a puppy to play in as well.

The good news is that gas prices are expected to keep dropping for the forseeable future. All the extra money I'm pumping into my commute gets to go into the housing fund. It also means that if prices stay low we can plan on staying in Delaware (which I would prefer) rather than moving to Maryland to reduce my commute.

Review: Home Cookin'

Amybear and I are in an experimental phase in the kitchen. We've cycled through our usual recipes a few too many times I guess. Amybear is heading up the experimentation because she does the shopping and the better part of the cooking. She has been looking through our old cookbooks for a few days now and compiling things to try.

Yesterday she came home with an excellent recipe for a balsamic tuna dish. She got it for free from a card at the supermarket. The dish was quite excellent and we will be making it again. We cut the recipe in half because it is just the two of us. Check the link for a nice picture.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Guns & Gear: New Toys

I went to the range on Friday morning and took my buckmark and my M1 carbine. My range trips have been too infrequent of late and it really showed in the results of my efforts, especially with the buckmark. Handgun skills are just perishable like that.

I shot with the 4x scope on my carbine for a while and then I took it off and switched to the irons. Irons on this carbine are just more fun. The gun balances better and is just more enjoyable in general. Unfortunately for me shooting with irons on even a 25 meter target meant that I couldn't really see where I was hitting. The bullet holes were just too small until I got some clustered together. That is a problem. It would be an even bigger problem with my AR-15 since its .223 caliber bullet would be even smaller (although a lot faster) than my carbine's .30 caliber round.

My only recourse was to spend money, much to Amybear's chagrin. I could have purchased a spotting scope, but frankly I wouldn't save any money and they are only useful for one job. I decided to pick up a pair of 7x35mm or 8x40mm binoculars instead because they're multitaskers. I chose this magnification and objective size is multipurpose. Not too little, not too much. They have big enough lenses to work in dim light or daylight. They aren't too heavy. The eyepieces can be adjusted for guys with thick glasses. I can use them for birdwatching or take them on vacation.

When I got to Dick's, I tried out several pairs of binoculars in turn. The Nikon Action EXs were obvious best performers. They're no Swarovskis or anything, but they're definite closer to the knee of the price curve. I could tell the different in the quality of the optics from the others. I used a coupon from a recent night at the Blue Rocks to cut a few bucks off the price.

I'll try them out on Saturday when I take Mabel (pictured badly on the left with my Mossberg 590) for her first range visit. Hopefully things will go smoothly, but there is always the potential for bad things to happen. Especially considering the idiot who built the lower receiver.

Oh, and as you can see from the picture, my answer to the big-and-slow or small-and-fast debate in firearms performance is "both." This is oddly similar to my answer to the Predestination vs. Free-will and Faith vs. Reason debates.

Politics: Amazing Discoveries!

Robert Park's article in the Chronicle of Higher Education gives judges and other officials tips on how to spot bad science. It seems that while these individuals are great at understanding arguments which involve some forms of latin, they can't decode similar arguments in all forms per se. According to Park:
I began this list of warning signs to help federal judges detect scientific nonsense. But as I finished the list, I realized that in our increasingly technological society, spotting voodoo science is a skill that every citizen should develop.
Park offers seven rules that are a tip off:
  1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.
  2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.
  3. The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection.
  4. Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal.
  5. The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries.
  6. The discoverer has worked in isolation.
  7. The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation.
3,4,5, and 7 are especially strong tip offs. Three means that the proof is easily faked. Four and Five are entirely based on perception. Seven requires the inventor to actual violate peer reviewed results.

Someone can violate some or all of these and still be correct. The Atkins diet did it. Recent discoveries of saline treatment for cystic fibrosis did too. But these are good warning signs when you are watching infomercials during a bout of insomnia. Yes those people really are often full of crap.

Politics: Xtreme Illegality

A Mexican theme park in Hidalgo offers people, mostly affluent Mexicans, the opportunity to experience what it is like to sneak across the US border. Or a simulation of it.
Advertising for the mock journey ... tells the pretend immigrants to "Make fun of the Border Patrol!" and to "Cross the border as an extreme sport!"

Word of the tourist attraction has provoked much head-scratching among immigrant advocates in the United States and real-life immigrants who have made the trek across the border.
Yup, I'm scratching my head right now.

God: Charity Cases

LawDog's most recent file highlights why I rarely give money to charity cases. After seeing a man and his kids asking for food:
...I get three sub specials from the deli, and as I scoot under the overpass, I stop and hand the meals to the man and his kids.

I am an adult, so I don't expect thanks for this sort of thing, but I was in no way prepared for the man to look at me, draw himself up to his full height and icily exclaim, "What's this?"

I look significantly at his sign, look back at him and say, "It's food."

He glares at me and snaps, "We don't want food, we want money."
Yup. As you know Amybear and I were long distance for quite a while. For a good period of that time Amy didn't like to make the drive from the DC area to Delaware. If you've driven the DC Beltway for any length of time, you'll understand why. So she took the train up. It cost her more but aggravated her less. It was a fair trade.

This led to me spending time at the Wilmington train station on a semi-regular basis. I got to know the usual characters a bit. I was propositioned by a young man trying to buy a train ticket back to his family in Jersey somewhere. On three different occassions. In three different months. Sadly the first time I fell for it and gave him ten bucks. On that day Amy's train was running late which meant I had to wait. Story of Amtrak's life. By the time her train showed up I realized I had been taken. This guy was working the crowd in the station like a pro, which he probably was. I overheard him use several different stories to different people.

I still try to obey the command to give to the poor. But I also obey the command not to give pearls to swine. Which is why I give food or warm clothes or support facilities that do both, but I don't give money unless I know the person.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Wheels & Fun: Cannonball Run

Do you ever watch Cannonball Run as a kid? I did. Recently Car and Driver's 50 year retrospective has led them to reprint their original story about the second Cannonball Bake Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash. This article represents the 1970s, which I suppose it does.

Politics: Being More Like Europe

Tim Worstall's column America: More Like Sweden Than You Thought is excellent. Read it, especially were it dissects common memes like the disparity between America's rich and poor. Turns out America's poor aren't any poorer than most developing countries, but our rich are a whole lot richer.

I'm more than willing to admit that Europe does some things better than we do. It is a fair cop as the US does not have some sort of monopoly on goodness or intelligence. On the other hand, most of the people who advocate adopting European methodologies do it poorly.

Many of the advocated systems that don't actually work well. For example, if you're going to advocate socialized medicine, advocate the French system not the British system. The British system is badly underfunded. The French system works pretty well in comparison. Unless you include cost. If I recall correctly, the French system is about twice as expensive as the British system. Which means that the French system offers good health care at the cost of bankrupting the nation, especially as the nation ages.

Few of the advocated policies cross party lines. For instance you will never see a liberal advocate for a more European tax system. Our tax system is far more regressive than, say, Sweden's. In the US the businesses pay more to shield the citizens. In Europe the citizens pay more to shield the businesses. Which means that the Europeans can have a much higher tax rate without destroying their economy than the US. It is the Republicans who largely argue for a more European style tax system (although they don't use those terms) rather than the Democrats. The Democrats oppose such measures with the standard class warfare rhetoric.

Which is really the point. The "lets be like Europe" isn't really an argument at all. It's an appeal to authority. It's like political peer pressure. I mean if Germany jumped off a bridge would you follow him? Granted there are things we can learn, but why model ourselves after Europe just to model ourselves after Europe?

Whatever: More on Pluto

Physics Geek, Jesus Freak covers the recent Pluto and Kuiper Belt decision in more depth. I like his TKO nomenclature and I can add a bit to the discussion (in a non-substantive area):
Pluto does not account for the orbits of Uranus and Neptune, which is interesting because I think I was told in grade school that Pluto was found after a prediction was made that something should be out there. However, they neglected to tell me that Pluto wasn't it after all.
Neptune was discovered by looking at perturbations in the orbit of Uranus. (I'm sure there is a dirty joke in there somewhere.) People originally started looking for Pluto because of small perturbations in Neptune's orbit. Percival Lowell hypothesized that Neptune's orbit was being perturbed by an as-yet-undiscovered ninth planet which he referred to as Planet X. Lowell's second predicted location of Planet X resulted in the discovery of Pluto. Percival Lowell is why Pluto begins with P-L.

The funny thing about this is that Lowells was wrong. Pluto's orbit does not effect the orbit of Neptune. The unexplained perturbations in Neptune's orbit are because the initial estimates for Neptune's mass were incorrect. Finding Pluto was actually just dumb luck.

You have wikipedia and my boredom to thank for this little bit of storytime. Unless all of this was made up by some bored teenager in Kansas or something.

Fun: Hugh Laurie

Amy is a huge House fan. I like it too, although the episodes can be pretty formulaic. It did take me a while to wrap my mind around Hugh Laurie as House. I'd seen Laurie on TV before, but it was always in British comedies. John the Methodist's recent YouTube clip illustrates the roles he played regularly across the pond. Laurie played a farcical british fop as the Prince of Wales in Black Adder III. Ditto when he was Bertie Wooster in Jeeves and Wooster. Seeing him playing a satirical American jerk in a drama was just weird.

Amybear has the opposite experience of course. She's never seen any of his British work. When we caught a piece of his Inside the Actor's Studio appearance, she though it was odd for him to be funny and British. Go figure.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Fun: When Broad Flat Surfaces Attack

I did this once:
Played ultimate frisbee tonight for 2+ hours. I sprained my ankle after about 20 minutes, but played for at least another 1 3/4 hours on it. Now it hurts really bad.
Ok I didn't play for 1 3/4 hours on it. It was more like half an hour. But trust me it was enough to really screw up my ankle. It also convinced me and Amy, that I should take it easy until after the wedding.

Last year I managed to sprain both my ankles in one game of Ultimate. I left the game early. It took me a long time to recover. You don't realize how helpful limping is until you've hurt both legs and can't do it.

Blogging: Amybear Speaks! Er... Writes!

Amybear is blogging on blogspot a bit more frequently these days. Along with another new template, she's been discussing getting her life (and by extension our) life in order. The wedding thank you letters are finally done and she's found some websites to foster good cleaning habits.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Politics: Back to 8

When I woke up this morning there were 9 planets. Now for the first time since 1930, we're back to 8. Pluto is officially a "pluton" or a "dwarf planet" and will form the basis for a classification of Trans Neptunian Objects.

UPDATE: Yup, we lost a planet. Obviously all Bush's fault. I suppose I should add a science category or something one of these days. But I'm sure the decision was at least partly political (in the same way business decisions can be) so this category will do for now.

Wheels: Return of the Students

I really like living in Newark during the Summer and Winter. Mostly because the students are gone. Alas, the Freshmen move in on Saturday which means Newark will soon be populated by kids who have excellent SAT scores but can't remember to look both ways before they step out in front of my car on Main Street. I'll have to adjust my driving patterns back to taking me the long way around the school.

Many of them drive, like the idiot who pulled a U-turn in front of me this morning in his Silver Cavalier. Oops he missed his right, so he'll just make the first U-turn and then make a left. Thanks buddy, God forbid you look at traffic. Hopefully none of them will actually hit my car this year. Unlike last year. Or the year before that. Fortunately by now both my bumpers are so scuffed up I don't care anymore.

Fun & Politics: Oh No, Not Smoking!

British television authorities are upset with one of the Turner networks. They have received two complaints that Tom, of Tom & Jerry fame, is seen smoking in several cartoons. Yes, smoking. Yes, two complaints total. From the same individual.

Hit with hammers, set on afire with matches, smashed with anvils, burnt and flattened with irons, clotheslined by clotheslines and ironing boards, pierced and severed by various yard implements and powertools, and generally plotting bloody murder of Jerry Mouse every episode? Yeah those are ok. But we can't have him smoking cigars. That would be uncouth.

With all the tea consumption over there, it makes me doubt this study. But perhaps this British regulatory group has switched over to that other British beverage of choice, gin.

Via Lawdog and Instapundit.

Guns: Finally Shipped

Well I've had an AR-15 upper on order from CMMG, Inc for a while now. It finally shipped yesterday,a month after I ordered it. But they did tell me it would be shipping "next week" when I asked last week. Of course they had told me the same thing two weeks before that. I guess a broken clock is right twice a day.

Yeah, I'm not really thrilled with the service I've received from CMMG. I'm sure the gun I get will be the one I want, but I wasn't expecting the wait. I really wasn't expecting to be lead on for almost a month. If parts are out of stock let me know up front.

But hey, if I wanted the gun right now I could have bought an SKS like Dale Franks.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Fun: Stargate Closes

Sci-fi has announced that the current season of Stargate SG-1 will be the last.

I can't say that this is unexpected. Not only has the shown stretched across 10 years and over two hundred episodes (which is a long time for a US made Sci-fi program), but frankly a bunch of people in the cast are probably getting sick of doing it. I know that Michael Shanks and his wife Lexa Doig have two young children. Richard Dean Anderson left the show to spend time with his daughter. Amanda Tapping has a young daughter as well. Hour long dramas require actors to spend a lot of time away from their families.

I'm still a big fan of the show though. I really enjoyed the dynamic tension between Jack O'neill and Daniel Jackson. Jack was more than willing to use "shoot 'em" conflict resolution techniques. Daniel was always trying to reason and negotiate. Neither one was always right. Likewise while the series was about fighting alien invaders, they also had to defend themselves from nefarious government programs as well. With several of the main characters transitioning out of the series, the show hasn't really kept this dynamic since Richard Dean Anderson left. Which is unfortunate. But the show is still good, if not as good as it has always been.

Stargate: Atlantis which is going into its fourth season, will continue production.

Wheels: From the Drivers Seat of a Tesla

Popular Mechanics published a first look at the Tesla. Unlike the last few events where the writer was only allowed along as a passenger, this time the writer got behind the wheel. It's short but good. Via Instapundit.

Fun: Important Advice on the Fairer Sex

Kill Ten Rats is dispensing priceless dating advice to gamers out there. Besides "shower" and "learn to dress yourself" there is wisdom like this:
Amongst your group of friends, you could very well be tops in several categories. Even after being realistic, you might be the smartest, the strongest, the best-looking, the best-read, whatever. Remember, though, that you are comparing yourself to your friends. Your gamer friends. Yes, you are much smarter than the guy who pulls before you rez the tank. Yes, you are in better shape than the guy whose guild title is Lord of Cheetos. But how far does that get you compared to the general population?
Part 1 is here and has been followed by Part 2.

Once you have a girlfriend, you will have to understand the Chick Flick genre, because unfortunately you will be watching them. Try not to take it personally when your girl routes for the heroine as she symbolically emasculates the men in her life.

Via John the Methodist

Wheels: Minivans

I parked next to a minivan this morning. It was a turquoise Daimler-Chrysler product. It said "sport" on the side. Who are they kidding? What sport could you use a minivan for? Little league? At least a lot of compacts like the Neon Sport turn fairly well so you can run them in autocross.

Ok I stand corrected. Like many 1980s Chrysler products, the old 4-cylinder Caravans and Voyagers take boost very well indeed.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Blogging: Looking to the Past

One of the neat things about blogging for any length of time is that you have a history or work to look back on. Amybear and I are making future financial plans right now, so it is a good time to look back at this post from a year ago.

Since that time I have paid off my only debt, my car loan. That was successfully accomplished in September of last year and both Amy and I went into our marriage carrying no debt whatsoever. I also started an ING savings account, which is earning me interest at 4.35% annually. I'm putting a lot of money in there currently.

Unfortunately saving up a lot of money didn't really happen prior to the wedding. I haven't spent frivolously by any means, far from it. But I was willing to purchase items that had sat on my to-buy want list for several years because I now had the money. We also spent a lot of my money on the honeymoon both in travel arrangements and shopping. It was nothing compared to what Amy's dad spent of course, but it was still a large percentage of my bank account. The presents helped recoup some of this, but I didn't break even. Of course I didn't have to go into debt for any of this and of course I would gladly pay any price to be married to my wonderful wife.

The good news on the home front is that a year ago real estate was a sellers market. Thanks to shifting interest rates, today it is a buyers market. Amybear and I are both working hard to save up a down payment for a house. ING does have a very nice CD system with good rates to help us save, but the shortest term is 6 months which might be slightly too long for us right now. I'll have to forego the additional 0.65% interest and stick with straight savings. ING has a mortgage program, but it doesn't look that appealing to me. I like traditional fixed rate plans. We have months left on our current apartment lease before we really need to worry about the specifics of mortgages and houses. I don't know if we'll have the standard 20% saved by then or not, but we can try.

I wonder what I'll think of this post when I look back on it a year from now.

Gear: Backups

After reading about Phantom Prof's computer troubles, I need to remember to look into external hard drive enclosures. I kept the old hard drive from my dell laptop after it's power supply died. The drive is fine and is of sufficient size that it would make an excellent backup unit. I just need an external enclosure of the proper size, preferably one that will run off USB.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Fun: Men and Jeans

Tam has this random observation to make:
I am beginning to think that guy's jeans have some kind of germicidal substance woven into them. Have you ever noticed that a guy could handle, say, fermented goat entrails with his bare hands and then, with a quick swipe of his hands on his trouser legs, he acts like he's now sterile enough for open heart surgery?
Allow me to explain, by wiping his hands off on his jeans, they are now man clean. Tam, being a woman, doesn't understand this concept.

UPDATE: Paul, you don't clean a shirt by "airing it out." You clean said shirt by putting it in the dryer for 5 minutes. Remember this simple equation gentlemen, warm = clean.

Gear: Flashlights

They're one of those things that are mindbogglingly useful. They give mortal man the ability to call forth light from the darkness, if in small amounts. And you also almost never have one until you need it. Lawdog's advice on the subject is quite welcome.

He suggests the Photon LED lights. They're great. Small, light, disappear into a pocket, etc. But they're also really expensive at $16 each. And if you've ever opened one, you realize it is just some cheap plastic, an LED, and a battery. That's it. There isn't even any wiring, the LED just has long conducting leads that hook to the battery and are bent to act as a pressure switch. Which is why there are off brand photon lights that are every bit as good and cost a fraction of the original (around ~$5-10). I highly suggest you purchase one of those, because like most tiny things they get lost easily.

One light he doesn't mention are the LED windups I've seen out lately. My car flashlight was a maglite. I replaced it with a smaller, cheaper 5 LED model a while back. I'm not entirely satisfied with it either. Both have the same problem. Trunks go through regular temperature cycles. Hot to cold, All day, every day. Sometimes the temperature changes are worse than the surrounding air because of radiative heat transmission. Batteries don't tend to like thermal cycling so they die quickly. It is very common for me to open my trunk to get out my flashlight for the first time in a while only to discover that the batteries are dead. The wind up models don't have this problem. They run off a capacitor you charge with a small built-in generator. They're pretty cheap (<$15) and the multiple LEDS still give a lot of light. I need to get around to buying one of these.

Reviews: Tales from the Orient

I wanted to get these two reviews out before I forget about them.

Memoirs of a Geisha

Eh. The movie was pretty good, but slow. I split most of the first hour between the movie and a good book. Once she actually gets into Geisha training it gets more interesting, but it still wasn't my thing. The funny thing about this movie is that almost every asian actor I know of is in the film. I was waiting for Soon-tek Oh or Mako to show up.

Power Puff Girls Z

One of the advantages of having a brother who really like anime and is deeply involved with a major convention is free stuff. The unfortunate part is that you sometimes get what you pay for as in this case.

Power Puff Girls Z is an anime reinterpretation of the American series on Cartoon Network. The similarity with the American series is in name only as this series version has been heavily altered to fit within the japanese shojo "transforming supergirl" genre (like Sailor Moon). The girls are all junior high age. They aren't Professor Utonium's "daughters" (and he now has a son). They aren't created from sugar, spice, and everything nice. In fact they have different powers and personalities. Most of these changes were so that the series could be merchanized which explains why they suck. Skip it.

Reviews: World Trade Center

Members of the DCBA hit People's Plaza for what may be Oliver Stones least crappy movie ever. Anna, Anonymous Opinion, Paul, Amybear, and I were all ruing the prospect that this could be Stone's next JFK. I think we were all pleasantly surprised.

The movie is the story of two police officers caught up in the trade center collapse, their families, and their rescuers. The story is shown from the point of view of these characters, so you will not see planes hitting the towers or long shots of them collapsing. Stone deftly avoids those hot-button images because the characters didn't see them. Instead you see (sometimes feel is the more appropriate word) the towers collapsing from within the Trade Center complex where the central characters are standing (and running for their lives).

While not as emotionally draining as, say, the Passion of the Christ, World Trade Center isn't the feel good movie of the year. But it is still a good movie that is skillfully told with very little partisanship or kookie conspiracy crap thrown in.

That said, I enjoyed the company of my fellow alliance members much more than the movie itself. I hadn't met Anna or Anonymous in person and I was looking forward to it since I read their blogs regularly. On my next range visit (which will hopefully be Friday with my AR if the parts ever get here), I'm going to inquire about setting up a group range trip. Everybody seemed to like that idea.

Friday, August 18, 2006

God: Christian Kitsch

Is the reason Christian bookstores seem to contain fewer and fewer books every year because we have a broken view of the creation? That is part of what John the Methodist and Keith Plummer are asking. Are Christians buying Christian crap at the bookstore to create a sanctified hedge against an evil world? Unnecessary says Keith, as the world is good. God even said so. John rebuts:
Although I won't defend the Christian Stuff Industry, I'm not sure that this is a valid argument against it. Does not the world, post-Fall, belong to Satan? What do you think?
I agree with John. When man fell, creation fell. Animals became predator and prey, etc. That there is still beauty and goodness in the world is not a rebuttal of this concept. Just because something is tainted doesn't mean it fails to contain any goodness. A flawed gem can still sparkle and shine. But an unflawed stone flashes ever more brightly.

There is some Christian stuff which is a reaction to the flawed world. Christian media is very much about not filling your head or your kid's head with poor teaching. Many Christian books (but certainly not all) are the same way. I'm sure Christian bookstores still do good business in providing ministry items to clergy, etc. And there isn't anything wrong with that provided you don't forsake the command to be "in the world" while your are so badly trying not to be "of the world."

But a lot of Christian kitsch is not a response to the flawed world. It is little more than Christian materialism. Most Christian items you see at the bookstores have nothing to do with ministry. They have everything to do with spending your dollars on crap you don't need, while convincing yourself you aren't wasting your money on something frivolous because it has a cross or a bible verse on it. It is like P. Diddy and Kanye West, who spend millions (literally) on richly ornamented Christian-themed jewelry to display their spirituality. Instead of giving that money quietly to the poor. But hey, it costs a lot of money to look that holy.

Politics: NSA Wiretapping

Well a Federal Judge in Detroit ruled it unconstitutional. The Washington Post, in an uncharacteristic editorial from a left-leaning paper, thinks that the decision was a piece of crap.
The decision yesterday by a federal district court in Detroit, striking down the NSA's program, is neither careful nor scholarly, and it is hard-hitting only in the sense that a bludgeon is hard-hitting. The angry rhetoric of U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor will no doubt grab headlines. But as a piece of judicial work -- that is, as a guide to what the law requires and how it either restrains or permits the NSA's program -- her opinion will not be helpful.
Of course the New York Times loved her decision, mostly because it was little more than a sermon against George Bush from a black robed individual given her very own bully pulpit.

Via Physics Geek, Jesus Freak.

UPDATE: By the way, don't take this to mean that I like NSA wiretapping. I have my constitutional concerns like the rest of you. But a good decision should base itself in precident and the law. It should clearly spell out what the government is or isn't allowed to do, because these programs are ultimately more about saving lives. It should not be a political rant. Politics does not belong in a court of law.

Wheels & Politics: Hybrids

Well this pisses me off.
Hybrid Owners of America will strive to be a true voice for owners of gas-electric hybrid cars and other highly fuel-efficient vehicles... HOA will track and defend existing hybrid purchase incentives as well as advocating for new incentive arrangements.
For those that don't realize it, the reason hybrids are growing in popularity is because (1) gas is expensive (2) the government pays you to buy one. Yes it is a tax refund incentive, but the net result is the same for most people. Unfortunately gas isn't so expensive that hybrids still make sense without that incentive. Plus the tax incentive program for several manufacturers (like Toyota) is running out because the Prius is sporting good sales numbers.

But people still want something for free. Be it bread, circuses, or hybrid vehicles, HoA is going to lobby congress so that middle class Americans (the people that actually buy the hybrids new and get the current tax credits) get to receive free money forever. Lets hope Congress has enough sense to tell these people to take a hike and let the free market work for a change.

Blogging: New Delabloggers

A bunch of people from my church (or formerly from my church) have started blogging fairly recently: Becky and Aaron, Erin, Jesse, Steve, and now my friend and current small group leader Rob. Or as he likes to call himself, The Robster. I'm not sure what Rob's going to be writing about, but I'm expecting something along the lines of his interests in electronics gear, cooking, and motorcycling.

To my great shame, most of these people have only been blogging for months and they're already better at it than I am after two years. Thanks to everybody that stops by here though. I appreciate it.

Fun: Red Bull Air Race

This sounds like a helluva lot of fun to watch.
The objective of the competition is to navigate a challenging obstacle course in the sky in the fastest possible time. Pilots fly individually against the clock and have to complete tight turns through a slalom course consisting of specially designed 20m high pylons, known as ‘air gates’.
The race is a worldwide racing series involving 9 cities in different countries. The US location is in San Francisco. For more info, pictures, and video, go to the Red Bull Air Race website.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Politics: Education Spending

While Joan Jacobs was off getting married and honeymooning, folks over there were questioning education spending on high tech teaching aids. Are they worth it?

As usually I'm walking a middle road with this one. It is hard to teach without basic tools like a black or white board. For more specialized classes you obviously need more than this. Science classes need labs with the essentials: weights and simple electrical gear for physics classes; glassware, chemicals, balances, and Bunsen burners for chemistry; microscopes for biology labs; an audio system and probably a piano for music. But frankly I'm not fond of teaching by PowerPoint or even using prepared overheads. Most classrooms don't need TVs either. I like being taught from a board/overhead. It works very well for a couple of reasons, like pacing and involvement.

If the teacher is writing on the board, they will naturally proceed at a pace that the students can keep up with in their own notes. The teacher has to write, the students have to write. Everything is in balance. With PowerPoint, all the information is on the slides so the teacher often proceeds at the speed they can talk, not at the speed students can take notes and absorb information. The speed you can absorb information is slower than the speed you can talk, this is why listening takes effort. I have seen this time and time again, the PowerPoint professor quickly outpaces their students and then the students give up and goof off.

The teachers often counters this pace by giving students copies of the notes so that they can "follow along" in their seats. Bad idea. This destroys the incentive for involvement (since the kids already have the notes), continues to enable the teacher to teach faster than students can the absorb information, and undermines the advantage of note-taking which provides additional forms of sensory input to enhance lesson memory and recollection.

There are a few advantages to PowerPoint of course. It allows you to create more complex visual aids to illustrate advanced concepts. But in general, most of this stuff can be illustrated already. For instance the physics teacher on Joanne's blog used PowerPoint to illustrate some points about friction. I can think of a simple way to do that with a couple of wooden blocks, some string, a ten cent pulley, and some duct tape. Chances are the physics lab will already have this information.

Finally tools are great, but teachers need to be trained to use them. If you buy the teachers new toys, you need to budget for training them how to use them. Since schools never have enough money, then the teachers often get the toys but not the training. Which is almost worthless.

I would much rather give every school the essentials rather than spend a lot of money so a few schools can have a lot of toys while other schools have nothing.

Guns: I'm a Winner!

This will teach Joe Cathey not to exclude me from competitions by name. I suggested an amateur gun nut requirement for further competitions.

Thanks for the years subscription to Guns and Ammo though Joe. Right now my only gun mag is the American Rifleman that comes with my NRA membership. I'm sure Amybear will be thrilled with me zoning out to gunly goodness another night per month.

UPDATE: On the topic of the NRA, they seem to be doing good things in New Orleans. We may have a federal court precident that applies the 2nd Amendment to state and local government if this case goes well. If it doesn't then we're probably no worse off than we currently are.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Reviews: 2 Movies and a Game

I want to jot this down before I forget again. Over the weekend Amybear and I rented two movies, The Worlds Fastest Indian and Failure to Launch, and I finished the main mission arc in GTA: Liberty City Stories. So last things first...

Liberty City Stories

This was designed as a game for the PSP not the PS2 (which is what I played it on). It shows, sometimes more than others. There are several cases where the graphics are just not all there. Things get grainy and hard to see, etc. The bigger implication for these PSP origins is that the game just feels kind of cheap and rehashed, which it is. Most of the maps are reused from GTA:III. The voice actors are ok, but second string. The music is decidedly cheaper than the earlier PS2 games. Although some is catchy, don't expect any bands you might already, you know, have heard of. The writing is what really suffers though. Characters are completely different from previous games (Donald Love, Salvatore Leone). The mission can be contrived or ill-conceived, especially those set in Shoreside Vale which seem like an afterthought to the rest of the game. But it's $20 and I got my money's worth.

The Worlds Fastest Indian

This is the tale of the trials Burt Munro goes through to run his heavily modified 1920 Indian scout during Speed Week at Bonneville in 1967. This one's a little quirky. You might like it, but you might not. It is a bit slow in spots, but it is hilarious in others. If you have any gearhead inclinations, chances are you will like this movie too.

Failure to Launch

Funny movie. Really good. Much better than I expected. If you're a guy, allow your wife or girlfriend to talk you into seeing it. Just be aware that there is a scene where Terry Bradshaw is walking around stark naked towards the end of the film. Suffice it to say that he does not have the same muscle tone as when he played for the Steelers.

God & Politics: Campus Ministry

Felix over at Colossus of Rhodey is opining about problems the University of Wisconsin has with religious groups. After being told by the 7th Circuit court that the University could not legally interfere with religious groups selecting their own leadership, the University began de-recognizing religious student groups on specious grounds. Because when I was treasurer of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for 3 years, we were preaching Deuteronomy 13:6-11 once a semester. I mean if the university hadn't wanted us to stone heretics, they shouldn't have covered the damn campus in those perfectly weighted red bricks. Hey, I knew I kept one of those red bricks for something.

But of course, I kid. We only crucified one guy on the Beach and that was because he was kinda nuts and he asked us to. Besides he was a part time student so he barely counts.

In truth the University barely tolerated us. We stayed an official student group because it let us use university facilities (like large meeting rooms on Friday nights) and use university media to publicize our events. Those two things were worth the hoops they made us jump through. But the university didn't support us to any meaningful degree.

My main job as treasurer was to submit a budget to the university in order to get funding. The first year I did this, I submitted something that approached our actual operating budget. We had two full time staff members and one part time staffer, so you can imagine it was in the high five figures. We didn't get a dime. The next two years we got enough money to defray some of our photocopying costs. That's it. And at 200+ members we were probably the largest student group on campus.

We also had to jump through hoops in order to use our rights to free expression. Anything put up on a campus billboard has to be pre-approved by the campus grand poobah. Otherwise it counts as vandalism.

But the joke was on the University. It would have been nice to get thousands of dollars (like some small clubs did), but in actuality we did just fine. We had access to university facilities and our staff was funded adequately through various regional churches. If they had kicked us out, we would have just met in a church parking lot across the street from campus.

You see groups like IVCF don't succeed because the University likes us. We succeed because we will meet the spiritual needs of students whether the Universities like it or not.

UPDATE: One of the key words they are throwing at the Christian groups is "subversive." Didn't Nero say that about us? Christians, subverting the establishment since 33AD.

Wheels: These Feet are Made for Walking

Steve is walking to the grocery store and he likes it. Amen.

I used to walk to the grocery store a lot. It was great. In college the grocery was a hike, so sometimes I would ride my bike. But that ride served much the same purpose. I did something healthy, saw the neighborhood, and I got my chores done.

In both apartments I have had since starting to work for the Army, I have had a supermarket less than a quarter mile from my house. Being a single adult male, my needs were simple. Frozen pizza, hot dogs, easy mac, and soda. (Amy can attest to this.) So I walked to the grocery store and picked up what I needed, unless what I needed was best bought in weighty bulk. Then I drove, because I'm not carrying 4 2-liter bottles and several freezer packs of soda home with me. I have trouble with the balancing act just to get them from the car in through my front door in one trip.

I haven't walked to the grocery in a while. Mostly, this is because Amy does our food shopping now that we're married. When I do get to the supermarket, it is to buy those bulk items that weigh a ton. Walking isn't practical. But I still miss it.

So I share Steve's suggestion, if at all practical, walk it once in a while. Leave the wheels at home.

Wheels: MG coming to the US

So the Chinese company that owns the MG/Rover/etc brand names is planning to open a plant in Oklahoma to manufacture a modernized and americanized hardtop version of the british TF. I have mixed thoughts. Buying chinese... ugh. Company run by the same execs that have killed a thousand others... double ugh. Affordable, rear wheel drive, mid-engined, two-seat, sports car? Well I like the sound of that.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Politics: Old School Cartoons

This anti-communist video from 1948 was a real eye-opener for me. Remember back when America was proud that we had more stuff than anybody else? They were perhaps simpler times, but the thesis of the cartoon remains:
When anybody preaches disunity, tries to pit one of us against the other through class warfare, race hatred, or religious intolerance, you know that person seeks to rob us of our freedom and destroy our very lives. And we know what to do about it!
Well, we used to know what to do at least.

Monday, August 14, 2006

God: Hypocrisy

You are simply put a fucking hypocrite and a false Christian in my eyes by making such an ignorant statement.
That is the end of a recent email I received from someone calling himself John Cerasuolo. He left the same message in the comments of this post, if you want to read it in it's entirety. He sent me the email just in case I hadn't seen him call me the anti-Christ on my own blog. I don't have the time or the inclination to dissect his comment thoroughly, but I would like to point something about hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy in the Greek means "play actor" or "performer." It is someone who says something or pretends to something (like helping the poor) and is then shown to contradict it later (like enriching themselves through anti-poverty donations). You don't get to call someone a hypocrite when they contradict what you think they should believe. You get to call someone a hypocrite when they contradict what they say they believe. The first is just caused by you projecting your beliefs, wants, and desires onto another person. The second is them being inconsistent with themselves. The first one doesn't count and the second one does.

For the record, I don't pretend to be a great Christian. I'm a sinner saved by grace. Sometimes I'm heavy with the sinner. Sometimes I'm strong on the grace. If I have ever given anyone a "holier than thou" vibe, my apologies.

I also have never pretended to be a pacifist. I just can't reconcile that theological and moral position with God's actions throughout the entirety of the Bible.

Fun: Mentos and Diet Coke Continued

So I watched the Mythbuster's episode over the weekend. Through experimentation they concluded that the active ingredients involved are dissolved C02, aspartame, caffeine, and potassium benzoate from the coke along with gelatin, gum arabic, and nucleation sites from the mentos.

They were able to enhance the reaction somewhat by adding rock salt which is inert, but provided a lot of nucleation sites. They were able to really enhance it by adding a nozzle to the bottle which shot the soda much higher into the air. They both concluded that this was practically the perfect fun science experiment since it was both harmless, cheap, and used widely available ingredients.

They tried to top it with some other home science experiments like the flamable soap and methane column, pringles and hydrogen explosions, and dry ice and water bombs. But in the end these all required non-grocery store ingredients and were in many cases quite dangerous as they involved fire and explosions. The worst diet coke and mentos can do is leave everything all sticky.

All in all, still not as cool as when they blew up that cement mixer, but pretty cool nonetheless.

Fun: Ultimate Frisbee Strategy

While I play the game, I never really got into the details of actual game strategy. But a coworker sent me a link to this great primer on the subject.

God: Billy Graham Speaks

Billy Graham's thoughts during his declining years are the subject of a current Newsweek article. It is worth the read, but quite long so unfortunately I haven't read the whole thing yet myself.

Wheels: J.D. Power Dependability Study

Steve is pointing out that American automakers are fairing very well in the recent J.D. Power dependability study. Mercury, Buick, and Cadillac were ranked 2, 3, and 4. They were behind Lexus, but ahead of Toyota, Acura, and Honda.

A lot of American manufacturers placed above the industry average in the survey. I found the results especially interesting because while American and Japanese top tier automakers faired well, the Koreans and Germans (with the exception of 9th placed BMW) were all below average. So much for their reputation for quality.

I don't love the J.D. Power methodology though. They are ranking manufacturers (instead of individual models) based on problem from the first 3 years of vehicle life. For most people (except me with 78k miles on a 2003) this essentially covers problems that occur under warranty. While that's nice, I would much rather have information on problems that occur after the warranty period ends and I am paying my own money to fix them. I don't think that is unreasonable considering the average US vehicle age runs 7 to 10 years.

Steve really likes his Saturn which gets good gas mileage and has been pretty reliable. He would love to own a Sky if someone else would pay for it. Wouldn't we all like a sports car if someone else would pay for it?

My Mazda Protege, which fits in the 3 year J.D. Power study criteria, has had one problem to date: a malfunctioning side impact airbag controller. It cost me some money, but I'm ok with it. I've put on a lot of miles in three years with very little to complain about.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Politics: War on Terror

Physics Geek, Jesus Freak has another excellent post up. Not only do I share his opinion of most talk radio hosts being horrible blowhards (although Sean Hannity is pretty bearable) I share this one too.
he [G. Gordon Liddy] claimed the current war is between Judeo-Christianity and Islam. I think that's a load of crap, honestly. It's a war between Islam (especially those who take it literally) and everyone else; Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, you name it. Don't kid yourself; Islamists hate the secular Europeans as much as they hate the American Christian Right. They just know they can play the Europeans for fools...
Exactly. Not all muslims are bad guys. I've known too many muslims to paint them all with the same brush. But when push comes to shove, the wacko muslims don't just hate Christians or Jews. They really hate the other. Everyone not under subjugation to the house of Islam. Everyone not under their boot and in their control.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Politics: Being Had

I haven't really been writing much about the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict. No one involved smells like rose that is for sure. The Israelis have tried peace only to have it shot back in their face. The Lebanese are unable to rein in Hezbollah and in many cases do not wish to do so. There is not easy solution that has not been tried and found wanting.

That said I really don't like people lying to me. Remember when Sean Penn was tooling around Post-Katrina New Orleans in his boat with his photographer taking pictures as he pulled poor souls from the water? Ever really thought about that? You have a boat with limited room, meaning you can only save a given number of people per trip. Do you save more people or carry your own photographer? We know which one Penn chose.

This whole Lebanon business is the same. We have "relief workers" coordinating photo ops with dead children. Others are lying down under rubble. Indigenous "journalists" are faking photos outright. And I'm supposed to buy this? No thanks.

Fun: Mentos and Cola Catalyzation

Physics Geek, Jesus Freak is discussing the recent mythbusters episode in which Kari and the Guys take on the volatile mix of mentos and diet cola. Alas, I haven't seen it yet.

The Mythbusters said that the reason for the intense reaction is that aspartame (Nutrisweet) and some preservatives in Mentos (like sodium benzoate) cause the CO2 to drop out of solution at a very accelerated rate. This NPR clip seems to believe it is all about surface area giving CO2 nucleation sites, but I don't think that is the entirity of the effect. Boing Boing blames the gum arabic in the Mentos (and the rough texture) for lowering bubble surface tension and causing CO2 to leave solution in a hurry.

God: Going Home

My pastor's father passed away this morning. His heart gave out. It was my pastor's parents sixtieth wedding anniversary.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Guns: Picking Another Name

Ok, so my M1 Carbine's name is Sunshine. Sing some John Denver to figure out why. After seeing this strip, I believe I will have to name my AR-15 "Mabel." Granted Frank is carrying an a1 (or sp1) and my Mabel will be a short barreled carbine on an a3 upper, but it still must be done.

That's if I ever get those parts I ordered from CMMG, Inc. If those folks have a fault it sure ain't that they work too fast. Oh how I long for the "your order was shipped" message in my inbox...

Politics: Funniest Judicial Decision Ever

US Bankruptcy Judge Lief M. Clark (Western District of Texas) may have written the funniest judicial order ever. In his decision against the defendant for incomprehensibility, he uses this footnote:
Or, in the words of the competition judge to Adam Sandler's title character in the movie, "Billy Madison," after Billy Madison had responded to a question with and answer that sounded superficially reasonable but lacked any substance:
Mr. Madison, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I've ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response was there anything that could even be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.
Deciphering motions like the one presented here wastes valuable chamber staff time, and invites this sort of footnote.

God: Shilling for God

Like many of the people in the DCBA, I get regular emails from the Delaware State Republican party. While I don't mind occassionally shilling for a special interest like the Republicans or the NRA, I generally ignore these messages. But not this time.

This time I received a prayer request for Elizabeth Crossan, the wife of Delaware GOP Executive Director Dave Crossan. Elizabeth is a young mother of two who discovered she had brain tumor(s?) shortly after giving birth to their second child. They discovered the cancer fairly late so things are looking pretty serious. She has already had brain surgery and is currently undergoing radiation and chemo therapy treatments. The family and the Delaware GOP in general is asking for prayer and any other support you can give. They have this Care Page for more info. If it isn't satisfactory, then contact me at JeffDOTtheDOTbaptistATgmailDOTcom.

It seems like I've been asking for prayer rather a lot lately, but that doesn't mean people don't need it.

Politics: Primary Results

It seems Joementum wasn't enough to counter Nedrenaline. Lieberman lost in what will go down as a historic victory for Netroots and the leftwing blogosphere. Lieberman is going to run as an Independent in the general election. When I saw him on Good Morning America this morning, he was still calling himself a Democrat. Given his close loss to Lamont and continued ties to the Democratic Party, he'll probably win the general election and then switch parties from Independent back to Democrat. And he'll prove that netroots and the leftwing blogosphere are still over-rated.

On the other hand the far left didn't win everything. Cynthia McKinney is out in her district in Georgia. Good riddance to bad politicians.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Politics: The Compass

Like Physics Geek, Jesus Freak, I lean towards authoritarianism and the economic right wing.
Your political compass
Economic Left/Right: 1.88
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: 1.18
I seem to recall taking this test before with similar results. Like the last time I found that several questions required nuanced answers which were unfortunately unavailable.

God: Answered Prayers

Michael is through the GRE and Geek-Freak passed is dissertation defense. No word on Joan's friend "G" or my pastor's father.

Monday, August 07, 2006

God: A Bloggers Parable

Yesterday's sermon was on the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector from Luke 18:
And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.'

"But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!'

"I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."
It seems to me that a lot of bloggers need to take this to heart. Starting with me of course. In a conflict of ideas, we often point to others and say "Thank God I'm not this jerk." Or "Look at that sinner. Stop sinning sinner!" Eye, plank, some disassembly required. We need more blogs that serve as disassembly instructions. I pray that I'll one day get my act together and provide one...

God Fun: New Book of the Bible Discovered

They're calling it Habakkuk.

The sad thing is that unlike Paul Smith, I can't recall Habakkuk ever being preached. I can recall getting asked by more than one person whether I had ever heard of it before though.

Fun: War Stories

McQ is telling one of his, and like most it isn't really about war so much as it is about being in the Army.

Well I'm not in the Army per se. So I shall instead regail you with someone else's war story which is probably true. I say probably, because it comes at least second hand so maybe I'm full of crap here. The story goes thusly:

The story opens with our hero, Joe. I don't know his name so Joe is as good a name for a grunt as any. Joe is a paratrooper in the US army. His unit is going to have to jump out of a perfectly good airplane as part of their ongoing training and certification procedures. Being good paratroopers, everybody jumps including the chaplain and the mascot, a German shepherd dog.

Now a jump rig for a chaplain is pretty easy, but the dog? Not quite so much. The unit slaps together something for the dog and Joe is selected to do a tandem with him. He'll jump out of the plane, open his chute, and then lower the dog like a duffel so that he doesn't have the dog's weight on his knees when he lands. Everyone says not to worry, it will be fine. Everyone is about as right as everyone usually is.

Well the day of the jump comes and everybody gets in the plane. Everybody jumps including Joe and the dog. Upon exiting the aircraft, the dog realizes what has happened. The dog is not stupid. The dog did not want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. He bites Joe. Hard.

Well Joe is a good 'trooper and gets his parachute open and gets his descent under control despite a lot of angry dog strapped to his chest. He even gets the irate German shepherd squared away. He lowers him down so they can land without killing each other. The dog lands first like a ton of bricks (which is how duffels land). Joe lands second like he was trained. Unfortunately for the dog, he broke one of his legs on the landing. Unfortunately for Joe, the dog is still capable of hobbling over to Joe on his three remaining legs and biting him. Again.

Cut to several years later. Joe has moved on to another unit, but comes back for a visit to say hello to his old buddies. The dog is there. Joe thinks bygones are bygones. The dog recognizes Joe, trots over to him, and bites him because the third time really is the charm. Stupid human. What the hell were you thinking?

God: Prayer Requests

Physics Geek is defending his doctoral dissertation this morning. Prayers are always welcome for these important life events.

Joan's good friend has had a serious accident. He's paralyzed, possibly permanently. After the weekend thinks are looking pretty dire. The current question is if he lives, not how he lives. Joan has lost a lot people, so pray for both her and her friend "G."

Michael is also taking his GREs at 2pm EST today. Good luck and don't drink a 20 oz. soda at the first break like I did. I flew through the last two sections because I had to go and couldn't get the proctor's attention. Still did ok though.

UPDATE: I just received timely reminder that my pastor at church may be losing his father in the next few days. His dad had a serious heart attack and is in a coma. He isn't expected to come out of it. Pray for wisdom and care for him and his whole family.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Politics: The Other War in the Middle East

The New York Times has an informative before and after graphic of what Israeli airstrikes and artillery have done in Lebanon.

This Arab Times piece is equally interesting. It notes that Lebanon is a proxy war between the US/Israel and Iran/Syria.
In a message to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, Chairman of Iran’s Expediency Council Akbar Rafsanjani has expressed his country’s support to Saudi Arabia’s proposal for a ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah. This indicates Tehran has started worrying it may lose the war and wants to retreat.
There are calls for a ceasefire. Isreal might be wise to ignore them. The fighting is hard, Hezbollah is very well trained. But ultimately it is the Israelis who are kicking ass and making corpses.

Hezbollah's internal organization has been deeply disrupted. Most of their local support has fled, probably because they have a policy of making their supporters into targets.

Were I an Israeli leader, I wouldn't accept a cease fire under these conditions. Hezbollah would only use a cease fire as a way to restructure, regroup, and rebuild. If they want to stop fighting, I would accept their surrender under fair terms. That is it.

All this via several posts at Instapundit.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Gear: Cordless Phones and Wi-fi

Well this certainly explains why my home phones and wireless network have been giving me trouble. It turns out that they're probably (I'm pretty sure my home phones are 2.4 GHz) running on the same frequencies. Oops. Guess I have my reason to buy a new phone now.

UPDATE: Amy and I bought a set of GE phones at BJs over the weekend. They're 5.8 GHz which puts them outside of normal wireless bands so they will hopefully solve our network problems. Plus we got 2 cordless phones, one corded phone, and a base unit with an answering machine for about 70 bucks. Money well spent.

Izzy points out that if your curious whether you'd have trouble with local networks interfering with your phone, there are spectrum analyzers out there to help you pick appropriate wireless channels. Unfortunately they're $100.

God & Guns: Sword err Pistol of the Spirit

Well this is a different use for a leather bible carrier. Probably works as well as one of those day planners.

For the record I'm not a big fan of off-body carry. It could be a bible carrier, a day planner, or a purse. Doesn't matter. The gun is easily left unattended and you probably have no idea where it's pointed (major no no) within the given article. Plus purses and similar items are prime targets for theives. For them a loaded gun in a purse is like bonus dollars.

Fun: Puppy Massage

Steve Lamp linked to this dubbed video. Hilarious, if you can get Yahoo's video system to work.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

God: Biblical Scholarship and Q

No, not the one from Star Trek. John DeLancie wasn't dictating scripture to Matthew or Luke. Thank goodness Gene Roddenberry died before he could write that episode.

I was going to launch into a brief history of scholarly thought on the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) at this point, but Wikipedia has a far better article on the subject than I can write. In the US the Two-source Hypothesis is the most common line of scholarly thought about the writing of the Synoptic Gospels. It states that Mark was written first and Mark, along with another document called Q, was used independently by both Matthew and Luke to write their own Gospels. This explains the common passages between Mark and the others along with the similarities between the other two which do not appear in Mark at all.

This is the theory I have heard most of my life. Not that I cared much because I'm far more interested in what the Gospels say rather than how they got that way. Personally, I think two-source hypothesis is so popular because it is useful to academics. If Q existed, it certainly doesn't exist anymore. There are no known copies of it anywhere. Therefore the academics can pontificate about Q's contents for a very long time. Hopefully lots of grant money is involved in this pontification and subsequent publication.

Paul Smith brings up a counter-argument to Q. His post eventually led me to Mark Goodacre's website and his Ten Reasons to Question Q. Goodacre is an advocate of the Farrer hypothesis which states that Mark was written first, was used as a source by Matthew, then Matthew (and possibly Mark) was/were used by Luke. His reasoning works except for reason number nine:
Q belongs to another age, an age in which scholars solved every problem by postulating another written source ... Classically, the bookish B. H. Streeter solved the synoptic problem by assigning a written source to each type of material - triple tradition was from Mark; double tradition was from 'Q'; special Matthew was from 'M' and special Luke was from 'L'. Most scholars have since dispensed with written 'M' and 'L' sources.
The problem with this is that he misrepresents Q as an invention of Streeter. L and M are inventions of Streeter but scholars were positing Q in one name or another since 1838, almost a century before Streeter. This explains why L and M are long gone, but Q still remains.

I have to say that the Farrer hypothesis makes good sense to me. It's simple and I like that. The truth of the Synoptics is that Matthew and Luke probably used whatever they could get their hands on and there were multiple possible sources. The prologue to Luke especially seems to indicate that his Gospel was compiled from multiple sources with an eye towards accuracy:
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

God Fun: Why Catholics Are So Happy...

Jews like wine. It gladdens the heart or so the Psalmist says. You learn this pretty early when you're marrying into a Jewish family. They have prayers for wine too of course, but they're usually in Hebrew so who the heck knows what they mean. Certainly not me.

So when Paul Smith revealed that Catholics have latin prayers for beer, this didn't exactly surprise me. The English translation is below:
Bless, O Lord, this creature beer, that Thou hast been pleased to bring forth from the sweetness of the grain: that it might be a salutary remedy for the human race: and grant by the invocation of Thy holy name, that, whosoever drinks of it may obtain health of body and a sure safeguard for the soul. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

God: Showing Up in Unexpected Places

I've gotten used to not hearing much in the way of truth out there. At this point you may think that this will be a "damn leftwing media" post. Ok one of those is coming, but this one isn't it.

I enjoy stumbling across biblical truth in startling places I don't expect it. For instance while Howard Tayler is a practicing Mormon, I didn't expect to see a brief discussion on the nature of God and evil in Schlock Mercenary. Instead I expected to see a character that looks like a puddle of crap shooting things with a plasma gun. Shooting things with guns is fun (trust me I know!), but this was better.

John Scalzi's interview of David Louis Edelman provoked a similar reaction.
The thing to remember about predicting the future is that human nature doesn't change. We're still the same people that Adam Smith wrote about. We're still the same people that Shakespeare wrote about. In fact, as Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke pointed out in 2001, we really haven't changed much since that first dude figured out how to hit the other dude on the head with a bone. In some ways, all of human history is just one long story about two groups squabbling over limited resources.

So when you're trying to predict the future, it's really the human motivations that matter.
Exactly. This is why I have a hard time watching Star Trek. (Sorry Hube if you're reading this.) The idea that mankind is just going to have some great awakening and become paragons of moral virtue doesn't work for me. We've always been petty, stiff-necked bastards both collectively and often individually. Ok, with the exception of one guy. Sadly, it is in our fallen natures to act this way. But it is nice for a writer with no particular ideological agenda to recognize the constancy of our nature for what it is.

Anyway, that's my two cents.

Blogging: What is with the New Titles?

Some of you may have noticed that my title scheme has changed. Thanks to Physics Geek, I found a way to implement categories in Blogger. I'll get around to doing that with my next site revision.

The category system itself is a hack that uses a text search to compile the actual category indexes (those are "indices" for those Roman centurions reading the blog). That means it will work much better if I label my blog entries, which I'm now doing with the first word of my titles. It works great for me, because most of my titles have been pretty weak anyway.

Sooner or later there will be God, Guns, Wheels, Fun, Blogging, Reviews, and Politics categories on the site. Maybe I'll add a personal section too. I'm still in transition here. Don't ask me when exactly I will be out of transition, because I really don't know. But eventually I'll get around to doing that and making a few other changes to the template. It might be soon, it might not. If you wish to bug me about it, go ahead. But nobody is paying me for this.

UPDATE: On the topic of new templates, Amybear has a new one up on her blogspot blog.

Blogging: Getting Married

Joanne Jacobs is taking three weeks off to get married. That sounds familiar. Congrats Joanne!

Wheels: The Bubble Trike

The problem with motorcycles is that while they are small and light weight (and therefore both fast and fuel efficient), they can get you killed. Yet another designer has tried to tackle this problem by building an enclosed trike. Quick, nimble, and maybe you won't die. It's a good combination.

Unfortunately it looks goofy. If there is anything military procurement has taught me, it is that the cooler design usually wins in the marketplace. Goofy won't cut it.

Fun: Candyass

Evidently the Rock has been quoting Nixon all these years... No wonder he spoke at the Republican national convention.

Wheels: BBC Gets Wise

After a prolonged period of piracy on both Google Video and YouTube, the BBC has finally given in and is now hosting current episodes of Top Gear on their website. Now you can watch it legally and for free.

Thank the people of the UK who foot the bill by paying that stupid TV tax to support their 4 channels. It's like public television conquered a nation or something.

UPDATE: Hmmm. The BBC may be checking that people are actually in the UK. So your feed may not work. Back to YouTube!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Review: Whisper of the Heart

A while back Amybear and I watched a japanese anime called The Cat Returns. The film is the magical tale of Haru, a girl who saves the Prince of Cats on the streets of Tokyo and is accidentally draw into a plot in the magical Kingdom of Cats. She gets out of the this trouble with the assistance of the Baron, a magical cat statue, and Muta, a big fat cat.

The Cat Returns is a prequel/sequel to Whisper of the Heart which we watched last night. Both are produced by Studio Ghibli, most famous in the US for producing Spirited Away (which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2001) and Princess Mononoke.

Whisper of the Heart is the story of girl named Shizumi. Shizumi is a bookworm who enjoys nothing more than reading fairytales. The usual teenage social dynamics ensue with boys declaring their affections for Shizumi or her friends. There are some weak love triangles in there too. The film is essentially a junior high romance. Finally, to prove herself, Shizumi decides that she wants to be a writer and spends the second half of the film working on a story so that she can prover herself to the boy she really likes.

The truth is that we watched the two films out of order which really messed with our minds. The Cat Returns is essentially a retelling of the story Shizumi writes in Whisper of the Heart. The Baron and Muta show up in both films, although in different roles. Except for a few scenes that occur in Shizumi's head, Whisper of the Heart is not a fanciful magical adventure. Whisper is Shizumi's coming of age story. The tone of the two films is pretty different and that was kind of jarring especially when we were expecting some sort of magical creature to pop out of nowhere as in most Studio Ghibli films like Spirited Away.

But it is a good film and is definitely good if you have kids old enough not to think of romance as yucky. But try to watch the two movies in the right order.

God: Turning Against Tradition

Kim du Toit and his wife are discussing what is going on with the Episcople Church and how it relates the overarching Anglican Communion. What makes this discussion so dang interesting is that they're both athiests. So check out Part 1 and Part 2.

God: Baby Steps

Steve Lamp has some easy suggestions for moving from a world of good intentions to a world of good deeds. Most of them, like prayer, are things you should always be doing anyway.

Fun: True to Life

This explains why half of my master's thesis corrections were undoing the previous revision's corrections...

Politics: Still Crazy

Mary Katherine Ham listened to Air America for a week. On purpose! Well at least it's nice to know that she listens so we don't have to.