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November 21, 2009

Having done the legwork and having consulted with the experts, here is Vanderbilt’s conclusion on how to best handle merging. I thought I would post it today just to tie up the loose end of that conversation.

The next time you find yourself on a congested four-land road and you see that a forced merge is coming, don’t panic. Do not stop, do not swerve into the other lane. Simply stay in your lane—if there is a lot of traffic, the distribution between both lanes should be more or less equal—all the way to the merge point. Those in the lane that is remaining open should allow one person from the lane to be closed in ahead of them, and then proceed (those doing the merging must take a similar turn). By working together, by abandoning our individual preferences and our distrust of others’ preferences, in favor of a simple set of objective rules, we can make things better for everyone.

So there you have it. Traffic will flow best if there is an even distribution of late mergers to early mergers and if everyone does their best to alternate. Just stay in the lane you are in until it makes most sense to come together. You need the late mergers and the early mergers to work together if you want traffic to flow with the fewest interruptions.

November 19, 2009

I think I have done it. I’ve come up with the ultimate idea for the ultimate Christian novel. This novel seamlessly blends today’s most popular genres into one beautiful, compelling, cohesive whole. I thought you would want to know all about it. So I give to you…

Cassidy: Amish Vampiress of the Tribulation

That’s right. It’s an Amish novel; it’s a vampire novel; it’s an end-times novel. It’s the best of all worlds.

Here is the back cover text:

He is handsome. He is romantic. He is Amish.

Twenty-three year old Cassidy lives a simple life in the Amish countryside of Lancaster County. Simple, that is, until Slade Byler moves into the old Lapp farm. Cassidy finds herself irresistibly drawn to the handsome Slade; but she fears to share the secret that she alone knows. For Cassidy is an immortal, a princess in the long line of ancient Amish vampires. Will Slade’s love grow cold when he learns this great secret? Can she give to him a heart that does not beat?

Meanwhile, the strength of the Antichrist grows as he consolidates his power and seeks to destroy the peace-loving people of Pennsylvania. A blossoming romance unfolds between Cassidy and Slade as the world around them changes forever. They must fight to stay alive, they must fight to keep their forbidden love a secret, but, as Amish, they must not fight at all.

In this irresistible tale of intrigue and adventure, set against global upheaval, the bonnet meets the cape in a story sure to span the ages.

Here is a brief excerpt from the novel itself:

As if for the first time, Slade looked at Cassidy—her hair pulled back tightly and safely encased within a bonnet; her beautiful pinafore protecting her black dress; her long black cape trailing behind her with its red velvet lining peeking out around her ankles.

Cassidy spoke suddenly. “I grow weak for it has been a fortnight since I last tasted fresh blood.”

“I must bring to you a feast,” Slade replied. “I will have to face all the armies of the Antichrist to do it, for you cannot drink the blood of the Amish!”

Her heart stirred with love for the brave, brave man before her, Cassidy pushed her bonnet away from her eyes and moved to kiss Slade. As they came together she felt the smooth, clean-shavenness of his upper lip against her own. She ran her fingers through his magnificent beard. “Oh Slade! What can your buggy do against the forces of the Antichrist?”

“I don’t know. But I will think of something.”

“You must. You simply must.”

Deep in thought, Slade walked a few paces, his eyes fixed firmly on the horizon, his hands thrust deep into his pockets. His suspenders stood like ribbons of blood upon his shoulders. Suddenly he turned and said, “I won’t be taking the buggy, my love. The elders say I can accept a ride in an automobile, right?”

“Yes. As long as you do not own it!”

“And a tank is pretty much an automobile, right?”

“Of course!”

“Then I know what I must do,” he said resolutely, tearing his hat from his head and throwing it to the ground. “You set the table. I’m going hunting!”

November 18, 2009

Though I don’t feel quite right about it, I just had to give it a try. It is an experiment of sorts, I guess. I just had to know what it was like to be one of the few, one of the proud, one of the obnoxious—one of the late mergers. You know these people. Most of you, when you are crawling along the highway in heavy traffic and see a sign telling you that the lane will end in one mile (or one kilometer if you’re up here in Canada), quickly bump over into the lane that will not end, glad that you’ve immediately sorted out that problem. Now you can be assured that you won’t find yourself squeezed onto the shoulder or parked endlessly with your light blinking, trying to squeeze your way out of that dying lane while everyone else tries to block your progress. Yet, as you sit there, content that you’ve done the right thing, you can’t help but notice all those people speeding by to your right, driving their cars to the edge, to the brink, to the very last car-length of the lane that is about to end. You grouch, your grumble, you remark on their complete lack of care for the other people on the road. And yet you have to admit that they will get where they are going before you will. They seem unaffected by your plight, content to further their own goals even at your expense.

I’ve been there. And I just had to try life as a late merger. I now zip down that ending lane and merge at the very last second, finding a gap in traffic and squeezing my van into it. I get the dirty looks and angry stares. But I get where I’m going sooner than they do.

In his book Traffic Tom Vanderbilt discusses this same phenomenon. He, too, became a late merger, much to his wife’s chagrin, and he found that life is better this way. “It is a question you have no doubt asked yourself while crawling down some choked highway, watching with mounting frustration as the adjacent cars glide ahead. You drum the wheel with your fingers. You change the radio station. You fixate on one car as a benchmark of your own lack of progress. You try to figure out what that weird button next to the rear-window defroster actually does. I used to think this was just part of the natural randomness of the highway. Sometimes fate would steer me into the faster lane, sometimes it would relinquish me to the slow lane.” But he made a major lifestyle change when he became a late merger.

But the days after he first experimented with late merging were not easy. “In the days after, a creeping guilt and confusion took hold. Was I wrong to have done this? Or had I been doing it wrong all my life.” Seeking answers, he headed to an online community and posed the question to the waiting masses. He was rather surprised at the response, not just in the volume of responses but also in the passion and conviction with which people spoke. Some argued that he was a goon, refusing to do the sort of random acts of kindness that benefit all of society. By refusing to merge early, he was contributing to the overall slowness of the highway and making accidents more likely. Others argued that he was simply a good steward, using the highway to its maximum capacity. After all, what is the purpose of all that asphalt if we are not really allowed to drive on it? By maximizing the use of the highway surface he was actually making life better for everyone. Politeness or fairness (real or perceived) were actually detrimental to everyone.

Later in the book Vanderbilt gives empirical evidence as to what works best—whether early merging or late merging is better in the end. And he offers up his take on how we can best keep traffic flowing.

But for now, by way of light-hearted fare, do tell me, are you a late merger or an early merger? And how do you feel about the people who do the opposite of what you do?

October 12, 2009

As I mentioned on Saturday, this is Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada. Where our neighbors to the south celebrate Thanksgiving on a Thursday, here we do so on a Monday. So today is an official holiday—all the stores are closed and everyone gets a day off. Even bloggers. Today I’ll leave you with some links I had bookmarked over the weekend, hoping you enjoy them as I did.

How Jerusalem Was Spared. Yesterday Paul preached from Zechariah 9 (click here and look for the sermon “Return of the King” to listen to it) and spoke of Zechariah’s prophecy that Jerusalem would be miraculously spared from the devastation of Alexander the Great when he conquered so much of the known world. He offers the explanation given by Josephus. It is a disputed bit of history but is still very interesting to read. We may not know exactly how God spared Jerusalem, but it is beyond dispute that somehow he did so!

Simply Unprecedented. This weekend President Obama spoke at the annual dinner of the Human Rights Campaign, one of the most ardently pro-homosexual organizations in the U.S.. Amidst all that he said, these words stand out as particularly important: “You will see a time in which we as a nation finally recognize relationships between two men or two women as just as real and admirable as relationships between a man and a woman.” As Dr. Mohler says, “It is virtually impossible to imagine a promise more breathtaking in its revolutionary character than this — to normalize same-sex relationships to the extent that they are recognized as being as admirable as heterosexual marriage.” Denny Burk also comments, saying, “There is nothing moderate about this aspect of the President’s agenda. President Obama is advocating nothing less than a social revolution, one that stands foursquare against a Christian definition of marriage.”

A Wicked and Ignorant Award. Not surprisingly, the media is abuzz with news of President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize. Some are calling for him to refuse it. Others are rejoicing that he has been deemed worthy. I appreciated Peggy Noonan’s comments (though the first couple of paragraphs are perhaps a bit hard to take). She nails it when she says, “This is an award for not being George W. Bush. This is an award for not making the world nervous. This is an award for sharing the basic political sentiments and assumptions of the members of the committee. It is for what Barack Obama may do, not what he has done. He hasn’t done anything.” And, in speaking of what this does to the award itself, “In one mindless stroke, the committee has rendered the Nobel Peace Prize a laughingstock, perhaps for as long as a generation. And that is an act of true destruction, because it was actually good that the world had a prestigious award for peacemaking.”

And a couple of quick hits. This is a great article from one of my favorite “other” blogs: Why Am I Dressed this Way?. If you like that one, also take a look at Fuel Tanks Filling with Air. I love the way this guy writes and always enjoy his little stories of life on the line. And, completely unrelated, check out Ali’s new post titled Enthralled. It’s another great blog worthy of a bookmark (or an addition to your RSS reader).

And that’s it for me today. My parents are in town for just one more day and I am going to go spend some time with them.

October 09, 2009

Here are just a few random things I wanted to mention before I post this week’s Free Stuff Friday giveaway.

Book News

I mentioned a short time ago that I was in the midst of putting together book proposals. That was completed some time ago and in the very near future I should have some exciting news about my next writing projects. I’m just sorting through details right now but should be able to bring you an update soon.

Regulating Blogging

A few people have asked me about the new FTC regulations that will regulate blogging (see here for details). Essentially, the FTC wants bloggers to be honest, above reproach, with product reviews, declaring any incentives they are given because of the the reviews they write. Apparently some lucky people receive amazing bribes in return for positive reviews. That hasn’t ever happened to me! From my perspective, I don’t think this ruling will change much, and not only because I am Canadian and fall outside the authority of the FTC. But in case you are wondering, you can generally assume that if I review a book on this site it is a book that showed up in the mail, usually unsolicited. The book is mine to keep or throw away as I see fit; I do not return books I review (for obvious reasons). If the book has not been given me for free, I’ve bought it on my own. I am not paid to write reviews and would not accept any kind of payment if it was offered.


Just when you thought that the Nobel Peace Prize couldn’t get any more irrelevant, they go and give it to President Obama. If you thought Al Gore was the low water mark, well, think again. It is important to note that, at least as I understand it, the nominations happened just two week’s into Obama’s mandate, long before he had done anything more than rallied a lot of people to his cause. As the Times comments, “Sadly, it seems they have so bedazzled the Norwegians that they can no longer separate hopes from achievement. The achievements of all previous winners have been diminished.” And beyond hope it is “buzz,” the noise that surrounds a person as popular as Obama. I guess it’s now worth a Nobel Prize. This skit from Saturday Night Live has a better take on it:

Of course I’m not American and, frankly, not much of a fan of the Nobel Peace Prize at all. What’s your take on this?

February 27, 2009

I was just opening up my blogging software to begin writing today’s article when I got interrupted by a Home Depot truck. After our basement got flooded a couple of weeks ago, we decided (after having the crack in the foundation repaired) to replace the old, ugly carpet with hardwood. We ordered everything from Home Depot and the delivery turned up this morning. The truck couldn’t maneuver to the front of our house, so had to drop the skid a ways away. I just spent an hour hauling hardwood and subflooring into the house (through the rain).

A little-known fact about this site is that 90% of the time, at least, I write what you see immediately before I post it. I know some bloggers write content days in advance and store it up. That method has never worked for me. I prefer to begin each day with an idea or even just a sentence. Then I sit down and see what happens. While this means that my writing is probably not quite as good as it could otherwise be (and why spelling and grammatical errors sometimes slip through) it does give it a freshness. I don’t know if anyone else notices this, but it is important to me. In the past when I’ve written something and held onto it for a long time before posting it, I’ve often felt like it’s stale or like I don’t really feel what I posted. And so I continue to write and post without planning weeks or even days ahead.

Today I had a sentence in my mind and had planned to begin writing about it to see if it would come out as a viable article. But Home Depot interrupted me and stole an hour of my day. Now it’s too late, so I’ll put that idea on hold until next week. For now, I’ll try to clear out a few of the little things, the miscellania, that have been piling up around here.

The Cross He Bore

This is your second notification about my plan to lead a reading of Frederick Leahy’s The Cross He Bore in the days leading to Good Friday. It is a series of thirteen meditations on the sufferings of the Redeemer, beginning with Gethsemane and ending in the outer darkness. In his Foreword to the book, Edward Donnelly says, “in rereading these chapters, I found myself more than once compelled by emotion to stop - and then to worship. I cannot help feeling that this is exactly how they were written and that the author’s chief desire is that each of us who reads should be brought to gaze in fresh understanding and gratitude upon ‘the Son of God,’ who loved me and give himself for me.”

This book ranks on my list of all-time favorites and I look forward to reading it again this Easter. I’d love to have you read it with me! I assure you that you will find it well worth the read. And even if you don’t read it with me, read it on your own. The book costs only $3.75 when you buy it from MonergismBooks.com. So why don’t you purchase a copy (or two or three) and we’ll read it together. We can begin reading it on Sunday March 29 and read one chapter per day in the thirteen days leading to (and including) Good Friday. I will post a brief reflection on the chapter each morning.

Buy It Here.

Lying to Impress

It was quite a while ago that I bookmarked this little article: Many lie over books ‘to impress’. It is funny, isn’t it, that even in an age that up-plays video at the expense of the written word, people somehow realize the innate superiority of the written word. I don’t know anyone (beyond perhaps the occasional child) who says he watches movies or programs in order to impress others. But we do still lie about what we read, knowing that literacy, not television, makes us appear smarter (and, in fact, does make us smarter).

Collect Life Lessons as You Pass Go

And here is another interesting article. It talks about the great benefits of playing board games. It was not too long ago that we got rid of our cable TV access and used the money we had saved to buy a big stack of board games. While our interest has come and gone (and come and gone again) we have found that games really are beneficial. They teach patience, they teach us how to win and lose with grace, and they allow us to spend time as a family or as a couple. These are all lessons that tend to fall by the wayside when we turn instead to the television. Where television is a largely lone and silent pursuit, games demand conversation, negotiation and interaction. Speaking personally I can testify that we’ve received much more benefit from playing games together than we have from watching TV together. Of course this isn’t to say that I won’t miss watching HD broadcasts of the Blue Jays this summer…

Photoshop CS3

I have a copy of Photoshop CS3 for Windows that I no longer have a use for. If you are in the market for it, let me know. Yes, it’s one version removed from the latest and greatest, but 90% of users have no use for the extra bells and whistles that come in CS4. Plus, once you buy a full version, you qualify for upgrades for future versions. It is cheaper to buy the older version plus the upgrade. If you are interested, please let me know via email. Best reasonable offer takes it. It is just the standard Photoshop CS3 for Windows, full version rather than upgrade. It’s just the DVD, case and serial number (no box). It’s not Photoshop Extended and is not the full CS suite.

And now…stay tuned for Free Stuff Friday.

February 13, 2009

I am about to hit the road for what marks the beginning of a busy spring conference season. This evening I’ll be speaking at a church in Mt. Morris, Michigan and will then travel with the youth to some kind of a retreat center. I’ll be speaking to them five times over the weekend, covering issues related to discernment. I covet your prayers as I seek to minister effectively to these young people!

Before I leave, I wanted to make note of just a couple of things that have been on my mind the past couple of days.

That’s A Lot of Babies

You’re heard of Nadya Suleman, no doubt. She is all over the news after giving birth to octuplets. That is newsworthy by itself, but there is more to the story. She already has six children at home, is a single mother, and had all fourteen of her children by in vitro fertilization. She collects food stamps and up to $2300 per month in state support for her disabled children.

America has reacted to her with utter disgust. Recent headlines show that she has even been receiving death threats. And it seems that taxpayers are going to pick up the massive medical bills for these octuplets. Some of the comments have been shocking in their frankness and their rudeness. Some think she would be better off dead; many think her children should be forcibly taken from her and put up for adoption; a columnist in the LA Times calls her story “grotesque.”

Now I will admit that there is something very odd about this situation and something distasteful, even. It seems pretty obvious that God does not intend that single mothers bring children into the world to be raised without fathers; in vitro fertilization is not without some serious moral issues; and so on. But as I read stories about this woman and as I hear reactions to her, I find it difficult to separate legitimate concern from a more general dislike for life. So many of the reactions to this woman and her family may focus on legitimate concerns, but underlying many of these is a hatred for life. Many of these people would not voice any concern if Suleman had chosen to selectively abort a handful (or two) of her children. Many of these people cannot conceive of a family greater than two or three children. Stories like this one are a good opportunity to read with discernment and with critical thinking. What are the moral or ethical issues and what are the social or cultural issues? There seems to be quite an even split. We need to celebrate life even while being unintimidated by the serious underlying moral and spiritual concerns.

Read With Discernment

And speaking of reading with discernment, Lifeway Christian Stores has a strange new policy. They are selling certain titles with a sticker affixed to them. The sticker warns, “Please Read with Discernment™.” Note they’ve even trademarked the phrase! Authors whose books have received such a warning include Rob Bell, William Young, Brian McLaren and Donald Miller. The company’s web site offers an explanation. “We are making these titles available to our customers (along with the background and additional insight offered here through Read With Discernment) because we believe the books do present content that is relevant and of value to Christians and/or because pastors, seminary students, and other ministry leaders need access to this type of material, strictly for critical study or research to help them understand and develop responses to the diversity of religious thought in today’s postmodern world. Our prayer for you is that in whatever you read, you place the material under the magnifying glass of scripture and read with discernment, asking God to reveal His truth to you.” For each of the selected authors they post a document outlining some of their concerns. It is rather an interesting policy, this. It leaves me wondering (honestly wondering, not sarcastically wondering), if books deserve a warning like this one, should Lifeway sell them at all?
February 08, 2009

There is some “25-Things” meme making its way around Facebook (and, from there, to the web beyond). I’ve been tagged a whole bunch of times. It has, after all, apparently been completed some five million times. Such memes are not really my thing. Some people take these things way too seriously and offer facts that, in other context, would be terribly humiliating. And yet they are kind of fine. I’ll take a different approach. Here are twenty five stupendously boring things you didn’t want to know about me. Do note that in order to compile the list I had to enlist the help of Aileen since she is one of the world’s foremost experts on me.

  1. Until seventh grade I was known as “Timothy” because there were two boys in my class by the same name and I wasn’t cool enough to be the one who rated “Tim.” Even today you can tell the old family friends because they will still call me “Timothy.”
  2. My middle name is John (after my dad). I was given a second middle name (Belford—my mother’s maiden name) but it never appeared on my birth certificate and, because I was embarrassed by it, I quietly dropped it in high school.
  3. My parents were both born and raised in Quebec but both spoke English as their first language. I’ve been to Quebec only a handful of times.
  4. I hated school so much that I trimmed a year off high school, a year off university, and six months from my year-long college course. My goal was to earn grades that were just good enough while spending the least amount of time possible in school.
  5. I was a very unmotivated student. One teacher told my parents “Timothy is a very average boy.” My parents mentioned this to their friend (the principal) who replied “[Teacher’s Name] is a very average teacher.” I always though that rejoinder was hilariously Churchill-like.
  6. When I order ice cream I almost always order strawberry even though I don’t really like it. It became a habit as a child when I wanted to copy my much cooler cousin who always ordered the strawberry.
  7. I am a “Belford” more than a “Challies,” which is to say that in many ways I inherited the traits of my mother’s family. The dominant careers in my mother’s extended family are journalism, teaching and ministry.
  8. When I was in seventh grade, I spent just about a year of my life in Scotland. I cut my time short by returning to Canada and spending the summer with a friend.
  9. I have a strong dislike toward swimming and utter disgust toward swimming in public pools. Though I can swim just fine, I never learned to dive.
  10. I learned to drive stick on the way home from the car lot after buying my first car (truck, actually. I was a Chevy S-10). That truck was wrecked in an accident I caused even though I was not in the vehicle when it got wrecked. Long story.
  11. Occasionally I convince myself that, given the chance, I could have been good enough to play baseball professionally.
  12. My grandfather was a Supreme Court Justice. He had a long list of cool titles like The Right Honorable, Lieutenant-Colonel and Chief Justice. I never met him as he died before I was born.
  13. My favorite candy is Sour Patch Kids (replacing Cherry Blasters which were the former favorites). High quality Dutch or English wine gums rate high on the list as well.
  14. I’m color blind. I discovered this the day a teacher asked me why I had colored all the lakes on a map purple instead of blue.
  15. In tenth grade I won the school’s General Knowledge contest, beating both the older students and the teachers. I threw out the ribbon and did not enter again the next year.
  16. I did not attend my graduation ceremonies for high school, university or college. I hate being the center of attention. Plus, as explained earlier, in every case I would have graduated with the year ahead of mine, and hence people I did not know.
  17. When I was a kid I had a pair of gerbils whose litter of babies fell one short of the Guinness Book of World Records. I didn’t bother calling to let them know.
  18. For two years while I was in university, I ran a student painting business, employing six or eight other students. They did the work while I drove the truck around. They also made all the money as it turns out. This was a good lesson in business for me.
  19. In high school and/or university I studied French, Latin and Greek. I still remember a surprising amount of Latin. I’ve forgotten most of the Greek (which may or may not be related to the fact that I attended only one or two out of every five classes. It was their fault for scheduling classes five days a week at 8 AM).
  20. I was entrepreneurial as a child. I would put coins on a train track near my house so they would get flattened. I would then sell them at school at a profit. I also ran a black market candy business in grade school where I would sneak off-property, buy candy, and then resell it at higher prices.
  21. I married the first (and only) girl I ever dated.
  22. The first rock concert I ever went to was Petra during their Unseen Power tour. The first Christian album I ever bought was Petra’s Beyond Belief. I organized and promoted a Petra concert during their God Fixation tour. Altogether I saw Petra in concert six or seven times.
  23. When I was eight years old I was outside playing when my mother and sisters came running out of the house saying the kitchen was on fire. I ran inside and put the fire out using what I had learned at school about grease fires.
  24. The first book I ever remember reading on my own is Pilgrim’s Progress.
  25. When I was in high school, I went to an aptitude counselor and did a long battery of tests. He told me that the two most likely careers for me were clergy and computers.