Thursday, October 11, 2007

Islam Today

Last year Pope Benedict VI gave an intellectual speech with a provocative challenge that Muslims ought to denounce violence done in the name of their religion. In it he recalled a dialog between a Christian and a Muslum from around 1400 that had some strong language!

The immediate and NONintellectual reaction to the speech was to create a few new Christian martyrs and generally burn and smash things.

OK. One sector of Islam heard from. Is there another?

Where are the peaceful multitudes of the "religion of peace"? Probably terrified of sector one! But were are the intellectual leaders? Perhaps we have finally heard from them...

"In an unprecedented open letter signed by 138 leading Muslim scholars from every sect of Islam, the Muslims plead with Christian leaders "to come together with us on the common essentials of our two religions."

I have been praying for the impossible... the conversion of all Muslims. Maybe it is only my foolish hope - but I do hope that this is the beginning of a better world.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Rich and Beautiful Book of Hours

Pictures are great! Love 'em. So these little snippets I have seen over the years from Belles Heures and Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry have always caught my attention. Their bright colors and medieval castles together with the agriculture scenes have always felt to me like a canvas of jewels. I am not sure who this Duc fella is* but I thank him for his commissions!

This site has not only a lot of the wonderful pictures from this book of hours but also some descriptions of the content of the illuminations. I often find myself wondering about details in paintings and symbolism - what the art books usually tell me is details about the size of the paintings, where it hangs, and maybe a thing or two about the brushstrokes. This is what I prefer.


*note: Thanks to the Internet I have also found out a little more about the Duc. Not the greatest guy - but he sure left us a lot of good art.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


"... unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." - Declaration of Independence

Alan Keyes, during a Q&A after a talk touched on the Liberty aspect and laid bare the foundations with such clarity... he said (not the eloquent original text): If God himself saw fit to give men freedom we should be most reluctant to reverse that endowment!

So what happens when you give every person freedom? Evil. Yes - some evil will undoubtedly happen in the world. To prevent it wouldn't God have to rescind free will?

St. Augustine defined evil as the lesser of two goods. (This takes some time to get used to but it is based on the simple fact that what God made (created things) are objectively goods.)

So how do you give freedom to every living person? You have to allow for each person to see the various choices available to him - to be able to weigh them according to their different attributes and consequences - and to make the choice based on that stew. Someone who always makes the choice which brings him alone the most pleasure (at the expense of others' or even God) is a hedonist. Someone who always makes the choice which brings him alone the most power (at the expense of others or God) is ambitious (in the bad sense). Someone who genuinely works to make the choice that is THE best available (with respect to God, others and himself) is a saint. Etc.

So every action must touch on several attributes and consequences. We must live in a web with other creatures and with God.

Therefore it seems that God will not remove all hurts and obstacles and ornery folks precisely because He wishes to preserve in us the dignity of Liberty.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Gordon Moore

I have been at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco this week (sweet!). It is really a geek festival. There was a competition going on as I left of 3 guys racing each other building overclocked top-end computers for prizes. And they had a big audience standing around wishing they could be doing it too.

But that serves only to introduce Gordon Moore. Instrumental in bringing the integrated circuit from curiosity to commonplace- (but still staggering-) reality. He was among a handful who made Intel. And he still has some pretty good experience and thinking skills!

He was educated as a chemist and physicist. When asked what he would go into if he had to start today he said Biology. Life sciences are really making leaps and growing lots. It is an area with a lot of potential still too! Meaningful too.

His advice to new engineers is this (paraphrased - I can't write that fast):
It's not the exotic... It's not the non-linear equations... it's the fundamentals that you learned. Keep well grounded in the fundamentals. Make them part of your way of doing things.

Which got me thinking... In electrical engineering V = I * R is a fundamental. I have solved a lot of things in my career by writing that down on the top of a whiteboard or a scrap of paper - and going from there.

In fact there are probably just one or two things to remember in many of the disciplines and sciences. Maybe we could make a list - a simple list!! - to give to the kids. The fundamentals of:

  • Electronics: V=I*R
  • Chemistry: elements are conserved. Maybe something about bonds too.
  • Biology: (help me out here). Life is the universe's consistent exception to entropy.
  • Math: = + - zero
  • Religion: God is good. He made us to know, love and serve Him.
  • Philosophy: There is truth. And it can be known. WE are made to know the world.
  • History: History is a great teacher - learn humility. Never use absolutes! Everyone is like you. No-one is like you. There have been remarkable changes in the body of knowledge but people are remarkably recognizable as far back as we can see.
  • Manners: Do unto others as you would have them do to you.
  • Humor: The surprise of seeing two things together that you weren't otherwise seeing as related.
  • Speaking in public:
  • Decision making: (This is another thought from the Gordon Moore interview here. I am still mulling on it.) The hard decisions are often the ones where you see the least difference between the choices. Consequently, they in particular probably won't make that much of a difference either way.
  • Thermodynamics already has it's own nice little set of laws.
  • Mechanics does too. (mostly thanks to Newton).
  • Leadership: those who simply DO are usually the leaders.

Comments and corrections ALWAYS welcome.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Love2Learn Consilium Conveniet

Over the past few years Love2Learn mom has enlisted the help of several Internet friends to assist with During the past week and a half I had a chance to meet some of them in South Dakota.


What excellent people! I knew already that I would respect them. I was not expecting to so quickly and unequivocally add enjoy and admire to the list. Those are not things that generally happen quickly. However, I was privileged to see them in action as they discussed the site - from principles down to details. I also met husbands (also great) and kids. I was overwhelmed. I am sure they are cringing at this because among the impressive attributes was that of humility. In deference to which I should probably stop gushing. :)

However, if you ever want to go on a great vacation make sure Love2Learn mom makes the plans.

I also have to mention that we did more. In fact we met wonderful folks at other stops along the way which she has chronicled over at studeo (in a number of posts) if you are interested. It was great to meet Dr. Thursday*. - and others at the Chestercon. Minn. Mom was a great host. Great friends from college were not only good hosts, fun to catch up with, but also helped us enjoy Chestercon by watching the kids. Even met someone new in Sturgis who was most interesting and kind. It all wrapped up to a most wonderful vacation. Thanks!

One of the wonderful things was how well the families met and were instant friends. The kids instantly had friends. (BTW, in case you are wondering, a fresh batch of kittens helps break the ice REALLY well!!)

* Dr. Thursday I promised to send you a link about how to see polarization WITHOUT a film. Here it is. Check out the larger site. This guy is as excited about polarization as you are about Chesterton ;)

Friday, June 01, 2007

Library: $16,000

This is pretty neat! Cliff Missen has made it his pet project to bring libraries to African communities in a unique way. Since much of Africa lacks decent infrastructure (and it costs big$$$ to get it!) many communities can't possibly get on the internet he brings the internet to them.

Using a simple backup drive from Seagate Technology, he started loading as much educational information as he could. After two years, he is now on his fourth version of the eGranary. It can hold more than 10 million documents, including thousands of instructional videos and audio files. By hooking it via network cable to a computer, anyone can access the data.

Here is his site:

And here's the pricelist. For $16k - a comlete lab including the server and 12 stations the town can access the best the english language has to offer. If they already have a computer or two then it can be as little as $750. This is 10 million documents!!!! That's more than your local library probably has on it's shelves. Brilliant!

It will be great to see Africa bloom again - this man's crude-but-effective actions may be a key to that! 1 person with a plan can surely make a difference.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Slave to Sin

The pastor this morning told us a story that I just have to capture.

Frank gets a bow and arrow for his birthday. He goes outside to practice and practice and gets quite good. As he is walking back to the house he spots one of his grandmother's ducks and without thinking of the consequences aims, shoots .... and kills the duck. THEN he thinks of the consequences. So he goes and hides the dead duck in the woodpile and slinks back home hoping no-one saw him.

Later on Betsy his sister says she is going to the lake to swim. When
grandma says Betsy needs to finish her chore Betsy says "No, Frank said he wants to do that today" and passes by Frank before he can protest quietly saying "Remember the duck!!"

Betsy goes out with her friends the next day. Frank has volunteered again for her chores. And she murmurs "Remember the duck."

After a full 3 days of this Frank tells his grandmother about the

She says, "I saw you kill the duck and hide it. And I forgave you then
because I love you. And I was sad to see how long you let yourself be a
slave to Betsy for it."

My pastor told it better. : )

This was a prelude to his homily about the gospel where Jesus says 3 times "Simon son of John, do you love me?". I don't know how it escaped me for all these years but I finally put together that this is AFTER Peter denied the Lord 3 times. I am sure that Peter didn't miss that connection!!

Jesus let Peter confess it - and he forgave him. It's great. It's catharsis in the fullest.

In fact it goes further than you would have thought at first. Any of us would probably have asked only once and been OK with the answer. But Jesus, the good author, asks 3 times. Hmm. Why?

In this way it reminded me of another story: Eustace doesn't lose his dragon skin in one swoop - it takes several painful peelings. I guess that all of these show us that we need the forgiveness that can come all at once - but there is merit and usefulness and a view of real human nature in that we need to work at rooting out a habit. Real humans live in time. Few things happen so suddenly and so completely all at once. We may say we "fall" in love. But we don't love someone for just an instant. We wake up every day and love them some more. We don't get forgiven once (barring the exception of deathbed conversions) but rather we have the opportunity to ask forgiveness again and again - - - thank goodness!!

Poets vs. Philosophers.

Poets vs. Philosophers.
Hmm. That's a big one!!!! What separates one from the other?

Philosophers. They analyze and synthesize. Some do one some the other some both. At any rate they try to understand (and tell the rest of us) about reality. They abstract from reality to show it to us.

Analysis: They look at things and try to determine the underlying principles. That is they look for what may be a "rule" that applies to the worlds state or activities that shows the unity of different things or actions.

Synthesis: Using the principles (above) they try to show how these assemble to make predictable ends.

Poets. This is a much tougher nut to crack. They seem to feel the principles that the philosophers do. But do they know them as well? Maybe some poets know them perfectly well. Of these poets it would make sense to say that they are able to describe things and events in just such a way as to make the world more understandable to us. But they use the imagery of the world to do it. They don't abstract. They wield a description of a something to cast our minds beyond that very thing into a place with a better view - an understanding. They will usually use an event or thing which the readers already know about (like two roads on a snowy evening) or a character (which we recognize from likenesses to ourselves and those we know) and say it in just such a way as to trigger in our own minds the bigger picture. They can tell a story that makes reality clearer by making the characters' motivations just a little clearer (like Nathan the prophet telling King David about the man with only one sheep. At this point the poet would typically stop and let David figure out the rest for himself. But Nathan goes on - explicitly revealing that that sheep is Bathsheba the widow of Uriah the Hittite). The poet somehow adds more meaning.

This "topic" is going to keep me thinking for the rest of my life. Feel free to share your own ideas!!

Here's another tangent. There seem to have been great philosophers popping up in response to great poets throughout history. Who is Shakespeare's philosopher? - - - John Paul II?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Higher Math - Sophus Lie and the 248th dimensions!!

A calculation the size of Manhattan

This is some pretty intense math. The "problem" has been around for around 100 years. The solution took a dedicated team (from around the globe) 4 years and a supercomputer to solve. The solution is in numbers/code that if written out in the tiniest print would blanket Manhattan. For comparison the human genome is about 1GB in a similar coding. This is 60GB!!

Now WHAT exactly is the solution? Well I started looking at what the problem was and started to get tangled in a web of math. I think that generally, it is about a system to classify symmetry. The Lie groups, of which E8 is the Everest, start out with very simple 1 dimensional symmetry (one group) and 2 dimensional (4 groups) on up to this E8 solution which is 248 dimensional being the symmetries of a particular 57 dimensional object. Start to explore some of the terms on Wikipedia and you quickly begin to see that the most basic understanding of this E8 fellow is not a depth easily fathomed!!! I think one would spend years just to understand the question. The solution is mathematical but is making physicists and geometry folks are getting giddy about it. (pretty picture of the E8 root system)

One theme that keeps coming up and is manifest here too is that many of the really great achievements are born and fostered in small groups of great friends.

Here there were a larger than usual group of 20 people who gathered annually altogether and more often in smaller groups.

Get this - Sophus Lie, the Norwegian mathematician who formulated Lie groups including E8, developed the theories with Felix Klein (of Klein Bottle fame).

and over to literature:
The Inklings (including C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien) read aloud and critiqued/heckled eachother's work - with what grand results! English literature finally had mythology.

Mary Shelly (who wrote Frankenstein), Lord Byron (wrote Don Juan), Percy Shelley and others seemed to be a clique of sorts.

and over to politics:
OOOPS!! Most examples of this leave a sour taste!
... but not all. Consider the framers of the US constitution. Consider the advances in Athens.

It seems to be of use to have someone to "bounce things off of". It may have the effect of magnifying your stature since the public only first sees your ideas after they have been subjected to a round of constructive criticism.

The message to me is to never take lightly the criticisms of friends and colleagues - they will usually have your best interest at heart.

As for that exception above - politics. It seems that the best work gets done before there is too much at stake. Once the taxes are high enough and the country big enough that the participants are abnormally interested in that power they do not care about the best interest of anyone or anything but themselves. They end up out-shouting the good ones and even punishing them for "embarrassing [i.e. actual] good ideas".

Monday, February 26, 2007


"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." - Aristotle

I have met certain people that are terribly hard to discuss things with... is not for want of intellect - they are often intelligent, capable people. is not passion - passion is a love for the topic which drives intense conversation (although rare conversion). is not arrogance - though this is to be loathed in any argument.

...maybe it is the inability to entertain any thought but their own.

Could it be that it is not their fault? Maybe it is just that sort of education which is missing in some schools today. Maybe there is a sad sort of indoctrination going on that fails to admit of more than one idea (too textbookish?). One gets little exposure to a really good adversary. In short one is not suitably challenged enough to develop this part of oneself. Could that be?

If so then it seems that in this way mankind is MADE for challenge and cannot develop fully without it.

Of course this is all about step 1... after entertaining the idea, the next step is being able to correctly judge between the opposing thoughts. And that is a habit well worth gaining!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Poetry Friday

One is not always in the same state of mood or mind. It is human. Sometimes we are ready to be the hounds of heaven, sometimes we find inspiration in St. Thomas Aquinas' absolute reason, and sometimes ...

"Batter My Heart" by John Donne

Batter my heart, three person’d God, for, you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt town, to’another due,
Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end.
Reason your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue,
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved faine,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy,
Divorce me untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

I heard this one over 20 years ago and it resonated to my teenage heart even then.