Have You Entered to Win a Super-Duper Logos Catholic Scholar’s Library?

There are only a couple days left, so enter now.

Seriously, how could you not enter this contest?! Even if you’re not Catholic. Even if you’re not Christian. Even if you don’t have a computer. Even if you’re not a sentient life form! How could you miss this rare opportunity to grab the single best Bible study software ever created in the whole history of people creating Bible study software. Yes, I mean it: it’s even better than the Bible study software created by the Hittites, those slackers.

Right now your odds of winning are pretty good: about 1000:1. By comparison, your odds of being injured in a chainsaw accident are 4,464:1. Which would you rather have? Bible software full of Catholicy goodness? Or a chainsaw injury? Don’t stop to think about it! You already know the answer.

This is the Mother of All Bible Study Packages. It includes the powerful Logos Bible Software as well as a vast library of Catholic scripture study, Bibles, history, theology, the complete Church Fathers, a generous selection of texts from the saints and councils, a hyperlinked Catechism, Hebrew and Greek language resources, and more. There are about 400 texts in this set, which is the largest package currently offered by Logos. It normally costs $790.

All you need to do is click this link or scroll straight to the bottom of this page and give them your name and email. That’s it. When Brandon Vogt winds up winning this software and doing his wonderful-awful Dance of Gloating with his giant F4F foam finger, you’ll slap yourself on the head and say, “I really wish I’d entered that contest.”

Housekeeping note: I’m out for the rest of the weekend, doing research on the book of Sirach and a Powerpoint on teaching the Psalms.  Admit it: you so wish you were me right now. Honestly, I wish you were me right now.

Technology and Archaeology in the Holy Land

Thomas Levy, the Norma Kershaw Chair in the Archaeology of Ancient Israel and Neighboring Lands at the University of California (San Diego), gives a TEDTalk about the convergence of technology and archaeology in the Holy Land. In particular, he explains about “cyber-archaeology”: using the latest tech for visualization, data collection and management, and site analysis. New techniques are pumping out vast amounts of data, and Levy talks about the fascinating way they’re wrestling that data into usable forms.

The great thing about this application of tech (particularly visualization) to archaeology is that it renders  archaeological data into forms that can be comprehended by the general public. Due to hyper-specialization (a problem for most academic disciplines), scholars often create information of use to only a small handful of other scholars. This has its role, of course (I both read and write academic pieces in my area of study: theology), but unless the fruits of that research is made accessible to the public, it’s a pointless exercise conducted by an elite group for their own amusement.

Check out Levy’s work at The Digital Archaeological Atlas of the Holy Land.

I Need a Solution to My Healthcare Problems: Just Not This Solution

The reactions to the Supreme Court decision will be coming all day, and I have no illusion that I can add much to any legal debate. I have a particular perspective on this issue, however, because health care has been a major concern for my family and me for many years.

Except for my early film and television work, and a few horrible months as a technical editor for ADP, I have never held a “job” as an adult. I have always been a freelancer. This means insurance has been a concern. For the first half of my marriage, it was no problem because my wife was gainfully employed. Since our son was born 14 years ago, my wife has been freelance as well, which means we’re self-insuring.

Over that time I’ve watched my monthly premiums increase to $1500 for a family of four: more than our mortgage. There was no option of going without. I have a condition that requires an expensive drug, and my wife and son are both on monthly medications. The drug costs alone would have been close to $2500 a month, so the insurance was, oddly enough, a good deal for us … as long as we could pay it.

And then, we couldn’t pay it any more. Three years ago we lost a major publishing client, and we were making enough per month for the mortgage or the insurance: not both. We burned through what money we had, borrowed more, and got behind. Only now are we beginning to recover.

“Mortgage or meds” is not a choice people should have to make, but it’s a fact of life, and it needs to be addressed. As Christians, we are called to care for the last and the least. Basic medical care—restoring or preserving good health—is indeed a basic human right, as the Church teaches.

The question, however, is not whether or not people are entitled to access to medical care. They are so entitled, and please don’t give me your bullshit Objectivist arguments about the responsibility of the individual and expect me to take you seriously. Been there, done that, grew up. If  I’m not responsible for the well-being of my fellow-man, then I have no business being part of society.

The question is: How is this best accomplished?

And my answer is: Not this way.

Obamacare is a mess: a tangle of bureaucratic systems that interfere with healthcare choices at every stage, creating a vast new form of government control that will, inevitably, spiral out of control. Do you really believe that a government which has a financial interest in your health is going to resist using coercive force to make you maintain it? If you think Nanny Bloomberg is bad, just wait until his policies are federalized in the interest of cutting healthcare costs.

The government isn’t nationalizing healthcare: it’s nationalizing health. It makes your very state of being of intense personal interest to the people who brought us such wonderful engines of compassion and efficiency as the IRS, the ATF, the TSA, and the Fed, as well as the housing crisis, the bank bailouts, the HHS mandate, and, of course, endless wars, drone killings, and indefinite detention without charges. And now we’ve just carved off a huge chunk of our lives—the well-being of our very bodies—and turned that over to them as well. Thank you so much for that, Obama voters.

There were ways to go about this short of a full power-grab, but massive statist intervention seems to be the only thing the left understand any more. The idea of going slowly, trying a few things at a time (such as expanding Medicaid access or allowing people to shop outside their state for insurance, which could have saved me as much as $1000 a month) is anathema for them. They desire control, because they know best: you see, they care more than those wicked conservatives, and they just want to help, and if that means stomping on freedom of conscience or the right of the individual to say, “no, I won’t buy your damn insurance because I’m perfectly healthy,” then so be it. Eggs, omlets: it’s always the same story for them. Do they even realize they’re supporting the right of the government to put you in jail if you refuse to buy a product from a private company?

The Republicans are just as much to blame for this fiasco, because they had 8 years to deal with an obvious problem in a sensible way and did nothing. That created an opening for the left—driven as they are by a childish utopianism that believes it can solve the problems of the world through their holy trinity: Legislation, Taxation, and Bureaucracy—to go all-in on a huge, unfundable, unsustainable, freedom-violating “solution.”

It was never “Obamacare or granny dies.” That’s just an idiotic leftist talking point. There were always other options and approaches short of the government seizure of 1/5th of the economy. But when your endgame is power and control, you won’t settle for half-measures.

I am the person Obamacare was created to help. Me. Right now, and probably for another six months to a year, I’m the working poor, trying hard to stay afloat in an economy ruined by the people who now get to take a shot at “fixing” healthcare.

And I completely reject it. I reject it even though I believe some national approach to helping the poor access healthcare is not just allowed by the state and the constitution, but required by us as Christians. I reject it because I know they will make a hash of it. And I know they will make a hash of it because they always do.

The Very First Tech?

“Technology” is a pretty broad category. It encompasses the practical application of knowledge to the fabrication of tools or methods for solving a problem. Picking up a rock and hammering a nail with it is not technology, because the rock has not been modified for a particlar purpose. If we had to guess, the first tech was probably a rock attached to a stick to create a hammer, or perhaps a flint shaped into an spearhead.

But these are very simple technical applications with only one or two steps in their production. How quickly did our ancient ancestors move into more complex tech?

It’s hard to say. We may have been using rudimentary tools a couple million years ago,  but we don’t appear to have been synthesizing other tools from those tools (hammers to make spear points) until maybe 300,000 years ago. These “complimentary tool sets” (needle and thread, hammer and flint, etc) are mostly binary: one item used on another. Even this was still a fairly simple application of tool-to-task. It wasn’t until the dawn of the bow and and arrow, no later than 64,000 years ago, that things got interesting.

A new study in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal is shedding some light on that process.  Miriam Haidle and Marlize Lombard identified the components and stages of fabrication of the early bow-and-arrow. By reconstructing the techniques, they learned that it took at least 10 different tools, 22 raw materials, 5 phases of production, and several semi-finished goods (adhesives and binding materials) to make a bow, and more steps to make the arrow. That’s really quite amazing when you think about it, because it indicates a very high level of planning and thought, and an ability to think ahead and think abstractly.

The point of the study was to determine the level of cognitive evolution of humans who were crafting projectile weapons, and the answer was: pretty dang high, actually. Oddly, in the abstract, the authors of the study make a distinction between the cognitive development required for a bow or an arrow, and the cognitive development needed for a bow-and-arrow. This seems to be a distinction without meaning, because you can’t have one without the other, but perhaps the full paper explains that. In any case, they see the development of this interdependent set of tools as a technological advance in human thought which indicates “cognitive and behavioural complexity and flexibility that is basic to human behaviour today.”

In short, the cognitive advances which allowed primitive man to make a bow and arrow are the same which allows modern man to make an iPod.

Turing’s Death Not a Suicide?

Professor Jack Copeland, an expert on the life of Alan Turing, believes there’s no evidence that Turing committed suicide.

Turing was found dead in his bed from cyanide poisoning on June 7th, 1954. He was 41 years old. Two years earlier he had been prosecuted for gross indecency after his homosexuality came to light during a police investigation into a burglary. Turing had agreed to be treated with female hormone in lieu of prison, and this “chemical castration” was widely believed to have sent him into a spiral of depression that culminated in his death. Because of his alleged obsession with Disney’s Snow White, he chose to die by reenacting the “poison apple” scene from the film. (It was assumed that the partially eaten apple by his bedside was laced with cyanide, but the apple was never even tested.)

Copeland doesn’t see a lot of evidence to support this narrative:

Continue reading

Printing a Human Bladder and Kidney

Dr. Anthony Atala gives an interesting TED talk about printing organs on 3D printers using cells. One of the printers is on stage printing an organ while he speaks. He goes through many of the techniques, and even introduces a patient who received a printed bladder a decade ago. The patient, Luke Massella, talks about the life-saving technique that saved his life.

Pay attention, folks: this is the future.

Mac Users Paying More at Orbitz?

Macs are more expensive than PCs and tend to be used by a more rarefied and appealing demographics (better educated, more disposable income), so it’s inevitable that online shopping by Mac users is different than online shopping by PC users. Orbitz noticed that the people accessing their site from Macs pay, on average, 30% more than people accessing from PCs, and are 40% more likely to book 4- and 5-star hotels.

You really didn’t think that data like that would remain unexploited, did you?

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Orbitz is using basic tracking information to steer people towards vacations based on data like computer type and browsing habits. They aren’t quoting different prices for the same hotel (yet), but they are listing more expensive hotels first. The user can reorder this ranking by price (lowest to highest, highest to lowest), but of course there the first items in any list are the ones that draw the most attention. (Most people on Google never make it past the first page of search results.)

As the recession impacts companies (Orbitz lost $37 million last year) expect to see them reaching for more “creative” (ie: creepy and privacy-invading) methods to improve their bottom line. Most users are completely unaware of how much information can be extracted by data mining. which can determine browsing habits, OS, and other information every time you go to a web site.

Read the whole report at the Wall Street Journal.

Searching for the Tomb of Mona Lisa

It’s strange to think of coming face to face (so to speak) with the remains of the woman with the most famous face in the world, but archaeologists and art historians think they may be close.

We know some things about Lisa del Giocondo, including the fact that two of her daughters, Camilla and Marietta, became nuns. Lisa herself may have spent the last four years of her life at the convent of Sant’Orsola, where she may have died at the age of 63. (Or later. And somewhere else. Records are sketchy.)

Most likely, she would have been buried on the grounds of the convent, which is where art historian Silvano Vinceti (who found the bones of Caravaggio) expects to find her:

Vinceti, now head of the National Committee for the Enhancement of Historical, Cultural and Environmental Heritage, stressed that “this is a search that is justified by historical documents, starting with (pioneering art historian Giorgio) Vasari”.

He said the clincher was the recent discovery in Germany of a document written in Latin by Leonardo’s scribe which said a woman called Lisa had been the model for the masterpiece now housed in the Louvre. Vinceti and his team have been using a ‘georadar’ device to scan underneath the old convent of St Ursula to find the DNA of Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo and compare it with that of two her children buried in Florence’s Santissima Annunziata church.

Leonardo sleuth Giuseppe Pallanti published a book in 2007 arguing the former convent “must be” the last resting place of La Gioconda, as the Italians call the Mona Lisa because of the surname of her husband, del Giocondo.

Pallanti said he was “sure she’s down there”.

He said his research has wiped away all doubt about the identity of La Gioconda, who is believed to have joined the Ursuline nuns in old age

“It was her, Lisa, the wife of the merchant Francesco del Giocondo – and she lived right opposite Leonardo in Via Ghibellina,” Pallanti said.

Last year’s search, which went on from April until funds ran out in December, “only discovered bones that were about 200 years older than Lisa’s would be,” Vinceti said.

As well as the key DNA match, carbon-dating and other tests will also be carried out by the University of Bologna.

Levantine DNA in Ethiopia May Support Biblical Story

Genetic researchers believe they’ve found evidence that people from Israel, Egypt, or Syria mixed with Ethiopians 3000 years ago. The timing of this appearance of the new DNA coincides with the historical period in which the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon. According to legend, the queen returned to Ethiopia bearing Solomon’s son.

Professor Chris Tyler-Smith of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, UK, a researcher on the study, told BBC News: “Genetics can tell us about historical events.

“By analysing the genetics of Ethiopia and several other regions we can see that there was gene flow into Ethiopia, probably from the Levant, around 3,000 years ago, and this fits perfectly with the story of the Queen of Sheba.”

Lead researcher Luca Pagani of the University of Cambridge and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute added: “The genetic evidence is in support of the legend of the Queen of Sheba.”

More than 200 individuals from 10 Ethiopian and two neighbouring African populations were analysed in the largest genetic investigation of its kind on Ethiopian populations.

About a million genetic letters in each genome were studied. Previous Ethiopian genetic studies have focussed on smaller sections of the human genome and mitochondrial DNA, which passes along the maternal line.

Dr Sarah Tishcoff of the Department of Genetics and Biology at the University of Pennsylvania, said Ethiopia would be an important region to study in the future.

Commenting on the study, she said: “Ethiopia is a very diverse region culturally and linguistically but, until now, we’ve known little about genetic diversity in the region.

“This paper sheds light on the very interesting recent and ancient population history of a region that played an important role in both recent and ancient human migration events.

“In particular, the inference of timing and location of admixture with populations from the Levant is very interesting and is a unique example of how genetic data can be integrated with historical data.”

The scientists acknowledge that there are uncertainties about dating, with a probable margin of error of a few hundred years either side of 3,000 years.

Jumping straight to the Queen of Sheba seems like an awfully large leap, but it’s an interesting story nonetheless, and the time is suggestive.