Saturday, February 28, 2009

Not giving up anything for Lent

Just put this up on waywords; I hope you enjoy it.

Frivolous Friday dialogue

Scene I. On the train.

    C: G'morning, Jay, how are you doing?

    J: (brief pause) About like you look.

    C: ...?

Scene II. A few hours later. A meeting.

    P: (to M.): Tell Ch_____ he did a great job.

    J: Actually, he works for N_____.

    M: But I hired him!

    C: Whoa -- have I just entered a time-warp? Is it May already? (Reviews are supposed to be written in May.)

    P: Gotta go... (exits)

    M: C_____, this affinity thing you're working on -- how much is that going to reduce build-times?

    J: Was it 30% or 50% you told me?

    C: (has a laughing fit; recovers). That would be "No."

    The rest of the conversation was a lot less interesting from a "silliness" point of view. BTW, the organizational structure is like this:
    | |
    | +--M
    | | +--(engineers)
    | |
    | +--C
    | |
    | +--(other managers, engineers)
    | |
    | +--(engineers)
    +--(other managers)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A passion tip for husbands

Gentlemen, here's a way to increase the passion (I'm talking human biology here) in your marriage. It only takes ten seconds, and you don't have to say a word.

Sound too good to be true? After I heard it at last weekend's marriage seminar, I just about slapped my forehead. "Duh!" I thought.

Here's how it works. Say you're headed into the kitchen for a cold drink. Or whatever. Your wife is in there doing something -- washing dishes, say. (It should be something where she isn't moving around much.) (No, I'm not going to tell you to take over for her -- but that might be good for another time.)

Walk up to her from behind (don't sneak up on her!), put your hands on her shoulders (ONLY her shoulders), lean forward, and put your right cheek next to her left -- or her right, your left. Squeeze her shoulders gently a few times (five would be too many).

After about ten seconds have elapsed from the first touch on her shoulders, gently release her and walk away. Say nothing. Go get your beer or coffee or lemonade or whatever. And wait at least an hour before repeating this whole thing.

This also works well if she's at her computer. Really, don't say anything to disturb whatever she's doing -- just a gentle touch, your cheek to hers, and after about 10 seconds, let go and leave. Just walk away.

NOTE: Don't step away if she decides to lean back into you. Or if she turns around and presses her lips onto yours. Or if she rips your shirt off -- but in that case, you really didn't need this tip, right?

Time alone

The elder teen has been thinking lately about balancing her need for solitude with other demands on her time. Equipped with linguistic terminology, she describes this struggle in terms of linguistic politeness: desires for approval, acceptance, admiration, etc. (iow connection) are "positive face wants" and desires for autonomy and independence are "negative face wants."

Don'cha love the language? As an introvert, I object to the label "negative face wants." Why don't we call them "positive autonomy wants" and the opposite "negative autonomy wants"? Or "autonomy wants" vs "co-dependence wants"?

OK, OK, I was just kidding. Sheesh, I know that we introverts constitute a minority. And that's probably why the phrase "positive face wants" is used, rather than "negative autonomy wants" or "co-dependency wants" or "enmeshment desires." Oops, sorry -- let me use positive words for "negative face" rather than trying to push down my extroverted friends. And some of my best friends are extroverts. Really.

So what if I have high solitude needs, but I also believe it's important to extend myself as Isaiah 58 says, following the exhortation in 1 John 3 to love with our hands and feet, not just in words? What do I say when someone wants to have lunch with me today and I don't?

People are already accustomed to my being somewhat of a loner, but in any case the workplace offers a higher respect for autonomy than a college dormitory does. So for me it's easy: "Sorry, I'm doing something else."

But if your friends are accustomed to grabbing you for lunch, and you're in a college dorm, then well... here's a possibility.
  1. Separate. Go somewhere people can't find you. Turn off the cell phone. This doesn't always work. When it happened to Jesus in Matthew 14, he had compassion and healed the sick. But he eventually sent them away and went off to pray alone.
  2. If you want to tell people ahead of time (this might be considerate) that "I'm fasting" or you're need time to be alone (this sounds very mysterious), that might be good... I was gonna say "put that on your answering machine" but people probably just send text messages, don't they? Is there a way to set up autoreply for text?
  3. If someone asks you to have lunch today, "Oooh, could tomorrow work for you?" If they ask what you're up to today, "Today I need to be alone" might work. Or "I'm fasting." Follow it up immediately with "But love to share the lunch hour with you tomorrow!" (Or whatever)
That's what comes to mind so far, anyway.

What if they push, want to know what's going on, etc etc etc? This brings up the question, "What, you have to be polite, but they get to be invasive and rude?" Which brings me to this thing we learned about at a church seminar last weekend:

TALQ style

The presenters were Les and Leslie (I'm not making this up) Parrott (pronounced like the bird), and one of the many important points they made is that people have different safety needs in conversations. Violating these tends to make them nervous. And you don't want to make your husband or wife nervous, because that tends to push life along a trajectory nobody wants. Here are the needs:
  • Time: you want your time to be safe, lest someone make it impossible for you to do stuff. This is one of mine. I may have hopes for the day -- sometimes the lovely Carol has asked me to build or fix or read or write something for her for example. But if she demands my time, to the point where I feel my hopes for the day are threatened, then that hurts. I get nervous. Take too much of my time and I may get snippy. If I can figure out how to get time to do that stuff on a different day (and I feel assured that I really will get that time), I can calm down.
  • Approval: you want your self-esteem to be safe; you want to be accepted and admired and approved of. Statistically, women overall tend to have a little higher emphasis on this one than men do. Just a little, though. This was explained in a way that led me to think it was correlated with the "F" of the Meyers-Briggs typology, but if so I guess it's a little correlated, not a lot.
  • Loyalty. From the description I think it might more properly be called "routine" or "tradition". The excellent book How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It points out that men tend to value this. Again this is not universal, but it's true for me. I really like it when I can find what I need in the kitchen or bathroom in the same place every time. I like going to the same grocery store; I know where stuff is. And so on.
  • Quality refers to the way things get decided. Do we want to make sure we follow the process to come to the best decision possible? Am I often heard saying, "H'm, not quite sure; need more data" -- or "Let's just do it already; if it's wrong, we'll find out soon and fix it then"?
If "T" is your highest "safety need" but your friends tend to emphasize the "A," then, well, this calls for wisdom. That's why I suggested an immediate followup: "But does lunch tomorrow work for you?"

Not sure how well that would work, but it's a start....

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Kenyon, Wooster, Denison -- three colleges in three days. Or something.

The very generous folks at Kenyon College invited the younger teen to visit this past weekend -- they were buying the airfare -- so we took 'em up on their offer. Now she had also applied to The College of Wooster and Denison University (which I keep misspelling "Dennison"). Wooster had sent some very positive correspondence, so I contacted them to arrange a visit. Denison didn't say squat to us, so we ended up doing a drive-by this afternoon.

Here's my summary of the experience. We corresponded with the Kenyon folks to say, gee, it would be great if you could book the return flight for a couple of days later so we could look around the area? But they couldn't do that (policy reasons) so I ended up buying a sorta redundant ticket. The weekend at Kenyon was going to be over roughly at lunch time on Monday, so I flew out Sunday afternoon -- Southwest Airlines. Unfortunately, due to ATC delays, I didn't get to Columbus that night, instead spending a short night near Chicago MDW. Fortunately, I called the hotel chain as soon as my flights were arranged, and they switched my reservation from Columbus to Chicago without penalty.

Sleep Inn Chicago MDW

The hotel, a Sleep Inn, was fine. Service was friendly and efficient. (I called when I got to Midway, and asked about food. Georgine told me there was food nearby but oops, Sunday night, everything closed at 10pm.) My room cost about $98 (vs $94 for Columbus). A pile of hotels (Holiday Inn/Express, Marriott/Courtyard, Hilton Garden Inn, etc.) constitute the Midway Hotel Center or some such, and they share a shuttle -- which was quite full at about 11pm Sunday. I got up a little before six (Central time) in order to catch the 6:28am shuttle for a 7:45am flight. (The alternative, spending the night at home, would have got me to Columbus about 3pm, which was might have been OK -- but it assumed no further delays. That assumption I wasn't willing to make.)

The Sleep Inn's breakfast officially starts at 6:30am, so I completely missed it, instead opting for the Maxwell House coffee in the room. This was a mistake; I drank maybe half of it, and by the time I started looking for where to dump the rest, the shuttle arrived. I got my bag checked in, then found an airport men's room to pitch my now-cold cup of mud. The flight to Columbus was on time and uneventful, and I got a rental car (more on that here) and drove out to Kenyon, making just a couple of wrong turns.

Kenyon College

The sky was gray in Gambier, and little white flakes fell from the sky occasionally. I parked in a 2-hour spot and got a cup of decaf at Middle Ground, which has free open wi-fi. Pretty soon I got a phone call: did I want to hear the chamber singers? Sure. they were having a rehearsal. The younger teen introduced me to her new friend Rebeccah from Pennsylvania, and off we went.

About fifty beautiful young people sang with precision and joy at this rehearsal. Not to say they all looked like fashion models, but their love of singing and their enjoyment of what they were doing in the moment -- these made them beautiful to me. They sounded great, too. The director explained afterwards that one must audition and be accepted to sing with this group.

The food at Kenyon was fine, and the dining experience was marvelous. Kenyon has gorgeous buildings and the campus itself is very pretty. It's in the middle of, well, nowhere, which lends it a sort of rural charm. There is no McDonald's, Burger King, or any other chain in Gambier. You won't find BofA or Citi there either -- there is the "People's Bank" (sounds like something from the 1960s!), the Village Inn, the bookstore, etc.

The younger teen sat in on a class, while I returned to Middle Ground for some more cyber activity -- writing snarky emails to people at the office (my boss, for example, wanted to know about requirements definition for a certain tool -- i told her that some wacko wrote something up about six months ago, that wacko being me). While there, a senior talked to me about why Kenyon was such a great school: great profs, diversity of students (by which he meant they are not all northeastern athletes who drink beer), good friends, etc.

I excused myself to meet the younger teen back at the admissions office for our tour. Riley did the honors; he was charming and knowledgeable. There was an art building, which we drove around and found (maybe) -- at least we found a building with some art stuff in it, and when we went upstairs we found some eye-stinging fumes (acid?). We gave up and got back into the car for the drive to Wooster.

Days Inn Wooster -- look for the Cleveland Clinic

We got to Wooster, but I missed a turn. Eventually we figured it out and went back, but when we made the correct turn, the Days Inn was not visible to us. This was the Days Inn Wooster (North), 789 East Milltown. We saw a bunch of chain restaurants (their names fell out of my head already), then turned around and drove back... I parked on a residential street and called them. A pleasant young lady answered, telling me that they were in the same driveway as the Cleveland Clinic.

Elizabeth checked us in -- I said we were visiting the College of Wooster, to get the discount (it was $55 for a room with two queen beds). Once we were in our room, Elizabeth called to ask if everything was all right. A while later, when I went out to ask, she gave me some detailed information about dinner. We ended up eating at the Green Leaf, down the road we came in on.

The Days Inn has a pool -- hotel pool, not a lap swimming pool. It was fine. The room was also serviceable. We were in 111, which apparently shares a wall with the vending machine room (I sometimes heard the refrigeration equipment cycle on and off). We got a fair amount of light even with the curtains drawn -- from the parking-lot lights I think. On the plus side, the shower/tub and toilet are behind a closing door, but the sink is in the main part of the room. This allowed the younger teen to brush her teeth while I was taking a shower or vice versa.

They have waffles -- the 2½-minute ones where you pour the batter into the iron and flip it. Their coffee was adequate, and they had instant oatmeal too, besides English muffins, bagels, and those evil sweet-roll things. cold cereals too. We checked out and drove to the college.

the College of Wooster

We found the admissions office without any trouble, and Melanie greeted us. She is a very friendly and enthusiastic, but not pushy -- she obviously loves her job and does it very well. She had a little paperwork for the "prospie" (prospective student, viz., the younger teen), then one of the aides escorted her to an art history class. Meanwhile, I had a great conversation with an admissions officer. He was very enthusiastic about the college but gave me what impressed me as an unvarnished opinion of the school's programs, describing various things as tradeoffs. For example, the first year seminar, he said, was somewhat uneven -- some profs do a terrific job getting the students engaged, etc., whereas others don't provide as rich an experience for the kids. I got the impression that the departments are rather autonomous -- this is a tradeoff! -- but a consequence of this is that not every department does a great job in promotion and advocacy....

The younger teen returned from her class (art history) and we went on a campus tour. Our guides, Ramsey and Max, were enthusiastic boosters of the school. One point came up: the disappearance of an unattended computer from the library. Riley at Kenyon had told us that he'd left his computer unattended in the library for seven hours (this wasn't on purpose) but it hadn't ever disappeared. Wooster is in the town of Wooster, whereas Gambier is basically owned by Kenyon.

We cut the campus tour short because of an appointment we thought we'd had with an art professor -- but due to a logistical snafu (the prof is about to go on leave and her email saying "no can do" apparently disappeared) we ended up imposing on another faculty member, the current department chair as it turns out! He chatted with us for a bit, and then offered to take us on a tour of the building. The facilities looked fine.

Food at Wooster is fine, but the overall dining experience lags Kenyon's -- partly because the dining hall is not as gorgeous. One plus: we found a campus humor paper -- a single sheet, double-sided -- it was kinda crass but not surprising for an unofficial college paper. pretty funny, actually. (and if you ever see it, any respect you might have had for me will be history.)

We visited an art exhibit in the on-campus museum, and then went to the philosophy department, where we had a lively conversation with Professor Thomson. We talked about independent study and how that might work in a double-major (philosophy and...); he also filled me in on what's been happening in the world of moral philosophy since the 1970s. We walked back to Admissions and said good-bye to Melanie. She handed us printed directions to Denison (90 minutes!) and we were on our way.

Denison University

We got to Denison in just about 90 minutes. the campus looked pretty big -- it's on a hill. The buildings have a red(ish) brick motif. We saw the drawing/painting studio, which seemed barely adequate. The student population, or the small subset we saw (it was about 4:45pm by then), seemed rather preppy-ish.

We walked around and took a few photos, then headed back to the car (parked in a visitor parking garage). On our way we saw the career center, and a survey of 2008 grads by major. Not a single art major appeared on the list. There were a few art history graduates, who had replied they were going to grad school. But no art or art history majors getting jobs after college. Overall we were not impressed.

Denison also didn't give the impression of being very interested; they haven't sent an acceptance letter, they didn't invite the younger teen there for a visit, etc. We got back in the car and drove to our hotel in Heath, OH.

Holiday Inn Express, Heath, OH

This hotel costs more than the Days Inn -- eightysomething vs $55. Unfortunately the pool is out of order. (Good thing I got my swim in last night.) But the room is nicer; everything is upscale compared to where I spent the last two nights. That plus $2.50 will get you a short latte at *$, but anyway it's nice. We're leaving before 8am Eastern time tomorrow, but we'll have time to sample their breakfast here.

We're ready to head home.

Update: Wednesday morning 2/25

We turned off the lights a little after 10pm (Eastern), having set the alarm clock for 7am. But there was an odd noise in the room. I wondered if something hadn't agreed with the younger teen's digestive tract, but when I sat up in bed, she asked me, "What is that noise?"

Investigation revealed that the sound (which to my mind seemed like that of a mentally retarded squirrel) was coming from the 'fridge, a black Tatung. Unplugging it didn't help. I lay it down on its side, which did seem to help (it was still unplugged).

I told the front desk about it the next morning. "Those are brand-new refrigerators, too. We'll definitely look into it. And I'll take $10 off your bill."

That works for me. We went to breakfast, where besides the usual cereals and toast, they supplied biscuits and gravy, bacon and eggs. The eggs were a sort of pre-fab patty with what looked like a half-slice of American cheese, folded crispy-taco style in the egg. But it was bacon and eggs for all that. Coffee in the breakfast room was fine.

Another thing about the room: besides having everything be nicer-looking than at the other places I stayed on this trip, there were pictures on the wall. The younger teen noticed that the two pictures were identical. They were apparently prints of a geometric/abstract design.

taking Hertz's "fuel purchase option" at CMH (Columbus OH)

(... or "a cheapskate's repentance") Maybe you've been there -- you're at the car rental counter and the clerk asks if you want to take the fuel purchase option. What this means is, you buy a full tank of gas from the rental agency -- which is probably more gas than you need.

If you don't do that, then you either (1) allow however much extra time it takes to find a gas station and fill the tank; or (2) pay them $7.98/gallon for them to top off the tank for you. I'm so cheap that I almost always do (1), but this time I didn't because I thought we might be rushed on our way back to Columbus... plus there's no gas near the airport (well, there's some due north, but we wouldn't be coming back that way).

The other thing was: they were going to charge me $27 to fill the tank. Being from California, I thought that ridiculously cheap.

So there ya go. We are done with our college visits in Ohio, and so it turns out we would have had plenty of time to get gasoline. But the fuel purchase option was a prepay, so I paid Hertz about $27 whereas I probably could have topped off the tank for $15 or less.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Jesus still baffles

The elder teen (I'm not going to be able to write this much longer) asked what the parables of the mustard seed and the woman and the yeast were doing in this place in Matthew 13? It seems that we have the parable of the sower, where Jesus is the sower. Then we have a set of three: I call these a unit because he explains the parable of the wheat and tares in 13:34-43, i.e., after the mustard and yeast parables. So these three at least go together.

But why? I can't quite figure it out, and there are at least two general explanations I've found. One, on p.953 of the Wycliffe Bible Commentary (but I'm not sure if the link matches the edition on my shelf), asserts that the birds in the branches, like the birds in the parable of the sower, represent deception from the devil. The yeast in the next parable, like the yeast in most other places in the Bible, represents corruption.

This idea appeals to me because the parable of the wheat and the tares is about how enemies invade the kingdom as it grows; the birds nest in the branches of the kingdom (ready to steal a little more truth?); a little yeast invades the whole lump of dough (as the Apostle Paul wrote elsewhere, not optimistically).

Now most other places I looked (including this passage from Edersheim's Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah) say that these illustrations aren't intended to be mathematical -- e.g., birds don't always mean the same thing, yeast doesn't always mean the same thing -- and that the parables have to do with the growth of the kingdom: the mustard seed meaning the growth of the Kingdom throughout the world, and the yeast meaning the growth of the Kingdom within an individual soul. Did not our Lord say, "the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:20-21)?

Which of these explanations is right? I'll tell you: I don't know.

But here's what I think today. If we look at the sequence of the parables, here's what it looks like to me:
  • the sower: seeds represent hearers, birds represent deception;
  • wheat and tares: growth of the kingdom, tares (planted by enemy) grow together with the kingdom;
  • mustard seed, meaning maybe growth of kingdom in numbers of souls (possibly with some deceivers mixed in)?
  • yeast in the dough, meaning maybe growth of kingdom in an individual soul?
  • treasure in the field (13:44), and
  • excellent pearl (13:45-46), meaning... how an individual responds to the kingdom?
  • the net (13:47-50), which is not quite identical to the wheat and the tares -- except here we have good and bad fish, but the enemy is not mentioned.
So what's the arc of the argument? I think Jesus is exhorting us to be full participants in the kingdom.

In chapter 12, Jesus is disputing with the Pharisees -- whose problem is that they really don't get it. They ignored God, and focused too much on rules, which should have led them to God. They were so deceived, in fact, that when God in the flesh came to them, they mistook God for the devil. Matthew then mentions the visit of Jesus's mother and brothers -- and Jesus redefines family, who's inside and who's out, based on doing the will of God.

So I think what comes next is: here's how people react to the word (i.e., Jesus's teaching) -- the parable of the sower; some will look like they're in the kingdom because they're found near subjects of the kingdom (wheat/tares and net/fish parables). These two bracket the set of four very short parables. Jesus shines the spotlight first on the macro (or what Edersheim calls extensive) growth of the kingdom (mustard-seed), then on the internal or intensive growth (yeast) of the kingdom within an individual soul. The spotlight then moves, in the parables of the field and of the pearl, to the question of how someone reacts to the news of the kingdom. We might abandon all else to buy the field and the treasure (the treasure would after all be sufficient to allow re-purchase of everything we gave up) -- but if we really understood the value of the kingdom, we would ideally want the kingdom for its own sole sake (parable of the merchant and the pearl).

Because of this possible (?) flow of the argument, and the possible application to our lives, I think the "majority" interpretation is probably correct, and that the editors of the Wycliffe Bible Commentary probably missed the boat on this one. (They interpreted the field and pearl parables as descriptions of what Jesus Christ did, which on one hand is more consistent in that the actors are Jesus or heavenly beings as in the net/fish, wheat/tares, sower parables -- but on the other hand does not really fit into the flow of the argument.)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A genius idea for the housing crisis

The March Atlantic showed up with (as usual) stimulating and thought-provoking articles. One in particular relates to the crash of our financial systems, and I saw in it a genius idea for dealing with troubled assets, etc. Here is Richard Florida:
Instead of resisting foreclosures, the government should seek to facilitate them in ways that can minimize pain and disruption. Banks that take back homes, for instance, could be required to offer to rent each home to the previous homeowner, at market rates—which are typically lower than mortgage payments—for some number of years. (At the end of that period, the former homeowner could be given the option to repurchase the home at the prevailing market price.)
How the Crash Will Reshape America, by Richard Florida
Atlantic, March 2009
The problem with this idea, of course, is getting banks to go along with it. Well, some of these clowns (think Bank of America and Merrill Lynch, per Cuomo in WashPost HuffPost CBS) deserve a little pain. I mean, the taxpayers are giving those guys billions to bail 'em out of a mess they got themselves into, and 700 employees got million-dollar bonuses. Compared to people losing their homes (that the banks never should have loaned them the money for in the first place), these guys are feeling no pain. None.

-Ahem- Excuse me, but I'm with our President on this (HuffPost NYTimes WashPost). I'm having trouble coming up with kind words or thoughts toward these irresponsible people. Yes, I know, I'm lumping all these financial people together. I don't really hate the finance industry; some of my best friends are in the financial industry.

But I find it utterly bizarre that 28% -- over a quarter -- of all jobs in Bloomington-Normal, IL, are financial positions (Florida, op. cit., part 1 link).

So, how to help high-foreclosure areas? Impel the banks to offer the foreclosed properites to the occupants at the going rental rate for some years (seven?). At the end of that period, the banks should be made to offer the properties for sale to the former owners (should they still be there) at the then-current market levels.

And by the way, as the US massively subsidizes the housing industry (by allowing a tax deduction for mortgage interest); we should stop doing this, as it distorts the economy -- we spend too much on housing construction and real-estate commissions. Besides, it's regressive.

The above opinions are worth every penny you paid for 'em. But profiteers remind me of Isaiah 5:8

Saturday, February 14, 2009

V-Tech M16896 (Mi-6896) 5.8GHz cordless phone goes belly-up

A long, long time ago (longer than the warranty period anyway), we bought a V-Tech cordless phone from Costco -- it also has a digital answering machine in the base station.

The other day, the lovely Carol called me at the office. The phone was acting up, she said. All the handsets just say "CONNECTING..."

What could it be, she wondered.

First, I suggested that she look for a loose cable end. Follow it, make sure both ends are secure, etc.

When I got home that evening, I took a look -- cable looked secure and intact. I disconnected it from wherever it was plugged into, and connected it directly into the phone jack in the wall. Still "CONNECTING..."

Well, I wondered if the software had gotten into some silly state. I turned the base unit upside down (I removed the handset first) and disconnected the power cord from it. After a few seconds, I reconnected the power cord. I replaced the handset, and it said "HANDSET 1" -- yippee!

The next day or so, I noticed that one of the handsets says "CONNECTING..."; I tried moving it to another charger, but nothing changed. The others all said "HANDSET #" where the "#" was a number....

So we started with four "bad" handsets and now we were done to just one.

Would the same trick work? I opened up the "bad" handset and disconnected the battery, waited a few seconds, and re-connected it. Did it work? "HANDSET 4" -- yippee!

The reason I tagged this with "Computers" is that these things have microprocessors (well, you could call them microcontrollers) in them. But like mi¢ro$oft computers, they may occasionally need a reboot -- but these can go months (e.g., since the last power failure or the last time we unplugged all the phones) without rebooting. btw I'm typing this on a SuSE Linux 9.3 box which says...
$ uptime
11:01am up 178 days 2:53, 32 users, load average: 1.22, 1.05, 0.86

Monday, February 09, 2009

A terrifying dream

I woke abruptly this morning from a nightmare:
I was in bed with some woman and suddenly realized I was about to commit adultery -- I came to my senses, as Hackworth did in Stephenson's The Diamond Age, but fortunately before "it happened" rather than after. I had obviously been motivated by lust, yet I was horrified at what I was about to do. For some reason the passage that promises God will provide a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13) came to mind. Accordingly(?), the woman walked down our hallway (we were in my bedroom) and the sound of small children came through the hallway door. The numerous kids broke the mood and we put off the consummation of our crime. I was relieved that I'd dodged that bullet.
Then I woke up, relieved that in reality, I hadn't even been on the target range.

Thank God!

The thing is, every one of us has enough darkness in his/her heart to do what Hitler or Saddam or Stalin or Mao -- or, for that matter the unnamed young husband of Donald Hall's poem -- did.

Not that we necessarily would -- but I believe any of us could.  I don't like to think I could, and I certainly hope you wouldn't, but we are all fallen.

And anyone's life, with a few bad decisions, can come crashing down -- like the financial system, but leaving a clearer picture of where the blame lies.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

overcoming anger and anxiety -- again

Just posted this on the waywords blog -- I hope you enjoy it

zgrep: my new friend and timesaver

Short version: In case I'm not the last Linux user in the world to hear about zgrep, I introduce it here in narrative form.

Recently I've been getting a flood of spam -- mostly bounces due to a forged return address "dcqowad" and maybe some more stuff afterwards. My friend procmail helped me to toss these, but I wanted to get a feel for how many of these things I've been getting in the past few days.

No problem -- I have verbose logging on in procmail, and it all goes into a file vlog. Every day I rename "vlog"→"vlog.XX" where XX is the day of the month. So I blithely typed
$ grep -l 'procmail: Match on.*dcqowad' vlog*
Wha....? Turns out I had forgotten my renaming scheme. The files were getting rather large, so after renaming "vlog"→"vlog.XX", I compress it with gzip. Hence what I've got in the directory is:
$ ls vlog*
vlog vlog.07.gz vlog.14.gz vlog.21.gz vlog.28.gz
vlog.01.gz vlog.08.gz vlog.15.gz vlog.22.gz vlog.29.gz
vlog.02.gz vlog.09.gz vlog.16.gz vlog.23.gz vlog.30.gz
vlog.03.gz vlog.10.gz vlog.17.gz vlog.24.gz vlog.31.gz
vlog.04.gz vlog.11.gz vlog.18.gz vlog.25.gz
vlog.05.gz vlog.12.gz vlog.19.gz vlog.26.gz
vlog.06.gz vlog.13.gz vlog.20.gz vlog.27.gz
The way I've handled this in the past is with something kind of verbose like the following (btw my shell is bash):
$ for f in vlog*; do
if [[ $f == ${f%gz} ]] ; then
grep -l 'procmail: Match on.*dcqowad' $f;
elif zcat $f | grep -q 'procmail: Match on.*dcqowad'; then
echo $f;
What a pain! See what it does? It looks for filenames ending with 'gz' and runs zcat on them, and greps the result -- then, because grep is looking at stdin, I have to check the return value and announce it (oh, but I could have used "grep --label=$f" there). Anyway, it's a pain, especially since I have to type the pattern in twice.

Now there might be a better way to do the loop, something like
if [[ $f != ${f%.gz} ]] || [[ $f != ${f%.Z} ]]; then PROG=zcat
elif [[ $f != ${f%.bz2 ]]; then PROG=bzcat
$PROG $f | grep --label=$f -l 'procmail: Match on.*dcqowad'
maybe, but that's still somewhat of a pain.

So I thought to myself, why not have a little fun and write a script that would look for suffixes like that and just do the right thing? I'd call it zgrep. But before I got very far, I had the feeling that somebody else had certainly run into this before, so I typed:
$ type zgrep
zgrep is /usr/bin/zgrep
Whoa -- I was about to waste a bunch of time reinventing the wheel! To see what this was about, I typed...
ZGREP(1)                                         ZGREP(1)

zgrep - search possibly compressed files for a
regular expression

zgrep [ grep_options ] [ -e ] pattern filename...

Zgrep is used to invoke the grep on compress'ed or
gzip'ed files. All options specified are passed
directly to grep. If no file is specified, then
the standard input is decompressed if necessary
and fed to grep. Otherwise the given files are
uncompressed if necessary and fed to grep.

If zgrep is invoked as zegrep or zfgrep then egrep
or fgrep is used instead of grep. If the GREP
environment variable is set, zgrep uses it as the
grep program to be invoked. For example:

for sh: GREP=fgrep zgrep string files
Well, another case where the programming virtue of laziness paid off.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Sowing to the Spirit?

The elder teen subscribes to a daily Bible verse from -- actually she asked me to email her a daily verse in Latin and Español; I have a crontab entry that fetches those verses from the site and sends her email. Last week, she got this verse:
nolite errare Deus non inridetur
No os engañéis; Dios no puede ser burlado: pues todo lo que el hombre sembrare, eso también segará.
Apparently this was the daily verse two or three times in the past month -- which made me wonder whether these guys saw A Walk to Remember  too many times.

Looking at verses 7 and 8 in the NIV, we see this: Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

This brings up a couple of questions:
  • What does he mean by "sows to please the Spirit"? and
  • Does "reap eternal life" mean that we work -- we "sow to the Spirit" (NKJV), whatever that means -- and then we get paid -- with eternal life?
The first thing that came to my mind is that this reminds me of Romans 2:6-11, where Paul talks about seeking immortality by doing good, versus rejecting the truth and following evil.

How can Paul write things like that, which make it sound like "do this, and you'll get this" but also write that God saved us "not because of righteous things we had done" (Titus 3:5) -- or that we are saved "by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9)? The latter passage is especially compelling in the CEV, where it's rendered "This is God's gift to you, and not anything you have done on your own. It isn't something you have earned, so there is nothing you can brag about." The Message, a great paraphrase by Peterson, has this: "No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving."

Here's what I make of that. The above links for Ephesians 2 also include verse 10, which Peterson renders thus: "He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing."

This brings me to the traditional answer, and upon examining the Scriptures I think I still agree with it. Here's the deal: Other religions -- including what Jack Crabtree called "folk Christianity" -- teach that we do these practices (follow some 8-fold path, read our Bibles daily, give alms, etc.) and as a result reap a reward (nirvana, escape, paradise, etc).

The truth of Biblical Christianity is that the order is reversed: we are saved first, called with a holy calling (2 Peter 1:9), and then called to good works, which God prepared beforehand for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). Other religions say "do A, and you'll get B"; Christianity says "because you're going to receive B, you should be doing A."

Back to the passage in question: If we read the passage in context -- you knew that was coming, didn't you? -- e.g., Galatians 5:16-6:10, we see that Paul contrasts those who live by the Spirit with those who live by the flesh (which the NIV renders "sinful nature"). The conflict between flesh and spirit weakens our freedom (5:17; Romans 7 describes Paul's own struggle with sin).

Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh (5:24 --see also 2:20), and I take this to mean that when people truly are saved, then something happens to their lives. Rather than being oriented toward the flesh -- resulting in impurity, hatred, discord, jealousy, rage, envy, etc. (5:19-21) -- their lives should turn toward the spirit -- resulting in love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, self-control, etc. (5:22-23).

Paul says something like this in Romans 8 as well: those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh (8:5-7) and the opposite for those who are according to the Spirit. The mind set on the flesh is hostile to God and can't please him. Reading on a few verses, we see what this means: that if we belong to Christ, we have his Spirit in us, leading us in the path of life.

This is something I like to pray for those I love: that God would fill them with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so they can live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way by bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so they may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has delivered us from the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of his dear son. (Colossians 1:9-13)

So, what does it mean to sow to (please) the Spirit? Let's look at Galatians 5:16-6:10 -- from here I think we can conclude that things that please the Spirit are things which bring about love, joy, peace, patience, and so on. Being conceited, provoking and envying one another take us away from the Spirit (5:26) -- not to mention the list from 5:19-21: immorality, impurity, idolatry, hatred, jealousy, envy, etc. When someone strays, we should restore him (6:1) with humility; we should help each other out (6:2) and not think too much of ourselves (6:3). We share with those who teach the Bible (6:6) and do good to all (6:10). I think I can safely say that all these things please the Spirit.

One more thought about eternal life: as my friend Jonathan used to say, eternal life begins now. So as we do those things that please the Spirit, we can start enjoying eternal life, abundant life today.