Pinax 0.7.3 Made Available Once Again

You want 0.9.x

This page is being kept available for historical reasons, however if you want a Pinax social project, you probably want Stackato’s github of pinax-social-project.

This Pinax project does not represent my own creation in any way. This webpage is intended to provide something useful that is well nigh impossible to track down on the web.

This page assumes that you know what Django, “the Web Framework for Perfectionists with Deadlines,” and Pinax are, and that you know basically how to use them. If you want to read documentation on these projects, that’s fine; the Django tutorial is here, the Django book is here, and Pinax documentation is here. For mailing list support, there is the django-users mailing list and the pinax-users mailing list.

This older version of Pinax, Pinax 0.7.3, is made available for the simple reason that I wanted to make a social network, and the 1.0.0 hot snazzy new pinax-social project is a stub with only one real page, with “lorem ipsum” instead of real content. In other words, Pinax 0.7.3 provides a real social network, while Pinax 1.0.0 presents a stub as a social network. Patrick Oltman said in response to a “How can I build tribes social network-style under 1.0.0, “We have made Pinax much more modular. Pinax itself is more of an ecosystem of reusable apps, starter projects, and themes. We should probably build a proper social starter project but am curious as to what specific features you’d be interested in having in it.” I answered, “Well, the same or better for the 0.7 starter project would be fantastic.”

Wherever things stand, Pinax 0.7.x provided a real, fully working social network as a starter project, and as best I can tell, Pinax 1.0.0 says, “Here are a bunch of Lego blocks; you can build whatever you want.” But for now at least, they have discontinued the pre-built, fully functioning social network. We may be free to build a social network from the modular building blocks: but a prebuilt social project appears to be off the agenda.

You can download the 0.7.3 bundle from

From there, you can:

  • easy_install pip, if pip is not installed.
  • pip install virtualenv.
  • virtualenv ~/social-environment.
  • source ~/social-environment/bin/activate.
  • pinax-admin clone_project social_project my_social_project, (or download a branded and themed social project from
  • pip install gnunicorn.
  • Change directory to my_social_project or whatever you named your project.
  • Put 'gunicorn,' under INSTALLED_APPS in
  • run a python syncdb (if you used the existing project, deleting clay/dev.db first so you can set the administrative user first), and finally:
  • run python run_gunicorn to run the server.

I am not positive of these instructions; they are as I best remember as posted from a machine that won’t play nice with Pinax. However, they do outline to a Django/Pinax user what needs to be done. If you notice a flaw in these instructions, please contact me immediately.

Download Pinax-0.7.3-bundle.tar.gz.

A Strange Picture

Read it on Kindle for $4!

As I walked through the gallery, I immediately stopped when I saw one painting. As I stopped and looked at it, I became more and more deeply puzzled. I’m not sure how to describe the picture.

It was a picture of a city, viewed from a high vantage point. It was a very beautiful city, with houses and towers and streets and parks. As I stood there, I thought for a moment that I heard the sound of children playing—and I looked, but I was the only one present.

This made all the more puzzling the fact that it was a disturbing picture—chilling even. It was not disturbing in the sense that a picture of the Crucifixion is disturbing, where the very beauty is what makes it disturbing. I tried to see what part might be causing it, and met frustration. It seemed that the beauty was itself what was wrong—but that couldn’t be right, because when I looked more closely I saw that the city was even more beautiful than I had imagined. The best way I could explain it to myself was that the ugliness of the picture could not exist except for an inestimable beauty. It was like an unflattering picture of an attractive friend—you can see your friend’s good looks, but the picture shows your friend in an ugly way. You have to fight the picture to really see your friend’s beauty—and I realized that I was fighting the picture to see the city’s real beauty. It was a shallow picture of something profound, and it was perverse. An artist who paints a picture helps you to see through his eyes—most help you to see a beauty that you could not see if you were standing in the same spot and looking. This was like looking at a mountaintop through a pair of eyes that were blind, with a blindness far more terrible, far more crippling, than any blindness that is merely physical. I stepped back in nausea.

I leaned against a pillar for support, and my eyes fell to the bottom of the frame. I glanced on the picture’s title: Porn.


A Picture of Evil

The Spectacles


Tinkering With Perl

Table of Contents

Most books you will find on Perl or any other programming language, are books intended to be a one-size-fits-all — or, at least, that’s how they’re advertised. This book does not attempt or pretend to be appropriate to most users; instead, I am trying to do one thing well.

Well, what am I trying to do? Let me first tell what I am not trying to do:

  • I am not trying to make a book that will be helpful to experienced programmers who want to pick up Perl.
  • I am not trying to make a book that will treat Perl in depth, or for that matter even touch many of the language’s strongest points.
  • I am not trying to make a book that will make a novice programmer into an expert programmer overnight.
  • I am not trying to introduce most principles of good software engineering.
  • I am not trying to make a book that promises quick results overnight; I am not trying to make a book that will quickly tell you how to get such-and-such done.

Well, if I am not trying to do all of that, then what am I trying todo?

I wrote this because trying to do this: create a book that would help my brothers learn to tinker.

I first tried to start my brothers straight off with Java. And Java is a ood language — it might have been better for them to know than Perl, and I think it would be a good second language to teach, when they are ready to mature, so that they can produce high quality software. But to learn all of those principles all at once is a heavy load, and one which can be confusing. I was telling them very good things, but I was boring them.

Then I began to think about how I first began to program. I first began to tinker in middle school with BASIC, on Apple ][ series computers. I wrote spaghetti code laced with gotos and all sorts of other things I would shudder to do now. I did not then learn to be a good programmer — at all. But I did learn to be a tinkerer, to play around and explore and put things together. It has been said that education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. That experience lit my fire; it started the curiosity and enjoyment that later caused me to become a more serious programmer.

This book is not an attempt to immediately achieve the end result of a good programmer. It has a goal which might be called more modest, but which might be called much more ambitious: lighting a fire. Once the fire is lit, it can be tended and carefully pruned; there will be plenty of time for the channeling and discipline necessary to let the fire achieve truly great things. I am not trying to do everything; I am trying, for now, to do just one thing. And do it reasonably well.

Chapter Zero: Preliminaries
Unix preliminaries
Running your programs

Chapter One: Fundamentals
Assignment of variables
Assignment of scalars
Assignment of lists
Assignment of hashes
Input and output
Flow control
Conditional clauses
If-then-else chains
Foreach loops
While loops
For loops
Subroutines and functions

Chapter two: Sample programs
Friends and pets
Running average

Chapter three: Debugging
Common types of bugs
Syntax errors
Forgotten semicolon
Single and double equals signs




This book has two prefaces: one for a guiding adult, and one for a sharp child who will be exploring the language.

Preface (for children)

When you were younger — perhaps even now — you played or play with Legos, or some other similar building toy. When I was a boy, I played with Legos a lot, and I was very sad when my elaborate collection was destroyed.

Growing up means changing in some ways, but there are also ways in which an adult remains forever a child. It is a truly sad thing when the child inside of a grown-up dies; something important has gone out.

I am a grown-up now, and I still play with Legos. Only now, I play with them in a different form. Instead of using Legos that you can see, I use Legos that you can only see with your mind — I have to use my imagination. I play with these Legos when I program.

When you are holding Legos in your hand, you have in your head an idea of what you want to build. And you start putting the little bricks together, piece by piece, until you have built the thing you’ve imagined in your head. One little brick is very small and very simple — but there are ways to put them together, and if you put things together the right way, you can do some amazing things.

It is the same way with programming. This book will show you some of the little bricks we have, and then look at ways to put them together. It is my hope that you will begin to tinker — see how you can put things together, see what works, what doesn’t work. Then maybe you will imagine things, and see if you can build them out of these programming bricks.

There are many things to learn in programming, and this is only a beginning. But I hope that I may be able to help you begin to explore, and discover what it can be like to program.

Preface (for adults)

Most books you will find on Perl or any other programming language, are books intended to be a one-size-fits-all — or, at least, that’s how they’re advertised. This book does not attempt or pretend to be appropriate to most users; instead, I am trying to do one thing well.

Well, what am I trying to do? Let me first tell what I am not trying to do:

  • I am not trying to make a book that will be helpful to experienced programmers who want to pick up Perl.
  • I am not trying to make a book that will treat Perl in depth, or for that matter even touch many of the language’s strongest points.
  • I am not trying to make a book that will make a novice programmer into an expert programmer overnight.
  • I am not trying to introduce most principles of good software engineering.
  • I am not trying to make a book that promises quick results overnight; I am not trying to make a book that will quickly tell you how to get such-and-such done.

Well, if I am not trying to do all of that, then what am I trying to do?

I am trying to do this: create a book that will help my twelve year old twin brothers learn to tinker.

I first tried to start my little brothers straight off with Java. And Java is a good language — it will probably be better for them to know than Perl, and I think it would be a good second language to teach, when they are ready to mature, so that they can produce high quality software. But to learn all of those principles all at once is a heavy load, and one which can be confusing. I was telling them very good things, but I was boring them.

Then I began to think about how I first began to program. I first began to tinker in middle school with BASIC, on Apple ][ series computers. I wrote spaghetti code laced with gotos and all sorts of other things I would shudder to do now. I did not then learn to be a good programmer — at all. But I did learn to be a tinkerer, to play around and explore and put things together. It has been said that education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. That experience lit my fire; it started the curiosity and enjoyment that later caused me to become a real programmer.

This book is not an attempt to immediately achieve the end result of a good programmer in all regards. It has a goal which might be called more modest, but which I believe is ultimately more important: that of lighting the child’s fire. Once the fire is lit, it can be tended and carefully pruned; there will be plenty of time for the channeling and discipline necessary to let the fire achieve truly great things. I am not trying to do everything; I am trying, for now, to do one thing well.

CJS Hayward, 7-16-98

P.S. There are some intentional inaccuracies. This is because a fully technical treatment of the issues involved would, I believe, needlessly confuse children. Some parts are oversimplified; I intend them to be overridden by more nuanced treatments when an appropriate level of intellectual maturity is reached.

Some preliminaries

Here, we aren’t (for the most part) really talking about Perl; we’re talking about some basics that need to be done in order to use Perl. I will restrict my attention to unix machines. If you use another machine, you will have to read the documentation on your machine.

See also:

Unix preliminaries

Unix preliminaries

Here we will discuss directories, files, editors, permissions, and the famous shebang notation.

See also:

Preliminaries in generalDirectoriesFilesEditorsShebangPermissions


Directories in Unix are the same as folders on other machines. They’re a place to keep files.

There are four basic commands you need to know about directories: pwd, cd, mkdir, and ls.

Directories are stored heirarchically. This means that there’s a top level directory, which contains some directories, and each of those directories may contain some files and some directories, and so on. The full name of a direcory is something like this:


The slashes ('/') tell where we are. The beginning slash indicates the root directory, the top directory of all; home indicates that I’m in the home direcotory in the root directory, jhayward indicates that I am in the directory called jhayward in the home directory (which is my directory to do stuff in), and so on and so forth.

You may refer to a file or directory by its absolute or relative pathname. If you specify its absolute pathname, you give the full path, all the way from the root directory down to where you are now. If you give a relative path, you tell where it is relative to where you are now. The file I am now editing has absolute pathname:


and relative pathname:


from where I am now.

The directory .., in a given directory, is the directory one level up. So the directory


is the same as the directory


See also:



pwd is a Unix command that means print working directory. It prints the directory you’re in now. If you’re logged in to a Unix machine, why don’t you type pwd (and hit return) to see what happens?

You can use pwd to see where you are; make sure you’re in the right directory.

See also:

Unix preliminariesDirectoriescdmkdir


cd is a Unix command which means change directory. It changes the directory you are in to another one.

In general, you can type:

cd pathname

where pathname is the absolute or relative pathname (as discussed before) of the directory. For example, to go to the parent directory (the directory one level above) for your current working directory, you can type:

cd ..

What do you think will be the result of typing in the following commands:

cd ..

Why don’t you type them in, and see what happens?

Finally, as a special case, if you type


without anything else after it, it will take you to your home directory. Your home directory is the directory you are given on the computer to do things in.

See also:

Unix preliminariesDirectoriespwdmkdir


mkdir is the command to make a directory. We will probably be making files as we tinker; let’s create a directory for those files.

First, go to your home directory:


Then make a directory — say, one called tinkering.

mkdir tinkering

Now, we should go into that directory before doing most of the other things suggested in this book. So go into that directory:

cd tinkering

Remember to go to that directory before each time you start reading this book. If you’re not sure what directory you’re in, you can always type


to find out what directory you’re in. From any place in the system, you can type in the following to go to your tinkering directory:

cd tinkering

Now we’re ready to talk about files and editors.

See also:

Unix preliminariesDirectoriespwdcdls


ls is the Unix command to list the files in a directory. To see what files and directories are in your current directory, type:


You may not see anything — if you are following this book in order, you should be in an empty directory. Keep this command in mind, though; it should come in handy in the future.

See also:

Unix preliminariesDirectoriespwdcdmkdirFilesEditors


A directory is a place to keep things on a computer; a file is what sort of thing you actually keep. We are going to be interested in creating, and modifying, Perl programs.

A file should have a name consisting of letters, numbers, and/or underscores. Perl programs should end by having “.pl” added to the end. Here are some examples of good filenames:

Each file (of the sort we’re working with) will hold one program, and (for now) each program will be stored in one file. So a file is where you store a program. You will create these programs with editors, and then make them usable by setting the permissions.

See also:

Unix preliminariesDirectorieslsEditorsPermissions


Editors are programs that can be used to create and change files. In our case, we are interested in text editors, which are specifically for editing filies that contain text.

There are a number of different editors, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses. For now, I will have you use an easy-to-use editor called joe.

See also:

Unix preliminariesFilesjoe


joe is the name of an easy to use editor for Unix systems. To use joe to create a file called, type:


You will now see a screen that is mostly blank. Type control-K and then 'H' to get a help screen. That will bring up on the screen most of the commands you need to know to edit files.

We are going to create our very own program. Type in the following, exactly as you see it on the screen:


print "Hello world!\n";

Then type control-K and X to save the file. It will ask you what file to save it as; type:

Keep reading to find out how to run the program.

See also:

Unix preliminariesFilesEditorsShebangPermissions

ShebangIn Unix, the characters “#!” at the beginning of a file tell the computer what program to use to figure out what to do with it. This is referred to as the shebang notation.

In order to tell the computer that your files are Perl programs, you should put the following line at the beginning of every Perl program, exactly as it is typed here:

#!/usr/local/bin/perl -w


#!/usr/bin/perl -w

(Which one should you use? One of them will work, and the other won’t. Try it.)

If you don’t do that, the computer will be very confused when you tell it to run your programs.

See also:

Unix preliminariesFilesEditorsPermissions


When you create a text file, Unix doesn’t normally expect that you’re going to run it like a program. So, you have to tell it that you’re giving yourself and perhaps others permission to run them as programs.

This is accomplished with the chmod command.

See also:

Unix preliminariesFileschmod


chmod is the Unix command used to set permissions, including telling the computer that a file can be run as a program.

To make it so that everybody can use a program, type:

chmod 755 filename

where filename is the name of the file, which should be something like “”.

Alternately, to make it so that only you can use the program, type:

chmod 700 filename

You must do this before you can run a program. If you’ve been following along this book in order, please type:

chmod 755

And now, you’re ready to run it!

See also:


Running your programs

If you’ve been following along the text in order, you have created a program, and made it executable (runnable). Now, you can run it:

What happened? Did it print out, “Hello, world?” If so, great! If not, you probably made a little mistake somewhere — as has every programmer, great or small — and you need to go back and see what happened.

See also:

Unix preliminariesFilesShebangPermissions


This chapter introduces the basic building blocks you will combine and fit together to make programs.


When you are writing a program, you are writing for people as well as computers. Most of the time, after a program is written, you or someone else will want to make changes — to add new features, or to fix bugs. There is a joke which my father likes to tell:

A construction worker, at lunch break, opens his lunchbox, and says, “Salami again! I hate bologna!”

Then, the next day, he says, “I wonder what I have today.” He opens his lunchbox, and says, “Bologna again? I hate bologna!”

This continues for a week. Finally, one of his coworkers says, “Why don’t you ask your wife to give you something else for lunch? That way, you wouldn’t have to have bologna all the time.”

The construction worker says, “Oh, I don’t have a wife. I make my own lunches!”

In this joke, the construction worker eats the sandwiches he hates because that’s what he made earlier. This joke is a lot like programming. The construction worker is like a programmer, and the yucky bologna sandwiches are programs that don’t have very many little notes, in English, to explain things. It can be very difficult, even for experienced programmers, to figure out or remember what a program is doing if it doesn’t have notes to explain things. These little notes are called comments, and you can say anything you like in a comment. (But we generally use comments to explain programs.)

Comments are done differently in different computer languages, but there is some feature that tells the computer what is a comment and what is the rest of the program. In perl, a comment begins with a hash mark ('#'), and continues to the end of the line. If you want to make a comment that uses more than one line, put a hash mark on a second line. Here are some examples of what is and is not a comment:

# This is a comment.

# This is a comment, which
# uses more than one line.

# This is a comment, too.  It uses blank lines to make
# things better to look at.

                # This is a comment which begins in the
		# middle of a line.  You can put a
		# comment to the right of something 
		# else, to explain what it does.

This is not a comment.

The comment begins #here.

See also:



In school, you may have used variables to refer to different numbers. The variables x could be 3, or 4, or 0, or -9.5. One variable can mean any of several different numbers. (But it can only mean one thing at a time.)

In computer programming, we use variables to represent all sorts of different things. In Perl, there are three different types of variables we will use: scalars, lists, and hashes. The names sound a little funny, but don’t let that scare you.

See also:

ScalarsListsHashesAssignment of variables in general


A scalar is a variable that can either refer to a number, or some text, which is called a string. A string is usually enclosed in quotes, like this:

"This is a string."

Note that the quotes are not actually part of the string; they are put around the string to tell when the string begins and ends.

You can give a variable almost any name that you can make from letters, numbers, and underscores ('_'). Furthermore, you must put a dollar sign ('$') before a scalar to tell Perl that it is a scalar.

In general, it is a good idea to have a variable name consist of a few words that describe what the variable tells you. There are a couple of ways people have of putting words together. (You have to do something to tell when one word ends and the next begins, because itishardtoreadwhenyoucan’tseparatewords.) One way is to capitalize the first letter of each word; another is to separate words using underscores ('_'). It doesn’t matter which way you do it, but you should pick one way and stick with it. It is very important that you spell a variable exactly the same way every time you use it; otherwise, the computer will think you are using different variables. Here are some examples of good variable names:


Or, if you prefer underscores, then you can do it this way:


In this book, I will always do it the first way.

See also:

VariablesListsHashesAssignment of variables in generalAssignment of scalarsArithmetic


A list is a variable that lets you keep track of several things. If you were shopping for groceries, you’d keep a list: apples, ketchup, bread, sausage, and so on. A list is a variable that keeps track of several things, instead of just one. A list is named like a scalar, but instead of having a dollar sign ('$') in front of the name, we place an atgry ('@'). A good name for a list would be something like:


See also:

Variables in generalScalarsHashesAssignment of variables in generalAssignment of lists


Hashes are a little more complicated than either lists or scalars, but they are very useful.

Let’s say that you know some people, and you want to keep track of what kind of pets they have. Suppose that you know John, Sue, and Mary. Let’s also suppose that John has a dog, Sue has a cat, and Mary has a goldfish. What would be good would be a single variable, called Pet: if you plugged in John, you would get dog; if you plugged in Sue, you would get cat; if you plugged in Mary, you would get goldfish.

A hash is a variable that can do that. We refer to a hash in slightly different ways, depending on what you want to do. If you refer to the whole hash, you put a percent sign ('%') in front of the hash. So the hash with the pets might be:


But if you want to refer to a specific pet — say, you want to find out what pet Mary has — you would do it like this:


(We put the “Mary” in quotes, because it is a string, and the computer will get confused if it sees the letters M, a, r, and y all by themselves.)The expression


should be read as, “Mary’s pet”.

See also:

Variables in generalScalarsListsAssignment of variablesAssignment of hashes


Let’s say that you are going to play at a friend’s house. What you might do, could be explained as a list of activities:

Ask your parents for permission to visit your friend.
Call your friend’s house, and ask permission to come over.
Finish getting dressed.
Walk over to your friend’s house.
Take chewing gumm off of your shoe.
Greet your friend.
Play with your friend.
Eat a snack.
Play some more.
Say goodbye.
Walk home.
Take off your shoes.

What we have done here, is to break one bigger activity (visiting your activity) into a sequence of smaller activities. Another way of putting it is that we are explaining how to visit your friend by saying what smaller things are necessary to visit your friend.

When you are programming a computer, you do the same thing. The little commands are called statements. A statement is a command that tells a computer to do something small, as a part of doing something larger. (Saying to walk to your friend’s house, when you are explaining how to visit your friend, is like a statement.)

As we work further, we will learn more about different kinds of statements. But first, let’s make sure that we understand what a statement is: a statement is an individual command you give to the computer, as part of telling it how to do something. In the description of how to visit a friend’s house, each line, like “Greet your friend,” or “Remove chewing gum from your shoe,” is like a statement. The whole list, all together, is like a program.

One final note about statements: In English, you usually end a sentence with a period ('.'). In Perl and many other computer languages, you end most statements with a semicolon (';'). For example:

This sentence ends like a statement;

See also:

Assignment of variablesInput and outputBlocksIf-thenLoopsSubroutines

Assignment of variablesIn math class, with a story problem, your teacher might have said something like this: “Suppose we have five cats…” What is going on here is that we have some number of cats, and we are saying that the number of cats is specifically equal to five.

Another way of saying what the teacher said is,

Let the number of cats be five.

We can use a variable for the number of cats. Let’s put a variable in there:

Let NumberOfCats be five.

Or, to say it a little differently,

Let NumberOfCats equal five.

With computers, we drop the ‘let’, even though it’s understood.

NumberOfCats equals five.

(Now, we are not simply claiming that the number of cats equals five. We are commanding that it be so.)

Finally, in Perl, we use an equals sign ('=') when we mean “equals”, and we use numerals: we write '5' instead of “five”. And remember — most statements end with a semicolon, and we put a dollar sign ('$') in front of scalars. So let’s change the period into a semicolon, and put a dollar sign in front of the variable:

$NumberOfCats = 5;

And that’s how we do it in Perl. We have just assigned the variable NumberOfCats a value of five.

We can also assign a variable to other things. For example, if we know the number of cats, and we know the total number of cats and dogs, we can find out the number of dogs by subtracting. If we have thirteen cats and dogs total, and five cats, then here is how we can get the number of dogs:

$NumberOfCats = 5;
$NumberOfCatsAndDogs = 13;
$NumberOfDogs = $NumberOfCatsAndDogs - $NumberOfCats;

The computer has done the subtracting for you, and figured out the answer.

Note: In an assignment, there is one variable on the left side of the equals sign, which is changed. Nothing on the right side (unless it is also on the left side, which will be discussed later) is changed.

See also:

StatementsAssignment of scalarsAssignment of listsArithmeticFunctions

Assignment of scalars

There are a few ways to assign a scalar. You can assign a scalar to a given value:

$NumberOfCats = 5;
$MyCatsName = "Zappy";

Or you can assign one variable using another:

$NumberOfNoses = $NumberOfPeople;

This tells the computer that the number of noses is the same as the number of people. Or, to put it another way, it takes the value stored in the variable NumberOfPeople, and stores a copy of it in $NumberOfNoses.

There are several things that you can do with a string. One useful thing you can do is concatenate two strings. For example, if you concatenate the strings “My cat’s name” and ” is Zappy.”, you get, “My cat’s name is Zappy.”

Did you notice the space between the quotation mark and the “is”? That space is important. Computers don’t know when you should add a space to separate words. If you concatenate “My cat’s name” and “is Zappy.” without the extra space, it would come out, “My cat’s nameis Zappy.”

In Perl, you can concatenate two strings by putting a period ('.') between them. For example, you could get the whole sentence like so:

$WholeSentence = "My cat's name" . " is Zappy.";

Or, to do it differently,

$FirstPartOfSentence = "My cat's name";
$SecondPartOfSentence = "is Zappy.";
$WholeSentence = $FirstPartOfSentence . " " . $SecondPartOfSentence;

Do you see what I did here? I didn’t have a space before “is” in SecondPartOfSentence, but I put another space in between the two parts. There were three strings here: $FirstPartOfSentence, ” ” (a string consisting of only a space), and $SecondPartOfSentence. I concatenated all of them together, just as you add 3 + 1 + 2 to get 6. Putting in an extra space can come in handy, when you want to make text look good.

There are other ways to assign scalars, and they will be covered when we discuss arithmetic and functions.

See also:

Variables in generalScalarsStatementsAssignment of variables in generalArithmeticAssignment of listsAssignment of hashesFunctions


Perl, like many languages, lets you do arithmetic with numbers. You can have a statement like

$Average = ($FirstNumber + $SecondNumber + $ThirdNumber) / 3;

and the computer will do the arithmetic for you. It will add the three numbers, and divide the result by three. The result is stored in Average.

You may have noticed that I had parentheses — why are they necessary? This has to do with something called order of operations. Let’s say we want to figure out what 3 * 4 + 5 equals. Well, what do you do first — multiply 3 by four, or add 4 and 5? If you multiply first, then 3 * 4 = 12, so you have 12 + 5, or 17. So the expression equals 17. But what if you add first? Then 4 + 5 = 9, and 3 * 9 = 27, so we have 27. The number you get depends what you do first.

Parentheses are a way to tell the computer what to do first. Everything inside a pair of parentheses is calculated before everything outside of the pair of parentheses. Everything on an inside pair of parentheses is calculated before things on an outside pair of parentheses. So, for example, if we have (((3 * 4) + 6) / 9), that means that we first multiply 3 * 4 = 12, to get ((12 + 6) / 9); then we add 12 + 6 = 18, so we get (18 / 9), and then we divide 18 / 9 = 2, so we get a result of 2.

At least for now, you should always use parentheses to tell the computer what it should do first. Use parentheses, so that the computer knows exactly what order you want it to do things in.

Two notes:

First, if you ask it to do something that’s going to give a fraction (like “What is five divided by three?”), it will give a decimal for an answer. Usually, if there is a decimal involved in a calculation, the result will be a decimal. (With decimals, an answer will usually be a little more or a little less than it should be. That is a kind of error that happens with computers.)

Second, you can’t divide by zero. If you try to divide by zero, your program will stop running. It is good practice, before dividing by a variable, to make sure that it is not zero (see if-then).

It is generally good, when doing arithmetic calculations, to break them into as many small steps as possible. It is better to have several simple calculations than one really long and confusing one.

See also:

ScalarsAssignment of scalarsConditional clausesIf-then

Assignment of lists

There are a few ways to assign a list. One way is like this:

@MyFriends = ("John", "Susan", "Mary");

The list is assigned to something described by a left parenthesis ('('), some scalars separated by commas (','), a right parenthesis (')'), and then the semicolon (';'). You can use variables and numbers as well as just strings, like this:

@Numbers = ($LastNumber, 9);

You can also put everything that’s in one list, into another list. For example, you might write:

@PeopleIKnow = (@MyFamily, @MyFriends, "Jane", "Bob");

Then the list of people you know includes everybody in the lists of your family and friends, plus Jane and Bob.

One thing you will do often is to add one element to a list. Suppose you have a new friend named Fred, and you want to add him to your list of friends. You could do it this way:

@MyFriends = (@MyFriends, "Fred");

Now, I would like to answer a question you may have == how can MyFriends be equal to itself plus “Fred” added on to the end? That is like saying that a number equals itself plus one.

The answer is that the statement should be read like this: “Let the new value of MyFriends equal the old value of MyFriends, with “Fred” added at the end. It is possible, and useful at times, to use one variable on both sides of the equals sign ('=') in this way.

See also:

Variables in generalListsStatementsAssignment of variables in generalAssignment of scalarsAssignment of hashesFunctions

Assignment of hashes

Hashes may be assigned one of two ways: one of which remembles a scalar, and the other of which is like the assignment of a list.

Recall the earlier example where John, Sue, and Mary have a dog, a cat, and a goldfish respectively. The easiest way, and the one you should probably use most of the time (until you’ve outgrown this book), is to say, “John’s pet is a dog. Sue’s pet is a cat. Mary’s pet is a goldfish.” In Perl, we write it this way:

$Pet{"John"} = "dog";
$Pet{"Sue"} = "cat";
$Pet{"Mary"} = "goldfish";

Remember that $Pet{“John”} should be read as “John’s pet.” This means that the whole statement should be read, “Let John’s pet be a dog.” Even though the computer statement looks rather funny, it really says something that is fairly close to English.

The second way makes a bunch of assignments at once — it is useful when you want to create a hash from scratch. Creating the same hash this way would look like this:

%Pet = ("John" => "dog",
	"Sue"  => "cat",
	"Mary" => "goldfish");

Now, did you notice that the statement was broken over a few lines? It’s OK to split a statement over several lines and put spaces in to format it; indeed, it is good to do so. It makes the code more readable. This is called spacing.

See also:

Variables in generalHashesStatementsAssignment of variables in generalAssignment of scalarsAssignment of listsFunctions

Input and output

One important thing for programs to be able to do, is to be able to pay attention to what people say to them, and say things to people.

There are varying ways that programs do this; here, I will address a couple of the simpler ways. They both involve the keyboard. One reads a line in from the keyboard to a variable — that is, it reads in everything the user types, until he hits return — and the other prints out some specific text.

See also:



The way I’m going to teach to do input, is as follows: Say that you want to input some line of text from the user, and store the result in the variable $UserResponse. The following two lines will accomplish that:

$UserResponse = <>;
chomp $UserResponse;

The first line reads a line into $UserResponse. But that includes the return character at the end of the line, which we generally don’t need. The second line takes the extra character off.

In general, you should use something like these two lines when you want to input a line from the user.

See also:

StatementsScalarsInput and OutputOutput


The print statement is useful for output. Let me give an example of a very famous program:

print "Hello, world!\n";

The first line is a line you should put at the beginning of every Perl program you write. The second line prints, “Hello, world!” It is the second line we are studying.

What’s that funny “\n”? What does it mean? Well, Perl doesn’t know by itself when a line should end. So, we put “\n” at the end of each line, to tell it to go to the next line.

Here is another example of some code using print:

print "The average is " . $Average . ".\n";

Now, what does that all mean?

Remember that, earlier, when we talked about scalars, we could concatenate two strings by putting a period ('.') between them. This takes three strings: “The average is “, $Average, and “.\n”, and sticks them all together. Let’s say that $Average is 4.5. Then the result will look like:

The average is 4.5.

The “.” in “.\n” is just a period for the end of the sentence, and “\n” means the end of line.

See also:

StatementsScalarsInput and outputInput

Flow control

In many programming languages, there is a very powerful kind of statement called the goto statement. Quite often in programming, you are at one part of your code, the list of instructions, and you need to be somewhere else. So programmers would just put a goto in, and voila! you were at that other part of the program.

Well, gotos are very powerful, but they have a bit of a problem with them. If you just use gotos in the way that comes most naturally, the result is something called spaghetti code: the program just goes in and out in one tangled mess that’s impossible to understand, just like spaghetti. This results in code that’s full of bugs, that’s impossible to fix.

Therefore, it is in most cases strongly discouraged to use gotos. Gotos are considered hazardous to your health, and many programmers consider ‘goto’ to almost be a dirty word.

But wait. A goto is very powerful. If we’re going to say “no gotos”, shouldn’t there be something else to replace them?

And the answer, fortunately, is “Yes.” There are other ways to do almost anything that you would do with a goto — but do it better, and more cleanly. These ways make things much easier to understand, and have less bugs. The bugs that do get in are easier to fix.

There are two basic kinds of structures, that can do almost all of the work done with gotos — but do it much better. These two structures are called conditionals and loops, and we will explore them. There are also subroutines and functions, which will be covered later, and are also very powerful.

See also:

StatementsBlocksIf-thenIf-then-elseIf-then-else chainsLoopsForeach loopsWhile loopsFor loops

BlocksFor both conditionals and loops, it is useful to think of a cluster of statements taken together. A block of code begins with a left curly brace ('{'), and ends with a right curly brace ('}'). It should also be indented (have a margin on the left) by two to four spaces. It doesn’t matter how far you indent, but you should indent to the same depth most of the time. Here are a few statements by themselves:

print "Type something in: "; # The lack of a \n is intentional, so that the
                             # cursor stays on the same line.
$UserInput = <>;
chomp $UserInput;
print "You typed in " . $UserInput . ".\n";

Here is that same group of statements in a block:

    print "Type something in: "; # The lack of a \n is intentional, so that
				 # the cursor stays on the same line.
    $UserInput = <>;
    chomp $UserInput;
    print "You typed in " . $UserInput . ".\n";

In short, to make a block, you put a left curly brace before it, type in the statements in the block, and close with a right curly brace. The whole thing should be indented four spaces.

See also:

StatementsFlow controlIf-thenIf-then-elseIf-then-else chainsLoopsForeach loopsWhile loopsFor loopsFunctions

Conditional clauses

A conditional clause is something that is either true or false. The computer needs to be able to decide if something is true or false.

There are a number of different types of conditional clauses. The one which I will cover here, to get started with, is equals. An expression like:

($UserResponse == "y")

is an example of a conditional clause.

You can build up conditional clauses by using and, or, and not, as well as parentheses. Here is an example of a more complicated clause:

(($MyPet == "dog") || ($MyPet == "cat"))

You should always use lots of parentheses with conditionals, just like you should use parentheses in arithmetic. Furthermore, the parentheses have more or less the same meaning.

Now, I can see a question. Why did I use two equals signs instead of one? The answer is that Perl uses one equals sign for assignment, and two equals signs for conditionals. If you use one equals sign, Perl will think you are doing an assignment. For example, if you type:

($UserResponse = "y")

what that will do is assign $UserResponse the value “y”, instead of checking to see if $UserResponse is already “y”. This is a very easy mistake to make; check for this when your program seems not to work.

If-then clauses, and loops, do different things depending on whether something is true. A conditional clause is something that can be true or false, which Perl can use to decide if something is true, and therefore run if-thens and loops.

Scalars can also serve as conditional clauses. A scalar that has a value of 0, or that is an empty string (i.e. a string that doesn’t contain any characters, not even spaces — it would be represented as “”), is considered false. Any other scalar is considered true. In general, we use a 1 to represent true, and a 0 to represent false.

Note: Conditional clauses don’t have semicolons after them.

See also:

StatementsArithmeticFlow controlBlocksIf-thenIf-then-elseIf-then-else chains


Remember, back when we introduced statements, how we talked about going to a friend’s house? Let me reproduce the list of what to do:

Ask your parents for permission to visit your friend.
Call your friend’s house, and ask permission to come over.
Finish getting dressed.
Walk over to your friend’s house.
Take chewing gumm off of your shoe.
Greet your friend.
Play with your friend.
Eat a snack.
Play some more.
Say goodbye.
Walk home.
Take off your shoes.

Well, this list didn’t involve any decisions — and there are decisions involved. For example, you only continue over to your friend’s house if you get permission, right?

Let’s rewrite the list using if-then logic:

Ask your parents for permission to visit your friend.
If your parents give permission to visit your friend:
    Call your friend's house, and ask permission to come over.
    If your friend's parents give permission to come over:
	Finish getting dressed.
	Walk over to your friend's house.
	If you stepped on some chewing gum:
	    Take chewing gumm off of your shoe.
	Greet your friend.
	Play with your friend.
	Eat a snack.
	Play some more.
	Say goodbye.
	Walk home.
	Take off your shoes.

What we have here is a modified list of how to visit your friend, that only does things if they are appropriate — for example, it only goes over to your friend’s house if you have permission to go over.

The syntax in Perl for this sort of thing is as follows:

if (condition)
    code to execute if condition is true

“if” must be spelled exactly that way, with a lowercase 'i', and the curly braces put around the code to be executed. What Perl will do when it sees that, is see if the conditional clause is true, and if so, execute the block that’s inside the braces.

See also:

StatementsFlow controlBlocksConditional clausesIf-then-elseIf-then-else chains

If-then-elseSuppose that I want to do something in a programming language. Some pseudocode might be as follows:

if (I know how to do it)
    do it;
    try to find out how to do it;

There is one thing I want to do if the conditional clause is true, and another thing to do if the conditional clause is false. And that is done with this exact syntax:

if (conditional clause)
    block of code to execute if the conditional clause is true
    block of code to execute if the conditional clause is false

See also:

StatementsArithmeticFlow controlBlocksConditional clausesIf-thenIf-then-else chains

If-then-else chainsThere is one more step to be taken with if-then-else. That is demonstrated by the following segment of code:

if ($Pet == "dog")
    print "Arf, arf!\n";
elsif ($Pet == "cat")
    print "Purr, purr!\n";
elsif ($Pet == "goldfish")
    print "Splish, splash!\n";
    print "I don't know what sound the pet makes.\n";

Sometimes, you have more than two choices to deal with — there are more than two (or three) possibilities for a pet. An if-then-else chain is ideal for the following; the program checks if the first condition is true, and if the first condition is false, it checks if the second condition is true, and so on and so forth. The general syntax is:

if (first conditional clause)
    code to be executed
    if first conditional clause is true
elsif (second conditional clause)
    code to be executed if first
    conditional clause is false, but
    second conditional clause is true
elsif (last conditional clause)
    code to be executed if all but the
    last conditional clauses are false, but
    the last conditional clause is true
    code to be executed if none of the
    conditional clauses are true.

The final else is optional, but recommended.

See also:

StatementsArithmeticFlow controlBlocksConditional clausesIf-thenIf-then-else


A loop is what is executed when you want to run the same code for several different things. For example, here is some pseudocode to get bundled up in the winter:

while (there is more clothing to put on)
    Select another item of clothing to put on.
    Pick it up.
    Put it on.

There are different types of loops for different purposes.

See also:

StatementsFlow controlConditional clausesForeach loopsWhile loopsFor loops

Foreach loops

One useful kind of loop, does something to each element of a list. For example, here is how might might code getting bundled up to go outside in the winter to go sledding:

@WinterClothing = ("coat", "snowpants", "boots", "gloves", "scarf", "hat");
foreach $ArticleOfClothing (@WinterClothing)
    print "I'm putting on my $ArticleOfClothing.\n";

Before dissecting exactly how this loop works, let me show you what it does. It prints out:

I'm putting on my coat.
I'm putting on my snowpants.
I'm putting on my boots.
I'm putting on my gloves.
I'm putting on my scarf.
I'm putting on my hat.

There are a couple of things going on here.

First, we assign a list.

Then we go through the loop several times — each time, the variable $ArticleOfClothing is set to equal a different element of @WinterClothing, and the block of code is executed.

In that code, when Perl sees $ArticleOfClothing, it substitutes the value of $ArticleOfClothing (which may be “coat”, “snowpants”, etc.) for the name of the variable. So, the first time through, “I’m putting on my $ArticleOfClothing.\n” becomes “I’m putting on my coat.\n”, where “\n” tells Perl that that’s the end of the line.

Foreach loops should be used when you want to do something with every element of a list.

See also:

StatementsListsFlow controlBlocksLoopsWhile loopsFor loops

While loopsA while loop is a loop used to run a block of code while a condition is true. For example:

$ShouldContinue = "y";
$NumberOfTimesThroughLoop = 0;
while (not($ShouldContinue == "n"))
    if ($NumberOfTimesThroughLoop == 1)
	print "This loop has been executed $NumberOfTimesThroughLoop time.\n";
	print "This loop has been executed $NumberOfTimesThroughLoop times.\n";
    print "Go through the loop again(y/n)? ";
    $ShouldContinue = <>;
    chomp $ShouldContinue;

Now, let’s look at what this code does.

$ShouldContinue tells if the loop should continue. “n”, for no, means to stop; anything else means to continue. So the loop says, “While we should continue”.

The variable $NumberOfTimesThroughLoop is initialized to 0 (set up to be equal to 0) before the loop begins. Then the first thing inside the loop, “++$NumberOfTimesThroughLoop;”, means to increase the value of $NumberOfTimesThroughLoop by one. In general, the expression:

++$variable name;

where variable name is the name of a “scalar” variable, means “Increase the value of variable name by one.”

Then we have a conditional. This conditional sees if it’s the first time through the loop. Why do we do that?

The statements inside the if clause (the block immediately following the if) and the else clause are almost identical — but there is an 's' after “time” in the else clause. This is so that, on the first time through, the program will print out:

This loop has been executed 1 time.

but on the second (third, fourth, etc.) time through, it will say something like:

This loop has been executed 2 times.

Then, after that, it asks the user if he wants to run through the loop again. After doing that, it reads a line of input into the variable $ShouldContinue — if the user types “y”, $ShouldContinue will contain a “y”, and if the user types “n”, $ShouldContinue will contain a “n”.

Then, after that, it checks if it should continue (the conditional clause right after the word “while”), and if it should, it executes the loop again.

See also:StatementsFlow controlBlocksConditional clausesIf-then-elseLoopsForeach loopsFor loops

For loops

A for loop is a special case of a while loop, which is commonly used for doing something a certain number of times.

Let’s suppose that I wanted to print “Hello, world!” ten times. I could just have ten lines like so:

print "Hello, world!\n";
print "Hello, world!\n";
print "Hello, world!\n";
print "Hello, world!\n";
print "Hello, world!\n";
print "Hello, world!\n";
print "Hello, world!\n";
print "Hello, world!\n";

But what if I wanted to change the number — to five or to fifty? It would take a lot of editing.

There’s a better way to do it, though. I could have the computer count up to ten, and each time print out “Hello, world!”. If I did that, then changing it to five or fifty would only mean changing the number I have to count to.

Let me give some code to do that, and explain what it does.

for($CurrentLine = 0; $CurrentLine < 10; ++$CurrentLine)
    print "Hello, world!\n";

That’s all the code that it takes. And what if I wanted to print “Hello, world!” a thousand times? A very easy change — only change the 10 to 1000:

for($CurrentLine = 0; $CurrentLine < 1000; ++$CurrentLine)
    print "Hello, world!\n";

Now, let me explain what it does. Let’s look at the first line. It has the following format:

for(part one; part two; part three)

It has three parts, separated by semicolons (';'). Each part does something different.

The first part is run exactly once. It is used to set things up — in this case, to assign the scalar variable the value of zero.

For reasons that you will understand later when you program, you should have computers start counting at 0. So, instead of counting from 1 to 10, this counts from 0 to 9 — and still does it ten times.

The second part is the conditional clause that is tested each time you run through the loop. In this case, it makes an arithmetic assertion: that CurrentLine is less than 10. After running through the loop, the computer checks to see if the second part is still true — if it’s true, the computer runs through the loop one more time.

The third part is something the computer does each time, after running through the loop and before checking the conditional clause. In this case, it increments (adds one to) the value of $CurrentLine.

So, all together, we have the computer counting from 0 to 9, and each time printing out a “Hello world!” message.

See also:

StatementsScalarsAssignment of scalarsArithmeticFlow controlBlocksConditional clausesLoopsForeach loopsWhile loops

Subroutines and functions

When you learned to walk, it was a bit tough to learn — but once you had learned once, you learned a way of walking that would take you anywhere (within certain bounds), on any kind of surface (within other bounds). You had learned walking in general, and so you didn’t need to learn to walk each time you met something new.

For computers, there are many things you’ll want to do a number of different times, in a number of different places — but it’s really only one thing. With subroutines and functions, you can write miniature programs that do one thing — and then you have a new command that is available to you, taking only one line, whenever you want to do something.

Subroutines are powerful. Subroutines are good. Whenever you find yourself doing the same thing in more than one place, it is probably good to put it in its own subroutine.

See also:

VariablesStatementsFLow controlBlocksArgumentsSubroutinesFunctions

ArgumentsSome subroutines and functions need information to do their job. For example, you might have a subroutine to tell the price for so many apples, so many oranges, and so many bananas — but first you need to tell it how many apples, oranges, and bananas there are, so it can calculate them!

That is done by giving the subroutine or function some arguments. The way you use a subroutine/function is to give an ampersand (‘&’) before the name of the subroutine/function, then its name, and then a list of arguments. For example, if we used the subroutine I mentioned, you might invoke it like this:

&TellPrice($NumberOfApples, $NumberOfOranges, $NumberOfBananas);

We’ll see exactly how to write such a subroutine here.

See also:

VariablesScalarsListsFlow controlSubroutines and functionsSubroutinesFunctions


A subroutine is a miniature program that you can run from within your program. Earlier, we talked about a procedure that would tell a price for an amount of fruit. Here is how we write such a procedure. Before the procedure is used, we assume that there is some code that tells the price of the different kinds of fruit:

$PricePerApple = .25;
$PricePerOrange = .30;
$PricePerBanana = .20;

And here is the subroutine itself:

sub TellPrice()
    $NumberOfApples = shift(@_);
    $NumberOfOranges = shift(@_);
    $NumberOfBananas = shift(@_);
    @RemainingArguments = @_;
    $PriceForApples = $NumberOfApples * $PricePerApple;
    $PriceForOranges = $NumberOfOranges * $PricePerOrange;
    $PriceForBananas = $NumberOfBananas * $PricePerBanana;
    $TotalPrice = $PriceForApples + $PriceForOranges + $PriceForBananas;
    print "The total price for the fruit is $TotalPrice.\n";

Well, let’s look at it piece by piece:

    $NumberOfApples = shift(@_);
    $NumberOfOranges = shift(@_);
    $NumberOfBananas = shift(@_);
    @RemainingArguments = @_;

This part finds out what the arguments to the procedure are, and stores them in the appropriate variables. This should go at the beginning of the subroutine; the syntax for using the subroutine is:

&TellPrice($NumberOfApples, $NumberOfOranges, $NumberOfBananas);

The part of the subroutine that gets the arguments should be of the following form:

    $first argument = shift(@_);
    $second argument = shift(@_);
    $third argument = shift(@_);
    @RemainingArguments = @_;

where first argument, second argument, and so on are the names of the arguments in order.

After firuging out what the arguments are, the subroutine then does some arithmetic to figure out the total price, and prints it out.

One more thing… At the beginning of the program, you need to declare your subroutine, by having a line like this:

sub &TellPrice();

See also:

StatementsFlow controlBlocksSubroutines and functionsArgumentsFunctions


One kind of useful subroutine is one that does some calculations, or something like that, and gives a value as an answer. For example, suppose we wanted to be able to assign the total price to a variable in our fruit market example. This is what functions are for.

To use a function, we would do something like this:

$TotalPrice = &CalculatePrice($NumberOfApples, $NumberOfOranges,

And the CalculatePrice function is almost exactly the same as the TellPrice procedure. Here is its listing, with all of the changes in bold:

sub CalculatePrice()
    $NumberOfApples = shift(@_);
    $NumberOfOranges = shift(@_);
    $NumberOfBananas = shift(@_);
    @RemainingArguments = @_; 
    $PriceForApples = $NumberOfApples * $PricePerApple;
    $PriceForOranges = $NumberOfOranges * $PricePerOrange;
    $PriceForBananas = $NumberOfBananas * $PricePerBanana;
    $TotalPrice = $PriceForApples + $PriceForOranges + $PriceForBananas;
    return $TotalPrice;

Now, instead of printing out the result, the subroutine returns it. Now the part of the program that called it (above) will have the result plugged in where it was given.

Another very useful function can be used to get a yes or no answer from the user. This subroutine doesn’t itself tell the user what he’s supposed to answer yes or no about; that would be done just before calling this subroutine.

sub confirm()
    $UserAnswer = <>;  # Read in the user's answer.
    chomp $UserAnswer;
    if ((not($UserAnswer eq "n")) and # If it's not a yes or a no,
      (not($UserAnswer eq "y")) and
      (not($UserAnswer eq "N")) and
      (not($UserAnswer eq "Y")))
	while ((not($UserAnswer eq "n")) and # Keep going until we get a yes
	  (not($UserAnswer eq "y")) and      # or a no.
	  (not($UserAnswer eq "N")) and
	  (not($UserAnswer eq "Y")))
	    print "Please answer \"y\", for yes, or \"n\", for no.\n";
	    $UserAnswer = <>;
	    chomp $UserAnswer;
    # If we've gotten here, the user has given a yes or a no answer.
    return (($UserAnswer eq "Y") or ($UserAnswer eq "y"));

This procedure makes sure that the user types a y or n, then returns a conditional that says that the user said yes. So, for example, one could have the following segment of code:

print "Do you wish to continue (y/n)? ";
if (&confirm())
    print "Continuing...\n";
    print "Bye!\n";
    exit 0;

That segment of code asks the user if he wants to continue. If he says yes, then the program says “Continuing…”, and continues. If he says no, the program says “Bye!”, and exits.

That’s all of the bare bones rudiments of programming. Now we can move onward to looking at a few sample programs, and then begin tinkering!

See also:

StatementsVariablesFlow controlBlocksSubroutines and functionsArgumentsSubroutines

Sample programs

Here, we will look at a couple of sample programs, to get an idea of how they tick — how one might put the pieces together to make something. What I have done is a lot like showing you a number of Lego blocks all by themselves — here is a hint on how you might put them together.

We will look at two programs — one that keeps track of your friends and their pets, and another that keeps a running average of numbers it is given.

I would like for you to read over them, see the explanations, understand them — and then see what you can do with them. Can you modify them? Can you build something else from scratch? Try it!

See also:

Friends and petsRunning average

Friends and pets

Here, we will have a program that asks you about you friends and pets, and remembers them for as long as it’s running. Let me give a listing. I am trying to document it well by putting in comments. Can you tell what it does? If you can’t, look up the parts you can’t understand.

#!/usr/bin/perl -w
# Friends and pets — a program to keep track of your friends and their pets.
# Last modified 12-29-01, by CJS Hayward
# While you say you want to continue, it asks you for another friend's name,
# and then asks for the pet's name.  Then, it tells you all of the friends it's
# been told, and what their pets are.
# This is done with a while loop.
# The friends are stored in a list, and
# the pets are stored in a hash.
# We also use a couple of functions.

# The stuff it does in the beginning, called initialization.

# List the subroutines and functions.
sub Confirm();

# Confirm is a function that gets a yes or no answer from the user.
# Note that this function uses another function — ReadLine.  It is
# possible, and indeed very useful, to have one subroutine or function use
# other subroutines or functions.

sub Confirm()
    $UserAnswer = &ReadLine();
    if ((not($UserAnswer eq "n")) and # If it's not a yes or a no,
      (not($UserAnswer eq "y")) and
      (not($UserAnswer eq "N")) and
      (not($UserAnswer eq "Y")))
        while ((not($UserAnswer eq "n")) and # Keep going until we get a yes
          (not($UserAnswer eq "y")) and      # or a no.
          (not($UserAnswer eq "N")) and
          (not($UserAnswer eq "Y")))
            print "Please answer \"y\", for yes, or \"n\", for no.\n";
	    $UserAnswer = &ReadLine();
    # If we've gotten here, the user has given a yes or a no answer.
    return (($UserAnswer eq "Y") or ($UserAnswer eq "y"));

# Make the list of friends and hash of pets empty, so that they don't contain
# anything.
@Friends = ();
%Pets = ();

# Have scalars that we can use for true and false conditional clauses.
$True = 1;
$False = 0;

# Welcome the user to the program.
print "Welcome to the friends and pets program.\n";

$ShouldContinue = $True;

# The main loop.  This is where the meat of the program is.

while ($ShouldContinue)

    # Read in the friend's name.
    print "Please enter the name of your friend:\n";
    $NewFriend = &ReadLine();

    # Add the new friend to the list.
    @Friends = (@Friends, $NewFriend);

    # Read in the friend's pet.
    print "Please enter the kind of pet $NewFriend has:\n";
    $NewPet = &ReadLine();

    # Add the new friend's pet to the list of hashes.
    $Pets{$NewFriend} = $NewPet;

    # Print a blank line, so that the output doesn't look too crowded:
    print "\n";

    # Now, recite the friends and their pets.
    foreach $CurrentFriend (@Friends)
	$CurrentPet = $Pets{$CurrentFriend};
	print $CurrentFriend ."'s pet is a $CurrentPet.\n";

    # Finally, ask the user if he wants to continue.
    print "Do you want to continue (y/n)?\n";
    $ShouldContinue = &Confirm();

    # And we reach the end of the loop.

# If we get here in the program, the user does not want to continue.
# So, we say "Bye!", and leave.

print "Bye!\n";
exit 0;

# The program will never get here by itself, because it is after the exit
# statement.  But we can still put procedures and functions here.  We will put
# two functions here:

# ReadLine is a function that reads a line in, and gets rid of the trailing
# newline.  This does input exactly as specified earlier.

sub ReadLine()
    $UserInput = <>;
    chomp $userinput;
    return $userinput;

A sample output for this program might be:

Welcome to the friends and pets program.
Please enter the name of your friend:
Please enter the kind of pet Fred has:

Fred's pet is a furball.
Do you want to continue (y/n)?
Please enter the name of your friend:
Please enter the kind of pet David has:

Fred's pet is a furball.
David's pet is a dog.
Do you want to continue (y/n)?

See also:

Sample programsRunning average

Running average

This program reads numbers and tells their running average:

#!/usr/bin/perl -w
$total = 0;
$number_of_items = 0;
$result = 0;
while(1) # 1 is always true.
    print "Next item: ";
    $input_line = <>;
    chomp $input_line;
    $total = $total + $input_line;
    $result = $total / $number_of_items;
    print "The average so far is " + $result + ".\n";

See also:

Sample programsFriends and pets


Do you have a little brother or sister? If you don’t, pretend you do—a brother, Fred, who’s just barely old enough to walk.

Imagine that your mother tells your brother to go to the bathroom. So your brother walks to the bathroom, stands there a while, and then asks why he was sent there. Or imagine that you have a potted plant in the house, and your parents come home and find that your brother dug out dirt from the tree and is playing in the dirt. They clean up the mess and explain, very plainly, that he is not to play in dirt. So your brother tries to find something better, and pulls all the leaves off the plant and plays in the leaves.

Computers are like that. They don’t understand what you mean—only the literal sense of what you said. If you say almost exactly what you mean, the computer will almost do what you mean, and the ‘almost’ can be very annoying. In this chapter, I’ll explain how to fix common bugs, and close with how science can help you debug.

Common Bugs

Many common bugs come from one of two sources:

  1. Accidentally typing the wrong thing.
  2. Logical errors.

Logical and mathematical errors are things like being off by one. Subsequent sections will tell you something about typing errors.

Syntax errors

If a programming book tells you to write something a certain way, you should do exactly what you’re told. If you’re told to write:

foreach $b (@a)
	print $b;

and you write:

foreach b (@a)
	print $b;

What will happen?

Something different, and not what you want.

One dollar sign is missing, so the computer will do something different, and not what you want.

Can’t the computer just do what you mean?

No. Knowing what you mean shows human intelligence, and the computer can’t do it.

What happens quite often is that you write something a little different than what you thought—something a person wouldn’t notice—but the computer can’t correct. If you’re having trouble, read your code closely to see that you typed exactly what you thought you typed.


What happens if you type:

$pizzas = 12;
print "$pizzzas\n";

What you’d like to happen is that it prints out the number 12. However, I put an extra 'z' in, so it prints out 0. Why? The variable $pizzas may be 12, but $pizzzas is a different variable, and it is not twelve.

If you’re having trouble, make sure that every variable and function is spelled exactly the same way every time it appears.

Forgotten semicolon

What happens if you type the following line of code:

print "Hello, world!\n"

What you’d like is for it to print “Hello, world!”. However, the program will crash. It’s waiting for a semicolon, and if it’s not there it’ll get confused. Make sure that every line, unless you’ve been told it doesn’t need a semicolon, has a semicolon.

Single and Double Equals

What happens if you run the following code:

$a = 1;
$b = 2;
if ($a = $b)
	print "They're equal!";
	print "They're not equal.";

What would you like to happen? It compares 1 and 2 and says that they’re not equal. However, if you run this, it says that they’re equal. Why? ($a = $b) says to make a equal to b. What we wanted was ($a == $b), which would compare them.

Use '=' to assign a value and '==' to compare. It’s easy to use the wrong one and introduce bugs to your program.

Scientific Debugging

How does the scientific method work?

In a nutshell, there’s something a scientist doesn’t understand, so he makes a guess, and then makes a way to show if the guess is wrong. After a lot of testing, a guess that hasn’t been shown wrong may become part of science.

When you don’t understand something, making guesses and then testing them (“If my program’s miscalculating, then the variables before this part will have the right values, but the variables after will have wrong values. I know! I’ll put print statements before and after to tell me the variables’ values”) can help you see why your program’s not functioning.

If you have a science teacher who programs computers, it would be very helpful to approach him sometime when he’s not busy and ask, “How can the scientific method help me debug computer programs?”


I hope this has helped you to begin to tinker and play, exploring what your computer can do when you speak one of its languages. When you’re ready to learn more, read good programming books, continue asking questions, and by all means, keep tinkering!

Would you like another book that will tell you more? O’Reilly publishes excellent titles. Learning Perl is an excellent next step. When you’ve outgrown that, Programming Perl, affectionately named the camel book by Perl programmers, will take you far.

And if you enjoyed this, would you like to see some of what else I’ve written? You might find some of it interesting.



Conditional clause
Dollar sign
Equals sign
Flow control
Left curly brace
Left parenthesis
Percent sign
Pound sign
Right curly brace
Right parenthesis

[Certain terms are defined in the text; those remaining are:]

Definition: Atgry

An atgry (the plural of atgry is atgrynge) looks like this:


Atgrynge are used before variables that are lists. They are also known as ‘at signs’.

Definition: Bug

A bug is a mistake in a program that makes the program act differently than it was supposed to.

Bugs are one of the facts of life in computer programming; we all make mistakes, and figuring out and fixing bugs is an important part of creating programs.

The term ‘bug’ comes a story that, way back in the middle bronze age when computers were made with physical relays, a computer wasn’t doing something properly, and (after investigation) the people discovered that there was an insect which had gotten into the computer and was making it malfunction: the computer had a bug in it. Since then, we use the word ‘bug’ to refer to malfunctions that are caused by human mistakes as well as funny things like insects crawling into a computer.

Even when it seems like you’ve done everything right, sometimes the computer still won’t do what you want it to. One of the points of maturity for a programmer is not to blame other things, but to realize that it’s probably a mistake you’ve made, and to see what you need to do to fix it.

Definition: Code

Code is a word we use to refer to the “stuff” a program is made out of, just as ‘wood’ is a word we use to refer to the “stuff” a board is made out of. Here is an example of code:

# Print out the phrase "Hello, world!"

print "Hello, world!\n";

In this case, this code is all of a program; code can also be some of a program.

Can you identify the different parts of this program?

Definition: Comma

A comma looks like this:


Definition: Concatenate

When you concatenate two strings, you stick them both together, one after the other. For example:

If you concatenate:

"Old MacDonald had a farm. "


"On that farm, there was a cat. "

the result is,

"Old MacDonald had a farm. On that farm, there was a cat."

In Perl, you can concatenate strings by placing a period (‘.‘) in between them. The following code assigns $first_part the value "Old MacDonald had a farm.", $second_part the value "On that farm, there was a cat. " before assigning the concatenated value to $combined:

$first_part = "Old MacDonald had a farm. ";
$second_part = "On that farm, there was a cat. ";
$combined = $first_part . $second_part;

Definition: Dollar sign

A dollar sign looks like this:

$It is used before the names of some variables — specifically, scalars, and (in some cases) hashes.

Definition: Equals sign

An equals sign looks like this:

=It is used for assignment.

Definition: Feature

A feature is some capability of a program, something that it can do. For example, most word processors can have bold or italic text, and print things out. Some time spent working on programs is adding new features.

There is a running joke among computer people, that when there’s a bug that a customer discovers, the technical support people say, “Oh, you’ve discovered our new feature!” — they pretend the bug is really a special feature.

Definition: Hash

A hash looks like this:


Hashes are used in Perl to begin comments, and are also known as pound signs.

Definition: Language

There are different languages that humans use to communicate with each other — English, French, German, Italian, and so on. There are also languages for humans to tell computers to do things. Perl is one of many such languages.

Different computer languages have different strengths and weaknesses. Each one has a slightly different function — just like the tools in a tool chest (hammer, pliers, screwdriver, etc.) have different functions.

There is a difference between computer and human languages, which is this: Human languages are difficult to learn, at least for adults. Even if you can communicate well in English, you will have to work hard to be able to communicate even badly in French or German (if you have not already had experience with them). But with computer languages, once you have really learned to program, learning a new language is fairly easy.

This is part of why I am using Perl as the language for this book, instead of using the language I know best (C). Perl is a good, easy language to begin with, and I hope both that you can learn Perl, and move on to other languages that will teach you other things that Perl doesn’t teach you very well. I think, for example, that Java is a good second language. After Perl and Java, you should be able to use almost any language.

Definition: Left curly brace

A left curly brace looks like this:


Left and right curly braces are used to enclose blocks of code, as well as designate an element of a hash.

Definition: Left Parenthesis

A left parenthesis (the plural of parenthesis is parentheses) looks like this:


Left and right parentheses are used to clarify what you mean in certain arithmetic expressions, as well as telling where the members of a list and the arguments to a function begin and end.

Definition: Percent sign

A percent sign looks like this:


Percent signs, among other things, are used to refer to hashes.

Definition: Period

A period looks like this:


Periods are used, among other things, to concatenate two strings, as explained in the section of the text on scalars.

Definition: Right curly brace

A right curly brace looks like this:


Right and left curly braces are used to enclose blocks of code, as well as designate an element of a hash.

Definition: Right parenthesis

A right parenthesis (the plural of parenthesis is parentheses) looks like this:


Right and left parentheses are used to clarify what you mean in certain arithmetic expressions, as well as telling where the members of a list and the arguments to a function begin and end.

Definition: Semicolon

A semicolon looks like this:


Semicolons are used at the end of most statements.

Definition: String

A string is some amount of text. Examples of strings are:

"My left foot"


"A man without eyes,
saw plums in a tree.
He neither ate them nor left them;
now, how could this be?"

We enclose a string in quotation marks, to indicate where the string begins and ends. The quotation marks are not actually part of the string. (Strings can contain almost anything, including line breaks and even quotation marks — although you have to be careful with quotation marks so you don’t confuse the computer.)

Definition: Underscore An underscore looks like this:_Note that it is lower than a hyphen: here is a hyphen, followed by an underscore: -_.

Underscores, as well as letters and numbers, may be used in the names of variables and functions.

Definition: Value

A value is a specific meaning that a variable may have at once. For example, the scalar $NumberOfCats could have the value 1, 2, or 5. A variable may only have one value at a time; when it is given a new value, the new value replaces the old value. Here are some examples of values that a scalar may have:

"five of spades"



Tinkering With Perl is a free book that provides an introduction to programming in Perl, as well as a basic reference for things like foreach in Perl, if-then, and if-then-else, in addition to providing a glossary where you can find definitions for concatenate and other terms.

Tinkering With Perl may be one of the most popular offerings on this site, but it’s not the only attraction. You can read a tongue-in-cheek Game Review: Meatspace, read an even more offbeat customer service survey (whether or not you actually fill it out), and spend a few minutes wishing your boss would read, The Administrator Who Cried, “Important!” (Not to mention that there are other things you can read here besides tech stuff, from Janra Ball: The Headache to The Spectacles.)

The Case for Uncreative Web Design

Usability for Hackers: Developers, Anthropology, and Making Software More Usable

Usability, the Soul of Python: An Introduction to Programming Python Through the Eyes of Usability

Within the Steel Orb

Passwords Maker

It is surprisingly hard to make a password that is both secure and easy to remember.

The best way I know of is to string together a few randomly chosen words, and separate them with a digit or special character. In the box below are several passwords; you can pick one or choose others.

These passwords are generated fresh, in your browser, on each page visit; they are designed so that no one besides you knows the passwords you are looking at, not even this website.

You can always make a password shorter and simpler by dropping the last word or two.

It is also important to have different passwords for different sites. I use a password manager to keep track of passwords, and you want to have your passwords stored encrypted in a password manager.

One free password manager is KeePass.

Note: Some sites have restrictions, saying that your password cannot exceed a certain length, or that special characters are not allowed. If you try to use one of these passwords and run aground on a website’s rules for passwords, just cut the password down to size so that it fits the site’s rules.


A Dream of Light

God the Game Changer

How to Survive Hard Times


One Stop Shopping for Web Services

This page is meant to provide one-stop shopping for several services provided by this site (as appropriate to the visitor’s browser).

Mobile Web Proxy: Available at

Reciprocal Links directory: Browse the directory or suggest a link.

RSS feed: Click here to see this site’s RSS feed.

Sidebar: Add Jonathan’s Corner to your Firefox, Mozilla, or Netscape sidebars.

Start Page: See the start page provided by this site.

Toolbar: Click here to download the toolbar.

The Arena

Catch the Furball

Game Review: Meatspace

The Spectacles

A Pilgrimage from Narnia

Read it on Kindle for $4!

Read it on Kindle for $4!

Wardrobe of fur coats and fir trees:
Sword and armor, castle and throne,
Talking beast and Cair Paravel:
From there began a journey,
From thence began a trek,
Further up and further in!

The mystic kiss of the Holy Mysteries,
A many-hued spectrum of saints,
Where the holiness of the One God unfurls,

Holy icons and holy relics:
Tales of magic reach for such things and miss,
Sincerely erecting an altar, “To an unknown god,”
Enchantment but the shadow whilst these are realities:
Whilst to us is bidden enjoy Reality Himself.
Further up and further in!

A journey of the heart, barely begun,
Anointed with chrism, like as prophet, priest, king,
A slow road of pain and loss,
Giving up straw to receive gold:
Further up and further in!

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner,
Silence without, building silence within:
The prayer of the mind in the heart,
Prayer without mind’s images and eye before holy icons,
A simple Way, a life’s work of simplicity,
Further up and further in!

A camel may pass through the eye of a needle,
Only by shedding every possession and kneeling humbly,
Book-learning and technological power as well as possessions,
Prestige and things that are yours— Even all that goes without saying:
To grow in this world one becomes more and more;
To grow in the Way one becomes less and less:
Further up and further in!

God and the Son of God became Man and the Son of Man,
That men and the sons of men might become gods and the sons of God:
The chief end of mankind,
Is to glorify God and become him forever.
The mysticism in the ordinary,
Not some faroff exotic place,
But here and now,
Living where God has placed us,
Lifting where we are up into Heaven:
Paradise is wherever holy men are found.
Escape is not possible:
Yet escape is not needed,
But our active engagement with the here and now,
And in this here and now we move,
Further up and further in!

We are summoned to war against dragons,
Sins, passions, demons:
Unseen warfare beyond that of fantasy:
For the combat of knights and armor is but a shadow:
Even this world is a shadow,
Compared to the eternal spoils of the victor in warfare unseen,
Compared to the eternal spoils of the man whose heart is purified,
Compared to the eternal spoils of the one who rejects activism:
Fighting real dragons in right order,
Slaying the dragons in his own heart,
And not chasing (real or imagined) snakelets in the world around:
Starting to remove the log from his own eye,
And not starting by removing the speck from his brother’s eye:

Further up and further in!

Spake a man who suffered sorely:
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time,
Are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us,
Know ye not that we shall judge angels?
For the way of humility and tribulation we are beckoned to walk,
Is the path of greatest glory.
We do not live in the best of all possible worlds,
But we have the best of all possible Gods,
And live in a world ruled by the him,
And the most painful of his commands,
Are the very means to greatest glory,
Exercise to the utmost is a preparation,
To strengthen us for an Olympic gold medal,
An instant of earthly apprenticeship,
To a life of Heaven that already begins on earth:
He saved others, himself he cannot save,
Remains no longer a taunt filled with blasphemy:
But a definition of the Kingdom of God,
Turned to gold,
And God sees his sons as more precious than gold:
Beauty is forged in the eye of the Beholder:
Further up and further in!

When I became a man, I put away childish things:
Married or monastic, I must grow out of self-serving life:
For if I have self-serving life in me,
What room is there for the divine life?
If I hold straw with a death grip,
How will God give me living gold?
Further up and further in!

Verily, verily, I say to thee,
When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself,
And walkedst whither thou wouldest:
But when thou shalt be old,
Thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee,
And carry thee whither thou wouldest not.

This is victory:
Further up and further in!

The Magic Notebook

The Magic Notebook lets you keep and organize notes. These notes can be almost anything—projects, contact information, to do lists, books to read, and assorted other things—and are available to you anywhere there’s a networked computer. If you use the Magic Notebook, you may find other uses as well.

A view of the Magic Notebook.

If you would like to use it, the Magic Notebook is available here.

If you would like to install the Magic Notebook on a Unix-like web server, the software to run it is available for download. (If you’re not sure which version of the Magic Notebook to use, I suggest the highest numbered release that is stable instead of development.)

License: This project is free software, available under your choice of the Artistic, GPL, and MIT licenses. If you like this software, you are invited to consider linking to


Version Unix/Linux Tarball RedHat RPM
1.4.1, stable. MagicNotebook1_4_1.tar.gz MagicNotebook1.4.1-2.i386.rpm
1.4, development. MagicNotebook1_4.tar.gz MagicNotebook1.4-1.i386.rpm
1.3.3, stable. MagicNotebook1_3_3.tar.gz MagicNotebook1.3.3-1.i386.rpm
1.3.2, stable. MagicNotebook1_3_2.tar.gz MagicNotebook1.3.2-1.i386.rpm
1.3.1, stable. MagicNotebook1_3_1.tar.gz MagicNotebook1.3.1-1.i386.rpm
1.3, development. MagicNotebook1_3.tar.gz MagicNotebook1.3-1.i386.rpm
1.2.1, development. MagicNotebook1_2_1.tar.gz MagicNotebook-1.2.1-1.i386.rpm
1.2, stable. MagicNotebook1_2.tar.gz MagicNotebook-1.2-1.i386.rpm
1.1b, development MagicNotebook1_1b.tar.gz MagicNotebook-1.1b-2.i386.rpm
1.0b, development MagicNotebook1_0b.tar.gz MagicNotebook-1.0b-1.i386.rpm


Passwords Maker

The Powered Access Bible

Private logistics: privacy-sensitive todo, calendar, scratchpad, personal information management (PIM)


The Luddite’s Guide to Technology

The Luddite's Guide to Technology
Buy it in paperback for $4

Since the Bridegroom was taken from the disciples, it has been a part of the Orthodox Church’s practice to fast. What is expected in the ideal has undergone changes, and one’s own practice is done in submission to one’s priest. The priest may work on how to best relax rules in many cases so that your fasting is a load you can shoulder. There is something of a saying, “As always, ask your priest,” and that goes for fasting from technology too. Meaning, specifically, that if you read this article and want to start fasting from technologies, and your priest says that it won’t be helpful, leave this article alone and follow your priest’s guidance.

From ancient times there has been a sense that we need to transcend ourselves. When we fast, we choose to set limits and master our belly, at least partly. “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food—maybe, but God will destroy them both.” So the Apostle answered the hedonists of his day. The teaching of fasting is that you are more than the sum of your appetites, and we can grow by giving something up in days and seasons. And really fasting from foods is not saying, “I choose to be greater than this particular luxury,” but “I choose to be greater than this necessity.” Over ninety-nine percent of all humans who have ever lived never saw a piece of modern technology: Christ and his disciples reached far and wide without the benefit of even the most obsolete of eletronic communication technologies. And monks have often turned back on what luxuries were available to them: hence in works like the Philokalia or the Ladder extol the virtue of sleeping on the floor. If we fast from technologies, we do not abstain from basic nourishment, but what Emperors and kings never heard of. At one monastery where monks lived in cells without running water or electricity, a monk commented that peasants and for that matter kings lived their whole lives without tasting these, or finding them a necessity. (Even Solomon in all his splendor did not have a Facebook page.)

In Orthodoxy, if a person is not able to handle the quasi-vegan diet in fasting periods, a priest may relax the fast, not giving carte blanche to eat anything the parishioner wants, but suggesting that the parishioner relax the fast to some degree, eating some fish or an egg. This basic principle of fasting is applicable to technology: rather than immediately go cold turkey on certain technologies, use “some fish or an egg” in terms of older technologies. Instead of texting for a conversation, drive over to a nearby friend.

(Have you ever noticed that during Lent many Orthodox Christians cut down or eliminate their use of Facebook?)

As mentioned in Technonomicon, what we call space-conquering technologies might slightly more appropriately be called body-conquering technologies, because they neutralize some of the limitations of our embodied state. The old wave of space-conquering technologies moves people faster or father than they could move themselves, and older science fiction and space opera often portrays bigger and better versions of this kind of space conquering technologies: personal jet packs, cars that levitate (think Luke Skywalker’s land speeder), or airplanes that function as spacecraft (his X-Wing). What is interesting to me here is that they serve as bigger and better versions of the older paradigm of space-conquering technologies, even if Luke remains in radio contact with the Rebel base. That is the older paradigm. The newer paradigm is technologies that make one’s physical location irrelevant, or almost irrelevant: cell phones, texting, Facebook, and remote work, are all not bigger and better ways to move your body, but bigger and better ways to do things in a mind-based context where the location of your body may be collected as in Google Plus, but your actual, physical location is really neither here nor there.

My own technology choices

I purchased a MacBook Pro laptop, and its specs are really impressive. Eight cores, eight gigabytes of RAM, a 1920×1200 17″ display, and gracefully runs Ubuntu Linux, Windows XP, Windows 7, and Windows 8 as guest OS’es. And it is really obsolete in one respect: it doesn’t have the hot new Retina display that has been migrated to newer MacBook Pros. I want to keep it for a long time; but my point in mentioning it here is that I did not purchase it as the hot, coolest new thing, but as a last hurrah of an old guard. The top two applications I use are Google Chrome and the Mac’s Unix terminal, and the old-fashioned laptop lets me take advantage of the full power of the Unix command line, and lets me exercise root privilege without voiding the warranty. For a Unix wizard, that’s a lot of power. And the one major thing which I did not “upgrade” was replacing the old-fashioned spindle drives with newer, faster solid state drives. The reason? Old-fashioned spindle drives can potentially work indefinitely, while spindle drives wear out after a certain number of times saving data: saving data slowly uses the drive up. And I realized this might be my only opportunity in a while to purchase a tool I want to use for a long while.

Laptops might continue to be around for a while, and desktops for that matter, but their place is a bit like landline phones. If you have a desk job, you will probably have a desktop computer and a landline, but the wave of the future is smartphones and tablets; the hot, coolest new thing is not a bulky, heavy MacBook, but whatever the current generation of iPad or Android-based tablet is. One youngster said, “Email is for old people,” and perhaps the same is to be said of laptops.

I also have an iPhone, which I upgraded from one of the original iPhones to an iPhone 4, not because I needed to have the latest new thing, but because my iPhone was necessarily on an AT&T contract, and however much they may advertise that the EDGE network my iPhone was on was “twice the speed of dialup,” I found when jobhunting that a simple, short “thank you” letter after an interview took amazingly many minutes for my phone to send, at well below the speed of obsolete dial-up speeds I had growing up: AT&T throttled the bandwidth to an incredibly slow rate and I got a newer iPhone with Verizon which I want to hold on to, even though there is a newer and hotter model available. But I am making conscious adult decisions about using the iPhone: I have sent perhaps a dozen texts, and have not used the iPod functionality. I use it, but I draw lines. My point is not exactly that you should adopt the exact same conscious adult decisions as I do about how to use a smartphone, but that you make a conscious adult decision in the first place.

And lastly, I have another piece of older technology: a SwissChamp XLT, the smallest Swiss Army Knife that includes all the functionality of a SwissChamp while also having the functionality of a Cybertool. It has, in order, a large blade, small blade, metal saw, nail file, metal file, custom metal-cutting blade, wood saw, fish scaler, ruler in centimeters and inches, hook remover, scissors, hooked blade, straight blade with concave curved mini-blade, pharmacist’s spatula, cybertool (Phillips screwdrivers in three sizes, Torx screwdrivers in three sizes, hexagonal bit, and a slotted screwdriver), pliers, magnifying glass, larger Phillips screwdriver, large slotted screwdriver, can opener, wire stripper, small slotted screwdriver, can opener, corkscrew, jeweller’s screwdriver, pin, wood chisel, hook, smaller slotted screwdriver, and reamer. It’s somewhat smaller than two iPhones stacked on top of each other, and while it’s wider than I like, it is also something of a last hurrah. It is a useful piece of older technology.

I mention these technologies not to sanction what may or may not be owned—I tried to get as good a computer as I could partly because I am an IT professional, and I am quite grateful that my employer let me use it for the present contract. I also drive a white 2001 Saturn, whose front now looks a bit ugly after cosmetic damage. I could get it fixed fairly easily, but it hasn’t yet been a priority. (But this car has also transported the Kursk Root icon.) But with this as with other technologies, I haven’t laid the reins on the horse’s neck. I only use a well-chosen fragment of my iPhone’s capabilities, and I try not to use it too much: I like to be able to use the web without speed being much of an issue, but I’m not on the web all the time. And I have never thought “My wheels are my freedom;” I try to drive insofar as it advances some particular goal.

And there are some things when I’m not aware of the brands too much. I don’t really know what brands my clothing are, with one exception, Hanes, which I am aware of predominantly because the brand name is sewed in large, hard-to-miss letters at the top.

And I observe that technologies are becoming increasingly “capture-proof”. Put simply, all technologies can be taken away from us physically, but technologies are increasingly becoming something that FEMA can shut off from far away in a heartbeat. All network functionality on smartphones and tablets are at the mercy of network providers and whoever has control over them; more broadly, “The network is the computer,” as Sun announced slightly prematurely in its introduction of Java; my own Unix-centric use of my Mac on train rides, without having or wanting it to have internet access during the train ride, may not be much more than a historical curiosity.

But the principle of fasting from technology is fine, and if we can abstain from foods on certain days, we can also abstain from or limit technologies on certain days. Furthermore, there is real merit in knowing how to use older technologies. GPS devices can fail to pick up a signal. A trucker’s atlas works fine even if there’s no GPS signal available.

The point of this soliloquoy

The reason I am writing this up is that I am not aware of too many works on how to use technology ascetically. St. Paul wrote, There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content.. This statement of necessities does not include shelter, let alone “a rising standard of living” (meaning more things that one uses). Perhaps it is OK to have a car; it is what is called “socially mandated”, meaning that there are many who one cannot buy groceries or get to their jobs without a car. Perhaps a best rule of thumb here is, to repeat another author, “Hang the fashions. Buy only what you need.” It is a measure by which I have real failings. And don’t ask, “Can we afford what we need?”, but “Do we need what we can afford?” If we only purchase things that have real ascetical justification, there’s something better than investing for the left-over money: we can give to the poor as an offering to Christ. Christ will receive our offering as a loan.

Some years ago I wanted to write The Luddite’s Guide to Technology, and stopped because I realized I wasn’t writing anything good or worthy of the title. But the attitude of the Church Fathers given the technology of the day: monasticism renounces all property, and the faithful are called to renounce property in their hearts even if they have possessions. Monastic literature warns the monk of seeking out old company, where “old company” does not mean enticement to sexual sin exactly, but one’s very own kin. The solitary and coenobetic alike cut ties to an outside world, even ties one would think were sacrosanct (and the Bible has much to say about caring for one’s elders). If a monk’s desire to see his father or brother is considered a temptation to sin that will dissipate monastic energy, what do we have to make of social media? The friendships that are formed are of a different character from face-to-face relationships. If monks are forbidden to return to their own kin as shining example, in what light do we see texting, email, IM’s, and discussion forums? If monks are forbidden to look at women’s faces for fear of sexual temptation, what do we make of an internet where the greatest assault on manhood, porn, comes out to seek you even if you avoid it? It’s a bit like a store that sells food, household supplies, and cocaine: and did I mention that the people driving you to sample a little bit of cocaine are much pushier than those offering a biscuit and dip sample?

The modern Athonite tradition at least has Luddite leanings; Athos warns against national identification numbers and possibly computers, and one saint wrote apocalyptically about people eating eight times as much as people used to eat (has anyone read “The Supersizing of America”?) and of “wisdom” being found that would allow people to swim like fish deep into the sea (we have two technologies that can do that: SCUBA gear and submarines), and let one person speak and be heard on the other side of the world (how many technologies do we have to do that? Quite a lot).

All of this is to say that Orthodoxy has room to handle technologies carefully, and I would suggest that not all technologies are created equal.

The Luddite’s Guide to Technology

For the different technologies presented my goal is not exactly to point to a course of action as to suggest a conscious adult decision to make, perhaps after consulting with one’s priest or spiritual father. And as is usual in Orthodoxy, the temptation at least for converts is to try to do way too much, too fast, at first, and then backslide when that doesn’t work.

It is better to keep on stretching yourself a little.

Sometimes, perhaps most of the time, using technology in an ascetical way will be countercultural and constitute outlier usage.

A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H   I   J   K   L   M   N   O   P   Q   R   S   T   U   V   W   X   Y   Z


Advertising is kin to manipulation, propaganda, and pornography.

Advertising answers the question, “Was economic wealth made for man, or man for economic wealth?” by decisively saying, “Man was made for economic wealth.” It leads people to buy things that are not in their best interest. If you see someone using a technology as part of a form of life that is unhelpful, the kind of thing that makes you glad to be a Luddite, you have advertising to thank for that.

Advertising stirs discontent, which is already a problem, and leads people to ever higher desires, much like the trap of pornography. The sin is covetousness and lust, but the core structure is the same. Advertising and pornography are closely related kin.

Advertising doesn’t really sell product functionality; it sells a mystique. And we may have legitimate reason to buy the product, but not the mystique. And maybe back off on a useful purchase until we are really buying the product and not the mystique.


Alcohol is not exactly a new technology, although people have found ways of making stronger and stronger drinks as time goes on. However, there is a lesson to learn with alcohol that applies to technology.

One article read outlined a few positions on Christian use of alcohol, ending with a position that said, in essence, “Using alcohol appropriately is a spiritual challenge and there is more productive spiritual work in drinking responsibly than just not drinking.” I don’t think the authors would have imposed this position on people who know they have particular dangers in using alcohol, but they took a sympathetic look at positions of Christians who don’t drink, and then said “The best course of all is not from trying to cut off the danger by not drinking, but rising to the spiritual lesson.”

Yet an assumption behind all of the positions presented is that alcohol is something where you cannot safely lay the reins on the horse’s neck. You need to be in command, or to put it differently ceaselessly domineer alcohol if you use it. This domineering is easy for some people and harder for others, and some people may be wisest to avoid the challenge.

Something of the same need exists in our use of technology. We may use certain technologies or may not, but it is still a disaster to let the technology go wherever it wills. Sometimes and with some technologies, we may abstain. Other technologies we may domineer, even if we may find if we are faithful that “my yoke is easy and my burden is light:” establishing dominion and holding the reins may be easier when it becomes a habit. But the question with a technology we use is not, “May we use it as much as we want, or not at all?”, any more than the question about wine would be, “May we use it as much as we want, or not at all?” Proper use is disciplined. Proper use is domineering. And we do not always have it spelled out what is like having one or two drinks a day, and what is like having five or ten. Nor do we have other rules of thumb spelled out, like, “Think carefully about drinking when you have a bad mood, and don’t drink in order to fix a bad mood.”

The descriptions of various “technologies and other things” are meant to provide some sense of what the contours of technologies are, and what is like drinking one or two drinks, and what is like drinking five or ten drinks a day.

Anti-aging medicine
The Christian teaching is that life begins at conception and ends at natural death, and no that life begins at 18 and ends at 30.

The saddest moment in The Chronicles of Narnia comes when we hear that Her Majesty Queen Susan the Gentle is “no longer a friend of Narnia;” she is rushing as quickly as possible to the silliest age of her life, and will spend the rest of her life trying to remain at that age, which besides being absolutely impossible, is absolutely undesirable.

Quite a lot of us are afflicted by the Queen Susan syndrome, but there is a shift in anti-aging medicine and hormone replacement therapy. Part of the shift in assistive technologies discussed below is that assistive technologies are not just intended to do what a non-disabled person can do, so for instance a reader can read a page of a book, giving visually impaired people equivalent access to a what a sighted person could have, to pushing as far what they think is an improvement, so that scanning a barcode may not just pull up identification of the product bearing the barcode, but have augmented reality features of pulling a webpage that says much more than what a sighted person could see on the tab. One of the big tools of anti-aging medicine is hormone replacement therapy, with ads showing a grey-haired man doing pushups with a caption of, “My only regret about hormone replacement therapy is that I didn’t start it sooner,” where the goal is not to restore functionality but improve it as much as possible. And the definition of improvement may be infantile; here it appears to mean that a man who might be a member of the AARP has the same hormone levels as he did when he was 17.

There was one professor I had who was covering French philosophy, discussed Utopian dreams like turning the seas to lemonade, and called these ideas “a Utopia of spoiled children.” Anti-aging medicine is not about having people better fulfill the God-ordained role of an elder, but be a virtual youth. Now I have used nutriceuticals to bring more energy and be able to create things where before I was not, and perhaps that is like anti-aging medicine that has me holding on to youthful creativity when God summons me to goFurther up and further in! But everything I know about anti-aging is that it is not about helping people function gracefully in the role of an elder, but about making any things about aging optional.

In my self-absorbed Seven-Sided Gem, I talked about one cover to the AARP’s magazine, then called My Generation, which I originally mistook for something GenX. In the AARP’s official magazine as I have seen it, the marketing proposition is the good news, not that it is not that bad to be old, but it is not that old to be old. The women portrayed look maybe GenX in age, and on the cover I pulled out, the person portrayed, in haircut, clothing, and posture, looked like a teenager. “Fifty and better people” may see political and other advice telling them what they can do to fight high prescription prices, but nothing I have seen gives the impression that they can give to their community, as elders, out of a life’s wealth of experience.

Not that there are not proper elders out there. I visited a family as they celebrated their son’s graduation, and had long conversations with my friend’s mother, and with an elderly gentleman (I’ve forgotten how he was related). She wanted to hear all about what I had to say about subjects that were of mutual interest, and he talked about the wealth of stories he had as a sailor and veterinarian. In both cases I had the subtle sense of a younger person being handled masterfully by an elder, and the conversation was unequal—unequal but entirely fitting, and part of the “entirely fitting” was that neither of them was trying to say, “We are equal—I might as well be as young as you.”

Anti-aging medicine is not about aging well, but trying to be a virtual young person when one should be doing the serious, weight, and profoundly important function as elders.

Assistive technologies

This, at least, will seem politically incorrect: unless they have an inordinate monetary or moral cost, assistive technologies allow disabled people to function at a much higher level than otherwise. And I am not going to exactly say that people with disabilities who have access to assistive technologies should turn them down, but I am going to say that there is something I am wary of in the case of assistive technologies.

There is the same question as with other technologies: “Is this really necessary? Does this help?” A blind friend said,

I was recently interviewed for a student’s project about assistive technology and shopping, and I told her that I wouldn’t use it in many circumstances. First of all, I think some of what is available has more ‘new toy’ appeal and is linked to advertising. Secondly, I think some things, though they may be convenient, are dehumanising. Why use a barcode scanner thingummy to tell what’s in a tin when I can ask someone and relate to someone?

Now to be clear, this friend does use assistive technologies and is at a high level of functioning: “to whom much is given, much is required.” I get the impression that the assistive technologies she has concerns about, bleed into augmented reality. And though she is absolutely willing to use assistive technologies, particularly when they help her serve others, she is more than willing to ask as I am asking of many technologies, “What’s the use? Does this help? Really help?

But there is another, more disturbing question about assistive technologies. The question is not whether individual assistive technologies are helpful when used in individual ways, but whether a society that is always inventing higher standards for accessibility and assistive technology has its deepest priorities straight. And since I cannot answer that out of what my friend has said, let me explain and talk about the Saint and the Activist and then talk about how similar things have played out in my own life.

I write this without regrets about my own efforts and money spent in creating assistive technologies, and with the knowledge that in societies without assistive technologies many disabled people have no secular success. There are notable examples of disabled people functioning at a high level of secular success, such as the noted French Cabalist Isaac the Blind, but the much more common case was for blind people to be beggars. The blind people met by Christ in the Gospel were without exception beggars. And there are blind beggars in first world countries today.

So what objection would I have to assistive technologies which, if they may not be able to create sight, none the less make the hurdles much smaller and less significant. So, perhaps, medicine cannot allow some patients to read a paper book. Assistive technologies make a way for them to access the book about as well as if they could see the book with their eyes. What is there to object in making disabled people more able to function in society as equal contributors?

The answer boils down to the distinction between the Saint and the Activist as I have discussed them in An Open Letter to Catholics on Orthodoxy and Ecumenism and The Most Politically Incorrect Sermon in History: A commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. The society that is patterned after the Saint is ordered towards such things as faith and contemplation. The society patterned after the Activist is the one that seeks to ensure the maximum secular success of its members. And if the Activist says, “Isn’t it wonderful how much progress we have made? Many disabled people are functioning at a high level!”, the Saint says, “There are more things in Heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your Activism. We have bigger fish to fry.” And they do.

Now to be clear, I am not saying that you should not use assistive technologies to help give back to society. Nor do I regret any of the time I’ve spent on assistive technologies. The first idea I wanted to patent was an assistive technology. But we have bigger fish to fry.

There is a way in which I am a little like the blind beggar in many societies that took the Saint for their pattern. It’s on a much lesser scale, but I tried my hardest to earn a Ph.D. in theology. At Cambridge University in England the faculty made me switch thesis topic completely, from a topic I had set at the beginning of the year, when two thirds of the year had passed and I had spent most of my time on my thesis. My grades were two points out of a hundred less than the cutoff for Ph.D. continuation, and Cambridge very clearly refused for me to continue beyond my master’s. So then I applied to other programs, and Fordham offered an assistantship, and I honestly found cancer easier than some of the things that went wrong there. I showed a writeup to one friend and he wrote, “I already knew all the things you had written up, and I was still shocked when I read it.” All of which to say is that the goal I had of earning a doctorate, and using that degree to teach at a seminary, seemed shattered. With all that happened, the door to earning a Ph.D. was decisively closed.

Now I know that it is possible to teach at a seminary on a master’s; it may be a handicap, but it certainly does not make such a goal impossible. But more broadly God’s hand was at work. For starters, I survived. I believe that a doctor would look at what happened and say, “There were a couple of places where what happened could have killed you. Be glad you’re alive.” And beyond that, there is something of God’s stern mercy: academic writing takes a lot more work than being easy to read, and only a few people can easily read it. I still have lessons to learn about work that is easy to read, and this piece may be the least readable thing I’ve written in a while. But all the same, there is a severe mercy in what God has given. I have a successful website largely due to chance, or rather God’s providence; I was in the right place at the right time and for all my skill in web work happened to have successes I had no right to expect.

And God works through assistive technologies and medicine. When I was in middle school, I had an ankle that got sorer and sorer until my parents went to ask a doctor if hospitalization was justified. The doctor’s response, after taking a sample of the infection, said, “Don’t swing by home; go straight to the hospital and I’ll take care of the paperwork on this end for his admission.” And I was hospitized for a week or so—the bed rest day and night being the first time ever that I managed to get bored teaching myself from my father’s calculus textbook—and after I was discharged I still needed antibiotic injections every four hours. That involved medical treatment is just as activist as assistive technology, and without it I would not have written any the pieces on this website besides the Apple ][ BASIC four dimensional maze.

I am rather glad to be alive now.

So I am in a sense both a Ph.D. person who was lost on Activist terms, but met with something fitting on a Saint’s terms, and a person who was found on Activist terms. God works both ways. But still, there are more things in Heaven and earth than are dreamed of in Activism.

Augmented Reality

When I was working at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, one part of the introduction I received to the CAVE and Infinity Wall virtual reality was to say that virtual reality “is a superset of reality,” where you could put a screen in front of a wall and see, X-ray-style, wires and other things inside the wall.

Virtual reality does exist, and is popularized by Second Life among many others, but that may not be the main niche carved out. The initial thought was virtual reality, and when the dust has started to settle, the niche carved out is more a matter of augmented reality. Augmented reality includes, on a more humble level, GPS devices and iPhone apps that let you scan a barcode or QR code and pull up web information on the product you have scanned. But these are not the full extent of augmented reality; it’s just an early installment. It is an opportunity to have more and more of our experience rewritten by computers and technology. Augmented technology is probably best taken at a lower dose and domineered.

Big Brother

Big Brother is a collection of technologies, but not a collection of technologies you choose because they will deliver a Big Brother who is watching you. Everything we do electronically is being monitored; for the moment the U.S. government is only using it for squeaky-clean apparent uses, and has been hiding its use. Even the Amish now are being monitored; they have decided not to hook up to a grid, such as electricity or landline phones, but cell phones can be used if they find them expedient to their series of conscious decisions about whether to adopt technologies. Amish use the horse and buggy but not the car, not because the horse is older, but because the horse and buggy provide some limited mobility without tearing apart the local community. The car is rejected not because it is newer, but because it frees people from the tightly bound community they have. And because they carry cell phones, the NSA tracks where they go. They might not do anything about it, but almost everything about us is in control of Big Brother. And though I know at least one person who has decided carrying a cell phone and having an iPass transponder is not worth being tracked, you have to be more Luddite than the Luddites, and know enough of what you are doing that you are already on file, if you are to escape observation.

Big Brother has been introduced step by step, bit by bit. First there were rumors that the NSA was recording all Internet traffic. Then it came out in the open that the NSA was indeed recording all Internet traffic and other electronic communications, and perhaps (as portrayed on one TV program) we should feel sorry for the poor NSA which has to deal with all this data. That’s not the end. Now Big Brother is officially mainly about national security, but this is not an outer limit either. Big Brother will probably appear a godsend in dealing with local crime before an open hand manipulating the common citizen appears. But Big Brother is here already, and Big Brother is growing.

Books and ebooks
I was speaking with one friend who said in reference to Harry Potter that the Harry Potter series got people to read, and anything that gets people to read is good. My response (a tacit response, not a spoken one) is that reading is not in and of itself good. If computers are to be used in an ascetically discriminating fashion, so is the library; if you will recall my earlier writing about slightly inappropriate things at Cambridge and worse at Fordham, every single person I had trouble with was someone who read a lot, and presumably read much more than someone caught up in Harry Potter mania.

Orthodoxy is at heart an oral, or oral-like culture, and while it uses books, it was extremely pejorative when one friend said of a Protestant priest in Orthodox clothes, “I know what book he got that [pastoral practice] from.” The first degree of priesthood is called a ‘Reader’, and when one is tonsured a Reader, the bishop urges the Reader to read the Scriptures. The assumption is not that the laity should be reading but need not read the Scriptures, but that the laity can be doing the job of laity without being literate. Or something like that. Even where there is reading, the transmission of the most imporant things is oral in character, and the shaping of the laity (and presumably clergy) is through the transmission of oral tradition through oral means. In that sense, I as an author stand of something exceptional among Orthodox, and “exceptional” does not mean “exceptionally good.” Most of the Orthodox authors now came to Orthodoxy from the West, and their output may well be appropriate and a fitting offering from what they have. However, the natural, consistent result of formation in Orthodoxy does not usually make a non-author into an author.

As far as books versus ebooks, books (meaning codices) are a technology, albeit a technology that has been around for a long time and will not likely disappear. Ebooks in particular have a long tail effect. The barriers to put an ebook out are much more than to put a traditional book out. It has been said that ebooks are killing Mom and Pop bookstores, and perhaps it is worth taking opportunities to patronize local businesses. But there is another consideration in regards to books versus cheaper Kindle editions. The Kindle may be tiny in comparison to what it holds, and far more convenient than traditional books.

But it is much more capture proof.

“Capture proof”

In military history, the term “capture proof” refers to a weapon that is delicate and exacting in its maintenance needs, so that if it is captured by the enemy, it will rather quickly become useless in enemy soldier’s hands.

The principle can be transposed to technology, except that possessing this kind of “capture proof” technology does not mean that it is an advantage that “we” can use against “them.” It comes much closer to say that FEMA can shut down its usefulness at the flick of a switch. As time has passed, hot technologies become increasingly delicate and capture proof: a laptop is clunkier than a cool tablet, but the list of things one can do with a tablet without network access is much shorter than the list of things can do with a laptop without network access. Or, to take the example of financial instruments, the movement has been towards more and more abstract derivatives, and these are fragile compared to an investment in an indexed mutual fund, which is in turn fragile compared to old-fashioned money.

“Cool,” “fragile,” and “capture proof” are intricately woven into each other.

Einstein said, “I do not know what weapons World War III will be fought with, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” We might not have to wait until World War IV. Much of World War III may be fought with sticks and stones.

Perhaps the most striking Luddite horror of cars that I have seen is in C.S. Lewis. He talked about how they were called “space-conquering devices,” while they should have been called “space-annihilating devices,” because he experienced future shock that cars could make long distances very close. (And someone has said, “The problem with the English is that they think a hundred miles is a long distance, and the problem with the U.S. is that they think a hundred years is a long time.”) The “compromise solution” he offered was that it was OK to use cars to go further as a special solution on weekend, but go with other modes of transport for the bread-and-butter of weekdays. (And this is more or less how Europeans lean.)

Cars are one of many technologies that, when introduced, caused future shock. It’s taken as normal by subsequent generations, but there is a real sense of “This new technology is depriving us of something basically human,” and that pattern repeats. And perhaps, in a sense, this shock is the pain we experience as we are being lessened by degrees and slowly turning from man to machine-dominated.

CFLs and incandescent bulbs

There is something striking about CFL’s. American society has a long history of technology migrations, and a thorough enough “out with the old, in with the new” that working 16mm film projectors, for instance, now fetch a price because we have so thoroughly gotten rid of them in favor of video. And people who use them now aren’t using them as the normal way to see video; they may want to see old film canisters and maybe even digitize them (so they can be seen without the use of a film projector).

Compare with other countries such as Lebanon which have no real concept of being obsolete; they have a mix of old and new technologies and they get rid of an old piece of technology, not because it is old, but because it is worn out.

The fact that we are transitioning to CFL’s for most purposes is not striking; transitions happen all the time. One could trace “If you have a phone, it’s a landline,” to “You can have a two pound car phone, but it’s expensive,” to “You can have a cell phone that fits in your hand, but it’s expensive,” to “You can have a cell phone, which is much cheaper now,” to “You can have a cell phone that does really painful Internet access,” to “You can have a cell phone with graceful Internet access.” And there have been many successions like this, all because the adopters thought the new technology was an improvement on the old.

CFL’s are striking and disturbing because, while there may be a few people who think that slightly reduced electricity usage (much smaller than a major household appliance) justifies the public handling fragile mercury containers, by and large the adoption is not of a snazzier successor to incandescent bulbs. Not only must they be handled like live grenades, but the light is inferior. The human race grew up on full-spectrum light, such as the sun provides. Edison may not have been aiming for a full-spectrum light, but his light bulb does provide light across the spectrum; that is an effect of an incandescent light that produces light that looks at all near. This is a strange technology migration, and a rather ominous omen.

Given that most bulbs available now are CFL’s, there are better and worse choices. Some bulbs have been made with a filter outside the glass so they give off light that looks yellow rather than blue. I wouldn’t look for that in and of itself. But some give a full spectrum, even if it is a bluish full spectrum, and that is better. There are also lights sold that are slightly more shatter resistant, which is commendable, and there are some bulbs that are both full spectrum and shatter resistant. I’d buy the last kind if possible, or else a full spectrum CFL, at a hardware store if possible and online if not.

But I would momentarily like to turn attention from the extinction of regular use of incandescent bulbs to their introduction. Candles have been used since time immemorial, but they’re not a dimmer version of a light bulb. Even if you have candlesticks and candles lit, the candle is something of a snooze button or a minor concession: societies that used candles still had people active more or less during daylight hours. (Daylight Saving Time was an attempt to enable people to use productive daylight hours which they were effectively losing.) People who used candles were still effectively tied to the cycle of day and night. Light bulbs caused a shock because they let you operate as early or as late as you wanted. Candles allowed you to wrap up a few loose ends when night had really fallen. Light bulbs made nighttime optional. And it caused people future shock.

I have mentioned a couple of different responses to CFL’s: the first is to buy full spectrum and preferably shatter resistant (and even then handle the mercury containers like a live grenade), the second is turning to the rhythm of day and light and getting sunlight where you can. Note that inside most buildings, even with windows, sunlight is not nearly as strong as what the human person optimally needs. Let me mention one other possibility.

There is a medical diagnosis called ‘SAD’ for ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’, whose patients have lower mood during the winter months when we see very little light. The diagnosis seems to me a bit like the fad diagnosis of YTD, or Youthful Tendency Disorder, discussed in The Onion. If you read about it and are half-asleep it sounds like a description of a frightening syndrome. If you are awake you will recognize a description of perfectly normal human tendencies. And the SAD diagnosis of some degree of depression when one is consistently deprived of bright light sounds rather normal to me. And for that reason I think that some of the best lighting you can get is with something from the same manufacturer of the Sunbox DL SAD Light Box Light Therapy Desk Lamp. That manufacturer is one I trust; I am a little wary of some of their cheaper competitors. There is one cheaper alternative that provides LED light. Which brings me to a problem with LED’s. Basically, LEDs emit light of a single color. While you can choose what that color may be, white represents a difficult balancing act. If you’ve purchased one of those LED flashlights, it has what is called “lunar white”, which is basically a way of cheating at white light. (If you’ve ever gone to a dark closet and tried to pick out clothing by a lunar white flashlight, this may be why you had trouble telling what color your clothing was.) Expensive as they may be, a Sunbox light box may fit in to your best shot at taking in a healthy level of light.

Children’s toys

Charles Baudelaire, in his “la Morale du Joujou” (“the moral of the toy”) talks about toys and the fact that the best toys leave something to the imagination. Children at play will imagine that a bar of soap is a car; girls playing with dolls will play the same imagined drama with rag dolls as they will with dolls worth hundreds of dollars. There has been a shift, where Lego sets have shifted from providing raw material to being a specific model, made of specilized pieces, that the child is not supposed to imagine, only to assemble. Lego sets are perhaps the preferred childhood toy of professional engineers everywhere; some of them may have patronized Lego’s competitors, but the interesting thing about Legos that are not “you assemble it” models is that you have to supply something to what you’re building. Lego the company might make pieces of different sizes and shapes and made them able to stick together without an adhesive; I wouldn’t downplay that achievement on the part of the manufacturer, but the child playing with Legos supplies half of the end result. But this is not just in assembly; with older models, the Legos didn’t look exactly like what they were supposed to be. There was one time when I saw commercials for a miniature track where some kind of car or truck would transport a payload (a ball bearing, perhaps), until it came to a certain point and the payload fell through the car/track through a chute to a car below. And when I asked my parents to buy it for me and they refused, I built it out of Legos. Of course it did not look anything like what I was emulating, but I had several tracks on several levels and a boxy square of a vehicle would carry a marble along the track until it dropped its payload onto a car in the level below. With a bit of imagination it was a consolation for my parents not getting the (probably expensive) toy I had asked for, and with a bit of imagination a short broom is a horse you can ride, a taut cord with a sheet hung over it is an outdoor tent, and a shaky box assembled from sofa cushions is a fort. Not, perhaps, that children should be given no toys, or a square peg should be pounded into a round hole by giving everyone old-style Lego kits, but half of a children’s toy normally resides in the imagination, and the present fashion in toys is to do all the imagining for the child.

And there is a second issue in what is imagined for children. I have not looked at toys recently, but from what I understand dragons and monsters are offered to them. I have looked rather deeply into what is offered to children for reading. The more innocuous part is bookstores clearing the classics section of the children’s area for Disney Princess books. The more serious matter is with Dealing with Dragons and other Unman’s Tales.

The Cloud

Cloud computing is powerful, and it originated as a power tool in supercomputing, and has now come down to personal use in software like Evernote, a note-taking software system that synchronizes across all computers and devices which have it installed.

Essentially, besides being powerful, cloud computing, besides being very powerful, is one more step in abstraction in the world of computing. It means that you use computers you have never even seen. Not that this is new; it is a rare use case for someone using the Web to own any of the servers for the sites he is visiting. But none the less the older pattern is for people to have their own computers, with programs they have downloaded and/or purchased, and their own documents. The present trend to offload more and more of our work to the cloud is a step in the direction of vulnerability to the damned backswing. The more stuff you have in the cloud, the more of your computer investment can be taken away at the flick of a switch, or collapse because some intervening piece of the puzzle has failed. Not that computers are self-sufficient, but the move to the cloud is a way of being less self-sufficient.

My website is hosted on a cloud virtual private server, with one or two “hot spares” that I have direct physical access to. There are some reasons the physical machine, which has been flaky for far longer than a computer should be allowed to be flaky (and which keeps not getting fixed), is one I keep as a hot spare.

Contraception and Splenda
There was one mostly Catholic where I was getting annoyed at the degree of attention given to one particular topic: I wrote,

Number of posts in this past month about faith: 6

Number of posts in this past month about the Bible: 8

Number of posts in this past month about the Eucharist: 9

Number of posts in this past month extolling the many wonders of Natural Family Planning: 13

The Catholic Church’s teaching on Natural Family Planning is not, “Natural Family Planning, done correctly, is a 97% effective way to simulate contraception.” The Catholic Church’s teaching on children is that they are the crown and glory of sexual love, and way down on page 509 there is a footnote saying that Natural Family Planning can be permissible under certain circumstances.

And if I had known it, I would have used a quotation from Augustine I cited in Contraception, Orthodoxy, and Spin Doctoring: A look at an influential but disturbing article:

Is it not you who used to counsel us to observe as much as possible the time when a woman, after her purification, is most likely to conceive, and to abstain from cohabitation at that time, lest the soul should be entangled in flesh? This proves that you approve of having a wife, not for the procreation of children, but for the gratification of passion. In marriage, as the marriage law declares, the man and woman come together for the procreation of children. Therefore whoever makes the procreation of children a greater sin than copulation, forbids marriage, and makes the woman not a wife, but a mistress, who for some gifts presented to her is joined to the man to gratify his passion. Where there is a wife there must be marriage. But there is no marriage where motherhood is not in view; therefore neither is there a wife. In this way you forbid marriage. Nor can you defend yourselves successfully from this charge, long ago brought against you prophetically by the Holy Spirit (source; the Blessed Augustine is referring to I Tim 4:1-3).

Thus spoke the Catholic Church’s favorite ancient theologian on contraception; and to this it may be added that the term ‘Natural Family Planning’ is deceptive and perhaps treacherous in how it frames things. There is nothing particularly natural about artificially abstaining from sexual intercourse precisely when a woman is capable of the greatest desire, pleasure, and response.

The chief good of the marriage act is that it brings in to being new images of God; “a baby is God’s vote that the world should go on.” The chief good of eating is that it nourishes the body. Now there are also pleasures, but it is an act of confusion to see them as pleasure delivery systems and an act of greater confusions to frustrate the greater purpose of sex or eating so that one may, as much as possible, use them just as pleasure delivery systems.

There are other strange effects of this approach: for starters, Splenda use correlates to increased weight gain. Perhaps this is not strange: if you teach someone, “You can eat as much candy and drink as many soft drinks as you like,” the lesson is “You can consume more without worrying about your waistline,” and you will consume more: not only more foods containing Splenda, but more foods not containing Splenda.

There is an interesting history, as far as “Natural” Family Planning goes, about how in ancient times Church Fathers were skeptical at best of the appropriateness of sex during the infertile period, then people came to allow sex during the infertile period despite the fact that it was shooting blanks, and then the West came to a point where priests hearing confessions were to insinuate “Natural” Family Planning to couples who were using more perverse methods to have sex without children, and finally the adulation that can say that Natural Family Planning is the gateway to the culture of life.

Contraception and Splenda are twins, and with Splenda I include not only other artificial sweeteners, but so-called “natural” sweeteners like Agave and Stevia which happen not to be manufactured in a chemical factory, but whose entire use is to do Splenda’s job of adding sweetness without calories. What exists in the case of contraception and Splenda alike is neutralizing a greater good in order to have as much of the pleasure associated with that good as possible. It says that the primary purpose of food and sex, important enough to justify neutralizing other effects as a detriment to focusing on the pleasure, is to be a pleasure delivery system.

About pleasure delivery systems, I would refer you to:

The Pleasure-Pain Syndrome

The dialectic between pleasure and pain is a recurrent theme among the Fathers and it is something of a philosophical error to pursue pleasure and hope that no pain will come. If you want to see real discontent with one’s sexual experiences, look for those who are using Viagra and its kin to try to find the ultimate sexual thrill. What they will find is that sex becomes a disappointment: first sex without drugged enhancement becomes underwhelming, and then Viagra or Cialis fail to deliver the evanescent ultimate sexual thrill.

The Damned Backswing
There is a phenomenon where something appears to offer great improvements, but it has a damned backswing. For one example in economics, in the 1950’s the U.S. had an unprecedentedly high standard of living (meaning more appliances in houses—not really the best measure of living), and for decades it just seemed like, It’s Getting Better All the Time. But now the U.S. economy is being destroyed, and even with another regime, we would still have all the debts we incurred making things better all the time.

Another instance of the damned backswing is how medieval belief in the rationality of God gave rise to the heroic labors of science under the belief that a rational God would create a rational and ordered world, which gave way to modernism and positivism which might as well have put science on steroids, which in turn is giving way to a postmodernism and subjectivism that, even as some of it arose from the philosophy of science, is fundamentally toxic to objectivist science.

I invite you to read more about the damned backswing.

Email, texting, and IM’s
“Email is for old people,” one youngster said, and email is largely the wave of the past. Like landlines and desktop computers, it will probably not disappear completely; it will probably remain the communication channel of corporate notifications and organizational official remarks. But social communication via email is the wave of the past: an article in A List Apart said that the website had originated as a mailing list, and added, “Kids, go ask your parents.”

When texting first caught on it was neither on the iPhone nor the Droid. If you wanted to say, “hello”, you would probably have to key in, “4433555555666”. But even then texting was a sticky technology, and so far it is the only common technology I know of that is illegal to ue when driving. It draws attention in a dangerous way and is treated like alcohol in terms of something that can impair driving. It is a strong technological drug.

The marketing proposition of texting is an intravenous drip of noise. IM’s are similar, if not always as mobile as cell phones, and email is a weaker form of the drug that youth are abandoning for a stronger version. Now, it should also be said that they are useful, and the proper ascetical use is to take advantage of them because they are useful (or not; I have a phone plan without texting and I text rarely enough that the default $.20 per text makes sense and is probably cheaper than the basic plan.

Fasting and fasting from technologies

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

The healing of this comes in partly by eating, in the Holy Mysteries where we eat from the Tree of Life. But this is no imitation of Eve’s sin, or Adam’s. They lived in the garden of paradise, and there is no record of them fasting before taking from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Before we take communion, we answer the question “Where are you?”, the question in which God invited Adam and Eve to come clean and expose their wound to the Healer, and we prepare for confession and answer the question Adam and Eve dodged: “Where are you?” We do not live in a garden of delights, but our own surroundings, and we turn away from sensual pleasures. Adam and Eve hid from God; we pray to him and do not stop praying because of our own sordid unworthiness. And, having prepared, we eat from the Tree of Life.

You shall not surely die. and Your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, are some of the oldest marketing propositions, but they are remarkably alive in the realm of technology. Witness the triumph of hope over experience in the artificial intelligence project. Witness a society like the meticulously groomed technology of a Buddha who saw an old man, a sick man, and a dead man, and wondered whatever on earth they can mean. Mortality may be as total in our generation as any other, but we’ve done a good job of hiding it. Perhaps doctors might feel inadequate in the face of real suffering, but modern medicine can do a lot. In many areas of the third world, it might be painful, but it is not surprising to play with a child who was doing well two weeks ago and be told that he is dead. Death is not something one expects in homes; it is out of sight and half out of mind in hospitals and hospices. All of this is to say that those of us in the first world have a death-denying society, and if we have not ultimately falsified “You will surely die,” we’ve done a pretty good job of being in denial about it. And “You shall be as gods” is the marketing proposition of luxury cars, computers, smartphones, and ten thousand other propositions. My aunt on discovering Facebook said, “It feels like I am walking on water,” and Facebook offers at least a tacit marketing proposition of, “You shall be as gods.” Information technology in general, and particularly the more “sexy” forms of information technology, offer the marketing proposition of, Your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods.

There was one time as an undergraduate when I tried to see what it would be like to live as blind for a day, and so I was blindfolded and had a fascinating day which I wrote up for my psychology class. Now I would be careful in saying based on one day’s experience would let me understand the life experience of being blind, any more than a few days spent in Ontario entitle me to say that I understand Canadian culture. However, the experience was an interesting challenge, and it had something to do with fasting, even if it was more adventuresome than fasting normally is.

Fasting is first and foremost fasting from food, but there are other things one can fast from. Some Orthodox bid Facebook a temporary farewell for fasting seasons. On fasting days, we are bidden to cut back on sensory pleasures, which can mean cutting back on luxury technologies that give us pleasure.

I’m not sure how much fastiing from technologies should form a part of one’s rule; it is commonplace to discuss with one’s priest or spiritual father how one will keep one’s fast, and with what oikonomia if such is needed. But one of the rules of fasting is that one attempts a greater and greater challenge. Far from beiing a spiritual backwater, Lent is the central season of the Christian year. And so I will present twenty-three things you might do to fast from technology. (Or might not.)

  1. Sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor. (Monks mention sleeping on the floor as a discipline; the attenuated fast of sleeping on a sleepiing bag on the floor may help.)
  2. Leave your smartphone at home for a day.
  3. Leave all consumer electronics at home for a day.
  4. Only check for email, Facebook, etc. once every hour, instead of all the time.
  5. Don’t check your email; just write letters with a pen or lead pencil.
  6. Camp out in your back yard.
  7. Read a book outside, using sunscreen if appropriate.
  8. Organize some outdoor activity with your friennds or family.
  9. Don’t use your computer or smartphone while you are preparing for the Eucharist.
  10. Basic: If you have games and entertainment apps or application, don’t play them when you are fasting.
  11. Harder: If you have games and entertainment applications, delete them.
  12. Basic: Spend an hour outside with a book or an ebook Kindle, doing nothing but read and observe the trees, the wind. and the grass growing. (You are welcome to use my ebooks.)
  13. Harder: Spend an hour outide, but not with a book, just observing the trees, the wind, and the grass growing.
  14. Don’t use your car for a week. It’s OK to get rides, and it may be a pleasure speaking with your friends, but experience being, in part, dependent, and you may be surprised how some of your driving suddenly seems superflous.
  15. Shut off power for an hour. If you keep your fridge and freezer doors shut, you shouldn’t lose food, and sometimes power loss has meant adventure.
  16. Turn off your computer’s network access but still see what you can do with it for a day. (The Luddite’s Guide to Technology is written largely on a computer that doesn’t have internet access forr the majority of the time it is being used to write this.)
  17. Especially if you have a beautiful screensaver, set your computer to just display a blank screen, and have a single color or otherwise dull wallpaper for a time, perhaps for a fasting season.
  18. Switch your computer’s resolution to 800×600 or the tiniest it can go. That will take away much of its status as a luxury.
  19. Make a list of interesting things to do that do not involve a computer, tablet, or smartphone.
  20. Do some of the vibrant things on the list that do not involve a computer, tablet, or smartphone.
  21. Use computers or whatever other technologies, not for what you can get from them, but what you can give through them.
  22. Bear a little more pain. If pain is bearable, don’t take pain medication. If you can deal with a slightly warmer room in the summer, turn down the air conditioning. If you can deal with a slightly cooler room in the winter, turn down the heat.
  23. Visit a monastery.A monastery is not thought of in terms of being Luddite, but monasteries tend to be lower in level than technology, and a good monastery shows the vibrancy of life not centered about technology. And this suggestion is different.All the other suggestions say, “I would suggest.” The suggestion about the monastery says, “God has given.”
There is some ambiguity, or better yet a double meaning, when the New Testament uses the term “breaking bread.” On one level, breaking bread means a shared meal around the table. On another, it means celebrating the Eucharist.

You can say that there is one sacrament, or that there are seven, or that there are a million sacraments. A great many things in life have a sacramental dimension, even if the man on the street would not consider these to be religious matters. There is something sacramental about friendship. And there is something sacramental about a meal around a table. Even if the sacramental character of a meal is vanishing.

Proverbs said, “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fatted ox and hatred with it.” Today one may draw forth an implication: “Better is a dinner of really bad fast food than the most exquisite Weston A. Price Foundation meal where there is hatred.”

However, there are ways that the sacramental character of meals is falling away. Many foods are not intended to be eaten around a table with family or friends: think of microwave dinners and the 100 calorie snack pack. Read Nourishing Traditions, which tells how far our industrial diet has diverged from meals that taste delicious precisely because they are nutritionally solid.

But besides the plastic-like foods of the industrial diet, there is another concern with munching or inhaling. The Holy Eucharist can legitimately be served, in an extreme case, with plastic-like foods. For that matter it is normal for it to be made with white flour, and white flour is high on the list of foods that should be limited. And it would be a mistake to insist on whole wheat flour because it is overall healthier. But with extreme exceptions such as grave illness, the Holy Mysteries are not to be consumed by oneself off in a corner. They are part of the unhurried unfolding of the Divine Liturgy, which ideally unfolds rather naturally into the unhurried unfolding of a common meal.

Both eating snacks continually to always have the pleasure of the palate, and the solo meal that is inhaled so it can be crammed into an over-busy schedule, fall short of the (broadly) sacramental quality of a common meal around a table.

In Alaska there are many people but not so many priests, and therefore many parishes rarely celebrate the Divine Liturgy. And a bishop, giving advice, gave two pastoral directions to the faithful: first that they should pray together, and second that they should eat together.

Let us try harder to eat with others.

“Forms of life” (Wittgenstein)

I’m not Wittgenstein’s biggest fan, and I wince when people speak of “after Wittgenstein.” But his concept of “forms of life” is relevant here. A form of life is something that is structural to how people live, and normally tacit; a professor was searching for an example of “forms of life” to give to the class, and after a couple of minutes of silence I said, “You are trying to a difficult thing. You are trying to find something that is basically tacit and not consciously realized, but that people will recognize once it is pointed out. I guess that you have thought of a few possibilities and rejected them because they fall around on one of those criteria.” And he searched a bit more, and gave the example of, “It used to be that procreation was seen as necessary for human flourishing. Now people think that limiting procreation is seen as necessary for human flourishing.”

Arguably a Luddite’s Guide to Forms of Life would be more useful than The Luddite’s Guide to Technology, but in the discussion of different technologies there is always a concern for what Wittgenstein would call forms of life. It is possible to turn on the television for 10 minutes a day for weather information, and that retains the same form of life as not using television at all. Watching television for hours a day is, and shapes, a distinct form of life. And in some sense the basic question addressed in this work is not, “What technologies are you using?” but “What forms of life do you have given your technology usage?

Future shock

Some people have said that Americans are in a constant state of “future shock,” “future shock” being understood by analogy to “culture shock”, which is a profoundly challenging state when you are in a culture that tramples assumptions you didn’t know you had. Not all of future shock is in relation to technology, but much of it is.

We think of a “rising standard of living,” meaning more unfamiliar possessions in many cases, and even if the economy itself is not a rising standard of living now, we have accepted the train of new technology adoption as progress, but there has been something in us that says, “This is choking something human.” And in a sense this has always been right, the older technologies as the new, for movies as much as augmented reality.

One author said, “The future is here. It’s just unevenly distributed.”


GPS is in general an example of something that has a double effect. Traditionally advertising in an overall effect helps people to covet what a company has to offer, and the behavior stimulated by the advertising is to advance the company’s interest, even though the company never says “We are making this so that we will acquire more money or market share.” As in How to Win Friends and Influence People, the prime actor is attempting to pursue his or her own interests, while it is presented entirely as being to the advantage of the other party on the other party’s terms.

Apple didn’t just change the game by making the first smartphone done right, in which regard the iPhone is commonly considered more significant than the Macintosh. The company that invented and still sells the Macintosh has established something more important than owning a Macintosh: owning an iPhone or iPad, which unlike the Macintosh generate a steady subscription income stream. The price for my MacBook was 100% up front: now that I’ve made the one-time purchase, I do not have any further financial obligations that will filter to Apple. My iPhone, on the other hand, has a subscription and contract; part of my hefty baseline phone bill goes to Apple. And if I were to purchase an iPad, I would have two subscriptions. (The main reason I have not seriously moved towards buying an iPad is not what I would pay up front; it is adding another subscription.)

The GPS also has a double effect. It is what science fiction writers called a “tracking device.” Now it is a terrifically useful traffic advice; part of the marketing proposition offered for Sila on the iPhone 4 S is that it makes terrifically resourceful use of a GPS. (“I feel like a latte.”—and it is the GPS that Sila uses to find nearby locations where one might find a latte.) On a more pedestrian level GPS for driving(or biking, or walking) has become so entrenched that people don’t know what they’d do without it to reach unfamiliar locations. I have never heard someone question the utility of a GPS for this or other purposes, and I’ve heard of interesting-sounding hobbies like geocaching where you navigate to specified coordinates and then search out and find some hidden attraction in the area indicated by the GPS.

But for all of these things, GPSes, as well as cell phones in general, provide one more means for Big Brother (and possibly more than one Big Brother) to know exactly where you go, when you go there, what the patterns are, and other things where Big Brotherwill keep closer tabs on your whereabouts and activities than your spouse or parent. IBM published a book on “Why IBM for Big Data?” and made it very clear that Big Brother analysis of data isn’t just for No Such Agency. It’s also for the corporate world. One author told the seemingly attractive story of having made repeated negative posts on his FaceBook wall, slamming an airline after repeated problems, and the airline reached out to him and gave him a service upgrade. This was presented in the most positive light, but it was very clear that business were being invited to use IBM’s expertise to do Big Data Big Brother analysis on social networks.

Guns and modern weapons (for fantasy swords, see Teleporters)

Let me give a perhaps controversial preamble before directly talking about weapons.

I have spoken both with NRA types and anti-gun advocates, and there is a telling difference. The anti-gun advocates point to hard-hitting, emotional news stories where a walking arsenal opens fire in a school and kills many people. The NRA types may briefly talk about selective truth-telling and mention an incident where someone walked into a church armed to kill a bear, and an off-duty security guard who was carrying a gun legally and with the explicit permission of church leadership, “stopped the crime.” But that is something of a tit-for-tat sideline to the main NRA argument, which is to appeal to statistical studies that show that legal gun ownership does not increase crime.

I have a strong math background and I am usually wary of statistics. However, I find it very striking that anti-gun advocates have never in my experience appealed to statistics to show that legal gun ownership increases crome, but only give hard-hitting emotional images, while the bread-and-butter of NRA argument is an appeal to research and statistics. I’ve never personally investigated those statistics, but there is something suspicious and fishy when only one side of a debate seriously appeals to research and statistics.

With that preamble mentioned, learning to really use a gun is a form of discipline and stillness, and I tried to capture it in the telescope scene in Within the Steel Orb. Hunting can be a way to be close to your food, and I approve of hunting for meat but not hunting for taxidermy. However, sacramental shopping for weapons is as bad as any other sacramental shopping. I would tentatively say that if you want skill with a weapon, and will train to the point that it becomes something of a spiritual discipline, then buying a weapon makes sense. If you want to buy a gun because all the cool guys in action-adventure movies have one, or you are not thinking of the work it takes to handle a gun safely and use it accurately, I would question the appropriateness of buying a gun.

(Owning a gun because that is part of your culture is one thing; buying a gun because they are glamorized in movies is another thing entirely.)

And that is without investigating the question of whether it is appropriate to use violence in the first place. St. George the soldier and the passion-bearers Ss. Boris and Gleb are both honored by the Church; yet the better path is the one set forth in the Sermon on the Mount.

Heating and air conditioning
A college roommate commented that middle class Americans had basically as much creature comforts were available. Not that they can buy everything one would want; but there is a certain point beyond which money cannot purchase necessities, only luxuries, and then a certain point after that where money cannot purchase luxuries, only status symbols, and a point beyond that where money cannot purchase any more meaningful status symbols, only power. And middle class Americans may well not be able to purchase every status symbol they want, but really there is not much more creature comfort that would come with ten times one’s salary.

Heating and air conditioning are one such area, and monastics wear pretty much the same clothing in summer and winter. One Athonite monk talked about a story about how several Russian sailors made a fire and stood close, and still did not feel warm, while islanders who were barely clad stood some distance off and were wincing because of the heat. We lose some degree of spiritual strength if we insist on having cool buildings in the summer and warm buildings in the winter. Even just cutting back a bit, so that buildings are warm but not hot in the summer and cool but not cold in the winter would constitute a spiritual victory. Usually this sort of thing is argued for environmental reasons; I am not making the argument that the lowered utility usage is good for the environment but that the lowered utility usage is constructive and, in the old phrase, “builds character.” Indoor tracks exist, but in the summer I see bicyclists and runners exercising hard in the summer. These people are not super-heroes, and exercising in the heat really does not seem to be much of a deterrent to getting one’s artificially added exercise. The human body and spirit together are capable of a great deal more sturdiness, when instead of always seeking comfort we learn that we can function perfectly well after adjusting to discomfort. (And this is not just with heating and air conditioning; it is true with a lot of things.)


There is an ancient code of hospitality that recently has been influenced by consumer culture. What commercial marketing does, or at least did, to make a gesture of friendship and welcome was by offering a selection of choices carefully fitted to the demographics being targeted. Starbucks not only established that you could market an experience that would command a much higher price than a bottomless cup of coffee at a regular diner; they sold not one coffee but many coffees. You had a broad selection of consumer choices. Starbucks was doubtlessly more successful than some frozen yoghurt places I visited in grad school, which offered something like fifty or more flavors and varieties of yoghurts and had staff who were mystified when customers said, “But I just want some frozen yoghurt!” As a nuance, Starbucks offers guidance and suggestions for the undecided—and a large number of choices for the decided.

And in light of the hospitality industry, hosts offer guests choices and sometimes mystify them by the offering: a guest, according to the older (unwritten) code, did not have the responsibility of choosing what would be offered. Now perhaps I need to clarify, or maybe don’t need to clarify, that if you have a severe peanut allergy and your host offers you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you are not duty bound to accept it. But even then, social graces come to play. I remembered one time, at a feast although not strictly a host/guest relationship, when I offered a friend a glass of port and he kindly reminded me that he was a recovering alcoholic. I apologized profusely, and he stopped me and said, “I appreciate the offer, I just can’t drink it.” So then I offered him something he could consume, and he took it and thanked me for it. Social graces apply.

But this is something of a footnote. There is a story of a staretz or monastic spiritual father who was going with one of a monk’s disciples, and they visited a monastery that was feasting with bread, and the elder and disciple both shared in that informal communion, and then the two of them resumed their journey. The disciple asked the master if he could drink water, and to his astonishment was told no. The master, in answering his question, said, “That was love’s bread. But let us keep the fast.” The Fathers are very clear: as one priest said, “Hospitality trumps fasting.” And the assumption there is that fasting is important enough. This piece originated with the title, “Fasting from technologies.” But hospitality is even more important.

The ancient rule of hospitality, although this is never thought of in these terms with today’s understanding of authority, is that the host has a profound authority over the guest which the guest will obey, even to the point of trumping fasting. But this is not what we may think of as despotism: the entire purpose and focus of the host’s role in hospitality is to extend the warmest welcome to the guest. I remember one time when a friend visited from Nigeria, and although I set some choices before them, when I said, “We can do A, B, and C; I would recommend B,” in keeping with hospitality they seemed to always treat my pick as tacit authority and went along with me. It was a wonderful visit; my friend made a comment about being treated like royalty, but my thought was not about how well I was treating them. My thought was that this would probably be the last time I saw my friend and her immediate family face to face, and I’d better make it count.

I might comment that this is tied to our inability today to understand a husband’s authority over his wife and the wife’s submission. The rôle is somewhat like that of host and guest. A liberal source speaking on the Ephesians haustafel as it dealt with husbands and wives said that it did not portray marriage in terms of the husband’s authority, while a conservative source understood authority at a deeper level: it said that nowhere here (or anywhere else in the Bible) are husbands urged, “Exercise your authority!”, but the text that says, Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord, also says, Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it. If the wife’s role is to submit herself to her husband as to the Lord, the husband’s role is to give up his life as Christ was crucified for the Church.

And all of this seems dead to us as we have grown dead to it. The role of hospitality, including authority, is infinitely less important than marriage, yet we see a husband’s authority as external and domineering, when it is less external than the host’s authority. And I am drawn to memories of visiting one very traditional couple where both of them exuded freedom and comfort and dealing with them felt like a foot sliding into a well-fitting shoe. But if we see a husband having authority over a wife as a foreign imposition and nothing like the implicit authority we do not even recognize between host and guest (where the host’s authority consists in making every decision to show as much kindness as possible to the guest), this is not a defect in marriage but in our deafened ears.

An intravenous drip of noise

“Silence is the language of the age to come,” as others have said. Hesychasm is a discipline of stillness, of silence, of Be still and know that I am God. Whether spiritual silence is greater than other virtues, I do not wish to treat here; suffice it to say that all virtues are great health, and all vices are serious spiritual diseases, and all are worth attention.

There are a number of technologies whose marketing proposition is as a noise delivery system. The humble radio offers itself as a source of noise. True, there are other uses, such as listening to a news radio station for weather and traffic, but just having a radio on in the background is noise. Other sources of noise include television, iPods, smartphones, the web, and top sites like FaceBook, Google Plus, and the like. Right use of these tends to be going in and out for a task, even if the task lasts five hours, versus having noise as a drone in the background.

In terms of social appropriateness, there is such a thing as politely handling something that is basically rude. For one example, I was visiting a friend’s house and wanted to fix his printer, and apologetically said I was going to call my brother and called him to ask his opinion as a computer troubleshooter. I handled the call as something that was basically rude even though the express purpose was to help with something he had asked about and it was a short call. And it was handled politely because I handled it as something that is basically rude. And other people I know with good manners do sometimes make or receive a cell phone call when you otherwise have their attention, but they do so apologetically, which suggests that just ignoring the other person and making a phone call is rude. In other words, they politely handle the interruption by treating it as something that is basically rude, even if (as in the case I mentioned) the entire intention of the call was to help me help the friend I was visiting.

Something like this applies to our use of technology. There are things that are entirely appropriate if we handle them as something that is basically “rude.” Or, perhaps, “noisy.” The equivalent of making a long phone call when you are with someone, without offering any apology or otherwise treating it as basically rude, is laying the reins on the horse’s neck and allowing technologies to function as a noise delivery system. And what we need is to unplug our intravenous drip of noise.

Silence can be uncomfortable if you are used to the ersatz companionship of noise. If you have been in a building and step outside into the sunlight at noon, you may be dazzled. Most spiritual discicplines stretch us into something that is uncomfortable at first: the point is to be stretched more each time. The Philokalia talks about how people hold on to sin because they think it adorns them: to this may be added that after you repent and fear a shining part of you may be lost forever, you realize, “I was holding on to a piece of Hell.” Silence is like this; we want a noise delivery system as a drone, and once we begin to get used to its absence, there is a deeper joy. It may take time; it takes something like a year for a recovering alcoholic’s brain chemistry to reset. But once we have got rid of the drug, once we have repented and sought to bear fruit worthy of repentance, we may find ourselves (to adapt the title of a book) blindsided by joy.

Killing time
“You cannot kill time,” the saying goes, “without injuring eternity.”

At least one breakdown of mobile users has said that they fall into three groups: “Urgent now,” people who have some degree of emergency and need directions, advice, contingency plans, and the like, “Repeat now,” people who are monitoring information like whether or how their stocks are doing, and “Bored now,” people who are caught and have some time to kill, and look for a diversion.

“Bored now” use of cell phones is simply not constructive spiritually; it offers a virtual escape for the here and now God has given us, and it is the exact opposite of the saying, “Your cell [as a monk] will teach you everything you need to know.”

The lead pencil

The lead pencil is a symbol of an alternative to an overly technologized world; one organization of people who have made a conscious decision to avoid the encroachment of technology chose the lead pencil as their emblem and formed the Lead Pencil Club.

But the lead pencil is a work of technology, and one that 99% of humans who ever lived have never seen any more than a cuneiform stylus or any other writing implement. And even such a seemingly humble technology comes about in an impressive fashion; one economist wrote a compelling case that only God knows how pencils are made.

Sitting down and writing letters is a valuable discipline, but the norm that has been lived by 99% of the human race is oral culture; anthropologists have increasingly realized that the opposite of “written” culture is not “illiterate” culture but “oral” culture. And the weapon that slides through the chink in oral culture’s armor is the writing implement, such as the lead pencil. It is not the computer, but the lead pencil and its kin, that serve as a disease vector to destroy age-old orality of culture.

This is not to say that you can’t try to use computer keyboards less and pens and pencils more. But understand that you’re not turning the clock all the way back by writing handwritten letters, however commendable the love in handwritten letters may be. The lead pencil is a technology and to those societies that embrace it, it is the death knell to an old way.

The long tail

The long tail can be your best friend, or an insidious enemy.

Let me briefly outline the long tail. A retail bookstore needs to sell one copy of a book in a year’s time, or else it is losing them money: shelf space is an expensive commodity. And all of this leads to a form of implicit censorship, not because bookstores want to stamp out certain books, but because if it’s not a quick seller or a safe bet it’s a liability.

By contrast, Amazon has large volumes of shelf space; their warehouses might comfortably store a city. And it costs them some money to acquire books, but the price of keeping books available is insignificant compared to a brick-and-mortar bookstore. And what that means, and not just on Amazon, that the economic censorship is lifted. People used to wonder who would be able to fill hundreds or more cable channels; now Youtube would be hard pressed to reduce itself down to a thousand channels. And so a much larger portion of Amazon’s profits comes from having an enormous inventory of items that occasionally make a sale.

There is specialization implicit in the long tail; if you want to know how to make something, chances are pretty good that some blog explains how. And the proper ascetical use of technology, or Luddite if you prefer, uses things differently than the mainstream. Nobody in a phone store is going to tell you that an intravenous drip of noise in terms of text messages that go on even when you are trying to sleep does not make you happier than if you use texting when there is a special need. Some of the best resources you will find for ascetical use of technology are to be found in the long tail.

But there is something else that comes with it. The temptation is to be off in our own customized worlds, with everything around our interests. And that is a form of spiritual poverty. Part of an age-old ascesis has been learning how to deal with the people who are around you, localist style, instead of pursuing your own nooks and crannies. The monoculture of retail stores in America was first a problem, not because it had no long tail effects, but because it supplanted at least an implicit localism. Local cultures gave way to plastic commercial culture.

And we can use the long tail to our profit, if we don’t lay the reins on the horse’s neck. Shopping on the Internet for things that won’t be local stores is one thing; shopping on the Internet so you don’t have to get out of your pyjamas is another.

The long tail can be a gold mine, but it is subject to the damned backswing.

Marketing proposition

There was one CIA official who said, being interviewed by a journalist, that he would never knowingly hire someone who was attracted by the romance of cloak and dagger work. Now this was quite obviously someone who did want to hire people who would be a good fit, but someone who wants to join a cloak and dagger agency as a gateway to have life feel like a James Bond movie is off on the wrong foot.

I doubt if any major intelligence agency has promoted James Bond movies because they think it’s a good way to draw the right recruits, but James Bond movies function as highly effective advertisements. They may not lead people to be able to stick out the daily grind and level of bureaucracy in a three-letter government agency, but they give a strong sense that spying is cool, and cool in a way that probably has only the most accidental resemblance to life in one of those bureaucratic organizations.

Cop shows likewise show police officers pulling their guns out much more than in real life; it is a frequent occurrence on the cop shows I’ve seen, while the last figure I heard was that real, live, flesh and blood police officers draw a gun on the job (apart from training) once every few years if even that.

Advertisement is produced as a service to the companies whose goods and services are being advertised, but the real message they sell is if anything further from the truth than the “accidental advertisement” of James Bond movies advertising a romantic version of bureaucratic intelligence agencies and cop shows making a dramaticization that effectively ignores the day-to-day work of police officers because it just doesn’t make good drama. (What would happen to the ratings of a cop show if they accurately portrayed the proportion of time that police officers spend filling out paperwork?)

Advertising sells claims that are further out. Two examples discussed in a class showed a family that moved, and what was juxtaposed as cementing this bonding time was a vacuum cleaner. In another commercial, racial harmony was achieved by eating a hamburger. The commercials that stuck with me from childhood were in one case kids jumping around with rotating camera angles because they were wearing a particular brand of shoes: When I asked my parents for those shoes, they explained to me that the commercial was made to make me want them, and I took a marker and colored the patterns on the bottom of the shoes on the add on to my shoes. Another one showed a game of Laser Tag that was end to end acrobatics. Now I have never played Laser Tag, and I get the impression people like it, but I doubt that its gear confers the ability to do theatrically delivered acrobatics.

Marketing is usually more subtle and seductive than I have portrayed it here. The vacuum cleaner did not offer any words connecting the appliance with family connectedness; it’s just that this family was going through a major experience and the vacuum cleaner appeared with perfect timing just at the center of that memory. The marketing message that is portrayed is seductive and false, and it is never the right basis to judge the product on. The product may be the right thing to buy and it may well be worth buying, but only after one has rejected the mystique so masterfully built up in the marketing proposition. If it is right for me to study ninjutsu, it will only be right after I have rejected the ninja mystique, something which the nearest dojo does in fact do: they refer to the martial art they teach as “toshindo”, nor “ninjutsu”, even though they refer to essentially the same thing in Japanese.

I have said earlier, or rather repeated, the words, “Hang the fashions. Buy only what you need.” They bear repeating, but is there anything else to add? I would add three things:

  1. Reject sacramental shopping.
  2. Reject the mystique advertising has sold you this product on.
  3. Wait until your heart becomes clear about what is the best choice, and then make the best choice.

The best choice, in the third world, may be to buy a Mercedes-Benz instead of a Ford because you cannot afford to replace a Ford in six years.

But take care of the spiritual housecleaning first.

Martial arts
There have been two times in my life that I have studied martial arts, and both of them have been times of exceptional spiritual dryness. I have not felt any particular dryness when learning how to use a bow and arrow—or a .22—but there is something different about at least internal Asian martial arts. Practicing them, like Orthodoxy, is walking along a way. And it would seem somewhat confused to try to pursue one of these ways along with the Orthodox way.

I am careful of declaring this in the absolute; the literature is ambivalent but there are soldiers who bear the cross of St. George, and many of them have training in Asian martial arts. That looks to me grey, as outlined in the timeless way of relating.

I am tempted to train in ninjutsu: partly for technique, partly because the whole of the training includes stealth, and partly for practical self-defense. But I am treating that desire as a temptation, on the understanding that God can impress things on my conscience if he wants me to enter training.

MMO’s (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games, like World of Warcraft)

“Do You Want to Date My Avatar?” was designed and created as a viral video, and something about it really stuck.

There are common threads between many of the things there, and an MMO is a cross between the MUDs I played in high school, and SecondLife. The MUDs were handled from pure text, leaving imagery in the player’s imagination; MMO’s provide their own imagery. Another form of escape.

Money and financial instruments

The Fathers commenting on St. Job also illustrate another principle of such wealth as existed then. St. Job is reported as having thousands of herd animals and thousands of beasts of burden, the wealthiest of the men of the East. But there are somewhat pointed remarks that wealthy Job is not reported to possess gold or silver. His wealth was productive wealth, living wealth, not a vault of dead metal coins. In modern terms he did not live off an endowment of stocks and bonds, but owned and ran a productive business.

Endowments are a means of being independently wealthy, and this ultimately means “independent from God.” Now the wealthiest are really as dependent on God as the poorest; let us remember the parable of the rich fool, in which a man congratulates himself for amassing everything he would need and that night the angels demanded his soul from him. The ending is much sadder than St. Job’s story.

Those of us in the world usually possess some amount of money, but there is something that makes me uncomfortable about the stock market overall, even moreso for the more abstract financial instruments. What one attempts to do is gain the most money from one’s existing money as much as possible, given the amount of risk you want and possibly including such outliers as ethical index funds which only index stocks deemed to meet an ethical standard. The question I have is, “What are we producing for what we get out of the stock market?” Working in a job delivers tangible value, or at least can. Investing in the stock market may be connected with helping businesses to function, but more and more abstract forms of wealth have the foul smell that heralds the coming of the damned backswing.

I would suggest as a right use of wealth acquiring tools that help you work, and being generous even or especially if money is tight. And explicitly depending on God.

When movies had arrived on the scene and were starting to have a societal effect, at least one Luddite portrayed a character moving from one movie to another in escapism. The premise may seem quaint now, but a little bit of that keeps on happening with new technologies.

One fellow parishioner talked about how in Japan, anime shows aired with a certain animation technique, and all of the sudden emergency rooms were asking why they were being inundated with people having epileptic seizures. And when they saw the connection, Japan stopped cold in its use of that animation technique. He said that that underscored to him the power of television and movies.

I don’t quite agree with him, any more than I would agree with using findings that extremely high levels of artificial light—fluorescent or incandescent‐cause problems, and we should therefore be very wary of lighting. For most sedentary people, even with artificial light (fluorescent or incandescent), the level of exposure to light is materially lower than natural exposure to the sun, and people who spend their time indoors tend to see less light (significantly less light) than people living outdoors. I didn’t accept his conclusion, but he followed with another insight that I can less easily contest.

He asked if I saw movies infrequently (we had not discussed the topic, but he knew me well enough to guess where I might stand), and I told him that I usually don’t watch movies. He asked me if I had ever observed that an hour after seeing a movie, I felt depressed. I had not made any connection of that sort, even if now it seems predictable from the pleasure-pain syndrome. And now I very rarely see movies, precisely because the special effects and other such tweaks are stronger than I am accustomed to seeing; they go like a stiff drink to the head of the teetotaler. And on this score I would rather not be the person who has a stiff drink every so often, and whose body tolerates alcohol better, but the person whose system hasn’t had to make such an adjustment, an adjustment that includes losses. The little pleasures of life are lost on someone used to a rising standard of special effects, and the little pleasures of life are more wholesome than special effects.

As I discussed in Religion And Science Is Not Just Intelligent Design Vs. Evolution, one of the forms of name-dropping in academic theology is to misuse “a term from science”: the claim to represent “a term from science” is endemic in academic theology, but I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve read “a term from science” that was used correctly.

One book said it was going to introduce “a term from computer science,” toggling, which meant switching rapidly between several applications. The moral of this story was that we should switch rapidly between multiple activities in our daily lives.

What I would have said earlier is, “While that moral might be true, what it is not is a lesson from computer science.” What I would say now is, “Never mind if that is a lesson from computer science. The moral is fundamentally flawed.”

In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:22, Christ says, “If your eye be,” and then a word that doesn’t come across in translation very well. It is rendered “healthy” (NIV), “clear” (NASB), “sound” (RSV), and “good” (NKJV, NLT), Only the King James Version properly renders the primary sense of haplous as “single.” This may be a less user-friendly transltion but it captures something the other translations miss. The context of the discussion of the eye as the lamp of the body is about choosing whether to have a single focus in serving God, or try to multitask between serving God and money. Haplous does have “healthy”, “clear”, “sound”, and “good” as secondary meanings, but the primary meaning is the less accessible one that I have only found in the Greek and in the King James. If the eye is the lamp of the body, and it is important that the eye be single, then by extension the whole person is to be single, and as one aspect of this single eye, give a whole and single attention to one thing at a time. Now this is not necessarily a central, foreground focus in the Sermon on the Mount, but as its logic unfurls, even as spiritual silence unfurls, a single eye gives its whole and undivided attention to one thing at a time. (And study after study has shown that increased productivity through multitasking is an illusion; divided attention is divided attention and hurts all manner of actions.)


The term “nutriceuticals is itself an ambiguous and ambivalent term.

On the one hand, ‘nutriceuticals’ can refer to the diet advanced by the Nourishing Traditions school, and while nutrition should not be considered on its own without reference to the big picture of exercise, work, light, almsgiving, fasting, prayer, and the Holy Mysteries, there is something to the recipes and type of diet advocated in Nourishing Traditions.

There are also the different, and differently excellent, nutriceuticals of a company that combines absolutely top-notch supplements with a pushy, multi-lev—I mean, a unique opportunity to become CEO of your own company. (I am formally a distributor; please contact me if you want to be a customer or possibly distributor without being pushed to drink Kool-Aid.)

However, it seems that everybody selling certain things wants to be selling “nutriceuticals”, and there are people selling “synthetic testosterone” as a “nutriceutical.” Friends, I really hope that the offer of “synthetic testosterone” is false advertising, because if it is false advertising they are probably delivering a better product than if it’s truth in advertising. Testosterone is a steroid, the chief of the anabolic steroids used to get muscles so big they gross girls out. Now testosterone does have legitimate medical uses, but using steroids to build disgustingly huge muscles can use up to a hundred times what legitimate medical use prescribes, and it does really nasty things to body, mind, and soul.

I get the impression that most things sold as nutriceuticals are shady; to authorities, illegal nutriceuticals are probably like a water balloon, where you step on it one place and it just slides over a bit to the side. It used to be that there were perhaps a dozen major street drugs on the scene; now there is a vast bazaaar where some “nutriceuticals” are squeaky-clean, and some “neutriceuticals” are similar in effect to illegal narcotics but not technically illegal, and some of them are selling testosterone without medical supervision or worse.

So buyer beware. There’s some good stuff out there (I haven’t talked about goji berries), but if you want a healthy diet to go with healthy living, read and cook from Nourishing Traditions, and if you want another kind of good nutriceutical supplement without being pushed to drink Kool-Aid, contact me and you might be my first customer. (No, I don’t have dreams of striking it rich through, um, “my business.” I am satisfied enough with my job.)

Old Technologies

There is a Foxtrot cartoon where the mother is standing outside with Jason and saying something like, “This is how you throw a frisbee.”—”This is how you play catch.”—”This is how you play tennis.” And Jason answers, “Enough with the historical re-enactments. I want to play some games!” (And there is another time when he and Marcus had been thrown out of the house and were looking at a frisbee and saying, “This is a scratch on the Linux RAID drive.”)

Old technologies are usually things that caused changes and moved people away from what might be called more natural forms of life. However, they represent a lower drug dose than newer technologies. The humble lead pencil may be historically be the kind of technology that converted cultures away from being oral; however, a handwritten letter to an old friend is profoundly different from a stream of texts. And in my technological soliloquoy above, two out of the three technologies I mentioned represent an old tradition. Being familiar with some of the best of older technologies may be helpful, and in general they do not have the layers on layers of fragile character that have been baked into new technologies. A Swiss Army Knife is still a portable toolchest if something messes up with the Internet. Bicycles are not a replacement for cars—you can’t go as fast or as far, or stock up on groceries—but many people prefer bicycles when they are a live option, and a good bicycle has far fewer points of failure than a new car.

I noted when I was growing up that a power failure meant, “Office work stops.” Now more recently an internet or network failure means, “Office work stops,” and there is someone who said, “Systems integration is when your computer doesn’t work because of a problem on a computer you never knew existed.” Older technologies are in general not so fragile, and have more of a buffer zone before you get in to the damned backswing.

Online forums
Online forums are something of a mixed blessing. They can allow discussion of obscure topics, and have many of the benefits of the the long tail. I happily referred someone who was learning Linux to But the blessing is mixed, and when I talked with my priest about rough stuff on an Orthodox forum, he said, “People love to talk about Orthodoxy. The real challenge is to do it.”

Online forums may be more wisely used to consult for information and knowhow, but maybe not the best place to find friends, or perhaps a good place to find friends, but not a good place to use for friendship.

Planned obsolescence, fashion, and being built NOT to last
When I made one visit to the Dominican Republic, one thing that surprised me was that a substantial number of the vehicles I saw were Mercedes-Benz or other luxury brands by U.S. standards, while there were no or almost no U.S. cars. The reason I was given to this by my youth pastor is that you can keep a German engineered car up and running for 30 years if you take care of it; with a U.S. car you are doing well to have a car still running after 10 years. German cars, among others, are engineered and built to last; U.S. cars are engineered and built NOT to last. And in the Dominican Republic economy, buying a car that may well run for 30 years is something people can afford; buying a car that may only last 5-7 years is a luxury people cannot afford. An old but well-cared-for Mercedes Benz, Saab, Volvo, or BMW will probably last longer than a new car which is “imported from Detroit.”

One of the features of an industrual economy is that the economy needs to have machines in production and people buying things. If we ask the question, “Was economic wealth made for man, or man for economic wealth,” the decisive answer of industrial economy is, “Man was made for economic wealth.” There are artificial measures taken to manipulate culture so as to maximize production and consumption of economic wealth, three of which are planned obsolescence, fashion, and being built NOT to last.

Planned obsolescence socially enforces repeat purchases by making goods that will have a better version available soon; in computers relatively little exploration is done to make a computer that will last a long time, because computers usually only need to last until they’re obsolete, and that level of quality is “good enough for government work.” I have an iPhone 4 and am glad not to be using my needlessly snail-like AT&T-serviced iPhone 1, but I am bombarded by advertisements telling me that I need an iPhone 4S, implying that my iPhone 4 just doesn’t cut it any more. As a matter of fact, my iPhone 4 works quite nicely, and I ignored a link advertising a free port of the iPhone 4’s distinctive feature Sila. I’m sure that if I forked out and bought an iPhone 4S, it would not be long before I saw advertisements breeding discontent about my spiffy iPhone 4S, and giving me a next hot feature to covet.

In the Middle Ages, fashion changed in clothing about once per generation. In our culture, we have shifting fashions that create a manufactured social need to purchase new clothing frequently, more like once per year. People do not buy clothing nearly so often because it is worn out and too threadbare to keep using, but because fashion shifted and such-and-such is in. Now people may be spending less on fashion-driven purchases than before, but it is still not a mainstream practice to throw a garment out because further attempts to mend il will not really help.

And lastly, there is the factor of things being made to break down. There are exceptions; it is possible for things to be built to last. I kept one Swiss Army Knife for twenty years, with few repairs beyond WD-40 and the like—and at the end of those twenty years, I gave it as a fully functional hand-me-down to someone who appreciated it. There is a wide stripe of products where engineers tried to engineer something to last and last, and not just German engineers. However, this is an exception and not the rule in the U.S. economy. I was incredulous when a teacher told me that the engineering positions some of us would occupy would have an assignment to make something that would last for a while and then break down. But it’s true. Clothing, for instance, can be built to last. However, if you buy expensive new clothing, it will probably wear out. Goodwill and other second-hand stores sometimes have things that are old enough to be built to last, but I haven’t found things to be that much sturdier: your mileage may vary. And culturally speaking, at least before present economic difficulties, when an appliance breaks you do not really take it in for repairs. You replace it with a newer model.

All of these things keep purchases coming so the gears of factories will continue. Dorothy Sayers’ “The Other Six Deadly Sins” talks about how a craftsman will want to make as good an article as possible, while mechanized industry will want to make whatever will keep the machines’ gears turning. And that means goods that are made to break down, even when it is technologically entirely feasible for factories to turn out things that are built to last.

All of these answer the question, “Was economic wealth made for man, or man for economic wealth?” with a resounding, “Man was made for economic wealth.”

Porn and things connected to porn

There is a story about a philosopher who was standing in a river when someone came to him. The philosopher asked the visitor, “What do you want?” The visitor answered, “Truth!” Then the philosopher held the visitor under the water for a little while, and asked him the second time, “What do you want?” The visitor answered, “Truth!” Then the philosopher held the visitor under water for what seemed an interminable time, and let him up and asked, “What do you want?” The visitor gasped and said, “Air!” The philosopher said, “When you want Truth the way you want air, you will find it.”

The same thing goes for freedom from the ever-darker chain called pornography, along with masturbation and the use of “ED” drugs to heighten thrills (which can cause nasty street drug-like effects even in marriage). To quote the Sermon on the Mount (RSV):

“You have heard that it was said, `You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

“If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

The Church Fathers are clear enough that this must not be taken literally; canon law forbids self-castration. But if you want to be free from addiction to pornography, if you want such freedom the way you want air, then you will do whatever it takes to remove the addiction.

What are your options? I’m not going to imitate the Dilbert strip’s mentioning, “How to lose weight by eating less food,” but there are some real and concrete steps you can take. If you shut off your internet service, and only check email and conduct internet business in public places with libraries, that might be the price for purity. If you are married, you might use one of many internet filters, set up with a password that is only known to your wife. You could join a men’s sexual addiction support group: that may be the price of freedom from porn, and it is entirely worth it. The general rule of thumb in confession is not to go into too much detail in confessing sexual sins, but going to confession (perhaps frequently, if your priest or spiritual father allows it) can have a powerful “I don’t want to confess this sin” effect. Another way to use the Internet is only go to use it when you have a defined purpose, and avoid free association browsing which often goes downhill. You could ask prayers of the saints, especially St. Mary of Egypt and St. John the Long-Suffering of the Kiev Near Caves. You could read and pray “The Canon of Repentance to Our Lord Jesus Christ” in the Jordanville prayer book and St. Nectarios Press’s Prayers for Purity, if your priest so blesses.

Lust is the disenchantment of the entire universe: first it drains wonder and beauty out of everything else, and then it drains wonder and beauty out of itself: the only goal of lust is more lust. It works like a street drug. St. Basil the Great compared lust to a dog licking a saw: the dog keeps licking it because it likes the taste it produces, but it does not know that it is tasting its own woundedness, and the longer it keeps up at this, the deeper the wounds become.

Furthermore, an account of fighting sexual sin is incomplete if we do not discuss gluttony. What is above the belt is very close to what is below the belt, and the Fathers saw a tight connection between gluttony and lust. Gluttony is the gateway drug to lust. “Sear your loins with fasting,” the Fathers in the Philokalia tells us; the demon of lust goes out with prayer and fasting.

Sacramental shopping

I remember when I had one great struggle before surrendering, letting go of buying a computer for my studies, and then an instant later feeling compelled to buy it. The only difference was that one was sacramental shopping to get something I really needed, and the other was just getting what I needed with the “sacramental shopping” taken out.

In American culture and perhaps others, the whole advertising industry and the shape of the economy gives a great place to “sacramental shopping”, or shopping as an ersatz sacrament that one purchases not because it is useful or any other legitimate concern, but because it delivers a sense of well-being. Like Starbucks, for instance. Some have argued that today’s brand economy is doing the job of spiritual disciplines: hence a teacher asks students, “Imagine your future successful self. With what brands do you imagine yourself associating?” and getting no puzzled looks or other body language indicating that students found the question strange. I’ve mentioned brands I consume both prestigious and otherwise; perhaps this piece would be better if I omitted mention of brands. But even if one rejects the ersatz spirituality of brands, not all brands are created equal; my previous laptop was an IBM Thinkpad I used for years before it stopped working, and the one before that was an Acer that demonstrated “You get what you pay for.” Investing in something good—paid for in cash, without incurring further debt—can be appropriate. Buying for the mystique is spiritual junk food. (And in telling about my iPhone, I didn’t mention that I tried migrating to a Droid, before realizing its user interface didn’t stack up to the iPhone’s.)

Hang the fashions. Buy only what you need,” is a rejection of brand economy as a spiritual discipline. Buy things on their merits and not because of the prestige of the brand. And learn to ignore the mystique that fuels a culture of discontent. Buy new clothes because your older clothing is wearing out, not because it is out of fashion. (It makes sense to buy classic rather than trendy.)

Most of the other technologies mentioned here are technologies I have dealt with myself, most often at some length. SecondLife by contrast is the one and only of the technologies on this list I haven’t even installed due to overwhelming bad intuitions when I tried to convince myself it was something I should be doing.

It may be, some time later, that SecondLife is no longer called SecondWife, and it is a routine communication technology, used as an audio/visual successor to (purely audio) phone conversations. The web was once escape, one better than the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and now it can be explored but it is quite often used for common nuts and bolts. No technology is permanently exotic: perhaps sometime the world of SecondLife will seem ordinary. But for now at least, it is an escape into building an alternative reality, and almost might as well be occult, as the foundations of modern science, for the degree of creating a new alternate reality it involves.

Smartphones, tablets, netbooks, laptops, and desktop computers

Jakob Nielsen made a distinction between computers that are movable, meaning laptops and netbooks which can be moved with far less difficulty and hassle than a desktop system, and mobile, meaning that they are the sort of thing a person can easily carry. Netbooks cross an important line compared to full-sized laptops; a regular laptop weighs enough on the shoulder that you are most likely to take a laptop in its carrying case for a reason, not just carry it like one more thing in a pocket. Netbooks, which weigh in at something like two pounds, are much lighter on the shoulder and they lend themselves more readily to keeping in a backpack, large purse, or bag of holding, without stopping to consider, “Do I really want t carry this extra weight?” Not that this is unique to netbooks; tablets are also light enough to just carry with you. Smartphones cross another important line: they are small enough to keep tucked in your pocket (or on your belt.

I was first astonished when I read that one iPhone user had completely displaced her use of the desktop computer. It surprised me for at least three reasons. First, the iPhone’s screen is tiny compared to even a small desktop screen; one thing programmers tend to learn is the more screen space they have, the better, and if they have any say in the matter, or if they have savvy management, programmers have two screens or one huge screen. Second, especially when I had an iPhone 1 that came with painfully slow and artificially limited bandwidth, the niche for it that I saw was as an emergency surrogate for a real computer that you use when, say, you’re driving to meet someone and something goes wrong. A bandwidth-throttled iPhone 1 may be painfully slow, but it is much better than nothing. And lastly, for someone used to high-speed touch typing on a regular keyboard, the iPhone, as the original Droid commercials stomped on the sore spot, “iDon’t have a real keyboard.” You don’t get better over time at touch typing an iPhone keyboard because the keyboard is one you have to look at; you cannot by touch move over two keys to the left to type your next letter. What I did not appreciate then was that you give the iPhone keyboard more focus and attention than touch typing a regular keyboard calls from; the “virtual keyboard” is amazing and it works well when you are looking at it and typing with both thumbs. And once that conceptual jolt is past, it works well.

But what I didn’t appreciate when that woman said she had stopped using her computer was that the desktop computer is wherever you have to go to use the desktop computer, while the iPhone is in one’s pocket or purse. And there is an incumbency advantage to the iPhone that is in one’s pocket or purse. It’s not just that you can only use your home computer when you are at home; if you are in one room and the computer is in another, it is less effort to jot a brief email from the phone than go to the other room and use the computer.

Laziness is a factor here; I have used my iPhone over my computer due to laziness. But more broadly a desktop or even laptop computer is in something of a sanctuary, with fewer distractions; the smartphone is wherever you are, and that may be a place with very few distractions, and it may be a place with many distractions.

Smartphones, tablets, netbooks, laptops, and desktops are all computers. The difference between them is how anchored or how portable they work out to be in practice. And the more mobile a computer is, the more effectively it will be as a noise delivery system. The ascetical challenge they represent, and the need to see that we and not the technologies hold the reins, is sharper for the newer and more mobile models.

Social networks
I personally tend not to get sucked in to Facebook; I will go to a social networking site for a very particular reason, and tend not to linger even if I want something to do. There is a reason for this; I had an inoculation. While in high school I served as a student system administrator, on a system whose primary function in actual use was a social network, with messages, chatting, forums, and so on and so forth. I drank my fill of that, so to speak, and while it was nowhere near so user-friendly as Facebook, it was a drug from the same family.

Having been through that, I would say that this is not what friendship is meant to be. It may be that friends who become physically separated will maintain correspondence, and in that case a thoughtful email is not much different from a handwritten letter. As I wrote in Technonomicon: Technology, Nature, Ascesis:

  • “Social networking” is indeed about people, but there is something about social networking’s promise that is like an ambitious program to provide a tofu “virtual chicken” in every pot: there is something unambiguously social about social media, but there is also something as different from what “social” has meant for well over 99% of people as a chunk of tofu is from real chicken’s meat.
  • There is a timeless way of relating to other people, and this timeless way is a large part of Ascesis. This is a way of relating to people in which one learns to relate primarily to people one did not choose, in friendship had more permancy than many today now give marriage, in which one was dependent on others (that is, interdependent with others), in which people did not by choice say goodbye to everyone they knew at once, as one does by moving in America, and a social interaction was largely through giving one’s immediate presence.
  • “Social networking” is a very different beast. You choose whom to relate to, and you can set the terms; it is both easy and common to block users, nor is this considered a drastic measure. Anonymity is possible and largely encouraged; relationships can be transactional, which is one step beyond disposable, and many people never meet others they communicate with face-to-face, and for that matter arranging such a meeting is special because of its exceptional character.
  • Social networking can have a place. Tofu can have a place. However, we would do well to take a cue to attend to cultures that have found a proper traditional place for tofu. Asian cuisines may be unashamed about using tofu, but they consume it in moderation—and never use it to replace meat.
  • We need traditional social “meat.” The members of the youngest generation who have the most tofu in their diet may need meat the most.


I use the term “teleporters” because I do not know of a standard name, besides perhaps the name of one of the eight capital vices, for a class of technologies and other things that are in ways very different from each other but all have the same marketing proposition: escape. Not that one needs technologies to do this; metaphysics in the occult sense is another means to the same end. But all of them deliver escape.

A collection of swords is not usually amassed for defense: the owner may be delighted at the chance to learn how to handle a medieval sword, but even if the swords are “battle ready” the point is not self-defense. It’s a little bit of something that transports us to another place. Same thing for movies and video games. Same thing for historical re-enactments. Same thing, for that matter, for romances that teach women to covet a relationship with a man that could never happen, and spurn men and possibilities where a genuinely happy marriage can happen. And, for that matter, ten thousand things.

There are many things whose marketing proposition is escape, and they all peter out and leave us coveting more. They are spiritual poison if they are used for escape. There may be other uses and legitimate reasons—iPhones are, besides being “avoid spiritual work” systems, incredibly useful—but the right use of these things is not found in the marketing proposition they offer you.


Television has partly been ousted with Facebook; TV is stickier than ever, but it still can’t compete with the web’s stickiest sites.

However, a couple of Far Side cartoons on television are worth pondering; if they were written today, they might mention more than TV.

In one cartoon, the caption reads, “In the days before television,” and a whole family is staring blankly at a blank spot on a wall, curled around it as if it were a television. The irony, of course, is that this is not what things were like before television began sucking the life out of everything. The days before television were that much more dynamic and vibrant; Gary Larson’s caption, with a cartoon that simply subtracts television from the eighties, is dripping with ironic clarity about precisely what the days before television were not.

In the other cartoon, an aboriginal tribesman stands at the edge of a chasm, a vine bridge having just been cut and fallen into the chasm and making the chasm impassible. On the other side were a group of angry middle-class suburbanites, and the tribesman was holding a television. The caption read, “And so Mbogo stood, the angry suburbanites standing on the other side of the chasm. Their idol was now his, as well as its curse.”

Some years back, an advertising executive wrote, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television (one friend reacted, “The author could only think of four?”), and though the book is decades old it speaks today. All of the other technologies that have been stealing television’s audiences do what television did, only more effectively and with more power.

I said at one point that the television is the most expensive appliance you can own. The reasoning was simple. For a toaster or a vacuum cleaner, if it doesn’t break, it costs you the up front purchase price, along with electricity, gas, or any other utilities it uses. And beyond those two, there is no further cost as long as it works. But with television, there was the most powerful propaganda engine yet running, advertising that will leave you keeping up with the Joneses (or, as some have argued after comparing 1950’s kitchen appliances with 1990’s kitchen appliances, keeping up with the Trumps). In this ongoing stream, the programming is the packaging and the advertising is the real content. And the packaging is designed not to steal the show from the content. Today television rules less vast of a realm, but megasites deliver the same principle: the reason you go to the website is a bit of wrapping, and the product being sold is you.

Our economy is in a rough state, but welcome to keeping up with the Trumps version 2.0. The subscription fees for smartphones and tablets are just the beginning.

The timeless way of relating

Christopher Alexander saw that computers were going to be the next building, and he was the champion who introduced computer-aided design to the field of architecture. Then he came to a second realization, that computer-aided design may make some things easier and faster, but it does not automatically make a building better: computer aided design makes it easier to architect good and bad buildings alike, and if you ask computers to make better buildings, you’re barking up the wrong fire hydrant.

But this time his work, A Timeless Way of Building, fell on deaf ears in the architectural community… only to be picked up by software developers and be considered an important part of object-oriented software design. The overused term MVC (“model-view-controller”), which appears in job descriptions when people need a candidate who solves problems well whether or not that meant using MVC, is part of the outflow of object-oriented programming seeing something deep in patterns, and some programmers have taken a profound lesson from A Timeless Way of Building even if good programmers in an interview have to conceal an allergic reaction when MVC is presented as a core competency for almost any kind of project.

There really is A Timeless Way of Building, and Alexander finds it in some of ancient and recent architecture alike. And in the same vein there is a timeless way of relating. In part we may see it as one more piece of it is dismantled by one more technology migration. But there is a real and live timeless relating, and not just through rejecting technologies.

C.S. Lewis, in a passage in That Hideous Strength which has great romantic appeal if nothing else, talks about how everything is coming to a clearer and sharper point. Abraham was not wrong for his polygamy as we would be for polygamy, but there is some sense that he didn’t profit from it. Merlin was not something from the sixth century, but the last survival in the sixth century of something much older when the dividing line between matter and spirit was not so sharp as it is today. Things that have been gray, perhaps not beneficial even if they are not forbidden, are more starkly turning to black or white.

This is one of the least convincing passages for Lewis’s effort to speak of “mere Christianity.” I am inclined to think that something of the exact opposite is true, that things that have been black and white in ages past have more leniency, more grey. Not necessarily that leniency equals confusion; Orthodoxy has two seemingly antitethetical but both necessary principles of akgravia (striving for strict excellence) and oikonomia (the principle of mercifully relaxing the letter of the law). We seem to live in a time of oikonomia from the custom which has the weight of canon law, where (for instance) the ancient upper class did far less physical exertion than the ancient lower class and slaves, but middle class fitness nuts today exercise less than the ancient upper class. Three hours of aerobic exercise is a lot. While we pride ourselves on abolishing legal slavery, we wear not only clothing from sweatshops made at the expense of preventable human misery, but large wardrobes and appliances and other consumer goods that bear a price tag in human misery. Many Orthodox have rejected the position of the Fathers on contraception from time immemorial, and the Church has been secularized enough for many to get their bearings from one article.

But two things are worth mentioning here. The first is that this is a time that invites prophets. Read the Old Testament prophets: prophets, named “the called ones” in the Old Testament never come when things are going well to say “Keep it up. Carry on your good work!” They come in darker days.

Second, while we live in a time where mere gloom is called light and we rely on much more oikonomia than others, oikonomia is real Orthodoxy in proper working order, and in ways Orthodoxy with oikonomia is much greater than rigidly rejecting oikonomia. The people who call themselves “True Orthodox”, or now that “True Orthodox” sounds fishy, rename the term “Genuine Orthodox” to avoid the troubles they have created for the name of “True Orthodox.” And despite observing the letter of canons more scrupulously than even the most straight-laced of normal Orthodox, these people are people who don’t get Orthodoxy, and would do well to receive the penance of eating a thick steak on a strict fast day.

And despite having so many slices taken out, the timeless way of relating is alive and well. It is present at a meal around table with friends. It is present when a man and wife remain together “til death do us part.” It is present when Catholics adore the Eucharist, or Evangelicals don’t miss a Sunday’s church for years and keep up with their quiet times and Bible studies. “Conversation is like texting for adults,” said our deacon, and the timeless way of relating is there when people use texting to arrange a face-to-face visit. The timeless way of relating is always close at hand.

Video games
I was introduced to the computer game rogue and while in school wanted to play rogue / UltraRogue for as long as I could. When I decided in grad school that I wanted to learn to program, I wrote a crufty and difficult-to-understand roguelike game implemented in 60,000 lines of C.

Those many hours I played in that fantasy land were my version of time lost in television. There are things I could have done that I didn’t: create something, explore time outside, write letters. And as primitive and humble as rogue is, it stems from the same root as World of Warcraft. It is one of several technologies I have tasted in an egg: rogue, UltraRogue, The Minstrel’s Song, and different MUDs; or a command-line computer doing the work of a social network. And on that score, see Children’s toys on Baudelaire’s “la Morale du Joujou”. The newer games and social network may connect more dots and do some of your imagining for you. The core remains: you sit in front of a computer, transported to a fantasy land, and not exploring the here and now that you have been placed in in all its richness.

The Web

When I was a boy and when I was a youth, it was a sheer delight to go to Honey Rock Camp. I don’t want to elaborate on all of my fond memories but I would like to point to one memory in particular: the web.

Resourceful people had taken a World War II surplus piece of netting, attached it to the edges of a simple building, and pulled the center up by a rope. The result was everything a child wants from a waterbed, and I remember, for instance, kids gathering on the far side of the web, my climbing up the rope, and then letting go and dropping five or ten feet into the web, sending little children flying. And as with my other macho ways of connecting with children, if I did this once I was almost certainly asked to do it again. (The same goes, for some extent, with throwing children into the web.)

I speak of that web in the past tense, because after decades of being a cherished attraction, the web was falling apart and it was no longer a safe attraction. And the people in charge made every effort to replace it, and found to everyone’s dismay that they couldn’t. Nobody makes those nets; and apparently nobody has one of those nets available, or at least not for sale. And in that regard the web is a characteristic example of how technologies are handled in the U.S. (“Out with the old, in with the new!“) Old things are discarded, so the easily available technologies are just the newer one.

Software is fragile; most technological advances in both software and hardware are more fragile than what they replace. Someone said, “If builders built buildings the way programmers write programs, the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization.” The web is a tremendous resource, but it will not last forever, and there are many pieces of technology stack that could limit or shut off the web. Don’t assume that because the web is available today it will equally well be available indefinitely.


This work has involved, perhaps, too much opinion and too much of the word “I”; true Orthodox theology rarely speaks of me, “myself, and I,” and in the rare case when it is really expedient to speak of oneself, the author usually refers to himself in the third person.

The reason I have referred to myself is that I am trying to make a map that many of us are trying to make sense of. In one sense there is a very simple answer given in monasticism, where renunciation of property includes technology even if obediences may include working with it, and the words Do not store up treasures on earth offer another simple answer, and those of us who live in the world are bound not to be attached to possessions even if they own them. The Ladder of Divine Ascent offers a paragraph addressed to married people and a book addressed to monastics, but it has been read with great profit by all manner of people, married as well as monastic.

Somewhere amidst these great landmarks I have tried to situate my writing. I do not say that it is one of these landmarks; it may be that the greatest gift is a work that will spur a much greater Orthodox to do a much better job.

My godfather offered me many valuable corrections when I entered the Orthodox Church, but there is one and only one I would take issue with. He spoke of the oddity of writing something like “the theology of the hammer”; and my own interest in different sources stemmed from reading technological determinist authors like Neil Postman, and even if a stopped clock is right twice a day, their Marxism is a toxic brew.

However, I write less from the seductive effects of those books, my writing is not because they have written XYZ but because I have experienced certain things in mystical experience. I have a combined experience of decades helping run a Unix box that served as a social network, and playing MUDs, and sampling their newer counterparts. My experience in Orthodoxy has found great mystical truth and depth in the words, Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Part of that pruning has been the involuntary removal of my skills as a mathematics student;; much of it has been in relation to technology. The Bible has enough to say about wealth and property as it existed millenia ago; it would be strange to say that Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth speaks to livestock and owning precious metals but has nothing to do with iPads.

One saint said that the end will come when one person no longer makes a path to visit another. Even with social media, we now have the technology to do that.

Let our technology be used ascetically, or not at all.

Apps and mobile websites for the Orthodox Christian smartphone and tablet: best iPhone, iPad, Droid, Samsung, Android, Kindle, and Blackberry mobile websites and apps

The Damned Backswing

Technonomicon: Technology, Nature, Ascesis

Veni, vidi, vomi: a look at “Do You Want to Date My Avatar?”

All I Really Needed to Learn About Programming, I Learned from Java

Write once, debug everywhere; Prefer compile time errors to run time errors; Gotos and pointers are like bad words — they can get you into a lot of trouble; Novice-friendliness and expert-friendliness are at a trade-off; An intentionally simple syntax is compatible with a complex collection of objects; Programming in a high level language is faster than programming in a lower level language; It takes longer to learn the high level ways of calling algorithms than the low level building blocks needed to implement them; Every once in a while, you will be surprised at what you have to implement yourself — a ready-made method to return a stacktrace as a string, or have a method find its caller's class; Use the most restrictive keywords you can — it's kindness in disguise; If you want to circumvent security, you can't cast to (char *) and reconstruct private members; If you want to circumvent security, you very well may be able to serialize to a stream and reconstruct private members; Resurrect objects and die; There are some things that words cannot explain — for everything else, there are over 100 megs of documentation; Your program will see much more use if people can run it from their browsers; You can program your server to use any encryption algorithm allowed, but you can't stop your clients from storing their private keys on unsecured Windows boxes; Carefully designed languages can reduce bugs, but debugging will always be a part of programming; No matter how carefully designed the language is, people will still write code that should be indented six feet downwards and covered with dirt; A good new language makes it unnecessary to use older ones, just as a good cordless screwdriver makes it unnecessary to use a hammer or a wrench; You can lead a programmer to objects, but you can't make him think; You can paint on a glass pane in your computer or at your house — but just because you are allowed to do it doesn't mean it's (usually) a good idea; Writing a DWIM compiler is AI-complete; No matter how fast computers get, there will always be a way to make them move like molasses;

iPhones and Spirituality

I would like to talk about iPhones and spirituality, and what spirituality has to do with right use of things like iPhones. This may be a bit of an “opposing views” presentation to other points here; I hope the challenge is ultimately constructive.

My first point has to do with one of Rajeev’s points in our last meeting, of “Embrace your pain,” and what it really means for the iPhone, and more specifically how our use of technologies like the iPhone relates to spiritual work such as embracing your pain. Rajeev really made several excellent points in his lecture last time, and I’d like to pick up on just one: “Embrace your pain.” The iPhone’s marketing proposition is as a game changing technological drug that will help you dodge this spiritual lesson. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the iPhone is designed, marketed, and sold as a portable “Avoid spiritual work” system.

Is there any alternative to using various technologies to avoid spiritual work? Let’s look at recent history, the 1980’s, and how that decade’s technological drug is something we may now have some critical distance to look at. There is a classic Far Side cartoon that says in its caption, “In the days before television,” and shows a family hunched around an area on the blank wall where a television would be. The irony is that this wasn’t the days before television at all; the days before television were that much more dynamic and vibrant, and the cartoon was only what you get if you subtract television from the 80’s, when televisions had drained all of the life out of things. The distinction may be subtle, but there is a profound difference between those two versions of what it means to be without television, one vibrant and with people doing things and another with people bleakly staring at a wall—and this is why many people now have made an intentional and mindful decision to avoid television as a pack of cigarettes for the mind. Another Far Side cartoon, as best I can remember, shows an aboriginal tribesman standing on the opposite side of a deep chasm from a crowd of angry middle-class suburbanites, where a vine bridge has just been cut and fallen into the chasm, with a caption something like, “And so Umbuntu stood, the angry suburbanites stranded on the other side of the chasm. Their idol was now his, as well as its curse.” And the tribesman was holding a television. One wonders what the Far Side would say about iPhones after they had carved out their niche. And that brings me to my second point, what I call, “the timeless way of relating.”

There is a timeless way of relating, a way that is guarded by Eastern Orthodox ascetics but hardly a monopoly. It has many sides, and there is much more to it than its intentional decisions about technology. It has much to do with embracing your pain and the here and now that we can partly dodge with iPhones, and be present. And I’ll take an educated guess that Science of Spirituality’s leader is among those that have this presence that arises from embracing where you are and its pain.

But a return to the past and laying the reins on the iPhone’s neck aren’t the only two options, not really. Oliver Holmes said, “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” I am quite deliberately delivering this lecture with my iPhone in hand. And there is ultimately spiritual work on the other side of the iPhone and its kin, that uses it but does not abuse it as a way to dodge the here and now, but uses the iPhone, and embraces one’s pain. And it sets limits and sometimes abstains, much as one does with alcohol.

In conclusion, iPhones and similar technologies have changed the game—but not always for the better, not in every way for the better. Not that we must always avoid them (police officers using drug dealers’ confiscated iPhones found that they were incredibly useful) but we must set limits as one does with alcohol and be sure that our spiritual work, not technologies, holds the reins. It is an uphill battle, but it is entirely worth fighting.

Apps and mobile websites for the Orthodox Christian smartphone and tablet: best iPhone, iPad, Droid, Samsung, Android, Kindle, and Blackberry mobile websites and apps

The Pleasure-Pain Syndrome

“Religion and Science” Is Not Just Intelligent Design vs. Evolution

Technonomicon: Technology, Nature, Ascesis