"And the trouble is / We don't know who we are instead."

Monday, August 30, 2004

Hurricanes Frances

So for the second time in less than a month, I have my eye on my homeland of South Florida (while I sit comfy in northwestern Chicago), wondering if a new monster or a storm will strike. Frances continues toward the peninsula — yes, that strange land of 99% humidity and bat-sized mosquitoes — thanks to a high-pressure system hovering over the southern Atlantic. For those of you that didn't grow up learning about projected paths of hurricanes, it's an important meteorological behavior to note: most of the time a high-pressure system will ease its way down over the Florida mainland, keeping massive tropical buzzsaws such as Floyd (killer satellite imagery — yes, that thing turned) away from the by-then-frenzied inhabitants. But this time Frances has a clear shot — the third-base coach is waving her home as a high-pressure system hovers over the southern Atlantic, pushing Frances down along a westerly course.

Of course, these things still turn . . . but at other times, they don't. My family lives in West Palm Beach (the eastern coast for those who have no idea), and my storm-maven father is monitoring this one closely. Even if it strikes, depending on how compact it is, a distance of 50 miles could be the difference between having matchsticks for a house and waking up to a few extra palm fronds in your front yard. Such was the case in 1992 with Andrew, which obliterated Homestead but left our neighborhood in Lake Worth relatively unscathed.

Laity and credentials

"How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying." (I Corinthians 14:26)

In light of what we read of the New Testament church, I am amazed at the sharp divisions that continue to exist between the 'leaders' and the 'laity' in so many "churches" — divisions created through means of education (seminary), position (pulpits and staging), power to control the program of events, and literally the control of the microphone. How many barriers existed for those gathering in the early church to step out and proclaim what God had placed on their hearts by comparison? Very little. And yet ironically the one crucial element that spurred those early believers is the very thing that cannot be ensured through seminary, careful planning, power or position — that of the absolutely essential — revelation by the Holy Spirit. And that cannot be educated into a man. It must be experienced into a man. And that experience was first gained by fishermen:

"Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption." (I Corinthians 1:26-30)

If Paul were to walk into your church today, having only the credentials of spending many years in the desert, learning from God, and claiming to have seen the risen Christ in a vision, would he be permitted to preach? Was not Christ Himself a layman?

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Kerry, Bush, and the pragmatic view

To follow up, while I am personally still undecided, I don't have a hard line against those who espouse the 'vote for the candidate that will seem to do the least harm' view. Nevertheless, even if that were my own view, I'm not sure I could make a decision this November. Bush's foreign policy is disastrous, in my humble opinion — his leadership in that arena is simply unbiblical (unless we're thinking in terms of the Old Testament). That's not to say I could vote for for Kerry, but his sentiments in his anti-Vietnam speech most directly hits the nail on the head when it comes to my own sentiments on war; unfortunately, even in that particular point, its hard to tell if Kerry is the man he used to be — he strongly believes in a U.S. presence in Iraq, although from what I understand it's because in his eyes we have a moral duty to finish what we've started.

What really gets me is that many Christians sign up for the Republican party without thinking; in other words, without asking themselves "on what issues are even Republicans non-Christian?" I think many have taken it as a no-brainer and assume that the Republican party and the Christian viewpoint are synonomous — which they are absolutely not . . .
. . . but isn't Republicanism closer to the Christian view than the Democrats? In an overt sense, and assuming you shut an eye to the unjustified military action that has taken place countless times under the Reagan-Bush Sr.-Bush Jr. administration, then yes, Republicans do appear more moral. But if we are learning anything about politics it ought to be that moral appearance and intention and what actually gets carried out in the White House (by Republican or not) are two entirely different things.

Ironically, most of the time we assume this will work against us: we vote for Candidate X who according to his campaign believes in A, B, and C, and once in office he makes a feeble attempt at B and C, and seems to entirely forget about A. We turn out disappointed, but the politician knows what he's doing — he's trying to simultaneously please his constituents and as many members of the opposing party in order to bolster his chances of getting re-elected. If he actually followed through on A, B, and C, he would have no chance of the swing vote from the other side; instead, his lack of commitment is likely to be forgiven by his own party and looked on as sufferable by those critical votes within the opposing party.

If you think the previous paragraph is a needlessly cynical or pragmatic view, I'd ask you to consider two things: 1. I'm applying it largely to candidates from the two major parties — i.e. candidates with a chance of winning. Peroutka, Nader, and the like have no chance of getting elected precisely because they are not moderate enough. 2. This is nothing new or unique to America; we may have perfected it in the modern era, but this is how the game of politics has been played since the days of the Graeco-Roman Senate: "some people can be fooled all the time, and all of the people can be fooled some of the time" (Rhetoric in Athens and Rome).

So could we get the principle of candidates not following through on their campaign promises to work for us? Would a Democrat that does very little in office be better than a Republican that does much that I don't desire? To me, yes. My ideal scenario would be for Kerry to get into office and proceed to do absolutely nothing (read: fulfill few to zero of his platform issues that involve immorality) except restore some respect to America by leading our military out of situations that comprimise our long-term security (read: quit engendering hatred through unjustifiable war). To me, that is a better scenario than another four years of Bush's jingoism and international bravado, which if it weren't for my knowing that God is truly sovereign, I would find extremely disturbing.

That said, poor leaders are poor leaders, and God being sovereign doesn't abdicate an American president of his responsibility to make sound decisions. I do not have confidence in Bush to make those decisions in accordance with a peaceful, turn-the-other-cheek outlook.

And if you don't believe that turning the other cheek can work in international security matters, consider Britain's dealings with the Irish Republican Army: they haven't yet resorted to bombers-on-parade.

Imagine if they had!

Friday, August 27, 2004

Recommended Photography Sites

Just wanted to share some breathtaking photography websites for my handful of readers' enjoyment:

Charles Cramer
David J. Osborn
Michael Kenna
Chip Forelli

John Kerry, George Bush, and the Cross

I am a self-proclaimed apolitical being, but if you're a Christian and a Republican and you haven't yet listened to John Kerry's speech against the Vietnam War, do yourself a favor and listen to it now.

Ultimately, I predict that I will vote neither for Kerry nor for Bush. It goes without saying that neither embodies my views entirely, on every issue. But even if we resort to the totally pragmatic stance of 'which is the lesser evil?', I am stumped. Let's look at the long-term effects of Bush vs. Kerry.

Long-term prognosis
Kerry: Kerry's stance on abortion, same-sex marriage, and embryonic stem cell research make him impossible to stomach; hundreds of thousands of people die.
Bush: Bush exacts his eye-for-an-eye standard on nations that lack nuclear or chemical weapons and whose control and ownership increase the United States' global hegemony; outnumbered and outsized, haters of the West turn more and more frequently to weapons of the weak: terrorism and WMD; hundreds of thousands of people die.

In either case, I remain a citizen of a heavenly Kingdom, servant of a God that loves both the redeemed and the sinner, and whose purpose and mission drives me to reach out and save those who are lost and quickly perishing. When will we (Christians) realize that we cannot legislate away sin? The Cross alone is meant to deal with (destroy) sin, and it is the only way of entreating the 'Axis of Evil': "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:19-21).

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Ansel Adams Workshop

From October 10th to 14th I'll be in Yosemite National Park (great website!) attending "Crafting the Fine B/W Photograph", lead by Alan Ross and Bob Kolbrener. Will be shooting large format and I can hardly wait — only problem is that I still have to produce a portfolio of 10 prints to take along with me for group discussion and constructive criticism. I also have no experience whatsoever in a darkroom. I'm hoping to remedy both of those very soon; until then I'm looking forward to it with half-anticipation half-hesitation as I wonder if I'll be prepared. Oh well, the best lens is that of your own eye. More than likely I'll be taking both of those along, and hopefully the rest will turn out OK. Either way, I'm sure I learn a ton.

For what it's worth, though I greatly admire the work of many of these photographers, my faith places me into a realm that few landscape photographers seem to tread. Strangely, while so many of them are able to focus in on the most beautifully designed elements of this great Earth (and the most catastrophic), very few profess knowledge of a Creator God. One rare exception is this fellow Paul Schilliger, who happens to live in the most strikingly beautiful country I've ever visited: Switzerland. Even if you never come back to this blog, take a moment to enjoy his photographs; they are stunning. And so is his testimony, praise the Lord — not heavy on doctrine, but certainly on Love — not a poor testimony to have . . .

New Ideas (and Coca-Cola)

I've decided what my next great idea will be. I don't know why I feel like moving on to another great idea, since I still have two other ideas-that-I-once-thought-were-great that still haven't seen the full light of day, but this one recently dawned on me . . .

In the spirit of 'content-is-king', I'm scheming to compile the ultimate Coca-Cola vending machine website. Not modern machines, but classics. Skye and I happen to own a 1954 Vendo, as well as a cooler from the same era. The problem is that currently, no single website provides well-implemented, well-integrated data on these antique drink dispensers — namely technical specifications, where to find parts for 'this particular model', value, etc.

Soda Machines is the best I've found so far, but it's just plain ugly, can't be searched, navigates poorly, and doesn't really go the extra mile of making quick connections between 'here's the machine and here's what to do next'. It also has a poor (read: non-existent) ranking in Google's search result pages for "Coke machine(s)" (although it of course comes up first when searching for "soda machines").

The first, last, and most difficult step is actually getting a hold of the data. Vendo doesn't support anything historical, and Classic Soda Machines by some Jeff Walters appears to be the only canonical source on the subject. I wonder if he'd be amiable if I asked him where I can get the same material that's in his book, without buying his book?

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Tufte Seminar

Went to Edward Tufte's seminar today downtown. Highly recommended to anyone that is a fan of his work. Most of the time is spent working through examples in his texts, so familiarity is not necessary, but is beneficial. His delivery is lively, and I was inspired to come to a key realization regarding my magnum opus on web design (mapping the content and navigation of websites in an original rhetorical framework). I'll refrain from sharing what that is, since out-of-context it would make little or no sense. A small part of me hopes I will be able to complete and unveil my thoughts soon (the other part remains in touch with the demands of reality! [not much writing time, excepting this very scatter-brained blog]).

I recorded the first portion of his lecture on tape, only to learn at lunchtime that the mic wasn't good enough to actually pick up his speech eminating from the Bose speakers (of course) at the front of the ballroom. Ah well. Nevertheless, I did record some notes on the paper. For those of you designers out there, it's worth repeating his six fundamental principles of analytical design:

  1. Show comparisons. Ask yourself "compared to what?"

  2. Show causality. Convey mechanisms and account for interventions.

  3. Show more than one or two variables. We live in a multi-variate world. Real world events always involve several dimensions of data, subject to change over time.

  4. Completely integrate word, number, and image. Don't separate data according to its mode of production. As a corollary, as much as is possible and reasonable, don't separate data according to your intended mode of presentation.

  5. Document everything and tell people about it. Give credit where credit is due; all data comes from somewhere — tell where. Documentation builds credibility — statistics should be supported with footnotes and annotation.

  6. Presentations largely stand and fall according to the quality, relevance, and integrity of the content; if your numbers are boring, find the numbers that are worth telling. At the worst, at least let the information pass through unharmed.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Scrabble and AdSense

Skye just beat me 195 to 189 in Scrabble. Laura came in at [I forget]. And I thought 'retaxed' was going to seal the deal. Hmph.

I also just completed a form to begin utilizing Google's AdSense program for this blog. I have decided to supress generic ads, so only advertisements relevant to my posts should appear. So far, I haven't been very successful at getting those relevant ads to emerge — which likely has everything to do with the fact that right now this blog is so unfocused. I wonder what Blogger/Google are thinking will be the case with personal blogs such as this one (they did approve me, after all)? Google's gmail technology seems sharp enough to pick up on the context of an email just via subject lines and short blurbs of text — why can't AdSense do a better job at reading this blog, an entry at a time?

Updated: Much to my surprise, I just received my first batch of specific ads — ironically but appropriately, ads for fighter jet screensavers and the U.S. Navy (in light of my recent post on the Chicago Air & Sea Show). Fitting, though perhaps I should take the opportunity to share my thoughts on the idea of 'Christian military service' (in short "the weapons of our warfare are not carnal").

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Chicago Air & Sea Show

The Chicago Air and Sea Show took place this week, Saturday and Sunday. Skye, myself, Emma, and Skye's cousin Laura spent Saturday at Navy Pier, gazing in awe at the high-flying stunt plane, bomber, and fighter jet displays as they roared near and far.

The highlight of the day was the appearance of the Navy's Blue Angels, a sextet of F/A-18 Hornets. They performed mostly in a group of four plus two – four planes flying in a diamond formation and the other two largely solo or interacting with each other. Needless to say, the coordination was simply unbelievable, as was the view of a squadron of fighter planes weaving among the buildings of Chicago's skyline.

The Blue Angels over Chicago

The Blue Angels in Formation

B2 Bomber over Lake Michigan

A boy watches an F-16 in the distant sky

Friday, August 20, 2004

Peace and rest

Just wanted/needed to share that I am thankful that in a time of so much uncertainty, fears, and seeming discouragement, that we are able to hold on to the rock of Jesus Christ and experience love unfeigned, genuine love, and fellowship. How we need our Love to show -- "that the world may know."

So many questions, and yet I know He has the answers. Am I willing to listen and obey? Lord, find in me a willing spirit and by Thy grace may I live as I ought.

Google Blog

Google Blog: Ah, the smell of a meritocracy! Not that I have any chance of competing in this one, but oh do I love it.

Not that meritocracy is the best. We all know a monarchy with a perfect King is really the best way. Christians know it; ironically Hobbes also knew it.


NBCOlympics.com: For all of you keeping score at home, I'd like to say that this is one of the absolute worst web designs ever. Trying to figure out when particular Olympic events will be televized is a horrendous process that yields irrelevant results. The entire site and search especially would benefit from some serious metadata to accurately describe what the data is — the fact that "searching" involves scouring fragmented blobs of TV listings (which only appear for a fraction of their broadcast schedule) is just astounding.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Reading, and a brotherly farewell

After quite a long day, it's time to say goodnight. Emma has actually managed to fall asleep; though that is sure to change, and soon. Skye sits alongside me reading a book I picked up for her at Sam's Club while on a random errand. She's on page 316 now. She reads more than I do, I think. Or at least, she has the ability to read things that I couldn't sit through for more than 5 paragraphs. Take Ivanhoe for example, a book that is easily in my Top 5 Worst Novels of All-Time is one that she finds excellent. Bah.

We're currently reading In His Steps together, the novel that began the "What Would Jesus Do?" saying before it was a bracelet or bumper-sticker or any such thing. I find it to be a good, which is saying a lot considering it's fiction--for some reason I've found myself struggling as of late to really enjoy fiction. Maybe I find myself so overwhelmed by how much there is to learn in the world today that I have lost my patience with classic fictional literature--at least for the time being. I could go for some Dostoevsky, however. As if I have time for that!

A deep friend of mine and brother in the Lord, George, is leaving Florida for medical school soon; he'll be attending American University of the Caribbean on the small island of Saint Maarten, a U.S. Virgin Island. Although we've been separated by over 1300 miles (Chicago to Florida) on a regular basis for the past four years, I feel a great part of me will be gouged out and missing when he's no longer an affordable phone call away. It gives me a much deeper appreciation for the Love of Christian fellowship as Paul expressed it in First Thessalonians 3:9-11: Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face . . . . I'll miss you, buddy.


Books to help conservatives

I'm going to start a list of books to help conservatives understand liberals. In the meantime, liberals wanting to understand conservatives should busy themselves reading the Old and New Testaments.

That said, my first selection for conservatives that want help thinking more outside the box is: Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance by Noam Chomsky.


McMaster-Carr – where and what I work on all day.

Chicago Symphony

Anyone have any opinions on any of the pieces listed for the following performances? I'm thoroughly interested in hearing the Glazunov piece, but the St. Petersburg Philharmonic would probably also rock my socks:

CSO Show #1

CSO Show #2

The Work of Edward Tufte and Graphics Press

On August 24th (2004) I will be attending Edward Tufte's seminar in Chicago. Paid for by my employer to boot. I'm quite thrilled, since I have been a fan of Tufte's work (though not necessarily his persona) for the last few years. Of course, if I were allowed to philosophize on design in an ivory tower for a few years, I might come up with some original ideas too. ;-)

All attendees get copies of his three seminal works: The Visual Display of Quantitative Data, Envisioning Information, and Visual Explanations. Unfortunately Beautiful Evidence won't have been published yet.

"In a world where our questions are haunted, 'cause life's not as fair as we all wanted; where the innocent die, we ask why; and still we await the reply."