Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Bill Gates Goes To College

I had heard about Microsoft recruiting Napoleon Dynamite for a video, but I finally got around to viewing it. The video and audio quality aren't the best, but it's kind of funny. Especially Bill Gates' Pedro hair.

Monday, September 26, 2005

LOST and the Periodic Table

Calling all science geeks and fans of LOST. I have a question.

We re-watched the first few minutes of the LOST season premiere last night and I noticed that the bottle of liquid the guy in the opening montage injected himself with had the numbers 4-8-15-16-23-42 on the label.

Here's my thought-- what if they stand for elements on the Periodic Table? What if the solution is made up of those 6 elements? So, my question to all who are much more knowledgable than me about these things is: what would happen if you put all these elements together? Here they are in order:

4 -- Beryllium
8 -- Oxygen
15 -- Phosphorus
16 -- Sulfur
23 -- Vanadium
42 -- Molybdenum

(Molybdenum was always my favorite element name to say. I used to remember to spell it correctly by thinking of "Moly B. Denum")

I know all LOST theories are far-fetched. I thought I'd just throw mine into the mix. Maybe there is some sort of crazy scientific experiment where they test this formula on people and the remaining 45 survivors are going to be new subjects? Or already have been? We know that these numbers have been circulated since at least as far back as WWII, when those army guys first picked up the signal before they went insane. What would these elements create? What would it do to someone if there were large amounts in your bloodstream?

I don't read the messageboards or anything so I haven't seen this idea or theory before, but if it has already been shot down please let me know. Or feel free to shoot it down yourself. It's all in good fun, anyway. I'm not obsessed, I tell you! ;)

"Snow Days" in September?

Well, if your Governor calls for statewide "precautionary" school closings due to rising gas prices after Katrina and the threat of even more damage to the Gulf refineries from Rita...then you might be in my shoes.

I admit, when our principal came over the intercom with the announcement at 4 p.m. on Friday I thought it might be a joke. I attempted to calm down the six screaming freshman girls who were in my room until two fellow teachers arrived in my door jumping up and down like overly-excited Labrador puppies. Then I gave up and gave in. Woo-hoo! Two days off!

If you didn't realize the inefficiency of large, government-run education, this should be your wake-up call. Of course, most or all of the private schools in Metro Atlanta are closed today and tomorrow as well. I bet the homeschoolers have to be just a bit envious. ;)

So that leaves me here at home today. Though it throws my lesson planning schedule off a bit, I'm excited about my "snow days." I plan to use my time (wisely--I hope) to tackle the mounds of grading that has piled up-- mainly essays and projects turned in within the last week or so. I also get to do some much-needed housecleaning-- and I'm looking forward to it!

Friday, September 23, 2005

What Is The Church?

Peter Leithart's brief observations on "What Is The Church?" have resonated with some thoughts I've had lately. Instead of viewing biblical descriptions of the church as metaphors that serve as "raw material for theological reflection," Leithart states that these descriptions are actually the fundamental descriptions of the church. This seems to tie directly into Leithart's view of the church as "an alternate polis," but I'll probably have to mull this over some more.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Tech Talk

Team Redd has deep roots at Auburn University, with innumerable family members (including both sets of parents) being alumni of that fine institution. This has proven interesting in recent years, when Auburn has played football against Georgia Tech, my alma mater. Obviously, my loyalties have remained true to my own school (and my pettier side has enjoyed gloating over Tech's 2-0 record against the Tigers since their long-standing football rivalry was rekindled in 2003, after a 15-year hiatus).

That being said, this news is pretty delightful.

Tech Adds [University of] Alabama to Future Schedules

(If you don't understand why that's delightful, you probably aren't familiar with the rivalry-laden world of SEC football.)

In more pressing news, Tech QB Reggie Ball, recently hospitalized for a few days due to viral menengitis, is still questionable for this weekend's big game against No.4 Virginia Tech. Should be interesting.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

I-L-L-I-N-O-I-S



I've been hearing lots of good things about Sufjan Stevens for a few months now, but initially, I just didn't get into his music. I think I even rated him as "Never Play Again" on my Launchcast station. Thank goodness for second chances for foolish me!

Even though I had previously listened to a few of his songs, nothing really grabbed me. A few weeks ago, I overheard one of his albums playing in the background at a pub (a personal favorite, The Brick Store in Decatur, GA). During another visit to the same pub, I noticed a stack of music/arts newspapers, one which featured Mr. Stevens on the cover. This, combined with more favorable comments from music-lovers, drove me to give Sufjan another try. I downloaded several free tracks, and I moderately enjoyed them at the time. But, the songs really stick with you. I found myself unable to rid my brain of "The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts" and "Casimir Pulaski Day." At this point, resistance was futile, so I made a trip to Borders.

I decided to start with Illinois, which features the two songs mentioned above. This album is the second in Sufjan Stevens' ambitious plan to write an ALBUM dedicated to each of the 50 States (he started with Michigan). I'm not exactly sure how to describe Steven's sound. He is certainly competent enough to carry a song with just a guitar and his haunting tenor, and maybe a banjo here and there. However, much of his music is considerably more ambitious, featuring piano, horns (of the high-school band variety), strings and a chorus of vocals. Illinois is definitely an album for the active listener, as Sufjan offers a variegated collection of songs inspired by the Prairie State, stringing together a UFO sighting, a serial killer, Carl Sandburg, the Windy City and the Columbian Exposition of 1893, just to name a few. But Illinois is more than just a collection of songs; rather, it is a true album, meant to be appreciated as such, with Sufjan weaving the tracks together with repeated musical and lyrical motifs, as well as instrumental interludes featuring some of the most audacious titles imaginable (e.g, "Riffs And Variations On A Single Note For Jelly Roll, Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong, Baby Dodds, And The King Of Swing, To Name A Few"). Although it takes a few complete listenings to really "get it", the album certainly sticks with you in a good way.

Highly recommended.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The iMonk is worred about the new Narnia film

And perhaps not without reason.

Theology On Fire

Covenant Seminary has a stockpile of great resources, including a ton of mp3s. I have recently enjoyed listening to the set of recordings from the 2005 Sacrifice of Praise Worship Conference, held at the seminary at the beginning of the year. Each of the posted sessions was very good, covering a variety of topics related to worship and the planning worship services.

"Worship as Gospel Re-Presentation," Bryan Chapell's general session talk, was especially good. Chapell begins by tracing the development of Protestant liturgy, from Luther to Calvin to the Puritans and beyond. Although he notes many of the differences between each, his stated goal is to examine their commonalities. The thrust of his session is that a worship service should be structured as a re-presentation of the Gospel. Many different components can be used, but the overall contour of the service is a corporate-level retelling of the work of the Gospel in an individual's life. Chapell uses Isaiah 6 to flesh out this pattern: the prophet comes before God and apprehends His absolute holiness. This sight immediately overwhelms Isaiah with a sense of his own sinfulness. God then makes provision for Isaiah's cleansing, which results in instruction and equipping for service. Similarly, Chapell argues, our worship services should flow from a proclamation of God's greatness into recognition of our own sin, then into assurance over our pardon which comes through the cross of Christ, and finally into instruction in holy living, both as individuals and as a corporate body. From his survey of liturgical forms, Chapell notes that a wide variety of components can be used while still maintaining this basic Gospel contour.

Kevin Twit's talk on "Theology on Fire: The Transformational Power of Hymns" is exceptionally good, as is Reggie Kidd's discussion of "Bach, Bubba, and the Blues Brothers: The Singing Savior's Many Voices." And, as I mentioned, the other sessions provide a great deal of valuable and insightful reflection on corporate worship. The entire set of conference recordings is a great resource to anyone involved in leading and planning worship services, as well as anyone seeking to more clearly define a theology of corporate worship.

(One minor complaint about the site: navigating through the resource library could be a little easier. To find the Sacrifice of Praise conference recordings, you can go first to the topic index page and then to the "View all titles" option. The Sacrifice of Praise Worship Renewal Conference recordings are towards the bottom of the list. Or just use "sacrifice" as a term for the "by title" search function.)

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Jackets Remain Unbeaten

Georgia Tech defeats Connecticut, 28-13.

With QB Reggie Ball in the hospital, Tech had to rely on freshman Taylor Bennett, who turned in a decent performance in his first collegiate football game. Interestingly enough, his very first play in a college game was a touchdown pass. Although the rest of his game was not nearly as stellar, he still did okay. Hopefully, Ball will be back in action for next week's game against Virginia Tech.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Far Country and the Not-So-Far Concert

It should come as no surprise to regular (or even semi-frequent) readers of this blog that Team Redd highly endorses The Far Country, the latest CD from Andrew Peterson. Andrew is one of our favorite musicians, so it took all of 5 seconds to decide whether we should make the 1.5 hour drive down to Macon, GA to see Andrew play this past Sunday night. Although we had originally planned to see the show with a couple of friends, by Sunday we ended up leaving Atlanta with a mighty contingent of 13 souls (plus the original two rendezvousing with us in Macon) intent on hearing quality acoustic music.

The concert, as expected, was fantastic. In addition to usual musical compadre Ben Shive, Andrew brought along a bass player (who had apparently played with Counting Crows at some point) and a drummer (who had played on the new album) to play with him. Afterwards, both Andy and Ben separately confessed their concerns about how fans would react to the addition of bass and drums, but personally, I thought it really filled out the songs in a good way. I did have one minor gripe about the rhythm section obscuring Andy's vocals on some of the more up-tempo songs, but that was more an issue with the venue's sound system than with the band. But, sonic muddiness aside, the concert was quite excellent. Andy, as is his custom, interspersed the set list with stories about the songs, about his family, and ultimately, about the Gospel. He played a good mix of songs from most of his albums, as well as (by request) his ode to Mexican food. I was especially pleased to hear him perform an upbeat version of "Isn't It Love," of which he had been playing a much slower version in recent years. Not that the slow version is bad, but the poppy, up-tempo rendition sounded great with a band. I also think this is the first Andrew concert (out of the many, many, many I have attended) where he didn't play "Nothing To Say," his big radio single. Which is fine by me. It's a great song, but I like hearing other stuff, too!

Allison and I are really enjoying The Far Country, and Andy played several selections from it. Some fans have seen this album as a marked departure from previous albums, but I'm not so sure that's the case. Yeah, there are distorted electric guitars in places and more drums than in the past, but the songwriting is still just as solid. Andrew has never been afraid to use a variety of instrumentation, so I just consider these additions as more choices on his musical palette.

My only lingering quibble about The Far Country is not actually about the album, but about some tangential discussions stemming from it. The title comes from a quote which tells us that "God is at home. We are in a far country." The title track alludes to Hebrews, especially in comparing our Christian status as pilgrims in this world to Abraham's sojourn to an unknown land of promise. At the outset, I must make it clear that I don't find anything objectionable in Andrew's longings for heaven, either in this song or others. However, it seems like Christian discussions of death and heaven (like those sparked by the album) usually veer into sub-Christian views on the subject. These discussions are correct to focus on sin and death as deviations from God's ultimate design, and the appropriate human response should be a deep longing for a holy God to make things right. However, the sub-Christian view usually sees the "solution" as God removing the Christian from the world of pain and suffering into eternal heavenly bliss. Death is an escape from a fallen world. I believe that the Bible does not present this solution.

Instead, the Christian hope is that God will act to make all things right: sin and death will ultimately be defeated. Although the Bible speaks of an intermediate state where believers go to be with Christ after death, it speaks far more loudly of a final state of new creation, where God completely redeems His universe. Our resurrection to dwell in a new heaven and a new earth is the content of our ultimate hope that God will finally triumph over sin and death. This fact should be our consolation as we achingly make our way through this fallen world. Because God will redeem and restore the current creation, "heaven" is not a location completely removed from our current experience. Rather, the new heaven and earth are the final state of God's plan of redemption, to be consummated at the return of Jesus. I've found that it is far more useful to think of the distance between "the far country" and our ultimate home with God, between the current and final states of things, in terms of time and not of space.

And thankfully, Andrew's latest album does a great job of capturing that honest longing for God to make right all that is currently wrong with the world.

Monday, September 12, 2005

J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography


Humphrey Carpenter's J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography is a great look at the life of the creator of Middle-Earth. I had previously read Carpenter's group biography of The Inklings, so I was looking forward to getting a better glimpse at Tolkien. I was not disappointed.

In the preface, Carpenter notes with irony that Tolkien would have frowned upon a biography of himself, as the Professor believed that an author's life is best examined not through historical data but through his work. Granted, the Tolkien family made a tremendous amount of personal papers and correspondence, as well as numerous interviews, available to the biographer to chronicle J.R.R. Tolkien's history. However, as Carpenter frequently notes (perhaps too often), the fantastic and imaginative worlds that Tolkien created stand in stark contrast to the relatively uneventful and routine life that he lived.

Not that the details of Tolkien's life are inconsequential, though. His early years appear to have had a tremendous influence in shaping the course of his entire life. Losing his father at an early age, John Ronald (as he was called) was raised largely by his mother, Mabel, and sadly, she died within ten years of her husband. Carpenter notes that Tolkien's strong attachment to his mother profoundly influenced his entire life. Her family origins in the West Midlands of England sparked her son's lifelong interest in the history and ancient language of the region. Mabel's conversion to Roman Catholicism resulted in Tolkien remaining a devout Catholic until his death. Finally, his mother's tutoring influenced John Ronald to excel at language studies, even delighting in creating his own languages and alphabets. Other facets of Tolkien's life are fairly interesting, as well: his teenage romance (prohibited by his guardian) with the girl whom he would later wed; his less-than-exceptional scholastic performance, despite his bright mind and immense talent; and his WWI experiences, which included the Battle of the Somme and a lengthy recovery from trench fever. After the war, he served in various academic roles, ending up as a professor at Oxford.

Carpenter notes that Tolkien's decades at Oxford would hardly be considered exciting by most people, especially those enthralled by his tales of elves, magic rings and forgotten civilizations. He was an exceptionally gifted philologist and a talented lecturer, although his life was not notably different from an average Oxford don. He rarely travelled, eschewed automobiles and newspapers (and later television), and preferred ancient literature to more "modern" works, such as Shakespeare. However, Tolkien lived a fulfilled life. He loved the subjects he taught and researched, and enjoyed spending time in the company of friends. At Oxford, Tolkien belonged to "The Inklings," a group of friends and colleagues who shared a common love of literature, and which was primarily comprised of conservative academics from the university. The most significant among the group were Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, who would remain close friends for years to come.

Carpenter does a great job of exploring the link between Tolkien's devout Catholicism and his creative endeavors. Of prime importance is Tolkien's idea of "sub-creation" -- that is, man's having been created in God's image manifests itself in man's own desire to create. In Tolkien's case, his love of ancient language led him to create his own languages. However, mere languages were not enough, because languages come from societies having their own unique culture and history. Therefore, Tolkien began creating his own world by tapping into his deep-rooted interest in his West Midland origins and his love for ancient tongues. As Carpenter shows, Tolkien viewed this creative impulse, in himself and in others, as a result of God's own act of creation. His frequent discussions of this subject with Jack Lewis had a direct impact on the latter converting to Christianity (to Anglicanism instead of Catholicism, much to Tolkien's dismay!).

The book also gives a fair amount of attention to the saga of Tolkien's writing and publishing of The Lord of the Rings. I was especially interested to see how little of his work Tolkien actually finished. It is true that he spent decades creating Middle-Earth and then telling the stories set within it, but his perfectionist tendencies often prevented him from actually completing the many ambitious projects he had undertaken. For example, on more than one occasion, Tolkien's publisher returned a manuscript to him for final proofing before it hit the presses, only to have him begin massive rewrites of portions (or the entirety!) of the work. Although Tolkien fans are understandably disappointed that he never finished The Silmarillion or many of the Lost Tales (which were later edited and released by his son Christopher), after reading his biography, I'm impressed that he even finished The Lord of the Rings.

Overall, Carpenter treats Tolkien very even-handedly, portraying his faults alongside his finer qualities. Anyone who enjoys Tolkien's work will appreciate this look at his life.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Tell me the story...

Les Newsom over at CommonGrounds has posted a beautiful retelling of the history of our world from the Christian perspective called Katrina and the Kingdom. A must-read.

It also echoes many of the insights about creation and recreation I discussed in this post last month.

Though Katrina's wrath continues to be a great tradedy, we do not grieve as they who have no hope. God's plan is to recast this sin-soaked world with an ultimate comedic end -- the renewal of all things. In this effort of picking up pieces and restoring the ruins, may we remember that as Christians we are called to be part of the restoration efforts now, helping others not only to rebuild their lives but their homes and their cities as well. It will take a great many people in the months and years ahead to reclaim the Gulf Coast, and it can only be done in the light of Christ's work on the cross. As Les so eloquently noted:
I have realized that only the Christian story ennobles and prepares and mobilizes into action the necessary amount of spiritual and social resources to preserve life in these situations. ... May God help us as his Kingdom strides forward to reclaim yet another chapter of human history marred by the destructive effects of sin.

Allison's Picks

The homepage at the computer in the faculty lounge is msn.com, which I don't usually visit, except, of course, when I'm kicked out of my classroom during 7th Pd because another teacher is in there. Today I noticed a link to the best "cheap eats" and thought I'd check it out.

Surprisingly, Atlanta's list had quite a few of our favorite after-church fellowship spots, including:

Eat's
Fellini's Pizza

Moe's

I've only eaten at Taqueria del Sol once, but it's incredible. Now that they've opened one in Midtown I'm trying to encourage everyone to go there. Sad that they're not open on Sundays.

Gaines has eaten at Fat Matt's with the guys, so I've heard on good authority that the ribs are de-lish.

Waffle House is a staple late-night eatery, of course, created by none other than a couple of Georgia Tech grads.

The Varsity is a Hot-lanta landmark, but I just can't make myself eat there more than once every few years. It's like instant artery-clogging grease-infused burgers and dogs.

Other favorites that weren't included on their list:
LaFonda Latina
El Torrero

Mellow Mushroom

Also, instead of Doc Fey's Noodle House, which I'm sure is good but I've never tried, we prefer Mama Fu's, which is owned by the same folks as Moe's. Instead of the usual Moe's greeting, however, we find it quite humorous that they shout "Welcome to Mama!" whenever you walk in the door. I always think I must be in some surreal Italian restaurant.

Speaking of Mama Fu's-- one Monday night, a group of us girls decided to meet there. Usually it is like a fast-food restaurant where you order at the counter and the only convenience is that they bring your order to your table. Well, this particular evening must've been the test run of their attempt at a high class establishment. When we entered, there were no less than 13 hostessess and servers standing like British guards waiting for us. They actually asked us to be seated, set out cloth napkins, gave us real menus and took our order at the table. Admittedly, we were a little weirded out at first, especially since they brought us drinks from the foutain machines that were less than three feet away from our table. The best, though, was when my friend ordered hot tea (they only had green) and then she asked for creamer. They didn't have any, so they actually went to the CVS next door and bought some for her! Talk about service! They certainly got a nice tip and a good review that evening.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Revenge of the Birds

A few months back, I noted that our porch birdfeeder had been overrun by crows, who scare away the cute birds. Fortunately, we haven't had too much trouble with them over the last few months. Unfortunately, their absence is directly correlated with our slack-ness in keeping the feeder refilled. The weekend before last, in a fit of productivity, we restocked the feeder and anxiously waited for the cute birds to return. Several days passed with no sign of our winged friends, but finally, they began returning for free food.

Unfortunately, the crows have also returned, in larger numbers than before. There is something quite unsettling about looking out the window to see a half dozen nasty crows perched on my porch. Yesterday, they took things a little too far. Peering out the window, I noticed that one of our potted plants had been rudely knocked from its place on the ledge (right near the bird feeder) and shattered on the concrete floor beneath it. I think you can guess who the prime suspects are.

Allison wants to construct some kind of scarecrow to get rid of them. I am considering a more dramatic option. Let's just say they don't call them a "murder" of crows for nothing.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Dagrons

Last night as we were out eating dinner before the GT game, I noticed something odd about the little girl at the table next to us. Bright fuschia wings protruded from her back. However, they were not your ordinary run-of-the-mill butterfly wings or angel wings, or even fairy wings. They were dragon wings. Bat-like, plush, sparkling hot pink appendages representing all that is fantastical and fun. Her parents should be proud.

After taking in her father's Star Wars t-shirt and the bag on her stroller advertising Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, I figured they had just returned from a day at DragonCon, the annual (non-bi-monthly) science fiction convention in Atlanta. I'm afraid of it. But I did hear that Homestarrunner.com set up a table there this year. That's cool.

Speaking of dragons, last Sunday night on our way to church, we stopped at a red light on Buford Hwy (notorious for making out-of-town visitors believe they've magically arrived in a foreign country in the middle of Atlanta due to the lack of English-language billboards and store signs) behind a bright red pickup truck. The owner of said vehicle had a lovely landscape painted on his tailgate. There were the usual mountains and southwestern-esque feel, but this automotive art had an added touch. With a certain valiant flair, some talented spraypaint connoisseur depicted the very same red truck at the base of a large scary castle being attacked by a large, black, scaly fire-breathing dragon. He was certainly proud of his truck; though, from our vantage point it was hard to tell who was the victor. There was no sign of the dragon anywhere, so I'll leave it up to you, faithful reader, to decide who won that battle.

w00t!

Yellow Jackets Down Auburn

23-14.

At Auburn.

But, there was one even-cooler part of the game. Tech linebacker Eric Henderson is a New Orleans native, and before the game, ESPN announced that he had not yet heard how his family fared in the aftermath of Katrina. The announcers gave out a hotline number on the air to try and get any word on the family's condition. At halftime, they announced that Henderson's family had survived the storm and was well. Great news!

Friday, September 02, 2005

Amy mentioned this in the comments below, but here's a little more info on a small bit of hope creeping up from the horrors plaguing the Gulf Coast.

Tulane Students Safe and Sound

May God continue to multiply these seemingly small acts of compassion.