Favourite blogs for Hannah's handbag

My favourites » All entries

September 29, 2006

Skype

Writing about web page http://www.skype.com/

So that I can help out and experiment with Steve’s video streaming experiments, I’ve got a lovely new webcam sitting on top of my monitor (it’s a Logitech Quickcam Ultra Vision).

So far the video streaming stuff is pretty cool, but as we don’t have a University-wide IM system (let alone one that supports video), we are left with the likes of MSN and Skype.

I’ve signed up to Skype now and tried one or two test calls so if anyone wants to try it out, trying calling me (username: kieranshaw)

This is all in preparation for giving my Dad a new webcam when I visit in South Africa next week (yay!) and try to get him to try it out over his not quite full broadband 3G connection they have at the house out there (it’ll probably be rubbish).

Steve’s video stuff will do a great job of allowing recording and video conferencing at set times or in a set chat room, but we don’t yet have an on-demand type solution (except to sign up for Skype or something). Perhaps we should allow people to list their Skype usernames in our email/phone book directories.


September 25, 2006

Getting a project up and running

Follow-up to New online files project from Kieran's blog

Starting a new project is quite intimidating as you start with absolutely nothing. Before you really get going you’ve got to get the following stuff together:

  1. A JIRA project (this is our great bug tracking software from Atlassian)
  2. A CVS project (gotta backup that code)
  3. A basic project structure in Eclipse (need to ensure you can easily build multiple distributions from a single code base)
  4. An Ant build.xml file to build the project…even though there’s not really got much to build yet…there will soon
  5. All the basic Jar files you’re going to need, such as Spring and the like

Once you’ve got the basic project infrastructure in place, you might actually be able to write some code. Some people might say that you’ll have to write a spec first, but that’s not how we do things. We are very keen to get things out the door because we and our users don’t really know what they want until they start using stuff. This works well for us as we’re pretty good at being responsive to our users’ needs and can keep the project nice and easy to refactor and change as we go along.

Being a good boy, I’m making sure that I’ve got lots of tests right from the start. This kind of project is basically all about files so the key thing that it would be nice to get right first time is how to model the file system. It is worth spending a bit of time on the really key parts of the system as you could refactor this later on, but you really wouldn’t want to.

Whilst this very early coding and infrastructure work is going on, it is quite hard to have more than one person working on the project. Once there is a bit more meat to the project someone else can start to get a bit more involved and start something like the file download part of the project. In the mean time it’s worth doing some things that can be done in parallel. A couple of things we have going on in the background are:

  1. The visual/graphic design work is starting to be looked at by Hannah
  2. Looking into how we might implement certain file system protocols is being done by Sarah

Although it’s only a couple of days in, I already have some reasonably good code for basic file management and file upload, but not much in the way of a web interface for it yet, except a basic file upload and file listings page.


September 20, 2006

New online files project

After working on Single Sign On and BlogBuilder and various other smaller projects on and off over the last couple of years, I have a big new project to get my teeth into.

Basically we (me and Sarah) are reworking how members of the University can get at their files over the web and send and receive large files given the restrictions and problems with emailing large files.

The full scope of the project is not yet known so I couldn’t just list all of the features that the system will have. However, our basic goals are:

  • Upload files to a web based file store (and of course then download them so that you can get at them at home easily)
  • Set permisisons on those files (based around our SSO and WebGroups system)
  • Be able to send other users files that you’ve uploaded so that they get a link to the file to download over the web
  • Allow non-Warwick users to send you large files that you won’t be able to get over email

There is a lot more possible detail in these features that we’ve had a think about already, but a lot of the finer decisions are yet to be taken.

We like to do things in a fairly agile way so that we get out working software quite quickly and then rapidly improve it based on testing and user feedback. This means hopefully there’ll be something to see relatively quickly (but don’t expect miracles) and it’ll improve with new versions all the time.

I’ll be writing about our progress here and giving some insights into how projects like this get built here at E-Lab.


September 13, 2006

Implementing the Atom Publishing Protocol

Writing about web page http://www.ietf.org/html.charters/atompub-charter.html

Yesterday I did a deploy of BlogBuilder that includes support for the Atom Publishing Protocol (APP). What this essentially means is that you can use a desktop client, a web service or your own programming to create, edit and delete entries from a Warwick Blog.

We chose the APP because the other blogging APIs out there are all a bit horrible really and the APP is new and shiny and relatively easy to understand and program for.

The implementation was not without its difficulties. For a start reference clients and servers are very thin on the ground at the moment as the spec is not actually 100% complete (although almost there). This meant a fair bit of time just getting my head around how it worked and sniffing traffic to spot what a working client and server actually did when they talked to each other.

In the end, with the help of the Atomic Client, Tim Bray’s Atom Protocol Exerciser and Elias Torres’s public server implementation I was able to get it all working…and here’s how I did it :)

We already used Rome in places for our Atom/RSS feed creation and parsing. It’s slightly tricky to get it to do everything you need to create an Atom Protocol server as you don’t always need to send and receive whole feeds. Sometimes you’ll just want to parse/create a single entry. This leads to code which manually creates or strips the feed around the single entry so that Rome can then parse it properly… blah.

As we’re a Spring shop here, I used a single MultiActionController to do all of the GET/POST/PUT/DELETE functionality that the Atom Protocol needs. You can easily map incoming requests to the right method with something like this MethodNameResolver:

public class HttpMethodTypeMethodResolver implements MethodNameResolver {

    private Map<String, String> methodMappings;

    public final String getHandlerMethodName(final HttpServletRequest request) throws NoSuchRequestHandlingMethodException {

        String method = request.getMethod().toUpperCase();

        if (methodMappings.containsKey(method)) {
            return methodMappings.get(method);
        }

        throw new NoSuchRequestHandlingMethodException(request);

    }

    public final String[] getSupportedMethods() {
        return methodMappings.keySet().toArray(new String[] {});
    }

    public final Map<String, String> getMethodMappings() {
        return methodMappings;
    }

    public final void setMethodMappings(final Map<String, String> methods) {
        this.methodMappings = methods;
    }

}

Then you just set this up to map your DELETE -> deleteEntry() method and PUT -> updateEntry() method and so on…

Another little thing with Rome is that you have to use the Atom specific parts of the API, you can’t just use the generic SyndFeed/SyndEntry classes as they do not convert to/from the exact Atom markup you need. So instead you need to use the Feed and Entry classes in the com.sun.syndication.feed.atom package.

So far I’ve only tested our implementation against Tim Bray’s APE and the Atomic client (which doesn’t send authentication headers when doing POST/PUT/DELETE operations so we could only really try it out with the GET stuff.

We’ll be trying it out against the new Office 2007 Atom client code later on today so it’ll be interesting to see if we need to tweak it a bit more (as I think everyone interprets the as to be completed standard a little differently).


August 30, 2006

Improv Everywhere

Writing about web page http://improveverywhere.com/home.php

Improv Everywhere are a group of New Yorkers who basically do street pranks/performances. Exactly what they do is hard to describe so it's best to watch:

Go and visit their site as you'll spend hours (as I did last night) watching some of the stuff they've been up to…it's genius.

I particularly like Slo-Mo Home Depot and Mobius, but they've got 50 so there are probably better ones :)

PS. I love our new [media] tags


February 08, 2006

1930s kitchens

1930s kitchenOne room where we will definitely not be following 1930s design is the kitchen. I have been suprised how similar some of our modern design is to 1930s design in most rooms of the house, including the bathroom. But the kitchen is very different. It's amazing how much technology and modern convenience has developed in seventy-odd years. Go back to the early thirties and in the average semi you would have found a rather pokey kitchen, with a deep sink, nothing so glamorous as fitted units, a cool larder and probably a small gas cooker, as shown in this picture from MoDA.

In the inter-war years a battle for our homes was raging between the gas and electricity suppliers. Electricity was considered to be a clean, hygenic and efficient new technology and had already won the battle for lighting the home. However, the electricity supply fluctuated between AC and DC in different areas. This made people reluctant to buy big expensive items that were electric, which they potentially couldn't take with them if they moved to a different area. As a result, people tended to buy smaller electrical items: toasters, kettles, hair dryers, clocks, vacuum-cleaners.

A new invention, the thermostat, decided the battle for cooking. Ridiculous as it may sound, seventy years ago you couldn't just bang something in the oven and forget about it. Instead, you had to make regular checks that your oven was giving you a constant heat. The invention of the thermostat for gas ovens meant that the gas flame became the power of choice for cooking.
1930s fridge
Your average semi-detached suburban home probably wouldn't have had a fridge. They were just too expensive. Instead the home would have had a cool, north facing larder for food storage. Both electric and gas fridges were produced and, although gas fridges were quiet and efficient (see the advert from MoDA ), electric ones seem to have won out in the long run.

Before the first World War domestic service was common and most middle class Victorian families employed at least one servant. After the War, the growing middle classes could not afford quite the same lifestyle. Most 1930s suburban houses were not designed or built with servants in mind and your average 1930s housewife had to adopt the idea of the 'servantless home' that popular women's magazines were promoting. The idea was that wives had to do the work themselves, with the aid of appliances such as the vacuum-cleaner and electric iron. Science and technology were seen as the 'saviour of the housewife' and 'the key to an effortless domestic future'. (Chuh.) This was reflected in the marketing and branding of the day:

Some [appliances] were given names that referred directly to them as wageless servants, such as the Atmos 'Housemaid', which could wash dishes and wash, press and iron clothes as well as vacuum-clean.

The 1930s Home, Greg Stevenson, 2005.

The kitchen in our house was extended and knocked through sometime in the 1950s (we think) and again in the 1980s, but you can still see where the small kitchen would have existed at the back of the house next to the dining room. We're lucky enough to be having a new fitted kitchen, new cooker (gas and electric!), new fridge-freezer and a new dishwasher and we're aiming for a fairly cosy, retro-farmhouse kind of look. Here are the Smeg fridge and cooker that we've opted for and before and after pictures of the kitchen will be in a gallery soon.

Our Smeg fridge freezerOur Smeg cooker

PS. By now some of you may have spotted the inspiration for my new look 'Bleg'!


February 03, 2006

1930s design

We've recently moved into a new house. New to us that is, because it was built in 1932. While we were house hunting, our ideal was a Victorian or Edwardian house because we like the style, history and architecture. Then we found this; a standard 1930s three bed semi which has had all its original features stripped and replaced with hideous fake beams and flowery borders sometime in the 1980s. Three things clinched the deal. First, the short distance to work for both of us and then the fantastic views front and back (we're surrounded by fields). Finally, I did a nifty side-step in my mind (as us females are want to do) from liking Victorian to seeing the potential in 1930s design.

Before we signed on the dotted line I did some research into 1930s architecture and design, as it was an era that I didn't really know much about. Did art deco last long enough to influence the 1930s? Was it common in the average home? What sort of furniture did people have? What were the fashionable colours and materials? I was intrigued to find a lot of design and style ideas that I hadn't really considered before.

It made me realise how common place and reproduced Victorian 'style' has become. Walk into any of the big DIY chainstores and you'll no doubt find a repro Victorian fireplace. In fact, I bet a lot of peole are ripping out their original 1930s fireplaces and replacing them with reproduced Victorian ones. A quick search round our local antique and reclamation places proved that 1930s furniture and features aren't that common. 1930s style began to seem just that little bit different.

Conversely, it was amazing to see how much of our modern furniture design and decor is influenced by 1930s styling. Leather and chrome? 1930s. Wood bent into curved frames? 1930s. Streamlined shapes? 1930s. Solid oak floors? 1930s. Looking at photographs of original 1930s furniture, it's wierd how modern it looks. Take these chairs for example, for each pair the one on the left is a modern design available from Ikea, the one on the right is a 1930s original.

2006 chair1930s chair2006 chair1930s chair

Suddenly, 1930s design went from being a vague concept to an interesting proposition and owning a 1930s house, missing its original features, became an exciting challenge. We don't intend to slavishly follow 1930s design in every room, but we do aim to bring some life back into the house with a nod to 1930s design here and there.


May 11, 2005

Thistle canvas

I've finally put paint to canvas on my latest creative project. I wanted to work on something that had big areas of flat, solid colour and on a fairly large scale so I came up with the idea of creating my own 'paint by numbers'. I've created a thistle canvas gallery so that I can see what progress I'm making.

I started off with several different photos and images for inspiration and opted for an image of a thistle. I put the image through various different filters in Photoshop until I had the affect that I wanted. Then I outlined the different areas of colour and transfered the outline pattern onto a large canvas. Usually you would use something like acrylics on a canvas like this, but I wanted to experiment a little and have opted for using up paint from all those little tester pots that you have left over after decorating. The paint is working really well and I'm using it up rather than throwing it away which is more environmentally friendly. I'm generally pleased with how the canvas looks so far.

As usual the original idea has evolved and been adapted as I paint. I've amalgamated some outlines to create bigger areas of colour and I've moved some of the colours around. At this stage it seems to be shaping up well but I'm not sure that it will actually look like a thistle when it's finished! Doubts part way through are normal for me though, so I'll perservere.

I started this way back in October '04 but now that I've begun the process of painting work has picked up a pace and I'm hoping to have it finished over the next few weeks.

Perhaps this is inspiration for anyone wondering what to do with old tester pots? Buy yourself a canvas (you can get a decent sized one for about £15, this large one I've got cost £25) and let the artist within you loose with a paintbrush! If you don't have an inner artist struggling to get out, you could always mark areas with masking tape and go for a geometric pattern instead.


April 01, 2005

The washable, squashable high chair

Writing about web page http://www.totseat.com/

Some of our friends invented this – the 'Totseat'. It's a portable high chair made out of funky material that can be strapped to any chair. It squashes into a small carry pouch and is practical and washable. I had a play with it and it gets a high usability score in my view – easy to set up, adjust, clip and pack away again.

For those of you with kids, the Totseat is available on-line at http://www.totseat.com for £26. It's also now on sale in John Lewis and has had a positive write up in the Guardian – way to go!


March 09, 2005

Rev Carberet Pics now Online

Writing about web page http://www.warwickrev.org

Some of my photos from the Caberet on Tuesday night are now avaliable in the Rev - Caberet gallery

Ad hominem Attacks

In replies to some of my posts ad hominem attacks have been made on me and Christians. This post is to serve a notice to those who make these sort of attacks. They are simply not welcome on this blog. If in future posts are made which contain ad hominem attacks the posts will be deleted and re-posted by me, with the ad hominem attacks removed. The rules are simple. This is my blog and I reserve the right to edit out ad hominem attacks. If you cannot come up with an intelligent response, then don’t post at all. Existing posts before this will stand.

March 08, 2005

Gnomes

Writing about web page http://hacks.mit.edu/Hacks/by_year/2003/gnomes/

with gnomes taking over the TV listings in the Boar, I though i'd better link this page, Gnomes galore in a *nix cluster

link


A Sad Time for Humanity in the Union

Writing about web page http:\\www.sunion.warwick.ac.uk

The students of the union you will note recently voted in Motion 4 in the Spring 2005 Referendum. “Abortion: The Right to Choose” enshrines the pro-choice position in the union, condemning pro-life organisations such as Life, replacing the unions previous “no-policy” policy. All in all, the union has voted to be pro-choice and not “neutral”. This severely upsets me because of what it means.

Some Humans are No Longer Humans

The pro-life position is that the unborn are full human beings and as such are worthy of the same protection that is applied to other human beings under the law, that is that the killing of an innocent human being is a serious wrong and should not be permitted. the student body, in voting for this motion has effectively decided that the unborn is not a human and therefore worthy of protection. They have decided to exalt the rite of the mother to choose and to decide for herself whether or not to have an abortion over the rite of her unborn to life. I feel that this is a sad day for human rights in the union.

that's my view

Rich Cowan

Notes

I am prepared to defend the humanity of the unborn in further posts, but have not done so in this article for 2 reasons, 1). it is primarily a comment on the referendum, and 2). to keep it short. If lots of people ask or challenge me to do so, I will in a follow-up article.


February 28, 2005

Humility

I’ve recently heard some good teaching on humility and I thought I’d share it.

There’s one thing that really gets in the way of the truth of humility. These are the misconceptions that people have about humility.

The first misconception is that humility is a quality that if you “know” you have it, or reflect on being humble, then you are not humble. However look at Paul in Acts 20:

Act 20:18–19 And when they came to him, he said to them: "You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews;

Paul here is being publicly reflective on his own humility. This misconception says that this would be false humility. If this is the case then in this section, then Paul must be mistaken. A big problem if we believe in the inspiration of scripture. This misconception is also frustrating; I operated under this misconception for along time. With this misconception, you can never experience or appreciate growth in this area, since as soon as we think we have grown, on this view; we are proud and not humble. How frustrating

The second misconception is that humility is self abasement i.e. putting ourselves down, thinking bad about ourselves (see how this links to the first misconception). Again using Paul as an example, does not abase himself when he talks about himself, with the exception of the “thorn in the flesh”. This is also in Colossians chapter 2 and Romans 12:16. Self Abasement is false humuility.
Humility is not demeaning your achievements. In the Old Testament the world translated as pride in the negative sense in a different sense is translated as excellence. We have “excellencies” which are only pride when regarded in the wrong way.

So, what is Humility?

Well, like many qualities it’s not really defined in the bible. We see it lived out by biblical characters instead. As Christians our model is Jesus Christ therefore we should look at Philippians 2:

Phi 2:5–11 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, (6) who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, (7) but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (8) And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (9) Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, (10) so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, (11) and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus was God in all his glory, with all the privileges of deity, but he didn’t consider those privileges something to be held on to or grasped, but was willing to let them go, never ceasing to be god, but letting the privileges go, becoming a servant of man.

Jesus went from a very high station, relative to those he was serving, and assumed a low station, relative to those he was serving. Humility is whenever we take the lower station with respect to another person, and pride is whenever we take the higher station. Put another way, humility is when we put someone else in the centre of our world, and pride is when we put ourselves in the centre

Application

What are evidences of Pride?

Exalting yourself in the presence of others i.e. bragging
Criticizing other people i.e. putting them down
Thinking of our own needs first

Forgiveness

Seeking forgiveness is an example of humility
Forgiving someone restores them to the high status in your life. You remove yourself from the position of the judge.

How?

Praise other people – it raises them up and encourages them.
It is really easy to do this – not cheep flattery but sincere appreciation.
Humility begets humility
Humility has its most vital application in the area of relationships. See John 13

Joh 13:3–5 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, (4) rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. (5) Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

There is no profound humility without sacrifice. There is no profound love without profound humility.

Hope this is helpful

Comments/Questions are welcome

notes

  1. All bible quotations from the ESV

December 24, 2004

Eden Burning – The Hatchery

Writing about web page http://www.edenburning.co.uk

You'd have to be really old to remember this band, I don't, but they we're suggested to me by a friend who said they were kind of like Why?, whoose Happy CD is on this blog.

Anyway they've got a Best Of album out, which can be downloaded in mp3 format from the website. I'm listening right now and really enjoying it. Go on, try it, it's free and you might just enjoy it.

Rich Cowan


December 01, 2004

IONA pics finally up!

Writing about web page http://www.iona.uk.com

I've finally got round to uploading some pics from the fantastic IONA gig at London University Union. Roll on the DVD!!

November 04, 2004

Comments on Human Nature thoughts

Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view

Interesting Article.

Now let’s pick it apart shall we

Many religions teach the idea of a fall, the idea that humans were once perfect but through some reason or other now are imperfect. Religion, being pure and from God obviously should not be something which appeals to a side of humanity which only came into existence after the fall.
The bible teaches us that humans became "Security seekers" after the fall and before the fall, Adam walked in the sunshine with God without care.
Surely therefore if a religion is perfect and from God it should not appeal to the security seeking part of humanity in the way Islam and protestant Christianity do.

I see a problem here. Taking the second paragraph. If Adam walked with God without care in the garden, he was secure with God (though he may not have been consciously aware he was). After the fall he was not (He would die, something that would never occur before the fall) and needed the security of the previous relationship, as you say. Now follow this argument. The focus of any true religion must be the restoration of the original state of affairs. And guess what, this requires that all the wrong in the world be taken care of. This is what the cross is all about. The forgiveness of sins through the death of Jesus in our place.

Your arguments seem to fall apart around the third statement I have quoted. If a religion is from God, and therefore has the purpose of saving people and putting right what we mucked up, then it will surely appeal to our sense of security, because the end result will be a secure eternity with God.

I have a serious question to ask you. Why on earth should a religion not appeal to a sense of security? What is the reasoning for not appealing to an attribute of man whether it arose before or after the fall? Why should a religion or worldview or whatever you call it not give a sense of security. Why on earth not. You never give a good reason for this, apart from this assertion that we should not appeal to a “post-fall attribute” of man. This sounds very close to a Gnostic and other similar worldviews. If not why this apparent dislike for fallen man and his traits?

Further more, you seem to advocate views that are condemned in the bible. You seem to state that Catholics are actually justified by their works, a concept clearly condemned by the Apostle Paul, Jesus and James. If you are not actually saying this, could you please clarify what you actually mean (and therefore how Catholicism is different to protestant Christianity).

Your description of Islam is also, to my knowledge inaccurate, since to the best of my knowledge there is no security of salvation in Islam.

Think about it. How often in your life would you rather not having to make a decision if you knew that someone else was in an infallible position to make the decision for you. Wouldn't you just rather follow the person you knew was 100% right, I know I would. I would certainly rather this than be in a position where I would risk taking the wrong choice. This is why we like tools like calculators and computers.

Hehe. By the way, protestant Christians do follow a person who was 100% right. He’s called Jesus Christ if you weren’t sure. But he doesn’t make decision for us. Perhaps you’d care to glance at my review of “Decision Making and the Will of God” by Gary Friesen for an explanation of my view.

It seems that unlike so many other religions, Catholicism is not based on the human nature of the fall in providing some artificial security but rather on appealing to the real human nature, not the desire for security, but the desire to be in communion with God.

Neither is Christianity (note the switch, the Catholicism you are describing is so far from biblical that I cannot bring myself to call it Christian). Christianity is based on the actions of the Son of God, living and dieing on earth as a man, to bring about forgiveness by God.

Yes, that's right, Catholicism appeals to that bit in genesis "man walked in the evening sun with God" as Catholics believe that in the Eucharist they actually eat Christ's (who is God the son) flesh. They actually restore the communion and closeness they had with God before the fall.

Protestant Christians know that they will literally one day walk with God again. The security now is a mere reflection of the security and closeness to come.

It is precisely because the other religions and perspectives aim to fulfill the fallen element of human nature which we can see why they are ideologies of the fall.

Sorry, but you have completely failed to show this. You have offered no good reason why appealing to the fallen nature of man is bad. Your arguments seem to come so close to Gnotistic and similar thought.

Now to my reply. Man does indeed have a need for security. This comes from a deep seated remembrance of being with God. We find ourselves so lacking that initial relationship we had with God (the God shaped hole) that we desperately seek things to fulfill us. The seeking is not bad, but rather it is an indication that we are fallen and need God. The only way we will ever be secure is after this world has ended. This is what Jesus Christ came to accomplish, the way to God. Protestants feel a sense of security because they know that they will be with God. The security is an expectation of thing to come.
Sorry about the disconnected flow of this reply, but it is late.

Yours

Rich Cowan

P.S. could you possibly do a bit of experimenting with your themes? Your blog is difficult to read, and comments very difficult to read (white text on a grey background)


November 03, 2004

Holy, Holy

Writing about web page http://www.warwickrev.org

Here we go, Randomness

I must write about the coolness for Rev on Tues night. Nearly a year after hearing Basil Meade teaching Holy, Holy to the choir I finally get to learn it myself. Class

I will praise the Lord Jesus always, for his goodness and his mercy, every day

how cool is the opening

Randomness Over


Book Review – Decision Making and the Will of God

Title:
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

As it’s that time of the year, when finalist scrabble around, trying to work out what to do next year. As a (possible) help during this time, I’d though that I’d post a review of this book, which I had found particularly helpful.

Are You a Christian? What do you understand God’s will to be? I’d be willing to bet that at least some of you think that God has a perfect will for your life that you are supposed to find out. A plan for you, which described all the major decisions of your life, your job, spouse and many other details. If this is so, you may be surprised to find that I (and this book) don’t agree with you on this.

The book starts by describing this view (termed the “traditional view”) that God has a plan for our lives and that we receive guidance through methods such as “open and closed doors”, “feeling led” and “the still, small, voice”. Once the view has been well explained, through the foil of a fictional seminar, the book continues to critique this view, explaining how it is based on a poor use and understanding of scriptures, and how some of the reasons given in support of the view do not apply. The author then presents an alternative to the “traditional method” called the “wisdom method”.

The “wisdom method” holds that God does not have an “individual will” for our lives, but rather that all of God’s will can be summed up within two categories, God’s sovereign will and God’s moral will. Basically God’s sovereign will is all the things that god decrees will happen. It is hidden (mostly) from us, and does not play an active part in our decision, although some of it is revealed in the bible. God’s moral will is the part that we must concern ourselves with in making decisions. It is fully revealed in the bible and our decisions must be made within it. We may use wisdom in applying god’s moral will to our lives, or we may be in an area not covered by god’s moral will. We must finally submit in advance to God’s sovereign will, being prepared for him to sovereignty intervene and redirect us through whatever means he wills (see James).

The book also examines the application of this viewpoint to many areas of life such as the decision about going into ministry or getting married. For this reason the sections of the book that actually apply to all people are considerably shorter than the whole book, so do not be out off by the large size. The book is also big because of the careful exegesis given to each of the relevant passages rather than a cursory evaluation.

Overall, this book is very useful, if you are seeking to understand how to follow God’s will for the rest of your life. If you read it you may just be surprised at the freedom we have in Christ to do what we desire.

Rich

P.S. if you want to borrow the book, or a set of CDs containing teaching based on the book, please ask me, I’d be happy to lend them out.


October 16, 2004

Darwin's Black Box

Title:
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

I have just finished reading this book for the second time, so I though I would give my thoughts on this book as a biochemistry student.

I will assume that readers of this review are familiar with the concept of evolution.

In the book Michael Behe argues based on analogies with some mechanical systems (the mousetrap) that there are “Irreducibly complex” systems within organisms that demand an intelegent designer.

The “irreducible complexity” argument relies on there being biological systems that completely fail when one component is removed. A mechanical example of this given by Behe is a mouse trap (p42 fig 2–2) which will not function at all if one component is removed. Behe then describes various biochemical systems and pathways such as the vision event in rods in the eye, blood clotting, the cilia, the bacterial flagellum and intracellular transport (ask me if you need these explaining to you). He shows that each of these systems is nonfunctional if components are removed and in some cases are actually detrimental and dangerous to the organism in question when incomplete (e.g. unregulated blood clotting). The “irreducible complexity” of these systems argues for an “intelligent designer” that can place these systems in place complete. Behe also defends the “intelegent designer” concept from the argument that states that some organisms appear to have features that (according to those suggesting this) are not perfectly designed so (supposedly) refuting intelligent design.

The book is friendly and accessible to both laymen and scientists, each deriving his own from the book. The layman will become more educated about biochemical systems, and the scientist will find extensions of the argument into his own area of interest.

In conclusion: this book should be read, and read carefully. It will do you no good to casually read this and/or to vent your spleen on it because it challenges evolution. Read it carefully, analyzing the points made and you will find a well reasoned argument. It may or may not convince you, but no doubt you will better off for reading this book carefully, since carefully study of issues always improves your mind.

Notes.

I suggest that you treat reading this book like you would a science textbook or paper, read it carefully, going back over sections and making notes. This is no light book so the more effort spent on reading and understanding it the more usefulness you will derive from it.


October 15, 2004

Why? – Happy

Writing about web page http://www.wesleyowen.com/Merchandiser/catalog/Product.jhtml?PRODID=84071&CATID=108227

Title:
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

The final (and only still avaliable) album from the british christian band Why? Formed at Bath uni in the early nineties Why? played an attractive folk based music, with a very changing line up, until slimming down to four members for this, their final album. Really worth a listen, especially at the current listed price of 79p, hold on let me repeat that 79p +p&p for a full 14 track album. Gets the full five stars on VFM alone, but also happens to be stocked full of quality songs, from songs on the atractiveness of the clergy (The Vicar) to clever songs about twins (Not enough Womb) that sound dodgy until you realise what they're really about. The album has been described as a mix of funk, folk and rock and that about sums it up.

Why? are sadly split up, so buy this record for 79p while you still can…

Links

FreeDB links

Happy
Look Back – 1998 Greatest Hits
Jig at a Why? Gig – 1996 Live Album
Pinnenstripensuitenwearenfoddergeburnenclippencloppen

Other Links

Why? Webpage – really old, not updated in a long time, I don't know how much longer it will be up


Delirious Concert

Writing about web page http://www.delirious.co.uk

I went to see a band called Delirious last night. For anyone who hasn't heard of them (which I guess is most people), they are a Christian rock group, who have been around for about ten years. As always, they were fantastic. Even though Wolverhampton must have been a bit of a come-down for them after touring America last year, they really went for it and really rocked.

I reckon everybody should listen to them. For people who think that a lot of the music today is superficial and passionless, Delirious are an amazing example of what music can be when you really believe in what you are singing about, rather than being concerned with how rich or famous the music is going to make you. Delirious have had decent reviews in major papers, their CD's have been sold in HMV and have made an impression in both the regular charts, and the MP3 charts, and yet so few people are aware of them, and radio stations generally refuse to play them.

This would be understandable if they wern't any good, but compared to most of the stuff in the 'popular' charts, this just isn't true. They are talented musicians, writing songs that have depth and originality, played with energy and flare. But by writing songs that are overtly Christian, Delirious have deliberately sacrificed their chance of being considered in the same field as secular bands, even though their music is every bit as good, and what they sing about means so much more than the one-track 'sex on the beach' lyrics of a lot of popular songs.
It must be frustrating to have their music suppressed because of their Christian beliefs.

There seems to be a feeling in the media that somehow other religions or faiths (they are two separate things), are to be respected and given a voice, and yet it is ok for Christian beliefs and groups to be dismissed as powerless and irrelevant. And yet, last night really showed me that Christianity can be real, it can affect peoples' lives, it can be hard-hitting and practical.

The band members were totally lacking the egos that you would expect from a group who had toured with Bon Jovi, had released several albums and had a large fan base (which in Christian circles, they do). They were there, not to show us how good they were, but to show us how good God was. The support act that were on before them broke their set off to pray for Delirious before they came on, that their music would touch people and that they would have the strength to get through the show (after eighteen straight tour dates so far, this prayer was probably needed!). Again, a total lack of the self-serving, self-promoting 'we must sell our cd's' attitude. We were standing near the front, and there was the usual sardine effect as the crowd pushed in to get close to the band. But unlike other concerts I've been to, there was no-one pushing each other out the way to get a better view; strangers were saying Hi to each other and by the end of the concert, people who had never met before were chatting with each other.

This is the effect of real Christain faith, that it does change people for the better, that it does produce reconciliation and friendship where there was none before. That is what Delirious stand for, for a real God who does change people's lives.

It seems to me that if the media seeks to minimise this truth, and trivialises and characterises Christianity as a group of rainbow-guitar strap, tree-hugging Middle-English tea drinkers, then it is the media that is marginal and ultimately irrelevant, not the faith, and not the music that promotes it.

So anyway, have a listen to Delirious, and enjoy some real music about real issues sung by real artists!


October 13, 2004

Random Musings on Stem Cells

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/film/3732462.stm

The death of Christopher Reeve has brought to the forefront of my mind the issue of stem cells and the permission/non-funding of embryonic stem cell research in the UK and the USA. Christopher Reeve believed that stem cells treatments, had they been available, might have been able to reverse his paralysis. I’m sure that his death will be used by the campaign to allow embryonic stem cell research as a clear example of a tragic case where stem cells could have greatly helped.

I agree with the US administrations position that embryonic stem cell research should not be funded by the state. Of course it is tragic that someone should be in such as state as Christopher Reeve was, but we should not allow our (right and appropriate) sense of outrage at someone dreadful injuries to overhaul our moral sense in determining whether a treatment should be researched or not. The need for a treatment is not enough. The treatment should also be morally acceptable. This is the issue with embryonic stem cells.

The production of embryonic stem cells requires an embryo. In most envisioned treatments this embryo would be a clone of the patient in order to avoid problems with tissue rejection. The moral problem that I see with this treatment (and feel free to comment on this article in your agreement or disagreement) is that it requires the destruction of an embryo in order to treat the individual. We would not allow the killing of a newborn simply to treat an adult with a medical problem. The whole argument for the embryonic stem cell research hinges on the assumption that the embryo is not a valuable human in the same way as a newborn is. This argument, you will not be surprised to know is the basis of the pro-choice position, because lets face it, if the unborn is not as human and therefore as deserving of protection as any other human, then the pro-choice position is correct, it’s all about the choice of the mother

Fortunately for us, the pro-choice position is not correct. This can be demonstrated by drawing analogies between the conditions of the unborn that cause people to say that it is not human and valuable and adults who show some of these same traits but are still regarded as valuable humans. These differences can be summarised by the acronym SLED.

  1. Size – It has been argued the unborn are not human and worthy of protection since they are smaller than other humans. This doesn’t wash, a 8 year old is not more of a human than a 2 year old because he is bigger, a 7 foot basketball player is not “more human” than a 5 foot 9 geek because he is bigger. The size argument completely fails
  2. Level of Development – The argument is that the unborn is less developed, then it is not human. Again the same logic shows us why this is not true. A 5 year old is more developed than a 2 year old, but that does not make the 5 year old more “human” than the 2 year old
  3. Environment – this one is just absurd. Where you are has not bearing on who you are (in a morally relevant sense). Note that this was the argument that supported dilation and extraction late term abortions. In this abortion the baby is delivered breach first until only the head remain in the mother. How is it that a difference in location of 6 inches is morally relevant in whether the act is an abortion of infanticide? This is why these abortions are now illegal in the USA.
  4. Degree of Dependency – The argument is that since the baby is dependant on the mother then it is less human than an independent individual. This is absurd. I am a type 1 diabetic. I am dependant on Insulin. Does this make me less human than my next-door neighbour? How about those with pacemakers, or that dependant on kidney dialysis machines or that dependant on systems like Christopher Reeve was. They are no less human than any other.

The unborn is different from other people in all these regards, but none of them are sufficient for it to be less human than any other individual. The conclusion is that the unborn is human and should be protected as any other human.

This links to embryonic stem cell research in the issue of destroying the embryo to obtain the stem cells. Since it can also be demonstrated by analogies that the embryo is not morally different from any other human, embryonic stem cell research should not be allowed from the same reasons as abortion, that it kills a valuable human being.

Plenty of alternatives exist such as adult stem cells or placental stem cells. There is not really the need to kill embryos to derive these cells.

Get in contact if you agree/disagree

Rich Cowan

Notes

  1. The majority of the arguments in this piece are adapted from material by Scott Klusendorf, including “Pro-Life 101”. See Stand to Reason for details
  2. I am aware of other conditions placed on humanness, like the requirement of consciousness placed by Peter Singer, however this can be argued against using the examples of people in comas. Also someone who thinks that a dog is more valuable than an infant or a person in a coma needs help in my opinion.

Book Review – Traitor General by Dan Abnett

Writing about web page http://www.blacklibrary.com/gauntsghosts

I recently finished this book, the latest in the series about Gaunt’s Ghosts. Well all I can say at the moment is it was somehow cool and disappointing at the same time. It was lacking the mega-apocalyptic battles involving thousands of men that I had enjoyed in the previous books, but at the same time, the slow corruption of the whole team was a joy to red of. If you know the series the identity of the general is somewhat poorly concealed and you will guess fairly early on who he is, One of the most interesting bits in the book for future books actually occurs at the beginning where Dan Baur and Commissar Hark are named as the Commanding Officer and Commissar of the regiment specifically. I wonder does this mean that we might get some stories about the regiment being lead by these two? Also I want to know what’s happening to Brin Milo now that he’s gone off with Saint Sabbat. Perhaps another book in the vein of Ghostmaker would be in order to get an update on all the little story threads that could do with being progressed.

Overall I’d rate the book fairly highly, though not as good as some of Abnett’s other material. The best part of the book for me is that I have an autographed hard back copy (obtained at Games Day 2004)

Links

Warhammer 40,00

Gaunt’s Ghosts

Dan Abnett


July 19, 2004

We made it!

We did it! We finished the West Highland Way, all 95 miles of it! And to prove it, here is my West Highland Way photo gallery.

My legs have never ached so much, but the scenery was spectacular and every step was worth it. We met loads of great people, mainly our age(ish), so here's to the 'laughing ladies' who we could hear all along the way, David & Shona 'from Maine' who we started and finished with, Andrew 'Land's End to John O'Groats' and his 'lovely ladies' who we wish the best of luck, the 'jolly pirates', the 'three muskateers' and the 'camping girls'.

Thanks also to all the lovely B&Bs that we stayed in. We had the warmest welcome everywhere we went, even when we arrived really late and dripping wet. Betty, you make the best fruit cake!

I fully recommend walking poles to anyone considering a long walk. I wasn't sure at first, so I just bought a cheap pair, but I really think that I wouldn't have made it without them. They are great for:

  • powering up hills
  • keeping your balance on muddy/stoney ground
  • taking the impact when you are going down hill
  • keeping nettles & brambles out of the way
  • getting your stride into a rythm when your legs are so tired that they stop obeying orders from your brain

They are not so good when you've got one in each hand, your rucksack on your back and you fall over. Your arms are trapped and you end up doing a wierd version of an upside down beetle – only the other way around.

All in all it was a fantastic holiday and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone. A week of fresh air and exercise with not much else to think about is remarkably relaxing.

May the Drovers never change.