He’s Alive

He really is, you know. I’ll let Dolly (and Peter) tell you how it happened:

If that doesn’t give you chills, you should probably check your pulse. God bless you all, and have a very blessed Easter.

Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed. If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do.

Pope Francis


All Depart In Silence

Last night was the most striking moment in the Church year for me: the sanctuary lit only by candles, the priest processing with humeral veil and monstrance to the altar of repose, the Pange Lingua echoing in the church, the altars being stripped, and then the final instruction of the missal: “all depart in silence.”

And so I will be departing now for the remainder of the Triduum. May God be with you and your families, our communities, our Church, our country, and our world. May we remember that the worst thing that can ever happen to humanity, has already happened. Our sins have killed the incarnate Christ, and continue to wound him again every day. We can either add to that misery by dwelling in darkness, or bring the light of love to the dark places.

May we also remember that this worst of all days has become our salvation, “for Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

Be at peace, for He who makes all things new has conquered the world.


The Shroud of Turin 2.0

Screen shot from Shroud 2.0 for iPad

Three big news items about the Shroud of Turin for Holy Week: new dating, a live broadcast, and a new app:

1. New Confirmation of Shroud’s Antiquity

The flawed 1988 radiocarbon tests dating the shroud to the Middle Ages have been challenged for years. Giulio Fanti, professor of mechanical and thermal measurement at the University of Padua’s engineering department, recently studied fibers from the 1988 test, and claims his result push the dates back. Way back. Here’s what Vatican Insider says:

The research includes three new tests, two chemical ones and one mechanical one. The first two were carried out with an FT-IR system, so using infra-red light, and the other using Raman spectroscopy. The third was a multi-parametric mechanical test based on five different mechanical parameters linked to the voltage of the wire. The machine used to examine the Shroud’s fibres and test traction, allowed researchers to examine tiny fibres alongside about twenty samples of cloth dated between 3000 BC and 2000 AD.

The new tests carried out in the University of Padua labs were carried out by a number of university professors from various Italian universities and agree that the Shroud dates back to the period when Jesus Christ was crucified in Jerusalem. Final results show that the Shroud fibres examined produced the following dates, all of which are 95% certain and centuries away from the medieval dating obtained with Carbon-14 testing in 1988: the dates given to the Shroud after FT-IR testing, is 300 BC ±400, 200 BC ±500 after Raman testing and 400 AD ±400 after multi-parametric mechanical testing. The average of all three dates is 33 BC ±250 years. The book’s authors observed that the uncertainty of this date is less than the single uncertainties and the date is compatible with the historic date of Jesus’ death on the cross, which historians claim occurred in 30 AD.

2. Televised Showing of the Shroud

A conference on the shroud is taking place over the next two days. Part of this will entail a televised viewing of the shroud on Holy Saturday. (Eastern rites traditionally observe the time Christ spent in the tomb using an Epitaphios, which is a shroud-like cloth or icon depicting the burial of Christ.  I’m not quite sure what that means or what stations will carry it, but keep an eye on Gloria.tv for more details.

Reportedly, the broadcast will be accompanied by a message from Pope Francis.

 3. The Shroud App

There’s a new app from Haltadefinizione, the people who did the detailed high definition photography on the shroud in 2008. The app is free for iPhone and iPad, with a $4 optional purchase for higher-def images.

The image is a composite of 1649 detailed photos, which, according to Haltadefinizione, makes it a “12 billion pixels image, held in a 72 Gigabytes file, corresponding to the content of 16 DVDs.” You don’t need that much space for that app: it serves up the images on the fly with a base installation size of 50MB.

I’ve been playing around with it a bit, and it includes a detailed image that you can zoom and scroll, as well as various fact sheets and points of interest on the shroud. You can view it in negative or positive photography, and change contrast and brightness to bring out different details. The app includes details on the cloth, forensic analysis, blood evidence, and chemical, botanical, radiocarbon, and mathematical data produced by the studies.

Is It Real?

Is the shroud the burial cloth of Jesus Christ? I’ve never found the debunkers particularly persuasive, but my faith neither rises nor falls on its authenticity. It’s a pretty incredible artifact any way you look at it.  I don’t claim any special expertise in any of the sciences, but as someone trained as a cinematographer (including a semester of optics), I can say that it certainly appears to be an image created by light, not paint. That alone makes it remarkable.

I saw a documentary once where a man “proved” he could reproduce the image using totally natural means. He presented his reproduction, painted on cloth, with pride and victory. He thought this was the final vanquishing of the God-botherers who believe the shroud to be authentic … and it looked nothing at all like the actual image.

What do I think? I think it’s the real deal.

Our Weird and Wonderful World

Magnetic Putty Time Lapse would be an excellent name for a rock band:

Posted by Scott Lawson, who has this to say:

Magnetic putty time lapse as it absorbs a rare-earth magnet. Taken over 1.5 hours at 3fps, played back at 24fps. The magnetic putty will eventually arrange itself so that the outer surface is as evenly distributed around the magnet as possible.

Ferromagnetic particles in the putty are strongly attracted to the magnet and very slowly engulf the surface of the magnet. The magnet shown in the picture is a strong neodymium iron boron magnet. It’s a very powerful magnet for its size and could erase magnetic stripes found in credit cards and damage electronics!

The putty looks and feels like regular silly putty, but the difference lies in the fact that it has been infused with millions of micron-sized ferrous particles (most often iron oxide powder). The magnetic putty is not actually magnetic by itself, since the infused particles are made of iron powder.

The presence of the strong neodymium iron boron magnet (the silver cube in the video) magnetizes the ferromagnetic particles in the putty. When this happens, the ferrous particles align with each other and this alignment generates north and south magnetic poles, making the putty into a temporary magnet. Once magnetized, the putty will remain magnetized even after the rare-earth magnet has been removed from the putty. This effect persists for a few hours until thermal agitation shakes the particles and they lose their alignment.

H/T: iO9

Why I Am Catholic

Patheos has asked bloggers to finish the sentence: Why I Am A

They’re giving us 200 words to answer. I don’t need 200 words to tell you why I am Catholic. I only need four:

Because Catholicism is true.

St. Thomas Aquinas gave me the tools I needed to understand my experience of God

It’s that simple. It’s not a matter of “belief.” Belief presumes that there’s some option: that I have a choice in my favored model of reality.

No such choice exists. (I would have chosen … something else.) As I tell my students: this is Truth. You either accept Truth, or you reject Truth. What you want to “believe” is wholly beside the point.

My whole life I looked for truth. I shed this faith as soon as I was able, along with what I saw to be its silliness, emptiness, and illogic. I thought I found a better model for reality in the god of the philosophers, but it did not suffice. Fifteen years after I lapsed, I was given a profound experience of the living God.

I doubted it. I resisted it. I applied reason and logic to understanding it, and reason and logic are what allowed me to come back. I was given the gift of a conversion experience through Christ, and the church gave me the tools to test it. And in testing it, I found my way home again.

Free Audio Bibles On Amazon Today UPDATED

I don’t know how long this offer will be available, but I just got an IFTTT alert about a free version of English Standard Version, which is a decent translation.

It’s Protestant, and thus incomplete, which is bad. But it’s free, which is good.  The readers are … variable: some fine, some … eh.

I have a few audio Bibles, and use them quite a lot. You can get the MP3s for Old Testament and the New Testament as separate $0.00 purchases.

UPDATE: As Victor points out in the comments, you can also get King James (Old and New), New Revised Standard (Old and New), and Contemporary English Version (Old and New), as well as Bibles in various language. All free, for now.

For all languages, click here.

BioShock Infinite: First Impressions

Since I’ve written about BioShock quite a bit, I’ve been getting a lot of questions here and on Twitter and Facebook about the newest title–Bioshock Infinite–which just released yesterday. I’m wrapping up an issue of Games Magazine this week, and only just managed to get about four hours of play in last night.

So, here are some loose first thoughts about it:

Rumors are circulating that it cost $100 million to make, and I can believe it. This is the first title from Irrational Games since the original BioShock in 2007 (Irrational didn’t make BioShock 2), and they’ve been working on it about that long. The game, which uses the Unreal engine, is not just gorgeous. That’s to be expected in 2013. The wonderful thing is the staggering amount of visual style and invention on display. This is a dazzling act of world-building. Just take a look:

It offers a world that is familiar in our imaginations–early 20th century, World’s Fair-inspired Americana–and adds equal parts steampunk and dystopia. Unlike the dripping, dark, decaying, claustrophobic atmosphere of the original BioShock, this is a sunlit paradise. Project head Ken Levine said they looked not only to the 1893 World’s Fair for inspiration, but to movies like The Music Man, and it shows. Men in straw boaters, ladies in long dresses, carnival midways, and barbershop quartets: there’s color and life everywhere, all seen through a nostalgic haze.

Are you familiar with the Twilight Zone episode “A Stop at Willoughby” or the books of Jack Finney? It’s like that.

Except … it’s not, because the entire city is floating. Buildings dock and separate, dirigibles dot the air, and skyway rails link locations.  The city of Columbia lifted off from America, announced its independence, and disappeared into the clouds. Some things connect our world to this one. At one point, an air barge drifts by with a quartet singing “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys. It’s a wonderfully whimsical moment, but like everything in Columbia, it’s tinged with darkness: you soon learn that their idea of God isn’t quite ours, and that this idea has drives much of the madness that ensues.

Thematically, there is something to make everybody uncomfortable. Just like the original BioShock was built on a critique of Objectivity taken to its logical conclusion, so BioShock Infinite uses turn-of-the-century American Exceptionalism taken to extremes.

Columbia was actually created  by the US government as a kind of floating world’s fair dedicated to spreading a Pax Americana. Unknown to many, it was bristling with weapons, which came to light after an international incident. America disavowed the city, and it disappeared. A power struggle ensued between radical racist theocrats led by a Joseph Smith-like figure and a group of resisters who started out with lofty ideas of equality, but soon descended into factionalism and violence.

When the main character arrives  (via rocket) in Columbia, “the Prophet,” Zachary Hale Comstock, has total control over the population, and preaches a twisted and blasphemous inversion of Christianity in which the Founders (Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin) are revered as a trinity of almost godlike figures. Trinitarian formulas crop up in several places, from a baptism at the beginining, to a group of Klan-like radical who worship … John Wilkes Booth. As you can see, they don’t think much of the Great Emancipator:

The game lures you into this dark world gradually. All appears to be relatively okay in Columbia, at first. It seems like a place you’d like to live, until you get to the drawing of the “lottery,” which you win. The curtain on the stage opens, to reveal … an Irishman (presumably Catholic) and his black wife. Your prize for winning? You get to be the person to cast the first stone in their execution. At this point, you have a choice: hit the couple, or the lottery leader. I’m not sure what happens if you choose the former, but I imagine the story takes a darker turn. At that point, all hell breaks loose and the people realize you are the False Shepherd warned of by The Prophet.

Comstock has been purging Columbia of undesirables. Blacks have been reduced to a slave-like servile class. “Papists, Gypsies, Irish and Greeks” must wear special tags to travel about the city.

This is powerful stuff. You’ll come across a black man washing a floor and complaining, in perfect English, of his sorry lot. When he spots you, he immediately goes into a servile “yes massah” routine and begins acting ignorant and happy. It’s a deeply disturbing moment, moreso because you have no doubt it’s grounded in the real experience of minorities in America at one point in our history.

Click to enlarge

The game doesn’t flinch at these moments: it relishes them. Patriotic Americana is twisted to serve a dark and racist message. Automatons of George Washington are made to spout The Prophet’s message. Principles of American freedom are used to promote hatred and oppression.

Some gamers may see this as pure anti-American, anti-religious bigotry. I won’t make that call until I’m finished, but I’m not inclined to agree, yet.

This is imaginative alternate history, along the lines of “What would America be like if the English/Nazis/Commies had won?” Taking treasured and precious images and deploying them to make a point is risky business, and I’d be lying if I said I was wholly comfortable with it. At the same time, I know that’s the whole point. We’re not supposed to be comfortable with it. We’re supposed to think differently about familiar things.

What I need to see–and what I can only know after I finish it–is if there was really any point to it. Objectivism is ascendant, particularly in technolibertarian quarters, and radical individualism was worthy of critique. Is American Exceptionalism and antebellum racism really a pressing issue?

Obviously not, thus the critique must be about something else. Iraq and Afghanistan? Maybe. Bush, and now Obama, were certainly looking to spread a Pax Americana to the middle east, if only to keep them from plowing airplanes into our skyscrapers. That it was, and is, a misbegotten mess doomed from the start doesn’t change the idealism undergirding it: liberate the Muslims, make them more like us, and they won’t want to kill us anymore. Except it didn’t work, and never could.

Is it a critique of Occupy Wall Street? Ken Levine admits that the protests were an influence on the developing story, but to what degree remains to be seen. If the Vox Pop of the game are supposed to be an OWS proxy, I can’t see the OWS folks being particularly happy about it.

Click to enlarge

If it turns out to be another tired anti-religious screed, I’ll be disappointed. Kicking religion is just about the lowest, cheapest thing an artist can do. People who start from that old lie about religion causing more misery and death than anything else in world history rarely have anything of interest to say, because they’re working from a false premise.

I find it interesting that Levine admits that one of his employees (described as “very religious”) played an early build of part of the game and immediately tended his resignation because of the way religion was treat. Levine, who admits to not being religious, welcomed the input, and says the employee (who stayed) gave him new perspectives that changed the game’s treatment of religion.

My response to that is: I guess I’ll have to wait and see. I’ve respected Levine’s work since his days with Looking Glass, which I covered quite a bit when I was lead writer for PC Gamer. I remember seeing an early version of a game called System Shock, and immediately started flogging it as The Greatest Game Ever in PCG and elsewhere. BioShock was a continuation and perfection of many of the ideas in System Shock, and I consider it the most profound work of interactive fiction to date. It tackled difficult ideas and situations with intelligence and style. And it was fun.

BioShock Infinite ups that ante considerably. The gameplay is a fairly direct updating of that found in the original, but the narrative, character, and thematic elements are far more explosive. In the original, you faced the decision of weather or not to kill children. The proper decision was clear, but you still have a choice. In this, you’re forced to choose whether or not to stone a black person on a stage in front of a mob of howling racists. That’s potent stuff. Dynamite, in fact. By the time I finish, I hope I have a sense of whether or not the developers were deploying it some effect, or just playing games.

You can buy  Bioshock Infinite here.

Eyes in Your Tongue

I haven’t had a good upbeat ain’t-tech-wonderful post in a little while, but the recent approval of Wicab’s BrainPort V100 device for use in the EU gives me a chance to show this bit of coolness:

Here’s how it works:

The BrainPort V100 includes a video camera mounted on a pair of sunglasses. The camera works in a variety of lighting conditions and has an adjustable field of view (zoom). The tongue array contains 400 electrodes and is connected to the glasses via a flexible cable. White pixels from the camera are felt on the tongue as strong stimulation, black pixels as no stimulation, and gray levels as medium levels of stimulation. Users report the sensation as pictures that are painted on the tongue with tiny bubbles. A small hand-held unit provides user controls and houses a rechargeable battery. The system will run for approximately 3 hours on a single charge.

Think of it as visual braille read by your tongue. It does not provide “sight,” but with training (10 to 20 hours) people can learn to process the impressions on the tongue into image-like data understood by brain. 

It is not yet available for use in the US and is still in development.

And just to inject a political note in this piece: Wicab, which has been trying to bring this tech to market for years, is one of those wicked medical device companies being punished with a new tax to pay for the Obamacare boondoggle. Of course, this will raise the cost of all medical devices, but it will also steal (yes, steal) important funds which companies (especially small ones) use to bring incredible new devices like this to market after massive amounts of R&D, years of work, and millions of dollars spent clearing FDA hurdles.

Chicken Progress Report [Photo Post]

The new batch is growing quite nicely. They’re changing from little balls of fuzz into perching, flying (yes, chickens can fly), feathered fowl.

(l to r) Loretta, Dolly, Carrie

Carrie at 1 week (or so)

Almost 1 week later: notice the wings beginning to feather

Another week, more feathers

Bella the Chicken Dog inspects her charges

Also, Ruby the Wonder Chicken is doing poorly. She’s been in the house with an impacted crop. We let her out of the cage now and then, and the chicks are fascinated.

Ruby meets the next generation. She fascinated them.