This is a quick note addressed to those reading this blog via a subscription to Planet Mozilla. Following my stepping back from the Mozilla project, posts to this blog are unlikely to feature Mozilla-related content in the future, and will instead be about, well, what it’s like to be dying :-) I therefore won’t be syndicating them. If you wish to keep reading what I write, you may want to take a direct subscription. Here’s my direct feed.
I’m going home.
As some of my readers will know, my cancer (read that link if the fact I have cancer is new to you) has been causing difficulty in my liver this year, and recently we had a meeting with my consultant to plot a way forward. He said that recent scans had shown an increased growth rate of some tumours (including the liver one), and that has overwhelmed my body’s ability to cope with the changes cancer brings. The last two months have seen various new symptoms and a reasonably rapid decline in my general health. The next two months will be more of the same unless something is done.
After some unsuccessful procedures on my liver over the course of this year, the last option is radiotherapy to try and shrink the problem tumour; we are investigating that this week. But even if that succeeds, the improvement will be relatively short-lived – perhaps 3-6 months – as the regrowth rate will be faster. If radiotherapy is not feasible or doesn’t work, the timelines are rather shorter than that. My death is not imminent, but either way I am unlikely to see out 2018. In all this, my wife, my children and I are confident that God is in charge and his purposes are good, and we can trust him and not be afraid of what is coming. We don’t know what the future holds for each of us, but he does.
We’ve taken this news as a sign to make some significant changes. The most relevant to readers of this blog is that I am stepping away from Mozilla so I can spend more time focussed on the most important things – my relationships with Jesus, and with my family. I love my work, and God has blessed my time at Mozilla and enabled me to do much which I think have been good for the Internet and the world. However, there are things in life which are much more important, and it’s now time for others to take up those projects and causes and carry them into the future. I have every confidence in my colleagues and fellow Mozillians that this will be done with the greatest care and skill. The CA program, MOSS, and Mozilla’s policy work are all in very good hands.
If you pray, please pray that we would make wise decisions about what to do when, and that we would live through this process in a way that brings glory to Jesus.
In case it’s of interest, we have set up a read-only mailing list which people can join to keep informed about what is going on, and to hear a bit about how we are handling this and what we would like prayer for. You can subscribe to the list using that link, if you have a Google account. If you don’t you can still join by emailing email@example.com.
“Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” — 2 Cor 4:16-18.
If I have done anything good in 18 years at Mozilla, may God get all the glory.
I got this email recently; I’m 99% sure it’s some new kind of scam, but it’s not one I’ve seen before. Anyone have any info? Seems like it’s not totally automated, and targets Christians. Or perhaps it’s some sort of cult recruitment? The email address looks very computer-generated (firstname.lastname@example.org).
I am writing in accordance to my favourite Christian website, I could do with sending you some documents regarding Christ. I am a Christian since the age of 28, when I got a knock at the door at my house by a group of males asking me to come to a Christian related event, I of course graciously accepted.
I have since opened up about my homosexuality which my local church somewhat accepted, as I am of course, one of the most devout members of the Church. I am very grateful to the church for helping me discover whom I really was at a time where I needed to discover who I was the most.
I would like to obtain your most recent address, as I have seen on your website that you have recently moved house (as of 2016) to a Loughborough address. I would like to send you some documents regarding my struggles with depression and then finding God and how much he helped me discover my real identity.
I thank you very much for your aid in helping me find God and Christ within myself, as you helped me a lot with your website and your various struggles, which gave me strength to succeed and to carry on in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.
Hope to hear a reply soon,
Somewhere at some time They committed themselves to me And so, I was! Small, but I WAS! Tiny, in shape Lusting to live I hung in my pulsing cave. Soon they knew of me My mother — my father. I had no say in my being I lived on trust And love Tho' I couldn't think Each part of me was saying A silent 'Wait for me I will bring you love!' I was taken Blind, naked, defenseless By the hand of one Whose good name Was graven on a brass plate in Wimpole Street, and dropped on the sterile floor of a foot operated plastic waste bucket. There was no Queens Counsel To take my brief. The cot I might have warmed Stood in Harrod's shop window. When my passing was told My father smiled. No grief filled my empty space. My death was celebrated With tickets to see Danny la Rue Who was pretending to be a woman Like my mother was.
— Spike Milligan
The final party at the recent Mozilla All Hands, organized by the ever-awesome Brianna Mark, had a “Your Favourite Scientist” theme. I’ve always been incredibly impressed by Charles Babbage, the English father of the digital programmable computer. And he was a Christian, as well. However, I didn’t really want to drag formal evening wear all the way to San Francisco.
Instead, I made some PDFs in 30 minutes and had a Babbage-themed t-shirt made up by VistaPrint, for the surprising and very reasonable sum of around £11, with delivery inside a week. I had no idea one-off custom t-shirts were so cheap. I must think of other uses for this information. Anyway, here’s the front:
and the back:
The diagram is, of course, part of his original plans for his Difference Engline. Terrible joke, but there you go. The font is Tangerine. Sadly, the theme was not as popular as the Steampunk one we did a couple of All Hands ago, and there weren’t that many people in costume. And the Academy of Sciences was cold enough that I had my hoodie on most of the time…
Tim Chevalier reposted this Tumblr post from Peter Brunton, which has been rattling around inside my head for a few weeks. It makes me really sad, because Peter says he grew up in a “genuinely loving, caring, utterly wonderful” church, but it seems like they didn’t tell him (or he didn’t hear) how to deal with the shame that he rightly felt. I say rightly, because the Bible tells us that sexual sin should cause us to feel shame (Romans 1:26-27). The key piece that’s missing is that the right way to deal with this is not to hide or deny the shame, but to repent and believe the gospel.
The same book of Romans which calls sexual sin shameful tells us:
As it is written: ‘See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in Him will never be put to shame.’
Trusting in Christ leads us to not have to feel ashamed any more. And in Hebrews 12 we read:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy that was set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
The victory won by Jesus at the cross deals with our shame just as it dealt with the supposed shamefulness of what happened to him. Whatever we may have done, he wipes the slate clean, allowing us to throw off our sin and “run the race” of faith and obedience.
It is true that he calls people who are same-sex attracted to do something that is not easy, but if God truly works all things for our good (Romans 8:28) then following him is always by far our best choice. Our sexual preferences are not who we are – they don’t define us. If we are following Jesus, that is our identity, and it subsumes everything else. And if our church is truly loving and caring, its members will help us in that journey. I don’t know if Peter will ever read this, but I pray he will one day come to see that, as many others have.
In churches, we learn new songs from time to time – which is a good thing. This is normally done by the music leader singing the song, and then everyone trying to join in. Those who read music would perhaps like to have music, but it’s almost always not available, because it couldn’t be projected (as those who can’t read music would be lost and projectors are low resolution) and photocopying it and handing it out is inconvenient and disruptive.
But what if one could take the bare essentials of sheet music and display them alongside the words? What’s most important to people when learning a new tune? I would say two things – note duration, and the pitch difference between the previous note and the current one. Hence, Tunelines, which are inspired by Sparklines, a very simple way of showing a graph of data, usually over time. The idea is that they can be displayed alongside the lyrics while a congregation is learning a song, and removed after a few times once everyone has the hang of it.
There are two variants, one with verticals and one without. I prefer with, as I think it’s easier to follow, but reasonable people may differ. Right-click and “View Image” for a larger version. My example is Before The Throne of God Above.
For various reasons my church has no plans to use these, so I’m shelving this project, but just wanted to put it out there in case it inspires anyone else.
Six weeks ago, I posted “On Trial”, which explained that I was taking part in a medical trial in Manchester. In the trial, I was trying out some interesting new DNA repair pathway inhibitors which, it was hoped, might have a beneficial effect on my cancer. However, as of ten days ago, my participation has ended. The trial parameters say that participants can continue as long as their cancer shrinks or stays the same. Scans are done every six weeks to determine what change, if any, there has been. As mine had been stable for the five months before starting participation, I was surprised to discover that after six weeks of treatment my liver metastasis had grown by 7%. This level of growth was outside the trial parameters, so they concluded (probably correctly!) the treatment was not helping me and that was that.
The Lord has all of this in his hands, and I am confident of his good purposes for me :-)
In the last year or so there have been several occasions where it has been discovered that some words in books written by Christian authors were not their own words, but yet were not footnoted as being written by someone else. This occurrence is usually referred to as “plagiarism”. The publishers of the books in question have reacted by halting sales of the affected books, sometimes forever, or sometimes until this can be corrected. This both harms the public, who are deprived of the wisdom such books contain, and harms the reputation of the author, who is labelled a plagiarist. Therefore, it is important to be certain that the act the author has committed is, in fact, sinful. If it is, fair enough. But if it is not, both the removal from sale of the book and the loss of reputation are unwarranted and harmful.
Contemporary academic standards certainly see plagiarism as a serious misdemeanour. In a context where work has to be marked for credit, it’s clearly important that the marker knows which of the work is the student’s own, and which is taken from others. In this case, the act is clearly wrong – but one could argue either that it is wrong per se, or that it’s wrong because the student is breaking a promise they made to attribute all their quotations correctly – when the sin would be “not keeping one’s word”, rather than plagiarism.
Don Carson also writes that giving another’s sermon is also a sin. I would not agree with all his reasons but certainly would agree with reason number 3 – “you are not devoting yourself to the study of the Bible to the end that God’s truth captures you, molds you, makes you a man of God and equips you to speak for him”. Preachers should not use the words of others as a way of avoiding engaging in their God-given and weighty task.
However, I think plagiarism is not a sin in itself, and I base my argument on the construction of Scripture. Scripture contains many examples of what today would be called plagiarism – unattributed use of the words of another. Many of these are where words are taken from other places in Scripture, but there are also some where words are taken from outside Scripture. Not all such quotations are unattributed, but many are. Large examples include:
* The dependence of Kings on other books (e.g. (e.g. 2 Kings 18-20 is basically the same as Isaiah 36-39; 2 Kings 25 is nearly identical to Jeremiah 52)
* The dependence of Chronicles on Kings
* The dependence of Matthew on Mark (e.g. Mark 2:1-12 has strong similarities with Matthew 9:1-8)
* The dependence of Luke on Mark
* The dependence of 2 Peter on Jude (or the other way around, if you prefer)
And that’s before you consider Q (a proposed document also used by Luke and Matthew, so unattributed that scholars argue about its very existence), and all the times the New Testament quotes or alludes to the Old (most of which are unattributed). Paul quotes 3 Greek philosophers in various places; none of the quotes are attributed by name, even though Paul must have known the names. They are in quotation marks in our modern Bibles, but Greek does not have quotation marks. One could go on. Any one of these examples would prove my point.
If it is a sin in all circumstances to take the words of others and pass them off as your own, then the very construction of Scripture as we have it involved its authors doing this sinful act many times. While Scripture describes sins, and was written down by sinners, I don’t believe that God would have used sinful methods in the process of assembling his good and perfect word – because if the existence of something necessarily depends on sin, how can it be described as good and perfect? If God thinks that unattributed quotation is a sin, why would he not have caused the authors to attribute all their quotations, thereby setting us all a good example? If plagiarism is a sin, lack of attribution of quotations is a flaw in Scripture itself.
The idea that copying the work of others, either at all or without attribution, is unreasonable is a relatively recent one in history. Copyright has only been around since the Statute of Anne in 1707, and that was a measure designed at controlling publishers rather than restricting people’s ability to quote. More recently in history, such things have been thought about under the banner of “intellectual property”, a name which rather begs the question, as it’s not clear at all that such things should be treated in the same manner as physical property. This concept of a particular person “owning” a set of words or ideas was unknown until relatively recently. The fact that these ideas are innovative should certainly give us caution in suggesting that they are reflections of the moral will of God which humans had been unaware of until 300 years ago. Christians have always built on the wisdom God has given those before them, and we should be wary of any man-made laws which restrict that free flow of ideas forward in time.
Nevertheless, the law is the law – is plagiarism wrong because it’s a breach of copyright law as it stands today, and Christians are called to obey the law (Romans 13)? The answer is that it depends on the context and the level of copying. Copyright law has exceptions to try and balance its view that the author should have control of their work with what it sees as the legitimate rights and desires of the public. But the way copyright law works in the UK is that the law doesn’t provide actual affirmation that certain exempt acts are OK, it instead provides for defences in court. This means that the only way to know for certain whether a particular use is an infringement or not is to ask a judge. This is relevant because of the legal doctrine of de minimis – below a certain level, a court would undoubtedly refuse to waste its time with a copyright infringement.
Nevertheless, it is reasonable to ask if this behaviour seems to be covered by an exception. Exceptions unfortunately vary from country to country; in the UK, there is an exception for “criticism, review, quotation and news reporting“, which is certainly designed to permit quotation of one book in another. It does require “sufficient acknowledgement (unless this would be impossible for reasons of practicality or otherwise)” (section 30). It could certainly be argued that if you took notes 20 years ago and neglected to record the source, it is now practically impossible to acknowledge it. One might consider prosecution if attribution were intentionally left off; would a prosecutor really do so if it were done unintentionally?
Earlier, I noted that in some contexts, plagiarism can be sinful because it involves breaking a promise. Can that be the case in commercial publishing? There are two possible promises to consider – that of the author to his publisher, and that of the author (and publisher) to the readership.
Let us consider the author/publisher relationship first. Having not yet authored my first best-seller I am not familiar with the contracts that authors draw up with publishers. These may well contain a clause saying the author will attribute all quotations, or perhaps make a good faith effort to do so. However, someone’s culpability for breaking a promise depends significantly on intent and circumstances. If I promise my wife to be home by a certain time and my train is late (and I write this while waiting for a train after missing a connection due to a late incoming train), I would suggest only an unreasonable wife would take me to task for this. If an author deliberately plagiarises others when having promised not to do so, that is a clear case of a broken promise. If they do so accidentally, is pulping all copies of their book a proportionate response?
The second situation to consider is the possibility that an author makes an implicit promise to his readership. I think this argument is stronger in an academic work where the footnotes average a third of each page, than in a non-academic work which has 20 endnotes in total. There are different reader expectations in each case. But how normative are reader expectations? I expect books I buy to be written in good English, theologically sound, thought-provoking and enlightening. These expectations are, sadly, often not met, but I don’t expect the publisher to pulp the book in response to my complaint! To add to that, one is on shaky ground construing promises where no explicit promise has been made. Lastly, the point about what one does if a promise is broken accidentally (as opposed to wilfully) still stands.
Plagiarism may be problematic and unwise in certain circumstances. For example, it makes it harder to trace the history of an idea back to its source, which is often important in avoiding groupthink and validating “what everyone knows”. But we must avoid the genetic fallacy – the worthiness of an idea or thought is not connected to whose idea or thought it was. If a book explains the Trinity well, it does not suddenly do so less well if it’s discovered that some of the words were not written by the author named on the cover.
So I would suggest that the idea that plagiarism is always and everywhere wrong is a recent innovation and not a reflection of the moral will of God. Intentionally breaking one’s explicit promises is sinful; plagiarism itself alone is not.
As many readers of this blog will know, I have cancer. I’ve had many operations over the last fifteen years, but a few years ago we decided that the spread was now wide enough that further surgery was not very pointful; we should instead wait for particular lesions to start causing problems, and only then treat them. (I have metastases in my lungs, liver, remaining kidney, leg, pleura and other places.)
Historically, chemotherapy hasn’t been an option for me. Broad spectrum chemotherapies work by killing anything growing fast; but my rather unusual cancer doesn’t grow fast (which is why I’ve lived as long as I have so far) and so they would kill me as quickly as they would kill it. And there are no targetted drugs for Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma, the rare salivary gland cancer I have.
However, recently my oncologist referred me to The Christie hospital in Manchester, which is doing some interesting research on cancer genetics. With them, I’m trying a few things, but the most immediate is that yesterday I entered a Phase 1 trial called AToM, which is trialling a couple of drugs in combination which may be able to help me.
The two drugs are an existing drug called olaparib, and a new one known only as AZD0156. Each of these drugs inhibits a different one of the seven or so mechanisms cells use to repair DNA after it’s been damaged. (Olaparib inhibits the PARP pathway; AZD0156 the ATM pathway.) Cells which realise they can’t repair themselves commit “cell suicide” (apoptosis). The theory is that these repair mechanisms are shakier in cancer cells than normal cells, and so cancer cells should be disproportionately affected (and so commit suicide more) if the mechanisms are inhibited.
As this is a Phase 1 trial, the goal is more about making sure the drug doesn’t kill people than about whether it works well, although the doses now being used are in the clinical range, and another patient with my cancer has seen some improvement. The trial document listed all sorts of possible side-effects, but the doctors say other patients are tolerating the combination well. Only experience will tell how it affects me. I’ll be on the drugs as long as I am seeing benefit (defined as “my cancer is not growing”). And, of course, hopefully there will be benefit to people in the future when and if this drug is approved for use.
In practical terms, the first three weeks of the trial are quite intensive in terms of the amount of hospital visits required (and I live 2 hours drive from Manchester), and the following six weeks moderately intensive, so I may be less responsive to email than normal. I also won’t be doing any international travel.
I am overjoyed to announce the birth of our third son, Samuel David Markham, at 9.01am on the morning of 28th January 2015, weighing 8lb 0oz. Mother, father, baby and older brothers are all well :-)
He is called Samuel after:
- The prophet and leader Samuel, who was called into God’s service at an early age, as recorded in the book of 1 Samuel;
- Samuel Rutherford (1600 – 1661), a Scottish minister and representative at the Westminster Assembly, whose book Lex, Rex contains arguments foundational to a Christian understanding of good government;
- Samuel Davies (1723 – 1761), American non-conformist preacher, evangelist and hymn writer, who showed we are all equal in God’s sight by welcoming black and white, slave and free to the same Communion table;
- Samuel Crowther (1809 – 1891), the first black Anglican bishop in Africa, who persevered against unjust opposition and translated the Bible into Yoruba.
He is called David primarily after the King David in the Bible, who was “a man after God’s own heart” (a fact recorded in the book of 1 Samuel, 13:14).
The trouble with arguing with him is that he’s a popular cartoonist, and I’m not. Cartoons suffer from the Twitter/Facebook effect – a humourous pithy short attack or condemnation of something is far more interesting and retweetable than any nuanced response to it. And then, of course, you get accused of having no sense of humour. And if he ever reads this post and takes offence, there’ll be cartoons lampooning me. Still, Jesus had to endure being mocked, so that’s an OK risk to take.
So, then, a few thoughts in response:
So is judging people wrong, then? Because there seems to be plenty of judgement in this comic. If it is wrong, then who says so, and who died and made them king? It’s easy to mock the moral stance of others, but rather difficult (if your understanding of the world doesn’t include an omnipotent moral lawgiver) to figure out why the morality you are in favour of should apply to other people. Should I not judge because a “silly web cartoonist” (his words) tells me not to? Morality can’t be hung from skyhooks.
This is before we even talk about what Jesus actually meant, in context, by “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”.
The Galileo affair was not the best moment in the life of the church. But the second comic makes the error that so many bits of reporting on stem cells make that one would almost think people are trying to hide the truth. There are two main types of stem cells – adult, and embryonic. Adult stem cells come from, well, adults, and I’ve never heard of anyone who has any theological problem with them. Embryonic stem cells are harvested from embroyos, tiny people who are killed by the process. And that is a problem.
Thing is, which type of cells have been producing all the amazing treatments and treatment possibilities? Adult stem cells. A guy recently became able to walk again after they injected stem cells from his nose into his spine. That’s so awesome. By contrast, despite lots of positive talk, they can’t figure out how to stop the embryonic ones giving you cancer. And yet, every time there’s a “stem cell success” story, the church is castigated for “its opposition to stem cell research”, and people vow to continue the murder of microscopic human beings.
In the last panel, is he really asserting that anyone can make any old thing up, and the universe will bend to accommodate the wishes of the person concerned? Or just that it’s cool and righteous to affirm people in whatever rubbish they make up in their own minds? Also, no matter how politely phrased, “No-one really knows for sure” is dogma, plain and simple. All education is indoctrination – the question is simply “whose doctrine?”. What he is really saying is “don’t use your doctrine, use mine”.
I wonder if the Oatmeal had a kid, who was told “no-one really knows”, and who replied “well, I think God then decides who goes to heaven and who goes to hell, and I’m worried about your eternal soul”, he’d say “sure, sweetie”, or “NO. NO-ONE REALLY KNOWS FOR SURE AND THAT’S FINAL.” Given the rest of the comic’s antipathy towards Christianity…
My religion gives me no anxieties about my sexuality at all. However, what the Oatmeal is really saying is “any parameters religion puts around the correct use of sex are evil”. So is he in favour of no parameters at all (permitting every vile act one could imagine – you know I could list all the usual things which every country makes illegal) or does he just want to impose different parameters to the ones Christianity does? And if so, apart from the detail of what’s in and what’s out (ahem), how is his principle of imposing laws regarding the expression of sexuality any different from the principle that he mocks?
Christians who try and convince others that what they believe is true are not trying to “validate their beliefs”. There are no points from God for making more Christians. In fact, Christians can’t make more Christians – only God can do that. We don’t get any credit when it happens. Also, Christians are (or should be) specifically encouraged to avoid groupthink – the idea that if lots of people believe something, it must be true. (Incidentally, if you think Buddhists all leave people alone, read this and this.)
Fortunately, the real and true “awesome shit” is available to everyone. Including the Oatmeal.
Calling something ‘crazy’ is not an argument. It’s hard to refute a sneer. And, of course, his summary of what Christians believe is wrong in several places. If it’s such crazy nonsense, why not illustrate using the version Christianity teaches, rather than a straw man? Or is the real view not so crazy after all?
Amen to the general point here. Although the idea (which, I agree, is not his main point) that one should vote based on which policies are better for you personally is a sad, divisive and dangerous one. One should vote based on which policies are best for society as a whole. (For me, those are generally policies which make the law conform more closely to God’s law. YMMV.)
Yes, indeed. Je suis….
Yes, I would die for Jesus. Adam4d puts it well:
No, I would not kill for Jesus. However, the point of Christianity is not to “inspire people to help people” (although it does) or to make you happier (although it might) or to help you cope with the atheistic feeling of cosmic helplessness (although it does deal with it very effectively). Christianity is not utilitarian. The point is to have a real relationship with your Creator – to know Christ. Which is the most awesome thing in the world. Having experienced it, who would ever want to keep it to themselves?
When Muhammad is mocked, Islamic extremism kills and says:
We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad!
When Jesus is mocked, Christianity hopes and says:
And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.
We are called not to avenge him, but to identify with him and accept the same disgrace.
Je Suis Charlie. Et Je Suis Jésus.
I will be away and without email from Thu 14th August to Friday 22nd August, and then mostly away from email for the following week as well (until Friday 29th August).
This week, I ordered Haribo Jelly Rings on eBay and had them posted to me. My son brought them from the front door to my office and I am now eating them.
That is all.