Monday, March 26, 2007

How green shall I be

So everyone I know of is talking about this news article where a writer has decided to spend a year without toilet paper. The article says:

Welcome to Walden Pond, Fifth Avenue style. Isabella’s parents, Colin Beavan, 43, a writer of historical nonfiction, and Michelle Conlin, 39, a senior writer at Business Week, are four months into a yearlong lifestyle experiment they call No Impact. Its rules are evolving, as Mr. Beavan will tell you, but to date include eating only food (organically) grown within a 250-mile radius of Manhattan; (mostly) no shopping for anything except said food; producing no trash (except compost, see above); using no paper; and, most intriguingly, using no carbon-fueled transportation.

Mr. Beavan, who has written one book about the origins of forensic detective work and another about D-Day, said he was ready for a new subject, hoping to tread more lightly on the planet and maybe be an inspiration to others in the process.

Okay, so this is a project so he can write a book about it. Fair enough. But I had to do some calculations for myself to decide if going a year without toilet paper was worth it.

(I did warn you there would be math in this blog.)

After visiting various sites and pages (no Wikipedia), the following information has been gleaned:
  • According to the manufacturers of Charmin, a roll of toilet paper lasts around five days. In my experience, it doesn't seem to last as long. So for my calculations, I'm going to say a roll will last 2 days. Given that assumption, in one year I will use 365 / 2 = 182.5 rolls.
  • On average, a roll of toilet paper will weigh 227 grams, which is just a hair over half a pound. To simplify the math, let's call it a half pound even. So in a year, I will use 182.5 * .5 = 91.25 pounds of toilet paper.
  • We can't really determine how much wood is produced by a single tree because of the variability in sizes and wood extracted, so there is another figure to define a "standard" amount of wood: a cord. A cord is defined as a pile of round wood 4 feet wide, 8 feet long and 4 feet high.
  • We can produce 1,000 pounds of toilet paper from one cord of wood. Given our half pound estimate for a single roll of toilet paper, that means that I can produce 2000 rolls of toilet paper from a single cord of wood.
  • That means that from a single cord of wood I have 2000 / 182.5 = 10.959 years worth of toilet paper. From a single cord.
  • One nice little tidbit is that for each tree used for paper (and that means all types), five more are planted.
Now I couldn't find any estimates for how old a tree is before it is harvested for paper, but that conversion right there gives me some comfort in knowing that I can continue to use toilet paper for the rest of my life and I will only use 5 more cords of wood to clean my little hiney. I use way more paper in other areas of my life; I feel no problem in keeping the paper here.

Plus, the one thing that drives me nuts about this discussion is that paper is a renewable source and that there are people gainfully employed in making paper. I really don't want to put them out of a job.

Friday, March 23, 2007

How do you think?

A friend forwarded me the following link, and somehow I found a chunk of time to sit down and watch it.

The fellow is Evan Sayet, a man who has several job titles but in this venue is best described as a political commentator. The title of his talk is "How Modern Liberals Think." And after watching it, I think he may have something. But it's just one chunk of a larger edifice.

My friends have tried to describe the different ways in which liberals and conservatives think. Rush Limbaugh makes a point of saying that he knows how liberals think; I have yet to feel competent enough to say anything close that. I have had long talks with at least one good friend who is liberal (and quite pointedly reminds me that this is not the same as leftist), and it would take us literally hours to find common ground from which we could move forward on any discussion. Why?

Sayet's thesis is summarized as follows (and I hope he allows me to regurgitate it for myself or I will never get it), as written on his blog:

[F]act, reason, evidence, logic, morality, decency and justice play no part in how Modern Liberals "think." These concepts are seen by the left as inherently bigoted, so fatally flawed by one's prejudices as to make rational, moral and intellectual thought nothing less than an act of evil. ...

[Victor David Hansen has defined modern liberalism as] "All cultures (must be seen as) equally good and equally valid" and to which I add only that, then, all behaviors stemming from these cultures must, too, be recognized as equally good and equally valid.

Since all cultures and behaviors are to be thought equally good and equally valid, the Modern Liberal believes that the outcomes of all behaviors must, too, be equally good. When in the real world different behaviors lead to different outcomes, the Modern Liberal simply must believe that some sort of injustice (likely due to bigotry and oppression) has been done.

The goal of the Modern Liberal, then, isn't to apply fact, reason, logic, evidence, morality, decency and justice in an effort to find the best of all possible explanations and policies but rather to manipulate these things in order to uphold their preordained conclusion that all things are the same.

I think he's on to something here. (He gives a lot of credit to Alan Bloom's book The Closing of the American Mind and with good reason.) His reason as to why liberals think this way is just as important as how they think, and he covers it in the video above fairly early on. It goes back to looking at the entire history of the world with a broad brush and saying, "No one is perfect. No society is perfect. So that means the United States of America isn't perfect and we shouldn't say we are or even that we're any better than anyone else." The fact that we are light-years and eons away from the evil practices of the past merit no mention of progress or success, but simply as facts to demonstrate how far we are from perfect. That is an explanation of the mindset based on history. It's good, but it doesn't seem quite right to me.

(An aside: I thought it was odd when schools stopped giving medals for first, second, and third places at school competitions. "We don't want to hurt anyone's feelings," I was told. "We just want to make sure children have a healthy self-esteem." I thought it was an aberration, but I see that it's simply an offshoot of this mentality.)

So what is a better explanation for how this way of thinking developed? I have a guess, and pending further data and research it seems like a good hypothesis for now: I don't want to be told that I am bad, that I am evil, that I have--and here's the big, bad word--sinned. I don't want to be told that I'm not good enough for heaven, that there is a God out there who is measuring me and has decided I am not good enough to make it. So I will set up an elaborate system to protect me from that nasty realization. If no person, culture, or system is worse than any other, then I cannot be judged for sin.

Where did this mindset come? I cannot say this for certain (again, at this point it is only a hypothesis), but as I have talked to people and analyzed myself it seems that very few people make lifestyle, paradigm, or worldview decisions based on outside events. (Some do, but I cannot confirm that the number of people who do it is large. I can't say that I do, even though I do try to be rational.) Most people make decisions from the inside, in their gut, or their heart, or whatever you want to call it. It seems quite reasonable that Satan would turn my guilt of the wrong I've done and try to show it as a good; he would love to take the good news of Jesus and turn it on its ear by telling me--whispering into that gut, that heart, that internal decision maker--that churches are only focused on judgment, on pointing out to me how I am just as good as those hypocrites in church are. In fact, he whispers, that judgmental way of thinking is really the source of all the world's problems. We should stop judging people and just get along.

And so he's taken that argument and turned it into a lifestyle, a culture, a world-wide creed.

Do I blame the world's ills on Satan? No. But he seems quite willing to take advantage of any situation he can.

Praise God that he was able to save us--I certainly couldn't save myself.

Addendum: In discussing this point with the spouse, another thought came up that should be attached to this:

Many liberals have enshrined a type of fairness doctrine as a result of this desire to have everyone considered the same, regardless of situations, beliefs, culture, etc. This is usually manifested in a show of concern for the poor, the downtrodden, the oppressed. And it is an admirable show of concern for others.

But I believe what actually ends up being created is not a fairness doctrine but a perversion of fairness. Why? Because one aspect of fairness is judgment. Oh, liberals don't like to judge themselves, but they love to judge others for not creating their desired utopian society. And the judgment is never equal.

One example: Liberal fairness doctrine says that if a poor man steals bread, we shouldn't hold it against him. He's trying to keep himself alive and has no money to pay the baker. At the same time, the bakery where the man stole bread is accursed for being profitable and forcing the beggar to steal. But that has a built-in assumption about the position of the baker. The beggar gets an excess amount of grace; the baker gets none.

Only when I put myself in the position of both the beggar and the baker can I find justice for both.

There's more than we can discuss here, but here's my goal in thinking about this: How do I share Jesus' great gift with a liberal and get past the liberal mind to the heart?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

One of those days

I don't know how to describe my feelings after today. I had one of those moments where you just shake your head and hope that you never had to deal with this level of stupidity again--and heaven help you if it is your own stupidity.

Where I work, there is a security system installed by one of the big names in building security. The name isn't relevant. Because of my geekiness, I often get called in to help on all sorts of computer- or electronic-related issues. So I wasn't surprised when J. asked me to help out with the security system. Apparently we were getting messages on the system that indicated the backup battery was dead. She worked with a security guard to find out where the backup battery panel was stored--which room, which panel.

J. did some research and discovered what kind of battery we needed, so once the battery was purchased she called the security guards to come in and open the room so the battery could be changed. As J. only works half-days, I ended up taking the call from a different security guard. He arrived and we went into the room where the system's backup battery was stored. He knew exactly what he was doing. He went straight to a grey box mounted on the wall, opened it, and we proceeded to change the battery. It was really quite straightforward.

I was surprised that even after changing the battery we were still getting "dead battery" messages, but a call to the manufacturer of the system said that the battery needed to charge up. It could take anywhere from 24 to 48 hours. That didn't quite sound right to me, but I thought that their system may be slightly different, so I didn't say anything. According to the company, everything should be fine after two days.

Two days came and went. We were still getting "dead battery" messages. First we called the company who sold us the battery. They assured us that the battery was fully charged when we bought it. So it couldn't be a dead battery.

After several more phone calls, an engineer from the manufacturer arrived to help us. I was asked to talk to him. So we went into the room where the backup battery panel was located, and I followed him in--and watched, stunned, as he proceeded to a different panel, a white one.

"Wait a minute--that's the box with the backup battery?" I asked.

"Sure," he replied.

"So what is this box?" I said, pointing at the grey box the security guard and I had been messing with earlier.

The engineer opened it, and after looking over the wiring he said, "This appears to be a card security system. You know, the kind where you have to pass an access card through a card reader to gain access. It looks like it's been out of commission for years."

So the security guard opened the wrong box. A second security guard went to the wrong box. And here's the worse part: the white box the engineer opened clearly was labeled with the security company's logo.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Is BAR really this unprofessional? Or am I this clueless?

I must say, up front, that I really enjoy reading Biblical Archeology Review magazine (BAR for short). The variety of articles (especially now that it has combined with its sister publication, Bible Review) has always been valuable. I have shared the magazine with some fellow believers and we all find the material noteworthy, even when the authors' belief systems disagree with our own.

But the March/April 2007 edition had an obvious error that gave me pause as to the level of careful editing BAR receives--or the careful attention to detail that the authors give. Twice, on pages 42 and 45, author Vassilios Tzaferis refers to the fish acrostic icthys as follows:

Ιησουζ Χρισιοζ Θεου Υιοζ Σωτηρ

Do you see what I see? Not only was Χριστος spelled wrong, without the tau, but the final sigmas were replaced with zetas.

I am not a Greek scholar, but I have studied Koine Greek for one whole year (and all the proper Greek scholars can laugh at me now). And while handwritten Greek letters can be difficult to read, especially if you don't know the language, I would have thought the editors would have caught this. (Here, I am giving the benefit of the doubt to Tzaferis, although it is possible he could have gotten this wrong.)

The purpose of ProGeek

For the purposes of pinning down for myself why I am writing and about what I will write, I thought I should put together the purpose of this blog. This blog shall, with the appropriate amounts of humor and seriousness:
  • be a place where I discuss shortcomings and failings of technology as I, in my limited knowledge, see them;
  • be a forum where I shall discuss the light-bulb moments in my walk with Jesus Christ (because he is, as the creator of the universe, the ultimate geek);
  • be a place where I can put down my thoughts about the coming end of the universe (and I don't mean the restaurant);
  • allow me to take my keen eye and intellect (and humility, don't ya know) and apply it to all sorts of situations and point out errors, silliness, and serious shortcomings.
Alas, as I have a great interest in mathematics, there will be math on this blog. It cannot be avoided. And I wouldn't avoid math, even if I had the chance.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

First post

I have thought about starting a blog, and for now I'll just use Blogger. The purpose of this blog is to come later. (Yes, I have thought about it, but I'm not ready to share yet.)

Things in this blog are, for the time being, less certain than they appear.