Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mormon Temples: What Happens in a Temple?

(This is part of a series of posts on Mormon temples)

In my last post, I talked about how temples are special, sacred spaces, and how special preparation is required to enter the temple. Because the general population may not enter the temple and because Mormons don’t talk a lot about the temple out of reverence for it, people outside of the church are left to speculate about what goes on there. In this post, I want to give a picture of what the temple experience is like. This is a unique aspect of being a Mormon and plays a significant role in what we think about God and the purpose of our life.

The first thing that Mormons do when entering the temple is change into white clothing. White clothing is worn for all temple ordinances, white being a symbol of purity, light, heaven, etc. The clothing is uniform in appearance, so there is an increased feeling of equality and unity. In the temple, there are no social strata – everyone is equal regardless of wealth, status, or even position in the church. Once in the temple, by chance, I sat next to an apostle (a top authority in the church), and it was interesting for me to observe him dressed the same as I was and going through the same rituals. It would have been impossible for anyone to distinguish us if they didn’t already know who he was. Wearing white clothing also lends to a feeling of the special holiness of the temple, a place apart from the world.

All communications in the temple are in hushed tones. The closest thing I can compare it to is a library. Young children are generally not found there, so the quietness of the place is another thing that sets it apart from other places we might be.

The primary purpose of the temple is to provide a sacred place for special ordinances, or rites. Mormons believe these ordinances are needed to enter heaven, so there is a great importance attached to them. Each ordinance has a covenant associated with it; that is, there is a promise that the participant makes in connection with the ordinance. The covenant is a two-way promise, God promising certain blessings to the people who make and keep their end of the covenant. The substance of these covenants is essentially that the individual will do their very best to follow God all the time, and to devote themselves completely to the cause of building up his kingdom. Initially, Mormons perform these ordinances for themselves, then they return to the temple and perform them on behalf of others who have died without the benefit of receiving the same ordinances.

Ordinances performed in the temple are: Baptisms (on behalf of deceased ancestors), Washing and Anointing (symbolic), the Endowment, and Sealing (Marriage). Everyone is clothed for these ordinances (some people ask about that) and each one is a set ritual that is the same every time. When a Mormon attends the temple to receive ordinances for the first time, the ordinance of washing and anointing and the Endowment are typically performed in succession on the same visit to the temple. The brief ordinance of Washing and Anointing is symbolic and emphasizes the idea that a person is setting themselves apart from the world to be a follower of God. The Endowment is about 90 minutes of instruction, teaching about the purpose of life, the commandments one must live by, and the specific things a person must know to return to the presence of God. The Sealing (or marriage) ordinance is a brief marriage ceremony performed as a capstone of all the previous ordinances.

The sealing ordinance itself is special in that it must be performed by a person known as a “sealer” who has been given the power to “seal on earth and in heaven”. The significance of this is that marriages performed by a sealer may extend beyond death into eternity. The number of sealers in the church is not published, but I estimate there is one sealer for every 10,000 members of the church. Their duties are relegated to the temple and performing ordinances there. Leaders of congregations (bishops) do not have the sealing power. They may perform civil marriages in a church, but they do not have the authority to perform sealings (or “Eternal Marriages”) in the temple.

There are special rooms in the temples for each one of the ordinances. Here are some examples:

Baptismal Font

Endowment Room

Sealing Room

The central room of the temple is the “Celestial Room”, which exists there as a symbol of heaven:

Celestial Room

No ordinances are performed in the celestial room. Instead, Mormons come here to pray and to meditate, often after finishing and endowment. These rooms are completely quiet and peaceful. For myself, I can say it is a delight to have a place like this to come to and be away from worldly cares and to draw my mind to spiritual things.

In addition to ordinances rooms, temples have offices in them for administering the daily workings of the temple. There are also meeting rooms which are occasionally used by a congregation to meet for a special event. These meetings are similar to church meetings, where there are prayers, hymns, and sermons. Large temples may also have laundries and even a place for temple patrons to eat. (Sometimes temples are not only filled with a reverent atmosphere, but also the wonderful aromas of cooking food. J)

As I hope you can see, temples and temple activities are unique, sacred and special to Mormons. In my next post, I will talk about how the temple and its activities affect the daily life of a Mormon. As always, please feel free to send me questions about Mormons or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and I will try to put up some thoughtful answers in my blog.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What I believe about Christmas

"I believe in science."

- Esqueleto  (Nacho Libre)

I have a father who taught various sciences at the local state university.   I grew up peering through telescopes & microscopes, catching bugs, playing with chemicals, etc.   I associated with other science professors and their children and was commonly found hanging out at the natural history museum.    All this activity and curiosity with science led me eventually to MIT, where I studied materials engineering and solid state physics. Today I program computers for a living, but I still keep tabs on the world of science.  The quest for scientific knowledge is in my blood.  

I think science is terribly interesting and productive, telling us a great deal about the world we live in.    The fact that I am typing out this essay on a tiny computer in my hand is a miracle wrought through the deep understanding of many disciplines.   Of all the sciences, most interesting to me is the science of cosmology, or the science of the universe, which informs us on the vast scales of time and space and the origins of pretty much everything.   One cool thing about cosmology is that one must study the very tiny and the very large and understand them together in order to understand the universe.  Cosmologists’ tools are the most amazing things man has ever built- from the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, to the Hubble space telescope in orbit around the earth.  Even more amazing than these is the extraordinary mathematics that underlies cosmology and virtually all science.   The bright mathematical star around which cosmologists orbit is the general theory of relativity, a purely intellectual construct that has described the universe so powerfully and predictably that no experiment in 100 years has contradicted it.  (The jury is still out on those recently discovered speedy neutrinos, but I think we’ll find they obey speed limits like everything else).  Think about it: Einstein didn't do any experiments, he just did the math.  The experiments came later, and they showed he was right.

Today is an interesting time in science, because landmark developments of the last several decades.   String theory, in particular, is being explored like a vast new continent and holds a glimmer of hope that we might find a single unified theory that describes everything in the universe.   It is breathtaking and endlessly fascinating.   I truly love it. 

"If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we should know the mind of God.”

- Stephen Hawking, 1988, A Brief History of Time

“It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.”

- Stephen Hawking, 2010, Grand Design

A constant tension exists between science and religion because science keeps pushing back the boundaries of where God might exist.    Thousands of years ago, God was on a mountaintop, but then we climbed the mountain and found nothing there.   Then he was in the clouds, but when we flew above the clouds, there was nothing there either.   In our time, we’ve pushed all the way back to the beginning of time and to the edges of the universe and from the tiniest atoms to superclusters of galaxies, and still no evidence of God.   Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest minds of our time, has looked closely at the math and believes there is no need to invoke God to understand why the universe might  exist, and he has made the leap (or suggested it) that if we don’t need to invoke the concept of god, then the simplest conclusion is that there is no God. 

The problem, of course, with a modern scientist’s view of the universe is that most of us have to take their word for it.   This goes back to the math-  with each successive step in our understanding of nature, the math required to understand it has grown commensurately.   The ancient physicists used math that many kids today learn in junior high.   Later advances have required math that is now in the domain of a college education.  String theory invokes math of a most obscure and arcane nature, so complicated that most people would not be able to understand it even they spent the required years to study it.   So, when a modern cosmologist talks about the nature of the universe and God, the vast majority of us do not remotely have the resources to grasp the reasoning of his argument.   If the nature of God is discovered through such means, what hope have we of knowing something about it?

“What if God was one of us?”

-          Alanis Morissette

“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”

-          Jesus Christ (John 17:3)

A popular song from the 90’s asks the question, perhaps disingenuously, “What if God was one of us?”  This is somewhat of an ironic message in light of the truth about Christmas.   2000 years ago a baby was born to a virgin mother in Bethlehem of Judea.  The point that she was a virgin is important because of the implication- that the child had a divine father.   The god of the old testament, Jehovah, was born, lived a human life, and died.  He went through the same life experience, physically and spiritually, that all of us have.    The message of Christmas is that God ­_is_ one of us.   And if he is one of us, we are one of him!    We are literal children of God and not only is it possible to know God, it is our essential nature to desire it, strive for it, and achieve it.  

The skeptic, the scientist, will demand some sort of proof for this.   Fortunately, it is available, and one need not have any special training to see it.   Built into each one of us is the ability to comprehend and know spiritual reality.   This power to know, however, operates on by specific laws, and one must abide by them to come to knowledge.   Jesus taught in very simple terms what these laws are, but unfortunately they are widely disregarded by the world, which is why so many people still look for knowledge of God without finding it.    The practical message of Christmas is that we can put away hatred, envy, lust, deceitfulness,  and selfishness, and we can speak with our God and come to know, in a real and lasting way, that there is a God and that we are his children and that we are intimately connected to him. 

This is my Christmas message to all of you, my friends, and I know of myself it is true.  If you do not know for yourself, I invite you to find out. 



Friday, December 09, 2011

Mormon Temples: Who Can Enter a Temple?

(This is part of a series of posts on Mormon temples)
The first building that Mormons ever built was a temple in Kirtland Ohio:

(Photo by Russ Peterson)

In the dedicatory prayer of this temple, Mormons are given this injunction: “no unclean thing shall be permitted to come into [the temple].” What this means is that once a temple is dedicated, there is a worthiness standard applied to those who desire to enter it. The standard is: to believe in God, keep the commandments, and live our lives in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ. In practical terms, this means that a person who desires to enter a temple must be a baptized member of the LDS church in good standing, attending church regularly, being chaste, paying tithing, and generally doing their best to live an honest, moral life. Worthiness is determined by way of an interview with ecclesiastical leaders, after which a certificate is issued (a “temple recommend”) which the member may use to enter the temple.
As a rule, Mormons take the worthiness interview very seriously. The interview itself is somewhat of a ritual- it must be repeated every two years and it follows a standard format. Mormons who carry a temple recommend are considered active and devoted members of the church. Roughly a quarter of adult members of the church hold current temple recommends. Members commonly speak about going to the temple as a transformative experience. The preparation often involves the challenging process of leaving behind of old habits such as smoking or drinking and adopting new habits such as paying tithing or becoming fully integrated in the church community.
There is no special invitation required to receive a recommend and go to the temple. Everyone and anyone is invited, so long as they are willing to live according to the standards required for the temple. There is however, an age requirement (over 18) and a person must have been a member at least one year. The reason for those requirements is that the spiritual commitment that goes with attending the temple is serious, and it is important that a person is ready to keep their commitment once it is made. In typical practice, Mormons attend the temple for the first time right before their missions (many Mormons serve two-year missions between the ages of 19 and 25) or right before their marriage if they have not been a missionary.
The worthiness standard has some important implications in a Mormon marriage. One in particular is that attendance at a Mormon wedding ceremony is extremely limited. If family members are not members of the church and/or do not meet the worthiness standard, they cannot attend the ceremony. Typical wedding parties are composed of close family and a few very close friends. This is a sensitive situation, especially for non-members who don’t have the background to understand the beliefs surrounding the temple and the Mormon’s concept of Eternal Marriage. Mormon youth are taught from a young age to anticipate and strive for a marriage in the temple. Youth standards of behavior, spirituality, and dating are crafted around keeping young people worthy to enter the temple. These standards are taught and emphasized continually.
A temple is staffed by a fairly large number of volunteers, or “temple workers.” Temple workers are lay members of the church and have no special qualifications other than that they regularly attend the temple themselves. Workers usually work one full day each week in the temple, and they are not paid. (There are some paid positions for people who work in the temple, but these are non-religious in nature such as a someone who works in the laundry or as a Janitor.) Many workers in the temple are older, retired Mormons. When a person becomes a temple worker, they are specially set apart by the laying on hands so that they will have the authority to do the work in the temple.
In my next post, I will talk about what people do in the temple. As always, please feel free to send me questions about Mormons or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and I will try to put up some thoughtful answers in my blog.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Some Truths About Software Development

A friend of mine pointed me to a talk by Greg Wilson, an author of software engineering books. The point of his talk is that there is a lot of bogus claims and practices around software that aren’t backed up with data (for instance, the usefulness of UML in code design). He then listed several rules of thumb that *are* backed up by data and many of these rang true with me in my 20 or so years of experience. Here they are:

Adding 25% more features doubles the complexity.

Project failure tends to come from poor estimation and unstable requirements.

If you have to rewrite more than 20% of a component, start from scratch.

Reading code (code review) is the best technique known for fixing bugs. Caveat #1: Most value comes from the first review during the first hour. Caveat #2: The most code a person can really review is ~200 lines in an hour.

Software reflects the organization that wrote it. Case in point: A Microsoft study of Windows Vista showed that fault rates were most dependent on organizational chart distance!

Lines of code is the strongest metric. Other more complicated metrics tend to scale with lines of code.

Nobody uses UML.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Mormon Temples: What is a temple?

(This is the first part of a series of posts on the temple)

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, “churches” are different than “temples.” A church is a building where we hold Sunday worship services (sacrament meetings), youth activities, dances, sports events, devotionals, scouting courts of honor, dinners, receptions, etc. etc. Church buildings are open to the public and anyone is invited to meetings we hold there. There are probably on the order of 10,000 LDS church buildings around the world. Typical church buildings look like this:

Temples, on the other hand, are rare and very special. There are only about 140 LDS temples in the world. They are constructed with great care out of the finest materials available and they are dedicated for special worship activity that is distinct and separate than a standard Sunday service. ( In fact, temples are closed on Sundays.)

Here are some pictures of temples:

Salt Lake City

San Diego

Hong Kong

In the temple, Mormons perform various religious rites, or “ordinances.” An example of an ordinance would be baptism. Mormons don’t talk about the specifics of these ordinances outside of the temple, not because such things are secret, but because they are sacred. Put another way, if we simply talked about temple rites any time and any place, these things would lose their air of reverence and dignity. If you know a Mormon, it is useful to understand that it is deeply upsetting to them to see the sacred things of the temple paraded in public and/or ridiculed.

When temples are first built, they are considered regular buildings until they are dedicated by the president of the church (“The Prophet”) or someone delegated by the President. Before that time, there is an “open house” period where general members of the public may enter the temple and see the inside. At a temple dedication, the temple and surrounding grounds are filled will local members of the church. This is a time greeted with joy and celebration by Mormons.

In my next post, I will talk about who may enter temples after they are dedicated. As always, please feel free to send me questions about Mormons or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and I will try to put up some thoughtful answers in my blog.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mormon Temples: Common Questions

One of the things that distinguishes The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS Church) from other Christian denominations is the construction of temples, special religious buildings which are different than churches. In the LDS Church, temples are special buildings open to only devout and practicing members (frequently called “Mormons”). People are curious about this on many levels. What exactly is different about temples? What goes on inside them? How do Mormon beliefs about the temple affect daily life?

This is the beginning of a series of posts I will write on this topic. My objective is to give people a window into what it is like to be a Mormon so that others may understand better what we do and why. I hope that what I write will be interesting and informative, and bring us closer together in a world where there is so much dividing people.

Here’s an overview of what I plan to post under the current topic (I’ll add links later):

If you have some particular questions about Mormon life that you would like answered, please feel free to send me an email and I’ll do my best to post a good answer.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Barefoot running, Week 2: No pain, no gain

So far, so good with the running program.    In the first week I experienced only mild discomfort in my feet and calves, however I can tell  I’m definitely giving my lower legs a strong workout.     Yesterday I started my 2nd week of the couch to 5k regimen, running 2 minutes on, 1 minute off.   I ran closer to 40 minutes than the 30 minutes recommended and I paid for it with blisters near my pinky toes from my Vibram shoes.   My calves were also complaining a lot.    For my next run I’ll scale back. 


Friday, October 07, 2011

Secret Recipe for French Toast

Out of necessity, I invented this amazingly simple and delicious recipe for French toast at scout camp this year:


§  Your favorite Bread

§  1 part eggs

§  1 part melted vanilla ice cream

That’s it.   The melted ice cream is really foamy and full of cream, so when it is mixed with eggs, it makes a batter that covers the bread with an extra thick layer of yummy!

Try it out and let me know how it goes!

Saturday, October 01, 2011

An October Tradition!

General conference- definitely one of my favorite times of the year.My family woke up this morning with a huge batch of cinnamon rolls we made last night, which is a big tradition for us- We give half away and enjoy the other half on the Saturday and Sunday of conference.Here's me with my boys after the general priesthood session on Saturday afternoon.My sons and I have each been ordained to the priesthood in our church: Hans is a priest, I'm a High Priest, David is an Elder, and Leif is a Deacon. At the priesthood session, we get to listen to excellent talks and instruction from our prophet and other leaders about our duties and how to be better followers of Jesus Christ. Some examples from this time around were talks on caring for the poor, having the courage to stand alone, and helping young men understand the significance of representing God. It is an uplifting experience, and afterwards, we go out to eat!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Barefoot Running: It begins...

Check out my new clodhoppers! Today I started barefoot running. I used to run a fair amount, but I had to stop because it was killing my knees. Recently I heard about forefoot/barefoot running and how it helps a lot with knee problems. So... I got myself a pair of Vibram 5 Fingers, which are like gloves for feet. They are probably the nerdiest shoes in existence right now, which explains why I LOVE THEM.
I hear that it is easy to get injuries if I get into barefoot running too fast, so I am also doing the "Couch to 5K" program to ease myself into it. Today I ran for about 25 minutes, alternating between running and walking. For the last five minutes, I took off my Vibrams and ran with just my bare tootsies on our 20-grit sidewalks. Overall, it felt awesome to be running again, even though I am still shaking off a cold. My knees didn't give me a lick of trouble, but my feet felt a little strain, so I can see how a person needs to ease into it. I've been running stairs recently, so I think that helped with my calves, which people say is the first thing on your body to complain. The barefoot part at the end was uncomfortable, but not painful. I'm looking forward to building up callouses on my feet.
I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Ron Paul: A old guy with some interesting ideas.

I recently visited Ron Paul’s web site(s) and did a deep dive on his platform.   Overall, I find him to be more interesting than all the other candidates out there, who have platforms that feel watered down and filled with slogans.    His ideas may or may not work, but at least he has some theories and some great experiments to try.  I also wish he weren’t so old, but I’ll take what I can get. 

Here’s the results of my inquiry based somewhat on my own political views, but also based on whether he’s addressing some identifiable problems in a proactive way.   



Ron Paul



(+)  Recognizes that fiat money is like an addictive drug

(+) Return to gold standard is an interesting and game-changing idea

(-) Doesn’t give clear steps on how to return to gold standard

(+) Recognizes that existence of the Fed creates negative incentives for good policy  and recommends another game-changing idea of eliminating the Fed.

(-) Doesn’t make clear what organizations will replace the Fed, nor talk about the perceived value of the Fed that should be preserved.

Foreign Policy


(+) Recognizes the “blowback” effect of US foreign policy of the last several decades.

(+) Calls our recent wars “illegal” and acts of “aggression”

(+) Recognizes that wars are huge sinkholes of American wealth.

(+) Recognizes the negative incentives created by our military industrial complex

(-) The call to hunt 9/11 planners sounds a little like pandering

(-) Proposed overhauling intelligence agencies, but gives no vision or plan

(-) Talks about the problems of entagling alliances, but does not illuminate or address the root causes of these alliances.

Health Care


(+) He’s a doctor, so has a first-hand opinion

(+) Recognizes negative incentives created by government-enforced monopolies.

(+) Recognizes primary issue: sub-standard health care mandated by inflexible policies

(+) Proposes greater support for natural medicine and recognizes that there is a disinsentive for this created by government health policy.

(+) Recognizes that government sponsored health care is likely to make the situation worse and is likely unconstitutional.

(+) Recognizes that the pharmaceutical industry is incented to expensive drugs that are not especially effective.

(+) Beginning the conversation about medicine and charity.

(-) Doesn’t address the cost of being a family practitioner.

(-) Doesn’t address tort reform and malpractice

(-) Doesn’t address a vision for FDA testing natural remedies.

Immigration Policy


(+)  Current policy is increasing class separation.

(-) says “No Amnesty”, but doesn’t make it clear what to do with 20 million illegal immigrants.  Deport them?

(+) Recognizes that Welfare creates an incentive for illegal immigration.

(-) Doesn’t articulate how much of our welfare money goes to illegals.

(+) Recognizes that birthright citizenship is an incentive for illegal immigration.

(-) Doesn’t give a vision for how to change/replace birthright citizenship.

(-) Doesn’t directly address the 800 pound Gorilla of illegal immigration:  Mexico.


Free Trade


(+)  Clarifies that NAFTA is not free trade

(+/-) Interesting definition of isolationism.

(-) Does not address corporations and humans rights issues in foreign countries

(+) Suggests true free trade as a means for achieving peace

(+) Advocates full free trade without government intervention

(-) Doesn’t talk about patent reform and IP protections

(-) Doesn’t talk about the realities of failure and collapse in a full free trade system



(+) Eliminate the IRS - A Seemingly radical idea which he de-radicalizes with some numbers and history.

(+) Outlines realistic steps to fill in the revenue with excise (consumption) taxes, tariffs (non protectionist?), and big spending cuts.

(+)  Connects income tax to loss of privacy and freedom

(+)  Identifies negative incentive for productive behavior

(+) Liberty Amendment.   A visionary piece of legislation demonstrating a long-term commitment to this policy on taxation.




(+) Recognition that many of the talking points around abortion are just secondary issues.

(-) Raises another secondary, un-provable issue as his talking point – when does life begin?    (The real issues is unwanted pregnancies, an issue around which pro-life and pro-choice groups have been able to cooperate in the past)

(+)  Raises an interesting connection between abortion and euthanasia

(+) Brings abortion providers under scrutiny

(-) Doesn’t reach for common ground on an extremely divisive issue.

(+) Appears to have a consistent view on this topic, informed by his significant medical experience.


Grade: D+

(-) No national vision for education.  

(-) Recommends dissolving national education system but doesn’t mention that our form of government depends heavily on an educated populace.

(+) wants to support home schooling


Gun Rights

Grade: C-

(+) Defends constitutional right to bear arms

(-) No innovation or vision around the gun-related problems we have in our country.



(-) Promotes excise taxes, but suggests repealing the gasoline tax, pandering to consumers.  

(-) Promotes unrestricted exploration of energy resources, bypassing important government function of regulation.

(-) Lift roadblocks for coal

(+) Lift roadblocks for nuclear power

(-) Proposes removing EPA and suggests a tort system, neglecting that the government is a huge property owner.

(+) Promote alternative fuel technologies

(-) No real vision for solving energy dependence problem.


Friday, August 19, 2011

What the Apostle Said: Urgent matters concerning the priesthood

Last night I got to sit in on a meeting with Elder Perry of the quorum of the twelve apostles and Elder Clayton of the presidency of the Seventy.    I was there with about 500 other priesthood leaders representing about 38,000 members in 11 stakes.   I happened to be in the front row, so when the chorister was late, I got to stand up and lead everyone in a few hymns.   It’s awesome to hear all those voices.    There’s a great, peaceful feeling sharing the same room with hundreds of men united in song and purpose, determined together to serve Jesus Christ.  That feeling stayed with me through the entire meeting and I left feeling edified and having some new ideas and direction.

The purpose of the meeting was to address a few large concerns that have been on the minds of the brethren recently.   I’ll list each one and mention what was discussed.

Limited Understanding of Sacred Covenants

Many brothers are entering into priesthood covenants without a good understanding of what the oath and the covenant of the priesthood is.   It’s a very serious commitment and many are ordained with little understanding of it.   Elder Perry quoted 1 Tim 5:22 (“Lay hands suddenly on no man.”) and taught that we should carefully teach about the oath and covenant of the priesthood before we ordain brethren.

We reviewed principles of the priesthood including the following:

-       The priesthood is the power and authority by which God created and governs the universe.

-       It is the portion of his power given to mortal men for salvation. 

-       The blessings of the priesthood are available to all who desire them.

-       The priesthood is directed by individuals who possess keys.   Keys entitle one to receive revelation to guide and direct others. 

-       When we enter into the oath and covenant of the priesthood, we make an oath to:

Magnify our callings through doing our duty and following personal revelation

Give diligent heed to the words of eternal life

“Live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God”

-       God promises

Physical support

Adoption into the family of Abraham

Eternal Life and “All that the Father hath”

-       If we desire eternal life, we must enter into this covenant.  If we enter into this covenant and abandon it, we cannot be forgiven in this life or the next.   It’s a very serious promise. 

-       With the priesthood, there is a line of authority (D&C 84:33-37)  - we act for the Savior.


Response to the rescue has been poor

Our prophet is very concerned about the rescue of individuals, especially those who have the priesthood and those who have had the opportunity to receive it.   Our progress as a church in the 2 ½ years since he spoke on this has been essentially zero.  To explain this, Elder Clayton gave a classic quote from Stephen L. Richards:

“A quorum is three things: first, a class; second, a fraternity; and third, a service unit. Within it the men of the Priesthood learn of the principles of the Gospel, establish true brotherhood, and carry forward the work of Christ. It is a God-given association from which they derive more of lasting advantage than from any other fraternal organization in our society. Its prime purpose is to encourage and safeguard the individual." 

Elder Clayton said that we often forget the rest of that quote:

“I fear we have some men who have received the Holy Priesthood who feel themselves too big and too important to associate with their brethren in the quorum. I am sorry for them. They are making a great mistake. For it is they, chiefly, who are retarding the progress of the work of God. I am certain that I am right when I say that if all of the men of the Priesthood would be loyal to their quorums the work of the Church would be accelerated beyond anything we have ever known”

The point here is that it is the failure of priesthood quorums that is causing our failure.   We had an open participation section where we answered three questions:

1)    What have you seen in quorums that really works to encourage a feeling of brotherhood?

2)    What encourages the brethren to use the priesthood in their own homes?

3)    What examples have you seen of Elders Quorum Presidents using their keys?


The main points that came out of this discussion is that quorum presidents have a responsibility to follow revelation, to teach their quorums, and to bring them together in love.   

Elder Perry taught how quorum leaders can cooperate with full time missionaries to help bring people back.   Missionaries have the time and calling to teach, and quorum leaders have the right to personal revelation which will guide them to those who are ready.    The leaders also have the authority to personally minister to families and invite them to recommit to the gospel and have the missionaries teach them. 

In elder Perry’s opinion, the most important callings to fill in a ward are: Bishop, Clerk, and Elder’s quorum president.  These callings have a significant part in this process.

Protecting Religious Freedom

Political movements that are seeking to limit religious freedom require the efforts of a large, united priesthood body to oppose them.  The LDS church is well-respected among leaders of other religions.   One of the great reasons for this is our participation in the California proposition 8 contest.  As a church, we are unique in that other organizations have no head.  These organizations are led by councils and committees.   We have one head – the savior Jesus Christ, who acts through his senior apostle on the earth.   This enables us to accomplish great things.

Elder Perry challenged us to rescue 10% of the elders and prospective elders who have fallen out of activity in the church.  If we did so, we would activate 250,000 men worldwide.   Imagine that!





Thursday, August 11, 2011

Thoughts on Creationism

In a world where a book on how to use my TV has more words than Genesis chapters 1-3, I have a hard time thinking the biblical account is complete enough to understand the mechanisms and nature of creation.   More to the point, I think in the translation of the Hebrew word “yowm” into “day” in the Genesis account is the main thing that is fouling everybody up by immediately limiting our thinking.   If it had been translated into “eon” (a valid translation), then the trouble would have been largely circumvented.   God created the earth in six eons and then he rested.   Sounds pretty reasonable.  

What’s interesting about science is that it has always been after God.  Scientists have always been trying to find him.    First on mountaintops, then in distant lands, in the solar system, in the galaxy, in the universe, in the far reaches of time…   Every step they take pushes the frontier back.    Each step yields greater understanding of our world, but no evidence of God turns up.  It’s enough to make people give up the search, and many do.   The irony is that all things are evidence that god exists and that the scientific means for detecting God lie within ourselves, not out there to be discovered.     What the scientific search for God has taught me is that God truly is a god of faith.    He simply doesn’t allow himself to be known objectively.  We look and look for signs, but He’s so smart that he has hidden himself from detection even in the very laws of nature that govern his own creations.    And yet, he’s also so generous that he has enabled all of his children to meet him personally if they simply live according to his commandments. 

Interesting side note:  Yesterday I was listening to a short lecture on Thomas Aquinas, arguably the most important philosopher of Western civilization and someone who opened the way for the renaissance.    Thomas is described a someone very wise, humble like a child, extremely intelligent, and incredibly prolific- he wrote over 50 volumes.   The most interesting thing about Thomas is what happened at the end of his life (quoted from Wikipedia):

In 1272 Thomas took … time at Naples to work on the third part of the [Summa  Theologiae] while giving lectures on various religious topics. On 6 December 1273 Thomas was celebrating the Mass of St. Nicholas when, according to some, he heard Christ speak to him. Christ asked him what he desired, being pleased with his meritorious life. Thomas replied "Only you Lord. Only you." After this exchange something happened, but Thomas never spoke of it or wrote it down. Because of what he saw, he abandoned his routine and refused to dictate to his socius Reginald of Piperno. When Reginald begged him to get back to work, Thomas replied: "Reginald, I cannot, because all that I have written seems like straw to me."

Some people compare this to what Paul said in Philiphians 3:8

Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ

The book Thomas was working on when he died was The Summa Theologiae, which was his best known and most influential work, even though he never finished it.   It had a tremendous impact on Western thought and Christian religion. Yet, one look into heaven and Thomas couldn’t bear to work on it anymore because his book seemed just useful enough to catch cow turds.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Developer Interviews: An alternative to puzzle questions

I’ve been in many developer interviews and I’ve frequently been asked puzzle questions.   You know what I’m talking about- the kind that has one cool, non-obvious optimal answer that the interviewer knows and that you don’t, and that you have to come up with in the next 10 minutes or you’ve screwed up your chances of getting that job.    

Here are some quick thoughts on the questions and a proposal for something different:

People in interviews are nervous:   A nervous person has high adrenaline, which pulls blood from the brain into the extremities, lowering their higher-order abilities of reason and judgment.   A lot of reasonable, highly intelligent people become babbling morons in a high-stakes situation.  (Reminds me of my first date!)  Puzzle questions exacerbate the problem because there is an edge of hostility in them.     More to the point-   Interviewees who know anything about us study puzzle questions books ahead of time knowing that they might get asked.   They guy who did well on the puzzle question – was it because he knew the answer ahead of time, was it because he just doesn’t get nervous, or was he just brilliant?   It’s very hard to tell.    I suspect Alan Turing, who is described as shy and nervous, would do poorly answering puzzle questions in an interview.   

It’s a double standard:  Consider this-  I ask puzzle questions of my colleagues  quite often.   I’ve never seen a question solved on the spot, or quickly.   People usually walk off to be by themselves and come back a day or two later with the answer.    Interviewers usually give just a few high-pressure minutes for solving their questions.   Does asking questions in this manner do an effective job of predicting how a person will behave in a work environment?  I don’t think so.

There is an alternative:     The goal is to lower adrenaline and still ask questions that exercise reasoning ability/creativity.   One way to achieve that is to ask questions that are based on personal experience, and have no “right” answer, and are naturally difficult.   Asking questions like this lowers your status as an interviewer and balances the conversation.   This conversation will be of the type we have every day at work and will give the interviewer much more useful information.      Here are some examples of questions off the top of my head:

-          How would you calculate how much salt a person eats in a year?  (A variant of the famous “gas-station problem.   My observation is that I am solving gas-station problems at least once a week at work.)

-          How would you organize one billion photos?

-          How would you approach writing a program to compute the number of lines of code in a large code base?

-          Imagine everyone in the world had a Bluetooth medical monitor that uploaded information to a giant database.   What challenges does this create?

I think these questions are low-pressure alternatives to puzzle questions that allow a person to share their reasoning abilities in a conversational way.  

Monday, June 06, 2011

Should parents be able to monitor the cell phone texts?

I had a discussion recently about whether parents should monitor the cell phone texts their children send and receive.   Here’s how I see it:   A face-to-face conversation has certain natural constraints.   The people that my kids talk to face to face are going to be naturally limited to physical proximity.   Yeah, kids on the bus are going to talk about serious things and while I would like to have some frank conversations about that, I can’t reasonably expect to be privy to all those conversations, but I don’t worry about that as much because of the natural constraint.


A text conversation opens up a new realm of possibility.   Anyone armed with the phone number can now conduct a conversation with my child.    The analogy would be to allow my child to talk to any random person on the street that wanted to talk to them.   We tell our kids not to talk to strangers, but a stranger with a cell phone can disguise themselves as anything.  The privacy of texting is also an issue.  A person will avoid certain conversations because they don’t want to be seen with a certain person, but it’s impossible to tell who they might be texting just by looking.   Cell phone texts are basically opening the doors for additional privacy and extending the pool of potential contacts.  


The last point I’ll add is this isn’t a theoretical problem.   I have a few friends that have had serious issues with their children and texting.   And my wife and I have found that being able to drop in on private conversations has been an invaluable tool in raising our kids. 

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Varmint's BBQ sauce recipe

I created a BBQ sauce recipe recently that turned out pretty good.   This sauce is sweet, tangy, and has a bite!  

Varmint’s BBQ Sauce


-          3 T Butter

-          3-4 Garlic cloves, minced

-          1 C Ketchup

-          2/3 C Brown Sugar

-          1/3 C Molasses

-          1 T Worcestershire Sauce

-          1 T Red Pepper flakes

-          1 t onion Powder

-          1 t spicy mustard



1)      Sauté the minced  garlic in the butter until golden brown

2)      Add everything else and cook until bubbly


Other things to try

-          Replace ketchup with 8oz of tomato sauce + 2 T apple cider vinegar

-          Instead of onion powder, sauté 1 C of finely chopped onions

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Eliminate "whoops" emails forever

Have you ever sent off an email only to realize 3 seconds later that you just insulted the boss, or sent your receipts for your chronic halitosis treatments to the entire organization?    This article explains a little trick in Outlook rules I’ve discovered that has pretty much eliminated this problem for me.    After following the instructions in this post, any message you send will stay in your outbox for 60 seconds before it gets emailed.   Believe me, that 60 seconds is plenty long enough for your brain to realize that you just sent a career-limiting email and then do something to fix it. 

Here’s how to do it (you will need a recent version of Microsoft Outlook)

-          Create a new rule

-          Under “Start from a blank rule”, select “Apply rule on messages I send”

-          Click “Next”

-          Click “Next” again on the “Select Conditions” list

-          Outlook will warn you that this will apply to every rule, Click “yes”

-          In the “Select actions” list, check the box that says “defer delivery by a number of minutes”

-          Click “A number of” in the rule description box and select “1”.

-          Click “Next”

-          Click “Next” again on the exceptions list

-          Give the rule a name  and click “Finish”  (Outlook will warn you that it is a client-only rule)

How to use it in practice

You have to understand how Outlook works in order to take advantage of this rule-  

Let’s say that you’ve just hit send on an email.  You’ll see that your outbox  will have a number next to it like this:  Outbox [1].   This indicates that there is a message waiting in your outbox.  ( If you wait sixty seconds, you’ll see your message disappear as it is sent.)   If you click on the Outbox itself before the message goes away, you’ll see the message in there with bold italic text.   That font is a signal that the message is about to be sent.

-          To stop the message:  All you need to do to stop a message is open it.  Double click on the message in the outbox and you notice that the text in the outbox list will change to plain, unbolded text.   This is a signal that outlook is ignoring the message.  At this point, it will never get sent.  

-          To send the message again with altered text:  Double clicking on the message will stop it from getting sent *and* open it in a viewer.   Hit the “reply-all” button and you will get a new message with all the original recipients of the old one.   Now you can edit the text and press send and you’ll see a new message show up in the outbox.  At this point you can delete the original, unbolded message.

Customizations to consider

-          Sometimes you’ll want to shortcut the rule, such as when you need to quickly send a file to somebody.   You can add an exception to the rule that will cause it not to fire on messages that have some secret text in them.  For instance: “KWIK!” or anything else you like. 

-          For people who believe in not answering email too quickly, consider bumping up the delay to an hour.   I’m not brave enough to try this, but if anyone does, please let me know how it goes!