Further Musings

Beauty smote his heart, he looked up from the forsaken land & hope returned to him

Archive for May 2006

Chapter 3a: Concerning Statistics

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From The River Why, by David James Duncan

"Like gamblers, baseball fans and television networks, fishermen are enamoured of statistics. The adoration of statistics is a trait so deeply embedded in their nature that even those rarefied anglers, the disciples of Jesus, couldn't resist backing up their yarns with arithmetic: when the resurrected Christ appears on the morning shore of the Sea of Galilee and directs his forlorn and skunked disciples to the famous catch of John 21, we learn that the net contained not a ‘boatload’ of fish, nor ‘about a hundred and a half’, nor ‘over a gross’, but precisely ‘an hundred and fifty three’. This is, it seems to me, one of the most remarkable statistics ever computed. Consider the circumstances: this is after the Crucifixion and the Resurrection; Jesus is standing on the beach newly risen from the dead, and it only the third time the disciples have seen him since the nightmare of Calvary. And yet we learn that in the net there were ‘great fishes’ numbering precisely ‘an hundred and fifty and three’. How was this digit discovered? Mustn’t it have happened thus: upon hauling the net to shore, the disciples squatted down by that immense, writhing fish pile and started tossing them into a second pile, painstakingly counting ‘one, two, three, four, five, six, seven…’ all the way up to an hundred and fifty three, while the newly risen Lord of Creation, the Sustainer of their beings, He who died for them and for Whom they would gladly die, stood waiting, ignored, till the heap of fish was quantified. Such is the fisherman’s compulsion toward rudimentary mathematics!"

Written by furthermusings

May 23, 2006 at 5:31 pm

Posted in Reviews

The River Why

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This weekend I finished my first fiction book of the summer and thoroughly enjoyed it. Two summers ago I read James David Duncan's second book: The Brothers K. I have since recommended it to everyone whom it occurs to me to share it with. Several friends have had it recommended to them several times due to the interaction of my exuberance with my poor memory concerning what I've said to whom.

At the end of this school year I went to the undergrad library on campus in search of reading and picked up The River Why, Duncan's first book. It is a peculiar book written from the perspective Gus, the elder of two brothers, who grows up immersed in the world of fishing. His father is a prominent and very formal fly-fisherman who earns his living by writing erudite articles on the art of fly-fishing. Gus's mother is a backwoods bait fisherman whose ruddy, commonsense, good-folks approach to life clashes with her husband's more refined tastes. Gus flees his suburban home and its conflict to the shelter and solitude of the woods to begin his own fishing journey which he narrates for us.

I liked the book. It is written in an irreverent style full of digressions, quotations, and creative chapter headings. The story found room among fishing (there is a lot of fishing) for interesting characters and vignettes nestled among the rivers and rainy forests of the Oregon coast.

From my reading perch under the shadow of the warehouse next door with my back to the cinder-block walls of our apartment I enjoyed roaming Gus's world of rivers, streams, forests and Portland suburbia. It reminded me how much I want to live someplace that has clear, stony rivers to wade in and lush green mountains to climb, someplace as beautiful as where I grew up.

If you're looking for a nice fiction read it's worth a gander: a likeable coming of age story of an analytical young fisherman.

Written by furthermusings

May 22, 2006 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Reviews

What would happen if they opened Pandora’s Box?

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The NYTimes today has an interesting article titled Lactic Acid Is Not Muscles' Foe, It's Fuel. It opens with the following paragraphs:

"Everyone who has even thought about exercising has heard the warnings about lactic acid. It builds up in your muscles. It is what makes your muscles burn. Its buildup is what makes your muscles tire and give out.

Coaches and personal trainers tell athletes and exercisers that they have to learn to work out at just below their "lactic threshold," that point of diminishing returns when lactic acid starts to accumulate. Some athletes even have blood tests to find their personal lactic thresholds.

But that, it turns out, is all wrong. Lactic acid is actually a fuel, not a caustic waste product. Muscles make it deliberately, producing it from glucose, and they burn it to obtain energy. The reason trained athletes can perform so hard and so long is because their intense training causes their muscles to adapt so they more readily and efficiently absorb lactic acid.

The notion that lactic acid was bad took hold more than a century ago, said George A. Brooks, a professor in the department of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley. It stuck because it seemed to make so much sense.

"It's one of the classic mistakes in the history of science," Dr. Brooks said.

* * *

That's certainly what I believed growing up. Oops.

I am posting this article because it reminded me again that I dearly wish high school students would be introduced to the philosophy of science, perhaps through articles such as this one. (and that the only thing I have to say about the Intelligent Design debate)

I think it is a very valuable thing to know that what is taught in textbooks are largely theories that are constructed by "experts," some of which are wrong. It is a radical concept for to think that our notions of how the world works could be best categorized on a continuum of usefulness instead of correct or incorrect.

The lesson from the article is not that one scientist got it really wrong, but that much of what we learn in school is theory and that theories, about how electricity or gravity or cooking work, are constructed by people who are trying to understand something. If the theory fits the data (say the sun revolving around the earth) and allows us to predict what we need (seasons, eclipses, etc.) then theory is largely unquestioned unless mounting contradictory evidence challenge it. I think it is fascinating that we are regularly learning and espousing ideas that are completely mistaken, as my whole life when I’ve complained about lactic acid making me sore. It’s a nice call for humility eh? I still count reading The Structure of Scientific Revolutions as one of the best books I've read for introducing that idea to me.

I wonder if studying how textbooks might be wrong might not appeal to the anti-authoritarian streak present in many teenagers, which might therefore engage them in learning. Perhaps it is that since studying the philosophy of science encourages anti-authoritarian thinking teachers and school boards don't include it in the curriculum. Unpacking the Pandora's box of questioning scientific (or historical) knowledge makes you ask how the knowledge in the textbooks was created, whether we can or should trust it and how to do better if we could. That's a lot of thinking for both students and teachers.

Written by furthermusings

May 16, 2006 at 3:41 pm

Posted in Geeky Blogs

The Gift of a Portrait

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As a belated wedding gift one of our friends painted this portrait of Charity and I that now hangs in our living room. It is a pretty amazing gift and I've wanted to post a picture of it for a while.  I don't think I have ever been portrayed before.  I have probably been photographed thousands of times in my life but never represented in such a large, colorful and permanent way. 

When we talked to Steve about the painting he said something interesting.  He said that it wasn't art.  To be art, he said, had to being communicating something about the time or the place or the society in which it was set. This, he said, was a picture of us and it didn't stand in contrast to the things of the past.  

I'm not sure if he's right though.  As it turns out, it he might be saying something as he begins an impromptu project of creating portraits of different families in the church.  At this point it is only three paintings deep but I would be very curious what it turns into.  I wonder very much if the diversity of portrayals of our community in portraits might say something about our society and our place in this time. 

Written by furthermusings

May 12, 2006 at 12:08 am

Posted in Pictures

Serving Communion

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On Sunday night I served communion again, for the first time in a long time, and I was struck again by how powerful an experience it is to tell some of the people who I play disc golf with and chat with around campus during the week that the small plastic cups filled with tart red wine mean that Christ has died for the complete forgiveness of each of their sins.

For Christians from other traditions serving communion might be a regular part of their experiences, but I've never been in a church before where members served communion, nor in one where communion is a weekly event, nor in one where it is served individually.  So these styles of communion have been new experiences for me all around.

Interestingly, communion at our church has changed gradually over the last three years. It started with our pastor serving it alone, then when we elected elders they served us in pairs praying briefly for each person, then we started having members serving communion. Currently our pastor blesses (?) the wine and the bread he before he calls up our three elders and those whom they have asked to serve with them. The pairs spread out in the front of the church and people walk up the center aisle and then receive the wine (or juice) and bread in family units and the servers offer to pray for them.

Serving for the first the time was one of the more powerful experiences I have had and time hasn't lessened the awe of it (though I did make it through this Sunday without tearing up as I prayed for someone). The praying for the people who I serve is as sweet as serving them. How often does someone who believes in a sovereign God get to call on that God to bless a dear friend or a hurting family?

Implicit in this presentation of the elements of communion is the notion of the priesthood of all believers. It is a pretty amazing thought to me that each person in the congregation (me included) is endowed with the privilege and challenge of loving, praying and caring for the other members of the congregation.

Written by furthermusings

May 9, 2006 at 2:12 pm

Posted in Church

Tarheel Tournament

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This weekend a friend and I went down to the campus disc golf course where we play most Sunday mornings. This weekend we came as spectators as the Tarheel Tournament, an official PDGA event, has closed the course to nonparticipants and I was curious to see what a tournament and professional disc golfers looked like.


As it turned out they are mostly male and uniformly white with a few, confident females mixed in. Within the male category there was a lot of variation with fat men and thin men, both comprised of the middle class and the blue collar. The most interesting of the various groupings of five players that played pasted our perch were a pair lanky teenage brothers with thick, silver chains who sauntered around the course. They talked smack to the other players in their groups and were a marked contrast to the older, tenser players who uniformly carried complicated shoulder bags containing 10-15 discs for driving and putting.

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It was difficult to judge the skill level of the players since we watched each group for just three holes. Based on the scores posted on the website, some of the pros are much better than I (14 under par) and the worst of the amateurs much worse (30 over par).

I went with high expectations of being entertained but in the end I was a bit let down. Turns out that watching people you don't know throw at the basket isn't as exciting as one might think. I think it would have been more interesting if we, or they, had known who was in contention for the leader-board. There was a palpable tension in the air from the players but we couldn't tell if it was because they were tied for first or 100th. Bret and I couldn't help speculating if CBS could bring the tension of a PGA event to disc golf with cameras on the baskets, blimps overhead and Irish commentators.


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Written by furthermusings

May 3, 2006 at 10:14 pm

Posted in Geeky Blogs, Pictures