Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Why I wear barefoot shoes

Two weeks ago I ordered SoftStar Shoes Runamoc Dash, and this evening, I laced up a new pair of Xero Shoes huarches. Why would an overweight, non-runner, have ordered two pairs of "barefoot" shoes?? In the spring of 2010, a lot of publicity was given to the barefoot running phenomenon. I was interested, because I had a lot of knee problems growing up, and of course one of the claims of barefoot running was to help with various foot, leg, and knee problems. I was doing a lot of reading about it, and found "Invisible Shoes", a newly created enterprise out of Denver, Colorado. For $20, they would send a sheet of Vibram sole that you then cut out to make your shoes, keeping them on with the included nylon string.

That first summer, I didn't do a lot of walking, but mostly drove to work, and any time I had to walk any distance in my new shoes ended up with a lot of stretched skin on the balls of my feet. But I still really liked wearing them. It required me to walk in a completely different way, and seemed to help with some foot issues.

By the second summer I had figured out the bus system in the city, and was walking 0.7 miles each way to the bus stop (1.4 miles each day, sometimes more). Very quickly I got used to the shoes, and I started to notice that I was able to walk further, without pain, and stand for much longer periods. Seriously, prior to this I could maybe be on my feet for an hour before developing serious pain in my knees, but by mid summer I could easily be on my feet for 3 hours without experiencing major pain.

I put so many miles on those shoes that I started to develop a much thinner spot on one where the ball of my foot struck the ground first, and I broke the laces on each shoe twice where they are held on by a knot on the bottom. I wore them everywhere, and really enjoyed them. It was amazing to actually feel the ground you were walking on. The one time I went hiking on nature trails with them was awesome!

Unfortunately, winter came, and my feet do not like the cold (even the little bit of cold we get here in Louisville, KY). I reluctantly put up my Invisible Shoes, and went back to my sneakers. The following summer, I remained in my sneakers, dealing with sweaty feet, and sore feet, legs and knees. Last fall, I resolved to find a solution that would enable me to wear barefoot type shoes most of the year.

I went to my local outdoor gear stores and looked at options, finding nothing I really liked, or considered truly barefoot (no more than 6mm of contact, and no drop from heel to toe). I did however find SoftStar Shoes, and their various options for barefoot style shoes. This past Christmas season, I had some extra money, and four weeks ago I finally ordered the Runamoc Dash. It took about two weeks to have it made and ship, but it was worth the wait. I have an extremely comfortable, good looking barefoot shoe, that I can wear pretty much anywhere. This includes the gym, as my gym has a no open toe shoe policy.

I had also kept abreast of the changes at Invisible Shoes, with their switch to Xero Shoes, and a more curved sole that kept one from catching the toe on the ground (a problem I had, especially when I got tired). Last week I ordered a pair, and I have just finished punching the toe hole and lacing them up. This is good, because the temperature just started climbing into the 80s today, and it will be nice to have a very cool pair of barefoot shoes.

If you want to try barefoot shoes, why not give the Xero option a try. It is relatively inexpensive, and you might like them so much you want to get a pair of SoftStar's. Oh, and they don't tend to develop a funky smell like some other brands.

Some Caveats

As with most things, there are always some warnings, things to take note of that I forgot to mention. If you look around at other barefoot sites, you will probably see some of these, but these are 
  • If you don't modify how you walk in these, your feet and legs will probably take a beating from heel striking on pavement. Without any cushion, all the force gets transmitted up your leg, and it will hurt.
  • If you do change how you walk to a mid- or fore-foot landing, it will take time for your legs to adjust. Man did my feet and my upper calves (just behind my kneecap) ache the first few days in my Dash's, and my calves would start to cramp after just 1/2 mile of walking. But after a week or so, I don't have any problems. Don't expect to walk 2 miles or run a marathon immediately after switching.
  • Some people may develop more problems. As usual, as more people are trying barefoot running / walking, some people are finding it is probably not for them. Whether this is really true, or they just never figure out how to change their stride, is open. But that's why I would try the inexpensive option first.
  • You will probably walk slower, and / or take more steps to move the same distance. If you are coming down on your mid- to fore-foot, you can't take as big a step. So it may take effort to keep up with others who are walking in regular shoes. On the other hand, more steps means more energy, which probably amounts to a higher rate of caloric consumption (or those of use with a spare tire to lose can hope anyway).

Cross posted from my research blog here.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Louisville Reformation Conference

On Friday Oct 19, and Saturday Oct 20, Midlane Park ARP will be hosting the Louisville Reformation conference! If you want to hear more about Spurgeon and the controversies he faced, you'll want to come to this.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Audio out from embedded videos


There is an awful lot of interesting material from both christian and gentile sources locked up in embedded web videos. I know a lot of people enjoy watching debates, presentations and such on the internet, but I am not one of them. I much prefer to have an audio file that I can put on my iPod so that I can listen to it while I am out running errands, riding the bus to and from work, etc.

So I am often disappointed when very interesting material gets locked up in a non-downloadable video on a web-page, with no audio download option (an example of that would be here). With that example, I don't really want to take the time to sit down for up to 3 hours (including the QA) at an internet connected device and watch it, especially when there is not really anything special about the video portion, the audio will do just fine.

I recently came across a nice little workflow to generate mp3 audio from these videos. Note: I am not advocating piracy!! If the videos are hosted somewhere, you should not obtain them to put them up somewhere else! However, the full video will get onto your device in the process of watching it, so I don't see anything wrong with using the below detailed method.


This process uses two pieces of software, the "UnPlug" Firefox plugin, and VLC video player.

1. On a page with the videos you want, you simply click the "UnPlug" icon in the "add-on bar", and it will bring up the files available for download.

2. You hit the download button for each file of interest, and wait for the downloads to stop.

3. Open VLC, and under "Media" -> go to "Convert / Save". Add the files you want to convert to audio.

4. After hitting "Convert / Save", fill in the destination file, and choose the type of output you want. For pure audio, the MP4 and MP3 options are near the bottom. If you want different options than the default for that file type, high the "tools" icon just to the right to make changes.

5. "Start", and wait for your file to finish.

It should be noted that VLC can convert many different video formats, as long as there is not a copyright protection on the video. It will also save and convert streaming audio or video as well.

Credit: Original Source

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Kindle Eject

I was trying to get my Kindle to charge on my Windows 7 machine today, and noticed some funny behavior. When you plug your Kindle into a W7 machine, it mounts as an external drive so you can drag and drop files to it. The screen says that to have it charging, you need to "eject" it. This does not mean to go to the USB logo in your taskbar and click on "Safely Remove Hardware"!! It actually means go to the drive in Windows Explorer, right click on it, and hit "Eject"!

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Research Blog

My original intent when I started this blog was to have a place to talk about anything, as the title says, my life, science, God, etc. However, I recently began efforts to create space that highlights my professional interests and abilities. In addition, 99% of what I post here tends to be about my thoughts regarding the human condition, and posts about new software and other things directly related to my work I think stand out like a sore thumb. So, I have created another blog where I will mostly post about new software, articles, research methods, etc, and keep that out of here. That does not mean that you will not see another science related post in this space, as science is part and parcel of what I do. But certain posts, such as this one, or this one would be much less likely here, but would be more likely on my research blog.

Hopefully I will make more time for blogging period. It just takes so much time to write! 

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Book Review: The World-Tilting Gospel

For those who are unaware, Dan Phillips of TeamPyro fame recently released a book: "The World-Tilting Gospel" on the masses of evangelicalism. This is Dan’s great attempt at presenting the fundamentals of the Gospel using the whole Bible, and pretty much nothing but the Bible. Dan has taken issue (as many others have) with much of the evangelical church’s watering down or outright refutation of straightforward Biblical teaching. For whatever reason, Dan was kind enough to send me a copy to review after I responded to a call for reviewers on the TeamPyro blog.

Short review: This book is a great overview of Biblical teaching, that not only provides solid exegesis of the whole of the Gospel, but in the process also refutes much (maybe all?) of the major branches of flawed teaching that have infected the modern evangelical church. I would recommend this book for new Christians (I wish I had had it when I was converted, it might have saved me much grief in my first church), those who are curious about the message of the Bible, and those who are in a church where false teaching comes from the pulpit. It is also a good read for any Christian, as a reminder of what the Gospel is and isn't (don't we often need this reminder?), and how it should be constantly changing our lives. I know I was personally challenged by many sections, and I hope others will be to. This book is not a replacement for reading the Bible (and by that I mean reading the whole Bible, Old and New Testaments) for oneself, but it is a great summary of what is contained therein, and what it means for you and for me. Hint: God does not promise you your best life now! The longer review continues below.

First, I do want to say something about style. This book was very easy for me to read, and I think it would be very easy for anyone with an understanding of English to read. Dan is very good at combining different styles of writing, mixing fictional case studies, question and answer, personal anecdotes, relevant references to contemporary culture, and historical quotes (not always together in the same chapter) together in such a way that everything just fits and flows. I realize that Dan would probably say that is all due to the work of a good editor, but an editor can only make good use of the underlying materials.

Second, I appreciate that Dan makes his case using ALL of the Bible, with many scripture references and examples from both the Old and New Testaments. In the reformed camp this is generally a common approach, but I would imagine that to many of those who pick this book up off the shelf at their local bookstore, this may come as a shock that the God in the Old Testament is the same as the God in the New Testament.

Third, I am glad that Dan wrote this book, instead of writing some of the other books that could have been written, such as “teasing out the meaning of” Eph 1:4-6. Speaking of which, I do believe Dan is working on a book on Proverbs, which I’m sure will be very interesting, if this work is any indication. I also marveled again and again how Dan worked in responses to many of the most common heresies in the contemporary church without specific sections; such as the historicity of Adam and Eve, the eternal nature of the God’s plan, that redemption is limited, and that we are utterly incapable of turning from our sin to God without Him first giving us new hearts by the work of the Holy Spirit. By the way, if you disagree with any of that, read the book, his answers are really solid, and there is a lot more than those I have mentioned.

What follows is my commentary on each section of the book. There aren’t a lot of quotes, because honestly, most of the quotable parts were very dependent on previous sections, and so I would have ended up just quoting the whole thing anyways.

In the introduction, Dan lays out the major themes of the book, and what he believes is the cause of the current problems in the contemporary evangelical church. He begins with the proposition that the Gospel is world-tilting, i.e. it should (if communicated truthfully and believed correctly) invert our world-view from man-centered to God-centered, and asks why the ancient church changed peoples world-views and the contemporary church, for the most part, does not:
 “Fast-forward to our day and glance around at evangelicanism. All the things that Group A (first-century church) lacked, Group B (modern evangelicanism) has: institutions, sway, numbers, technology, money, equipment, connections, glitz and glamour. Everything except world-tilting! Whatever you can say they are doing, you can’t say evangelicals are turning the world upside down. In fact, you could make a better case that the world has turned the church upside down.”
In a series of points describing what the differences between the ancient and contemporary church practices are that lead to the current crop of problems, we find what I believe is the thesis of the book:
 “Converts to Christ knew what they had been, what they had needed, and what God had done to rescue and transform them. They had a biblical worldview that explained the need for and nature of the Gospel. Modern evangelicals, too often, don’t.” (pg 17, Point 3) 
In the rest of the book, Dan lays out:

  • who we are 
  • who God is
  • how we got where we are
  • what we need
  • what God has done
  • what difference it makes

Explaining each point based on exposition of key bible texts, and refuting common errors and heresies along the way. The book is grouped into four major sections: Part One deals with God, man’s current position before God, and how we came to be in this position. Part Two examines more deeply God’s nature, and how that informs His redemptive work on the cross. In Part Three “we learn how God’s “out there” work of salvation comes to have a revolutionary and transforming impact “in here,” in our own individual lives.” Part Four is focused on applying the Gospel message covered in the first three parts to confront teachings that are keeping Christians from the biblical Gospel model. Finally, Dan ties everything together to show how each Gospel truth should make each Christian a “world-tilter” and “barrier-buster”. In addition, at the end of each section, Dan also provides a helpful summary on how the particular truths expounded in that section are “world-tilting” and “barrier-busting”.

Part One
The three chapters in Part One set the stage for everything that comes after. The chapter titles here are very telling: Ch1: Knowing God and Man, Ch2: What Happened in the Garden, Ch3: Like Father, Like Son. In the first chapter, some common wrong answers as to our self-image are discussed and refuted, such as those who think we are just good people and need a bit of a leg up; those who know they need God, but don’t think they are utterly incapable of choosing to follow God; and those who not only think they contribute something to the process of redemption, but also need to empty themselves to let God completely take over (note that these misconceptions come up again later). Dan proceeds to lay out the Biblical case: that our hearts are utterly deceitful, and therefore, if we would know God and our position before Him, we need to look to the Bible. He then does so in the next two chapters. Chapter two examines the first three chapters of Genesis, with particular attention on “the Fall”, with chapter three illustrating what many would admit is true, that nothing in our sinful nature has changed since Adam and Eve listened to the Serpent and willfully rebelled, and the only cure is a supernatural act. This sets the stage for God’s redemptive plan in Part Two. Note that Dan makes the point that if Adam was not a historical figure, nor a special, direct creation of God (guarding against naturalistic interpretations of Genesis).

Part Two
 Here we have the Gospel: God’s plan to redeem man from his fallen, sinful state; gloriously described for us. Dan begins to lay out the Gospel in a way that I had not really considered before, by first demonstrating that what happened in Genesis 3 was not a surprise to God, and how His various attributes (holiness, love and wisdom) are central to the Gospel. All three of these attributes are key, because they are areas of focus that I know many Christians are often very confused on. We often make light of each of these, believing that our sin is less offensive than it really is; that God should love us “just as we are”; and that He is just really, really smart. I think that Dan would agree that much of the problem in the contemporary church is that God’s love is emphasized too much over His holiness (if holiness is mentioned at all), and that is why it is first in the list. Chapter fives subtitle says it all: “God’s Holy, Loving Wisdom Confronts Our Hopeless, Desperate Need”. The Gospel here is outlined starting in Genesis, and working through history and the progressive revelation given in God’s Word. In this chapter, there is also particular emphasis on core truths: the eternal nature of the plan and election (God has always known who would be saved, and is in control of that situation), the need for a bloody, sinless sacrifice, that was prophesied from Genesis 3 and throughout the Bible. The final chapter in this section goes into more detail of what Christ actually did, or the execution of the rescue plan. With this done, we are of course left with the question: How do we get in?

Part Three
Chapter seven looks at being “declared righteous”, and the fact that those who are so declared are also justified, and the marks of one who is truly justified: hearing the word (this is why we still need preaching and evangelism), repentance (truly turning away from our sin), and vital faith. There can be no repentance without hearing the word, repentance is more than just a change in our minds, and biblical faith “is focused on information, on truth -- on statements of truth. The notion that Christianity is primarily a feeling or an experience is terribly misleading. Christian faith is distinguished by its focus on certain specific affirmations of truth.” Chapter eight then examines the truth of regeneration, or being born again (from above), and how this results in a completely new nature if we are truly born again, one that is increasingly growing in Christ-likeness.

Part Four
This is where things really start to come together. Two chapters here deal with some very serious heresies that impede Christian growth, I particularly like the names Dan gives those who fall into these teachings: Gutless Gracers, Crisis Upgraders, and Muzzy Mystics. For each one, the reasoning behind the teaching is given, and then soundly refuted. In this day and age I think these types of chapters are really important in a book on the Gospel, given that these particular types of heretical teachings are so abundant, and it is very likely that a new believer will encounter them. There are of course many other types of false teachings making the rounds, but I think most of them are dealt with rather well throughout the main body of the book.

The next two chapters deal with “The Flesh” and “The Holy Spirit”, in each case what each of them are, and why they are important. Finally, the last chapter gives nine ramifications of the Gospel (note: Dan nowhere suggests that this list is exhaustive, rather these are what he sees as particularly important ideas resulting from our study of the Gospel over the course of the book). Just to give you an idea of what these are like, here is a quote from #5 (We Mustn’t Reason from “Is” to “Should”):
“Coming up with norms and standards of behavior by observing human society is like drawing up a motor vehicle handbook by filming a drunk driver, or concluding that the average weight is the ideal weight. What is, in this world, is not usually what should be.
The Bible alone shows the truth of the matter. A pristine universe flowed from the vast mind of the perfect God by the power of His word. All was beauty and harmony, and God was at the center. Then sin entered, and chaos erupted on every plane except the divine. The world as we see it is marred by sin. Normal human behavior is broken human behavior, abnormal behavior, when judged by the standard of God’s original intent and stated norms.
God’s unchanging, transcendent moral and spiritual absolutes shatter the world’s echo chamber of self-serving back-patting. This is a world-tilting truth.” (pg 289)
In the afterword, Dan provides us with the scripture passage that served as the reference for this entire study. I would almost say that the book is actually an exegesis of this one passage. Those who are very familiar with their Bibles may be able to discern what the passage is, but for everyone else, I’m not going to give it away. For that, you’ll just have to read the book.

Thank you Dan for this book. I pray that it will find its way into many hands, stony hearts will be replaced with flesh, and eyes will be opened. Amen.

Friday, August 26, 2011


If you do any kind of scientific programming, you probably use R or MatLab. One disadvantage to using R previously was the lack of an integrated development environment, unless you were using Emacs. Well, if you code in R, you should really check out the RStudio IDE. It brings a lot of things that have been missing to R development, and has drastically sped up my code development workflow. It works on all three major operating systems (Windows, Mac, Linux), and is fairly customizable.

The biggest thing I'm missing right now is the ability to launch multiple instances, as I often have bigger jobs that I want to have run in the background while I'm working on something else. But it wouldn't surprise me if they will introduce it, or if someone else will (it is an open source project, after all).

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Christians First?

As Christians, our citizenship is in the Kingdom of God first, and our country second. Does acknowledging National Independence days in our houses of worship detract from the idea that we are Christians first, and anything else second? I am a Christian, Husband, Father, Scientist, and Canadian (in that order) living in the USA. Does anyone else think it is wrong to acknowledge Independence Day (USA) or Canada Day or any other national founding day in church services? Obviously we are residents and citizens of particular countries, and I don't think there is anything wrong with celebrating these days, but I wonder if making them a part of church services detracts from the notion that we are Christians first and citizens of a particular country second.

Paper Pastors, Multi-Site Churches

I have been thinking about a few issues lately that I think are actually rather interconnected: Pastors as celebrities (whether they want to or not), paper pastors (that isn't how John MacArthur would preach that section), and multi-site/-campus churches. From what I can tell, each of these are ultimately products of the same sin, the desire to elevate one person above others and worship them instead of God.

If a pastor is a celebrity, then individuals in local churches are likely to place the words of the celebrity pastor over those of their local pastor. Don't get me wrong, listening to other preaching can be an extremely good thing, especially as a sounding board for the theology of your local pastor. My eyes were slowly opened to the apostasy of the elders in one of my old churches thanks to listening to men like John MacArthur and John Piper, and I am thankful for their ministries. But except for those types of instances, should we not be listening and meditating more on the words of our local pastor than those of men such as John MacArthur, John Piper, Al Mohler, Sinclair Ferguson, or Mark Dever? I don't think these men have sought out celebrity status in the Reformed camp, but it seems that they have become celebrities, and there are many who idolize them as celebrities.

This feeds right in to the idea of paper or perhaps "virtual" pastors (paper being for reading books by other pastors, virtual for listening or watching sermons by other pastors). Due to the successful ministries of many pastors (see the list of celebrity pastors above), many are able to read books by and listen/watch sermons by other pastors, in addition to sitting under the preaching of their local pastor. Again, in many instances this can be a good thing, not everyone is preaching on the exact same thing, and it is often good to hear other points of view. But if you hold up the words of a "paper" or "virtual" pastor above those of your local pastor, I think there is a problem, especially because John MacArthur or Mark Dever or Joseph Pipa doesn't know you personally, but your local pastor does (or should).

This leads into the idea of multi-site and multi-campus "churches" (such as Mark Driscoll's Mars Hill or John Piper's Bethlehem Baptist). I am using "church" because I don't really know if these would fit the Biblical model of a church with a local pastor expositing God's word to a local group of people week after week. That is what it sounds like Paul was encouraging Timothy to do, wasn't it? Obviously, there have been times in the history of the church where this model could not be followed due to a dearth of Godly teachers, but the norm has been to return to that model as soon as men are raised up to lead and teach. But now, I think due to the idea of pastors as celebrities and "paper" pastors, we are actually seeing churches willfully turn away from the biblical model, and instead embrace one where the person doing the teaching can't even hope to know all the names of those he is preaching to. I know that those who have implemented multi-campus churches see the weekly sermon given by a primary teaching pastor as somehow different from pastoring a local group of people, but I don't think you can have a truly effective impact on people if you do separate the two.


Friday, July 08, 2011

Allergy Med Free for a Week!

As many of my fellow Louisvillians know, living in the Ohio River Valley is not fun if you have allergies. In fact, some people discover that they have allergies only after moving here because the pollen count is so bad (like my wife). I used to suffer from seasonal allergies in Halifax, but only needed to take a Benadryl once in a while. This year, I moved up to taking an Allegra (or the generic equivalent) every day, and still having some problems with stuffiness.

After suffering with the stuffiness even on meds, I decided to try rinsing out my nasal cavities (see Neti Pots for further information). But I didn't want to spend any amount of money on either a Neti Pot or the plastic squeeze bottles. Thinking about possible alternatives I remembered the little squeeze bulbs we use to remove mucus from my son's nasal cavities when he has a cold:

These things are relatively cheap, and combined with this recipe:

3 tsp iodine free salt (pickling or kosher salt)
1 tsp baking soda
Mix together and store in a container
When needed, mix 1/2 tsp with 8oz water (pre-boiled or distilled)

Every morning for the past 4 days (not quite a week, but still) I have been squirting this solution up into my sinuses to clean them out (two bulbs worth per side). I admit it is not really fun, but its not that bad either. I haven't taken an allergy pill since Sunday, and I haven't had any serious allergy symptoms, apart from some mild congestion and eye watering when I was walking from the bus yesterday afternoon.

I really like the fact that I'm not taking more drugs (not that I take that many, but the fewer the better, really), and that it costs much less than the pills as well ($1.50 for 4lbs of pickling salt, and not much for baking soda, a lot cheaper than the $.5/day I was spending on allergy meds).

Although the idea of sticking the bulb up your nose to rinse snot out might seem gross, if you suffer from regular allergies, then what have you got to lose?