Friday, June 28, 2013

Brother Odd

The third novel in the Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz is entitled Brother Odd. After the recent draining and harrowing exploits of everyman Odd Thomas, Odd has decided that the needs a break from the only place on Earth that he has ever lived, the small desert down of Pico Mundo, CA. Odd considers himself a regular Joe, nothing exceptional or special or deserving of a second notice. However, he has the unique ability to interact with lingering spirits, those souls who, for one reason or another, have chosen not to move on to their eternal rest. After surviving the terror plot to destory Pico Mundo by satanists in Odd Thomas and barely escaping with this skin from a psychopathic demon worshipper in Forever Odd, Odd has come to the difficult but necessary decision to go away from his hometown for a time. Away from the ghosts and their issues, away from the sinister bodach spirits that ravenously glory in death and hurt, away from the people who are not sure who or what he is. With help from the uncle of his deceased financée, he moves to an isolated monastery high in the Sierras. His only plan is to work for his food, reflect on his life, and escape the world for a time.

For a short period, Odd finds what he is looking for. He becomes a part of the monastery, well liked and appreciated, and a valuable member of the community. This monastery, St. Bartholomew's, serves as a school and rehabilitation center for cast out children, those who have been abused or wounded beyond repair. A great gift of Odd's is his ability to interact with the children and to help them build trust and self-respect with his humbleness and his genuine brand of love. Yet the small slice of peace that Odd finds does not last for long when one of the monks goes missing and shortly thereafter, the bodachs start arriving. The origin of the bodachs is unclear, but Odd has learned through painful experience that when death is near, they appear in droves. To make matters worse, the monastery is suddenly cut off from the outside when a massive snow storm hits. As Odd begins to follow his instincts, he comes across a new breed of seemingly otherworldly demons that look like killing machines. It is up to Odd to learn of their source and to find a way to protect the special children of the school.

Another fine work that will give you something to think about as you work your way through. Just because we can, does it mean we should? Koontz gives us some morality issues to ponder. Now onto the next part of the story, Odd Hours.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Observations 26

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 was playing Scrabble with my daughter the other day and she was puzzling over her letters and what words she could spell. After a few minutes, as she stared intently at what tiles she had, she asked me, "Daddy, is D-O-G a word?" Did I mention that she is in high school?
  • On the Domino's pizza box, in the lower left corner, there is some advertising for their brand of Cheesy Bread. The words read, "So cheesy, it almost defies the laws of physics." Hmmm, they did not provide a number for me to call to straighten them out. Criminy, this is lacto-mechanics 101 stuff folks.
  • Two of my friends, one from Russia and one from Germany, just completed their written tests to become U.S. citizens. They were laughing at one of the test questions which they posed to me, "What is the law of the land?" They gave me two guesses. My answers were 1). Every man for himself and 2). Shoot first ask questions later. Both were wrong. It turns out the correct answer is "The Constitution".
  • My daughter has been trying to get me to cut down on the number of adjectives that I use in my regular conversation. We were walking into the house the other day when I got a shock from touching the door handle. Noticing my wincing reaction, she asked if I got shocked. My reply, "Yeah, a little tiny baby shock." You don't think I have a problem do you?
  • If you see one of your neighbors doing some kind of kooky rain dance in their yard, they are most likely nuts. If you saw me doing that the other day, realize that I was cheering the dead mole that I just discovered who had been terrorizing my yard. I am most likely not nuts.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


A new report has just been released detailing how well many charities are doing (see the CNN story). The standard metric for success is what fraction of the funds raised actually go to the cause that is represented. A charity that has an overhead of 35% or less is considered as efficient and reputable. However, the report released showed that many charities are little more than fronts for their founders to pocket millions of dollars, all while covering their tracks with a sickenly polished and calculated layer of deceit and fraud. Some of the reports findings include:
  • The 50 worst charities in America give less than 4% of donations to aid. Over a decade, one diabetes charity raised $14 million dollars and only gave away $10,000. Several pocketed every penny that they received.
  • Many of the operators of the charities secretly paid themselves exorbitant "consulting fees" on top of their already high salaries.
  • Most of the nonprofits were found to be little more than fronts for the for-profit fund raising companies that gather the donations.
  • To inflate their reported giving, many charities use accounting tricks and comically inflate the value of donated items that they hand out to the needy.
When the founders of the charities were approached about the reports findings, most declined to answer questions about their programs or referred the reporters to their attorneys. Many became threatening and tried to intimidate the investigators.

Apart from the sickeningly selfish behavior of these flesh-eating vultures, they poison the well for the honest charities that make a real difference. They cause people to become more guarded and suspicious regarding their generosity. There should be a special corner of hell set aside for these monsters.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


At the laboratory where I work, lots of scientists from outside universities stay for extended periods of time to carry out their research. In planning, staging, and running such experiments, dozens of folks are intimately involved, all working on a demanding schedule under significant pressure. There are folks who i). design, build, and test the detectors, ii). install the equipment in the experimental area, iii). connect the detectors to the readout electronics and make sure that everything is working, iv). write the tens of thousands of lines of computer code to carry out the experiment and analyze the data, and v). sit shifts on the experiment for the weeks and months that the experiment collects data.

Recently we had a rather senior scientist come to our lab to work on an experiment that he was in charge of. He had not done any research at our lab before and wasn't familiar with our culture or our way of doing things. Each week he provided updates to our group regarding what had happened the previous week and what the plans were for the upcoming week. He detailed all the unexpected problems that cropped up and how they were solved, as well as the issues that were still unresolved. At the end of the experiment, he gave a summary presentation of how things went. He detailed some of the major issues that they were faced with and how they were solved. He then gave our group a profound compliment that was quite powerful. He said that he never had to go and search out who might be responsible for a given system or a given area. When there was work to be done, the right folks just seemed to show up and take care of it. It didn't matter what hour of the night or day, people knew their jobs and took care of everything that needed to be done without ever having to be asked.

Sometimes folks say thanks and it quickly tickles our ears and is gone. Other times that have a way of showing their appreciation that stays with you.

Monday, June 24, 2013


I agreed to let my friend Kai interview me today. I think that after reading this, you can likely form your own picture of who she is and what she is like. I haven't been around her for all that long, but she lacks a filter. However, I can say that she speaks from her heart. It seems that she masks a lot of hurt with her words. She would likely say that I do very much the same. So without further ado, here we go.

Kai : So, do you like my titties?

RTZ : Kai, please. I want you to take this seriously. I need you to be respectful.

Kai : Just wanted ta see if U was a man of your word. Ya said I could ask what I wanted.

RTZ : I try my best to honor my word, I really do. But I think that I often find myself struggling against my true nature.

Kai : Brother we all gots struggles. I've hanged wit you lots a times. You always seem lost, like youz waiting for something.

RTZ : I think I have never healed from my divorce.

Kai : Do ya still think about her in bed?

RTZ : Kai ... Sure I think about her and what she gave me. I think about how she strengthened me and challenged me to be a man. I miss her smiles and her hugs and her company. I miss having someone to come home to.

Kai : You don't think about her in bed? I'd roll wit ya.

RTZ : Kai, you of all people should know that sex too early in a relationship can be a killer. Jumping into bed with someone can completely short circuit laying down deep roots. Instead of talking and forging real and lasting bonds, all you want to do is get into bed. When there is nothing but lust and physical touch, it can fool you into thinking there is a deeper level of intimacy and trust than there is.

Kai : You wouldn't want to lay with me?

RTZ : Kai, you know that is not who I am or what I am looking for. I want to find someone to share my life with. Someone who looks at me and sees everything and still loves me.

Kai : You into guys?

RTZ : Why do you ask that?

Kai : You don't want ta get wit me and you ain't got any tang in years. Plus you said I could ask anythang.

RTZ : At this point in my life, I have considered lots of different things in my desperation. I'm sick of being rejected and being alone. Sometimes your mind goes to places when you are really down, some of them can be very dark indeed. But to answer your question, I dream of meeting a beautiful woman and falling in love and having someone to share my life. All that romance stuff.

Kai : You ain't young.

RTZ : No I'm not. But I still have a few good years left before I spontaneously combust.

Kai : Whats dat?

RTZ : It's where you suddenly and inexplicably burst into flames. I was trying to be funny.

Kai : For reals??

RTZ : Maybe.

Kai : If you so sad and mopey all da time - how you gonna find anyone. The candy ain't gonna come knock knock knocking on ya door.

RTZ : For a few years I really tried to put myself out there. I tried to meet people and make friends. Most of them moved away. Others had too much going on to have time to be friends.

Kai : Why don't you just go to a bar and hang out? I bet you could hook up quick.

RTZ : I spent enough time in bars when I was younger to last me a lifetime. It just isn't me any more. As the kids say, "That just ain't my scene babe."

Kai : What kids?

RTZ : I don't know, Sammy Davis Jr.'s kids.

Kai : Who? Ya got any Fresca?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Forever Odd

The second book in the Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz is entitled Forever Odd. It is not necessary to read the first book, Odd Thomas, to enjoy this one and figure out the characters, but I would strongly recommend it. The first reason is that it helps to provide context and set the scene for who Odd is and why he acts the way he does. The second reason is that Odd Thomas is a top notch work. Fun, quirky, intelligent, and cleverly written. I guess it is relevant to remind folks that Odd Thomas is the protagonist's real name. His parent's are both psychotic and left Odd to raise himself. I think by all measures, he has made a pretty good go of things. He is honest, loyal, hard working, and principled. Oh, and he can also see and communicate with the dead. He would tell you that he is as vanilla and unspecial as they come in this world, but for this one unique trait. Those souls that do not move on to the other side upon death, usually remain behind because they have some unfinished business in this world. Oftentimes that "business" involves some nefarious activity like they were murdered, but sometimes it is due to guilt or other issues.

In the first book, Odd thwarts the plans of a satanist group who were scheming to kill thousands of folks in his small California town of Pico Mundo. However, while he limited the destruction and the death using his special gifts and his own cleverness, the experience destroyed his future plans. A year has now passed and he is still dealing with his own mourning and his newfound status as a local hero. One evening he is visited by a recently murdered townsperson whose son and Odd had grown up together. Danny Jessup, born with and disfigured by a rare bone disorder, is kidnapped by a lady that he had met online. What started out as pure lust for Danny, eventually transformed into what he thought was relationship. Slowly he opened up about his life, including the secrets of Odd's paranormal abilities. Datura, a most wicked and deranged lady who fancies herself some kind of occult princess, then sets her sights on using Danny to get to Odd. Odd pursues the trail and meets up with Datura and her beefy henchman in an abandoned and burned out Indian casino complex. What follows is a cat and mouse game with palpable tension as Odd seeks to save Danny and to avoid the evil that relentlessly is drawn to him. Another solid work that I really enjoyed. Now, onto the third book in the series, Brother Odd.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

John Perks

When I mention John Perks, most folks seem to think that I am speaking of a man. Perhaps, middle-aged with coke-bottle glasses and funky side-burns that make him look a touch daft. Regardless of who I mention John Perks to, folks seem to think that he is some low-level pencil pusher who works in a small, noisy cubicle, somewhere near the elevator. But the fact is, John Perks is not a person. It is more of an unspoken, amorphous concept. If we consider the two
words separately, I think that you will begin to understand.

1). John [jon] noun: a toilet or bathroom (slang).

2). Perks [purks] noun: an extra inducement, benefit, or award (slang).

So you see, John Perks is not a person. It is a benefit program of sorts that may not be spelled out in a worker's contract or hiring agreement. It is more of a tacit award for rank in the corporate food chain. The deal that I have noticed after painstaking research and more than casual observation is that the higher folks are on the corporate ladder, the nicer their bathroom facilities are and the more often they are cleaned. Here is a list of my findings.
  • Position: CEO
  • Bathroom Description: Teak rainforest beadboard. Imported porcelain with gold fixtures. Spacious room for single user. Includes changing bench with leather padding and wall sconces. Toilet tissue extracted from angel's tears.
  • Cleaning Frequency: Every two hours.

  • Position: Upper management
  • Bathroom Description: Mahogany inlays with stone tile floor. High quality fixtures outfitted with polished chrome. Two stalls with floor to ceiling dividers. Coat rack with gold-toned hooks. Concealed, soft lighting. Toilet tissue scented with jasmine potpourri.
  • Cleaning Frequency: Twice per day.

  • Position: Middle management
  • Bathroom Description: Tastefully painted walls with standard tile flooring. Reasonably clean and outfitted with three to four stalls with 3/4 panel dividers. Brightly lit space with fluorescent fixtures on ceiling. Name brand toilet paper.
  • Cleaning Frequency: Once per day.

  • Position: Lower management
  • Bathroom Description: Standard work-a-day john. White walls and tiled floors. Semi-funky, lingering odor. Rust stains around plumbing. Five to seven stalls and urinals with minimal privacy walls. Fluorescent lighting with only half the bulbs working, the rest either buzzing or flickering. Commercial grade toilet paper.
  • Cleaning Frequency: Three times per week.

  • Position: Technicians/Workers
  • Bathroom Description: Gas-station-level facility. Covered with green mold and infested with roaches, spiders, and fruit flies. Most stalls covered with distasteful graffiti. Many toilet seats missing. Low-grit-sandpaper quality toilet paper, but only in some stalls. Sheen of liquid of some sort on the floor at all times. Dark room, likely haunted. Odor level nearly inhuman.
  • Cleaning Frequency: Once per month.

  • Position: IT Folks
  • Bathroom Description: Port-a-potty in back corner of lot laying on its side. Occupied by an ornery conclave of raccoons or possibly wolverines.
  • Cleaning Frequency: Never
Has anyone else noticed this John Perks scheme at their place of work?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Scrabble Lesson

I bought my daughter a game of Scrabble for Christmas a number of years ago. However, after we played it once, it was clear that she wasn't quite ready for this game. So it sat in her closet until one day a few months ago, when she pulled it out and asked to play. Since then, we have played dozens of times and it has been fascinating for me to see how rapidly her skills have advanced, both in terms of strategy and in the array of words that she has come up with. I too have learned something in this time of play, call it my own Scrabble lesson.

When we first started playing Scrabble, I would easily outscore my daughter without taxing myself in the least. However, as she figured out some basic strategies of the game, I had to work to stay ahead of her. The other thing that keeps the scores close, and in fact, has lead to her beating me as often as I beat her, is that when she gets stuck and can't figure out what move to make, she will ask me for help. In these situations I always give her my advice for achieving the highest possible score for her turn, even if this means that I lose the opportunity to score a big word for myself. However, despite the obvious advantage that she gets from such input, I never say anything about this when she does beat me. We celebrate her victories just as if she had done it all on her own.

There is a Biblical principle about honesty and integrity, basically that we should display these traits even when nobody can see us or know what we are doing. I think helping my daughter during our Scrabble games is part of this. It also allows me to encourage her and to strengthen her self image. Now, I don't think that this small thing puts me up for any father of the year awards, not that I am asking for any recognition. I just think sometimes that it is good to recognize how we can put Biblical principles into action in a practical way in our lives and why it is valuable.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Depends Moment

I recently wrote about the loss that I felt on the day that my computer and I spent separated from each other (see Grind My Gears 33). My laptop needed a few repairs that were necessary due to the normal wear and tear such portable devices incur. Such "normal" wear and tear may have been caused by a heavy thermos bottle doing an elbow drop on the top of the computer screen or possibly a trusted computer carrying case strap developing a case of Alzheimers and forgetting its purpose in life, causing a valuable computer to plummet earthward and making contact with the pavement in a sickening thud.

Now it was bad enough that I had to be separated from my loved one, but I had a truly Depends moment when I went to the repair shop to pick it up after its harrowing incarceration. What is a "Depends moment" you ask? ... Well, it is a moment where you are so scared that you tinkle your britches and you either wish you were wearing adult diapers or thankful that you remembered to suit up on your way out of the house in the morning. What happened was that I was casually chatting with the lady at the register when the tech-dude brought out the assortment of pieces shown in the above photograph. There was no computer in his hands, just parts. When I turned bleach white, he recognized my pathetic condition and assured me that everything would be alright. These parts were just what he replaced. He then led me back to the recovery room where my baby was waiting to be taken home.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Observations 25

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.
  • The other morning a fancy Lincoln Towncar pulled ahead of me in the next lane and came to a stop at the light. The driver, a pretty young woman, opened the door and spit in the middle of the road. I thought that was mighty disgusting. When I pulled even with her a moment later, I could see that she had a toothbrush in one hand and a hair brush in the other. Oh, so she was just getting dressed in the car as she was late for work.
  • I live in a town whose name is 8 letters long. Having to write this out on the address line when paying my bills seems like it takes forever. It can put me in a sour mood. Imagine how irascible I would be if I lived in Rancho Cucamonga.
  • I was setting up to have a contractor come out to my house for a small repair job. When he asked for my address, I drew a complete blank on my house number. The harder that I tried to concentrate to pull it out my mind, the deeper it hid away from me. What will be forgotten next? Hopefully not something vitally important like the Gilligan's Island theme song.
  • For all of you agnostic or atheistic nerds, there is now a Klingon version of the Bible. Qapchu'!
  • At 1:45 p.m. the other day I made an appointment with my doctor. At 1:50 p.m. I got a call from my doctor reminding me of that same appointment. Geez, I know I am forgetful, but ... what was I talking about?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Odd Thomas

A semi-recent comment on my blog suggested that I check out the Odd Thomas series by author Dean Koontz. Since then I have kept this recommendation on my radar. I recently had the chance to read the first book in the series, Odd Thomas. The story is about a 20 year old man named Odd Thomas. He has complete nut jobs for parents, and although he is by all accounts an average guy, living in a small rented room above a garage and working as a short order cook in a small restaurant in the western town of Pico Mundo, he is a pretty decent and normal man. However, he has a gift that he has shared only with his girlfriend Stormy, his friend and mentor Little Ozzie, and the local police chief Wyatt Porter. Odd has the ability to see and communicate with spirits and other unworldly creatures. The spirits that he encounters linger in this world when most others move on to the next world. Those that remain are troubled or unaccepting of their fate. Some linger around because they have met a a grizzly demise at the hands of another. It is these that Odd tends to encounter most often, and to such as these, he feels compelled to help.

The main story involves a completely repugnant man that Odd encounters in town who is marked by evil. He is accompanied by an entourage of dark spirits that Odd has called bodachs. These spirits show up whenever death and destruction are looming. Odd then begins to learn about this person he calls the "fungus man". The more he learns, the more he gets pulled into trying to figure out why a legion of bodachs has amassed. What could "fungus man" be up to? Just when he thinks he has a clue, fungus man is murdered. The clever hero is then forced to dive deeper, to sift again through the short list of clues that he has uncovered. The lives of thousands of people in this sleepy western town hang in the balance.

I have read scores of novels over the past few years and have a short list of those that have made my list of favorites. I think this book has put Dean Koontz on my must read list. Odd Thomas was an exceedingly well crafted story with an ending that brought me to tears. Filled with intriguing characters, a fast moving pace, humorous dialog and observations, and a very clever approach. In short, this was the work of a completely focussed and professional author on top of his game. I look forward to diving into the second book in this series, Forever Odd.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Salle de Bain

It seems to me that most people work two full-time jobs. The first is the obvious one, where we put in 40 hours per week of labor for our paycheck. The second one, which likely involves nearly as much effort, is the one that keeps us activity monitoring our image. The face or persona that the outside world is allowed to see. The one that we painstakingly manicure and style and pay attention to. The effort to keep up appearances of professionalism, of mental stability, of being calm and in control at all times, as always being upbeat and certain of ourselves, can be more draining than any physical labor that we set our backs to. It's funny that over time we often come to believe that the facade that we have erected is the real us. I think that more often than not, this gauzy exterior is flimsy and threadbare enough, despite our best efforts, that most folks who take even more than a causual glance can see through it pretty quickly.

This post came to me the other day at work when I was sitting in a colleague's office trying to have a meeting at his desk. His office is situated such that it is bordered on one side by a high traffic bathroom. Sitting in that space, every toilet flush shook through the walls. You could hear conversations, folks using the soap dispensers and pulling out the paper towels, and far too many "other" sounds generated in your typical salle de bain. These folks on the other side of this thin wall were going about their "business" believing that they were wrapped in privacy. Yet without even trying I knew exactly what was going on.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

iTunes Latest - 12

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 history with each song.
  • Bring Me Some Water - Melissa Etheridge (1988) - This is the only song by Etheridge that I have liked. Bluesy and passionate and bursting with pain that we have all felt. It didn't hurt that she was so beautiful.
  • Saturday Night - Aaron Carter (2005) - I have never been a fan of the trite bubblegum pop that Carter is associated with. However, I liked the groove of this song and it revs me up a bit when it plays on my exercise mix.
  • Here's My Heart - Passion (2013) - I first heart this one from my church's music leader Stephen. His version is better than the original, but this is a nice song.
  • Live is Life - Opus (1985) - I remember how much I loved this song when it came out in the summer after my freshman year in high school. That was nearly 30 years ago, but this reggae infused ode to the necessity of live music for the musician still holds up with time.
  • You and I - Pat Benatar (1993) - As the 1980s came to an end, the queen of pop/rock quickly faded from public consciousness. She tried her hand with a blues album and it didn't do well. When she tried to come back, the public had lost their taste for her work. However, her 1993 album Gravity's Rainbow is an unappreciated work with some good songs that I have recently discovered. This is one of them.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Penetrating the Bureaucracy

I love the scene in The Incredibles when Bob Parr (aka Mr. Incredible) is being dressed down by his boss Mr. Huph at Insuricare. Bob has a kind heart and lives to serve others even when he is forbidden from living his dream life as Mr. Incredible. He takes pity on his clients and helps them through the otherwise impenetrable bureaucracy to see his clients collect what is rightfully theirs when otherwise they would have their
claims denied by the frigid, profit-minded corporation. Mr Huph rages:

"Complaints I can handle. What I can't handle is your customers' inexplicable knowledge of Insuricare's inner workings! They're experts. Experts, Bob! Exploiting every loophole, dodging every obstacle! They're penetrating the bureaucracy!"

As I work for a facility operated by the federal government, I have seen more than my fair share of bureaucracy. I have come across more than a few individuals whose sole purpose seems to be to make getting practical work done as difficult as possible. Just when you are beginning to work your way through the crap to make progress, it is as if they can sense it. They then immediately change all the rules and condescendingly look down upon you as if you have the intelligence of a bowl of Grape Nuts. They seem to purposefully be disingenuous, obliquely rude, and smug, all the while smiling their own special toothy insipid grin. Only when you go over their heads and force the issue then they suddenly act if they are pleased that things could proceed. All the while they look at you with a thinly disguised bubbling contempt. How dare you deign to think that you can do an end around and penetrate their bureaucracy!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Grind My Gears 33

It has been a few months since I posted an entry in my Grind My Gears blog series. You might think that this is because I haven't had anything in particular to gripe about. You might also be a cretin who may or may not have a long history with bedwetting. The real problem is that there have been so many petty annoyances that have been plaguing my existence that I have become completely saturated. Saturated to the point of bloated inaction. However, something came along that broke through the slimy surface tension that had been holding me back. That something turned out to be technology. I can only say most emphatically that advanced technology really grinds my gears. Don't try to convince me otherwise. I became hip to this gear-grinding jive the other day when I had to leave my laptop computer at the repair shop for some buffing and grinding. Perhaps there was a little nip a little tuck, some lipo and some implants. This separation resulted in a most horrible day for me. I kept reaching over to the place where my computer normally sits on my desk, only to be reminded that it was gone. It didn't help that this was the only spot on my desk not stained by coffee and a thick layer of dust and grease. The issue is that high technology folks make these insidious devices that are so clever, so useful, so necessary, that they become a part of us. When they are ripped from our grubby little fingers, we melt down into a pool of needy, clingy goo. If these introverted nerds had not invented such superb technology, we would never have had to be subjected to such aching loss.

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Light Shining

The sequel to the novel Dancing Priest by author Glynn Young is entitled A Light Shining. It picks up where Dancing Priest left off. Just after winning three gold medals as the captain of the British cycling team where he was feted as a hero after saving several lives during a rock slide, Michael Kent has been ordained as a priest in the Anglican church and assigned to work in San Francisco. There he reconnects with his soul mate Sarah Hughes and they marry. Sarah, a talented artist, finds her muse and creates beauty in her paintings from what she takes in from the world around her. Michael, a man of humble and pure heart, also makes his own beautiful works from the world around him. His is a prime example of a light shining and his love and strength serve to cast out darkness in the world around him. One example is his work to find homes for a group of homeless teenagers that the world has cast out. He also adopts the young son of a prostitute murdered by her pimp.

We learned in Dancing Priest that Michael's parents were killed in an automobile accident when he was a child. He was raised by friends of his parents, who never shared too much about his past, but they gave him all the love in the world. It turns out that Michael is a cousin to the British king. It is this link that forms a crucial aspect of this novel. An Islamic fundamentalist group has put into motion a plan to destroy the monarchy and to throw Great Britain into anarchy. The group executes their plan nearly flawlessly, yet they fail to kill Michael or his unborn child. In the chaos, both Michael and Sarah shine bright, serving as an inspiration to the millions watching all of the horrific events unfold. Drawing strength from their friends and family, as well as each other, Michael and Sarah step up to follow the path that God has set before them.

Just as in Dancing Priest, the author follows somewhat of a minimalist approach in his writing. Simple descriptions and subtle flavors are employed instead of layers and depths of imagery. I would also say that this book falls into the fairy tale genre. None of this is meant to cast any sort of disparaging tone on this book. It works and holds together because the characters are humble, loving, and strong. It is easy to cheer for them even when you can see from a long way off what is going to happen. Both of these books were quick reads, but I am glad that I came across them.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Drowning 2

Never trained to swim, in water well over their heads, and at the mercy of the strong current, they didn't have too much time left before they became fodder for the evening news. (continued from
Drowning 1).

The husband saw that his children were in trouble and went out into the water while the women on the beach looked on in terror. The husband swam for a while but was not getting any closer to the kids as he was not a strong swimmer. After a time, the single woman noticed that the husband had turned back to shore. She screamed aloud to nobody and to everybody, "What the heck is he doing?" It turned out that he had given up his children for dead. He figured that he could not reach them and headed back for shore while he felt he could still make it. Surely he could hear his children dying. From where I stand, far from that horrible scene, I can only label that man as a full-fledged coward. As I see it, you only have a few moments in your life where you are faced with stepping up, where you need to put your personal safety aside for others, where you are called upon to demonstrate your mettle, what you are truly made of, regardless of the odds for success. This was one such moment.

When the single woman, who had never before been in the ocean beyond her knees, recognized what was going on, her attention turned to the kids. The first one had just gone under and the other two were desperately trying to pull him up. All three were swallowing water, struggling for air, and losing the battle of endurance. At that moment she declared, "Not while I'm alive." She then fearlessly dove into the water and splashed and kicked and dog-paddled, somehow reaching the kids moments before they succumbed. Somehow, sore and bone-weary at a level that she had not known before, she made it back to the beach with the kids wrapped in her arms. She single-handedly had saved the lives of her friend's three children.

When the mother was telling the story to our small group at the next meeting, she was obviously thankful for her friend's heroism and her selfless act that risked her life. I was thankful for the outcome and the fact that her family was O.K.. However, I kept thinking, how can you ever look at your husband as anything other than a raving coward? This man chose to leave his kids to die to avoid risk to himself. His actions sicken me. They sicken me because I recognize times in my past where I needed to step up and be a man, and instead, also chose the coward's way of swimming back to the safety of shore.

(Part 2 of 2)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Drowning 1

In a dark period of my life, when I was doing some things to get by that I was not proud of, a friend told me that nobody would like to be judged by their worst moments. Yet I have always believed that how we behave in our worst moments indeed says something about our heart, about our make-up. In some ways, our actions in these moments can reveal what is at our core. The following incident is one that occurred about 4 or 5 years ago, but has always haunted me. I just never can escape shuddering whenever the memory of this event crosses my mind.

Two ladies in my church small group took a trip down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a weekend beach get-away. One lady traveled with her husband and three young children. The other was a young single woman who was plus size and not what you would call athletic. There are signs posted all along the beaches on the Outer Banks warning that just a short way out into the water, powerful rip currents are present. These currents can subtly and insidiously pull you away from shore. Folks not paying attention might not recognize their predicament until they are in great peril. When they try to make it back to the sandy beach, they find that the currents simply pull them along parallel to the shore. They swim and swim until, eventually, they run out of strength and go under. This grim scenario results in multiple drowning deaths each summer.

In the case with the folks from my old small group, the adults were sitting together on the beach chatting and passing the time in a relaxed manner. The three young kids were playing in the surf and unbeknownst to them, the currents were playing their wicked game. Before they realized what was going on, they found themselves a long way from shore and could not get back in. They began to panic and scream for help as their strength began to ebb. Never trained to swim, in water well over their heads, and at the mercy of the strong currents, they didn't have too much time left before they became fodder for the evening news.

To be continued ...

(Part 1 of 2)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

User's Group

At the laboratory where I work, we host an annual meeting for the folks who conduct their research at our facility. These outside folks include professors, students, and scientists from universities and other laboratories from around the world. I find it slightly amusing that these visitors are referred to as "users." To me this term has an inherently negative connotation. Be that as it may, my facility has been established by the U.S. government as a national user facility. These outside folks are the reason why we exist. So, the annual "user's meeting" is a time to get together to hear about the latest research developments from across the lab and to hear from the representatives of the government who oversee the funding programs that support the work of the lab and its users.

One of the important demographics attending this meeting are the graduate students. These young folks are currently involved in research to earn their doctorates. They are easy to spot because they tend to be bouncing off the walls with energy levels bubbling off the scale. They are the future of my field and will ultimately take the torch that folks like me have been carrying. During the meeting, I was asked to take part in a lunch for these students and to lead a Q&A session focussed on how to best position themselves for getting a job when they complete their degrees.

In science, the number of applicants far outweighs the number of available positions. Getting a job is 50% talent, 50% tenacity, and 50% luck (we require folks to give 150% effort). Judging by the looks on the student's faces as I spoke with them, I could see that they were palpably worried about their prospects for employment. I acknowledged that the chances of them getting hired in academia or securing a position at a national lab were quite small. Yet I encouraged them to not lose sight of their passion for their work, to aggressively seek to take full ownership of the things that are under their control, to not shy away from challenges, and to realize that there are other avenues for exciting careers in science beyond the narrow views of the ideal job that they currently hold. It was an interesting hour and fun to engage with these young folks.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Observations 24

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 passed me on the road the other day. The thumping music coming out of the open window on the rear driver's side door caused me to glance over. What made me do a double-take was that the young driver had pushed his seat as far back as it would go and had it reclined in such a manner that he rested his arm on the edge of that open window. The window on the driver's door was all the way up.
  • Don't you just want to spit when you find that you put the mailing stub into an envelope and sealed it up only to find that you put it in backwards and there is no address showing through the little cellophane window?
  • Have you ever noticed that when adult friends come over to your house for a social gathering, the kids love to show off their rooms. Wouldn't this same invitation be a bit awkward if we kept doing it as we became adults?
  • After a hard rain the other afternoon the sun came popping out. As I was driving down my street I saw two young girls in bright galoshes jumping like crazy in the puddles in their driveways. They were having the time of their lives. What a beautiful sight.
  • I work with a kind of rough and tumble guy. He has had some trouble and issues in his past, but he is working to become a better man. When you do something for him, instead of saying, "I appreciate that", he says "I appreciate you." I like that turn of phrase very much.