Sunday, January 20, 2008

"Mind" -> The Web Cam

I want to know who is showing up at our front door, what type of traffic is running down our front street, and if the neighbor's dog is in our front yard. You can do all of this with a web camera. The one that is to the right is what I have.

So let's spend a moment describing how I have this set up:

a. I have it pointed toward our front street.

b. It is wireless, but there is an electrical cord that runs along the baseboard, which I'm sure my "Better Homes And Gardens" niece would pretty up somehow.

c. It is a "computer within a computer" therefore it can mail off messages without any other PC on.

d. It will capture motion and send you an email if something changes.

This last version is particularly cool, and while there is a bit of a lag, it is good enough for what I want.

For example, yesterday, my youngest daughter walked out the front door, then decided that she wanted to do a somersault, then walk back in again. While is cut off about three seconds, the camera saw her movement. It recorded a 5 second snip. It then mailed this 5 second snip in an ASF format to a Google Gmail account I have set up for this purpose. Each five seconds take about 200K of storage.

(A bit of warning, the version that I have requires a SMTP mail account that is not SSL enabled. Cox, our internet provider, is great because it has a SMTP server at, but not everybody may have the same ease of use.)

I also have this set up so I can see it over the internet.

To do this, you need a couple of things.

a. You need to have high bandwidth connection. This is not something you would want to do over a telephone wire.

b. You need to have a static IP address.

What is a static IP address?

Each computer on a network is given a unique number. This number consists of four digits, or something like, which you can think of as a bit of a phone number. The number above may be your personal computer's address, because is a very popular address inside of a home. Now, you may ask, "Wait a minute, how can all home computers have the same number?"

It is analogous to going to two towns, both that a "Main Street." The way that you know there is one Main Street versus the other Main Street in the computer world is by saying "go to the main street by the I-5 freeway, NOT the I-405 freeway."

So what is the freeway in our case? The freeway is the router that you have hooked to the outside world. Right now, my router has an address of, which my cable provider gave it when my router started up. The problem is that the cable company changes the names of the freeways (or the router) every once in a while. Therefore, if I want to get to my camera today, I would go to, but the cable company may change my address tomorrow, and I may not be able to find my camera.

This is future complicated by the fact that normally your don't want a series of numbers for your address, what your want is a name like "" so you can just type in the worlds. You probably have heard of this, this is called a Universal Resource Locater (or URL). Therefore, the internet has a "directory naming service" or DNS to turn the name into your current number.

So how do you fix this? You can work with a series of companies that will quiz your computer once in a while to make sure that you have told the internet what your number is for the day. Some of the people that do this for free are:


These are the two biggest companies offering free service, and they both seem to do it pretty well. These companies offer these features so that you'll maybe buy more stuff. In this case, you'll normally download a little program to your computer that will "push" your current router address out to the either dyndns or no-ip. In turn, these services will update the internet update table (amazing that this is all done for you) so that everybody on the internet will be able to find you.

So, if you sign up with dyndns, they will ask:

a. What is the name that you would like for you IP address?
b. Will you please download a piece of software to your PC so I can update the tables on an hourly basis?

I have done this, so I can simply type in a URL, and it will give the right address. This is because the URL that I signed up for is now being updated on a constant basis at the world wide DNS services that run the internet.

Now, let's say that you have four computers, and one router. If all of your computers have the same router with one address, how do I know to go to the web camera?

I didn't tell you about this, but every address has a bunch of mail boxes: 64,0000 of them! Most of these mailboxes are being used, but many are open. In the camera software, I can say "I want you to get any request that shows up at mailbox 8080 (this isn't the port, but it is close enough).

This is called "port forwarding." I tell my router that I want my web camera's address to be "port forwarded" to the router's address of and mailbox 8080. My web camera is listening at this port, and if a request comes in at this mailbox, then it will answer.

As a matter of fact, most routers today won't even tell you if you don't come to them without message. Hackers can climb inside of your system if they can find you. If you don't answer their calls, they can't get to you as easy. Therefore, if you want a web camera to be found on the internet, you need to allow a special "pass through" so that the web camera can be seen.

In this case, if you come to my web address (and I'm not giving it to you, since I don't want a bunch of people tying up my camera), you must come to a special post office, or my router won't answer at all.

In our example, you would need to come to and this is something that you can enter into your web address bar. If you get a URL from No-IP, you would type right into your web browser, and if you had the right address, it would bring up my camera!

However, my camera isn't listening at the other ports, so if you simply type "," you won't find my camera.

Because the camera is wireless, you can move it anywhere in the house and it hooks up. Since it is intelligent, you don't even need a computer to be on, although your router needs to be on.

It will be working all the time, just like when we drove away to church today. I returned home to find a nice little video in my email.

Monday, January 14, 2008

"Spirit" -> We Are The Scriptures

2 Sam 22:32

For who is God besides the LORD? And who is the Rock except our God?

To the Protestant, the above verse is taken very literally. When the Bible talks about the Rock in the Bible, it always refer to God. However, what would look like a simple exegesis is the core of the split between the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church (commonly called the Greek orthodox) and the Protestant Church.

All three answer the question "what is the Rock" in very different fashions.

Matt 16:18

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

To the Roman Catholic, this is often is quoted as the proof text of who the rock was. To the Catholic, the Rock was Peter. From here they call out that Peter was the first Pope. They then draw the line from Peter to the present Pope. There will always be a Pope in this world, who is the person who is the ultimate head of the church on earth.

The Orthodox Church has made some attempts to reconciling with the Roman Catholic Church. Some would claim they were only "a filioque" clause away. But this is a story for another post. Regardless, the Orthodox Church has had a less powerful reach than the Roman Catholic church. In fact, the Orthodox Church has approximately 14 to 15 independent Bishops, all in communion with the first among equals Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople. He does not hold the same sway as the Pope. In the Catholic church, the pope is the final authority figure, with a God given right to power over the body of believers.

This is called "Primacy of the Roman Pontiff" or the "Primacy Of Peter." In this tradition, Peter was recognized as the first among all the apostles, and the church was given to him by Christ Jesus. According to legend, Peter went to Rome, and started the church there. Since Peter was the head of the church, and since he moved to Roman, Roman is the center of the Church.

In this light, the central figure in Christianity is the Roman Catholic Church, which is the chosen vessel to deliver the work of God upon this earth. While virtually all branches of the Roman Catholic Church would say there is salvation beyond the Catholic Church (mind you, there are a few "hard liners" that say that salvation apart from the church is impossible), it is still very hard to be saved outside of the church.

In this viewpoint, salvation is achieve through the working of the Church and the relationship of the laity to the Church. The Church is a physical, tangible being with the leadership coming out of Roman. Thus it is only inside of the church that you can have the sacraments. It is only inside of the church, can you get last rites. In a very literal way, the Roman church is considered to have power in and of itself, because that power was handed to it by God as an institution. And the most holy of all books, the scriptures, cannot be interpreted outside of the confines of the tradition of the church.

In contrast to the Roman Catholic faith, all of the Protestant Church is built on "Sola Scriptura," and the church tends to be much less tangible. It is a common thread among among Protestants to see the Church as floating between denominations. It is a common thread that ties all believers together with the leadership communicating with God directly through separate authority structures. Not all roads lead to Roman.

As already stated, the Catholic church ties itself back to the authority of Peter. There is little to no doubt that the Protestant church ties itself back to the authority of Paul. You need to only spend a little time in a Protestant church, and you will hear, "Paul said this, and Paul said that." The whole of the conversation is all about Paul. With out his writings, we would have no Protestant church.

The authority of the scriptures is again directly tied to the conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism. The Bible of the historical Catholic church was the Latin Vulgate. My father, an razor sharp and antagonistic Arminianist (as some Calvinist in the family would attest to), recently was talking to a Catholic that had married into the family. When she asked him "do you ever read the Catholic Bible?" He looked at her and stated, "You mean the Latin Vulgate?"

She hadn't a clue about what he said, but in his own indomitable fashion, he had cut to the heart of the historic conflict between the reformation and the Catholic faith. The Latin Vulgate is the official Bible of the Catholic Church, and it is only rather recently that this has been given up for the mainstream catholic community.

What is the Latin Vulgate? Saint Jerome was asked by Pope Damasus to translate the Bible into the language of Roman in the late 300s AD. Even though the Bible was written in Hebrew and Koine Greek, after the Bible was translated into Latin, Latin was the only proper language for the Bible.

As Christianity spread, the common language was not Latin. However, it was strictly forbidden to represent the Bible in any language but Latin. This barrier to reading the word of God appeared to be a direct affront to God for the reformers. To them, any institution that prevent the reading of the scripture was not only a hindrance, but quite possibly the work of Devil! Needless to say, this type of attitude was devastating in the scope of the conflict. One has only to read the conflicts and the hate that came from this mismatch in mindset to realize how much of a mark it left upon Europe.

The chief end of many of the reformers were to become subversive translators, Bible smugglers of translated versions, or printers of translated versions. To them, the main thing was to spread the Word Of God in the common tongue, and they believed that this would pretty much bring down the Roman Catholic Church.

However, this wild mix of rebellion against the mother church, and the free thinking genesis seems to plague the Protestant church to this very day.

This is why the Protestant churches are so likely to fracture and separate into a thousand different pieces. If you don't like somebody's reading of the scripture, then you can simply start your own Church. Out of the Protestant church has fallen so many cultic splinters that it is truly impossible to keep track of them all. There is the Latter Day Saints, who believe that Lucifer and Jesus started off as brothers, and we can evolve to Gods. There are Jehovah Witnesses who state that Jesus Christ is Michael the Angel. There are the TV preachers that have said that they would be killed if the donations didn't start flowing in.

Let's be clear, most of the really wacky stuff in the world comes from the offshoots of the Protestant Church, not the Catholic church.

Does this provide a proof point of the superiority of the Catholic faith? I would say that it only suggests the freedom of the Protestant faith. I rock climbed for a number of years, and I religiously roped up. However, the best of the best climbers would simply climb without a rope. It allowed them to get to place that a roped climber could never get with speed only a roped climber could dream of.

It also made any mistake a deadly mistake.

The Protestant faith is certainly not safe, but it is remarkable in its clarity. I have unbelievable pride in being unabashedly protestant. We are the men that are free to observe for ourselves the core of our faith.

Now the final ironic turn? The Catholic Church no longer withholds the scriptures from its followers, but ironically, nobody reads the scriptures any more. So, when the gate were final swung open, nobody left the pen. In the discontinuities between the roman church and scripture, we find little debate. Quite frankly, most people simply don't know what the Bible says.

Do I think my Catholic friends are saved? In reality, I believe that many Protestants are not saved, and many Catholics are saved. Which group has more that will receive a reward in heaven?

I'll let you know when I get there.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

"Mind" -> We Are Our Friends

One of my favorite sociologists is Scotty Atran. In many ways in the short snippet below, where he is describing what he has recently changed his mind about, he is simply repeating what Judith Rich Harris said in "The nurture Assumption." However, the most important thing that we can take away is that our friends are the most powerful influence that we have on our lives. If you want to set your path, pick your friends correctly.

Atran spends a lot of time looking specifically of the terrorism culture and what drives it. While in the following he points out that Americans are more independent, Harris points out that during childhood this is not true. During childhood, we driven by what our friends think.

The scripture states the exact same thing in I Cor 15:33, "Do not be deceived: 'Bad company corrupts good morals.'"

The following from Atran is from here.

The Religious Politics of Fictive Kinship

I am an anthropologist who has traveled to many places and met many different kinds of people. I try to know what it is like to be someone very different from me in order to better understand what it means to be human. But it is only in the last few years that my thinking has deeply changed on what drives major differences between animal and human behavior, such as willingness to kill and die for a cause.

I once thought that individual cognition and personality, influences from broad socio-economic factors, and degree of devotion to religious or political ideology were determinant. Now I see friendship and others aspects of small group dynamics, especially acting together, trumping most everything else.

Here's an anecdote that kick-started me thinking about this.

While preparing a psychological experiment on limits of rational choice with Muslim mujahedin on the Indonesian Island of Sulawesi, I noticed tears welling in my traveling companion and bodyguard, Farhin (who had earlier hosted 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammed in Jakarta and helped to blow up the Philippines' ambassador's residence). Farhin had just heard of a young man recently been killed in a skirmish with Christian fighters.

"Farhin," I asked, "you knew the boy?"

"No," he said, "but he was only in the jihad a few weeks. I've been fighting since Afghanistan [late 1980s] and still not a martyr."

I tried consoling with my own disbelief, "But you love your wife and children."

"Yes," he nodded sadly, "God has given this, and I must have faith in His way."

I had come to the limits of my understanding of the other. There was something in Farhin that was incalculably different from me yet almost everything else was not.

"Farhin, in all those years, after you and the others came back from Afghanistan, how did you stay a part of the Jihad?" I asked.

I expected him to tell me about his religious fervor and devotion to a Great Cause.

"The (Indonesian) Afghan Alumni never stopped playing soccer together," he replied matter-of-factly, "that's when we were closest together in the camp." He smiled, "except when we went on vacation to fight the communists, we played soccer and remained brothers."

Maybe people don't kill and die simply for a cause. They do it for friends — campmates, schoolmates, workmates, soccer buddies, body-building buddies, pin-ball buddies — who share a cause. Some die for dreams of jihad — of justice and glory — but nearly all in devotion to a family-like group of friends and mentors, of "fictive kin."

Then it became embarrassingly obvious: it is no accident that nearly all religious and political movements express allegiance through the idiom of the family — Brothers and Sisters, Children of God, Fatherland, Motherland, Homeland, and the like. Nearly all such movements require subordination, or at least assimilation, of any real family (genetic kinship) to the larger imagined community of "Brothers and Sisters." Indeed, the complete subordination of biological loyalty to ideological loyalty for the Ikhwan, the "Brotherhood" of the Prophet, is Islam's original meaning, "Submission."

My research team has analyzed every attack by Farhin and his friends, who belong to Southeast Asia's Jemmah Islamiyah (JI). I have interviewed key JI operatives (including co-founder, Abu Bakr Ba'asyir) and counterterrorism officials who track JI. Our data show that support for suicide actions is triggered by moral outrage at perceived attacks against Islam and sacred values, but this is converted to action as a result of small world factors. Out of millions who express sympathy with global jihad, only a few thousand show willingness to commit violence. They tend to go to violence in small groups consisting mostly of friends, and some kin. These groups arise within specific "scenes": neighborhoods, schools (classes, dorms), workplaces and common leisure activities (soccer, mosque, barbershop, café, online chat-rooms).

Three other examples:

1. In Al Qaeda, about 70 percent join with friends, 20 percent with kin. Our interviews with friends of the 9/11 suicide pilots reveal they weren't "recruited" into Qaeda. They were Middle Eastern Arabs isolated in a Moroccan Islamic community in a Hamburg suburb. Seeking friendship, they started hanging out after mosque services, in local restaurants and barbershops, eventually living together when they self-radicalized. They wanted to go to Chechnya, then Kosovo, only landing in a Qaeda camp in Afghanistan as a distant third choice.

2. Five of the seven plotters in the 2004 Madrid train bombing who blew themselves up when cornered by police grew up in the tumble-down neighborhood of Jemaa Mezuaq in Tetuan, Morocco. In 2006, at least five more young Mezuaq men went to Iraq on "martyrdom missions." One in the Madrid group was related to one in the Iraq group by marriage; each group included a pair of brothers. All went to the same elementary school, all but one to the same high school. They played soccer as friends, went to the same mosque, mingled in the same cafes.

3. Hamas's most sustained suicide bombing campaign in 2003 (Hamas suspended bombings in 2004) involved seven soccer buddies from Hebron's Abu Katila neighborhood, including four kin (Kawasmeh clan).

Social psychology tends to support the finding that "groupthink" often trumps individual volition and knowledge, whether in our society or any other. But for Americans bred on a constant diet of individualism the group is not where one generally looks for explanation. This was particularly true for me, but the data caused me to change my mind.