Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cats and Vomit

One thing I'm learning about cats is that they like to vomit. A lot. Let me tell you a story.

I have a cat. Her name is Allie. We adopted her in October, 2007. It's been a happy time. Except for when she vomits. And she seems to do it on a fairly regular basis.

Allie is the sweetest cat that has ever existed. As my first cat, I was a bit leery, but quickly warmed up to her cuddling and purring. And the fact that she's never intentionally scratched me. Speaking of which, let me tell you a story.

There was this cat named Chloe. Chloe is a man cat. Actually, she-he is Jenn's family's cat. I say she-he, because young Jennifer was a little confused when she first met baby Chloe and decided to give him a feminine name. It turned out that Chloe wasn't as feminine as she thought. Little Chloe was too little to easily tell. Luckily, the Chloe incident has served as good practice for the distant future, when we decide to have kids. Oh, stop it, I'm just joking.

Anyway, since Chloe has grown up with gender identity issues, he has also developed a chronic case of paranoid schizophrenia. Perhaps it's because Chloe was declawed. At any rate, the cat is insecure and quick to let you know if you are the problem. One time, Chloe and I had sort of a bonding moment. I was laying in the recliner and Chloe decided to hop up and curl into peaceful sleep. As did I. It was a swell experience, except for that I involuntarily stirred in my sleep, causing Chloe to spring up and proceed to maim my arm. Since Chloe didn't have claws, he decided to grab my arm and gnaw at it with his teeth. Every time I look at the tooth scratch scar on my arm, I remember that Chloe and I aren't friends.

Allie's different, however. She doesn't attempt to maim me. It's quite nice, actually. She's little and cute. Except for when she vomits.

Unfortunately, this past summer, Jenn and I had experienced a lot of vomiting. For some reason, Allie decided that she wasn't going to hold her food down anymore. For weeks, she would throw up after every meal. It was frustrating, but we knew something was wrong. We decided to take her to the vet, where she was pronounced as dehydrated and was admitted for two days. Unfortunately, they didn't find any problems, so they sent her home with a big vet bill.

Everything was looking fine until a month later, we returned home from a trip to see our cat regressing into her vomiting behavior; except this time, Allie decided to stop eating altogether. We tried everything for two weeks, but she would hardly eat more than a bite of food. We took her to the vet again, who kept her for over a week. They couldn't find anything wrong with her and we were beginning to fear cancer. After the second x-ray, they found a mass in her small intestine.

Luckily after an expensive surgery, Allie made a full recovery. Well, I shouldn't say full. She still vomits occasionally. Well, at least she's sweet. I think I need a cat whisperer to tell my cat to stop vomiting.

Monday, December 15, 2008

They know what I'm thinking

I love artificial intelligence. Over the past year or so, I have had a growing interest in a field of study under the Computer Science umbrella called "natural language processing," or NLP for short. I love the idea that with a good understanding of mathematics and linguistics that a programmer can design systems that can read lots of text and begin to retrieve and understand the actual context of the sentence, as well as to translate the sentence as a whole, not just word-by-word.

Which brings me to two websites I've stumbled across in my research on advances in NLP. The first one is this really cool program called Jodange Top of Mind. Designed and co-founded by Dr. Claire Cardie, Professor at Cornell University's Department of Computer Science. This program can extract opinionated comments from news articles and presents them as a means to summarize the article. Simply amazing. I recommend signing up for a trial.

Today I also just stumbled across Nice Translator, which is a cool language translation program that uses the Google Translate API to translate entire sentences into multiple languages. It's really smart and uses AJAX to correct the translation as you type. It does a great job. I did find one boo-boo between English and Spanish. I was trying out the subjunctive to see how it would render in Spanish and entered the following sentence:
I doubt that you are going to Peru in December.
I expected to get back:
Dudo que usted vaya al Perú en diciembre.
but instead I got:
me cabe duda de que va a Perú en diciembre.
I'm pretty sure that ir is conjugated incorrectly here. However, if you reverse translate the expected sentence to English, you get the correct result. It looks like the program understands subjunctive, but might have an issue with using it. Spanish experts, please correct me if I'm wrong.

I hope someday to have the opportunity to study NLP. I think that it will make a great impact on our future.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Alien vs Predator Requiem

First of all, I must say, that I saw Alien vs Predator Requiem about this time last year with my friends Josh and Tim, and let me tell you, that movie was TERRIBLE. There are few times that I have seen such bad acting and just an overall bad movie. I was actually happy when the Predator killed the stereotypical-horror-movie-sleezy-girl character with a hyper-advanced-looking giant ninja star. Excuse my technical verbiage.

At any rate, I bring this horrible movie back into recollection, as I was looking up ideas online for games for my youth group. One game that I saw was called Alien vs Predator. Here are the rules:
This game works best in large buildings with many hiding spots!!
This game is a variation of Hide and go seek. At the beginning explain that everyone is going to go hide. You need two volunteers to be Aliens, and one volunteer to be a Predator. Everyone else are unwitting humans that will be captured. The premise is that the humans hide. The aliens need to find the humans and take them to their nest (prison, holding place whatever), The Predators Job is to hunt the Aliens and to rescue the humans.

How it works:
Let all the humans go hide, give them a few minutes then you let the aliens go "hunt" them. If a person is found by the Alien, the alien takes them to the nest where they are stuck until they are rescued.
Give the Aliens a minute or two, then release the Predator. The predator's job is to catch the aliens. Once the predator has tracked down and tagged the alien, the alien has to sit out. The Predator also has to free all the humans. To do this the predator goes to the nest and can only take one person at a time to a different designated spot.

How to win:
- If all the humans are caught and are in the nest aliens win
- If both aliens are caught the Predator wins

Depending on the size of the group you may need more aliens and predators, but the minimum is two Aliens and one Predator, otherwise it is too easy.
Games very in length, but usually last 20 min.
But if anyone has really seen the AvP movies, they'd know well that predators aren't necessarily the good guys. I saw another "Alien" game on the website that had some good ideas, as well.
This is great for a church with a lot of hiding places. First pick two (about one per 10 kids) "ray guns". The ray guns are given five minutes to hide anywhere in the church. We usually explain the game and the rules during this time. Next, pick out two "aliens". The aliens are released to hide themselves too. The object of the game is to find a "ray gun" so that you can zap the "alien". The aliens try to tag all of the players. If a player is tagged then they have to go back to the common area for a full minute. An untagged player can free a tagged player at any time. This game is great in the dark. We usually play it once a month for the whole night.
I like the zapper idea, as well as having humans, aliens, and predators together. So I decided to try to integrate the two ideas to construct the new game: "Alien vs Predator Requiem." This is a work in progress as I am not a master of game theory, so I'm going to need your help in completing the game idea.

Here's what I have so far:

  • Laser tag vests for all players
  • Laser tag guns for humans (about 2 per 10 humans)
  • Pool noodle/rolled up newspaper/soft bludgeoning device for predators
  • A Bible, because the humans don't have a prayer! *rofl*
Player Ratio:
  • 10 humans (life points: 2)
  • 2 aliens (life points: 2)
  • 1 predator (life points: 10)
Object of the game:
  • Aliens: Capture all living humans and make into alien spawn!
  • Predator: Kill all aliens and humans!
  • Humans: Kill all aliens and the predator!
Similar to the rules in the "Alien" game, the guns will be hidden throughout the playing field. The aliens are then released to hide. After the aliens are hidden, the humans will go in search of the guns. The aliens will try to capture the humans by tagging them. If a human is tagged, they are to go to the "brooding ground," where they must stay for 1 minute. If a human remains in the brooding ground for the entire time, they are "devoured" and become an alien. The new alien is released to hunt for humans. Any human may free captured humans by entering the brooding ground and tagging the captured human before their incubation time ends.

Once finding a gun, humans may shoot at the aliens; in the meantime, aliens can still tag and capture humans. After 3-5 minutes of gameplay, the predator is released. The predator cannot be killed by aliens, but can be shot by humans. Predators will "kill" their prey by whacking them with their Soft Bludgeoning Device (SBD).

This is where it gets tricky. If any player is shot or hit by the SBD, they lose one life point. Once a player runs out of life points, they are killed. Shots from the laser gun only count if they make the laser vest light up.

By the way, neither aliens nor predators can use the guns. Aliens don't have opposable thumbs, and predators are just in it for the hunt!
So that's about it. I'm not sure if the game is fair yet, as I haven't tested it out. Feel free to add your comments about revisions to this game!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Our Child, Draw Nearer

I had a lot of thoughts on my mind this morning, so I decided to spend 15 minutes in writing a short Advent poem.

"Our Child, Draw Nearer"

Spirit of Truth,
Heavenly Savior,
My desire today is you.

Christ, Redeemer,
My hope lies in you.

My fears grow deeper;
Lord, please draw nearer.
My God, come clearer:
My rest lies in you.

I am broken,
But Lord you have spoken:
In you I am whole again,
My strength lies in you.

Lord, I am blind
To the hurts of mankind,
Show me your mind,
I desire to see like you.

Holy Immanuel,
Prince of Peace,
Savior, Redeemer,
My freedom lies in you.

Christ-child, be born in me,
Set my soul free;
For you are the key:
My life is in you.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Tithes, Taxes, and Materialism

I was reading a friend's blog post yesterday on misunderstandings about consumerism and it got me thinking about an idea that has been swimming in the back of my mind for a while. This is a repost of a comment in response to his post.

I think that a lot of times Christians concerned with materialism can get on such a guilt trip about materialism that they refrain from purchasing an item, but they don’t necessarily use the opportunity as a means to offset the socioeconomic divide, both in our culture and in foreign cultures. I do this myself from time to time. I give, but couldn’t I give more?

What if the average person decided, instead of abandoning their materialistic tendencies cold turkey (which is hard enough to do anyway), why not adopt a hybrid lifestyle? Why not make a pact to donate X% of a material purchase toward making a difference in someone else’s life? For example, if you’re buying that iPod (which I would say, look to the alternatives) for yourself, why not commit to spending 10% more as a wealth tithe (or tithe tax, whatever you’d like to call it) to support the homeless or the social injustices in the world? Now, whenever you make a non-essential purchase, you are committing yourself to making a difference.

Sure, others might still try to judge you, but the truth is that if you adopted this practice, you may likely be exhibiting a more giving attitude than the naysayers. Additionally the idea of a tithe tax could serve to curb some of your materialistic tendencies, while encouraging you to be giving. Essentially, you’re allowing yourself to begin the journey of seeing and acting on the needs of others, instead of standing with the iPod in one hand and child sponsorship brochure in another.

And now, to practice what I preach.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


I just happened to find some old files on my hard drive that I thought were lost among several computer crashes long ago. Ironically, this one is from 2004, midway through my college career. Ah, blissful ignorance....

Our lives are filled with many imperfections, some of which involve our vision. I don’t know if these imperfections always existed, but it seems like with each generation, there are more people that come to need some sort of vision correction. One of the causes of vision-impairment is astigmatism. The medical condition of astigmatism implies vision impairment due to a misshapen cornea. The cornea is responsible for rendering the image that we perceive. If it is not perfectly shaped, our point of focus in the eye is misaligned, causing nearsightedness or farsightedness. Perhaps the increasing number of people with astigmatism is the result of our good friend, genetics. All I know is that I am one of those people that live with the disorder.

In any matter, the concept of astigmatism spans across multiple domains. If any feature of the human body, or mind, for that matter, is misshapen, the result is some sort of defect in what our capabilities are. For instance, as with the cornea in the eye, if the heart is enlarged, it subsequently results in adverse conditions in the whole body, such as lower blood pressure and increased fatigue. We can safely state that something that is misshapen causes some sort of effect that is not up to par with its potential.

Perhaps some of our problems in society could be the result of astigmatism. Am I saying that the world’s problems are found in the misshapen corneas of man? Most certainly not. Our astigmatism as a race involves misshapen foresight of what life truly is. It seems like man is overly-concerned with issues that have no ultimate weight; for example, business. Even our worldview that is fashioned by political factions gives us a skewed perception of the world. Is the world centered around the debate on abortion? Instead of making a lasting effect, the debate has caused more problems than solutions. Virtually everything our society is based on is some sort of misshapen set of thinking. Do we really have foresight into the future, let alone foresight into the present age we live in? I believe that in our day and age, to be completely blind would be more insightful than we are now.

When reading the Bible, it seems like so many people in the past in fact did have a good perspective on their present live and seemed to also be prepared for the future. But was this because their inherent characters were less flawed than ours today? Logically thinking, it is quite doubtful. Man has made poor decisions throughout history. Take Adam for instance: the first man to suffer from bad judgment. God didn’t make us perfect, but rather, he gave man the ability to make his own choices. Though it was not a defect in creation, man was created with limitations, like every other creature. Adam was given the choice to trust in the guidance of God, or to live a life of survival, trusting only the limited perception that was given to him. As ambassador for the race of man, Adam chose the latter, resulting in the subsequent astigmatism of mankind.

As descendants of fallen Adam, we too struggle to see in a world of perceived darkness. Our lives seem to be obscure and we often are at loss for an adequate sense of purpose. Other times we find that those around us think they know what pieces of the puzzle fit. Our government, whether lead by the Democratic or Republic party, reminds me of the unlearned toddler, trying to push the square box in the round hole. When they encounter trouble making the piece fit, the byproduct is disputing and disunity. The truth is, any man-led organization is bound for the same fate, which may never change. The majority of society suffers from nearsightedness: only being able to perceive that which is in front of them. When it comes to anything that is outside of their reach, they only see a blurry haze. Neon-light signs that clearly show the future appear as a blur, and in their attempt to discern the sign, they invent their own sign from what they judge the neon sign to say. Everyone has had that feeling; trying to figure out what letters are on the next line of the chart at the eye doctor’s office. Is it a D or a P? Maybe it’s an O? Well, it turns out you were all wrong. It was a B. The Doctor makes a note in your file.

And then there are the people that think they have the whole religion thing figured out. They’ve found Jesus, and subsequently, they’ve found insight into the future. Well, it turns out that they suffer from the opposite of nearsightedness. Instead, while farsightedness gives them confidence in the future, they find despair in the present that is right in front of them. These people usually live for tomorrow. They have the answers, but they don’t know where they all fit. The piece that completes the puzzle is right in front of them, but since they are so focused on the future that the things which are right in front of them are blurred. They’re the ones that end up running into the refrigerator while looking out the window in the kitchen.

So, which is better? Farsightedness or nearsightedness? At least the nearsighted don’t feel foolish by running into things that are but inches away from them. But when it comes to long distance planning, they find themselves utterly lost. They might as well not be able to see what’s in front of them, because in the end, they find themselves somewhere they never intended to be. The farsighted, however, see better days ahead. The farsighted see a goal ahead, something to look forward to. This insight truly is a blessing, but it is of no help if they cannot avoid the pitfalls that are right in front of them. If a person cannot see that which is right in front of them, they are prone to stumble. Maybe they will reach their destination, but they will surely encounter many things that they are not prepared for.

The Doctor’s prescription: you need glasses, my friend. You need to balance your vision. The farsighted need the coke-bottle glasses that make their eyes look huge. The nearsighted need those concave lenses that show half of your face. Lenses are good, but let’s face it: you don’t wear them all the time. As Christians, corrective lenses are the first step to treating astigmatism. Putting on the lenses of our faith helps us to perceive everything that is around us with a new light. But while we are still rookies, there comes times when we take off the glasses, pop out the contacts, and try to see on our own again. I know this is an action that I find myself guilty of. I’m only nearsighted in one eye, right? And my right eye does a pretty good job on its own, right? But then what happens if some foreign material enters my good eye? Should I then be forced to stumble around until things get better?

Perhaps our ultimate goal in our relationship with God is to get laser vision correction. But realize that this is quite expensive. You have to work hard for the means to complete this procedure. Isn’t there something better that you could be doing with your time and effort? This is a question that we all face. The fact is, once we take the time and effort to get the correction, we find that life becomes more pleasurable. To receive this “laser vision correction” in our faith is to have our cornea reshaped by a precise hand. When the procedure is complete, we find ourselves with near-perfect vision. All of a sudden, we see things like God does. What can be better than being finally able to see the world as it truly is? To be transformed with the eyes of God means that we no longer have to stumble about, either due to not seeing anything but which is in front of us or by being able to see nothing but that which is far away from us.

Astigmatism. The number of people that suffer with this condition is large, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Once we have our vision corrected, we can refer others to our Doctor. We can even discuss our experience, before and after the procedure took place. The important thing is for everyone to realize that you don’t need to have a large budget to be on the way to seeing things clearly. Why not combine the capability of seeing the present with the insight of the future? To have God-like eyes is to have true wisdom in this life.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Open Source Church

Many churches have been undergoing budget cuts, both due to and prior to the US economic crisis. Like I have said in the past, though economic crises can be quite difficult, they present us with the opportunity to look at our efficiency - something that we rarely do when all is going well. The same thing occurs when we go through a personal or spiritual crisis: we find that we need to reassess our lives to cut out some of the things in our lives that keep us away from God.

That being said, there is one area that many churches are very weak on: technology. Many churches are lacking in their adoption of technology, lacking in their knowledge of technology, or all of the above. In this article, I would like to address the latter deficiency: churches lacking the knowledge of what technology is out there. Let's primarily address software.

Let's assume that you are starting a new church plant. (This makes me think of my good friends, John and Kristia Wickstrom - hopefully you get your opportunity someday!) What do you need (or greatly want) for your new church?

Let's list some items:
  1. Computers for your staff
  2. Printers
  3. Computer network (remote printing, wireless access, file sharing)
  4. Phone system (with call forwarding, voicemail, etc.)
  5. Productivity software (Microsoft Office: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.)
  6. Website
  7. General Ledger (software to manage expenses, tax exemptions, budget, etc)
I'm sure that this is not an all-inclusive list, but it's a start. Add comments to this post if you have any additions.

When you look at the list above, you're prone to gawk. "How are we supposed to afford all of this?" you may ask. More importantly, you might ask, "How much of our congregation's tithes and offerings have to go toward technology? I would rather be using the money towards ministry and missions!" If you asked that second question, I want to say "Thank you!" because you're concerned about being a good steward of God's gifts. And also, because you're ready for my solution. Let's take the items above and talk about how you can save money.

If you were purchasing computers, where would you go? What software would you get? Assuming you aren't interested in Macs, many of you would look to purchase computers from HP or Dell (possibly even purchasing them from a store like Best Buy). You're most likely paying too much! If you know anyone who can build computers, you could save yourself a lot of money. One great place to buy cheap components (and monitors!) is New Egg. Hardware is a bit out of the scope of this article, but I wanted to provide an alternative.

What about software? Surely, you need to buy Microsoft Windows and other software like Microsoft Office, right? We'll discuss these in the next section.

Before you spend thousands of dollars on vendor licenses, please research the alternatives out there. Have you heard of the term "free and open source software (FOSS)" before? Not only is this software free to download and use, you can also make changes to the code or find plug-ins to the software to make it work better.

Operating System. Instead of buying a Microsoft Windows operating system, take a look at Ubuntu. Ubuntu is a completely free Linux operating system that is relatively simple to use, once configured. Linux can seem intimidating at first, but Ubuntu is an operating system that behaves very similarly to Windows or Mac OSX. The other nicety about Ubuntu is that it offers a TON of free software that you can install with the click of a button.

Even if you decide to buy Windows, you can still save money on free software.

Microsoft Office? No thanks. Surely you can't live without Office, right? Check out OpenOffice. OpenOffice has MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint alternatives that work very similarly to its Microsoft counterparts and is fully compatible.

Internet. Please stop using Internet Explorer, and take a look at Mozilla Firefox.

Email. Mozilla Thunderbird is a great alternative to Microsoft Outlook. It only lacks a calendar.

Most churches nowadays have websites, and a good website better reflects the nature of the church. However, it can be difficult for non-programmers to design a website. Instead of buying a program like Dreamweaver or Microsoft FrontPage, take a look at the following Content Management Systems:
These content management systems not only allow you to quickly (and cheaply) create a website, they also have built in "file versioning" like Microsoft Sharepoint that keep a record of revisions to a file.

Pair up those tools with a web hosting solution that costs you less than $10 a month. Here are a couple of examples.
Image Editing
Before running to Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.) right away, take the time to see if any of these open source alternatives would meet your need.
  • The GIMP (covers a lot of features in Photoshop)
  • Inkscape (covers a lot of features in Illustrator)
If you're really technical and want to create a IP phone network, check out Asterisk. Pair it up with Vonage, and you could have an phone network that allows you to internally connect around 10 phones with only purchasing 2-3 outside lines!

For more advice on deciding whether you can go all open source, check out this website: http://nosi.net/projects/primer. Also, check out Wikipedia for a big list of free software.

Needless to say, FOSS software could save churches a lot of money. There is pretty much an open source program for every need a church has - it's just a matter of identifying it and working to incorporate it into your staff's daily life. With a little research and a couple of people in your church with the gift of technophilia, your church can save a lot of money that can be used in ministry.

Spread the word so that the Church can be a part of this technical reformation. The next step is the open source sermon!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


When I was hired in June, 2006, PPL gave me the job title of "Associate Integrator." Pretty ambiguous. If you didn't know me (which you might not), or if you didn't look at my bio, you would have no clue what that job title means. "Do you work in HR?" "Or perhaps you sit in a windowless room with a pencil, paper, and a calculator and solve calculus problems all day."

The real definition of my job would likely fall under system integration. Personally, I prefer the term software developer, because it just makes sense. I develop software at work, so shouldn't I be a "software developer?" Even "programmer" would make more sense, though programming is only a part of my job.

For the past 2 1/2 years, I've been trying to figure out where this term "Integrator" could be correctly applied - or at least in a way that makes sense to me. Little did I know that I would find the answer in youth ministry.

For about as long as I have been working, I have volunteered at a youth group in Bethlehem. Recently, the responsibility has become much more like a job or vocation in itself. When I think of the lives of teens in general, the first term that comes to mind is "abandonment," especially after reading Hurt: Inside the World of Today's Teenagers by Chap Clark. Hurt has some alarming statistics and stories about teens lacking relationships within the adult community. As a more recent entrant into this adult community, I can attest to that as well. To stave the effects of a cultural "systemic abandonment", our society calls for people who are willing and able to invest their lives in the youth - not necessarily with an agenda in mind, but rather, with a heart and passion toward helping teens define and pursue their dreams.

To do this within the church, youth need to be integrated into the body. (Not to be confused with imperialism or assimilation) This means that the church needs to reach out to our youth and let them know that they are not only tolerated but accepted as they are. Additionally, the church needs to invest in them and help them achieve their God-given potential by providing direction and providing the means for the youth to succeed.

In a nutshell, the church needs a bunch of Integrators to step forward and lead the effort to help the youth feel accepted within the church and for the church to be accepted by the youth. As an Integrator, I need to pray about who God is preparing as mentors, facilitators, and prayer warriors for the youth. I need to develop a plan to initiate the call to ministry. But most importantly, I need help.

So when it comes to my "philosophy of ministry," I have to resign that God has not called me to be a pulpit teacher, nor has he called me to be an "army of one." I know now that my purpose is to integrate and to strive to bring the church closer together.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Some words I wrote a few years ago....I wanted to bring them back to encourage you today.
My hope is in the Lord. No longer shall I wander alone in the desert of despair. The sands may stretch to the ends of the earth, but what I saw was no mirage. It is Jesus, walking toward me with open arms. He says, 'No longer shall you stumble. I have come to lift you up.'