Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve 2014

May the upcoming year bring you good health, hearty laughter, great friends, boundless adventure, deep satisfaction, warm hugs, pleasurable romance, noted belonging, assured stability, and unending joy. Blessings to all of my online friends.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Resolutions 2014

One of my least favorite posts to write each year involves my list of New Year's resolutions. This is not so much because I am afraid to face my failures or to see where I fell short, but rather because I am uneasy about baring myself too much. However, I make the choice to "get naked" before you because somehow I hope that this might be helpful to someone out there in some way. Perhaps a reader might understand that they are no more a failure for not measuring up to their own goals than anyone else. Maybe it might help someone not to feel so odd or so worthless. I truly believe that we should not let ourselves be marked by our failures, but by our attitudes and our goals. So, I present my list of New Year's resolutions for 2014 and a few words on how I fared with each.
  • To meet the woman of my dreams - I tried my hardest to meet someone this year, and though I went out on a few dates, I did not meet anyone that I resonated with. Lonely just won't leave me alone.
  • To exercise the whole year - I did very well on my exercise this year from start to finish. I even began a diet in September that has resulted in a 7% reduction in my weight that was icing on the cake, so to speak.
  • To make several new friends - This area was a total failure and I made absolutely zero forward progress. It turns out that it's not them, it's me.
  • To grow closer to my daughter - This area was also a source of frustration to me. I feel so much better equipped to be a daddy to a young child instead of a father to a young adult. As my daughter continues her move toward full independence, I have continued to struggle to find a way to adjust.
  • To embrace adventure and living to a higher degree - I thought I made some progress in this area last year, but if I did, I made several huge steps back this year. More and more I find myself just accepting my same-old, same-old life and morphing into a bad caricature of a "cat lady".
  • To find some degree of happiness and peace - I have struggled throughout this year to find some measure of happiness and peace, but have not found anything that sustains me for any length of time. How I long to find my smile.
So, it seems that I have failed in nearly all of my resolutions, save one. But I will not let my poor showing bury me yet. My first step is to now prepare my list of resolutions for 2015 and to find ways, no matter how small they may seem, to make progress.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Blog Recap 2014

At the end of each year, I take a moment to look back over what I have included on my blog. As I scroll through the list, I come upon posts that still resonate with me. Memories are stirred regarding the seeds that gave me certain ideas. Some posts are memorable for the ease with which they burst forth from my cluttered mind, others for the toil they involved. For some, I still grumble and murmur because what I wrote didn't satisfactorily capture what I had initially intended. However, as a body of work, I am quite pleased with the breadth and depth of my posts.

One of the ways that I look back over my site, is to make a list of my top 10 blogs for the year. This list is not compiled using some detailed scientific approach with predefined metrics of what elevates one post above another. I just note which blogs I appreciated the most this year. So, without further ado, here is my top 10 list of my own blogs (in no particular order) for 2014.
  • Men in Black (Nov. 10) - The practiced hijinks of the hangers-on.
  • The Way I Need (Oct. 22) - Loving someone they way they need to be loved.
  • Wave Goodbye (Oct. 1) - A post about the pain and necessity in letting go.
  • Eau de Toilet (Aug. 27) - A quiz for women to understand how close they are to what their men need.
  • Giving Generously (Jul. 7-9) - A consideration of what it means to give.
  • Big Words Hurt (May 19) - Helpful hints about 20¢ word choices.
  • Honeysuckle (May 14) - Reminiscing about how fast time flies on our journeys.
  • Foundation (May 7) - How every moment from our past builds the foundations of our present relationships.
  • Funny is ... (Mar. 26) - Inanity about how certain words boost your funny IQ.
  • Sculpture (Jan. 15) - A consideration of how our taste in the opposite sex is developed.
I hope that you found something here that made you think, that made you smile, or that somehow created a spark for your day. I appreciate your presence and the time that you have taken to stop by. See you in the 2015 recap.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Best Books of 2014

This year I have read 90 books and definitely found some good ones along the way. This was a year dominated by Orson Scott Card (31 books), with Rick Riordan (8 books) a distant second. Following my well-established year-end tradition, I share my list of the top 10 "books" for this year in no particular order. Note that I use "books" because I typically count a series by an author as one entry.
  • Mistborn series (Mistborn, The Well of Ascension, The Hero of Ages, The Allow of Law), Brandon Sanderson
  • Tres Navarre series (Big Red Tequila, The Widower's Two-Step, The Last King of Texas, The Devil Went Down to Austin, South Town, Mission Road, Rebel Island), Rick Riordan
  • Life Expectancy, Dean Koontz
  • Enchantment, Orson Scott Card
  • Divergent trilogy (Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant), Veronica Roth
  • Sam Capra series (Adrenaline, The Last Minute, Downfall, Inside Man), Jeff Abbott
  • Formic War series (Earth Unaware, Earth Afire, Earth Awakens), Orson Scott Card
  • The Summons, John Grisham
  • Abraham, Charles Swindoll
  • Tales of Dunk and Egg series (The Mystery Knight, The Hedge Knight, The Sworn Sword), George R.R. Martin
I have already started to pick out some books for the first part of 2015. If you have any suggestions, send them along and I will check them out. I keep my list of reads current on my Shelfari page.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas 2014

Merry Christmas to all of my online friends and thank you for being a part of my site. I hope you feel the blessings of God upon you this day and you make time to thank God for the blessings of his son. May you find it within yourself to let joy claim your heart today no matter what you may face.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve 2014


The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in the hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there ...

From one end of our world to another, children have reached the peak of expectation and hope. What will Santa Claus bring me this year? The excitement is palpable and the troubles of this world can be set aside for just a little while. Hope your Christmas Eve is a magical time no matter where life finds you.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight, "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Weight Loss Secrets

If you go to the self-help section of your local bookstore or library, you will find literally dozens of books on the secrets to effective weight loss. If you type in "weight loss" at Amazon, they list more than 3000 publications! Judging by the titles of these books, it is apparent that your unwanted flab and fat will instantaneously melt off your body if you eat only grapefruit or kiwi or Scandanavian tubers. Apparently different authors come to different conclusions. But anyone who has tried to lose weight through dietary changes or exercise knows that both of these approaches are crocks. All they do is cost you time and money, and often leave your girth even more impressive than when you started. Folks, I am here to tell you the straight poop on how to effectively lose weight. I am not talking about a few worthless pounds, I am talking about how to go from morbidly obese to crack skinny in just days. I have personally experienced these four weight loss approaches and can assure you with 100% certainty that they are as good as gold.
  • 1. Severe depression - A bout with severe depression, will suck away your appetite almost as much as your will to live. Pretty soon that death in the family or that pesky divorce will be worth it when you see the new you in the mirror.
  • 2. Uber laxatives - If you have had major surgery recently, one of the pre-op fun-time activities is the requirement to ingest large quantities of mind-numbingly powerful laxatives. These special concoctions force you to purge nearly every last cell in your body. You will go from fat to fabulous long before you notice that you have run out of toilet paper.
  • 3. Tropical centipedes - Getting up to half a dozen bites from a tropical beastie will have you purging over the toilet bowl for days on end. As opposed to laxatives, this purging comes out the other end. Oh the colors are absolutely dazzling and that burning sensation you feel in your throat means that the process is working.
  • 4. Tumor removal - For those that are super lucky to have their weight issues fully contained with a body tumor, one quick trip to surgery will have you looking like a runway model in less than a day. If you survive being carved up like a Christmas goose, you can definitely look forward to the upcoming summer swimsuit season.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Observations 75

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes". In this state we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • A car at work had a sticker on its gas tank cover that stated, "Fueled by Hate". I wonder if this gives the owner a better MPG than regular gasoline.
  • One of the biggest domestic mistakes possible is to just about finish putting away the dishes in the dishwasher only to find out that they were never put through the wash cycle.
  • The nickname of the Presbyterian College women's basketball team is the "Blue Hose". I likely would have explored other options. If you don't get the problem here, keep saying the nickname until it comes to you.
  • Don't you hate it when you use a tool in a non-conventional manner and end up getting hurt? It is amazing how little sympathy you get afterwards.
  • I read the following label on a juice bottle that a colleague of mine was drinking, "Vitamin-rich green juice with a sweet and sticky zest". That somehow doesn't entice me.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Cold Springs

After having thoroughly enjoyed reading the seven books in Rick Riordan's Tres Navarre series, I decided to dive into something else that he had penned. A quick scan of the limited available catalog at my local library, made my choice easy. Cold Springs is a sobering story whose strength is in its emotional pull and its tale of hurt people hurting people. The story's narrative begins with two couples, Norma and Chadwick, and Ann and John. Ann is the headmistress at a local private school and her husband John is an up-and-coming real estate developer. Chadwick is a teacher of history at Ann's school where Norma serves as a fundraiser and planner. These four folks have a very long history together and the fire in both marriages has long since died out. Katherine is the child of Norma and Chadwick, 16 years old and a student at her father's school. A child who was once the apple of her parent's eyes, but who slowly let rebellion steal her soul. Mallory is the 6 year old daughter of Ann and John whose greatest joy in the world is getting to spend time with her "big sister" Katherine. The comfortable foundations of everyone's life finally crumble away when Katherine dies of a heroine overdose while babysitting young Mallory.

The unmerciful sword of reality that ravaged these families ended both marriages. Some few years later we find that Mallory, in her desperation to quell the pain and betrayal that she felt, had followed a path eerily similar to that of Katherine. In the following years, Chadwick had lived a joyless life, blaming himself for his daughter's death. He tried to make some kind of amends by working at a boot camp for troubled teens. Finally, when Ann could no longer stand to see Mallory destroy herself, she called Chadwick to enroll her daughter in his camp. Slowly, with tentative and painful steps, we see Mallory slowly edge back from the cliff's edge on which she had been living. Beneath all of this we learn more about what fueled Chadwick, why he felt such deep responsibility for Mallory, and how Mallory's life held such important elements to get him past his own Katherine's death.

After getting to appreciate Riordan's style in his Tres Navarre series, this outing went in a very different direction and had a very different style. In fact, if I had not known who the author was, I would not have been able to make a guess. This was not what I would term a light-hearted story. It's dark elements weighed on me because my own daughter is the same age as Katherine. As with most children, they have two aspects to their lives. One is the face that they show to you, and the other is how they are when they are on their own. Often those are quite different and we must find a way to teach and guide without a heavy hand, but in a manner such that we are heard. It also made me consider the lengths that I would go to toward protecting my own daughter.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Just When

Folks who are regular visitors to this site will know of my long history with cancer. Cancer is one of those diseases that changes your perspective on life permanently. For many folks who receive such a diagnosis, they suddenly come to realize with absolute clarity that they are finite. I was diagnosed when I was in my early 30s. Every shred of my deep sense that I was invincible was stripped away. Finite, mortal, aging. When your body has let you down, from that point onward it messes with your head. Every new pain, new pressure, new irregularity in your body can no longer be dismissed as nothing. Some find themselves running to the doctor with every new sniffle or beaten down under a cloud of malaise.

My cancer has brought me back under the surgeon's knife more than half a dozen times over the past 15 or so years. Just when I get a little bit comfortable, maybe even a little bit confident, my oncologist will give me the look that precludes the need for words. Somehow in that briefest of pauses in his banter, I know that I will be back on the operating table in short order, potentially with months of painful chemotherapy to follow. Those sessions can sometimes make you question whether you should embrace further treatment or flee to the peace of death.

Earlier this year, for the first time since my initial cancer diagnosis, my oncologist told me that I was doing so well, that he did not need to see me for two years. The other day I could not help but chuckle when my computer's calender program alerted me to make my yearly appointment for my cancer check-up. Man it would have been great to have been able to click on the "dismiss" button knowing that I had managed to get a year off from that whole cycle of worry and consequence. However, that won't be the case. Several weeks ago a tumor was diagnosed in my abdomen and I am scheduled for surgery just before Christmas. Dang, why can I just be left alone, even for a little while?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Good Stuff

My former pastor used to deliver a quip whenever he urged us to support various food drives for the needy and the local food bank. His line was, "Remember, they are homeless not tasteless." This was a call not to just empty out our expired or unwanted back-of-the-pantry stuff that we would otherwise throw away. This was a call to donate food stuffs that we would buy for our own families, the name brands, the good stuff. What he used as a joke, really contained quite a bit of meaning that should be a constant reminder whenever we make donations. Food banks, Goodwill, and donation boxes are not meant to be repositories for us to dispose of our unwanted cast-offs.

This notion has become a part of me whenever I consider giving to the needy and less fortunate. For many years now I have made it part of my Christmas tradition to purchase gifts for a boy and a girl for donation to our Toys for Tots drive at work. Whenever those boxes are put out around my workplace, I schedule a trip with my daughter to the local toy store to get a few goodies. Actually if I did not have a child of my own, I am quite certain that the notion of donating Christmas presents for children who might not otherwise receive anything, would not have raised any personal sympathy within me.

The other day I was coming out of a meeting room at work and I passed by one of our Toys for Tots donation boxes and a quick peek inside made me smile. A telescope, a big stuffed horse, motorized trucks, dolls, die cast race cars, and a bunch of other cool things caught my eye. That is the good stuff that will bring smiles and lasting joy to kids. I knew that I had to go back to my office to grab my camera and get a photograph.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

In the News 6

While I have not touched an actual newspaper in some time, I do skim through the online news headlines each day. There is always something that catches my attention, whether it
involves human conflict, a human interest piece, the sports wrap, or just the usual absurdities. In this series, I carve out a space for my opinions, reminiscences, or comments.

Brittany Maynard - A story that kicks up so many questions of why. A beautiful, charming, passionate, and lovely lady falls in love with the man of her dreams and begins to plan out her future path. Within a year after her marriage she begins having severe headaches that were diagnosed as advanced brain cancer. Though the doctors mapped out a treatment course for her, they agreed that she had months to live. Choosing instead to live our her remaining few months in dignity with full freedom, Brittany made the decision to take her own life using the freedoms granted by the state of Oregon. After her initial diagnosis, she made her bucket list and checked each and every item off this list. After celebrating one last special day, her husband's birthday, Brittany took the pills that ended her life while she still had her full faculties and was in full control. Brittany died at the age of 29 on November 1, 2014.

Tom Magliozzi - Back when I met the woman who was to become my wife, we used to enjoy listening to the NPR radio program Car Talk on Saturday mornings. This show featured Tom and his brother Ray fielding calls on all sorts of car-related questions, but it was the banter, the tangents, and the silliness that were so endearing. Their show has a special place in my heart because of its connection with that period of my courtship. The brothers definitely had a special chemistry that was a wonderful thing to be a part of on the other end of the radio. Tom died from complications of alzheimer's disease on November 3, 2014.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The System

I work in a laboratory staffed by scientists from all over the world. Many of them who are not U.S. citizens are allowed there only because they have applied for and received visas. These agreements allow their holders to enter into our country and stay for extended periods of time. It is critical that folks know exactly when their visas are set to expire so that they can either reapply for new visas to extend their stays or return to their home countries. Every now and then folks run into problems extending their visas even if they are employees of the laboratory. In such cases, they must immediately leave the country until their paperwork is in order. As there is a significant level of bureaucracy involved, sometimes they must leave the country for several months until they are legally able to return. This can be a real hardship, especially as many no longer have places to stay in their "home" countries.

A colleague of mine recently ran into visa problems. He was alerted to this when he recieved a very serious letter from the U.S. government that his visa had been expired for more than 5 months and he had 2 weeks to either leave the country or he would be arrested. The problem is that my colleague had no notion that his visa had expired. In fact, his official paperwork clearly stated that his visa was not set to expire for another six months. When he finally got to the bottom of his situation, he found out that the end date of his visa had changed when he renewed his passport earlier in the year. It appeared that this change occurred due to some computer glitch that should not have occurred, and nothing in the system alerted him to the change until he was on the verge of arrest.

The disruption to this man's life is severe and he was forced to immediately leave the U.S. until he could be granted a new visa. However, the U.S. government has already indicated to him that his visa application may not be so quickly approved as his record indicates that he was a violator of U.S. law with his previous visa. While my colleague is mostly likely good and screwed, the good news in all of this is that our bureaucratic system with its full complement of red tape is fully functional.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Fatal Tree

The fifth and final entry in Stephen Lawhead's Bright Empire series is entitled The Fatal Tree and picks up shortly after the end of The Shadow Lamp. The story involves a small group of people who have learned the secrets of moving between different chords of the multiverse using paths known as ley lines that have slowly and methodically been mapped out. The first person to begin to make sense of these paths was one Arthur Flinders-Petrie. However, in a moment of panic after his wife death, he bathed her in the mysterious Spirit Well. This single act threw the universe into disharmony as one whose life force was marked to end, was returned to the living, an event that resulted in a phase change directed to bring the universe to its end. However, Arthur was a good man who made it his life's chief aim to protect the ley paths and to understand them. Eventually his work was taken up by the Zetetic Society, a group of travelers who took on this same goal. Among them include Kit, Mina, Gianni, and Cass, who slowly but surely came to understand what Arthur's act had brought about and labored to come up with the framework of a plan to forestall the approach to the singularity.

Of course, while there are people who are selfless, kind, respectful, and noble, there are those who are wholly orthogonal. In this series, one Earl Archaleous Burleigh, will let no one stand in his path toward limitless power, untold wealth, and cloying prestige. What festers in a man for them to develop a disdain for all others, to see those around them only a means to their visions, and to be unconcerned with anyone but themselves, who can say? Is this state permanent or are their opportunities to turn them back and reclaim their souls? What power could result in such a personal phase change? Well Burleigh is about to find out, and although his past is despicable, he has an important role to play in the restoration that is underway.

This was an intriguing series that Lawhead developed and paced very well, before bring it to an entirely well-played conclusion. All of the different story lines that had been brought out and explored were tied up in a satisfactory manner, and Lawhead even took a moment to look toward the future in the different character's lives to give some indication of their fate. It was quite apparent that for Lawhead, the characters that he had developed for this series had become a part of him. The same can be said for me as well. I eagerly look forward to whatever comes next from Lawhead's pen.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Observations 74

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes". In this state we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • "Reading maketh a full man, speaking a ready man, writing an exact man." Sir Francis Bacon
  • We use a teleconferencing service at work that enables folks from around the world to participate in meetings where they call in to an assigned number. During a recent meeting when there was a brief pause in the discussion, a sexy female computer voice from the teleconferencing service stated in a sultry manner, "This meeting has ended due to a lack of activity."
  • Curse my baby-soft hands. It seems like every time that I attempt physical labor, I develop a blister. I need to realize that I am an intellectual, not a laborer.
  • A man phoned into a radio sports call-in show and was talking about his team being very inconsistent from week to week. He referred to their performance as "Hekyll and Jekyll". That made me cough up my coffee as I was drinking. I believe he was trying to reference Jekyll and Hyde, and not the cartoon magpies Heckle and Jeckle from 1960s T.V..
  • Earlier this year, Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees reportedly stated during an interview with a DEA official that he purchased HGH gummies from Biogenesis. My take away? I am glad that HGH finally comes in gummy form so that they are more accepted by the children. I am assuming that they are bear shaped.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Quick Hits 29


Sometimes I hear an utterance or catch a quick visual of something that sticks in my mind. As this sensory input rolls about in my head, several different outcomes are possible. It might be the case that after a moment of consideration, the input is deleted as uninteresting, trivial, or too much for me to deal with. However, another possible outcome is that the input keeps demanding my attention. It somehow wants me to wrestle with it and give it more than just a passing notice. In such cases, they can end up here, in my blog series called Quick Hits.

A major star whose touch is gold and pulls you in. You love their music or their movies or their athletic accomplishments. Then major scandal erupts painting them as an absolute beast who has hidden a long-standing pattern of criminal and unethical behavior. Will you still buy their albums, go to their premiers, or unabashedly root for them and their teams?

What do you think?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Blood Book

Back in 2011, I read through Ted Dekker's Circle Series, which included the four novels Black, Red, White, and Green. At that time I was just starting to enjoy reading fiction. Dekker's works helped to provide me with an appreciation of the art of writing and of crafting a layered tale, that not only entertained, but also made me think. I also came to find that stories allowed me to relax my mind and to let go of thoughts and worries and junk that had been pulling at me. The elements, characters, plot points, and themes of Dekker's Circle series would not be contained to just four novels, as Dekker spread them far and wide in his Books of History Chronicles. If you read his Lost Book, Paradise, or Outlaw series, as well as any number of his stand-alone novels, you will find cross-over characters and plot points. Over the last several years, I have read through each and every related book, save one, Dekker's The Blood Book. This title was used by Dekker as a promotional item, sent only to a limited number of his readers. Just recently, however, he made this book available on his website and I grabbed it.

The Blood Book is not a standard novel of prose by any means. It was prepared as a journal of several of the dark characters in the series, with the primary entries by Ba'al, high priest of the Horde, Lover of Marsuuv, and sworn enemy of Thomas of Hunter. The book contains notes from Ba'al's chief alchemist on his studies and autopsies of different creatures that occupy parts of Other Earth, including the Shataiki and the Roush, his personal reflections on the Albinos and the Eramites, and a diatribe against the forest dwellers and their false god Elyon. Ba'al also details why the power and approval of Teeleh is superior to Elyon.

The work was written to provide background information to further flesh out some of the characters in Dekker's narratives and was a fun and interesting read for a fan (such as me) of these tales. I suspect that Dekker too enjoyed the process of piecing this together as he worked with his friends and fellow authors Josh Olds and Gregg Hart.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Nyet Comrade

Today's post is all about travel gone bad. When you think that your personal travel story reeks and you have basically sworn off trips any further away than the convenience store on the corner by your house, appreciate that other folks have an even more woeful tale to tell. Today's anecdote is one such chilling tale. First and foremost I am relieved to tell you that this story did not happen to me, but to a colleague of mine. However, as he told me about his experience, I unconsciously pulled my knees into my chest and began audibly moaning as I rocked back and forth.

My colleague had been invited to give a talk in St. Petersburg, Russia. He did his due diligence and applied for his travel visa several months in advance. In due time an official looking document arrived, written entirely in Russian, littered with the seals of various administrators and officials. With his fancy signed and stamped travel authorization in hand and a current passport, he then booked his airline tickets, set up his hotel, and registered to attend the conference. When the appointed date of his travel came, he headed to the airport and endured all of the usual indignities and hassles that are currently associated with such an experience, obviously including the 10+ hour long trans-Atlantic flight.

Upon deplaning, he worked his way through the lengthy delays of getting through the lines at customs. When he offered his travel documentation and his passport to the customs official, the agent asked him for his visa. My colleague indicated that the agent had it in his hand. After a few testy back and forth exchanges, my colleague figured something was terribly wrong, especially when a brusque security team armed with automatic weapons was called in. Through broken english, he came to understand that he would not be allowed to leave the airport as he had not presented an authorized visa. He quickly realized that if he were to continue raising a fuss, the security team would not hesitate to lock him up.

He then had to scramble to find a plane outgoing to the U.S. that had an empty seat. If you have ever been in Europe, getting a seat on a plane with short notice is nearly impossible. He was forced to wait several days in the international terminal of the airport, sleeping on floors and benches, surviving on food of dubious quality without any opportunity to take a shower. After nearly half a week trapped in his foreign cage, he finally worked his way back home. Ultimately he learned that his offical-looking Russian travel documentation was not a visa, but was simply an official-looking document that only gave him permission to apply for a visa. As he is not a blogger, he really had nothing positive that he could salvage from this miserable experience. At least for folks like me, I could get a couple of posts out of it.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Rebel Island

In the period from 1997 to 2008, Rick Riordan penned seven novels in his Tres Navarre series. The last of the lot is entitled Rebel Island. Here, Jackson "Tres" Navarre and his long-time associate/girlfriend Maia have just gotten married. Over a period of about three years, Tres and Maia have lived through enough murder, mayhem, and high stress escapes, that they have begun to re-evaluate every phase of their lives. To think about their future together and what they really want to do with their lives. This is especially relevant as Maia is nearly full term with their first child. Tres and Maia have decided that now that they have just been married, they will spend some time together at home. They just want to relax and let their accumulated stress dissipate for a while, to find a new quieter equilibrium ... that is when Tres' brother talks them into a honeymoon on an small coastal strip called Rebel Island.

Rebel Island is just large enough to contain one old hotel and a stretch of beach. It was a place where the Navarre family used to come every year for vacation, until one year when Tres' life forever changed when his father and mother decided that they would split up. Since that time, Rebel Island became a place to avoid due to its bad associations. If only Tres had followed his instincts. Instead, shortly after his arrival, a federal marshall who was a guest at the hotel was found murdered. Then a bit later the hotel manager was found bludgeoned to death in the walk-in freezer. If that wasn't bad enough, a hurricane swept over the island tearing apart the hotel and isolating the few guests from the outside world with a killer among them. In the stress, Maia begins to feel contractions coming on. Everywhere Tres looks, he finds people with thin alibis and plenty of motive. Worse yet, he keeps ending up in the crosshairs.

Definitely a thrilling tale that pulled me in and kept me turning the pages. Now that I am done with this series, I feel a bit of melancholy. I was so enjoying the stories and had felt a personal connection with the lead characters. I just wish that there were more stories in the series so that I wouldn't have to say goodbye. But that just means that the author did exactly what he set out to do. I definitely recommend this series.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Observations 73

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes". In this state we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • Have you ever had a subordinate who had a nasty disposition, was rude and disrespectful, and was a lousy worker, list your name as a reference for a job application? How is one supposed to respond when that company contacts you to find out more about the applicant?
  • Since when is it O.K. for a grown man to wear saddle oxford shoes?
  • They recently remodeled the bathrooms in the building where I work. On the inside of the stall doors, they very nicely installed coat hooks. However, the coat hooks are only about 2 ft off the ground. I am absolutely confounded by this.
  • "If words are to enter men's hearts and bear fruit, they must be right words shaped cunningly to pass men's defenses and explode silently and effectually within their minds." J.B. Phillips
  • Apple Computer CEO Tim Cook came out of the closet in a press release. In his statement he said, "I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me." I think there might be a small problem with his theology here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

In Their Element

I recently attended a week-long conference to learn about some of the latest developments in my field. Each day was organized into morning, afternoon, and evening programs. As is standard for these meetings, the programs were divided into a number of so-called parallel sessions that took place simultaneously in different meeting rooms. However, for one of the mornings, only a single session was scheduled. As this was attended by everyone, it took place in the main ballroom of the conference center, an expansive space with multiple levels and seating areas. Row upon row and section upon section of chairs were laid out in grand and sweeping arcs. Fronting this imposing venue was an enormous elevated stage over one hundred feet long. For this session, the stage was bare except for a single podium for the featured speaker. Throughout the immensely enjoyable presentation, the speaker clearly demonstrated that he was fully in his element.

At the top of most people's list of fears is public speaking. Even just forming an image of standing up on that stage with all of those eyes staring up at you, might cause folks to get a bit of the shakes. It is easy to appreciate how one might feel insignificant in that huge space and lose their voice, why one might grip the sides of that podium so tightly that knuckles bleach. However, some folks in this environment absolutely shine. Nothing comes across as forced, they are fully comfortable in their own skin. They speak with ease, confidence, authority, and grace. It is clear that they are quite enjoying themselves. Instead of allowing the moment to take control of them, they seize the moment and simply own it from start to finish.

I have had the opportunity several times in my career of speaking to a packed auditorium of my peers at such a conference. In some of those presentations I was more than a bit overwhelmed and nervous, and did not do as well as I would have liked. In others, I felt like I did a pretty good job. When I don't do well, I find that the whole experience of my talk was little more than a hazy blur. It's like I wasn't able to be fully present in the moment. The majority of my attention was focused inward on my nervousness and anxiety. When I do well, it seems like I am able to direct my attention outward toward the room, wasting very little of my energy thinking of self. It is only then when I am able to be fully present.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Mission Road

The sixth novel in Rick Riordan's Tres Navarre series is entitled Mission Road and is based on the most complex plot of any of the previous stories. Jackson "Tres" Navarre lives on the outskirts of San Antonio and works as a private investigator in the town where he grew up. For more than a decade after his father, a local sheriff, was murdered, Tres had escaped to San Francisco. Eventually he felt pulled to come back to his hometown. The trouble with such a return is that old labels are re-applied and you never seem to be viewed in the light of who you really are. That can often make folks strive to prove themselves more than they might otherwise. Such is the case with Tres.

One of Tres' best friends is a local pawnshop owner named Ralph Arguello. Tres and Ralph have a long history, all the way back to grade school. Amigos. Compadres. Yet Ralph, while a sensitive and loyal man, has a shady past a mile long. Ralph ends up marrying police sergeant Ana DeLeon, a relationship that severely affects Ana's lieutenant, one Etch Hernandez. Ana's mother Lucia had been the first woman in the San Antonio Police Department, and her partner had been Etch. However, Etch's misgivings about Ralph are apparently about more than just the fact that he has a criminal past. This comes to light when Ana takes on a cold case that her mother had been involved with, one involving the murder of the son of a very powerful local mobster and one that seemed to set Ana's mother on a downward spiral that eventually led to her death from alcoholism and depression.

The story of Mission Road is the slow unraveling of the long hidden truths associated with that murder. We come to understand more than just the cold truth of the facts. We learn how old injuries and hurts can solidify in our hidden places only to bubble to the surface when the right trigger comes along, how a moment can define our identity and our destiny, and how we can blame ourselves for situations that we ultimately were not responsible for. We also see a bit about the power of love and how something so sweet and beautiful can be affected and twisted into something hideous and far removed from our first innocent longings. A fine story. Now I move onto the final entry in the series, Rebel Island.

Monday, December 1, 2014

iTunes Latest - 22

Back in December of 2011, I discovered iTunes on my Mac. This service has really helped me to reconnect with my love of music. One of the things that I really like about music is that so often a given song has a strong association with a time or with a moment in my life. So, I thought that I would share my latest five downloads and a bit about my thoughts on each song.
  • Edge of a Broken Heart - Bon Jovi (2004) - This is the biggest song from this group that is the least known. It was released on the catalog emptying box set 100,000,000 Million Bon Jovi Fans Can't Be Wrong. A prototypical up-tempo Bon Jovi number with everything you'd expect. Great vibe, high energy, wailing guitars, and big hair.
  • Boulevard of Broken Dreams - Green Day (2004) - This song is the reason why arena rock bands fill arenas. Just a perfect rock song from every angle. No wonder this is Green Day's anthem.
  • Speak Life - TobyMac (2012) - "Speak Life" is a term that means to encourage someone with our words, to be positive and uplifting to others. I stumbled across this song on iTunes and its lyrics spoke to me words that I needed to hear.
  • Let Her Go - Passenger (2012) - This song is one that has already been covered by artists too many to count, but one listen and you will know why. A song about the pain of realizing what is important after it is too late.
  • Come Undone - Duran Duran (1993) - My favorite band in the 1980s was Duran Duran. Their music, style, and verve were an addiction. However, at some point I moved on. Listening to their old music now, it feels dated. However, this song from the early 90s was a more sophisticated, layered, and intricate pop number that I have always liked.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Southtown

The fifth novel in Rick Riordan's Tres Navarre series is entitled Southtown and provides another fast-paced and thrilling adventure in the life of Jackson "Tres" Navarre. Tres, part-time private investigator and part-time professor of literature, is part tough guy and part renaissance man - a bit of an everyman, just trying to live his life, but he keeps getting into situations that his conscience won't allow him to walk away from. Once that happens he becomes like a dog who won't let go of a bone. This story begins when a small cadre of hardened criminals orchestrates a jailbreak from their prison outside of San Antonio. The leader of this group, Will Stirman, was once the head of a major human trafficking ring. This animal was a murderer, a rapist, and a drug kingpin. This is one man who has a long memory of anyone and everyone who has ever crossed him and means to erase some names from his list. When word of his escape hits the news, Tres' boss at the investigations agency, Erainya Manos, a normally unflappable woman, seems strangely affected, afraid for her own life as well as for her adopted son.

As Tres begins to piece together the past, he learns that Erainya's husband was part of the team that brought Stirman to justice some ten years ago. We have known for some time that Erainya killed her abusive husband just a short time after Stirman's arrest. However, we finally come to understand the real reason why she pulled the trigger when she did, a secret that she has been kept buried and has refused to talk about. In time we come to understand that it is directly connected to Stirman and what happened on the night of his capture. An intriguing story where the dividing lines between black and white are not always so clear and where good people can make bad choices that define them and where bad people can make good choices that help to redeem them. I now move on to the sixth novel in this enjoyable series, Mission Road.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

Enjoying ourselves is a Biblical mandate. As stated in plain language in 1 Corinthians 15:32, "Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." This is not a morbid sentiment or one that gives us license to become gluttons. It is a statement that reminds us that we are, each and every one of us, finite creatures, and we should take every opportunity to celebrate our relationships and be thankful for the blessings that we have. So, to all of my online friends who support this site, I wish you peace, laughter, and lots of sumptuous goodies to make you smile. Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Good Idea, Bad Idea

It is not uncommon for somebody to suggest an idea for a new invention, service, or convenience that everyone will immediately get behind. Folks will respond with remarks of "How clever! or "I can't believe nobody thought of that before!" or "That is a million-dollar idea!" or some other expression ending in an exclamation point. One such sure-fire notion was likely the idea of covering walls in what is called whiteboard paint, which is designed to make a wall into a gigantic dry erase board. In fact, in our new "technology" building at work, they covered every last square inch of the walls in every room with this stuff. Then within a few short months, it looks like they let loose roving bands of hoodlums to cover the place in technical graffiti. However, just like any other white board that is actually used, the ink soon does not come off or stains or just smears. What was initially thought to be a neat innovation has quickly degenerated into an eyesore that demands first cleanup and repair, and second, a more practical solution.

Of course, ideas like whiteboard wall paint that don't deliver on the promises of their initial heady brainstorming period really only have a downside in terms of costs to purchase and then to replace some short time later. However, other ideas of this sort might ultimately lead to world-wide pain, suffering, and loss of the uber-wealthy. One such idea is that of flying cars. Based on a recent CNN report, there are several companies prototyping ridiculously expense car/airplane hybrids. Sounds unnecessarily Spielbergian to me. However, just imagine the carnage that would ensue if we took the selfishness and utter disregard for courtesy and the rules of the road that are on ubiquitous display at every rush hour and put this a mile up in the air. Those of us on the ground would spend most of our time dodging the half-ton hailstones of wreckages that would be raining down upon us. I can hear Arthur Carlson from the old WKRP in Cincinnati sitcom, "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly." Oh the humanity.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Start Where You Are

I just finished the Charles Swindoll devotional Start Where You Are (subtitled "Catch a Fresh Vision for Your Life"). The book description on the back cover is what pulled me in,

"Where are you on the journey of life? Just starting out, with exciting new challenges ahead? Or a little road weary, wondering what direction you should turn now? Let Charles Swindoll show you how to start fresh right where you are."

While I enjoyed my time in this book, its contents felt like a bit of a "bait and switch". I was promised one book but Swindoll gave me something else. In truth, I do not think that the book really approached what was defined as its goal given in the book description. I have the feeling that this book was more a collection of random Sunday sermons from Swindoll as opposed to a focused writing on a particular topic.

The major sections were categorized under:
  • Paths toward healing
  • Christian leadership
  • Developing compassion
  • A plan for personal victory
Within each subsection were a number of short chapters that were easy 5-minute reads. That made this book fully appropriate for working into morning devotionals or a quick reading session here and there throughout the day. It is too bad that Swindoll did not write the book that was promised here, I would have paid money to read that ... oh wait, I already did.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Observations 72

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes". In this state we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • I recently went to see a doctor at one of these "express" medical facilities. I wonder what it says when the nurse was a heavy smoker and the doctor was morbidly obese?
  • Did you ever notice how quickly a company will direct you to a real-life operator when you want to place an order, but how slowly that same company lets you talk to an operator if you have an issue with their product or want to make a return? "We are experiencing an unusually heavy call volume" plays over and over again no matter what day of the week or what time you call.
  • There was a sign on a wall in my building at work that said "Dry Paint" ... O.K.
  • I recently came across a beautiful sentiment from an anonymous source:
    Thus, like the trampled flower whose perfume rises to bless the foot that crushed it, so our hearts should find no bitterness, seek no revenge, wish no ill. The fruitfulness of our own cups must overflow and bless the hand that afflicted us.
  • Have you ever gone to a public restroom and wanted a bit of privacy but some goob just lingers in the bathroom (not doing #1 or #2) for a completely unreasonable length of time?

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Devil Went Down to Austin

The fourth novel in Rick Riordan's Tres Navarre series is entitled The Devil Went Down to Austin and I can tell you that I am definitely loving this series. These books are based around a well-developed protagonist, a private investigator/scholar/everyman named Jackson "Tres" Navarre. A man with deep personal convictions and a wry sense of humor that really just adds to his appeal. Each of the novels was developed to be a stand-alone effort, but one thing that I like is that many of the same "background" characters appear in the different books. This only makes sense when one lives in a relatively small town. However, new foils and antagonists are introduced, but they have been introduced in a rather organic manner, such that they fit into the world that Riordan has established for his lead.

In this story, Tres finds out that his brother Garrett is in some financial trouble. Garrett is actually Tres' half-brother, a sort of hippy who lost his legs in a train accident. However, Garrett is a top-notch programmer, and he has quit his long-held job to go in with a few partners to form his own company developing cyber-security systems. For a time, Garrett's effort was growing and showing promise to be a major success. However, during beta-testing of his product, a number of serious deficiencies became apparent and law suits were filed. All of a sudden the buy-out offers that had been coming in offering their millions were now reduced to offering only pennies. Garrett knows that someone has sabotaged his code and is screwing him out of his planned future. When Garrett's two startup partners are murdered, the evidence all points directly to Garrett as their killer. As Tres gets involved, he meets a number of folks, some seemingly kind and gentle, some marked by pure greed, who all seem to have some connection to this case.

Definitely a professional effort. Crisp, well written, layered, and enjoyable. I move now to the fifth novel in the series, Southtown.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Unknown Unknowns

Back in 2002, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, waxed eloquent when he said:

"There are known knowns. There are things that we know that we know. There are known unknowns, that is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don't know, and each year we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns."


I think this notion of known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns can be applied to people in a variety of ways. For example, some folks carry themselves with a deserved confidence. They are bright, hardworking, and motivated. They enter into situations prepared. When they speak, their words carry weight and they are taken seriously. I would label these individuals as the known knowns.

There are also people who are somewhat dim-witted or who, for whatever reason, don't do their homework. Yet these folks have enough presence and self-awareness to make it clear to others that there are questions whose answers they don't know or topics where their opinions are vacuous or ill-informed. These folks are the known unknowns.

However, the class of people who I would label as unknown unknowns seem to typically have a very high opinion of themselves, think themselves quite clever, and act as if they are experts, when, in fact, they are completely detached from reality. When they speak it is clear even to a casual observer that they are incompetent and utter gibberish. They often are either wholly naive because they have been insulated and isolated, such that they think that their small world encompasses the full measure of reality, or they are windbags or buffoons. Often those that fall into this latter category have built up such an impenetrable wall around themselves that they are lost causes. They will fall prey to no amount of persuasion or argument. However, those unknown unknowns in the category of naive, sure can crumble when they finally get a glimpse of how little they understand or comprehend about topics or areas where they once thought so highly of themselves.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Gridlock

I would go absolutely, freaking insane if I had to live in a big city. I mean pull all of your hair out, screaming at the top of your lungs, drooling like a painted savage, type of insane. Crime, poverty, incessant humanity, and, worst of all, the traffic! Every square foot of roadway is a congested, engorged parking lot from early morning to well past dinner time. How anyone can stand the graffitti-covered, trash-strewn, scum-encrusted, car-honking, jay-walking, non-stop construction, decaying tenament, jack-hammering, peace-devoid megalopolitan lifestyle is beyond me. In fact, just thinking about trying to exist in such a setting causes the bile to rise up in my throat and gives me the cold-sweat queasies.

Recently I spent a day in Washington D.C. on business. If you think that I could risk glancing to my right to see the Washington Monument or to my left to see the Capitol building, you surely do not understand the sheer white-knuckled terror of a suburbanite trying to make their way through rush hour, bumper-to-bumper gridlock. Just using your turn signal is enough to precipitate a spontaneous beat down from your fellow motorists. Oh the lingering nightmares ... I can still feel my car closing in around me as the buzzards of the city incessantly removed my flesh inch by inch.

I actually live in an area that is listed among the top 40 population centers in the U.S. and we have our share of traffic and stop-and-go congestion. However, the days are rare when it takes me longer than 15 minutes to drive the 5 miles from my house to where I work. Most of the delays are caused by the fact that my area sprinkles traffic lights about like a seed-sowing farmer. I walk like Fred G. Sanford, and it seems like sometimes I could reduce my commute times by just hoofing it. However, a urine-stained pair of pants is a small price to pay to gain some perspective and appreciation of the area where I live. If I think I have it tough, I just need to think of how bad it could be.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

1700

You know what gets me choked up about the number 1700? Well, nothing really ... errr ... well I guess there is one small thing. Today I celebrate blog post number 1,700. While that number may not be so big compared to say, 18,432.675, it is largish compared to 0.23. So there is that. Am I still enjoying my blog, with its constant demands for more? Actually, yeah. Would it be the end of my world if I were to stop? No. I have thought several times over the last few months that I could walk away at any time and be O.K. with that decision. However, for whatever reason, the number 2,000 just seems like a much better way to finish. Regardless, of when things end here, I am not done yet. I will see you all on the march to 1,800. To my loyal readers, thanks, or better yet, Thanks. Oh heck, I am feeling generous today, so I will even give you a hearty THANKS.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Quick Hits 28

Sometimes I hear an utterance or catch a quick visual of something that sticks in my mind. As this sensory input rolls about in my head, several different outcomes are possible. It might be the case that after a moment of consideration, the input is deleted as uninteresting, trivial, or too much for me to deal with. However, another possible outcome is that the input keeps demanding my attention. It somehow wants me to wrestle with it and give it more than just a passing notice. In such cases, they can end up here, in my blog series called Quick Hits

If a burglar broke into your house and you caught him just starting to climb out the window with a few of your possessions, would you shoot him if you had a gun? Is a few hundred dollars worth of your stuff worth the life of a desperate man? Is shoot first ask questions later a reasonable approach?

What do you think?

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Last King of Texas

The third novel in Rick Riordan's Tres Navarre series is entitled The Last King of Texas. The previous novels, Big Red Tequila and The Widower's Two-Step are not necessarily required reading, however they do serve to introduce in more detail the people in the life of the protagonist, Tres Navarre. Tres has moved back to the outskirts of San Antonio after escaping to California after his father was murdered. Tres is a bit of a Renaissance man in that he is a man of letters, having earned his Ph.D. in literature at Berkley. However, as we meet him, he is content to make his living as a private investigator. Tres has a penchant for allowing injustices that he witnesses to get under his skin. Whether or not he has a personal stake in a given situation, he takes on the problems of others. Often he tends to leap before he looks, but he also has a reflective mentality that allows him to understand correlations and connections between seemingly disparate clues.

In this story an english professor at UTSA is murdered. The agency that Tres works for is hired to investigate and work alongside the local police. Through connections of Tres' mother, Tres is interviewed to fill the position of the recently deceased man. It doesn't take long for Tres to become involved in the investigation at a deep level - that occurred the moment that a pipe bomb delivered to the dead professor's office went off just as Tres was moving in. Tres has much to wade through trying to understand who the guilty party is among the different folks who seem to have motive. Drug traffickers, spurned lovers, goons with no morals, and carnies (yes carnies) all seem to focus their attention on ridding themselves of the unrelenting presence of one Tres Navarre.

An intriguing, fast moving tale with just enough humanity, humor, and sweetness to make the story relatable and personal. This is a well done series thus far and I now move onto the fourth book, The Devil Went Down to Austin.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Observations 71

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes". In this state we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • Finland has among the best schools in the world, ranking significantly above the United States. One of their key points is that less homework is correlated with better grades. This is news that every single American student will whole-heartedly get behind, not that our students aren't already skilled at getting behind.
  • I had occasion recently to watch some amateur golfers attempt to play a short par-3 hole. For every golfer who hit their tee shot to within 50 yards of the hole, there were at least ten whose ball went no more than 10 yards from the tee. The amusing part of this was that they cursed and carried on as if they expected to do better.
  • I saw a man munching a bagel as he walked across a very busy auditorium. As he walked, a handful of crumbs fell to the floor. He then stopped and picked up each and every one. He then popped them into his mouth. I am still not sure if every piece that he gathered up and ate was in fact a piece of his bagel.
  • I was at a conference recently and was walking back to my room after a busy session. I passed by a lady in the crowd who called out my name. It turns out that she was the wife of a former colleague that I had met only once, some 10 years earlier. Talk about an amazing memory.
  • If the above item did not strike you as interesting, then maybe this will. As I was leaving that interaction, just a bit further down the hallway, the same thing happened again. This time it was the wife of a former colleague that I had met only once, very briefly, some 15 years earlier. Wow.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

GPS

I had to make a recent trip for work to Washington D.C.. As I definitely do not know my way through the twists and turns inside the beltway, I decided to purchase a GPS device for my car to act as my co-pilot. On the way into the city, the device worked great. It told me how far I had to go before my next turn, what lane I needed to be in, and every street name along the way so that I could have complete confidence I was where I was supposed to be. Before I left on my trip, I had also printed out directions and looked these over to familiarize myself with where I would be going. However, when the route mapped out by the GPS unit pretty much lined up with my hardcopy, it completely took all of the pressure off getting to my destination. In fact, my GPS worked so well that it didn't take me long to just mindlessly rely on it to direct me. That blind reliance turned out to bite me later on.

When I had completed my work in D.C. and got back to my car, I turned on the GPS unit and keyed in my home address. I didn't bother to look at my printed directions to cross-check my route. I figured that I would basically retrace my inbound route on my way out of the city. The GPS unit, however, had other things in mind. I went through several long tunnels where the satellite signal was temporarily lost and I didn't know which of several tunnel exits to take. I looked at the frozen screen on the unit and it gave me the electronic equivalent of a "I-dunno" shrug. It was also about 6:00 p.m. and rush hour was in full swing. Too often I entered onto a stretch of road on the right side and had to cut across three or four lanes packed with traffic to get to my left-side exit on the other side of the road. However, without the GPS to tell me to get over, I could only helplessly scramble and inefficiently work my way to where I figured I needed to be.

Every now and then life pulls our safety and security mechanisms out from under us and we go from confident and peace-filled to lost and anxious. Whether it is our health or the health of a loved one, the loss of a job, or personal conflict, it is amazing how quickly our lives can be affected and the sudden depths of our torment. What is even more amazing is how quickly things come back into equilibrium once we exit the tunnel and the satellite signal is found once more.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Mystery Knight

The third novella in George R.R. Martin's series The Tales of Dunk and Egg is called The Mystery Knight. This story takes place shortly after the tale in The Sworn Sword. Here we find the knight Ser Duncan the Tall (lowborn Dunk of Fleabottom) and his young squire Egg (the boy prince Aegon Targaryen) traveling their way northward looking to take up service at Winterfell castle. Moving from the service of one regional lord to another is the life of a hedge knight such as Dunk. Along the road they encounter a band of minor lords and knights on their way to the wedding of Lord Butterwell. Some are attending to honor the bride or groom, others to make an appearance as is expected for their liege lord, and some to take part in the knight's tournament that will take place as part of the festivities. As Dunk is hungry and low on coin, he takes up the invitation to attend.

At the wedding, Dunk prepares to enter the lists and goes about getting to know who his competition might be along with their strengths and weaknesses. Egg, a student of the different lords in the kingdom, begins to become suspicious when he notes that the majority of the banners and sigils raised belong to men who fought against the royal family in the so-called Blackfrye rebellion. This rebellion was put down by the king, but at great loss of life and great divide across the kingdom. Egg tells Dunk that this is a tourney of traitors.

It seems that many of the traitors against the crown had become bolder as time passed after the period of the rebellion. Once again they were gathering to raise their armies and to plot their next move. However, Dunk finds himself in the middle of the fray. Yet his honor will not allow him to look the other way and he once again proves why he is a true knight. Along with a few allies that he meets along the way, he makes the decisive moves to tear the new rebellion asunder. A fun tale that fits well in Martin's world of A Song of Ice and Fire. I look forward to further novellas in this prequel series. Although there are only three at present, Martin has indicated in interviews that he has plans for further adventures for Dunk and Egg.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Men in Black

At the laboratory where I work, we are about to complete a $350 million upgrade to the facility. As this effort was supported primarily by funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, you can imagine that there are colossal levels of government bureaucracy involved. Not only has every penny spent been endlessly reviewed and inspected and questioned by swarms of humorless government bean counters, they have inflicted on us regular celebrations of our successes. Whenever one of the suits from Washington comes to visit, we are forced to pack our auditorium to welcome them. We are briefed beforehand on the acceptable ways to clap like overly caffeinated baboons and to emote such radiant joy that people can actually tan in our presence.

It is funny that whenever Mayor McCheese or Senator Rooty-tooty appears on the scene, they are proceeded by immense entourages of automatons in black suits. Swarms of confidants and inner-circle schmoozers and hangers-about who are afforded reserved front row seats. It is hilarious to watch their practiced and measured hijinks. After every two sentences uttered by the policitian du jour, they spring to their feet and cheer with such unbounded glee that actual tears begin to spontaneously run down their faces.

"... Is my microphone on? Testing ... testing ..."

(Rabid applause, gutteral animal-type screeching and carrying on) "Four more years, four more years"

Anyway, our most recent enforced celebration included a brief address by the governor of our state. As he read his prepared speech that was clearly written by one of his staff, there was some technical jargon involved. After the governor, who spoke very loudly and smiled in such a way that every tooth in his mouth was clearly visible from miles away, rattled off one paragraph of scientific-type goobty-gook, he shook his head and admitted that he had no idea what he just said. It was the one moment of genuine response and humor in this painfully choreographed spectacle. Of course, the men in black thought that these were the wittiest words ever spoken by any man, ever.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Widower's Two-Step

In the first book in the Tres Navarre series by Rick Riordan, Big Red Tequila, we were introduced to Jackson "Tres" Navarre, a man with a Ph.D. in english literature who has been earning his living training as a private investigator. A man who is honorable and loyal, but who occasionally skirts the letter of the law when he feels it necessary, based on his own personal code of justice. In the first story, Tres was called back to his hometown on the outskirts of San Antonio by an old girlfriend. Old friends and new enemies came into focus after many years away and Tres was able to finally deal with his father's murder, which is what had driven him away those many years ago. With some time, Tres became determined and willing to put down tentative roots and began to plan out some sort of future.

In the second novel in the series, The Widower's Two-Step, Tres is working to earn his PI license with a local investigations office. He is assigned to stake out a musician suspected of stealing a demo tape from a gifted local songstress, Miranda Daniels, who is trying to earn a record deal and make her way to Nashville. However, whenever two coins rub together, eager folks seem to bubble up out of the ooze to lay their claim. On his stake out, the musician is killed by a sniper's bullet and Tres is pulled into a battle between opposing forces looking to claim Miranda as their own. The more Tres digs into the clues, the more he learns that there is more going on than agents angling to represent some local country singer.

The protagonist in this series and his approach to dealing with whatever issues he must face reminds me of John McClane in the Die Hard movies. Like John, Tres also falls into the category of the relucant hero. Brave, witty, tenacious, charming, and clever, he is able to stay just a step or two head of those who want him out of the way. Instead of the settings draped in the trappings of the big city like Die Hard, this one is draped in sensibilities of the southwest. Rick Riordan has made me a fan of his writing and this series. I move onto the next book in this line, The Last King of Texas.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

In the News 5

While I have not touched an actual newspaper in some time, I do skim through the news headlines online each day. There is always something that catches my attention, whether it involves human conflict, a human interest piece, the sports wrap, or just the usual absurdities. In this series, I carve out a space for my opinions, reminiscences, or comments.

Classic Kid's Books - There was a recent story on CNN the other day about 15 classic children's books. Flipping through the titles, including The Giving Tree, The Story of Ferdinand, Harold and the Purple Crayon, The Poky Little Puppy, and The Snowy Day, took me down a road of reminiscing about my own childhood and about those many nights of reading stories to my daughter. For once reading the news gave me some good feelings.

Derek Jeter - Oftentimes the elite of a given sport are not afforded much respect if they do not play for your team, and they are especially villainized if they play for one of your team's key rivals. However, after watching countless games in which Derek Jeter played (I am a Red Sox fan), it was clear that not only was he a great player, but a great ambassador for his sport. He played the game with passion, with dedication, and with respect. Derek played all 20 years of his distinguished baseball career for the New York Yankees. His last game was Sep. 28, 2014.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Chisanbop

I first heard the term "chisanbop" through a TV commercial back in the late 70s. It was advertised at around the same time as those spots selling Slim Whitman LPs. That dude's singing made me laugh, although I am certain that wasn't the reaction that Mr. Whitman was hoping for (♫ Una paloma blanca whoa whoa ... ♫). Anyway, chisanbop (pronounced like "cheese and bop") is a system developed by some Korean guy for quickly performing mathematical computations for operations whose answer is between 0 and 99. I remember the commerical showing these really young kids being given a string of numbers, flopping their hands around in a blur, and coming up with the answer that was likely written in a large font size on the teleprompter. It was amazing. What is even more amazing is that I can use chisanbop and demonstrate it like a pro.

So, why am I bring up chisanbop and what does it have to do with the price of tea in China? Well the tie-in with today's blog kind of popped into my head after I had spent some time listening to my pastor pray. I have heard him praying to the congregation during Sunday service and in off-the-cuff moments. His prayers always seem to have a depth and breadth to them that somehow makes his petitions seem more genuine and pious than mine. He knows how to drop in just the right verse or use just the right words to make you think that God must be more in tune with his wavelength. Of course, I realize that God hears my prayers just as much as those of my pastor. But sometimes when I listen to him pray, I think, "Wow that is pretty amazing. I sure wish that I knew how to do that.", which is the reaction that many folks have when they see someone using chisanbop. However, once you have it explained to you, it seems pretty elementary after all.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Living on the Ragged Edge

One of my favorite expository teachers of the Bible is Charles Swindoll. I have read dozens and dozens of his books and I have found them to be both clear and an accurate reflection of the Bible. Very rarely have I found myself at odds with something that he has written. His writing style is quite timeless as his approach is not to try to be hip or trendy. He does not fill his books with allusions that go out of date after a few years.

My most recent read from Swindoll was entitled Living on the Ragged Edge and was first published back in 1985. This book was focused on the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes written by Solomon. Solomon was the tenth son of King David, and the fourth son of the marriage union of King David with Bathsheba. Solomon was the third king of the united kingdom of Israel, following Saul and his father David. Solomon is recorded in history not only as a king, but as a major prophet of Christianity, of Judaism, and of the Muslim religion. In his younger days he was an ardent believer and had a close relationship with God. He is responsible for construction of the temple in Jerusalem in which God's presence dwelt among the Jews. God granted him wisdom and wealth, the likes have never been seen since. His period of rule is generally believed to be from 970 to 931 BC. In his later years, he drifted and became disillusioned and his faith was drowned out and perverted by idol worship and adopting the traditions of the pagans who interlaced his life.

Ecclesiastes represents a journal of sorts chronicling Solomon's disillusion of living a life without purpose, or at least without a purpose that led to contentment. A life of sexual gratification, a life of immense wealth, a life of human relationships, a life of gluttony with food and drink ... none of these without a relationship with God, Solomon concludes, will ever lead to fulfillment, contentment, and satisfaction. There are parts of Ecclesiastes that some in the church view as sacriligeous. Swindoll's approach is to work his way through the journal, providing both interpretation and application to our lives.

The first paragraph of today's blog was written with a "but" lingering. Very rarely have I found myself at odds with something that he has written, but in several sections of this book I found myself fully at odds with Swindoll. Some of his interpretations of the text I fully disagreed with and some of his analysis came across as more than a bit naive and ill-considered. I found myself growing frustrated with him. On top of this, this book was poorly edited. Dozens and dozens of spelling, grammar, and syntax errors, along with far too much repetition and aimless discussion. I would therefore not put this book at the top of my list of Swindoll efforts.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Observations 70

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes". In this state we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • "God created the world out of nothing, and so long as we are nothing, He can make something out of us." Martin Luther
  • I absolutely hate it when I find that I have forgotten my wallet after I have driven all the way to the store.
  • "He had always been generous in his praise. It was all he had to give." George R.R. Martin
  • Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks in the NBA referred to himself as "The most underrated superstar." Such a humble soul.
  • I was part of a graduate student's thesis defense recently where the student and the advisor went at each other. As I was trying to calm things down in the aftermath I said aloud, "What's this world coming to when I am the voice of reason?"