Friday, November 23, 2007

Technology post, the sequel!

Today was "black friday" where concupiscence and rationalization run mad throughout the malls and big-box stores and online shopping carts. I didn't participate; oh, but I wanted to. I've become quite indisposed toward my huge, fat, too-bright 19" CRT staring me in the face and making my eyes tired. I imagine that I would enjoy an immense satisfaction at having it (and my rinky-dink speakers) replaced with a 37" 1080p LCD television for $800. But it was not meant to be.

I did spend some of my idle time thinking about technology; in particular, if one had to have certain good things in one's life ("had to have" being used equivocally, of course), what they would be, or not be.

For example: portable music. Most people's needs in this area are probably more modest than marketers will admit. That's certainly true in the case of 80GB iPods, but I believe it's also true in the fad, also endorsed by Apple, of having one's phone and music player in the same device. I might be a strange duck, but I'm still of the old-fashioned mold that considers the presence of a cell phone only valuable some of the time. One of the times I can imagine rather being without my phone, is precisely when I'm trying to relax with music. If both the phone and the music player can be made even more diminutive and affordable in a separate state, then all the better.

Then there's the business of PMPs, or portable media players. Beyond the obstacle of the still Byzantine process of actually getting media on the things, I don't imagine that PMPs will take off here unless we become as individualistic, escapist, and atomistic as Japan. The PMP is the ultimate step in the commoditizaion of drama, doing to theater what the Gameboy does to play. For probably not completely unrelated reasons, there is a tangible feeling of inappropriateness when someone uses such a device in public unless there are truly no other activities available. On this plane, the PSP (not a typo, I am referring to Sony's device) is a curiously obnoxious example. Recent advertisements that showcase the PSP being used for everything under the sun have only persuaded me that people using a PSP look silly.

In fact, with the exception of a small laptop, I've lost interest in the miniaturization and convergence craze. I believe a line is crossed when a machine that normally attracts the eyes' attention for longer than a minute is designed to be used standing up (or in a way that occupies both hands). Without such devices, we would almost never do this. People in their right mind don't walk and read a magazine at the same time. Granted, these devices cater to a Japanese culture which, so I've read, spends much time standing in line. But we're not there yet (and even if we were, I would like to think we would enjoy the peace that comes with line-standing rather than sacrifice even that small lamb to the productivity gods).

Then there's the point that such devices, especially game players, are the high-tech pacifiers of youths from grade school through college. I remember what it was like to enjoy video games so much that the prospect of not having to wait until I got home was unbearably attractive. It wasn't healthy, but it was attractive.

Let me say this about adulthood (even young adulthood): it is nice not to be any longer a sucker-fish on the algae of sensory stimulation. It's a breath of fresh air.

I hope that anyone reading this doesn't interpret it to be an anti-technology diatribe. Yes, I drew a line. Across that line, I believe technology innovations have become faddish, and have presumed to alter human behavior rather than serve it. But I'm happy for diminutive music players with simple interfaces, nondescript cell phones that can send text messages and hold memos, and more recently, cheap 2lbs laptops that just work. I'm also happy for great big TVs that I can't afford and XBox360s that let lots of people play great looking games without expensive PCs (I wish I had more time to play mine, and more people to play it with).

But the adage often cited--"Just because we can, doesn't mean that we should"--in connection to hotter issues like cloning and embryonic stem cells, also applies here. Where personal technological innovations are concerned, we just have to bear in mind an anthropic principle: if it wasn't designed to benefit people as they already are, then what the heck is it for?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Another technology post - the Asus Eee PC

Nothing about theology or course planning here; just another chance to talk tech before I hunker down to do the week's grading (ah, procrastination).

In my last technology post, I suggested three criteria for determining whether a gadget was a worthwhile investment. To recap (and slightly revise), a worthwhile gadget:
  1. saves more time than it wastes,
  2. does not attract unwanted attention, and
  3. does its job better than common alternatives.

Essentially, good purches should not be a timesuck, an obnoxious statement (either of materialistic superiority or anti-social technophilia), or redundant.

With my previous fascination with "Pocket PCs," I did not have these principles in mind. Instead, I was caught up in the excitement of having a single device which could (as various advertisements promise) be the "center of my digital world." The more things I could use the thing for, the more "points" I earned for entering into a make-believe technological utopia. The problem was that 90% of the things I used the thing for, it was a needlessy complicated and inadequate method of achieving them.

Truth be told, phones, organizers, music players, games, books, news, and laptops are probably better off separate than jammed into a techno-idol.

All this being said, I've been in the market for an ultraportable laptop. I don't have a portable computer of any kind right now, and my quality of life has not suffered considerably as a result. But a glance at my "objects of technological concupiscence" list reveals that I've had my eyes on the HTC Shift (and before that the Fujitsu p1600). That goes to show you that I was prepared to blow $1500 on an adequate solution to a few simple needs:

  • A way to do basic computing (class prep, grading, surfing, writing) in cafes or different parts of my apartment.
  • A dedicated PowerPoint presentation machine.
  • An option for some light gaming and music (ah, for a days of guilt-free videogaming for hours on end).

Happily now, it seems I don't have to do that, because in December Asus will release a version of their Eee PC with (at least) an 8gb solid-state drive and Windows XP for about $500. As a bonus, it has a Web cam.

Now here's a machine that fulfills the above criteria. It fills the gap left by my Averatec 3200 laptop when I gave that away, and it weighs half as much. Could I sacrifice countless nights trying to use it for everything under the sun? I could (I'm particularly keen on attempting real video-conferencing between me and a brother). But I won't.

I'm happy about the fact that it will never be an adequate music player (too big) or gaming machine (too weak) or even primary computer (screen too small) or DVD player (no optical drive) or e-book (puh-lease) or organizer (never used those functions anyway) or phone (can't hold it up to my ear). It's a laptop. It's nice that it is a real computer, and not a struggling wannabe. And it's nice that it's cheap. The end.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Seven Day Unit on Scripture

Applicable Diocesean Guidelines:

"Demonstrate an understanding of what the Bible is and the breakdown of the Old and New Testaments."

Awfully vague. Let's see what we can do.
  • Identify what the Bible is and its basic structure.
  • Locate chapters and verses of Scripture.
  • Identify the major parts of the New Testament*
  • Explain the origins of the canon of Scripture
  • Differentiate between "inspiration" and "dictation".

Friday, November 09, 2007

Seven-Day Unit on Penance and Anointing of the Sick

General Diocesan Guidelines:

  1. demonstrate an understanding of concepts underlying [the Sacrament of Penance] and their relationship to lived grace, ritual, prayer, and service.
  2. describe the relationship between Jesus, the Church, and [the Sacrament of Penance].
  3. explain the meaning of the Mystery of the Incarnation, Paschal Mystery, Pentecost, Church as the Body of Christ, and their effect on the development of [the Sacrament of Penance].
  4. identify major developments in the history of the [the Sacrament of Penance].
  5. explain what realities of human life are celebrated by [the Sacrament of Penance].
  6. identify the major symbols used in [the Sacrament of Penance] and the key aspects of ritualizing these sacraments.
  7. explain Eucharist as the source and summit of [the Sacrament of Penance].

Let's condense these goals into three:

  1. Relate Penance to the kerygma (God, Creation, Sin, Incarnation, Paschal Mystery, Eucharist, and the Church) (2, 3, and 7).
  2. Identify major developments in the thought and ritual of Penance (4 and 6).
  3. Discuss how Penance and Anointing fit within a lived reality defined by a loving and active God, sin and death, freedom, and hope. (1 and 5).

Unpacking #3 there...

  1. pain, sadness, loss, stress, injustice, cruelty, lonliness, hatred, disappointment, uncaring, death: the world gives us enough reason to give in to despair
  2. three ways to respond: despair. diversion. hope.
  3. reason to hope. there is One more powerful than all of these, and he has acted on our behalf, because he loves us.
  4. but we still have to choose: hope (receiving the sacraments; giving thanks; reforming our lives according to grace), or despair (drowning our sorrow in titillation and self-abuse)? our lives will reflect the choice.

What are the top 10 words that 17-year-old Catholics should know in regards to Penance and Anointing of the Sick?

  • Penance
  • perfect/imperfect contrition
  • order of penitents
  • seal of confession
  • examination of conscience
  • confessional
  • absolution
  • venial/mortal sin
  • despair
  • presumption

Time and resources:

  • 1 day for the test (next week Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on whether we are in school Wednesday)
  • 1 day for review (possibly two, see above)
  • 4 teachable days (Mon, Tue, Thur, Fri) (one of these should be interactive)
  • A good textbook chapter (split into two: 208-215; 216-220)
  • Some resources for PPT presentations (Catechism, historical info)

Monday: Introduction, PPT talk on the