Want to change someone’s mind? Three simple things for your next conversation

Want to have a conversation about worldviews? Maybe touching on religion, philosophy, or politics? It can be done, despite these topics being taboo for polite company. In fact, it can be done in a way that is respectful and without anyone raising their voice. There are three foundational items that you (not your conversation partner, you) can do to ensure a smooth conversation that leaves everyone wanting to come back to the topic!


0 – No one is converted with a single conversation

We must first realize a fundamental truth. It’s not what Hollywood or many pastors will tell you and it isn’t exactly a fun fact, but understanding it allows us to make progress.

Each person has years—decades!—of prior life experience, thinking, conversations, and indoctrination (both the good and bad kinds). You simply are not going to turn their world upside down and have a come-to-Jesus moment with a single conversation.

Sure, we love hearing about those kinds of stories, but those are a rarity. I think each of these kinds of stories actually were many stories that went unnoticed and we simply see the big moment. In all of my years of conversations with people about philosophy and theology, none of them have changed their minds about anything significant with one conversation. Some have made very large changes after years of combined efforts from me and other sources, so change is possible, but not quickly.

Since you can’t change someone’s mind with a single conversation, we need to use tactics that target much smaller goals for each conversation.

1 – Ensure you can continue the conversation later

You do this by being friendly and by not pushing too hard for your point of view. No one likes someone who is unfriendly: unfriendliness leads to unfriending! Don’t impose your view! Invite them to explore it with you and you can point out all the awesome things about it. Be open to criticism. Let them push back on your own view.

The entire point is to continue the conversation. If they drop a big, juicy fallacy that you can tear to shreds, it does nothing to change their minds if you do it in a disrespectful or unfriendly manner. In fact, it does more damage to you and your cause because you contribute to the stereotype that people who believe the way you do are unreasonable, intolerant, and are best left alone in their insanity.

Part of having a friendly conversation is to remember you might be wrong. Express that you might be wrong and emphasize that you want to try to find truth together. Do bring your best arguments for what you believe, but always express that you could be wrong. After all, you think your friend is wrong about whatever you are arguing about and you want him to change his mind (which is the same as admitting he’s wrong); he is expecting you to extend the same open-mindedness that you are expecting!

If you can show your friend that you aren’t going to go full-tilt hyper-fundamentalist on them by not shoving your view down their throats, you dramatically increase the likelihood they want to continue the conversation.

Be sure the conversation topic is something they are interested in, or tailor your examples so it is relevant to their circumstances. If your friend is bored by religion, either make religion interesting, or only bring it up interspaced with several other conversations (over the course of days, weeks, or even months) of other topics. Convincing people is a hard thing to do and it doesn’t happen overnight, so you’ll need to be in it for the long haul.

2 – Learn your friend’s actual beliefs

Ask many open-ended questions and allow them to express their own beliefs in their own words. Don’t assume they believe everything that is typically associated with a label.

For instance, if your friend says she is an atheist, don’t immediately assume she is philosophically certain a god does not exist. Ask how certain she is about the non-existence of a god and whether she thinks we could ever know for certain. Ask how she came to the conclusion of atheism. Don’t interrupt! Don’t assume that you read a book about atheism that she believes the same things. She doesn’t.

You must understand your friend’s beliefs before you can change their mind, so question and clarify without trying to change their mind. Acknowledge her good points—yes, atheists have good points.

Do not try to disprove or refute everything she says about her belief in atheism. Instead of trying to move the entire mountain in one conversation, here’s a better way.

3 – Have a small goal for each conversation

People don’t change their worldviews in a single conversation, but you can poke small holes in each conversation. Instead of trying to chop down the tree in one fell swoop, chip away at it. Find a small thing you can provide good arguments for and try to convince your friend of this small point. If your friend leaves the conversation having changed from “I believe pantheism is true” to “I believe pantheism is true, but there are some problems with it”, you have made a very small, but very significant victory.

You can always pick up the conversation later after you and your friend have had time to think and research. Perhaps they come back with good rebuttals and you can engage with those. Perhaps you find a good article that enables you to show other, similar problems that lead to a more general issue with pantheism.

Small steps will add up to large movements.

To recap, here’s the strategy to change someone’s worldview:

  • Small steps are the only way
  • Being friendly enables more small steps through more conversations
  • Learning your friend’s actual beliefs enables you to choose the best steps to tackle
  • Targeting some small goal each conversation gives measurable progress

Want to learn more about this approach?

I’ve learned this approach from the two books below, my mentors, and through talking with many people over the years. It takes practice, but it is really easy to do!

  • Carnegie, Dale. “How to Win Friends & Influence People”. Originally published 1936, revised 1981.
  • Koukl, Gregory. “Tactics; A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions”. 2009.

Rethinking the Old Testament

For years, I have known that the 1st-century Jews understood the Messiah to be a mighty warrior who would save them. I’ve been told this many, many times by pastors, books, and others. It is important to know this fact because otherwise it doesn’t make sense to us why the Jewish leaders completely rejected Jesus. The Jews thought the Messiah would roll in and crush their oppressors and when Jesus isn’t majestic warrior who leads the revolution against Rome, they reject him. Makes sense, right?

What I have neglected to ask for all these years is: Why?

Why do the leading Jewish scholars think this? Isn’t it plain to see that the Old Testament (OT) points to Jesus as being the sacrificial lamb? Why are they so backwards and dense to think that God needs to come rescue them from Rome? They should be more concerned about their own sin!

Actually, I’m the one who is ignorant and backwards. I don’t know anything about the Jewish or ancient near east history. I don’t know nearly enough about the OT to see the connections. I don’t have the same mental imagery. I don’t know anything about the mythologies of the ancient near east. I don’t speak the same language and the translations often hide the connections that would be obvious in the original.

I should have heeded Socrates’ wise counsel to not pretend I know something when in fact I know nothing; for if I had understood I know nothing, at least I would have known that.

This fantastic reduction of my esteem of my knowledge and ever-so-slight increment in my actual knowledge is courtesy of The Bible Project podcast series on the phrase “the day of the Lord”. I’ve only made it through part four of the seven-part series and I have already discovered vast areas of ignorance. I can’t wait to see go through the rest.

Some examples:

Babel = Babylon

Babel is transliterated from the Hebrew בָּבֶל (Strong’s Concordance). Okay, I knew it was transliterated. What I didn’t know is that babel is translated as Babylon basically everywhere except for Genesis 10-11. I previously figured the two were related somehow (although I wasn’t clear on how a big empire would name itself after the place where God scattered everyone…) based on them sounding similar. This translation choice obscured the connection to how the Israelites understood the motif of the big bad villain (something they had to deal with throughout history).

Solomon the Shifty

Ask God for wisdom and discernment and you’ll be set, right? Or, if you aren’t miraculously given wisdom, at least seeking after such things will lead to good things, right?

Well, you’ll probably be a lot better off having wisdom (but maybe not too much if Ecclesiastes 1:18 is right), but don’t look to Solomon as a good role model for what to do with wisdom. He starts off great, but eventually does everything God said a king should not do.

And to top it all off, the biblical writers basically call Solomon the new Pharaoh, the new big bad guy. Israel has become Babylon. Remember the judgment God unleashed on the evil Egypt? The day of the Lord is coming, and it comes to reckon with evil.

I previously knew Solomon wasn’t perfect. Yet, I was never taught the Bible straight up calls him out on a lot of things. One would think this is the kind of stuff pastors should show front and center when talking about Solomon, but I’ve only heard a few brief mentions here and there about how messed up Solomon really was. Solomon used to be one of my favorite characters: he was smart, rich, and everyone in the world wanted to know what he said. Now, I’m rethinking that.

The Day of the Lord

The two examples above show aspects of the OT that would be clear after some good study of the OT alone. However, the phrase, “the day of the Lord”, is hopelessly lost on us without a long list of additional resources outside the Bible to get the whole picture. The prophets are drawing on their contemporary culture and previous days of the Lord to point to how God is working in the world and will bring about a new day of the Lord soon while also working the long game to bring about the ultimate Day of the Lord.

The Jewish leaders had all of this in mind when they thought of the Messiah coming. When they thought God’s big plan to save the world, they thought of Babylon, Egypt, judgment, and a warrior God rescuing his people from oppression. So, when Jesus did nothing like that, it’s no wonder everyone was confused.

Go learn yourself how little you know

If you can’t be bothered to listen to the seven-hour series (oh, but you really, really should), you can watch this six minute video by The Bible Project that summarizes what “the day of the Lord” means. I don’t think it does the topic justice, but it is a hard topic to summarize into a concise video.

Dell Laptop CPU Always Underclocked – Fixed!

Over the Christmas holiday, my laptop began to always underclock the CPU, leading to performance issues. Interestingly, the performance issues were not nearly as bad as I would have thought they should have been. After some Googling, I pieced together a few forum threads here and there related to constant CPU underclock—none related to my laptop or CPU model, and most well over a year old—but a few posts recommended disconnecting the battery. It solved the problem.

TL;DR: Disconnect the battery and reconnect it. Make sure the fans aren’t full of dust.

Laptop: Dell Precision 5510
CPU: i7-6820HQ @ 2.70GHz
GPU: Intel HD 530 and Nvidia Quadro M1000M 2GB
OS: Win 10 Pro

The Problem

I first noticed the problem when playing Rocket League. The game loaded much slower than usual and frames were dropping from my usual 60FPS.

Along with the gaming issues, build times of a C++ project in Visual Studio took ages. While compiling, it seemed to be limited to ~24% of the whole CPU (as reported by the Task Manager), just like a single-threaded application will switch between cores while only utilizing a small fraction of each core’s capability. I know for a fact that MSVC is multithreaded and this project previously would use all cores to compile, so something was obviously wrong.

I like to have the Task Manager open to monitor CPU usage while I code, so I’m pretty familiar with the usual speed characteristics of the CPU. This i7 usually downclocks to 0.80 GHz and can run at 3.34 GHz for short periods of time. However, the CPU was not clocking above 0.78 GHz for any reason.

The Path to a Solution

After discovering the clocking issue, I figured temperatures might be an issue. Nope, it wasn’t getting above 38° C while under load. Fans not running? The applications I used to check temps weren’t reporting fan speeds, but I could hear them running slowly and feel a slight breeze at the vents.

I updated the NVidia drivers ( with the Dell Command suite and it seemed to help quite a bit with frames, although it wasn’t the usual rock-solid 60FPS in Rocket League the laptop had before. Clocking issue continues.

Using the Dell Command software suite, I also updated the BIOS to 1.5.1 and the Bluetooth driver to (why not?). These two updates didn’t seem to do anything (as expected).

After some Googling, I figured I would try disconnecting the battery. I didn’t think it would work, but it did.

So, my guess is that somehow the laptop got into an overheated state at some point and went into an emergency state that downclocked the CPU. For whatever reason, it didn’t leave that state; removing the power cleared the state and restored the full functionality of the CPU.

Some Interesting Findings

This issue showed me that you can run Rocket League at 60 FPS @ 1080p with an i7 CPU clocked at 0.78 GHz (and not at potato graphic settings, either). That’s pretty amazing. You’ll lose some frames here and there, and the first ten seconds in the game are terrible, but you can play decently competitively with it.

I also discovered the ThrottleStop application. I didn’t use it, but it is cool to see there is a solution to control CPU throttling.

Differences between GroupMe and Reddit as a debate platform for a highly active apologetics group

Why Should I Believe is considering switching from GroupMe to Reddit as our primary conversation and internal debate platform. This article aims to give an overview of what kind of change this will entail. It is published publicly so others groups may benefit from this work; however, secondary readers are cautioned to carefully analyze their community’s culture and needs as each group is unique.

Why Should I Believe (WSIB) has a GroupMe of about 20 people, of which maybe half regularly contribute, with the other half either lurking or just like watching an unread message counter go as high as possible. This GroupMe is known for being highly active, with conversations with hundreds of messages happening at least weekly, and a few dozen messages happening daily. Being highly educated and passionate people (i.e. nerds), these conversations are in-depth, detailed, and span a large number of topics. WSIB exists to apply reason and evidence to Christianity, so we have a lot of discussions around theological and philosophical topics, with politics entering occasionally. We also pride ourselves on our ability to share the most dank and apropos memes for the conversation.

Executive summary

WSIB will eventually move to Reddit. Reddit scales to millions of users, while we already see problems with GroupMe at less than a dozen active users. The conversational nature of GroupMe will be largely lost with Reddit and we will need to be careful to still treat every user as an actual person and not a random internet stranger.

The public nature of Reddit will mean serious implications about how we converse. Controversial topics could prove to be difficult to have a completely open discussion about. The Internet is public, searchable, and forever.

Even with these differences and potential issues, I support moving to Reddit as our primary debate platform.


A quick note about the methodology of this article. These are my own opinions. As a long-time member of WSIB and long-time user of both Reddit and GroupMe, I am qualified to speak authoritatively on these subjects; however, these still are merely my opinions and should be accepted only upon critical examination.

Many of the differences mentioned below will amount to: Reddit and GroupMe are different in this respect. This is not intended to mean, “We should not move because of this.”, but simply explain how they different so we may make an informed decision.

Why move to a new platform?

We have experienced a significant amount of growth of the GroupMe in the last few months, with more active members than ever. There’s a lot of conversation happening and having to read 100+ messages that are dense, detailed, nuanced, and lengthy (approximately a typical non-fiction book paragraph) is becoming difficult to keep up with. This is a great problem to have, but it is still a problem. Most of us are students at a difficult school and we all have busy schedules, so we each must evaluate how much time we devote to reading and contributing to what often amounts to academic debate on the GroupMe.

The suggestion was made to move to Reddit as a way to organize the conversations and allow everyone to contribute the topics they are most interested in.

It should be noted we have previously addressed this type of scaling problem in the past. We previously only had a single GroupMe where all topics, including announcements and general business items, were discussed. This became a problem because many members would mute notifications (because of the volume of messages from the debates) and miss important messages. We solved this by introducing a second GroupMe group where only items related to the logistics and business decisions of the organization was discussed. We strongly encouraged all debates and general conversation not related to official business to be held in the primary group. This second channel has largely worked. It allows important topics to be discussed without interrupting the debates and conversations.

GroupMe and Reddit solve different problems

We must first and foremost recognize that GroupMe and Reddit solve different problems and are inherently different. We cannot use Reddit the same way we have used GroupMe.

GroupMe is designed for small groups that need to communicate with everybody at the same time. It is, essentially, an improvement of group SMS texting. It is pretty minimalistic.

Reddit is designed for communities, large and small. Most anyone can post content to the community and the community votes and comments on how awesome it is. It has a rich set of moderation tools and lots of customization options (if you are willing to put the time into customizing the look and feel of the subreddit).

GroupMe: Single Threaded. Reddit: Multithreaded.

Just like in software development, this isn’t a value judgment. Each has its own uses and drawbacks.

The biggest for our discussion is that GroupMe basically requires everybody to read all the messages. Ask a question about a particular passage in 1 Corinthians? You may have to wade through a long-running discussion about the merits of paedobaptism over credobaptism.

With Reddit, there would be at least two threads: one for the passage in 1 Corinthians and one (probably more) about the baptism thing. Topics are focused: if you don’t care whether babies get dunked (or sprinkled or whatever), you can simply ignore that thread.

With the single thread, everybody is on the same page. It is like having a IRL discussion between a few friends. This can be a really good thing. Everyone is exposed to topics they may not be too interested in, but are important to discuss. Perhaps someone doesn’t have a large interest in eschatology, but they read how a particular eschatology has significant implications of some other area of theology and become interested. This likely wouldn’t happen in a multithread environment.

However, some people can get overwhelmed with the number of messages, turn off notifications, and only check in periodically. With WSIB’s volume, even a break of a few days can mean a backlog of hundreds of messages. The GroupMe app was never designed with long-running conversations in mind, so reading through a such a large backlog can sometimes be difficult (e.g. easy to lose your place, multiple conversations going on).

I find Reddit’s format is a bit unwieldy for long-running conversations where the participants reply to each others’ replies many times over. After about 10 replies, you get a link (“Continue this thread —->”) to more comments. But, replies can be much longer, so each reply can address more.

Conversations on a particular topic can last a lot longer. With GroupMe, there is a natural half-life of a conversation. On Reddit, depending on how often new posts are made, a topic can stay near the top for quite a while.

In GroupMe, you are having a conversation with a group of people. Sometimes different schedules (school, work, sleep, etc.) mean the person you would like input from is not available. However, the GroupMe messages keep coming. The conversation can easily get lost in the infinite scroll. This doesn’t happen with the multiple-threaded nature of Reddit.

Multithreaded is more scalable, but more complex. GroupMe works because it is simple and has very little overhead. Reddit works because it can scale to millions of people, but it has a much higher overhead, for both the admins and the regular users. Is Reddit the eventual solution and it is only a question of when? Probably.

Public nature

GroupMe is an invite-only medium of communication. Other than the members of the group, GroupMe itself, and (possibly) the Internet providers, no one of the general public can see any of the posted messages.

Reddit is very public. Everything is open for the public. Everything is archived. Everything is searchable by Google. This is a double-edged sword: We can be the best resource of thoughtful Christian knowledge. We can also be shown to have opinions and beliefs that are not politically correct. Pseudonyms only help so much and unless you go to extreme lengths, you should assume everything you say can be linked back to the real you.

We discuss some highly controversial topics. Some of us have controversial philosophical, theological, and political opinions and beliefs. We want WSIB to eventually be the best at raising the best Christian apologists in the world. That will eventually draw criticism and certain groups may use anything we say against us. Cogently defending Jesus is controversial enough to draw fire; adding in the rest of the controversial beliefs will only add fuel to the fire.

We could restrict our topics, but I believe this is impractical and counterproductive. For one, well-reasoned arguments for unpopular positions on controversial topics are rare. It would be a serious damper to not discuss, for example, same-sex marriage. So many aspects of theology touch on it; having an out-right ban on the topic would be detrimental to conversation. It is inevitable someone will post: “Is gay marriage wrong?” Even armed with our considerable capability to provide a well-reasoned answer to this question, we must understand that our answer will probably draw criticism from conservatives and progressives—mostly because we won’t agree with either side.

We may see topics we once had no problem talking about in the private confines of GroupMe, we no longer are quite as open talking about. We must recognize that these sensitive topics still need discussing and possibly provide other avenues for free and open debate.

While private subreddits are a thing, it is unusual for a subreddit to be private. Being private doesn’t really help us in the long run as we have previously stated we want to try to use this as a way to interact with others outside the group to encourage them to join us in our quest for truth.

Reddit is more anonymous than GroupMe. This is good because newcomers may feel more comfortable asking questions if they feel like they can’t be personally identified. However, there is another aspect to anonymity: The sense of talking to another person is dulled. GroupMe’s user interface makes it very obvious we are talking to real people. There’s a picture (which we usually have as a real picture of ourselves) and our real name associated with every message. The conversational nature reinforces this as well. Reddit’s user interface is less obvious about this, even though there is a real person behind every username.

I have a few friends who are interested in apologetics, but they live outside of Atlanta and would only be able to attend very special events. The GroupMe has traditionally been only for WSIB members (although we have been experimenting lately), so inviting non-members has been questionable. A subreddit would solve this. Just invite people to the sub.

Culture and etiquette

I’ll quickly mention that we inherit Reddit culture and etiquette. We’re free to make our own rules for the subreddit (and many subs have their own rules), so this isn’t a big issue.

Some subreddits have evolved over the years from very specific communities into more general catch-all subs. Usually this is because the content is high quality. Our organization’s vision could naturally move this subreddit this way. As we grow, we may need to hold discussions on whether this is desirable or not. It is notable that there is no well-established place on the Internet for high-level apologetics discussion. Perhaps /r/WhyShouldIBelieve could become that place.

Different requirements for ‘membership’

Reddit merely requires users to click Subscribe before posting, and no requirement for reading. GroupMe requires a current member invitation for reading or writing.

We will get people who come in for a single question or post and never hear from them again.


It’s the Internet. We won’t have much trouble at first because no one knows about the sub. However, if any of our threads gets popular or we get selected as the sub of the day or any other big publicity event happens, we will be swamped with trolls because of our religious nature. We will need to have mods monitoring and keeping the peace.


Reddit has a 10,000 character limit for comments and 40,000 for the original post. Using the app, GroupMe limits every message to 450; using the SMS, it depends on your SMS app, with some limiting you to 160 characters. With such a large increase in character limits, the nature of conversation will change. Likely, our discussions we become more nuanced and posts longer simply because the limits have been lifted.

We may use less of the methods from the book Tactics and more formal debate methods in posting because of the format differences.

Reddit supports Markdown, which allows for simple formatting (like bolditalicsunderliningstrikethrough, headers, lists, tables, and horizontal bars; see this link for a primer). For those with plenty of time on their hands, they can make their long posts really well formatted.

Reddit is well supported on the web and with a plethora of apps.

Images are not shown inline with the message and must be clicked to view the dank meme. Meme sharing will be different.


GroupMe requires a conversation to happen for information to be shared. Reddit posts are archived and searchable (via Google). This means conversation will likely become more “crystallized”. Someone ask a question about the existence of God for the 42nd time? We’ll just link to a few good past threads and that will be it.


Voting changes things. It has been demonstrated (for popular subs) that the highest voted comments are those that are early, not necessarily the best content.

Do upvotes mean people agree or good content? GroupMe has likes and WSIB has been using it as “I agree with this message.” Votes are anonymous, so we can’t use it easily for “I agree”.


I will reiterate that most of these points boil down to “Reddit is different”. This doesn’t mean we should not adopt Reddit, only that we need to consider how we approach it.

I believe that WSIB will ultimately and eventually move to Reddit; I thought it would take another few years before we were forced by scaling issues to it, though. Reddit gives us a whole new way to reach people we could never have before. There are some exciting improvements over GroupMe that will allow us to improve our debating skills in a slightly more formal setting where our words can be seen by others outside WSIB.

We will need to be careful how we approach controversial topics. However, this is true for any public forum. We have to deal with this anytime we host a public debate or field questions from the audience as presenters. Reddit makes this a much more pointed issue because the Internet is forever. We won’t initially see any of these problems, which makes it more dangerous, but allows us to figure it out as we go.

Considering everything, I fully support moving to Reddit as our primary debating platform.

[Book Review] The Flames of Rome (Paul L. Maier)

The Flames of Rome invites you into to the Roman Palatine of the first century, sometime in the middle of the Acts of the Apostles. Maier gives a close view of what it might have looked like to be a witness to all the dirty deeds done by those in power at the time—the acts scandalized ancient Romans just as much they will scandalize you as you read about them. Maier connects how the politics of Rome affected the early Christian church: how Christians went from reluctantly tolerated to hunted down and murdered in the most imaginative ways.

image708This book takes real history and dramatizes it to connect the different events together in cohesive manner. This is important because history is often scattered across many different texts—and those texts are not always reliable in some areas—so putting together a cohesive picture can be difficult. It is especially useful to have a day-to-day perspective; many times we get caught up in the geopolitics of Rome and forget the individuals other than the emperors.

A Different Kind of Novel

What makes this book different is that every scene, character, event, and sometimes even specific phrases are well-documented history. There’s a Notes section at the end cataloging the most outrageous or controversial points, with Maier intentionally leaving out regular stuff because of space restraints. Even with the restricted amount of notes, there are a lot of them. There were many times I would read a chapter and think to myself, “There is no way we have solid evidence for that!” I would flip to the back of the book and check what Maier noted for that chapter. Almost every time, there was specific citations in a historical source backing up exactly what happened in the novel. Since Maier only included the controversial or items where the historical record is silent, many entries would say something to the effect, “We don’t have direct evidence of this, but comparing sources X, Y, and Z, this has been the most probable explanation scholars have reached. Read scholar A for a more thorough treatment.”

Maier does a good job of showing how the internal structure of the highest offices in Rome might have worked during the tail-end of Claudius’ reign and all throughout Nero’s rule. Mostly this just means showing how crazy they both were, but Maier also shows how the emperor’s staff would get things done by swaying the emperor. If you think today’s political climate is crazy, wait until you read about the murderous mothers, sex scandals, and multiple assassination attempts and you might think we are pretty fortunate, all things considered.

New Connections

This book connected a lot of dots of history for me. It also changed the way I view several of the characters and books of the New Testament.

When we talk about Paul being in prison in Rome, I previously envisioned a dark and musty dungeon. Maier completely changed my mental model for Paul’s time in Rome. Paul would have been able to do quite a lot with few obstacles to evangelize. After reading this book, I will imagine a pleasant house arrest with lots of freedom to do as he wished.

We often today whitewash or dismissively talk about persecution, especially with Christianity enjoying such a privileged position today (even as it has lost some of that in recent decades). You will not be able to dismiss persecution so easily after reading this book: it is the stuff of nightmares. I found it difficult to read through the few chapters of the intense persecution. We recoil today at the beheadings in the Middle East (as we should), but that truly is getting off easy compared to some of the torture conducted by the Romans. After reading this book, you will have a new appreciation of Jesus’ words, “take up your cross and follow me.”

A Documentary Novel

As a novel, I found it to be good, but not great. As others have noted in other reviews, The Flames of Rome is not a masterpiece. Several characters and scenes fell flat and the first half of the book felt scattered. I recommend it because it connects Roman politics, highlights somewhat obscure historical people in a new light, and provides a well-evidenced historical story.

I will caution anyone who read this to not rely on it as a historical authority. It is fantastic for what it aims to be: a documentary novel. It is not a textbook. It is great for context and a perspective you don’t usually get from traditional history books.

If you like Roman history, you will probably like this. If you are Christian, you will probably quite like this book once the backstory is laid and the Christians come into play (…well, you may not like some aspects, but you’ll appreciate it, at least). I look forward to reading more from Maier.

The Flames of Rome by Paul L. Maier (1981) Amazon

My Plan: Researching Philosophy of Information

When I tell people I wish to pursue a Master’s in philosophy, I get a quizzical look. “I thought you were a computer guy!?”

Well, yes, I am. I also believe my computer science studies will allow me to study philosophy of information with a unique perspective. Computer scientists study information: how to manipulate it, store it, transmit it, extract it, etc. I have “real-world” knowledge of how to do these things. I’ve studied and implemented artificial intelligence algorithms—something I don’t think many philosophy majors can say.

Philosophy of information is a new field that seeks to ask:

  • What is information? Are there different kinds?
  • How can we ethically handle information?
  • Where does information come from?
  • How can information be represented or stored?

Along with many other questions. The second question I listed has probably been the most popular question since how we answer it affects what companies and governments can do with information about us. Yet, all of these questions are important and can affect other disciplines.

Okay, enough overview. Philosophy of information is important and can help us answer questions we haven’t solved yet.

These are a few specific questions I’d like to study:

  • What is the difference between Signals, Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom?
  • Does Information require a Mind?

One more area I’d like to study is, well, I don’t really even know how to ask the question concisely. Let me illustrate it.

I can tell you the process to multiply two numbers. You can then multiply two numbers. Information was exchanged through natural language and sound waves and now two people have the information of how to execute that process to multiply two numbers.

You can write down this same process and many people can read it and obtain this information. Information is stored on a piece of paper.

A computer scientist can read the paper and create a computer algorithm to multiply two numbers. He will probably save this algorithm description in a computer file. Is the algorithm information?

An engineer can implement this algorithm in an electrical circuit or mechanical gears and levers. Now a machine can perform this process. Is information stored in this machine? Is the machine the information?

At each stage, information was transformed and “stored” in some new manner. Sound waves, paper, computer file, physical machinery. We all understand this and will accept this fairly easily. However, the last stage is a bit peculiar. Is it right to say a machine has information inside it? It would be a pile of junk if it didn’t do something; yet, to say it intrinsically has information is a bit odd. Even odder would be to say the machine itself is information. If it is true that machines have, or are, information, then what can we say about other designed physical objects, like a teapot?

To study these questions, I want to acquire a Master’s of Philosophy to gain a proper background in philosophy. My current plan is to attend Georgia State University for this degree because their master’s of philosophy program is ranked #2 in the country and I’m right next to them geographically. Then, pursue a Philosophy Doctorate with one or more of these questions as my primary research. Which school I attend for this step is more hazy. There really isn’t a good Ph.D program in the state of Georgia, so I’ll probably have to move. Oxford, Stanford, Cambridge, Notre Dame, Harvard, Yale, Chicago, and other places are on that list currently (that list was in no particular order). I’m hoping as I work my way through my master’s, I will develop some connections that will guide me in the direction I need to go.

I anticipate this to take roughly 10 years. So, unlike so many of my fellow Millennials, I have some pretty specific long-term goals. Leave a comment if you have any suggestions or thoughts on my plan!

Solar Eclipse 2017

Words, pictures, and video simply do not convey what it was like to be there at the Great American solar eclipse of 2017. I never knew one minute and fifty seconds could go by so quickly. I hope you had the chance to see totality for yourself.

After patiently waiting for the weather forecasts, I carefully weighed the options (Nashville, South of Knoxville, South of Greenville) and selected the Nashville area as the best chance for the least amount of clouds. We were going to drive up really early on Monday morning, but my Dad found some really cheap hotels in Huntsville with his hotel points. While we increased our total driving time, we decreased the amount of traffic we had to deal with and we also split our continuous driving time in half, which made all of the difference for the big day.

Some friends of ours invited us over to their apartment where we camped out on top of the parking garage. It was a very good spot. We were concerned with the amount of clouds above, but we got lucky and the clouds cleared about 10 minutes before totality.

I had purchased a telescope and DSLR adapter for this occasion. Solar glasses were also procured some months in advance. I did not anticipate the supply of solar glasses to be so low right before the eclipse. The fake glasses probably contributed quite a bit towards that; hopefully, no one damaged their eyes because of the fakes.

Having never photographed the Sun (actually, it was my first time using the adapter), it took me a while to figure out the best way to line up everything and get proper focus. The terrible tripod I was using didn’t help matters in the least. I learned my lesson: pay top dollar for the tripod. Also, while parking garages are made of cement, they are not 100% stable. The telescope would move every time someone would walk past. Who knew?

I also committed the silliest mistake a photographer can possibly make: I shot in JPEGs, not RAWs.


Yep, I’ll be kicking myself for the next seven years over that one.

However, the photos I did get are just about on par with the rest of the world, so I’m quite happy about that. Here are a few shots.




The red at the edges are solar prominences.


Oh yeah! The diamond ring in all it’s JPEG glory!

I plan to attempt printing this out and hanging it in my new apartment. It will make a fine first picture on my walls.

Here’s the video I captured. Lots of shaking; sorry.

I will definitely be going to the next eclipse in seven years. I already have a long list of improvements. This eclipse was only 2:41 at the max, the next will have a max of 4:28. I’m sure it will still feel like 15 seconds.