Today, it's been six years since I started blogging.  To celebrate, I decided to do some text analysis of the 455 posts I've published here, prior to this one.  In curating the corpus, I learned that I write words like totally and amazing far too much.  Moving past my bad mannerisms, there's some fun stuff to see.

I ran the topic model LDA with 50 topics.  It captured the things I like to do: gardening, cooking, and travel. (I'm showing the top 10 terms associated with each topic, and top 5 documents.)

topic 008 chocolate butter egg cup add cream sugar mixture potato lime
two tarts
potato shallot souffle
Nearly Rotten Apples
chocolate festival!
chocolate cake for two

topic 037 seeds plants garden seed tomatoes tomato plant garlic planted plot
starting my heirloom garden
the hard way
So it begins...
frost vs. freeze
bring out yer dead

topic 048 car trip beach drive night friends road visited nwc park
East Coast Australia
up for air: a beautiful, but messy, life
Adventures in Israel, the Epic Saga, Chapter IV - By Day and by Night
Come, come, ye students!

It also found some things that I geek out about: software designbooks, and teaching.

topic 009 computer password system name history users physical person book month
accounts - what's the point?
designing everyday things and computer interactions
What should computers be able to do?
retina displays and serif fonts

topic 012 books book digital library kindle true screen already order libraries
paper and pixels
the Birth Order Book
fiction or nonfiction?
minimally problematic
Kindle review

topic 046 kids science school computer does mean taught put true teach
incorporating computer science into K-12 curriculums
welcome to the system
sorting concept game
switching places
the things we don't clean (little moment of compulsion #5)

And, unsurprisingly, it found the things about which I blather extensively: gender and sexuality, religion, mormon feminism, and morality in general.

topic 039 gender school roles boys girls children grad changed turn transgender
don't compete with the boys
redefining ambition
a blast from the past
gender identity in young children

topic 034 god atonement christ believe belief post faith negative self comfortable
Answering the Temple Recommend Interview Questions
inner light
just on belief (a follow up)
The Atonement
knowledge vs. belief

topic 035 women church priesthood mother holy gender father roles ghost heavenly
General Conference Sentence Generator
teaching young women
Boys and Girls and God
seeing change, or fruit and dirt
The Holy Ghost and Heavenly Mother

topic 047 marriage morality laws society child believe different parents moral gay
on the mercuriality of moral caliber in our beloved republic
forgiving vs. condoning
morality in a governed society, emotional premises, and same-sex marriage
on belief and expressing ideas
can't touch this

Because we have the time aspect, I was tempted to run Sean Gerrish's dynamic topics + influence model to see how topics shifted over time and what posts were prescient of change, but I was too lazy.

We can still, however, track page views over time (Blogger messes up the x-axis labels; it really starts at June 2008) and the number of post over time.

Other tidbits:
  • my most popular post is The Holy Ghost and Heavenly Mother
  • my cs webpage refers the most traffic
  • I have 145 unpublished drafts, ranging from short notes to fully-fledged posts. Some of these I'm still working on, but others I've decided not to publish, but don't want to delete.
  • To date, I've earned $4.13 via Amazon ads.  More on my ad policy here.


looking outward

There's been a lot of discussion in the wake of potential Mormon activist excommunications. There are those that defend Kate Kelly and John Dehlin, and there are those that defend the LDS church.  And then there are the few that abstain from defending, advocating both love and faith without judgement.  In my eagerness to have a well-crafted opinion on everything, sometimes I forget that it's not my place.  As my cousin pointed out, we can't possibly know the nuances of the situation.  We should not forget that this is a story about individuals, albeit in the context of various causes.  It makes me wonder if a variant of the Ring Theory of Kvetching needs to be applied here.

Complaint, judgement, discussion, and action all have their places, but it's hard to define their boundaries.  In the church context, they help us work toward things like gender equality and finding a place for alternative families.  But, I must remind myself: these are not the biggest issues in the world, nor in the church.  In some ways they're indulgent. They're centered around my feelings and experiences.  It's easy to see what's wrong and suggest changes: I'm proposing changes to my world to make life better for me and people like me.

We need to work on the things close to home in order to be more functional people.  If I'm struggling with mental health issues, I may not be able to focus on my family's needs.  If my family is having problems, I'm probably not going to prioritize my community.  If I don't have a strong support network, I may not be able to think about global issues. That's normal.  Certainly we must take time to heal and strengthen ourselves, our families, and our communities at each stage before we can look outward, but that should be our goal; we should try to move our thoughts and actions to be as far out on the ring of influence as possible.

I'm lucky enough to feel that there are people out there that need the time and attention much more than I do. That doesn't mean that the gender and social issues that impact me aren't important—they certainly are—but it does mean that I should probably spend proportionally less time and effort on them.  For instance, instead of talking about gender policies in the church, we could discuss how to make sure that all the children of the church are well-nourished.  Or we could move past the church to talk about how many people need to be dewormed.

It's harder to fuel discussion about these things because it's further from home.  What can I possibly say that's helpful?  Many people have the perspective that they can just give money as they feel motivated and then go back to talking about their own hot issues.  (Or they waste money on inefficient service projects to feel good.)  But what if we put as much time and effort into these issues as we have to ordaining women?  What is the church going to say?  No, we can't.  We need to build malls and support legislation on traditional marriage.  Probably not; I think they would actually listen, and it'd be really nice for the Relief Society to live up to its name more fully.

I'm blessed right now with a phase of life where I can look outward.  I don't expect everyone to be there, and I certainly won't be able to stay there continually, but I think everyone should want to be there.  I gave a talk at church recently that ended with the following idea.
Es fácil pasarse el tiempo trabajando en las cosas pequeñas, pero eso es como recoger granos de arena una a una para despejar el camino. Les recomiendo que en vez de eso, encuentren el obstáculo más grande [...] y deshágase de él.
Roughly translated: It's easy to spend our time working on the little things, but that's like picking up grains of sand one by one to clear the road. I recommend that instead, we find the biggest obstacle and dispose of it.  There, I was talking about becoming a better person, but it applies to activism as well.  This means thinking beyond ourselves, and thinking beyond the church.

So, what's the biggest obstacle on the road to a better world?


garden photos

A pair of shell pea blossoms.

Snap pea blossoms.  I love the veins.

More snap peas.  I munch on the pods now when I'm in the garden.

Water droplets on my black Barlow columbine.

I bought seeds for the others from the Seed Savers Exchange, but the columbine I bought spontaneously at a farmer's market when I heard that it was a Barlow variety.  It must be destiny, I thought. Plus, I had wanted to try columbines for a while, but they don't flower their first year.  Solution for my lazy self: buy a year-old plant.


Excommunication of Mormon Activists

Two prominent Mormons are facing the possibility of excommunication.

I'm saddened, but not terribly surprised.  Kate Kelly, one of the members facing church discipline, is the founder of Ordain Women.  While I'd love to see women get ordained, either to the traditional patriarchal priesthood or to a separate matriarchal one, there's a huge problem with Ordain Women: it seeks female ordination regardless of God's will.

I'm happy advocating for the Prophet to seek answers on questions and for the Apostles to consider these issues, but at the end of the day, they lead the church.  No matter how I feel about the issue personally, I cannot receive revelation for the entire church. Promoting a substantial change unconditionally, like ordaining women, is not respecting the authority of the Prophet to speak for God.  We can suggest, discuss, and critique, but we must respect that authority, or else the entire premise of the church collapses.

The irony is that it's exactly this Priesthood authority that the Ordain Women movement seeks.  I think the request is reasonable, and worth, say, a church-wide fast.  It's a really important issue, and deserving of attention, but it cannot be demanded.  We need to have faith in our leaders, not just in the religious sense, but also in a human sense.  We need to hope that they're trying their best and want to guide us to the more perfect world we seek.

The biggest problem is that even the name of Ordain Women is a demand, or could be framed as such.  The start of their mission statement:
The fundamental tenets of Mormonism support gender equality: God is male and female, father and mother, and all of us can progress to be like them someday. Priesthood, we are taught, is essential to this process. Ordain Women believes women must be ordained in order for our faith to reflect the equity and expansiveness of these teachings.
Perhaps I am too docile, but I think a softer approach would be more impactful. I believe that the earthly ordination of women could be very good, but I do not believe it is the only way to work towards gender equality, nor do I believe that it is unquestionably God's will.

Having worked in the temple and performed priesthood ordinances (the only place where in our church women do), I can say that those experiences are certainly special.  I can say that we need more female leadership and that there are some cultural practices that should be changed.  But while I can say what I think and feel, I must acknowledge that in my limited scope of experience, I cannot say what is right for the whole church.

So, I'm not surprised that Kate Kelly is facing excommunication; even from my sympathetic perspective, I feel that the Ordain Women movement is too sure of its initiatives, as any movement needs to be.  I'm saddened that the church didn't use this as an opportunity to discuss the issues, and took a more cowardly approach, but I hope that those involved on all sides can take the time to be introspective rather than defensive so that they can take advantage of the true purpose of church disciplinary counsels: to help us acknowledge our failings and become better people.

I've focused on Kate Kelly and Ordain Women, because I know less about John Dehlin and his Mormon Stories Podcasts.  I'm imagining that the "cause for concern" in his case is LGBT rights, but I haven't researched it thoroughly.

I am hoping that this results in a fruitful exchange between the church and its more liberal members about how to express concerns and suggest ideas.  Currently, our only recourse is to either limit ourselves to local impact or go incredibly public online.  There needs to be a way to faithfully express concerns in a way that it doesn't get stuck either at a local level or in a traffic jam to the top.


use vs. utilize for scientific writing

Earlier this year, NWC pointed out that lots of people employ the word utilize when use would do just fine.  It stuck in my brain and now bothers me on par with folks using less instead of fewer (thanks for that one, Bryce).

I took a look at what Grammar Girl had to say on the subject and I didn't find the results compelling:
So if you're a science writer, you might find yourself using the word “utilize.” If you’re just a regular person writing a regular sentence, you should probably just stick with the word “use.”
That's all fine and dandy, but I happen to do a bit of science reading and writing, and we need some guidance.  Science doesn't get free reign with unnecessarily pretentious words; in fact, scientists should probably take greater care than regular folks to make sure their writing is clear and accessible.  So, no.  No, free pass for you.

Not able to find free access to the only source that granted this ambiguous exception, I turned to the trusty OED on the matter.  Honestly, though, looking up use is overwhelming. Taking a gander at utilize, however, the distinction starts to become clear: to convert to use.  I might be reading too much into it, but I'm interpreting this as: things that are changed somehow by their use are utilized.

(An aside: I find it thoroughly ironic that the first written usage of the term utilize in English, at least per the OED, was by Joel Barlow, who is probably some distant relation.)

While this hypothesis explains the chemistry example given by Grammar Girl, it also allows for other instances that I find objectionable, such as: Do we need to utilize flour in this recipe? or The printer utilizes ink very efficiently.  No, thank you.

Thus, unless your editor, advisor, or colleague can provide a substantive reason for employing utilize instead of use for your discipline, I appeal to Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, 4th edition, page 63 (Words and Expressions Commonly Misused):

"Utilize. Prefer use."

sorting concept game

Sorting is one of the computer science concepts that I think is fun to teach kids.  It shows them why having an algorithmic approach is important, and that some algorithms are faster than others.

A year ago, I did a physical demo of sorting at a local elementary school science fair.  I had a scale and small jars filled with things, and the kids were excited about solving the puzzle. But, kids are also really good at cheating, and they used the contents of the jars to guess the order, or used their memory of how heavy a thing was in their hand.  I anticipated this a little and filled a few of the jars with cotton and other light-looking stuff on the outside and then heavy bolts on the inside, but that only worked until they picked them up.

So I've been toying with the idea of making a digital game of it, and put together a Sorting Concept Game, where concept applies to both the concepts being learned and also that it's just concept work and not ready to be put into real use.

For instance, there's no indication that the second row is just for utility and the first row is where you should put your solution.  Also, the button to "check" your solution doesn't do anything if your solution is incorrect.  I'd also like to put in puzzle numbers and have an option for starting a new puzzle (instead of either reseting to the start of the same puzzle or reloading the page for a new one).

I made it with Processing, which is very easy to work with, and has a javascript mode that exports to HTML 5 canvases.


garden to table: spinach on pizza

One fun thing about garden-grown spinach is that you get the blossom pods (I have no idea what they're actually called) if your plants start to go to seed.  Steamed, these have a great texture, with each of the little would-be blossoms popping between your teeth.

Today I made a pizza (one of our favorites) with garden spinach and my other two favorite toppings: sun-dried tomatoes (the kind stored in oil), and artichoke hearts.  My thin pizza crust is pretty simple, as it's purpose is to hold all the good stuff on top, but if I'm feeling fancy, I'll throw in a few spices.

There was once much household angst about thin vs. thick crust, as NWC favored the former and I the latter, but I've slowly converted to thin crust because then the toppings drive the show.  Don't get me wrong, I love a good Chicago deep dish, but thin crust is much easier to manage at home.

Thin Pizza Crust
1.5-2 cup flour, preferably 1 T whole wheat
1 teaspoon baking powder
salt, garlic salt, and/or oregano to taste

Mix dries first, and then add water until just combined—the dough should be tacky or very slightly sticky.  For best results, let dough sit for a few minutes before rolling out.  Flour you surface generously and roll the dough out very flat, turning regularly to maintain an even thickness.  (I love my dowel rolling pin for this.)  Drizzle oil generously in a jellyroll pan, and stretch the crust into place; bake at 375F for under 10 minutes—enough to solidify the form, but not enough to start browning.

Thin-crust Pizza
serves 2
thin pizza crust (above)
8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese (small ball)
1/4 cup tomato sauce
spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, and artichoke hearts (or other toppings) to taste
Other favorite toppings: thin-sliced onions, red bell peppers, sausage (pre-cook)

Steam and drain spinach while crust is cooking, and grate cheese.  Spread sauce on crust, sprinkle cheese, and arrange toppings on top.  Bake at 400F until cheese has melted and is beginning to brown.  Slice and serve!

conversation with a mother sparrow

I caught a glimpse of a Chipping Sparrow's nest today—even the mother was so tiny!  Not wanting to disturb it, I kept my distance while taking a photo, and then thought of a silly little poem, as I am apt to do.  I hope they stay safe, as they're in a high foot traffic area.

Baby sparrow, at my elbow,
cried: my mother you made fly!
I said to Mom, in bushes yon,
"I am just passing by.
But dearie, I am fearing
that you made your nest too low.
A cat could reach up with its teeth
and feast without a show."
Yet mother, as she hovered,
told she worried 'bout the hawks,
As cottontails are masters
of the grass on which I walk.
So I replied with heavy sigh,
"Thus I fear more than you,
The rabbits love my garden,
and will eat all they can chew!"