Monday, March 31, 2014

Observations 49

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.
  • There was a man that I worked with quite closely for an extended period of time some years ago. I ran into him at a recent meeting and he seemed to have no recollection of who I was.
  • At a conference that I attended, I noticed that whenever a speaker explicitly stated, "I am going to make this short", they always ran well over their allotted time.
  • What's the deal with people who use horribly outdated catch phrases but who seem oblivious to this fact? Do we need to start circulating a memo?
  • I would wager real cash money that the majority of vehicle drivers out on today's highways and byways have no idea what "yield" means and thus do not appreciate the rules of the road signified by a yield sign.
  • If you leave a meeting early or come into a meeting late, it is your responsibility to make sure that you don't slam the door on the meeting room. This always creates an unnecessary distraction.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Shadows in Flight

The fifth and final book in Orson Scott Card's "Shadow Saga" (part of his "Enderverse" series) is entitled Shadows in Flight and picks up some time after Shadow of the Giant ends. This short novel is the story of the final adventure of Julian Delphiki or Bean as he was known during his childhood, when he helped to defeat the alien Formics and then became the leading general and military strategist for the Earth's hegemon leader. At the ripe old age of 20-something, Bean exiled himself from Earth with three of his children, leaving behind his wife with another five of his children. Bean and his young brood of Carlotta (the engineer), Sergeant (the warrior), and Ender (the biologist) each share a genetic disorder that gives rise to a level of genius far beyond ordinary humanity. However, the flip side to this blessing is the curse of giantism, where the body never receives a signal to stop growing. This condition eventually leads to premature death in the early 20s as the skeletal and circulatory systems were not designed to function under the strain of such a creature. By exiling themselves, Bean is hoping that on their travels out into the galaxy, that Earth's scientists will have an opportunity to develop a cure for their condition.

Bean's children, all about six years old, are fully independent thinkers who operate their starship, from propulsion, to mechanical repairs, to monitoring the biosystem, to educating themselves in a broad array of fields. Meanwhile, Bean is relegated to the ship's cargo hold, as he has reached a size that has made movement through the ship impossible. He has grown weak and his time is almost up. It is in the moment when he and his children have essentially given up hope of a future that they come upon an alien ship. It turns out that this ship is an early generation Formic ship that has life forms aboard. Of course, it was universally believed that all of the Formics had died when Andrew "Ender" Wiggin led the attack on the alien home world. It seems that there is more to the Formics than was believed. It is this opportunity that spurs the children to make contact and learn the truth about the Formic species, which gives Bean one final opportunity to teach his children and set them up for the rest of their lives. A sweet and simple ending to the series.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


Each of us clings to our identities in one way or another. Some employ a white-knuckled death grip. Others hold on loosely. It may not be strictly true in all cases, but it seems to me that the strength with which we hold onto our identities is directly correlated with how we view ourselves. What I mean to say is that those who have a very positive self image seem to hold most tightly to their identities. Those who have a very negative self image tend to hold quite loosely. As an example you are more likely to find someone with high self esteem wearing a shirt with their name emblazoned across their chest in rhinestones. Think Laverne as aligned with a positive self image and Shirley as aligned with a negative self image.

There is a young man who has been working with the technicians in my group for the past few months. He tends to be used by this group as something of a "go-fer". He runs errands, carries the heavy equipment, and serves as an extra set of hands when needed. When he was assigned to do some work for me for a few weeks, I introduced myself and asked him his name. He told me his name was Brent. However, every time that I have heard someone use his name, they have said Brett. After hearing this for a while, I took Brent aside and told him to correct the others when they call him by the wrong name. His response to me was, "It doesn't matter." I kind of felt bad for him. I worried about how he saw himself and if he felt small or inconsequential. He tends to be satisfied to hide in the shadows and not to draw attention to himself. I have tried to correct the guys when they call him by the wrong name. Hopefully, his identity crisis will pass and eventually he will come to see himself as part of the crew.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Funny is ...

People often come up to me in the street and ask for advice on preparing a humorous blog post. Most often this happens when I am wearing my sandwich board signage that says, "Please, ask me about writing a humorous blog post." Be that as it may, I think the most important advice that I can give is to consider exactly which words you employ. Some words are just naturally funny and others will always fall flat regardless of the context. Given that this is so important to an aspiring blogster, I thought that I would provide some explicit examples to get you started considering your word choices.

Good: cretin, bedwetter, malcontent, ne'er-do-well
Bad: jerk, poop-head, IRS agent, politician, lawyer

Good: waz, drool, absquatulate, bloviate
Bad: run, jump, announce, adjudicate

Good: spunky, fresh-faced, soulless, insouciant, verdant
Bad: pimply, squeamish, mild-mannered, benign, woody

Good: zoinks, egad, begorrah, narf, great Xerxes' ham
Bad: any cuss word, phooey, hakuna matata, dadgum, baloney

As a clear illustration of these basic blogging facts, consider the following Mad-style lib. Try filling in the blanks with words recognized as "bad" and then go through it again using the words recognized as "good".

I went to my doctor the other day. Man, that guy is a real    (adjective)       (noun)   . I went in for him to    (verb)    on me, but all he did was give me a bill for $823.74. I could only yell,    (interjection)   .

The difference is quite noticeable, don't you think?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

God in the Dock

I have had the C.S. Lewis anthology God in the Dock on my "to-read" list for a while. This book amounts to a collection of essays written by Lewis over the last 20 to 30 years of his life. It was published in 1970, roughly seven years after his death. The preface was written by the respected Lewis biographer Walter Hooper who noted that "Lewis struck me as the most thoroughly converted man I ever met. His whole vision of life was such that the natural and the supernatural seemed inseparably combined." If you have ever read any of the apologetics works of Lewis, you would appreciate his mastery of developing and presenting arguments on a broad range of questions of ethics and theology.

A "dock" refers to the location in a courtroom where a prisoner is placed during trial. The title of this anthology comes from a Lewis essay on making sense of the claims regarding Christianity. How we so often set ourselves up as a judge to the claims made in the Bible. Amusing to see that we place ourselves above the true judge of judges. This compilation contains several dozen essays and replies to various critics and reviewers. A good many of these pieces I have come across in other works, however several I read for the first time. Some essays tackled the "big" questions of faith. In others, Lewis seems to have pulled out his big guns to deal with what I would term "Christian minutiae", as if he were using a 20-lb munitions shell to take down a child's toy boat. However, reading through his thoughts and how he approached his arguments was still very enjoyable.

The essays contained were often hit or miss for me. Sometimes he was writing about some religious trends or religious fringe group that has long since gone the way of the dodo. Without understanding what they were selling, it was sometimes hard to understand what Lewis was attacking. However, even in these pieces, there were still plenty of pearls and nuggets of gold to sustain me.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Quick Hits 16

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.

You just witnessed your boss doing something illegal or immoral at work. What is the threshold required of this transgression for you to speak up?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Shadow of the Giant

The fourth book in Orson Scott Card's "Shadow Saga" (part of his ongoing series of books in his "Enderverse") entitled Shadow of the Giant picks up where the notably weaker effort Shadow Puppets left off. Happily the quality of this tale was back up to par with the other books in the series. At this point in the story Andrew "Ender" Wiggin has long since left on his journey to become the new governor of an Earth colony on a former world inhabited by the alien Formic species. On Earth, the children that were members of Ender's command group that defeated the Formics are heading up the leadership of the nations and the militaries that are vying for power. National alliances are formed and tested, all in a charged effort for overall supremacy. Europe and Asia are a powder keg with wars developing between the dominant armies of Russia, the Muslims, and the Chinese. Against this violent charge, Ender Wiggin's brother Peter, who has been elected as the Hegemon of Earth, is trying to unite the nations of the Earth into a single people, much as they were when they came together to deal with the Formic attack on Earth. However, Peter does not have large armies at his disposal. He has his wits, his sensibilities, and he has the genius Julian "Bean" Delphiki on his side, the child who had been groomed as Ender's alternate in the Formic wars.

The story really weaves a complex international tapestry that Card pulled off quite well. His characters behaved in accordance with their makeup and their beliefs. No corners were cut or legacies short circuited to bring the story to its crescendo and its conclusion. As the story ends, Peter has once again maneuvered his chess pieces such that the Earth is nearly fully united behind a single leader. Peter's true purpose, which has always been a bit of a mystery, finally comes into some focus. Since his childhood, he came across as deranged, selfish, and burning with jealousy over his brother Ender's success. Seemingly the pain from his childhood drove him to a desperate lust for power and attention. Yet as the story developed, Peter comes to meet his true potential and his motives are for the most part pure and selfless. At the end of the story, Peter gets a chance to talk with Ender on his colony-bound ship. This is a sweet and revealing moment.

The story ends with Bean taking some of his children and heading out into space to buy himself some time while the best scientists on the Earth search for a cure for the genetic defect that is killing him and will claim the children with him. This is the subject of the final part of the Shadow Saga, Shadows in Flight.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Shadow Puppets

After completing Orson Scott Card's Shadow of the Hegemon, I moved onto the next book in his "Shadow Saga", Shadow Puppets. This book is the tenth that I have read as part of his "Enderverse". This is the first book that I would classify as a disappointment. Each of the major story arcs was brought about by actions of the main characters that were so out of line with who they were that it seemed Card was either rushed, bored, or inattentive in his writing, or else an unsupervised ghost writer did most of the preparation of the book. However, to complete the series, I felt it necessary to spend the few nights required to read through this one.

This story focuses on four main characters. Peter Wiggin, the hegemon of Earth; Bean, a genius who was the backup to Ender Wiggin during the battle to defeat the alien Formic race; Petra Arkanian, a commander within Ender's battle group; Achilles, a murderous, clever megalomaniac who is trying to usurp Peter Wiggin so that he can consolodate the power of the hegemon and become the most powerful man on Earth. The main story arcs involve Peter trying to restore the office of the hegemon slowly and with calculated steps, Achilles being accepted by Peter as an assistant but secretly working to oust him, Bean and Petra getting married and deciding to have children. The backdrop to the story involves the different battle commanders from Ender's group rising to positions of military leadership and moving toward war against each other.

The weaknesses in the story are characters not acting according to who Card has made them out to be through a long series of books. For example, Peter has the brilliant mind of his brother Ender, but is more ruthless and self-serving in his leadership approach. Howewever, here Peter consistently acts like some dull-witted, petulant kid. There is nothing in his actions or dialog in this story that matches with the power broker that he is supposed to be. He shows no ability to critically examine his own thoughts or those of others. There is nothing charismatic about him as he deals with other world leaders. As another example, Bean is conned by a known con man, taken in by some obvious flim-flam. However, in even letting himself into this situation he goes against principles that are woven into his DNA. Finally, the premise of Peter arranging for the rescue of Achilles and then putting him into a position in his inner circle was so poorly developed and conceived that it left me scratching my head. However, despite this disappointing story, I will still continue to the next part of the story, Shadow of the Giant.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Observations 48

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 sat through a seminar given by a chinese man with a prototypical french accent. It was kind of surreal.
  • Our phone system at work can receive site-wide alerts. The other day we lost network access, which took down internet and email. A site-wide alert circulated that noted, "The IT Division is working to restore network services. See email for more details."
  • Have you ever noticed just how disgusting the keyboard of your computer is? Every key is covered with dirt, grime, and foreign substances, and there are bit and pieces of unidentified food bits between the keys.
  • I saw a man sitting in a seminar the other day at work. He was staring at his laptop and had headphones in his ears. I wonder why he bothered to show up.
  • There is an ongoing fashion trend in which women wear what I would term "flood pants", pants that are purposefully worn to be about 3 inches above the tops of their shoes. Personally, I would be mortified to go out in public dressed in ill-fitting clothing.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Litter Box

Too many folks seem to treat me like a turd in the kitty litter box. It feels like they would rather scoop some of that ammonia-scented clay to cover me up rather than acknowledge me or deal with me. It doesn't matter whether these people are acquaintances or those that I would like to think are my friends.

So many times I have been told, "Let me know if you need anything." However, folks never seem to be available when I do need something.

How many times will you say to me, "we've got to get together for coffee soon", before you really mean it?

"I have an important doctor's appointment this afternoon so I will not make the meeting." ... "Oh that reminds me, I have to finish my report for that meeting."

Too often I tell you about a personal conflict that is causing me great pain, yet you never once follow up to see how things are going.

While it looks like I seem to be complaining and calling "foul", I assure you that the only finger that I am pointing is directed firmly back at myself. I have heard it said that in order to have a friend, you need to be a friend. However, it is so natural for me to get so wrapped up in myself that I lose focus on everyone else. So natural that it has, in fact, become second nature. That really needs to change.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Relative Motion

Have you ever been sitting on a train at the station and had your attention abruptly disturbed by another train passing by on the next track? Just for a moment your frame of reference is confused and you actually believe that it is your train that is moving. Your stomach lurches and your head reels. It seems the mind can become confused by the idea of relative motion. Too easily we feel that we are going somewhere or making progress when, in reality, it is those around us that are going somewhere or making progress. Meanwhile, we have been and remain firmly at rest.

This idea of fooling ourselves due to relative motion came to mind when I was thinking about my faith. Many folks refer to a relationship with Christ as their Christian walk. A walk of this sort implies forward motion and progress towards a goal. That goal being an ever-deepening trust in God and reliance on His word as defined in scripture. Too often I fool myself into believing that I am further along on my own Christian walk than I truly am because those around me are making progress, when actually I am at rest. I feel certain that this hasn't always been the case, that there have been seasons in my life when I have really risen up from who I was and the sinful ways that had claimed me. However, recently I seem to have fallen into a rut of passivity and inaction, a time of focusing far too much of my energy on myself and my own issues. I don't think the answer to my being entrenched is necessarily more time in prayer or more time reading my devotional books. I think possibly that I might do better hitching my train more tightly to others who actually are in motion.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Shadow of the Hegemon

My next read in Orson Scott Card's "Shadow Saga" is entitled Shadow of the Hegemon and picks up shortly after Ender's Game and the parallel novel Ender's Shadow ended off. Both of these novels were tales of Earth's smartest children trained in military command to defeat the insectoid alien race known as the Formics. These two books were of the same characters and situations but the first was written from the point of view of Andrew "Ender" Wiggin and the second from the point of view of Julian "Bean" Delphiki. The Hegemon story details the heroic return to Earth of all of the Battle School children, save Ender, who was forced to remain in exile due to the political workings of his brother Peter. The different nations of the Earth had unified under a single leader known as the hegemon to deal with the alien threat. However, immediately after the great victory lead by Ender, the fragile peace shattered and nations moved to reassert their power and independence. The children of Battle School were viewed as valuable assets by their home countries, both in terms of their hero status, as well as their skills as military tacticians and leaders in the battles that were sure to come. It is in this tense backdrop that Card's story follows further along with Bean and his sworn enemy, Achilles, a boy that Bean knew growing up on the streets of Rotterdam. Achilles was marked for Battle School as well until it became known that he was a mass murderer. He vowed that he would get his revenge on Bean.

Achilles is a true megalomaniac. He is brutal, manipulative, merciless, but also charming, brilliant, and cunning. He is a smooth talker and a schemer, who is skilled at playing nation against nation. It is not entirely clear what his true game is as he leaves a trail of betrayal in his wake. Bean though is more than a match for Achilles and is most often one step ahead of him. While Achilles is only out for himself, Bean does not care about personal glory, seeking only the best outcome in any given situation. Early on he recognizes that either Achilles or Peter Wiggin will be made the new hegemon of Earth. While Peter is definitely not the ideal candidate, he is certainly far better than a murderous psychopath. With Bean's help, Achilles loses his control (temporarily?) and Peter is elected hegemon. However, this position is only a mere shadow of what it once was as China has taken over most of Asia and Russia has claimed nearly all of Europe, and both expansionist nations will not recognize the office of hegemon. Yet Peter has a plan to slowly reclaim the power that his office once boasted, yet his path is arduous and his motives are far from selfless. The story continues with Shadow Puppets, my next adventure.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Ender's Shadow

After reading through the set of novels in Orson Scott Card's Ender's Quintet, I continued onto the related Shadow Saga series, starting with the first book, Ender's Shadow. This story takes places concurrently with the narrative in Ender's Game, but from the point of view of a different character, one Julian "Bean" Delphiki. We first meet Bean as a 4 year old orphan surviving on the mean streets of Rotterdam. Bean's world is comprised of gangs of young children, living a deplorable and pitiable existence. A child of Bean's physical makeup should not have been able to survive, but he is not just another street urchin. He actually has been genetically engineered for super intelligence. It is this characteristic that ultimately gets him noticed by the International Fleet and accepted into Battle School at 6 years old, the same training facility where Andrew "Ender" Wiggin is being focused on as the most likely candidate to lead Earth's fleet in repelling the next expected invasion of the alien buggers who have already attacked the Earth, killing tens of millions.

Bean was an important aspect of the narrative in Ender's Game, but this novel shows that while Ender received the attention as the commander, Bean was likely as skilled a tactician as Ender. Certainly Bean was a better student compared to Ender, however his ability to command was not on the same level as Ender. While Bean had the skills and the ability, his leadership seemed more forced and manufactured than Ender's. Ender's leadership was simply a natural gift that emanated from him and pulled people toward him. It is a great credit to Bean that he was able to accept his role in the defense of Earth and set aside feelings of jealousy or bitterness.

Ultimately the story in Ender's Shadow concludes exactly at the same point as Ender's Game. While Ender led Earth's attack against the bugger homeworld, he had been led to believe it was just a battle training exercise. It was Bean, with his quick intellect, who was able to understand exactly what was happening and what was at stake. The novel ends with the children of Battle School (except Ender) being returned to Earth in a suddenly tumultuous time. Now that the buggers have been defeated, the unity that held the nations of Earth together against a common foe, has quickly unraveled and a mighty power struggle to gain control is afoot. We know that Bean has a role to play in this conflict and we start to understand why that is. This story was an enjoyable companion to Ender's Game. Now onto the next part of the story in The Shadow of the Hegemon.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Observations 47

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.
  • Why do people leave 20 or 30 feet between themselves and the car in front of them even when they are blocking the turning lane for everyone behind them?
  • I absolutely love American Cheese. Yum. Great for snackin'. If I was a citizen of Luxembourg instead of a citizen of the U.S., I wonder if I would then have a hankering for some Luxembourgian cheese.
  • Don't you hate getting stuck behind another driver who is going 10 miles per hour beneath the speed limit? Don't you think it borders on criminal negligence when said driver is puttering along in a fancy sportscar?
  • There is a hairstyle popular among women where it looks like someone used a dull weed-wacker to take off the back portion of their hair. I have heard it called a bob, but it always looks to me like they insulted their barber and he got his revenge. I find it frustrating when folks who still have their hair abuse the privilege.
  • Have you ever thought the dishes in the dishwasher were clean so you unloaded it, only to find out at the end that the machine had never run? Do you have any idea how much this reeks?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

They Called it Paradise

The trees have stood like sentinels for generations untold. Home to squirrels, fox, deer, birds, and countless others of nature's fold. Growing unmolested by humanity, ..., until the signs were staked into the ground. New retail shops! Now leasing!

Within days the orange plastic fences were installed marking the deforestation zone. Red and blue ribbons noted which trees stayed and which were to go. A few weeks later massive machinery moved in and fired up their diesel engines. Within moments the fragile peace was destroyed and the beauty irrevocably sullied, ..., and for what?

My town is sated with retail stores and strip malls from one end to the other. There is no need and no call for any more of the same old. There are already so many vacant buildings and shopping areas that once held the banner of new after they cleared off another pristine corner of nature. Now those same areas sit in decay, hives for criminal activity. A sign of how unnecessary they were from the beginning. When will they stop?

In less than a month the lot is nearly half cleared out of growth and life. The bright signs that were erected by the developers have already been sun bleached and faded to white, perhaps even they have no stomach for the clamor of the dollar.

... Some rich men came and raped the land,
Nobody caught 'em
Put up a bunch of ugly boxes, and Jesus,
people bought 'em
And they called it paradise ...

(Eagles, The Last Resort)

Monday, March 10, 2014

High Stakes

When folks survive a brush with death, oftentimes from that point forward their calendars are marked with the anniversary date. Each year they celebrate their survival with some type of remembrance. It matters little whether the event was a major health scare, a serious car crash, or some freak accident where their life came within an eyelash of ending. They are alive today and thankful that the painful ordeal is in the past where it can no longer touch them. However, for some of us, we survive a brush with death, only to continually be forced to face our tormentor. In my case, I was diagnosed with an advanced-stage carcinoma back in 1997. My cancer has returned half a dozen times since I had my first operation. Each year I have to visit my oncologist for a detailed examination. Some visits end with me given a clean bill of health and some end with me setting up an appointment for surgery. Whatever else I have going on is immediately set aside as a secondary concern as that old struggle with death requires full attention.

My next yearly exam is scheduled for this week. It is amazing how a fairly quick check can either set you back on your normal workaday course or put you face to face with your end. One outcome leaves you chatting lightly about trivialities with your doctor. The other has nurses scrambling to setup your pre-operative tests and procedures. I have been through this ordeal so many times it feels a bit like a loop from the movie "Groundhog Day". However, I try to prepare myself each year to deal in strength with the outcome no matter what it may be. To be sure my highs and lows are much more controlled now than they were in the past. I guess no matter how big the stakes are, you eventually get used to dealing with things as they come. So know that I will deal with this too regardless of the outcome.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Ender in Exile

My online friend Ricky suggested that I might enjoy Orson Scott Card's "Enderverse". So far I have read through the original Ender Quartet, but I did not stop there, continuing on down the path of the many other books in this series. Card has added to his original works with sequels, prequels, and parallel-quels (books written from different character's viewpoints). I have read some commentaries by Card who has admitted his difficulty in keeping everything straight over the three decades that he has been writing stories in the universe of one Andrew "Ender" Wiggin. One thing that I will note is that, for the most part, Card does not seem to be milking a dead cow. The storylines are consistently tight, the writing strong, and the different story arcs engaging. My latest read is entitled Ender in Exile. This story was meant to be the direct sequel to the original Ender's Game and all takes place before Speaker for the Dead.

Ender Wiggin has just defeated the insectoid alien race known as the Formics (or the buggers as they are slangily called). During the time that the young Ender was in Battle School training to be the ultimate commander of Earth's forces, Ender's older brother Peter was setting himself up to be the leader of the united nations of Earth, the ultimate position of power, called the hegemon. Peter has a dark, antagonistic history with Ender, and does not want the new military hero of the Earth to steal his thunder, so he makes it so that Ender will not be allowed to return to Earth. Instead Ender will become the new governor of an Earth colony on the planet Shakespeare. Ender's sister Valentine, will not stick around to be subject to the whims of Peter, and makes arrangements to go with Ender on the transport ship. Ender is only 15 years old, and we see at each step of the way how clever and subtle his actions are. Like a chess player, he is always thinking several moves ahead. Card has a way of writing such that you cannot fully appreciate how cunning Ender is until he plays his hand. Then his past actions can be seen in their true light.

Ender serves well as governor on Shakespeare for two years before his wanderlust takes over and he knows that he must move on. However, his powerful urge to move on is not due to boredom, but due to an absolutely unbelievable discovery that he makes on Shakespeare concerning the buggers. It is this discovery that helps puts his past xenocide into perspective and gives him ideas that will shape his future. I thought this book was as good as any in the series that I have read so far. I will next continue on into the Shadow Saga, a series of parallel novels to Ender's Game, starting with Ender's Shadow.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


The book First Meetings in the Enderverse by Orson Scott Card is a set of four short stories giving various details on different elements of the plot and the characters in the world of Andrew "Ender" Wiggin as part of his Ender's Game series of novels.

Story #1: The Polish Boy

The Earth has been attacked by an alien race and our leadership is desperate to prepare humanity for battle. Ender's father John Paul, as a boy of only 6 years old, is recognized as a promising prodigy by the military leadership. The recruiters of the International Fleet recognize that John Paul is not the ultimate commander that they are looking for, but they have hope that one day he will produce offspring suitable for this role.

Story #2: Teacher's Pest

The story of how college student John Paul met and fell in love with one of his teachers, Theresa Brown. We come to understand that the military leadership had a role in bringing these two together. The message is that even in an arranged marriage, it is not against the law for the couple to fall head over heels for each other.

Story #3: Ender's Game

The original short story version of what ultimately became the award-winning science fiction novel of the same title, Ender's Game. It was interesting to see how his original seed grew.

Story #4: The Investment Counselor

How Ender Wiggin's nom de plume, Speaker for the Dead, became his career and his passion. We also get our first introduction to the "computer" life form known as Jane.

The short book A War of Gifts is a tale about a preacher's son, Zeck Morgan, chosen by the International Fleet to attend Battle School. Zeck claims to be a pacifist and will not take part in anything to do with war or killing. Not only does he completely withdraw from interacting with his fellow students, he purposefully seeks to ensure that the school's zero tolerance policy regarding religion is fully enforced. If his religious convictions are ignored, he will make it so that even the giving of Christmas gifts between the students in the name of Santa Claus is stopped. Ultimately, Ender Wiggin approaches Zeck and we learn about his long history of abuse at the hands of his father and how the fear of his father weighed him down. Here a 10 year old Ender works to get past the emotions and look deeply into the person, much as he came to do later as the Speaker for the Dead.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


Cashier, grocery bagger, fast food worker, janitor, pot hole filler, crop worker, paperboy ... Most of these positions earn minimum wage and too often the people who work at these jobs display an attitude of boredom and a slip-shod carelessness. They hold an air of disrespect toward those with whom they interact. It is clear that they despise their work and won't stick around a moment past the end of their shift regardless of the situation. But it doesn't have to be this way. It shouldn't be this way. Whatever happened to pride in our efforts? To an honest day's work? To being respectful toward others? To honoring our employers? Whatever happened to taking ownership of the things that we can control and the areas where we are positioned?

Over the past several years I have been working on a project at my laboratory to build a sophisticated piece of experimental equipment. A portion of the work was overseen by a university group, and much of the actual construction was accomplished by teams of hourly paid undergraduate students. Many worked without ever really understanding how this equipment would function or how it would be used. For them, the project represented a chance to earn a little extra money. However, a few of the student workers rose above the level of the others. They took it upon themselves to learn more about the equipment that they were assembling, how it would be used, and why it was being constructed to such exacting specifications. I had the privilege of working with some of these students when they delivered the equipment from their university to my laboratory.

The other day I was working with one of these students to complete some final tests on the equipment before it was to be installed. At 6:00 p.m. we had reached a stopping point and we went home for the night. Later that evening I was checking out the equipment remotely from home and noticed some potentially worrisome readings on some of the power supplies. At 10:00 p.m. I decided to head back to work to check things out to be sure that nothing was wrong. As I was leaving my house, I sent the student an email with my concerns and gave him some instructions for the morning. Yet when I arrived at work, he met me there and wanted to help me complete my investigation. He didn't have to show up and stay until around midnight. He certainly wasn't getting paid any overtime. He had simply taken ownership of the work that he was involved with. If only we all had that same attitude.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

iTunes Latest - 17

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.
  • Battle Born - Five Finger Death Punch (2013) - This is the third song that I have downloaded by FFDP in the past few months. A power rocker about strength and mettle and a heart hardened by life's burdens.
  • Life is a Lemon and I Want my Money Back - Meatloaf (1993) - I am not a huge Meatloaf fan, but I saw him perform this song live back when he first released his Bat out of Hell II album. Something connected with me then and I wanted to give this a few listens some 20 years later. Yeah, I think this way too often.
  • Can't Remember to Forget You - Shakira (2014) - I have always wanted to like Shakira, but her past work has always just missed my embrace. Perhaps she was just trying too hard with material that just didn't have sufficient staying power with me. I think with this song she finally put it all together and gave me something to sing along to.
  • Into the Light - Sniff 'n the Tears (2013) - Most folks only known their 1978 song Driver's Seat. Pretty much everything else was well below the radar screen. A few years ago that song recirculated in a movie soundtrack and they reformed to release a new album. This one definitely has their classic sound and is top notch.
  • Let it Go - Idina Menzel (2014) - I saw Disney's Frozen in the theater recently and this song brought tears to my eyes. A song about reclaiming your strength despite all of the pain in life's circumstances.

Monday, March 3, 2014


My pastor just got done preaching a sermon on worry and anxiety, yet while it wasn't his intent, I left that service upset and bubbling over with anxiety at the major announcement that he made just before we ended. Suddenly, even without knowing any of the details, my mind began to knit together a scenario that will have me looking for a new church in just a few weeks. What is even more frustrating is that the entire congregation was clapping, cheering, and applauding the news that my pastor divulged, and he was beaming a smile so wide that the room barely contained it.

The church that I attend is now two years old. Since its inception, it has held its services at 6:00 p.m.. When it was first formed, only about 20 folks signed up to attend. Now the average weekly attendance is close to 200. A 10-fold increase in two years for a church plant is off-the-charts good. However, my pastor has stated several times that he does not want to be an evening church. He has related several anecdotes about folks leaving his flock because they didn't like evening services. He uses these stories as fodder for why he wants to have Sunday morning services. However, he has never once asked his rapidly growing congregration if they are coming to his church because they actually prefer a Sunday evening service. I would raise my hand if this question were asked. There are very few churches in my area with Sunday evening services, but there are dozens that meet on Sunday morning.

This past Sunday my pastor announced that my church will soon be leaving its rented and shared facility and taking up residence in a fully equipped building on a property that was unexpectedly gifted to the church. Obviously this is an amazing story, but even through the jubilant celebration of everyone around me, all I heard was that my church would no longer be meeting on Sunday evenings. I felt completely deflated. All I could think of is that in a few more weeks when this church becomes another Sunday morning church, I will not be a part of it. It's an unsettling feeling to be part of an announcement that brings cheers from everyone in attendance but you.

Clearly I am upset because, as usual, I am making this all about me. However, I think that I am more frustrated than anything because in two years I have not made a single connection with another member of the congregration. If I didn't show up I would not be missed and I would not really miss anyone. I'm sure there is probably a more tactful and gracious way to write this post, especially as my pastor is a friend of mine and a regular reader of my blog. However, he knows me well enough to know that I sometimes need to vent and cry in order to process things and to work my way through my own personal worry-laden mine field. Now if I could only remember what he said about dealing with worry.