Some Stuff That’s Nifty 7/28/13

Let’s see what’s going on!

Religion

1. There has been a lot of good stuff coming out of Defeating the Dragons this week.  It’s hard to pick just one article that I really liked, so I’m going to link a couple.  ForgedImagination’s writing about her struggles breaking away from a fundamentalist branch of the Church are incredibly moving.  Here’s one about her experiences with the toxic effects of modesty culture, and here’s another where she discusses her difficulty even setting foot in a church these days.

2. In a similar vein, Morgan Guyton at Mercy Not Sacrifice has been churning out a ton of good material this week.  He’s discussed the nature of the gospel as an open invitation to a party instead of a get out of hell free card, what it means to participate in a Church that is “exclusively for the excluded,” posted an open letter to an atheist that he hopes to begin a dialogue with (there’s discussion of Slavoj Zizek), and offered up a meditation on how the doctrine of utter depravity is better interpreted as utter providence.

3. From Richard Beck at Experimental Theology, a rumination on hopeful belief versus dogmatic belief framed in the context of the question of what the Christian afterlife looks like.  Beck calls himself a hopeful universalist, and makes a good point about the reality that faith consists of a certain amount of doubt, and so certainty is not something that’s helpful to throw into the equation. Also from Beck, a paper he presented at a conference on Christian ethics back in June which discusses the connection between Christianity and anarchism.

4. I read Fred Clark at Slacktivist regularly.  He’s a very harsh critic of the religious right, and sometimes with good reason.  Here’s a critique he recently wrote pointing out how the purity culture that parts of the Church participate in creates a bizarre climate where ideological extremism only exists in one direction.

5. I’m so happy that Rachel Held Evans is back from vacation now.  She’s the reasonable bridge builder in my regular diet of Christian bloggers.  This week she wrote a thoughtful post about how anger is a useful tool for spurring action, but a hindrance in maintaining a clear vision.  Also, because she blogs for CNN now, she wrote a great article there discussing the reason that people are becoming disillusioned with the modern evangelical branch of the Church.

Comics

Kitty Pryde

Kitty Pryde (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Over at Beyond the Gamer, XmenXpert posted a nifty list of five superheroes in the Marvel universe who haven’t been made into Avengers yet, but really should be.  Kitty Pryde tops the list, which why not, seeing as she did single-handedly save the Earth from a giant bullet by phasing it through the planet.  Honestly, if you’re a hero in the Marvel universe and you save the whole world all by yourself, that should be an instant Avenger card right there.

Science

1. Magnets are a lot of fun.  Magnets used to make ferrofluids do interesting things with their structure is more fun than that.

2. Rachael and I saw Waking Life this week (in what I’m calling the slowest movie line-up of the summer), and while I thought it was strange, it did ask some interesting questions about the nature of dreaming.  If you haven’t seen it, then it might be worth your time; just don’t expect any comprehensible plot, since the entire two hour film seems to be mostly a simulation of a dream.  To help you figure out what that’s supposed to mean, here’s a list of ten theories on the nature of dreaming.

3. So, leave it to a bunch of Germans to freeze light for a minute.  “This light moves too quickly!  We must stop it so we can optimize its efficiency!”

4. I’m not sure this is exactly what they were talking about in Inception, but it’s an interesting avenue of research.  I’m curious to see what comes of memory implantation (one person in the comments mentioned that this could have profound effects on treating Alzheimer’s if it eventually led to being able to implant a person’s lost memories).

5. I listened to an audiobook a few years ago that was set in the near future where everyone had these weird silver glove things that worked like a cell phone.  They were fully flexible, and people just kind of stuffed the gloves in their pockets until they needed to make a call, then they pulled the rumpled little thing out, put it on, and got connected.  The first step to getting those gloves is this stuff here.

6. “We all love cephalopods!”

7. We actually get yellow skies like this in Georgia on occasion, though never with the awesome cloud formations.  Rachael and I used to joke that maybe it was the world ending; apparently we weren’t the only ones thinking that.

8. A quote from Rosalind Franklin, who discovered the double-helix structure of DNA, about the importance of allowing science and everyday life to intersect as much and often as possible.

Gaming

1. I don’t have a smartphone.  If I did, I doubt I’d try to do this with it.  “You died of the plague, roll a new character.”

2. I haven’t played this game, but the trailer looks good.  It’s a point and click adventure about a woman who’s nine months pregnant, in jail, and suspected of murdering her cellmate.  Also, it’s free.

3. Chrono Trigger is, objectively, one of the best games ever made.  I own it on three different platforms because no matter how many times it gets re-released, I always want to play it again.  This tribute makes me all nostalgic, and also leaves me wondering if Square Enix will ever do an HD update.  Check it out.

4. When you stop and think about it, you realize that the play cycle on Donkey Kong really was pretty short.  So short, in fact, that one guy with way too much time on his hands did a play-through of all three levels using stop motion photography and beads.

Movies

1. I feel very ambivalent towards the X-Men movies.  Even the ones that are generally considered good aren’t perfect.  Also, like any action movie, there are always plot holes.  For your consideration, a series of videos enumerating all the problems that were in the first three X-Men movies.

Current Events

1. Via MaddowBlog, an article discussing the recent trend in conservative policy toward instituting prison reform as a cost-saving measure.  Personally, I think this is a wonderful move on the part of the conservatives, because it holds true to the conservative ideal of fiscal responsibility while doing something that really will be of benefit to society as a whole.

2. From The Next New Deal, an article reviewing the libertarian model proposed by Robert Nozick in his book Anarchy, State, and Utopia.  I am not a libertarian, so I won’t say that this is a good critique of libertarianism writ large, but it puts the model that Nozick promotes in a very different, very harsh light.  If I have any libertarian readers, would you care to comment on this?

What the Heck, China?!

1. A man in China has a pet turtle whom he gives cigarettes to.  The turtle is a nicotine addict.  This is very sad, because I love turtles.

The Internet is for Sharing

1. Kotaku links to a Reddit thread where people are posting comparisons between Game of Thrones and Star Wars.  It’s Reddit, so you’ve probably already seen it, but I live under a rock and found it novel, so here it is.  Obviously, it contains spoilers for both franchises.

And that’s it from my little corner of the internet.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty 7/20/13

Who needs a preamble?

End of the World

1. Continuing with my fascination with how the world will end (apparently it’s going to be an asteroid, if my blog is any indication), we get this excellent xkcd comic.

Science

1. I recently read an article written by Virginia Heffernan where she explained her rationale for being a Creationist, and I found it headbangingly awful.  Her central point was that everything is based on a narrative and there is no absolute truth so just believe what you think is most awesome.  As a Christian who accepts the scientific theory of evolution, that kind of thought really irritates me because it’s a position that’s truly not going to make either scientists or people of faith appreciate that there is a way to reconcile both realms of thought.  This essay from i09 deals a little bit with this whole problem in depth.

2. So, there’s this ongoing experiment where a bunch of people have been watching a funnel full of pitch, because pitch is apparently viscous, although it runs extremely slowly.  This article from the Atlantic gives a bit of history on the experiment and all the times that researchers failed to see the pitch drop.

3. So someday, probably soon, there’s going to be a manned mission to Mars.  That’s going to be a really long trip.  I mean, I get tired of being in the car after about four hours.  I can’t imagine being stuck in a ship for 8 months each way.  Good luck with that, future Mars explorers.

4. I don’t understand quantum mechanics either, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have anything to do with the existence of souls.

5. So say you own a cow.  Now say your neighbor comes by and says that your cow’s not in your field; it’s gotten through the fence and is wandering in your neighbor’s field.  You go to check this out, and you see a black and white splotch from a distance in your neighbor’s field and conclude that, yes, your cow is in his field.  In reality, that splotch is a ripped trash bag with paper falling out of it.  Unobserved by both you and your neighbor is your cow in a copse of trees in your neighbor’s field.  While what you believe happens to be true, you do not have any actual evidence supporting it.  Therefore you believe rightly, but you yourself are incorrect.

Feminism

1. I have a penis.  It’s what defines me as a man.  What I do not have is a total inability to control my baser desires when I’m in the presence of an attractive woman.  The justices on the Iowa Supreme Court disagree about that last bit, since they ruled that a guy who fired an employee because he felt that she was a threat to his marriage because he found her attractive was justified.  That’s it.  She didn’t make any advances on him, she’s didn’t reciprocate his own lewd advances, she did nothing but act professionally.  Way to uphold the dignity of both the sexes, Iowa.

Gaming

1. There’s already one official Minecraft LEGO set.  Soon there will be two more.

2. The other day Earthbound was re-released on the Wii U eShop.  This is a big deal.  If you have a Wii U and you’ve never played this game (because if you have played it then you’ve already heard this news, because who doesn’t play this game and not love it?) then you should consider downloading it.  If you need someone who writes about games for a living explaining why you should play it, then watch this video.

Movies & TV

1. I really, really wish that Fox would just give up their rights to the X-Men franchise.  Not all of the movies have been bad, but for a continuity nerd like me, the way they’ve gone about completely screwing with everything (plus ignoring their own continuity) just irks me.  Having said that, I like these headshots of some of the characters that will be featured in the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past.  I’m almost tempted to go see it.  Almost.

Cover of "The Name of the Wind (Kingkille...

I never imagined Kvothe looking like such a lothario before I saw this cover.  Cover via Amazon

2. I recently finished reading The Name of the Wind, and I’ve started reading its sequel The Wise Man’s Fear.  As fantasy series go, I think this one’s great.  Patrick Rothfuss has entered the pantheon of my writing idols, because every time I sit down to read his stuff, I just think “I wish I could write something like that!”  Anyway, there’s a TV show in development.  Unfortunately, Fox is the studio developing it, so it may be awful.  But I still have high hopes for now.

3. If you have not seen Season 3 of Game of Thrones then don’t watch this video.  If you have and you also happen to love Arrested Development then by all means watch this video.

4. Also, if you haven’t seen Season 3 of Game of Thrones then don’t watch this video.  If you want a delightful recap of every character death in the show’s run so far set to Boyz II Men, then do watch it.  You will cry and then laugh and then cry again because everyone involved with making this series enjoys the suffering of others.

Comics

1. The Wolverine came out this weekend.  I’ll probably skip it until it comes out on DVD.  If you’re like me (a big nerd) then you might get a kick out of this infographic detailing all the changes Wolverine’s costume has gone through since his introduction in 1974.  Also, he never actually had a noseless phase; he was feral.  It was still a poor design decision, but we’ve all moved on from that now, okay?!

Mental Vacation

1. Enjoy this HD video of Niagara Falls taken from an aerial drone.

2. Watching dominoes cascade is wonderful.  Here’s a video of a lot of dominoes cascading.  Also, check out the comments on that post for a bunch of other domino videos.

And that’s it from my little corner of the internet.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty 7/11/13

Back from vacation, and finally caught up on all the stuff that’s been going on since the last roundup.  Look for thoughts on my vacation tomorrow, and for now, enjoy these links!

Lightning

Lightning (Photo credit: Pete Hunt)

1. A student of design at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem has come up with a design for a compact living space that’s made from two sheets of fabric stitched together.

2. Over at i09, we get a history lesson on a time when the Pope decided everyone was going to skip ten days on the calendar, and some people didn’t like that.

3. Fred Clark at Slacktivist has an answer to Richard Beck’s post about mattering that I discussed today.

4. The Avant/Gard Diaries recently published an interview they did with the Seattle vigilante Phoenix Jones.  I’m doubtful that what this guy is doing is really safe for the public, but I have to admit that he seems to have a real conviction about improving his community.

5. I love The Simpsons.  I enjoy Game of Thrones.  I adore Game of Thrones Simpsonized.

6. Rachel Held Evans is taking a break from the internet for a few weeks, but before she left, she posted this excellent rumination on the problem with biblical literalism as most people understand it.  Evans is a truly remarkable person in the blogosphere, because she very adeptly walks the fine moderate line.  Even if she’s not posting anything new for a while, take some time to check out her older content.

7. I am quickly becoming a fan of Richard Beck’s blog Experimental Theology in a big way.  Here’s a post he wrote two days ago in regards to an ongoing series he’s doing where he reads through the complete works of theologian William Stringfellow (that’s an awesome name).  There’s so much that’s interesting about this post, but if I have to pick out one thing to draw your attention, read the section regarding Stringfellow’s thoughts on prayer following his diagnoses with a debilitating disease.

8. A write-up on an incident that happened recently at a convention where someone thought it would be funny to slap stickers that said ‘fake geek girl’ on the rear ends of women attending the convention.  The behavior of the person who did this is reprehensible, but I can’t help feeling that Harris O’Malley, who blogs as Dr. NerdLove (his schtick is that he gives dating advice to nerds) and who originally created the stickers that the perpetrator used, made a misstep in trying to satirize the issue this way.  It probably speaks more to my own ignorance, but just looking at the sticker I couldn’t tell that it was meant to be making fun of the issue.

9. This one’s a downer, because it’s a story about how a child recently died after she had received a highly experimental trachea implant that was grown from her own stem cells.  The implant appears to have been a success, but other complications eventually killed her.  Despite the sad end to this story, I’m glad to know that treatments like this one are being researched and that the state of our healthcare technology is always getting better.

10. This couple had a Batgirl/Nightwing themed wedding, and it looks classy as heck.  Also, the photography’s really good.

11. Another brief post from Experimental Theology.  There’s something profound about boiling your understanding of the world to “sin and mercy.”

12. I’ve played Dungeons & Dragons in the past with some very good friends.  It never threatened to harm my immortal soul.  Mostly there was just a lot of goofiness and endless attempts to frustrate the DM.

13. This one’s mostly just a horror story, but it’s a true one.  I’d put it in the same category as the above link regarding the unfortunate girl with the trachea implant as something that saddens me because it happened, but also leaves me happy because people continue to expand and refine our scientific knowledge so that better, more effective treatments for all the malaise in the world can be found.

14. Striking a blow for gender equality, this guy’s taking a firm stance that he is not doing anything special by being a stay-at-home dad.  I love that he rejects the hero rhetoric by pointing out that he can’t lose no matter what he does while his wife can’t win with the same set of choices.  Kudos for writing the article, now get back to work; your children need you.

15. Following up on the last trailer for Sharknado we have this new one featuring a guy slicing a shark in half with a chainsaw.  The made-for-TV movie airs tonight, and for once, I regret that I don’t have cable.

16. I’m sharing this mostly because it references Watchmen heavily in its discussion of the different kinds of intelligences that humans display.  They make a good point that what we typically emphasize when we talk about intelligence relates to logic, while if we’re looking to enhance human capabilities in order to improve society, we should be thinking more along the lines of improving empathy.

17. Yet another post from Experimental Theology (just go read Richard Beck’s blog yourself; it’ll save me time sharing all this stuff), this time discussing the issue of gender dynamics within the Church.  Beck’s response to the whole mess is very thoughtful, and he cuts through the arguments to one simple question: are we grasping for power when we enforce gender roles, or are we seeking to serve one another as Jesus commanded?

18. And to wrap up, something amazing.  Rachael and I recently had our own personal experience with the awe and wonder of lightning, and I can say that seeing it this way is much cooler.

What I Like About Game of Thrones

I really enjoy the fantasy genre.  Any story that has an element of magic to it can usually draw my attention.  I loved reading the Harry Potter books; I enjoyed The Lord of the Rings (books and movies!); I think The Princess Bride is tops.

Game of Thrones title card.jpg

The Game of Thrones title card from the opening credits. (Photo image: Wikipedia)

The reason I like all of these particular stories, and several others, is that I enjoy a story that’s essentially optimistic about the state of the world.  Yes, there are evil forces at work, and they are serious threats to everyone’s well-being, but they can be overcome.  Good wins out in the end.

Now, the latest greatest fantasy fad is the television show Game of Thrones, which is an adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire.  I’ve not read the books (though the more I see of the series, the more I want to) and I know that Martin hasn’t finished writing them, so it’s still up in the air as to what the ultimate outcome will be.  I don’t know if good wins out in the end, or if in Martin’s fantasy world there even is a greater overarching good.

It’s generally best to look at the show as having a set of factions who are at odds with more and less sympathetic characters contained within each faction.  While the Lannisters appear to be villains and the Starks heroes, you get characters in both Houses that you actively root for or against depending on the context of a given scene.  It’s all very complicated, and leaves you feeling uneasy about who you want to achieve their goals.

Throw on top of that the fact that this is a low fantasy in the most cynical, grimdark way possible.  The stakes for the factions are more political than moral, magic exists on the fringes of the world with any instance of it leaving you wondering if it should be trifled with, and characters die with a suddenness and regularity that makes you hesitate to latch on to anyone.  For someone like me who tends to prefer idealism (see: my love of superheroes), a series with all of these horrific elements should be a turn off.

But I find it so compelling!

It’s difficult to pinpoint what makes the series so appealing, but if I have to take a guess, I think it’s the fact that everyone’s constantly in danger.  If you’ve seen any of the series then you know what I mean, and if you haven’t, then you have to understand that no one has invincible plot armor.

No one.

I think that’s an important thing to include in a story, because it adds a level of verisimilitude that a lot of fantasy lacks.  The fact of life is that people die all the time, and often they die before they reach any sort of closure on whatever their personal stories are.  It’s an important thing to remember, because I think ignoring it can stifle the empathy that we should be fostering for one another.  Not all real life stories end satisfactorily, and it doesn’t do anyone any good to act like they do.

Keeping that fact in mind, I find the stories in Game of Thrones compelling because they are intimately human.  Families are trying to be reunited, lovers are trying to be happy, climbers are trying to get just a little more security for themselves.  The fact that so many times these stories end in failure doesn’t negate the fact that I want to see these people succeed.

There are some serious problems with the series though.  While I love the story overall, incidental creative decisions always irk me.  The first season was pretty good about making depictions of sex and nudity relevant to the progression of the story.  In context of the scenes where it happened, it made sense.  The second and third seasons were far worse offenders though, with multiple instances of nudity just for the sake of nudity, with almost all of it being exclusively female.  It’s disappointing to see such gratuitous appeal to the lowest common denominator in a series that otherwise seems to be trying to explore the problems for women that are inherent in living within a patriarchal society.

There’s also the problem of torture that comes up in the third season.  Those scenes that included torture made me feel really uncomfortable while watching them.  I don’t usually have an issue with depictions of graphic violence, but some of the stuff they portrayed left me feeling kind of squeamish.  Of course, torture is categorically wrong, so the point may have been to make me feel uncomfortable seeing it so up close.

So the series has it’s plus and minuses, but overall I like it.

Except Joffrey; he can die in a fire.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty 7/6/13

Here we go!

1. Leading off, we have a very thoughtful article by Fred Clark over at Slacktivist regarding the problem with debating theological points based on proof-texting.  It’s framed within the context of the debate over gay marriage, but as Fred points out, it’s more productive to speak to principles that appear throughout scripture instead of homing in on a handful of verses to make a point.  In the course of his discussion, Fred also links to an excellent article by Letha Dawson Scanzoni that explains how she adheres to a set of broad Christian principles (which are founded on Biblical commands) in justifying her support for same-sex marriage (full disclosure: I support same-sex marriage).  Check it out.

2. At Experimental Theology, Richard Beck discusses an interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 by Troy Martin which suggests that women’s hair is analogous to a man’s testicles.  There’s more to it than that, and it has to do with ancient Greek medical concepts, but it’s a really interesting read.

3. Now we have proof-positive that Darth Vader is an unqualified badass.

4. And while we’re on the subject of Star Wars, I want this.

The flip-flop sandal, worn both by men and women

The flip-flop sandal, worn both by men and women (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

5. A rant against people who wear flip-flops.  I’m kind of partial to wearing flip-flops in summer, so I don’t entirely agree.  Maybe the aversion has something to do with region, since down here in Georgia I see people going in flip-flops all the time.  Heck, if there weren’t litter all over the place, I’d be more inclined to go barefoot when it’s so hot outside.

6. A video explanation of the uncanny valley and potentially why we find certain things creepy.

7. Random: I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

8. You don’t have to tell me all the ways that superheroes fail to follow the laws of physics.  But if you’re a science teacher and you want to use superheroes to teach about physics, then these videos are really fun.

9. If you are like me and you love zombies, then you have probably heard of The Walking Dead.  If you’re also a gamer, then you may have also heard of the adventure game that TellTale Studioes released last year to great critical acclaim.  This week, they just released DLC for that game that sets up plotlines for the game’s next season.  I’ve played the original game, and seen video of the new episode 400 Days, and it is fantastic.  Check it out.

10. Because sharks are a threat, no matter where you are.

11. I’ve seen most of the movies on this list.  They are indeed fantastic and worth your time.  If you don’t watch anything else, watch The Iron Giant.  It is, objectively, the best thing.

12. Because little girls deserve to be given the superhero treatment.  And some of the designs are quite good, actually.

13. Thinking about the future is incredibly fun.  Thinking about how it’s going to be better than now is way more fun that that.  What do you guys think of these projected technological advances that we’ll see in twenty years?

14. What was the origin of the zombie concept?  Arsenic, apparently.

15. I really enjoy Game of Thrones.  I also think that Gotye’s “Somebody I Used to Know” is stupid catchy.  So naturally, I think this parody of all the deaths in Game of Thrones Season 1 is pretty awesome.  If you haven’t seen Season 1 and you intend to, then skip this video for now.

16. And finally, writer John Scalzi announced that he would no longer appear at conventions that fail to have and enforce an anti-harassment policy.  As of today (7/6/13) over 600 other people have signed on to his policy.  I’ll be honest, I’ve not heard of John Scalzi before this, but he’s published multiple fiction and non-fiction books over the course of his career.  Anyone who takes convention harassment seriously like he is is totally cool and worth checking out.

And that’s all the fun stuff from my little corner of the internet!