Monday, May 31, 2004

Greg Ordy Model Rocket Webpage and KAP. Greg Ordy is a ham radio operator to whose webpage I found my way this morning. One of his hobbies is rockets, and on his website he has a video of a flight, where the video is taken from the rocket itself! He also has some stills that were taken from the rocket in flight. Here is the webpage where that video can be found. Greg's webpage also has links to other rocketry sites, some with more videos.

Greg also mentions a related hobby: taking photos with kites. This related hobby is called "Kite Assisted Photography" or "Kite Aerial Photography" or KAP. Here's a link to a KAP enthusiast in Berkeley, CA.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Muslims and "The Passion" See an article on the Christianity Today website about how Mel Gibson's film is doing in the Middle East.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Miami Marathon.
I'm going to make plans to run at least the half marathon portion of next year's Miami Tropical Marathon and would love to have some company along the way. The race is Sunday, January 30, 2005. It should be a fairly flat course winding its way across Biscayne Bay and through some great Miami neighborhoods. And the free room and board at the Stokes home would make it a most excellent weekend for all. See the website for registration and course info.
Healthcare Watch - Canadian Version. Before we jump to the Canadian model of health care services delivery, maybe we should watch this developing story.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Room for Old Men? InterVarsity now has an Emerging Scholars Network.
Islam and the West. Fascinating interview of Bernard Lewis in the Atlantic Unbound.
From Mars Hill Audio.

"[I]t could be argued that the world of humane good sense, clarity and peace promised by modernity, if only we let go of God, has not been forthcoming. Natural science has turned out to be dumb with regard to values and ends for which it supplies the means in ever more astonishing, if troubling, abundance. The social sciences, far from explaining everything, have no convincing rationale for themselves except as successive rhetorics of power and control and are therefore pathways to nihilism. It should trouble us that one of the greatest successes of the so-called collapse of totalizing meta-narratives or of any attempts to establish truth, meaning and value is the production of the ideal late-capitalist consumer, whose objectives stretch no further than acquiring something, reducing it to rubbish, and going on to the next desirable commodity."

--Janet Martin Soskice, "All That Is," a review of David Bentley Hart's

The Beauty of the Infinite, in Times Literary Supplement, April 9,
God and Photons. As my family, especially Carol, is really tired of knowing, I became interested in amateur radio a year or two ago. For several months, I have been reading three books that I bought at Radio Shack about electronics: Basic Electronics, Basic Communications Electronics, and Basic Digital Electronics. These books are very well written and profusely illustrated. They have examples and questions at the end of each chapter. They explain technical points carefully and clearly so that liberal arts majors can hope to understand them.

In the Basic Electronics book, the last chapter is "How Photoelectric Devices Work". In some ways, the chapter is a culmination of many of the ideas that the authors explained earlier, especially about how semi-conductors work. To understand the point I am about to make, you need to know that the authors are very serious science writers. The book is not for children. And up until Chapter 11 they have laid their points out carefully and rationally, leading the lay reader along with respect for the subject and for the lay reader.

In Chapter 11, the authors introduce again the kind of semiconductor known as a diode. What we did not know up to that point is that such semi-conductors actually emit light. You are probably familiar with this property and don't know it. Those little lights that tell you when a thing is on or off, ready or unready, etc., are LEDs, or "light emitting diodes". All diodes emit light, but some are designed to emit light in brighter ways and to function as you see them function on the front panel of some sort of thing that does electricity.

So the authors in Chapter 11 carefully explain how these things are used in circuits and applications. Then they get to a couple of questions at the end: (1) How can forward current in a p-n junction diode produce light? and (2) Do all p-n junction diodes light up when they conduct? Here is what they say about these questions:

"The answer to the second question is yes-they all produce light. . . In an LED, the p and n regions are shaped and positioned so that a lot of the light shines out instead of being absorbed [by the silicon crystal]. . .

"As to the first question, light is produced whenever free electrons fall into holes in a semiconductor crystal. . . [W]hen each free electron drops to the lower energy level, the potential energy it loses is instantly converted into a photon, as if by magic. The photon zips away from the junction in some random direction traveling at the speed of light . . . "

"As if by magic?" That sounds like superstition to me. Is this the best these guys can do on the naturalistic end? I guess so. People accuse Christians of finding God "in the gaps" of scientific knowledge. They say that it is just a matter of time before one particular gap or another will be filled in by science. OK. But at the least, at Radio Shack I found a gap. I think the whole thing about electrons in holes, the special properties of semi-conductors, all this wonderment, proclaims the glory of God. Not just the gaps but the non-gaps. But the gaps remind us of the ultimate truth, do they not?

Friday, May 21, 2004

Myron Update. Myron came been home from the hospital last week, but Tuesday night he suffered an embolism and went to the ER where he was immediately admitted. The clot travelled up from his leg, through his heart (the doctor said that if his heart had not been strong, this would have killed him) and it has lodged in one of his lungs, diminishing the capacity of that lung substantially. Yesterday he underwent an operation where a cage was inserted in his aorta to catch any further clots. He is in intensive care, and the physicians are waiting out the clots in his lung and his leg, hoping that his body will dissolve the clots without further damage. So, again, I ask you to pray for Myron.
Theolicious! I'm currently reading Regarding Karl Barth by Trevor Hart. Mary picked it up for me while she was interning at InterVarsity Press a couple summers ago. I just got around to picking it up a month ago, and I have to tell you, I'm so glad that I did!

I highly recommend it if you'd like to understand more about one of the most influential theologians of the 20th and 21st (so far) centuries, from an author who approaches the subject as a "friend" of Karl's. (This as opposed to authors who have particular bones to pick with Karl.)

You can borrow my copy when I'm done with it (Mary has first dibs). I want it back, since it's all marked up with my own brand of marginalia, but you might like it since I have a pretty healthy glossary of my own what-does-that-mean? words. Because I'm reader friendly, that's why.

(I'm back, by the way, from camp. You can read some of the results here.)

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Hip-Hop Ministry. Greater Miami Youth for Christ has a hip-hop ministry called "Catalyst". There have been 300 first time decisions for Christ this year as a result of that ministry. Check-out the webpage. A young man by the name of Joel Stigale is the staff member who has developed this ministry. He needs your prayer. For one thing, he is not great at fund-raising. (Like Intervarsity, staff members have to raise their own support. His peer group is the hip-hoppers, which may not be a great hunting ground for donors. And Joel himself is not someone who would be in the middle of a traditional church community.) For another, Joel is losing his eyesight to glaucoma. (It is getting treated but I am not sure how effective the treatment is.) Nevertheless, he leads an event each Saturday night in a warehouse where, among other things, people come and "emcee", "dj", spray paint on big plywood panels that are hoisted for each event, dance, or whatever else hip-hoppers do. There is a point where he gets to give a short gospel message, and people quiet down for that. Not everyone buys it, but even the people who reject the gospel admonish the others at these meetings to show Joel "some respect", and they do. And the Spirit has been finding its mark, as the Spirit will do. So when you pray for Joel, praise God for the way he works out his redemptive will.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

I unreservedly recommend the new greatest album:
Pedro the Lion's Achilles Heel

Friday, May 14, 2004

Myron got Hurt. Some of the kith and kin know Myron Harden, a good friend of mine and a member of our church. He is an excellent singer and guitarist, and plays on our Praise Team ("the Joyful Noise"). He has been commuting by bicycle to the Okeechobee MetroRail station from his home in Miami Springs. Last week, however, he fell off his bicycle and broke his hip. He is a nurse at the VA hospital but will have to stay home for four weeks while he heals. He is now getting around on a walker, but hopes to regain all of his mobility at some point. So keep him and his wife, Kim, in your prayers and drop him a note. If you need his address, send me an email. Thanks.
Ham Radio, Rockets, and Little Sisters. Amateur Radio Operators have their own national organization, called the Amateur Radio Relay League. Its 90 years old this year. A group of hams will be trying to boost a transceiver into subspace on Monday with a rocket and you can read about it on the ARRL website. I won't be in a position to receive its signals on Monday.

Hams have had their own satellites going around in orbit for many years, but they got up there by piggy-backing on a NASA launch. They are not in a fixed orbit. That is, a satellite will come up on one horizon and go across the sky and then "set". While it is racing by, however, one can communicate with other hams by using the satellite as a repeater, in a way somewhat similar to the way that we use a cell in the cell phone system. I have a transceiver that can do that, but I don't yet have the antenna and have not communicated with it. You have to aim the antenna at the point on the horizon at which you think the satellite will come up, and then, when you have it, you have to track it with the antenna as it goes across the sky. You can do this manually or you can construct an antenna with some sort of motor that will follow the thing. All of this is on my to-do list, but pretty far down toward the end of it.

This also makes me think about the times that Macon, Walter and I were building model rockets and shooting them up from the East Drive athletic fields in Miami Springs and from the playground at the high school. If there was a breeze (and there always seemed to be), we would shoot a rocket up and then spend the next 15 minutes or more chasing it down, as it floated on its parachute eastward or northward or wherever. We lost a few.

You could get a rocket that would have a compartment in it in which you could put things to launch. We didn't ever get one of those, but thought about it. We thought about putting a lizard or a mouse in the rocket and launching it. They didn't make those compartments big enough for little sisters.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Downloading Songs Releasing Time Praising God. I am an amateur singer, and help with the music ministry of our church. That ministry is in the midst of a radical transformation from traditional to contemporary. The church recently hired a new “music minister”, Steve, a keyboardist, composer, and music transcriber by profession. He is from the secular side of the music aisle, and is little acquainted with “church music”. Furthermore, as a Roman Catholic, Steve is not very familiar with “the Reformed Tradition”.

But Steve knows contemporary music, he knows what sounds “right” to younger folks in the pew, he can play anything on his computerized keyboard, and he brings a point of view that I would say, at the risk of sounding a little heretical, gives new life to the music side of our worship. He is a great complement to our new minister, Van, who has brought new life to the preaching of the Word at our church. Van does not consider himself a musician, but he is interested in music, he knows what he likes, what he likes is often what people in the pew like, and he has an ear for songs that go with themes in his text and in his sermon. So Van will mention a song to Steve. Steve will get the music somewhere, and then Steve will look at his amateur musicians and see whether someone might be able to do the song. Steve does not have a lot to work with in our church, but he and the layman who heads our worship committee, Rick, are doing very well in teasing out talent from our community.

So last Wednesday night Steve gave me a song he wanted me to sing today at church. It was a song that Van had asked him to do, “O Lord, You’re Beautiful” by Keith Green, a song that has been in the “praise song” library for many years. I knew the song a little bit and Steve had a copy of the original music that Keith Green had sung. The original music was a little different from
the praise song I knew, however. For one thing, it had a strange bridge that was hard to get just reading the music. So I decided that Saturday I would have to go to the Christian book store in
Hialeah, look through the CD collection there, and see if I could find the song. If successful, I would buy the CD, bring it home, and then just listen to it again and again, which is how I learn
new songs.

Saturday was very busy. Early in the day I was able to go by the book store, because I had another errand in the neighborhood. But it was before 10AM and the store had not yet opened. I had to run other errands, mainly downtown, and found myself back home in mid-afternoon and prepared to go back to the book store. But then I remembered that now one can buy and download songs from the internet. I called Walter and he pointed me to the Apple site,, and the Wal-Mart site, The Apple site required Windows 2000, which I do not have, but Wal-Mart would take Windows 98. And there on the Wal-Mart site was the original Keith Green recording. For 88 cents I downloaded it!

After downloading, it took some time for me to play it. I discovered that my Windows Player was obsolete, and I had to download from the Microsoft webpage the latest version. That took a while. But by the end of the afternoon, I was playing the song, singing along with it, and getting it firmly planted in my head. This morning at the worship service I sang it, with Steve on the keyboard. It turned out OK.

The point of all of this is to describe what was, for me, a revolutionary way to locate and acquire a song. I know. I know. This is old stuff to the generation below me. And even I knew that this was out there. But to experience this distribution system is astonishing. My routine of going to the bookstore, finding the right CD (if the right CD happens to be there), buying it and bringing it home, takes a great deal of time that I have little of to spare. The cost of the CD that has the song I want is often 15 dollars, on the order of more than 15 times what Wal-Mart charges for that song. But this is the least of the costs that the old way of find the song requires.

A few weeks ago I was able to download not the recording but the sheet music of a song I heard that I thought might do at church: “You Raise Me Up”, which is a cross-over from the secular to the Christian music world. I was able to buy the sheet music off the internet and print it out on my printer. I have the file in my computer (just as I have the file from the Keith Green song) and I can print out the music anytime I want to print it out. There was no way I would have been able to locate that sheet music at the book store in Hialeah, because it had just crossed over. But there it was, right on the internet.

Oh, Brave New World!

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Walter-I-want-you-to-come-right-home-dept. Read about people in Austin who need a life.
Off to camp!

I'm going to summer camp for the next two weeks. You can check on my progress at the Coast & Crown weblog. (link in right sidebar) I hope to make some entries while at camp. I'll have to shanghi someone's computer, but that shouldn't be a problem. I'm a Ninja.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Audrey's Graduation. Carol and I flew to Tallahassee Saturday morning to attend the law school graduation of our niece (my sister's daughter) Audrey Gay. Audrey was diagnosed with MS about 6 months ago. She had been suffering from it unknowingly for years. She just thought she was tired. But when she woke up one morning without sight in one eye and went to the eye doctor, within 24 hours she was referred up the medical food chain to a neurologist who specializes in the disease, and she received the diagnosis.

Because she is young, her MS doctor felt free to hit her with chemicals and medicines about as hard as one can hit in an effort to get the disease under control. Meanwhile, the Stokes family and friends undertook some serious praying (which continues).

The fact that she was able to go through law school with the disease undiagnosed and untreated and then, when the crisis occurred, withstand the medication (which continues to this day), finish law school and graduate, is a credit to the density of her backbone and the power of prayer. Three cheers for Audrey and thanks be to God!
Awful, Actually. Its not a good thing to walk into a video store without any idea of what to get. I did that last Friday night. The only thing I had with me was a burned out brain and a desire for some mindless tube watching. (Its a little like going to a grocery store when you are hungry, but at least you usually have a list when you go grocery shopping.) I hadn't been in the video store for a long, long time, so there were a lot of titles I had not seen. Because Carol would be watching the video with me, I knew I needed to get a chick flick. That eliminated quite a few titles. (I won't mention the names of any of them, not a one.)

So I came across "Love, Actually". Hmmm: Same producer that did "Notting Hill" and "Four Funerals and a Wedding", and they were sort of fun, and Carol liked them; good actors too - Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth (Mr. Darcy), Liam Neeson. This looked like a winner.

Awful! Awful! Don't even think about seeing this nihilistic, softly pornographic, foul mouthed, sophomoric trash. What were these people thinking? If there is anything remotely redeeming or interesting in the movie, then it is the over-the-hill rock star character, who was funny several times, but he is not enough to come close to saving this thing.

Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson are the only "normal" people in the movie. They have been apparently happily married for many years as the movie opens. They have two children and mother Emma is spending most of the movie getting them ready for the Christmas play at school. During the movie, Alan betrays Emma with a slut in his office. That's what Emma gets for being a faithful wife all these years. So be careful out there. Don't trust anyone and do whatever you feel like doing immediately.

I need to remember to consult Sean's blog for direction on movie titles.
Ten Reasons to Believe in a God Who Allows Suffering. My friend, Austin Carr, pointed me to this website that addresses the problem of suffering.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

What's going on in the Stokes lab these days? I just finished assembling a "QRP" wattmeter from a kit. "QRP" is one of a set of "Q-signals" that are abbreviations for certain questions or statements that are used in communications. Q-signals were first developed when radio operators used Morse code (known as "CW" for "continuous wave"). For example, "QTH Miami" would mean "my location is in Miami". "QTH?" would mean, "What is your location?" The signal "QRP" means "I decrease power" and "QRP?" means "Can I decrease power?". So a "QRP" wattmeter is a meter that measures small scale RF power.

There is a minimalist subgroup of ham radio operators who use as little power as possible to communicate over the air-waves. Five to ten watts of output power is considered the top range of QRP operating. The maximum that the FCC allows amateur radio operators on most bands is 1500 watts of output, and the average ham rig has an output of 100 watts. On the other hand, some QRP fans try to stay under 1 watt of output power. In fact, the meter that I built has three scales: a 10 watt scale, a 1 watt scale, and a 100 milliwatt scale.

About a year ago I built from a kit a QRP transceiver that operates on 20 meters on CW only. Its top output, according to the meter that I just built, is about 7 watts. I have "worked" (meaning, I have communicated with via CW) people in NY, Texas, PA, NC, Indiana, and Guatemala with this "rig".

One of the advantages of building a kit is that, via email, one can sometimes communicate with the owner of the business that sells them. This was the case with the kits I built. The kits are not "plug and play" sorts of products. I ran into some difficulty in building both kits. I contacted the owner through the internet and he talked me through each problem over the course of about a week. Having the problems that I encountered worked an advantage for me, because I learned more dealing with these problems assisted by a competent mentor who really cared than I would have had I simply stuck everything together and it worked the first time.

Hmmm. Is there some theology here?
Nanoscience and self-manufacturing. Look at what science is offering up in this area.