Monday, May 2, 2016

Mind. Blown.

A photographer uses a light tube, creative photography and a model to produce images that look like flat-out magic. You could stare at these for awhile.

Here's a couple of the coolest:



The project page is here.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Packing My Bags

There is a point in the Pacific Ocean that is 1450 nautical miles from the nearest land. It's called the Oceanic Pole of Inacessibility -- a name you'd have though was tailor-made for William Goldman's The Princess Bride if he hadn't written it about 20 years before technology made pinpointing the location possible.

It's also called Point Nemo after Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea submarine captain, and it's as far away as you can get from any land on Earth and still be on the Earth. In an odd little coinky-dink, H.P. Lovecraft put the dread lost city of R'lyeh almost on top of Point Nemo, meaning we'll never know Cthulhu is coming until it's way too late.

In reality, though, it's just the middle of nowhere and not a place of any special eldritch shrieking madness significance. But being as it's a remote spot of the world, and given things on the world stage like the near-solid lock our next president will be awful and things on the local stage that may make you wonder why you bother with some parts of your job, it's a mighty attractive middle of nowhere.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Evolution and Holiness

Among the places where theism and non-theism rub against each other is the idea of altriusm -- of doing good for someone when there is no perceived benefit for yourself. We theists, when you can make us stop preening about how good we are, will give credit to God's influence in our lives. We Christian theists will usually point to what Jesus referred to as the second greatest commandment of loving our neighbors as ourselves. We might also point to other places where Jesus directed us to help one another as well as anyone we encounter who might be in need -- if we have the means to do so.

Many non-theists consider helping others just as important as theists do -- some of them are better at it than some of us. They have a more difficult time saying why they do so, since they generally have neither law nor law-giver around to credit. It's certainly not impossible to ground altruistic behavior in a non-theistic worldview, but the case is usually more complex, subtle and sometimes not nearly so clear as "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Some non-theists would say that the influence of the best of religious teaching, like that commandment, has proven its worth even if its origins are not at all supernatural. But some see no positives in religion whatsoever and want to explain altruistic behavior solely through natural means. Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene is the model for this kind of idea.

Spring Arbor University professor Matthew Nelson Hill examines the "selfish gene" model and a number of other biologically deterministic explanations for altruism and tries to see how John Wesley's model of holy living and thoughts about Christian perfection might interact with them in his first book, Evolution and Holiness.

The first section of the book surveys those deterministic explanations for altruism. Hill then sketches Wesley's model of holy living, outlined among the early Methodists in England in the 1700s, and his concept of "Christian perfection" or "being made perfect in love." Without digging into either too much here, the model of holy living relies heavily on meeting with other Christians to study, share, pray, serve and be held accountable. "Christian perfection" has little to do with flawlessness and a lot to do with being led by God instead of one's own desires and understandings. Hill finishes the book by discussing whether accepting evolutionary theory as true mandates rejecting the idea of becoming more and more altruistic and loving. He thinks it can, and isn't convinced by a lot of the deterministic explanations, seeing quite a few of them as prone to vague language and some imprecision n defining their concepts.

Evolution and Holiness is not a popular explanation or polemic, but pretty academic text with loads of footnotes and a straighforward and rather plain style. The section covering the non-theistic explanations of altruism is well-researched and densely footnoted, making it some work to get through. The sketches of Wesleyan holy living and Christian perfection aren't quite as extensively documented but explain their different subjects adequately, even if the one concerning the concept of perfection could use some fleshing out. The conclusion is interesting but seems presented in a slightly rushed and almost facile way. Evolution and Holiness is a great grapple with a couple of ideas not generally combined and offers a lot of food for thought, but it's not something that you can toss off in a couple of afternoons. Investing the time it does demand will pay off, though.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Not Helping

The clock radio is set to a local country station not because it plays a lot of good country music -- it's hit and miss -- but because it has local news and sports segments in the morning.

Today it introduced me to Lee Brice's 2015 single "That Don't Sound Like You," from his third album. I Don't Dance. In it, Brice receives a call from an ex-girlfriend who is apparently struggling in her current relationship. They parted on good terms, it seems, because she calls him in her troubles. Brice notes several things about her that have changed: She has moved to a new town and has a new job, and has cut her hair, all in response to pressure from her new man. Even her voice has changed:
Girl, I'm glad you called, first heard you talk
Took me a second cause I couldn't hear your drawl
Brice laments these changes, as they go against the grain of who his ex really was, which was what she was like when she was him. We can give him the benefit of the doubt on that and not think that he's just wishing she was more like she was when she was with him in the same way the current fellow wants her to be more like what he wants. But there is a problem.

Obviously, the sympathetic Brice intends his ex to recall how she expresses herself and enjoys what she enjoys, rather than what some paramour or other wants her to enjoy. He is hoping to help her feel better by recalling those days. Thus, the verses end with the same line, leading into the chorus that describes what the ex was like when she was with Brice: "'Cause you don't sound like you anymore." So the next line, the first line of the chorus, tells us what she sounded like when she was with Brice, which is what the real her sounds like: "Truck tires on a gravel road."

Lee, you're not helping.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Hidden Causes?

At The Verge, Casey Newton writes about the problems Twitter the company is having -- it's not making as much money as it predicted it would and it's not really gaining users. Newton explores several corporate structure and environmental possibilities for the problem, focusing on the business angle.

My thought is that for every new person who tries to express coherent thoughts in bursts of 140 characters or less, at least one current user discovers that even when it can be done no one is interested and quits. Apparently there is a limit to the number of people who figure the best response to a watered-down oversimplified knee-jerk reaction to an event or statement is to squawk out another one. I have to confess that surprises me.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Response

As a United Methodist, I am all in favor of my coreligionist Harriet Tubman taking her place as someone honored on our nation's currency. She is more than worthy of the honor, and she replaces a man whose record carries some considerable baggage. However, this appeared in my inbox recently:

"Spectral communication with Andrew Jackson from the great beyond was able to record his reaction to being replaced on the $20 bill. The shade of late president said, 'You've got the likely nominee from my party being investigated for conducting top-secret national communications on a machine in her basement and the likely nominee from the other party facing a lawsuit for scamming people with a fake "university." I really don't want to be anywhere near your money.'"

All in the Words

I ain't no geek. I'm "fantasy augmented," and I've got some pretty good company down through the years.