Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Sanity, Insanity, and Tragic Irony

Sanity: The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Government accommodations of religious worship are not an unconstitutional form of favoritism.

A mob angered by an al-Qaida-linked suicide bombing in a Shiite mosque set a KFC restaurant on fire in overnight rioting, killing six employees and bringing the day's overall death toll to 12, police said Tuesday. What does KFC or its employees have to do with the mosque bombing?

Tragic Irony: A teenager's killing rampage in Ohio perplexed school officials, who said he seemed to have been in good spirits. His name? Scott Moody.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

If you can't say something true...

One thing I've noticed is that people can be pretty cavalier in spouting information that they really know nothing about. It's a general principle that seems to be multiplied when applied to the LDS faith. For instance, consider this gem from "Father Jack":

Gnosticism implies that Christian history is an imprisoning antiqueish (sic), structure, unnecessary, and that Jesus is not God, nor, certainly, a Savior. Gnostics were an elitist sect who believed in arcane knowledge to save souls their own, human way. They wanted some apocryphal ("hidden") gospels to be part of the Bible, which is Brown's agenda, saying these unreliable, sometimes unrational (sic) accounts are necessary for holiness....Mormons in the last century similarly said there was an alternative revelation--to Joseph Smith in New York, which alleged that so-called "lost Israelite tribes" continued via native American Indians to present-day Mormon lineages. And, Jesus wasn't divine or eternal. Thus, Mormons are not Christians. [emphasis added]
From what I understand about gnosticism, the first part of what he said was true. But it's like he couldn't resist the temptation to use it as a jab at "Mormons." To be nitpicky:
  1. "similarly" implies that the message of the Mormons was somehow akin to the gnostic gospels, or to the message of The Da Vinci Code, depending on what you attach it to. Not true.
  2. "alternative revelation" again implies that Joseph Smith's revelations were an alternative to Christianity or the belief that Christ is our God and Savior. Contrariwise, Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon totally testify of Jesus Christ's divinity and eternal nature.
  3. "continued via native American Indians to present-day Mormon lineages" -- Is he saying that Mormons are claiming to be descendants of Nephites? He's totally off the mark.
  4. "And, Jesus wasn't divine or eternal" -- See point 2. The entire LDS faith is centered around Jesus Christ, and the belief that He is our God. In fact, the official name of the LDS Church is: "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." Unlike Father Jack's "Catholic Church," we actually take on the name of Jesus Christ, like He told us to! Yet, I've noticed that many non-LDS people prefer to call us "Mormons" so they don't have to deal with this truth.
Anybody who knows what the LDS faith is all about couldn't possibly have made this sort of mistaken claims. Yet this religious leader has no qualms about making unsupported statements like this. It certainly doesn't give the man much credibility. Whether it's because he's making it up (which I doubt) or because he's getting his information from an unreliable source (more likely), it still makes me hesitate to believe whatever else he has to say. It's just so easy for people to just say something bad about the LDS faith and assume that nobody will know any better, since their audience isn't LDS.

Real scholars aren't immune to this syndrome, either. Carl E. Olson and Sandra Miesel wrote The Da Vinci Hoax in order to use a scholarly and fact-filled approach to debunking the claims of The Da Vinci Code. Yes, the mistaken claims of The Da Vinci Code are so numerous that people have written fairly sizeable books about them. I finished reading The Da Vinci Hoax this morning, and I found it for the most part very informative. It was nice that on most of their points they provided sources that you could follow to verify what they were saying. They also told you (when possible) where Dan Brown (the DVC's author) got his ideas, revealing that most of the information came from a selective interpretation of already-flawed information from two different books. But I digress.

Despite the generally truthful and factual nature of the book, the authors couldn't help using it to make a jab at the LDS faith. After describing the general gist of Gnosticism, page 70 states:
The appeal of secret knowledge and the promise of elite techniques for harnessing the spiritual realm make gnosticism appealing to a diverse range of cultures and peoples, from second-century Valentinians to the medieval Cathars of France to the nineteenth-century followers of Joseph Smith and modern-day New Agers.
So they're saying that the reason people join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to gain some kind of "secret knowledge" and "elite techniques," and they imply (but stop just short of actually stating) that we have some kind of mystical, non-Christian view of the world, and that we use the gnostic gospels or something. Of course, they offer no reference source for this allegation. Then, in the very next sentence, they launch into a paragraph about the Heavens Gate cult. Frankly, I find the association insulting.

I guess I just wish that people would get their facts straight before acting like what they say is "Gospel Truth."

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Silly people

This interesting CNN article talks about the reasons that the French people are probably going to vote against the EU Constitution. It's probably a good thing that I'm not going to be allowed to talk politics while I'm in France. They sure do have a different way of thinking.

Friday, May 27, 2005

M4A to M4B file converter

A friend asked me if there was an easier way to convert ripped iTunes files into audiobook-style iTunes files than to do it by hand. She's got a bunch of audio books that she'd like to listen to on her iPod, but there's not really a graceful way to rip them as audio books automatically. But the only difference between the music files and the audiobook files is the extension gets changed from .m4a to .m4b. Apparently, there's a script that does this for Macs, but the Windows users are forced to manually rename the M4A files to M4B and then point iTunes to the renamed file.

So I buckled down and wrote this little application to do it automatically. It's pretty self-explanatory. Just download both files into the same folder (any folder will do) and run M4AtoM4B.exe.

By downloading and/or running this application, you agree not to use it for evil purposes, and you won't allow anybody else to get their grubby paws on it except by having them go through this website first. While I see no reason why it should hurt your computer in any way, I can make no guarantees as to the safety of your files, folders, programs, hardware, life, liberty, or property if you use this program. Good luck.

So, without further ado, the files:

Another handy feature, by the way, is that the "Clean" button will search and remove dead tracks from your iTunes Library. So if you've moved stuff around manually and now you have a bunch of dead links, you can use this tool to automatically clean house.

If you have suggestions for improvement, stick a comment to this blog entry. I'll get to it when I can.

The program was written in C# using Visual Studio .NET 2003. If you're on an older computer, you might need to head over to the Windows Update site and get the .NET runtime.

Update: Many people have asked about the possibility of merging their audio book files into one file. Dagon Design has an article about Turning MP3 Audiobooks into iPod Audiobooks which gives a good overview of the whole process, including a link to an MP3 Merger tool that can be used to merge your MP3 files into a single file. Thanks to an anonymous commenter for this tip-off.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Support Scouting

As an Eagle Scout myself, I think this is very important:

I have just signed the National Petition to Congress urging them to enact the Support Our Scouts Act of 2005. This legislation has been drafted by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and has been endorsed by the Boy Scouts of America.

There has never been a time when Scouting has been more important to our young men and to our nation than it is now. Yet, there has never been a time when Scouting has been under greater attack than now.

This bill will ensure that the federal government will continue to support Scouting and that the Scouts will be treated fairly and equally with all other youth groups. More background information is posted, along with the National Petition, is posted on the Scouting Legal Defense Fund's Web site. (http://ctserver.ath.cx/sldf/petition.html)

The homosexual activists and others who are attacking Scouting are organizing to defeat this bill, so it is essential that all of us willing to defend Scouting let Congress know that we support it.

I hope you will visit this site and sign this National Petition. It takes just a moment.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Newsweek, cont'd.

Somebody here made this interesting comment, regarding the Japanese Newsweek "America is Dead" cover:
Just to put a bit more context to this cover - if it's dated Feb 2 as Riding Sun states, then it was on the newstands as the Iraqis risked their lives to vote.
And apparently the cover wasn't the only difference. The story titled "Dream on, America" in the International Edition ("America, the dream country, is rotting away" in the Japanese edition) was never printed in the U.S. edition. Now, I can understand choosing not to print a story with only localized interest. For instance, I doubt the Europeans care that much about Terri Schiavo, or in this case, the Oscars. But I would think that if America is rotting away, that might be an important story for Americans to hear about. Another commentor on the same blog compared it to "when Arafat used to say one thing in English--a kinder, gentler Arafat--and another in Arabic."

On the brighter side, here's an article about how America's presence in the Middle East has been a catalyst for changes for the better. This is the first time I've heard this particular viewpoint, so I'm not going to take it at face value. But I'd like to consider it, just because it seems like an informed opinion.

Thursday, May 19, 2005


It looks like I've got a bit of news to catch up on. First of all, it appears increasingly unlikely to me that the Newsweek article I mentioned a few posts ago hit the mark squarely. You've probably heard this by now, but after all those folks were killed in riots, Newsweek retracted their story... sort of. They said it could have happened, but they couldn't verify that it had, so sorry for printing it. According to Reuters, the International Red Cross received reports in 2002 and early 2003 that the Koran was being treated without due respect (they declined to confirm or deny the toilet-flushing scenario), but that after reporting this to the U.S. government, corrective measures were taken and there hasn't been a report since then. Let me say again: the International Red Cross says "those allegations have not resurfaced" since early 2003. Even at that time, it sounds like it mostly was a matter of non-Muslims touching the Koran, or of a Koran accidentally falling to the floor. In January 2003, they issued guidelines detailing how to handle the Koran with proper respect. Do we have to ask whether these people would have shown equivalent respect to captured Americans? Not a chance.

Oh, and then we managed to enrage the Muslim world by not preventing a British newspaper from obtaining and printing photos of Saddam Hussein standing in his underpants, folding his pants. Gee, poor ousted dictator. Be sure you don't mention that he ordered his own citizens raped, tortured and killed. Hush: That might cause some people not to show him the kind of respect that he deserves.

A funny side note: as Riding Sun points out, there was a very interesting difference between Newsweek's covers in early February of this year. The American one was all about the Oscars, whereas the Japanese one features an American flag in the trashcan. Pretty ironic, considering they are now criticizing the U.S. for the alleged disrespect of an important symbol. The Force of Human Freedom printed a translation of the table of contents.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Mission Call

I just opened my mission call. I'm going to Paris, France (French-speaking). I'll be going to the MTC on August 17. Sweet!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Why strict churches are strong

The Power of the Mustard Seed - Why strict churches are strong. By Judith Shulevitz

Slate has an interesting piece describing an economist's essay that explains in quantifiable terms why people choose to follow faiths that have strict rules of obedience and such. A couple of excerpts:

Iannaccone starts by asking why people join strict churches, given that doing so exacts such a high price. Eccentric customs invite ridicule and persecution; membership in a marginal church may limit chances for social and economic advancement; rules of observance bar access to apparently innocent pleasures; the entire undertaking squanders time that could have been spent amusing or improving oneself.
What does the pious person get in return for all of his or her time and effort? A church full of passionate members; a community of people deeply involved in one another's lives and more willing than most to come to one another's aid; a peer group of knowledgeable souls who speak the same language (or languages), are moved by the same texts, and cherish the same dreams.

Monday, May 16, 2005


When I was in my interview with the Stake President a couple of weeks ago, he mentioned that my doctor's recommendation listed me as having O+ blood. I was sort of afraid of that. What it means is that now I'm going to feel bad if I don't give blood. I really hate needles. It's just not natural to stick something into your body like that. I hated getting my hepatitis shots. But I realize that it's really important that they always have enough blood, and that my blood type is really important for them to have. So I went today when my stake was doing a blood drive, and gave blood. My wonderful girlfriend, Liz, came to lend me courage and read me funny headlines out of a book she has. It all went really well. I feel fine. And I got a cool T-shirt.

Now I'm back home, and I'm going to continue cleaning up my room while Liz fills out job applications. Fun stuff.

Saith the Post-Donation and Call-Back Instructions:
A rainbow of color may occur for about 10 days


Friday, May 13, 2005

Link: Democracy and Tolerance

The Title of Liberty posted this little gem which really hits the nail on the head as far as the dangers of favoring tolerance over liberty. It's amazing to me to see the insight that people had tens, hundreds, and even thousands of years ago, that applies specifically to the state of our nation today.

What's allowed?

Is a federal judge allowed to reject a state's democratically-established constitutional amendment?

Is a school principal allowed to tell students they can't have Bible study during recess?

Or how about this one:
Wesley's teacher had invited Busch to her classroom at Culbertson Elementary School on Oct. 18 as part of "Me Week," in which the class would learn more about a featured student...

One of the activities involves the student's parent reading aloud from a favorite book in class. Busch said her son's favorite book is the Bible.

But before the teacher would let Busch continue, she said she would have to get permission from Principal Thomas Cook. After a meeting in the hall, Cook informed Busch she couldn't read the Bible in class...
And here's a sad story:
Newsweek magazine said in its May 9 edition that investigators probing abuses at the U.S. military prison in Cuba found that interrogators "had placed Korans on toilets, and in at least one case flushed a holy book down the toilet."
That is despicable behavior. Utterly inexcusable. That needs to be investigated. If it's really happening, it needs to be stopped, and somebody in charge needs to be removed from their position for allowing (or encouraging, as the case may be) that sort of behavior. But killing people is really the wrong way to go about it. If God (Allah, whatever) had the option of seeing one human being kill another and seeing one human being flush a holy book down the toilet, where do you think His priorities would be? I don't know what the Koran teaches, but the Bible says our bodies are temples. Do you destroy one of God's temples in retribution for the destruction of scriptures?

Monday, May 09, 2005

$4 Haircut

I took the bus downtown this morning to get my hair cut at this little place that does $4 haircuts. As it turns out, I guess they're only open Mondays, so I was pretty lucky--or blessed, depending on how you look at it--that I did it today. It was refreshing to actually walk a few blocks today. For the past couple of years, I was so busy that I had to drive just about everywhere I went. Even at school, my classes were all within a hundred yards of the parking lot. So I'd sit at work, drive to school, sit in class, sit in the lab, drive home, and sit in the office. It was a pretty sedentary lifestyle. I've got youth and good genes to thank that I'm not totally out of shape. And good diet, I suppose, but you see what I mean.

It was also interesting to be going so far out of my way to save a little money. I mean, it's not that I was wasting time; I was able to read through some important files while I was on the bus and waiting for the bus. But for the past couple of years, my time was worth so much more than my money that I would hardly hesitate to just drive to the local stylist and have my hair done for $15 or $20 (plus tip). Now, suddenly, time spent on a bus is no longer time spent away from schoolwork or away from a paying job. Since I'm saving my money for a mission and I no longer have a reliable source of income, my priorities have changed. Rather than waste money on gas and car maintenance, I would rather use the free bus pass that I have left over from when I was a student. And I'm willing to go halfway across town just to get the cheapest haircut. It's really a different way of thinking... and I'm glad to see that it isn't a difficult transition for me. I see so many people that get used to a particular lifestyle and just can't seem to adopt a different mentality when they find that their situation has changed.

On a similar note, I'd like to mention something interesting I noticed on Mothers Day. I spent the evening with Liz's family, and I got to see Liz's mom opening her Mothers Day gifts. It was incredible to see her open each gift--some oven mits, a box of wheat crackers, some cottage cheese--and just see her eyes light up and see that she was genuinely thankful for each and every one of those gifts. I thought that was really neat. It's so different from what I grew up with, and in some ways I hope my own family can be more like that when the time comes.

And while I'm on the subject of money, I might mention that my step-grandma has decided to hire me to give her computer lessons. I think that'll be pretty fun, and it certainly won't hurt to be making a little extra money. Who knows, maybe I can even afford to keep my cable Internet access. That's one thing I think I'll have a really difficult time doing without.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Atom feeds

For those who aren't up on the latest and greatest technology stuff, I have great news! Blogger uses Atom feeds! Isn't that exciting? Oh, you don't know what that means. What it means is this: there are some cool and exciting ways to check my Blog, if you're willing to step outside that comfort bubble for a moment.

First of all, if you download and install Mozilla Firefox (which is a much better browser than Internet Explorer), you will be able to glance at my blog entries from your bookmarks to see if there's anything new, like this:

To do this, visit my blog in Firefox, and then follow the directions for Adding Live Bookmarks here.

Thunderbird will even let you download my blog entries along with your email, and read them at your leisure, like this:

This is slightly more complicated, but if you follow the directions under "Creating an RSS News and Blogs Account" here, you should be ok. When you are asked for feed's location, type:


(I look like such a goofball)

Well, I'm pretty much graduated now. I got my little diploma cover and everything. Of course, it'll be a couple of months before they actually send me a diploma, but I'm pretty sure I covered all my bases as far as getting my requirements out of the way. Wouldn't it be terrible to find out a couple of months after commencement and graduation that you didn't graduate after all?

My family waiting for me to walk.

I decided not to go to commencement (the entire University), and instead went to the Convocation for the College of Engineering. Even so, it took soooo long. I felt sorry for my family, having to sit through all of that just to see me get a diploma case. And then it occurred to me that they were the reason I was there, and not the other way around. So I felt sorry for me instead. ;-)

Now, to enjoy my free time!

Thursday, May 05, 2005


The last few days

I spent all night Tuesday night into Wednesday morning working on the AI for my last school project (a Checkers game for the PocketPC) until I finally had it making smart moves (it forced Dan into a triple-jump that he never saw coming, and then proceeded to defeat him). Then I tried it on the PocketPC, and it died. It used up so much processing power and memory that unless we turned it way, way down, it would take forever to move, or run out of memory and die. Oops. So, I made the AI really dumb again. By that point, it was almost time to get up and get ready for work anyway, so I didn't even bother going home; I just wrote Mom an email message to let her know I'd be ok (since my cell phone ran out of batteries overnight), took an hour-long nap, and went to work. Then from work I went to a school faculty meeting, and from that I went to an UgSAC meeting, then I had a bit of time to make sure we had everything finished and looking beautiful for the demo. Professor Kessler doesn't like games very much, but we impressed him on point after point, feature after feature, until he was just amazed at how well we did. In fact, I think the only thing that he said critical of us was, "You guys have way too much time on your hands." That made us pretty happy.

Some of us are probably going to polish the it up and look into the possibility of selling it. We all agreed (in writing) that each team member gets 10% of net profits as royalties if that happens. It probably won't make a whole ton of money, but it could be nice to have a little money coming into my account while I'm serving a mission.

After demoing the project and signing the royalty agreement, I finally went home and crashed--or, was about to. Once my cell phone started charging, it realized that I had about 5 voice mails, so I figured I'd better check them. After I'd listened to the first one, I got an incoming call from my Dad, who said my Aunt Loralee had called my stepmom to say that nobody had seen me since Sunday (which is silly, because Mom saw me Monday and probably even Tuesday morning). I guess Mom never checked her email, and lost Liz's phone number so she couldn't ask Liz if she knew where I was, and so when Loralee called her to convince her to go to a Xango meeting, she said that the first priority for her when she gets home is to find out where James is. Loralee asked, and Mom explained that she hadn't seen me for "a couple of days" (this was Wednesday afternoon), and so Loralee took it on herself to try to track me down through my dad's family. Sheesh. Well, needless to say, when I got off the phone with my dad I found that the remaining voice mails were all Mom trying to figure out where I was, except for the last one, which was Loralee doing the same. Once I got all of that straightened out, I was able to get to bed and I slept until 7:00 this morning.

After finishing my last day at work (!) today I went to school to pick up my "regalia" (cap & gown). As I was about to leave, I noticed a car had poked itself into my bumper. I guess somebody'd forgotten to put their parking brake on. Luckily, they got back in time to pull their car back out, after which the bumper assumed its original shape and we all went home happy.

One of the other team's leaders in my Senior Project class emailed the Professor because his team is unhappy about the grade they got, and he accidentally copied the email to the whole class. That made me nervous until I got a chance to check my own grade--It's an "A"!!!! I am so happy! I'm pretty positive that the rest of my grades will be A's, too, since my demo Wednesday went so well and my only other class was the Industry Forum (easy "A"). Talk about ending school on a good note! I think I'm gonna go dancing tonight.



Good as new!

Monday, May 02, 2005


My little brothers convinced Mom that I need to show her the Star Wars game before I leave on my mission, so that she can decide if it's too violent for them to play. Kaden says, "All it has is guns and shooting people and stuff." I had to laugh.