My Zunivers

30 November 2007

Science Funding '08

Some of you are APS members, and you might have received the e-mail asking you to write to various government officials about the FY08 budget. The budget is currently in FY07 continuing resolution limbo, and a good bit of appropriated funding is appears likely to be cut from the final budget. That means that NSF, DOE, and NIST, among others, will not be able to meet their budgets, which are based on the appropriated funds. If you're clueless about what I'm talking about, just know that what I'm saying sucks for getting research done, and it could mean that I won't get a research job any time soon. There is also science education money at stake.

I want to encourage all of you physics types to send a note to the government peoples. APS makes it a quick and painless process. If you already deleted or did not get the e-mail and link then I can send it to you.

From conversations with several people with Washington experience far beyond mine, I assure you that sending such notes means something. Many letters and e-mails that go into government offices to discuss legislation are poorly written, rambling nuisances. Anything well written gets attention from the always important legislative underlings. For congress members in both houses, it only takes a couple dozen notes about the same subject sent close together to get enough attention that the office starts actively working on something. Using form e-mails is good enough to do that.

What are you waiting for? This sort of thing is as important than voting! Get yourself involved, for pete's sake!

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28 November 2007

When I Hate Science...

My colleagues checked something in a paper and independently got a different result (the same for both of them, they claim) from the paper.

My colleagues have an explanation for the difference between their result and the paper.

I checked the results from that paper and got something different from my colleagues.

One of my colleagues gave me his (and so presumably their) results so I could compare.

I noticed that my colleagues' result is inconsistent with the parameters from the paper, and also that their explanation for the difference between the paper and their results makes no sense because it depends on an incorrect comparison.

My own results, although different from my colleagues, do not match the paper.

I can't find any explanation for what is wrong with my results or why they don't match the paper.

I feel bad telling my colleagues about their problems when I can't get my own crap together and they might have just given me the wrong numbers anyway.

But I had to.

Bugger all.

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27 November 2007

Anti Soldier Nonsense

The very end of this article brings to mind something that annoys me a lot.

Rushing to begin the nationally televised matchup following a 25-minute weather delay, the NFL chose to skip the anthem Monday night before Miami played Pittsburgh. The game started without any of the traditional pregame ceremonies, except the coin toss, and neither team was introduced on the public address system.


National anthems are rarely televised during NFL games, with the Super Bowl being an exception, so there was no indication if any veterans groups were unhappy with the omission.

There is one thing that a lot of soldiers, veterans, and all of their friends and families need to keep straight-- not everything patriotic is all about them. Reporters looking to pad their word counts should keep that in mind, too.

You can be offended by whatever bothers you, but you need to keep in mind that there are a lot of reasons to avoid, skip, or mock elements of patriotism, many completely unrelated to respect or honor for veterans. For example, I have a religious reason not to pledge to the American flag. It has nothing to do with disrespecting veterans. I hug soldiers. I treat war monuments as solemn places. I send encouraging notes to my friends in the military. I"m glad that I have freedom because of what others have done. Showing respect and care isn't enough, though. No matter what I do to help and encourage and respect the people in the military, almost every person in, or related to, or good friends with someone in the military gives me crap when I don't pledge to the flag about how I am disrespecting the soldiers. This isn't something that those people say only about flags, either. If I question the military's missions, I'm not respecting the soldiers. If I don't sing the national anthem in church, I'm not respecting the soldiers. If I say that someone who wants to burn a flag has every legal right to do it-- and the Supreme Court agrees with me-- I'm not respecting soldiers.

If you want to take my non-pledging personally, my response is that you can go pound sand. I'll say the same thing about any of the pet patriotic things that you bring up as if I'm doing something so terrible to you by not being a patriot in some particular way.
There's nothing personal about any of it, for the very reason that I'm wanting you to remember-- it's not about you at all. Yes, it's nice to honor veterans, and yes, it is weird to violate patriotic norms, but grown ups can get over all that and realize that anyone's honor and respect can come even without following your choices about which norms can be broken.

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Kids These Days

I'm going to break my own rule about not putting pictures in my blog because this is too cute.

The Godson and The Kid got to spend some time together on a sofa this weekend, and The Kid couldn't keep her hands off him. Things were getting a little bit steamy on that couch.

This was taken after The Kid, through some sleeve tugging and some grunting, convinced The Godson to pay attention to her instead of to his foot. At one point in there I'm sad to say that she was grabbing at his behind. The Kid got upset when The Godson went back to sticking his foot in his mouth, and if I hadn't screwed up the picture I'd show it to you.

It's hard being four months old.


24 November 2007

Thanks on a Mesoscopic Scale

I've been thinking about this since Wednesday night, but now is the first time I've gotten to write it.

On Wednesday evening we had the annual piefest at our church. The program contained a couple of lines to put in what you're thankful to have. It wasn't something to turn in, or to recite. It wasn't even something to keep, really. Most people toss their church sheets soon after they leave, or keep them in their burgeoning Bibles until some point that triggers a clean up. In fact, I don't really know what it was for. My guess is that it was some sort of third-hand education theory trick learned straight out of a leadership guide from a Christian [shudder] bookstore, a "people will focus if they write" sort of thing.

I took part in this little activity, writing down only two words. I've recently gotten a PhD and baby, I've spent a lot of time with my sister, I've got two good parents, lots of friends, a home, food, and even a job for the rest of the year. I am thankful for all those things, don't get me wrong. What I recorded as my thanksgiving, hwoever, was simply "the mesoscopic."

Trust me, this was not profound. I wrote it and then, after chiding myself for being hokey, had to figure out what kind of meaning I could torture from those words. Subconsciously, I think I had a meaning for it all along, but still, at the moment, my mind was blank until the hamster began to jog.

The mesoscopic scale is, loosely, the place between the macroscopic and microscopic scale where everything is just big enough for things like quantum mechanics and fluctuations to have gone away but just small enough that classical continuum theories thumb their noses at you. My research plays there all the time. Proteins are just big enough that their wavefunctions aren't the best way to think about them and just small enough that inter-particle dispersion forces can't be ignored like with large colloids. All heck breaks loose at this scale and so we can't figure out what the frick is going on. It's delightful.

Thinking about how we express thankfulness, I think there is also a mesoscopic scale. Consider the usual church thankfest, when the pastor makes that horrible mistake of opening up the air for anyone to speak about what they are thankful for. A few common themes often emerge. People are thankful for family, for God and the Bible, for health, for the things we take fro granted every day... you know the drill (and if you don't, you need to go to church more). One of the holy rollers often stands up after a while to point out that she is thankful for the little things, like air, food, and the stuff we have but take for granted every day.

The "big things" form this sort of fabric of thanksgiving, affecting nearly everyone. People aren't saying that they are thankful for those things just to look good, they are thankful for them because they are thankful for them. The little things are fundamental and perfectly visible but you need to think differently to come up with them. Between those two lies this mesoscopic region full of things that we don't obviously see but don't obviously find when we think harder and don't really take for granted because, well, we don't really take them for anything. Our thankful thoughts don't get to these mesoscopic things, between the big and the small, so we make up blanket terms like "everything else we take for granted" to hope we don't leave them out.

One example from this region is wetness. How often have you given thanks for wetness? It's not obviously a thing, so you're neither thankful for it all the time nor taking it for granted. In fact, you probably curse it out every once in a while for ruining a picnic, but you blame rain, the cause of the wetness, instead. We could probably say thte same for wetness and sex, or the results of sex without wetness. Wetness is just of those things that, for all purposes, isn't. Wetness, however, deserves some honor as something for which we give thanks.

Anyway, that's my Thanksgiving challenge. Find something mesoscopic and be thankful for it. I'd like to say you'll be glad you did, but frankly you'll probably just feel kind of awkward for it. Such is the stuff of violating social norms.

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20 November 2007

Sweeping the Clouds Away

Go read this.

According to an earnest warning on Volumes 1 and 2, “Sesame Street: Old School” is adults-only: “These early ‘Sesame Street’ episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child.”

Say what? At a recent all-ages home screening, a hush fell over the room. “What did they do to us?” asked one Gen-X mother of two, finally. The show rolled, and the sweet trauma came flooding back. What they did to us was hard-core. Man, was that scene rough. The masonry on the dingy brownstone at 123 Sesame Street, where the closeted Ernie and Bert shared a dismal basement apartment, was deteriorating. Cookie Monster was on a fast track to diabetes. Oscar’s depression was untreated. Prozacky Elmo didn’t exist.

I really have no comments.

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A New Link

I finally put the link to Philip Ball's blog over on the list of blogs. Nerds of every sort should read what he writes. He covers a wide range of topics, and even better he makes them interesting. Generally he'll post a couple of times per week, but he does need to pay his bills so that varies. Also, I remind you to read his book Critical Mass for a nice survey of what physics and math can say about sociology and economics.


17 November 2007

And aThank You

Geesh, this is my 800th post in this blog.

Funny enough, the reason I came to make it was actually to thank all of you who offered to read my application essays (here, by e-mail, and in person). Sadly, my timeline just wasn't working in favor of me accepting your offers.

So, happy friends. Happy, happy friends... even if you aren't smart enough to do something better with your time than read my drivel :) I am, after all, one post on the Edmund Fitzgerald away from wasting another five minutes of my wife's life.

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16 November 2007

Reviewing the Reviewer, or Something

Buying a digital camera? Let me share with you my opinion of an example camera buying guide.

First, the guide gives us the basics, which seems to be the difference between an SLR and a point-and-shoot. If you don't have experience with a 35mm or other film SLR or with manual or partially manual settings on an older point-and-shoot, the guide is missing an important piece of advice-- leave the SLR at the store. This is true even if you want to learn about photography. Many point-and-shoot models allow you to take control enough to learn about the technical parts of photography. Also, the point-and-shoot cameras also come with better modes for taking better pictures without thinking much, which is good for learning the important part of photography-- taking pictures of things that look nice when photographed.

The article then goes on to megapixels. It is good at saying you should buy a camera with at least 6 megapixels. It isn't good at telling you that, for most of your purposes, don't waste money or a camera with more than 7 megapixels. I mean, you don't really make 13x19 inch prints, do you? Most people I know don't have a single photo that large in their house. Also, the article makes a confusing statement in telling you that you get the number of megapixels by multiplying the numbers. Even if you've forgotten how to find the area of a rectangle from geometry, you don't need to bother figuring out what that means. The people who make digital cameras are happy to sell you as many megapixels as they can, and put that number all over.

Lens quality and zoom are important, as the article goes on to say. But then they limit "lens quality" to the difference between fixed focus and zoom lenses. Get a mechanically zooming lens, as they say. Really, I don't think most people know the difference between picture from good lenses an pictures from bad ones. To actually get lens quality, get a camera from a major camera company (Nikon or Canon). This is hit and miss, though, as those two do have the occasional dud and other companies have many camera with good lenses.

As for lens zoom, I recommend you do this one technical bit-- ignore the "x" number. Don't pay attention to digital zoom. It's marketing, not good photography. Only pay attention to the optical zoom number. But really, dont' even pay attention to that. No zoom number given as an "x" means anything without another number that it gets multiplied by (the x really is for multiplication), the minimum lens focal length. Even then, most photographers (except professionals who use medium and large format film) think well in terms of the focal length converted to the equivalent on 35mm film, which takes more numbers. I share this for two reasons. First, you now know better than to ask someone with an SLR how many x's of zoom the camera has. Second, you should get a camera with a low end 35mm equivalent focal length of 30mm or so. Lower and you'll need to zoom in slightly to keep the edges of your pictures from turning straight lines into swooping curves. 50mm is the "normal" lens on a 35mm SLR camera. On the zoomed in side, if you want to take pictures of birdies and squirrels in the wild then watch them on TV instead. You need equivalent focal lengths in the upper hundreds to do that, territory where point-and-shoots don't go and SLRs go only with lenses that cost thousands of dollars. 3x cameras are generally in the right range, but check the other numbers to make sure.

Continuing in the article, I already said SLRs are generally a waste. I didn't add that my wife and I have one of each. I use the SLR, my wife uses the point-and-shoot. In cases when I can't play around, her pictures are better exposed than mine. You see, her automatic modes are better than mine. I'm still learning how to use all the control I have, but she doesn't have to. I can take better pictures, but I'm still training my eye to see a zillion technical things and set everything up correctly in a timely manner. This sort of hassle will frustrate you unless you're a sick person like me and you like it. You'll be even more frustrated if you don't already have practice with SLR cameras, because every picture will feel like it takes you ten minutes to take. Kids and basketballs don't wait thirty seconds.

Moving on, monitors are important, but really they all suck for checking your pictures. They can help you see whether you have gotten the picture composed correctly, but that's about all. You can't really check your picture unless you zoom in on it, no matter what size screen is on the back of the camera. Of course, you're quite likely to use the screen to take the pictures, too. So, get a camera with a big one.

Video is cute, but bah-humbug. Do whatever you want here. If you have the choice between two cameras, one with and one without video, and the one with video is more expensive, think about how much you'll actually use the video and then realize you won't.

Camera ergonomics are critical. I'm more interested in how to change settings than anything else, which you can learn to live with. Comfort in your hands is more important for SLRs that actually take a bit of effort to hold. If you want to learn about technical things in photography, you need accessible controls. When you put the camera on manual and then need to go constantly into the third layer of menus to change the shutter speed, you'll get pissed off and end up using the automatic mode.

Accessories are great. Get what you need, which is a memoray card and (maybe) batteries. If you have a case for your film point-and-shoot it is probably just fine. Most cameras come with the USB cable.

There is one final point I'd like to make, and you'll probably never see this in a digital camera guide. Digital camera guides need to run a fine line between helping you and making the manufacturers happy (a line they usually parallel on the manufacturer's side). They don't remind you that digital cameras are cameras. What you do with them is photography.

There are millions of computer geeks running around on the internet talking about digital cameras only because they are digital, and they think that because they know computers and gadgets and electronics then they know what they're talking about. They talk endlessly about all the technical points of the cameras. Sometimes they also get into the technical points of photography. Every once in a while they actually say something correct, but I don't hold my breath. I take my digital camera advice from photographers, not computer geeks. Photographers, even amateurs, are the people to listen to, because they are the ones who tell you the honest truth about the digital and the camera.

The truth is, whenever you take a picture you're practicing the art of photography. If you take a picture of something dull, your picture will be dull. If you don't develop an intuition for composition, your pictures will all look funny. No long blather about technical details is going to change that.

So, go buy your digital cameras. Unless you're selling high quality prints, they're more fun than film, and much cheaper to use to learn how to take good pictures.

15 November 2007

Santas Warned Beards Offensive to Thin Skinned

Pissonarope, Everywhere-- Santas around the world have been warned not to wear beards because they may be offensive to the thin skinned. Instead, they have been informed of the benefits of shaving until their cheeks are shiny like bowling balls.

One new Santa was offended by a training video telling him that beards could frighten children and irritate the kids' sensitive skin. He wasn't the only one who had a problem with it. "That's stinking stupid," said a teaching assistant at a large university. "These kids grow up coddled enough. The least we could do is have Santa scare the [expletive] out of them and sandpaper their faces with his stubble. Leave Santa alone."

A recruiter told us, rightly, that the Santas have been warned about beards, and then he assumed we were dumb enough that when we look at the words carefully we would fail to see that this is different from ordering Santas to shave. He then said Santas instead should use their own discretion to conclude that the training video was right.

(Note: You might want to read this).

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Ministry, and a Mention of Willow Creek

I've been thinking a lot lately about how Christians do church. A few things sparked this.

One main thing began last year. My wife and I, expressing interest in working with the youth group at our church and getting involved, were asked to attend some meetings on establishing a vision for the youth group. It turned out to be everything you could imagine meetings about something like "vision" would be, from being incredibly dull to accomplishing little per session, and all the way to groupthink. Yes, you heard me right, groupthink. In the end, I pretty much decided that it wasn't pretty and that I'd be taking my involvement in church ministry back to a mostly informal level.

I don't remember what other people's vision for the youth group was because I remember at the time thinking that it was cutsie and sucked. I do recall a lot of focus on programs, strengthen those and using them, and goals for them. I do clearly know what my vision for a youth group is. My vision has nothing to do with programs. In fact, it doesn't even include anything explicitly Christian, for the most part. I think about getting involved with youth on a pretty holistic and organic level.

One of the primary motivations is that the traditional youth group does not work. I knew "good" Christian kids who went to school and made fun of the good Christian kids for being Christians. I'm in touch enough with the kids at my own church to know that there isn't much sex going on, but we have some pretty damning national statistics on that one. I don't know about drugs, but I do know kids who have had alcohol and their parents would deny it, mostly because "She's not that kind of kid." Rightfully so, I say. Get together for an hour or two a week and you don't have to worry about how much you've lied, much less how much goes unstated.

Another reason is that I know what does work, as an observer and from being on all ends of it. I'm a quasi-uncle to a whole mess of kids I know from camp, and it's amazing how little I need to do beyond respecting them and getting to know them before they start to ask me hard questions and open up about very serious things in their teenage lives. I've passed out dating advice. I've gotten to throw in some words here and there about behaving properly. I get to encourage them about self-image and in keeping their lives in perspective. And then, past that, I've had to handle kids who have been sexually abused in their past. I've had to handle kids going through a family upheaval from divorce. I've had to handle kids going through family deaths. These kids are dealing with some serious, serious stuff. I don't anyone about most of it, it gets that deep. They go through things where the best I can do is make sure that their parents know about it and that they are getting help. Thankfully, I've never found a case where parents didn't know about these things and aren't making sure the kids have professional help. I'd be scared out of my mind working with kids who don't have that, having to tell people that a kid is being abused or tell parents that their kid is depressed or something.

What does fascinate me about working with youth is that mentoring like this works. These relationships are easy to make, sometimes absolutely terrifying, and they help the kids so much more than a couple hours of week hearing Bible stories. This is how you can do something meaningful with little fear that it will be ignored or rejected. I'm going to get back to this, but let me go off for a while about church programs. All you have to do is get over your "teenagers are nasty little creatures" mentality. Some are. Make friends with them anyway. Once they trust you, you'll get the chance to make them less nasty!

Another thing that has gotten me re-thinking church is church programs for kids. This really isn't because I have a kid. I started thinking about it before we started practicing, back when my brother was born, and it was revived when a lot of our friends started having kids. Good little evangelical churches usually deal with kids by putting together a program for them, requiring volunteers who are willing to skip church once a month to deal with rugrats. This includes having a church nursery with some babysitters in it. Every stinking church I've ever been to has lacked a sufficient number of volunteers. This inevitably leads to guilt trips presented at soem sort of interval, giving a big explanation about how we have this children's program and everything is planned and the people here are burned out and we need new volunteers. You know, we didn't forget when you said the same thing six months ago. We just don't want to work with kids. Half the people who do work with the kids don't want to work with kids anyway.

I find this to be a dangerous sort of planning and execution of church ministry. On one hand, I don't agree with "find your spiritual gifts so you can serve" sorts of approaches. They can lead to a sort of tracking where people are funneled into ministry based on some piece of paper in the office rather than their changing conviction. Worse, it can mislead people into never seeing that their best purpose can change, over time or even situationally. On the other hand, I don't like the guilt trip thing. It can lead people to do things they are not meant to do, taking them away form their best ministry in order to fit some plan. And I have a bigger problem with the "We have this ministry set up, so God must have people here for us to do it. They just aren't doing God's will." This is a people version of exactly what most of the same churches reject when it comes to property expansion-- "If you build it they will come." A little consistency would be nice.

The middle road solution to this conundrum is to rethink church, looking for a way to build the ministry around the ministers and adjust whatever needs to be adjusted to get that done. Rethinking how church is fundamentally done is hard, though. It's hard. We have certain expectations of social environments, the unwritten social code of church, and we can only rethink church by putting aside those hardwired things. yes, hardwired. Your brain structure is shaped by exposure to social norms, especially as a child. I've had mind-numbing conversations with people where they give detailed explanations of how the current way of doing church is necessary. It doesn't matter if the topic is whether putting the extra hymn before or after the offering, making small groups, or completely tearing apart and rebuilding the way our church runs.

The way we do our church is so pervasive that people cannot let go to even do what some other very similar church does. I hold onto less than some people and I can't even let it go of a lot well enough to get anywhere. Unfortunately, if you don't let go of the social norms, you can't get to a starting point that will yield a different result. The way we do church is pretty robust in damping perturbations from norms, both practically and in the logic (which often don't match up with each other, as when we beg for children's teachers). Without dropping the norms, or at least sorting them out explicitly, your only conclusion is going to be that what you want to do now is what must be done and what you are doing now is the way to keep doing things.

To peek under the altar for some norms, let's go back to children's ministry. Why do we need it? People have a few reasons. One is that kids need to learn about God, too, and they can't do that in a sermon. Eh, maybe, maybe not, but let's go with The rigid norm here that we must have a sermon in church the way that we do. People who give this answer are missing my point because of the norm. What I'm asking is whether, instead of saying we need to entertain the kids so the adults can get to their half hour of supposedly deep business, we consider getting rid of the sermon, or changing it's place, or purpose, or form?

Another reason that people give me is that kids distract parents in church. Okay, that's true... if we're doing church the way we do it now. I'm asking for the death of that sacred cow, so we need to get to some answers that have an edge. Can we do something where parents won't be distracted by their kiss who are still there? Can we change parents' attitudes or feelings in any way, so that the kids act like whatever and it's not distracting?

This isn't a slam in the face on parents of kids, like there is something wrong with you. It is an invitation to examine yourself and examine your church to come up with possible answers other than justifying why we simply can't do something different. It's especially a time to think around the problem of the children themselves, considering things like how we could restructure the entire Sunday morning experience for everyone. I do not have answers to these questions. That's why I'm asking. You might try your best and not come up with anything either. But It's hard to get answers when a hundred other people won't cooperate on even understanding yoru questions.

So we come back around to my youth group, and to the title of the post eventually (I know you're waiting). My vision for how to run a youth group is different not only in how the youth are handled but how the youth handle the church. Why, except for our own church's exceptions, do we not put youth in basically any ministry positions adults can have solely because they are youth? Why do youth only do puppets, youth choir, nursery, and the like? Why aren't they greeters? Why aren't they in the adult choir? Why, if there are voting members at a youth group age, do they go off to a holding pen while only the adults do the church's business? The answer, always, and I mean always, is that some kids aren't ready to minister like adults. My response is "Who the $%&# cares? You're answering the wrong question." I am not asking why we don't treat all of the kids like mature Christian adults. I am asking why the adults and the other ministries do not take them when they are ready. Again, to get to a solution we need to be willing to table some sacred norms.

Of course, the subject of ministry among youth get even more contentious when people do understand my question. How do we know who is ready to minister in what ways and who is not? Well, the way we do youth groups now, we don't. A youth pastor often can't help. No offense, youth pastors, but in my experience most of you who grow up enough to make such calls as part of your job get taken out of youth ministry anyway. And kids don't always open up to you the way they do to us lay people. While youth leaders can indeed be a help, they can also fall into the same relationship traps as kids' parents and not really know the kids. But... if we avoid the traps and get to know the kids, we can know about when and how they can minister to others. Woah! Relationships answer the question I've had ever since I got crap for leaving the youth group to do ministry with adults. People knew me, knew what I could do, and were in places to open things up for me. Those people were mentors... you know, the kind of relationship that helps a lot with lots of other stuff, too. Funny, that.

So, our youth group continues to be the same old less than optimally effective program. The focus is so much on the program that none of them can even stomach mentoring. A few of the adults admit it might be nice to mentor, but they don't want to do it. If only we could have even as much as not wanting to do it some other way against the program we call the worship service! It would demonstrate some people understanding the complexity of the situation, at least.

This now comes around to Willow Creek, because of the study they recently released covering their own ministry. Willow Creek is a megachurch near Chicago, and for a long time they have been focused on programming. I won't go into the details, because you can read about them elsewhere. One of the summary finding, however, is that a church focusing on programs, offering things for people of every age and stripe to do, is not terribly effective at growing Christians after all. I'm not surprised, but I'm happy they finally see it. Another finding, and this doesn't surprise me either, is that relationships between people can make a huge difference. I'm not sure if they get into this, but I guess that relationships between diverse kids of people is even more effective than relationships between people who are similar. And guess what? When I'm talking about my vision for youth ministry, I'm not talking about programs and program goals like a lot of people do. I'm talking about relationships, and my only explicit contact with ministering is that the ministry part sorts itself out once the relationships form.

On one hand, I'd like to pat myself on the back. On the other hand, I'm so sad. I'm really not being kooky and maybe they other people are all right anyway. I'm right but I got bored out of the boardroom before I could get booed out! With my experience of how hard it is to get people to be more thoughtful, I'm not even going to show up for meetings to talk about how we could pull the focus off of the way we currently do church, from kids ministry to everything else, in order to focus on relationships. I could do better talking to crabgrass about valve cover design. I have a hunch that if we really did build all of how we do church around relationships, we could get somewhere. Of course, that can't be right, because, as Willow Creek's study found, there is some good in some programs, especially in ministry to someone just starting out as a Christian.

So, the conundrum continues.

Thanks for reading.

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Intelligent Design on Trial

I have one or two comments after Nova's Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial, a documentary about Kitzmiller v. Dover.

The courtroom re-enactments were excellent, but performed on the hokiest set I've seen in my life. A glowing federal seal? Under counter light bars? Mostly black everywhere? Oh, please. Federal court rooms do not, in any circumstance, resemble the conning tower on the Red October. I was waiting for Ramius to come around the corner every time. As for the experts, I'm sad, incredibly sad, that the Discovery Institute didn't want to play. If they're so right, they can grow up and come back to the playground. If they even dare say it, they can shut up about how the producers wouldn't agree do this or that, which probably amounted to "You can't make us look bad." I'm also sad that Michael Behe didn't show up for himself. I'm also glad that Ken Miller was there, and that he got to do his mousetrap trick.

I think that hey did an excellent job displaying Bill Buckingham as what he really is. By that, I'm not saying that he's always an angry, vindictive jerk with a foul mouth. I am saying that if you're a Christian and you do those things then you are being a hypocrite no matter how much of your good side gets left out of the story, and you deserve what you get for it.

Along with that, I think they did a great job in getting into the people from the community who they did interview. Some of the people might be surprising to many viewers, like good Christian evolutionists. Those people were revealed in surprising ways. What was missing in the community side, as always, was the moderate voice. I don't recall there being a single Christian on the show shown saying how they were Christian and they were young earth creationist and they were unhappy about other Christians sending death threats and cursing people out and the like. This is a gloriously stupid mistake on the part of the producers. I know about those moderate people and how large their majority is because I'm in touch with Pennsylvania conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists. Most people won't know that, so they need to be told.

Also, there was some misrepresentation of science. Evolution, chance, abiogenesis, and so on were all allowed to be used in slippery ways. The word theory was defined nicely, so kudos. People need precise definitions all around, though; anything less propagates bad thinking. It also would have been nice to have seen someone pull out the famous booklet that defines terms like theory and fact and contradicts its own definition of fact in calling evolution a fact. (Okay, really it's not contradiction. It's conveniently adding a second definition near the end instead of putting it near the beginning where it would rightly cause trouble page after page. That evolution is a theory, under the scientific definition of theory should be sufficient. Word games beyond that are as silly as anything any young earth creationist does.)

I was happy with the presentation of the cases. The plaintiffs' case was portrayed accurately, as was the defendant's. I've already heard rumblings about how the creationist side was improperly portrayed because their arguments were made to look silly. That's exactly what happened, though. There was some rhetoric on both sides in the courtroom, and that showed. There was also a good deal of good stuff. Sometimes the truth sucks.

Overall, I think you should see it if you can handle the bizarreness of evolutionists singing praise choruses and the occasional dolt implicitly presented as the model for the average Christian.

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14 November 2007


The terms NaNoWriMo and NaBloWriMo have been making way too much an appearance online these days, so I figured I'd write a short guide on these fancy terms for the clueless. (Yes, I put those last prepositional phrases together that way on purpose.)

NaNoWriMo is a tacky term to semi-acronym the words "National Novel Writing Month." Froo-froo artsy types think that putting together a month of novel writing will do a host of things that I'm too upstanding (read "arrogant scientist") to list, and so they made up this beast. The idea is to write a 50,000 word novel in November. I can only hope they mean a first draft. There's a website for it and everything.

NaBloWriMo is a similar semi-acronym, but this one forsakes novels in favor of blogs. You know, those wonderful, highly informative things where teenagers and unemployed physicists whinge about how depressed they are? Yeah, those. Write in your blog every day in November is, sadly, the goal. Lucky for us, blogs, like books, are something we can choose not to read even in the face of persecution from those who do.

Anyway, I want to propose two alternative events. I've decided to join in the spirit of semi-acronyms, too.

First, I'd like to introduce you to NaNoRhiNo. This event will replace National Novel Writing Month with a month-long event to construct a fully functioning African mammal with an over-sized nose-nail by using a very small number of atoms. This will be a serious event with lots of scientists and engineers competing to design and build the best nano-scale imitation of a rhinoceros that they can during the month of November.

The more amateur and less haute eventois parallel event will be NaBlowRhiNo. This event will be, as you probably have guessed already, a simple celebration of oral sex among rhinoceroses in America.

The month's half over already, so get to work.

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13 November 2007

Speaking of Food

I've been doing some really fruitful research lately. Behold, the pear correlation function!

I clearly need a hobby. Or a job.

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Confidence or Stupidity?

I have applied for a job at a notable Christian college, and as part of that application I needed to write an essay about my Christian life, from its inception through my growth and on to how I live it today. As you can guess, I don't have one of those great conversion stories where God took me out of the crackhouse and dropped me into seminary or the like, so I needed to come up with some way to explain my story's inadequacy.

Now, I have, all ready to go, a couple of typed pages, and I think that I might have overdone the drama in another direction. In the beginning of the essay I use use roasts, steaks, slow cookers, meat mallets, and flames to explain where I'm coming from. Because I am actually sending this thing to them, I have to ask-- am I confident or just plain stupid? The correct answer, of course, is that I'm one of a kind. But still, I'd still like to know whether that kind is confident or stupid.

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09 November 2007

Great Article

Some of you already have APS News, the APS Physics newsletter for November. (Um... yeah. Make that the American Physical Society. Their training to do lobbying has apparently gotten deep into my brain.) I'm sorry that it will be a month or so before I can link to an excellent article in there. The humor section, Zero Gravity, contains an excellent fictional account of scientists versus professional educators, sad for its truth and downright infuriating for the stupidity of it all.

Trust me, once they've got a newsletter link up for non-members, you'll see it here. And I'm going to e-mail it to everyone I know who has ever confused me with being an education person because they've heard that I can teach. Why? Because I think that it's well past time for education to be put in the hands of experts on subjects rather than in the hands of "experts" on "education." Educators have formed a professional class in this country that has gone off on too many useless fads, has produced too much false and abstruse so-called knowledge about education theory, has ignored its own good points in favor of God knows what that it must be doing to be such a wreck, has a stranglehold on policy making because it sells itself as knowing what is going on when it has no clue, and thinks way too highly of itself considering its sheer ineffectiveness. This isn't criticism against teachers, who deal with this crap more than anyone else, as much as academic "educators" and administrators. I only include teachers who, to keep their jobs, have been boondoggled into taking those other nuts seriously.

As humerous as it is to write a brief fictional story about a Nobel laureate who can't get a job as a physics teacher, it also points toward a sick fact that we have a real problem, and with minimal thought makes it pretty clear where that problem lies.

Sorry to leave you non-physicists hanging. I just had to vent about it now.

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08 November 2007

Education Mix-up?

Mike Huckabee says that there has been too much a focus math and science.

Though a conservative, Huckabee is an outspoken advocate of spending government money on education, and healthcare for poor children.

And he told students at NIU that US schools had focused too narrowly on mathematics and science -- demanding the launch of "weapons of mass instruction" -- music and art.

"Math and science without music and art, is like trying to fly an airplane with a wing on the left, but without one on the right," he warned.

What I would like to know is, given how crappy math and science education are in this country despite the focus on them, why in Sam Hill would we want to also make sure that art and music go from oblivion to ground up masses of educrap? Until our country gets a grip on the fact that the main problems with education in America are individual students and families, no amount of policy and spending is any area is going to help in any way at all.

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In the Past 24 Hours....

...I have...

Gotten waked up to play with the kid.

Gotten out of bed and taken a shower.

Dressed myself.

Driven to school.

Talked to a bunch of people.

Gone for dinner.

Gone for a round of banking with my sister.

Come home.

Played with the kid.

Been used as a bed by the kid.

Accidentally awakened the kid.

Got the kid ready for bed.

Put the wife and kid in bed.

Eaten ice cream.

Read articles online.

Eaten cereal.

Watched TV.

Read more online.

Applied online for an industry job I won't get.

Finished revising a paper.

Submitted the paper for publication.

Not touched the essays I need to finish for another application (which are now solidified in content and have become Boring, because I prefer thinking about what to do a lot more than doing it).

Welcome to my day.


06 November 2007

Why I Like Doing Science

"Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose--and all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin." William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury (1942–1944)

Seem disconnected? I'll let you figure it out.

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04 November 2007

An Honest Question

I have some politically conservative, evangelical Christian readers who are in favor of capital punishment. Could you explain why, given Jesus' party-stopping line when that sinful woman was about to get her due? I'm not asking for political theory, I'm not asking for psychology, and I'm not asking for sociology. I'm asking for moral principles and theology.


03 November 2007

The Lark

This month's Lark News is, for some reason, making me laugh a lot more than usual.

I'm sorry to leave out you non-protestants and non-church-going people. For those of us evangelical oddballs with less than conservative politics and orthodox or anglo-catholic streaks, Lark News is a hilarious spoof on everything wrong with American Christians. Of course, the non-freak evangelicals and fundamentalists just cry "Sacrilege!" and whinge about how perverse we oddballs are. Yes, we're perverse oddballs. We've also all noticed that nearly every evangelical church has at least one section or wing dedicated as a time capsule to preserve 1960s and 1970s decorating style. I don't know if Lark News has ever done a story on that, but I do know that the nursery and classrooms near a kitchen are the best places to look, and ugly carpet is the most likely artifact. My freakish connection with reality is simply awful.

So... go forth and enjoy! I particularly liked the November stories on VBS, the tract in the bar, junk in the trunk, and all the rest. Don't forget to check out October's articles on updated prayer cards, Merle Haggard, the emergent church movement, and the mergers and legal notices.

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02 November 2007

Cool Stuff

For the anatomist in your life, try the wide selection of cool stuff at I Heart Guts.

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Busyness Abounds

I've been really busy lately. I need to put together a few essays for a job application, and taht has required some reading. Reading at this point will just be an excuse, for the most part. I figure I can get them done in a week. I also need to do some other stuff. I help with the kid. I still haven't taken out the trash. I still haven't taken out the kid.

My second paper was published on Halloween. Go figure.