Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Biggest Story Ever Told

My children discovered early on that you're only going to get a few stories in Sunday School: the creation of the world and the fall; Joseph; David and Goliath, David and Samuel; Shadrack, Meshack, and Abendigo; the Christmas Story; Palm Sunday/Good Friday/Easter; Pentecost; and Saul's trip to Damascus. There may be a few other stories, but basically you get the same ones, over and over and over. Child I said that everything was learned by about third grade, and basically tuned it all out after that.

There are many more stories, characters, and events in the Bible. At our church we take a book or two a year and try to dissect it, to learn who wrote it, why, for what audience, its historical importance, and why we should study it today.

Over the last year, for example, we spent about twelve weeks on Paul's Letter to the Romans. This is generally known as Luther's source for the doctrine of justification by faith, but it's also Paul's statement to the Jews about his belief that Jesus was the looked for Messiah.

Anyway, Slate's David Plotz recently discovered that the Bible has more to it than he learned in Hebrew school, so he's begun to blog his way through the Bible. He's currently up to Genesis 25, Abraham's death. So far he seems surprised, I think, to see that the Bible is a rather bloody book, and that there aren't too many real heroes in it.

Just wait. We've been working our way through various books of the Bible, and there are a lot of things that are at least as, uh, interesting as what he's read to this point:

  • You do not, ever, want to buy a used car from either Jacob or his father-in-law, Laban (around Genesis 30). (I started this entry a week ago. Plotz has since gotten to this part.)
  • You think Abraham almost sacrificing his son is bad? Look at the story of Jephthah and his daughter (Judges 11:29-40).
  • All of Joshua and Judges (basically the founding stories of Israel) show that the conquest was a lot bloodier than you might think from reading about Jericho. There was a lot of internal bickering, e.g., the fate of the tribe of Benjamin (Judges 20). Oh — stay away from women with hammers. (Judges 4:21)
  • David and Goliath? Well, maybe it was "Elahanan son of Jaaretoregim, the Bethlehemite." (2 Samuel 21:19). The books of Samuel and Kings are basically court histories, maybe they forgot the official story here.
  • Speaking of David, look at his death-bed instructions to Solomon in 1 Kings 25:9. Read them aloud, as Brando in The Godfather.
  • The prophet Hosea was hopelessly in love with a prostitute.
  • Job? Patient? Actually, the book has three parts: Job's "friends" telling him how he must be the biggest sinner, ever; Job whining about his unjust fate, and demanding that God come down and talk to him, right now; and God delivering the most poetic "because I said so" in the history of parenting. (Job 38-42) I had to become a parent to understand this, and why He might have done that.
  • Jesus's disciples are essentially clueless throughout the Gospels and Acts. Peter denies Christ. John ("the Beloved") and James want a guarantee of the Head Jobs in the Kingdom. Paul has to be hit in the head with a rather large club before he believes.

The point of this all isn't to run down religion. The Bible is a book about People. Mostly, they're people just like you and me, which means that they are mostly driven by self-interest, and aren't necessarily nice to be around. Yet God works (in his mysterious way) to make everything come out the way He wants — not necessarily the way we think it should come out (go back and read Job again), but the way He wants.

I'm aware that reading the Bible this way can destroy faith. But so can the traditional Sunday School version. In any case, I submit that a faith that can be destroyed by learning and thinking about its origins isn't much of a faith.

So I hope David Plotz keeps up with the blog. He's slowed down since the beginning, I hope that's not boredom. The good parts of Exodus (you know, Charlton Heston and all that) are coming up next. Then, of course, there are all the laws and regulations in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, but the story picks up in Joshua and Judges, and then we get all the stuff about David, which would make a good movie in and of itself. Keep it coming, Mr. Plotz.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Birth of an Urban Legend

Note: If you link to this, quote the whole article. If you want to link to the amusing and quite probably made up out of some idiot's head quote, then find yourself another link.

I got in on the ground floor this time. I'm a witness to the Birth of an Urban Legend.

The following was sent to me via email:

On May 1st, as a result of the Mexican boycott, national retailers reported 4.2% lower sales for the day, with a 67.8% reduction in shoplifting.

I decided to search for the source of this rather astounding, and improbably exact, quote.

First, let's browse all of the Newspapers in the world, or at least those with a significant web presence:

Google News returned:

Your search - 67.8% reduction in shoplifting - did not match any documents.


Sorry, no matches were found containing 67.8% reduction in shoplifting.

Nope, nada. Well, let's try Google its own self:

6 hits on the first page. All of which look suspiciously similar.

Well, if it looks like an Urban Legend, and it walks like an Urban Legend, and it talks like an Urban Legend, it's probably a duck. But let's look just a little harder:

Google Groups, aka the gathering formerly known as Usenet: 9 hits. Each and every one the same.

Finally, let's do a Google Blog search: 11 hits, including a brave individual who tells us how he found this quote:

According to one source, On May 1st (the Pro-Illegal-Alien Protest Date) National retailers reported 4.2% lower sales for the day, with a 67.8% reduction in shoplifting.

That's right, folks, we have a source.


A highly reliable source.

As far as I know, he's never been contradicted.

So, of course, this must be true.

Hope none of you participating in this birth get strech marks.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

A Probable Conspiracy

As you probably heard, CBS has launched something called Innertube, which will play old TV shows, with commercials, and other stuff, which this week includes a special Pearl Jam concert.

OK, I thought, I'll try it out. CBS was very good with the NCAA tournament broadcast, I was able to watch several games from here. I especially liked the "Buzzer Beaters" section, which let you view the last 2:00 of close games.

But when I try Innertube here, I get the nice little message:

The Innertube Broadband player requires the latest version of Macromedia Flash player.

I've seen this before, including on Comcast's Home Page. The key word here is latest, by which they mean Flash Player 8.0. Unfortunately, Flash for Linux is stuck at version 7.0, and not only will version 8.0 never be released for Linux, the upcoming version 8.5 "will ship after the Windows and Mac versions."

Humph. OK, CBS has a helpful link for sending feedback on there web pages. So I wrote them a nice note, pointed out that I watch things like CSI and tend to buy stuff, so please consider going back to the system that worked for the NCAA tournament, which I assume was Flash 7.

I hit send. And got this:

CGI Error
The application that you were attempting to run has aborted.
A diagnostic message has been sent to the development team.
Thank you for your patience as they fix this problem.

In other words, I can't even complain.

Adding root to Ubuntu

Every Unix system, and most Linux systems, come with a root account. This is the ultimate superuser, one who can control everything about the machine, including the issuance of the famous command:

# rm -fr /

Warning: Don't try this at home. Oh, what the heck, if they tried it already they won't be reading this now.

Anyway, Ubuntu doesn't come with the root account enabled. The justification is three-fold: first, having a root account that can be accessed via login makes it easier for a malicious user, who only has to have the root password, to wreck havoc on the system; second, having root enabled allows all sorts of mischief to occur that can't happen inside a user account; and third, everything that needs to be done can be done using the sudo command. The necessity of the sudo pre-command, in this view, makes the user stop and think before do something that can cause damage. — Not that you can't do

$ sudo rm -fr /

but now you have to type sudo and enter your password before erasing everything on your system.

Nevertheless, it is sometimes useful to be in a shell with root access, say when you want to clean up a lot of junk at once. So Ubuntu provide a means of activating the root account. Well, not activate, actually, it's already there. What you need to do is provide the root account with a password.

There are many places where you can find how to do this, here's one of them. The simple procedure: starting from a terminal window in your account:

$ sudo su
Password: YOUR password goes here
# passwd
Enter new UNIX password: ROOT password goes here
Retype new UNIX password: Repeat ROOT password

Now whenever you want to work as root, open a terminal window and type:

$ su
Password: Enter root password

You are now free to totally mess up your machine.

Friday, May 05, 2006


Be still my heart. The NCAA is considering eliminating the, in the air, turning a somersault, flying into the bleachers, time out call. Yes, it's true. Sports Illustrated told me so.

The final vote will be on May 30. I really hope this will pass. I'd go further — if a player is closely guarded, or holed up in a corner by two defenders, he can't call time out then, either. If you can't get out of the situation with basketball skills, you shouldn't be able to get out of it by giving Ford a chance to sell another 10 mpg truck.

Maybe I Should Change My Logo

It appears that the strain of being the one blue dot in a red state is putting a strain on the powers that be on Mount Oread. From various sources, we learn that the Kansas Jayhawk is "too fun and informal" to be used for official business.

The May 8 print edition of Sports Illustrated has a hilarious remake of the Jayhawk that would be suitable for KU's letterhead. Unfortunately, it's not on line.

The Executive Vice Chancellor, Paul Carter, said "The letters KU represent our nickname, and the KU gets right to the heart of the matter." Of course, Dr. Paul didn't notice that "KU" is a rather strange nickname for an entity officially named "The University of Kansas," but hey, if we can't understand the evolution thing, who'd expect us to learn proper English?

Anyway, Paul, lighten up. Get outside of Strong Hall. Go wave the wheat. Sing the alma mater with the Chant. Go see a Kansas City Royals game to see an organization with real problems.

Then put the 'Hawk back on the stationary.

New Version of Firefox

So many things, so short a time until Doctor Who comes on SciFi.

First thing, there is a new version of Firefox ( out. If you don't auto-update, update manually. Now. It's a Security Update.

Of course, that also means that there is now a version of Swiftfox.

I know, I promised to test if Swiftfox is faster than Firefox. I never really did the test, but Swiftfox hasn't crashed on me, and it's certainly not any slower than Firefox. Has anyone done any real timings?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Planning for the End

I've made a decision. Some time, in the next 50-100 years, I'm probably going to shuffle off of this mortal coil. I've decided I want to go in one of two ways:

  1. Like my Aunt, who sat down to read the morning paper and didn't get up for breakfast, or
  2. Like Art Buchwald.

Of course, he may not be going for a while. This story was written in March, and he's still writing.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The H2 Factor

Looking forward to the hydrogen economy? Just waiting for a car which will turn gas into water, not carbon monoxide?

Looks like you might have to wait awhile: We don't have an efficient method for producing hydrogen.

Not to mention the fact their aren't any hydrogen wells.