an obession with first principles

Time for Firsts

Posted: Monday Nov 30th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: In the News, Link Drop | View Comments

Stephen Huller is very excited over his first published article. I cannot wait for the day when my first article goes to press. Lets help all us little people (of which I certainly am) out and give it a read if you can.

Why does it take so long?

Posted: Saturday Nov 28th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Philosophising | View Comments

Back when I was an undergrad I sat in wonder and awe at those who went to graduate school, especially PhDs. Why? I would think. Turning over 2 years of your life for a masters, and then another 5 more for a PhD is insanity. And forget MDs. As I sit here now and consider my own plan for a PhD I know why it takes that long. It takes that long to be conversant in the field, and to contribute something original, creative, and new. Part of my frustration is that in my current career, software, should the boss just gives me a couple of solitary hours (which are increasingly hard to come by) I can churn out a complete, useful, and working program. It will solve a problem that we’ll never have to solve, or perform by hand, again. Moving to the field of biblical studies and theology, transform those hours into years. Waiting for, or building scholarly consensus takes a long time. And the reasons for that are the same as for why a PhD takes so long.

Imagine the knowledge of your field as the Book of Life. Individuals working in the field write word after word in that book. The great thinkers end up turning the page in the field. From the perspective of history it seems as if their work was pure, unadulterated genius, so powerful no one could resist it. Of course, from the inside, no matter how creative and powerful it is, it still sat upon on the words previously written. And to those who know very little about the field, they would only know about the chapter divisions in this great Book of Life of your field. It requires turning over a decade of your life to learn about the people who wrote the words, turned the pages, and framed the chapters. All so you can write a few words of your own. Then you have to wait for the editors to come through.

Voice of the Church

Posted: Thursday Nov 19th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Contemporary Church, Dialogue | View Comments

The unrest that the modern situation poses to the church is decidedly secondary — at best — to the unrest that lies at the heart of the church itself. The church is unsettled, unstable precisely because it bears witness to the triune God present through Christ in the Spirit. The crucified Christ is not a stable center, but a transcendent voice that cannot be domesticated by the church into their own possessed message.
Inhabitio Dei

What implications might this have for an understanding that the Spirit works with the Church, giving her authority? Does this qualify, permanently that authority? To what extant must one find oneself in continuity with the Church, and to what extant can one break fellowship with the Church? All these questions are on my mind, as today I sat down to hear progress on ecumenical Christian dialogue between the United Methodists and Catholic Church.

I would agree that the Church cannot domesticate this message, but the tone of the writing (at least to me) implies that each and every church has domesticated this message. Thus failing to live up to their calling. And again, what implications does this have for the statements of the previous paragraph? Apparently I’m falling behind in theology. Too much historical studies for me.

All of these questions aren’t meant at all to detract from the ridiculous, and truthful, statement that the present evangelical woe has entirely taken hold.

Slow around here

Posted: Sunday Nov 15th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Uncategorized | View Comments

The social calendar is full, the work calendar is full, and there are papers to be written! I hope to return shortly.

Why it is Important that Software Projects Fail

Posted: Wednesday Nov 11th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Programming, Sociology | View Comments


This paper boldly challenges the long established misconception that the catastrophic failure of expensive software projects is detrimental to society. Historical analysis of bureaucracies such as the Australian Tax Office shows that massive software automation has not increased their real efficiency since the 1950s. Any increase in the efficiency of individual workers has simply been consumed by increased bureaucratic complexity, as predicted by Parkinson’s law. As the primary net effect of software is to facilitate bureaucratic complexity it is therefor essential that software projects fail if society is to function effectively. In this way the heavy burden of guilt can be lifted from the shoulders of the numerous project managers that have subconsciously devoted their careers to ensuring that projects rarely, if ever, succeed.

Humans don’t scale. Technology scales. Humans often think that because tech scales, that it can scale humans. They are wrong.

We know this because in 2007 the tax office’s internal budget was AU$11.4 billion, or 1.23% of GDP. In 1955 it performed essentially the same task without automation for A£66.7 million which was 1.33% of the 1955 GDP. The difference is not statistically significant. (Normalizing by GDP (essentially the sum of everyone’s earnings) accounts for the growing population and inflation.)

To many this is a surprising result. How could the staggering amount of automation instigated over the previous fifty years not produce any meaningful effect on productivity?

One big reason is that we have more data to sift through. As Berglas notes, it took a lot of effort to send out memos in 1955. It is trivial to send an email now. No longer are the senders deciding what is important, the receivers are – each and every one of them. Berglas goes on to cite the incredibly complex business rules that are veiled in marketing. Customers are left to figure out the complexities with the support departments why they aren’t getting their special discounts.

The boundless creativity of politicians and bureaucrats to develop new and more complex regulation is bounded only by the bureaucracy’s inability to implement them. The absolute size of the bureaucracy is constrained by external factors, so the only effect of automation can be to increase bureaucratic complexity.

It would simply not have been feasible to implement the Superannuation Co-Contribution scheme in 1955, but automation had made it possible in 2001. Fortunately for society most tax office software projects have also failed, so the act and regulations have been limited to 15,698 pages. But imagine if all the projects had succeeded? We might need to deal with well over 150,000 pages of regulations, and society would be in danger of collapsing under their weight.

This economic collapse is a good example of such a phenomenon. Relying on the tech models to say “Yes this will work”, combined with the sleight of hand of good salesmanship created an economic society of such complexity that no one was able to see it collapse until it was too late.

Humans do not scale. Technology is not for deciding what is important or correct.

For Your Time Machine

Posted: Wednesday Nov 4th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Uncategorized | View Comments


Posted: Wednesday Nov 4th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: The Gospel | View Comments

Paul’s theme is ‘the activity of God then and now’; his one question is: ‘What was God doing in Jerusalem that is revealing as to what God is doing now in Galatia?’ Again, the contemporaneity of God’s action is not a mere application of an event that belongs essentially to the past. God is unceasingly active through the apocalypse of the gospel announcement: ‘for Paul, the history of the gospel is what it is because the God who acted in it is the God who is now acting in it’. The saving event happens in the word of the gospel. The proclamation of Christ’s ‘there and then’ is itself the mode of Christ’s redemptive presence ‘here and now’. Ben Myers

The Protestantism I was brought up in certainly relegated the Gospel action of God to the distant past. Our present action of faith was in respect to what occurred, not what is occurring. There was never a question of what God is doing now because of what he did then. Or even a special understanding that it was the same God and the same plan of redemption. The inherent goal of every preached message was always how we can appropriate what happened then for ourselves now. Moving out of that theological ghetto has, and continues to be, incredibly liberating for my faith.

Recent Thoughts

Posted: Monday Nov 2nd | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Contemporary Church, Dialogue, History | View Comments

Lately I’ve been reading a bit of Luther, and plenty of well written articles about conversations between Catholics and Protestants. Yea, it is quite a bit to read.

To be sure, both approaches to ecclesiology and Scripture aren’t congruent with one another. Coming from a theological ghetto, this is a compass by which I may judge the night sky that is Christendom. Cross’s comments concerning the liturgy match my own thoughts. It is almost scary. I find much of the Anglo-Catholic praxis, ecclesiology, and liturgy persuasive. That said, I still have reservations I am working through.

My largest reservation is, what I perceive to be, a massive redefinition of power by Jesus in his passion and crucifixion. That said, the papacy throughout history has seemed to work according to the ways of the worldly institutions. I am supremely impressed with Rowan William’s refusal to wield any power he might have as a worldly leader might. I will be the first to agree that most leaders will abuse power, and that is a shame and should be resisted. However, it is another thing to create such an inappropriate power through canon law.

Secondly, I have no way to determine what the line between an acceptable and unacceptable accretion is. There doesn’t appear to be a defining line within Catholicism either. It appears to an outsider that whatever opinion gains sway in the magisterium will become canon law. Were these new opinions (it doesn’t appear that much new in the way of law or councils has occurred) considered in terms of ecclesiastical unity? It doesn’t appear so to an outsider. Protestantism, perhaps narrowly, has defined that line. Anglican’s seem to hold to two principles regarding the question of orthodox; “always, everywhere, everyone”, and “all may, none must, some should”. That puts both questions of additions to the definition of orthodox belief, and giving ecumenical thought on the table. Though it does not solve them conclusively – and even that might be a good thing. And I am aware that the first principle was first uttered against Augustine’s theology.

Still working on all this. It is fun, and tough.

You Want One Of These

Posted: Monday Nov 2nd | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Epistemology | View Comments
God Said It

God Said It

On Aesthetic

Posted: Sunday Nov 1st | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Philosophising | View Comments

The argument of aesthetics in Christian, or really any philosophy, has always troubled me. I don’t really know how it got there. But in approaching the topic recently, I am asking two standard questions: is aesthetic necessary or sufficient towards the cause in which it is applied?

I find myself answering that I have yet to find a place where it is a sufficient cause. I cannot yet answer the question of necessity though