Signal > Noise

During my stay at Madison Media Institute I had a number of classes that covered the physics aspects of studio recording. One of them, my Principles of Sound class, introduced the concept of the signal-to-noise ratio and gave us the theoretical underpinnings we needed to begin working with it. The signal-to-noise ratio compares the level of signal (what you want to transmit) to the level of noise in your output. A strong signal can overcome small amounts of noise, but high levels of noise will disastrously interfere with fainter amounts of signal. For your transmission to be received with clarity you need to emit as strong a signal as possible while minimizing your output’s background noise. You’re always going to emit at least some amount of noise, but how do you evaluate if your transmission is getting through? No universal standard exists that determines how much noise is too much. An objective way to determine this is to average the strength of both your signal and the background noise; this gives you a quantitive measurement of how close to clarity you are. A ratio higher than 1:1 indicates there is more signal than noise and the intended transmission is reaching its audience intelligibly.

The signal-to-noise dilemma isn’t limited only to the realm of studio recording or live sound, though; after all, signal reception lies at the heart of communication. The communicator who wants to be understood is always seeking to relay meaningful information with a minimum of unwanted, background interference distorting or drowning out his or her message. Battle hardened writers and speakers evaluate their presentations to determine what elements of their style and method could potentially become impediments to the communication process and obscure what they intend to say.

I’m not all that battle hardened, but maybe I’m starting to get a clue. I’ve been reflecting a lot over the past couple of weeks on my purposes for this blog and gauging how they do or don’t pertain to the aims of my writing and the overall course of my life and, more importantly, how they ought to. With this in mind, I’ve determined to boost my signal and dampen the noise by jettisoning “randomandreformed” from the URL.

[Millions cry out in horror and misery at this bombshell]

There will probably never be a time that I’m not a random dude and rest assured, I’m still pitching my tent in the Reformed camp- none of that’s changing. What is changing somewhat is emphasis and register. Emphasis insofar as I want to be pursuing theologically grounded explorations of life and the world and all of its cool stuff much, much more than heavy investigations of arcane theological minutiae. Register insofar as I’m still studying the mystery of significance, how it is communicated through scores of media, and how it reveals God, but I want to remodulate it and transpose it to another key, one that’s a little easier for dudes like me to sing. I want so much to help furnish believers with the critical apparatus to evaluate and appreciate the extraordinary and to connect faith to the everyday.

With all of that in mind, I’m uncomfortable with “Reformed” being one of the first things a reader sees upon visiting. When that word is part of the product description it conveys something I have zero desire for it to do here. I don’t want the “Reformed” in the URL to ever feel like the equivalent of a “You must be this tall to ride” sign at the fair. Reformed theological convictions are not prerequisite for us getting along. Yes, I have some disagreements with Arminians, but shoot- I have an axe to grind with tons of Calvinists! Let’s be frank: some of the most un-with it theologians I can think of swim in this pool.* Furthermore, what brand of Reformed does everyone perceive me to be rubber stamping when I cavalierly festoon my blog with the term? Baptist quasi-Reformed? Barthian neo-Reformed? Original gangsta Westminster Standards-only Reformed? Piper-esque Romantic-Reformed?** Which clique am I telling people I’m allied with, what strands of believer am I alienating when I put “Reformed” in the arch over the gateway? I’ll never abandon the term as a way to help triangulate my theological persuasions to others, but as it relates to what I want to do here, it is singularly unhelpful.***

For all of these reasons, I’ll be changing the address of this blog. After an agonizing season of searching for phrases to capture this ethos I’m pursuing, the old, Lewis-ian idea of things within the world opening windows into heavenlies took hold of my mind and instantaneously felt totally right. This in itself (the rock solid conviction that this is it! arriving hot on the heels of the idea) always gets me mega amped exponentially more than I even was to begin with because it feels so blasted validating! I am enormously excited to announce then that the new URL for this periodical will be As much as I love the “Tangents” moniker, I think it makes for a weird dissonance (like seeing a pretty girl and discovering she a has a terrifying, Barry White-chewing-on-shards-of-broken-glass bassy voice and chews tobacco) between title and address if I stick with it. Never fear- things will be always be spectacularly tangential around here, but I’ll be changing the title to reflect the URL as well.

Jumping ship? Hardly. No, this is development and refinement of what has always been going on here at some amplitude or frequency. There is definite continuity within this discontinuity, a reconfiguration in order to do a lot of the same things better and burn away the dross. Clarity is dissolving into everything, it seems. The fog bank is dissipating at a few crucial points, and a brand new vista is suddenly exposed; banners and parapets appear on the horizon, a city I’ve never seen on any map but always knew was out there somewhere. My course is set. I’m only ever a smoldering wick granted glimpses elsewhere and I’m explosive with anticipation.


*To be fair, though, some of the most absolutely with it theologians I can think of frequent this pool too: Karl Barth, John Stott, J.I. Packer, T.F. Torrance, D.A. Carson, John Piper, and Kevin Vanhoozer are all righteous dudes who have made crucial contributions to the church.

**Okay, you’re on to me: obviously I’m much more in tune with this strand, though Karl B’s got a soft spot in my heart too.

***Irony note: Reading this paragraph to myself I know Ian circa-2011 would be calling for the author of this liberal, ecumenical tripe to be burnt at the stake.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s