Gen Con Mission Fundraiser

If you’d like to support my mission to Gen Con, you can donate here.

Gaming Mission Fund

My annual mission trip to the Gen Con game convention brings the gospel to hundreds of gamers.

Your donation helps me with travel expenses and supplies.

Together, we can expand the kingdom for the Lord of Hosts.

Learn More…

Here’s a FOX network news featurette on the kind of ministry that I do.

And a look at other odd ministries that I work with.

 

 

RIP Steve Ditko

On 6/29/18, Steve Ditko passed away at age 90.

Steve Ditko

Spidey 38-39

Peter Parker from Ditko (left) and after Ditko (right)

Ditko was a legendary comic book artist, helped define the genre. Along with Stan Lee, he created Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, J. Jonah Jameson, MJ Watson, and many other early Marvel characters. He drew his characters… oddly. Spider-Man and Strange were awkward and gangling, not buff and heroic like most other superhero artists were drawing their characters at the time.

Ditko created other memorable characters, including some of these favorites of mine:

The Creeper

What if a superhero was crazy? Or at least acted crazy? And maybe also really was?

Creeper OriginThe Creeper’s complicated history began when he was introduced in April 1968, but here’s my quick take. Controversial reporter Jack Ryder dressed up in a costume from scraps to infiltrate a mob masquerade party. He was killed there, then “healed” by Dr. Yatz. The process made him strong and fast, and gave him the first regenerative healing factor in comics. But it also bonded the costume to his skin when he was in Creeper mode, making him actually yellow-skinned green-haired weirdo with a red boa/fur/cape and green speedos. He’s kind of the Joker as a bouncy superhero.

He’s been a superhero (even a Justice League member), a supervillain, and everywhere in between. He super-healed before Wolverine; he sassed and annoyed crime before Deadpool; he bounced around before the Beast; he wore a fur boa before Hulk Hogan.

Of course, being weird is his true superpower, according to most who know him.

He’s been rebooted as a woman, a demon, a cyborg, a robot, and amalgamated into Nightcreeper.

There was a wonderful episode of The New Batman Adventures dedicated to the Creeper.

Creeper Cartoon

My Creeper Gallery

I like the Creeper so much that I play him in a Champions RPG campaign set in Gotham.

Each time we play, I’ve been putting the Creeper into famous works of art. It’s fun!

       

Other Characters

 

The Question

Squirrel Girl

Speedball

Speedball: Nerdy teenager Robbie Baldwin (and his cat) is bombarded with strange science rays and turns into Speedball: the Masked Marvel. He bounces, and has a field of colorful kinetic dots and a hairdo that defies gravity and taste.

I knew of Speedball, and glanced through an issue or two of his solo material, but it was in the New Warriors series that he really came to life for me, acting as comedy sidekick and nigh-indestructible distraction. Over the intervening years, he unwittingly helps launch Marvel’s first Civil War, and embeds himself in an iron maiden as punishment.

Squirrel Girl: I didn’t get that much into Squirrel Girl until the recent Unbeatable Squirrel Girl comic runs. Ditko gave her the powers of a squirrel, but the newer runs have amped up her compassion, empathy, and creativity. Building relationships becomes her real superpower.

The Question: My favorite rendition of the Question is the way Jeffrey Combs portrayed him on the Justice League Unlimited cartoon. He’s a conspiracy theorist with a mask that makes his face disappear. Famously, he was the basis for the Watchmen’s Rorschach.

More: Ditko also created Hawk & Dove, Mr. A, Odd Man, the Mocker, and dozens of others, enumerated on this wiki page.

 

So Long, and Thanks for Alley Fish

My favorite local theater is closing down after 25 years of entertainment.

The Alley Theater

The Alley Theater has performed some amazingly fun shows over the years.

Evil Dead: The MusicalEvil Dead: The MusicalEvil Dead The Musical

Any play about singing and dancing zombies is bound to be a blast. “Evil Dead: The Musical” (at one time, the production had the website LouEvilDead.com, which was amazing) was no exception. The Alley performed this one three times. The first run was in October 2009, with the final night on Halloween (which was a Saturday that year). Most of the audience wore costumes, as you’d expect. I went more casual, wearing my “I spent Halloween 2001 with Bruce Campbell” shirt from his “If Chins Could Kill” book tour.

The play blends the three movies “Evil Dead,” “Evil Dead 2,” and (my favorite) the campy “Army of Darkness.” The violence is comically over the top — in fact, the first few rows of seats are the “splatter zone.” The theater provides ponchos for the brave souls who sit so close, since the fake blood sprays into the crowd during the play.

Here’s a scene from the Alley’s second production, from the theater’s official YouTube channel (which also includes this threat).

And here’s my favorite song from the play, although this link is not from the Alley. The choreography that this scene uses is similar to the way the Alley would normally do it, with Ash and Jake singing and dancing backup.

In August 2017, Bruce Campbell came to Louisville on another book tour. This was also the day of the total solar eclipse. (Coincidence? I think not!) Instead of going into the path of the totality like a lot of my space friends, I stayed in town to see Bruce. I got his autograph on a chainsaw blade (signed both as Bruce and as Ash), which I donated to the Alley.

The TickThe Tick

The Alley brought the big blue goofy comic-book/cartoon/live-action character “The Tick” to life on the stage. First in 2015, and again in 2018.

Both runs were very funny, and included references from every incarnation of the bug of justice. Sterling Pratt wrote the play(s) specifically for The Alley to perform. Scott Davis, creator of The Alley himself, played the Tick in the first run, and Connor Blankenship played him in the second run. Andrew Mertz perfectly played his sidekick/partner Arthur both times. As Keith Waits wrote, “The Tick” is really Arthur’s story.

Fan favorite characters like the Caped Chameleon, the Evil Midnight Bomber What Bombs at Midnight, and Barry the Tick joined the fun alongside the blue and white heroes, and their friends Batmanuel and American Maid.

Other Great Shows

Shakespeare's Star Wars Inspector Hound The Bible Abridged The Trail to Oregon Hughes-ical Bat Hamlet Hitchhikers Guide Top Secret Point Break Princess Bride Matrix

“William Shakespeare’s Star Wars” was a hoot. “What light through yonder sensor breaks?” “Once more into the trench, dear friends.”

“The Real Inspector Hound” combined an interactive murder mystery (we hung out with some of the cast, in character, before the play started) with a play-within-a-play for surreal fun. During the first act, two theater critics sitting just to the side of the main stage discussed the play and their own lives as the actors performed. During the second act, one critic was killed and the other got swept into the play, with characters repeating much of the same dialogue from act one, but with very different meanings. It was amazing. Shavon McGill might still not be back from oiling his gun.

“The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged)” was a three-man performance that encompassed the greatest story ever told, and then some. The theater even invited me to lead off the opening performance with a prayer, but the schedules didn’t work out so I had to miss that. Instead, they had me preach a whole sermon before the final night. I was honored, and remain humble and grateful for the opportunity.

“The Trail to Orgeon” was an improv musical based on a computer game where almost everyone dies of dysentery. We, the audience, got to name the characters, and decide who died and how. I was there for opening night, and since half the audience was improv comedians (and friends of all the performers), we gave them challenging names that were incredibly long or barely pronounceable. Because that’s the kind of friends that we are.

“Hughes-ical: The Musical” took the various John Hughes movies (Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Beuller) and gave it a boombox soundtrack.

“Bat-Hamlet” was part of the SuperHuman:A Festival of Plays (a parody of the well-known and local Humana Festival of Plays). It tells the tale of a boy avenging his murdered father. You probably know the rest.

“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (from which I adapted this post’s title) was a staged reading of the original radio scripts. (It was a radio play before it was a book/tv-series/movie/computer-game/etc.) The adaptation was well received.

“Top Secret” and “Point Break” brought beloved(?) 80’s movies (here and here) to the stage.

“The Princess Bride Experience” was inconceivable.

No one can be told what “The Matrix” is. You had to experience it for yourself.

The Arts Caravan

Putting on great stage shows wasn’t enough for the Alley, so they turned a bus into a mobile stage so they could take it out to schools and festivals.

Improv JamImprov Alley

 

Despite all that great stuff, the Alley production that I’ll miss the most is the weekly Improv Jam. On Saturday afternoons, we’d gather at the Alley for hours of improv workshopping. It was a wonderful way to get a foot in the improv comedy door.

I’ve made some great friends over the years of jamming with people who knew what they were doing, and with others who, like me, wanted a chance to learn and practice improv skills. Ironically, even though improv is made up on the spot, it does take time and effort to get comfortable with it and competent at it.

I’m grateful to wonderful improv teachers like Shauvon McGill, Ryan Kemp, Scott Davis, Spencer Korcz, and others for all the great jam lessons.

Alley Oop

The Alley is dead! Long live The Alley.

(If you’re reading this before July 28 2018, there’s still a chance to catch a show at the Alley before the doors close for good.)

The Alley

 

 

 

 

Bible Humor

I’m a Christian, and sometimes a teacher/preacher.

I preached the Easter Sunday sermon at ConGlomeration science fiction convention. Since Easter this year also fell on April Fools Day, I preached about humor in the Bible.

Purpose

Like all things, humor has a purpose.

God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. (1 Cor 1:27)
Joyful heart is good medicine, crushed spirit dries the bones. (Prov 17:22)
For the happy heart, life is a continual feast. (Prov 15:15)

Humor is often a natural expression of joy. We laugh when we’re happy, even without an obvious humorous stimulus.

The role of the court jester or “fool” was not only to entertain with dance, music, and comedy but also to give bad news to the ruler. In Shakespearean plays, the jester is often the voice of common sense and honesty, pointing out the follies of those in higher stations.

There’s a meme series about God brainstorming various creatures…

Spiders: give it 8 eyes and 8 legs, with a butt-rope

Panda: take that cow and make it a bear

Alligator: see that log? fill it with teeth

Walrus: a dog bear fish with sabretooth tiger teeth

Snakes: just a really throat, and an angry face

Octopus: 8 super-strong floppy arms with suction cups

Hippo: a sneaky fat water horse

Parrot: a tie-dye chicken that scream real words

Bats: a hairy flying potato, make it blind and screeching

Kittens: fluffy adorable like furry hugs, with razor feet

Jellyfish: how about an evil floating bag

Bees: flying furball with a butt-needle, and yummy puke

Timing

“Ask me the secret to telling a good joke.”
“What’s the secr–”
“TIMING!”

[There is] a time to weep, and a time to laugh. (Ecc 3:4)
Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. (Lk 6:21)
Our mouths are filled with laughter, and our tongues filled with joy, for the Lord has done great things for us. (Ps 126:2)
The godly wife is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. (Prov 31:25)
Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice! (Ps 32:11)
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. (Phil 4:4)

For a long time, Philippians 4:4 was my favorite verse (and at times it still is), since I would occasionally suffer from depression. Paul wanted us to carry God’s joy so much that he said it twice in the same verse!

Source

All things come from somewhere. Humor comes from our minds and our hearts.

Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. (Lk 6:45)
A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit. (Prov 15:13)
He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy. (Job 8:21)

If the joy of the Lord is in us, joy should be coming out of us.

You’re Doing It Wrong

In my teenage years, I used to swear a lot. Then I got a job on the radio. That’ll clear up your language in a hurry! Since then, I’ve never had a real cause to go back to vulgarity. There’s rarely a real reason. If I hit my thumb with a hammer, I say “Ow!” If I feel the need to add “colorful metaphors” (as Spock would say), I often tilt it toward comedy, and use Yosemite Sam’s “rassin’ frassin’.”

Let there be no filthiness, foolish talk, nor crude joking, which are out of place; but rather thanksgiving. (Eph 5:4)
Let your speech always be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Col 4:6)
Even in laughter the heart may ache, and rejoicing may end in grief. (Prov 14:13)
Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I am only joking!” (Prov 26:18)

There’s an old saying that there’s a little truth in every joke. I know a lot of people who tell jokes that belittle a group of people. It could be based on race, gender, nationality, or any other group. I don’t generally go for the “us versus them” kind of humor, where the same bad joke could be told about anyone just by swapping out who the target group is. We can’t tell a racist, sexist, or (fill-in-the-blank)-ist joke unless those feelings are somewhere inside us.

Biblical Examples

There are example of humor throughout the Bible.

Example: Sarcasm

Elijah challenged the priests of Baal to a divine showdown. His God (Yahweh) and their god (Baal) would try to set fire to a pile of wood. Baal’s people spent hours loudly praying, dancing, cutting themselves, and otherwise trying to call on their god to burn the wood. Elijah trash talked them.

Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” (1 Kings 18:27)

Maybe your god is taking a dump. Potty humor, right there.

Example: Absurdism

Look Stupid

Balaam was a pagan priest who was hired to curse God’s people. An angel (that he couldn’t see) stood in his donkey’s path. Balaam whipped his animal, trying to get it to move, then God gave the donkey the ability to speak.

The Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, to say, “What have I done to you, to make you have strike me three times?”
Balaam shouted, “You made me look like a fool!” (Num 22:28-29)

Balaam’s response wasn’t “Holy cow, a talking donkey!” or anything of that sort. He immediately fell into arguing with this talking beast, and accusing it of making him look like a fool.

Example: Slapstick

This unlikely situation could fit perfectly into a sitcom or Charlie Chaplin movie.

Peter was in prison, so the church was praying for him. An angel of the Lord appeared, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists. He went to the house and Peter knocked, and Rhoda came to the door. She was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it. (Acts 12:5,7,12-14)

“Hey, open the door! Let me in!” *knock*knock*

Jokes from Jesus

Humor in the Jewish culture at the time was largely based on exaggeration.

Here are some bits that Jesus threw into his speeches:

  • a camel in the eye of a needle (Mk 10:25)
  • a plank in a person’s eye (Mt 7:3)
  • the blind leading the blind into a hole (Mt 15:14)
  • giving a son a snake instead of a fish (Lk 11:11)
  • putting pearls on pigs (Mt 7:6)
  • being born a second time (Jn 3:3)
  • forgiving seventy times seven (Mt 18:22)
  • nicknaming flaky Simon a rock (Mt 16:18)

The Last Laugh

The wicked may seem to benefit for a while, here on Earth, but their time is limited.

But the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming. (Ps 37:13)
He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. (Ps 2:4)

God himself laughs at the wicked, for He knows that they will pay for their sins.

Fools

Henny Youngman used to say, “I used to be an atheist, but I gave it up since they have no holidays.” As a former atheist myself, I can relate.

A friend of mine pointed out that atheists technically do have a holiday:

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Ps 14:1)
He who trusts his own mind is foolish, but he who walks in wisdom is safe. (Prov 28:26)

Atheists are fools, so April 1 is a day that we can reserve for them.

This gives Jesus’ words in Matthew on a more serious meaning:

Anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Mt 5:22)

Calling someone a fool in this context is the equivalent of telling them to go to hell.

Condemning people is not our job. That position has already been filled. There is no vacancy there.

Download

You can download the PowerPoint slides here.

 

Infinity War

I’m a Christian, and sometimes a teacher/preacher.

This sermon looks at the Infinity War plotline in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, through a gospel lens. I preached this at Lexington Comic & Toy Con 2018.

Infinity Stones

Infinity StonesIn Guardians of the Galaxy, Taneleer Tivan (also known as The Collector) explains what the stones are:

“Before creation itself, there were six singularities. Then the universe exploded into existence, and the remnants of these systems were forged into concentrated ingots — Infinity Stones.”

Here’s what the stones are, and where we’ve seen them in the movies:

  • Space Stone (Tesseract)Tesseract
  • exist in any location
  • move any object anywhere throughout reality
  • teleport self and others to any place imagined
  • warp or rearrange space
  • alter distance between objects
  • At full potential — omnipresence
  • Reality Stone (Aether)Aether
  • fulfill wishes, even contradicting scientific laws
  • do things that would normally be impossible
  • create any alternate reality
  • At full potential — alter reality
  • Power Stone (The Orb)
  • access and manipulate all forms of energy
  • enhance physical strength and durabilityOrb
  • boost the effects of the other Stones
  • At full potential — omnipotence
  • Mind Stone (The Vision)
  • enhance mental and psionic abilities
  • access the thoughts and dreams of other beings
  • access all minds in existence simultaneouslyVision
  • At full potential — universal subconscious
  • Time Stone (The Eye of Agamotto)
  • see into the past and the future
  • stop, slow down, speed up or reverse the flow of time
  • time travel
  • change the past and the future
  • age and de-age beingsAgamotto
  • trap people or entire universes in unending loops of time
  • At full potential — omniscience and time control
  • Soul Stone (unknown)
  • steal, control, manipulate, and alter living and dead souls
  • gateway to an idyllic pocket universe
  • At full potential — control all life

Infinity War

There’s an actual “infinity war” going on here in the real world. All eternity is at stake, for all of mankind.

Our enemy is Satan, who has already lost Heaven, and wants to drag us to the depths with him.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Ephesians 6:12)

God’s Infinity Stones

Jesus GauntletOkay, so God doesn’t have the fictional infinity stones, but he doesn’t need them. He already has all their powers.

  • Space No one can hide where I cannot see them. I am everywhere in heaven and on earth. (Jeremiah 23:24)
  • Reality In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
  • Power Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18)
  • Time “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come.” (Revelation 1:9)
  • Mind Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite. (Psalm 147:5)
  • Soul Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the parent and the soul of the child is mine: the soul who sins shall die. (Ezekiel 18:4)

But the war is already won, on our behalf!

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. (Revelation 12:9)

The devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. (Revelation 20:10)

Download

You can get a copy of the PowerPoint slides here.

Video

You can see FOX Lexington’s news story and video here.

Improv Comedy

At DerbyCon this year, I spoke about improv comedy. More specifically, how it applies to “social engineering” (talking your way out of trouble, or more maliciously tricking someone into giving up information that should be kept secret).

I didn’t even notice until posting the link here, but it amuses me that the video preview shows the demo slide that I often use, with the magic rabbit and the demolition reference.

DerbyConDerbyCon

“Hackers” get a bad name in popular media, but at its core, a hacker is just someone who wants to know how something works. That could be a program, a gadget, a policy, or anything else. Sometimes that includes taking something apart or breaking it or looking for a loophole.

Several hackers founded the infosec (information security) conference known as DerbyCon in Louisville seven years ago. I’ve attended five or six (I forget), but this is the first time I’ve spoken there. The founders are all a great group of folks, and love giving back to the community and putting everyone at ease.

The conference has four main tracks — Red Team (offense), Blue Team (defense), Purple Team (bit o’ both), and 3-Way (miscellaneous topics) — plus Stable Talks (shorter sessions on a variety of topics). There are also several other areas and events, like a social engineering village, a car hacking village, a capture the flag contest, and more. It’s very popular — in fact the 2500(ish) tickets this year sold out in just 3 minutes! If I hadn’t been speaking there, I wouldn’t have been able to go.

ImprovImprov All-Star

My presentation was a Stable Talk, so I only had 25 minutes to speak. I wanted to leave time for some audience participation and exercises, so I sped through some things faster than I’d like, and there wasn’t as much detail as I’d have liked, but them’s the breaks.

Here are the salient points that I covered:

  • “Rules”
    • Accept:  Yes, and…
    • Connect:  Relate to your audience
    • Respect:  Support your partner
    • Direct:  Focus on action
    • Project:  Follow the fear
    • Expect:  Mistakes are gifts
  • Stay Creative
    • Local Improv Groups
    • 48-Hour Film Project, Startup Weekend, Hackathons
    • Games (Who Would Win, Once Upon a Time)
    • Toastmasters International, Pecha Kucha
    • Learn, Travel, Meet – Engage!
    • www.sharpen.design

Download

You can download the slides here.

in remembrance of Kemp

Startup Weekend 10

In April, I volunteered once more with Startup Weekend Louisville. This was our tenth event, and we kept the same leadership team the whole time, which apparently makes us unique among the worldwide startup weekends. According to the global Startup Weekend organization, most teams only lead a few then peter out or hand it off.

The event was held at both LouieLab and the Kentucky Science Center, which is next right door. The Science Center, and its giant IMAX screen was an amazing four-story backdrop for the keynote, pitches, and final presentations. And LouieLab, with its separate rooms and easily reconfigurable rolling tables, was wonderful for hosting the eleven teams that we had.

Pitch!

Friday night was the kickoff. We had around sixty attendees, and half of them pitched an idea. From there, the attendees voted on their favorites, and formed themselves into teams.

Our keynote speaker was Mayor Greg Fischer! Before entering into public service, he was an entrepreneur himself (in fact, my brother used to work for him years ago). He gave high praise to the startup community, and to our Startup Weekend crew in particular, thanks to us spurring on a new crop of go-getters twice a year.

Work!

The teams claimed their spaces at LouieLab, and worked like mad from Friday night to Sunday afternoon. A lot of the work involved talking to potential customers in person — getting their feedback, and adjusting the team idea based on that feedback.

Present!

The winning team was LifeBit, a wearable emergency alarm for the deaf and hard of hearing. It listens for alarms in the smoke alarm frequency range, and buzzes a smart phone. (Most deaf people have attuned themselves to waking up when their phone buzzes, and many even go to sleep holding it.) I like that solution because it doesn’t have to get fancy about tying electronically with a fire alarm, and isn’t limited to a specific brand or model. It could even be extended to buzz at other loud noises (tornado sirens, train horns, and such).

The LifeBit team was automatically entered into the annual Venture Sharks competition, with $37,000 on the table for the winning team. Most of the competition had already been operating for a year or more. LifeBit only had only existed less than two weeks when they entered. They didn’t win the big prize, but they did win the audience choice award.

Volunteers

We had ten organizers, eight mentors, and four judges. This is the first time that our leader was Paul Blakeley, who was a teammate of mine at my very first Startup Weekend several years ago.

Everyone (I believe) had a good time and learned some things.

We’ll be doing it again in the fall (most likely early/mid October).

Outer Space

I’m a Christian, and sometimes a teacher/preacher.

This sermon uses outer space to express the love, wonder, and provision of God.

“Space is big. Really big.  You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts next to space.” — The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

I preached this at ConGlomeration science fiction convention in Louisville, KY in 2017. A friend of mine, Les Johnson, is NASA’s program director for their solar sail program, and as such was a Guest Of Honor at the convention. We’ve been friends for a few years, and since we’re both Christians and we both have a NASA background (although mine is way old), I decided that an outer space sermon would be cool.

The Hitched Guide to the Galaxy

Since the church is called the bride of Christ, and being married can be known as getting hitched, I titled this one after The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a classic science fiction comedy radio-play / novel / game / movie / etc.

I was volunteering at a Star Wars-themed event at the same time, and found a way to make PowerPoint slides do an opening crawl, which was pretty cool. I quoted the Hitchhiker’s Guide for the opening text, since the point it made was fitting for my message.

Sermon Around the Moon

On December 23, 1968, humanity was about to get its first glimpse at the dark side of the moon. Apollo 8 was about to orbit our orbiter. The crew radio’ed this message back to Earth just before they lost communication.

Bill Anders: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”

Jim Lovell: “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.”

Moon SermonCommander Frank Borman: “And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.
“And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”

My God, It’s Full of Stars

The Bible often gets flak for being scientifically inaccurate. But there are some interesting phrases that were written many centuries before mankind understood space.

He sits above the circle of the earth. (Isaiah 40:22)

He drew a circular horizon on the face of the waters, at the boundary of light and darkness. (Job 26:10)

He hangs the earth on nothing. (Job 26:7)

He made all the stars: Arcturus and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations. (Job 9:9)

Isaiah identifies the Earth as a globe. Job describes the day/night separation as a circle, claims that it’s floating in empty space, and names several heavenly bodies.

A scientist once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist asked, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “The first turtle stands on the back of a second, far larger, turtle, who stands directly under him.” “But what does this second turtle stand on?” “It’s turtles all the way down!”

Heaven and Earth

God created everything — whether or not we believe it, whether or not we understand it, whether or not we can even see it.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky above proclaims His handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)

He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved. (Psalm 104:5)

The Lord answered Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:1)

He made the universe for the same reason he made us — to glorify and praise Him.

The Final Frontier

As we study astronomy and other sciences, it can be easy to get lost in the details. The facts can distract us from the truth. Just about everything we learn only leads to more questions.

Do not regard the sun, moon, and stars as gods to worship. God your father has given them to all the people on earth. (Deuteronomy 4:19)

What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. Since creation, God’s invisible qualities have been clearly seen, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20-21)

The universe that God made is so wondrous, many consider the universe to be the biggest and most powerful thing there is. But the creation is not greater than the Creator.

A friend of mine is a geneticist. As he studied bodies, then organs, then cells, then nuclei, then DNA, and so on, he found God by looking smaller and smaller and smaller.

With my NASA experience, and a long interest in astronomy, I found God as I looked bigger and bigger and bigger.

The Ox-Files

*He later identifies them as cherubim in (Ezekiel 10:15).

Some people wonder if Ezekiel saw extraterrestrials in his wheels within wheels.

In appearance their* form was human, but each of them had four faces. Each of the four had the face of a human being, of a lion, of an ox, and of an eagle. (Ezekiel 1:5,10)

They sound pretty weird, I’ll grant. But the four-faced heads can represent four kinds of authority.

  • Mankind has been given domain over the plants and animals on Earth.
  • The lion is known as the king of the beasts.
  • The ox is the strongest domestic animal (“as strong as an ox”).
  • The eagle has been called the lord of the air.

So it’s not a freaky alien — it’s metaphor for complete sovereignty.

To clarify, Ezekiel opens and ends the chapter with this:

I saw visions of God. (Ezekiel 1:1)
This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. (Ezekiel 1:28)

Those were visions that described the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. That there’s a lot of prepositional clauses.

“I’m not saying it was cherubim… but it was cherubim.”

Aliens Among Us

There are, however, alien beings here with us.

You might know one, or even be one.

I urge you as strangers and aliens to abstain from sinful desires that battle for your soul. (1 Peter 2:11)

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They admitted that they were strangers and aliens on earth. (Hebrews 11:13)

Obviously, this wasn’t meant to mean space aliens, but to call out that as followers of Christ, our lives should be so distinctive that all can see we’re “not from around here.” Our citizenship is in the kingdom of heaven. Earth is just our way-station, our temporary assignment, our airport layover.

Read more about aliens here.

New Heaven

Sure, the universe is cool and all, but that’s just the start.The Hand of God

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. (Revelation 21:1)

The new and improved model is coming.

Well, the improved model is coming, anyway.

Jesus must remain in heaven until the time for the final restoration of all things, as God promised. (Acts 3:21)

I believe that the new heaven and new earth are not separate and distinct from the heaven and earth we have now — they’re the perfected and redeemed heaven and earth.

When sin entered the world, all of creation fell. But God cannot make something that is beyond his redemption.

Just as he is redeeming our souls and giving us perfect bodies, He will redeem the entirety of creation.

“Even old New York was once New Amsterdam. Why they changed it I can’t say. People just liked it better that way.” — Istanbul (Not Constantinople), as popularized by They Might Be Giants

New City

God’s new Jerusalem will be roughly one half the size of America.

I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven. (Revelation 21:2)

Its perimeter length and width and height were each 1,400 miles. (Revelation 21:16)

As Winston Zeddemore said in Ghostbusters, “That’s a big Twinkie.”

New Land

Besides having a new enormous city to live in, the redeemed land will flourish.

The desert will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. It will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. (Isaiah 35:1-2)

On each side of the river grew a tree of life, used for medicine to heal the nations. (Revelation 22:2)

Creation is currently in a holding pattern, waiting for the day that God will remove the curse.

“We can make him stronger. Faster. Better. We have the technology.” — The Six Million Dollar Man

New Bodies

I may look like an overweight balding middle-aged guy, but… Well, yeah, I am an overweight balding middle-aged guy, but that’s just temporary.

There will be no more death, mourning, crying, nor pain. No longer will there be any curse, hunger, nor thirst. (Revelation 21:4,22:3,7:16)

The people will no longer be sick and helpless. The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the mute will sing, and the lame will leap. (Isaiah 33:24,35:5-6)

Every physical ailment and infirmity will vanish. I’ll actually be able to sing and dance.

New Fun

Heaven won’t be sitting around in the clouds playing harps. Unless you really really enjoy that sort of thing, I guess.

He will fill us with eternal pleasures. (Psalm 16:11)

In those days people will live in the houses they build and eat the fruit of their own vineyards, and long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall sing with everlasting joy on their heads. (Isaiah 65:21,22, 51:11)

Many will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 8:11)

We’ll never get bored. Each day will bring new fun, new discoveries, new travel, new work, new food, new friends, and more.

Yes, I have favorite theoretical physicists. Why don’t you?

Come, Let Us Reason Together

As two of my favorite theoretical physicists say…

Albert Einstein: “The more I study science, the more I believe in God.”

Michio Kaku: “It is clear that we exist in a plan which is governed by rules that were created, shaped by a universal intelligence and not by chance.”

Download

You can download the PowerPoint slides here.

Additional Reading

DerbyHacks

DerbyHacks LogoStudents from the University of Louisville hosted DerbyHacks 2.0 on February 24-26, 2017 at the Institute for Product Realization complex, overlapping into the Engineering Garage, the Advanced Manufacturing Competency Center, and FirstBuild.

Hackathon

DerbyHacks isn’t the same kind of hackathon as the Open Data Day Public Safety Hackathon. This one is a three-day competition under the auspices of the Major League Hacking network.

I attended this hackathon as an observer/advisor, not as a competitor. I love the hackathon spirit and atmosphere; the innovation energy inspires me.

Over a hundred students from Kentucky colleges got together to create cool stuff. I’d guess that half the students were from UofL, where the event was held, but there were several from the University of Kentucky, from Berea College, and others.

Some of the teams created physical products, and others created digital ones.

Resources

There were several sponsors, presentations, mentors, tools and parts, and so so much food.

Experts from the region came to offer tips and troubleshooting to the teams.

The city’s Chief Data Officer, Michael Schnuerle (right), talked with several teams about Louisville’s Open Data Portal, and the myriad of ways that it could be used.

Teams

The full list of 26 teams is here, with the winners at the top (look for the diagonal yellow “winner” stripes).

Knowing several astrophysicists, I was quite impressed with CenterScope, that automatically centers your telescope on a star you want, without you having to manually fiddle with the delicate calibration knobs.

It was cool to see Alexa used for Smart Chess by letting you speak your move, with a synchronized electromagnetic chess board would move the piece on your board and on your remote opponent’s board. Your opponent would then speak his move, and so on.

A bunch of my friends formed the LouTrail team to recommend local restaurants and attractions. They won a special award for best use of local data.

Silent City combined the input from (proposed) sonic detectors throughout the city to map the noise pollution, much like Air Louisville did for the air quality (cleverly syncing asthma inhalers with a smartphone gadget to “phone home” when it was used, to identify to parts of town that were hardest on the lungs).

New Home for Me combined data for crimes and a dozen other sets with real estate listings, to help home buyers find a place that really fits their needs.

Physical Threat Intelligence used facial recognition technology as a “key” to grant access (and potentially other tasks).

The Smart Dollhouse was lots of fun. The team wanted to work with “smart home” technology, but since they couldn’t bring an actual house with them, they brought a tiny one. They installed cameras, motion sensors, heat sensors, and app-controlled door locks. Since the dollhouse had an elevator, which was broken, they fixed it! And also tied that to a smart app. It won the award for most potential value / biggest market.

The big winner was SnapCal, led by my friend Ishwar Agarwal, an app that uses pictures of your food to determine the calories. It sounds simple, but took a lot of computer know-how to pull off, using Machine Learning to translate an image into a food, then displaying the nutritional information. Besides being technically challenging, I think it reflects the health and fitness focus of today’s youth.

The Future

Since Louisville’s Mayor Greg Fischer was an entrepreneur himself (behind the combined soft drink / ice dispenser), he loves coming to hackathons, especially ones that are student-led and student-competed. Our future is in good hacky hands.

Public Safety Hackathon

Hackathons

A hackathon is an event for making. Sometimes it’s making something physical, sometimes digital, sometimes service-based.

(No, it doesn’t mean we’re breaking into people’s computers.)

The hackathons that I’m a part of tend toward digital. It might be converting something to a new format, transferring it to a new platform, combining things, securing something, analyzing something, open up access to something, or anything else along those lines.

In the past, I worked with Louisville’s Civic Data Alliance volunteer code brigade on projects like this:

Open Data Day

Open Data EventsMarch 4 2017 was “International Open Data Day.” Hundreds of cities around the world held hackathons and other events to celebrate, to educate, and to serve.

Open Data is a philosophy that information should be available at no cost. Government data, being underwritten through taxes, belongs to the American people (at least in theory). Downloadable/accessible datasets for crimes, parks, restaurant health inspection scores, and similar information can be used to help everyone.

The Louisville government is at the forefront of open data. The data.louisvilleky.gov website has hundreds of datasets free for public use in a variety of formats (shapefile, json, csv, and more).

Public Safety

In Louisville, we chose “public safety” as our hackathon theme. Volunteer hackers could work on whatever project they’d like, of course, but event captains (Becky Steele and Margeaux Spring) arranged for representatives from the police department and other areas of government to share their needs and offer advice.

The hackathon was held at LouieLab, a dedicated space for government and the people to work together on projects.

Forty to fifty volunteers worked on projects all day (detailed blog about the projects here).

Public Safety Hackathon

Our volunteers from 2017; look at last year’s team here.

My Work

I worked on two projects, and also floated around a bit helping teams as needed.

I wrote my first Alexa Skill! The Amazon Echo / Amazon Dot has a speech interface, so people can access the internet by voice alone.

In the News

The event was covered here:

and blogged about here:

Get Involved

The Civic Data Alliance will host another hackathon for the National Day of Civic Hacking, and will ramp up to monthly public meetings and hackathons once per quarter.

Join the meetup group and the slack team.