Sunday, January 31, 2010

Chicken and kale -- no, not together...

Here's a quick dinner that I threw together yesterday after successful plumbing adventures and some unsuccessful shopping.

The kale recipe is a variation on something the lovely Carol saw in the paper: kale with cream. The recipe is all over the web but here's my variation.

  • Strip the leaves off (⇒ discarding the stems)
    • 1 bunch of kale
    then steam the leaves for about 20 minutes or until tender.
  • Combine in a bowl:
    • 1 Tbs stock
    • 1 Tbs butter or margarine
    • 1 Tbs milk (or soy milk)
    • a pinch of nutmeg
  • When the kale is tender, drain it and add it, still hot, to the bowl.
The heat from the kale will melt the butter. You're done!

The original recipe (which makes way too much, unless you're feeding a family of eight herbivores) says to chop the kale. This is a waste of time IMO because the stuff is so soft after boiling/steaming. Oh, and the original recipe tells you to boil the kale, which takes a lot more water than steaming and probably loses more vitamins....

About the chicken. It seems to be an open secret that a chicken roasted with no seasoning whatsoever is still delicious. What I did last night was simplicity itself. I had a 4-pound chicken.

  • Preheat oven to 400°F.
  • Spray a roasting pan and rack with cooking spray.
  • Discard the giblets.
  • Remove the backbone (I used a Cutco® knife) or just cut down one side of the spine
  • Flatten the bird onto the roasting rack (in the pan), skin side up. You'll break the breastbone.
  • Discard wing-tips if you like.
  • Place the rack in your preheated oven.
  • After 30 minutes, cut the oven temp down to 350° and put a little aluminum foil over the breast.
  • Start checking the temperature about 15 minutes later with an instant-read thermometer. You're done when the thigh reads 190°.
If your bird is smaller than 4 pounds you might want to reduce the times a bit. It's that simple.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The guys at Barron Park Supply rock! Also: Rohl U.1213 kitchen faucet demystified

When we re-did the kitchen in 2008, the lovely Carol chose a fancy faucet with three levers (for hot water, cold tap water, and filtered drinking water) and a sprayer. It's a "Rohl" U.1213 -- the spec sheet is at ; I found it very handy to refer to the diagram.

Naturally, we had some problems. The first thing, which happened some time last year (but probably more than a year past the purchase date) is that the maximum flow rate dropped. You crank the faucet full-on but after a half-second or so it acted like you'd just turned it back down. The lovely Carol went to the retailer (Plumbing'n'Things in Redwood City), and they told me to wash the valves (9.13247 and 9.13249 in the diagram). "How do you get at them?" I asked. Turns out that you just pull out on the lever. It takes a little doing, but the handles come off.

That didn't do it, so they put me in touch with the manufacturer. I called the number (which escapes me now -- your retailer will have it) and the first thing the guy told me to do was... you guessed it: wash the valves. I told him I did that already, and I also mentioned that I was able to get full flow out of the sprayer (9.27434 or 9.27424). My speculation, which I shared with him, was that the valve that sends water to the sprayer (9.13157) -- that valve was going goofy on us. He concurred, and they shipped a new one at no charge.

I had a really hard time getting it properly installed. It seemed as though the pipe was just a little too narrow for the valve. H'm... maybe I should use some sort of lubricant? But I was out of time; I jammed it in as well as I could and reassembled the faucet. Turned the cold water on full -- yay! The only problem was that the sprayer was sort of half-hearted about doing its job. I mean, it did spray, just not with much enthusiasm. And whereas before the flow from the spigot would all but stop when I pushed the sprayer button, now it continued at about half-strength.

Well, I was mystified but I sure wasn't going to disassemble the thing yet again; I wanted to quit while I was ahead (getting full flow out of the spigot was #1; having the sprayer work 100% was a distant second). Anyway as preparation for "someday," I asked my contractor friend about what kind of grease (or ...?) to use inside the pipe and he suggested waterproof plumbing lube, which the guys at Barron Park Supply, 650-948-7160, might know about.

That was back in September. Fast forward to this week, when the lovely Carol informed me that the faucet was flopping around. I could see it, and knew exactly what the problem was: the mounting hardware, in particular the C-ring (or C-plate? it's part of 9.26400) was busted. Same drill -- visit the retailer, they passed on the manufacturer's number, I called them, they agreed to send me a warranty replacement part. (It's been over 18 months but they were very sweet about it.)

The part came yesterday, and since I was going to work on the faucet anyway, I figured why not see about getting the valve in "right" this time. And since I was going to visit Barron Park Supply anyway, why not try to find a replacement for the missing stopper control knob/rod from the bathroom sink? So off I went.

Now their website says they're in the San Antonio Shopping Center near Sears, so I parked in front of Sears. Our mini-poodle mix, "Popcorn," was in the car, so I left it in the shade. I walked around the back of Sears, and... no joy. Fortunately I had their phone number, and my cell phone. It turns out (I should have looked at a map first) they're a lot closer to the "Milk Pail" than they are to Sears. Anyway, I had the stopper control knob from the matching bathroom sink, and showed it to one of the guys (they're all guys) behind the counter. "I need one of these," I said.

"We don't have any," he replied. "You could order one. That looks like a Price-Pfister." That sounded good to me, and he pulled a book down from the shelf. I entertained myself with the news clippings on the wall, then looked around a bit. Eventually there was an empty spot at the counter so I positioned myself there. The first guy was taking a long time, and I wondered what was up, but fortunately I wasn't in a hurry.

But while I was waiting, another guy freed up, so I asked him about "waterproof plumbing lube." He pulled a package off the wall (I *never* would have found it!) and started describing some alternatives. I then told him what I was trying to do. It turns out that the stuff in the package would work, but it was $10; he found a smaller package, maybe a half-dozen capsules (small ones like Benadryl, not bigger ones like CONTAC) of silicone grease. Perfect.

While he was still talking, I saw the first guy reach up and grab a box of parts. He pulled out a knob/rod combination that looked quite a bit like mine. The rod had a bigger diameter, but I was overjoyed. "You are the man!" I told him. He gave me the original part numbers, in case I had to order them later.

Drove home without incident. Sure enough, the new rod doesn't fit into the hole in the faucet. Harrumpf. Looked for my reamer... where did it go? Oh well, one thing at a time. First, I crawled under the sink and installed the new "C" plate. It's shaped like a large letter "C" and went on like a champ. The original one was made of pot metal (I thought it was plastic but the parts were cold to the touch) but it looks like they're making them out of something stronger now.

Now for the sprayer valve. I undid a small hex screw at the rear of the faucet, and rotated the spout while trying to lift it. It took quite a bit of doing, but off it came. Was it ever full of junk! I had a hard time removing the valve (9.13157); eventually I hit on the idea of passing a common screwdriver blade through slits in the spout and prying the valve out gradually. It's not supposed to be this hard!

Following the advice of the Barron Park guys, I took an old toothbrush and some vinegar and tried to clean out the area the valve went into. After rinsing well several times, I declared victory and put a little of the silicone grease on the part of the valve that seemed to be hanging up. All looked good, so I tried inserting the valve.

No joy! How could this be? It just wasn't supposed to be this hard!

Here's the story: there's a part -- two actually -- that aren't on the diagram. Passing through the spout is a hose for the filtered drinking water. It mates with the aerator thingie at the business end of the spout -- 9.25553. The other end of the hose is connected to a piece of plastic that looks like a tripod. In short, this is how the filtered water gets out into the world. It turns out that this tripod-shaped plastic thingie was what was hanging the valve up as I tried to insert it.

The way around it? Pull the unnamed tripod-shaped piece of plastic part-way out of the spout's tubing, so that its legs can expand. Put the "top" end of the valve (9.13157) between the tripod legs so that when the tripod-thingy goes back into a narrower part of the spout, the valve will be embraced rather than rejected. Does that make sense? The tripod's legs have "toes" that point inward. If the tripod is placed first into the narrow part of the spout, the toes will reject anything bigger than a certain size (7mm? diameter?). Naturally, the top-end of the valve is bigger than that minimum size.

Therefore, what we must do is mate 9.13157 together with the tripod-shaped thingie, and then push the whole shebang into the narrow part of the tubing. And it works! Water full-blast when the hose button isn't depressed; respectable pressure from the hose when the button is depressed.

That was it! I love it when things work as they're supposed to.

More sloppy thinking -- that's what we need! Uh, waitaminute...

So I'm driving around, searching in vain for a kitchen drawer divider that isn't made in China, and I hear Daniel Dennett on NPR talking about how religion can encourage people to commit acts of violence.

Religion can encourage people to...? What kind of statement is that? Watching television can encourage people toward violence. Listening to politicians can encourage people toward violence. Certain kinds of pathogens can encourage people toward violence. So can depression and discouragement, alcohol, rugby, misinformation, etc.

The word "can" was inserted so they wouldn't be accused of being anti-religious, but I'll say it anyway. The "logic" went like this: every society has religion. Every society has violence. Therefore the connection between religion and violence is just as strong as the connection between food and violence. (Every society has food, every society has violence, therefore....) Right.

(I'll observe here that Mao and Stalin and the mass murderers of the Khmer Rouge were actually anti-religious. These clowns -- only they weren't funny at all -- committed some of the worst atrocities in recorded history, so maybe Dennett could tell me again why religion is the root of all violence? Someone at NPR?)

Goodness gracious, can't they come up with anything better than that? OK, I'll do it for them: the fact that people sometimes say things like "I hate them with perfect hatred" (from Psalm 139:22) related to some violent acts, or that people sometimes shout "Allahu Akbar" (Arabic for "God is great!") when committing violent acts -- that may be some sort of indicator, don't you think?

Let me knock that one down, too, since I set it up. In every society there are more-violent (a shorthand for "more-likely-to-become-violent" or "more-easily-pushed-into-violence") people and less-violent people. Religious societies have them, societies that with anti-religious laws have them. If Psalm 139 is a well-known text in a society, then the less-violent people will tend to draw comfort from the image of God as a loving presence, and the more-violent people will tend to use the hostile parts of the text as an excuse for their violent acts. If the Qur'an is a well-read book in a society, then less-violent people will focus on the image of Allah as the compassionate and merciful but more-violent people will copy other violent people who shouted something in Arabic before starting to kill.

In other words, "religious people are violent" or "religion stirs up violence" is just a bald assertion without proof; "Look at ________"! is no proof (see Stalin, Mao, et al).

What is proven, and I'll grant this, is that just because a society follows one religion or another does not mean that violence and hatred will be entirely eradicated in that society. But as the honest athiest Haidt observes in this article,

Religious believers give more money than secular folk to secular charities, and to their neighbors. They give more of their time, too, and of their blood. Even if you excuse secular liberals from charity because they vote for government welfare programs, it is awfully hard to explain why secular liberals give so little blood. The bottom line, Brooks concludes, is that all forms of giving go together, and all are greatly increased by religious participation and slightly increased by conservative ideology (after controlling for religiosity).
By Jonathan Haidt
Oh, I see he quotes (and refutes) Dennett in that article. It's worth a read.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Happy Friday...

Last night, I told the lovely Carol that I would not make any effort to wake up Early today, as we had done earlier in the week (Monday it was spinning class at the "Y", and Thursday we returned there for swimming and weights). At some point she disconnected the "darth vader" machine and we slept somewhat like the couple on the right until about 6:30 or so, when we woke up and shared a few kisses.

I checked up on a couple of things related to work (I made a small code submission last night), then headed for the kitchen. As I made up my oatmeal, I had this odd mental image of boasting about how rich I am. "I put brown sugar and milk on my oatmeal EVERY DAY!" I noticed that one of my socks had a ½" hole in the heel; I pitched it. Now some of you may be scandalized, since these socks are probably less than five years old, but I guess I'm a rich and irresponsible American. And I drive a new car -- it's not even 25 years old! Well, I do have some silly thoughts sometimes.

The lovely Carol was busy preparing for our church's women's retreat (which I'll survive somehow). I fed the dog and did some more work-related stuff on the computer while finishing my oatmeal. I wrote a short note describing an anomaly in our systems, and emailed it off. A quick look at the clock showed that I had time to empty the dishwasher.

I drove to the train station, and had enough time to drop the mail into a big blue box in Menlo Park before the train came. Transit all ran on time, and I got to the office a little after 9:00. There were no fire-trucks so I guess the toasters were behaving themselves; I opened the door and the aroma of bagels drew me in.

My buddy Greg called a little after lunch. Did I want to go for a walk? I certainly did! The sun was out, and we walked around the block -- I guess it's about a mile. When we got back, Kathy met us at the top of the staircase. "If we served bagels on Thursday morning, I wonder how many people wouldn't come in on Friday?" What a sneaky thought!

Someone came by looking for my office-mate; I pointed him toward where I thought Chris would be, then went to the break room for some coffee. Whoa, what happened to the sun? The next storm was headed in! Great timing Greg!

Encouraged by my boss, I took off at 4:30. Boy was it wet outside! Public transit was on time and I walked to the bank in the rain, depositing a check well before closing time. Walked back to the station and drove my 1986 Toyota (without the sticky accelerator problem) to the library to try to find Kugel's book. What do you know -- it was on the shelf! As I walked toward the checkout desk, I saw a copy of Miller's SEARCHING FOR GOD KNOWS WHAT on the free cart. Yippee!

But the blessings weren't over yet! I got home (it was still raining) and there on the porch was a box. Plumbing parts? YES! So I'll be able to stop the kitchen faucet from flopping around. The lovely Carol will be happy about that.

It made me think that I am indeed rich. Oh, yet another thing! The check I deposited? It's some unplanned income, of which we'll give away 10% or so. Some of that will likely go to Haiti. Some alumni association might get $20 or $50. The lovely Carol also had some charity in mind -- the good news is that we have enough in our "giving budget" to go more than one place. Yippee!

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

About those quotations ...

Earlier I asked how the author of Hebrews knew that certain Old Testament passages referred to Christ. Some of the passages pretty much explain themselves -- since David wrote Psalm 110, according to the Lord Jesus himself:
He said to them, "How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him 'Lord'? For he says,
" 'The Lord said to my Lord:
      "Sit at my right hand
   until I put your enemies
      under your feet." '
Matthew 22:43-44
This one seems pretty plain -- who else could David possibly be writing about? Here, "my Lord" would have to be somebody with a position higher than David the King, and "The Lord" (in English Old Testaments this is usually rendered "The Lord said to my Lord") refers to God the covenant-maker and creator. Here "my Lord" pretty much has to be some sort of not-merely-human King.

Similar reasoning applies to Psalm 45:6-7: Although Psalm 45:1 says these verses are addressed to "the king", verses 6-7 are addressed to "God" (so we're not talking about King David or any of the other merely human kings -- not to mention that no merely human throne will last forever). And yet the passage also refers to "your God."

What about those other verses? And the larger question -- how should we read the Old Testament today? I don't have this 100% figured out, but I did find some articles from First Things magazine. One point to consider as we try to understand the Bible is our attitude toward the text. Creighton University Professor R.R. Reno wrote in "The Bible Inside and Out" (April 2008):

Modern scholars want to master the Bible. We can see this in their often smug conclusions. “Well,” we are told, “this or that biblical story is really about sustaining the ideology of the Jerusalem cult.” In contrast, religious readers want to be mastered.
(Professor Reno's article is a review of Professor James L. Kugel's 2007 book How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture Then and Now; I plan to check it out from the local library.)

Indeed we do! It is not wrong to ask what actually happened in some historical setting, but it is also important to ask what a particular passage might mean to us -- which is not limited to what its original readers would have understood it to mean. Thus when Matthew describes the Holy Family's flight to Egypt and quotes Hosea 11:1, or Hebrews 1:5 quotes 2 Samuel 7:14 about Solomon, the New Testament authors aren't simply taking the words of Scripture as they would have been understood in their original (centuries-old) historical context. Rather, they were interpreting them allegorically. But as University of Virginia Professor Robert Louis Wilken writes:

Allegory fell on hard times in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Although the charm of beloved works of English literature such as Spenser's Faerie Queene and Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress lies in the imaginative use of allegory, biblical scholars banished the term from their vocabulary.

The root meaning of allegory is that there is another sense, another meaning, besides the plain sense. Sarah and Hagar are not simply names of the wives of Abraham; they also signify two covenants, one associated with Sinai and the other with the Jerusalem above. The rock in the desert that Moses struck and from which water flowed is not simply a rock; it is also Christ.

Allegory is not distinctive to Christian exegesis of the Old Testament. It was used by Greek literary scholars in the ancient world to interpret the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer, and it was employed by Jewish thinkers—for example, Philo of Alexandria—to interpret the Pentateuch.

Christian allegory has similarities to this kind of allegory, but what sets it apart is that it is centered on Christ. Allegory in Christian usage means interpreting the Old Testament as a book about Christ. St. Ambrose wrote: “The Lord Jesus came and what was old was made new.” Everything in the Scriptures is to be related to him. As a medieval commentator put it, “All of divine scripture is one book, and that one book is Christ, because all of divine scripture speaks of Christ, and all of divine scripture is fulfilled in Christ.”

Robert Louis Wilken, "How to Read the Bible"
First Things, March 2008
I hope you'll read the entire article, as it's currently online. Wilken's point is supported by the Apostle Paul: For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4).

Allegory, particularly the view that the entire Bible is about Christ, is still having a hard time. Professor Reno, as general editor of the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible, sought authors in theologians rather than Biblical scholars. A few remarks have come from these scholars:

In a review, Pauline Viviano denounced the “spurious typologies” in Peter Leithart’s commentary on 1 and 2 Kings, ending with the stern admonition that “commentaries on the Bible should be left to biblical scholars.” No trespassing!

Philip Cary’s commentary on Jonah apparently disturbed another biblical scholar, Barbara Green. “The book,” she wrote, “features Jesus on virtually every page.” Shocking, simply shocking. This clearly needs to be brought to the attention of the proper authorities.

R.R. Reno, "Recovering the Bible", First Things Online, February 2009

I don't want to sound overly pietistic, but for Christ's sake (literally!) let's please remember the point: Jesus Christ is the one hope of the world, and the Bible tells us about Him. As the Lord Jesus Christ himself said:

"You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you'll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren't willing to receive from me the life you say you want.
The Bible's main purpose is to tell us of Christ; it is not Christ's main purpose to tell us of the Bible. So let's seek him first, as he told us to.

Success and its pitfalls

We heard a great sermon today about the idol of success.

Two things stood out for me: one was the unconditional favor of our Lord. Now it's a spiritual cliché that "God loves you no matter what" or "God loves you unconditionally," but to think of God saying "My beloved son, in whom I am well pleased" before I did anything (or whether I accomplish anything ever at all) -- that's powerful. Likewise the idea that God God had something wonderful in mind when he thought you up.

The second thing that stood out was our foolish tendency to look to each other, rather than to the Lord, for our sense of success. It's not just wanting to feel successful that drives us; it's wanting somebody else to notice. And so among the (foolish) ways we try to feel good about ourselves is to compare the accomplishments of our kids. A truly over-the-top example can be seen in a video from "Goodness Gracious Me" where a "typical" (South) Asian father compares his son with "Mr. Anderson's son" or "Mr. Sena's son," etc.

US viewers, note that "A-levels" are similar to AP exams. You really only take one or two in a single day. Millwall is a professional soccer (or "football") team and Liverpool is one of the top pro soccer teams in England.
This father is rather exaggerated, but I the clip makes the very good point that our obsession with other people's kids is utter nonsense.

Ditto other people's careers, other people's houses, other people's cars, and so on.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

To which of the angels did God ever say...?

The theme of Hebrews 1 seems to be that Jesus is greater than the angels, and here the author gives his main argument. It's a pretty good one, too.

The question, "To which of the angels did God ever say...?" appears twice in the chapter, once in verse 5 and again in verse 13, effectively bookending the passage. There are about a half-dozen quotes here; let's categorize them.

  Quotations addressed to... Quotations simply about...
...the Son
  • (verse 5) "You are my son" - from Psalm 2:7
  • (verses 8-9) "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever" - from Psalm 45:6-7
  • (verses 10-12) "In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth" - from Psalm 102:25-27
  • (verse 13) "Sit at my right hand" - from Psalm 110:1
... angels (none)
I find these quotes fascinating. I'm sure I don't understand them 100%, but did you notice that the passages about the Son or addressed to the Son outnumber the quotes about angels? One could argue that the author of Hebrews is selecting quotes to make his point, but really, where in the Bible do you ever have God addressing an angel? We usually just hear about it second-hand.

So "God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth" for example (Luke 1:26). Or we just read, "But the Angel of the Lord called" (Genesis 22:11). True, God did speak directly to Satan (Job 1:7, 2:2-6) but that's not the kind of angel we're talking about here. In any case, the Bible doesn't talk a whole lot about angels, but there is a lot about Messiah, and there's a lot that God says to Messiah too.

Which brings up another point, viz., How does the author of Hebrews know that all these quotations are in fact talking about the Son? That is a huge question, because it underlies not only the book of Hebrews, but a lot of other parts of the New Testament. I'll make the observation for now that to a certain extent, the author of Hebrews reads the Old Testament the way the Lord Jesus Christ read the Old Testament. Consider verse 13, quoting Psalm 110:1. Jesus Christ himself also quotes this verse, identifying the addressee as the Christ (Matthew 22:41-44).

I know that's not an answer, because it just pushes the question one level back (How did Jesus himself identify the addressee as the Christ? Do you have to be God to know what the Old Testament means?) -- but I think it is humanly possible to get a pretty good idea of what these things mean. Not that I have it figured out though! More on this will come in later postings.

Railway Engineers and Slime Mold?

Interesting article points out the similarity between Tokyo's suburban rail network layout and a network of tubes that the slime mold generated when presented with food sources in analogous locations.

I wanted to take a look at the rail network layout, and Wikipedia has one in an article on Tokyo-area transportation. I'll put the pictures here for your viewing pleasure.

Tokyo Rail Network (link) Slime Mold Design (link)
The rail map is at the bottom so it'll be closer to the "F" map on the lower right.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Weekend recap

One of the kids' read-aloud books was called something like "Daddy's Busy Day" -- I'm sure that's wrong -- but it was partly sponsored(?) by Johnson&Johnson; I believe it had an actual Band-Aid® in it.

Anyway, the idea was that Daddy did about a dozen things with the kids -- trimmed the hedge, painted the garage door, mowed the lawn -- all in one day. Once when reading the book to the kids, I laughed out loud when Daddy was doing the 4th thing or so. The kids didn't know what was up with that, and I said this story was science fiction. After just *reading* about 3 or 4 of those projects I was ready to go lie down.

Well, last Friday, the lovely Carol was discussing her honey-do list with me and noted that I had four projects scheduled for Saturday. "Too many," she said, but I took that as a challenge. Here's how it turned out.

  1. First up: the easy project -- finding the dog-barrier and installing it in the station wagon. The former denizen of the cargo area was an 80-pound Ridgeback mix. Or Great Dane mix. He had destroyed the suction-cup-mounted dog "barrier", and we replaced it with a wrought-iron Canine Prison Special (I made that name up). It's been gathering dust since 2007, but I found it and used the broom and vacuum cleaner on it before re-installing in our Subaru wagon.


  2. The garage window came next. The previous weekend, I tried installing the new pane of glass, but found it was ¼" too wide; apparently we had a miscommunication. I tried leaving off the rubber gasket-like thing that protect the edge (a bad idea) but even then the pane just wouldn't fit.

    With the quarter-inch trimmed off, it went in easily this Saturday morning. Not that I didn't make a few mistakes (I ended up restarting about half-way through), but it wasn't much of an ordeal.

  3. Next up was hanging a vertical mirror. This is about 4' high x 1' wide, and has a plastic frame. The frame is big enough to accommodate a screw, so I located a stud and drilled the appropriate places on the mirror, both the top and bottom. As the mirror wasn't centered around the stud (I drilled about 2.6" from the left-hand edge), I put a wall anchor in about 2.6" from the right-hand edge, along the top of the frame.

    Naturally, I forgot to make sure that I was facing the correct direction when drilling the holes, so I ended up with an extra one. Three down!

  4. The front door had some unsightly holes that the lovely Carol has been complaining about sporadically for some time. I had put wood-dough into most of the holes earlier, but had missed one (boo!). Also, I was sufficiently un-subtle with the wood-dough... repair was beyond the reach of mere sandpaper. I found a small container of spackle, which I thought might be easier to work--not! It was rock-hard. It was impervious to water.

    There was another little Tupperware-like container of spackle -- this one became useful with a little water added. Hooray! I filled the hole I'd forgotten (after scraping some rough paint-edges with a handy scraper) and feathered out some of the mess I'd made earlier with the wood-dough.

    • Somewhere in there, I remembered that I'd lent my electric sander to someone... who was it? Eventually I remembered and gave them a phone call... nobody home.
    • We had been talking about putting some of our valuables into a fire-resistant safe. I called a couple of places -- closed Saturdays, or no models on display. Hurmpf -- did a little online shopping and saw this one. If put into a wall, it would stick about 10" through the other side. I found a place it might go, but wasn't sure how deep the thing could protrude without causing problems (there's an air-duct behind this wall). So I climbed into the attic to eyeball the air-duct and guesstimate whether a 10" intrusion would be a problem.

      While exploring up there, I discovered an astonishing amount of rodent calling-card material. Bleah.

    • Sometime in there, our friends called back. Yes, they had the sander, yes, I could come pick it up. Great. I wanted to go to Blockbuster, return one DVD and pick another one up.

      So off I went. Picked up the sander, then off to OSH to pick up d-Con or similar -- and a couple of outdoor floodlights while I was at it -- then off to Blockbuster, and back home. Whew!

    • By now the spackle was dry and I put primer (oil-based -- しかたがない) over the areas I'd worked -- on both sides of the door. I grabbed an electric fan from the kids' room and pointed it at the door. Yippee!

Now it was about 4:30 and time to start on dinner. I popped open a cold one and preheated the oven to 400°F for "Tandoori style roast chicken." The spices sure smelled good. I basted it with olive oil (they said lemon juice but I have my principles) and about half an hour in, lowered the heat to 350°F. Total cook time: about an hour for a 5½# bird.

The other dinner item was kale with cream. Cardiologists need not panic; there's about a tablespoon of cream for about a pound of kale. Oh, there's a tablespoon of butter, too. And boullion. Salt, pepper, a little nutmeg and that's about it. Boil the kale 20-30 minutes (leaves only, no stems -- the lovely Carol had stripped the leaves off the stems for me), then combine with the other ingredients in a large skillet for a minute or two.

She came home as I was finishing up the dinner prep. Everything was pretty good, if I do say so myself. I got a good start on the dishes (the roasting pan would have to wait though).

At this point, some of you may wondering if I was after something. Nope -- I was just into being productive; I was in "the zone," a rare occurrence.
We watched Kate & Leopold, which we both enjoyed. Definitely unrealistic, but that's where the willing suspension of disbelief comes in -- it's a fantasy for sure!

The door got done the next day (yes it was Sunday). I found the appropriate paint for both sides of the door (both latex -- hooray!) and did the deed. The electric fan came out again to accelerate the drying process, and I put the doorknob back on once the paint was dry.

After that, I ran out of gas. I haven't put the rat-poison into the attic, and I haven't replaced the burned-out floodlight for the patio. But that can wait 'til next weekend.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Became superior to the angels?

So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. (Hebrews 1:4, emphasis added)

What does that mean, that Jesus became superior to the angels? Was he inferior to them before that?

To answer the second question first: No, the Lord Jesus Christ was never inferior to the angels (or any created thing) in terms of moral excellence for example. But there was a time when the Lord

...made himself nothing,
taking the form of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death--
even death on a cross!
Philippians 2:7-8
Thus he took on a lower position, temporarily. And actually, looking at this passage from Philippians, we see a similar question: does "became obedient" mean that Jesus was disobedient before?

Of course not! But until he actually went through the experience of obeying to the point of death, Paul tells us, we couldn't say he was obedient unto death. After that, Paul says:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
Philippians 2:9-10
So Jesus took a lower position, and then got a higher one, and it says God gave him the name that's above every name. This wasn't a renaming, like Abram → Abraham or Simon → Peter; (note that the text says "at the name of Jesus" -- that didn't change) rather, Jesus acquired something more like a rank or title.

There's more about this later on in the letter, but what does this mean for you and me? Here's something that came to mind: position (or the lack thereof) doesn't necessarily imply any intrinsic superiority (or inferiority). In his Word Studies in the New Testament, Vincent comments (online version) about this word, κρείττων: "It does not indicate here moral excellence, but dignity and power."

So if I don't have a high position, that doesn't mean I'm inferior -- or the reverse for that matter. And so we can be free from anxiety about position. Easier said than done, (for me too). But knowing that Jesus took on a lower position for a few decades -- that helps.

And about that word...

As I mentioned earlier, the author of Hebrews loves to talk about how great Jesus is. In reading Vincent, I noticed his comment that the word translated "better" (viz., κρείττων) appears 13 times in Hebrews.

Interesting, no? Paul uses the word 4 times, and Peter twice, according to the Englishman's Greek Concordance. Out of 19 instances of this word in the entier New Testament, 13 (68%) are here in the book of Hebrews.

Which gives me another slant on the theme of this book: better. More on that later!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Finding a sermon about Job

So, the teenager was looking for a sermon preached by our church's senior pastor John Ortberg. It was a sermon on the book of Job. She looked through the sermon archives but couldn't find it. She used the search function and couldn't find it.

She emailed me and I thought I'd go ahead and search like this:, which led to the provacative title: "Faith & Doubt: Week Nine Beginning with the book by John Ortberg ..."

"Aha!" I thought. "Maybe it's part of the Faith and Doubt series" which we had at church. So I tried this: No joy there either. I remembered that John had a book with that title and we even had a copy! But not much about Job in there.

Various other searches for "Job" in the sermons produced a sermon where somebody was praying for a job and that sort of thing. I then thought of using a term like "Eliphaz" or "Elihu" -- no joy. I gave up.

Tonight she emailed me. "i found it!" she wrote. It was from November 2007, with the title "God is Big Enough to Comfort My Suffering" (h'm, shouldn't "is" be capitalized? It's a verb, isn't it?). Check out the URL: -- notice that it's not below The transcript is at and sure enough those words do appear: "Eliphaz" and "Bildad" and "Zophar" (no Elihu though).

Well. Maybe if enough of us point into the sites/default/files/transcripts hierarchy, some nice google-bot will index it for us? How about smart people part 3 which contains the string "Can Dumb People Believe in God?" H'm.

Update 2010-01-16: No, it won't index that for us

...because of, which includes this line:
Disallow: /sites/
Only nice robots obey robots.txt, which is explained here.

Caltrain whine of the day

Last Saturday I went to the ticket machine to buy my monthly pass. This isn't a $20 item; the rail pass is $112.75 and monthly parking is $30. Usually I pay with plastic.

I don't know what possessed me to put the debit card in -- maybe something about wanting to spend money rather than incur debt. It asked for my PIN (I don't think it said "PIN number") and the transaction was recorded.

So it's now 9 days later and I've had half a glass of wine to fortify myself against doing the weekly Quicken® ritual. There's a $142.75 charge that I don't remember making, and the transaction as downloaded from the bank says simply
It doesn't say something helpful like "POS CVS 09329 REDWOOD CITY" or "POS USPS 0563780210 REDWO".

Finally I remembered. And I wished that caltrain would have given the bank something more....

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Heir, creator, radiance, image, sustainer, priest, regent

I mentioned earlier that the author of Hebrews loves to talk, or write, about how great Jesus is. The author's theme in chapter 1 is about how Jesus is greater than the angels. But take a look at what he says before he even gets started on that:
God... has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high...
from Hebrews 1:1-3
(from memory; NIV here)
Quite a mouthful, I'd say. In at least one version, verse 4 is part of the same sentence as verse 3 -- "sat down at the right hand... 4having become as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs" -- but I'm getting ahead of myself. OK, so let's list 'em up -- before even getting into the angels thing, what does he say about Jesus?

"whom he appointed heir of all things"

The picture I have of "heir" is the one who inherits stuff when the master dies. But since God isn't going to die, how will the son inherit anything? Well, even before the master dies, the son has some authority. And the entire estate knows that the heir will be the master someday, so the servants (angels in this case, but again I'm getting ahead of myself) obey him.

A biological heir (Jesus is that, too, as the only begotten son John 3:16) also inherits the master's hair and eye color and a bunch of other physical and psychological characteristics.

"and through whom he made the universe."

The Bible begins, "In the beginning God created" and this part tells us that the Son, Jesus Christ, was the agent in creation. Paul tells us (Colossians 1:16) that all things were created by and for Jesus.

"the radiance of God's glory"

Some translations say "reflection of God's glory"; I think one says "brightness". The Message has "This Son perfectly mirrors God". Which is correct?

The word translated "radiance" (ἀπαύγασμα) is apparently used only here in the New Testament, so that makes it a little harder to tell. According to Bauer/Arndt/Gingrich (BAG), the word is used in contemporary literature in both the active and passive sense. Probably it's not that important that we know the exact sense, though what I like about the active sense is that it supports a nice illustration of the trinity that I heard from the teenager: if we imagine the sun as being like God the Father in some way, and the sunlight like Jesus Christ, and the warmth we feel (and the photosynthesis that happens, etc.) like the Holy Spirit, we can appreciate that the sun and the light and the warmth are three aspects but one identity.

"and the exact representation of his nature"

Paul reinforces this again, and again in Colossians 1: "He is the image of the invisible God."

By the way, this was never said about anyone else.

"sustaining all things by his powerful word"

I should have combined this with the previous one. Paul in Colossians 1 says: "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together."

"provided purification for sins"

This shows Jesus as a great high priest (which the author will have a lot more to say later on in the book) -- but wait, he provided purification for sins; he himself is the sacrifice! John tells us a little more:
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 2:1-2
Remember that Christmas song, "We Three Kings"? There's a line in there too:
Glorious now behold him arise; King and God and Sacrifice

"sat down at the right hand of the majesty in heaven"

We'll see more about this near the end of the chapter.

And that's just the first three verses

What a great introduction to this marvelous book about our glorious Lord!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Brilliant quote on the sanctity of "secular" work

If we look externally, there is a difference between washing dishes and preaching the Word of God, but as touching pleasing God, none at all
William Tyndale (link)
Washing well, preaching well -- the Lord delights in them both. A good word.

Does washing dishes poorly displease the Lord as much as preaching poorly? That I'm not so sure about. Guess I need to think more on this.

Jesus: Not Just Another Prophet

I've been wondering about my Bible reading plan for 2010, and thought I'd try doing Hebrews, as I did some years ago.

Why Hebrews? Because the author loves talking about how great the Lord Jesus Christ is. Here's what I mean: Looking at Hebrews 1:1-2, we can see a number of contrasts:

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. (NIV)
Quite a sentence! Let me translate that into engineer-speak:
When? God spoke... whom?
In the past in various ways through the prophets
these last days by his Son
And besides all that, no prophet was appointed heir of all things, neither was any prophet God's agent in creating the universe!

Now both the NIV and the Message draw a distinction between God's speaking through the prophets vs. by his Son ("directly through" in the Message). Although the Greek preposition is identical ("ἐν" the prophets... "ἐν" his Son), I believe these editors are correct in contrasting the English prepositions, given the phrase "in various ways" (or "at sundry times and in divers manners" in the King James).

That the Son is the message, rather than simply speaking the message, is a theme that John has in John 1, where he refers to Jesus Christ as "the Word" -- and in 1 John 1:1-3:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. ... We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul also is quite clear that Jesus is qualitatively different from the usual prophet; he tells us that Jesus "is the image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15).

In other words, Jesus is not just another prophet, as important as prophets are. He is, rather, the one the Prophets (including John the Baptist) spoke of.

So what? Here's what: as we heard in this weekend's sermon, we can take the regrets we cannot fix to a God who cannot fail; we can take them to Jesus.

What's the hardest thing about being married?

David asked me that after he found out how long I've been married (nearly 23½ years).

I smiled and told him about the time when I asked someone that, and got the reply "It's her!" (Hint: That is not the correct answer. And no, that man wasn't serious.)

The truth is: what makes it hard is that I'm not as selfless or humble or generous or loving as I like to think I am. If I weren't so selfish or proud, married life would be a lot easier. It's good to reflect on that fact once in a while.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Yahoo! store merchant sends my security code in email!

So I just placed an order with a Yahoo! store merchant and got an email that looked like this:
This email is to confirm the receipt of your recent order from <merchant name>.

You can always find out the current status of your order by going to

Date     Sat Jan  2 08:22:10 HST 2010
Ship to  Carol Park
         <our street address>
         US United States
         <ZIP extra 4 digits>
Bill to  Same
SC       <the real 3-digit security code from the back of my credit card!>
E-Mail   <my email address> (emailed)
Via      US Priority Mail
Payment  <CC type (Visa or MC)>

Name             Code               Qty   Each  Options

I was rather unhappy to see the real 3-digit security code right in the middle of the email, and sent the merchant a note asking them to please tell Yahoo! to not send the security code. Maybe it was the merchant who set the options up wrong? I'm not sure. Anyway, I'll let you know when they tell me they've got it fixed. Here's what I wrote to them:


Please forward the below to whoever manages your web-order system, 
maybe some person.  Short version: I'm quite concerned 
that my credit card's security code was sent in email in plain text. 


Dear web/mail/order system design/maintenance staff:

PLEASE do not send the card's security code in email!

The below email had a line with the credit card's security code
in cleartext.  It looked like this:

SC       123

(I changed the digits; that's not my real security code.)

The code is called a SECURITY code because only the card holder
is supposed to know it!  It's one thing to enter the code over
an SSL connection (https:...); it's quite another to send it in
plaintext email.

Please let me know that you've fixed this, so that I can feel
more comfortable ordering stuff from other Yahoo! store merchants.

Thanks and

Happy new year,

Collin Park (the below order is a gift for my wife)

*** Your original message follows ***

<merchant name> (through Yahoo! Store Order System) wrote:
> This email is to confirm the receipt of your recent order from <merchant name>.
> You can always find out the current status of your order by going to
>[[this part elided]]
> Date     Sat Jan  2 08:22:10 HST 2010

I'm also going to let them know that I put this up on my blog.

Friday, January 01, 2010

A God-shaped void in our hearts?

I've been reading Donald Miller's latest, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, where he observes that many of us
...were taught that Jesus was the answer to all our problems. We were taught that there was a circle-syhaped hole in our heart and that we had tried to fill it with the square pegs of sex, drugs, and rock and roll; but only the circle peg of Jesus could fill our hole. I became a Christian based, in part, on this promise, but the hole never really went away.
A Million Miles..., p. 203
How true that is! The hole really doesn't go away, though to be fair,
  • Some part of the hole is gone -- the part caused by having no idea if there is any purpose to life, whether there's anyone "out there", whether they love me if so, what will happen after I die, etc.
  • There's often a gap between what a teachers teach and what students learn. A teacher may say "Jesus saves," meaning that we need not fear condemnation of we believe in him (John 5:24), that Jesus delivers us from the coming wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10). But a hearer may think he won't have to face a jail term, final exams, rejection in a relationship, or bankruptcy court.
That said, neither Jesus nor the apostles nor the prophets promised a smooth, wrinkle-free, happy life. We were promised other things, though, as Peter for example tells us:
  • all things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3)
  • promises, enabling us to escape the corruption in the world (2 Peter 1:4)
  • a meaningful, useful life (2 Peter 1:8)
and those are just what came to my mind from chapter 1.

This reminds me actually of something we learned in our class on Islam. Many people who call themselves Muslims nevertheless engage in animistic or superstitious practices. They may sacrifice animals, for example, fear the "evil eye", carry amulets, and so on.

Why do they do that? Because Islam doesn't promise that their daily needs will be met. Health (mainly physical health) isn't guaranteed; neither is prosperity (e.g., having enough to eat) or safety (from floods, fire, earthquake, roof collapse, and so on). And so they turn to these other practices. We do, too! We may not carry amulets, but how many of us actually knock on wood, avoid stepping on cracks, try not to speak our fears (lest they come true), etc? How many buy lottery tickets, hang "crystals", or have pyramids in the home or office?

Yes, those Muslims are a little silly--and so are we sometimes. Whether by crystals, pyramids, knocking on wood, or by pretending that Jesus promised a smooth wrinkle-free life, we try to take control of our lives in ways God never meant for us to do.

Does that mean we should pray over our cars rather than taking them to a repair shop? Well, I'd be in favor of doing both, actually. What I'm saying is: we should avoid magical thinking. We mustn't try to use God to further our plans; rather, we must surrender to him that he may use us to further his plans. He doesn't exist to fulfill us or to make our plans succeed.

By the way, it was apparently Pascal who wrote that about the God-shaped vacuum. And he was certainly not talking about any smooth wrinkle-free life.