28 December 2007

0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Signs of the True Church

When I was on my mission, there was a particular tract available to missionaries called "17 Points of the True Church". It has a really interesting story behind it as well.

However, I think that there are some much more compelling signs than those listed in those points.

1. The Book of Revelations

If you are a Latter-Day Saint, then say out loud the title of the last book in the New Testament. Unless you have already been asked this question before, you probably said "Revelations". Now, open the New Testament, and you will find that it is called "Revelation" with no "s" on the end. I have never heard a non-Mormon call it "Revelations", but I have heard many (including my Sunday School teacher last Sunday) repeatedly call it the book of "Revelations". I even received a book as a gift before my mission (2000-2002) that exhibited this problem. It was supposed to be a scripture quick reference, but everywhere it referenced a verse in the Book of Revelation, it listed it as Revelations. Oy, it got past the editor and everything!

Anyway, I have come to understand that this simply must be a sign of the true church, which is why so many Latter-Day Saints call it "Revelations" while the rest of the world calls it "Revelation".

2. The 3 Cs that lead to disaffection

A while back, I was part of a lesson where "the 3 Cs", as coined by the professor, were discussed. He said that these three Cs were the greatest causes of disaffection with the Church. He asked us to guess them, and someone said "Criticism". (Note that criticism plays an important role in our society, just not criticism out of our stewardship, which is what we referred to in the lesson.) Someone else said "contempt".

After a number of tries, we couldn't seem to guess the third "c" that the instructor was hinting at. He offered the following hint: It's something that the Relief Society does. Someone called out, "Centerpiece!"

Everyone laughed because the Relief Society centerpiece is one of the great inside jokes in the LDS culture. In one LDS flick, the RM, the idea is played on very heavily with the mother in the family always trying to find the perfect centerpiece for her next Relief Society lesson.

Centerpieces, then, are definitely one of the signs of the True Church.

3. Flip, Fetch, and Freak!

We've been commanded to not take the Lord's name in vain, but, in addition, to not use vulgar or offensive language. This means that lots of Latter-Day Saints, in order to obey the letter of the law, will just modify the word a bit. :) I had a mission companion who actually took great pleasure in using a character from the Book of Mormon, Shiz, as his "replacement word". Others that make a Latter-Day Saint stand out more than a CTR ring are "flip, fetch, and freak". Signs of the True Church.

4. Green Jello

A famous LDS joke:

Q: What do you get when you play Mormon Tabernacle Choir music backwards?

A: Green Jello recipes

I rest my case.


Aren't those infinitely more compelling?!

24 November 2007

0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Letter to Douglas Hofstadter, author of "Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid"

Dear Mr. Hofstadter -

Thank you so much for an excellent book. I could spend a long time (for it was a long book read over a very long period of time) talking about the number of times where my view of self-awareness, consciousness, intelligence, etc. were all changed forever. I will simply let the above reference suffice to tell you how much I revere your work as the purpose of my letter is the discussion of a particular conclusion that you made.

In the hopes of furthering our mutual understanding of what it means to be intelligent or conscious, I'd like to offer and alternative conclusion to one that you made when you were talking about the symbols that our brain held together, particularly the self-symbol. This was one of my favorite points in the book, mostly because I had never considered the idea of self as a very sophisticated symbol inside the neural net that makes up our brain. The most intriguing part was that, while I had never before imagined such a concept, it seemed to fit nicely with how I currently viewed consciousness.

At one point in the chapter, you mentioned that "soulists" will stop here and say that this is the soul, while your point, if I'm not simplifying it too much, is that it is a very sophisticated symbol. While I understood what you were saying, I was mildly surprised that this particular point was brought up because I personally do not see them as conflicting, and this is the alternative conclusion that I would like to offer about what consciousness means.

There are some very eye-opening verses that, while some may consider them to be philosophy, I consider them to be scripture. It addresses the question: What is Intelligence?
The entire passage is long; consider looking particularly at verses 20 through 38. These verses immediately came to my mind when I read your point regarding the "soul" being a symbol, or a sophisticated formulation of intelligence.

Indeed, as the passage intimates, if "intelligence" is a physical material and that our "spirit" is a sophisticated constitution of this "intelligence", then perhaps the idea of the soul that these verses propose and your principle of soul as a self-symbol in an intelligent being are the same thing. Much like non-euclidean geometry where the word POINT is merely redefined, but the underlying concepts are the same, as you also talked about in your book. I appreciate this idea because one can see a clean isomorphism between garnering intelligence in the scientific world and the spiritual.

(One meta-point regarding this passage is that it was written in 1833. It truly is fascinating how we find our own ideas that we consider to be novel over actually hundreds of years old. Additionally, there is, to use your word, a feeling of 'mysticism' that such a sophisticated idea is not new, but was recognized by supposedly less learned people than ourselves centuries ago.)

While I could go on with respect to the implications of such a position, including a potential answer to the question you posed regarding what caused this complex process of DNA replication to begin, I'll not bother you more than just to mention such an interpretation of the ideas you proposed.

Fascinating book. I hope that it has caused as much introspection and philosophy in others as it has in me, for I believe that we are empowered as we better understand who we really are.

Sincerely,

Josh Cummings

P.S.: And now for a meta-point regarding this letter that I'm sure has occurred to you, but I hope that it is not distracting you from the original intent of this letter. It is that there is a fascinating discussion to be had, I'm sure, regarding the fact that my brain has sought consolidation between these two points which you appeared to posit as mutually exclusive. It reminds me of your discussion about how our brains will constantly house contradictory ideas and seek to reconcile them or simply bounce in between them.

06 November 2007

0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

The Voucher Issue

I know; the gripping title has you welded to your seat.

Actually, if you live in Utah and happen to be reading this at about the time of it's authorship, the mention of the word voucher was probably enough to stop you. The issue of vouchers has been a red-hot topic in political discussions for a number of years and it seems to have come to a head in just the last few weeks. There was even one official that sent a memo to her staff saying that she felt that those people who were pro-vouchers were led by Satan. Wow.

The vote was tonight. The polls have already closed, but I wanted to give my two cents here before biasing my opinion with the final results. So, I have purposely refrained from looking at them.

Before I tell you my position I want to make a couple of things clear:

First, I am a registered Republican, and I am what one would consider a "values voter" to some extent. From this standpoint, I am a pretty average Utah citizen. Utah has often been stamped as the reddest state in America, so I am one of many. In general, I think that I am a Republican because I believe in free markets, small and local governments, fiscal responsibility, and personal choice. However, I may be a Republican just because everyone else is a Republican around here. :)

Second, the public school system has been very good to me in preparing me for college, which then led me to success in the workforce. I think that a good education (which obviously comes from many more arenas than just the classroom) is invaluable. This also makes me the average Utahn since education is always one of the biggest issues on the table; we have more kids per household than any other state and our average age is much lower.

Starting from the second point first, I believe that I was very lucky to fit into the public school mold. My parents never had to consider a private school. While they did place me in the I.B. program at West High, my high school experience was pretty average. Because I fit the mold very well, I excelled very easily, almost effortlessly. I have one of my tutor students who was not so lucky. He struggled with math. Sadly, the school had so many students in each classroom that it was obvious that even the best teacher wasn't going to be able to help every student. His parents turned to a private school, and he quickly made great strides forward. Was the public school doing anything wrong? No! Of course, this young man just needed specialized attention, which couldn't be given with so many other students to educate.

Now, the first point. Here is why I like the free market and personal choice: The free market enables me to enter the arena as a small business owner. I would like to ask the question of the small business owners out there: How quickly do you adjust to your customers' needs? How capable are you of meeting your customers' needs? If you don't address your customers' needs? Better be fast. Better be capable. Or you're going out of business.

Here is why I like small government: Big entities have to provide generic solutions while small entities can be more flexible. Consider an ocean liner vs. a motorboat. The ocean liner can carry more people, but they better all be going to the same destination and heaven forbid they need to turn around or dodge a bullet! The motorboat carries fewer people, but it can maneuver around its problems easily.

Here is why I like fiscal responsibility: Ask any lottery winner how quickly they went bankrupt, and three out of five will tell you within a year! Why? Because they didn't earn their money! The more money someone is given without effort on their part, the less effort is put forward.

Great. Now with all of that, I state a truth which I hold to be self-evident: Giving my kids a knock-out education is invaluable. I will do whatever I can to make sure that my kids are given the appropriate opportunities to excel. I recognize that all of my children won't be as lucky as I was. Some of them may need tutors, private schooling, charter schooling, home schooling, etc. I think that our Utah teachers do a fantastic job, and so I don't feel bad in saying that public school is simply not the "one-stop-shop" for education. I think that we all would like to see our kids go to the school that is most suited for their needs, and I think that we can afford it.

My family just got home, so I am out of time. I voted in favor of the vouchers to both give families the opportunity to get their child into the school where they can excel and to encourage more competition (read: free market) in the school system. Generally, I am surprised that so many Republicans are against the voucher program when the very idea of public schools is socialist as opposed to free market. Many of them say that we are taking money away from public schools, and I say that they are absolutely right. It is incorrect to suppose that social education can be the solution for every student. Diverting some of that money that is no longer being used on that pupil in the public school system into the hands of a private school so they can better address that individual's needs is focusing on the individual student and not a system that was never designed to meet his needs.

16 October 2007

0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

The Definitive 2007-2008 Catalog of Western United States Potties

So, I've figured it out. Remi is feverishly working on the definitive 2007-2008 Catalog of Western United States potties. I believe that we entered every bathroom at the ferry station, the aquarium, the marketplace, the restaurant, and basically everywhere else we visited today. Kristi and I really are happy to have the boy toilet-trained; now I just wish that his bladder was a little larger than a thimble.

Okay, enough potty humor.

We actually had a lovely trip to Seattle today by ferry. Although we forgot our camera (again), I think that the experience will remain memorable for a long time. The trip from Port Orchard to Seattle takes two ferries; one to Brewerton and then another to Seattle. Had I the camera, I would have taken a picture of the incredibly massive wake that the Brewerton-Seattle ferry leaves behind it. It was awesome. When we got off the ferry for the first time, I would have taken a picture of the largest hammer drill in the universe (of Josh) which was pushing a formidable-looking I-beam into the ocean.

We first stopped at a few gift shops, and then we went to the Seattle Aquarium, where we undoubtedly would have taken numerous pictures of the boy's petting starfish, sea slugs, anemonae, and urchins, touching shark skin and shark teeth and staring in awe jellyfish, otters, seals, sharks, etc., etc., etc.. However, we didn't bring the camera, and so we didn't take pictures of any of that.

We went to the marketplace where there were these enormous bouquets of flowers for only $10! Of course, this would be more valuable, had I a picture to show you the size and beauty of the bouquets. We didn't bring our camera, though.

Finally, we went to dinner at Ivar's where we had some really good seafood. I had the cod. Our waitress, Lee, was a gem. Afterwards, we took some of Remi's left-over fries and fed them to eager-looking seagulls. That would have been great to have on camera, too. Grrrr...

Hopefully, if I write "we forgot our camera" enough times, I will eventually remember to bring the flippin' (Utah word) camera along with us!
0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

A 12-Hour Trip Stuffed Into 28

It's funny how kids can make a trip take longer. Actually, I have learned to multiply my travel time by 1.5 if I have my children in the car with me. For some reason, they need to stop to eat, go potty or just run around the car for 20 minutes straight, all at regular intervals of about 45 minutes. Interestingly, especially on long trips, they never feel the need to sleep.

Anyway, our trip to Seattle, Washington this week for a family vacation, while uniquely scenic outside the car, was no different inside the car. Zac figured out how to open water bottles, but not how gravity affects the situation when the water bottle is tipped over. Twice. Remi discovered that by drinking heavily from the water bottles, he could increase legitimate stop-offs by 30%.

However, Kristi and I did accomplish some goals that we set at the beginning of the trip. First, Remi never used a binki while in the car. Second, we only re-watched one movie. It was a VeggieTales movie, so I was okay with it.

So, why are we in beautiful Washington? We are visiting my cousin Mary and her husband Ned. We've come during the rainy season, which may mean that we will see a lot of the inside of our car or her house, but we will probably tough it out in the end if the boys are sporting. I am excited to go up to Victoria and also to see the sea anemones on the beach. Remi is excited to get some new rain boots.

Kristi is reminding me that my goal is one paragraph a night. Apparently, five is not one...so, I must go.

11 October 2007

0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

The Jazz Pre-Season Begins!

The funny thing is that, being very nerdy, I naturally don't find a lot of point in a number of sports. I value athleticism, but not the warrior-like, adrenaline-induced behavior that certain sports seems to cultivate (i.e. football, hockey). On the other hand, I value skill and precision, but not watching it at a slow pace (i.e. baseball). Mostly, though, I think that I don't like being categorized with the stereotypical dad who does nothing but swig beer (or soda, in my case) all day, plopped on the couch watching his teams play.

A lot of this gets thrown out the window with basketball, though. While my wife has balanced me out quite a bit, since she usually goes to the Jazz games with me, I still classify myself as a fairly noisy fan in the crowds. I carefully follow the stats, analyze, and discuss ad nauseum with co-workers. I have trouble getting up to help my son with something (or leaving the house if it is on fire) if I'm watching a Jazz game. I exhibit signs of depression when they lose and the opposite when they win.

It's only with the Jazz, too. I can be perfectly calm and only exhibit the faintest resistance to stepping away from the game for a moment to help Kristi with stuff, etc.. Even the playoffs, if it is not the Jazz playing, do not induce that magnetic fanaticism that exists, latent inside me. don't follow high school or collegiate basketball more than the occasional headline, and, as soon as the Jazz season is over, I barely watch any of the playoffs, even the Finals.

Of course, I love playing basketball. However, it is easy to point out that I barely get an inkling of competitiveness in any other sport on the face of the Earth. (Except maybe chess, if that's a sport...) (Well, there's bowling, too, but this is more competitiveness with myself than anything.) When it comes to playing basketball, though, I am a completely different person.

I notice in myself a sincere hope that Remi and Zac come to love and appreciate playing basketball and watching the Jazz like I do. I hope that they play basketball in high school and practice for hours outsides because they love it so much. Of course, I'll be happy with whatever they find as their interests; however, I recognize that I will be just as happy if they like baseball as if they like basket weaving. What I would really like is for them to love basketball.

Anyway, sorry for the rambling post, but I simply find it interesting that it's "basketball" and not "sports". And "Jazz basketball" no less.

08 October 2007

0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

A Thoelogical Offering

I am currently reading a fascinating book called, Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. It is a long book, and I have finally broken the 600-page mark.

Anyway, the book starts out by referring to the Musical Offering that Bach composed based on a theme from Frederick II of Prussia. I have entitled this post, and the succeeding work implied by it, A Theological Offering for two reasons.

First, I refer myself to the following condition of English and its ability to make logical statements of truth or falsehood. Consider the statement "This statement is false." Is it true or false? From a logical sense, it is a paradox because, if it is true, then it is false, if it is false, then it speaks the truth. Somehow, our minds don't break though, because they operate on a higher plane that just language.

I showed this to a co-worker of mine, Chris, and he said that he felt that this wasn't a problem because you could just create a rule (thinking in the logical world again) that one could no use self-reference in logic. Ah ha! So, I proposed the sentence to him "This statement has five words." Is it true or false? Indeed, we recognize it as true; however, without self-reference it is a truth that our logical system can neither prove nor disprove.

I came to better understand two principles of formal systems that day. First, due to the richness of a number of our formal systems, there exist statements that are neither true nor false, but are instead, paradoxes. Second, regardless of how we refine it, there will always be truths that, while the system can express it, it cannot prove or disprove it.

Enter the Scientific Method. I am a very scientific, analytical person, and yet I realize that the Scientific Method is a system, just like any other, that is beholden to these two principles. This method has taken us to great and wonderful vistas as large as 10 billion light years and as small as quarks and leptons. We understand so much about life and how to preserve and improve it. While the potential of the Scientific Method, and science in general, seems limitless to me, I recognize that there exist unreachable truths for the Scientific Method, just like any other formal system. Again, an unreachable truth meaning something that is true that cannot be proven nor dis-proven.

What about the statement of truth that "Faith is the power of God to work miracles" or even simpler "God exists"? What about "If you seek a relationship with God and follow His commandments, you will return to live with Him again after death"? I have been told in the past that Intelligent Design is not scientific because it cannot be verified through the Scientific Method. For now, I agree with this. I also understand that there are truths in our world that cannot be reached by the Scientific Method simply due to what I have stated above. Are spiritual truths a set of principles that cannot be proven by the Scientific Method but are nevertheless true? I believe so.

Much like Hofstadter in his book, G.E.B., I wish to make a Theological Offering of spiritual truths that I have verified for myself using the Spiritual Method, which I will explain now.

Over the past dozen or so years, I have been a Seminary teacher, a Sunday School teacher, a youth leader, and a missionary. I have come to love the gospel of Jesus Christ, and, particularly the books of "spiritual theorems" that He has authored through His servants, the prophets, namely, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. That list is nowhere near inclusive, but it includes the major works that have changed my life. Aside from coming to love the spiritual theorems put forward in these books, I have come to love teaching them to others and helping them see how their lives can be improved 100-fold by following them in their lives.

Thus, I would like to make my own offering to all readers. (The word "offering" makes whatever I say after this sound "definitive" or, at least, "elitist," but it is not my intent. I mean it in the humble sense that Bach did.) Over the next many years, I am going to write up a highly-collaborative, shared commentary on the standard works listed above, and hopefully expand it to many other spiritual works of prophets both living and dead. I'm going to start with the Book of Mormon since I believe it to be the most important, and then I'll go from there.

I'm going to use Diigo to do it. I'm doing this so that other people may participate, if they wish, making it highly-collaborative. Diigo is a social bookmarking system that allows for annotations to be placed on the page that you are bookmarking. These annotations, for my purposes, will be people's commentary. You will be able to, and soon as I verify copyright laws, find the notes at scriptures.lds.org.

If you wish to contribute, I've created a Diigo group called "Theological Offering" where you can add your commentary to various scriptures. I'm adding people to the group by invitation. Please feel free to provide a few of your proposed annotations to me, and I would be happy to add you to the group.

My underlying goal is for people to be able to collaborate and share their scriptural insights, life experiences, etc. in a way that makes reading the scriptures a much richer experience. Indeed, reading 1 Nephi 3:7 is inspiring, but to read a dozen testimonies of how people have found the principle in this scripture to be true would, I think, be fantastic.

****Now for the disclaimer:****

I must emphasize that these are my own opinions (and the opinions of any contributors), taken from the sum-total of my testimony and my life experiences. Please do not consider any of the comments as the official position of the Church. I am in no position whatsoever in the Church to be able to make any "official" claims. What this turns into basically is a plea that you a) don't interpret something that it said in these comments as something that is doctrine for everyone to follow unless the Church has taught the same thing elsewhere (like during General Conference, in the Ensign, or in the scriptures) and b) don't take the writer's opinion over anything taught by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The apostles are the Lord's ordained leaders in this dispensation and they have the stewardship for establishing doctrine and principles, not me.


****End disclaimer****
0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

General Conference Post-Game Show

This past weekend, the Church held its 177th Semi-Annual General Conference. This has become a major event in my life where I have the opportunity to listen to wise men and women on the subjects of family, spirituality, etc.. Their wisdom and devotion help me to learn lessons and grow closer to God much better than I could if I were just on my own.

Anyway, I'm out of time right now, but I'll devote an evening in the near future to beef up this post. The final word right now is that conference was wonderful, and I encourage any person seeking a relationship with God to participate, regardless of his or her religious persuasion.
0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

A Call from Antonio, Part II

With Rosa's story in mind, I'd like to tell you about the day Antonio Santos was baptized.

It was March 3, 2002 in Castelo Branco, Portugal, which was my last Sunday serving in that city. My new appointment in the mission would be "Traveling Assistant," which means that I would have no area, but that I would stay with a different set of elders every week to train, etc.. I had three months left of my mission, so I knew that this new appointment would be my last. My personal proselyting mission, as I knew it, was ending in just a couple of days.

We were all so happy for Antonio because of his wonderful conversion story, which I'll not take the time to relate here. March 3 was the culmination of a dedicated conversion process on his part, including giving up smoking, etc., and devoting time to Church each Sunday.

The baptism was to immediately follow Fast and Testimony Meeting since some of our members traveled far to get to the meeting house, and it was better to ask them to just get there once a week instead of multiple times. The branch president (similar to a bishop), President Cruz stood, bore his testimony to start the meeting, and then invited those who wished to stand and bear their testimony of the restored gospel.

I was surprised at the first man to stand up; it was Brother Magalhaes. He was a man that my companion at the time, Elder Davis, and I had met out on the street about 6 months ago. He had confessed that he was a member, but that the city that he had moved to was so far away that it was going to be difficult to attend Church. We empathized and challenged him to attend anyway, showing him (since he was in town at the time) where the chapel was. Today, he had come, and he was the first to get up upon invitation from President Cruz. He bore his testimony of Church attendance and how he missed coming and how he was so happy to be at Church today. He also mentioned how he was grateful to see so many people that he admired in the chapel.

He pointed out one particular person in the congregation. He said that he had admired him from the day he was a boy when he saw him serving in the military. He said that he hoped to emulate the good qualities that he saw in this man. He pointed to a older fellow named Luis; he was about 70 years old. This was special because Luis was an investigator at the time, and he had just changed his work schedule so that he could attend Church meetings for the first time today. What a powerful coincidence! Brother Magalhaes and Luis chose to attend church on the same day, Luis for his first time, and Brother M was inspired to bear his testimony and praise Luis particularly for his good character! Brother M was not aware that Luis was investigating at the time. One could see that Luis was deeply touched, both by the sentiment and by the coincidence.

After this, the second counselor in the branch presidency stood and bore his testimony of the power of the words of the prophets to change lives. This was momentous because he had recently reactivated himself, giving up drinking and other bad habits in order to again become worthy of his position in the Church. I will never forget the words that he said, "And I owe much of my strength to make my way back to Elder Cummings." I was surprised, but incredibly touched. No one was aware at this point that I was to be transferred away this Wednesday (except Antonio was vaguely aware that I could leave at any week in the near future).

After several more testimonies, Antonio was baptized. It was a singular event after such a wonder and uplifting series of testimonies. He was now a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and his life would be changed forever.

The reason that I tell this story is two-fold: First, Antonio is a very special person to me. We became very close friends over the three-months that we new each other in Castelo Branco. Still today, we will talk over the phone every few months to catch up on one another's lives. Just seeing Antonio baptized was enough for me to know, like the Elder I mentioned in "A Call from Antonio, Part I", that my mission "actually meant something." Second, though the Lord could have stopped there, He inpsired Brother Magalhaes to testify on the same say that his boyhood hero attended church for the first time, and for the Second Counselor to bear witness of his "re-conversion". By the end of the baptism, the overwhelming feeling in my heart was that the Lord was pleased with my efforts in that city, and that I could close the book of my personal proselyting mission, knowing that He was pleased.

It looks like this story is going to need a Part III. :) It's much harder with kids to find the time to dedicate to really tell some good stories. :)

28 September 2007

0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

A call from Antonio

In order to really appreciate this recent history, I'll need to relate a couple more stories beforehand.

First, one about an old missionary companion. He and I were companions in Santo Tirso, Portugal for the summer of 2001. It was very hot one Sunday afternoon in June, and we decided to stop for a break. We were a little down-trodden because we weren't having much success. Particularly, Elder H was more or less "fed up" with missionary work that day (it happens to every missionary some time during their mission).

We decided to take a minute to make a goal and ask the Lord to consecrate our efforts. Indeed, part of this was just to motivate Elder H, and helping him get out of his slump; however, I felt impressed to tell him that the Lord would hear this goal, answer our prayers, and lead us to a family that would be baptized before the end of July. We wrote down the goal, what we had to do to achieve it, and set out again.

The following Friday, we were thin on work, so we stopped. I asked Elder H, "is there any family at all that you and your last companion visited that seemed promising?" He said, "well, there was this one family with 6 kids. They seemed really open." Great! We went to go visit them.

They were a very happy family, though they had very little. The cupboards were empty and, we learned later on that they were about to be evicted from their apartment. The wife had just left her husband due to abuse, and she was trying to take care of all six kids, ages 3-13. Parenthetically, it amazes me the extent to which the human being can suffer and still find a way to survive.

The first time we actually visited was the following Monday, which I believe would have been July 2. The mom cried during our first visit as all the stress came out of her during the closing prayer. I thought that she wouldn't invite us back. She might feel that it was just an additional stress to think about God and religion during this season of her life.

However, she did. The second visit went much better, and they wished to be baptized! Four of them were of baptismal age out of the seven (remember that the father wasn't around). We set out to prepare. We introduced them to many of the ward members, and helped them get to Church each Sunday.

During these weeks, I came to understand that Elder H had never had a baptism in his entire mission. He had been out for 18 of his 24 months. For those unfamiliar with missions, a missionary will often judge the success of his mission by how many people join the Church under his tutelage. While this isn't always a good measure, you can see what happens to missionaries who don't baptize someone for three-quarters of their mission: They feel like they are a complete failure.

Anyway, one night, we went to drop off some invitations that we had made for them to distribute to their family and friends. It was almost 10 o'clock at night, which was our curfew, so we only had a few minutes. They weren't home. Now, where would a family with little kids be at 10 o'clock at night? Odd. We left the invitations at the door and went back out to the street.

Once we got to the street, we saw a car pull up. It was our Ward Mission Leader, Bother Magalhaes! He rolled down his window and said, "We thought we'd do a Family Home Evening with your family tonight!" He pointed to the back seat which had all six kids and Rosa, the mom, squished together! It was an amusing sight seeing them pile out once the car stopped.

The kids started running around as soon as they got out, and Rosa, Brother and Sister Fernandes, Elder H and I stood around talking about the Family Home Evening they just had. It turns out that Sister Fernandeswas going to help Rosa get a job at the sewing place where she worked and Brother Fernandes was going to help Andre, the oldest boy, do some work for him to get the family some more money. Further, the Fernandes were moving, and they offered to rent the place where they were now living to Rosa so she could live closer to Famalicao (where most of the ward lived), and have a more sustainable rent.

I was completely floored. The Fernandes seemingly came out of nowhere to scoop this family out of their beleaguered situation and put them where they could be a happier and safer family. Two weeks before, they had accepted the invitation to change their spiritual lives, and now the Lord was already blessing them with temporal blessings as well.

Eventually, the conversation ended. Rosa and her kids went into their house, the Fernandes drove home. Elder H and I walked quickly to our car to get home before curfew.

Now, in our car was a little tape player since the car had no radio. It was a recording of a number of gospel songs. We started the car and turned the music on. The very first song that came on the tape player was "Just Hold On". It's a beautiful song, and the words go something like this:

The message of this moment is so clear,
And as certain as the rising of the sun.
If your world is filled with darkness, doubt, and fear,
Just hold on, hold on, the light will come.

Anyone who's ever tried, and failed
Stands much taller when the victory's won.
So those who've been in darkness for a while,
Just hold on, hold on, the light will come.

It's a lesson every one of us must learn:
That the answers never come without a fight.
If there's anyone who's struggled far too long,
Just hold on, hold on, the light will come.

And the lyrics go on, but I can't remember all of them. The Spirit testified to us in that moment that Elder H's wait was over. He was going to see an entire family baptized!

A few days later, we were driving somewhere else, and, in the middle of a conversation we were having, he said, "You know, Elder Cummings, if this family actually gets baptized, maybe my mission will actually mean something."

To this day, I am still moved when I imagine that evening with the Fernandes and Rosa and when I imagine Elder H and his reflections on the matter.

They were baptized on July 29, 2001, according to the promise that we received from the Lord a month previous.

I tell this story because of the miracle that conversion often is and the lasting effect that it has on all parties involved. It requires a change of heart on everyone, even the missionaries doing the preaching. It is all worth it.

Anyway, this post actually took me a lot longer than I thought. I am going to need to continue the story tomorrow about Antonio.

23 September 2007

0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Scripture Study Plus

I can't tell you how excited I am right now about a new SourceForge project that I just found:

Scripture Study Plus


It is an open source development effort to provide an online scripture study tool where a person can highligh, cross-reference, tag, discuss, and share, all to enhance their personal scripture study! I can't tell you the number of times that I have looked for something like this (or started it myself), and found nothing. Now, this is something!

I've already sent my name in to be added to the project so that I can start pounding away at it immediately. Honestly, I'm almost giddy right now with anticipation to get started!

22 September 2007

0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Today, I didn't really like my job...

I find myself in a slender demographic nowadays: I love my job, and I get paid well for it. As a computer programmer, I get to solve challenging problems everyday and they they thank me for doing what I would do with my spare time anyway by paying me for it!

However, today was not like that.

Each year, Kristi does a 5K in Boise, Idaho with her mom, aunt, grandma, and basically every female member of her family. It's for a good cause. Well, I guess it's for two good causes if you include Kristi's sanity. The run this year falls on this weekend.

About three weeks ago, when discussions about the 5K started, she mentioned that she didn't know what she was going to do with Isaac. Since the trip takes the whole weekend, she usually takes Remi. He has a cousin up there that is his age, so it works out nicely. However, Isaac presented a problem. So, I volunteered to take care of him for the weekend. For some reason that I will never understand, she was completely shocked. :)

Anyway, I realized my mistake when my Project Manager called me this morning and asked about my availability for some weekend work.

*slap to the forehead*

Oh, right! The roll is next weekend. Of course I can help during Isaac's nap time.

Well, "help during Isaac's nap time" turned into now 10:15 PM, and I'm still working on bugs. I got Zac to bed at about 8:30, so it has been faster since then.

See, I was looking forward to a fun weekend with just Zac and I. So, today I had to basically pacify him for much of the day, while I crunched away on bug after bug.

Oi.

I love programming. I love parenting. I don't love programming while parenting.

20 September 2007

0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Why Can't People Talk About Hurdles?

You know, I've observed something over the past while that baffles/intrigues me regarding human relationships. It's the fact that many people instinctively shy away from conflict, and, moreover, many of those same people avoid anticipated conflict, whether or not that would have been the outcome.

Take an example today with a business that I am working with to develop some candles for me. I need them developed right away for a conference at the beginning of November in California. Actually, I needed them for a conference in October, but that isn't going to happen anymore due to my conversation with the gal there today.

The situation began back in June when I emailed them to ask if they did custom candle molds. I didn't get a reply. I emailed again, stating that I was interested in a large quantity, etc., etc. to try and get a swifter reply. No reply. I decided that I must not sound serious enough, and so I called them directly. Finally, a person! They said that it was expensive, but that they did provide that service. I was happy to investigate, and so I sent them my pi cookie cutter with the expectation (and explicit instructions) that they would call me to start the discussion.

Nothing happened. I waited for about two weeks, and then I called them again. It turns out that they had made some prototypes and they were going to e-mail me, but they just hadn't, yet. They said they would email me pictures of the prototypes, which I thought was great. We talked for a while about the different possibilities, and I was excited.

Basically, nearly all talk stopped after this. It seemed that they were wholly disinterested unless I called them to remind them that I wanted to give them all of this business. I decided that I would look elsewhere for a business that was pro-active in taking care of me. As it turns out, there appears to be no one in the United States who is willing to make custom candles except these guys.

After a month of searching for another manufacturer, I called them back in August. They had never sent emails, has apparently lost the prototypes, and had no more idea what they were going to offer me than the first day that we talked. So, we talked over the same options again and we settled on the fact that they were going to put a proposal together for what they think would be best with respect to making pi-shaped candles.

Nothing ever came. No proposal in an email, no telephone calls, no prototypes in the mail. Nothing. I diligently called them once a week (we had a standing call) to ask them about progress. Each week, nothing had been done, and each week there was more of a "well, since we haven't started, yet, we should really get going" tone in their voice. Yet, they still did nothing.

Up to this point, I had been extremely nice and understanding. So, today, I finally shook of a little bit of the nice guy and told them plainly what I thought of their business practice. They either needed to simply tell me whether or not they could provide the solution.

I think that the jolt woke them up a bit and they finally gave their two concerns. The first concern was that the copper cookie cutter wasn't going to work and that they needed me to get someone to create a ceramic mold for them to use. Oh, my goodness! Had they just told me that in June, I would have had a ceramic pi mold in their hands in July! Why did they try to avoid the conflict and not tell me three months ago? The second concern was price (which we had never discussed to this point, though I had requested pricing many times). They were concerned that the price of these custom candles was going to be way over my budget. We had never talked about pricing, and yet, this was what was keeping them from making progress! It turns out, when they finally quoted a price, that it was a lot cheaper than I was planning on.

In my opinion, it comes down to the fact that they avoided the conflict of me turning them down as my manufacturer because of the mold and the pricing. Yet, after they brought it up, I was totally willing to accommodate! I really have no idea why they were so concerned. Had they just brought these things up in the beginning, we could have created a roadmap so I would have the candles in my hand right now. Instead, because they were wishy-washy about it, I was carted along for three months, and now, I can't have the candles for another six weeks while I get this mold ready.

If they weren't the only custom candle mold shop in the US, I'd be looking elsewhere. Not because they wouldn't do a great job, but because they didn't seem to care about my businesses needs enough to bring up problems as they arose; they simply let it slide until the problem became unsolvable.

18 September 2007

0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Featured Article #4

As of September 24, 2007, all four of my geek articles on wikihow.com will be or will have been featured articles.

Check it out:
Honestly, I'm very happy. However, I'm not sure how this should affect my view of myself as a writer. Is it simply topical, or do I really have an eye-catching, thought-provoking fist? I think that I need to try something other than math or the gospel. I'm not sure what, though...

17 September 2007

0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Living in the Spirit

There is a set of verses in Galatians that I really like. It is Galatians 5:22-24. These talk about the fruits of the Spirit, and encourage us to bring forth these fruits by "living in the Spirit".

This Sunday, I had the Sunday School lesson (I trade off with another gentleman, Gil Wilburn), and, to my delight, the topic was "Living in the Spirit". This meant that I would have the chance to talk about one of my favorite topics.

I'll give the overview, here, and I'll go into more detail later on of what we talked about.

First, I dropped a garbage bag in the middle of the room that was full of garbage. I did this before class began. After Brother Lunceford had given the opening prayer, I asked everyone if the room was clean. There are a couple of jokers in the classroom, but everyone understood. When might we decide that it was okay to leave the garbage there? "Oh, it's tied up, isn't it?" It will be fine for a while." "Oh, I'm too busy right now." The best one was: "Oh, I'm just not sure that I'm ready to throw it away, yet."

We talked about how there is garbage in each of our lives that we decide that we aren't quite ready to take out, yet, for whatever reason. What about those bad movies on your shelf? "Well, I paid a lot of money for them." What about the super-sugary diet? "Well, I'm really stressed right now." Etc., etc.. Often, we are like the monkeys that "see no evil," "hear no evil," and "speak no evil"; we shut our eyes, ears, and mouth to the bad things that we are doing, and, sometimes, justify it with an "out of sight, out of mind" attitude.

We turned to Acts 19:19 where some of the converts in Ephesus, instead of stowing away their witchcraft under the rug or selling it on eBay, burnt it. Indeed, once we decide that something keeps us from God, we ought to have courage and be rid of it. A relative of mine did this when President Hinckley spoke in General Conference against gambling. He could have sold his gambling stuff on eBay, but, instead, he threw it out.

We talked about a lot of different ways that we "shove our 'favorite' sins under the rug" and resolved together to put them away.

We next talked about the important step of recognizing the Spirit when He enters our hearts. I spoke of a wish I have to see the parting of the Red Sea to see if there are hand prints along the side of the water. I think that, much like we might see the impressions of the Lord's hands against the raging water, so do we see the Lord's hands in a very powerful way in our lives where he holds bad the pain, the persecution, etc., and leaves the peace and joy of the Spirit. Indeed, the way we would see His hands at the Red Sea would simply be by seeing where the water was displaced. Which tells you better that He is there? The impressions against the water or the physical hand. Indeed, neither is better. So it is when we feel the peace and joy of the Spirit when, by the looks of things, we ought to be feeling hatred, fear, or doubt.

We finished up by talking about something that I've touched on already in one entry. It is that, in our 6000 years of recorded history, we have never found a way to adequately describe spiritual experiences. By referencing the same scriptures that I mentioned in the other entry, we came to understand that the reason is because God has made us incapable of such an action. Why? Because, some things, he wants to reserve for Himself. He stands at the gate, not just to make sure that no one unworthy goes in, but also because He wants to be the one to welcome us into Heaven. He also wants to be the one to send His love into the heart of one of his children via the Holy Ghost--he doesn't want anyone else doing that for Him. We share experiences, bear testimony, etc., and then God has a reserved part that is just for Him. Now, He gets to testify to them how much He loves them and how much He wants them to be home with Him again.

It was a good lesson. I was touched when Sister Fackrell came to tell me that the Spirit had answered one of her prayers during the lesson. That tells me that the Spirit was there.

15 September 2007

0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Gross National Product and The Great Train Robbery

The other night, I had a uniquely vivid dream. I was at a train station with a co-worker of mine, Trent. We were walking beside a black coal train that was stopped on the track. We were musing about how the government calculates the Gross National Product and what it actually means.

At a certain point, it occurred to me, as it happens in a dream, that we could find out the answer to our question because attached to the train were two solid gold cylinders. We located the cylinders. Each was about the size of a thick pen, and each had an engraving along the side; one with the initials GNP and the other, GDP. We understood that upon investigation of these tubes (whose initials referred to Gross National Product and Gross Domestic Product), we would better understand the principle of the Gross National Product.

We looked at one another wondering whether or not the train needed them. We understood somehow that the solid gold cylinders were not essential to the running of the train, so we took them for examination with every intention of returning them before anyone noticed that they were missing.

A feeling of foreboding overcame us that, even though they weren't essential to the operation of the train, some official would be looking for us soon and we would be in trouble. So, we headed away from the train station as quickly and calmly as we could until we reached a forest area. No sooner had we reached the seclusion of the trees than we heard an alarm sound. We were certain they were looking for us.

We understood that our explanations that the train didn't really need the tubes and that we were just going to examine them weren't going to placate them. They were simply weren't interested in raising their nose beyond the rule book, so to speak.

We heard the bustling and yelling of a man getting closer, and we found a cave to hide in. We each found a natural bench inside the cave, lied down, and pretended that we were asleep. The man entered and was obviously irate. He pointed right at us and started loudly and accusingly calling to us. When we didn't respond. We simply kept pretending that we were asleep. Because this was a dream, the plan worked.

His attention was diverted to the 30-40 people that were now standing in a circle around him. They had come due to all the fuss and ruckus. He pointed at each of them, screaming loudly about the fact that someone had taken the two tubes and that they were going to be in very big trouble. I remember that my impression of his anger was that of a school principal towards some seriously belligerent students.

I realized that something bad was going to happen to these innocent people if Trent and I didn't pipe up, so I slowly sat up. I felt if I sat up slowly enough, I wouldn't attract attention and suspicion to myself. I raised my hand amidst his tirade, and he whirled about, turning his blazing eyes right at me. He said, "You took them!" His tirade reached another level, and I remember scarcely being able to keep my composure. I didn't incriminate myself, but I simply said, "I can explain." He told me how much trouble I was in, etc., etc., but I simply kept my hand raised as it had been before.

Finally, he stopped and resignedly asked, "What do you have to say, then?" I explained as quickly as I could that I was unaware of how important the cylinders were and that we had only extracted them for study and would have returned them immediately upon completion.
He told us to follow him and took us away from the crowd of people. My angst subsided a little bit (perhaps because I knew that the other people were safe), but I was unsure of what was going to happen next. He walked us toward the train and asked for the cylinders. However, we simply passed by the train. As we were passing it, the man bent the cylinders and tossed them to the ground.

I remember most vividly feeling profound sorrow and loss at his action. I asked him, "Why would you do something like that?" In a somewhat sorrowful, yet resolved tone, he said, "They're just symbols." An impish grin stole across my face for a half-second as I looked at Trent and realized that the man was on our side after all.

We walked passed the train, and I remember the dream progressing, but not what happened for the next little while.

Eventually, the fuzziness because vividness again, and here is what made this dream unique. Now, I was in a completely different scene. I was talking with Trent at work and we were walking out to our cars. I became excited, and I began to explain the dream that I had just had to him. (Remember this is still in the same dream.) I explained it to him in roughly the same detail that I just explained to you.

We kept getting stopped by this or that, like the fact that he didn't take his car and would be taking the bus. I offered him a ride in my car, etc.. Everything that I did, though, was an attempt to keep Trent around longer so I could explain more of this dream. I never got to the "symbols" part of the dream with him--that's were we ran out of time.


Now, I've had dreams within dreams before, but this was a dream where I had the dream and then I had a dream where I explained the previous dream to the dream "waking" version of the person that was in the dream with me. Just explaining it is tough...

Whenever I have a vivid dream like this, I wonder whether or not it means something. Perhaps it is just emotional garbage, my brain resting, or whatever. Then, again, maybe not.

13 September 2007

0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

If they build it

As you know, Remi and Zac have been sick with croup, which means that it took a little longer to get them to bed. They needed to take their medicine at 10:30, so, instead of putting them down at 8:30 and waking them up, we just kept them up.

What does one do for two hours with a 3- and 1-year old? Play-doh!

Here are some pictures of our endeavors:

This is Isaac's neo-classic apple in applesauce:


This is Kristi's practical, yet provocative donut:


This is Remi's experiment of Realism with Strawberry and Banana:


And this is a snake under a woven blanket by yours truly:


Here's the whole family's artistic endeavors for the evening:


Sadly, they were subsequently mashed into big balls of nothing and we had to put everything away. But the extended beauty of our dinner table lasted for a while...
0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Bo may know baseball...

But I discovered today that I don't. I played my first game on our Ward softball team, and though the pitches were coming at about the pace of a turtle walking through peanut butter, I still couldn't snag them. I managed to hit one that fouled, so I guess that's a start.

Anyway, I'm playing for the camaraderie, not the competition. I'm so bad at softball that, if I tried to play competitively, I'd just get frustrated and would probably make enemies instead of friends.

12 September 2007

0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Sick kids...

Are probably the worst thing on the planet. That is, to have one of your own kids be sick is probably the worst thing on the planet. That is, to have one of your own kids be sick and seeing them so sad and not knowing what to do except give them the medicine that the doctor prescribed and pray that the Lord heals them quickly is probably the worst thing on the planet.

Remi and Zac are both sick tonight. Remi was diagnosed by the doctor today with croup due to the inflammation of his larynx, and it appears, at least for now, that Zac is demonstrating the same symptoms. Apparently, croup is very painful, but it usually peaks after the second day, and then drops off. That being the case, today is the second day of Remi showing symptoms. (Crossing fingers...)

11 September 2007

0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

An Ode to Football

For the sake of posterity, here is an email that I received from my sister just the other day:

I was bored in class last night. So, Brad and I each wrote song lyrics
for my new passion: Football. (For reals, his are really good. Mine,
below, are just plain hilarious)

Also, I had "Hey there, Delilah" in my head as I wrote them.

Good morning sunshine, have you got the remote ready
I know you and I are busy, but the game's on now

Oh, it aint just a game
No, It's a way of life.
And I know they'll lose if I don't watch

I'm actually not that lazy; my day's actually packed.
I gotta watch the quarterback get sacked.
The next twelve hours are really very busy
To see all thse games at once aint that easy

Oh, it aint just a game
No, It's a way of life.
And I know they'll lose if I don't watch

You never know when there will be an upset
There are reasons for Divisions, after all.
Oh, now that's a bull crap call.
Hey, come on, get that ball!

Oh, it aint just a game
No, It's a way of life.
And I know they'll lose if I don't watch

Don't you worry, he didn't get hit that hard
The team just really needed that one last yard..
So there really was good reason and after all, 'tis the season.

Oh, it aint just a game
No, It's a way of life.
And I know they'll lose if I don't watch

=)..........I am such a dork!
Kim

And, so, to let Kimmie know that she is not a dork (or not the only dork), here is a parody of "Sixteen tons" that I wrote when I was 16 during the 1997 NBA Playoffs (Jazz vs. Bulls):

If the Mailman comes by, you betta step aside.
A lotta men didn't. A lotta men died.
In one fist, the ball, the other, the mail,
If he doesn't getcha, then the rest of 'em will.

(chorus)
Ya' work 13 years and whadaya get?
Another year older and so little respect.
So, Bulls, just quit yer whinin' 'cuz we don't care
'Bout Jordan's earplugs or Rodman's hair...

I can't remember the rest, but there where three verses plus the chorus. It was some pretty intense basketball that year...
0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

NFD -> NFR

Well, I decided that they were right. I rewrote the article with a completely different tone, and I like it quite a bit more than the first. Check it out:

How to Double Your Salary and Half Your Weight Using an Algebraic Loophole

09 September 2007

0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

We Have Lift-Off


Remi got a new bike for his birthday (August 26th) this year. We just got around to purchasing the helmet today. I was very surprised at his selection. It was a nice blue helmet with a bear on the side. No problem. However, there was a really cool "Bob the Builder" helmet and another cool "Hot Wheels" that we also offered as choices. But, no; the blue bear helmet and Remi were obviously a match made in Heaven. It works out though because the generic helmet was something like 10 bucks cheaper. Phew!

We also got around to repairing the training wheel. Remi felt very official in his new helmet and with the socket wrench that we used.

He can't quite ride the bike, yet. However, he can't quite use a socket wrench, yet, either, so at least we're consistent.

08 September 2007

0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Fountain of Youth Bed


We've decided that our bed is definitely not for old people. In fact, I believe that we have also ruled out middle-aged people. See, getting onto our bed is a little like getting into a semi-truck cab without he little step to help you out. With the semi-truck driver quietly chuckling at how much trouble you're having.

To exhibit the height of the bed, I employed (enslaved?...he wasn't really paid for it...well, except for the food, clothes, and free rent that we give him everyday...) my 3-year-old, Remi, to stand beside the bed.

Yes, feel free to guffaw for a moment at the poor photoshop job in the shorts. He just had his underpants on at the time of the picture, and I figure that he looks more appropriate in some shorts.

Anyway, you can clearly see that Remi is standing next to the bed, and that, being about 37" tall, his head still doesn't reach the top! In order to get onto the bed without resorting to standing on the window sill or something, I place my hands on the bed, harness the power of midichlorians, jump, do a half-gainer, and allow my parachute to open as I land safely on the bed. (When I have more time, I'll demonstrate with pictures!)

It's a nice bed though. Since we bought it, we don't have kids jumping on the bed to wake us up in the morning. ("Mommy! Daddy! The sun is out!" is Remi's favorite strategy/reasoning) It's also nice for acrobatics and dramatizations of the kids falling of cliffs, etc. as we did tonight before our family scripture study.

And let me tell you, executing dramatizations of the kids falling of cliffs using a 40" bed is also a great way to keep yourself young. :)

07 September 2007

0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Form Tag Library

So, I'm feeling pretty nerdy right now because, even though it is 11:30 PM on a Friday night, I am working on company code from my home computer for my salaried job. There really is no other benefit other than the geek factor of working on something right now that I think is pretty cool.

See, we have, over the past year, been developing a nice set of tag-libs and other form helpers to make it easier to draw up forms with appropriate validation, formatting, i18n, etc. We are currently using a utility powered by DWR for shared client/server validation, tag-libs for the formatting, and our market and locale-sensitive CMS for i18n. Put them together, and you get a whole lot of functionality for a form while keeping the form looking like what is finally generated on the page (as opposed to having a trillion scriptlets, javascript helpers, etc. scattered around until, from the jsp, you have no idea what the page will look like).

Right now, I'm working on some tag libs for higher-level components like Credit Cards and Addresses.

Sadly, since this is work, I can't get into a lot of detail, except to say that I plan to one day base an open source project off of the experience that I am gaining in developing it.

06 September 2007

0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Spiritual Things Can't Be Communicated Person-to-Person because God Wants to Tell Us Personally

Boyd K. Packer related a personal experience in his talk "Candle of the Lord." He described a conversation that he and a fellow flight passenger had about faith. The man insisted that because President Packer couldn't describe his spiritual feelings, then they weren't real. President Packer shrewdly asked the man whether or not he had ever tasted salt...

"Such an idea came into my mind and I said to the atheist, 'Let me ask if you know what salt tastes like.'

'Of course I do,' was his reply.

'When did you taste salt last?'

'I just had dinner on the plane.'

'You just think you know what salt tastes like,' I said.

He insisted, 'I know what salt tastes like as well as I know anything.'

'If I gave you a cup of salt and a cup of sugar and let you taste them both, could you tell the salt from the sugar?'

'Now you are getting juvenile,' was his reply. 'Of course I could tell the difference. I know what salt tastes like. It is an everyday experience—I know it as well as I know anything.'

'Then,' I said, 'assuming that I have never tasted salt, explain to me just what it tastes like.'

After some thought, he ventured, 'Well-I-uh, it is not sweet and it is not sour.'

'You’ve told me what it isn’t, not what it is.'

After several attempts, of course, he could not do it. He could not convey, in words alone, so ordinary an experience as tasting salt. I bore testimony to him once again and said, 'I know there is a God. You ridiculed that testimony and said that if I did know, I would be able to tell you exactly how I know. My friend, spiritually speaking, I have tasted salt. I am no more able to convey to you in words how this knowledge has come than you are to tell me what salt tastes like. But I say to you again, there is a God! He does live! And just because you don’t know, don’t try to tell me that I don’t know, for I do!'"

...So are our spiritual convictions, President Packer explained; one must experience them to understand them for a verbal explanation doesn't suffice.

I've often wondered at the fact that, with as resilient to linguistic gaps as our world's languages are, our millennia of existence have not been enough time for us to devise a mechanism for verbally conveying spiritual convictions. Think about the changes that have overcome our society in just the past hundred years, and I believe that you will find that our language has consistently kept up with changing concepts, technologies, etc. without missing a beat. So, then, why haven't we even come close with spiritual things after 1000s of years of trying?

Well, I have a theory, and it lies encoded in 2 Nephi 9:41. It says of the gates of heaven: "...and the Lord of Hosts standeth at the gate, and he employeth no servant there...". Elder Neal A. Maxwell gave a nifty interpretation (I need to find the talk) of this when he said that a reason that the Lord is there in person at the gate, and no one else, is because he wants to be the one to greet us personally into heaven and personally show us the mansion he has prepared for us. I think that this is a magnificent interpretation from an inspired individual with regards to the relationship that the Lord would like to have with us in general.

In general, then, I believe that there are certain times where the Lord employs no servant at all because he wants to be the one to introduce us. One of these times is spiritual experiences. We notice time and time again in the scriptures (see D&C 76:114-116 3 Nephi 17:15-17, etc.) that the partakers of the experience they had with Jesus could not be described. I like the verse in 3 Nephi where it says that "neither ear that heard not eye hat seen." I believe that it says these because what they experienced cannot be heard nor seen; it can only be felt.

Does it not follow, then, that the reason for this is because there are certain things that the Lord wants to introduce to us himself? He has hampered my ability to explain these things because He wants to be the one to tell you, and He will not be employing me to do that kind of work for Him.

Can we see, as a side-note, why it is so offensive to the Lord when we try and force spiritual things? That's not what we has hired us for. In fact, that is the one thing that he has disabled us from doing so that he can do it himself.

I had a brother at Church explain his convictions by saying that pure truth isn't found in words or in anything else regarding the five senses, but instead is only communicated heart to heart. This makes a lot of sense to me considering the thoughts above that he employeth no servant, including the five senses to communicate true conviction.

This perspective is truly testimony-building for me because I can see the Lord's hand in the molding of our everyday language.
0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

The Atonement Is the Power to Strengthen As Well As the Power to Heal

I had an Institute teacher before my mission, named Brother Frogley, who stated that he felt we emphasized too often in the LDS church the healing power of the Atonement while forgetting the strengthening power that it also offers. Just like it has been said that it is better to have a railing at the top of the cliff than an ambulance ready at the bottom, I believe that it is also important to say that it is better for us to fortify ourselves against temptation than to repent for temptations to which we have succumbed.

There are a number of scriptures that talk about the strengthening power of the Atonement. My two favorites are found in Ether 12:27 and D&C 84:33. The first says that the Lord's grace (read: Atonement) is powerful unto "making the weak things strong unto them." The second says that he that is faithful unto the obtaining of the two Priesthoods is sanctified by the Spirit "even unto the renewing of their bodies." I'm sure that there are a number of scriptures that you can think of that refer to a time when the Lord strengthened His children as opposed to just fixing the problem.

From this perspective, it is easy to understand that we ought to seek the Lord for help in fortifying ourselves such that what normally would have caused a problem in our lives, be it temptation or affliction, is no longer a disturbance to our everyday happiness and eternal progression because we are now "stronger than that."

To take a mundane example, I'll speak of my love of onions and my love for my wife. I love onions on a lot of things including, but definitely not limited to, hamburgers, pizza, salad, and soup. However, my wife hates the smell of onions on my breath. Now, I can either have this be a constant temptation and sacrifice, or I can allow the love of my wife to overpower my love for onions. This is just what I have done. I tell you, when we go out to eat, there is neither sacrifice nor temptation in my heart when I ask that they hold the onions because making my wife happy is a far higher priority than making my tongue happy. The loving relationship overcomes a temporal love.

A brother at my ward mentioned that he felt that the Atonement was not just the power to evolve the behavior (giving us strength to resist the temptation), but that it was also the power to keep the person from being tempted at all by x-y-z temptation. I found this very intriguing because, as Elder Oaks said in his October 2006 General Conference address, the Atonement has the power to heal everything. I have no reason to believe that this does not include our temptations.

This fits with my concept of God and the relationship that He wants to have with us. The scriptures are clear that the Lord wants to have a relationship with us as close as a husband and wife have (the bride and bridegroom parables, for example). I commented to my wife the other day that she and I have no rules in between us. Why is that? Of course, it's because we know each other so well that we almost automatically know what will make each other happy or sad. Moreover, we respect each other so much that we have no desire to do those things that make each other sad. They are not even temptations. This state of relationship is obviously because we have opened ourselves up enough to become emotionally tied together in such a way that does not exist with us and any other mortal in the world.

If the Atonement is the "At-ONE-Ment" and the purpose of our life is to develop a relationship with God, doesn't it make sense that the Atonement is supposed to help us develop this relationship and that this relationship will enable us to know what we should and shouldn't do and have no desire to do the things we shouldn't? I think it does.

Perhaps one last point in this stream of thoughts: The Apostle Paul teaches us that we receive a new heart and become a new creature in Christ. It seems to me that the idea is that the old, deceivable one gets replaced with a new and more immunized one. "...they had no more disposition to do evil..." was the phrase used to describe the state of being in which the Nephites found themselves after King Benjamin's discourse.

What would change in you if you saw the Atonement as a railing in addition to an ambulance? "Permission" and well as "forgiveness"?
0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Proving that Pi Equals 3

...proves to be less of a pain than you might originally think. In fact, it's no problem at all to unravel millennia of careful mathematical postulation with just one simple trick. Can you spot it?

Given: a=b

(1) pi*a^2 = pi*a*b (multiplying pi*a)
(2) 3*a*b = 3*b^2 (multiplying by 3*b)
(3) pi*a^2 - 3*a*b = pi*a*b - 3*b^2 (subtracting (2) from (1))
(4) pi*a^2 - pi*a*b = 3*a*b - 3*b^2 (adding 3*a*b and subtracting pi*a*b on both sides)
(5) pi*a^2 - pi*a*b + a*b - b^2 = 4*a*b - 4*b^2 (adding a*b and subtracting b^2 on both sides)
(6) pi*a*(a-b) + b*(a-b) = 4b*(a-b) (factoring out common terms)
(7) pi*a + b = 4*b (removing common terms)
(8) pi*a = 3*b (subtracting b)
(9) pi*b = 3*b (substituting a for b since a = b)
(10) pi = 3 (removing common terms)

Therefore pi=3.

Spoiler ahead! If you want to figure it out yourself, then don't read on just yet!

The trick is actually the same employed over and over to prove all kinds of things in math, including that 1 = -1 and 1 = 2, among the more famous. Take a look at step 7. This is where the error is. In order to remove the terms, we must divide, right? Well, if a = b, then a - b = 0, thus we are dividing by zero, which is a big math no-no. Aside from being a fun trick to throw at your math students, it is a great example of why we can't divide by zero. Indeed, if we allowed it, then we can prove all kinds of false statements in our system!

Try your own hand at it for a minute. What other "convenient" conclusions can you come to? Can you prove that the world is like this math t-shirt? Maybe prove that e = 2 or that sqrt(2) = 1.5 or, if you're really adventurous, prove that pi = e!

Now, consider branching out into other illegal areas of math. :) How about negative square roots? What kind of false statements can you arrive at using that loop hole?

Just for fun, here is another fake proof. See if you can find the error:

(1) John = Time * Money (or anyone that you want to stick it to...)
(2) Time = Money (Time is Money)
(3) John = Money * Money (substitution)
(4) Evil = sqrt(Money) (Money is the Root of Evil)
(5) John = Evil

Of course, here the problem is in (4) because Paul said that the love of money was the root of all evil...har-de-har-har...oh, well, it was funny to me...

05 September 2007

0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Gdata-Backed Applications

So, after a few trial runs, I am seriously considering Gdata as the Data-Access layer for my next project: An appointment booking and review site for my tutor students.

I first tried it out on this site. I didn't want to develop a database and an admin for this website, and I didn't want to just settle for blogger, which does labels, but doesn't seem to have the cool categorization functionality that I was really hoping for. None of the weblog alternatives were looking good either.

Enter Gdata. I learned of this nifty API that Google provides for query and CRUD operations for all of their applications, including Blogger. After poking around for a bit, I also learned that it is super-duper easy to use (if you are a programmer). As it's already feeling very late tonight, I'll just post the link, and you can see for yourself:

GData Blogger API Overview

Now, with very little programming, I was able to suck the blogger data onto these pages, quite seemlessly, and separate them into categories, like I was wanting to do.

Just days later, I was realizing that, for my t-shirt website, I needed to have a reminder go to my phone three-days after an order was placed to remind me, "Hey, if you haven't shipped this order, yet, you better get a move on!" All I did was, at the end of each order, use Gdata again to create a new calendar item on my Google Calendar, which defaults to remind me via my phone. That wonderful piece of integration took only a couple dozen line of code.

Lest everything look like roses, there was one problem, but it was web host related. I speak of the curl proxy that GoDaddy requires all secure requests to go through. Having a curl proxy is not a big deal, but the fact that it doesn't accept POST requests is astonishing. So, there was a little bit of hacking, but the problem had already been solved by people much smarter than I. I gladly accepted their generosity. :)

This, I believe, is incidental to GoDaddy, though. Otherwise, both times GData was very easy and just right for what I needed.

Now, for the tutoring appointment and review site. I'll use Blogger to log records regarding tutoring visits, the Calendar for appointments, etc. I'll build a presentation layer that will give the booking functionality on top of the normal free-form scheduling, and I'll probably use labels for the individual tutoring students. Perhaps, I will try to do the billing letters through Google Docs, but I'm a bit wary that this might be more work than it's worth.

Anyway, I look forward to trying it out.

04 September 2007

0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

NFD

The tag that I never thought I'd see on an article that I'd submitted: Nominated for Deletion.

To be really articulate: It sucked. I thought it was some of my finest work, and, hours after posting it to wikihow.com, it was nfd'd with the claim:

The inaccuracy reflects jocular intent.

Now, at the top of the article is a stark image of a piece of paper with a big red 'X' through it couched beside a paragraph indicating that, due to "Accuracy Issues," discussion would ensue and the article would be reviewed in a week or so.

The real irritation, I suppose, is not that the fellow tagged it, but the reason for which he tagged it. Of course there is jocular intent! Perhaps more accurately, the tongue-and-cheek is laid on pretty thick to make a pseudo-point regarding a fundamental principle of mathematics.

Anyway, despite the irritated tone of this post, I am open to suggestions that he or others would like to make if it truly is a little over-board.

Here is the wikihow.com link:
How to Become an Irrational Number Liberator and Prove That Pi Equals 3

Here is the discussion page, if you would like to give your two cents:
Discussion Page for 'Pi Equals 3'

01 January 2007

0 Comments
Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Bad Temple Square Picture v3.0

In the twilight of yesteryear...which is to say yesterday at about 10:30 pm--Kristi, our kids, and I found ourselves once again taking a family picture in front of the Salt Lake City LDS Temple amongst the hundreds of thousands of Christmas lights that the LDS Church strings in honor of the season.

Try as we might, though, the picture always seems to turn out as unprofessional as they come--this lack of quality itself has nearly become part of the tradition. In the first year, Remi, our oldest, was only a few months old. We had been taking pictures of the lights and decided that one with the Temple in the background would be nice. We asked a passerby to do us the favor of pointing and clicking, and she obliged. Sadly, though her kindness is appreciated, she probably should have given the opportunity to someone else since the final product was a crooked, fuzzy mess.

We laughed about it and decided that we would try again next year. This time, we brought along a friend that we knew was familiar with a digital camera. Remi was now about 16 months old and there was a second (at this point "unofficially") on the way. When we arrived at Temple Square, it started raining. A lot. However, this was going to be a tradition of ours...we set out to start some Christmas traditions, and, by golly, this was going to be one of them! Needless to say, despite our friend's proficiency with the digital, there was no overcoming the heavy rain. The picture was straight and crisp...except for all the Heaven-sent water streaking through it.

So this year, I think that we made a little bit of progress. Now, Remi is nearly 2-1/2, and we have our second, Isaac, who is 6 months old. Although we weren't able to make it until the very last day that the lights were on, we did still make it. The weather was clear, and we had another good friend (not that the last friend didn't do a good job, you know--we were just a little more confident this this new friend's ability to not attract rain...) who knew how to get a straight, crisp shot, and so on. Nothing really went wrong except that it was freezing cold at 10:30 at night, so we might have looked a little rosy. You be the judge...

Being New Year's Eve, we, of course, went home immediately afterwards to make sure that we were in time to bang pots and pans, which Remi did with gusto. He stayed up entirely too late--about 2 am, and was up right at his normal time (7:30 am) with enough crankiness to last him for all of 2007. Ah, well, it was fun to ring in the new year as a family.

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2007!