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Went to First Pres today, for the sake of something different. They're doing a series on Dallas Willard's Renovation of the Heart, a philosopher's take on Christian transformation. Interestingly, they're also observing Lent. Kind of an unusual combination. But we did get to sing "Let all mortal flesh keep silence," which is like the best Lent song ever, so that was cool.

The sermon was on Romans 12:1-4, which should be familiar to other Bible kids out there. But the pastor pointed out something about "the renewing of your mind" that I hadn't heard before. Your mind here includes your intellect, the intelligence given you as a gift. Now, I don't know where I got this impression but somewhere along the line I came to believe that my smarts were my own, that I earned my brain and it was mine to tend and keep. Those like myself who have a mania for knowledge are apt to guard our minds carefully, not allow others to influence them, and generally treat them like our responsibility. It had never really been conveyed that one's mind is a gift to be used in understanding and actively brought to bear in service for its Maker, rather than its master.

The story is told of a professor who came to the altar to confess, and was immediately told "Professor, you must lay your mind at the altar first." While the statement was probably meant to imply that his self-assuredness would obstruct confession, the professior took it differently. He understood that he must submit his mind and release it from his ownership. Immediately he found it blessed, and was given strong insight into the work he was doing.

The story hit me because I've struggled all quarter trying to understand chemistry. Granted, I hate chemistry. There's no compelling reason (graduation aside) for me to excel, and I don't exactly care to. But the fact remains I must pass the class, I must attain some level of competency to graduate like I'm supposed to. And it's been incredibly hard. I'm in a good class with two good teachers, most of the math is below me, and I just have struggled every day for 3 months. I'm intellectually exhausted from trying to scale this mountain, and I just want to roll right down.

The specifics of chem aside, it's been an enlightening experience to really hit the limits of my ability to learn about things I don't care about. Because I've so rarely been forced to, I haven't had to teach myself how to learn or understand how my mind works when it's not working for me. When learning material that interests me, I'll happily spend hours on minutae and new material, committing it to a clear and lucid understanding. I do it all the time, it's very freeing. But what about when that doesn't happen? Usually I:
  1. Abandon the topic
  2. discover ways I can use existing knowledge to succeed
  3. failing the above, struggle.
None of these really involve learning the material or accepting it as something new.

Kathy Sierra writes, "most of us want to practice the things we're already good at, and avoid the things we suck at." I'm amazing at this, mostly because I'm good at an awful lot of things, enough so that I rarely have to incorporate more of them if I don't want to. But it's really important to acknowledge that that is neither an accident nor my creation. I don't really know why I was made this way, but it's becoming very clear that I must acknowledge that and swallow my pride about it.

There's so much focus on giving one's heart and life in God's service, and so little about giving our wonderful intelligence. It's treated like something we have to fight or ignore to accomplish the work of handing sandwiches to homeless people or something. Where is the gift and the glory? Why would I be given such a powerful mind only to use it knocking on doors and handing out pamphlets? There's something more here and somehow I've missed it.

Correct thinking is a moral act, not a selfish one. We are called to know one who has infinite knowledge and unlimited stories. We live in a world infused with the spirals of his handprints and it takes understanding to see them. I must place my mind on the altar as well as my heart.
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I took today off by reading stories from a guy who worked on F-14s on a navy aircraft carrier in the early 1970s. He overhauled jet engines and helped the flight crew with catapult launches. Lots of stories about people nearly getting blown off the side of the ship by jet exhaust, and tailhook cables breaking. Don't mess with tailhook cables.

My dad was deployed briefly on the Constellation around the same time, on the "black shoe" (sea) side of operations. It was cool to see what the attitudes were like in the military at that time and think that hey, maybe dad saw some of these things. I acknowledge that boats aren't quite as boner-inducing as fighter planes, but I've never felt like he carried a sense of gravitas about his military service, it was just something he did. Some people Were In The Military, my dad was in the navy once. To a kid looking for a sense of purpose or pride in his background, I think I've always found that a little depressing. Why couldn't he be proud of his service, or at least the things he learned as part of it? Where are the friends he made, the stories he has? I refuse to believe it was just boring.

Around 2 I decided shower was necessary and basically started the day. Cleaned up my room for the first time in weeks. Played with the February Windows beta. It's still slow as hell, and I think ultimately disappointing. Much more stable than December's beta, but it's got a long way to go before it starts to feel like the Great Leap Forward that everyone wants. That said, I'm looking forward to running the final.

Vista is a transition OS, attempting to bridge two eras of desktop interaction. On one side is the 2000/XP and OS 9 model of "one machine, one OS" and "one folder, one view". But two tremendous changes are ahead for the desktop: virtualization and database-oriented filesystems.
Virtualization is running multiple OSes simultaneously or in container applications, allowing for, say, linux and windows on the same machine simultaneously. I have a whole desktop linux system that runs inside windows that I use for Unix development and to do remote work on the Housing servers. It's a godsend. Anytime I want, I can fire up a complete linux environment and still drop back to windows immediately. For casual users, technology is coming that would allow for rapid system restoration in the case of data loss or corruption, and greater machine independence. Take your whole computer with you and run it on another machine, all transparently. It's already huge in servers and will dramatically change life for the upper echelons of nerdery in the next 3-5 years.
Database filesystems allow the browsing of files using arbitrary critera rather than a tree structure. This would allow you to see all your documents from "a month ago", or which "have pictures in them", or which "were from English 202" rather than "the files in C:\Documents". It's a reversal of the "spatial" model of file management, implemented by the GNOME "nautilus" file manager here:

In the spatial model, each folder is a distinct interface object, with position, size and color. Every interaction with folders or files is consistent with its representation, and a file will not be viewed unless inside its folder. The window is the folder. This has some advantages, namely predictability and consistency. It plainly models the real world. The database model, however, has none of this. The folder concept is replaced by metadata, often (always in the music world) called tags. In Vista, it looks something like the following:

Gmail users are familiar with these in the form of labels, music fans know these implicitly as "the text stuff in iTunes." Files in this models don't have places, they don't have representations, they have information. The window is a search. You access files by knowing something about them, or by looking for them in a list. iTunes, for example, does not organize music in a tree structure, merely a list that you filter through typed searches or sorts. DB filesystems expand this concept to your entire hard drive.

I'm not sure of Microsoft's plans to incorporate virtualization in Vista (though I know it's part of the server edition), but their commitment to the search model has stuck. It's not forced on you, but if you want to, the power of arbitrarily customizable folder views is there. It's a whole new way to organize information, and it's going to wonderfully freeing for the next generation of computer users.

Can you tell it's a light weekend for schoolwork? I didn't do a lick of it today. It was awfully nice. I learned so much more. Spent an hour or so reading up on the Kaballah, which is basically the Jews Gone Wild of theology. Fascinating stuff, especially for someone who knows fuck-all about Jewish tradition. I admit it's akin to studying christian mysticism without touching the bible, but meh. The Kaballah 101 series is a thorough and lucid introduction to the key concepts that walks through each sephira in the kaballistic Tree of Life, explaining its significance and what it reveals about the nature of God. The series is written by an actual Rabbi, which lends it a little more credence than J. Random Geocities Page.

I admit to stumbling upon this information by looking up symbols depicted in Neon Genesis Evangelion. A lot of things about that show started to make sense the more I read.

Tomorrow I'm giving someone a computer at 1:00, then study, then group. No hurry.


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June 2012

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