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Ideas. Tools. Art. Build --not buy. What works, what doesn't. Enjoy new media and software aesthetics at Tekka.
Theodore Gray (The Magic Black Box)
Faith, Life, Art, Academics. Sermons from my family away from home: Eden Chapel!
My other home: The Cambridge Union Society (in 2007, I designed our [Fresher's Guide])
The Economist daily news analysis
Global Higher Ed blog
Chapter I: Born. Lived. Died.
There is a Chapter II.
Locale: Lancaster County Pa, USA
Religion: My faith is the primary focus of my life, influencing each part of me. I have been forgiven, cleansed, and empowered by Jesus Christ. Without him, I am a very thoughtful, competent idiot. With him, I am all I need to be, all I could ever hope for. I oppose institutional religious stagnation, but getting together with others is a good idea. God is real. Jesus Christ is his Son, and the Bible is true. Faith is not human effort. It's human choice. I try to be the most listening, understanding, and generous person I can.
Interests: Anything I can learn. Training and experience in new media, computer science, anglophone literature, education, parliamentary debate, democratic procedure, sculpture, and trumpet performance. Next: applied & computational linguistics, probably.
Education: Private school K-3. Home educated 4-12. Graduated Summa Cum Laude from Elizabethtown College in Jan 2006. As the 2006 Davies-Jackson Scholar, I studied English at St. John's College, Cambridge University from 2006 - 2008.
Memberships: Eden Baptist, Cambridge Union Society, ACM, AIP, GPA.
Alum of the Elizabethtown College Honors Program, sponsored by the Hershey Company.
Sunday, 23 Apr 2006 :-: ["Permalink"]
How is it that we seek peripheries in order to find the center?
Life is hard. We draw the scarf tight around our heads, fold close our arms, and struggle against the windy howls: responsibilities, relationships, survival, and the pleasure we stack against the darkness. Few observe the landscape or feel the stony ground; fewer let the streams' whispers trickle the ears.
** * **
I have seen the cosmos in the reflection of a pool. I have seen the end of the world, and those who stand against it. I have seen the fall, and traced its descent. I have come back running.
But always, though fire, stone, or slicking mire lay before me, I hear the soft, patient voice of crystal waters. For wherever I roam, they gently whisper, "I love you."
Saturday, 22 Apr 2006 :-: ["Permalink"]
I steel myself. Shrunken peels wobble in the breeze. A gust, a fall, and all is clean.
"You are a strong one," he said.
Am I a stone in the forest, my rough crags filled with lichen, slumping, immovable? Does the sedentary rock of the soul, with its layers and layers of dirt and bone, lay compressed: impermeable, alone?
** * **
In the forest, a tree leans in the arms of its companion and moans deeply. They sway in the wind together. Is this sorrow? Or desire?
Sometimes, I want to be a tree: first a sapling, shooting down playful roots which dance their deep, entangled song. Then, branches bud, and leaves spread. I embrace the sun and wind, the rain, the moon, and evening stars. On cool, silver nights, the toads sing baritone to the gentle rustle of my drowsy limbs and leaves.
** * **
Near my home, across a stream and up a hill, well beyond the footworn path, a flat boulder sits beneath an aging tree. I could lay there all day long. And yet the counsel of the forest is not toward immobility. The tree does not embrace the Sun just out of love. The warmth, the breeze, the spring melodies of birds and waterways, the scurried footfalls of tiny friends: these are the sounds of progress and the causes of life. The sun is needed for life. The streams are needed for life. The storms are needed for life. The tree is needed for life. Even the stone is needed for life.
And the poet? He too is needed for life. So standing up at last, he strides back from the forest to the human world, where he will try to cling to solid ground, stand tall, reach out, make shade, and embrace the sky.
Friday, 21 Apr 2006 :-: ["Permalink"]
Can you blame me for being serious about life when my birthday falls on the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster? It occurred (almost to the hour) three years after my birth. Every one of my birthdays is a sobering reminder of the full reality of the human experience: such beauty, and such pain.
But it is no use playing chess with Death. I use my will, choose life, and reject its opposite: nothingness.
What if all dark, discouraging moods of the human mind come across my way as thick as the dry leaves of autumn? Other feet have traveled that road before me, and I know the desert leads to God as surely as the green, refreshing fields and fruitful orchards.
Wednesday, 19 Apr 2006 :-: ["Permalink"]
This Sunday, I enter the woods-- a time for prayer, meditation, and study.
I have been longing for this as long as I can remember. Too bad it will only be a week.
Tuesday, 18 Apr 2006 :-: ["Permalink"]
As you know, fiction is usually not my habit, but you may appreciate the following paragraph I wrote to illustrate the difference between reporting detail and storytelling:
** * **
A good DM fills in the details, makes the world more real. But you don't want a DM who is like those crazy minimalist adventure games:
"You are in the crystal caverns. There is a blue light in the corner. On the floor is a metal rod. There are exits to the North and East. An unlocked grate lies underneath your feet.
A small dwarf stares at you curiously."
That just won't do. Something like this would be much better:
"Is this my reward," thought Glamdring as he emerged from the tunnel, "a handful of broken glass?" The worthless crystals on the walls struck his soul with bitter shards of regret. And the grue? Glamdring's triumphant shot in the dark now rang hollow, like the final cries of his dying enemy.
"A monster? Maybe it just wanted to be left alone in this dismal cave, the only place it could call home," the elf muttered. "They said that the pure in heart could find great wealth in the underground city. Ha! If I had an ounce of wisdom, I would have walked away long ago." He looked up. A dim blue glow at the other end of the cavern almost illuminated the chamber, but instead just reflected faintly off the craggy walls.
"Curse you! And all false light in this wretched world!" Glamdring uttered in anguish.
At that, the light stirred and rose. It came closer. Its bearer held the lamp higher, and Glamdring saw the icy stare of a mountain-dwarf in the blue dimness.
Tinderbox Shopping Cart
Monday, 17 Apr 2006 :-: ["Permalink"]
Here is a preview of the shopping cart system I have developed for Harbour Coffee Co.
, a specialty coffeehouse and coffee roaster in Hershey, PA.
For the last 2.5 years, I have been threatening to use Tinderbox, from Eastgate Systems, to manage a PHP database-driven website. This site will be the first example. If my client chooses to use the Tinderbox solution, he will be able to manage the regular site's content -- blogs, information, etc...-- and the online store from the same easy interface.
How does it work? Simple. I created a template which allows Tinderbox to export the product lists to a PHP hash of objects. This is my database. To display the store, the site just loads the hash and builds the pages. A hack? Sure. But this is a read-only database. I don't need anything fancy. By using Tinderbox, I saved time and made my web app more reliable:
- I didn't have to write an administration tool. Tinderbox works fine.
- Without an RDMS, I have one less point of failure.
- Since I talk to Paypal, I didn't need code to process credit cards.
This whole solution took about 10 hours to develop. Since I used Tinderbox, most of my work went into user interface design rather than backend code.
Meditation on the Passion of Christ
Thursday, 13 Apr 2006 :-: ["Permalink"]
This year, the St. John's College Choir is audio-streaming a number of services leading up to Holy Week and Easter. This means that people all over the world can now hear their beautiful harmonies.
I have a particular appreciation for the way they combine readings with music in these meditative services; their music also ranges widely in period and style. I like this technique. Overly-similar style can put worshippers into a mental lull. By keeping a consistent theme while changing style, the service centers listeners' thoughts on the message and worship.
Now that I am learning Latin, motets such as Purcell's "Jehova, quam multi sunt" bear greater significance for me. The Poulenc pieces -- "Timor et tremor" and "Vinea mea electa" -- were also quite good. Until this point, I had only heard or played brass arrangements of his music.
From the readings:
To be converted is to turn back to the condemned and rejected, acknowledging that there is hope nowhere else. Salvation does not bypass the history and memory of guilt, but rather builds upon and from it.
** * **
During the Easter time, I find that there is no single attitude or response which can adequately summarize the fullness of Christ's gift of Himself, its significance to the world, and His impact on my own life. This, I think, is one reason why people have used so many creative forms and media to express a spiritual reality which cannot easily be portrayed.
If I didn't have a respect for tradition and art, I could become cynical. Certainly, the truest depiction of the life of Christ does not reside in the Broadway-style play I saw Monday night. That evening, upper middle-class Americans unveilled quality amateur skill in acting, singing, and choreography, as they depicted people who were changed by Christ --smiling, laughing, crying, and dancing for joy. I was struck by the incongruity of rich people acting the part of beggars and prisoners so they could explain the gospel to other rich people.
And yet the performance moved me, as do the recordings from St. John's. But I, not unlike Judas, sometimes wonder if our worship would be better spent among the condemned, the rejected, the poor, than in expensive buildings, with performances which demand great preparation from those who participate. As George Herbert, onetime orator of Cambridge, noted:
When first my lines of heav'nly joyes made mention,
Such was their lustre, they did so excell,
That I sought out quaint words, and trim invention;
My thoughts began to burnish, sprout, and swell
Curling with metaphors a plain intention,
Decking the sense, as if it were to sell.
Thousands of notions in my brain did runne,
Off'ring their service, if I were not sped:
I often blotted what I had begunne;
This was not quick enough, and that was dead.
Nothing could seem too rich to clothe the sunne,
Much less those joyes which trample on his head.
As flames do work and winde, when they ascend,
So did I weave my self into the sense.
but when I bustled, I might heare a friend
Whisper, How wide is all this long pretence!
There is in love a sweetnesse readie penn'd:
Copie out onely that, and save expense.
"Vanitie(II)", by George Herbert
Andrew Marvell expresses a similar view in "The Coronet." And yet the performances move me. And these poems themselves are also art.
** * **
This post defines a question; the answer is more involved than can be answered in a single post. But I feel compelled to describe my own working hypothesis on the topic of remembering Christ during Easter:
- We have been given one sure way to remember Christ's story. It is not elaborate, nor is it intrinsically magical. Its simplicity gives it power and universality. The Eucharist, with its emphases on death, nourishment, sharing, merriment, solemnity, personal sin, universal salvation, and new life, converges much of the theological palette into a single meal. It should be the centerpiece of our Easter celebration.
- Worship to God is never in vain, and Beauty smiles when people use their best talents for worship.
- Christ cared about the needy, condemned, and rejected. We worship Him when we care for those around us, and when we go to places where those around us need care. In fact, the best depictions of Christ go beyond detail that can be captured in skilled brushstrokes or the shivery tingle of a well-balanced Picardy third. The best depictions of Christ come from those who know and love Him so well, that we glimpse His spirit in their lives.
** * **
Can you imagine the Olympic games without ceremony? The anthems, fireworks, and flags are also for the athletes. Celebration and pomp are never culminations. They spur us onward.
This Easter season has certainly done so for me. I trust that your own reflection and rejoicing also encourage you to run the race you have been given, that you will soon find yourself among the condemned and rejected, not with the tears of desolatated hope or glances of askance, but with the tears of love, and with Christlike enthusiasm and resolve for the race ahead.
The Third Way
Wednesday, 12 Apr 2006 :-: ["Permalink"]
One of the other PA/Delaware Rhodes Finalists (and winner of the Marshall Scholarship), Shadi Hamid recently started to blog at DemocracyArsenal. I'm intrigued by the site's name, since it's sponsored by a group called the "Security and Peace Initiative."
I have not thoroughly investigated their efforts yet, but I expect them to be intelligent and considerate, qualities I noted in Shadi's collected, incisive manner.
Engineering and Marketing
Saturday, 8 Apr 2006 :-: ["Permalink"]
Can brilliant marketing beat superior engineering? If you meet someone who advocates this, I think you may have just met a sales consultant who wants to sell you a bridge.
via Mark Bernstein
Absolutely right, Mark. But you're wrong. But you're right.
I think Mark could ask a better question. In my experience as a software developer and a marketer, I have realized that quality deliverables are necessary. But I have also noticed that marketing does much more than get people to buy. Marketing exerts a profound influence on the nature of people's interaction with your deliverables.
I have written reams of marketing copy for Elizabethtown College (and trained student mentors, and oriented new freshmen). Our marketing efforts didn't just try to find just the best students; by emphasizing certain qualities, we wanted to attract applicants with those qualities. For E-town, those qualities relate to service, global citizenship, a committment to community, breadth of interest, and a thirst for experience-based learning. I thus knew that my job as co-chair of college's the Academic Integrity Committee would be much easier if I did a good job in marketing, since marketing is where the process begins.
Of course, the college has to have the programs, faculty, and other infrastructure in place to back up the marketing. But when seen long-term, a college is people. Because they choose the members of the community, the admissions/marketing team of my college are some of the most long-term powerful people in the entire institution.
Marketing defines the consumer. But the effect of marketing doesn't stop there. Because it guides expectations, it also frames the consumer experience. Since the engineers listen to consumer requests and complaints, and since marketing selects and influences consumers, marketing also has a profound effect on the engineers. In turn, the engineers' work must influence the marketers. All good organizations need a strong feedback loop of this sort as well as outliers who broaden perspectives and keep the organization from spiraling inward, out of control.
I have written this from a marketing perspective. A reciprocal, engineer-centric description could also be written.
** * **
I have not mentioned designers. This is intentional. Mark's dichotomy of engineers and marketers is pretty standard. But it's not the only way to slice the job descriptions. Good designers are both the engineer and the marketer. They are interested in building things that work well, but they are also aware of the human factors. They create the systems and frame the experience at the same time.
This should be obvious.
Example: clothing designers must know their fabrics and stitching. But they also need to know about perception and trends. From the consumer end, our clothing protects us from the sun, cold, and moisture, and from prying eyes, but clothes can also change the way we act. Many people who purchase clothes are purchasing more than stitched fabric; they're buying an experience.
Example: A roastery for which I consult has recently spent forever fine-tuning an espresso. We have also spent a lot of time thinking of a good name, because we know that marketing frames the experience
As I've noted before, this also applies to architectural design. Mark even wrote an article about this.
In my mind, Mark is a very good example of this sort of person. In fact, his ideas led me down this path myself. His own Tekka manifesto includes this sentiment:
You want to know what to build, not what to buy. And, most of all, you want to know what makes software beautiful, and what makes new media inspire and delight.
** * **
Optional digressions for nitpickers and geeks:
(clearly, the differences and similarities in the job descriptions are not so tidy. But job descriptions are never tidy. They're round holes we try to fit onto things which may not have pegs. I reiterate: if you define the consumers and frame the experience, you are bound to have a profound impact on the users, the engineers, and the future of your organizations. Long live the marketers. May they be honest. May they listen to the engineers. Long live the engineers. May they build good things, but which also are usefully beautiful. Long live the designers. May they continue to confuse us by not fitting into any categories we devise.) (note: I have not read Seth Godin, to whom Mark is responding, mostly because I can't find a transcript of his talk at Google)
Addendum: I just watched part of Seth's talk. I can see why Mark would respond the way he did. Now, Mark must have missed the part where Seth contrasted MinuteMaid and Google and noted that Google's primary necessity is having good technology. But Seth is wrong about the web. He talks about cat food and juice and computer hardware. He doesn't seem to understand the world of web services. Loyalty is fickle, and information spreads rapidly. If there is a really well-engineered, useful product, people will find it in less time than it took Seth to finish his speech. Online, it's just as easy to give someone the product as it is to tell them about it. This is an important distinction.
Furthermore, Godin totally misses his own point: marketing on the web is about users picking things that work for them, not about companies teaching users what they ought to buy. The most depressing part of this is that Seth's slide about marketing as teaching comes right after his slide about personalization. Sigh.
Saturday, 8 Apr 2006 :-: ["Permalink"]
My generation believes in nuclear weapons like it believes in God.
The idea that humans could destroy all life within a few minutes seems so implausible, so far-off. And yet, during Christmastime 8 years ago, the French detonated 6 nuclear bombs in the South Pacific. As recently as 1998, India and Pakistan together detonated11 nuclear weapons underground.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God;
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
From "God's Grandeur," by Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Update: I should play fair and include the final stanza. Does it matter to you that Hopkins died a dejected man, deeply bitter about how his own life played out? Does it matter that I have a neat explanation which allows me to believe half of the following stanza?
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Pastyme with Good Companie
Wednesday, 5 Apr 2006 :-: ["Permalink"]
Last semester, Ihad the good fortune and pleasure to perform the Tenor recorder with the Elizabethtown College Early Music Consort. Aside from providing incidental music for numerous events on campus, we played in the college's performance of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. It was a lot of fun up in the stage's balcony. In the play, the actors interact with the musicians; while we didn't have speaking parts, we were truly part of the production.
One of our signature pieces was "Pastyme with Good Companie," reputed to be written by England's King Henry VIII himself. Last night, on a whim, I opened up Garageband, and recorded it on my trumpet: Pastyme with Good Companie.
** * **
I think I am in love. And I do not think it ill befits my good mistress Trumpet to have so cordially welcomed such a noble Recorder as the Tenor into our cheerful company, to take a place akin to that most beloved friend Guitar in service to my occasional fancies.
Note to self: Stop reading Renaissance writing if you wish to be more coherent. Let it be further noted: that, having disposed of the question concerning the late inuring effect of Renaissance literature upon my speech, I should take care, if it so be that my acquaintances wish to speak in a manner conversant of the current styles of communication, to listen to less material written by the late P.G. Wodehouse.
In regards to that instrument, I present the following links to recordings and ensembles which I have thoroughly enjoyed.
Bess Bonner has created some fabulous swing/jazz arrangements of Shakespeare's love poetry and songs, called "Suite William"
. You can listen online.
Fontanella is a marvelous Recorder Quintet. Their tight harmonies and clear tone make this much maligned instrument truly sing. You can listen to recordings on their site.
The Dionysius Consort performs marvelous Renaissance recorder music. Take the time to listen to some of their skilled yet deeply-expressive period performances. Virtuosic quality.
I also like the Flanders Recorder Quartet. They exhibit a sense of talent and musical professionalism which isn't often ascribed to such ensembles in the US. Their samples show the quality of their cohesive musical performances. They have some great vocalists. And they play equally with clear, sweet vim and strong feeling. Truly beautiful.
The Flautadors strike a strong impression, and people seem to love them, but I can't find any audio samples.
Flauto Dolce is a fine Swedish recorder group. Their website contains an extensive list of flawless performances of traditional recorder music.
The Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia is a massive group of 20-30 recorder musicians. They manage to stir up a full sound not found in smaller ensembles, while still staying rather tight. Their extensive Recordings page lists equally-extensive music, from Sousa to Mussorgsky to Elgar to Handel.to someone more expected, like William Byrd.
England has a National Recorder Youth Orchestra. I wish I could hear them online.
Royal Wind Music, based in the Netherlands, looks very smart, young, and modern. They have a true sense of flair, and their vocals are said to be as astounding as the rest of their music. Unfortunately, I can find no excerpts online.
Denmark also seems to be the home of many good recorder artists. Sirena is amazing. They perform stunning, cutting edge music on recorder, but they also excel at more traditional pieces. And sometimes, they tie the two together. As one writer remarked, "How artistic they are, these four girls, and with a vengeance!"
The Early Music Chicago site lists many fine performances of Renaissance music, including recorders. They have a great live recording of one of my favorite songs, "Tobacco is like Love."
Of course, I should mention the artists of Magnatune, my favorite music label. There's the fabulous Farallon Recorder Quartet, and make sure you don't miss Da Camera, which is new to me. Remember to run a search for "Recorder." DaCamera performs spirited renditions of Carolan's Concerto, John Come Kiss Me Now, and other works of recorder, harpsichord, and strings. I have, of course, always enjoyed Farallon's faithful, fun renditions of Renaissance and Baroque music.
Magnatune is the original download-and-buy music label. They treat their artists fairly. They are not evil, to artists or to customers.
I could hardly mention Magnatune without mentioning Edward Martin, Lutenist extraordinaire. His album, "Virtues and Vices," is a lot of fun. Tracks like "Can She Excuse May Wrongs with Virtue's Cloak?" are oh so Renaissance. I much prefer his rendition of "Tobacco is Like Love," by Tobias Hume.
** * **
And while I'm linking to outstanding musical groups, make sure you check out The Gentlemen of St. John's. "Nine out of ten angels recommend it."
** * **
And I can't believe I didn't go through a post on Renaissance music without actually linking to any. Here's the SCA's marvelous resource and also a link to the folk music transcriptions of retired computer music pioneer Eric Foxley.
Tuesday, 4 Apr 2006 :-: ["Permalink"]
Last week, we obtained copies of Giant's somewhat-recent organic cereal in the Nature's Promise brand line. It's clearly a competitor to Kashi's line of marvelous organic foods.
It's not quite the same, but I like it. The Nature's Promise soy products are also quite good. If you're a first time soy drinker, I highly suggest their "vanilla" flavored soy milk. The twinge of vanilla blends nicely with the fresh, green scent of the soy to make a beverage which is cool and light.
But I must admit. Good friends are unparalleled.
Sunday, 2 Apr 2006 :-: ["Permalink"]
No matter how hard I try, how much effort I expend, there always seems to be someone there to point out how I am inadequate, how my efforts are misdirected, how my talents are limited, and how I don't spend enough time on (x).
On days like this, I know they're right.
"But I use my will, choose life, and reject its opposite, nothingness.
** * **
Where does the power come from, to see the race to the end? From within.
Update: I had trouble finding the second half of the quote from the movie. But I finally found the full quote:
I want to compare faith to running in a race. It's hard. Requires concentration of will… energy of soul. You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape. Especially if you got a bet on it. So how long does that last? You go home maybe your dinner's burnt. Maybe you haven't got a job. So who am I to say believe…have faith in the face of life's realities. Though I'd like to do more, I can only point the way. I have no formulas for winning the race. Everyone runs in her own way or in his own way. Where does the power come from to see the race to its end? From within. Jesus said "behold the kingdom of God is within you
" " If with all your heart you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me". If you commit yourself to the love of Christ then that is how you run a straight race.