Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Order of Service

Our church has a consistent order of service: music to get people into the sanctuary, a song to start, a prayer, a song set, perhaps a testimony, preaching, maybe the Lord's Supper, then a song set and closing prayer. The band (aka “worship team”) sings and plays, and if the drums are loud or the sound man is easily influenced it gets hard to hear the congregation. The focus is pretty much entirely on the stage. There's no “invitation” as such beyond a suggestion that people visit either the Welcome Banner or the Prayer Banner areas (the latter is a very good feature—people stand ready to pray with anybody needing prayer).

You may think my description is less than enthusiastic. I've been in much worse services. And better.

Baptists point out that all Christians are part of the “royal priesthood.” The ordinary Christian enjoys the right and responsibility of direct communion with God, with no intermediary. If we take this seriously, it further means that the Christian can be an intermediary for the non-believers, able to intercede on their behalf.

So imagine a congregation of priests. If you want to lead them in worship, do you sing at them and talk at them and keep them passive, or do you involve them?

I don't have a clear picture yet, or clear answers, but it would seem a hugely wasted opportunity if you did not invite those priests to pray together, to recite scripture together, to call on God together, to sing together, to pronounce blessings together.

Praying together can be silent, or assenting to the prayer of a leader, or praying out loud together. Having someone from the congregation pray seems fitting also. As it is we generally only allow the assent to the leader's prayer. There's no accommodation for silent prayer at all, unfortunately.

Singing together with a focus on the congregation is almost the opposite of the almost passive audience we get with the stage band and powerpoint slides. I suspect that only a small fraction of the congregation know how to read music anymore. I've been in a few churches where the speaker amplifier was mistaken for the power of God—and the louder the better.

I've never found any convincing reasons why the Lord's Supper should not be offered each service, although that's not strictly part of the theme here.

Even Pentecostal services have an order, and it seems better to recognize that a worship service is going to have an order and try to make it as fitting s possible.

Announcements and such non-worship activities should be outside the boundaries of the order of service. It has been a wise tradition to open the service proper with an invocation remembering Jesus' promise of his presence, and to close it with a prayer and a blessing. Within those boundaries everything should be ordered to praise and edification and the practice of the presence of God. Were it my choice I'd forbid applause on the grounds that this time should be focused on God alone.

I'm reluctant to try to specify a particular order, but the general shape should involve communal prayer, communal scripture, silent prayer, singing, blessing, preaching, and the Lord's Supper. There's a dramatic logic to some of the traditional orders of service, which might be usefully revisited, though some of them are extremely leader-centric.

It's been implicit—let me make it explicit. The worship service is not principally for evangelism, but for worship. Imagine that I am a “seeker.” If I go to a Buddhist service I want to see what Buddhists do, not sit through a lecture explaining that I ought to be one myself. I can figure that part out after I find out what they do.

I'm still thinking about this topic. I think there's room for lots of flexibility, and in a small church even room for unexpected changes. But if a core principle is that the congregation is active, then you can't keep assigning them the rather passive role our church generally does.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Recent deaths

I used to hear The Jackson Five all the time--it seemed that every Liberian station was playing them for a while (surely not ELWA, though?). But I didn't follow Michael's career, never saw Thriller--after the Bloom County strips he disappeared from my radar until he reappeared as the train wreck you couldn't look away from. From Justin Taylor, via Touchstone: "The one thing that comes to mind about Jackson is how bad he was at hiding his brokenness. Even while living in a literal fantasy land, it was obvious to everyone that this was a person--enormously gifted--desperately seeking a mask to cover, in futility, who he was."

I suppose that made him an Everyman: an Everyman with the resources to follow through with every false hope. Some of us die still dreaming that "if only X" we'd be happy--because we never actually had "X." His sycophantic bubble more toxic than that of most, but that irreducible disquiet, knowing that something is disastrously wrong, is something we all share.

McMahon I hardly ever thought of--and I guess that's what made him indispensable. I wonder how much of the happy side-kick was real and how much was acting? Humility can be attractive...

I'd not actually seen much of Farah--The Apostle, half an episode of Charley's Angels, and of course the poster. It is strange how much more abstract the sex symbols came to be: airbrushed/photoshopped to a high gloss, with only idealized muscles and curves--and those idealized curves became less and less like those of the women you actually met. Porn chic eventually made it even more exaggerated.

Abstract women in stylized poses never seem quite as attractive as real women, but the designers know how to make them eye catching. Photos of Lady Gaga are in the news lately, and she is certainly eye catching--in an alien kind of way. You're startled, and can't look away; and she flaunts a female body--but she doesn't look entirely human anymore. Farah did. No, I never tacked up her poster.

As long as we're thinking of fame and fortune consider an article in Cracked on 5 things you think will make you happy but won't.

Friday, June 26, 2009


There's a web comic called XKCD that, although it runs a little sour when talking about love, seems to have the life of a scientist/mathematician down pat. I've been here: a party where the topics that enthrall the rest leave me cold and pining for the lovely world of mathematics.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Control rooms

The last time I was in a control room at CERN I was recording the oxygen levels in the Iarocci tubes as we flushed them out in preparation for a long shutdown--some important parts of the detector had failed. It was taking hours, and would have been at least a couple more by the time my shift was over. I figured that a graph showing how long it actually took might be useful for safely managing it in the future, and wondered if the next shift person would bother finishing it There wasn't much else to do in the little room. There were MacIntosh computers here and there, but they had been modified to map VME addresses into memory and were part of the DAQ. (They were original MacIntosh machines--68000's.) I used a clunker of a dumb terminal, but I couldn't complain--so did everybody else. I couldn't get at email from the control room either--mine was on a VAX in Wisconsin, but even the local IBM wasn't accessible from UA1.

I'm at Point 5 now, sitting in front of a laptop smaller than the old terminal but connected to Wisconsin. A camera is taking pictures of the two of us to show the world, and I'm surrounded by large flat panel screens. There are easily triple the number CDF uses (38 in this part of the room alone!), and the tables have lots of arm space (no carpal tunnel here!). The chairs are comfortable: for 1500 euro each they'd better be. And . .. there's nothing to do. The expert downloaded code to the DDUs and is running a low rate test run that has garnered 14 events in half an hour. We had a little excitement for a while trying to get the plus endcap CSC crates powered back on, and then when we found out that the DCS panel telling us that the HV was turned off was only half right. (It was some sort of communication failure, made invisible by an incredibly stupid "finite state system" design. I had to fight with those same stupid rules myself--somebody didn't think through enough use cases before laying down the law.) So I got to watch an expert at work and get some explanation of problems and practice starting a new run.

We're alone here in this large room. The alignment computer isn't installed yet, so I can't test that; and I'm not authorized to run the DCOPS lasers until tomorrow (and I want the MAB low voltage on first). There's no beam, and won't be for months. Nobody else wants to run tests overnight, and somebody has to be here 24/7, and there's a two-man rule in effect in case somebody needs to work downstairs. So there are two CSC-shifters. There's a video camera next to the video connection showing 4 CMS control room sites: here, at Fermilab, DESY and the Meyrin site.

In one corner about 30 feet away is an impressive cabinet with large red buttons that apparently let us dump the beam. Windows look out onto the parking lot behind us, and everywhere is the detritus of commissioning a complicated software system--coffee cups, grid paper scribbled with notes, already-obsolete ring binders of instructions--and hard hats. OK, maybe those last aren't typical, unless the dilberts bang their heads on the table a lot. But a lot of what you might expect--multimeter, scopes, cable ties, probes--aren't in this room at all.

It turns out that simply switching on a power supply isn't simple. Everything is monitored, so the power supply has some communication gear associated with it that has to connect to the monitoring system. The triggers aren't made by plugging Lemo cables into NIM logic boards in NIM crates anymore--the triggers start with small computers on boards in crates; and the computers can and do need to be reprogrammed/reloaded; the crates need to have the intelligence to manage the reloading process (as well as tell if they are having problems, and the higher level triggering system needs to be able to communicate with those computers, which means another set of interfaces to be programmed and debugged. Etc. And timing is a huge and complex problem--calculations have to be pipelined because more beam crossings happened while you were busy figuring out if this was a worthwhile trigger or not.

Of course there isn't any beam yet, but that's no excuse for not testing the system--which obviously needs ways to generate test triggers (that have to inject realistic data into the detector readout stream). And that means we have to test the fake data generator too.

I say we, but I'm not doing it myself--I'm just here in a supporting role for that. My main jobs lie elsewhere, in the alignment system.

What else is here? A slightly smelly men's room (the end of the weekend effect), a water cooler, an espresso machine with honor-system coffee in little condom-like packets, and some vending machines somewhere that probably only take euros. I have some granola bars, a ham sandwich, cashews (soft and unsalted), bread and some apples. Funny, but apples from the cafeteria cost about the same as apples from the grocery store. And orange juice is cheaper than apple juice at the grocery story.

I have 4 1/2 hours to go, sitting across the ocean from my wife on our anniversary. And I'm twiddling my fingers--or blogging.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Invisible Things

When you camp in the tall woods you can hear the rain high in the trees as well as usual patter around you. Even after the rain is over, the top branches are still wet. A gust of wind waves the branches and sets the drops flying, and it sounds like it is raining again, high above you.

In the grasslands waves of color changes show the bending of the grass to the unseen wind, moving here and there and perhaps even reaching you. When the iron filings order in ranks and stand at attention you know there’s a magnetic field there.

The wind or the field is still there whether the trees or wheat or bits of iron are there to greet them or not. These other things don’t make up the invisible reality, they just display it.

Other invisibilities are more closely tied to what they touch. The bird outside my window lives with its wings and its racing heart and lungs—and would not live without them. He may live without this or that—at some point he cannot live anymore.

But there’s more to the life than the physical parts—even giving the parts a good jolt of lightning in an old castle at midnight doesn’t seem to get a dead body working.

Saying vows doesn’t create the invisible reality of a marriage, but doing them does. Not just the shared bed and shared meals, but the lifetime of services large and small that express and embody the love. It includes the risk and adventure of children—accepting and caring for whoever comes along. If any do—that’s in God’s hands.

The marriage is both displayed and fueled by the dozens of daily small things that mean love and reliability. True, you can show courtesy and reliability in day after day at work, but the relationships there are of a different kind—marriage is a special creation with different “bones” than friendship.

We see the signs of the marriage, but we need new eyes to see the thing itself, to know what we’ve made.

29 years isn’t long enough—I pray for many more.


The title of this web site is invidious: This is Why You're Fat. It shows pictures of culinary creations with a common theme--lots of calories. Some seem insane, and others creative (bacon and egg breakfast sushi) and others quite ordinary (Wisconsin fried cheese curds), but almost all answer the important question: "I've been working hard and I'm hungry--what can I make from the fixings in the fridge?" Of course I'm the fellow who subsisted on "skillet hash" and green beans, and who experimented with sardine hash (it tasted foul).

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Father's Day

OK, it is a little early, but go read this article on the demise of fatherhood. He doesn't mention cowardice, but that plays a role too.

Why do I say "cowardice?" It seems to me like a good description of the overwhelming aversion to the risk of letting anyone else have a say in your life. People have so many toys, and so many options that they seem to be afraid of losing them. Of course, as I wrote before, your freedom is, like time, a kind of currency to buy treasures with. The modern problem seems to combine an unbelief that there are any kinds of treasures besides toys and amusements, and a fear that real treasures might mean giving up part of yourself.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


The Alignment Workshop group picture was taken during the last coffee break of the last day--while there was still daylight. We assembled outside building 40; and after a few minutes the organizer with the camera came out and led us out of shadow to someplace with some sunshine. We went around the corner to congregate at--you guessed it--that Hindu idol.

My first impulse was to walk back to the conference room and skip the picture, but the second thought was to show the flag for Wisconsin, and so I stood with the group, as far from shiva as I could.

After a minute's reflection, it occurred to me that there weren't any good reasons for standing there, and a good reason to avoid it. But my mug is in the picture. I'm sorry.

Monday, June 15, 2009


Again this morning at breakfast. 15 minutes and gone, as usual.

The material at the meetings is interesting and useful, but I'm having a time trying to keep awake (as usual on the first day over). And of course the cough isn't improving--getting worse if anything. Not pneumonia, not yet--and not the flu either. Vigorous exercise seems contraindicated.

CERN runs on coffee, so I'm trying to acquire a taste for the wretched stuff.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Youngest Daughter had her graduation ceremony Friday night. The sky threatened, but no rain came until well afterwards, which was good since families are only allotted 4 tickets for an indoors venue and we’d not all have made it. They’d marked the marching path with small American flags, and one young man in a wheelchair waited for the rest to show up. YD had been ambivalent about graduation, and had warned us that she might break down crying, but she played her role well. She was among the first couple of dozen to receive her diploma, and waited patiently for the next hour.

The graduating class numbered about 400, so the march took ten minutes and the band got lots of practice with Pomp and Circumstance. The teachers, following up at the rear, took a shortcut across the field to get to their seats.

With 400 students to award diplomas (and honors tassels) to, the event was bound to take a couple of hours, and so the speeches were mercifully short—except for the class speech about “we are the future" which took about 4 minutes and was about 4 minutes too long. Noble sentiments really ought to mean something. The class salute tried for humor instead, and mostly succeeded.

The students sat in red and white columns: the men wore red and the women white robes. There were a dozen unpaired women at the end of the procession—a wit behind us noting that they looked like a group of nuns.

The beach balls made their usual appearances despite the segmented amphitheater arrangement of chairs. The balls batted about until they came within reach of a teacher. It’s a more or less harmless custom, but distracting. The ambulance stuck around for about 20 minutes and left without sirens blazing, so I assume the injured party in the distant stands was OK.

The sky grew darker, and camera flashes emulated lightning. My better half pointed out grads who had been in kindergarten with YD, or in 4H. I have no idea how she remembers all these names. Two teachers read names in turn, and paired teachers and school board members took turns handing the folders and shaking hands.

After the ceremony, traditionally the students leave the football field through the bleachers and congregate for photos and congratulations in the soccer field above. Since the diplomas themselves were given in the school building, YD logically went to the first set of steps to the school instead; confusing those of us who thought of tradition (and photography!) rather than logic.

YD was hummingbird hyper, and could barely stand still enough to receive the roses from her sisters and younger brother. She squealed greetings to friends as everyone rushed to and fro, with cars slowly trying to ease out of the parking lot in the background.

I think she enjoyed it. We were happy.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


My youngest sister got married last Saturday, and we all drove down to Louisville to celebrate. Middle Daughter's Ipod didn't connect to the tape system perfectly, leading to some fading at one speaker or another, but the selections seemed to be adequate compromises. Around about Indianapolis the daughters brought out the keyboard and started rehearsing the song they were to sing at the wedding. It was the first time the youngest joined in the group, so it took a little tinkering to figure out bow to work her voice in (she's a soprano).

The dinner that night featured a Pantagruelean proportioned sub sandwich for me, and people (mostly missionaries and MKs) whom I hadn't seen for at least 35 years. They had changed somewhat. Charley wasn't a short lad anymore, but a buoyant surgeon. Leta and Mariam weren't little girls.

The wedding was different for the groom, who was, for the first time, not running the show (it was in the church he pastors). My sister bounced a bit at the "I do's." One of his daughters played violin and the other had a reading from Song of Solomon and a less auspicious writer. My other sister did an excellent reading from Buechner and the trio sang beautifully.

I didn't bring a camera to the wedding, since as part of the party I'd be one of the photographed rather than photographer. After a short delay the bride and groom came to the reception in white Liberian outfits; my sister sporting one of those inimitable head-ties that require years of experience to create. Guests had come from Florida, Georgia, LA, (Wisconsin, of course) and a dozen other places. Liberian friends, family, school friends, church members--the place was full. I spent quite a bit of time talking with the youngest Tolbert, who wants to be an inventor. We went over technical reasons why rocket boots are a bad idea, and other things. I met some of my mother's cousins who'd last seen me 40 years ago (we needed introductions).

The church ladies put the reception together and smoothly cleaned it up. They'd asked what they could do...

The dinner a few hours later spread out over the lawn and mingled people from around the world who'd known the couple from many different decades. A couple who'd met my mother when they joined her TV project in Liberia, a hearing aid installer explaining how digital devices could be tuned to compensate for individual hearing losses, a medical software manager--and a youth and some young adults with flamboyantly dyed hair (3 of our children).

There wasn't enough time for everybody to talk to everybody--that would have taken a few more days, I suppose.

So, hugs and goodbyes, and perhaps we'll meet again. I hope.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

American Intellectual History

There's an interesting summary of American intellectual traditions. The claim that America is a land of "practical" reminds me a little of Chesterton's claim that the idealist is more practical than the "practical man." And lo and behold, a wealth of idealists...

Air France

Now that we're finally getting some details about the transmissions, it looks less like a bomb. The first and biggest argument against a bomb was that nobody claimed responsibility, and most air attacks these days are by terrorists. Of course there was an instance some decades back where someone wanted to collect insurance...

If one of the last things to be reported is loss of cabin pressure, that says there almost certainly wasn't a bomb in the cabin, and probably not in the hold either (or the cabin floor would have broken out--unless the Airbus has an exceedingly strong floor). That excludes most of the places passengers have any sort of influence on.

The system failures don't sound like the pilot was Allahu Akhbaring the plane into the drink the way the Egyptian pilot did on 990. But the pilots never made a sound, meaning they were either too busy to talk (for 4 minutes!?), incapacitated, or the radio was dead. Does their radio use a different frequency and antenna than the jet's diagnostic systems? I'd hope so--redundancy is good.

So maybe lightning is the problem after all. An Air Cornet pilot reported a bright (downward?) flash of light that "disappeared in six seconds," which wouldn't be your standard ground burst of lightning. The "downward" may have been an optical illusion, and I'm not sure I believe the "six seconds." A cloud-to-cloud strike that went stem to stern might do some damage, though I'm not sure what kind or where. I'm not sure how many antennas the jet has or where they are--it might be that they'd provide a less resistive path than the skin of the jet and open the way for some internal damage.

A downward slow flash of light sounds like a meteor, but I don't see how it could do that much damage and still not breach the cabin.

On the other hand, the plane broke apart in midair, so something drastic happened. If a jet's controls don't work anymore, will violent winds break something? I wouldn't think so, unless the updraft was sudden and strong enough to break a wing. Unless something else was damaged too...

Knowing no details of the Airbus design beyond the most primitive, I'll hazard a guess that there are two separate antenna systems , and that a longitudinal lightning strike took the radio antenna as a path into the control cable run, which it destroyed. That would explain the lack of radio contact and the large number of simultaneous failures. The explosion from that strike might have weakened some of the structural members the cable run was tied to, and after a few too many updraft flexes a wing broke off.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Stocks and Bonds

401K → 404 Not Found