Friday, January 23, 2009

25,000 Hits, 214 Posts

Thanks for the memories... };-)


Monday, January 19, 2009

Mission Trip Disappointment

Our youth group had planned to go to Chihuahua Mexico again this spring break, but alas, it was not to be. Too many parents started pulling their kids from the trip due to the drug cartel situation and the church staff decided that it was best not to go for various reasons. Some of the feeling came down to the trip being a tradition rather than a mission. Though it was a little disappointing, I kind of agreed. I liked Mexico, and the opportunity to help people down there, and I was disappointed that Christians were unwilling to risk their lives to further the work of the gospel.

But that was not the real disappointing part.

So now, the trip is likely to be headed to South Carolina. Fantastic! I've never been to the east coast, could be an adventure, plus I love driving and there's a good chance I'll be driving a fifteen passenger van. Additionally, the trip will cost probably half as much. One of my concerns last year with the Mexico trip was the huge outlay of money for the relatively small result, but hey, it gets kids into missions. What are you going to do?

Still not disappointed.

So we have a meeting after church yesterday and J Dizzle begins to describe all the goings on in the last two weeks that have changed the course of the trip. Then a couple of kids start talking about either them or their parents not wanting them to go because we weren't going to Mexico anymore.


I've been thinking about this idea for the past few weeks, as often I do. You see, I'll see something and start thinking about it and then something will happen to set it off, to make me angry enough to write a significant blog about it. I'm seriously beginning to feel like a prophet, not like an Isaiah, or a Jeremiah, or a Daniel, but like a Micah or a Malachi. I feel like a minor prophet. Minor prophets were a bit different than the major prophets, they wrote much shorter books, and relied far more on the injustices and wrongs they saw to form the basis of their pronouncements rather than on grand visions of the future. The minor prophets were men more like Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi. They saw something in their world that was wrong, and they sought to change it. Prophecy is not relegated to the fantasmic visions of strange animals and future events like many think it is. The minor prophets were all about saying things like "Hey, you chuckleheaded dillweeds are screwing up and you better knock it off or God's gonna get all fire and brimstone and smite your ass. In fact, you already had your warnings, consider your ass smote!"

What I've been thinking about is kind of this concept I call superstar missions. It's like if the mission isn't sexy, nobody wants to do it, and then if the mission is sexy, then everyone wants to do it. That's the reason fewer kids want to go to South Carolina. Something that really stood out to me and helped me develop this idea was when one of the pastors at church was called to Tibet. Suddenly it seemed everyone wanted to go to Tibet, and many did, once. The Tibet operation ended up having a lot of disagreements and ended up having to go through a significant restructuring as I see it. Interestingly enough, our church already had a number of missions operations. Before Tibet, there were operations in Albania, Southeast Asia, and Honduras. I guess those aren't sexy enough to have the kinds of problems that Tibet had. As far as I know, there has been only one trip to SE Asia, and I think two to Albania. There are yearly trips to Honduras, but the difference is that there is a significant personnel and business investment there.

I absolutely believe that some are called to be missionaries, and some are called to do short term trips. However, the strife that I see on some mission fields does not smell of Jesus. The one thing that proves to me that our former pastor should be in Tibet is that neither he nor his wife really wanted to go there, in fact, his wife really didn't want to go there. The missions that I see that smell of Jesus are the ones that have people who really dedicate their life to what they are doing. They don't spend their time bickering about decisions, they don't spend their money on camping gear for the trip, and they aren't sexy. The difference is, they are told to do something by their God, and they are gonna do it, even if there aren't great pictures to be taken on mountain tops or in ancient stone walled cities. They don't always end up in places whose names are bandied about by Hollywood celebrities.

I am a vital part of a church that prides itself on how many of its members have taken Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. This is a church that is supposed to be dedicated to missions, a sending church, a place where God is moving. What's this crap about some people not wanting to go on mission trips because they're dangerous? What's this ridiculous nonsense about people not wanting to go because we're not leaving the country? I don't give a gosh darn if we don't leave city limits, there are people out there Jesus told us to help, and as the Lord is my strength, I'm gonna try to do what I'm told, even if it is dangerous, even if it isn't sexy, and even if I have to go to North Carolina to do it. Jesus said he didn't come for sexy people (I'm paraphrasing here,) he came for the lowest, the least of these, the cripples, the widows (that's old people), the fatherless (or the illegitimate). It's like when Mother Teresa went to India. Nobody really wanted to do that, it was unsexy. It was dirty. It was diseased. It was downright nasty. But she did it, and she became the superstar. But she wasn't the superstar just for doing it, she was the superstar because she never quit doing it. And you know the unfortunate thing? Her death was overshadowed by Princess Diana's. A person who did far less for the world, yet was far more famous. So everyone remembers when Diana died, but I don't know anyone who knows when Teresa died. In heaven, Teresa will probably be welcomed with trumpets and mansions and riches. I wouldn't bet that Diana will even be there.

P.S. I'm not talking about everyone in my church, just some. I suppose more or less of the same could be said about every church.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Movie Review: Gran Torino

If you see one R rated movie in your lifetime, see The Passion of the Christ. If you see another one, see Gran Torino. In my point of view, this is likely one of the greatest movies of all time. It so much captures my worldview regarding violence, even though it is shown through a quite imperfect man.

Spoilers ahead, I'm spillin' the beans.

The story is about Walt, a very old very grumpy Korea veteran who lives in a neighborhood in Detroit now largely populated by Hmong. He shows a boy what manhood is like, and sacrifices himself for the boy and his sister and the whole neighborhood.

I've been watching some Clint Eastwood movies lately, and I couldn't help but notice that this one follows a kind of form that some of them follow. First you have an unlikely hero or antihero who wittingly or unwittingly helps some people, there is little real action for much of the movie, but some openers to get the story going. One of the people being helped is in some way brutalized by the bad guys which leads up to the climax. And then there is the final shootout followed by the denouement. It reminded me a bit of Pale Rider or Unforgiven except for the way the shootout goes.

This movie speaks to me in the way that it portrays the occurrence of redemptive violence. So many movies are based on revenge, kill the bad guy, get the girl, you win. But life, especially if you are a true believer in Christ does not work that way. This movie demonstrates that violence doesn't solve much, in fact, the only time Walt retaliates, it results in the rape and beating of Sue, the girl who introduces him to her Hmong family. So instead of mounting some sort of war against the Asian gangbangers, he instead implicates them all in his own murder by allowing himself to be gunned down as the only way of ridding the neighborhood of an inescapable negative influence. He says the only way Thao and Sue will ever make it is if the gangbangers are gone for good. As he demonstrates, the only way to successfully achieve that was to sacrifice himself. Really what it promotes is active non-violence, which is where I'm at.

One thing truly demonstrated in this movie is love. At the beginning of the movie, Walt is the grumpiest old man you can imagine, but when he, in a probably selfish move, saves Thao, the neighborhood lavishes love on him until he just can't resist it any more. This leads him to take Thao under his wing and ultimately leads him to sacrifice himself for the neighborhood. No, it's not as pure as Jesus, but it's almost as good as a human can pull off.

You might not expect it, but this movie is funny. In fact, I remember wishing that what they call comedies nowadays were this funny. Walt is hilarious. He spews racial epithets with impunity, he really doesn't care what anyone thinks. He calls the Hmong gooks to their faces, but they don't care, they welcome him anyway. I wish we as a country could let go of race and treat it as a source of humor not hate like Walt does with his barber and construction worker friend. "How ya doin' ya slimy mick bastard?" He didn't actually say that I don't think, but it was something like that. I'm a honky, he's a cracker, he's a wop, she's a beaner. So what. Race is a thing we have to deal with, and it won't be dealt with by ignoring it. Problems never go away that way.

All in all, this is one of the most impactful movies I have ever seen because if it's negative portrayal of redemptive violence. Even in the small cruddy theater I saw it in, there was substantial applause when the film ended. The only complaint I had was the acting was a little thin from some of the Hmong leads, but that was because only one of them had ever acted before. And I guess you could say with all the frowning and stern looks Eastwood gives in all his movies, the look has almost stuck. It's kind of hard to make him look any more pissed than usual, but the general nastiness and pissed offedness of the character does a pretty good job.

Entertainment wise, The Dark Knight was the best movie last year, but with how I perceive the message that I'd like to present, I put Gran Torino in first place. I hope one day Israel figures out that violence doesn't work. I give this movie 9/10 and it would have been 10 save for the acting. This will be a movie that I get on Blu-Ray or whatever technology is in, and it will be a movie my children will watch with me. Yes the swearing is excessive, but that's reality for you and it is easily forgettable. Watch it. I think it would be a fitting end if ol' Clint quit making movies.


Friday, January 9, 2009

iPhone Crap Crap Crap Crap Crap Crap Crap!!!

Back in September, when we renewed our cell phone contract I splurged and got an iPhone for my birthday. It worked well for a while, but I realized right away that it was not of the legendary Apple quality. It was good for a phone, but crap for an Apple. It was $200 with a 2 year contract which I was hesitant about but ok with, especially considering that without a contract it costs $550.

The honeymoon is over.

I wanted a Tilt or a Palm, why didn't I think this through? Because I wanted wifi and something that would fit in my pocket which a Tilt won't do. So what is the first thing to go? No surprise there, the wifi quit working around Thanksgiving. So it's still in warranty, I decided to send it in to get it fixed. The people on the phone give me the runaround, do the reset, do the backup, do the other reset. So I do. Eventually I call them back and they decided to send me a box to send to them, but unfortunately while at my inlaws for Christmas I got a little water on the phone. It still worked, just fine, no problems, but the wifi still doesn't work.

So guess what automatically voids the warranty?

$#!+ $#!+ $#!+ $#!+ $#!+ $#!+ $#!+ $#!+ $#!+!!!!!!!

So, I'm stuck with a $550 phone with no warranty, three months into ownership with a two year contract. Can it be fixed? Nope. Won't be replaced either. My only option is when it breaks for good to switch back to my old tried and true RAZR whose battery lasts a freakin' week and wait a few more years for a new contract.

It's a sign. I'm a Windows man, Windows never cost me more than the purchase price. I like being able to buy a computer with parts each made by a different company for discount prices and be able to use whatever program or component I want.

The only apples I'll be buying in the future are the kind you can eat. Plus I have trees that give them away for free in the front yard.

I wish there were a competitor to iTunes.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Hotel Case Study: Peer Pressure's Impact on the Environment

By Marina Krakovsky in Scientific American

Most travelers staying at hotels have encountered a bathroom sign asking them to help save the environment by reusing their towels. Daily laundering makes a large hotel go through several million gallons of water a year, and detergent and energy use take a hefty toll, too. New research shows, however, that appealing to people’s green conscience is hardly the most effective way of convincing guests how best to dry off.

In experiments whose results ultimately confirmed what persuasion experts long believed, a team led by Noah Goldstein, now at the University of California, Los Angeles, created two types of professional-looking signs: one with the standard environmental message and the other telling guests that most of their fellow guests had reused towels. “It’s one of the oldest marketing tricks in the book,” says Goldstein, citing the plentiful research showing that in ambiguous situations people tend to follow the pack. Sure enough, as the investigators describe in the October Journal of Consumer Research, the social-norm message worked about 25 percent better than the standard environmental one. In a follow-up study that tested different tweaks to the social-norm message, Goldstein’s team got even more remarkable results. Telling guests that those who had stayed in this room had reused towels worked better than saying that other guests at the same hotel had done so—even though all the rooms were alike.

Savvy travelers realize that hotels save on laundry bills if guests reuse their towels, so environmental appeals could appear disingenuous. After all, a hotel could decide to give back that money to guests. One problem with such financial incentives, though, is logistical: according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association, tracking the number of towels reused per room could be difficult. But there is a bigger problem. If financial incentives are not high enough, Goldstein suspects, they could backfire.

That is the idea of “motivation crowding,” a theory predicting that monetary incentives push away the drive to do things for other reasons. “A good example is sex,” says Uri Gneezy, an economist at the University of California, San Diego, who studies the effect of incentives. When you make a sexual overture, your partner may or may not accept, but if you offer to also throw in $10, you will strike out for sure. “When you introduce money, you completely change the meaning of the interaction,” Gneezy explains. “Instead of a communal relationship, where we’re just nice to each other, now it’s an exchange relationship.” In a frequently cited study, Gneezy found that when an Israeli day care center started fining parents 10 shekels (about $3) for picking up their children late, tardy pickups actually increased because parents saw the fine as the price for being late. Similarly, Gneezy says that offering guests, say, a $1 discount for reusing towels will make them reason, “For a dollar, I might as well get fresh towels.” Of course, a sufficiently high incentive would boost towel reuse but at prohibitive cost to the hotel.

Estimates of towel reuse range from 35 to 75 percent, depending on how reuse is measured; to increase reuse, Gneezy suggests that hotels keep money out of it but signal sincerity with donations to environmental causes. Goldstein cautions, though, that there must be no strings attached to hotels’ donations. His team found that promising to donate money in exchange for towel reuse did not increase reuse. But when hotels said they had already donated, towel reuse rose by 45 percent. The norm of reciprocity, Goldstein believes, obliges many guests to be more green themselves.

There was also a story on NPR this evening about this story that mentioned a pilot study that compared your energy usage to others and listed it on your energy bill. The plan got nothing but negative feedback, however, it does work. The negative feedback came from those who were doing worse than the average by the way. There is also the effect of those doing better than the average relaxing their standards, however, if you think about it, the people using more than the average are more likely to use less which will lower the average, resulting in a net reduction, I think.

If you have been reading my home energy consumption updates, from time to time I mention a comparison between my home energy usage and the national average. I have been using around 73% of the average of homes. The difference is I use primarily electric heat, have electric stove, water heater, and dryer. Were I to be using gas for those things, I'd be using far far less electricity. Soon, I plan to incorporate water usage into my calculations, though I already know I use far less than average, I like solid numbers.

I'm not mentioning these things to brag, I'm just trying to be an example and trying to show people that it can be done and how to do it.


Monday, January 5, 2009

Hotel Review, The Ramada off 430 and 630 in Little Rock

This is my first hotel review. I don't stay at hotels often, but we stay at this one about four times a year for three days at a time due to my wife's work. This isn't really about complaining about things that aren't "green" or that are unsustainable, it is about pointing out things that need to be and should be changed, both now and in the future. So, I guess this is not so much a review of the Ramada, but of hotels in general, and recommendations of what I believe a hotel should look like, internally that is.

My first criticism is what assails me every time I enter a hotel room. It's the air conditioner. It's always on. In fact when I got to the room yesterday, it was on and it was set to cool even though it was just above freezing outside. That means the air conditioner was not only sucking heat out of our room, but by the laws of thermodynamics, it was sucking the heat out of the whole building. This unit is a massive waste of energy that is made worse by poor management and even worse, there's one in every room.

Secondly, the bathroom could use some help. The toilet is not a low flush unit. It is loud and uses tons of water. A big problem is how long it takes to get hot water. In fact, there are signs in some rooms that tell you just to let it run if you don't get hot water at first. The shower is not of the low flow variety.

The TV is an old Zenith like my grandparents had back in the early nineties. All the light bulbs are incandescents. The window is thermal pane but is obviously not that good since it sweats badly and it's only 0C outside. Another problem is the cold air blowing down the hallway. I checked the thermostat and discovered it was set to "cool" and 56 F, it probably hasn't been changed since before summer. Sad.

Here's what a good hotel should look like with sustainability in mind. Done right, the changes made will pay for themselves and make the hotel more profitable. Such an investment is more viable in a large commercial minded building like a hotel. Additionally, the opportunity is good because hotel chains are large and can afford a larger initial investment.

First we have to change the paradigm of how the whole system works. We can't think of a hotel as a hundred tiny houses conglomerated into a single building. Fewer larger systems are more efficient than tons of small systems. An easy fix to the heating situation is to incorporate radiant hydronic heating. Each room has its own loop of heating coils in the floor with its own pump controlled by a thermostat that draws water from the main hot water system, so the heat source is as large and efficient as possible while still giving individual control to each room. The heat source should be a primarily solar system with a heat pump backup. The heating system should double as the hot water system to save piping and costs. With a well insulated main line on each floor that constantly slowly circulates, hot water is never more than a second away wasting little water.

Cooling is just a little more difficult to figure out and in a state like Arkansas, it is important. This could be solved as simply as a single small window type air conditioner unit per room, or there could be a central water chiller that provides cooling, it would depend on the size of the hotel. The point is, with a super insulated and correctly sun oriented building, cooling would be a minor affair. That brings me to my next point, super insulation. Good insulation and thermal mass keep the building at a pretty even temperature year round.

A hotel's lighting has limited demands, the rooms are small, and some areas often not used for a while. This seems tailor made for what Walmart has been experimenting with lately, motion sensing LED lights. LEDs are naturally focused bulbs, therefore wasting little energy shooting light in places where no one is. Imagine walking down a long hallway and only four meters in front and behind you are lit, and the light moves as you do. I've had this idea especially for libraries, the U of A library runs many tens of thousands of watts around the clock just to light books that no one is reading. In the future I'd like to see it as an annoyance to have to actually turn the lights on when you enter a room. Lazy you say, no, efficient.

Another convenient form of hotels is multiple toilets on different floors virtually on top of each other. This is a perfect form for Clivus Multrum type composting toilet systems. As we know, composting toilets can lower water usage by 40%. Another water saving feature is low flow showerheads. Sure, you can use cheap ones, but I can tell you from experience, the more expensive and quality ones are so much better. My showerhead uses the water pressure to mix air with the water so it feels like much more water is hitting you than actually is.

With as much as this hotel is used (and not used, it's virtually empty now) there are lots of ways to save energy, money, and to not be wasteful.

Friday, January 2, 2009

I want this dog.

"Nappy Dog"
"The Dredded Woof"
"Marley" (yeah, you know)
"Lenny Kravitz in the 90's"
"Rope Monster"
"The Hound of the Marijuanavilles"

That'll be all, thank you.

Weez Gittin 0uta Shawshankz!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Welcome to 2009

This is blatant attempt to get some material.

What would you like to see me do this year? What would you like to read about from me? What direction would you like to see me go? What subjects do you want me to go deeper in to? What subjects should I stay away from?

And this time I want direct answers none of that "you really should write about something but I don't know what" crap, I want detail. If you don't give me detail, I can't give you what you want. Please submit your ideas in the comments of this or any other post, I read them all and reply to many of them.

And I do reserve the right to ignore your suggestions if I should so choose.