John F. Kennedy and One Person, Armed With Powerful Technology

John F Kennedy Official Portrait

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. I wasn’t alive when it happened, so it is not an event that really touched me personally. Yet, the anniversary has led me to reflect on it quite a bit, if only for the fact that it is really difficult to avoid all of the media coverage.

And what strikes me is that it was a profound precursor to the world we live in now: one person, armed with powerful technology, can absolutely change the world with just an idea and three presses of a finger.

Hard to fathom in the ’60s. Routine today.

(Really?) Free The Pictures – Review with PSA

Brian S. Hall has a overview of free cloud picture services at ReadWrite. Interestingly, before he gets to the review itself, he notes

Before diving into the features of the various services, it should be noted that taking advantage of any of these free cloud services comes with a potential price. As the saying goes, if an online site isnt selling you a product, then you are the product.

Good to see a public service announcement of sorts about the costs of “free” services becoming a normal part of a review. While well known to folks who keep up on tech issues, this material is still unknown to many people.

Binge Watching Is Changing Us: Recognizing the Power of Imagination

It may not be one of the great novels of all time, but one of my favorite reading experiences was Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose. Genre wise, it is a historical-fiction whodunit set in a medieval monastery.  The story and action are great (which the film version attests to), but it also has an intellectual depth that only a professional semiotician like Eco could bring to the table.  As the novel unfolds, Eco probes the deeply symbolic side of our lives, exploring how the categories we think with structure our actions and passions. (Think of the short ancient language and culture sections in Snow Crash, but this time marinating the whole thing, not just peppering here and there.)

Monastery Davidovica

Monastery Davidovica (© Vhorvat)

For Eco, the swirling liturgical and religious imaginations of monks in medieval Europe shaped—for good or for ill—the way that monks understood the world.  Indeed, that imagination, populated by angels, devils, and biblical figures, is almost a character of its own

Looking back, I probably liked The Name of the Rose so much because I read it as I travelled in Europe for the first time. I picked up the novel as I waited for a train in London at the start of a long solo trek to Florence.  I had spent months poking around churches, castles, and museums in England during classes, so my head was full of the images Eco drew upon.  I was in the perfect place—both literally and figuratively—to enjoy the work.


Ends, Beginnings, and All Along the Ways: Invocation for Commencement

Last weekend was graduation here at Saint Joseph’s University. I was honored to be asked to give the invocation prayer at the undergraduate commencement ceremony on May 11.  All went well, as far as that sort of thing goes. (Can you really evaluate a prayer?)

Invocation photo

Melissa Kelly/Saint Joseph’s University

For me, the most compelling thing about the experience was the silence. Several thousand people were there, and yet there was so little to hear. For all the busyness of the day and of our lives, it is nice to have moments where we pause to quiet ourselves and attend to the depth of our experience, even for just a moment.  All the more powerful when it is in such a big group.

Perhaps these sorts of experiences are better left to memory. But I thought I’d post the prayer for those who might like to remember such things.


Holy and loving God,
    We ask you to be with us on this wonderful day;
    a day of transition and a day of transformation.

We ask you to be with us today
    just as you have been with us each and every step of the way.

Be with us as you have been with us each morning,
    as we bent our minds to the rigors of the classroom
    and struggled to navigate life with roommates.

Be with us as you have each noon
    sharing lives with friends over a meal;
    and grading papers and preparing lectures for students.

Be with us as you have been with us each afternoon,
   in the lab, parsing the secrets of creation;
   and at service sites, putting flesh on your call to justice.

Be with as you have each evening,
    training our bodies in practices and games;
   and working overtime to pay tuition bills.

Be with us as you have been with us each night,
    reading the next book and writing the next paper;
   and gathering to praise you in liturgy;

    lying awake, worrying about a son or daughter so far from home;
    and resting our minds and bodies for the days ahead.

Spirit of God—breath of life—continue to be with us today
   as we celebrate the many things we have accomplished together.

Bless this moment, and these lives we have woven
   and the lives that we begin today.

In your name, we pray.

Hacking Your Machine, 1910 Style

Mac OS 7 Startup Screen

Mac OS 7 Startup Screen (via

I spend way less time these days tweaking and fixing my computer than I used to. Back in the early-90s, I spent hours each week messing around with on my Macs trying to find the optimal configuration for the control panels and extensions.   I gathered custom system software that optimized my machine for home and work, but it was always a challenge figuring out how to get rid of conflicts and make sure that I still had enough ram to run things.  Watching those icons scroll across the bottom of the screen as they loaded during startup. And when they went to a second row, I was in heaven!

I always figured that I just grew out of that “tweaker” phase. These days, I like stuff that just works. (That’s not code for Apple. I let our temperamental Jetta go and have a much less fun Honda now.)

So I was intrigued by a fascinating account at the MIT Technology Review of a “Turn-of-the-Century Road Trip” from Newton, Massachusetts to Portland, Oregon in an Oldsmobile. And by turn-of-the-century, I mean the 20th century.  1910, to be specific!


Ooops, I Did It Again! I’ll Never Get SEO Right…

I was just reading some advice on how to increase web traffic and make sure your blog gets noticed on search engines. I’ve been feeling guilty that now that I’m no longer Freshly Pressed, my little old blog doesn’t get more traffic.

The first rule seems to be using popular web keywords in the title and throughout the article. If you don’t use popular terms, then the site won’t be “search engine optimized” and no one will find it.

I’m in trouble. Somehow, I don’t think “cat piano,” Athanasius Kircher, Plato, or the year 1904 fit into the “hot keywords” category. Nor that Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure reference.

Do I need to write more columns about Justin Beiber and President Obama? Or do I just consider this a “first world problem” and get back to writing?

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