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!