Notes

Eating Poems

At the end of the poetry anthology Sinners Welcome by Mary Karr there is an essay by the author in which she discusses part of her journey of faith and the role of poetry in that journey. From reading it I realised how shallow my own experience of poetry is and that while setting out to read a poem a day is definitely worthwhile, it is just scratching the surface of truly experiencing poetry.

In memorizing the poems I loved, I "ate" them in a way. I breathed as the poet breathed to recite the words: Someone else's suffering and passion entered my my body to change me, partly by joining me to others in a saving circle.

For the year ahead (i.e., 2018) I will continue reading a poem each day to broaden my experience, but I also would like to latch on to a couple of poems that really speak to me and read them over many times, write them out, speak them out and let them take root in me until I can feel the poem as well as read or recite it.

  • Poetry

Devotional Reading in the Digital Age

I was sent a link to this article: Devotional Reading in the Digital Age today by my friend Chris.

I could anticipate the likely conclusion of the author before I began reading, but was pleased to see a subtitle 'Let’s not be luddites' towards the end of the piece. Overall, the argument is that a smartphone is designed for communication and makes this so easy to do that remaining undistracted while using one to read a digital bible is quite difficult when compared to reading a paper version.

Personally, I do find this to be the case for myself. Sometimes I purposely leave my phone in a different room to avoid the temptation to fart around on social media instead of reading the bible. However, I disagree that meditating on the word of God is better with a paper bible. What I actually find is that I meditate on God's word when I have no bible in my hand – this is when I think about what I have read or remembered and try to understand it. I may refer back to a bible, but that is often on my phone while I am walking, so a case can be made that having the bible on a digital device that's always with you enhances meditation.

Anyway, it is a good article and a topic worth being mindful of. There are also some interesting looking links at the bottom of the article that I will get around to reading some time.

On Bullshit

I just wasted about 15 minutes reading an essay by Harry Frankfurt on Bullshit. Why? I followed a link from Venkatesh Rao's 'Reading Now' page out of curiosity. I have included a link to a PDF of the essay below, if you really want to read it I recommend looking at the last two pages first as they sum up what to me seems a tenuous argument.

Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. (One sentence I found worth quoting from On Bullshit)

What is more interesting is the page on the Faversham Stoa philosophy discussion group's site about the topic of bullshit. From there I followed a link to an article in Slate magazine at the bottom of which was a few paragraphs about how much bullshit was emanating from the Bush administration.

The Bush administration is clearly more bullshit-heavy than its predecessors.

In the shadow of Trump that comment seems quaint.

Craig Mod on the Indie Web

A good article about publishing independantly on the web: All you need is publish

Craft Indie is lose your afternoon to RSS 2.0 vs Atom specifications indie. Craft Indie is .htaccessing the perfect URL indie. Craft Indie is cool your eyes don’t change indie. Craft Indie is pixel tweaking line-heights, margins, padding … of the copyright in the footer indie. Craft Indie is #efefe7 not #efefef indie. Craft Indie is fatiguing indie, you-gotta-love-it indie, you-gotta-get-off-on-this-mania indie.

Taking Inspiration from Craig Mod

I stumbled across Craig Mod about five years ago when I read his excellent essay Hack the Cover, which then lead me to another outstanding article, Books in the Age of the iPad and also Post Artifact Books & Publishing.

Then yesterday as I was casting around the web fishing for inspiration for my About page which needs a serious overhaul, I again came across his website and was inspired by both its nice clean layout and his interesting bio page. I also clipped a bunch of his articles to Evernote for further perusal. If any of this results in cahnges to my own site I will give credit as appropriate.

Counting decimal places

ballpoint pen marks on a scientific calculator screen from counting decimal places

As a biochemist I have become quite accustomed to doing unit conversions in my head and working in scientific notation. But we all occasionally have to stop and count decimal places to get it right. The owner of this calculator (a student left it in one of our teaching labs) obviously has particular problems with this!

The Opportunity Cost of Social Media

An article well worth reading on the opportunity cost of social media: Is social media robbing us of our dearest hopes and dreams in life?

The subtitle ‘The biggest problem with social media? It is designed to give us exactly the opposite of what we truly want in life’, sums up the gist of it. Effectively, there is a clash between the interests of those who provide the social media technology and the interests of the people who use it. Think of what Facebook or Twitter are trying to achieve:

What does technology want? It wants more clicks, more time on site, higher conversation rates, etc. It wants your attention

Then consider what your own goals are:

What do we want? Well, presumably our dearest hopes and dreams for our lives go far beyond spending another 20 minutes on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.

A personal action I have decided upon after reading this article is to start breaking my lists of stuff I want to get done into tasks that will take only 10 to 20 minutes so I can see the real opportunity cost of wasting time dicking around on social media when I have other things I can easily do in the time I would waste doing that.

I can agree that social media can serve a useful purpose, and it can be used as a form of entertainment. Some people also consider slot machines to be a benign form of entertainment, but when I look at the money that gets pumped into them it’s easy for me to imagine what else could be done with that money. Our time is a less renewable resource than money so I’d like to retain control of what I spend mine on.

Is the tech industry trying to eliminate humans?

I stumbled across this article by David Byrne of ‘Talking Heads’ fame in which he discusses the observation that much of the tech industry is geared towards elimination humans and what that could mean for us. It is well written and good food for thought:

Eliminating the Human

Drafts Deleted

For many months I’ve had about forty pieces of posts sitting in my drafts folder. Unfortunately when I have looked through those posts I’ve been unable to find the motivation to finish any of them. So they have sat there taunting me with their half considered ideas until I finally spent a couple of hours deciding whether I would actually finish writing any of those posts or not. In the end I realised that they had all either gone stale, been covered in some way by other posts I have written, or could safely be deleted because I can easily enough rewrite anything I’d had as a draft.

So now they are all gone, I have a nice clean WordPress dashboard with only the post I’m currently writing as a draft. It is like starting a new notebook, all blank pages ready to be filled with whatever I choose to write and no constraints.

  • Blogging

14 to 20 August Update

pale brown rabbit sitting beside her new tunnel

A routine week, I was a bit under the weather with a cold which made me quite tired. At least I did finish the rabbit tunnel that I began making last week.

Reading

Reading about the antics of the Mad President and the fallout of what falls out of his mouth. (Baltimore Mayor Had Statues Removed in ‘Best Interest of My City’ and Why Confederate Monuments Must Fall).

An interesting article about possible reasons why we prefer a covering when we sleep. (Why Do We Sleep Under Blankets, Even on the Hottest Nights?)

An article which rang true for me, lamenting the level of technical knowledge (and time) required to participate in the ‘IndieWeb movement: IndieWebify.Me and the Knowledge Gap.

  • Update

Rabbit fight! (7 to 13 August Update)

two small rabbits, one black and the other grey

Misty (the light grey rabbit in the photo above) and Dusk (the black bunny) have been fighting a bit lately and on Saturday morning (5th August) I noticed that Misty had what appeared to be conjunctivitis in one eye. On closer inspection we realised he had a scratch on his eye and some fur missing below the eye, so it would appear that his brother attacked him. We had some chloramphenicol eye drops at home from the vet so I used these in the injured eye and it has cleared up nicely now.

Warmer weather

After complaining about the cold last week, this week has been pleasantly ‘warm’ and dry in comparison:

Mon 7 August High 20°C, Low 4°C
Tue 8 August High 12°C, Low 4°C
Wed 9 August High 9°C, Low 7°C
Thu 10 August High 14°C, Low 4°C
Fri 11 August High 15°C, Low 0°C
Sat 12 August High 18°C, Low 4°C
Sun 13 August High 17°C, Low 5°C

Water blasting

My wife returned the faulty water blaster to Bunnings and got a new replacement which is working much better so I spent most of Saturday afternoon cleaning the concrete driveway area in our back yard.

Army Cadets camp

Our 15 year-old daughter spent the weekend at a camp for her army cadets unit learning navigation and how to use the radios. Thankfully she avoided injuring herself at this camp and had a great time.

Consuming

Reading

  • A DNA App Store Is Here, but Proceed with Caution: I guess this had to arrive sooner or later – consumer DNA sequencing which claims to inform you various genetic traits, ranging in usefulness from whether you are a carrier for 67 different genetic disorders, through to gimmicks such as a scarf coloured to represent the proportion of bases in your DNA. (see Helix online store. You could easily kiss goodbye to thousands of dollars on this stuff and learn little that is truly useful – just my opinion as a biochemist. See your doctor if concerned about genetic disorders).
  • I have been reading a bit lately about social media, smartphones and how these are having negative impacts on people, particularly teenagers. A couple of representative, good articles are: Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? (on The Atlantic, note that this site does not like ad blockers) and Understanding our digital persona.
  • Also on the topic of social media, I’ve been considering how to move stuff that I’ve posted on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to my own website (this one). This also includes evaluating what is even worth moving, there is plenty of junk. I have manually transferred a few things but this is going to be a very slow process if I was to shift everything. My consideration of this was prompted by this article: Bookmarks, favs, likes – backfilling years of gaps.
  • Another article which has been timely and helpful to me is Writing As An Act Of Worship. I can easily become quite preoccupied with blogging and so have to question why I am doing it, is this what God would want me to be doing with my time and energy? Kris Camealy’s article reminded me of who needs to be in charge of my writing (God) and that self-promotion should not be my goal.
  • I found another encouraging article the day I Googled ‘why do people read blogs’ in a fit of self-doubt over whether there is any point in keeping a blog these days. So here is a few reasons why people read blogs.
  • Poetry: I’ve been continuing to read poems by Philip Larkin this week and also enjoying Scape by Luci Shaw, refreshing poetry from a Christian writer.

Watching

My media consumption is decidedly not Christian in flavour: Game of Thrones and Vikings. Both quite violent and containing a lot of sex scenes. Judge as you will.

Creating

I’ve not been particularly creative over the last week. My ‘blogging time’ has largely been spent trying to reduce the cpu load of this blog and doing some tentative experimenting with static site generators.

What I have been creating at home is a rough version of this:

a rabbit tunnel made from painted wood sticks taken from a pet store catalogue

Mine is only ⅔ constructed, using old broom handles and in good kiwi tradition #8 wire. Getting the wire through all those bits of broom handle is not as easy as I thought it should be!

30cm lengths of broom handle laid side-by-side with wire joining them together
  • Update

31 July to 6 August 2017

About time for another weekly update.

Early starts at work

As our large (1,500 students) first-year biochemistry course gets into full swing, work has become busier and I’ve been having to start earlier each morning so we get the labs cleaned up and reset ready for classes at 9am. By early I only mean 8am, but that actually entails catching a bus at 7:20am in order to get there on time since Dunedin has such a great public transport system (sarcasm!). In winter this does not feel like fun.

Cold

While the weather has not been particularly bad by Dunedin standards, it has just been mostly overcast, damp and not getting much above about 8°C for most of the week, so I feel like I’ve been living in a refrigerator. The house we are renting is also not well insulated and we are only heating the living area (kitchen/dining area) so it is cold in the hallway, bedrooms and bathroom – not inviting. A further factor is that the firewood we recently got is damp so doesn’t burn well and electric heaters just aren’t enough to warm the place up.

Also, I’m getting older and more sensitive to the cold!

Weekend

From what I can recall the weekend was mostly spent at home. I had my usual Saturday sleep in, tried to clean up the concrete outside but the waterblaster we bought only a few weeks ago refused to work so will need to be returned under warranty. On Sunday we went to church which was good.

Funeral

Unfortunately one of my wife’s uncles passed away last week after a long illness. We took the kids with us to Oamaru for the funeral on Monday and although sad at least it was a celebration of a good man and a life of faith. I was glad to be able to take our children as our view is that it is good for them to learn the full spectrum of what life involves.

Dad in hospital

My father spend a few days in Dunedin hospital this week for surgery he has been waiting on for some time. The surgery itself went well but it did take a few days for him to recover and be able to return home.

  • Update

24 to 30July 2017

photos of the Leith as a raging brown torrent in flood at the top and at its normal ankle-deep flow in the bottom photo

Something I’m wanting to do is to keep an online journal as part of the function of this website. Obviously it is public so some things would not be appropriate to publish here, but considering how much of what is posted to social media networks can easily become public this is probably not too different.

Downpour

A significant event for our region was the recent deluge of rain and associated flooding last Friday and Saturday. Fortunately our house was not affected in any major way beyond some leaky spouting and a very muddy back yard. We did bring one of the rabbits (Cloud) inside overnight on Friday as his hutch was leaking and he had become a bit wet. He got a dry cardboard box of hay in the pet playpen for the night and once the rain eased on Saturday I moved all three of the rabbit hutches onto the concrete driveway to get them out of the mud.

(The image shows the Leith Stream on Saturday 22 July above, then at it's normal flow two weeks later below)

Blog housekeeping

Despite the lack of new writing on the blog, I have been busy cleaning up all the old posts that I imported a few weeks ago. This involves fixing broken links, editing for obvious errors, adding images back, fixing fussy things that annoy me such as correct hyphens and ellipses. I’ve also tried to clean up the categories and tags to enable some of the older stuff to be found by association, though there may not be many people who actually navigate websites by following tags and categories like I do myself.

Other website work has included tightening up security of the site and trying to speed up the loading time of the site. Slow site loading is one of the prices to be paid for the convenience of using WordPress and bringing that time down to something acceptable takes a surprising amount of work. So far I’ve managed to get it to something I’m satisfied with, and while there is still room for improvement what remains to fix would take a lot of time and expertise that I don’t currently have.

Trampoline

Last summer our 5+ year-old trampoline got a small hole in it, which steadily became bigger and bigger until it could no longer be used. We promised the kids that we would get another trampoline for next summer. Heather recently won an auction on TradeMe for one at a good price so we picked it up a couple of weekends ago and despite the cold weather it was an instant hit. For our kids the trampoline is a great way to get them moving and active after crouching over computers watching Youtube for hours.

Work

The second semester teaching has been underway for several weeks now, though I would not say we are run off our feet setting up labs as yet. That will come in a few more weeks.

  • Update

The click of a sundial

photo of a bronze sundial on a pink marble plinth

Billy Collins is one of my favourite poets, his poems are easy to read yet often contain surprising views of everyday experiences. I have recently started reading his book Picnic, lightning which was published in 1998. Yesterday morning I read the poem Picnic, lightning and loved the final stanza:

and all I hear is the rasp of the steel edge
against a round stone,
the small plants singing
with lifted faces, and the click
of the sundial
as one hour sweeps into the next.

  • Poetry

A Personal Blog

close-up of the word 'blog' typed on an old typewriter

Blogging is dead, why blog? From my perspective, the short answer is, ‘because I want to’. As a longer answer I will give some backstory and explain why I am starting a personal blog.

Over the years since the end of 2009, I’ve had a number of blogs on various platforms (WordPress.com, WordPress.org, Squarespace and Ghost) in combination with half a dozen hosting providers.

My enthusiasm for blogging and frequency of posting has waxed and waned over the years. For a while I published new posts three times a week, more recently it has been less than once in six months. Four months ago I made a deliberate choice to take a complete break from blogging or even thinking about blogging for at least three months, with no expectation of returning to it. The idea behind this was to give myself a break from the blogging mindset in order to assess whether it was truly something I wanted to do or if I was just feeling obligated to maintain the blog I already had.

During that time I also managed to change jobs from one that was exacting a heavy toll on both me and my family to one that is much less stressful and has better working hours. I have also read fourteen books in fifteen weeks over this time which kept my mind busy. Now that my head has had a chance to reboot I’m finding a rekindled desire to express myself in writing and so the motivation to keep a blog has returned.

Several significant mental shifts have occurred for me during the time I stepped away from blogging. I’ve recovered from a severe and prolonged period of depression, and I’m no longer actively job seeking. Both of these had a large impact on what I thought and what I was willing to publish. Now I’m thinking more positively and am not worried about what a prospective employer might read on my blog so I can feel free to write about any weird oddball topics I want to. One of my ambitions in life is to be an eccentric old man so I need to start practising!

Having had time to consider what I want to write about and whether to simply pick up one of my two existing sites to move forward with, I’ve decided to make a clean start. This will be a blog with no niche, posts will be about whatever I feel like writing or is taking up my brain space at the time. This is a personal blog, the connecting theme is stuff I am personally interested in, no other criteria needs to be met. And because I am entering a new phase of life myself it seems appropriate to start fresh here and let the rest of the story emerge as we go.

  • Blogging

Easy on the Eyes

Next time you are in the market for a new Bible consider getting a large print one (even if you don’t need glasses!). The larger print reduces the resistance to Bible reading when you’re tired and makes it a much more pleasant experience.

Having done this myself, I wish I’d made the change years ago!

  • Bible

Ineluctable

I learned a new word today: ineluctable.

According to the Shorter Oxford Dictionary it means: Unable to be resisted or avoided; inescapable.

This wonderful word was introduced to me by Seamus Heaney in his poem Album:

It’s winter at the seaside where they’ve gone
For the wedding meal. And I am at the table,
Uninvited, ineluctable.

From the anthology Human Chain (2010).

Death and the Victorian child

I found this interesting little quote in the journal Pediatrics, Volume 76, Number 3, September 1985, page 370:

Death and the Victorian child (1869)

Today’s children, at least in this country, are shielded from death and most are never exposed to a dead body. The quotation below taken from The Fairchild Family by Mrs Sherwood (1775-1851), a widely-read book written for English children offered them a graphic and repulsive view of a decaying corpse.1

When they came to the door, they perceived a kind of disagreeable smell, such as they never had smelt before: this was the smell of the corpse, which having been dead now nearly two days, had begun to corrupt: and as the children went higher up the stairs, they perceived this smell more disagreeably. The body of the old man was laid out on the bed… The face of the corpse was quite yellow, there was no colour in the lips, the nose looked sharp and long, and the eyes were closed, and sunk under the brow; the limbs of the corpse, stretched out upon the bed and covered with a sheet, looked longer than is natural: and the appearance of the body was more ghastly and horrible than the children had expected… At last Mrs. Fairchild said, “My dear children, you now see what death is; this poor body is going fast to corruption. The soul I trust is in God; but such is the taint and corruption of the flesh, by reason of sin, that it must pass through the grave and crumble to dust…“
Reference

1. Temple N: Seen and Not Heard. New York, Dial Press, 1970, p 217.

Poems attach us to one another

I am not a huge poetry fan. I’d like to be, poetry is a sophisticated art and appreciating the art form is a good step in becoming a better writer. Beyond that, poetry at it’s best can touch upon what it means to be human and this I am interested in. This is well expressed in a blog post I read today:

… Since that moment, I’ve believed very deeply that poetry’s sole purpose is to attach us to one another, and I’ve lived by poetry’s guidance to allow that kind of connection to grow in my life. If a poem isn’t reaching out its hand, then I get bored and move on.

I want poems of the bystander trying to make sense of the world. I want poems of rich experience written by women and men unable to turn away from what they must see and what they must say. I want poems that awaken me. If the poem is too detached or too ecstatic, I bristle—they’re fallacies of human emotion. I want the poem that gives life by being true to life. (Dave Harrity at tweetspeak poetry)

Choose Your Sword Wisely

I have used three different Bible translations for my ‘daily’ reading (well, ‘reading most days’!) over the years. However, in retrospect I’m not sure that it is such a wise idea to change translations – I started off reading the NIV, then after about five years changed to the NKJV because it was more literal and reading that version gave some passages much more force than the NIV which appeared to have ‘softened’ the impact. About four years ago I changed again and now read the ESV. This change was partly because this translation comes highly recommended and also because I like the flow of the language – contemporary English with good grammatical structure, not ‘dumbed down’, and a literal translation rather than a paraphrase.

Each of these translations has been used by God to nurture my faith in Jesus. I’m glad to be reading the ESV, but the problem with having changed translations is that I still ‘think in NIV’. When I know there is a passage in the Bible about something I almost invariably remember the NIV version of the text rather than the ESV or NKJV, which makes searching for it online tricky because generally I search for the ESV text because that’s what I currently use.

The great irony of having accurate online search tools for the Bible is that I often can’t find what I’m after there – I have to pull out my old NIV exhaustive concordance from the bookshelf and flip pages until I find the passage I remembered, then look it up in my ESV. Maybe it is a sign of old age that I can find Bible information quicker in a paper book than electronically!

The point of all this? Don’t switch translations without having a VERY good reason to do so, it is good to be able to ‘think Bible’ in the same translation as you read every day (or most days). In the end the important thing is to be reading the Bible rather than analyzing it academically.

Another good reason to stick with one bible is the tendency to remember not only the words but also the position of those words on the page. It sounds silly, but this is does make it much easier to find the verse that convicted you last week. One obvious disadvantage of eReaders I suppose!

  • Bible

Bastard of a Wayward Woman

drawing of Saul rising from the table with a spear in his hand threatening Jonathan

Andy Naselli discusses The Importance of Dignified Translations of the Bible.

Personally I prefer the coarser, more literal renderings that pack a punch. This is where occasionally reading a different translation or paraphrase can open my eyes to the meaning of verses I have read often but missed the real impact of.

(For the more polite version of what Saul said, click here)

My first week as a shift worker

End of my first week as a shift worker – still getting used to eating dinner at 9pm without the kids around, nice and quiet but I miss them and their noise.

  • Update

Hypoguesia

About two years ago I lost my ability to taste sweetness for about a month, a condition with the medical name ‘hypoguesia’. It was quite odd to put sugar on my tongue and experience tasteless gritty grains which slowly dissolved, or to taste only the slightly earthy floweriness of clover honey with no sweetness at all. The only commercially manufactured biscuits I could tolerate were gingernuts because at least they had enough flavour to cover the taste of preservatives which is unmasked when sweetness is eliminated. Even chocolate completely lost its appeal!

One of the worst things about my inability to taste sweetness was that I was still left with the sour, acidic taste in my mouth which is the common aftertaste from eating anything sweet. So I got the sourness but not the sweetness, not nice.

The gospel is like that too. Prior to my conversion I encountered the gospel on several occasions and frankly it left me cold. My reaction to Christianity was distinctly hostile, I considered the church to have done considerable damage to the progress of science historically and to be irrelevant to my life. I certainly tasted sourness, but had no hint of sweetness.

O Taste and see that the LORD is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!
(Psalm 34:8)

Social media

One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.
John Piper 2:02 PM Oct 20th, 2009

My response to this was “ouch!”, it hits me on a sensitive spot – not only how I interact with social media, but the internet and computers in general. It also reminds me of another penetrating comment from John Piper:

We are made to know Christ; we are not made to do little diddly things.

A beautiful verse

Shower, O heavens, from above,
and let the clouds rain down righteousness.
Let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit;
let the earth cause them both to sprout;
I, the LORD, have created it.
(Isaiah 45:8 ESV)

In His goodness and sovereign power God ordains that righteousness and salvation should shower down from heaven and that the earth be receptive and burst forth with the fruit of righteousness.

Jesus is the salvation and righteousness from heaven, we are made from the dust of the earth and are called to bear fruit.

(See Genesis 2:7, Romans 3:22 and John 15:8).

  • Faith

Aseity

There is only one Being who is not dependent upon anything, namely, God. This attribute is called ‘aseity’ and has profound implications for how we perceive God, ourselves, and the universe.

Parmenides: ‘Out of nothing, nothing comes’ (ex nihilo nihil fit).

If interested, check out R.C. Sproul speaking on Aseity on the Ligonier Ministries website (the best bit starts about 28 minutes into the audio).

  • Link
  • Aseity