Monthly Archives: February 2011

Distributed parking, distributed leadership

Our family doesn’t always visit a brick and mortar church, but when we do, my wife and I have a system to handle the parking conundrum. You see, we typically go to one of the many megachurches in the area and parking is predictably a nightmare. So what we generally do is ride around the parking lot scowling at people who are walking slowly back to their cars. We do this for a few minutes before we give up and agree to have my wife take the kids into the nursery while I finish the task of hunting down a parking space.

Hunting down a parking space at a large church on Sunday morning is harder than it sounds.

And yet, as silly as it sounds, this exercise helps illustrate something I believe the church in general could stand to learn.

You see, for most of the time during the week it is easy to find a parking space at most churches, large and small. The demand for parking places only spikes occasionally, usually on Sunday mornings between 11:00AM and 12:00PM.

I work with high performance computing systems a lot and I believe the principles used to solve the problem of crunching a large amount of data can be brought to bear in solving the problem of church parking.

When Toys R’ Us first launched their ecommerce website in 1999 they quickly found out that their servers were no match for the load that awaited them from a pre-Christmas rush. The next year, they decided to entrust their ecommerce store to another company that was able to solve the problem of handling large amounts of traffic.

Today there are several companies that have developed what is commonly called “cloud computing” systems. In brief, a cloud computing system is when you take a lot of servers and hook them up so that they cooperate while processing a large load. That load could be crunching through a lot of data or handling a lot of web requests. Most of the time its a combination of both.

Cloud platforms like Amazon are built to handle the surge of Christmas traffic. But this creates a problem similar to what most churches face with regard to their parking lots. There is a lot of wasted capacity since, for the most part, the resources meant to handle the surge in demand sit idle.

To get more use out of their cloud, Amazon and others like Google started offering parts of their cloud to others. The idea being that you could develop a website, deploy it on their system, and if your site gets really popular it can expand to more of the cloud platform to handle the load. Amazon calls their solution elastic computing.

The key to large scale computing is to find ways to carve up the problem domain into small, manageable, bite-sized chunks, and then find a way to have many mouths devour those chunks.

Many churches, when they start to grow and face issues of scale, attempt to solve the problem initially by offering multiple services on Sunday morning. This often works well if the church is able to effectively cut the demand per service in half. This is not much different than attempting to solve large computational problems by utilizing larger servers. This is known as scaling vertically and is the preferred tactic of many smaller churches. However the problem is that it produces waste in terms of under utilized resources when there is no load (ie. the other 6 days of the week) and eventually a hard vertical limit is reached.

Many churches are coming to realize the importance of distributing the load when it comes to discipleship. But when it comes to teaching, most still operate in a centralized fashion.

There are many reasons the church needs to embrace a more distributed leadership model. Here are a few:

  • Having multiple teachers to handle the task of teaching believers is a Biblical concept.
  • If more churches were to implement it as the model of leadership, it would also have the added benefit of alleviating the enormous and unnatural pressure placed at the feet of one man or a very small group of men.
  • Having multiple leaders serves as an encouragement for others to grow. It would help solve the problem of unmotivated church members.
  • Having multiple leaders makes single points of failure, especially of the moral variety, less prominent and less devastating.
  • Having multiple leaders provides an excellent means of continuous error correction.

Along with the spiritual reasons, there are other organizational benefits:

  • Having multiple leaders means buildings can be more fully utilized. Groups can be scheduled to meet at various times throughout the week, distributing the load, instead of causing the load to spike on one day and hour.
  • Higher utilization of resources means less waste.
  • Distributed leadership means fewer and lighter crowds. This means visitors are more likely to find a place and are more likely to become intimately involved with a group of believers.
  • Distributed leadership means leaders are free to specialize. This, in turn, translates into higher quality teaching and a more educated congregation. This would also mean more believers would be better equipped for evangelization.

And finally; distributed leadership would mean my family and I would have a better chance at finding a parking spot on Sunday morning.

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How many churches are there?

Have you ever wondered exactly how many churches are in an area? I have often wondered that so recently I undertook the task of collecting a record of churches in Georgia1, about 10,000 total, and plotting them out in a heat map.

Click here to see the result.2

I’ll continue to develop this visualization to make it more useful and interactive. If you are interested in helping out or have any suggestions, questions, or comments feel free to contact me. If you want to donate to this project in order to see it expand (hosting is cheap but not free), feel free to send a donation.


  1. Data collected from Yahoo’s local search service via YQL. So blame data discrepancies on them. []
  2. Site uses a lot of experimental technology and is known to work best in Google Chrome. If you experience any difficulties please let me know. []
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Matt Chandler – Culture & Theology: God and Sex

[HT Matthew Rathbun]

One of the current cultural Pastors that I most admire and listen to is Matt Chandler out of Village Church in Texas.  He’s insight and delivery are outstanding.  In October he did a sermon on “God and Sex”.  I’m sharing this on this site, because I think it’s one of the most powerful discussions I’ve ever heard on the topic.  It’s also one of the most down-to-earth and frank conversations.  I would recommend that your children not be in the room when this is playing.  He addresses a lot about healthy relationships and hurt then takes text-messaged questions from his congregation.

You can download it by clicking the link right-clicking HERE and choosing “download this link” or you can listen to it from my site by clicking the play button below

This is indeed one of the very best sermons I’ve ever heard on sex.

It seems somewhat strange to me that Calvinists (Matt Chandler, Mark Driscoll, Voddie Baccham) have poor answers to the questions of evil but appear to have a solid grasp on sex and family. My guess is that is due to their overall emphasis on sovereignty, and that understanding is required for a family to function properly.

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Free to choose – The Power of the Market

From freetochoose.tv

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Global data storage calculated at 295 exabytes. Still less than the average cell.

Recently, the BBC cited a study which estimated the total amount of data stored by humans to be 295 exabytes

The study, published in the journal Science, calculates the amount of data stored in the world by 2007 as 295 exabytes.

That is the equivalent of 1.2 billion average hard drives.

As impressive as this sounds, nature is more impressive still. The report continues

These numbers may sound large, but they are still dwarfed by the information processing and storage capacity of nature.

“The Human DNA in one single body can store around 300 times more information than we store in all our technological devices” according to Dr Hilbert.

How much data is estimated to be in 1 cubic centimeter of DNA? About 108.420217 exabytes.

Its also estimated that the human body processes about 430 zettabytes/day.

And we are expected to believe that all of that precision machinery happened by unguided, unintelligent processes.

Like magic.

Bonus: Here is a story by the Washington Post on the same topic.

But Hilbert offers a humbling comparison. Despite our gargantuan digital growth, the DNA in a single human body still stores far more information – and a single human brain computes far more calculations – than all the technology on Earth.

“Compared to Mother Nature,” Hilbert said, “we are humble apprentices.”

I think he misspelled God there.

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Blaise Pascal on universals and particulars

From Pensées 40:

If we wished to prove the examples which we take to prove other things, we should have to take those other things to be examples; for, as we always believe the difficulty is in what we wish to prove, we find the examples clearer and a help to demonstration.
Thus, when we wish to demonstrate a general theorem, we must give the rule as applied to a particular case; but if we wish to demonstrate a particular case, we must begin with the general rule. For we always find the thing obscure which we wish to prove and that clear which we use for the proof; for, when a thing is put forward to be proved, we first fill ourselves with the imagination that it is, therefore, obscure and, on the contrary, that what is to prove it is clear, and so we understand it easily.
Obscurity is the inherent problem with systems of thought that begin with man (particulars) and not with God (universal). That is why materialism, ethical objectivism, and moral relativism all end up in an incoherent mess when followed to their conclusion.
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Only the gay die young?

In late March, 2007, a spate of articles and news releases were released from Drs. Paul and Kirk Cameron purporting to demonstrate that the life expectancy of homosexuals is 20 to 30 years lower than that of straights. Behind this flurry of activity was a poster session presented at the March, 2007 Eastern Psychological Association convention in Philadelphia.

This is part of the introduction of “An exchange between Warren Throckmorton, Morten Frisch, Paul Cameron and Kirk Cameron
regarding the lifespan of homosexuals.”

In it, the often criticized methods of Drs. Paul and Kirk Cameron are discussed. Specifically the objection given by Morten Frisch:

Since, as noted, age is a strong determinant of openness about homosexuality, the study groups of deceased homosexuals in Cameron and Cameronís report were severely skewed towards younger people. Consequently, the much younger average age at death of these openly homosexual people as compared with the average age at death in the unselected general population tells nothing about possible differences between life expectancies in gays and non-gays in general. All it reflects is the skewed age distribution towards younger people among those who are openly homosexual.

Paul Cameron responds with a couple of points:

  • it has been shown that homosexuals are more likely to respond to surveys

    Further, in that study, analysis of the patterns of missing answers among respondents showed that those with homosexual interests were more, and not less, likely than those with only heterosexual interests to respond to questions about sexually non-conforming behavior.

  • no one, on either side of the issue,

    knows for sure how often people deliberately lie when they respond to sex surveys, or how many individuals simply refuse to respond in order to hide their sexual preferences. We also donít know whether refusals of that particular sort are more common among the older. All we know is that several well-funded research teams have not found many differences along behavioral dimensions ó including items about sexuality between the first responders and those who eventually responded after repeated visits or call-backs.

  • the death of older homosexuals would be difficult to simply cover up. But even so, no one can know this with any certainty either.

    It was partly because of the uncertainties in self-report that we decided to examine other kinds of data. Obviously, obituaries depend upon human reporting but are not ‘self-reports.’ To keep oneís past sexual behavior secret after death can be difficult unless no one else knows, presumably even oneís own partners. As Ben Franklin wisely said, ìthree can keep a secret, but only if two of them are dead.î Again, neither Dr. Frisch nor anyone else knows whether in fact the older are disproportionately less often represented than the young among obituaries in gay newspapers.

  • the report also used data from public records

    That is why it is of more than passing scientific interest that three rather different sources and kinds of data ó sex surveys, obituaries, death registries all indicate fairly similar declines in homosexual prevalence with age.

Its interesting to also note that Dr Frisch apparently mentioned “in an email that no more than 5% of Danish gays take advantage of the marriage laws there.”

In his response, Warren Throckmorton cites the following report

In a major Canadian centre, life expectancy at age 20 years for gay and bisexual men is 8 to 20 years less than for all men. If the same pattern of mortality were to continue, we estimate that nearly half of gay and bisexual men currently aged 20 years will not reach their 65th birthday. (Hogg et al, 1997, from the abstract)

There is a lot more in the paper, and I highly encourage anyone interested in engaging others in a rational discussion regarding homosexuality to read it. One thing to note, however, is that all sides agree “that there may some difference in life span”. The only difference seems to be that those who are sympathetic towards the homosexual agenda are unwilling to speculate on how much that difference is.

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Man is made for community

Ayn Rand is famous for arguing for a political stance wherein men were seen as sovereign beings. While this view has merits, one of its pitfalls comes when discussing man’s relationship to other men. It seems that any appeal to community is lampooned by her and her followers as “collectivist”. Rand centered her philosophy in the rationality of the mind. However, I believe that it is precisely the mind where we find the strongest reason we have to believe that man is made for community.

When I pressed one of Rand’s followers what reason we have for believing the mind to be an accurate source of true beliefs, I was told:

The reason I trust my mind is due to a long road of trail and error. Started as a baby with simple concept formation.

The process of trial and error is only valid once you have information and a mechanism for evaluating truth from falsehoods. Babies rely on external agents to provide them with information AND the ability to sort out truths from falsehoods.

For example, I jokingly told my kids that landsharks would get them if they didn’t stay in bed a while back. My daughter firmly denied their existence based on prior argumentation of there being no such thing as monsters. My son, however, has been convinced they exist. Both of them have also subsequently been exposed to “evidence” for landsharks in the form of a shark ride at a local park and a youtube clip from SNL (its pretty funny too). Now, how are they supposed to find out, without me or some other external agent telling them, that landsharks are, in fact, not real?

I would agree that a man’s mind is essential to his survival. But the mind alone does not produce information. Like logic, all the mind can do is process what is already in it.

If you maintain that the mind is merely a physical chunk of meat I would wager that your burden of explaining how true beliefs are formed even more difficult since, under such a view, the mind would merely be a slave to the stimuli in the environment around it. This would also further call into question the mind’s design (or lack thereof) of producing true beliefs for it’s owner.

In opposition to this, I would maintain that true beliefs require the intervention of intelligent agents external to ourselves. This condition indicates that man is not complete in and of himself but rather is dependent on others, on the community.

No man is complete in himself, and children are a prime example of this fact.

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Would legalizing same-sex marriage save us money?

In a recent CATO podcast regarding marriage, Jason Kuznicki made the comment that a CBO study showed that legalizing same sex marriage would save the state lots of money. After some digging I found the CBO study Jason referred to. After examining it, however, I believe there are a few key flaws with the assertion that the legalization of same sex marriage would save the public money.

  1. As the report points out, the estimation of the homosexual population is problematic. It is actually uncertain how we could even get an accurate count of the numbers of homosexuals in the US today given the trouble inherent in defining homosexuality.
  2. Another issue related to the previous point is how we define monogamy. Believe it or not, these are two fluid terms in the homosexual community.
  3. The report assumes additional tax revenue will come from income tax returns, from couples filing jointly. This both exposes the much loathed marriage tax and it calls into question why a community of people who, themselves, denounce the institution of marriage would voluntarily submit themselves to such an additional tax. Hard data from countries where homosexuality is legal shows that they won’t. And why should they? The only gain homosexuals can get from the legalization of marriage, and this is from their own writings, is cultural acceptance. And that is through the enforcement of laws and new regulations.
  4. The analysis fails to take into account the added costs that would be involved with enforcement and proper regulation. In Canada, shortly after the legalization of same sex marriage, birth certificates were changed to “Parent A” and “Parent B” instead of “Mother” and “Father”. As trivial as this sounds, it does incur a cost. And these costs add up. So why aren’t they counted and factored in?
  5. The report does not take into account the fact that the legalization of same sex marriage has a profound impact on traditional marriage. That Jason doesn’t deal with this fact surprises me since libertarians are often known for closely scrutinizing the unintended consequences of policies.

The truth is that the legalization of same sex marriage carries with it a price tag that few are willing to acknowledge. That price tag includes social costs in terms of further weakening the already stumbling institution of marriage, the building block of society. Costs in terms of health care resources spent in an effort to alleviate the effects of promoting a lifestyle that runs afoul of our biological design. And a price tag in terms of decreased liberties and increased public scrutiny enacted in an effort to make same sex marriage publicly acceptable.

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The poverty of the 5 senses

Materialists are fond of claiming that all of our knowledge comes to us through our 5 senses.

Supernatural is above or beyond nature. Any belief in a realm that isn’t knowable though our 5 senses. Or al least able to use a provable method of advanced conceptualizing that ties back to our senses and is consistent with everything else that is known to exist in the natural universe. Mysticism is the opposite. It claims that our 5 senses are inadequate to no truth or reality. this effectively removes responsibility from the individuals and places it in the hands of the elite. Who have some secret magical method of understanding truth. It is a winning strategy for those who desire power, who feel small in stature and intentionally or not, foster the powerlessness of their flock.

Dan Barber

This position raises two questions in my mind:

  1. Through our 5 senses, how do we gain awareness of ourselves? Our own thoughts, feelings, desires, etc.? It seems that introspection is not something we engage in with our 5 senses.
  2. How can we be sure that there is nothing outside the realm of or epistemic faculties? It seems that microscopes of all kinds provide evidence that our epistemic faculties aren’t perfect, that there is more about our world that we wouldn’t know without external help.

Dan answers:

A microscope is an extension of sight. Not a replacement for it. We do imagine with our brain. That is what intospection is. And it is an evolved ability that probably came about as we learned to hurl an object for hunting. Or swing from vines. To predict an outcome in the future.

Microscopes and other instruments give us reason to believe that information exists outside the reach our natural epistemic resources. That’s not to say that this information is unknowable, just that we may need help knowing what a cell looks like.

Additionally, It seems that the introspection required to envision a tool like a microscope came not from the realm of 5 senses, but from somewhere else. Before it existed, where did the vision come from and where did it reside? Are we to suppose the physical brain randomly concocted it out of thin air?

I suppose the real question here is: Why should we think that physical matter is all that exists?

It is absolutely amazing how the human mind decides what it wants to see as real and then finds the evidence for such a conclusion. Deductive vs. Inductive reasoning. Inductive is the method i use to counter act my own irrationality in this realm.

So the final question for materialists is this. When you reason, be it inductively or deductively, which of the 5 senses are you using?

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