BrickBay

Of course if you want to make a Lego movie, you’re going to need lots of Legos and there’s no place like BrickBay to get your fix. As the name suggests, this is basically an E-Bay style portal devoted exclusively to Legos. One of the good things about buying here is you can get large quantities of basic blocks of a single color at a far lower price than Lego sells them for, as well as finding mint-in-box versions of some of the cool but out of print Lego sets such as the pirate series.

Lego Movie: All of the Dead

I told my wife I had to have the video capture card to digitize my 8mm tapes, but realistically the main thing I wanted it for is to make stop-action Lego movies. I’ve already got a couple of ideas and am busy assembling Lego sets, though I probably won’t find the time until this summer to actually do this.

There are a number of Lego movies on the Internet, such as this amusing takeoff of horror films, All of the Dead. The camera work is pretty shaky in some parts, but the scenes of the minifigs rising from the dead is priceless (and unlike my plans, these folks actually used a real film camera).

Bush Surges In Polls

Since I don’t plan to vote for either Al Gore or George Bush, it’s kind of fun to watch them duke it out. A couple weeks ago I thought Bush was done for. Here’s my basic rule of thumb to tell when Republicans are in serious trouble: your Republican friends start complaining about biased polls and how the national media is out to get them. Such complaints may or may not be accurate, but they’re usually a sure sign that the Republican candidate is in trouble (I knew people who in 1996 were convinced right up until the day before the election that Bob Dole was going to pull off a Truman-esque upset.)

So when my Republican friends started complaining about the polls and Bush got himself entangled with a New York Times, I figured he was done for. Now he’s surging in the polls and Gore is starting to look downright desperate. The Clinton-Gore response to the heating oil problem really makes Gore look like he is desperate and feeds into the image Republicans are trying to paint of him as willing to say or do anything to get elected (and isn’t it just the height of irony to see Gore calling for cheap gas prices after saying the American automobile culture was ruining the world in “Earth In The Balance”?)

A CNN story today on the two campaigns illustrates how Bush can beat Gore. Gore released a 72 page pamphlet on Medicare. Aside from the fact that his plan is a massive transfer of wealth from poor people to the middle class and wealthy, I wonder if people really react well to this level of detail. If I were Republicans I’d hit back with ads along the lines that destroyed any chance Clinton had of getting his horrendous health care reform bill through Congress.

On the other hand, the story reports Bush talking about how the country is experiencing an “education recession” — a catchy phrase and bringing attention to an issue that cuts across party lines. A conservative columnist I was reading the other day suggested that Bush should go after Gore for “Earth In the Balance.” While the book is nutty, I think a better strategy would be to go after Gore on education. Bush needs to ask Gore directly why he sends his kids to elite private schools, while denying poor urban residents the same options of high quality education for their kids.

Personally, I don’t care who wins. I really despise Gore, who I met briefly in 1992 and who came across as incredibly fake and shallow. On the other hand, policy wise there is really not that much difference between the two from my perspective.

Folding@Home

The SETI@Home project always seemed a bit foolish to me since it was questionable whether or not the project aimed at solving a real problem (i.e. if there is no alien civilization within very narrow parameters near us, the project is a waste of time). On the other hand, Folding@Home seems right up my alley.

Like SETI@Home, Folding@Home is an attempt to use distributed computing to solve a big problem. Unlike SETI@Home, however, the Folding folks are pretty sure there’s a solution to what they’re studying, it just requires incredible computing power to get at. The problem being: how do proteins self-assemble. On the one hand this is one of the most basic and essential phenomenon that is necessary for life, and on the other hand it’s kind of amazing that not only is nobody sure exactly how it happens, but that a process that happens probably millions of times every day with ease requires the sort of computing power that is difficult to assemble even today.

Just like SETI@Home, to participate you download a screen-saver type utility that runs parts of the calculations when you’re not using your computer. Your system then passes back its part of the solution as do other machines and then everything gets assembled into meaningful results back to the folks at Stanford.

I’m probably going to download this and install it just out of self-interest. As I mentioned the other day, I’d prefer not to die and solving the protein folding problem would almost certainly lead to a great deal of new knowledge about various human diseases. Sure contacting ET would be cool, but better understanding what goes wrong in Alzheimer patients (where proteins in the brain start doing very bizarre things) would be even better.

The Jesus Seminar’s Latest Publicity Stunt

On my bookshelf I’ve got several different versions of the Bible along with quite a few volumes Christian apologetics as well as atheistic criticism of the Bible, not to mention just straight ahead historical looks at Christianity. It’s a topic I used to be strongly interested in, but don’t really get into very much today.

Anyway, as an atheist I’ve often talked with very intelligent Christians who agree with me on at least one thing: that the issue of whether or not God exists is a serious one worthy of study rather than reflexive rush to judgments on either side. Which is why the Jesus Seminar’s regular publicity stunts are so annoying.

According to a story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, at its next meeting the Jesus Seminar is going to vote up or down on the following statement: “Jesus of Nazareth is a manifestation of God.”

Robert Funk, the scholar who originally organized the Jesus Seminar, actually tells the Star-Telegram that, “We are opening up a new phase of the seminar. We are discussing the future of God, so to speak.”

Only an academic would possess the incredible level of hubris necessary to take it upon himself to discuss “the future of God” in this fashion, especially given that a question such as whether or not Jesus was a manifestation of God is really not one that can be answered through historical or scientific means. Leave it to a bunch of historians to think they can actually vote, after they decide about Jesus, whether or not “God is.” Just forget the thousands of years of philosophical debate on this issue, and let the Jesus Seminar folks take a vote!

Supporters of the Jesus Seminar claim their controversial pronouncements stir interest in Biblical scholarship. I think this is a bit like saying that Jerry Springer’s show encourages research into conflict management. More likely, the Jesus Seminar’s publicity stunts probably convince a lot of people that secular Biblical historians are a bunch of morons.

This reminds me of the campus atheist group at the university I work at — I went to a couple of meetings only to find them quite a bit more obnoxious than any of the Christian groups on campus. I happened to walk by a display table they set up in the student union the other day, and prominently displayed on a presentation board was a bumper sticker that said “Evolutionists do it with increasing complexity.” Along with strongly implying that religious belief and evolution are incompatible, the whole effect to me was to completely demean and trivialize the important insights of Darwin, much as the Jesus Seminar trivializes the insight and importance of the near universal belief in some sort of deity by asserting that the matter can be decided by democratic vote.