25 December 2007

new projects!

HUG: http://www.magknits.com/warm04/patterns/hug.htm on 19's, hold 2 tog.

Mohair: http://knitty.com/ISSUEspring05/PATTbranchingout.html with 3x patt rep or another lace.

25 November 2007

teh xmas listorz!

  • House, M.D. season 3 on DVD
  • Matcha (Japanese powdered green tea)
  • wool sockses
  • really enormous knitting needles (size 20 or larger)
  • an alarm clock less than 10 years old, like maybe a CD alarm clock? so I can wake up to a CD instead of the radio.
  • a big, drapey shawl/scarf thing
  • H&M trip? something else? these are cute.
  • Starbucks gift card!
  • Several skeins of (a single color of) very fine cashmere or mohair yarn
  • Swing Kids (Disney, 1993-ish) on DVD
  • this summer, a laptop that is capable of running Firefox, iTunes, and Notepad simultaneously, unless I end up somewhere within driving distance and just bring the desktop.
updated 04 Dec

further updates as events warrant.

20 November 2007

projects for the holidays

Hooks/Needles current status, updated 12/21:

* stitch markers -- find yarn needles and put them in there, too
* #2 dpn - one for use as cable needle
* #4 long circ - Fetching
* #6 short circ - Norwegian headband (Amy, binding off)
* #8 dpn - klein hat
* #10 - empty
* #11 - loaned out
* #13 - empty
* #15 - Lizzy lace-up mitts
* H - empty (capelet)
* N - empty (afghan)

Current projects (high priority)

1. Norwegian headband (Amy, xmas) (blue n white, #6)
2. klein hat (P.H.M., xmas) (eclipse, #8)
3. Fetching (EKA, xmas/jan) (red heart sport, #4, #2 cable)
4. Maroon capelet
5. red babydoll

Current projects (low priority)

* afghan

Future projects (high priority)

1. Shrug (me) (big needles, cotton and grey?)

Future projects (low priority)

* Dr. Who scarf (any and all scraps, large-ish needles)
* something with that camo sport yarn and/or maroonish stuff.
* cami (#4, #6, tan sweater yarn)

To be frogged

* grey shawl (very old, never finished, don't want, can use for shrug and/or macbook case)
* tan sweater (for cami)
* tan scarf-thing
* any old sweaters.

06 October 2007

keep on tickin'

Now that school's started, the knitting fervor has died down considerably. Front of the autumn sweater is done, but I haven't started the back yet. Also I made a little trombone mouthpiece case, but I still have to seam it.

*sigh* I wish I could knit more, but I have quantum :(

14 September 2007

new project...

I was reading the 'Tosa paper the other day, and for some reason, a picture of the East freshman activities suddenly made me want to knit one of those babydoll-esque tops, with the straps and buttons. Now, I just bought a whole bunch of yarn, so I wasn't going to go out and buy more. So instead I went up and dug through the box of winter tops in my room --- bingo! Red-orange turtleneck that's been falling apart since my junior year of high school. It's the perfect color for a fall top (though I have yet to figure out what to wear under it... probably black), it came apart easily with minimal cutting, and it's wool/silk/synthetic. Actually a really nice yarn, now that I'm taking all the pills off.

So here's the plan. I've already started the front, using #10 straight needles and the lace pattern for Knitty's Totally Autumn throw. It's a slightly bigger gauge than the original sweater, but it's nice and drapey. I've got 5 pattern repeats across the front, and for the back I think I'll do two on each side and a fancy braided cable up the middle for shaping. Then at the top I'll get into some ribbing just below the bust, and attach the straps and find some buttons in that pound I have.

The goal? To have it finished before I move into the Swing House in a week! Here we go!


24 sheets phyllo dough
1 jar Nutella, warmed slightly in microwave (3-5 seconds)
1 cup finely-chopped almonds, toasted
cinnamon sugar
cooking spray (e.g. Pam; butter flavored is best)
1 tbsp butter, melted

damp towel
cutting or pastry board
two spoons
baking pan covered with silicone baking sheet or parchment paper
pastry brush

Keep phyllo dough covered with a damp towel when not in use so it doesn't dry out.

To make Choclava:
Place one sheet of dough the wide way on board. Spray lightly with Pam.
Using two spoons, scoop about a tablespoon of Nutella and carefully drop it in a "slug" approximately 2 inches long, centered on the leftmost short edge. Be careful not to touch the phyllo, since it will stick to the Nutella and tear.
Sprinkle Nutella with almonds, and sprinkle cinnamon sugar down the length of the dough.
Fold the top third of the sheet down and the bottom third up, then, starting at the Nutella end, roll gently but somewhat tightly. Place on your baking sheet with the open end down.
Make 24 (or however many sheets you have).
Brush with melted butter, and sprinkle again with cinnamon sugar.
Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 8-10 minutes, until browned.

Let cool, serve with chocolate sauce if desired. Great with really strong coffee!

28 August 2007

pixel dolls!

So, all of this is just some fun stuff. You have to click to see the doll I made.

25 August 2007

state of the knittles

Hello, gentle readers. This is the first entry of the dedicated knitting blog, and it will be BORING unless you're like me. Stay tuned for project updates and (hopefully) pictures, now that I'm home and have internet on Clementine.

Hooks/Needles current status:
needle holder complete.
  • stitch markers -- find yarn needles and put them in there, too
  • #2 dpn - empty
  • #4 long circ - winecozy
  • #6 short circ - Norwegian hat (who is it for? maybe me or Amy. Do I have a good winter hat? I can't remember.)
  • #8 dpn - klein hat
  • #10 - empty
  • #11 - empty
  • #13 - empty
  • #15 - chenille feathers scarf/shrug
  • H - empty, but used for maroon capelet
  • N - empty, but used for afghan
Current projects (high priority)
  1. Winecozy (M.G.S., roomwarming) (maroon red heart, #4)
  2. klein hat (P.H.M., xmas) (eclipse, #8)
  3. feathers shrug (K.M.G., xmas) (feathers stuff, #15)
  4. Norwegian hat (someone, xmas) (blue n white, #6)
Current projects (low priority)
  • Maroon capelet
  • afghan (these are both crochet, it seems)
Future projects (high priority)
  1. Mac socks (E.K.A. bday) (#2, blue and white sport)
  2. Macbook case (E.K.A., NKYMAS[UYGTR], xmas) (#?, grey from shawl)
  3. Shrug (me) (from tan sweater) (#10/11, cotton and something else maybe for bulk)
  4. other xmas gift items - more wine cozies?
  5. Mac socks (me, same)
Future projects (low priority)
  • Dr. Who scarf (any and all scraps, large-ish needles)
  • something with that camo sport yarn and/or maroonish stuff.
  • cami (#4, #6, tan sweater yarn)
To be frogged
  • grey shawl (very old, never finished, don't want, can use for shrug and/or macbook case)
  • tan sweater (for cami)
  • tan scarf-thing
  • any old sweaters.
I think that's all for now.

08 August 2007

oh man, guys!!

I just finished my paper!! Well, a preliminary sort of "finished," at any rate. Dr. Rumstay will look it over when his email decides to start working again. The pictures aren't working right, but we can leave that to Matt to figure out when I send it to him.

In other news, the space shuttle Endeavor launches this evening from KSC at about 6:30 EDT. We're 200 miles away and it's daytime so we probably won't see anything, but I intend to find it on TV and watch that. As of this writing, you've got 2 hours to find it; I'm pretty sure all the major news networks will be covering it.

I've got one more day in Valdosta, which means I'm going to spend tonight and most of tomorrow trying to pack, and going to the post office to ship some things home (for example, my 20# of pots and pans). Got some food to finish, too... two more containers of pasta leftovers, leftovers from the place we went for lunch yesterday, half a pizza, and a whole bunch of ingredients that I don't care enough about to bring back (though I think my spices will be making the trip).

Friday's going to be a busy day... I get up at 4AM to catch my 6:30 flight, and then I have a 2-hour layover in Atlanta and get into Milwaukee at 11. Though if I'm lucky there'll be an earlier flight that I can get on; I'll call if that's the case! After that I'm heading to Appleton -- the plan is that Erik will make sandwiches for lunch, and we'll head to the Fashion in Film exhibit in Oshkosh right away since it closes at 4. Then we'll be back in 'Tosa for dinner.

Saturday we're going to the Simpsons movie with Katy and Amanda (and anyone else who wants to come, time TBA but as early as possible), then stopping by Mayfair so Erik can see the Apple store and play with an iPhone (I promised him) and so I can see about buying some bleach and purple (note to self: call Hot Topic to make sure it's in stock). Then we'll head to Sendik's and Indian Groceries & Spices to buy the ingredients with which we will make dinner (expect something containing curry and perhaps saffron).

Sunday is State Fair with Katy's family!! When we get back from that we'll start heading up to Appleton again -- the plan is we'll have dinner there, and then I'll help Erik move into Swing House (and, I suppose, Jason and Corey into Hiett and everyone/everywhere) and bring my bike home.

Right now, Georgia is in the grips of a huuuge heat wave. Yahoo says it's 96, Google says it's 36, and Martha says places up north (well, "up north" for Georgia) are having record highs. I spent the day in the office writing my paper while I hid from the Sun and waves of incoming freshmen.

And apparently I've become a windbag. I'll leave it at that.

01 August 2007


I found a new free knitting patterns website, and I'm getting excited about the patterns!!
This is a reference list of projects I like:
cute tank top
chunky cardigan
opera gloves
simple socks, with an apple logo!
cropped hoodie
swirly, beaded hat
long-sleeved shrug --- this is the sort of thing I've been looking for!
tricksy scarf -- Grandma, look at this!!
so yeah.

31 July 2007


30 July 2007

general amusements

Hi everyone! Just a few things I felt like writing down.

I went fishing on Saturday with a family from church who "adopted" me -- their daughter Molly is Pete's age, and their son is my age but he's never around. We had a great time, and I caught three black crappies! They were all fairly large -- 8-12 inches, maybe. I have pictures, but I forgot to bring my camera in today so I'll post them later. This species is supposed to be really delicious, but we let them go after we took the pictures.

I biked to the mall yesterday, mostly for new jeans (which I found on sale at Old Navy, of course. Made in Cambodia, but they fit like a dream). Also got a pair of fingerless gloves from Hot Topic that say "good" on the fingers of one hand and "evil" on the other, but of course "good" is on the hand that hurts more! Typing is starting to be generally painful, so I'm taking frequent breaks (and Aleve).

JC Penney was having a sale yesterday, and somehow I got a cute t-shirt that was originally $14.99, marked down to $4.99, reduced to $4.19, and sold to me for only $2.99! Not sure exactly how that all worked, but I got me a new shirt for a sketchy-goodwill-shirt price! (it has pink and white stripes and a little lace at the collar -- adorable!)

Three days now until I leave for Melbourne and the second meeting, 10 until I go home. I'm giving a practice talk tomorrow, and on Wednesday I'm moving into my "guest apartment" for the remainder of my stay. It's sort of a hassle, but that's what I get for going to Lawrence.

That's all for now, I'll put up pictures when I remember.

24 July 2007

post #42

Hi evrybody!! Not much to say... still making progress on the number-crunching front, and I've started work on my talk and paper (finally!).

Mostly, I wanted to post pictures of the sushi (not real pictures, just from the internet) I had yesterday. It was awesome! So here goes.

Nigiri ikura: salmon eggs, rice, and nori (seaweed). VERY strange (they pop in your mouth), but now I've tried it.

Nigiri unagi: barbecued eel on rice, with a little strip of nori. Always a favorite!

Nigiri sake (foreground): raw salmon on rice. Mine was a little paler than this and absolutely delicious. Also this restaurant doesn't put the wasabi under the fish for you, so I didn't have to take it off!! :)

House specialty roll: This picture isn't actually it, but it looks sort of the same. The one I had had four different fish and avocado! Unfortunately, there wasn't much of it (only half of what's in the picture there) and it was expensive. But it was still tasty.

Finally, edamame!!! Soooooo good! But they take a long time to eat them one by one with chopsticks :) Mine didn't have quite this much salt on them..

Anyway, that's it, and I'm hungry now. See you all soon!

11 July 2007


Hello, gentle readers! Recent developments in the life of Sarah are, most notably, that I will be able to swim for legitimately soon (just need to pay $25 and have the secretary set up my card), and that I have baked cookies!! The first ones out of the oven were sort of weird, but after that they started looking more normal.. perhaps they need more molasses. Either way, I don't think I have enough peanut butter to have another go. Also, on Saturday I'm going to see Frog and Toad with Rachel (Ken's daughter) and one of her friends. It should be a good time :)
That's it for now, further updates as events warrant.

06 July 2007

weekend haps

Hello, readers! Work is as unexciting as ever, hence the update here. Martha and I are going to First Friday this evening -- it's a mini-festival that Valdosta has downtown on the first Friday of each month, and there's food and music and so forth. It should be a good time! At some point I will get to a grocery store and buy some strawberries and eggs so I can make Kaiserschmarren.. I probably need milk, too.

I called the Rec center about swimming.. left a message, haven't heard back yet. I'll stop by on Tuesday morning if I don't hear anything by then, since I want to swim!

Had a nice, relaxing 4th.. saw Ratatoullie, and had some blue crab sushi for lunch :) Yummy! Then Martha and I went to the fireworks, which we ended up watching from the parking lot behind Sear's because it wasn't as congested as everywhere else, and had some ice cream.. all in all, it was a good day.

That's all for now!

03 July 2007

what a girl wants

I'm excited.. I got new shoes today!! They're pink wedge-heeled sandals, and they're so comfy and excellent!

Last night I made a key lime pie that I'm taking to the Rumstays' tonight.. I'll post a picture and tell how it was when I have internet access again on Thursday ;)

02 July 2007


I guess I haven't posted anything since I finished what I was doing before.. I'm done removing noise from images (until the CD of new data from Dr. Perlman shows up), so now I'm finding the brightnesses of galaxies by comparing them to the stars around them in the images (aperture photometry). We expect the galaxies' brightnesses to vary with time, so I have to do this for every image we have since 2001, which takes a while, but isn't hard.

For some other objects, though, we don't know the magnitudes of the stars around the galaxy, so we have to do "Absolute Wide-Band Photometric Reduction", which Ken is working on because I have no idea how that goes.. it's considerably more complicated.

We had a public observing session on Saturday night because Venus and Saturn were less than a degree apart, but it was too cloudy to see anything. I did meet a family there, though, and I went to the Methodist Church with them on Sunday. I liked it a lot, and will probably go back next week. After church, they invited me for lunch and we had vegetable soup with ham.. it was delicious! They have a daughter in High School (Molly) who wants to be a physicist, and a son (Sean) who's my age (more or less). They decided they want to take me to see the attractions around here, namely the swamps and the beach in Jacksonville, so I'll probably be seeing them on several Saturdays in the coming weeks.

The Rumstays are leaving for the holiday to visit their oldest daughter, Roseanne, but I'm having dinner with them tomorrow night, and I think I'm going to bake a Key Lime Pie for that :) I got a recipe emailed to me from something or other I signed up for, and it looks like a good thing to do tonight. On the 4th, I might go see a movie .. Ocean's 13 if the major cinema is open, or 300 at the budget. Also I plan to sleep a lot :) And hopefully we'll get some rain soon!

26 June 2007

new skillz

Just a small update.. I learned how to make composite-color images today, and I made this:

It's the Crab Nebula, which my work doesn't involve, but it's pretty. As always, click for a larger version.

21 June 2007

picture time!

Hi everyone!! I'm back from Kitt Peak, and I totally slept 14 hours last night!! It was awesome!
Anyways, here's a bunch of pictures from the trip. Some highlights are below (click for larger image):

These and more are also available at my Flickr site

18 June 2007

Experiencing Tucson!

Hi, all! My adventures today were nothing short of amazing. We went down off the mountain today, and Dr. Perlman had "tea" with his parents while Laura and Ryan and I went to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which was really amazing!! If you're ever in Tucson, be sure to go there. We saw all sorts of animals and plants, including bobcats and otters, and little lizards all over the place! They also have a really nice cactus garden, and we bought a little jar of prickly pear jelly at the gift shop, which we're going to have with our night lunches tonight. We went through a McDonald's drive-thru for dinner since we were getting on towards sunset (which is unfailingly spectacular), and I got a happy meal -- the toys right now are penguins from Surf's Up, and the one I got is pudgy and nerdy and really cute, and he rolls around the floor on his wind-up surfboard :) We've added him to the collection of fast-food toys in the control room here.

As far as observing goes, we're having a much better run of it tonight than the previouis two nights. We started right away during twilight with a gamma ray burst field and a standard star field, and we haven't had any technical problems today (computers decided to fall apart while the last group was here, but we got them into a temporary fix). Unfortunately, it's also much windier tonight, which affects the clarity of our pictures and we may have to close the dome if it gets too bad. It's also colder, which is fine for the 'scope, but means it'll be a long, cold, dark walk to the cafeteria for night lunch and caffeine. But now that we're on the schedule, it's getting easier to stay up until 4:30 am. The first night, I was awake for something like 27 hours with only a few minutes of dozing here and there, and the others weren't much better. Going back on Wednesday will really be miserable, since we'll have been up since about noon on Tuesday and then observed all night -- we're leaving the mountain for the airport as close to 4:30 as we can, since the FIT people have a 6:30 flight ... mine's not until 9:30, so maybe I'll try to nap a little. At least I'll have all Thursday to recover :)

That's about it for now.. my next update will probably be late Thursday, or possibly Friday (depending on how much I sleep!)

16 June 2007

kitt peak!

hi everybody!! I'm up on top of kitt peak right now, we just had some dinners, and sunset's in about an hour so that's when we'll be startin' up the ol' 'scope. to be a hick about it. my room is very cozy and i had a nap when we got here this afternoon... I've been up since 4AM eastern, and it's been pretty rough. BUT I'll have a lot of great pictures of Lord Emsworth to put up when I get back, as well as some of Stan, Laura's koala.

No one managed to tell/remind me that/how I needed to order my night-lunch, but luckily we got here just a bit after 3 and the kitchen lady said it was fine that it was a few minutes late. so i get a night lunch after all :)

um... that's about it. more when i have stuff besides whining about how tired i am.

15 June 2007

picture time!

I figured out how to take pictures from my camera to the computer! Here's what I have so far

the first dinner I cooked -- Rice-A-Roni with vegetables and chicken. And cheese.

Lord Emsworth at my desk. The image is just something pretty, not an AGN.

I leave for Kitt Peak tomorrow!! That's 8 hours of traveling, starting at 6:30AM EDT and ending at 12:15 PM Mountain time. Plus another hour of waiting for the guys (and girl) from FIT. But I'm excited to see the mountains and be a real astronomer!!!! I'll be sure to take lots of pictures of Lord Emsworth to document my adventure :)

14 June 2007

what i'm doing

here's a sweet screencap of what i did yesterday.. I think I'm learning something new today. We'll see.

Also, I started reading Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, which is hilarious!

13 June 2007


Hey everybody. Just finished for the day, which involves finishing all the preliminary processing on the images from 2007 -- hopefully I can finish 2006 before I leave for Kitt Peak on Saturday morning!

What I'm doing (so far) is essentially removing all the noise from the telescope images. There are 3 kinds of noise (two from the chip and one from everything else) that I have to take out using MIRA, which is tedious work, especially when there's 240 images of one thing!

That's about all for work... I met Dr Leake yesterday, and she's giving me a big trash can and a brush and dustpan that her student left last year. Dinner tonight will be rotini with spinach and fish, and maybe some carrots. Haven't decided yet if I want to put pasta sauce on that... maybe. It sounds good, but then I'd have to use all the sauce before I leave. And it's a lot of sauce.

Also, I just bought a (really!) cheap DVD player on eBay, since the computers in here don't have DVD drives and I have no other way to watch Batman Begins! But I have to buy the cables too.. eh. This won't be more than $20 total, which makes me happy. Works-great DVD player for $0.01, anyone? Yeah, I thought so. But shipping was $13.50. Whatever. Hopefully it'll work for 9 weeks.

Oh man, I'm hungry. Time to go make dinner!!

12 June 2007


Great news, everybody!! ("What is it, Dr. Nick?")

So I finally now how to reduce data!! Whoop-de-do! So now I have actual work to do instead of just reading things. Only problems I've encountered so far are when some runs are missing sets of exposures, and another one had such a large image set that it crashed the program. Lots of times. But I'm familiar with Windoze so I persuaded it into submission and have conquered the problem by doing it in pieces.

The cable went out sometime yesterday, and I don't know if it's fixed yet. Another girl came through looking for someone else to call the front desk, because they didn't believe her. So I read a book and listened to the faux-pod instead :)

Uh... that's about all for now. Ken's wife invited me to dinner again, so I'm having "string pie" tonight!! Yummy spaghetti. Also yay playing with the kitties again!

11 June 2007


Hello, all! I'm finally settled in enough to be able to spend a couple minutes typing, so here goes.

My flights into Atlanta and then to Valdosta were uneventful, until I arrived here and discovered that, due to weight issues, only 18 pieces of checked luggage were aboard the plane. And none of them were mine. But they said, oh, it'll be on the next flight from Atlanta (Val Regional's only connect). So the next plane came in about 10:30... and I got the red one, but not the duffel. So right now, I'm waiting for them to call and say that the next plane is in and they have it, but I'm not holding my breath. My dishes and pillows are here, but the pots&pans and sheets (and liquids&gels) are in the one that isn't here. But Ken's family loaned me some sheets and a blanket so I can sleep until the rest of my things arrive. Which is hopefully today. Maybe.

Those were the TINIEST planes I've ever been on!! 12.5 rows, 4 across, no 1st class. Both flights were totally full, too. So I hope my luggage made it out of MKE all right..

In other news, we had to take a shopping trip yesterday to get a few things: TP, a shower curtain, dish soap and towels, a sponge, cooking knives, and a cutting board. Also milk, butter, apples, and spices. Kix were also on sale at Wally World, so I got a box of those and had them and a peach (from Mrs. Rumstay) for breakfast this morning. My toothpaste is still in Atlanta, but there was (for some reason) one hanging around the office here, so I'm using that until mine shows. I also have a bike (courtesy of Ken) with a !new lock (my helmet is in Atlanta), and a little TV on which I watched Sesame Street while I ate my Kix this morning.

Right now we're waiting for a call from the ID office so I can go get my VSU ID, and then it's off to the housing office so I can get a real access card and give back the temp one.

OH! And I know what my research is about now. We're monitoring brightness fluctuations of AGNs (active galactic nuclei) to determine how massive they are. Basically how fast the brightness changes tells us how heavy the black hole is. But I'm sure it'll be more complicated than that.

Until all that happens, I'm busy customizing Firefox. Time for Mouse Gestures!!!

Finally got thru to Los Airport and they say it's there.. so we'll go get it as soon as Ken finishes his advising meeting. YAY I can eat Rice-A-Roni tonight!

08 June 2007

New Post; or, The Summer Begins

Hey all. I'm at home now, busy doing laundry and trying to figure out what to take to Georgia. Coffeemaker? I think it depends on how much room I have. I should take it out and let it dry in case I decide to pack socks in it.

If you want to comment on this blog, go ahead! You need to be a member of Blogger, which is a Google service, so if you have a Google or Gmail account, you can use that. Or get one, they're free. Other ways to get in touch with me (if you're a member) are via Facebook or my DeviantArt account (see below). Otherwise you can just email me, ladymac111@gmail.com or marheins@lawrence.edu.

Ummm.... that's all for now. The dog is sleeping on the kitchen floor next to me. GOOD BOY, RIPLEY!!!!

I'll make a new post sometime. Maybe after the Matt's party on Saturday. Which is tomorrow..

30 May 2007

it's 3am


25 May 2007

Pirates ARRRRRRR!!!!!!!

All jokes aside, Pirates of the Caribbean is very nearly a secular religion. In much the same way Apple Computers is. Except with more pillaging and plundering the weaselly black hearts of its followers out. Very few (if any) fans of Pirates are actually criminals. One hopes.

But morality aside, sitting in a packed theater at midnight with a couple hundred other people, many of them in costume, can be looked at (though I don't know if it's strictly advisable in real life) through the lens of religion. The close community, the oneness of vision and purpose, the spontaneous cheering and "awww"-ing and disgusted groans (those for the Bratz movie trailer --- what a waste of brain!! aaauuggh!!).

It also sort of brings Rasta to mind, and not just because Tia Dalma is so hard to understand. I think smoking pot and reading a holy book can be very similar to staying up all night and watching a movie opening. If you see Pirates as parallel to the Bible (not that it is.. the thought is almost disgusting, if you took me seriously), pot and sleep deprivation both produce altered mental states. And if it's good enough for Bob Marley, it's good enough for me.

Oh man, Pirates!! The new one is way better than the second one.

17 May 2007


In times of crisis, people fall back on their "highest" ideology. For a large number of people, this is their religion. In class we discussed, then, how atheists might see their beliefs as religion, or not, and spent some time (but not long enough) thinking about what might be a person's ultimate reference frame, if it's not religion. We mentioned a couple of things like nationalism, but I don't think that's properly ultimate, for a worthwile existence.

In the context of the country at war with itself that united over football, I don't think that's quite the same situation. They were in a crisis state the whole time, and I think the unification through nationalism came because people were sick of fighting and just wanted something else to pay attention to. It's not like they were like "OMG fighting suxorz! lets do futbol." The religions persisted.

Anyhow, I have a few other ideas for what a "lowercase" atheist might have as their ultimate reference frame, though of course I'm far from the authority on this sort of thing. To my mind, these things (for most people) would have to be some sort of something that involved morality, since that's what underlies most of human behavior and existence. What would fit, then, is some sort of secular religion. Ones that come to mind are environmentalism, capitalism, communism, socialism, secular humanism, classical morality, MMORPGs, etc. Just some ideas. I'd like to hear from some lowercase or Uppercase atheists about how they feel about that.

Also, I feel like people who are "half-assed religious" can share that ultimate frame with one of these other secular things. I'm pretty sure I do, but I don't know which one, or the ratio. I've never thought about it before.


If anyone is offended by sarcasm and angry ranting, go ahead and point your browser someplace else. Gone? OK.

Everyone else, I'm going to use lots of science words. Some I have linked to Wikipedia. The rest you can look up yourself.

This post is spurred by our long discussion on Wednesday (that drove me crazy), specifically people's contention that science is not fact, but belief. This is just false, and I'm sorry if you feel that way. Now, I don't have anything against people who don't know anything about science, that's OK. But please don't form such strong opinions about things you don't understand and then go around insisting that you're right. Science can't explain everything, and I don't claim that it can. Most scientists are with me on that. But it prove (or at least provide amazingly strong evidence for) a remarkable number of things. And once it's been proven, it is a fact. Let's not go to the place where we debate whether or not we can actually know facts, that's not the point and this isn't philosophy.

Science is, ultimately, a way of proving what is true. For this, we use the scientific method, which you can look up on Wikipedia if you're unfamiliar with it. Hypothesis, experiment, observation, verification. As an example, I'd like to use the Big Bang (what an awesome name!). This theory (yes, technically it's a theory, but so is Newtonian gravitation) states that the universe expanded from a single point, and that created everything that there is. Including spacetime itself.

Now, once upon a time, somebody had this idea of a big bang. They thought it was pretty cool, but you can't test it. Shit. That's a bit of a monkey wrench. But nonetheless, cosmology carried on, and people talked and did math about what that would mean. Eventually they came to the conclusion that, if the universe began out of a single point, everything would be getting farther apart. And it is. We've observed this. It's not testable, of course, because who has a universe sitting around in their lab? Yeah. But it's been observed in the redshift of distant galaxies. We've known about that for a long time.

Also, if the universe had a hot beginning, there would be radiation that we could observe, and it would be (essentially) evenly distributed through the whole sky. And guess what? We discovered it in 1964. (Wikipedia says they "believed in" the B.B. theory because at the time, the other situation was equally reasonable.) With further advances in observational technology, we measured it more accurately, and THE DATA FITS THE PREDICTION. The error bars in this picture are so small, they're obscured by the data points. This is absolutely one of the best examples of observation confirming theory in the history of astronomy, and indeed all of science. This is a Big Deal. These observations (and others) essentially prove the Big Bang. The only reason it's still technically a theory is that we can't exactly observe it directly, and I suppose there could be another explanation that no one has thought of. But for my purposes, the Big Bang is a fact.

Now, the way I see it, something is only a belief if there are other equally-reasonable alternatives. Believing in God is a genuine belief, because it's equally reasonable to believe that there is no God. Neither has much observational confirmation, so it's up to your personal preference. But nobody reasonable "believes" the world is flat. The conquerors in their nice big ships disproved that. Genetics is true. The Big Bang is (most likely) true, until we find something that fits the data better. Which is gonna be tough. For my purposes, that's truth. It may not be beautiful, but facts are facts.

If you really want to argue, I could concede that "believing" in science can be reduced to accepting that the scientific method is valid. And I can see how someone could have reservations, if they've never done science. But once you've even had PHYS 120, or some bio or chem, it's hard to deny. Predict, experiment, verify. But doubting the validity of that is doubting logic itself! Maybe some people can live in a world where 2+2 maybe equals 4, but I can't. I believe that the universe is rational and we can understand it by using logic. But that's really the only place where belief has anything to do with accepting scientific facts.

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't think that science can explain everything. I know for a fact that there are many interesting things we will probably never explain, but that doesn't stop us from trying. For me, the pursuit of knowledge is its own reward. That's why I'm an astronomer.

And to clarify, I don't think that science can say anything about the existence of God. Those are totally separate. Also, keep in mind that it's entirely possible (I do it every day) to accept things like the Big Bang and evolution as fact and still believe that we are God's children and are here to be His force of good in the world. Just sayin' that it's a lot grayer that a lot of people want you to think.

I'm sorry if I happened to drop a few things along the way in this, it's long and my head has hurtys. Blarg.

Go ahead and drop me an orange if you have anything to say about this.

15 May 2007

the lawrence bubble

Annemarie's recent post made me giggle a little bit, but it's quite true.

When students come to college, they essentially sequester themselves for four years in pursuit of higher education. I also feel that this is especially true at Lawrence --- she mentions The Bubble, and even within departments there is some sequestering. I bring up the Physics department because I'm familiar with it, but I think physicists' high level of sequestering may be unique here. As an example, we (physicists) essentially take for granted that Fall term, Sophomore year (Computational Mechanics) is when the class comes together as a community. Why? Because we close ourselves into a windowless room for hours on end in the pursuit of higher learning. (On a side note... I wonder how the class will change after Professor Cook retires...) And then after that, it's not uncommon to spend entire nights in the locked building doing problem sets.

Of course, this isn't quite the same thing as being in the Lawrence Bubble for four years and then entering the real world --- my example is so specific, it's not really useful in a "general knowledge of the world" sense. But for as an analogy, it still works. In order to gain understanding of the world at large, you have to take time --- usually alone --- to really focus on it. Like a Quaker meeting, this requires periods of silence --- you can't understand complex things just by being told, you need time to work it out in your own mind.

10 May 2007

meditation and hypnosis

When I was in a psych class in high school, we had a (certified, of course) hypnotherapist come in and give us a demonstration of hypnosis, which is, in my experience, a lot like meditation, but with more focusing. It's really much different than what most people think it's like.

Hypnosis, as I was introduced to it, first involves concentrating as hard as possible on a single thing and convincing your mind that it is true --- in my class, we imagined a million balloons tied to our wrists. If you are suggestible enough, your arms will begin to rise on their own --- THIS IS VERY COOL WHEN IT WORKS!! Swinging a pocket watch is really ridiculous and old-fashioned, not to mention not terribly effective. This is nothing like that.

Also, it's not like you fall asleep --- you mostly feel kind of strange and drowsy and hazy, but at the same time still aware of your surroundings (unless you're suggested otherwise!). Additionally, you will probably not do things that you don't want to, because you are still in control (to a degree), and you will remember things! Hypnosis is an altered state in that you experience things differently, not in that you become some mindless slave to the hypnotist.

But my personal favorite part of hypnotism is that when you come out, you feel like you just woke up from a nap! It leaves you feeling relaxed and clear-headed (after you get over any grogginess). You could almost equate it to a state of transcendental meditation, and it may even be the same brain processes going on (I don't know). It certainly is a unique experience, but one that takes a bit of effort (for most people) since you have to focus so carefully.

08 May 2007

review subjectttt??????? noooo ways!

Yes ways! Verily I say, I have chosen the victim for my wobsite review. And the poor sucker is.... apple.com! Yes, the very one. My reasons are several, and shall be enumerated forthwith.

  • What first brought Apple to my attention was my boyfriend's discovery (he's a Mac user) of a mysterious green icon on the website, which led to this press release about how Apple is and is planning to become more eco-friendly. We all know (if we went to the talk) that environmentalism is essentially a secular religion, so there's some crossover I can talk about. Also I prefer green apples over red. Just sayin'.
  • Obviously, Apple is a cult. Don't even try to deny it, because you know how rabid Mac users are. I'll be a bit less flippant and degrading in my actual review, I promise. Srsly.
  • Also on the homepage: WWDC looks a lot like WWJD if you're not paying attention. Also what it actually is seems a lot like a pilgrimage.
  • Steve Jobs as Jesus? I think that's a (sort of weird, but whatever) parallel worth exploring.
  • It also reaches out to you individually, based on your personality.
  • It also strives to connect not only the Mac community, but the world!
  • And it saves you from the Devil. (I have to admit I did a little happy dance inside when I scrolled down that page and saw the words "open source UNIX heritage." OMG yay UNIX!
  • Also, I hate Windows.

01 May 2007

a little life & loss

Those of you who know me well (or are somewhat familiar with my photos) know about my family's dog, Paddi, seen here and here. (click on pics to enlarge) Recently she's been very sick, and we've discovered her kidneys are failing and as a result, her blood chemistry is shot. She's been acting happy recently due to the IV fluids Mom (who's also her vet) gave her last week and the canned food she loves so much, but really, one day without eating and we lose her... she may have days or weeks, maybe a month. It depends on how long the happy holds.

My family lives just outside Milwaukee, which is close enough that a day trip is feasible. Mom might bring Paddi up so I can see her either today or Thursday, because it'll probably be the last time. (Typing is so much easier than talking...)

So yeah. She's not really that old for a smallish dog.. I don't know for sure, but it's probably 8 to 10 years old. She's never been the epitome of health, but it's never been this bad.

So if you believe in a God, I ask you to pray for Paddington Rose Marheine. And if you don't, please keep her in your heart.


29 April 2007

that's delicious ethno-centrism

Oh, the Portuguese. This is a lovely, typical White Man's account of a primitive people. Case in point: "the people of Europe have the advantage of them in colour but not in other things" (57) -- obviously the statement of a man (and product of a culture) who considers himself fundamentally superior to anyone who looks different.

There's more, too. Everything about what he says makes the Ethiopians seem unbearably primitive. For example, he describes in great detail the clothing of the poorest people, and the ridiculous attention "they" lavish on their hair. I especially enjoyed his long tirade about circumcision, and how (he explains) they just sort of, you know, do it because they didn't see a reason to stop, and not because they actually think it's valuable.

Overall, the whole tone of the piece imparts a real sense of disdain -- and I laughed out loud when he actually said it on p. 84!! Not outright, of course (he dodges it a bit), but it's obvious without being quotable.

In a very general sense, I feel like this is a totally natural human reaction, though it's far from commendable. We mentioned in the beginning of the term that religion can be used to impart a sense of group identity -- in this case, many of the "primitives" are actually of the same religion, so it can't be used to divide. Then other factors have to be used, and color is the obvious one. But even beyond that, it seems to me like the author really goes out of his way to emphasize (particularly through the dry narrative style) that though these people are technically Christian, they're still really just despicable heathens to his superior European eyes.

"I can make you feel ... special...."

Ok, so, Kebra Negast? Yeah. It's obvious that it's intended to make the Ethiopian Christians feel special in the overall context of Christianity, but is that so rare? Everybody wants to feel special. Look at American Idol, or any other reality show. Look at the huge market for customizable merchandise. Even in religion, it's not uncommon. Lutherans have Martin Luther, who was special, so they're special by association. The Book of Mormon, The Church of England, etc. Even little kids sing "Jesus loves me, this I know." There's a huge emphasis in Christianity that every follower is special and loved.

I'm surprised more people haven't gone this direction with Christianity.

Originally this was longer and better but windoze died, so this is all you get today.

26 April 2007

First Church of Darwin Environmentalist

This post is going to be a little bit off of normal, but I went to the talk last Tuesday by Professor Thomas Dunlap on environmentalism as a secular religion.

Dr. Dunlap described environmentalism as something that requires a faith in nature -- belief that the natural way of things is superior to a technology-centered world. In this way of seeing things, the reason that environmentalism still has such strong opponents is that the other side firmly believes that technology can and will fix the problems we face -- and who's to say which side is right? The fuzzy, predictive nature of this definitely reminds me of religious debate, even though there's no "god" or something.

Additionally, the current environmentalist reform movement has many of the characteristics of a religion that we pay attention to in class. It uses moral language to guide the daily life of its followers, it seeks to explain humans' relation to the world they live in and answer ultimate questions, and it has been around far longer than most other reform movements -- so long that it has been able to morph into this "secular religion" that dominates some people's sense of ethics.

To take it even farther, he mentioned that some environmentalists are even using established religions (especially Christianity) to further their cause, with stickers and brochures along the lines of "Jesus wants us to save the butterflies."

Really a good talk, touched on a lot of things we discuss in class. Mostly I wanted to provide an example of how religion may be more and more prevalent than we think, if we hold with our definition.

24 April 2007


Ted's recent post is, I think, what I would have said after I finished ranting about Sam Harris. Violence is an intrinsic and un-ignorable part of human nature. It's why we love football, James Bond, and Halo. It's why it's a big deal that Appleton's violent crime rate is so low. Even people who are normally peaceful and pacifistic sometimes get the urge to punch people in the face. I know I do.

I think it's important not to deny this facet of human nature, especially when looking at the more violent passages of the Koran. I fully agree with Ted that acknowledging this side of human nature is not necessarily condoning it, and it's totally unfair to ignore all the millions of peaceful Muslims. And then there's the allegorical view of everything -- I know I didn't have trouble looking at those "awful violent quotes" and taking them metaphorically. In fact, it was really easy.

I suppose, ultimately, it comes down to what you consider good and bad. Is it good to believe that ignoring something bad will make it go away? Or is it good to face up to your inherent deficiencies? I believe the latter.

18 April 2007

"You can use facts to prove anything that's even remotely true!"

Sam Harris is a very skilled writer.

Now that I've gotten the obligatory "something nice" out of the way, geez-o-pete! [Beware of links in this post -- I'm expressing my anger with silly websites.] Second page: ignoring context much?? Broad generalizations! Unfair hyperbole! And the poetry of it is beautiful, which makes it so much worse. This is possibly the worst thing I've ever read. It makes the Enlightenment cry. And it's not even a physical thing.

Harris points out -- but seems not to notice the parallel, exactly -- that the progression of Islam (at least as he sees it) is right on track with Christianity, offset by 600 years because, well, it's that much younger. It's like the "terrible twos" of religion or something -- a bunch of devout followers decide they need to go on a crusade while the levelheaded moderates hide and keep their mouths shut. Though he is against all religions, he says, he is inordinately unfair to Islam, probably because it's happening now and not in the middle ages.

He also "supports" his argument with all sorts of misguided "facts" that really made me angry. As an avid atheist, I'd think he would be better acquainted with proper epistemological and rational reasoning skills. I've outlined some of my favorite claims below:

  • Saying that "lesser" jihad is a "central feature of the [Muslim] faith" (111) is like saying that burning heretics is a "central feature" of Catholicism. It's simply the most visible part.
  • He insists that Muslims are out to conquer the world as an ultimate goal of jihad, a point which is entirely unsupported by any evidence whatever, and to me seems just plain foolish. This would be a blatant attack, which is not defense of Islam.
  • His quotes from the hadith are, actually, not specifically about attack, if read with more than cursory attention. They could be construed this way, of course, but there is nothing in their context to suggest that this is the proper reading -- he is interpreting "fighting" in a far too restricted matter, as only physical battle, and then assuming that it also means against any non-Muslim. This is simply ridiculous.
  • "But this injunction [in the Koran, to not be the aggressor] restrains no one." That's just false.
  • And then on p. 113 he has the audacity to mention that someone else's argument "might be misleading."
  • P. 123, on his five pages of quotes: "This is all desperately tedious, of course." Then why did you put it there? Out-of-context quotes are all but meaningless, Sam. You can make them mean anything you want. And then he personally attacks anyone who dissents. Now that's bad sportsmanship.
  • P. 124-5: Math cries. 75% of possible responses to the question were grouped into one column in the table, 25% into another, and a response not offered was in the third. He doesn't explain how he did this, either, or even try to explain the addition problem. I find that sufficiently disturbing. Imagine if this man took care of important numbers. NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!! EVERYTHING HERE IS INTENTIONALLY MISLEADING.
If I don't stop now, this will just become an angry ramble, and the Interwub has too many of those. This book is the work of a man with an agenda, and he's going to get it across whether it's legitimate or not, and rationality be damned! Or... some atheistic equivalent. Ahem.

The world is in an unstable state. Some people fight to keep it from being worse, others incite the anger of the moderates and extremists alike. It breaks my heart when obviously intelligent people use their gifts to mislead others to accepting disgusting propositions like this, when they could be helping to provide the voice of reason our planet so desperately needs.

Oh well. Give it a hundred years, and we won't recognize this place anyways.

17 April 2007

chicken of the sea

I think the thing I like best about The Zohar is that it insists that it is not a replacement of or alternative to the Torah, but, in its words, a "garment," something that Torah wears and that enhances its inherent qualities. I think this is a wonderful analogy -- even gorgeous people wear clothing! It (at least more recently) is designed to enhance the body, not cover or distract from it. This seems to be the ideal way to present interpretation.

Additionally, the introduction to Zohar presents it as the mere words and story of Torah (p.43), which is the important part. It's like Zohar is the Cliff's Notes version of Torah, to put it ungracefully. But unlike Cliff's Notes, the author of this text emphasizes that "Whoever thinks the garment is the real Torah / and not something else --/ may his spirit deflate!" (43) -- that is, this can never be as good as the real thing, and is just supplementary.

But while Zohar emphasizes the truth of Torah, it's not like the "Bible-thumping literalists" who insist that you have to take every word as literally fact. Zohar takes Torah and adapts it to the circumstances of "modern" readers, whenever "modern" may be. It takes the writings of Torah and sees them (realistically) as allegory, which, the intro also says, is vital to Torah itself! So there's symbiosis between the text and its garment -- Zohar is flat and meaningless without Torah, and Torah needs the garment of Zohar to be useful in the world.

Furthermore, I think it may be useful to extend this relationship back and see it between Torah and YHVH (or Bible and God, if you swing that way) as well. For me and my beliefs, I think this is a good and perhaps important way to think about God. We (they?) say the Bible was divinely inspired -- as the Zohar was Torah-inspired. With this parallel, I can think of God as being the Ultimate Truth (capitalization makes it epic!), and the Bible as that seen through the lens of reality and presented in a way that is (more) accessible to us. The difference is that we have no way to directly study God as we could the Torah. Nevertheless, I still feel like as the Zohar is a "dumbing-down" (to be ungraceful again) of Torah, so Torah and the Bible are a "dumbing-down" of YHVH/God (they're essentially the same thing, toss in Jehovah, Allah, etc.etc. for good measure). There is good give-and-take, but they are not equal.

I'll invoke my title to get to a conclusion here. We use allegory every day -- Chicken of the Sea isn't poultry, my Windoze desktop is not literally the top of a desk, the Bible is not God. Allegory can help us understand things that may be far too complicated otherwise, but it's not the actual , 100% truth. Still, though. It's good. Just keep things in perspective :)


Just to show that any religion can have wacky marketing associated: The Eye of Zohar Board Game (like a Ouija board -- scroll to almost the bottom - picture of a glow-in the-dark green thing with an eye on top). It's also featured in a song (on the album of the same name) by the Kabalas, a klezmer/pop group.

16 April 2007


The following is a response to Sam Harris and Muslim Fundamentalism, Noelle's recent post.

Noelle's points about oversimplification caught my eye as I was reading today. This is one of the biggest problems that I personally have with a lot of the discussion that occurs around religion, and in fact any debate that involves "othering". There is a lot of danger in making generalizations about a group, since in most cases membership in a specific group is not the individual's only trait descriptor.

I think what I'm basically saying is that we, in class and as human beings, need to think more about other people as individuals who have desires and needs similar to our own, and not as some mass of bodies who are out to get us, etc. This is a vital part of context that we often forget about, and as we talked about in class today, context is what guides our search for meaning in things that are as full of symbolism and allegory as religion.

When we ignore or forget that other people are, in fact, also people, we run into things like Sam Harris (see Noelle's) -- I, too, can hardly believe he's taken seriously, if he says things like that. But I suppose it happens because his readers get sucked into the ease of generalizing and begin to not want to question if it's actually accurate.

Finally, I want to say that we need to remember that traditional belief is not, by itself, a valid reason to take something as truth! For gajillions of years, people thought the Earth was flat, and the sun, stars, and everything moved around in a hemisphere of sky. Obviously false, we know now, thanks in part to Galileo, and no thanks to the Church of his time -- their fear of going away from the safety of tradition caused enormous problems for the Enlightenment. So my point is think for yourself, everyone, and remember that other people are people, too.


Another interesting religion-related blog entry I came across today can be found here. Not strictly related, but I enjoyed reading it.

10 April 2007


(Oi!! Damn WINDOZE to the fiery depths of Heck. Yucksy late postings.)

I really feel like the only way I can connect Grizzly Man to anything even remotely religious (in the usual modern sense) is to see his desire to "become one" with the bears as akin to the way that followers of a religion want to become one with God, in some way. In other ways, I think it may be more similar to the Buddhist desire to achieve Nirvana, to become deeply tied to the natural world.

But in any case, something drove this man to do things that common sense says are impossible or stupid. In future generations, this may even become the foundation of some sort of organized religion -- to me, it parallels martyrdom. It's as if some sort of religious drive, or directive from God, told him that it was his duty in life to be as bear-like as humanly possible and then share the teachings with the people, blah blah blah.


One of the things that really stuck out to me about Origen's commentary on Lamentations was the constant reference to Jerusalem as a woman. This is apparent right away in the text of the commentary, first when it is referred to as "she" and later when he takes the metaphor and runs with it, equating "her" to a "widow" and several other things.

While I understand that referring to cities (and other things) in the feminine is sort of a common practice, and I agree that extending metaphors beyond what some consider reasonable is fun, I wonder if this is perhaps too much of a stretch. Origen seems to be committing the same deed as anyone who interprets literature, in that he somehow manages to pull a page of meaning out of a sentence, when I don't really think the author himself put in much symbolism beyond alef bet.

But I do think that this tendency for people to read in "too much" stems from the same impulse that drives us to want and need religion, our need for there to be something beyond our everyday experience, for there to be underlying reason and causality, even for randomness. It seems appropriate, then, that this detailed examination is of a religious text.

05 April 2007

mounds and mounds

First of all, I'm glad we're finally on to something recognizable as a religion in the modern sense. We know enough about the Midwestern Native Americans of the past couple millennia to be able to make reasonable assumptions about what their artifacts mean, and they were biologically modern so we know they had the capacity for symbolic thought, etc. Also oral tradition of the tribes involved (the Ho-Chunk were mentioned) seems to me to be a very valuable source of interpretation.

In most Wisconsin public schools, children in later elementary school do a unit in Social Studies about state history, covering (generally) the ice age, Native Americans including the mound builders, the arrival of the French fur traders, STATEHOOD, and modern goings-on. I was no exception, and my class actually took a field trip to a park in the Milwaukee-esque area that had some mounds preserved. [As a side note, the effigy mounds (and Indian culture in general) are so prevalent in the history of the Milwaukee area that one of the major roads near my house (in Wauwatosa, which is derived from a Potawatomi word) is named for them - Blue Mound Road.] Effigy mounds are very unusual things -- they are quite large in the horizontal dimensions, and tall enough and with steep enough sides that you know something's going on, even if it's an area that was visited by The Glacier [on another side note, I sometimes wonder if glacial features like moraines are ever mistaken for mounds ... though probably not, since the sediment would be very different]. I didn't comprehend it fully at the time, but this is an artifact of a people whose religion was very much a central part of their lives (though perhaps not to the extent of the ancient Egyptians), and they had a very well-developed and complex mythology that motivated this construction.

One of the things I found particularly intriguing about the things revealed by the effigy mounds and their patterns was the related categorization of groups based (primarily, it seems) on geography, and the hierarchy implied by this, since the spirits from which they derived their names had specific temperaments and powers. To me, this implies also a stratification between groups and their "classes," and it seems like an almost unintuitive system. Of course the Warrior group will be happy with their lot, they're the best and most powerful. But what about the lower classes? I mean, if you were a Worm, but you could've been born a Thunderbird, would you be happy/proud? I'm sure there was some conflict between tribes of different status -- the chapter specifically mentions signs of violent death in some exhumed bones. But at the same time, this divisionism persisted. It seems to me that (given my somewhat cynical view of human nature) this indicates an appropriately full understanding of the importance of balance, something that was mentioned frequently in the chapter (particularly regarding the use of non-site-type effigies) and that seems to be somewhat lacking recently (cynicism again).

In general, the unity over large areas is a very impressive characteristic of this religion, though it's not strictly "community" in this sense since they probably rarely met. And in those cases there was killing.

03 April 2007

happy something...

by BellZ@DeviantArt
happy Easter/April/whatever :)

computers vs. religion?

This entry is motivated by Dan's recent post, Technology and Religion.

Dan's main point in his post seems to be that the advent and development of technology has been detrimental to the human experience of religion, and its importance in daily life. It's impossible to contend that technology has not drastically changed the human experience, but I disagree that religion has been affected in a "negative" way by the connectedness provided by technology.

Of course, however, the first thing I thought of was Futurama and Bender's adventure in Robotology, led by the little guy to the left there. Matt Groening's point there appears to be something like "technology-based religions are just as whack as regular ones," but it's hard to say. A religion that worships technology is a bit strange, but that's not my point right now.

Anyways, I think that technological interconnectedness has benefited religion in many of the same ways it has benefited other forms of community, to first look at religion in that sense. In the modern world of billions of people and all sorts of exciting places to go, religious wobsites, chatrooms, bulletin boards, and everything else can help unite people who might otherwise be too sundered to ever meet in person. This also lets people feel connected to one another in general, in a world so large that it's easy to feel insignificant and unnoticed.

Dan also mentioned that because we are in contact with so many different types of people, we also encounter things that challenge our religion, which creates conflict. I think his point was that this sort of thing either didn't happen much at all or happened only rarely among early peoples. However, I think we can't make such direct comparisons to our distant ancestors -- we have obviously evolved a lot in many different areas since then. They may have been unable to handle differences in opinion, but many modern people pride themselves on tolerance, which often shows up in religion itself, particularly Christianity.* I think that, even though we're not there yet, our society is inevitably moving toward a truly unified global community. It will probably take a while, but the alternative is total annihilation.

*To quote Douglas Adams, Jesus was "nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change".

01 April 2007

"sex and violence down the mines"

Never mind the title, OK. And APRIL FOOLS on the massively long reading, right? ...right? ickys.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I had immense trouble wading through "The Nature of Paleolithic Art" after about the first 20 pages and it began rambling about reindeer. What? I think I picked out a couple of things before my brain switched off, though, so here it is. (No offense to anyone who really liked it, I just couldn't focus.)

Mostly, I felt really validated when the article mentioned the prevalence of sexual images when humans were involved in cave art, since the man in the Lascaux cave has a pretty obvious (to me) erection. I doubted myself a little when the site didn't mention it (evidently they like bison entrails better), but in the context of a lot of other prehistoric and even modern "pagan" artwork, it makes a lot of sense. I'm sure the first thing that comes to most people's minds when you mention paganism is fertility rites and other various rituals involving the harvest, the hunt, etc, which are portrayed in the cave paintings.

To connect a bit to previous readings, the incidence of cave painting tells me conclusively that these people were capable of abstract thought, at least to some degree. Art itself is a form of abstract representation, and the simple act of creating an image is a form of expression. My favorite example of this is Marcel Duchamp's The Fountain (1912), where the artist's intention is the entire point of the piece, and it's not physically what it's intended to be, kind of. Anyhow, this is Dada, and the point of Dada is that all art is just representation, and it can never actually
be what it's portraying.. Since these paleolithic artists were capable of seeing beyond a horse to a 2-D smear that looks like a horse, it stands to reason that they had the capabilities for a religion of sorts, which likely revolved around the large mammals they lived with and fertility. At this point in human evolution, religion became possible.

29 March 2007

Ug have perfect pitch!

Writing in "Compose" rather than "Edit Html" makes a huge difference. So you know.

Early hominids!! I really enjoyed reading these articles (Wikipedia less so); I may have to dig up the entire book sometime. However, I wasn't really clear on how this really addresses religion, except in that Neanderthals did not apparently have any sort of religion, since they lacked the capability for abstract thought and piecewise idea formulation.

A few things I thought of while reading:

The speculation that early humans were responsible for the extinction of the Neanderthals really amuses me. The N. seem to have copied the symbolism that the humans brought with them from Africa, but the humans killed them! (maybe). This volatile human characteristic continues, I think, today. Just think of the Crusades or really any war in recorded history. Humans go someplace and want to take over. In contrast (according to the book), N. had a stable, functional society, with little or no need for massive violent expansion. It seems like our basic drives haven't changed so much as we'd like to think. It also makes me wonder what in the evolutionary track of humans caused this urge to expand and conquer, since it obviously developed after the evolutionary tree split into N. and Homo sapiens. Or it could have come about as a result of the interaction. Maybe it was a fear of something just similar enough to be creepy. Or maybe it arose from competition for resources, for which the humans were more capable of procuring through various means.

The biology of Neanderthals is also fascinating to me. The article mentioned that N. had breathing control similar to that of modern humans, but the larynx position and tongue control were more like that of modern chimps. This reminded me of an amazing true story (gleaned from Sagan's excellent book The Dragons of Eden) of an infant chimpanzee raised as a brother to a human infant for something like a year (this happened before such things were considered cruel). At the end of the experimental period, the human had learned to speak to the extent that is normal for a child that age. What really surprised me was that the chimp had also learned to speak English! Admittedly, though, he could only say three words (mama, papa, and cup), and then with immense difficulty. But still, that's really cool. This suggests to me that N. were likely also capable of these sorts of things, but never tried speech specifically. (This isn't strictly related, but the Sagan book also talks extensively about chimps' ability to use symbolic language [mostly nonverbal American Sign Language] and suggests that they have their own forms of abstract language, since one chimp was observed to invent a nasty name to call her trainer, which is a metaphor and definitely abstract!)

The mention of the musical savant at the end of the reading first gave me a little moment of glee when it made me think of a recent episode of House which guest-starred Dave Matthews. After that had passed I reflected on the truth of the point the author made: Once we attach symbolic meaning to a sound, we start to lose sensitivity to the nuances of the sound itself. Neanderthal language was probably much richer emotionally, then, since they were more attuned to the specifics of the sound. Anyone who's really enjoyed a great symphony can understand how "meaningless" sound can arouse extremely powerful, but vague, emotions (Beethoven's 9th comes to mind as a common example). I even sometimes have similar experiences with jazz or rock, even things like Guns 'n Roses or the Goo Goo Dolls, when I stop listening to the words. With a bit of practice, this almost becomes second nature, and I personally like it a lot. Try it sometime.


I'll get to the Neanderthals in a bit, but first a quick response to Stacy's most recent entry.

If Genesis is basically a version of the Big Bang, how did whomever it was that wrote Genesis know about the Big Bang? The way I like to think of this as a Christian and a scientist is that Genesis was actually divinely inspired. This, of course, relies on belief that God exists and has influence (to a degree, at least) in the physical world, if only to the extent that He can control the "random" neurons firing during, say, a dream, drug trip, meditation session, or seizure.

Conversely, how do we know that the Big Bang isn’t just a scientific version of Genesis? There are too many similarities to just ignore it, but if the Big Bang is just a scientist explaining Genesis without putting God in there, how can with give it any (objective) credit? I fully agree that this has the potential to go both ways, and it ultimately comes down to personal preference and willingness to believe that God would deceive us by placing "dinosaur bones" and "quasars" that only look old to the infidel scientists ( <-- sarcasm). I (obviously) don't hold that view, and if you actually get into the cosmology of it, the Big Bang makes a huge load of theoretical sense (though it's important to remember that it is only a theory, and also incomplete and mostly untestable, by virtue of the fact that we can't just make a Big Bang and see if that works). The theory was derived primarily from two observations. First, everything in the visible universe is redshifted (via the Doppler effect), and objects that are farther away are redshifted more. This means (take PHYS160 to verify) that everything in the universe is getting farther apart: the universe itself is expanding. This is like if you put a bunch of dots on a balloon and then blew it up -- the balloon expands, and the dots get farther apart.

The second major observation is that the entire sky is emitting radiation in the microwave spectrum (called cosmic microwave background radiation, or CMB). I don't have a good way to explain this to someone who hasn't already learned about it, but you can try Wikipedia (or other sources). But basically, it supports the theory that the universe was born out of a sudden explosion of intense heat, which emitted all the CMB that we can still observe today. Astronomers who feel poetic like to call it things like "the last remnants of the birth of the universe". (pish) It's cool science. (Ask me what I'm doing this summer!)

Also, it's entirely fair to say that a lot of what I wrote is a stretch. It's completely plausible (to me, at any rate) that someone could have just made this up. If I were an omnipotent Creator, I'd have probably done it something like that. Also, as we discussed in class (and I mentioned previously), the details preserve the dominant group's status quo. Which is (for them) a good thing.

There's a lot of goodies in that post if you look. On to something serious.

28 March 2007


sorry about that, guys, i turned off comment moderation now :)
anything you post will show up right away

27 March 2007

in da beginning...

I foresee a major discussion around the Genesis reading, especially given the number of physicists and vocal atheists in the class! Since I have long, complicated opinions on the topic, I'm going to post the potatoes here and only bring up the sirloin tips in class so I don't have to bore you.

First some basics about my position in all of this:

I was raised Lutheran, though these days I make it to church less frequently and the one I get to is actually Methodist, but ELCA and UMC are practically synonymous. I am skeptical about a lot of things in the Bible, but I do believe in the basic gist of it; i.e., God forgives our sins if we repent, Jesus died to save us, there is something after the death of the body besides nothingness (at least I want to believe that!).

Other than that, I take very few of the stories from the Bible literally. Genesis is an allegory (more on that), the virgin birth is a mistranslation (in the original language, the word used can mean "virgin" or "young woman"), and a lot of other stuff is hyperbole. Huge, enormous hyperbole, and events as interpreted by FALLIBLE HUMANS, YO!! *shakes fist at literal interpretations* Further, I think this non-tolerance of homosexuality and "preserving the sanctity of marriage" that religious conservatives in the US are stuffing down our throats is nonsense. That's a long and non-PC rant, so I won't go there. For now.

Finally (and perhaps mostly), I am a scientist, which means I question things and look for empirical evidence to support contentions. There are some things that I see as beyond the realm of science (at least as far as conclusive results are concerned), and this is where religion comes into my life, which is actually a frequent occurrence.

But on to Genesis. As a physicist and aspiring astronomer, not to mention skeptic, there is no way I can possibly take anything but the tiniest snippets of Genesis as truth. The one part I do see as unusually enlightened for an ancient (human!) writer, whether he was divinely inspired or not, is 4:3 (Then God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.) --- Big Bang, anyone? According to the prevalent theory, this is indeed what the first moments of the universe were like. First, there was nothing, not even technically space, since there was nothing by which to measure it or that could fill it or be aware of it in any way. Then suddenly, POW! energy EXPLODES out of the nothing (or from a higher dimension), and the new universe is so full of light (and no matter, yet) that it expands even faster, possibly, than the current speed of light. Seconds or eons pass (what is time at this point?), the first day. (See what I did there?) Eventually it expands enough that subatomic particles , the first matter, condense out of the energy, the second day. Further expansion and cooling, and atoms form and after many more billions of years gravitational forces pull them into stars and planets, and 13 (or so) billion years after the big asplosion a little blue planet pops out some plants and some animals, and after a few mass extinctions some bald, tail-less apes invent writing and decide that they were created in the image of an omnipotent and omnipresent God.

The only reasonable explanation I can think of for something as (currently) obviously whack as the creation myth to be "the Word of God" is if God is actually very smart and knew that ancient people couldn't handle the truth -- quarks and muons would have been utterly meaningless to every last one of them, so he did a cute little metaphor. Or some dude was divinely inspired in a wordless manner, and this is what came out. Or some dude was shrooming in a cave with some papyrus and thought "Hebrew" was a cool word. You know, whatever.

Also Genesis was written by a man. You know, bald, tail-less ape with a ding-a-ling. If the dominant group has to say that a vengeful god put them in charge to keep them dominant, they'll do it. Who's going to question divine inspiration?

I hope my future posts are shorter because I have E&M homework to get going on.

Some recommended reading (translation: great fiction that addresses religion!)
  • His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, in that order.
  • Contact by Carl Sagan, which is science-y but WONDERFUL, especially the end. My favorite book of all time! Also a movie which is OK but not as awesome.
  • A multitude of other nonfiction/speculative books by Sagan, including The Demon-Haunted World and Dragons of Eden.
  • Paradise Lost by Milton.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams -- not really about religion, but it makes some great satirical points. And I loves it so :)

Comfort Me With Apples

Hallo alle. Hier ist dann meine erste Post, auf Deutsch nur damit es nicht so langweilig ist. Etwas echtes kommt.