Wednesday, October 12, 2022

The Glass Age - How Glass Invented Our Modern World

Glass is a beautiful and useful substance. It occurs naturally in the form of obsidian, tektites and other forms. It has been used by humans for thousands of years as tools and ornaments. It was well known in the ancient world and was highly prized because of its beauty and rarity. The Bible contains several references to glass such as, “Gold and glass cannot equal wisdom,” Job 28:17. While it has been known and used for millennia, prior to the common era it was generally only the wealthy that could afford it. Its usefulness was mostly aesthetic. During the Stone, Bronze, and Iron ages glass was a novelty.

So many new forms of technology have been developed in the last century alone we have multiple “age” names to describe it including atomic age, space age, computer age, information age, etc. While these names are descriptive of very important technologies and advancements, one substance has arguably made them all possible. Its use covers a much larger span of recent history and almost single-handedly made the scientific revolution possible over the past 500 years. What is this magical substance? Glass of course.

Many people are familiar with the beautiful intricacy of artisanal Roman glassware. Man-made glass stretches back long before the time of the Caesars and even before Alexander the Great. Glass beads were being made possibly as far back as 3000 BCE. Primitive glass making arose in India by about 1750 BCE and the first glass vessels were made around the 15th century BCE. Also by the 15th century, extensive glass production was occurring in Western AsiaCrete, and Egypt. Glass was primarily made by either pouring it into a mould or core-forming. Core-formed means the glass was heated and formed around a central core that provided the shape. These processes required great time and skill and so glass was so expensive it was accessible only to the upper classes. It would have been a fairly rare substance compared to other material such as stone, pottery or metal.

The Stone Age is often said to end around 550 BCE. The end date is not exact and varies widely by region. For example, Western and Central Europe are thought to remain in the Stone Age until about 50 BCE. This timespan aligns nicely with the transition to the glass age. While the main glass age would not begin until around the 13th century, we see several technological advances in glass making in the 1600 years prior to that. So I have termed this period the early glass age.

We can date the start of the early glass age to the rise of glass making in the Hellenistic period and the life of Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE). This era marks a major shift in the role of glassware, at least in the region around the Mediterranean. Wikipedia notes, “Glassmaking at this time was based on the technological traditions of the Classical antiquity and the Late Bronze Age, but was marked by transition from limited production of luxury objects made for the social elite to mass production of affordable glass vessels used by the broader public to satisfy everyday needs.”

So a major hallmark of the early glass age is the transition of glassware into common usage by the lower classes for everyday needs. This is thanks to improved production methods. 

During the Hellenistic period many incremental techniques of glass production were introduced. Larger glass pieces, notably table wares, became possible thanks to some of these innovations. Wikipedia mentions some of the techniques developed during this period. They include, “'slumping' viscous (but not fully molten) glass over a mould in order to form a dish and 'millefiori' (meaning 'thousand flowers') technique, where canes of multicolored glass were sliced and the slices arranged together and fused in a mould to create a mosaic-like effect.”

During the 1st century BC, glass blowing was discovered on the Syro-Judean coast, revolutionizing the industry. This technique helped bring the cost of glassware down. Glassware became cheap and expendable, a kind of Roman plastic. “the discovery of colorless glass (through the introduction of manganese dioxide), by glass blowers in Alexandria circa 100 CE, the Romans began to use glass for architectural purposes. Cast glass windows, albeit with poor optical qualities, began to appear in the most important buildings in Rome.” 

Although they achieved relatively clear, de-colored glass, it was not perfect. It had a lot of inconsistencies resulting in low clarity. It looked more like quartz crystal than glass as we know it today. Some areas of a vessel may be cloudy whitish. There may be bubbles or lines that diffract light and obstruct the view. When used as a window it was ideal for letting light through but not for looking out of.

Another innovation that came during the Roman era was the stained glass window. In the second or third century CE Christian churches began using colored glass to make artistic window pictures. These were likely modeled after the mosaics common in Roman villas that adorned walls and floors. Although not a major technological leap, it had important cultural significance. It helped unify Christian teachings and spread the stories of the Bible to an illiterate populace. It highly influenced architecture and art as well. 

Around 1000 CE, potash-lime glass (sometimes called forest glass) was discovered in northwestern Europe. It was made by using potash from wood rather than soda and ever so slowly began to replace soda-lime glass. It has a higher melting point and is significantly stronger than soda-lime glass. Thus it was more desirable. One of its first major uses was in stained glass windows. Because of its improved durability, stained glass windows could be made wider and with larger pieces. This contributed to the rise of Gothic style stained glass art.

Thus we see many important breakthroughs were made in the early glass age that were key to perfecting glass materials and science. In the next section we will look at the main glass age and see how glass technology revolutionized not only glassware, but also humanity’s fundamental ideas about the world. 

Glass held an important place in Medieval Europe. Stained glass was central to European Catholic life from the 13-16 century as a key part of the cathedral, the center of society. It was a means of educating the illiterate masses through narrative mosaics. Mirrors also played a key role in European aristocratic life enabling people, especially women, to spend hours a day perfecting their appearance. Mirrors also seem to have played a significant role in spiritual matters.1 In fact, after Johannes Gutenberg lost his revolutionary printing press to debt collectors, he turned to making mirrors sold to pilgrims for use in spiritual rituals. 

The main Glass Age could be considered to start with the invention of colorless transparent glass around 1430.2 Although glassmaking had been around for millennia, the ability to reliably make colorless glass that's highly transparent is what has led to so many technical and scientific breakthroughs. Thus we need a distinction between the early and main glass ages. Around the same time as the perfection of colorless glass, the art of blown glass grew in earnest in Venice, Italy. Blown glass had been around since about 1 CE, but in Venice, several significant breakthroughs took place in a short time.

In 1271 the glassmaker’s guild was formed. In 1291, officials passed a law that required all glassmakers and glass artisans to move to the island of Murano. It also forbade them to leave or any foreign glassmakers to make or sell glass in Venice. This concentration of highly skilled craftsman led to Murano becoming the world leader in glass making and likely contributed to the major advancements in glass technology. Around 1430 a skilled glassmaker named Angelo Barovier invented a process for making extremely transparent glass.3 It was known as cristillo, and this unclouded see-through glass led to the development of many technologies.4

The most important glass tool resulting from the main Glass Age is the lens. The invention of transparent glass enabled better lenses to be manufactured for many applications. Eyeglasses were invented and became common in the 13-14th centuries, but these mostly used lenses made of quartz. Glass proved to be a superior material for making precise eyeglasses that suited the wearers needs.5 Alongside the invention of the printing press, spectacles were helpful in the spread of ideas through reading because about 75% of adults requires vision correction. Reading was a major cornerstone of the renaissance and the scientific revolution. Reading became so popular after the Gutenberg printing press the first spectacle specialty shop was able to open in Strausberg in 1466. 5a

The lens did not just lead to higher literacy rates. More importantly, it changed science and technology directly. It didn't take long before it made its way into many scientific tools to improve them. Some include the telescope for astronomy and navigation, the microscope for biology, and the magnetic compass for navigation and cartography.

In 1632 Galileo published his finding confirming the sun was the center of the solar system thanks to the telescope he perfected. In 1665 Robert Hooke first described and named the cell of living organisms after many years of observations with a microscope. The lens eventually led to the invention of the camera which enabled improved documentation. It led to revolutions in science, art, entertainment, education, history, and communication and is a central technology of the Information Age (20th - 21st century).

In 1514 Johannes Werner suggested the cross-staff, an instrument for measuring the position of celestial bodies, be used for sea navigation. It was widely adopted shortly after and played a key role in the Age of Discovery (15th – 17th century). The user was required to look directly at the sun in order to calculate its angle to help determine the ships position. Repeatedly looking directly at the sun was painful and so navigators began fixing smoked glass lenses on their cross-staff to reduce the brightness of the sun.6

Transparent glass improved navigation in other ways. The basic navigation compass had been used in primitive forms for millennia. Transparent glass enabled more sensitive and accurate forms to be protected inside wood boxes and brass bezels. One example is the dry compass which could be used  accurately in swaying, rocking ships. The compass was also adapted for surveying and cartography. The compass was a key part of the theodolite invented in 1571 by Joshua Habermel, an instrument that is still a part of land surveying today.7 After Habermel’s death an optical scope was added to improve visual range and accuracy. 

The surveyor’s compass, also known as the circumferentor, was another adaptation of the basic navigation compass that was central to surveying and cartography for centuries. It was eventually replaced by the more portable prismatic compass in the 19th century. The accuracy of the navigation compass was greatly improved with the invention of the liquid compass in 1690 which is nearly universal today.8

Glass prisms and lenses were incorporated into other navigation tools increasing their accuracy and ease of use. The sextant was invited in 1731 replacing the marine astrolabe and cross-staff. This major innovation allowed navigators to sight the nighttime celestial bodies and acquire their location even when the sun was not shining—a major advantage. These advancements, in turn, improved navigation accuracy reducing travel time thereby increasing trade and the spread of ideas.9

Another key area glass changed was timekeeping. The hourglass made timekeeping easier and more precise. The exact origins of the hourglass aren't clear, but it's generally accepted that it was widely adopted in Europe by the end of the High Middle Ages (around 1500 CE). The hourglass was a popular choice for sailors who used it to mark the passage of time, which allowed them to determine their longitude. The hourglass was preferred over earlier water clocks because their sand was unaffected by the rocking motion of a ship. They were used onshore to measure time for church services, cooking and work tasks. Eventually, mechanical clocks supplanted the hourglass, though it wasn't until the 18th century that a suitable marine replacement was found. Glass was necessary for clocks which required a clear glass face to protect their delicate insides.

The window is another great example of how transparent glass improved the modern age. Of course, glass windows have been around since the time of the Romans. The true importance of clear glass windows was not realized until the transportation revolution in the mid-19th and early-20th century. The see-through window enabled high-speed mechanized transportation in boats, trains, cars, and planes in the modern era. Glass windows have developed alongside the transport vehicles they enable. At first glass windows were small, flat, and prone to shatter. Many advancements by numerous individuals have led to modern glass windows that are large, able to be molded into curved shapes, while being shatter-resistant and even bulletproof.

As mentioned previously, the invention of the camera provided a metaphorical window into many avenues of knowledge previously unimaginable. The picture camera was first perfected in 1837 by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, a French artist. The daguerreotype, as photographs were first called, soon became a sensation. This original camera used a glass lens to project an image onto a metal plate. It required a long, complex process to produce just one un-reproducible image. It didn’t take long for the field of photography to be revolutionized multiple times.9a

In 1851 a new technique was invented whereby negatives were produced in the camera on glass plates. This process was created by Frederick Scott Archer and could take a picture up to 20 times faster than Daguerre’s method. But the true revolution was that these images were reproducible negatives. Daguerre’s images were positive and looked like a normal image as soon as they came out of the camera. Exact copies could not be made. Archer’s method produced negatives like modern film cameras which could be used to make multiple positive prints. Dry plates were invented in 1878 by Richard Leach Maddox and again increased the speed at which photos could be taken. Exposure time was so short with dry plates that the camera could be held to take a picture and did not need to sit on a still tripod anymore. Many handheld camera models soon followed and people began documenting everything they could aim a lens at! After Archer, glass plates remained the staple of photography for at least 50 years until plastic film finally displaced it around 1900. However, glass lenses are still vital for photography from the small camera on your smart phone to the giant cameras on space telescopes.9a

Perhaps the most influential role of glass in the past 500 years is in the area of chemistry. Chemistry’s impact in all areas of life hardly needs mention. Most all the advancements of chemistry would likely have been impossible without glass in the lab. It is not just the transparency of glass that was important to chemistry. More critical is the inert property of glass which enables it to be in contact with nearly any chemical and not react. This allowed chemicals to be isolated and studied. Robert Boyle (1627-91) is known widely as the father of chemistry. Boyle used a large glass sphere to create a vacuum chamber. He observed that when he placed a burning candle inside and removed the air, the candle went out. This undermined the ancient idea that the four elements, air, water, fire, and earth combined in various ways to make up every substance. Boyle proposed a different definition for an element which we still use today and thus invented modern chemistry—all thanks to that glass vacuum chamber.10, 11

The thermometer was invented by Robert Fludd in 1638. It consisted of a long glass tube with a bulb at one end filled with a liquid such as water, alcohol or mercury. This instrument was important to discoveries in the fields of chemistry, medicine, meteorology, and many other disciplines. Although most modern thermometers no longer use glass, their glass ancestors contributed much to our understanding of the natural world.

Better light sources improved night-time activities and extended the usable hours in a day. Metal and glass lanterns became common in the 18th century.12 Advances in fuel types helped improve their brightness and reliability in the 19th century. Coal gas lanterns helped to make cities night-time friendly. Glass panes protected the flame from wind. The Fresnel lens was patented in 1822 and made lighthouses much brighter which meant ships could navigate coastal waters more safely.13 The handheld lantern with its glass globe or lenses was critical to the railroad which began running at night in 1848. Fresnel lenses were common in railroad signal lanterns. The handheld lantern also lit many homes until the electric light fully replaced it in the mid-20th century. Handheld lanterns are still an important tool for recreational camping today. The electric light bulb was invented by Thomas Edison in 1879. In fact, Edison blew his own glass bulbs for his experimentation.

Glass bottles and jars revolutionized food, beverage, and medicine storage and transportation in the 19th century. Canning was invented by a French chef in 1806. However, their seals frequently failed. The canning jar was perfected by John Landis Mason in 1858. Several companies were producing canning jars by the late 1800's which significantly improved food storage commercially and at home. Bottle making technology experienced many improvements also. Glass bottles were in such high demand by the end of the century that the first fully automatic glass forming machine was invented to make bottles. Work began on this revolutionary machine in 1898 by Michael Owens. It was completed in 1903 and could make more bottles in one hour than an expert glassworker could make in a day. Before long many types of glass products were made by machine instead of people.14

Glass also revolutionized mass communication. In the early 1800's the telegraph drastically sped up communication time. But it required a professional operator and allowed only two people to talk at a time. Telephone, radio, and recorded sound technology became available towards the end of the 1800's. But these all suffered from a major problem, their signal strength was faint and decreased with distance. Telephone and radio signals were only able to transmit a short distance. That all changed in 1907 when Lee De Forest invented the audion, more correctly called a triode. This device contained sensitive electrical components that could only operate safely inside a vacuum sealed tube made of glass. The triode allowed an electrical signal to be amplified or relayed to great distances. Amplification meant a radio could be played over a loud speaker rather than just headphones. Telephone signals could be carried across the country. Thus mass communication was born. By the 1920's people no longer had to depend on professional telegraph operators, they could receive news directly in their own home on the radio.14a They could call their friends or families directly and hear their voices. They could play recordings over a loud speaker as well. It was no longer necessary to wait for a famous musician to come to town or even for the songs to come over the radio.

These vacuum tubes made numerous electronics possible from long distance telephone and radio, to sound recordings, radar, television, and eventually, digital computers. The television is perhaps the most important means of mass communication invented. Television was made possible by two glass vacuum tubes. One, the Braun tube later known as the cathode ray tube or CRT which allowed electrical signals to project an image on a screen. Two, the triode mentioned earlier made it possible to amplify a visual signal so it could be projected. The Braun tube (CRT) was invented in 1897 by Karl Ferdinand Braun.14e The first electronic television was demonstrated by Philo Taylor Farnsworth in 1927.14f This technology became ubiquitous as TV's found their way into every home.

The first vacuum tube computer was produced in 1939 by John Vincent Atanasoff and Clifford Berry. These large digital computers made rapid calculations possible and were central to the war effort during WWII.14b Glass vacuum tubes were replaced only 20 years later by smaller solid state transistors that required no fragile glass. In 1959 IBM began to mass produce the first commercially successful fully-transistorized computer, the IBM 1401. These small machines helped bring the computer to the masses. No longer were they room-sized devices that only militaries or universities could afford. While glass was phased out of one part of the computer, it was not fully eliminated. It simply transitioned into the monitor.

The 1401 and other computers of the era were controlled through punch-card systems. Paper cards with specially placed holes were fed into the computer to input data, the computer then ran it's functions and output data on other punch-cards. That began to change in the 1950's when the U.S. military contracted with Michigan Institute of Technology and others to install the SAGE computer system. This is considered the first computer to use glass cathode ray tube monitors to display and input data. It was the brainchild of professor Jay Forrester.14c The cathode ray tube or CRT became the staple of visual display screens in both computers and televisions until the early 21st century.14d Although the CRT is gone for good, monitors and screens still contain glass today. Most flat screens in computers, TV's, and mobile computer devices use either LCD (liquid crystal display) or OLED (organic light emitting diode) technology. Glass is central to the operation of both.

Many of the important developments in glass technology in the past 170 years have been made by the Corning Glassware company. One of their important developments was borosilicate glass which was patented as Nonex. It was one of the first heat-resistant glasses available and was adopted nationally for railroad signal lights in 1908 improving railroad safety. Further research of heat-resistant glass by Corning led to the development of Pyrex in 1915 which is still widely used in cookware and many other applications. In the early 1930’s Pyrex was used to make some of the first glass globes on Coleman lanterns. This strengthened their popularity as a reliable and sturdy light source for rural unelecteified homes and later for the campsites of generations of campers.14e Corning is responsible for inventing many modern glass technologies which are central to the Information Age including fiber optic cables which transmit computer signals at the speed of light, and Gorilla glass which is on the surface of most smartphones, tablets, handheld GPS devices, and other electronic gadgets.15 They are also pushing the development of LCD and OLED screen technology.16.

It could be argued that other substances and technologies are important to our modern age. It is hard to pin one as more important than the others because many modern technologies would not be possible without the wide array of materials we have. So one could argue that the glass age ended and the modern era (1800-present) be termed the Composite Age. 

But when looking at the roles glass plays in modern times, it seems to be the basis for some of the most important technologies we have. It is on the face of every touch-enabled smartphone and in every computer. Glass is also a key component of many computer chips. Glass wafers are used in many computing applications in science and research. Glass windows and optics enable our transportation. Glass is more important now than ever before. It is one of the single most important substance in our modern world. Without glass science is blind, rapid transportation transportation comes to a screeching hault and near-instantaneous communication and access to near-limitless knowledge ceases. Glass has had more impact on modern society than just about any other material. And that is why it is fair to say that we live in the Glass Age. 

Written by David F. Garner
Photo Credit: sabinevanerp via

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Does God Care About Obedience?

Does obedience matter to God? We will explore that more in a moment. There is a beautiful wildflower native to eastern North America that has the common name of obedience plant (Physostegia virginiana). It blooms in summer with showy, pink, bell-shaped flowers. It resembles foxglove. Each stalk can have ten to twenty flowers in a cone formation. It has a faint odor some describe as mint-like.

Why would a wildflower have a name like obedience? The essence of a wildflower is that it grows when and where it wants and is not subject to the gardener. The obedience plant has an bizarre trait. You can easily bend and manipulate the stem any way you want. When you let go, it stays in that shape. The stems have a malleable quality like wire.

With most plants, if you gently twist the stem, it will return to its original shape as soon as you let go. Not so with the obedience plant. The stem bends to your will and dutifully faces in the direction it is placed when released.

That is the model of obedience Christ left for us. Jesus followed the will of the Father all the way to the cross. God certainly cares about our obedience. He has left plain instructions in his Word on how we are to live and conduct ourselves in this life. God rarely speaks directly to his children to give additional instructions. It is not hard to know the will of God or what he expects of us. To know what God expects is as simple as opening the Bible.

The hard part is following it. The Bible tells us it is impossible for us to be perfectly obedient to the will of God, on our own. Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience following God’s instruction as faithfully as the obedience plant. He did that in our place because we cannot. The Bible promises to make us more like Christ every day we live. God expects us to become more obedient each day we follow him. If we ask God, he will give us the strength to follow his will even when it is hard.

by David F. Garner

Questions to discuss or ponder:

1: What can you do today to show God your desire to be obedient?

2: Does God expect that we will be able to live in perfect obedience here on earth?

3: What does God desire, outward obedience or our desire to submit to his will? Explain.

4. What part does grace play in our obedience to God?

Does obedience matter to God? We will explore that more in a moment. There is a beautiful wildflower native to eastern North America that has the common name of obedience plant (Physostegia virginiana). It blooms in summer with showy, pink, bell-shaped flowers. It resembles foxglove. Each stalk can have ten to twenty flowers in a cone formation. It has a faint odor some describe as mint-like.

Why would a wildflower have a name like obedience? The essence of a wildflower is that it grows when and where it wants and is not subject to the gardener. The obedience plant has an bizarre trait. You can easily bend and manipulate the stem any way you want. When you let go, it stays in that shape. The stems have a malleable quality like wire.

With most plants, if you gently twist the stem, it will return to its original shape as soon as you let go. Not so with the obedience plant. The stem bends to your will and dutifully faces in the direction it is placed when released.

That is the model of obedience Christ left for us. Jesus followed the will of the Father all the way to the cross. God certainly cares about our obedience. He has left plain instructions in his Word on how we are to live and conduct ourselves in this life. God rarely speaks directly to his children to give additional instructions. It is not hard to know the will of God or what he expects of us. To know what God expects is as simple as opening the Bible.

The hard part is following it. The Bible tells us it is impossible for us to be perfectly obedient to the will of God, on our own. Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience following God’s instruction as faithfully as the obedience plant. He did that in our place because we cannot. The Bible promises to make us more like Christ every day we live. God expects us to become more obedient each day we follow him. If we ask God, he will give us the strength to follow his will even when it is hard.

by David F. Garner

Questions to discuss or ponder:

1: What can you do today to show God your desire to be obedient?

2: Does God expect that we will be able to live in perfect obedience here on earth?

3: What does God desire, outward obedience or our desire to submit to his will? Explain.

4. What part does grace play in our obedience to God?

Hardyplants at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Cage of Light - A Poem


Before and during the 2003 Northeast blackout, a massive power outage that affected 55 million people. Photo by of Todd Carlson

Cage of Light

So bright, so bright, is the city night,

Neon signs blare,

Traffic whine fills the air,

Street lamps, billboards, light light light,

So bright, this sight, never ending blight,


And dreaded Fluorescent,

Spot lights, flood lights, white, white, white,

Millions, billions, of stars in the sky

Moon shines dull,

Maybe not at all,

None here know what orbs glide by,

Millions, billions, of people walk by,

So thankless,

And oh so anxious,

None notice something’s awry,

Caged, disengaged, the night light keeps ahold,

Imprisoned in the trap

Drawn like bugs zap zap,

Who remembers the dark sky enscrolled,

Stars, mars, all cosmic luminaries old,

Their beauty only legend, 

No more eyes beckoned,

Cities constrained by hedonism’s hold,

Shake, break, shatter that house of death

Run, from light into his marvelous darkness

Look, the galaxies manifest their sharpness

Constellations forgotten steal the breath,

Awake, forsake, city light as shibboleth,

Give every town a dark sky stamp,

Exchange street lamp for head lamp,

Let darkness spread the width and breadth.

By David F. Garner

Friday, June 24, 2022

Electric Camping Stove, Is That Possible?

Have you ever wondered why there are no electric camp stoves on the market? Ok, maybe I’m alone here. But hear me out. Electric stoves are the norm in houses. How come there are no options sold for camping or backpacking? It seems to make sense on the surface. With the rising frequency of forest fires and approximately 85% of them being cause by humans, shouldn’t flame stoves be banned wherever campfires are banned? Also, wouldn’t they be cheaper to run? Electric cars are much cheaper than fossil fuel cars and camp fuel is often more expensive than gasoline. At least it is if bought in small quantities like Coleman 16 oz. propane bottles.

I decided to try an experiment. I did a search for electric camp stove and found absolutely nothing. This tells me two things. One, yep, I’m definitely the weirdo here. Two, maybe there is something preventing this coming to market. In my search I found a USB mug warmer. This seemed like a good solution to improvise a backpacking electric stove!

USB (A) Mug Warmer

My theory was that I could run the warmer off my Aukey PB-Y7 battery pack which holds 30000 mAh. I initially tried it with a standard ceramic coffee mug. I tried to heat up one cup starting at room temperature or about 70 degrees. I let it warm for 45 minutes and there was no perceptible temperature change with a finger dip test. This was my baseline test that I didn’t expect to work. You see, because they run on such low power, you need the maximum surface area of a cup possible to touch the warmer. So, a completely flat bottom cup is recommended by the instructions. A metal one will also be best as it will conduct the most heat.

On my next test I left the metal cup warming for about 1.5 hours and it only heated to 89 degrees. Why were the results so dismal if this thing is supposed to be a mug warmer? Well, it helps if you know a bit more about electronics. The surface of my mug warmer only heated to about 97 degrees. So, It will never be able to boil any amount of water, which makes it useless as a camp stove replacement.

In case you don’t know, these warmers are poorly named. They are not intended to warm your drink from room temp or at all. Rather, they are intended only to slow a hot liquid’s cooling. Most of the ones on the market plug into a standard wall outlet and so can run at up to 1800 watts, theoretically. Although I don’t think most of these mug warmers draw that much. So, you can begin to see the issue of heating water off USB(A) which only delivers 10 watts.

What if one could run off USB C? This newer generation of USB can deliver up to 100 watts of power. While this is an incredible improvement for charging a phone, how would it do at heating water? The formula for energy required to heat water looks like this.

KWH = (4.2 × L × T ) ÷ 3600.

I'll skip the math details and say that 100 watts is a big improvement over 10. USB C could theoretically heat 1 cup of water from 70 degrees F to 100 degrees F in about 3 minutes. But again, what campers want is to boil water. To boil 1 cup with 100 watts would require about 15 minutes. That still seems reasonable. I know backpackers who don’t need to boil more than 1-2 cups per meal. Obviously, most do need more. To boil 1 liter (~1 quart) would require about 1 hour.

And now you see why there are no electric backpacking stoves. One more possible solution that crossed my mind is that an electric stove could use two USB C wires. My Aukey battery bank can charge multiple devices at the same time. Therefore, it could easily provide two cords. This would mean we could heat 1 liter in about 30 minutes, theoretically. That is still unreasonable to most as even the slowest fuel stoves (think alcohol) can heat a liter in 10 minutes under ideal conditions. On top of that, my Aukey battery bank only holds 111 Wh of energy meaning it could only heat two liters max before it would be dead. At 1.3 pounds that is extremely non weight-friendly.

So, will we ever see electric camping stoves? Well, I think we have the technology available now to go all electric while car camping. You can buy portable single-eye coil stoves and single-eye induction stoves (see photos below) that work off 120-volt standard outlet. If you pair that with a Goal Zero or other camp battery bank capable of delivering 120 volts, than voila, an all-electric stove set up.

Single-eye coil stove

Single-eye induction stove

Again, these electric stoves can deliver up to 1800 watts of heating power! So, will we ever see an electric backpacking stove? I think so. With the rise of electric cars, battery technology is progressing rapidly. There are many companies now researching very promising technologies that will be capable of storing 100-500 times that of lithium-ion in the same size package. Perhaps USB E or F will be capable of delivering 1000 watts. With that much power in a heater the size of my mug warmer, you could boil 1 liter of water in 6 minutes. That would rival many of the gas stoves on the market today.

My guess is we won’t see this kind battery tech in handheld gadgets or battery banks for 10+ years. Even when these new batteries come to market, they will be very expensive. But I predict we will see the rise of electric backpacking stoves in the next couple decades. If forest fire rates continue increasing, bans on all flame stoves may force the industry to introduce such technology.  


Saturday, June 18, 2022

Why Every Church Needs A Garden

“Do you have any fresh produce?” asked the homeless young woman.

Hellen, the leader of our church’s food bank program replied, “Sorry, we are all out. We don’t get that kind of stuff in stock very often.”

“How about canned fruit?” the young woman inquired.

“No.” said Hellen, “That is usually the first thing we are out of.”

The young woman left looking a bit disappointed. I asked Hellen why we didn’t provide more fresh food at our community food bank. She told me people don’t often donate that kind of food because it is more expensive than canned or dried goods. She also explained that canned fruits and vegetables are immensely popular, so they are often the first items to run out.

The CDC has found that roughly 90 percent of Americans do not eat the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables for a healthy diet. That is shocking considering we live in the wealthiest country in the world! Of course, for many people that is due to unhealthy choices. But for the poor, it is more often a result of unaffordable prices and accessibility. The simple fact is that prepackaged junk food often offers the highest number of calories for the least cost. And when you are pinching pennies, calories are often the number one factor. A bag of 8 apples may cost $5 whereas a dozen donuts may cost only $3. While that seems close, one apple offers a mere 55 calories while one donut can be 300-450 calories. One donut can offer the same calories as that whole bag of apples.

Another big issue is accessibility. For those who do not own a car, getting to a grocery store or produce shop can be extremely difficult. Major grocery stores and super centers like Walmart are the norm now. These large stores are often centralized to serve several communities. It’s not a big deal to drive 5 or 10 miles if you have a car. More than 50 years ago, grocery stores tended to be smaller and within walking distance of the community they served. Large box stores have put these small stores out of business. For those without a car or driver’s license, getting groceries is a significant challenge.

Population areas where a high concentration of residents without cars live more than one mile from grocery retailers have been designated food deserts. A food desert is an area where access to healthy food is extra difficult. Fast food restaurants and convenience stores may be present. But these do not offer healthy food choices at a reasonable price. The USDA found that about 19 million Americans or 6.2 percent of the population lived in such locations in 2015.[1]The COVID-19 pandemic has only made things worse as many small grocery businesses did not survive mandated closures.

Food banks and other nonprofit community food programs help to fill this gap. But as I discovered, providing fresh or canned fruits and vegetables is challenging for them. What can be done about this? Food deserts have been a recognized problem for a few decades. One of the best solutions that has arisen are community gardens. Churches and nonprofits have helped communities hard hit by loss of local food stores to take initiative and supply their own fresh foods by growing them independently. Abandoned lots, spare space in church yards and community centers have become the grounds for a local farming revolution. People who have never grown a plant in their life are being taught to grow their own food. This movement is taking place in large and small towns across the country.

A community garden is one where the land and farming supplies are provided by a nonprofit and community members tend a small plot of the garden with voluntary labor. They get to keep a portion of the produce from their plot. Usually, their plot produces much more than they need so the extra is given to other community members. This is not a new concept. It is one that Churches promoted heavily in the 1890s and early 19th century when similar food deserts plagued sprawling urban centers in the United States.[2] They were very popular during the Great Depression.

A community garden is a ministry every church should operate. The benefits of gardening and agriculture have been understood by many church leaders. Community gardens have been growing in popularity again at churches in North America and globally over the past 15 years. Even if your church is not located in a food desert, there are poor in your community that could benefit. My own church operates a food bank and even though we are not in a food desert, there are homeless and poor people who depend on it. So, what benefits would a church community garden ministry provide?

A Big Outreach Opportunity for Little Cost

All that is needed to begin a community garden are a few dozen square feet of land. Many beginner community gardens are only 10 feet by 10 feet. A large size is 20 feet by 30 feet. Nearly every church has that amount of land sitting idle. In fact, most church yards are costing money to mow and maintain grass that the vast majority of the time sits unused. Why not make better use of that land for the gospel!

A small community garden can be started for as little as $1,500. If some hand tools and supplies can be donated by church members or acquired used this can keep startup costs low. If you seek to keep costs low, pray for God’s blessing to help your endeavor become a success.

Additionally, brothers and sisters with a talent for growing things are sitting idle in many congregations. Let their talents work for the gospel cause. Speaking, teaching and music are often viewed as necessary skills for the Lord’s work. Not so! If you have a talent for gardening, go to your church leaders and ask them to support you in starting a garden-based mission. If you are a pastor or church leader, call for those with gardening talents to lead this ministry. All the labor can be provided on a voluntary basis.

Prepare Children and Adults for the Soon Return of Jesus

In this time of fast food and ready-to-eat snacks, the skill of gardening has mostly been lost. A church garden offers the perfect teaching space for training church members in gardening techniques so they can take the skills and use them at home. It will provide seeds from which they can begin their own garden at home. The tools could even be loaned temporarily to help families till the ground for their home garden.

The Great Recession of 2008 and the COVID-19 pandemic have demonstrated that even in the 21st century we cannot depend on modern society to reliably provide all our eating needs. Local gardens are still a vital resource for God’s people in these last days.
Gardening offers so many valuable spiritual lessons. That’s why Jesus taught using metaphors from the garden so often. What better place to learn about the Creator than from His creation? The garden holds lessons for both adults and children. They are waiting to be uncovered.

Improve Your Church’s Outreach Efforts

One of our primary outreach tools is health education. One missionary gardener called gardening an “entering wedge” that should be paired with the broader health message. It will invite interest and open doors for people to not only hear more about health but also to hear the gospel message![5]

How many opportunities a church garden would provide for outreach. When you speak to members of your community are they familiar with the location of your church? If you had a community garden out front it would be a fantastic public relations opportunity. It would enable your church to meet a physical need for community members. This will lead to opportunities to share the love of Jesus with them. Not only could produce be provided for those in need, but garden classes could be offered to all community members.

Also, excess produce from your garden could provide a means of relationship evangelism. What neighbor would say “no” to garden fresh tomatoes or cucumbers? Any produce that is not used to serve the needy could be placed in attractive baskets and given to church members to take to their unchurched neighbor and co-workers. This creates an opportunity for dialogue with hardly any effort and can be the basis of forming a deeper relationship that may lead to sharing the gospel.

Build a Stronger Church Congregation and Promote Inter-generational Relationships

A church garden project is beneficial for building a stronger local church congregation. Church congregations are often fragmented by generation. Many churches have separate departments for children, youth, young adult and seniors. Church activities like vacation bible school, senior groups, singles groups, and couples groups all encourage church members to associate with their own peers primarily. People are naturally more comfortable with similar-aged peers. Churches must promote inter-generational interaction. The wisdom of older church members needs to be passed to young adults and especially the youth. Division and disconnect between generations have led some congregations to split. Churches should regularly provide activities that foster inter-generational relationships.

A community garden is the perfect activity. Younger generations often lack gardening skills. The older generations can share their knowledge in this area. Grandmas and grandpas in the church can become mentors to all the children and youth as they instruct them. The youth and young adults can carry out the heavy labor while the seniors plan and coordinate. Gardening is naturally inter-generational.

Additionally, a church garden provides for endless spiritual edification to all church members who participate. The spiritual benefits are one of the biggest advantage in gardening. In 1897, J. H. Kellogg wrote in The Indicator, “The spare hours spent in the cultivation of such a crop [for mission work] may be as truly hours of communion with God as a church service or a prayer meeting.”5

All these benefits are awaiting anyone who will work in concert with the Creator to grow food as He intended. That is why there is a revived movement within church to grow garden ministry.

To get your church garden ministry started, I recommend referring to this free 24-page e-book by the Christian conservation organization International A Rocha, "Why Every Church Should Plant a Garden and How." It contains everything you need to know on how to organize and start a church-based garden.

Notes and References:

[1] Alana Rhone, Michele Ver Ploeg, Chris Dicken, Ryan Williams, and Vince Breneman, “Low-Income and Low-Supermarket-Access Census Tracts, 2010-2015,” United States Department of Agriculture (January 2017): 12, PDF

[2] David F. Garner, “On the Back Burner: Adventists and Environmentalism,” Spectrum (November 3, 2021),

[5] J. H. Kellogg, “Missionary Acre Farming and Gardening,” The Indicator 7, no. 14 (April 7, 1897)

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Happiness Now

Hear this lesson on my new podcast: Gleams of the Morning

“The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Job‬ ‭33:4‬ ‭(WEB‬‬) 

Humans seemingly have a pretty long life span in the animal kingdom. But when you start to look at the longest lived animals, you start to realize we don’t live so long after all. Some turtles live for over two hundred years. The bowhead whale does also. The Greenland shark holds the current record for longest lived vertebrate at 400 years.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Pruning Your Life

Listen to this lesson on my new weekend devotional podcast Gleams of the Morning

“Every branch in me that doesn’t bear fruit, he takes away. Every branch that bears fruit, he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
‭‭John‬ ‭15:2‬ ‭(WEB‬‬)

Pruning has long been a practice used to shape and direct the growth of plants. Some people mistakenly believe pruning is necessary. It’s not. Plants will grow well enough without regular pruning by humans. Pruning is beneficial when you desire specific results for example, with fruit bearing plants. Pruning fruit trees and berry plants will regulate growth, increase yields, improve fruit size and quality, and maintain plant health and vigor.

This has a direct lesson for our spiritual lives.

Friday, April 22, 2022

New Devotional Book

Check it out! I have published a new devotional book written just for campers! It contains 34 unique and lively object lessons that are great for your own personal devotion time or as material for your next group worship thought! It is small and light weight enough to take camping or backpacking. It contains instructions on how to display each object in a worship talk to make them more engaging and memorable. You can get it in paperback or eBook. Check it out now!

Get it from Amazon