Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jono on the Pogo

Jono got a pogo stick for his half-birthday this summer, but he only recently got the hang of it. Something just clicked for him and now he's a pogo maniac. I shot an amusing video of him jumping and providing some commentary on the "sport" of "pogosticking". Enjoy!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Blog of a blog of a blog...

I have a computer in the classroom where I teach my classes. While the students worked on their exam, I brought up my blog on the computer. Then I took this picture of my blog and sent it to my blog... deep.

Wheels within wheels
In a spiral array
A pattern so grand and complex
Time after time
We loose sight of the way
Our causes can't see their effects
- Neil Peart

Multimedia message

These are the skate boards of five of my students. They hang them on the chalk board railing during class. They use them for transportation between classes. It is a new phenomenon that just started this semester. I wonder he it has something to do with the price of gas?

Multimedia message

I am giving an exam today. This post is from my phone. I took this photo of my students hard at work.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Off-grid Chickens

The weird thing about chickens is that they will lay more eggs during the long days of summer than during the short days of winter. But chickenologists have solved this problem. During the winter, if you stick a light bulb in their chicken coop at dusk, they think the sun is still up and continue to lay more eggs. They're kinda stupid.

A mobile chicken coop mounted on a trailer frame. The wheels are either obscured by the grass or they have been eaten by sleep-deprived chickens.

Our friends over at the World Hunger Relief farm have two mobile chicken coops mounted on wheels: mobile homes for chickens. And the floor of each chicken coop is mesh wire, so the poop falls through to fertilize the fields. That's why you have to move their coops around, so you can spread the fertilizer all over the field. Redistribute the wealth like only Obama and mobile chickens can.

Where is this post going?

Out at the World Hunger Relief farm, the chicken in charge of egg production likes to sleep-deprive his chickens with a light bulb to keep up egg production. So, they run a long extension cord out into the field and put a light bulb on a timer.

This is the light bulb they used to use. The very long extension cords laying in the field are not shown for clarity.

Well, the chickens formed a co-op (ha! get it?) and decided they wanted to go green. Their days of dragging extension cords all over the field and using electricity from coal-fired power plants were over. They made signs that said "Power to the Poultry" and marched around in circles. One of them shouted from a megaphone "BUCK BUCK!" and so on. It wasn't pretty.

They contracted with Engineers with a Mission to design a solar powered chicken coop lighting system. Off-grid chickens. So we found a light-sensitive timer that detects sundown and turns on the lights for a preset time. We mounted solar panels, charge controllers, a battery, and an tiny (100 watt) inverter in the chicken coop, and used high-tech, white LED Christmas lights that use less than five watts! We mounted the panels on the outside of the coop and put the other components in a five gallon bucket with a lid for protection and aesthetics.

This is David nailing up the string of LED Christmas lights. Turns out that if you hit one with the hammer, half the string goes out. Seems that half the string is connected in series, unlike traditional Christmas lights that are connected in parallel.

These are Anna inside and outside the coop, mounting solar panels and the bucket that holds the battery.

We left around 3:00 PM this afternoon and got lunch together. Jono, forever affectionate with the ladies, cuddled up with Anna while she and I discussed her future career options. She has an interview with a company in Chicago next week. She graduates in December. Exciting times.


The boys and I went home and I took a nap. Then when the sun went down, I simply could not resist the 20 minute drive back to the farm to check out our fowl handiwork. We drove into the farm and down the dark dirt road to the field with the chicken coops. It was even more hilarious in person than in my engineer's imagination!

The chickens were all bunched up and sitting in the light, presumably thinking about laying more eggs. I think they were reading the paper, but they may have just been doing sudoku, hard to tell. It was the confluence of two technologies, old and new, animal domestication and solid-state electronics. I was simultaneously amused and satisfied.

Buck buck.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Our Friend Sally

It must have been something we ate. The M and Jono are pretty sick. The doctor thinks it's, brace yourself, salmonella! I have started calling The M "Sally" at home. She thinks it's funny, but the fever has impaired her judgement.

The M's doc gave her some antibiotics, but Jono's pediatrician said it would be better to let him fight off the infection without them because there is a small chance that treating salmonella with antibiotics will leave you as a carrier for the disease. And that makes you have to wait longer to buy a handgun. Or something.

Do you know there is a salmonella blog? It's true: http://www.salmonellablog.com/. And speaking of salmonella, what's with the pronunciation? If it's a fish, we call a salmon a sa-mon, but if it's a bacteria we call it saLmon- ella? What is that, some kind of Spanish? Salmon-eya? Que? No comprendo.

Where did they get it, you ask? Not sure. We cooked scrambled eggs at home Sunday morning and fried chicken from a-store-that-will-remain-nameless-on-account-of-lawsuits, for dinner with some other families. So far, they are the only two that got sick. It may remain a mystery until the end of time.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Cultures Game

Tonight at our Engineers with a Mission meeting we played a cultural simulation game. We divided into two groups, alphas and betas. The alphas simulated a communal culture and their purpose in life was to accumulate friendships; the betas simulated an individualistic culture and their purpose in life is to accumulate points from a card game. This is how it works:

First we separate the two groups. We tell the alphas that their purpose is to make friendships. They must do this within the bounds of the culture we define for them. Specifically, they must greet each other with an extended (min. 30 second) handshake. They must introduce themselves to each other in relationship to some other male in their family such as, Brian son of Jim, or Chuck grandson of Elmer. Then they must learn one thing about the other person such as their major, or their home town, and then play a simple game together. It is a variation on rock-paper-scissors using Uno cards. It doesn't really matter who wins, it's just part of what the alpha culture requires to "build a friendship". After they play the game they initial each other's friendship card and they are friends.

If, however, they do any of these steps incorrectly or out of order, then they have offended the other party who must hold up a blue card of offense. Furthermore, the offender gets a (washable) ink mark on their thumb which will be visible to anyone else with whom they shake hands in the future. Two such marks and they are booted out of the culture - they have to go wash their hands and come back, loosing valuable friendship-building time.

Oh yes, one other aspect of this culture is that men can't talk to women without permission from the "town leader" who is the oldest male in the group. A man speaking to a woman without such permission gets a thumb mark of offense too.

Now the beta culture is entirely different. Their purpose in life is to accumulate points by playing a card game. Everyone has ten cards, and is trying to trade cards, one-for-one, with other players to gain a straight of six cards of the same suit. The problem is, they have a very limited language. To trade a card, they must hold it up to another beta and verbally describe the card they want to trade for it. They must use the following language:

Clubs = Coo
Diamonds = Doo
Spades = Soo
Hearts = Hoo.

For numbers, betas count the syllables in the speech, they pay no attention to the consonants or vowels. The consonants must be their initials, and the vowels can be any they want. So if your name is Bob Jones and you want to ask for a seven of diamonds, you say "Doo Ba Ji Ba Ji Ba Ji Ba" or perhaps "Doo Be Ja Be Ja Be Ja Be".

If the other beta does not have the card being requested, he/she crosses her arms in front to say no. If they want to say yes, they pat themselves on the back. There are no words for hello, thank you, or for any other relationship-building purposes.

Crossed arms means "no deal"

The first 20 minutes we spend teaching the alphas and betas their respective cultures. Then we send a handful of alphas to the beta room, and a handful of betas to the alpha room. They try to interact with each other and learn how individualistic cultures (like Americans and betas) and communal cultures (like Africans, middle-east cultures, Latin America, and alphas) are very different. Invariably they offended each other, misunderstood each other, and considered each other rude. The betas quickly get kicked out of the alpha culture, and the alphas get taken advantage of in the beta culture. We sent several sorties back and forth so everyone gets the experience.

In the end we got back together and discussed how each group viewed each other. We had betas describe alphas and alphas describe betas. We have alphas say what they think is important to a beta and so on. Sometimes they got it right and sometimes not! We had a good laugh and perhaps learned something. Bi Ti Bi Ti.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Theological Rebar of Engineering

"I heard the rocks crying out,
'Be praised for all Your tenderness
by these works of Your hands
Suns that rise and rains that fall to bless
and bring to life Your land
Look down upon this winter wheat
and be glad that You have made
Blue for the sky and the color green
that fills Your fields with praise!'”

So sings the poet Rich Mullins in his song “The Color Green”[1]. Mr. Mullins was moved by the beauty he saw in creation and by what it revealed to him of his Creator. (see note A) The history of mankind is punctuated with similar responses to creation. And when engineers create, they echo the original creative Act.

In the book of Genesis we see two accounts of creation that reveal two independent characteristics about God. (Engineers might like to imagine these two characteristics along orthogonal axes: the axis of omnipotent creator and the axis of personal relater.) These two creation accounts are complementary and foundational and give us vital information about God and man.[2] Indeed, these two aspects of God and man (they are both creative and both personal) are multiplicative, sweeping out a product of rich and rewarding area. It is the goal of this essay to illuminate how engineering, as a profession, is well suited to join this song of creation with natural resonance and poetic elegance.

Genesis Chapter 1 describes how God created the cosmos out of nothing. The Hebrew name used for God in Chapter 1 is “Elohim”[3] which is a generic term for deity. He is portrayed as the Power that creates by His words alone and speaks into being the universe, the earth, and man. Verse 27 reads “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Something of God is woven into mankind at his creation, though the depth of the meaning of “the image of God” has kept theologians busy for centuries. Regardless of its exhaustive meaning, man has an imprint or signature of his Creator that reflects some aspect(s) of Him, however imperfectly. Summarizing Chapter 1 then: Elohim creates everything, including, significantly, “man in His own image.” God is a creator and engineers are creators; the basis for an engineer’s creativity lies ultimately in this truth.

Chapter 2 of Genesis seems to rewind the story and retell it with an entirely new perspective. The narrative takes us back to before the creation of man and replays the events with much more detail (see note B). Firstly we notice that the name of God has changed from the “Elohim” of Chapter 1. Chapter 2 uses the proper name YHWH or “Yahweh” throughout. Yahweh has the meaning of “self existent One” and perhaps could be loosely translated “the One who was not created, but just IS.” In fact, God himself seems to place a special significance to this name later in Exodus Chapter 3, when speaking to Moses. Verses 14-15 read with italics added:

"And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” And God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The LORD [Yahweh], the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations."

So the name Yahweh is an important name and a personal name. The creation of man as detailed in Chapter 2 is personal as well: God took special care of Adam, placed him into Eden, spoke to him and gave him special tasks. In short, we see a personal side of God in Chapter 2. If Chapter 1 paints a masculine picture of God, Chapter 2 paints a feminine one. Indeed, today most scholars agree that it was Moses’ wife that made him put in all that personal stuff anyway.

So in the first two chapters of the Bible, we find two important aspects of the nature of God: He is a powerful creator and He is personal. To be a successful engineer, one must have these same two structural members in place. Engineers must be creative and they must be personal. To be successful along the creative axis, engineers need to have mastery of the technical tools of their field. To be successful along the personal axis, engineers must become effective communicators, have “people skills” and dispel stereotypes.

Perhaps the most common role played by engineers is that of designer. A “design engineer” is one that applies the skills of mathematics, the sciences, manufacturing technology, computing, etc., to the problem at hand. Problems addressed by design engineers include designs as large as battleships, as minute as integrated circuits, as complex as interplanetary probes, or as simple as ball bearings. The degree to which engineers understand mathematics, the sciences, manufacturing technology, computing, etc., is the degree to which they are free to operate, to design, to unleash their imagination, and create. In fact, they must understand that the delineations between these disciplines are themselves artificial.[5] Over-specialization can be a hindrance to creativity. Ultimately, truth is unified and reality is singular. Mathematics and the sciences could be viewed as different languages, but both attempt to describe that which is true. To create (design) in this universe means first to conform to laws of nature that exist. In summary, to score high on the creative axis, engineers must be adept with technical know-how, but such an engineer, if lacking personal skills, will be stereotypically one-dimensional.

Engineers, being human for the most part, have the advantage of being intrinsically personal. All humans are persons, but being human is not enough to be successful along the personal axis. In practice, engineers don’t sit around performing triple integrals in isolation. (Indeed, the vast majority of engineers don’t perform triple integrals ever.) Design engineers often interface with people other than their own kind: people from different educational levels, socioeconomic status, and throughout the managerial hierarchy. Engineers in industry routinely interface with people groups as diverse as sales and marketing, machinists, assemblers, technicians, executives, suppliers, and customers. Many smaller companies, especially “high tech. start ups” tend to revolve around their engineering staff. They form a technical hub from which the rest of the company radiate like spokes. Engineers must work well with each.

“People skills” are harder to define, and harder to quantify, than their technical counterparts. However, at the top of any “people skills” list would be communication, including oral, written, and graphical abilities, and the important ability to tailor content to the technical level of the audience – without condescension. Also important are the ability to deal with difficult people, the virtue of treating coworkers with respect, and even salesmanship (in the best sense of the word). When both the creative and personal skills are developed the engineer is “optimized” to echo something central to the character of God himself.

What then, are the implications to engineering educators? The obvious points of cultivating technical ability balanced by personal skills have already been made, and in fact, most engineering programs will have long ago purposed to incorporate these goals into their programs.
The engineering program at a Christian institution, however, is in the unique position of being able to provide the theological rebar that adds strength, motivation, purpose, and meaning to a career in engineering. Students don’t learn to solve engineering problems for the sole purpose of getting the promotion. Instead, they strive to solve engineering problems because in so doing they glorify God and serve humanity. As the last lines of Bach’s manuscript compositions read “S.D.G.” for Soli Deo Gloria (to God alone be the glory)[8], so engineers might similarly dedicate their work, and in a sense make it holy.

Finally, engineering educators should encourage students to look for career opportunities of significance. These may or may not be the most prestigious or most highly paid (see note C). As an example of an opportunity to display the beauty of creation through engineering work, consider magnetic resonance imaging systems. MRI instruments require the leading edge technology in several fields at once: superconductors, electromagnetics, and imaging. In this technical sense, they are beautiful and elegant. Radio photons at other “colors green” paint the body, one slice at a time, on a high-resolution digital canvas. Medical reconnaissance. The level of detail obtained inspires awe at the wonderfully made human body. Finally, and fundamentally, the very purpose of MRI instruments is to help heal the sick. Engineers working for an MRI developer, therefore, may be motivated on a daily basis by the technical beauty and personal significance of their work.

Engineering, as a profession, is well suited to emulate two of God’s primary characteristics: His creativity and His personhood. The daily activities of many engineers manifest these characteristics, and like the cosmic background radiation, ring and reverberate in response to God’s creative acts. Engineering educators might make it their goal to expose students to these concepts, develop their the personal skills not just their technical abilities, and encourage them to find employment and career opportunities that are multi-dimensional in their significance. These goals, if well cultivated, will yield a crop of young engineers empowered with motivation and purpose, poised to serve mankind, and tuned to sing with the entire universe to their Creator.

A. Although some engineers might relegate “the color green” to a mere photon wavelength, none the less, it is a photon wavelength that sings at its unique, quantum mechanical pitch, to the glory of its Creator. “…if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”

B. This is a recurring literary structure found in Genesis. First, less important things are covered with broad strokes. This provides the setting into which fits the information more central to the overall theme of the Bible. The broad-brush information is dealt with quickly and moved out of the way. Then the more important information is expanded, detailed, and magnified as if focused upon with a zoom lens. Then the most central information within the central information is magnified. And so it repeats in a beautiful pattern: microcosm within microcosm. The creation of the universe in Chapter 1 puts man in his cosmic setting, and then more detail about the creation of man and God’s relationship to him is given in Chapter 2. See reference [2] from which this analysis draws heavily.

C. Engineering students should be exposed to the fact that job satisfaction has little to do with salary. However, salary issues are the source of much job dissatisfaction.[4] The reality baby should not be thrown out with the materialist bathwater.


[1] Mullins, Rich, The Color Green, from A liturgy, a legacy & a ragamuffin band, Reunion Records, Nashville, Tennessee, 1993, punctuation added for clarity

[2] Schaeffer, Francis A., Genesis in Space and Time, from The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview, Volume Two, A Christian View of the Bible as Truth, Crossway Books, Wheaton Illinois, 1982

[3] Ryrie, Charlse, The Ryrie Study Bible, New American Standard Translation, The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1976

[4] Hardy, Lee, The Fabric of the World, Inquiries into Calling, Career Choice, and the Design of Human Work, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich., 1990

[5] Baylor News, Vol. 10, No. 8, October 2000, President Robert B. Sloan Jr., President calls for 10-year plan for University

[6] Veith, Gene Edward Jr., Postmodern Times, A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, 1994

[7] Thaxton, Charles B., and Pearcey, Nancy R., The Soul of Science, Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, 1994

[8] Colson, Charles, from speech “Does Religion Belong in Public Life?” delivered to Detroit Economic Club, Cobo Center, Detroit Michigan, November 13, 2000

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Burgers on the griddle!

Pokin' the fire

Beautiful day today. Worked in backyard mowing and chopping firewood. Decided to build a camp fire in a patch without grass. Grilling burgers and Smores for dinner. Sent from phone in backyard.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


The fifth and sixth-grade kids from our church performed a great drama during a Halloween outreach last week. They used the driveway of a house in a high trick-or-treat traffic area and people stopped by to watch during their candy hunting. The drama is wonderful, and the kids did great. My son David played Jesus. I was super proud of him! Check it out: