December 26, 2013

Train up a child, #16: Lil’ MythBusters

Train up a child, #16: Lil’ MythBusters

We spent part of Christmas Eve watching a MythBusters marathon. Shortly afterward, I came around the corner and found this little collaboration well under way. I don’t know who was Adam and who was Jamie, nor do I know what they were designing (my guess: something to do with explosions), but I did hear my five-year-old announce “We’re doing math here for science.”

Well done, Messrs. Savage and Hyneman. Well done.

December 22, 2013

December Photo Project 2013 #22: Maneuvers

December Photo Project 2013 #22: Maneuvers

One rule in our household is that it’s verboten to climb up and sit on the kitchen counters. However, they were planning some pretty complex strategic maneuvers, so I didn’t want to interrupt. And they got even more complex. Shortly after I took this photo, a stealth bomber, a Transformer, and a dragon — to name a few — were added to the ranks.

Note: No DPP entry was taken yesterday, 12/21.

December 20, 2013

December Photo Project 2013 #20: Tracked Down

December Photo Project 2013 #20: Tracked Down

When we moved into our new house, my wife and I made a concerted effort to box up as much stuff as possible — and this was doubly true for all of our kids’ toys. And even after moving, we’ve spent several evenings going through the toys and storing away those that our kids hardly ever use, in order to declutter as much as possible. But never underestimate a kid’s “toy memory.” Be it weeks or even months, they will remember their toys… and they will find them.

December 19, 2013

My faith in “Community” season 5 has been revived

After the underwhelming mess that was Community’s fourth season, I’ve been looking forward to the show’s fifth season rather half-heartedly. The news of Dan Harmon’s return was encouraging, to be sure, but the fourth season was so bad and so misguided that a part of me felt like Harmon’s return was akin to rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Not even the initial teasers did much to reignite my fanboy-ishness. And then I watched this glorious trailer. And I watched it again… and again.

Chairwalkers. Ass-crack bandits and butt mouths. Meta references to the actors personal lives. It’s a mess, but the sheer wall-to-wall zaniness that marked the best of Harmon’s earlier seasons does seem to be present, and that is reason for hope. Also reason for hope is this quasi-review of the fifth season’s first episodes. Jace Lacob writes:

In their own way, these episodes harken back to the Community pilot episode (there are concrete callbacks thanks to Abed, of course) and to the progression of events of the last few seasons to reflect on the journey that these characters have taken; how did Jacobs’ Britta go from anarchist rebel to the gang’s resident “airhead”? How many breakdowns did Abed have on campus? Who is using Jeff’s Netflix account? Why are these seemingly disparate individuals still bound together by such strong invisible threads? With these episodes, there is a sense that a restart button has been pushed just as much as there is a combustive leap forward.

I was always planning to watch the new season’s premier on January 2. Now I’m actually looking forward to it.

Elsewhere: Arcade Fire & porn, NASA goes warp, HealthCare.gov, Jesus’ skin color, and David Bazan

Elsewhere: Arcade Fire & porn, NASA goes warp, HealthCare.gov, Jesus’ skin color, and David Bazan

A digest of interesting, entertaining, and otherwise worthwhile reads collected from around the web-o-sphere.

1) I’ve been meaning to write something about Arcade Fire’s Reflektor since it came out, and so last week, I wrote this piece about one of the album’s deep cuts… and pornography for Christ and Pop Culture.

Throughout the song, Butler laments the damage done by pornography — both to women, whom pornography reduces to mere sexual objects, as well as men, who grow increasingly confused and damaged in their thinking regarding women and sexual performance. (Or, as Butler puts it, “And boys, they learn some selfish shit.”)

Regarding Reflektor as a whole, I think it’s a very mixed bag. The good stuff, like the title track and “Porno” (the song I write about), ranks among the best songs Arcade Fire has written to date, but the album is also too long and too self-indulgent at times.

2) It’s one of the most famous concepts in all of sci-fi, and one NASA physicist is claiming that the warp drive could become reality:

A few months ago, physicist Harold White stunned the aeronautics world when he announced that he and his team at NASA had begun work on the development of a faster-than-light warp drive. His proposed design, an ingenious re-imagining of an Alcubierre Drive, may eventually result in an engine that can transport a spacecraft to the nearest star in a matter of weeks — and all without violating Einstein's law of relativity.

3) Long-time Opus faves Wovenhand are recording a new album titled Refractory Obdurate that will be jointly released by Deathwish Inc. and Glitterhouse Records in early 2014. In related news, Glitterhouse Records will releasing 16 Horsepower’s The Glitterhouse Years Collection, a digital-only compilation featuring four of 16 Horsepower’s acclaimed albums, including Olden and Folklore.

4) WordPress is still the dominant blogging platform, but 2013 saw the rise of several interesting and promising contenders.

You’re going to hear the words “clean,” “minimalist” and “modern” tossed around a lot. Those terms run rampant throughout blogging’s bold new premise — a means of writing with less complication and more focus on text, readability and simplicity. At first glance, the naked eye will have a hard time telling these platforms apart, but closer inspection will reveal that they are each on to something wonderful.

One of the platforms reviewed is Medium, which I wrote about back in August.

5) Mark Driscoll has been accused of plagiarism, but Andy Crouch thinks there’s something more dangerous at work here:

Mark Driscoll is a human being, created in the image of God, with great gifts, real limits, and very likely a genuine calling to ministry. But "Pastor Mark Driscoll," the author of "literally thousands of pages of content a year," the purveyor of hundreds of hours of preaching, is in grave danger of becoming a false image. No human being could do what "Pastor Mark Driscoll" does — the celebrity is actually a complex creation of a whole community of people who sustain the illusion of an impossibly productive, knowledgeable, omnicompetent superhuman.

The real danger here is not plagiarism — it is idolatry.

6) Forbes’ Loren Thompson argues that the development of HealthCare.gov broke every rule of project management:

Having made my career in the field of defense analysis, I have seen many such foul-ups in military acquisition projects. It’s a rare weapon system that gets delivered on time, on budget, and with all performance specifications satisfied. The contractors always get blamed when weapon programs go awry, but usually it’s the government customer who is really at fault, and that looks to be the case with HealthCare.gov too. The Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) overseeing HealthCare.gov appears to have violated every principle of sound project management.

On a related note, the New York Times recently published a fascinating and disturbing look at the behind-the-scenes debacle that was HealthCare.gov’s development.

7) Micah Mattix raises a good point about reading difficult or offensive novels:

…readers can and should make moral judgments about books. That’s a central part of reading. But good readers should allow books to judge them, too. Otherwise, why bother reading? Of course, if you are offended at the smallest divergence from your own habits of thought and rather narrow worldview, it is going to be tough going.

8) Fox News’ Megyn Kelly recently told viewers that both Santa and Jesus are white men. Writing for The Atlantic, Jonathan Merritt explains why insisting on Jesus’ white-ness is both bad history and bad theology.

Setting aside the ridiculousness of creating rigidly racial depictions of a fictitious character that does not actually exist — sorry, kids — like Santa, Kelly has made a more serious error about Jesus. The scholarly consensus is actually that Jesus was, like most first-century Jews, probably a dark-skinned man. If he were taking the red-eye flight from San Francisco to New York today, Jesus might be profiled for additional security screening by TSA.

[…]

Interestingly, the Bible is far less descriptive on the matter of Jesus’ skin color than we are. Christian scriptures say very little about Jesus’ physical appearance. They do not comment on his nose, eye color, skin pigmentation, or hair. The glaring exception is Isaiah 53:2, which prophesies that the messiah won’t be much to look at, another fact that places the Bible at odds with the “well-groomed surfer-dude Jesus” who's often put forth.

9) The Playlist compiles the 15 best action sequences of 2013, featuring Man of Steel, OblivionThe World's End… and Captain Phillips, to name a few.

10) Chris Marchand has posted a thoughtful review of a recent David Bazan concert, and discusses the tension he now feels while listening to Bazan’s music (emphasis his).

As a Christian a lot of Bazan's new songs are hard to listen to. I can enjoy them aesthetically both for their music and lyrics, but as soon as the aesthetics start to mingle with the meaning, the cognitive dissonance kicks in and I just go “Man, I’m sorry, but I can’t go there. I can’t rejoice in this with you. I’m just sad now…” In a Facebook conversation regarding the show I remarked to someone that I find Bazan's music particularly conflicting because I have journeyed with him so long in his story. It is not just typical “secular” music reflecting a typical “secular” worldview. I have no problem listening to music that does not espouse my belief system. Sure, I might sometimes react to a song negatively when I feel it goes against my core beliefs, but I also give artists who do not share my faith a lot of grace in this area. In other words, I do not require an artist to believe the way I do in order for me to listen to and enjoy them.

David Bazan is different though. He was once “one of us” and now he has very willingly exited the fold, if you will, and this has become the main focus of his lyrics for the past few years. This is painful and heartbreaking. Some might praise him for honestly expressing his doubts, for bravely admitting what others out of fear keep hidden, but this is not what he is doing with his art, at least not currently… A vast difference exists between writing a lyric from the perspective of a believer plagued by his doubts and a nonbeliever who is openly “cursing his branches” as the title to one of his albums puts it. Thus, he is not articulating doubt, he is advocating apostasy.

I can relate to this. There was a time when Pedro the Lion wasn’t merely my favorite band, but also a lifeline that helped me through an intensely dark period during which I was beset by doubts and skepticism. To hear another Christian sing so honestly of his own doubts and failings at a time when I perceived so many other Christians doing the exact opposite was incredibly helpful, even therapeutic. I no longer felt alone in my questions and anxieties.

My respect for Bazan’s obvious talent remains unchanged since those days, and I’m glad to hear that he’s still as engaging as ever at concerts. But Bazan’s recent material, as interesting as it is musically and aesthetically — Curse Your Branches contains some great songwriting, to be sure — leaves me saddened more than anything else. Saddened that Bazan has taken this path in life, that he feels such antipathy for the religion of his youth, that the doubts and skepticism have won. I can only nod in agreement with Marchand when he writes, “my hope is the sadness his music provokes in the Christian would lead them to prayer, prayer not only for Bazan but for a disillusioned, cynical, and wandering generation who wants nothing to do with God and his Church.”

Photo by Guy Aroch.

December Photo Project 2013 #19: ‘Cause There Ain’t No Party Like A Camel Party

December Photo Project 2013 #19: ‘Cause There Ain’t No Party Like A Camel Party

If you were to ask most boys to name their favorite animal, I suspect you’d hear a lot of the same creatures mentioned time and again (e.g., lions, tigers, dogs, eagles, sharks, dinosaurs). My three-going-on-four-year-old, however, likes camels. Strike that. He loves camels, and so he got a camel-themed party for his upcoming birthday, complete with such soon-to-be-classic games as “Pin the Tail on the Camel” and “One Hump, One Hump, Two Humps” (the camel-ized version of “Duck, Duck, Goose”).

If you were to ask him why he loves C. bactrianus so much, he’ll usually respond that it’s because they’re brown (his favorite color), or because they have humps — which is rather obvious if you think about it. What kid loves camels so much, out of all of God’s creatures? My son, that’s who, and it’s one of the many quirks that I love so much about him.

December 18, 2013

December Photo Project 2013 #18: Pizza, Pizza

December Photo Project 2013 #18: Pizza, Pizza

When you have kids, it’s often a struggle to make food that they’ll actually eat and not simply dismiss out of hand in disgust. However, I’m pretty convinced that young kids are genetically hard-wired to like pizza, so it’s a nice fallback for those days when we’re hard-pressed for time and/or ideas. Fortunately, pizza is pretty easy to make, especially if you’re a pepperoni-and-cheese kind of guy like me.

December Photo Project 2013 #17: Productive

December Photo Project 2013 #17: Productive

As you can see, the kids were very productive today.

Note: This is actually yesterday’s DPP entry. But like my wife, I also chose an early bedtime over blogging last night.

December 16, 2013

Damien Jurado returns with “Silver Timothy”

Damien Jurado returns with “Silver Timothy”

I’m of two minds while listening to “Silver Timothy,” the first single from Damien Jurado’s upcoming Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son album. Part of me misses the sparse folk music that Jurado performed on such albums as 1999’s Rehearsals for Departure and 2000’s Ghost of David. Those albums were stripped down, haunting affairs, with Jurado singing heartbreaking tales of loss and brokenness in that plaintive voice of his. However, there’s a part of me that loves the poppier, more psychedelic direction that he took, with the help of producer Richard Swift, on 2012’s Maraqopa.

“Silver Timothy” is more of the latter, with Jurado’s voice layered and sent echoing over tripped-out drones, shimmering electronics, and a ghostly choir. As you’d expect with a Swift-produced piece, this song has layers, man, and is a joy to listen to on headphones.

Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son will be released by Secretly Canadian on January 21, 2014. It will also be released in a limited edition “deluxe” version that contains a second album titled Sisters, which features Jurado performing alternate takes and new songs with an all-female choir. Watch a trailer for Sisters below.

December Photo Project 2013 #16: Research

December Photo Project 2013 #16: Research

Most of the time, I have no idea what I’m going to use for the day’s DPP entry. But every so often, I come across a scene and I know that this is what I’m meant to capture. This makes my geek dad heart proud.