"This is Water"

David Foster Wallace on deciding how to see the people around you.

Ancient History

Historian Philip Jenkins on events in Iraq:
"We often read of the birth and growth of churches, very rarely of their deaths. In Mosul, however, we may be seeing the end of an astounding example of Christian continuity that lasted nearly two millennia."
Full article...

The Last Photo

Ivan Cash asks people near Auburn, Alabama, to tell about the last photo on their phone:

Behind the Curve

A beginner-level introduction to elliptic curve cryptography (which is what will be keeping your information safe online for the immediate future).  Nick Sullivan:
"Elliptic curve cryptography (ECC) is one of the most powerful but least understood types of cryptography in wide use today. An increasing number of websites make extensive use of ECC to secure everything from customers' HTTPS connections to how they pass data between data centers. Fundamentally, it's important for end users to understand the technology behind any security system in order to trust it. To that end, we looked around to find a good, relatively easy-to-understand primer on ECC in order to share with our users. Finding none, we decided to write one ourselves."
Full article...

Web Typography

An excellent introduction to various principles of typography and how they relate to web design.   Richard Rutter adapts Robert Bringhurst's The Elements of Typographic Style to a web context.    If you do any CSS work at all, you have got to check this out.

Link:  webtypography.net ...

That's no moon...

"How to Identify that Light in the Sky", a handy flowchart from NASA:


ht: Jay Ryan (@JayRyanAstro)

And yet so far away...

A few quotes from recent reading on the subject of falling short:

"There will always be a gap between who we are and who we want to be." — Todd Pickett

"We have met the enemy, and they are partly right." — Tony Campolo

"That we act different in private than in public is everyone's most conspicuous experience, it is the very ground of the life of the individual. Yet curiously this obvious fact remains unconscious, unacknowledged [...]" — Milan Kundera

"Sin is not the worse thing in the world. The worse thing in the world is the denial of sin." — Fulton Sheen

DC area in a sentence

"The place always makes me feel 15 minutes late, even when I'm early."

— Mike Rowe, on Washington, D.C.

Quote Pack

An assorted bunch of quotes I've come across in the last week:

"The safest way to make laws respected is to make them respectable. When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law."

— Frédéric Bastiat

"Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed."

— Richard John Neuhaus

"Just because something bears the aspect of the inevitable one should not, therefore, go along willingly with it." 
— ​Philip K. Dick

"[W]hen the officials trusted to execute law faithfully violate laws regularly, they lose their presumption of legitimacy."

— Andrew McCarthy

"Consequences that are not sufficiently painful or sufficiently scary aren’t consequences[.]"

— Jonah Goldberg

"A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure."

— usually attributed to Lee Segal (Segal's Law)

Quote Grab Bag

"When people lose sight of the proper objects of religious passion, they do not necessarily lose their religious instincts. Many will fill that hole in their soul with things of this world."

— Jonah Goldberg

[On Postmodernism:] "We should not be surprised at your inability to stand if your argument is that you have no legs."

— Douglas Wilson

"In America the young are always ready to give to those who are older than themselves the full benefits of their inexperience."

— Oscar Wilde

"If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."

— George Orwell

Is it not a little one?

"Nonsense tolerated anywhere will metastasize, and the results are always ugly. 'When the people have got used to unreason they can no longer be startled at injustice.'"

— Douglas Wilson (that last bit from Chesterton)


This word has bothered me for years.   It seems like every reporter writing up an earthquake feels compelled to use it, even though no one else in the world (for the most part) ever does.   I always chalked it up to news editors and their seemingly insanely over-the-top desire for "snappy" writing.   Finally, someone has run the numbers:
"A quick search on Mark Davies’ Corpus of Contemporary American English shows that temblor occurs just over twice as often in newspaper writing as in magazine writing, and more than three times as frequently in newspaper writing as in fiction."

Full article...

Walking across Lake Erie

One guy's account of walking across Lake Erie in the winter (which is apparently a thing some people do):
"A half mile north of the island, I passed a cluster of ice fishing shacks which could probably have incorporated as a city. Snowmobile tracks were everywhere, and I could make out a few old cars sitting by themselves out on the ice, perhaps waiting for a watery spring burial. A jeep with four people in it pulled up alongside me, and the driver asked me if I'd seen Fred. 'I don't even know Fred,' I said, and off he drove."
Full article ...

The most important thing.

"Foreign policy is the art of establishing priorities."

— Henry Kissinger

Protip:  you can replace "foreign policy" with "dealing with others".

In Spots

"What do you make of [life]?  Pretty odd in spots, don't you think?"

 -- P.G. Wodehouse


"Assume that your plans are wrong."

— Seth Godin

Not hearers only.

"If you've done something with what you've learned, then maybe you know it."

— Seth Godin

Democratic Gospel Theory

"Woodberry's results essentially suggested that 50 years' worth of research on the rise of democracy had overlooked the most important factor."

Read more at CT...

(ht: Douglas Wilson)

Why read old books?

"Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books."

— C.S. Lewis

More context from Lewis here (via Justin Taylor)...

w/ your name on it

"You don't simply perceive something that is statically present, but in fact there is a visionary quality to all experience. It means something because it is addressed to you."

— Marilynne Robinson

2013 Year-In-Review

Another year, another year-in-review. This is more for me than it is for you, but you're welcome to look over my shoulder while I take a look back at the things that stood out to me about 2013.


  • Personal. 2013, in retrospect, was marked by transition in my personal life. I got a different job (or rather, was assigned to a new contract within the same company), a different vehicle, a different apartment, and even (for the first time) a different official address. I switched from teaching very young children at church back to teaching junior high kids (that may be the most jarring transition of all). You would think, after all that change, and more, that I'd feel completely different, but I don't. Mr. Karr was right: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

  • At-large. As for the wider world, you'll see plenty of recaps on other sites. The main story that held my attention throughout the year was the whole NSA domestic spying scandal, precipitated by the actions of Edward Snowden. What was revealed confirmed what many of us in the tech. industry had been saying for a long time, but went beyond that to show that the situation was much, much worse than anybody had thought. The documented facts of the matter quickly caught up to even the wildest speculation and also managed to best some insane conspiracy theories. A lot is still coming out, and much remains to be sorted out politically. People are going to have to come to a decision about what kind of society we want to be ... and soon. As far as technology is concerned, the path forward toward a restoration of privacy is pretty clear: minimum trust, maximum encryption. What that will look like in practice remains to be seen. Technologies like PGP, TrueCrypt, Perfect Forward Secrecy, Tor, and various TNO encrypted communications solutions will make it much harder to continue the slide toward a surveillance state. If you don't know how to secure your own communications, now might be a good time to take your IT guy out to lunch.


Unfortunately, I had less time for reading in 2013, but I did manage to get through a few items:

  • Antiquities of the Jews. In preparation for teaching several Wednesday nights at church on the inter-testamental period, I read (most of) Flavius Josephus's history covering that period. It was filled with interesting bits and pieces that bridge the gap between the end of the Old Testament and the start of the New. Every other page is a "Oh, so that's why that's like that..." moment. I also read I Maccabees as part of this study, and found it very helpful. I regard it as a true account, though still deuterocanonical (if only just).

  • The Elect Lady. I've read a fair amount of George MacDonald's work before, but this was my first time reading some of his non-fantasy writing. This book turned out to be unbelievably quotable.

  • All Things Considered. G.K. Chesterton's writing is about a century old now, but it still sounds like it was written for this morning's paper. This work (which, to be honest, I'm still not quite finished reading) is a collection of columns he wrote on various subjects — all still relevant in one way or another. It also proved to be ten pounds of quotes in a five pound bag.

  • Zechariah. I've read the book of Zechariah before, and it may well be my favorite book of the Bible, but this year, I had to teach it, verse by verse, and word by word. I had to research the historical, cultural, and geopolitical context, as well as do quite a lot of translation from Greek and Hebrew. As a result, I found unbelievable depth in the text and got a better picture of the unity of voice between the Old and New Testaments. It's one of those bits of the Bible that is often just ignored, or quoted in soundbite, but that really is (in my opinion) a shame.

  • There were other bits and pieces to chew on during the year. I listened to a lot of podcast readings of short stories. Among them was my first introduction to the work of H.P. Lovecraft, with which I was duly impressed. I'll also be following up with Italo Calvino after hearing one of his stories read. I read (and enjoyed) a short piece by David Foster Wallace, who I've often heard praised, and I started reading through a collection of rabbinical quotes called Pirkei Avot (or, as my copy titles it: "Sayings of the Jewish Fathers").


2013 was quite a year for music, or at least the sort of music I like. I saw a couple of live performances (She & Him, Toad the Wet Sprocket), and purchased more albums than I have in quite some time. It was also something of "The Year of the Compilation Album", as we'll see below. As far as albums go, here are some notables to note:

  • Blitzen Trapper - VII. Still (for my money) the best new band of this decade (new to me, that is). Eric Earley and the boys continue to draw on sources so broad that even Chuck Norris couldn't do the splits between them: seventies rock and funk, country, bluegrass, blues, even West Coast rap from the 90's. All this while managing fairly thought-provoking lyrics that incorporate numerous references to Earley's Christian understanding, set in a world full of old prospectors, Indians, and Israelites. For starters, check out "Shine On", "Thirsty Man", and "Valley of Death", but for pure feel-good, it's hard to beat "Don't Be a Stranger":

  • Toad the Wet Sprocket - New Constellation. I think TTWS was one of the best bands of the 90's, and I'm glad to see them back. So glad, in fact, that I was a participant in their Kickstarter campaign to fund this album, and went to see them live when they came through. Have a listen to "California Wasted" (acoustic, non-album version), "Golden Age" (also not the album version), and "Life Is Beautiful", but the best version of the title track isn't on the album, but was recorded at a seemingly impromptu acoustic session:

  • Inside Llewyn Davis (Soundtrack). Chris Thile. Justin Timberlake. Marcus Mumford. Folk Music. T-Bone Burnett. Buy it. Buy it quickly, before they take it back.

  • Divided & United: Songs of the Civil War (Compilation). Another project with connections to T-Bone Burnett. Pretty much everybody you'd want on board, from Loretta Lynn, to Chris Thile, to Steve Earle, Jorma Kaukonen, OCMS, Carolina Chocolate Drops, etc., etc. I can't imagine how they got everyone to agree to this, but they did. So many good songs (listen to the whole thing here), but this is probably my favorite:

  • The Storm Is Passing Over (Compilation). Another surprisingly-good compilation, put together as a benefit for Hurricane Sandy. The whole album is available on a free / donation basis here. Pretty much any sad song about flooding you've ever heard is on here, including this:

  • Chris Thile - Bach: Sonatas and Partitas, Vol. 1. Classical for people who don't really like classical. If you need a record to play on repeat while working, you won't find a better one.

  • Honorable Mention: Shovels & Rope; J.D. McPherson

Other Media

This is the category for anything that isn't a book or music.


  • Blockbusters. As I've said before, I don't like comic books or comic-book-related things, but I usually end up going to see major comic book movies with friends who do like them, and 9 times out of ten, I end up enjoying them. This year, for whatever reason, I ended up seeing almost exclusively these kinds of movies. Among others, I saw Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, and the second Thor movie ("Thor: The Dark World"). This last one confused me to no end, as I very much disliked a number of things about the movie, but thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. Go figure.

  • I saw a few other movies along the way that were memorable. I had heard good things about Moonrise Kingdom, and they were all true. It's a classic Romeo & Juliet meets Noah story (I know, right?). I was also amused by a movie that I had somehow missed when it came out: Kung Fu Hustle. It pushes the boundaries of the genre so hard that there aren't really any boundaries left at all, and it has a good time doing it.


  • I stayed fairly up-to-date on The Walking Dead throughout the year. Different people like that show in different ways. I enjoy it, not because of the darkness it portrays, but because of how it shows some of the characters, even in such darkness, trying to love and help each other, and salvage little bits of light. If you view it in the right way, it's a very hopeful show.

  • I also started watching Breaking Bad late in the year (don't tell me how it ends). It, by comparison, is not a very hopeful show at all. It (very expertly) shows how very little might be keeping the average person from becoming a real monster. Most interestingly (and accurately), out of all the wrong decisions they make, the show focuses on a lack of truthfulness as the main thing dragging the characters down that road. Lots of insight in the writing here.


  • Most of my media consumption in 2013 came in the form of podcasts, which (stemming from my love of radio) is my favorite medium. The fact that you can listen to a podcast while you do something else doesn't hurt. I listen to all the big boys (This American Life, Radiolab, etc.), but I've expanded far beyond that. Notable on my list are: Mysterious Universe, Stuff You Missed in History Class, Security Now!, The New Yorker Fiction Podcast, and The SFF Audio Podcast, among many, many others, and I'm still picking up new ones to listen to.


  • In the web comic world, I kept up with Randall Munroe's excellect xkcd, and it's non-fiction-y spin-off what if?.

  • On Youtube, I followed several channels devoted to "science experiments" (or, in most cases, "seeing what would happen if..." would be more accurate): Taofledermaus, CrazyRussianHacker, and North Alabama's own SmarterEveryDay.


There isn't much to discuss as far as large themes that emerged for me this year. The best I could do would be to point to an overarching feeling of "unsettledness". As I've already mentioned, it seems like everything this year was in transition. Transition even popped up in my reading and study throughout the year, focused, as much of it was, on the inter-testamental period of Biblical history. The year wasn't especially remarkable, but it felt like it was stuck in a very unsteady state. One thing for sure about unsteady states: they collapse into something. It remains to be seen how things will settle out in the new year.

Peter Mulvey - "Shirt"

As ever:

"May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up His divine countenance upon you and give you peace."