Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Second Chance

My online friend Bill (who posts at Cycleguy's Spin) asked me to write a post for his site on "a second chance God has given you". My first thought was to quickly dismiss this request because my life hasn't turned out the way that I would have liked in many respects. My biggest failure and regret occurred nearly ten years ago when my wife told me that she no longer wanted anything to do with me. One moment I was living a pretty contented existence, and the next, I was alone. Everything spun away from me so suddenly, that it sucked the life and the joy out of me. Not only did I lose my partner and my best friend, I felt like the divorce robbed me of my future. When Bill asked me to write a post glorifying God for giving me a second chance, I scoffed. My scorn was not directed toward Bill, but more toward God. Here I am some ten years after my life was torn apart, and I find myself alone. While time has a way of weathering the hard edges off strong emotions and negative memories, I still find myself deeply wounded, still stewing in bitterness, anger, and despair. Where is my second chance God? Where?

But I continued to chew on what Bill asked me. I am one who all too easily focuses on the negative when I have many positives still around me. In many ways I am plagued by myopia and forgetfulness regarding God's blessings in my life. In 1997 before I was a Christ follower, I was diagnosed with an advanced form of cancer. My initial biopsy results indicated that it had spread into my lymph system. My prognosis for survival beyond a few years wasn't good. The day after I found out about my cancer, I learned that I was going to be a dad. There was a chance that I might not even get to meet my little one.

Second chance? How about the fact that I am still alive some 17 years after I was sentenced to be another mortality statistic? How about the fact that I have a 16 year old daughter who thinks that I am the greatest dad in the world? How about the fact that I have come to know Jesus? Second chance indeed.

(Note: Today's post was used as a guest post on Cycleguy's Spin today. This is the third guest post that I have written for other bloggers. As always, I hope that my words can help others, whether it be with a smile, with a tear, or with an amen.)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Survival Mode

Have your ever stopped in the middle of some activity that you have been doing for a very long time and suddenly begun to question your reasoning or your motives? You ask yourself why you are attending some regular function or why you are supporting some group or some cause or why you are meeting with some people. Sometimes this questioning is just a sanity check or a reality check. You quickly remind yourself of what you had hoped to achieve or why it is good for you, and then you push off the question or bury it deep enough that at least it won't resurface for a while. Other times you come to the realization that either the activity doesn't mean as much to you as it once did or that your passion for it has diminished. In such cases you decide to make a change and devote your time and attention to something else.

I have been attending services at church for more than a decade. In this time I have been a member of three different churches and I have missed only a small handful of Sundays due to business travel or sickness. I think, for the most part, I have looked forward to going to church to sing, to worship, and to fellowship with the few folks that I know. But recently, say for the past 1 or 2 years, something has been different. Something in my heart, in my spirit, in my mind. The truth is that I have been questioning why I am going to church. It isn't because I don't love listening to the beautiful music or connecting with the truth of God's word through the scriptures. It is my troubles dealing with other people.

My whole life I have struggled with some sort of social anxiety issues. I am just not comfortable in and around large groups of people. As I have gotten older, especially in the past few years, I think my "condition" has gotten worse, somehow more acute and more debilitating. As a result I find myself more and more uncomfortable around others. In situations of this sort, my body reflexively goes into "survival mode", where my mind directs all its energies inward to shut out all outside stimuli. Then when the hour-long service is over, I make a bee-line toward the exit so that I can breathe again and think straight. Often as I drive home, I realize that I did not hear a single note sung or word uttered. Things have devolved so much recently that I am seriously considering that perhaps it is best if I just walk away from church attendance for a while to let things settle a bit.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Potëmkin Village

Grigori Potëmkin was an 18th century Russian statesman who was once a lover of czarina Catherine the Great. Potëmkin had a great thirst for power and glory. It is said that he told great tales to make himself appear as large in Catherine's eyes as possible. One such account was that he claimed to have established thriving villages in the Ukraine that had, in fact, never been built. When Catherine insisted on sailing a flotilla down the river Volga to see his handiwork, Potëmkin arranged for work crews to erect fake facades replete with a contented populace and resources to fool Catherine. As soon as the barge of the empress had sailed past the false front, the crews swiftly dismantled the fakery and moved it downriver to the next location. The expression "Potëmkin villages" has since been associated with a grand sham, something that presents an impressive facade or show but is designed to hide an undesirable fact or condition.

If such terminology can be applied to my own life, I often feel like Potëmkin's masterwork. From the vantage point of the passing barge, most people will see a man who appears confident, connected, and content. However, if any of the viewing party were actually to get a peek behind the veil, to look behind the curtain, they would see only a poorly constructed pasteboard village hiding a struggling and sinful soul. I have had folks who read my blog or who have come to know the version of me that I have erected for the outside world comment on how "real" or how "transparent" I seem. That impression is also by design, just another fancy curtain hung to hide my clutter and my shame.

Friday, April 25, 2014


The final book in the Divergent trilogy by author Veronica Roth is entitled Allegiant and picks up where the second book, Insurgent, ended. The narrative focuses around a seemingly self-contained population group living in what used to be Chicago, at least what is left of this once great city after some great tragedy overcame the original citizens at some point in the distant past. The people who live here now have divided themselves into one of five recognized factions, Amity (fellowship), Dauntless (bravery), Erudite (wisdom), Candor (honesty), and Abnegation (selflessness). At the end of Insurgent the city had fallen into chaos and lawlessness, as a full-fledged war had erupted between the factions as small conflicts gave way to bold grasps for power. Our protagonists, Tris and Tobias, who have given everything they had to restore some sort of peace, have ultimately been forced to flee the city, to scale the fence and journey into the complete unknown. The citizens of this Chicago have been taught since birth that gruesome death awaits anyone who goes beyond the fences. Yet they ultimately choose to face this unknown rather than remain to be hunted down and killed in their hometown.

Ultimately, we learn that a full-fledged civil war had devastated the population of the United States many generations ago. The war was fought between people known as GP's and those known as GD's. The GD's referred to those who had undergone a form of DNA modification to rid themselves of some less desirable traits and the GPs refer to those who did not. Ultimately the GP's contained the GD's into communities, like the Chicago experiment, to try to control them, quarantine them, corral them, and ultimately to breed them to a point when they might be reintegrated into society. Just beyond the Chicago fence, the GP's maintain a huge complex that monitors all of the experimental communities. It is this world that Tris and Tobias enter into. There they try to dispel the misinformation, bias, and ignorance of the GP program directors while saving their own people. Ultimately we see that everyone, GP's and GD's alike, are not so different. Each person an example of sinful and flawed humanity.

This series was recommended to me by my pastor's wife Monica. I very much enjoyed reading this series and related to the characters as they developed and grew through this story. While this series falls into the YA or "young adult" category, it contained enough complexities and moral quandries that kept me reading and thinking and, ultimately, to keep turning the pages to find out how it would end.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Observations 52

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.
  • It is most amusing to watch a grown man throw a full-fledged temper tantrum. Most amusing indeed.
  • This one is for NBA fans and it came to me after I watched parts of several Chicago Bulls games on TV recently. George Costanza once said that the key to have folks think that you are passionate about your work and giving it your all is to look perturbed at all times. If that is the case then the Bulls coach, Tom Thibodeau, is clearly following George's advice perfectly.
  • The heir to the DuPont chemicals fortune who was convicted of raping his toddler daughter got no jail time. The reason listed in the court documents was that the convicted man "would not fare well in prison". What do you think are the odds that no bribe money was paid out before the sentencing?
  • We have all seen our share of cheesy Church billboards lined with bad puns and awkward word play. I passed by one the other day that hit me as a wonderfully expressed truth. Your life may be the only Bible that some people read.
  • From my bag of hopelessly mixed up expressions, I actually uttered the following words the other day: "Well that took the thunder out of my sails."

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Make a Difference

My church promotes a fund-raising campaign each month called "Make a Difference", wherein they choose a charity to support and then collect funds for that group or that cause throughout the month. There have been food drives, help for local shelters, support for orphans and the abused, and efforts to help out disadvantaged children. While it is easy to look around the world and even our own neighborhoods and feel completely overwhelmed with the amount of suffering, efforts like this can at least provide some small level of assistance. Likely the donations do more to make us feel good about ourselves than they do to make any significant or lasting impact in the lives of those who are in distress. The sheer number of needy individuals far outweighs the amount of financial donations.

Several years ago my church sponsored an effort to support clean water in developing nations. I wrote a post called Water! Water? about some important issues that I felt needed consideration when providing humanitarian aid for developing countries. My main point was sometimes the funds that we provide can actually do more harm than good, especially if it leads to even higher birth rates in places that already cannot support their populations. I think sometimes it is easier for me to spin my wheels in some sort of academic debate than it is for me to actually help. I believe that my bulleted list of objections and issues is really just a way for me to rationalize doing nothing, to distance myself from the suffering, to put it all out of my mind with a clean conscience.

This month my church is supporting a Make a Difference to help a poor and suffering community in Central America. Again the problem from my lofty throne is one of too many people living in an inhospitable region that cannot support them. As soon as this campaign was announced I began my cynical "here we go again" self talk. This smug inner voice is too quick to dismiss others, to put me first, to give me license to make clever high-brow arguments about why they are in the situation they are in, all while continuing to do absolutely nothing. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and the goats. The sheep are the blessed ones who step up to make a difference in the lives of those who suffer. The goats are to be rebuked.

Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.

I think it is time that I purposefully worked a little harder to try to make a difference.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


I was reading the book Water Walker by Ted Dekker and I came across the following bit of narrative provided by the main protagonist:

You just stepped beyond one of your fears only to learn that it was an illusion.

That once sentence resonated within me so strongly, it spoke such personal truth, that by the time I emerged from my own thoughts, 10 minutes had passed.

I tend to let my phobias and worries imprison me, to hold me captive. The what ifs play out such detailed nightmares in my head, that I too often force myself to avoid trying new things, making new friends, taking risks. My thoughts make me consider irrational ideas and improbable scenarios and accept them as the most likely outcomes of a given action. The other part of this
aspect of my make-up is that as I get older, the more that consideration of these outlandish scenarios rules my decision making.

I might consider asking a woman out on a date but ... but she will either turn me down in such a public manner that I am branded a loser or she will agree only to string me along far enough that I start to like her before she dumps me and breaks my heart.

I might accept a friend's invitation to go to the movies but ... but he will get to know the real me and decide sooner rather than later that I am not worth his time.

I might try to brooch an important subject with my daughter but ... but she will just tune me out and not take me seriously.

The truth is that most of the time when I do step beyond one of my fears, I find out that it really was an illusion. My trouble seems to be that my mind cannot hold onto this truth for very long and I keep having to relearn this lesson time and time and time again.

Monday, April 21, 2014

iTunes Latest - 18

Back in December of 2011, I finally 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.
  • U Can't Touch This - MC Hammer (1990) - This song has always put an uncontrollable bounce in my step. Back when it came out, Hammer was trying to stake his claim that he was the biggest hit producer alive, even bigger than MJ! History would show he was little more than a one-hit wonder, but this song amounts to a pretty good legacy. ... Thank you for blessing me with a mind to rhyme and two hype feet.
  • Alone Again - Dokken (1984) - This song is a yearning, painful ode to lost love with a hard rock bent. A nearly perfect offering delivered with tenderness and longing. Absolutely one of my favorites.
  • Who Will Stop the Rain? - Asia (1992) - The title may remind you of CCR, but this delicious piece of harmony and keyboard is something quite different. This song has a vibe that reminds me of what you might get if you crossed the band Yes with ELO. An environmental-tinged progressive rock piece to bring out your inner tree hugger.
  • Behind the Mask - Fleetwood Mac (1990) - I have long been a fan of Fleetwood Mac. Their Rumors album from 1977 still plays tricks on my mind given its strong association to my adolescence. This song from their 1990 album of the same name did not include Lindsey Buckingham as a member of the group. However, Lindsey did contribute his unmistakable acoustic guitar to this one. This Christine McVie number is a strong piece with a haunting melody. Angel in black, I recognize the shadows from your past.
  • Friend - Christine McVie (2004) - McVie's work on her 2004 solo album was the reason why she did not participate in Fleetwood Mac's 2003 Say You Will. This song is a gem about the pain of being alone and longing for relationships that have since crumbled to dust.

Friday, April 18, 2014


The second book in Veronica Roth's Divergent series is entitled Insurgent. This story picks up just where the first book, Divergent ended. The story involves a self-contained population living in and around what used to be Chicago. These people are cut-off from all others in the outside world. The story takes place in some future time after something (unexplained to the reader) has caused society to breakdown. The people have divided into five factions, each defined by a unique organizing characteristic and way of life. Everyone must choose one faction to join upon their 16th birthday, Amity (peace and fellowship), Dauntless (fearlessness and bravery), Candor (honesty), Erudite (truth and wisdom), and Abnegation (selflessness). Those who are not allowed to join one of the factions, drift at the fringes of society as one of the "factionless". At the end of Divergent, Beatrice (Tris) Prior and Tobias (Four) Eaton, two teenagers who have recently made their choice as Dauntless members, uncover a plot by the leadership of the Erudite to seize power and control of the people. The Erudite leadership use a special mind-control serum that they have developed to take control of a sizable fraction of the Dauntless, turning them into an army of automatons.

Now with the Dauntless faction in chaos, Tris and Tobias first try to learn what is going on and then develop a plan to stop it by forging and uneasy relationship with the factionless and their leader. Alliances are formed and broken between groups from start to finish as those who truly hold power do whatever they can to take control. At first it seems that they are just hungry for
power and conquest, but could it be that they are trying to protect the populace from an evil darker than they could possibly comprehend? Tris and Tobias finally uncover the truth and need to make a choice in their loyalty to their families, their friends, and to each other. The exciting tale concludes with Allegiant.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Observations 51

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.
  • It is very awkward when two folks have a private battle using a site-wide email list.
  • A man died recently who was known by some as the most hated man in America. He took pride in this label and claimed that it let him know he was doing the right thing and that it empowered him to keep doing what he was doing. Hmmm, interesting perspective.
  • I just saw a man at work, who must have been about 60, sporting what was known in the day as a "rat tail". He was also wearing the sandals and white sock combo. I tried my hardest not to giggle.
  • Today I passed a car with the license plate "BRAIINZ". I wonder if it was driven by a zombie.
  • On the first day of spring I got into my car and wouldn't you know it, there was a freaking mosquito buzzing around my face.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Jokes and Puns II

Yesterday I shared with you just a taste of the outrage that I felt at having first been profiled as a nerd and second being subjected to a string of nerd-themed "jokes" (see Jokes and Puns I). If that wasn't bad enough, the same guy who sent me the first offensive email thought he would push his luck even further by sending along the following list of so-called "puns".
  • I tried to catch some fog. I mist.
  • Jokes about German sausages are the wurst.
  • A soldier who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.
  • I know a guy who's addicted to brake fluid. He claims that he can stop any time.
  • How does Moses make his tea? Hebrews it.
  • I stayed up all night to see where the sun went. Then it dawned on me.
  • I'm reading a book about anti-gravity. I can't put it down.
  • I did a theatrical performance about puns. It was a play on words.
  • PMS jokes aren't funny. Period.
  • I didn't like my beard at first. Then it grew on me.
  • When you get a bladder infection, urine trouble.
  • What does a clock do when it's hungry? It goes back four seconds.
  • Broken pencils are pointless.
After I received this list, I immediately contacted Human Resources to lodge a strongly worded complaint. I mean, who would blame me? After all, aren't I the real victim here?

(Part 2 of 2)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Jokes and Puns I

A guy at work sends me lists of "jokes" from time to time. Most often I have seen them before and most often they are of dubious quality, which is why I used quotation marks about the word joke above. If you were sitting next to me and we were talking about this, I would likely pantomime air quotes in a rather hammish manner. However, his most recent list was nerd-themed, which he figured was right up my alley for some reason. As a result of this, I was forced, nay compelled, to "unfriend" him on my social networking account. That should teach him that folks who make such unflattering assumptions about me will get their due come-uppance. Anyway, I will let you judge if the following "jokes" are worthy or unworthy.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre is sitting at a French cafe revising his draft of Being and Nothingness. He says to the waitress, "I'd like a cup of coffee, please, with no cream." The waitress replies, "I'm sorry, Monsieur, but we're out of cream. How about with no milk?"
  • How can you tell the difference between a chemist and a plumber? Ask them to pronounce unionized.
  • A Buddhist monk approaches a hotdog stand and says, "Make me one with everything."
  • Helium walks into a bar and orders a beer. The bartender says, "Sorry, we don't serve noble gases here." Helium doesn't react.
  • What do you get when you cross a joke with a rhetorical question?
You should also feel free to "unfriend" this guy who I work with if you were as offended as I was. But if you think this is the end of this sorry exchange, you would be wrong. Stay tuned for tomorrow's conclusion.

(Part 1 of 2)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Dark Road

A man that I know of at work is living out his last few years. He has an advanced form of prostate cancer. Given that his time is short, he has given himself full liberty to do whatever he feels satisfies or pleases him. One of the issues that he has struggled with in the nearly 20 years that I have known him is an addiction to cigarettes. He has tried to quit many times over the years, but could never stay away for long. He could not escape either the physical or the psychological addiction. Today he smokes more than he ever has, often in conjunction with using chewing tobacco and electronic cigarettes.

I learned of my friend's cancer condition from some co-workers. The half dozen or so times that someone has brought this up to me, they have also unfailingly expressed their dismay that he has made no effort to stop smoking even now. Yet aren't we all, each and every one of us, afflicted with the same issue? The same stubbornness? The same pride? The same weakness? We struggle far too often with lust and pornography, but don't take steps to turn off our internet service. We tend to get into trouble whenever we go out and drink alcohol, but we don't let that stop us from heading out with the guys. We know the dangers of sexual promiscuity, but we jump into bed with anyone who gives us the time of day. We are all letting our addictions kill us in one way or another. We fully understand our conditions but we are not making the slightest effort to seek help or to make changes in our lives. Who are we to pity others or to look down upon them when we are on the same dark road? This road leads to the same destination for each of us.

Friday, April 11, 2014


The first book in the Divergent series by first-time author Veronica Roth is entitled Divergent. This series was recommended to me by my pastor's wife Monica. She told me that it was a story in some ways akin to the popular Hunger Games series by author Suzanne Collins. After reading the first book, I see the similarities, but I also recognize and appreciate the differences. The story takes place in a time period in the near future. The book does not make it clear, but the world as we know it today, has broken down. Perhaps there was a war, but community paradigms have undergone a major shift. The setting of the story is Chicago. Much of the city is vacant and in ruins or decay. The people of this area live in isolation from others in the world. Society has come to the conclusion that the old ways of organization were ineffectual. Now people are grouped into one of five factions defined by their outlooks and bents, Amity (those who desire peace and fellowship), Abnegation (those who are selfless), Dauntless (those who are fearless), Candor (those who hold to honesty above all else), and Erudite (those who pursue truth). At the age of 16, each child must choose which faction that they will belong to. If they decide to leave the faction that they were raised in, they will leave their family and start a new life.

The protagonist of the story is 16 year old Beatrice Prior, whose family is part of the Abnegation faction. During the tests that Beatrice takes to help her decide her true faction, she comes to learn that she is "Divergent", that she does not have one true faction to which she ultimately belongs. The lady who administered the test tells her that she will be in grave danger should anyone find out about her true self, but Beatrice does not really understand what she is being told. At the choosing ceremony, Beatrice decides to leave her family and become a member of Dauntless. There she goes through a boot-camp-like initiation, that is more hazing than disciplined and developed curriculum. However, she not only survives, but even thrives in a way. There she grows close to one of her instructors, a young man by the name of Tobias, who is called Four by everyone. Together, Beatrice and Tobias discover an insidious plot by the Erudite leadership to seize power of all of the factions, and along the way, they fall in love.

This book is part of the young adult genre, just as the books in the Hunger Games. It also is similar in that its main character is a strong young lady who is forced to make tough choices for survival. I very much enjoyed the first book and will now move to the second book in the series, Insurgent.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Observations 50

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 just attended a week-long scientific conference consisting of dozens of presentations. It is unbelievable to me how many professional scientists will show plot after plot of data that include no axis labels of any kind.
  • I needed to have a locked meeting room at work opened, so I called the security guard. After about 10 minutes I could see him coming from a long way off. He was so severely overweight that he greatly struggled to walk. I said to my friend, "I hope this guy's a good shot, because he ain't gonna outrun anyone." I apologize for myself.
  • I don't care what the astronomers say, Pluto will always be a planet to me. Kuiper Belt debris? Please.
  • Nearly all newsfeed posts that complain about the bad grammar or spelling in an article contain grammar and spelling problems themselves.
  • I grabbed my aspirin bottle the other evening and noted that it stated in a gaudy font on the side of the container the words "gluten free". Is this really something people concern themselves with when it comes to medicine? What's next, free-range aspirin?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Same Old, Same Old

... How's it going? ...
Same old, same old ...

The expression "same old, same old" is one of those idioms whose utterance always seems to be preceded by a melancholy sigh. It is used to express the lament that things in our life are pretty much in the same ho hum condition that they always seem to be in. It's funny that I can live two days that to any casual observer look pretty much the same. I get up, go to work, come home, and go to bed, yet they can leave me feeling very different inside. While I have not been able to pinpoint the underlying reasons for what accounts for the difference, it usually seems to result from very small things.
  • I was a bit depressed when I got home and kind of forced myself to make the dinner that I had planned. As I ate it in front of the T.V. I found a moment of contentedness.
  • My daughter calls me unexpectedly and we talk for only a few minutes, but it makes me feel less alone.
  • I exercise and my mind slowly lets go of all the stressful thoughts that it was clinging to.
  • I meet a friend for coffee and we talk about nothing and everything.
  • I have time in the evening to sit outside and read my book for a few moments and a feeling of peace seems to settle on me.
Sometimes my life may be the same old, same old, but when I can somehow get my mind to relax for even a short while, things somehow don't seem as bad or as frightening or as haunting. I feel more connected to the world, more satisfied, more accepted and more accepting. It's too bad there isn't a potion to bring these feelings on more regularly.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Slumber of Christianity

A friend of mine attended a Christian conference some years ago where author Ted Dekker was scheduled for a presentation. However, when Dekker stood up to start his talk, he became
tongue tied and rambled on incoherently for a few minutes before he excused himself and quickly left the room. While I wasn't there, I kind of have the sense that there was something on his mind that he felt compelled to share with others, but he just couldn't find the words to harness his thoughts. The more he struggled, the more frustrated and confused he became. After reading his 2005 non-fiction book, The Slumber of Christianity, I think I found another example where something clearly impactful happened to Dekker that he felt moved to share, but he just couldn't find a way to effectively express himself. The result was a 200-page book of repeated thoughts that he kept circling over and over again as he tried to illustrate and explain something personal and profound, but he never really managed to get his point across.

A couple of statements from this book sum up his main idea:

i). The prevaling teaching of Christianity has been preoccupied with finding true pleasure and happiness and purpose on Earth rather than in the age to come.

ii). Without an inflamed hope for eternity, Christians slip into a terrible slumber.

Dekker treats these ideas like he is delivering an ephiphany that he feels compelled to share. Moreover, he tries to give examples based on his life about how to awaken from this slumber. The fact is that Dekker's ephiphany is a pretty well understood notion. Furthermore, what he presents as examples are laughably simplistic. This was one of those books that after the first couple of dozen pages, I found myself repeatedly tracking how many pages remained. I had to force myself to trudge through the rest of it. In this book he included extended passages from his books The Martyr's Song and Black to serve as illustrations. These passages revealed Dekker's talent for freely flowing and heart-felt prose. They stood in marked contrast to the rest of his stilted and dry approach.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Quick Hits 17

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 you were in charge of hiring at your company, would you ever consider hiring a convicted felon who had served their time in jail? What about a convicted child molester who had served their time in jail?

What do you think?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Earth Afire

The second book in the trilogy on the first Formic war is entitled Earth Afire. This story by Orson Scott Card (co-written with Aaron Johnston) picks up where the first part of the tale, Earth Unaware, ends. A huge alien ship is descending on Earth and nobody seems to have a clue. As the alien ship approaches, it has been generating huge subspace interference that has hampered communication. Most have blamed the problem on increased solar activity. However, the alien crew has already vaporized thousands of space workers. One teenage miner has traveled for eight months in a customized mineral pod to reach the moon just ahead of the alien ship. However, nobody takes his warnings or the evidence that he has brought with him seriously. Finally, however, the foreign craft arrives and its intentions become all too clear. A small armada of Earth ships sent to attack the colossal ship is wiped out in an instant. Soon thereafter, three huge landing craft are released by the mothership and come down in China, the most densely populated region of Earth. The alien crews then begin their task of wiping out every living thing that they encounter.

Two main story arcs play out in this part of the tale. The first involves the teenage miner Victor who has been trying to get the word out about the danger facing Earth. When he learns that most of his family was killed in an engagement with the aliens, he decides that he will do whatever he can to avenge them. With support from some folks on moonbase Luna, he devises a seemingly hopeless plan to get aboard the massive alien ship with explosives. The second story arc involves a man named Mazer Rackham. Mazer is a well known character from Ender's Game, who ultimately defeated the Formics in their second attempt to invade the Earth. However, when the Formic landers arrive in China, he happens to be located near ground zero as a special ops officer from New Zealand in a joint training operation with the Chinese military. In the face of unspeakable devastation, Mazer works to gather intelligence on the Formics and to learn about their weaknesses.

Despite the formidable odds, the story ends with a ray of hope both on Earth and in space, but we will have to await the final novel in the trilogy, Earth Awakens, that is set for release this summer. So far, this is an excellent story that I am really enjoying.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Earth Unaware

For more than 30 years Orson Scott Card has been churning out book after book in his Enderverse. I think that he has found a way to consistently write stories that are fresh, distinct, and compelling. Some books are pure science fiction, some psychological thrillers, some love stories, some political intrigue, and some character driven. While he has several threads of commonality that appear in each new work, the different books are each quite distinct in terms of characters and settings. I have now moved to tackle his trilogy on the first Formic War co-written with Aaron Johnston. These stories take place in a time well before Andrew "Ender" Wiggin was even born. They tell the story of the alien race known as the Formics, who came in force to colonize the Earth. Here Card provides the backstory of what led the nations of Earth to unite their purposes and their resources to develop the infrastructure necessary to defend the planet against the coming invasion and to establish the battle school to search for the ultimate military commander.

The trilogy begins with Earth Unaware in the Kuiper Belt at the outer edge of our solar system. There we meet a group of independent space miners who extract metals from the asteroids in this region. This group consists of a number of families who have adapted to life out in space and move from claim to claim, mine what they can, and send it back to Earth. Their ships are old and their equipment dated. For the most part they are struggling to survive, but they are a hardworking and resourceful group. One of the ships detects something moving toward Earth at near light speed that can only be explained as some type of alien craft. When they try to alert others to the possible dangers, a corporate mining ship on a secretive mission to test a new type of mining laser, attacks the family ship, destroying their communications equipment.

The story ends with the deaths of several thousands of people who got in the path of the aliens. However, due to subspace interference from the alien ship, Earth remains completely unaware of the danger that awaits. As the story ends, a young miner named Victor volunteers to make the journey to the moon in an improvised mineral transport ship, arriving just ahead of the aliens. However, nobody takes anything that he has to say seriously, except for one low-level case worker for the court. This story was top-notch. I now move onto the second book in the trilogy, Earth Afire.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

In the Trenches

I have been associated with the laboratory where I work for nearly 20 years. In these two decades I have worked very closely with the skilled technicians in my group. When you labor with someone very closely for an extended period of time, you develop a rapport, a respect, and a trust that runs deep. I liken it to trench warfare. Those who you fight with side by side become your brothers. You look out for them and they look out for you.

Recently, I was working with the technicians to install a very large but very delicate detector system. A 20-ton crane was used to pick up the detector by its support frame and a 2-ton box of lead bricks was used as a counterweight to balance the 2-ton detector in its installation position. Everything was craned up some 30 feet in the air and slowly but surely the detector was moved into position. Every control movement that the crane operator made was directed by two guys up in the manlifts who served as his eyes. The installation required great skill and patience as the clearances involved on either side of the detector were less than 1 inch. One wrong movement or momentary loss of control could do untold damage to the million-dollar detector system.

After several hours we managed to get the detector bolted into position. The next step in the operation was to unbolt the support frame and move it away from the detector. However, some slight twist or rotation in the system wedged the support frame into position after it was unbolted and it wouldn't come free. After several hours of trying to figure things out, tempers were short and voices were raised. The guys up in the lifts and the crane operator on the ground were going at it pretty hard. After we finally managed to make sense of the problem and got the support frame to the ground, the guys went up to each other and embraced. The air that moments earlier had been clouded over with negativity, worry, and frustration was immediately clear. All tension in that place instantly dissipated and laughter echoed from one end of the space to the other. After being in the trenches with each other for so long, no temporary situation could affect those bonds.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Hitching Post

Most folks at some point in their lives put themselves to a task that requires months or years to conceive and carry out to fruition. One experience of this sort that many can relate to is going off to college to get a degree. After several years of hard labor, there comes the moment when the goal is realized. In the quiet after the graduation ceremony, it dawns on you that your task is complete, that all of the effort and energy that fueled and controlled a sizable aspect of your existence is no longer required. In such a moment the mind can become befogged with confusion over loss of purpose. How you approached and prepared for each new day will no longer be the same. For those of us who thrive on consistency and regularity, such sudden changes can be scary and require a lengthy period to work our way out of as we struggle to redefine our identity and decide where we will next direct our efforts.

Starting in 2007 I began work on the development of a new multi-million dollar detector system to be used at the laboratory where I work. It took me nearly a year to define the system requirements and another three years to complete the design, as I worked with a team of mechanical designers and engineers. After interacting with vendors around the world to manufacture the specialized components for the project, I then formed a team of scientists and technicians to work with me to actually assemble the equipment, a process that took three years to complete. The construction phase of the project ended early last year and I began on a long program to verify that the new equipment met the exacting design specifications. In the period from December 2013 to February 2014, the detector system was successfully installed. A project that required nearly eight years of my effort has now been completed.

Over the past several weeks I have been struggling to keep my mind on track at work. The day-to-day pattern that I had become inured to is fully in the past. Even though I have a lot of work on my plate and other projects that need my attention, I feel like I don't quite know what to do with myself. In short, I have become unfocused and uneasy. I realize that I will have to get back on the horse soon as other deadlines are approaching. Maybe today will be the day that I go back out to the hitching post.