27 December 2010

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Printing Money: A Better Way

20 Dollars art4Image via WikipediaSince the United States really likes to print money, thought I would do our civilization a favor and calculate the optimal set of bank notes to produce the fewest numbers of notes needed for any amount of cash under $1000. (You're on the edge of your seat, aren't you?)
Current State of AffairsIn the United States, there are six bills currently in fair-to-wide circulation: $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100. If you were to always use the biggest bills possible, then the average number of bills you would use on a given transaction where the total was less than $1000 (this is also assuming that all dollar amounts are equally likely) is 8.71. The most number of bills you would need would be for $999 => 9 $100 bills, 1 $50 bill, 2 $20 bills, 1 $5 bill, and 4 $1 bills. That's 17 bills. We can take that number down to 13 by introducing the $500, which I did for comparison's sake.

The Currency Mapper

So like any devoted computer programmer, I created a webpage to do this for me. You can play with it yourself at http://www.joshuacummings.com/monetary.html (it's written in Javascript, so you can see the code yourself by right-clicking and selecting 'View Source' when you get to the page). What you do is enter the denominations that you want to test in comma-delimited-no-spaces fashion. Like this: '1,5,10,20,50,100,500' or '1,2,3,4,5,6,7'. Then, click 'Go' and it will display your efficiency rating along with a breakdown of which bills would be necessary for which dollar amounts. Here is an example of the output for '1,5,10,20,50,100,500', or the current US currency:
As you can see, the average number of notes for that set-up is 6.702. The 'Efficiency' number is just averagebills * totaldenominations. In this case: 6.702 * 7 = 46.914. And, as said earlier, Max Notes is 13 since 5 $100 bills can be replaced with 1 $500 bill.

We can do better!

Of course, there is room for improvement with anything, even in a monetary system crafted and propagated without competition or accountability by a pseudo-governmental entity over the past 100 years.

Here are the top five denomination schema that I discovered. Consider them carefully:

#5 - $1,$5,$10,$20,$50,$100,$500

Our standard system doesn't do so bad, especially for small values. While it is still the least efficient of the five, it averaged only 4.21 bills for any dollar amount $100 or less. Not bad.

#4 - Powers of 3: $1,$3,$9,$27,$81,$243,$729

Aside from this lowering the average number of bills across the board, it also makes the dollar bills more uniform, making it easier to divide things out consistently. For example, if there were three of you, and you needed to divide $27 between the three of you. Sorry, you have four? My theory totally falls apart.

#3 - Squares: $1,$4,$9,$25,$64,$144,$289,$529

What about dollar amounts being perfect squares? The squares that I picked worked a little better for values under $100, but still outperformed the standard at both levels.

#2 - Fibanocci A: $1,$3,$8,$21,$55,$144,$377

Then, the Fibanocci numbers occurred to me as being a viable option since they were an arithmetic sequence as opposed to a geometric sequence. Using all of them up to the necessary 300 or so was too many, so I tried every other.

#1 - Fibbanocci B: $1,$2,$5,$13,$34,$89,$233,$610

And the winner is: The other every other Fibbanocci number! This had an amazingly low max, standard deviation, and overall average. On average, you would only need 5 bills from here to $1000. Amazing. Under $100, it also performed the best averaging only 3.34 bills per dollar amount.

Since I know that you are wondering, here is the statistical breakdown of each schema. The right-hand column is all the statistical values multiplied together for comparison's sake:


Standard DeviationMeanMaxMedianMode


1,5,10,20,50,100,500To $10002.300540912152726.70213779821.40944809868


To $1001.736680916593664.21844935.862612333992


1,3,9,27,81,243,729To $10001.946050130677815.97412665022.30390364911


To $1001.536229149573723.94844774.751084713018


1,4,9,25,64,144,289,529To $10001.576375894563535.2829551873.44393189403


To $1001.315755342460033.69644466.093172513041


1,3,8,21,55,144,377To $10001.524714975251365.4139662674.06342017554


To $1001.215181742237213.59644418.800235644632


1,2,5,13,34,89,233,610To $10001.366798865648915.0278551374.17957952341


To $1001.12114659923213.34534224.677778486113

I'm sure that no one will mind needing to pull out an $89, 2 $5s, and a $1 to give a friend $100. Hey, it's more efficient!
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18 November 2010

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Are Mormons Christians? Good question.

Latter-day Saints believe in the resurrected J...Image via Wikipedia(Btw, I tend to sound a little authoritative when I write. :) I should be clear that I don't speak for the LDS Church in any way. I am just a faithful member who has done (probably too much) thinking on the topic.)

So, last night I got a phone call from a neighbor apologizing about the fact that we wouldn't be able to come over and visit like we planned for the following day (today). They understood that the purpose of the visit was religious in nature, so the father very kindly explained that while we are welcome any time, they belong to another faith now.

No problem, IMHO. I absolutely love talking to people who changed religions, whatever direction they've gone, because it usually means that they have actually thought about what they believe as opposed to just going with the tides.

One of the things that he said, though, intrigued me. It might have been a slip of the tongue or it might reveal a little bit about his point of view. I asked him where he attended church. "South Mountain Community Church," he replied. I asked him if it was aligned with any of the mainstream Christian faiths, like Baptists or Methodists, and he said, "It's just your typical Christian church. It's actually the largest Christian church in the state of Utah."

Really? That's pretty cool. However, it seems to me that the Latter-Day Saints are the largest Christian church in the state of Utah, their headquarters being in Salt Lake City and all that.

Then I was reminded of the fact that several Christian faiths don't consider Mormons to be Christians, so it would be entirely plausible for that church to consider themselves the "largest Christian church in the state."

As a side note, I don't pay allegiance to numbers in that way like others sometimes do. The Book of Mormon is very clear that there were times of significant contraction in the Church. Sometimes, the contraction was due to lack of belief. Other times it was due to prideful membership. There is no doubt, though, that the Church shrank in size a number of times through the one millennium of history covered in the Book or Mormon. Did the shrinkage of the Church make the gospel any less true at those times? Sounds like another post is in order, so I'll move on.

As another side note, I think that terminology itself is a really interesting topic. The French have a whole department of the government for discussing such things, and all us humans are always trying to put to words the conceptions and categorizations that we feel are manifested in our own experience. One of my math tutor students once asked me why a polynomial is called a polynomial. I explained to him that poly means many and nom means name, so a polynomial is a mathematical expression with many "names" or variables. He asked me again, but why do we even need to call it a polynomial? Well, I explained, if we term something a polynomial, then we can infer a whole bunch of other things about it, including whether its continuous or discrete, whether its one-to-one, and more. He asked again, and I suddenly realized that he was asking about the term itself. Is there anything "catty" about the word "cat" itself? Anyway, the conversation goes on, and I don't have time to write it all out, but such is the kind of conversation that we could have about the importance of actually answering the "Are Mormons Christians?" question. This blog assumes that the answer is important (as opposed to conjecturing that its all just terminology anyway), but maybe someone could bring that up later on.

So, anyway, that got me wondering about the old topic of Mormons being Christians. What are the big reasons?

#1 - Theomorphic Man

This is a fun word to use in Scrabble if you ever get the chance. For example, when someone has put "morph" on the board and then a space and a "c" and you happen to have "theopoi" in your tray. Winning combination.

What "theomorphic" implies is a much more interesting conversation and is one of the pillars of antipathy that other Christian faiths direct at Latter-Day Saints for wanting to "join the club".

Theomorphic is a play on the word anthropomorphic. It isn't precisely Greek. The Greek word anthropos means "human being" and morphe means "form", so anthropomorphic means "having human form". So, theomorphic means "God-like".

The flip-side, then, is an anthropomorphic God, or, in other words, a human-like God. And while most Christian religions believe both of these at some level--Christ took on human characteristics during his mortal ministry (anthropomorphic God) and man is created in God's image (theomorphic man), they take issue with the distance that we Latter-Day Saints carry the two concepts.

As we all know, Lorenzo Snow is famous for when on his mission he quipped "Anthropomorphic God, theomorphic man." Oh, wait, that's not it. It's "as man now is, God once was, and as God now is, man may become."

Many Latter-Day Saints see this as carrying the concept of being God's children to it's logical conclusion. If we truly are God's children, then wouldn't we grow up to be like him, being parents of spiritual children just like Him? Indeed, I don't consider it sinful if my children have aspirations of being a parent (only if they act on those aspirations out of turn).

Moreover, it seems to me that "growth" is an eternal principle. (What I mean by eternal principle is that it exists in Heaven, too. For example, I believe that families exist in Heaven as well, which would mean that the principle of family is an eternal principle.) The Lord nurtures us that we might grow, and we make choices in our life that enable his succor to take effect and make us something greater than we are. Why would this not exist in Heaven as well? If it exists in Heaven, does it only exist for a certain amount of time or to a certain point of progression? If not, then what could possibly stop each one of God's children from becoming like Him except their own choices?

Moremoreover, the LDS death conquest narrative for me is "door number three." The two standard doors (afterlife and no-afterlife) leave me somewhat unsatisfied. The one means that we will all eventually die, so does anything really matter at all? The other means that even after I'm tired of living (after a 100 trillion years or so), I still have an eternity to go after that. With the framework that Joseph Smith laid out, we have actually already existed for an eternity before coming here to Earth. This makes eternal existence much easier to conceptualize. That plus Lorenzo Snow's comment give the human family a much, much, much bigger role in the eternities. How would that change your behavior if you really believed in that kind of royal heritage and potential?

Lastover, let's quickly observe the humanistic utility of such a point of view as well. If we understand that each person we meet is not only a child of God but also has the potential to become like Him, how might we treat them differently? If we judged every man to be our superior, how might respect for others return to our society?

So, it's blasphemous in many Christian religions. To some, it sounds like polytheism to turn every man into a God and paganism to turn God into a man. To others still, it just sounds plain arrogant. Most Christians that have a problem with this argue something to the effect that just like there are fundamental physical chasms between plants and humans, so it is with God and man. A plant could never be a man and a man could never be God. I wonder how much truth to this there is without the resurrection?

#2 - Multa Scriptura

Most of the Christian world holds to the tenet of 'sola scriptura' or 'closed canon'. This isn't an anti-war slogan (closed cannon. Ha). It means that the Bible is the source for all that the children of God could possibly need to get home to Heaven.

Latter-Day Saints, however, take a slightly more complicated stance. They assert, like most Christians, that the Israelites of the Old Testament were the Lord's chosen people, and that they were scattered. What Latter-Day Saints say is that the Lord continued to speak to each "branch" of these chosen people as they were scattered over the earth, including the family of Lehi who left Jerusalem as a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah. Latter-Day Saints also believe that the writings of other lost tribes may yet be found to provide more witnesses to those tribes' role in the grand plan of what Latter-Day Saints call The Restoration. One step further, Latter-Day Saints believe that when you are baptized as a Latter-Day Saint, you are "grafted in" to that "tree" or, that is, the tribes of Israel. This, logically, would mean that the Lord would restore truth through them as well.

I call this 'multa scriptura' or 'open canon'. This is not a pro-war slogan. It means that the Lord has spoken to all the tribes of Israel, including grafted ones, and when He does that, it is scripture.

Detractors say that the Bible itself is clear that nothing more is necessary. They quote scriptures like Revelation and Deuteronomy, that they say that no man should add more to that record.

What it really comes down to, though, is a matter of ownership and origin. Moses said what he said in Deuteronomy long before the New Testament was written, and I think he meant it. His intention was to establish his authority as the mouthpiece of God in the face of possible confusion or even opposition. Of course, when John said the same thing later on, the Jews probably wondered at John's authority to do such a thing as to add to Moses's words. Therein lies the key: They weren't John's words any more than they were Moses's words. They were God's words given to man. That's how John and Moses can both say at different times in history that no man can add to their words. God can add to them any time he wants.

So, why do other Christians really discredit the Book of Mormon? It's because they don't see it as coming from God. If they did, they wouldn't see it as man adding to the word of God, but instead God adding to the word of God. Now, why they don't see the Book of Mormon as from God, I'm not entirely sure. As we've seen, it's a cyclic argument to say that man can't add to God's word because those who believe the Book of Mormon believe it to be God's word just like the Bible. By association, any other yard stick that I've heard used to discredit it can be just as easily used against the Bible and we're back to square one. Separate blog post.

Which "square one" is needing modern-day revelation in order to understand whether or not the Book of Mormon really is the word of God. As cyclic as the situation may seem, the pattern that is born out of it is the need for continuing revelation from God to his children as fast as they are prepared to receive it.

Again from the practical point of view, more witnesses from God has never been more necessary. There are many who discredit the divine portions of the New Testament or the New Testament altogether. While some of those will discredit the Book of Mormon as well, there are many who will find renewed strength in their testimony of Christ by finding out that another people on the Earth also had associations with Christ, even the mouth of another witness. How would it change people's point of view who possibly feel that God has largely abandoned his children in these last days if they found out that modern scripture has been revealed and continues to be revealed to aid His children?

I like the phrase 'sola patria' (one source) over 'sola scriptura' (one scripture), but that's just me.

#3 - Priesthood

So this only upsets half of the Christian world. Alright, so it upsets all of them, but for two distinct reasons. One is related to the distaste for institutionalism that has been growing in the world at least since the Bible was first translated into English by John Wycliffe. Martin Luther, Thomas Jefferson, the Protestant movement, and the Declaration of Independence are all examples of the declining old ways of top-down thinking.

In the case of religion, a biggie is the priesthood as conceived by the Catholic church. In the midst of the Protestant movement, when the concept of priesthood authority was being decried, it is astonishing that Joseph Smith was able to get a religion off the ground where priesthood authority is so integral.

Priesthood, then, in the Latter-Day saint view, is what gives legitimacy to baptism, the ordinance that most of Christendom agrees is necessary for salvation. It is also the typical source for healings in the faith. Latter-Day Saints assert that Hebrews 5:4 indicates a calling to the priesthood after the manner of Aaron, Moses's right-hand man, which is by the hands of those who are in authority (5th Article of Faith). Joseph Smith taught this principle and claimed that the resurrected Peter, James, and John came to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, laid hands on their heads, and conferred upon them the Melchizedek priesthood (Hebrews 7:11, actually all of Hebrews 7 is awesome if you follow its reasoning carefully).

Because of this teaching, many Latter-Day Saint priesthood holders can trace their receipt of the priesthood "by the laying on of hands" all the way back to Jesus Christ since they claim that Peter, James, and John (who conferred it to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery) received it from Christ himself on the Mount of Transfiguration.

This priesthood authority is what enables baptisms, eternal families, and every other ordinance in the Mormon Church. It bonds father to son and grandson in a way that is hard to find a replica of in our modern world. It gives a much-needed framework to fathers for blessing their children and raising them up instead of failing to cast a ballot. It reinforces the importance of both Mom and Dad in a growing world of fatherless children. It is the scaffolding by which all members of the Mormon Church are called to reach outside of their families and take care of those in need.

As an example, I'd like to reference a recent event in my neighborhood. One Sunday afternoon, we were driving home from Grandma's house when we saw a red rim of flames appear over the ridge of a mountain just two miles south of our house. An ominous feeling came over Kristi and me and we wondered out loud how serious the situation might be. Once we got home, the fire had gotten far enough over the ridge that it was clear that it was an emergency and people would be in danger very soon.

Within minutes of us arriving home, we received a call from our Elder's Quorum President, Tony, asking us if we were alright. Then, five minutes after that, we got a call from our Relief Society President, Mitzi, asking us if we could donate any food to the displaced families. (We were blessed to be able to donate. They received so much food that they donated the surplus to the Utah Food Bank afterward.) Priesthood leaders reacted immediately to help families get evacuated quickly, and many stayed in the path of danger to help where they could, including my own bishop, Russ Nelson.

In the end, flames engulfed neighborhoods, seriously endangering hundreds of homes, but only four were lost. Most of that is attributed to excellent and dedicated firemen, but a great deal is attributed to the rapidity with which homes were evacuated and endangered people removed from the scene and cared for.
How effective might this have been had we not been such a tight-knit community with a clear leadership infrastructure like the priesthood? This story is just one of many where priesthood leadership has given the Mormon Church an awesome emergency response record.

Speaking more spiritually, it seems to me that "order" is another one of those eternal principles. God's house is a house of order, and one would expect no less from a church that claims to bear his signature of authorship. Such order does not infer social status, but radii of responsibility and stewardship, from which an unfortunate few may derive a power trip, but most derive humility.

As I said earlier, in a world that has a distaste for authority, this is a harder sell than the other two, even among other Christian religions. Actually, the synergy between the teachings of theomorphism and personal ongoing revelation (more bottom-up in nature) and priesthood authority (more top-down in nature) is absolutely fascinating. It is even more fascinating that it works. But, people want to be told what to do less than ever, and all the corrupt politicians and priests didn't do anything to help. All I can do in the end is offer my testimony that the two approaches to spirituality produce an unexpected and beautiful harmony.

I Guess Those Are The Big Ones

So, more could be said, but I think that those three encapsulate most of the other ones, including modern prophets, vicarious work, and the three degrees of glory.

There have been some that have suggested to the Mormon Church that they de-emphasize these principles since they are so different from every other Christian faith. I'm not sure how to take those statements since they that made them are so far distanced from the Mormon faith as to not realize that much of its very power lies in these very principles. These principles are what make Mormons Mormons, and, in my opinion, what makes them Christians, too.

Is the Mormon Church a lot different than the "typical Christian Church"? Heck, yeah. However, I believe this verse, written by a Mormon prophet who lived hundreds of years before Christ's birth put it:

"And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may known to what source they may look for a remission of their sins." (2 Nephi 25:26)

Christ is at the center of my life. It is from Him that I derive purpose, meaning, direction, context, motivation, fulfillment, vision, and, in a word, hope. It is He to whom I will point for the remainder of my days for any who seek to understand the "reason for the hope that is in [me]" (1 Peter 3:15). Am I a Christian? I leave it to you.

Learn a bunch more at The Official LDS Church website(s).

Update (27 March 2014):  I realized after posting this that the word is theomorphic.  I have no idea why my notes from college had theopomorphic in them.  I was probably sleepy.  :)  I've updated the references in here so that is hopefully not a distraction.

Also, I've since learned that "sola scriptura" entails a bit more than "closed canon," and it is probably a bit inaccurate of me to equate them as I did.  As I understand it now, "sola scriptura" means that the Bible alone is sufficient for a person to be a Christian.  Of course, this is still the same point that Mormons take issue with, especially with reference to a quote from Joseph Smith where, when talking about the Book of Mormon said, "Man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book."  At the risk of definition overload, Mormons also believe in a version of "sola scriptura," one where we can define scripture as including the Bible, Book of Mormon, modern revelation from living prophets, etc.

I'll leave it in for historical reasons, but I feel like the emphasis on word play in this article is a bit distracting.  Sometimes in this article, I'm trying to be linguistically accurate (theomorphic) whereas at other times I am using word play (multa scriptura, sola patria) to communicate my thoughts.  Hopefully, you still get the idea.  (I say that last sentence as if anyone has actually read this far in the post...)

Obviously, I missed a big one, and that is the trinity.  This article is more a brain dump than anything else, but maybe I'll add that one in for completeness one day.
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13 November 2010

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Jazz Schedule: You're not excited yet? You should be.

By nearly every account, I'm 100% nerd. Somehow, though, my father fostered in me a love for professional basketball. Looking at the rest of my priorities, I totally don't get it, but basketball is definitely one of them.

So, how 'bout those Jazz? The comeback wins are very cool, but here is what I am overwhelmingly more excited about: Road wins. In the words of Ron Boone (no, I don't have the reference), "Championship teams win on the road."

And, as you know, the Jazz have been poor on the road during the "rebuilding" years. Last year's road record, 21-20, was their best road record since 2000-2001 when they acheived 24-17. To give a rough idea of this, hear are the last 9 years on the road with the Jazz:

2009-2010, 21-20
2008-2009, 15-26
2007-2008, 17-24
2006-2007, 20-21
2005-2006, 19-22 (Deron's rookie season)
2004-2005, 8-33
2003-2004, 14-27
2002-2003, 18-23 (Stockton and Malone's last season)
2001-2002, 19-22

So, you can see, then, why I am excited that the Jazz are 6-3 to start off the season. That is the record they have after having twice as many road games and home in the first nine games. (The exercise is left to the reader to find out how many road games that means they have played.)

To put a finer point on it, the Jazz have played more on the road this season than any other team save the Charlotte Bobcats, who are 3-6 at the time of this writing.

Because the Jazz have, thus far, kept their poise during this tough start, it puts them in an excellent position over the next month. After this last road game tonight vs. the Bobcats, they will be home for 13 of the next 17 games, including a six game home-stand.

If the Jazz can keep their head on straight (not as hard when you have 19,911 fans in the stadium reminding you every moment of that), then there is no reason that they couldn't be 20-7 entering into their next big Eastern road trip.

We'll see...

Update (3 December 2010): Still not excited? The Jazz have 5 of the next 6 games at home. The Jazz are, as of today, 15-5, and with Williams playing like a super-star, they could reach that 20-7 I talked about three weeks ago.
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04 November 2010

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Life after Car Payments: Why we have yet to buy a car from this millenium

I had a bad dream last night: I dreamed that we had actually bought a car from this millennium.

Normally on Thursdays, I delve into an obscure mental math trick. But, the effect of realizing how important the fact actually is to my subconscious has motivated me to explain how it is that Kristi and I haven't had a car payment since roughly 2004.

When Kristi and I were first married in 2003, I had a Blue 1999 CR-V. I really liked the car, and the payment was only $296/month. While it was always a little embarrassing to have people get into an apparent SUV and then find out that it was only a 2.2-L four-cylinder engine that could hardly make it up Cottonwood Canyon, there were few other problems.

And it was a stick. I love driving sticks, much to the chagrin of me when I'm trying to sell the car. Apparently, there are only a few people left that prefer a stick to the degree that they will buy a stick car knowing that there are only a few others that they could sell it to once they are done with it.

Kristi had a 1998 Blue Toyota Corrolla. Her payment was only $114. Being the hopeless romantic for shoestring living that I am, I wanted her to sell the car, and we would just have one car. I soon realized that I had married a two-car girl. :)

Anyway, you can do the math and see that our monthly car obligation was a little more than $400/month. This didn't seem unreasonable to us until we noticed our savings steadily dipping by $100/month for the first 4 months of our marriage. We reasoned it out, and I decided to put my CR-V up for sale. It took a while (the whole stick-shift thing), but we sold it for more than we owed.

Now, we were in the market for a second car. I told Kristi that we had $4000 to spend and that we needed to keep it to that. Kristi smiled and said, "okay." Later, I found out that she thought I was off my rocker to think that we could find a car for that cheap that wasn't a beater.

Enter our first mini-van.

It's kind of a rite of passage, at least here in Utah, to buy your first mini-van. Utahns buy mini-vans like they have children, early and often, and we were no different. With our plans to have a big family (Kristi was pregnant with Remi at the time), we knew that another mini-SUV wasn't going to cut the mustard for more than a few years.

To make a long story short, Kristi was out car shopping one day with her mom and aunt at Silka Auto when she called me at work. "Josh, we found a 1999 Dodge Caravan for $3700. Can I buy it?" "Is it in good condition?" "Yes, excellent." "Great, let's do it."

(There is a certain amount of exhilaration in having your counterpart make a big purchase without you around to inspect it yourself. I trusted Kristi, though, and it turned out to be a great buy.)

Kristi went into the Sales Office and started working on the paper work. Now, one hour earlier, another individual had come in to test drive the van. We'll call him Mac. After Mac had finished driving the car, he expressed his interest in buying it, but wasn't sure just yet. Vladimir (from Silka Auto) asked if he wanted to put down a deposit to hold the car, and Mac said, "no."

Not 30 seconds after Kristi told Vlad that she would be buying the car, Mac called back and said that he wanted the car. Vlad had to tell him, "Sorry, Mac, it's been sold." Woah.

We found out later on that the van had been mis-listed. It was supposed to be listed at $4700. Vlad was a very honorable guy, though, and kept to the price that was on the car: $3700. We had stayed within our $4000 budget. We paid in cash and have never looked back.

The Caravan is still an excellent car for us six-and-a-half years later.

Fast-forward to June 2010. We still have both cars. The Corolla was paid off in 2004 and so we have enjoyed the blessing of zero car payments for six years. In fact, the van, now with 180,000 miles, only cost us a sizeable chunk of money when we had the misfortune of running into a Firestone crook who squeezed us for $1500 before we realized his dishonesty back in 2009.

In June, the page began to turn and we would change out both cars--one of them twice--before it was finished. Kristi called me at work and told me that she had just be rear-ended on the freeway. After finding out if she was okay, I asked about the Corolla, which is what she was driving at the time. It would be totaled. We knew that it was 12 years old now, and we didn't expect a lot of money from the insurance company, but they gave us $2500.

We set our goal this time at $4500. We wanted to get a bi-fuel car. It sounded like a tough bill again.

Those of you more knowledgeable about cars already know that the one car that fit our description was a Chevy Cavalier. One day, while on KSL Classifieds, we saw a red 1999 Chevy Cavalier listed for $4500. The kicker was that it only had 35,000 miles. It was in *pristine* condition. We set up a test drive and told him "yes" almost on the spot.

It was a lovely car. It had almost everything that I could ask for. It was bi-fuel, it had manual locks and windows (love it), and no CD player. The only thing that could make it better was if it were a stick. And it was within our budget.

It's life was to be cut short, though, by the fascinating coincidence of it also being rear-ended. This time on 5300 South by the new IHC hospital. I was stopped at a light when a driver failed to brake for the light and clobbered the Cavalier at 45 mph. I swung forward and hit the steering wheel, then bounced back and broke the seat as it reclined until it hit the seat of the back bench. There was a motorcycle in front of me, and the impact from the rear-ending had sent me into the motorcycle. One of the two cyclists flew at my car, hit the hood and slid up my windshield. The motorcycle was sent into the car in front of it, causing only a small bit of damage to the passenger-side fender and trunk. A four-car pile up.

My doors would not open. I had to shove the driver's side door to get out. My neck hurt, which was exacerbated by an accident I was in ten years earlier on my mission (a story for another day). My poor nearly-perfect car was gone.

Miraculously, the two boys in the motorcycle were fine. The thought would not escape me what would have happened had my car not stood in between the van that hit us at 45 mph and the motorcycle. The weren't wearing helmets or any other protection. They would have been either seriously injured or dead. They were both going on missions shortly, and I invited them to increase their focus on it now that the Lord had given them an obvious second chance.

Anyway, after only 10 weeks, we were in the market again. (Sigh) The insurance company gave us $4100 (apparently being a bi-fuel doesn't increase the replacement value in the eyes of insurance companies), and we decided that we should focus on replacing the van instead of getting me another commuter car. It was fall, and I was riding my bike to work each day, so I didn't really need one.

We set a very unrealistic goal of $5000. Because of the (silly) booster seat law that requires us to have our kids in a booster seat until they are eight, we currently had all four of our kids in a car or booster seat with one child on the way. Five car and booster seats were not going to fit very easily in a van, so we started looking at Yukons, Suburbans, and the like.

We were initially disappointed. After three weeks of looking everywhere, anything under $5000 was in poor condition. I temporarily and begrudgingly started looking at SUVs in the $10000 range.

Then, one morning, we found a 1998 Ford Expedition listed for $4800. It looked to be in great condition, and we set up an appointment. After the phone call, I stopped following up on other ads because I knew that we were going to purchase that car.

The appointment day arrived, I drove the car, Kristi drove the car, and we loved it. We asked him if he would do $4500, and he said "yes". We had just bought a very nice Ford Expedition 8-seater for the same price of the Chevy Cavalier. I was floored.

The page still isn't fully turned, though. About a week before getting the Expedition, the van was hit (what???) and so we are down to one car again. Though the other driver was cited by the officer, we'll call her Macey, Macey's State Farm rep decided to file a claim against our insurance in order to make our insurance split the bill. Since we have liability, that strategy doesn't work, but State Farm decided to proceed, rather unethically, in my opinion. The case has now been sent to arbitration between the two insurance companies. Until we find out the final fate of the van, we won't be getting a second car.

(By the way, it is very unnerving that after having a clean driving record since 1997, we have had three accidents--two totals and one undecided--in the space of three months.)

In the meantime, a wonderful ward member loaned us a car that they haven't been using. It's a 1995 Ford Contour with 108000 miles on it. It has manual doors and windows, no CD player, and it's a stick!

03 November 2010

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Starting Your Own T-Shirt Shop: What Makes a Good Pro-π-etor

(This is the second in a series of posts about how I started The Pi-Dye T-Shirt Shop. I hope that it's helpful to someone out there that is trying to start their own business.)

If there is one thing that made our t-shirt shop successful (and a whole lot funner (I know that "funner" isn't a word, but doesn't "a whole lot more fun" sound less fun?)), it is the fact that we nearly turn into pi an extreme sport, including it in every aspect of marketing, delivery, and operations that we can think of.


A few years ago, I noticed, like many of you probably did, that in addition to most prices ending in "9", most Walmart prices ended in "8". If you are into Internet Marketing at all, most of those prices end in "7".

Noticing a possible pattern, and being a hopeless nerd, I decided that all of our prices would be multiples of pi. Our first "real" online shirt was listed at $12.56, which is $4*pi. This hasn't led to as much utter chaos as I had hoped as I thought it would. Online, they are listed as "$4pi (12.56)" because I'm a wuss and fear mad customers seeing $12pi, for example, and not realizing that that order total is $37.68.

Not being quite nerdy enough, we went a step further and charged pi for shipping. This also had the hidden advantage of being able to call it "Shipping and Handling" and not making our customers feel like they were getting take for a ride.

At our conferences, we will often do a Hap-Pi Hour at 3:14 pm. At this time, things are $pi off or something like that.


Everyone that we contract out to do stocking, order fulfillment, or sales, we pay in increments of $pi/hour. Yes, really. In the past, we have paid individuals $6.28/hr, $9.42/hr, $12.56/hr, and $15.70/hr for either efforts.


We have been in business for 2pi years. If you have a hard question, go talk to the pro-pi-etor (it even says "pro-pi-etor" on our business cards). When we hand out change, we say "here's your delta" instead of "here's your change". Our sales guys give the customers "high-pi"s instead of "high-5"s (I'll explain this later).

(For those baffled by what a high-pi would look like, I will explain. First, do a high-3 with the individual. For extra nerdiness, say "3" as well. Second, do "rocks", and say "point". Third, do a high-1 and say "1". Fourth, turn your hands like you are going to shake with four fingers (no thumb) and wiggle them together and say "4")

So, we do our best to go over the top with the theme, and our customers appreciate it.

02 November 2010

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Baby Names: What my daughter's name has to do with an ancient Persian Fairy Tales

If you read my previous post on my sons' names, you'll know that this post is about my daughters' names.

When we found out that we were going to have twins, I vowed that there names were not going to rhyme or alliterate. We weren't going to do Jadyn and Jordan, or Kim and Tim, or Esther and Edgar (all likely candidates for other, less elitist parents, especially Esther and Edgar). I did want the names to have something to do with one another somehow.

Felicity Mae Cummings

Felicity's first name has little to do with its underlying Hebrew meaning or its tie to Biblical history and everything to do with the fact that this was a name that Kristi had always wanted one of her girls to have because she liked that it meant "happiness".

So, to tell you the truth, I didn't do a lot of research on this name because its place in our family had already been decided.

But, it was excellent material to work with. The initial spark that 'Felicity' provided gave life to two of the most meaningful names in our family.

It turns out that Felicity really means two things. First, 'felicity' is an English word meaning 'happiness', just like Kristi said. Second, however, it relates back to a Roman goddess of good fortune and success, Felicitas. It's male version, Felix, means 'lucky, successful'. While I don't really think that luck = happiness, you already know by now that I love double meanings, and that was a good start.

Many girl names get weird spellings and Felicity's middle name is no different. We wanted the middle name 'May' and we gave it the spelling 'Mae' to be different. It would be fun if there was something cool to that minuscule twist, but there isn't.

'May', on the other hand, was picked for very specific reasons. 'May' is a derivation of 'Mary'. (May is also the fifth month of the year, but that doesn't seem to have a lot of juice in it)

'Mary' has several possibilities. First, it is related to the Hebrew name 'Miriam' which means 'rebellion' or 'bitterness'. Both of these are awesome because they give a dualistic nature to Lici's full name: Felicity Mae = "happiness bitterness" or "success rebellion". Being in the dualistic mood as I was at the time, this fit the bill perfectly. In Felicity's baby blessing, I made a careful point of telling her that from the ashes of bitterness grows happiness and that, in our world of opposition in all things, one cannot be understood without the other.

Second, Mary is a Latin name that means "star of the sea". This meaning will have greater value once we discuss Seren's name.

Mae, then, refers to two of the most important women in the Bible. The first is obviously Mary who, through the 'bitterness' of child birth, gave life to the Savior of the world who would repair the breach in our Heavenly Father's Plan of Happiness. The second is Miriam, the prophetess of Israel during Moses's time. Miriam gets some interesting face time in the Bible. For example, in , she is placed alongside Aaron and Moses: “And I brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, and I sent before you Moses, and Aaron, and Miriam.” After the Israelites were delivered from Egypt and Pharoah's armies were drowned, Miriam wrote a couplet that Moses sang to the men and Miriam sang to the women. Miriam was the General Relief Society President. :)

By the way, I love calling her 'Lici Mae'. I think it's cute.

Serend Rachelle Cummings

Contrary to popular belief, Seren's name doesn't refer to the poisonous gas, sarin, but there are times when changing any child's diaper that that assertion could be challenged (there was a cute joke in our family for a while about when someone smelled 'seren gas'). It also is not a derivative of Sarah and is not pronounced Se-REN. Such are the trials when you completely make the name up.

'Serend' is a shortening of the word 'serendipity'. It's meaning is roughly 'unexpected happiness' or 'happy accident' (we will get to the there's-much-more-to-it section shortly). I remember proposing this to Kristi in the car just a day or so after we found out that we were having twins. The idea of having our one "expected baby" be called "happiness" and the unexpected twin called "unexpected happiness" was intoxicating. After that, we could never come up with a boy-boy combination that we liked (I really liked Joshua and Caleb, but we had unfortunately already used Joshua), and so I'm really happy that it turned out to be two girls. :) (We, of course, being crazy people waited until they were born to find out the gender.)

We shortened it because Kristi is always concerned about low-hanging fruit for teasers. One of the first things that she does (which I think is not a good practice, but maybe that's because I'm a guy) is thinks of all the possible taunts that could be derived from the name. In the case of 'Serendipity', Kristi latched onto 'dipity doo' and my hope for having a Serendipity in the family was over.

We went with Seren. Later on, I would convince Kristi to put a 'd' on the end for anagram purposes that I will talk about later on.

Back to 'serendipity,' though. The meaning of the word is much richer than just "unexpected happiness". It was actually voted one of the ten hardest words to translate in the English language. Serendipity is "a propensity for making fortunate discoveries while looking for something unrelated". It relates back to a letter written by Horace Walpole wherein he explains a Persian fairy tale--The Three Princes of Serendip--where the three princes were constantly making "happy accident"-type discoveries.

Seren's middle name is 'Rachelle'. The name we were aiming for was 'Rochelle', but it had to be changed for anagram purposes that I will talk about later on. Thus, the true meaning of Seren's middle name lies in the origins of 'Rochelle'.

'Rochelle', as usual, has two meanings. Its origin in French means 'little rock'. This really has nothing to do with serendipity until we look at the alternative meaning for 'Seren'.

As a total happy accident, 'Seren' also is Welsh for 'star'. After Seren's baby blessing, Kristi's sister Leslie said that she liked that Seren's name means 'little rock star'. :) Actually, the original intent was to add meaning to 'serendipity'. Where some see a 'little rock', the more sagacious among us see a 'star', or, the diamond in the rough.

This adds one last tie between my two daughter's names. They both mean 'star'. Mission accomplished!

Incidentally, there is one more wrinkle to Seren's name due to the unique way that she entered into our family.

See, Lici and Seren came five weeks early. They were about to come anyway (Kristi was on bed rest), but the reason that they came then was because Seren's foot had broken Kristi's water. Once Kristi was all prepped in the delivery room, one of the nurses gasped because the offending foot was actually visible, sticking out from Kristi's body.

We decided that was enough to try and add something original to Seren's name. We thought something to do with dancing would be appropriate.

I decided on an anagram. Unfortunately, there was no 'd' in the name at all, and it would be hard for the anagram to be about dancing without it. Kristi conceded, and 'Seren' became 'Serend'. It also had no 'a', so 'Rochelle' became 'Rachelle'.

While a little corny, I rearranged the letters in "I, Serend Rachelle Cummings" to:

Miss Chill Merengue Dancer

For some reason, I've had questions about Merengue and Chill. 'Merengue' is a style of dance. 'Chill' is an urban adjective meaning 'awesome', 'sweet', or otherwise 'stellar'. People just need to read the dictionary more often.

Baby #5

There are a number of boy names that I like for either first or middle name:

* Dathan, (rhymes with Nathan) a Hebrew name meaning 'source'
* Sawyer, a carpenter
* Sinclair, derived from Saint Clair, or 'holy light'
* Clive or Staples, but not both, the name of C. S. Lewis
* Finlay, a Gaelic name meaning 'fair-haired courageous one'

For a girl, I think that Kristi will want 'Hailey'. When we got married, she mentioned that she really wanted to have a 'Hailey' one day. A 'leigh' is a meadow, so 'Hailey' means 'hay meadow'. Recently, a "hey-hay" inside joke was developed between us and our kids, so, I think that having the middle name mean 'hey' would be cute. Here are some names that relate to that:

* Aspasia, a Greek name meaning 'welcome'
* Salome, a name related to the Hebrew greeting 'Shalom', which means 'blessing'

Dunno, what do you think?

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01 November 2010

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Halloween Costume Ideas: My Five Nerdiest Costumes

Halloween is a difficult time for me. My heart says, "Dress up as something really nerdy!" whereas my head says, "If you do that, you'll be explaining it to non-nerds all day long!" On Halloween, my heart usually wins.

So, just in case there are any super-nerds out there, here are my five nerdiest costumes ever:

1997 - The Information Super Highway

We were sitting at Grandma and Grandpa Cummings's house, trying to decide what I should dress up as for Halloween. I had always tried to be something clever--I mean, in the third grade, I was a garbage can, and what could be more clever than that?--but this year I hadn't been able to think of anything at all.

Actually, my wife will attest today that last-minute costumes are my specialty, but that is because I am no longer a teen with gobs of time to obsess for weeks over minutiae like the best Halloween costume (no offense to any teen that is reading this). Now, I have to obsess for weeks over the best Halloween costumes for my kids.

Anyway, we kids were just getting a flavor for the Internet back then. My Dad first brought a Juno CD home back in 1995, and we set up our first email accounts. No one emailed me, of course, because no one else had an email address. I was even an uber-nerd back then: my email address was jzheauxoughsieph@juno.com. Jared would email me, but he was a nerd, too.

Back then, though, we'd call it the Information Superhighway. So, I got this idea. We had a couple of little stuffed animals that we'd won at a fair or something. I also had some black sweats and some packaging tape. Donning the black sweats, I placed strips of tape down the center to look like t
he dividing line on the highway. Then, we pinned the duck and another animal to the "highway". Voila! To make it that much better, we took my unicycle and painted the tire white, then rolled the tire over the duck so it was clear that the animals had been hit by careless Republicans.

Then, to make it the information superhighway, I took one of the covers from my circuit board journal (yes, I had a journal with real circuit boards as the covers), and taped that on one of my legs. It kept falling off, but that was kind of the nature of computers back then anyway since they were all running Microsoft Windows.

So, that year, I got my first taste of having to explain my costume to someone, namely, my grandma.

(No animals were harmed during the production of this costume.)

2003 - Barcode

This Halloween was just one month before Kristi and I were married. This idea occurred to me a couple of weeks before, but I didn't do anything about it until the morning of. Kristi was about to find out how important a good Halloween costume was to me.

With white sweats this time, I placed masking tape horizontally across the top and bottom except in the appropriate place for the barcode numbers. I used black paint of come sort for the bars and numbers and white paint for my face (the picture shown doesn't have the face paint). Then, I took the masking tape off.

To Kristi's chagrin, I also painted my tennis shoes white.

The white face paint turned out to be a bad idea since they hadn't invented teeth-whitening toothpaste at that point in history.

Most popular question that year: "Hey, does that bar code really work?"

2008 - A Java Virtual Machine

In an attempt to talk to one another about very abstract programming concepts, programmers give metaphorical names to them. For example, the process that a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) undertakes to retrieve unused or orphaned memory from a running process is called "Garbage Collection". This term was invented before Al Gore's movie, otherwise it might be called "Recycling Collection". How terribly silly we were back then.

This costume takes advantage of many of those terms to make a costume out of an incredibly complex thing. Let's look at it step by step:

White sticker that says '.NET Sucks' - Rivalries exist even (especially!) in programming. The nerds who like the Java programming language, like myself, like to make fun of its closest competitor, .NET, particularly because it is produced by Microsoft. Naturally, then, a ".NET sucks sticker" would be only appropriate for the JVM.

Bean jar - Since 'java' is coffee, the things that are managed by the JVM are often individually referred to as beans. (ha ha) When several beans are bundled together in a compressed archive for distribution, it is called a jar. Thus, the jar of beans in my hand.

Dust pan - Garbage collection

Juggling balls - This is what made the costume awesome. You have probably recognized that programs sometimes generate (only?) errors. Sometimes, they are errors caused by the user inputting something incorrect while other times some part of the internal system has broken down. In all cases, the JVM can throw exceptions that then need to be handled by the running application.

Different exceptions have different names. For example, if the program tries to read something from memory and it fails, the JVM will probably throw an IOException, meaning "input-output exception".

So, I took little pieces of address label, and wrote "IOException," "NullPointerException," etc. on them, and brought them with me as well. Throughout the day, I would randomly throw them at people and tell them I was just throwing exceptions. Very therapeutic. The best idea ever.

2009 - Code Nazi

If you ever watched Seinfeld, you probably saw or heard of "The Soup Nazi". I'm not sure if the expression "the (insert word here) nazi" to describe a strict and aggressive authority on (insert word here) was invented on Seinfeld or not, but for a while it seemed like everyone was a seatbelt nazi, a policy nazi, or a jello nazi. A "code nazi," then, is someone who is an over-the-top enforcer on good coding practices.

The red bands were red cloth napkins that Kristi so kindly went out and bought for me that morning. I took some white cloth and cut out a circle, printed out "0101" on heat press paper, and then ironed the 0101 onto the white circles. Then, we glued the 0101 circles to the red bands, put on a military-looking business-casual shirt and voila! it's a disturbing, yet funny, nerd costume.

Costumes like these are especially funny when you work for a super-conservative organization like the LDS Church.

The only real problem with it was telling the kids what I was dressed up as.

2010 - The Phantom Reference

This was definitely the hardest costume to put together, and it was also the nerdiest. Yes, I painted all of that on my face by myself. Okay, with the help of some instructions I found online.

I actually think that this costume escaped many nerds as well because they just weren't quite nerdy enough.

So, back to garbage collection. The JVM maintains a table of entries that point to locations in memory that a running application uses to store information for later use. These pointers are also called references. There are different levels of references that the garbage collector uses to decide which references are more eligible for garbage collection, like a priority list. The list goes: Strong Reference (ineligible for garbage collection), Soft Reference (kind of eligible), Weak Reference (more eligible), Phantom Reference (basically being collected right now).

You see the genius now, don't you? The arrows on my head are pointers to locations in memory, and I am a "Phantom Reference" (as opposed to the Phantom Menace).

Plus, I got to attack random programmers with my two-headed light saber.

26 October 2010

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Baby Names: Why my boy's name is a sentence

As many of you may know, we will be having our fifth baby in just a few months (February 28th). I just recently got over the fact that next year isn't 2012, so there is no chance of the baby being born on Leap Day, so please don't bring it up.

With it being right around the corner, I've started reflecting on what kinds of names I like.

No, we're not finding out (at least until the baby is born), so we're doubling our work to come up with good boy and girl names.

Yes, our kids have very unique names. Did you know, for example, that Remi's full name is a sentence?

Joshua Remington Cummings

No, he wasn't named after the gun as hilarious as that would be now that we live in Herriman, UT.

Our first child was born in August 2004. We knew this name a couple weeks before he was born. Originally, we were going to go with "Joseph Remington Cummings," but, as you will find out, it's all about the meaning of the name for me.

Back when I was in high school, I liked to listen to John Bytheway (actually, I still do). He tells a great story about when he was in the 7th grade learning about prepositional phrases when, in a moment, it dawned on him that "Bytheway" is a prepositional phrase: "By the way". That meant that if he had a kid and gave her a middle name that was a verb, her name would be a sentence; "Sally Ran Bytheway". Thus, a life goal was set. My first child's name would be a sentence.

Of course, I didn't want my children to resent such an obviously geeky maneuver by "loving" parents, so I decided that I would encode it somehow (which, of course, makes it 10 times geekier, but, hey).

While we were looking through baby name books and websites, we found the name 'Remington'. The name's meaning is very, very important to me, and so we looked it up. It turns out that hremm is the Old English for raven. ing means 'people of' and ton means town. ington was often attached to the end of a people, group, or individual. For example, Washington means 'Wassa's place' or 'from Wassa's place' or 'from the place of Wassa'. Thus, Remington means 'Raven's place' (if Raven were a person's name) or 'from Raven's place'. It could also be 'from the raven's place' since 'raven' also refers to the bird.

If you've put two and two together, you will see that Remington, when translated back into Old English, is a prepositional phrase. Eureka! Now, all I need is a noun for the first name, and we are set!

For that, we turn to Hebrew. Lots of transliterated Hebrew names start with Jos. Josiah, Joseph, and Joshua are just a few. Also, incidentally, many end in iah for the same reason, like Jeremiah, Obadiah, Zedekiah, etc. 'Jos' is a transliteration of 'Yeh' (or 'Yesh'), which refers to 'Yehovah', or Jehovah, Savior, Lord, etc. The 'shua' comes from the Hebrew word 'yasha' meaning salvation, help, deliverance, etc.

One of the practices that was common in ancient Hebrew was to take to words and lexically intertwine them as an indication that the two concepts were inseparable. An example is the name 'Abinadi'. The name for father in Hebrew is 'Ab' and the name for son is 'Bin'. Common Hebrew practice might have lead a mother to name their child 'Abin' in order to manifest her assertion that father and son are intertwined, just like the words 'Ab' and 'Bin' have been lexically joined at the hip. Remember Mosiah 15:3 where Abinadi teaches that the Father and Son are one?

Anyway, this could be what was done with the name Yeshua. Take the word Yesh and the word Yasha and join the 'sh' to get Yeshua. Or, 'God IS salvation', 'God IS help', etc. as opposed to 'God is help' or 'God is salvation'. The implication is clear: God himself is inseparable from the concept of help and salvation.

Now, let's put them together:

Joshua = God is help
+ Remington = From the raven's home
Joshua Remington = God is help from the raven's home

Success! You'll notice that I took some poetic license and used 'home' instead of 'place', but I think that's fair. He is my son, thank you very much. :)

The meaning of the name as a whole is poignant. There are a couple of instances in the Bible where raven's were important to providing help/temporal salvation to prophets. One is in Genesis when Noah sends out ravens to try and find branches, etc. After that, he sends the dove. Another is that ravens fed Elijah during a famine. The message is clear: God uses raven's to help his prophets, and God will use my son (as he can use all of us) to help them, too.

As a quick aside, you may notice that the name 'Jesus' doesn't follow any of the standard Hebrew norms norms. It starts with a J, but not 'Jos'. That's because the word Jesus is a transliteration of the Greek name Iesous (remember that the New Testament that we have was translated from the Greek). Jesus's name, as spoken by his contemporaries, was probably the Aramaic name Jeshua, which, in turn, would be Yeshua or Joshua in Hebrew.

There are a zillion other reasons why Joshua is a cool name, including the Biblical history of Joshua of Israel.

Needless to say, we did well.

Isaac Samuel Cummings

Our second son was born in June 2006. This time, Kristi and I each wrote down ten names first names that we liked for each gender. We considered several. Everett, Aidan, Zachary, etc.

We liked Zachary Aidan Cummings for several reasons. First, it is lexically cool because his short name, Zac, would also be his initials Z.A.C. That would distinguish his nerdy name from his sentence-bearing nerdy brother, too. The meaning was also neat. Zachary is a Hebrew name that means 'The Lord remembers' (zakar = remember, iah = Jehovah => Zechariah, or Zachary). Aidan is Gaelic for 'Little fire'. Since we banked on having all redheads, we thought the name 'The Lord remembers Little Fire' would be cute.

But we didn't.

Instead, we did something cooler. See, there is another name that has that 'zak' sound in it. That name is Isaac. Isaac is an interesting Hebrew name because it isn't a juxtaposition of two Hebrew names, but instead it is just one word in the present third-person:
Yitschaq or 'he laughs'. He harks back to when Abraham and Sarah were told that they would have a son at their old age and Sarah laughed at the prospect, considering herself too old to carry a child. (I also like to think that the Bible very patriarchal, according to their culture, and the fact that Sarah might have also laughed in happiness might not have been conveyed through the written word. That's the gospel by Josh, though.)

We liked Isaac because we liked the idea of calling him 'Zac' for short. Now, instead of a juxtaposition, we create a bifurcation. (I've always wanted to use that word in a sentence.) 'Zac' points both to the Hebrew name that means 'he laughs' and the Hebrew name that means 'the Lord remembers'. While there is a possibly ominous way to look at the connection of meanings, we prefer the happier one: When ever we laugh (or cry, or speak, or wonder), the Lord remembers. The two names are joined externally by the common short name instead of internally with a longer name.

Isaac was also neat because of a number of people from history that I respect. The first is Isaac from the Bible for his bravery and loyalty. The second is Isaac Cummings, the brave soul that immigrated to the United States in the 1600s. The third is Isaac Newton, the very shy but brilliant mathematician and physicist that played a key role in making our modern world possible. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of information on only the first and last individuals. I'm not aware of too many historical documents regarding Isaac Cummings, our immigrant ancestor.

Even though it would mean two Hebrew names, we really liked Samuel. There are a couple of possibilities for translation. The suffix 'el' refers to God. Bethel = house of God, Ariel = lion of God, etc. 'Sam' refers to the word shama meaning 'to hear'. When translated as the past-participle, we get
Shĕmuw'el or 'heard of God'.

If you remember those on the ark with Noah, you will remember that one of his sons was 'Shem', which looks a lot like the beginning of the Hebrew form of Samuel. One of the translations of 'shem' is like the word 'heard'; it means 'renowned' or 'known' or 'named'. You can see the semantic tie between someone who is heard and someone who is renowned. So, a possible translation of Samuel (perhaps I am taking poetic license, though) is 'renowned of God' or 'named of God'.

The point is that Isaac's name is a chorus of ancient meanings that remind us that we are God's children. We are renowed of Him, and he is aware of our laughs, our cries, our hopes, and our dreams. 'He laughs and God hears him', 'God remembers for my boy is renowned of Him'.

To be continued...

Alright, I should get to work. It looks like this will need to be a part one. I'll let you about our other two kids and about what names we might have for our new little one later!
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25 October 2010

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Teaching Your Computer to Write Your Sacrament Meeting Talks

(This post is inspired by a great post by Orson Scott Card regarding lousy sacrament meeting talks. (Which post, incidentally, was very hard to find since the search box on mormontimes.com is broken.))

So, I'm not sure about you, but it seems to me that there are a number of "musts" when it comes to giving a sacrament meeting talk, at least in Utah. When following these "musts" you can easily take up 5 minutes of your 15-minute talk without actually talking about the topic.

The three lousy talk musts

First, you must tell some story about how you received the assignment to give the talk. This will take up a minimum of 30 seconds (e.g. I was just mowing my lawn on Wednesday when I got a call from Brother So-and-so to give a talk this Sunday) and could very well take up your whole 5-minute pre-talk.

Second, you must tell a joke. It would be better to make sure that the joke has nothing to do with the topic since that might end your pre-talk earlier than you intended. Again, there is great flexibility here and, if you don't have a good how-I-received-the-assignment story, a great joke could easily take 5 minutes.

Third, you must mention what Webster's Dictionary has to say about the word. It might be hard to make the pre-talk part of this extend 5 minutes, so you will definitely want to focus on the first two.

(To read more on the above, do check out Card's article with the link at the top.)

After you include a few general authority quotes and scriptures, you're done!

So easy, my computer can do it

To demonstrate the facility of accomplishing these three items, I have harnessed the computing power of natural language generation and recursive transition networks (that's not a mouthful at all) to generate sacrament talks for me. Here is an example of a talk that it created for me in about 500 milliseconds:

I was just washing my dog last Thursday when Brother Wu invited me to give a
talk on repentance in sacrament meeting this Sunday. (turn to bishopric)
Thanks, Brother Wu! Thank you for bearing with me as I try to express you my
findings on the topic.

I want you all to raise up your left hand. Now lower it. Now you can all say
that you've been uplifted by my talk today. I heard that in a sacrament meeting
in Monticello and got a kick out of it, so thanks for letting me share that
with you.

I decided to look up repentance in the dictionary. One definition that caught
me off guard reminded me of something J. Golden Kimball clarified to us in the
April 1946 session of General Conference: "If you will remember to repent in
your every thought, you will you will increase in truth and light."

Mosiah 3:4 admonishes us that to repent, we must also have charity. I like how
J. Remington Cummings expressed to us in the October 1946 session of General
Conference: "repent and have charity. One cannot be enjoyed without the other."

May we all try today to repent. I know that the Church is true. I know that the
Book of Mormon is written for our day. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Not bad, eh?

(Warning: The techie part of the article is now beginning.)

RTN and NLG: Are those two new Church abbreviations?

A recursive transition network is a way to describe a specific language domain via a template. (There is much more to doing good natural language generation, but I won't talk about that here.) "Lousy sacrament talks" are just one of those language domains where the expressions used are typical enough that we can list the majority of them and create a human-sounding text that varies widely at each instantiation.

For example, take the first pre-talk point: Telling everyone how you got the topic and that you sooo didn't want to speak today. It typically involves mentioning the member of the bishopric that gave you the topic and what you were doing at the time when you got the call.

Here is what my very basic template looks like for the first sentence in my talk generator:

bishop: "I was just " doing-something " last " day-of-week " when " off=local-official " " issued " me to give a talk on " top=topic " " talk-when ". " sarcasm "! Thank you for " conciliatory-attitude " as I " non-yoda " to " transmit-to " you my " mental-construct " on the " subject "." ;

Whatever is in the quotes, like "I was just ", is always printed out. Whatever isn't, like doing-something, is another part of the template that the program looks up.

Here is what doing-something looks like:

doing-something: "mowing my lawn" | "at my kid's soccer game" | "washing my dog" | "watching tv" | "surfing the net" | "reading a book" ;

So, the idea is that the program can randomly choose between any of those options.

If you put the two ideas together, you can get a very complex-looking rule like the one for the first made-up quote:

future-blessing: "be blessed" | "have " the-spirit " with you" | positive-inner-change " in truth and " desirable-characteristic | find positive-difference inner-power " in your life for " reason-for-power ;

Given enough time and rules (the existing "lousy sacrament talk" RTN took me 30 minutes to write up), one could fool most listeners.

Of course, a good sacrament meeting talk would be extremely difficult for a computer since good sacrament meeting talks typically involve the personal experiences, devotions, and reflections of the individual speaking. Precisely what makes a good sacrament meeting talk is also what would be particularly difficult for a computer: Being human. That language domain is obviously much more diverse.

So, where are recursive transition networks useful?

RTNs are used in a lot of places. The most basic is when a computer will take a set of data and give the reader/listener an English version of that data. You see examples of it when you step into an elevator and it says "Going up" or "Going down" depending on which floor button you press when you get in.

A more complicated example would be a computer reading the temperature over the next 5 days and saying "It's gonna be a hot one today at 83 degrees, but things will cool off a bit by the weekend to 69 degrees." You use an RTN to vary the "language glue" bit and make the forecast sound more realistic. For example, an RTN would teach the computer that the phrase above is just as valid as "It'll be on the hot side today as the high will approach 83, but we'll cool back down by the weekend to 69." What the computer needs is 1) to know the temperature, 2) to know the average temperature for this time of year, 3) to know that the weekend is within the 5-day period, and 4) to know common vernacular surrounding weather forecasts.


So, may the thought of RTNs being able to replace a significant portion of our pre-talk inspire us to simply speak more like ourselves when at the podium and less like a person trying to postpone the inevitable: Giving the rest of the talk. I know that if we do this, more hearts will be knit together and more cherrios will be better spent.
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