Sermon Thoughts, Lakewood Pres Aug. 28, 2016

Dave Alger addressed the reading from Genesis 18:1-10. It’s the story of Abraham and Sarah having three travelers stop by their tent and Abraham welcoming them with open arms and providing food, drink, and shady respite. And, we discover some passages later, that the three travelers are Yahweh and two angels.

So Rev. Alger titled his homily “The Strange Thing About Strangers.” And it was a wonderful sharing of insight into the story. An insight that moved the listener to a wider acceptance of humanity, of the strangers we meet. An insight that recognized that opening ourselves to the strangers around us yields bounteous value for both us and the strangers. For humanity and community.

I was privileged to have “Sunday Dinner” with David and his lovely wife, Sally, after the service. And we talked some more about his words. His insight.

My wife, Chris, shared that David’s comments led her to reach out to the stranger at the end of our pew, a young woman named Jennifer who is in line to replace Michael Clark as our musical accompanist during Sunday services. And in conversing with the stranger Jennifer, Chris and I discovered that she worked some years back with our youngest daughter Sarah. Sarah is now in Kansas working toward her bachelor’s degree and Jennifer shared that she has followed Sarah on Facebook.

What a small world! But how wonderful is the strange thing about strangers. The stranger, whether it’s Jennifer at the end of our pew, or the traveler (Yahweh), often turns out to not be such a stranger after all. In one way or another, the stranger is known to us; is a colleague of ours.

By closing the door on strangers, foreigners, we close the door on friends-of-friends, relatives that we may have never know but who share a common bond with us. Above all else, that common bond is that we are all humans. We are all residents of the same small globe that circles through space and ever so carefully nurtures our lives, hopes, and dreams.

The strange thing about strangers is that most of the time they really aren’t strangers. Love them. Embrace them. Just like Abraham and Sarah did.

Small pieces (yaks) (very) loosely joined

My concept of the value and power of the internet rests largely on the idea that it is basically many small pieces loosely joined. That idea embraces the use of small, single-purpose widgets that can stand alone, which makes it easy to build and test the widgets. Then it combines them by being joined, but they are loosely joined– there are not lots of dependencies on other included pieces.

The joining makes the overall result very robust and powerful. The small pieces make it very flexible and easy to manage.

That works for the internet itself, and works very well.

But we seem to have major difficulty making the same model work for other systems. I used to think it was just me and my own limited skills at programming and system design. (The “pieces+joined” is almost the antithesis of “system design” but that’s another story….)

And then I came across this gem on today’s O’Reilly’s “Four Short Links.”  Jeffries’ experience struck me as my life on a pretty much daily basis.

So why does the internet work but when Jeffries– or poor slobs like me– try to work with the same model, we end up neck deep in yaks?  I don’t have a ready answer for that but one possibility that immediately comes to mind is the use of standards.  The internet, and it’s child the web, work because there are clearly articulated and enforced standards that you have to follow, else your application won’t work.

But the likes of Google App Engine and python (substitute your favorite environment tools here), don’t follow the same clear articulation of standards.  Depending on what gib repository you use or what options you use when installing python and it’s many libraries or your own development structure, using someone else’s sample code may or may not work right.  You are just as likely to end up with a room full of yaks as a working tool.

Just an early morning thought dump…

RIP hitchBOT, Long Live hitchBOT

So hitchBOT apparently met it’s demise in the city of Brotherly Love. But it did what it set out to do:

“We want to see what people do with this kind of technology when we leave it up to them,” Frauke Zeller, one of the creators and an assistant professor in professional communication at Toronto’s Ryerson University, told the AP. “It’s an art project in the wild — it invites people to participate.”

And as hitchBOT itself said, “I guess sometimes bad things happen to good robots!”

I fully expect that hitchBOT Jr. will rise soon. After all, that is the pattern of the humans who originally brought hitchBOT to our presence.

Thank you hitchBOT for your wonderful journey and thanks for what has been and what will become!

Exploring now– Bitcoin, Augur

TechCrunch today pointed to Ethereum and Augur which started my latest tech exploration and, of course, led to Bitcoin.  In spite of it’s widely recognized role in the underground ‘Net world as a means to conduct financial transactions securely and without regulatory oversight (think Silk Road, marijuana stores circumventing US ban on access to traditional banks), Bitcoin relies upon some very interesting and capable technology approaches.  Deeply rooted in the open source world, Bitcoin is fully de-centralized relying on peer-to-peer technology and top security.

From what I can see, Ethereum is sort of the “meta” version of Bitcoin. It seeks to provide a framework of decentralized connectivity and strong security upon which tools like Bitcoin could be readily built.  And Augur is one of the first efforts to do that.  In Augur’s case the industry is prediction markets.

My exploration has just started but this whole world of open-source, highly secure, decentralized operations strikes me as one of the fundamental economic shifts ushered in by the Internet (noting that “the Web” is only one part of “the Internet”).

Fascinating stuff.