Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Sadly, Belinda Carlisle's "Heaven Is A Place On Earth" cannot really be applied to this particular bit of theology

Yes, theology - I did say that I'd be including some of that here. Just over there in the sidebar, in fact. This post comes from a couple of things - first, the concepts of heaven and hell in the Bible are some of the most terrifying that I've come across. The idea of final judgement, in particular, has long been on my list of "doctrines to which I'd like to apply a large bottle of Tipp-Ex". And secondly, Sam Allberry, the curate at St Ebbe's church in Oxford, recently posted some of his thoughts on just this issue the other day.

Seeing as how "hijacking other people's conversations" is one of my all-time favourite hobbies, I thought now would be as good a time as any to put online some of the notes I made after talking through the concept of hell with Sam at the end of last term. Because they're incredibly long, I'm putting them behind a cut - they were also written more for my benefit than for anyone else's, which is why their tone is much more personal than general. Still, if you find them interesting, let me know - this is the kind of thing that I'd like to be able to think through rather more.

These notes were made following a discussion with Sam Allberry on final judgement, 5/12/06. Things that Sam said are in plain text (although they’re not word-for-word, and Sam certainly shouldn’t be quoted from this!), additions by me are in [square brackets].

The first thing to note is that there is no “Ebbe’s Line” on topics like this. The staff team are still learning as well, and disagreement on this kind of thing is definitely legitimate. Older and wiser Christians have struggled with these issues for years; John Stott is one example. He has come to the conclusion that the “eternity” of judgement refers to annihilation, that it’s the effects of this annihilation that are eternal rather than conscious punishment. Philosophically that works well, although it’s maybe not as well biblically supported as some other viewpoints. That said, there is evidence to back it up – the use of language in the Bible talking about “destruction” in terms of judgement, for example. Essentially, although an important issue, it is definitely not central; it’s the kind of thing that Paul said we should be convinced in our own minds about.

Secondly, talk about heaven and hell is always going to have problems because our impressions of both have been enormously coloured by mediaeval artwork. Even if we don’t really think that heaven is a cloudy place where we drift around playing harps, elements of that kind of image do make it into our consciousness – it’s all too easy to think of heaven as some kind of ethereal place, whereas [as Revelation and other places seem to make it pretty clear] it’s physical. Similarly with hell, it’s very difficult to entirely remove the image of hell being a big fiery pit where Satan pokes us with a toasting fork and generally has a wild party. The concept of hell being Satan’s territory, in particular, is one that is certainly not Biblically supported. [The afterlife is so far beyond our current understanding that we’re always going to have difficulty trying to imagine it – it’s best to try and work entirely from what the Bible actually says.]

Even the parts of the Bible where we’re told about hell can be very confusing, because a lot of the time they’re talking in symbolic language. This sometimes leads to odd combinations of metaphor – hell is described as a fire in some places, and as darkness in others. It often helps to use the context in which hell was mentioned – this will sometimes tell you which particular aspect is being demonstrated. Once again, though, most of these passages are very much open to interpretation.

As regards the problem of eternal punishment being out of proportion to a sin in finite space-time, there are a couple of things to remember. One is that our concept of eternity, that of just a time that goes on and on and on without end, is probably not eternity as experienced in heaven. [This makes sense if you assume that God is not subject to time at all, which we would assume is the case – eternity would be a pretty horrific experience in our terms, however we were going to spend it, so it seems sensible that it would not be experienced like that.] The second is that our concept of retributive justice is also different to God’s. In our terms, we see a particular crime as being fittingly punished by a particular punishment [such as longer jail terms for more serious crimes]. Justice as God sees it is much more relationally-based. If we are breaking the relationship that he has set up, the punishment is also relationally-based – the language that is sometimes used Biblically is that of God “turning his back” on us. [Once again, the fire-and-toasting-fork image has a lot to answer for – existing without the love of God, although still a horrible concept, is much more consistent with his character than is the image of being tortured by the Spanish Inquisition.]

When we come up against something that we don’t understand, it’s often best to go back and look at what we do understand. In this case, looking at justice as God shows it is helpful – the Old Testament concept of “an eye for an eye” demonstrates proportionate, personal and calm retributive justice. There is no room for “making an example of someone” in this form of justice – people are punished for what they do, not for what they might do, or what someone else has done. Because of this, we can be sure that final judgement, in whatever form it takes, will both be just and will be seen to be just. No-one is going to complain about the treatment they receive, because everyone will see that it is fair. [That’s still a terrifying concept, mind you. But it does help.] Furthermore, problems such as “what happens to stillborn babies?”, although they may not have answers now, will also be seen to be solved justly. [We don’t need to worry about God dogmatically going “You died too quickly and never did anything. Fitting punishment for that is…eternal pain!”]

The best demonstration that can be found, both of God’s love and of his justice, is the cross. While we were sinners, Christ died for us – this shows both that sin is serious and that God was so concerned for us because of it that he sent Jesus to deal with it. [God didn’t do that lightly – nor will his justice be a slapdash job.] Although it may seem that “trust that God will be fair, even if we don’t understand now” is a bit of a Band-Aid solution, it isn’t if we can back it up with evidence. And we have plenty of evidence, both of God’s justice and of his mercy.

The way to deal with problems such as these is [as seems to be the case with most things!] to pray, to find out more from the Bible, and to talk with other Christians. The shades of opinion on this issue are very wide-ranging [and it’s important to note that it’s very much possible for two people to read carefully and prayerfully through the relevant parts of the Bible and come up with wildly differing conclusions – these divisions, provided they don’t cause splits in the Church, are absolutely fine!], and God can take it when we don’t know what he’s doing.

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In Gates' defence, he did hire acrobats for the launch ceremony. That's got to be worth something.

I do like it when news items that happen to come out at around the same time go together so well. Bill Gates announces that Windows Vista is "dramatically more secure than any other operating system released"...

...and in a completely unrelated story, some hacker manages to break Vista's copy-protection system within a week of its launch.

Gives you a nice warm glow inside, doesn't it?

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Sunday, 28 January 2007

Picture of the Week: #4

There's only one day that this week's PotW could really have come from; we see snow so rarely in the South that it's An Event when it happens. Meanwhile, people in the North are looking at us saying "it snowed. In winter. When it was cold. And this is news?" I don't care, I think it looks pretty. So there.

That's our back garden. The large white square thing is a fence panel; in a classic bit of suburban amiable misunderstanding, when two panels of the fence blew down in the high winds, it quickly turned out that neither we nor our neighbours knew who actually owned it. And, given that we don't use our garden and they're unlikely to in the current weather, we've decided to leave it as it is for now and let our landlord sort it out when he gets round to it. Meanwhile there's one panel on each side in a nice egalitarian style. Worked out very well all round, I reckon.

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Wednesday, 24 January 2007

There's NO business like SNOW business (groan)

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I have two exhibits to bring before you:

  1. When my weather forecast extension in Firefox predicted "snow showers" a couple of days ago, my very first reaction was "oh no, it's going to be cold..."
  2. Upon going downstairs this morning and seeing the snow in our front garden, my first thought was "oh look. It's snowed", followed shortly by "it's going to be difficult cycling into town in this".
I'm 21 and I'm middle-aged already. This is very, very sad.

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Sunday, 21 January 2007

Picture of the Week: #3

It's Sunday once again, so we all know what that means...yes, I get up hideously early while everyone else is still asleep. But it also means that you get to marvel at this 'ere picture.

It may not have been the best idea to set up a mini-trampoline in the kitchen. However, once you put some jive music on, it becomes surprisingly difficult to avoid using it, as Becky conveniently demonstrates.

Couple of extra things to say, but because I'm not going to make separate posts just for that, you'll have to go behind the cut. If this doesn't work, go and enable Javascript in your browser. It is not difficult.

If all has gone according to plan, you are now reading the expanded post. So, hello! The two things to say are:

  1. This is quite possibly the awesomest of awesome things ever, slightly ahead of this;
  2. The following image is something that I find entirely too relevant right now...

This cartoon is by Dave Walker, and as such is not covered by my CC licence.

You can click the image (and please do so) to go and have a look at the rest of this guy's stuff...very clear Edward Monkton influence, but often with a Christian spin, and he makes a lot of them freely available for blogs. Which can't be a bad thing.

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Saturday, 20 January 2007

So...did she do it, or is she just coping with what happened?

Not going to do a full review here (especially at this time of night) - just thought I'd say that if you want to go and see a very good, epic piece of storytelling, Babel is the way to go. Make sure you're in the right mood for it, though. It is an extremely long movie, with a number of different storylines running simultaneously and crossing over, and if you miss any of it you will not have a clue what's going on. If you're after something pretty mindless with lots of fighting, try Apocalypto. Apparently it includes Mayan swearing.

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Tuesday, 16 January 2007

On the plus side, they things they do make well are EXTREMELY shiny

I'm typing this from the Psychology computer lab, as I've just come out of my Visual Search practical. It wasn't exactly thrilling, so I'll spare you the details - I was just interested to see that, just like the Stereoscopic Vision practical last term, we used old Power Macs to run the experiment. And when I say, old, I mean pretty darned old - these things are a good ten to fifteen years of age, which is seventy to a hundred and five in dog years, or about eighteen million in computer development terms.

I'm not a big user of Macs - my only non-Windows experience thus far has been brief attempts at understanding what on earth Linux is all about - but I've been pretty impressed thus far by these old machines. The Mac OS takes a bit of getting used to - idiosyncrasies like dragging the floppy disk into the wastebasket when you've finished with it make absolutely no sense at first, but I suppose it's roughly as sensible as clicking "Start" to shut down. Still, it looks nice, particularly little touches like the flickering when you select something, which looks very Hollywood. The hardware's good too, with perfectly reliable mice (who really needs two buttons, anyway?) and lovely clicky keyboards. Plus, there's the bonus that because everything was made by the same company, it's almost always going to work.

So why, WHY, in the name of all that is sensible, did they put the Power button right below the floppy drive? At least two people in my class accidentally switched off their computers when they thought they were ejecting the disk. Likewise, why make it impossible to reach the desktop without clearing away window after window? And why build in elements to programs that mean you can't edit things, even if you could ten seconds ago, with no explanation at all?

It's worth noting that Apple still does stupid stuff like this - I'm never going to buy an iPod until they make the batteries user-replaceable and widely available, for instance. Likewise, their anticompetitive love affair with DRM, crippling your music files and making them playable only on their hardware, is a marketing decision that seems to have absolutely no basis in the wants and needs of their customers. Even in their newest stuff, such as the iPhone, you'll find these problems - another non-replaceable battery, a deal tying you to only one network service provider, no user-installable apps except for those made by Apple, despite the phone otherwise running a full version of Mac OS X.

Weird, really. Maybe the key to finally putting a knife through Microsoft's cold, merciless heart is not so much increasing one's cleverness - there's clearly plenty of that around - maybe it's actually a case of getting rid of the rampant vein of sheer mad stupidity running through the centre of one's whole operation. Until they do, I don't think I'll be taking a bite of the Apple any time soon.

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Sunday, 14 January 2007

Picture of the Week: #2

Moving into the slot it was originally supposed to have, it's time for the Picture of the Week.
No great story goes with this - it was a beautiful day, I was in Christchurch Meadow with a few friends, this is what I saw, and I thought it looked nice. I do think, though, horrific pollution issues aside, that jet contrails are really cool. Something as absolutely natural and taken-for-granted as a cloud, made at will by hurling several hundred tons of aluminium through the sky at high speed, makes for something very odd and rather special.

Just in case you hadn't noticed by now - and this goes for all the PotWs - click the photo to get a higher-resolution version. Wallpaper-sized versions available on request.

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Friday, 12 January 2007

Now all we need is for Graham Norton to check whether he's available to host it

British television currently suffers from a number of problems, although you hardly needed me to tell you that. Of course, if you are the kind of person who wants to watch shows like Sell Your Garden Makeover In The Sun with Paul O'Grady, then maybe you don't think there is a problem. But then again, if you are that kind of person, I have absolutely no wish to talk to you.

Where was I? Oh, yes, television. One of the most obvious flaws is the number of reality TV shows. They tread over the same ground, largely; even the ones which have an aim in mind (beyond "make vast amounts of money") include so much bitching, backbiting, backstabbing and other things beginning with B that it's almost as if they needn't have bothered.

So what's the solution? Well, combine all the shows into one big one. That way, everyone gets all their problems out of the way nice and quickly, the public aren't confused with all the different numbers to phone, and if the channels can't decide who shows it then they all show it at the same time and people who don't want to watch it can turn the stupid TV off and go and read a book or something.

I'm pretty sure someone's already come up with this idea, so it's not particularly revolutionary. I'll tell you what is, though - the combination of a solution to this major British problem with the solution to another major British problem...

The Royal Family. Yep, that's right. I may as well say, before we continue, that I think the Queen handles an extremely demanding job very well, and I have nothing but support for her. Her family, on the other hand...well, put it this way. The monarch is effectively the country's chief diplomat. He/she does something wrong, we are looking at a Major International Incident. Frankly, it's an absolute miracle that Prince Philip has managed not to start World War III at any point during his wife's reign. And once you remember that monarchy is passed on down the family line, and that therefore the crown will pass to Prince Charles, a man who talks to plants, I think you'll see that we need a new way of looking at things.

Which is where reality TV comes in! We still need the monarchy, as it's an amazing tourist draw - but why not let the public choose the monarch? I think it's a dead cert. Auditions get held in every major city in the UK, in which people can come in and display their crown-balancing skills, their ability to wave nonchalantly from the window of a carriage, and their pronunciation of phrases like "a verrah happeh Chrestmas to you awl". If they get through that, they get onto the first televised round, in which Simon Cowell berates them for not looking cool enough while Princess Anne makes comments on their horse-riding ability.

Then, of course, we bring in the political rounds. Contestants are tested on their knowledge of global heads of state and various greetings in Zulu, then Dale Winton leads them into a mock banquet where they have to react properly to 15 faux pas from other dignitaries within a minute. At the end of each week's show, the public get to vote off whoever impressed them least, and Ant and/or Dec will console the losers with their trademark chirpiness. (People who go out in the higher rounds may get put back in to a kind of repechage round, where they can compete to be the Princess Royal.)

It might be a little tricky to get all the common reality-TV elements in, although bush tucker rounds may become "ethnic delicacy" tasting challenges; I can't quite see how to get either ballroom dancing or illicit sex into the show in any way that seems entirely natural, although this is royalty we're talking about. Contestants will, of course, all be staying in one big house where TV cameras watch over them - not so much for public entertainment as to give the contestants experience of the paparazzi.

At the end of the series, the lucky winner will be escorted in style to the throne, while the current incumbents are shipped off to some holiday home in Northumberland or something. They'll probably welcome the change, to be honest. Of course, that won't be the end of the show format; we can get at least a few months out of followup shows, and by the end of those everyone will have forgotten about the new monarch (honestly, who was the last reality TV show winner who went on to do anything more than fade into obscurity? And before anyone says "Will Young", let me remind you that a dire fate awaits anyone who does so in this place), so we can repeat the whole process all over again.

No, don't thank me, TV executives and grateful people of Britain. I'm just doing my job. Cheques for format licensing can be left with my agent.

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Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Apples & Oranges

OK, I wouldn't normally do a one-link no-content post, especially from somewhere as big as Wired, but...

Read this article...then read the comments below it.

Some people get entirely too excited.

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Monday, 8 January 2007

Picture of the Week: #1

In a new feature for this new blog (which, in true form, I actually meant to introduce yesterday but forgot about), I'm introducing the Picture Of The Week! This is my slightly cut-down version of the concept of Project365, a very cool idea but unfortunately one that I wouldn't have anything like the self-control to complete. So I'm doing a sort of Project52, on the basis that that should be easier. The idea is that every Sunday, I post one picture that I took the previous week, and make a couple of comments on it - that way you see what I'm doing with my time, and I get a record of my year. Notice that it's the picture of the week, rather than necessarily the photo - this is my way of letting myself use Photoshop as much as possible to make the pictures look better. No, you can't expect much journalistic integrity from me. Anyway, this week's picture is...

(l to r - Agent Eric, John, Chris)

And that's how I tend to spend my time when I'm at home - going over to visit those who have so much time on their hands, they can afford to sit up all night playing on a Gamecube, accompanied by a secret agent stuffed penguin. Ahh, what heady days of joy. How I will miss them when I have to work for a living.

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Saturday, 6 January 2007

The worst part is that we spent over £100 on Office, so I feel honour-bound to keep using it

I've talked about this before, but it cannot be said enough; whoever is responsible for making Microsoft Word:

  • Move graphs from wherever you originally put them
  • Decide that a) hard against the very top of the page, b) hard against the very bottom of the page, or c) right on top of the previous graph you placed are all very sensible places to move your graph
  • Steadfastly refuse to let a text box within half a mile of a graph, even if it's patently obvious that you want to group the two together because you did exactly the same thing thirty seconds ago
  • Randomly grey-out the "Print only the even pages" box because it feels like it
  • Make replies to an email dark blue, and make that default impossible to change in any of the templates
  • Decide that one of your documents should actually be a different one, and therefore copy the entire contents of Document A into Document B, deleting the original contents of Document B and insisting that it never existed, while keeping the filesize the same as it was when Document B actually did exist and keeping Document A just the same as it was, therefore necessitating the redoing of about four solid days of work (that actually happened once)
  • Vastly inflate filesizes, to the point where a 50-page text document with a few digital photos, none of which could possibly have been more than about 50 KB, takes up 100MB
  • Decide that not only are page headers and footers exempt from spell checking, but that this exemption should sometimes and without warning suddenly expand to the entire contents of your document, thus negating one of the very few halfway useful functions of the program
  • Despite all of this, hold a frickin' near-monopoly on word processing software
...should be SHOT.

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Wednesday, 3 January 2007

The real problem is, it's still not finished...

Ways of starting your practical report when you really don't want to:

Write it as if it were in the King James Version
When man thinkest that he cannot see, and yet may point to an object whensoever he pleases, yea, even though he insisteth that the object be not present; then hast that man the curse of blindsight. Yet may this curse not be only for those unto whom damage to the mind hast been afflicted; verily, he whose eyes see well may also display its vestiges.

Write in the form of poorly-scanning limericks
With the benefit of hindsight
I wouldn't have investigated blindsight.
People say they can't see
But they point straight to me
It's so boring, it's just not a kind sight.

yes, I know "kind sight" doesn't mean anything...what were you expecting, Shakespeare?

Type as fast as you possibly can without ever going back to edit your train of thought or correct your typos
This is rlated to coscious awareness because it can be extended to different sensory modalities, and because it has ramifications for our image of the world. If infomaytion about an oject can exist even of we dfo not hold a specific repreentation of that object, it is proof of parallel visual processing at an early stage. Consciosu awarenss is a way opf findingo ut what is actually there and what we tyhnk is actually htree.

Yeah you know it's BLIND [clap] SIGHT [twirl]
blind [clap clap] sight [twirl and clap]
We're talkin' about [shimmy to the left] bliiiiiindsiiiiiight!
[drum solo and breakdance section]
[key change!]
When you think that you ain't seein' [hands over eyes]
But you got that conscious feelin' [jazz hands]
Gotta be who you are, gotta be true to yourself [hands on heart] (every teen musical includes this line)
Gonna show you what I mean! Yeah!

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Monday, 1 January 2007

For the times, they are a-changin'...

It's a new year, so what better way to start it than with a new blog! OK, there are plenty of better ways to start a new year - finding a cure for cancer, for example - but give me a break here.

This is a replacement for my old blog, which has been languishing unloved on Windows Live Spaces for far too long - I think it's about time it got replaced by a blog that I can actually edit properly from within Firefox, that can do photos and embedded videos easily, and that doesn't look like it was designed by deciding which combinations of colours and graphics would look the most eye-poppingly ugly.

More than that, though, I also want it to tie together the different places you can find me on the Internet, most of which are shown in the links to the right. Anything that isn't included there is something that I don't really want seen, although nothing ever really disappears from the Internet...

This blog doesn't have a specific mission statement, as such - I want it to serve as a place where I can write anything that interests me (writing more is one of my New Year resolutions), and where I can get my thoughts in order on any and all subjects. As such, it might have anything on it, from theology to daft Youtube offerings - pretty much the only thing this won't be is a personal diary, because if I wanted one of those I'd, you know, buy a personal diary. It won't have a regular update schedule, either, but I'd like to write something every week, at least. Bear in mind, though, that I reserve the right to break or otherwise completely ignore all my own rules!

Hopefully, this will be a better place for me online than before. Feel free to explore, comment, and generally play around. Oh yes - and Happy New Year!

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