Monday, October 26, 2009

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Here's the moment you've all been waiting for... (Shouldn't that be "the moment for which you've all been waiting?")

You may or may not remember the challenge I issued to one reader often identified as either Solid_Id or SuperEgo.

You can catch up here.

I received the following via comments Saturday afternoon:

Solid_Id said...

I have no interest in answering the question:

1) These types of questions do not interest me; never have.
2) I can answer the question either way, and you will debate me with the opposite point, no matter what position I take, and will be the victor on your blog.

The last thing I will say: of course it does. duh. why wouldn't it. does it make a sound when you are there? yes. do the laws of physics cease to exist when you're not there? no. there, does that set you up for your argument now? let me guess...blah, blah, philosophy...theory...nothing can be certain...god...blah blah. sum it up? haha just kidding. but seriously, of course it makes a noise.

End quote.

It took him a while to get there, but in the end he hit the nail on the head. The real problem with this question is that it's entirely anthropocentric.

Anthropocentrism (from Greek: άνθρωπος, anthropos, "human being"; and κέντρον, kentron, "center") or anthrocentrism is the belief that humans must be considered at the center of, and above any other aspect of, reality. ...

That's from wikipedia, and makes the point quite adequately on its own.

Just think about it for a minute. The fact that no human hears the sound doesn't mean no sound was made. If my dog hears it, does that count? Or an insect?

Think even smaller. A sound wave is produced and travels through the air. According to Newton, with every action comes a reaction. So something changes, at some level, even if no living organism is there to observe it. (Think of the soprano shattering glass on a high note!)

Consider also the plight of this poor fellow:

Did that tree make a sound? I bet it made some sound issue from that guy when he saw it for the first time.

Anyway, props to Solid_Id/SuperEgo for a solid answer to an ancient question. I congratulate you, sir, and hope that is not the last comment you leave me.

I'll hold off on answering your questions, if you don't mind. I'm not quite ready to release my final school list.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Puppy ninja!

Zeke's got a new trick. He's a puppy ninja. You doubt me? You've never heard of puppy ninjas?

Well look at this!


I tried to determine the veracity of this photo. Unfortunately, the photographer could not be reached for a statement. HE WAS KILLED BY PUPPY NINJAS!!

They're everywhere!

You stand no chance against them!

Unless, of course...


Zeke's started doing this cute new thing, and admittedly, I've encouraged him against my better judgment. He's pretty much figured out that I'll beat him in a fair fight every time. It generally ends with me holding him on his back with him muzzled between two of my fingers. I realize that sounds awful, but that's the recommended course of action for Yorkies. They never quite get it into their heads that they're little.

Zeke's latest trick involves approaching me with a toy and pretending he just wants me to hold it while he sits in my lap and chews on it. (That's another of our favorite games.) He chew the toy two or three times, and then he does his puppy-growl-thing (which sounds kind of like gargling water) and goes for my hand.

He doesn't really bite hard; he's just playing. (Slam dunk on use of a semi-colon! Fear me, GRE!!) Always makes me laugh though. I shouldn't encourage him, but he's so stinkin' cute!


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The @#$& GRE!

The Basics
A week from Friday I will be taking the GRE for the first and hopefully the last time ever. Believe it or not, I've pretty much gotten through two entire masters programs without ever having to take it.

The Background
I used to be really good at standardized tests. At least I was good at the math sections. On both the SAT and PSAT I scored well above the 700 mark on the math sections without studying. Then in my Freshman year of college I took a course called "Finite Mathematics." As I remember, we wrote some short essays on the importance of mathematics to daily life and learned how to calculate simple and compound interest.

That was in 1991.

The Challenge
So here we are, eighteen years later, and I'm trying to remember how to do basic algebra. The weird thing is I'm still good at the math I've had to do over the years. Trains headed in opposite directions - no problem! Determining the profit margin on a shirt marked down by 20% - no problem! 4x - 2 = 5 + 3x? Not so much! (I know, I know... x=7...I think.) I stare in horror at things like those little lines they use to indicate absolute value, and find myself asking questions like, "What's the formula to determine the area of a triangle?" (I know. 1/2bh.)

My brain's a little rusty on analogies too, but that can be solved by learning about a thousand vocabulary words.

The Process
I started preparing for the GRE last November by taking a Princeton Review class. That really helped to shake off the cobwebs, but I didn't take the test after the course. See, cause some of these schools are evil. They don't just take your highest or most recent score. No, some of them average all your scores together, and some actually take your lowest score! Can you believe that?! It should be illegal!

I spent the better part of the Spring and Summer memorizing vocabulary words. There are 5,000 possible words, but most of the prep courses (of which the most popular are Princeton Review and Kaplan), and most of the prep books (of which there are many...I have seven, at last count) try to recommend the 300 or 500 words most likely to appear based on historical survey. Listen, you can't memorize that many words. Or if you can, you're some freakazoid from planet Erudite. (That's a GRE word. Go me.) So I took the top 300 words recommended by the Princeton Review, and went down the list, one by one, putting words in sentences. I went through the list several times over.

The final push toward the goal started Monday of last week, and involves twenty two-hour sessions with the person that's supposed to be the best tutor in the San Diego area. My last session will be next Wednesday, and I'll take the GRE the following Friday, October 30th.

The Logic
Somebody ask me why I'm spending about eight hours a day for a month of my life studying for this test. Somebody please ask me why we've invested over $3,000 in tutoring and books. While you're at it, you might as well ask me why I've devoted a whole year to studying for this ridiculous test. ASK ME!!

Quite simply, the answer is that my whole life is riding on this stupid test. It's so simple it makes me want to throw up all over my keyboard even as I write this. If I can make a 1300 (with a minimum score of 650 verbal), I can probably get into a Ph.D. program. If I can get a 1400 (with around 700+ verbal), I can get funding. Yes, that's right. They may just pay me to go to school. If I get 1200, I can go LIVE IN A VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER!

(Incidentally, if anyone needs a motivational speaker, I work cheap.)

Am I being a little over-dramatic? Maybe. But it feels like my whole life is riding on this stupid test. @#$& GRE.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Justice and other matters

I don't think I mentioned that for my Spiritual Formation class I agreed to explore justice as a spiritual discipline. As I understand its historic practice, it's pretty straight-forward. You just bring justice in every day situations. Easier said than done though.

So here's my first attempt. Lately there's been a little controversy in my blog comments, and I've started moderating comments. I've agreed to give the accused party one more chance, and I stand by that.

So here we go...

SuperEgo, you have been charged with name-calling, bigotry, and making my wife mad. Rather than go through the whole guilty/not guilty thing, I'd like to have a trial in the truest since.

You set yourself up as a nemesis, and seem to believe you have some mastery in the area of human psychology. Therefore, your trial will include a test of both.

I challenge you to provide a "solid" answer to the following question:

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

It's an old classic that people have tried to answer before. Don't just search the internet on this one, please. Use your noggin and give me an answer that will put an end to my philosophical musings on this question. You've been reading my stuff for more than six months, so you should have enough knowledge about me as to determine what I might deem satisfactory.

It does have at least one answer.

If your response involves any name-calling or any other junk like that, it's unlikely to be posted here.

You may submit your answer as a response to this post or to my email, which I believe you already have.

To my other readers: Please feel free to give this question a shot yourself, if you're up to it. If I like your response, I'll post it alongside my own response to the question.

SuperEgo, consider yourself "banned" until you can give me a satisfactory answer. You may submit your answer anytime between now and next Monday.

So...let's get to it!


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Late Night on the Road

I think I'd mentioned at some point that I put together a post at one point over my travels last week. Anyway, call me anachronistic (assuming that's actually a word), but here ya go.

Spiritual Journal: Entry ?

Dear Lord,

Thank you for the incredible, amazing wife you’ve given me. Help me to be a better husband, and give her great patience, Lord. You’re great whether or not you do that, but I’d sure appreciate it.


Last night we rolled into the Austin La Quinta around midnight after a full day of traveling. You know how when you get really tired, you tend to either get silly or short on patience? What do you do when you’re one thing and your wife’s the other. Here’s what I mean.

On the way from the airport to La Quinta, we had the following conversation.

Julie: Is that the 35 up ahead?

Me: Nope.

Julie: …

Me: It’s just 35 here. In Texas, we don’t say THE 35. Just 35, or if you have to add in a prefix, it’s I-35.

Julie: …

Me: You see, saying I-35 actually designates the freeway as an interstate, in case you need to clarify, thus adding value. Saying THE 35 is just a waste of a syllable.

Julie: I’m not in the mood for this now. You are NOT helping.

Me: It’s just another example of how Texas is clearly superior to California. When you say THE 35, you’re just wasting everybody’s time.

Julie: Stop it. I’m serious.

Me: It may be a microcosm that gives insight into larger problems. I mean, time is money, right? So time wasted saying THE 35 translates into some small amount of money, but multiplied by millions of Californians, it becomes a bigger issue!

Julie: Husband! SHUT…UP!!! I’m not in the mood for this now.

Me: On the other hand, Texans know how to make use of precious resources. That’s why Texas has no state income tax, you know.

Julie: *leaps for my throat*

Dear Lord,

Bless my wife. Thank you for her already huge supply of patience, and help me to be less… Well, you know.

Yours truly,


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Sonnet time!

So I wrote this blog post the other day on my laptop, but now my laptop is out in the car, and I think it needs to be charged. You'd think I'd be able to work up the energy to go get it. Alas...

Good news though, readers! I have your Saturday night entertainment right here. Another sonnet in iambic pentameter about my big toe! This one's from Katherine, posted without permission. (If she gets upset, I'll take it down...maybe.)


Without further adieu....

You've writ about your toe in perfect rhyme,
Its virtues, and of hair that grows upon't
I must admit I can't recall a time
That I have read a funnier sonnet.

Those photos' worth? A thousand words at least
A sonnet's worth: Just seventy iambs.
I am so grateful that you chose to cease
Short of writing all about your toe jam.

I confess I have begun to fidget
Composing this has taken half an hour
Spending this time contemplating digits
On others' feet -- Ugh, I need to shower.

I hope you've had a lovely little laugh
Excuse me, y'all, I have to take a bath.

Spiritual Journal, entry 6:

Lord, thank you for my friends, both old and new. Light their paths and surprise them with your glory, your love, your providence. Help us to learn from each other, and to always honor you as the one who wove our paths in such a way that they should cross.

In Jesus Name,

Friday, October 9, 2009


Last night we met Julie's dad and brother after our flight home. Julie went ahead while I used the bathroom, and when I caught up I found her talking with a man I didn't know. I figured he was hitting on her. So I puffed up my chest, put a "Don't mess with me" look on my face, and strutted over to her.

I was quickly deflated when I got close enough to hear what he was saying. I won't try to quote him, because it wouldn't do him justice. He spoke eloquently. The bottom line was that he was recently laid off from Boeing where he worked as a machinist. His daughter had recently moved in with him, and brought an infant with her. He apologized for being there, apologized for even having to ask, but he asked nonetheless. He just needed a little money for baby formula.

I asked his name, and he replied, "Warren." I introduced myself and shook his hand. His hand was clean and he had a firm handshake.

Having worked in a manufacturing facility, I at least know what a machinist is and what one does. So I casually asked a couple of questions about his job, just conversationally. Isn't it terrible that my initial instinct is to not trust? I know I'm not alone in that, but...isn't there something messed up about that?

I used to live close to a shopping center where you could almost always count on running into the same guy begging for a handout. I knew his name, and I knew that he had a cocaine addiction. These things I learned through talking with him.

The first time I met that guy, I gave him a few dollars. And I can't tell you how many times after that he asked, not recognizing me. I'd address him by name, and ask him how he was doing with his cocaine problem.

"It's hard." "Not very well." "I'm working on it."

More than once I told him I wouldn't be giving him any money, and to come back to me when he really wanted help. He never did.

I don't know why I tell that story except to paint a stark contrast between that person and the one I met last night. It's not just that Warren was clean and pleasant. It was that he was incredibly lucid, and more importantly, there was a real pain...a shame in his expression that you couldn't miss. And I'm not saying he had any need to be ashamed.

We gave him some money, and I prayed with him. As I prayed, he gripped my hand tightly and began to quiver. Afterward, he wiped away tears and said the prayer was worth more than anything I could have given him. He thanked us for feeding his family and went on his way.

We got in the truck and started driving off when Julie realized we'd forgotten to give something to her dad. So I walked back to the restaurant and went in to drop it off, and I was expecting to see Warren back at the door, talking with someone else. But I didn't.

After we left, I wished we'd given him more, despite our own tough financial situation. Then I realized that what we gave him was enough, because he'd left the parking lot.

I don't really have a moral lesson, and I realize that just telling that sounds like bragging for doing the right thing. I'm really just telling you because I'd never seen something like that happen. And I know as a man how difficult it is when you can't support your family. It feels like you've been castrated of your manhood. Men that have been there understand.

I wonder if I'd be so brave as to stand outside a restaurant and beg to feed my family. I'd like to think I would, but I'm not so sure. So maybe that's my point. That guy was a hero. At least I think he was. So maybe, if you're the praying type, or even if you're not, pray for Warren. Pray for his family. Pray that he'll have a job by the end of the week. I believe he will.

And thanks for listening. Maybe I just needed to get that out.

Spiritual Journal, entry 5:

God, come in power and move in Warren's life.
Provide for his family, and go before him in every job interview.
Grow his faith and his character now like only You know how.
Give him a testimony to share.
Make us thankful for your provision.

In Jesus Name,

Saturday, October 3, 2009

On the Road Again

I'm trying to remember if I mentioned how much we've been traveling lately. You may have heard about Jet Blue's All-You-Can-Fly offer, where for $599 you can take as many Jet Blue flights as you want between September 8 and October 8.

We were planning on doing a big trip to visit all our potential Ph.D. schools around this time of year anyway, and since that would invariably cost more than $599, we jumped on the offer. And we figured, while we're at it, that we might as well plan a few additional trips as well.

So in the past month, I've already been camping, ridden on a subway, swam with sharks, and slept two nights on a plane. And we're just getting started.

Tomorrow we leave for Chicago, where we'll get in a car and drive North to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the home of Marquette University. Then we fly to Boston, where we have a number of appointments scheduled at Boston University. Along the way we may stop at Boston College and Harvard, cause...hey, why not, right? Then we fly to Austin, Texas, make a three hour drive to Waco, meet a few people at Baylor, drive back to Austin, and then... Wonder of wonders... We get to come home.

Along the way I'll be meeting with some of the top researchers in my focus area of theology, seeing one of the most historic cities in our country, and going to Waco. We've been working toward this for over two years now. And all I can do is think about how great it will be to be home again.

I like home. My stuff is here. Given the choice, I'll pick home over travel almost every time. (Though I've got to admit, my recent trip to the Bahamas was pretty fun too.)

But enough of that... (Good transition, huh? I'm such a great writer.)

On to more important things.

MY BIG TOE: A Sonnet in Iambic Pentameter

Which toe comes first of all the toes I know?
It is the big one on my own left foot.
Superior among the toes I've grown.
To find a lov'lier one you'd be hard put.

"It looks like many other toes I've seen!"
So many have pronounced it commonplace.
But few have been so erudite to keen,
Its eleganct uncomplicated grace.

How fortunate a gentleman am I
To have this wondrous toe all to myself.
It needs no help from leg or foot or thigh,
To be impressive in and of itself.

No other digit sets my heart aglow,
For poetry in motion is my toe!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Moderation powers.... Activate!

Well, it's a sad day on this blog when I have to moderate comments. You may have noticed that I deleted a few yesterday, not because they made me mad, but because they made Julie mad. That's not ok with me.

Let it therefore be known that for the immediate future I reserve the right to remove any comment that I do not deem constructive. Who am I to make that decision? Well, it's my blog, see. If I decide I want to pick a day and only post pictures of my big toe with commentary in iambic pentameter, I can do that. (Actually, that would probably be funny. Maybe I should do that.)

Spritual Journal, entry 4:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

And please help me to get off my butt and write my thesis.