Scheming Swindlers


The Bible is very easy to understand. But we as Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined.

Søren Kierkegaard, Journals


A Sordid Tale of Text Editors

For years now, It seems like I have been searching for the perfect text editor. Evidently, there are those who believe that there is one single perfect text editor for everyone. If you need evidence, just search the Internet for “Vim vs. Emacs.” My experience, though, leads to me believe that, when it comes to text editors, like many other tools, perfection is relative to the individual. What tool is needed depends on how the individual writer works and thinks.

I used word processors (beginning with WordPerfect 5.1, which I still think is the best, it’s been all downhill for word processors ever since) until I started writing LaTeX documents. I began with TeXShop, which comes bundled with MacTeX. TeXShop is an excellent resource for writing LaTeX. It’s free, powerful, and I recommend it with no reservations at all.

I don’t know why I began experimenting with other editors. I surely didn’t need any other editor to edit LaTeX. It may have been when I started writing in MultiMarkdown (MMD). Markdown, created by John Gruber, is a simple way to produce very readable documents and convert them to HTML. Markdown has grown in popularity recently, resulting in an abundance of simple Markdown editors for both OS X and iOS. I can’t remember what year I stumbled on it, but at some point I discovered Fletcher Penney’s MultiMarkdown. MultiMarkdown adds some features to Markdown, including tables and footnotes, among other things. The most important feature for me, though, was the ability to convert the document to both HTML and to LaTeX. So, I started writing in MultiMarkdown, which then gave me the ability to export the same document in several formats as needed. I could have used TeXShop to write MMD, but it wasn’t the best experience.

At the time, there was a great deal of excitement about TextMate. After watching some videos on YouTube showing LaTeX editing with TextMate, I was hooked. Then, I discovered that Fletcher Penney himself had produced a Markdown bundle for TextMate. So, I could use TextMate to easily edit an MMD document, with a quick keyboard shortcut, convert it to a LaTeX file, touch up any TeX code, then build the PDF, all from within TextMate.

But then, I started hearing things about Vim. So, I downloaded MacVim, and then spent a great deal of time learning the Vim commands and configuring my .vimrc. In my opinion, navigating files in Vim is pure magic, and I don’t think that there is anything better for editing, that is, making small corrections to an existing document.

Although I understand Vim, and can use it competently, it never quite fit the way that I work. Vim is a modal editor, which means that different modes are used for different things. For instance, insert mode is for inserting text.[1] Normal mode is used for navigating the document, among other things. The beauty of Vim is how much one can do with very few keystrokes. For instance, pressing “d)” deletes a sentence, “d2)” deletes two sentences. Vim experts look like sorcerers at the keyboard. Unfortunately, Vim just never quite fit for me as a tool to write longer documents, I still use it in the terminal for writing short things like Git commit statements. I would find myself starting to write after a break to think, and suddenly be inserting text in a completely different part of the document. For instance, in normal mode, “e” moves the cursor to the end of the word, “gg” moves the cursor to the beginning of the document, and “i” switches to insert mode. So, in normal mode, if I started typing the word “begging” anywhere in the document, I would quickly find myself on the first line having typed “ng” with no idea where I started.

The problem is that I stop often to think about what I’m writing, and during these pauses, would forget what mode I was in. Now, I know the mode is clearly labeled at the bottom of the screen, but that didn’t help. The other problem is that I tend to edit as I write, which, it seems, eliminates much of the advantage that Vim offers.[2]

Then, there was my flirtation with Emacs. Emacs fits the way that I write better than Vim, and I’ll keep it around. There are several reasons that Emacs doesn’t quite fit for me, though. First, I have trouble remembering the key combinations. I thought Vim’s commands were fairly intuitive, Emacs commands never quite clicked. Second, I preferred Gnu Emacs over Aquamacs for various reasons, but Textexpander snippets wouldn’t work in Gnu Emacs. Finally, configuring both Vim and Emacs can be a long painful process for amateur geeks.

So, I kept returning to TextMate, and kept telling myself that there really wasn’t anything wrong with TextMate, it worked fine. It was starting to seem a bit slow, and I found it difficult to ignore the arbiters of doom announcing TextMate’s demise, given the absence of version 2.0.

Then, the heavens opened, and a beta version of TextMate 2 appeared. I downloaded it, and it just doesn’t work as well for me as TextMate 1. I’ve had BBEdit ever since it became available in the Mac App Store. It’s nice, but it just doesn’t have the ease of TextMate for LaTeX editing. Then, I heard Brett Terpstra on the Mac Power Users podcast talk about Sublime Text 2. So, I downloaded a trial version, and showing great restraint (at least, for me) used it for three days before I bought it. It definitely appears to have been inspired by TextMate, but has many improvements over TextMate 1. It is in beta, but it seems to be solidly reliable. It is fast, edits LaTeX like TextMate, easily configurable, and beautiful.

So, Sublime Text 2, I think I’m in love, but you need to know how fickle I am. I can give you today, we’ll just have to see what the future holds.

  1. Never underestimate the power of the obvious.  ↩

  2. See Dr. Drang’s excellent explanation here.  ↩

The Rights of Women in Afghanistan

Cultural Relativism

For many of those that hold the position, cultural relativism is motivated by a belief that we should be tolerant of the moral beliefs of other cultures. Most of the time, this is expressed in a way that is simply inconsistent, that is, given that there are no objective, universal moral truths, we ought to be tolerant of the moral beliefs of other cultures. Unfortunately, one cannot consistently assert both that there are no objective, universal, moral truths and that we have a moral obligation to be tolerant, especially since our culture is often intolerant.

Options for the Relativist

Even though relativists often are inconsistent, they need not be. Here are some ways that that one could try to assert a consistent relativism:

  1. When the relativist asserts that we ought to be tolerant, the assertion should not be understood as a moral claim. Instead, it should be understood as a pragmatic claim. That is, we ought to be tolerant, not because we are morally obligated to, but because it is in our best interests as a way of minimizing conflict.
  2. We shouldn’t adopt relativism because we have a moral duty to be tolerant, of course that is inconsistent. Rather, once our culture comes to realize the truth of cultural relativism, we would naturally come to adopt an ethic of tolerance. Then, it would be true that we ought to be tolerant, since it would be part of our moral code.
  3. When the relativist claims that we ought to be tolerant, she means simply that tolerance is a good. There is no need to understand this as a claim that tolerance is a moral good. A good is simply something that is worth pursuing, and there are several reasons why tolerance would be something worth pursuing.

Tolerance Only to a Point?

I have argued elsewhere that tolerance is not as good as one might think, since it implies an attitude of superiority toward the one being tolerated. Even so, I think it is psychologically impossible for relativists to adopt an attitude of genuine tolerance toward the moral beliefs of cultures that are radically different from our own.

For example, an Afghan woman reported that she was raped by her cousin’s husband two years ago, and she was subsequently sentenced to twelve years in prison (see CNN’s coverage). At first, it was reported that she would be released if she were to agree to marry her attacker, but authorities later said that the marriage was not a condition for her release. Even so, the imprisonment of a rape victim, who was then forced to care for her child in prison, is an unconscionable action according to most cultural relativists. That is, there are cultural beliefs and practices that should be changed, not simply tolerated.

So, what moral beliefs should be tolerated? I suspect that the level of tolerance would be highly correlated with the degree of similarity to our own moral beliefs and practices. That is, the relativist would maintain that we ought to tolerate the beliefs and practices of other cultures so long as they are not too different from our own.

That, however, is neither tolerance nor relativism. Instead, it is simply a thinly disguised moral realism.

Using Keynote in Class

I have been using Keynote for iOS for lecture presentations in classes this semester. The process has been so easy, that this is the first semester that I have consistently used slide presentations during lectures. Most of my presentations were initially prepared on the Mac, then imported into Keynote for iOS on the iPad. Keynote for iOS seems to be fairly adept at importing transitions and effects. My only complaint is that the default font used in my preferred theme is different in the iOS version than in the desktop version of Keynote.

I use the Remote app on the iPhone as a presentation controller. I was a bit apprehensive at first. I have a Bluetooth presentation controller that I preferred to use in the past. I like having the hardware buttons for moving through the slides. That way, I could simply feel the button, change the slide, and never have to look at the controller. I find that I can do the same thing with the Remote app, however. Slide changes occur when the presenter swipes a finger across the screen, exactly like navigating through screens on an iOS device. I found that it is very natural to hold the phone in one hand, and swipe the screen with the index finger of that same hand to change the slide. A swipe in the other direction moves to the previous slide. There is no need to look at the phone to change slides. It is easy, natural, and I have yet to drop the phone after a semester’s worth of lectures. I can glance at the phone to see the next slide in the queue, a handy feature that my usual remote lacks.

When I first started using the Remote app with Keynote for iOS, the two worked seamlessly. Both the iPad and iPhone were on the same wi-fi network, so the iPhone immediately saw the presentation that was running on the iPad. At some point, though, the two stopped connecting to each other. This began at the same time that I updated devices to iOS. Unfortunately, I don’t know if it is related to iOS or if it is a result of changes in the University’s network. I have found that connecting the iPad to the iPhone using the personal hotspot works flawlessly. That does require a few extra steps before the presentation can begin.

Even so, I am extremely pleased with Keynote for iOS and the companion Remote app. I simply carry in the iPad and the adapter cable, plug it in to the projector cable, and begin the presentation. No boot-up time and not heavy laptop. It’s quick, easy, and it just works, assuming you pay AT&T for the privilege of using your phone as a personal hotspot.

The Duty of a Philosopher


Out of love for mankind, and out of despair at my embarrassing situation, seeing that I had accomplished nothing and was unable to make anything easier than it had already been made, and moved by a genuine interest in those who are dedicated to making everything easy, I conceived it as my task [the task of the philosopher] to create difficulties everywhere.

Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript


Thanksgiving should be an opportunity for reflection, not for the gluttony and sloth that has become the norm. One of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions to share the latest world hunger statistics with my Introduction to Philosophy class. I then urge the students to spend the break reading Ron Sider’s book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.

This past week reminded me of how fortunate I am to be able to share my time with both students and colleagues. May their time away from campus this week be filled with rest, joy, and a renewed sense of God’s gracious love.

Reinstalling Apps from the App Store

I was having some trouble with BBEdit on one of my machines, so I decided to delete and reinstall the application. That’s not very difficult in ordinary circumstances, but since I bought from the App Store, it should have been even easier. There should be no need to enter any license information, just a click and install.

First, I deleted the app. I deleted BBEdit from the applications folder. Somehow, it was still in Launchpad. So, I deleted it from Launchpad. Surely that would be enough.

Unfortunately, after I deleted the application, the App Store still thought that it was installed and wouldn’t let me download another copy. With the aid of a great little application called Find Any File, I removed every trace of BBEdit from the machine, including all preference files and application support files.

The App Store was still convinced that it was installed.

Then, I began searching the internet, which revealed some frustrated App Store customers, who were mostly frustrated with their Xcode experience. The search didn’t help.

For some reason, I decided to go back to Launchpad and saw the BBEdit icon there. I clicked it and BBEdit started right up, though without my usual color scheme since I had deleted the application support folder. So, where was the file? On a whim, I disconnected my backup drive, opened the App Store, and BBEdit was finally gone with the option to install. I Pressed the install button, and BBEdit was automatically installed.

Lesson: Launchpad sees apps on external drives, so disconnect any external drives to install a deleted app to your main drive. Then, reinstalling should be the quick and easy process that it’s supposed to be.