Archive for November, 2005

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20 Greatest Geek Novels Since 1934

November 26, 2005

For those of us who ascribe to Geekness, or just have geekness thrust upon them, this site has a list of the final tally for the most Geekly novels of all time. I don’t really agree with all of them, but knowing my penchant for disagreeing with just about any list ever devised (except the ten commandments…I agree with those) it is amazing that I agree with over half of them, and have read 10 of the 20.

But, I would add the following if I were to make a great Geek list of books:

1. Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card
2. Uplift series – David Brin
3. Ringworld – Larry Niven
4. Lord of the Rings – Tolkien
5. Snow Queen – Joan D. Vinge

A Geek novel is one that combines a great amount of scientific and technology in with a great plot and characterizations. It doesn’t hurt if you can invent things that have never been thought of before. That is why I nominated Vinge and Niven.

Would you add any other novels to the list?

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Appropriate Punishment or Psych Scarring?

November 18, 2005

A tip of the hat to Aaron Mc. for his finding this article for this blog.

This is from MSNBC.

Essentially the article is about a woman whose daughter was not living up to expectations in school. As a punishment, she made her stand out on a street corner with a sign telling passing motorists about her laxidasical attitude about school. The bottom of the sign told the motorists she was practicing for her future profession. I assume she means panhandling.

Read the article and then tell me what you think. As a counselor, I take issue with what the psychologists said in the article. Most of them talk about scarring this child for life. First off, a 14-year old is not psychologically a child. Anyone who can reproduce is not a child. Perhaps an inexperienced adult, but not emotionally a child. You don’t scar a teenager like you scar a child. By 14, the child is gone, the adult is emerging. There are very few formative ideas that a 14-year old has. Believe me, as far as they are concerned, they know everything. Now, up to this point, I have been speaking as a psychologist. In psych terms, she is an adult. There is no scarring that can happen. I get annoyed at those in the profession who take the opportunity to be interviewed by a newspaper as license to forget everything studied in school.

On the other hand, I think this is a ridiculous punishment. How long do you think this will motivate the child? My guess is about one semester. I agree with one person in the article who said that positive reinforcement works better than this. If she struggles with shame already, this will only serve to reinforce the lie that she is shameful. If she struggles with fear, it will reinforce the fear that she will fail in life. If she struggles with the lie of independence (ie. that she doesn’t need anyone else) it will reinforce the idea that she can achieve things without being responsible to anyone.

Triggering lies does not do anything besides reinforce them. It would be better for her to deal with time management, life management and perhaps get rid of the television. But, those are how I raised my kids. I don’t live in this woman’s neighborhood and my kids didn’t struggle with what she did. I admire this mother for trying hard to make something for her daughter. I am concerned that it sends her daughter a mixed message. “I love you, but I will shame you if you don’t perform.”

What do you think?

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My Money is in Russia

November 15, 2005

I got the call from my wife just as I ended 21 hours of teaching at a week-long retreat. She had been listening to the messages on our home phone as she took the Veteran’s Day break from her school nurse job. The message was from the Fraud Division of Wells-Fargo Bank. They wanted to know if we had made certain withdrawals on our bank account during the last week. I was the only one using that account (via my ATM card) and while I had been at the conference, I hadn’t used it. As I went online to check the charges, the horror revealed itself: They had removed over $2,500 from my checking account!

We have pieced together the details and when all the dust settled, I found out that someone in Russia is taking money out of my account at approximately a $300 per day habit. The bank and I tried to figure out what happened and the most likely scenario is that I was a victim of fraud at the Salt Lake City airport. The method they used for the fraud is called “skimming”. You can read more about it here.  Here is what the crooks did. They place a false front on the ATM machine. When I tried to use it, I slid my card through the card reader and it said it could read my card but there was a malfunction. A camera placed near the machine spots me typing in my PIN identification code. Then, when I leave, the information is transferred to a blank card and is sold on the black market in Europe (in my case, Russia). With the PIN, they can access it anywhere in Europe until the card is cancelled.

The Sacramento Bee has run several stories this week on the many types of ATM card fraud. One popular scam is operated by unscrupulous employees of legitimate businesses. While you are not looking, they read your card through a second card reader under the counter. That card reader can then be attached later to a computer and they add your PIN number to it.

I was given three great hints as to how you can foil these efforts:

  1. Always remove cash from Bank ATM machines only.
  2. Feel the slot to make sure there is nothing plastic inside of it.
  3. Always put your hand over the PIN pad to make sure no person or camera can see you inputting your code.


Wells Fargo has been very helpful at getting my money back. They also caught the fraud in the first place, assuming I guess that I couldn’t be taking money out in Salt Lake and Moscow within two hours of each other. Nice catch for a bank.

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Can Arguing and Love Go Together?

November 3, 2005

I grew up loving, even needing, a good argument. My father was a excellent debater, and my mother soon learned how to keep up with him: Challenge him whenever he pontificated. Dad would often throw out quotes from books he had only skimmed or articles he had only glanced at. Mom found challenging him was better than debating him, and it humbled Dad to the point where he had to actually prove his point instead of bullying his way through.

Into that milieu, my brother, sister and I were born. The dinner table was an open season on ideas, opinions and even, occasionally, facts. My poor wife, after coming to a dinner at our house one night, was horrified at the seeming anger that everyone displayed. Yet, I didn’t see any anger at all: We were glorying in the “game”, the interplay and replay of ideas and theories.

All of us in our family are idealists in the Myers/Briggs tradition, which means that we really don’t know what we’re thinking until it comes out of our mouths. Then, if others have the guts to interact with us, we hone and fashion our ideas to a much sharper place. My wife grew up thinking that a person’s stated opinion was their final position (as in, “Is that your final answer?”), so she rarely, if ever challenged my bold statements. It left me confused and surprisingly annoyed.

But, I also have to admit that I fell into the trap of being a bully and pedantic. This turned people off, and it certainly didn’t foster good communication of Biblical Truth. So I found that it was best to back off.

But the Blogosphere has erupted, for lack of a better word, and has given rise to a host of discussions, arguments and debates on virtually any subject. This is my kind of forum. But, as in any discussion of human affairs, the debates can get ugly. How is a Christian to comport themself in this kind of arena?

John Wilson has written a good article for Christianity Today, where he outlines a recent series of lectures on modern culture at Whitworth College in Spokane. The speakers all dealt with highly controversial topics, but did so with a brand of humility that was refreshing to Wilson. After viewing their style, he came up with some absolute values we must maintain when we are engaging people in arguments: (1) humility; (2) love; (3) patience; and (4) commitment balanced with openness.

HUMILITY: That is the willingness to admit that you don’t have all the answers.
LOVE: The determination to count the potential relationship as just as important as the goal to express Truth.
PATIENCE: The goal of any argument may seem to lie in convincing others to believe what we believe. That is a worthy goal. But to get there, we must travel through the land of Understanding first. No one will come to agree with us until they clearly understand us…and until they know we are understanding them. This takes time and often more patience than we are willing to allot. Our unstated goals are often to get someone to acquiesce quickly so we can go onto other matters.
COMMITMENT BALANCED WITH OPENNNESS: If I enter into a discussion, I commit to listening with an open heart. This is often hard for those who claim to believe Absolute Truth. But remember, just because we believe in absolute Truth, does not mean we are the sole proprietor of it. There is much that we do not know about even the simplest concept.

If I personally struggle with any of these it is the patience part. I have a mental clock that is always pushing me to the next appointment. I will often post arguments or rebuttals on other blogs and then not return for days to pick up the point of the discussion. This is patently unfair to others who want to discuss ideas. I admit my error in this. If I have done it to anyone here, I apologize.

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The Beatitudes of the Christian Far Right

November 3, 2005

If the Christian Far Right had their way, the Beattitudes of Matthew 5 might look like this:

Lazy are the Poor in Society, for they can’t see that if they were in the will of God, they’d be rich by now.

Sentimental are they who mourn, for don’t they know that we’ll see that person in heaven…pull it together, this is a Joyous “sending out” day.

Useless are the Meek, for they let the Democrats have all the great Mall marches.

Important are those who hunger and thirst for self-righteousness, for they shall be elected to write all our laws.

Traitors are the Merciful, for can’t they see that it’s a waste of God’s money to feed people in countries where they can’t even contribute to the Coalition.

Annoying are the Pure in Heart, for they keep talking about ethics. Talk to Bill Clinton and his womanizing heart, and stop pointing out how Pat Robertson issued a Fatwah against an elected South American President.

Wimpy are the Peacemakers, for they’re being duped by the Ecumenical Movement.

Blessed are you if you are persecuted for right-thinking’s sake, for you will get Justice if we appoint Pat, Pat and Jerry to the Supreme Court.

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Great Advice on the Housing Bubble

November 1, 2005

Greg McBride has some great advice about the possibility of getting caught in the crash of the housing bubble here in California. Here are five things that will protect you:

First, don’t borrow against home equity. This means no taking out of home equity lines of credit to pay off credit card bills, no cash-out mortgage refinancing to fix up the house, and, by all means, no tapping home equity to pay for summer vacation. This is a drastic measure, I know, but these are desperate times, my friends. Home equity has a much lower after-tax cost than credit card debt or other forms of debt, but the cushion provided by home equity will be invaluable when home prices decline. The bottom line on debt consolidations is that it just shifts the debt, it doesn’t reduce the debt. If you managed to get yourself in a little too deep on the credit card debt, it’s time to figure out how to get out of it. And not by relying on home equity borrowing.

The second rule is to build equity through principal repayment. Interest-only and option ARM borrowers, I’m talking to you. Every month, a larger portion of your monthly payment should be going toward reducing the principal on your loan, and if it isn’t, then you’re doing something wrong. This leads into my next point.

Making steady progress on paying down the balance is largely dependent upon having a loan with a fixed rate. Therefore, we have rule No. 3: It is time to move away from adjustable rates. There is nothing worse than the payments increasing when the value of the home is declining. This means refinancing out of the short-term adjustable-rate loan that pressures your budget and retards the process of building equity through principal repayment as interest rates climb and getting into a fixed-rate mortgage or hybrid ARM where the fixed-rate period is no less than seven years. Why so long? I’ll come back to this point later on.

First-time home buyers are especially vulnerable to a downturn in home prices because of minimal down payments and the lack of established equity that buyers rolling over from a previous home would have. Small down payments and large loan balances increase the likelihood of relying on interest-only loans and the like for affordability. So the message to first-time buyers, and rule No. 4, is this: Make a larger down payment. If you don’t have the scratch for a down payment and you can’t afford to borrow with a fixed-rate mortgage — don’t buy. It’s that simple.

The fifth rule is to live in your home for the longer haul. Whenever you’re upside down on a car because you owe more than it is worth, the cure-all is to literally drive your way out of it by keeping the car until the loan balance falls below the market value. Be prepared to do the same with a new-home purchase. If your feeling is that you’re going to move in three years, it is time to make plans for other contingencies. Can you afford a mortgage that offers a fixed rate for a longer period, such as a 10/1 ARM or a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage? If not, continue renting. The transaction costs of buying and selling are steep, and any downturn in price over such a short holding period will clobber the unsuspecting buyer.

The home is first and foremost where you live. Get past the “my home is an investment” mentality to protect against the bursting bubble. The home is indeed an investment, but a long-term investment. Treating it as such will vanquish many of the worries about a bursting bubble.

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Missionaries Running in Venezuela

November 1, 2005

To the rest of the world who don’t know history, this story seems unique. This last weekend, Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela began ordering missionaries out of his country, claiming they are agents of the CIA. This kind of thing happens all the time around the world (i.e. giving bogus excuses for removing missionaries). But what makes this distinctive is how totally misguided it is and how the blame can be laid completely on the shoulders of one man: Pat Robertson.

Read about what happened in this Fox News article.

Two things bother me about this article and the repercussions about the removal. First, I am annoyed at Fox News. Generally, they take the “American” side of a news story and give the benefit of the doubt to religious and politically conservative groups (Fair and Balanced they aren’t…but who is). However, they totally mess up this story. I don’t know if the staff writer even read what he wrote afterwards. In the first part of the article, he interviews several people who say that the New Tribes missionaries are guilty of living way above the level of the people they work with, that they use the best materials and give nothing back. Then, later they interview the people that the missionaries work with and the tribal people are in horror that they’re leaving. My response is to ask how Fox News could report this so asininely. New Tribes always lives primitively. They never “lord” it over their charges. They are the ones who put this tribal language into print. They feed the hungry with their own money. Even the government admits this. Fox News ought to fire, or at least chastise, this reporter.

But I am really angry at Pat Robertson. His comments about Hugo Chavez (i.e. that we should send a hit squad in to kill him) only inflamed the situation for any Christians living in the country. The fact that he claims to have been misquoted and yet copies of his own program reveal he wasn’t show Robertson to be a liar, opportunist and charlatan. He should keep his yawning trap shut from now on, and go back to studying the Bible instead of the political pages. It bugs me too that when there is a “religious” issue or a political issue with Christian overtones, that they always go to him and Dobson for comments.

As if the rest of us want to be associated with their dunderhead opinions masquerading as well-thought-out theology.

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