Avoiding the Near Occasions of Sin

Greetings. I hope this post finds you well. It is September and school is back in session. I took a couple months off this summer from blogging and following the tech news. It can be so easy to get so wrapped up in the chase—keeping on top of breaking news, commenting, figuring out something good to say, writing it up, seeing if people respond. But I’m not ever sure if it is helping me become a better thinker or just a better chaser.  So, I thought some disconnection was in order.

At the end of July, Matt Gemmell (Working in the Shed) put well when he noted:

The internet isn’t to blame – it’s us. We’re weak, and our natural tendency is to feed that weakness rather than struggle against it. Some people are more prolific than others, but the boundaries don’t lie where we think they do: context and self-discipline are much, much more important than your personal pace or ability. The difference that a creativity-conducive environment can make is profound.

I personally don’t seem to be able to choose to ignore Twitter, or email, or BBC News when they’re available. I can manage for short periods, but sooner or later I’ll give in. What I can do, though, is remove the temptation. Counting the chocolate bars in the cupboard doesn’t work half as well as just not buying any. I know it, and so do you.

There is a great old school term for this in the Catholic tradition: “near occasion of sin”.  Something is a near occasion of sin when it draws you into doing something that is going to be bad.  The near occasion might be good or bad in itself. (Chocolate is one thing, but meth is quite another.) But it is really more about the particular combination of me/you and that thing leading to doing things that separate you from a balanced and connected life. Chocolate isn’t one of mine, but Cheetos are.

Somehow, it seems like the net is a massive collection of near occasions.

Ideally, time off can help create the space and energy we need to create better habits. But, at the same time, we can only really create good habits once we are back in contact with that thing. We only feed the strength when I struggle with the things that make us weak.  In the long run, I have to figure out how blog without the chase.

I think the two months off helped, but we’ll see.

This Can’t End Well: 3D-Printed Gun in Israeli Parliament

At some point, maker culture opens the door to un-maker culture…

Imagine a person holding a gun on his lap, fully visible, while in the same room as President Barack Obama. The equivalent recently happened in Israel when investigative journalists from Channel 10 TV tested government security by slipping a functioning 3D-printed gun into the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, and into an address by the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In fact, the journalists got past Knesset security twice. The Channel 10 journalists printed the gun based on designs from U.S. nonprofit Defense Distributed, and although it contains one metal part, a nail that serves as a firing pin, the gun even made it past a metal detector.

(Via Sean Captain at TechNewsDaily.com | 3D-Printed Gun in Israeli Parliament Ignites Security Concerns. Story has links through to the original Israeli news report.)

Markey Letter to ATF re: Printed Guns

U.S. Congressman Ed Markey’s letter to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives about Defense Distributed’s manufacturing of 3-D printed guns (public domain)

In an interview that covered key ideas on the singularity, advanced technology proponent Ray Kurzweil argued that while new, powerful technologies open the door to harm and terrorism, humans have the power to rein in the danger. But to do that, he suggests “we need to give a higher priority to preparing protective strategies and systems. We need to put a few more stones on the defense side of the scale.”

Given what has been revealed about the NSA data gathering and the broadening legal acceptability of online surveillance, somehow I don’t see anyone adding “more stones” to law enforcement anytime soon. Indeed, part of the motivation for printed guns seems to be precisely protection from the “defense side of the scale”.

Not to be a total downer, but how does this end well?

And what was that about an eye for an eye leaving the world blind?

Coins to Tunes

Mom found one just like Grandpa's bank!As a six year old, one of my favorite things about visiting my grandparents in their small, southern Illinois town was the thrill of splitting the pile of change from my grandfather’s piggy bank with my brother.  It wasn’t a piggy, actually, but a portly, tonsured monk, complete with fake fur for hair. The classic Friar Tuck, really.  I’m not sure if it was supposed to be an image of frugality or a critical commentary on medieval monks. But either way, we were glad that my grandfather was frugal so that we could feel a 6 year old’s version of gluttonousness.

We don’t have a piggy bank these days, but the change abounds.  Which is why I loved seeing Kelly Hodgkins short piece at TUAW.

You are probably familiar with the coin-counting service Coinstar, which offers cash in exchange for your loose coins. Instead of receiving a cash voucher next time you turn in change, select an iTunes gift certificate and you will receive a receipt with an iTunes redemption code.

The funds will be added to your Apple ID and you can use it to buy iOS Apps, OS X apps, music, movies and books. Coinstar waives the coin-counting fee with these gift certificates, so you will walk away with your full balance. The coin-counting service occasionally offers an iTunes promotion thatll give you an extra $10 when you redeem a minimum amount usually $40. You can find promotions on Coinstars Special Offers webpage or be alerted via email when you sign up for a Coinstar account.

I’ve never used Coinstar machines because they charge that fee. But this looks like a great way to put that change to good use while bringing back the thrill of the coin pile.

Putting the Horse Before the Cart: Music Technology and John Hampton Edition

I’m a big fan of the recording magazine Tape Op. It has been around about a decade and is all about DIY music. They were maker before maker was cool. (Plus, the physical mag is beautiful and U.S. subscriptions are free!)

A couple of months ago, they ran an interview with John Hampton, Grammy winning engineer and producer of folks like Alex Chilton, the Gin Blossoms, The White Stripes, Travis Tritt, and Jimmy Vaughn. Musing on his experience of working as an engineer vs. a producer, he remarked:

I was driving home one day from work and heard “Honky Tonk Women” on the radio for the very first time. I heard that cowbell and then Charlie [Watts] come in – I pulled over and rocked out to the whole thing. When I started working here I got engineer ears; I started nitpicking everything. Slowly, but surely, the nitpicking became the captain of that ship. After working in the studio for a while I heard “Honky Tonk Women” again and I thought, “That sounds like crap.” I had engineer ears now. Then it hit me one day that I used to love that song and now I don’t like it. Has the song changed? I’ve changed, not the song. So I slowly started what turned into a ten-year venture. I turned that boat around, falling back in love with music instead of in love with technology and how it gets put together. The only way that I’ve been able to do that is by making what I do, the engineering part of it, so easy that I can do it with my eyes shut. Its all in the background.

That should be the goal, right? Do what you do, not what the gadgets let you do.

Focus on life, not on the tools you use to live it.

Social Media, the Boston Marathon Bombings, and Believing Your Own Press

It has been a rough few days for folks in Boston and throughout the United States in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. My thoughts and prayers go out to all who are affected by the tragedy.

As of this morning, the primary events have come to a close. The suspects have been apprehended, dead and alive. Now the reflection begins.

Among the things to drop, social media has been taking a beating this morning in the wake of widespread dissemination of names of people who were falsely identified as suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings. Alexis Madrigal did a great job trying–only somewhat successfully–to trace the complicated and twisting chain of events that led to Reddit and Twitter users to speculate about suspects and disseminate names of suspects now known to be false. From what Madrigal can find, two names were out in social media space: one posted to Reddit from someone who thought that they recognized a person from a phono, the other Tweeted by someone who overheard a name on a scanner. Neither was identified by law enforcement as a suspect. But as Madrigal puts it:

The next step in this information flow is the trickiest one. Here’s what I know. At 2:42am, Greg Hughes, who had been following the Tripathi speculation, tweeted, “This is the Internet’s test of ‘be right, not first’ with the reporting of this story. So far, people are doing a great job. #Watertown” Then, at 2:43am, he tweeted, “BPD has identified the names: Suspect 1: Mike Mulugeta. Suspect 2: Sunil Tripathi.”

All of a sudden, we have suspects.

Except they weren’t suspects. They weren’t involved. NBC eventually got the information right based on contacts with law enforcement. But by then, the info had been tweeted and retweeted thousands of times. It was, as Madrigal put, it “a full on frenzy.”


Google Doodles, Easter, and Cesar Chavez: Sometimes It’s About Competing Goods

(Warning: this is a long one. I just couldn’t get it in a short post. But the short version is that the argument that Google is anti-Christian doesn’t hold up in the light of reasonable moral analysis. In the end, there are simply times when actions that you don’t like turn out to be morally neutral or differently good.)

To say that public discourse in a religiously fraught country is difficult is an understatement. Anyone who is trying to live a publicly religious life in a diverse culture certainly knows this. As does anyone whose job connects even remotely to religion. Sunday, that meant Google, who raised a bit of ire when it posted a Doodle about Ceasar Chavez on Easter Sunday.

Now, here at Rewiring Virtue, I tend to stay away from issues that will really make people mad. There are lots of places online that people can go to vent their anger, so we don’t really need another one. That and—if I’m honest—I have a pretty thin skin, so I have tended to dig into issues where people haven’t necessarily made up their minds. That keeps the “light to heat” ratio more to my liking.

That being said, the whole controversy surrounding Sunday’s Google Doodle is too close a connection between religion, ethics, and technology for me to pass it over. I am going to assume that you already know about the controversy. (If not, check out the links in the previous sentence.) In the barest outline, some Christians were upset because Google Doodled about Cesar Chavez rather than Easter.  Most of the folks complaining feel that the Doodle is an intentional insult by Google against Christianity. To have any doodle aside from something about Easter on Easter is a slight that reveals an anti-Christian foundation at the center of the “don’t be evil” facade.



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