Vulgar Time-Traveling iPhone


Every Sunday morning, my iPhone becomes a time machine.

I wrote a post a couple of years ago about technology and scripture, about how changes in the way scripture is presented change the way we interact with it, and even how we think about it and what we get out of it.

By and large, I don’t see these things as good or bad, they simply are. If a person believes that scripture is divinely inspired, it’s not too far a leap to imagine that the One doing the inspiration had the foresight to know that media would change over time and prepare for it.

(On a side note, I heard someone talk about scripture in terms of fault-tolerant transmissions. We have the technology now to beam messages to spacecraft throughout the solar system in such a way that even if there is data lost in transmission, the process compensates so that what is received is still usable. I’m inclined to think that may be a good analogy — that scripture was inspired to function properly despite human language changes, errors, and international alterations.)

The latest significant change for me is interesting because it actually mitigates the effects of one of the earlier changes. To me, one of the earliest presentation changes was the beginning of the practice of translating scripture. Now, you no longer have to speak Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic to understand the stories. The number of people who can understand scripture on their own is broadened tremendously. This is a very good thing.

That very good thing, however, comes at a cost — the reach is broadened, but shades of meaning are lost. A word might mean multiple different things, and the translator has to pick which one was intended. A word might have several shades of meaning, and the new language equivalent may not capture that texture. A word might mean one thing, but be translated as a word that has shades of meaning not intended by the original. (And that doesn’t even get into cultural differences over time.)

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been discovering some of those instances where things I took for granted weren’t necessarily the case, or where there was a richness in the original I had no awareness of.

I still don’t speak the original languages, and don’t have an original text Bible anyway. And, to be honest, that first part is unlikely to ever change.

But, I do have my iPhone time machine.

I now have the ability to select any word in a passage, and see what the original-language word there was. I can read definitions for what the word meant. I can see whether it’s the same word used in another place with a similar translation.

It brings me a little bit closer to what it would have been like reading the original.

I realize there are still limitations — I’m cherry-picking the words I’m looking up, I’m still going based on someone else’s definitions, I still don’t necessarily understand the cultural context — but it’s at least helping me to think about things differently, to be aware of the richer texture.

And that, I think, is a change for the better.

Better Than A Bad Book

Quite a while back, in one of the more-read posts on my blog, I wrote about my conflicted thoughts about e-book readers.

Since then, I’ve drifted, if a bit ironically, even further into the anti-eReader camp. I fear the consequences of a diminishment of printed reading matter.

But …

Even more recently, I’ve come into use of a Kindle. I was dubious when it was first loaned to me. What am I going to do with it? I’m not going to buy books for it; I’d sooner buy them in print. It came pre-loaded with some books, but, again, I think I’d prefer to read from my waiting collection of to-read books.

However, the initial answer quickly presented itself. Another friend had loaned me  a couple of books to read. They were older, public domain books, and had apparently been out of print before a company decided to make them available in print again. And, to be gracious, they were ugly. The page layout was sloppy, and as a result, the books were unpleasant to read to the point that it was affecting my enjoyment of the actual content.

So I looked on the Kindle store, and there they were. Since they were public domain, there they were for free. So, yeah, sure, I’ll give that a shot.

And the formatting options on the Kindle, disconnected from the limitations and advantages of the printed page, meant that I could make the text agreeable to read. Which was a real step up from the printed versions that I had been reading.

So, the war is far from over, but the Kindle won its first battle for my approval.

I’m not ready yet to say that the Kindle is great, but I will at least grant at this point that it is better than a bad book.

Social Media and the Divine Disconnection

twabsence [twæbsəns] n. a break taken from use of social media, such as Twitter or Facebook (coined 2011 by Jason Sims and Mathis Sneed)

This post has no point. Sorry.

Or, at least, it has no conclusions. This is me working through feelings about a subject that’s too nebulous to have concrete thoughts on at the moment.

It goes back two or three years. I have a friend who quits Twitter and Facebook. A lot.

These days, you don’t even notice. You get a friend request from him, or see that he’s following you, or that someone’s saying you should friend or follow him. And you realize that he’s been gone again.

The part that’s odd to me is that, frequently, in the time he was gone, he’s become someone else; his user name is slightly different than it was the last time you followed him, indicating that he’s actually creating new accounts each time, instead of just returning to the unused one. Why, I don’t know.

But the subtlety of the way it happens lately is a change from the past. In the past, each departure would be marked with a long period of tweets or statii about the fact that he was spending too much time on social media.

That’s right — he was spending time on social media talking about the fact that he was spending too much time on social media (talking about the fact that he was spending too much time on social media [talking about the fact that he was spending too much time on social media {ad nauseum}]). The solution seemed simple — stop talking about it, and then you won’t be.

It’s not uncommon. Author Anne Jackson, whom I follow on Twitter, recently began a month-plus-long Twitter break, having just returned from another two-month break last month. One can look at her Twitter feed and see where it would be overwhelming. If I used Twitter like she does, I might sell more books. Promoting awareness has always been one of my weak suits, and she’s far better at it than I.

Also not uncommon, and very fascinating to me, is the social media Lent break. At least one good friend of mine has stopped using Twitter for Lent. Another person I follow has stopped tweeting after 5 p.m. for the duration.

Others are curtailing their social media use in other ways for Lent. It’s fun logging in on Sunday and watching them catch up on what they’ve missed saying.

I wrote on Ash Wednesday about Lent and what I was doing this year, but I don’t know that I got deep enough into one of my major issues with the way a lot of people treat Lent — they either give up something bad, or they give up something good.

Many people use Lent as an opportunity to give up something they really feel like they probably shouldn’t be doing anyway. And then, after 40 days, they go back to doing it. If it’s really something you shouldn’t be doing, don’t give it up for Lent. Give it up. Period.

Other people give up things that are actually good things, in order to give something up. To quote Dr. Martin Luther King, the time is always right to do the right thing. If you should be doing it, don’t stop.

The better approach I’ve seen is to give up luxuries. There’s nothing wrong with them, but they’re not needed, and their absence prompts an awareness, and that awareness can lead to the contemplative discipline that I think is at the core of Lent.

The problem there is that, again, there’s often little long-term beneficial take-away from it. People often choose luxuries that they believe they over-indulge in. So for Lent, they give it up. And after Lent, they all to often return to the way it was before. Because nothing has changed. Because the secret isn’t in being able to give something up temporarily.

The secret is in moderation.

Which brings us back to social media.

Personally, and this is just my bias, I disagree with giving up social media for Lent. The reality is, we live in an age when social networking is an important part of how we communicate. As Christians, we have an obligation to communicate. Our job is to share our gospel. In my opinion, at the point where we make ourselves less effective communicators, we fall down on our divine obligation.

I’ve had several people say they don’t use Facebook or Twitter or other social media because they don’t want what it is.

Well, what is it?

Many years ago, I toured William Faulker’s Rowan Oak home in Oxford, Miss., and the tour guide said something I wish I could remember about how Faulkner used the telephone. Basically, the upshot of it was that Faulkner believed that the telephone in his house was not there for other people’s convenience, it was there for his convenience.

Amen, brother.

But we lose track of that. We carry a cell phone so that other people can get in touch with us. It becomes not a convenience, but an obligation.

Me, I believe that’s why my cell phone has voicemail. Leave me a message, and if I believe it’s worth my time, I’ll call you back. Otherwise, I’ll respond in a way that’s respectful of both of our time.

But I digress.

Social networking is no different. It is what you make it.

Facebook, in particular, is one of the most versatile tools to come down the pike in a very long time. For one friend, it’s about keeping in touch with classmates. For another, it’s about rescuing dogs. For another, it’s about promoting her writing. For another, it’s about playing games. And those are just personal accounts, without getting into pages and the like.

The flip side of that, however, is that, because there is so much it can be, it can become more than you want it to be. Let Facebook become how you play games and how you keep up with friends and how you promote your band and how you do whatever else, and it gets to be too much.


Twitter’s more focused, but even in the one or two things it does well, it can become too much. It would easily be possible to follow enough people who are posting enough that it would take all your waking time to keep up with it.


But the same thing is true of any means of communication. You could write letters all day. You could talk on the phone all day. You could read books all day.

Any of that would be unhealthy. But so would not communicating.


My challenge would be, don’t give up social media for Lent.

Develop a social media strategy for Lent.

But whatever your reason for taking a break, don’t take a break that’s going to return you to being overwhelmed after Easter or in May or after a month or whatever you’re giving it up for.

We share the Word by sharing our lives. And in this day and age, social media is one of the best tools we have for doing that. Every tweet doesn’t have to be about God for it to serve Him. It just has to build relationships. To make connections. So that those may let Him be seen in you.

If you’re a Christian, and you’re giving up social media for religious reasons, my challenge would be this — am I using this in a way that serves God or not. If so, don’t give it up. If not, then don’t just give it up for Lent. Give it up. Period. And ask yourself how it could be better used.

In moderation.

Bible 2.0 — Scripture and Technology

Want proof times are changing? A boy recently told me he couldn’t read scripture because his phone was dead.

The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United St...

Image via Wikipedia

How is technology changing the way you relate to your Bible?

Two feet from where I’m sitting right now, I have a copy of the Holy Bible. It’s a nice copy, too, NIV, red leather bound with gold printing. Nothing too fancy — my good Bibles are in places I use them more — but functional nonetheless.

I rarely use it.

Instead, I’m far more likely to leave it on the shelf and access the Bible electronically. Google makes it easy to either look up a particular passage I know the address for, or to search for a verse if I can’t remember where it’s found. It’s easier and more convenient than pulling the print version of the shelf.

I’ve sat in my Bible study group with my Bible in my lap, reading scripture on my iPhone. At times, I’ve got both going at the same time; my Bible open to the chapter we’re reading, my iPhone searching for passages elsewhere I think relate, flipping between translations to make sure the connotation is what I’m looking for.

And I want more. I want to be able to read a verse, look up what a word is in Greek, and determine if it’s the same word used elsewhere all from my phone, and then read commentary on the verse to see how it lines up with what I just read. I want to click on a verse in Matthew, and find the corresponding passages in the other Gospels. I want to read an epistle, and go immediately to what Paul says about the same subject in other letters.

I suspect the Bible is undergoing a major evolutionary change today. It’s not the first time. In fact, the “Bible 2.0” title I used for this post is somewhat misleading; in terms of user interface upgrades, the Bible would be on at least version four already. Translations, the printing press, and separation into chapters and verses all change the way people read and use the Bible.

In fact, all those things change the way people think about the Bible. It’s hard today to really comprehend the idea of a Bible without chapter and verse distinctions. It’s very natural to us to pull one verse out of a passage and use it separately, as if, because it has its own address, it’s a self-contained entity. I’ve been working for the last couple of years to break myself out of that mindset — to focus more on the narrative than the excerpt, to never take a verse, regardless of where I see it, as many anything until I’ve read the context that it’s in.

Electronic versions of the Bible have the potential to make that challenge much easier or much harder. On the one hand, it’s now easier than ever to pull verses out of context and deal with them individually. I can e-mail or tweet a verse by itself with just a few keystrokes, and broadcast it without its context. Never has it been easier to share scripture out of context than it is today.

On the other hand, it’s easier than ever to deal with the Bible as a whole. Right or wrong, you can Google the Bible now, finding things in it that you might otherwise have missed. It’s easier now to look at the microcosm of a verse, but it’s also easier to look at the macrocosm of the Bible as a whole. It’s easier than ever to take the whole Bible with you wherever you are.

The Bible is changing. And while that may sound sacrilegious; it’s still within spec. This change, like translations and like the printing press, was anticipated by God when He inspired scripture to begin with.

I said earlier that the title “Bible 2.0” wasn’t entirely accurate. But it’s not entirely inaccurate either. This may not be a second iteration of the Bible, but it is the Bible in a Web 2.0 world. It’s the Bible in a world that’s interactive, that’s accessible, that’s peer-to-peer, that’s dynamic. We live in a world where the published world is no longer dead, but living, growing, interacting information. The Bible has always been a living book. Technology is finally catching up with it.

What does that mean for you? How does technology change the way you read the Bible? What electronic tools do you use to interface with it? What would you like technology to allow you to do? How does technology change the way you share scripture? How does technology change the way you share God?

Crushing The Hopes Of Tomorrow

VanCleave and Olden in front of the test article

Dee VanCleave and George Olden get paid to break things.

Not only that, they get paid to take physical manifestations of hopes and dreams for the future, and crush them. Under the weight of 50 years of history, no less.

Dee and George are test engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. They test hardware to analyze its load limits and related failure modes. In other words, you give them something, and they’ll tell you how much pressure it takes to cause it to buckle or break. And what happens when it does.

They do this using a facility designed for the development of the Saturn rockets that went to the moon. Later, it was used to do very unpleasant, and messy, things to test versions of the space shuttle’s external tank.

Now, all of that is pretty cool.

So I’m ashamed to admit, when I first heard about the test they’re doing Wednesday, I was a bit blasé about it.

We were called into a meeting to discuss providing education support for tomorrow’s test. The test, we were told, would involve taking a 27.5-foot-wide and 20-foot-tall cylinder, putting it in the test equipment, and crushing it like an aluminum can. OK, at that point, it sounded pretty cool.

But then it was explained that in this case “crushing” actually means slightly buckling in a way that you probably won’t be able to see easily. Less cool. But it will probably make a loud noise. Uh … kinda cool?

But then Heather and I got to go meet Dee and George at the facility and find out more about what was going on.

First, just being there was cool.

The particular room and equipment that will be used for tomorrow’s test hasn’t been used since the mid-1970s. You can see marks on the equipment from past tests, putting loads on Saturn rocket stages and shuttle external tanks. George noted that if you know the diameters of the vehicles, you can tell what marks were left by what hardware. We went up into the catwalks in the top reaches of the high bay, largely untouched since the 1960s.

It was one of those moments that I love when I was aware of the continuity — George and Dee and Heather and I work for the same NASA that went to the moon, and are continuing the work today that von Braun and Faget and Kraft and Gilruth and others started 50 years ago.

But, also, what they will be doing is cool.

If you build a rocket, you have to know that it’s going to be strong enough to withstand the crazy variety of loads it will experience during launch — axial loads from vehicle weight and thrust and air pressure and shear loads from wind and burning fuel and torsional loads from rolling and many many many others.

It’s the great conundrum. Making the rocket stronger adds weight which requires more fuel which adds weight which requires more fuel, etc. Make it too light, however, and it comes apart during launch. Not a good day.

Engineers today are still following rules on how strong a rocket needs to be that were born, in part, in that same room decades ago. Hardware was tested until it broke, and that told how strong it needed to be. Back then, it was a different age — analog and less precise. So engineers erred on the side of caution, going with stronger instead of lighter when there was uncertainty.

Today, there’s better equipment — computers and sensors and video and all sorts of other toys that will allow the measurements to be more precise. Tomorrow’s test is verifying a new computer model about what sort of loads a vehicle can withstand. If the testing validates the models, it means engineers will know more precisely how strong their vehicle needs to be. Smaller margins will result. Lighter instead of stronger.

The difference could be substantial. The weight savings will make rockets smaller or more powerful. They will make access to space easier and cheaper. Tomorrow’s test may not be as telegenically impressive as if it were the equivalent of crushing an aluminum can. But it’s revolutionary.

Appropriate that in a room drenched in the past, the future will begin tomorrow.

Heather’s got a great post about the test on her NASA Taking Up Space blog.

iPad 2: Should iBuy?

ipad 2It was obvious from the beginning that the iPad should have at least one camera.

There were a lot of reasons I wanted one from when they were first announced. There were a lot of reasons I didn’t need one, also.

So I let the camera be the deciding factor. It’s obvious it should have one. It seemed just as obvious to me that the next model would have one. I knew if I got one without a camera I would regret it when the ones with cameras were released. So I waited.

And now there are iPads with cameras.

So the factor I used to avoid having to make a decision last year no longer applies. Meaning I’ve got to make a decision based on other factors.

My short review of the iPad 2 is as follows:

• It eliminates every shortcoming that kept me from buying the first iPad.

• It adds no new killer app that makes me feel like I have to have one.

I’ve heard rumors about features that might be in the iPad 3, but none of them are anything that I feel like I just have to have, the same way I felt about the camera the first time around, so this seems like a device I could be satisfied with.

That second bullet is where I’m hung up, though, and it occurred to me this morning that I may be thinking about it all wrong.

Right now, my thought process is this — if I had an iPad, I would use it, without question. But I really don’t know much I would use it for that I couldn’t do right now with either my iPhone or my MacBook. It’s not really adding functionality, just making existing functionality more convenient.

BUT — when I bought my first iPhone, I could have said the same thing. I had a phone with internet and camera, and I had a computer. The iPhone did, theoretically, little that either of those didn’t do, it just make them more convenient.

The reality, however, is that the iPhone is so much more than the sum of its parts, and lets me do things that a regular cell phone and computer wouldn’t; things I didn’t fully understand until I had one.

And many of those things have nothing to do with the features listed on the Apple website, a lot of them are capabilities added by apps; I use third-party apps on my iPhone at least as much as the Apple on-board software.

So, I put the question out there for current or prospective iPad users — what am I missing? What features or capabilities does the iPad provide that you really don’t get until you experience one?

We Are The Cyborg. Resistance Is Futile.

iPhone 4 case available via Zazzle

And then there’s my cyborg friend Caleb.

When Caleb and his wife visited recently for dinner, he showed off his new insulin pump, a technological leap forward over what I’d seen before. Increasingly, it does what he needs it to as unobtrusively, and with as little manual involvement as possible. It’s a cybernetic device that keeps him alive and healthy. He’s a cyborg.

Growing up, cyborgs were like lasers — one of those science-fictiony things that were cool in movies but with no bearing on my real life. Today, I carry a laser in my pocket, and I have cyborg friends. These are the days of miracle and wonder.

I say that to say this — My iPhone broke Monday.

Well, technically, it broke, mostly, Saturday or Sunday. But Monday was the point of, “OK, I’ve got to do something about this.”

The home button almost stopped working. I could still use the phone, but it was hard. I could open an app, but it was hard to close it afterward. Initially I became more conservative in my app use. On Monday morning, I tried restoring the software on my phone and, that failing to fix it, I scheduled an appointment at the Apple store.

I worried briefly about what I would do if they were going to need some time to fix the phone; the idea of life without a phone with me seemed uncomfortable. As it was, it took about 10 minutes, maybe, to go in, tell them what was wrong, and get a replacement. Which was a bit sad, as of Monday morning I still owned all three iPhones I’d bought. I remember the day I bought that one, and now it’s gone. Alas.

I’d planned to go straight from the Apple store to run some errands before rehearsal, but realized I needed to go home, instead. Sure, I had a phone, but without syncing it to my computer, it was of limited use. Even with a phone, you can’t call anyone if you don’t know their phone number.

All total, not counting the hardware problem, it was a period of about 24 hours that most of my apps were missing, and it drove home how much, and in how many ways, I rely on the phone.

Caleb’s insulin pump supplements his pancreas. My iPhone supplements my brain. I couldn’t call anyone because I didn’t know any numbers. What used to be a function of my memory has now been offloaded into a cybernetic device.

One researcher estimates that the human brain stores about 3 terabytes of data. The internet supposedly holds about 500 million terabytes. I’m eight orders of magnitude more knowledgeable with my phone than without. I can communicate with my friends without talking to them — I can even know where they are or what they’re doing without making contact at all — giving me rudimentary telepathy. My iPhone not only supplements my brain, it supplements it well beyond human capacity. The iPhone gives me superpowers.

I am a cyborg. And we are the future.