Friday, October 31, 2008

Why Pianists Will Not Be Replaced by Computers Anytime Soon

This is apparently true even if you don't know anything about piano sonatas: if a person plays a sonata for you, your central nervous system activates and you sweat a little. If a computer plays the same sonata, you do not react, and you don't sweat. Score one for humans.

No word on if this explains the showering tendencies of pianists. :)

The Banana Thing Works!

I have a keychain LCD UV lamp, and I got it out yesterday and tried it on a ripe banana -- and it glowed blue! Now, the interesting thing is the blue was distinctly arranged around each brown spot and I couldn't observe it elsewhere, unlike the pictures in which the whole banana seems to be glowing. This makes me think that my LCD UV lamp, which only covers a portion of the spectrum a true UV lamp does, only selectively illuminates a certain kind of molecule. Perhaps it's a later breakdown product? Oh, the discoveries I could make if I only had the time -- and a few tons of bananas ...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ripe Bananas Glow Blue Under UV Light

In the "why didn't anybody think of this before" file, some researchers shone a UV light on yellow ripe bananas and they glowed bright blue. When they shined the light on green bananas they didn't glow at all. And this glow can be traced to a single compound. The green chlorophyll in unripe bananas breaks down when they ripen into this UV-fluorescent compound (shown on the right in the picture above). Animals may have UV-sensitive vision that can see this and so the ripe bananas may actually glow to their eyes. We may be able to use this in banana processing plants to determine ripeness quantitatively.
Personally, I'm thinking I want to isolate this stuff in a test tube. Who's with me? BYOB: Bring Your Own Bananas.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Acts and New Creation

Ok, so remember when I first started writing this blog and everything was about 1 Corinthians? Well, now everything's about Acts. Because I've started teaching a Sunday class about Acts instead of Corinthians.

In any case, the image of Pentecost came to mind: the tongues of fire at Pentecost starting at a single point and fanning out to rest on each believer. This is parallel to the general action of the book: Acts is about starting at a single point (the resurrection of Jesus) and fanning out, person to person, from Jerusalem to Rome, the world catching fire from a storm of winds.

And why stop there? The universe itself started that way: a single point so small it didn't even have dimensions, a Big Bang, space and time fanning out, overflowing and catching fire. Life started that way: a single organism that's a complex set of chemical reactions, on fire with the energy of metabolism, reproducing, begetting, spreading out, filling every available niche. The chemical reaction running life is the exact same overall reaction of a candle burning: hydrogen and carbon meet oxygen and burn. Your mitochondria are on fire.

This is the "fire-works" model of creation, and it's true for the universe, true for biological life, true for the church on Pentecost, and true for the church after Pentecost. Because all four are acts of creation, of God breathing new life and energy into this universe.

God made sky and soil,

sea and all the fish in it.

He always does what he says—

he defends the wronged,

he feeds the hungry.

God frees prisoners—

he gives sight to the blind,

he lifts up the fallen.

Psalm 146 (Excerpt, The Message trans.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Acts Class Week 2 Summary

Ok, I don't plan on doing this every week but some people in the Acts class for week 1 were out of town Sunday and were wondering if I could post an outline or something so they could catch up. So he's my general notes for Week 2. I made them small font so they wouldn't take up too much room and if you need to expand the font size I suppose you can select the text and copy it to a word processor and enlarge the font. We didn't cover all of this but I always have more than I can fit into an hour so I'm forced to go a little fast!

I'll just do this on request, so if someone wants another week, let me know. Also, if you were in the class and would like to discuss something in more detail, go ahead and comment below!

I do have just the first 15 minutes of class recorded as an mp3 because my recorder batteries gave out then. I will post that FWIW if requested -- I just have to find a hosting site for it.

10-19 Peter’s Speech at Pentecost in Acts 2:14-40
(Reading the Psalms and finding resurrection)

Pentecost/”Feast of Weeks” was one of three pilgrimage feasts in the second-Temple period
Celebrated the first bushel of wheat brought in, offered it to God
Later à Noah/Moses times of covenant renewal (feast of the second chance)
à by second century feast of giving the Law on Sinai 50 days after Passover

Show Jacob Lawrence picture. JL grew up Abyssinian Baptist in NYC a Pentecostal church. He was commissioned to make this lithograph before he was famous for an adult Sunday School curriculum.
Q: How is this picture different from other depictions? What do you see in it?
“Fire-Works” A dangerous Spirit, contorted expressions, taking over.
Disturbing image: hurricane winds, people on fire, caught up.
YOU ARE NOT IN CONTROL (when waiting or after waiting!).
Not really a sign/wonder/proof of God but a shattering force that leaves you shaken, changed

Read Acts 2:1-4. We want description but are given simile “like”
“Wind” ~ “spirit” (pneuma) in Hebrew and Greek
“Fire” = judgment (Luke 3 John the Baptist, 1 Corinthians house)
Wind & fire // Sound & Vision // cloud by day & fire by night // both GROWING forces
Fleet of ships lauched by wind // forest fire started by a spark

Q: When did the Spirit come on people before this (OT, Gospels)? What is different this time?
OT on single prophets – here on a group of 120!

Q: Before giving of Law/Torah, now giving of Spirit. What does that mean?
Way of life, Law written on hearts. Spirit fulfills the Law. The energy/purpose of the Law.
Moses went up the mountain and came down with the Law.
Jesus ascended and gave gifts from on high of the Spirit.
Jesus’ body is a bit of earth in heaven. The Spirit is a bit of heaven on earth. Interlocking spheres.

Read Acts 2:5-13. xenolalia vs. glossalalia (see 1 Cor. 12, distinct but there is overlap)
Show map. World list is centered on Jerusalem, ends on Rome.
Galilean accent/looks are still fully recognizable – the person is controlled but not subsumed, the inspired speech is neither “perfect” nor “neutral.” Sometimes, being controlled by God will make you look drunk. v.13 First opposition, Peter stands up who wouldn’t talk to a servant at midnight

Read Acts 2:14-21. These speeches are EVENTS that move the action forward, like in a good musical. Peter responds to the THEOLOGICAL challenge with a speech about God. He shows that he’s not drunk with rational, spirit-filled appeal to Scripture. Those steeped in Scripture will respond like this when challenged (quoting Deut to the Devil) “Let me put it in your ears” = “enotimazoi” = “listen” = Biblical language (Exodus 15:26)
Quotes Joel 2. Peter changes the quote from “after these things” to “in the Last Days”
This answers the question “What does this mean?” or “What’s going on?” with the TIME it is.
They knew Daniel and were longing for the 490 “weeks” to be over
“We are in the Last Days” vs. “the Day of the Lord is coming”

Pattern of speeches: 1.) The Kingdom of God/last days are here. 2.) They came in by the death and resurrection of Jesus 3.) Jesus is now exalted to God’s right hand 4.) He has given the Holy Spirit 5.) He will come again and judge in the “Day of the Lord” 6.) Change and you will receive the HS/forgiveness/salvation

v.19-20 signs and wonders = semeia kai terata, echoing Moses, prefiguring v.43
moon to blood, smoke = loose allusion to Sinai? There was an eclipse in Jerusalem in 33AD

v.21 “everyone who calls” foreshadows the rest of Acts, though here addressed to Jews
“Lord” = kyrios, LXX word for God, Peter’s word for Jesus. Hebrew = YHWH à “adonai” (my Lord)
Peter cuts off the verse before the judgment part, like Jesus in Luke 4. Is positive aspect of judgment, setting things right, restoring to Israel, in mind? Including more people?
Next question: Who is this “Lord” to call on?

Read Acts 2:22-36. v.23 “plan” like “dei” from last week, similar intro to Psalm prophecy. Also “wicked” ~ “people outside the law”. Jesus’ path to death had been marked with every kind of evil, doing its worst. In the light of the resurrection this suddenly became clear as God’s plan.

Psalm 16:8-11: God made promises to David that he kept to Jesus. Follow the logic: because Jesus rose from the dead he must be this person, he must be the world’s true ruler.

“The anointed king would come to the place where evil was reaching its height, where the greatest human systems would reveal their greatest corruption (Rome, with its much-vaunted system of justice revealing itself rotten at the core; Israel, with its celebrated Temple and hierarchy, revealing itself hollow at its heart), and where this accumulated evil would blow itself out on one great act of unwarranted violence against the one who, of all, had done nothing to deserve it. That, the early Christians believed, is what God had always intended. … God, knowing how powerful that wickedness was, had long planned to nullify its power by taking its full force upon himself, in the person of his Messiah, the man in whom God himself would be embodied.” – NTWright Acts for All p. 38-9.

v.34 = Ps. 110. Early church LOVED this Psalm (Corinthians, Eph., Col., Heb., Gospels). What looks like metaphor is becoming LITERAL. God is truer than anyone imagined.

v.36 Lord and Christ = two political categories, King of Gentiles and of Jews.

Read Acts 2:37-41. This is not a “safe” sermon. “cut to the heart” a Ps. 110 ref? the Spirit is the 2nd chance Judas never had, Peter did have, and offered to the Jews in the crowd: the restoration of Israel.
Compare Lk. 3:10 to Acts 2:37. Q: What does Peter have that John the Baptist didn’t? (upside-down model of Jesus is what you’re repenting towards. Cf. Romans 12:1-2. Convert means CHANGE, something everybody seems to want right now…) We are “turn back and be rescued” people.

Holy Spirit as gift Luke 11:13
Gift (dorea) of the Holy Spirit: OT prophetic power to do God’s will. Psalm 68:18: Ascended/captivity/ gifts. Psalm 68 is about the giving of the LAW in Rabbinic lit. Here, giving of SPIRIT.

Promise “for all who are far” echoes Isaiah 57:19. Spirit/wind shall gather exiled Jews back.
This means the rest of us.

Lord calls (kaleo) here. Joel said everyone who calls upon (epikaleo) the Lord. Nice balance!

Read Acts 2:42-47. This is WHAT SALVATION LOOKS LIKE. Only AFTER Jesus is raised and the Spirit is given we see this community.
What does this church do? 1.) Teaching 2.) Eating (communion or meals? Eating after church? Somehow SHARING food and time) 3.) Gathering/fellowship/property in common (SHARING houses and money) 4.) Prayer

The Twelve had a common purse (Luke 8:1-3). In Acts 2 we don’t see the selling of all the houses, because they continued to meet, but the selling of extra property, the LAND they lived on, which means even MORE to Jews looking forward to the redemption of the LAND, part of God’s promised inheritance.

v.44 = only “koin-O-nia” in Acts! Lots in Paul. “All in common” = Qumran and this: purification of people FORMS a community of the set-apart (holy)

Spent time in Temple like the good Jews they remained to be.

A simple message at heart: God is going to make you share as you follow Him.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Preparing for Pentecost

I'll be teaching Acts 2 this Sunday in the morning adult class. I like to find a visual introduction for each passage that surprises and sums up, basically, something that does what art's supposed to do. But I didn't know of any Pentecost pictures, I was just thinking, maybe there's an old masters kind of oil painting of people in robes with little candle-flames above their head or something. Then, by chance, I was sitting at the lunch table on Wednesday with Rob Wall, who has written one of the Acts commentaries I'm currently going through week by week, and before I even mentioned the class he started talking about a Jacob Lawrence lithograph he has in his home -- of the coming of the Spirit in Acts 2! So here it is. All I can say is it's PERFECT. I'll probably post audio of my class after Sunday to follow up on this. In the meantime, what do you notice about it?

Thursday, October 16, 2008


SPU's Day of Common Learning yesterday hosted Nicholas Wolterstorff, philosopher previously from Calvin College, now from Yale, to speak on "Beauty, Love, Worship, and Justice" (not necessarily in that order). In inimitable philosopher fashion, he boiled down those four words to measures of worth (and didn't even have to mention the low-hanging fruit that is the etymology of the word "worship" which INCLUDES the word "worth"!). We implicitly judge worth with spending in the four dimensions: in space (with money) and in time. Whether you like it or not. And we're limited in what we can give. It's easy to forget the worth of invisible things. Recent advertising, the realms of the visible, is tuned to trumpet the worth of the immediate, to make watching five more minutes of that show seem to be worth so much, when the silence of turning it off would be worth much more. I write this blog because it's worth it to react and record, and to make it public. The action of writing is the end, not the means.

I've served on lots of committees and boards lately where financial questions are asked, and as a globe we're asking financial questions, obviously. Those questions are directly related to Wolterstorff's talk, it's what I found myself thinking of as he spoke. What's a organ worth to the congregation of the church if it only gets played twice a month? What's worship worth? What's a playground worth? General education requirements? An expensive instrument for a new class? A conference in Switzerland? A time investment in a Sunday class about Acts, what's that worth?

What will you give in exchange for your soul? What's that worth?

And then there's the time you respond to those questions in love, under material limits to be sure, but with the gratitude of being able to do any of it. Love is the most expensive thing in the world. Costly, yes -- but free.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Why I Made Students Sign a Silly Form

When my students sat down to take their first test today, I handed out a piece of paper for them to sign and use as scratch paper. It said:

I certify that this test represents my own work and thought processes, and that I did not refer to or use answers from another person.

... and it had a line for signature. Why did I make junior-level biochemistry students at a Christian liberal-arts college sign this? One reason is we're 50 students crammed into a classroom elbow-to-elbow. Another reason is I had a particular problem with this last year. But the prime reason is when I read Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely this summer, he gave the results of an experiment that shows that just being reminded of a moral code, whether the Ten Commandments or a non-existent school honor code, brought cheating on a test way down.

So, to my students, I realize it's a silly reminder. I trust you. But I can't watch everyone at every moment, and if I can do something simple that makes my evaluation of you more accurate, it's better in the long run.

At least I'm counting on that fact. I wonder if the fact of handing out a "contract" like that makes my relationship with the students more economic/transactional and may have unintended consequences?

Yes, I do some experiments in the lab, but the experiments in the classroom (like this) are just as important and the outcomes just as unknown.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Confused Biochemist's Theory about the Economy

So I'm as puzzled as anyone else as to why suddenly everything is worth less today than a month ago, and why suddenly no one can be trusted with money or credit. But I have some ideas, mostly tied to aspects of the economy that I've always thought were irrational, or at least unsustainable.

For what it's worth, I'm thinking we may be seeing the end of a certain style of thinking on Wall Street. The current huge correction we're seeing is on the order of a philosophical shift, and I'm thinking an old broken philosophy needs to be left behind. That old philosophy would be the idea that for a company to be valuable, for its stock to go up, not only must it be profitable but it must be increasing in profitability. That is, the idea that a linearly growing company isn't growing enough but all companies should grow exponentially in order to succeed/drive values up. And that is simply not sustainable in the long run. People intent on making money placed a lot of bets that come down to that one assumption, and borrowed money to keep placing bets because their philosophy told them it must be true. And we Americans have been working harder and harder to make our companies grow exponentially because if we don't someone else will. We think "The Secret" is that we haven't thought positively enough or put in enough hours. And we're finding out we are inadequate to the task.

If we have to correct from an assumption of exponential growth back to linear growth, it's going to be very painful for people who've assumed the former. Especially for those with retirement accounts that are built on the idea that the stock market will always go up, given a long enough period. That has been true for America for the past 50 years, but I'm not sure it will always be true, especially if the stock growth is based on unsustainable trends and a bad assumption of permanent exponential growth. Look at Japan -- stock markets don't always go up if you wait even 20 years.

I just hope the credit crisis will not be so bad that it forces students to stay away from college because they can't get loans -- that's my personal stake in this! Of course I have a suspicion that we in the college business can respond by making tuition growth more normal. Well, we'll have to respond that way if things keep going like this, and you know, that's another correction that will bring a long-term trend back to sustainable levels. Tuition rising faster than inflation is not right, and we've got to bring that exponential growth down.

Growing is fine. But having to grow upon growing or you don't survive? That's wrong.

Part of this comes from a very insightful (and even Disney-related) blog post by Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales. He posted this in July, back when oil was $140 a barrel and the Dow was 14,000, and I still think about it now several months later:

We have to help each other more now, more than ever. I see a lot of silver linings, but that's also because there's a lot of clouds. In the Bible the clouds are a sign of God's presence. Let's see how that works out -- because God often has things to say we may not want to hear.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Modified URL for iTunesU Podcasts

We made a new page for my new podcasts. Find it here (instead of the address given previously):

2008 Cool Science Pictures

Science magazine just put out the winners of its visual challenge. This is an especially good crop of pictures this year!

This is a mixture of 2 polymers that don't appear to dissolve:

This is the interconnectedness of the books of the Bible. Each white bar is a chapter, in order (you can see Psalm 119, it's the big bar in the middle). The connections, quotations and allusions back and forth are shown by the curved lines. As the researchers said, "It looks like one big book.":

This is a melanoma cell imaged by a new microscopy technique. The nucleus is the dark blob in the back, the pink is mitochondria, and the gold is the endoplasmic reticulum.

And last is a "Mad Hatter's Tea Party" illustration with very small things. Can't wait to see the children's book these people are working on:

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The 2nd-to-Last Temptations of the Candidates

I only got to listen to part of the 2nd debate in the car and the very end after dinner. Some of it seemed awful familiar (at least there wasn't an interminable What-Would-Kissinger-Do debate this time). But thinking on it afterwards (and correct me if I missed something), I'm impressed. Both candidates have resisted considerable temptations, and I mean that straightforwardly.

McCain resisted the temptation tonight to "take the gloves off" and go after Obama's associations with Wright and Ayers. Maybe that will even cost him the election. But he kept his attacks on-topic and current, and I'm convinced he did it because it was the honorable, high-road thing to do. (Also, that is what Palin's for, right?)

Obama has resisted the temptation to talk like he can solve every problem, to give in to the more fawning end of his advisor spectrum. People have been complaining about how "cool"/"cold" he's been lately, but it's because he's admirably kept away from salvation-language and acting like he'd solve everything automatically, just by being him. No more swooning fans in the audience. The "pop star" label just doesn't stick as well anymore as a consequence.

So McCain resists the mud-slinging temptation (wrath?), and Obama resists pride.

Now they can go and prove me wrong tomorrow. On a positive note, what I'd like to see is a creative proposal to address the current economic crisis. McCain's mortgage plan may be a step in the right direction, but I'd like to hear more before concluding. Obama, what is that "economic dream team" telling you? Nothing about Charles Keating, please ...

Monday, October 6, 2008

How You Know You Belong in Seattle

... You're walking along the third-floor science building walkway toward the window at the end of the hall, and all you can see is miles of flat gray sky, with a light, even rain coming down and pooling on the tar roof of the Student Union Building below, a black expanse dotted with a few yellow leaves and punctuated by thousands of circular ripples, and as you walk, the thought that comes automatically to your mind is, "What a beautiful day."

Friday, October 3, 2008

A New Quarter at iTunesU

Since the new quarter is well underway, I've started posting the audio of my lectures at iTunesU. If you want to start the story of biochemistry from the beginning, now you can do so!

(And yes, we do start with Lecture 2 because Lecture 1 is so much review it's pretty non-podcastable.)

Here's the link: