Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Blog updates

Over the last couple weeks, I have run across additional information on some earlier blogs I wrote. I decided to put those together in this entry to pass them along.

Over the summer, I wrote about the DNA testing service I’ve used, 23andMe. They are currently running a sale of their service for only $99. That price point should make it accessible to a fairly wide audience. I’m hopeful that lots of people will take advantage of this and help advance genetic research by doing so. If you are at all curious, now is a good time to check it out.

I looked at the Belkin WeMo (a WiFi-based, remote control for electrical devices like lamps) in my first set of gadget reviews back in September. Since then, they have debuted an interesting additional product, the Wemo Baby. At one level, it is just a simple audio-based baby monitor like I used with my kids 30 years ago, but the receiving end is your iPhone. That is a nice change over trying to find a place to plug in the receiving device. What makes the product really interesting to me, however, is its ability to do some processing of the sound. For example, it claims you can set the phone to alert you when the baby has been crying for 30 seconds. That is such a contrast to my memories of sleeping badly all night as every little grunt and short cry would wake us up and make us wonder whether we need to go and check. (In truth, I think I slept through though sounds, but my wife didn't!) I’ll have to get one to try out the WeMo Baby when we have our next grandchild.

When I recently wrote about the ReadySet Solar Kit (a solar recharger, primarily for cell phones), I was fairly favorable in my impression of it. Just a few days after writing that review, however, it stopped working. I contacted Fenix International and they sent me a return shipping label. Unfortunately, I had already thrown out the box. It was a bit of a hassle packing it up, but I got that taken care of. (OK, I admit I had someone help with that!) They sent me back a repaired unit and I am now back to recharging my iPhone and iPad with solar energy. I was happy with the response and repair, though it was a little annoying that they did not just send me a new one and let me pack my broken one into the new box. Regardless, for a product still someone under development, I thought they handled it fairly well.

For reasons I don’t yet understand, my blog is now getting most of its traffic from China. Who knew I’d be so popular in China? My best guess is that the traffic may be due to my recent gadget reviews, including the one of the ReadySet Solar Kit. On the other hand, it may just be bots that are finding the blog as I’m also seeing traffic from places like Ukraine and Poland. On yet another hand, I do know people in Poland, so it is really hard to be sure of the real reason. The Internet is definitely a difficult "place" to understand at times.

I’ve also been getting some traffic on the blog due to my article about the Hincapie CEO Cycling Challenge. Shortly after I wrote that entry, George Hincapie read it and passed it along to the guy who runs the CEO Challenge events. He, in turn, put a pointer to it on the CEO Challenge Web site. That whole sequence of events is yet another reminder that you never know who will see what you do on the Internet. Privacy is so 20th Century.

I plan to write a couple gadget reviews over the next few days as I know there are some cool gadgets under the Christmas tree. (After all, I put them there!) Anything to keep my readers in China happy.

I hope all of you have a blessed Christmas and a wonderful start to the new year!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

PT's 10th anniversary

PT's gala 10th anniversary banquet
A week ago, my company, Principled Technologies (PT), celebrated its 10th anniversary at what I would best describe as a gala affair. At the picture to the right shows, it was a beautiful evening. It also was a wonderful opportunity to reflect on those years and to say thank you to the amazing group of people that helped make PT’s success possible.
A less than flattering picture of Mark and me 
Mark Van Name and I started PT 10 years ago. We had worked together at that point for over 17 years. We had written well over a thousand articles (and a book) together and had worked to create ZDBOp and ZD Labs for Ziff-Davis. What we started 10 years ago was a blend of all that we had learned over the years in the computer industry about product evaluation, marketing, and running companies.

In some ways, from the very beginning, we considered PT to be an experiment. We obviously hoped to earn a living at PT, but we wanted to do more than that. Even the name we chose, Principled Technologies tells a bit about our thinking. We’ve always been technophiles, so the Technologies part of the name was easy and obvious. But, at least as importantly, we wanted to create a place firmly grounded in principles we believed in, both then and now. Over the years, PT has grown far beyond what we ever envisioned and keeping true to those original principles (and ones we added along the way) has been a challenge. But, a challenge I believe we have risen to meet.

Like most small businesses, PT has changed over time. When we started, we were mostly a testing company that tested technology products for our clients. We did things such as run benchmarks to show one desktop computer was faster than another. Over time we added capabilities such as a drop table for testing the durability of notebook computers, power meters for measuring power consumption, and a data center for keeping cool the servers we test. We also added the expertise of new people while continuing to develop the skills of the talented people already at PT.

We came to realize that our technology testing was largely used in support of our client’s marketing efforts. We were doing what we have come to call fact-based marketing. The goal of fact-based marketing is to help buyers understand the advantages of a product when making purchasing decisions. 

To do a better job of that, we have spent the last couple years adding the necessary people and facilities to present the facts our testing uncovers in more and more compelling ways. This year, we built a studio complete with a sound booth, a large green-screen area, LED lighting, microphones, and cameras. We also hired some great people so we could tell about our work in innovative ways.

Watch this video to both understand better what we do and what our team is able to create. (It is best seen in full screen--by clicking the icon in the lower right of the video.) Our studio team did everything from the music to the videography to the special effects. I think this video shows that we really do believe that Facts matter.®

Principled Technologies strives to do great work for its clients while being a great place to work. I think we have largely succeeded at those goals. The reason we have done so is the amazing group of people that make up PT. That is why I’m proud of the company and the people at PT. After 10 years, I am truly humbled by and thankful for the efforts of each of the folks at PT. Thank you.

My family at the PT gala: Emily, Davey, Nathan, Sarah, Bill, Susie, Becky & Steven

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Gadget review - ReadySet Solar Kit

The last set of gadget reviews was my most popular blog entry yet. I'm not quite sure how they fit under the title of Biblically Thinking, but folks like reading them and I like playing with gadgets, so more are on the way! I decided to do the reviews individually rather than as a group so that I can write them up in a more timely fashion. As a semi-related aside, I did finally get my Nest thermostat installed, so I will be writing about that and my Philips Hue multicolor LED personal wireless lighting system in the near future.
The Fenix International ReadySet Solar Kit is a solar recharger, primarily for cellphones. I first learned about the device as a Kickstarter project. (If you have not yet checked out Kickstarter, it is worth your time. It is a great way for people to get worthwhile projects, like this one, funded.) Basically, the ReadySet is a solar panel connected to a battery. The solar panel charges the battery whenever the sun is shining and the battery allows you to recharge your devices at any time, even at night.

To read the rest of this review, visit its new home at Principled Technologies' Tech Everywhere

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Quick book reviews (#4)

As I've done previously, I’ve written some brief reviews of books I recently read. These reviews use a scale of one to five stars based on Library Thing (where I posted these reviews as well). I am generally a tough grader, but I think they were all worth reading.

Seven Days that Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science by John C. Lennox (4.0 stars)

As a student of both technology and the Bible, I am always looking for good books that attempt to understand the connections and apparent contradictions between the two. In this book, Lennox looks at the issues of creation as outlined in Genesis versus science. People like Stephen Jay Gould have argued (in Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life) that religion and the Bible are non-overlapping magisteria and as such have nothing to do with each other and no attempt should be made to reconcile them. Lennox in this book does not agree with that and does a good job at looking at the Bible and creation. 

He raises a number of good questions and brings up some excellent points about how at different periods in time people have fervently believed the Bible stated something regarding science that we no longer think it does. He talks about how passages in the Bible refer to the earth as unmoving (such as 1 Chronicles 16:30 and Psalms 93:1) and others that the sun did move (such as Ecclesiastes 1:5). These verses and others were used to refute Copernicus’s heliocentric view that the earth revolves around the sun. Luther and Calvin both disagreed with this view. We now view those passages as being poetic or metaphoric, not literal. It is an important cautionary tale for how we should approach the creation account in Genesis. 

Although I found the book very interesting and well worth reading, it was difficult to tell where the author was going. He raises good points, but did not actually resolve many them. He does, however, a decent job of pointing out what is essential, such as that fact that God was in control of creation, not random chance. I actually found the appendices, especially the final one, as interesting as the rest of book. I consider this book well worth the short time it took to read for anyone interested in a Biblical perspective on creation and science.  

How the Church Fails Business People (And What Can Be Done about It) by John C. Knapp (4.0 stars)

This book is a fascinating, though sobering, look at another two worlds important to me that often do not mix—Christianity and business. Knapp bases much of the book on a series of 230 interviews to find out how Christians experience work and the church. The results are often disheartening as many of the respondents saw the church as having little or nothing to say about the challenges they faced in their work lives. The book is full of statistics and quotes from the interviews. One striking statistic is that only 18 of the 230 people had ever consulted a pastor for advice about a work-related matter. A related quote was, “It would be important to feel the freedom to talk about work-related problems with my pastor, but for some reason it seems it wouldn’t be appropriate.” Statistics and quotes like these form the core of the book. 

Unfortunately, though the book starts out excellently, it trails off and was a bit difficult to finish. The author admits that he does not have “neat answers or prescriptive solutions.” However, I consider the book important for church leaders to read to see an area that we need to address within our churches. It is certainly a book that has made me think quite a bit and one I have discussed with my pastor and other folks.  

It Happened on the Way to War: A Marine’s Path to Peace by Rye Barcott (3.5 stars)

I am fascinated by books about how a single person can have a major impact on the world (Three Cups of Tea and Mountains beyond Mountains are favorites of mine). This books tells the story of the author and his work in Kibera, Kenya—one of the worst slums in the world. As an ROTC marine in college at UNC, he begins a program to help Kibera. Eventually, what he started grows and has a real impact. The book starts out great and really held my interest. The latter parts of the book, however, deal more with his disillusionment as he serves with the marines in Iraq. Though still interesting, it is not nearly as compelling. It took some effort to complete, but I felt it was worth doing so. This book is worth reading to understand what impact people, even young people, can have if they are willing to make sacrifices and work hard.  

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (4.5 stars) 

I recently watched the movie Hugo which is based on this book and quite enjoyed it. I knew nothing about the book, however. Then, while trying to organize some books in my office, I found a copy. (I received it as one of the books from the TED Book Club.) I devoured it immediately. (Which is why I generally do not allow myself to read fiction--I can't stop once I start a book.) The book is a delightful combination of prose and pictures, mostly pencil sketches by the author. The story revolves around an orphan boy (Hugo) who repairs the clocks in a train station in Paris. It is also the story of an old toy shop owner in the station and his hidden past. Movies and a mechanical man tie the two inexorably together as the story unfolds in interesting and surprising ways. The book is a children’s story, but so are many of the best loved fiction of recent years (Harry Potter and Hunger Games being obvious examples). I whole heartedly recommend this book (and movie) to anyone interested movies, history, and a good read. 

I’m currently reading a number of books that I really like, so hopefully I’ll get in a decent bit of reading over the holidays and will have to write another batch of reviews!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

2012 George Hincapie CEO Cycling Challenge

At the beginning of October, I had the opportunity to participate in an amazing experience, the 2012 George Hincapie CEO Cycling Challenge in Greenville, SC. From Thursday afternoon until lunch on Sunday, I was at what I can best describe as a cycling fantasy camp.

The participants in the weekend were a group of six male executives including me.  One was the president of Schlumberger and another, the owner of Blackberry Farm. We ranged in age from thirties to fifties. We rode about 150 miles over three days. The three rides included some mountain climbs and culminated in a timed climb up Paris Mountain. 

During the weekend, I learned about maximizing training from a pair of coaches from Peak Coaching Group one of whom, Hunter Allen, quite literally wrote the book on training with a power meter. (He gave me an autographed copy.) They supplied power meters which the mechanic installed. (A power meter is a device which measure how much power you are actually applying to the move the bike. It is the most accurate way to measure the effort applied while riding.) Check out the additional data on my climb up Caesars Head. The fourth chart down is the power. You can see I was working really hard on the climb! It was very helpful having Hunter explain how to properly ride out of the saddle on the ascent and the other coach (Tim) help me understand better how to properly descend. George and another rider still sped by me going over 50 mph! The picture above is the group at the top of Caesars Head.

During the weekend, the CEO Challenges folks attended to every detail. A mechanic serviced our bikes after each ride and made sure everything (including pumping up the tires) was ready to go in the morning. He also accompanied us on the rides in a BMC team car. There were a few cycling pros that rode with us to make sure there was someone with each of us on long climbs and that no one was dropped. After rides we got massages.

Beyond riding, I ate great meals each evening and got to hang out with CEO/C-level executives and other interesting folks all with a passion for cycling. 

A big part of what made the time special was George Hincapie himself, who rode with us, ate with us, and generally included us in his circle of friends and family. We even had dinner at his house Saturday night and got to meet his wife, kids, and parents. The picture on the right shows the view from his house overlooking Greenville, SC. 

The picture below is George showing us the bike (in front of a portrait of him) that he rode alone to lead the peleton as they entered the center of Paris this summer in the final stage of his record-setting, 17th Tour de France. That moment had been one that I found very touching when I saw it on TV. It was very cool hearing stories about things that I had watched on TV like Cadel Evans and the tacks-on-the-road episode in this year's Tour de France.

Of course, George has been in the news a lot the past few weeks because of the release of his testimony regarding Lance Armstrong. George never discussed any of that, but he was great to be with. Here are a couple stories to illustrate this. On Saturday, there were at least twenty folks riding in a double pace line fairly early in the ride. Somehow, I ended up pulling at the front up a hill. I was not about to let the guy next to me go faster than me, so I pretty much crushed myself to the top of the hill. As I dropped back to the rear of the pace line, I felt a pat on my shoulder and the words “nice pull.” It was George being polite and treating me just like any rider. It made the ride, and possibly the weekend, for me.

On Sunday, it was raining as we rode to our timed ride up Paris Mountain. We stopped to get drinks and such and George noticed that one of the riders did not have on a rain jacket. George offered his to the rider. When the rider tried to refuse, George said, “You need it—you are the one doing the timed ride.”  
As we rode up Paris Mountain, we each had someone with us to encourage and give advice. The day before, Hunter had told me how to use the power meter to avoid starting out too fast. George rode with me the last couple hundred meters exhorting me to push harder. It was a hard 2-mile climb, but I beat my goal of sixteen minutes by a few seconds. 

In case you are wondering how my time compared to the others, I came in last place, but I felt my time was respectable. A part of me wanted to come up with excuses such as being the heaviest of the riders by at least 20 pounds or having the least expensive of the bikes there (one was a Specialized Venge McLaren with a list price of $18K). But the real issue was that these guys were in better shape than me. 

Regardless, it was an amazing weekend. Now, I need to go buy a power meter, sign up for some tough mountain rides next season, and push myself harder with more training!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Gadget reviews

For many years, Mark Van Name and I wrote reviews and columns for computer publications like PC Week, Byte, and PC Magazine. I often miss being able to tell the world my opinions of technology products. Admittedly, this blog does not have quite the reach of those publications, but it is nice to have some outlet for my opinions other than random people I manage to corner at social gatherings. 

The following are a group of products I set up in my home over the last few months. There is another product on my pile to play with and include here, the Nest thermostat. I have been meaning to install it for about nine months, but never quite get around to it. Rather than put this blog entry off any longer, I decided to go ahead and discuss the other two. All of three of the products are home integration/automation products that use WiFi. In my opinion, the battle between wireless, home-automation standards (such as Zigbee, Z-Wave, X10/electrical wiring) is over and WiFi has won. While the others were trying to gain acceptance, WiFi quietly got cheap enough and became so pervasive that there is no reason to think of using any other standard. The other big trend these products highlight is that dedicated remote controls are dying. Your new remote will be your phone or tablet. The combination of these technologies means that sitting here in my home office, I can use my phone to turn on the lamp, adjust the temperature, and play my choice of music at the volume I want on my stereo. 

http://www.belkin.com/wemo/graphics/wemo-1.jpgBelkin WeMo – Over the years I’ve tried X10 (it never worked well for a number of reasons) and other approaches to home automation. I’ve also long used mechanical devices to turn lights on and off automatically. One of those devices recently stopped working. I looked for a replacement and discovered the WeMo. It is basically just a WiFi-controlled, electrical outlet.  It is a very simple device, but works very well. After setting it up, I can check on the status of the outlet which controls a lamp and turn it on or off from anywhere using my iPhone. I can also create simple programs to automatically turn the outlet (and the lamp) on and off at specific times during the day.

The WeMo has a great solution for how to get the device initially onto a WiFi network with a password. Devices with some sort of screen and a few buttons can allow you to enter the necessary password directly (if clumsily). This device has neither. What it does instead is broadcast a WiFi network. You download an app for your phone and connect to the WeMo's WiFi network. You then use the app on your phone to give the WeMo the password to your home WiFi network. The WeMo connects to that network and drops its own WiFi network. Your phone automatically goes back to your home WiFi network and you continue setting up the WeMo. It all went very smoothly.

At $50, the device is a little expensive, but I think worth it for spot usage. Of course, the price will probably come down over time. Belkin also makes a motion detector that can be used in conjunction with the outlet. I definitely plan to keep an eye on what they are doing. Of course, I’m also looking forward to getting my SmartThings Starter Kit later this year after its successful Kickstarter campaign. There are lots of interesting things happening in the home automation space (and on Kickstarter)!

RXV473Yahama RX-V473 – This device is an audio/video receiver I got for my home office. It does a great job as a receiver for my Samsung 3D TV, Xbox 360, and Samsung DVD player, other than occasionally fighting with my cable box over what resolution to display on the TV.

The RX-V473 also had a feature I wanted to try out. It turned out to be something I will use a lot more than 3D. The feature is Airplay support. AirPlay is an Apple protocol for streaming content over WiFi. It allows me to stream audio or video straight from my iPhone or iPad to my receiver. That, coupled with the ability to use either of them as a remote control is great. While writing this, I grabbed my iPad from my desk, turned on my receiver, picked an album (Marcus Roberts’ As Serenity Approaches) with my iPad’s music app, told it to use my receiver over Airplay, and my office is awash in beautiful piano music. As a bonus, the receiver shows on its front display the name of the song my iPad is playing.

With a list price of $450, this is not a cheap receiver, but it is competitive with similar receivers in its class. I would recommend it to anyone looking for an audio/video receiver, especially if they have other devices supporting AirPlay. 

I will install the Nest in the near future and let you all know what I think. Once I can change the temperature in my office, I really will have very few reasons to leave my chair! I also need to write up my experiences with high-tech light bulbs as well as an update on my most expensive gadget, my Nissan LEAF. I’ve also made the mistake of finding cool stuff on Kickstarter. That pretty much guarantees a steady stream of technology products to blog about.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


This past weekend, I rode in a charity ride to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis research. The MS150, held for over 20 years in New Bern, NC, is a great ride over two days (Saturday and Sunday). As the name implies the standard ride is 75 miles a day, but you can ride 30, 50, 75, or 100 each day. There are plenty of rest stops and too much to eat along the way. This year there were well over 2,000 riders. This year was my seventh time riding in the MS150. Between those rides and the many other rides I've done in the area, I've come to know quite a few of those folks. As some of the pictures show, the ride is a lot of fun. 
I rode on Saturday with people that I regularly ride with from Lifetime Fitness. I had hoped to get in a really quick ride, but I missed the fast, early group and then had issues finding a group to ride with for a couple of the five hours of riding. The rain held off until after I finished, so all-in-all, it was a nice day to ride 100 miles. Sunday I rode 75 miles with some good friends, Laura, Marcia, and John. That ride was fun as well, though the cumulative affect of riding that many miles did make it a bit uncomfortable by the end. Despite that discomfort, it was a great weekend.

More important than the fun I had is the fact that the ride raises money for a cause near and dear to my heart—MS research. Why do I care about this cause? My son, brother, and a dear friend all have MS. MS, and disease in general, are the result of sin in the world. The world that God originally created did not include such diseases. Even folks who are not religious think something is fundamentally wrong with a disease like MS. It seems to be the body attacking itself, not just any part of the body but the nerves. 

I can’t cure sin in the world nor can I cure MS. I hope, however, that by helping to raise some money I will play a small part in finding a cure for MS. I desire that not just for altruistic reasons, but selfishly for the people I care about. For Davey, Jamey, Laura, and others I hope and pray that they find a cure for MS soon.

Sunday, September 2, 2012


I don’t cry. More precisely, I seldom cry. On Friday, however, I did. Not from sadness, but because I was so touched by a gift.

Friday was the end of my weeklong trip to Cochabamba, Bolivia. My goal was to spend a week there with the children in the orphanage (La Villa) run by the Amistad Mission. I joined a group of three other folks on the Amistad Board of Directors, including Walker whom I met during my trip last year. (If you are curious about my two-week trip there last year, please check out my journal from the trip. Start from this entry and then use the links on the right to navigate the entries in chronological order.)

The four of us spent the week enjoying time with the kids and learning lots about Cochabamba, the area around La Villa, and the general plight of orphans. We had a wonderful translator/guide (Sarah) that was with us most of the time and made things both fun and easy.

We met with the leaders of the two communities next to La Villa and heard them describe their desires for some sort of community center that would help their most pressing needs for quality care for their young children (rather than locking them in their homes while working) and education (classes both for themselves and their children). It was amazing to see women in traditional Bolivian clothing who clearly knew what they needed to improve their lives.

We visited an elementary school where a number of the children from La Villa go to school. We went to some of classrooms where “our” kids were and answer questions from the students. One teacher told us that the kids said there were “blancos” visiting the school. Even at my tannest, I am white to the children of Cochabamba! I think our kids felt special as they knew the visitors from far away that all the kids were talking about. 

We toured another orphanage (Salomon Klein) where some of the children from La Villa started out. The place was packed with over 150 children, one of them only 3-days old. The orphanage was in the midst of budgetary cuts that will necessitate laying off most of their staff and relying on volunteers. The people there loved the children and were doing their best under the circumstances. A number of the children reached up to grab our hands calling out, “Mi papá!” or “Mi mamá!” The situation was heart-rending. Our group of four basically gave them all of the money in our pockets, but with the sad realization that it would only pay the staff for another two or three days. 

The highlight of the trip for me was the time I spent with the children. I reconnected with some of them from my last trip like Bárbara (who promises me she is going to learn English better so we can talk), Evelin, Mario, Madelen (who I tried to teach to count in binary on her fingers), Wilson, Rosalía, Zulma (the girl on my shoulders in my favorite picture from my last visit), Escarlet, Lucero, Jhonny (one of my Bolivian Facebook friends), and many others.

On Friday afternoon, we said our last goodbyes to the children not in school. Madelen ran up and gave me a big hug. She then held up her fingers one at a time and said, “uno, dos, quatro, ocho, dieciséis.” That brought a smile to my face. Then, Bárbara came back after having said already goodbye and indicated that she had something for me. She gave me some of drawings she had done. They were beautiful. Across one of them, it said in Spanish, “For a very special person, Bill.” She also wrote me a very touching letter. Reading that letter was when I found myself shedding a couple tears. 

As I write this, I’m sipping some coca mate (which it turns out may not be legal in the US). The tea brings back a flood of memories. I’m glad to be home, but I realize that I’ve left more than a little part of my heart with Bárbara and the children in Cochabamba. Thanks, Bárbara. I will be back.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


I now share something with quite a few of the Tour de France riders this year—a tack that caused a flat tire. Mine, unfortunately, also caused me to crash. As I was finishing a 30-mile ride on Tuesday evening, I turned left onto Apex Peakway going about 20 miles an hour. I did what I normally do—I turned my wheel and leaned into the turn. Rather than turning, my tire slid out from under me, I hit the pavement, and the person behind me ran into me as I slid across the road. 

I later found this thumbtack in my tire. A front tire that is flat or has low pressure doesn’t give the necessary traction to facilitate a turn and thus led to my crash.  Other than some bruises (including a nice tire imprint on my right butt cheek) and some road rash, I am fine. The other rider messed up his chin, but did not get any stitches and is fine as well. Our bikes were unharmed and we rode together again on Saturday.

As I was tipping over and starting to slide, I remember thinking, “Not again!” and “Why me?” I was mad at both myself and the situation. I felt rather put upon. I also felt bad that I had caused someone else to be hurt. Generally, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself.

As we grabbed a bite to eat afterwards at Rudino’s, the wife of the guy who crashed into me said something like, “It could have been worse.” That was scant comfort, but I had to admit she was right. Over the next few days, I thought about what she said while listening to folks jokingly call me clumsy and recommend that Susie take out more life insurance on me.

Should I have been more thankful that nothing serious happened? Or, depressed that this stupid thing had happened to me? While a few bruises and scrapes are not that big of a deal, the principle applies to much of life. Pollyanna or Eeyore?  

Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 – In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Folks often seem to think Paul is saying be thankful for everything, but that is not the case. He is not telling me to be thankful that I crashed, but to be thankful that the consequences were mild.

Going back a little farther in the chapter and including verses 16 and 17 yields these commands – Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks. Those are three things that I find hard to argue against. I need to do a better job of incorporating all three into my daily life.

No, I am not Pollyanna. But, I do have MUCH to be thankful for. I will concentrate on being more aware of those things.

Besides, the crescent-shaped bruise on my cheek is sort of attractive…

Sunday, August 5, 2012

I didn’t build that

A number of folks have joked to me over the last couple of weeks something along these lines. “Obama says you didn’t build that business you co-founded.” Generally, I’ve laughed off the comments or said that I’d like to see the full context of the quote before commenting. Beneath the surface, however, I have been offended. We’ve worked really hard to create Principled Technologies.

Here is President Obama’s quote in more context (from here--the full quote is worth reading):

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The Olympics seem to be awash with political ads of Obama trying to put this quote in a more favorable context and Romney doing the exact opposite. My opinion was somewhere in between—I could see what Obama might have been getting at, but at the same time I was offended that he was belittling what we have accomplished. I did build that!

On my flight back from California last week, I was reading a book by John C. Knapp—How the Church Fails Businesspeople (And What Can Be Done about It). It included the following, written well before Obama’s line:

Abraham’s acknowledgement that his wealth comes from God is echoed throughout the Old Testament in the refrain that it is arrogant to take credit for one’s own success. There is little room for the modern ideal of the “self-made” person. “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth…” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18)

This morning at church, my pastor used the same scripture in his sermon. Gulp. I am guilty of taking credit for my own success.

I don’t think that Obama was calling for us to give God credit for our success, but the end point is the same. Whatever success I (and you) have had is due to the help of many others, and ultimately to God. I am blessed and have been blessed and need to keep that in mind. At best, I can use the line from the old Shake and Bake commercial, “And we helped!” 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Last week after a long bike ride, a group of us went to IHOP for lunch. After all, 60 miles of riding entitled us to some hardcore sugar! The menu had a discounted section for Seniors (55 and older).  I was quite taken aback by the thought that I’m five months from being able to order off of it. I carefully avoided looking at what any of the choices were. I enjoyed my Cinn-a-Stack of pancakes without thinking any more about being a Senior. 

Later last week, I got yet another letter inviting me to join AARP. They are getting craftier—the envelope included no indication who sent it. I felt a credit card in the envelope, so I opened it. It was an AARP membership card rather than a credit card. Once I realized what it was, I promptly tore it up. I have no desire to join such an organization. I was beginning to think maybe I am getting old. 

Then, a couple days ago, one of the ads on Facebook was for seniorsmeet.com.  “Ready for some love? Interested in another chance at romance? Meet local mature singles at SeniorsMeet.” Another one asked, “Retired and bored?” Talk about something I can’t comprehend! 

Generally, Facebook ads are depressing—I need to gain muscle using a simple secret, get rid of wrinkles doing one quirky thing, and meet mature singles. I’m not sure if I’m more depressed by what that says about my age or the inadequacies of Facebook’s ad placement algorithms.

The message from all sides is that my age is something that needs fixing. I need discounts more than younger people with families. My wrinkles and gray hair need to be eliminated. Why?  

I don’t think that aging was always perceived so negatively. Not that long ago age was something that was valued. Gray hair and wrinkles were signs of wisdom. There are a couple verses from Proverbs I’ve long been a fan of:
16:31 A gray head is a crown of glory; It is found in the way of righteousness.
20:29 The glory of young men is their strength; And the honor of old men is their gray hair.
You can see why I like those! In Biblical times, and indeed until fairly recently, the wisdom of the elderly was cherished and sought after. Ben Witherington III in Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor states:
“…there is something profoundly wrong with a society that doesn’t do what the Bible says should be done with those in their so-called golden years – that is, honor them, learn from them, and continue to allow them to do meaningful things for the Kingdom.”
Sure as I age, there will be things I will be unable to do. Maybe I’ll have to cut down the length of my bike rides. On the other hand, I know someone who rode in the MS150 well into his seventies.

One perspective that I’ve long appreciated on what old is comes from Paul Simon’s song Old from You’re the One. 


Simon's lyrics near the end of the song go like this:
The human race has walked the earth for 2.7 million
And we estimate the universe at 13–14 billion
When all these numbers tumble into your imagination
Consider that the Lord was there before creation
God is old
We’re not old
God is old
He made the mold
So, what do I plan to do as I age? First, I will try and do a better job of appreciating those older than me. While some parts of their bodies and even minds may be declining, they still have much to offer. For myself, I plan to try and fight the ravages of age. But, my goal is not to be young. Instead, I will try to keep my body healthy (though gray and wrinkled) and continue to grow my mind. After all, God is old, not me!   

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Quick book reviews (#3)

As I've done previously, I’ve written some brief reviews of books I recently read. These reviews use a scale of one to five stars based on Library Thing. I am generally a tough grader, and even though these books don't get more than four stars, they were all worth reading.

Race against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee (3.5 stars)

This is a fairly short book (with a really long title) that explores technology’s effect on our economy and employment. The basic premise is that computers and related technology are accelerating at a rapidly increasing pace which is straining our economy and employment picture. The authors show how technology is changing the balance between superstars and average people, high-skill and low-skill labor, and capital and labor. For the superstar balance, they explain how in the 1800s, the best singer in the world would be hard pressed to sing before more than a very small fraction of the people in the world. That inability to be heard by most people left room for lots of local singers who made decent livings. Now, practically everyone in the world has heard the music of the pop stars of the day (who make enormous sums of money) and most singers cannot make a living singing. Generally, the book is very thought provoking and at least somewhat depressing. The book’s premise fits it with an observation I had—unions, and others, fought automation and robots in manufacturing during the 70s and 80s. So, jobs moved to low-cost geographies. Now, manufacturing jobs are returning, but they are heavily automated. Basically, the automation originally planned is now being welcomed because the jobs are already gone. This book gives a lot of data that helps explain that. The authors provide a tons of information, but I have to admit that I don’t have the necessary background to know what the other side of the story is. I recommend this book to anyone interested in economics and the future of employment in America and around the world. It will force you to think.

Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy by Gary Thomas (3.0 stars)

The title of this book is a very good summary of its contents. That premise is a good one and is well worth considering. We often think of marriage in terms of what can we get from it or in terms of meeting our needs. Thomas turns that thinking on its head and proposes that marriage should instead be about what God and the world can get from a marriage. That is a refreshing and healthy perspective. The problem for me was that the book is rather dry and the examples did not really relate to me. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a fresh perspective on marriage, but it will take some perseverance to finish it.  

 The Honest Truth about Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone—Especially Ourselves by Dan Ariely (4.0 stars)

I’m a big fan of Ariely’s work and this book is no exception. As in his previous books, he uses a number of behavioral experiments to explain how people act. This book was not as good as Predictably Irrational, which I would recommend to everyone. But, The Honest Truth about Dishonesty is well worth reading. The experiments he looks at are variations on one or two primary ones. Basically, they bring in people to take a test that is fairly hard and time consuming.  Each person gets a reward such as one dollar for each correct answer. They then vary the conditions to allow for opportunities to cheat and see how that influences the score. One of the big things they do for most of the experiments is have people score the results themselves and then shred their answer sheets. Basically, that means they can cheat and no one will know. Generally, people cheat some, but not too much. So, if there are ten questions and people who can’t cheat would answer five, when given the opportunity to easily cheat, they might claim seven, but not ten. All of this is very interesting, but what makes the book more interesting for me are some of Ariely’s personal examples coupled with his conclusions. One of the interesting takeaways is that just reminding people not to cheat has a positive effect.

Philosophical Breakfast Club: Four Remarkable Friends Who Transformed Science and Changed the World by Laura J. Snyder (3.5 stars)

I only gave this book 3.5 stars because it took me a long time to finish and because it is probably of interest to a limited audience. That said, however, I found the book to be very enjoyable. It is a book about four college friends—Charles Babbage, John Herschel, William Whewell, and Richard Jones. They decided, in the way that college students often do, to change the world. Their world was that of science, though in the 1800s, the scientific world was very different than today. They started by changing the notational system of calculus from the obscure English system of Isaac Newton to the French system we use today. You can imagine how hard it was to make that change at the university where Newton had been a professor! They went on to define how science would be conducted throughout England and the whole world. They influenced the next generation of scientists like Charles Darwin and their influence continues in science today.

I had only heard of Charles Babbage prior to reading this book, because of his work on computers before there were computers. He turned out to be the least interesting of the four, and the biggest jerk. While Babbage arguably invented the computer, the others made major contributions to fields as varied as astronomy, geology, economics, and mathematics. They also did things as different as serving in government, coining the word “scientist”, heading a major university (Cambridge), translating Greek poetry, and pastoring a church. They were indeed a group of college friends who changed the world.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

DNA: Destiny or Distraction?

A few years ago, the goody bag from the first TED conference I attended included a kit for 23andMe. That kit is basically a tube you spit into (it requires a lot of saliva and takes a while) and mail to the company. Doing so allowed me to participate in an early version of genetic testing. 23andMe does not do a full genome sequencing, but instead an examination of only one million SNPs (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms) of the billions in your genome. However, that is plenty to tell a lot about you. 

One 23andMe tests your saliva, there is quite a bit you can do with that data on the Web site. You can learn about your ancestry and find relatives among the subscribers. So far, the closest relative I’ve been able to find are fourth cousins. I have no idea who they are or if it is correct. 23andMe has made some real contributions to science by polling its members and comparing their answers to their genetics. As someone who loves data, I have found the information fascinating.

The most interesting data is related to diseases and what my SNPs say about my susceptibility to them.  Over the years, 23andMe has added more and more diseases to its databases.  They put things in terms of what a particular SNP indicates about you versus the general population. They also indicate the confidence in the underlying science on which the data is based.

For example, my risk of prostate cancer is only 6.8% vs. 17.8% for the general population of European descent. My genetics also indication good news regarding my susceptibility to melanoma, colorectal cancer, Type 1 diabetes, and celiac disease.

Of course, not all of the news is good. My risk of Psoriasis is 22.4% vs. 11.4%; gallstones, 11.1% vs. 7.0%; and Rheumatoid Arthritis, 5.0% vs. 2.4%. I have to say that none of those worry me. Of greater concern is my risk for Venous Thromboembolism is 41.8% vs. 12.3%. That is obviously a significant risk. That data is useful as I now know to make a real point of doing things like getting up and walking around on longer airplane flights. It also played at least some role in my conversion to using a standing desk at work. Of course, proper diet and exercise are in order as well. 

There is a piece of data, however, that is very scary to me even though the risk is lower. This data comes from fairly recent research. It indicates that my Alzheimer’s risk is 14.2% vs. 7.2% for the general population. The very specific wording is: 

14.2 out of 100 men of European ethnicity who share Bill Catchings' genotype will develop Alzheimer's Disease between the ages of 50 and 79.

Bill Catchings has one copy of the APOE ε4 variant. APOE ε4 is not the only factor contributing to Alzheimer's disease. Although it is associated with increased risk of Alzheimer's, many people with the APOE ε4 variant never develop it.

The heritability of AD is estimated to be 60-80%. This means that genetic factors contribute more to individual differences in risk for AD than environmental factors do. Genetic contributions to AD risk include known factors, such as the APOE gene variants we describe in this report. There are also rare mutations in other genes that cause early-onset (before age 65) forms of AD that run in families; this report does not currently include information on these mutations, or for additional genetic factors that have relatively weaker effects on AD risk. Non-genetic risk factors for AD include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, poorly controlled diabetes, and history of head trauma. 

As you can tell, they are very careful in their wording. The reason this one worries me more is that my dad suffered from Alzheimer’s as did at least my grandfather. It is decidedly not a good way to go. It certainly makes me freak out when I forget someone’s name, like I often do!  A book I read a while back, Where Did I Leave My Glasses?: The What, When, and Why of Normal Memory Loss is helpful to know what is normal.

I also have to keep in mind that these are only probabilities based on the current best science. Even in the last couple of years, I've seen the risk percentages change on 23andMe.

Given all of that, is it good to know this data? I think that depends upon your personality. At one level, it is good to have real data to help inspire yourself to change your life. At the same time, however, the answer is almost always cut down on stress, eat a good diet, and get plenty of exercise. 

Beyond that, however, I have to acknowledge that this is out of my control. I can’t say as that I’m happy about that. On the other hand, that is certainly is the lesson I need to hear (and actually learn). God is in control, not me. And, he is better at being in control than I am.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The power of sports

As you might guess, I’ve been following the Tour de France over the last week. In fact, coverage of this morning’s time trial is playing in the background as I write this. At one level, the Tour de France is fairly boring—even if the scenery is beautiful. At the same time, I have long found it strangely compelling. I remember watching Greg Lemond’s dramatic time trial on the last day of the 1989 Tour. Lemond was coming back from a near-fatal shotgun injury a couple years earlier. After over 2,000 miles, 50 seconds separated Lemond and Laurent Fignon, a renowned time-trial cyclist. I also remember tearing up as Lemond overcame what was considered an impossibly large time deficit to defeat Fignon by 8 seconds. Even today, I find watching that video enthralling. 

What is it about sports that I (and billions of others) find so compelling? In the case of cycling or basketball, it might be because I love or have loved participating in the sport and so identify with the participants. I don’t claim to be able to ride anywhere near as fast as Greg Lemond or to have the post-up moves of Charles Barkley, but I at least have some idea what they are doing. On the other hand, I find sports like soccer or football compelling even though I really have little idea what playing them is like. I think there is something in our basic nature that identifies with competing. Especially with competing against a superior opponent. 

Over the weekend I watched a documentary, I Am, recommended by a good friend. The movie was generally good, but at one point it tried to contend that human nature is cooperative, not competitive. The Bible, and my observation of human nature, indicate that quite the contrary, human nature is largely competitive. David’s battle against Goliath is something that resonates with us at a very deep level. 

Is competitiveness wrong? While David defeating Goliath was good triumphing over evil, Cain and Abel was not. I think it is safe to say that it depends what one is competing against.

But, what about sports where there generally is not a good versus evil motif? If you think maybe that the Miami Heat is evil, what about children’s soccer teams or church basketball leagues? Is that kind of competition something to be encouraged or avoided?

In the Bible, Paul uses sports metaphors to describe aspects of living a Christian life. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul says, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. There I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” Paul in other places talks about running a good race and fighting a good fight. He seems to view at least parts of sports to be commendable. There is real value in disciplining our bodies (and minds) in the pursuit of excellence—both in the Christian life and in competitive sports.

Based on that, I plan to try to improve my bicycle riding abilities, even as I age. And, I plan to cheer on athletes who dedicate themselves to pursuing goals. I will try to keep in mind that the goal is not victory at all costs, but rather the discipline that comes from sport. That means I’ll try keep perspective and remember that cycling needs to be kept in the proper place in my life. And, to choose the competitors I root for not just based on where I live or whether they win. Go Spurs! And, go whomever is actually not cheating in cycling!

Monday, July 2, 2012


Susie and I visited Philadelphia a little over a week ago.  That visit, coupled with the approach of Fourth of July, has made me think about patriotism. We went to most of the typical tourist sights. We had each been when we were kids, but thought it would be interesting to see again. One place we visited was Independence Hall where they signed the Declaration of Independence. The picture below is of that nicely restored room. The tour guide was very careful to let us know that though the furniture was of that era and matched descriptions of the original, it was not all original pieces. Regardless, it gave a sense of what it would have looked like. 

The guide told us that even though they worked on the negotiations during the heat of the summer, they kept the windows closed and the blinds drawn so no one would know what they were doing. He told of the risks they took in signing that document. 

A relative of Susie’s (John Hart) was a signer and his role led to him having to go into hiding and the British raiding his farm. My initial thought was that I wished I had the opportunity to stand up and risk everything for my beliefs and my country. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I was glad that I did not have to as I am not certain how well I would act. Further, it is not like such opportunities all vanished 200 years ago. They are available today. Those were very humbling thoughts.

Fourth of July makes me think of the people who are risking (and giving) their lives for America today. It reminds me of a very powerful moment two years ago when I attended the Fourth of July parade in Milltown, NJ where I grew up. Milltown has always celebrated the Fourth in a fashion befitting a much larger town. There are fireworks, fishing tournaments, and a big, good, old-fashioned parade. Parades seem to be dying out in the era of ubiquitous entertainment. Why go to a little parade in the heat when you can stay at home and watch highlights from the best parades in the country? Milltown’s parade, however, still is well attended. The video above gives a bit of a flavor of it. It may not have been the best parade in America, but it was a good example of small town America at its best.

The picture to the right is of a woman carrying a poster of a soldier who died. I don’t remember whether it was her son or husband or whether it was in Iraq or Afghanistan. As she walked by with a highly decorated soldier marching behind her, I found myself tearing up. Click on the picture to zoom in and look at her closely and see if it does not affect you similarly. The young man on the poster had made the kind of sacrifice that the signers of the Declaration of Independence had risked.  And, in a different way, so had the woman carrying the poster. Again, very humbling. 

Years ago someone asked me if it was possible to be patriotic if you did not agree with your country. My response was something to the effect that it is sort of like being in a family. You may not always agree with your family members, but they are family and you stand by them. You try to correct them, you try to improve them, and you try to serve them. You may even have to give them tough love and stand in the way of them doing something wrong. But, you love them and you stand by them. 

In that sense, I aspire to be a patriot. I may disagree with much that is going on in my country, but it is my country. As such, I must try to improve it. Even if that means risking something. I hope I can find my way to live up to the Founding Fathers of our country. And, to that young man whose picture was marched through the parade.