Friday, June 24, 2016

Educational YouTube Channels: Mark Rober

Mark Rober started his YouTube channel to show off a Halloween costume that he made. Since then he has made many more interesting videos including one about his time as a NASA engineer working on the Curiosity Rover. What I like about his channel is that he works through ideas and shows proper ways of doing simple home based experiments. The topics of his videos are geared towards a general audience. Some of his videos have gone massively viral, including one where he explained how to "skin a watermelon".

Below is one of his videos that my nephews used to win their Cub Scout pack Pinewood Derby.

If you want to win an egg drop competition then this one will help you out.

There are many other interesting videos on his channel and there will be even more interesting videos to come.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Educational YouTube Channels: NurdRage

There are plenty of random YouTube channels out there that specialize in just about everything imaginable, including channels dedicated to blowing things up. NurdRage is one of those channels. But what makes NurdRage different from many of the other blow things up channels is they actually explain and demonstrate how to synthesize various chemicals. And they do not always do the cool, or popular chemicals either, such as thermite. The have videos about things like how to recycle copper chloride, and how to make chloroform. The reactions and processes are more applicable to college level chemistry than high school chemistry.

What I like about this channel is that because they do not focus on the common or popular chemical reactions, they tend to show things that you do not find on many other YouTube channels. They also occasionally get into the weeds of different processes and reactions to test different ways of producing the same product. Some of these processes are used in industry for making chemicals also used in other processes and manufacturing.

This channel won't be for everyone. Some may find it incredibly boring, because let's face it, most people will not be interested in watching a 10 minute video about making propionic acid. But for anyone who has an interest in chemistry beyond explosions and the iodine clock reaction, then this is the channel for you.

I saw this video and instantly went out and found a laser and a jar of peanut butter to test this. It really works.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Educational YouTube Channels: The Bible Project

Over a year ago one of the artists for a web comic that I read mentioned that they were doing artwork for something called The Bible Project. Since then I have been following their channel and watching their videos and I can honestly say that their work and explanations of the Bible are top notch. There are many channels on YouTube that attempt to discuss religious topics, but there are very few that manage to do it without either being over critical of religion, being so blindingly faith promoting to the point of churning out kitsch, or being so academic that they could raise the dead, just so the dead could be put to sleep out of boredom.

On The Bible Project channel they manage to hit the sweet spot with explanations that both the highly educated and novices would find interesting. Last year they produced a video on Holiness which I enjoyed greatly, so I took concepts from it and incorporated into an Elder's Quorum lesson. I think I got more comments, compliments and questions from that lesson than any other.

What makes these videos so valuable is they cover the history surrounding the Bible as a history of a faith, and a history and the development of a theology. It places all the parts of the Bible into a faith context while not losing the broader historical, cultural and social context in which the Bible was produced. I highly recommend this channel both for personal enrichment and for ideas of how to better teach about the Bible.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Educational YouTube Channels: The Great War

Telling the history of World War I is a rather ambitious undertaking, but producing videos every week explaining the war as it happened is a truly monumental task. The premise of the channel The Great War, is to tell the history of WWI a week at a time, exactly 100 years after it happened. To explain the channel here is an NPR interview with the creator Indy Neidell.

Currently they are half way through the war, but you can still catch up (here is the complete, week by week, list of episodes in chronological order). The episodes are generally only a few minutes long, but very informative. What really sets this series apart from all the other documentary series is you get a sense of how the war progressed from the perspective of someone who only has the small day to day, week to week, details. Usually history documentaries focus on topics, or single events or important series of events such as a battle or campaign. But this series by covering the war a week at a time immerses us in the true scope of the war and how it would be perceived by someone who lived it.

Indy Neidell also covers topics or events generally ignored in most history classes, because he has the time to address the small things and to build a narrative around them. For example he had an episode about Poland in WWI, which isn't talked about much because Poland wasn't an independent country at the time. Or his episode on South Africa and their involvement with the war. On the channel they also put out special episodes to cover specific topics such as Lawrence of Arabia, or Shell Shock.

This series is both an incredible introduction to WWI, and a great resource for learning about the war in depth. Most educational video series only serve as a good introduction to a subject, but this series goes beyond that into a great academic resource. It is not something that should be missed.

As a note, this series deals entirely with WWI, and as such may not be appropriate for small children. The series uses historical footage from news reels which occasionally includes the aftermath of battles.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Two Versions of the Flood in the Bible

Most people may not know this, but there are two versions of the story of Noah and the flood in the Bible. Using the text of the KJV below I give the two different versions of the flood found in the Bible. See if you can spot the similarities and differences. To make reading things easier I have removed verse numbering and chapter divisions. (I would highly recommend not picking up a Bible until you have read both versions. At the end I'll tell you where both versions are and you can check for yourself.)

Version 1
     And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.
     And the Lord said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation. Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female. Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth. For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth. And Noah did according unto all that the Lord commanded him.
     And Noah went in, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons’ wives with him, into the ark, because of the waters of the flood. And it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth, and the Lord shut him in. And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights.
     And the flood was forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bare up the ark, and it was lift up above the earth. And the waters prevailed, and were increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark went upon the face of the waters. And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered. Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered. All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died. And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.
     And the rain from heaven was restrained. And the waters returned from off the earth continually.
     And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made: Also he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground; But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him into the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth: then he put forth his hand, and took her, and pulled her in unto him into the ark. And he stayed yet other seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark; And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf plucked off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth. And he stayed yet other seven days; and sent forth the dove; which returned not again unto him any more. And Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and, behold, the face of the ground was dry.
     And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.
    And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japheth: and Ham is the father of Canaan. These are the three sons of Noah: and of them was the whole earth overspread.
Sound familiar? Was anything missing? Now read the other version.

Version 2
     These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God. And Noah begat three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.
     Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits. A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it. And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die. But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons’ wives with thee. And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female. Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive. And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them. Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he.
     Of clean beasts, and of beasts that are not clean, and of fowls, and of every thing that creepeth upon the earth. There went in two and two unto Noah into the ark, the male and the female, as God had commanded Noah.
     In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. In the selfsame day entered Noah, and Shem, and Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah’s wife, and the three wives of his sons with them, into the ark. They, and every beast after his kind, and all the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind, and every fowl after his kind, every bird of every sort. And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath of life. And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him.
     And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man. And the waters prevailed upon the earth an hundred and fifty days.
     And God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the cattle that was with him in the ark: and God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters assuaged. The fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and after the end of the hundred and fifty days the waters were abated. And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat. And the waters decreased continually until the tenth month: in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, were the tops of the mountains seen. And he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth.
     And it came to pass in the six hundredth and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from off the earth. And in the second month, on the seven and twentieth day of the month, was the earth dried.
     And God spake unto Noah, saying, Go forth of the ark, thou, and thy wife, and thy sons, and thy sons’ wives with thee. Bring forth with thee every living thing that is with thee, of all flesh, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth; that they may breed abundantly in the earth, and be fruitful, and multiply upon the earth. And Noah went forth, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons’ wives with him: Every beast, every creeping thing, and every fowl, and whatsoever creepeth upon the earth, after their kinds, went forth out of the ark.
    And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man. And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein.
     And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you; And with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth. And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth. And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud: And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.
You may be surprised to read these two complete stories of the flood in the Book of Genesis. Each one is complete by itself, and each one has unique details not found in the other. So how is it that you have read these two versions and never noticed? Most people might say, "Well the Bible, especially the Old Testament, tends to repeat itself a lot."

Except when you separate the two versions they can stand alone, and that is when we realize that there is a reason why the Bible keeps repeating itself, there were different versions that were joined together in order to have a single coherent story. In Biblical scholarship the two versions are referred to as J and P respectively. They make up two of the four sources for what are now the first five books of the Bible (the other two sources are called E and D).

Below I give a breakdown of the two different flood stories, including the chapter and verses in Genesis where they are found. The chapter and verse listing I got from the book Who Wrote the Bible? by Richard Elliott Friedman.

Version 1: J Version 2: P

7:1-5, 7, 10, 12, 16b-20, 22-23;
8:2b-3a, 6, 8-12, 13b, 20-22;
9: 18-19

7:8-9, 11, 13-16a, 21, 24;
8:1-2a, 3b-5, 7, 13a, 14-19;

  • Uses "Jehovah" to refer to God.
  • Rains for 40 days.
  • Noah sends out a dove to test if the water has abated.
  • Noah collects two of all unclean animals, and seven of all clean animals.

  • Uses "Elohim" to refer to God.
  • The water above the firmament and below the earth covers the earth for 150 days.
  • Noah sends out a raven to test if the water has abated.
  • Noah collects two of every animal.

One of the major differences comes in how the two authors refer to God. The author of J always uses "Jehovah" to refer to God (hence the J for the name), which is usually translated into English as "Lord". While the author of P always uses "Elohim" to refer to God, which is usually translated into English as "God". Try looking at the stories again with that in mind.

The other major difference is that in J it just rains for 40 days and nights, and the flood covers everything, while in the P version there is a cosmic event and the water above the firmament comes down, and the water below the earth breaks through the earth and covers everything. The P version is much more catastrophic, and more of an event on the cosmic scale. If you recall the creation story from Genesis 1, the waters were divided into two parts, the water above the firmament and the water below. Genesis 1 was also written by P, so the P version of the flood builds on the structure of the cosmos described in the beginning. Thus in the P version of the flood, the very structure of the cosmos was changed. The J version is much more modest, it floods the whole earth and covers the mountains, but the cosmos remain unchanged.

There are other subtle differences, such as P is more interested in ages, dates, dimensions, and genealogy. In the J version, Noah's sons are not named until after the flood story and the narrative is transitioning into the next story.

What other differences can you find between the two stories? What were the two authors trying to show with their versions of the story? How does this change how you might read the old testament?

If you want to learn more, I would suggest reading Who Wrote the Bible? by Richard Elliott Friedman. It's an excellent introduction to the different authors of the Bible.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Educational YouTube Channels: Periodic Videos

Periodic Videos is all about chemistry. Produced by Brady Haran, he interviews and films researchers, usually at the University of Nottingham, while discussing elements and chemistry in general. Sir Martyn Poliakoff, who was knighted in part for his work with the channel, features prominently in the videos. What is interesting about the channel is they generally show raw footage of their chemical experiments. They film many of their videos in the labs at the University of Nottingham, so you get to see what a real lab looks like, as opposed to a studio setting seen in many science shows. Some of their more interesting videos include putting a cheeseburger in hydrochloric acid, and explaining how to use flour to blow up a piano.

Some of their videos are the "Let's see this blow up" type, but they also have videos on each element, and others where they discuss certain reactions and compounds that are interesting, and not explosive.

Young children will not be interested in these videos, but starting about middle school or high school kids may find these videos interesting.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Comparing Joseph Smith and Emanuel Swedenborg

A while ago I was in a discussion with someone and they were trying to downplay the importance of Joseph Smith, and the movement he started, in history. To back up their claim they gave the example of Emanuel Swedenborg and stated that Swedenborg has had just as much impact as Joseph Smith.

At the time I thought this was an odd claim. This person then continued to argue that there were many other restorationist movements in the 1800's, and that the movement started by Joseph Smith just happened to be one of many. I was familiar with Swedenborg and the other restorationist movements, but what I found odd was his assertion that Mormonism had had very little impact in history, especially compared to the other restorationist movements.

I was unable to really conclude the discussion (it happened online somewhere), but it sort of always stuck with me. Sometime later I was in the main library at UNC looking for a book when I noticed something interesting. Below is a picture of the "Mormon" section of UNC's library. Everything from top to bottom, to the end of the stack is about Joseph Smith and movement that he started.
Here is one more picture of LDS topic books that didn't fit in the previous shot. This is just off to the right of the picture above.

Directly below that I noticed this, it is all the books that the library has on Swedenborg. But, I should point out that half of the top shelf is actually books about Brigham Young.

When I saw both sets of books dramatically juxtaposed in the library like that, I recalled my discussion where someone insisted that Swedenborg was just as influential as Joseph Smith. Comparing the two sets of books it is plain to see that Joseph Smith has had a much greater impact on the world than Emanuel Swedenborg by several orders of magnitude. Keep in mind that this is the library at UNC, which has a strong religious studies program, hence the large collection of books, but it has no particular tie to either Joseph Smith or Emanuel Swedenborg.

If we take a look at Google's Ngram viewer we see a similar trend, with Joseph Smith and Mormon being orders of magnitude more common than Emanuel Swedenborg.

I'm sure you can find a library somewhere where there are more books about Swedenborg than Joseph Smith, but it is also the case that the influence of the movement started by Joseph Smith will continue to grow until it has filled the whole earth.

So, to the random commenter out there, we were never able to finish our discussion, but in answer to your statements: No, Joseph Smith, and the movement he started, was not a common run of the mill restorationist movement, and Emanuel Swedenborg has not been, and will never be, just as influential as Joseph Smith.