Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Images of Christmas past

Before the extended family showed up at our house for Christmas, I was working on a slideshow of photos from past Christmases. I spent some time figuring out how to project the photos onto my TV with a Chromecast, a Chromebook, and Picasa. (Yes, there were lots of easier ways, but I felt like playing with those devices. I learned enough for a couple more blog entries!) 

My gramps dressed up as Santa
There were close to 1,000 photos I gathered for the slideshow. Some are scanned in from old slides and photos from before I was born. Others are from Christmas gatherings this year. I find looking through them transfixing, and so did many of the family members visiting.

I’m not a fan of large gatherings, but looking at the pictures made me nostalgic for past family Christmas gatherings. Nostalgic for folks who are no longer around, like my gramps dressed up as Santa. Nostalgic for my nephew Drew smiling as he played with his older cousins. Nostalgic for my dad with his teasing smile. 

Becky surrounded by too many presents
Most of the pictures are of happy smiling people. Of people eating, laughing, and talking. Of children surrounded by more gifts than they know what to do with. 

Of course, the images don’t quite capture some of the less than photogenic moments. Moments, like our cat Bob knocking over a windowsill candle which broke and caught some tissue paper on fire. Or, the food that did not turn out like planned. Or, the keys locked in a running car in front of our house. Or, the folks who did not show up. Or, the treasured tree ornaments that broke.

Susie and our first Christmas tree
Christmas is sometimes messy. 

I started thinking about what that first Christmas must have been like for Jesus and his family. We mostly think of them in an idealized setting, as depicted in manger scenes, with shepherds, angels, and wise men looking on. The reality, of course, was a lot messier. As newlyweds with a child due too soon, Mary and Joseph certainly endured comments and knowing looks in their town. They also had had angelic visits foretelling them about the special child to whom Mary would give birth. Despite all that, they probably just wanted to get back home to share the joy of their new baby with family and friends. 

Davey, Nathan, and Becky in Christmas jammies
In subsequent years, Mary and Joseph probably told their own family stories about the day that Jesus was born. And, about the funny things that happened on his birthdays in later years. While Jesus had a much greater mission here on Earth, I’m sure he treasured that time with his family, just being together and discussing the joys and sorrows of Christmases past. 
I hope you enjoyed your Christmas and got to spend it with loved ones. I also hope you have the opportunity to get out some of those old photos and relive images of Christmases past. 

And, that you take some time to think back to that very first Christmas and what the baby Jesus would come to mean to the whole world.

Merry Christmas! 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Electric car update

My LEAF's odometer showing 22,222 miles
I drive an electric car. I related my impressions after the first four months with my Nissan LEAF in an earlier blog entry.  After over two years and 20,000 miles, I’m convinced more than ever that electric vehicles (EVs) are the future. While there certainly are improvements I'd like them to make, I don’t see myself buying anything other than an electric car in for the foreseeable future.

To read the rest of this blog entry, please visit its new home on Principled Technologies' Tech Everywhere 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The act of giving thanks

Susie's traditional, and delicious, holiday cranberry jello
It is that time of year when most folks’ minds turn to being thankful. That is, of course, entirely appropriate. I know that I have been blessed and have much to be thankful for. I’m thankful for my gracious God, my beautiful wife, my wonderful family, my great friends, the hard-working folks at my company, my church, my health, and so many more things that did not immediately pop into my mind.

My pastor’s sermon on Sunday morning, however, made me think about another aspect of thankfulness. He pointed out the importance of expressing thankfulness to others. We often make a point of having an attitude of gratitude, but don’t bother to express that gratitude to others.

I’ve often thought about how the apostle Paul had plenty of reason to complain given his situation. He was imprisoned, stoned, shipwrecked, driven out of town, and beaten, among other things. Instead of lamenting his situation, he was thankful to God. 

What I had not thought about before was how he expressed his thanks to those around him. For example, early in his letter to the Philippians he says, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first days until now.” (By the way, note the use of “you all” in the Bible!) How must reading that have made the folks at Philippi feel? Here was Paul, the great champion of the faith, saying how thankful to God he was for them.

Crucially, Paul was very specific. He didn’t just say, “I’m thankful for you guys.” Instead of a cheap, general blanket thanks, he told them he was thankful for how they had been both early adopters of the gospel and had remained faithful. (See also Romans 1:8; Ephesians 1:15-16; Philippians 1:3-5; 2 Thessalonians 1:2-3; and 1 Timothy 2:1 for similar examples in Paul’s letters.)

I’m going try and follow Paul's example by doing my best to be specifically thankful to people during the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Hopefully, by the end of that time, I’ll be in the habit of being more vocal with my thanks. You have to admit, it is hard to see a downside to trying this!

So, thanks for reading this blog. I really do appreciate you and the other folks who take some of their precious time to read what I may have time to say. I hope you take this entry to heart and express your thanks to those around you. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Kermit oral history panel update

Around a year and a half ago I wrote about my trip to NYC and the interview I participated in for an oral history project on Kermit. I had a great time reminiscing and spending time with Frank da Cruz, my boss at the time and the person who did the most over the years to make the Kermit file transfer protocol, programs, and project so successful.

The Computer History Museum recently released a transcript of the interview, as well as another one from an interview with Joe Doupnik who worked on Kermit after I had left Columbia University. My guess is that none of you will want to read through these transcripts, but I’m happy and proud that my work is now a part of the museum. I guess that means I am now officially an old, museum piece.

A picture from the era when I worked on Kermit
As the picture shows, I was pretty young (about 23) when I started working on Kermit. I vividly remember the days flying by while I was coding. I would suddenly look up, notice it was dark, and have to run home to my new wife who was wondering where I was.

I wrote the first versions of Kermit in assembly language. Eventually, I wrote a version in C, but assembly language was my favorite.

In those days, open-source software did not really yet exist, but we felt Kermit should be freely shared as broadly as possible. As the Internet was still ARPANET and not widely available, we made the programs and code available on magnetic tapes and eventually floppy disks. We encouraged others to create their own versions and contribute them back to us so we could in turn distribute them to an even wider audience. Those were exciting times and the transcripts give at least some flavor of those times, or at least how we remember them.

Eventually, the Internet largely obviated the need for the Kermit programs and protocols. There are, however, some specific situations where Kermit still is used over 30 years since we first developed it. I consider myself blessed to have had a role in getting it started.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Quick book reviews (#7)

Here is another set of brief reviews of books I recently read. These reviews use a scale of one to five stars based on Library Thing (where I post these reviews as well). I am a tough grader and seldom give out the full five stars, so keep that in mind when looking at my ratings.

The Grace and Truth Paradox: Responding with Christlike Balance by Randy Alcorn (3.5 stars)

Alcorn looks at balancing truth (which can be harsh) with grace (which can be too gentle). Generally, most Christians fall more to one side or the other of this balance. Some think that telling other folks they are wrong is the most important thing and believe they are doing so in love. Others instead favor showing grace and forgiveness over worrying about what the sin may be. Alcorn attempts to show the correct balance between these two extremes. My main complaint with the book is that it does not consider the proper way to speak or show truth to others. As a silly example, telling someone they should not steal office supplies is unlikely to do much good. Mentioning that I had had an issue with something similar and how I came to understand my error and found some techniques to help overcome the temptation is more likely to be of help. Both approaches may be speaking truth, but one is more likely to do any good. Alcorn’s book is a short one that can easily be read in an hour or two. I would recommend this to Christians trying to understand the proper balance between showing grace and speaking truth to those around them.

Sex, Lies and Handlebar Tape: The Remarkable Life of Jacques Anquetil, the First Five-Times Winner of the Tour de France by Paul Howard (2.5 stars)

Howard pulls off a remarkable feat in this book—he makes boring the life a five-time Tour de France winner who had an affair with his doctor's wife, married her, had a child by (and an affair for twelve years with) her daughter, and finally broke up his marriage by having an affair with his step-son’s ex-wife who he ultimately married. While the book is full of interesting facts and controversial topics, it fails to be compelling. The reason may be that the author does not do much in the way of finding trends among the facts or of trying to reconcile competing viewpoints of the people he spoke with. Despite the flaws, I would recommend this book to anyone curious about a very different era in cycling, the 1960s.

More than Meets the Eye: Fascinating Glimpses of God’s Power and Design by Richard A. Swenson (3.0 stars)

Swenson’s book is a journey through a number of areas of science to show how they point to the hand of God, the Creator. He describes in great detail topics such as how finely tuned conditions are for human life and the incredible complexity of both the universe and the human body. I really enjoyed Swenson’s books on maintaining margin in our lives, but I was less impressed by this one. That may be because many of the things he cites were not new to me and seemed somewhat repetitive. The book is also a bit dated as it was first published in 2000. Despite those reservations, it can be fun to read. I would recommend this book to Christians who don’t have a lot exposure to the wonder of science, especially those who may not be familiar with some of the work of Michael Behe and other intelligent design proponents.

Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill (4.0 stars)

Hill's book is a self-exploration of his homosexuality in light of his Christian faith. He details his life and his decision to live as a Christian, celibate homosexual. Hill does not pretend that the decision was an easy one nor that living such a life is simple or without struggles. Instead, he openly and honestly shares of his life, both failures and triumphs. I recommend this book to anyone looking to better understand the lives and choices facing homosexual Christians.

I am running behind on reviewing books I've read, so I should have another set of these in a couple weeks. Well, that is my goal, at least!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Bolivian sabbatical video

I’ve described in earlier blog entries Principled Technologies’ (PT’s) sabbatical program as well as the sabbatical videos we have been creating about some of them. 

As you can see below, we just finished the video about my 2011 sabbatical. I can't say as that I particularly like looking at myself in the video. (Where did those crows' feet come from?) Despite my discomfort, I think the PT studio team did a great job of putting together the video. 

Watching the video brings back fond memories of my sabbatical trip 18 months ago as well as my most recent trip less than a month ago. I especially love how they worked Bárbara's wonderful artwork into the opening sequence.
I'm proud of PT's sabbatical program for both giving people seven paid weeks off every seven years and for encouraging people to do something good in the world during that time. I'm even more proud of what PT employees have done over the past few years through that program--helping causes as varied as the homeless, orphans, and endangered species on four continents

I look forward to the future sabbatical efforts of folks from PT. And, the resulting videos!  

I hope and pray that, in some small way, we will make an impact for the better in the world.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Cochabamba, Bolivia

The day after leaving from the beach following Becky’s wedding ceremony, I headed to Cochabamba, Bolivia. I went to spend time with the orphans cared for by the Amistad Mission. I’ve been to Cochabamba to work with Amistad three times before over the last 14 years and I now am trying to go at least once a year. 

Some of the mountains surrounding Cochabamba
Because of many other things going on this fall, it was a fairly short trip. I went by myself this time, but never felt lonely. How could I? I was often with people I’ve come to know and love over the past few years.

Cochabamba is at an altitude of 8,000 or more feet, but is ringed by even higher mountains. The weather is nice most of the year. The city is sometimes called the City of Eternal Spring and is generally arid with pleasant temperatures. There was some rain while I was there but the temperature was in the 70s or low 80s most days, though it got cool in the evenings.  

Typical breakfast at La Morada
I spent much of my time at La Morada, a facility for visitors like myself that Amistad runs. It is the place where I slept, did lots of reading, took warm showers, drank safe water, and ate many of my meals. Doña Celia made sure there was always plenty to eat. Between those meals and the restaurants I went to, I managed to gain weight (as I usually do in Bolivia) in a third-world country.

My trip was made even better by my wonderful translator/tour guide, Sarah. She was there to translate when I needed her, but let me stumble through things when I thought I could. More importantly, she put up with me and was fun to be around. 

Bárbara helps show off the mariposas
I spent my time mostly just being with kids and the people that care for them.Part of each day I was at La Villa which is a group of buildings that serve as homes where the children are raised in family groups, each led by a mamá.  

Life at La Villa goes at a much slower pace than I’m used to. I was able to wander around and visit with different children, most of whom I had met on previous trips. Sarah was usually with me to help me communicate with the children. I had plenty of time to hang out in the library and help some of them with their homework. I also had time to work on some crafts with Bárbara and her house. At her request, I brought down some supplies for making a butterfly mobile. (Thanks to Gina for getting the supplies for me!) While I don’t claim to be as artistic as she is, we worked together and created a couple mobiles like the one in the picture above.

Bill, the gardener, in action
One of the ironies of the week was that I spent some time gardening, which I normally hate. Mamá Jhenny has her own little garden and she had me digging rows for her to plant onions. I had a great time, though I may have cut the vine of her favorite pumpkin. She smiled at me and did not seem to mind. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Enjoying dinner with some of the college students
I also had the opportunity to have dinner with some college students at a nice restaurant, Paprika. They had grown up as children in La Villa, but were now in college studying areas as diverse law, accounting, sociology, and civil engineering. They told me about their studies and their challenges. One of the girls remembered Becky from when she first visited in 1998. We ate a good meal, laughed a lot, and generally had a great time together.

Working hard to finish the ice cream
I spent Saturday afternoon with the children and mamá of Casa Amanecer. We took them to Globos where they had lots to eat including way too much ice cream. Some of the little ones made more of a dent in the generous portions of food than I thought was possible. 

After eating ourselves silly we went bowling. Even the little boys had a blast rolling the ball down the lane. Hitting any of the pins was a bonus. I bowled terribly and lost to Dunia and Marinely. There seemed to be bowling balls, kids, pins, and kids everywhere. It was chaos. It was wonderful.

Dunia and Marinely say their victorious goodbyes
I also had the privilege of spending a decent amount of time with the Bolivian director of Amistad, Lila. She even took me to her church on Sunday where we sang choruses in Spanish. I felt myself crying at one point. It was so touching to be with a fellow group of Christians half a world away. 

I managed to get much of the gist of the sermon in Spanish. It was about the importance of the family. Though some of the specific examples were very Bolivian, most of it would have been equally applicable in my church in the US.

Goodbyes with Bárbara and Casa San Francisco
I’ve tried to understand why I love going to Amistad so much. I’m not sure what it is, but there is something special about the people, both the children in the orphanage and the people who work with them. I’ve been told that my pictures from Bolivia seem to show me with a real smile rather than the often awkward one I have in most photos. Bolivia is the place where I feel the most free to smile, laugh, and cry. I can’t wait to go back.

Beware, however, I will be trying to convince you to come with me the next time I go!  

Monday, October 7, 2013

Wuv, twue wuv...

Ignore my expression and look at Becky, Steven and the beach
About ten days ago, I had the pleasure of conducting a wedding ceremony for my daughter, Becky, and her husband, Steven. They were officially married on 12/12/12, but wanted something more meaningful to share with their friends and family. The ceremony was at the beach and both it and the participants were amazingly photogenic as these pictures attest.

Becky asked that I read 1 Corinthians 13 and allowed me to say a few words after doing so. Here are the portions of that chapter that I talked about in the context of marriage:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Susie and the happy couple
I told them (and everyone else there) that the love Paul describes must be an action, a verb, not just a feeling, or a noun. Love is something we must choose to do. Every day.

I said that on that day Becky was beautiful and Steven was handsome. They fervently meant their vows, their “I dos.” But, that will not remain always true. Beauty fades. “I dos” and “I wills” become “I don’ts” and “I won’ts.”

I explained that both of them (and all of us) need to put Paul’s words into action. The love he describes is not the natural outcome of the love they had for each other that beautiful day. We aren’t always patient, kind, trusting, hopeful, or truthful. Indeed, human love does fail.

Everyone is jumping for joy!
Human ability is not sufficient to do what Paul describes. He describes agape love, the sacrificing love that God has for each of us. We need God’s help to love each other, even in a good marriage.

I prayed for them (and everyone at the ceremony) that they would allow God’s love for each of them to assist them in loving their spouses.

The muttonchops that almost appeared 
Steven had asked me if I would conduct part of the ceremony like the bishop in Princess Bride. I had planned to do so and went so far as to get fluffy, muttonchop sideburns like in the movie. They were, however, a bit too difficult to get on without being too hard to get off! So, this picture will have to suffice. I did conclude the ceremony by saying, “May wuv, twue wuv fowow you foweva.”

I continue to pray that Becky and Steven (and other married couples, including Susie and I) will put in the effort to experience twue wuv. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Quick book reviews (#6)

Here is another set of brief reviews of books I recently read. These reviews use a scale of one to five stars based on Library Thing (where I post these reviews as well). I am a tough grader and seldom give out the full five stars, so keep that in mind when looking at my ratings. 

A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents—And Ourselves by Jane Gross (4.5 stars)

I wish I had read this book sooner. Jane Gross details her and her brother’s experiences with her aging mother. Their story is both sweet and bitter. Gross describes the tender moments and does not avoid the unpleasant ones. Somehow, she manages to do that while letting through the humor that her family shared during those years. Gross also manages to put in lots of details about things as varied as the intricacies of spending down money to become eligible for Medicaid, the legal issues of parents in another state, and the flaws in how our medical system treats disease. Gross is Jewish and notes that the Bible does not describe the long slow path to death that most elderly now experience. Much of what she writes was familiar to me such as the chapter on therapeutic fibs—the little lies we end up telling our parents to get through awkward situations. That might mean telling your parent that a drug helps enhance appetite rather than that it is an antidepressant because the parent is of an age that does not acknowledge the existence of depression. After all, they lived through the real Depression. I have lived, and am living, through much of what she describes with my father and now my mother. I really wish I had known in advance about more of what she relates in her book. I recommend this book to anyone who has aging parents, especially ones still in good health. That will change at some point and the farther in advance you can prepare for that change, the better.

And the Mountains Echoed: A Novel by Khaled Hosseini (3.5 stars)

The latest novel by Khaled Hosseini once again looks at the harsh life in Afghanistan. I don’t think this book matches the standard set by his excellent two previous works, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Hosseini tells the story of an intertwined group of people all linked by a single event. At the risk of giving away too much, that event is of a father giving away his daughter in order for the rest of his family to survive. The story is well told, the images are gripping, and I quite enjoyed the book, at least partially because I’m fascinated by Afghanistan. This novel was one of the few books of fiction that I allowed myself to read this year and as such I was a little disappointed. It is possible that my expectations for it were too high. I would recommend this book to folks that liked Hosseini’s previous novels. But if you have not read them yet, I think one of those two would be a better choice. 

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore (3.5 stars) 

Wikipedia describes Wes Moore as an American author, businessman, and US Army veteran. He was a Rhodes Scholar and by most definitions is very successful. He grew up in Baltimore, just a few blocks away from another Wes Moore of similar age who currently is in prison serving a life sentence for murder. Moore spent a lot of time interviewing the “other” Wes Moore in prison as well as other members of both their families. His book looks at the similarities and differences between their lives based on that research. He examines what made one Wes Moore a success and the other a convicted murderer. The book is a fascinating and uncomfortable exploration. While I’m not sure of the conclusions (nor do I think that he is), the book is worth reading for anyone interested in the lives of children and young adults in the inner city. 

Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson (3.5 stars)

In this book, Chris Anderson (the former editor of Wired, not the head of TED) gives an interesting account of the maker movement. Makers are people who are using the latest technology, such as 3D printers like the MakerBot Replicator 2, to create physical objects, both for themselves and to sell to others. Makers are both taking hobbies to a new level and creating businesses based on mass customization. He shows how the combination of the Web, software tools, and relatively low-priced devices like 3D printers and CNC machines are changing the shape of manufacturing. Anderson uses experiences such as his grandfather’s invention of improvements to lawn sprinkler equipment and his own personal DIY drones experience to explain the changes. He does most of this by looking at examples. Though little of the information in Anderson’s book was new to me, he does a good job of pulling it together. I came away from the book itching to try my hand at some sort of manufacturing business. I recommend this book to both those interested in participating as a maker or to those wanting to know about some important trends in the 21st Century. 

I have more books to finish reading and a few more to finish writing quick reviews on. Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Bike MS ride in New Bern, NC

Team CBC and hundreds of other prepare to start
Two weeks ago I bicycled in the Bike MS ride in New Bern, NC along with over 2,000 other riders. The weather over the weekend was perfect (mostly in the seventies with only light breezes). On Saturday, I rode with a group of about 40 to 50 people, mostly folks I know from CBC. We averaged slightly over 20mph for the 100 miles and had a great ride. Because of the nice double pace line and the lack of hills, it felt like less effort than a my typical Saturday 60-mile ride. That was good as there were a lot more miles to ride on Sunday! 

Laura and John riding by one of the great views
The evening festivities on Saturday and Friday were also great and I got to spend time with quite a few people that I’ve become friends with through cycling and elsewhere. On Sunday, I rode 75 miles with some good friends, including Laura and John. That route went to Oriental and provided some beautiful vistas along the water.

Me, Laura, Geoff, and John after 75 miles on Sunday
For all that I had a great time, the more important aspect of the weekend was the cause for which I was riding and raising money. The cause is multiple sclerosis (MS) which is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system, especially the brain. The symptoms of MS can be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. The progress, severity, and specific symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from one person to another. There are medications which can help, but finding the right one can be difficult. 

Happy to be done after 2 days and 175 miles!
 Three people very close to me have MS—my son, Davey (who has two young sons of his own), my brother, Jamey, and my friend, Laura (one of my riding buddies on Sunday). Between them, they have experienced most of the symptoms I listed earlier. My real hope is that the money we raise at events like Bike MS (which hopes to raise close to $2M this year) will speed the research necessary to discover a cure. And, until that happens, that it will provide help to those who are suffering from the more advanced stages of the disease. 

Thank you to the many folks who supported me (and the National MS Society) on this ride. If you were meaning to do so, but have not yet gotten around to it, you still can donate until October 7.
Thanks again for your support. I hope to see you out riding!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Gadget review – Pebble smartwatch

Pebble smartwatch in action
My definition of a smartwatch is a device you wear on your wrist, that interacts with your smartphone, and displays at least the time. Regardless of the definition, smartwatches are all the rage. Everyone from Apple to Samsung to Google to Sony to Nissan either has announced one or is rumored to be working on one. Despite all the hype, there are not many you can actually use today. The $150.00 Pebble is available (I bought my at Best Buy). Though I have lots of complaints about the Pebble, I plan to keep on wearing it. I think it is worth considering if you like the latest gadgets.

I tested the Pebble with an iPhone for a couple months, similarly to how I previously looked at the Martian smartwatch. The Pebble communicates with your smartphone using Bluetooth and was easy to set up.  

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

Monday, September 2, 2013

Hawaii travelogue

Departing from Honolulu at sunset
I just returned from a great week in Hawaii with Susie and her parents. We had not been to Hawaii before, so we chose to take a cruise around the islands to try and take in as much as possible. I’ve tried to limit myself in this blog to one or two photos a day (which was really hard given that we took around 1,000), but I put about 100 of the best photos on Picasa with some short descriptions if you are interested in seeing more of pictures. They probably tell the story better than these words do. I should also apologize for using words like “beautiful” too many times in what follows!

Rainbow on our first morning in Maui
We flew from Raleigh to Dallas-Fort Worth and then to Honolulu on the island of Oahu and went directly to the ship, the Norwegian Cruise Line Pride of America. The ship is a fairly large one able to carry over 2,000 passengers. We were treated to a beautiful sunset as we left the harbor that set the tone for the trip.

Bill, Boyd, Susie and Loretta stop on the Road to Hana
Our first stop was the island of Maui. We ran into another couple on our way off the ship and they invited us to rent a car with them. We agreed and they drove us on the Road to Hana which Jim had done on a previous visit to Maui. It is a very winding road, with lots of single-lane bridges, which hugs the coast line of Maui. There were plenty of places to stop along the way and see vegetation and waterfalls, though many of them were dry during this time of year. We saw black-sand beaches, plants that we were unable to identify, and gorgeous ocean views. 

Akaka Falls
The second day in Maui, I took an excursion and rode a bike down Haleakala. My Strava data indicates that it was all downhill and I only burned 67 calories during the 45-minute ride! There were stops to take pictures and lots to see, however, including a lavender farm. Susie and her folks visited the port while I was cycling and had fun making leis out of the local kukui nuts. 

Secluded cove near Hilo, Hawaii
Next stop was Hilo, Hawaii (commonly just referred to as the Big Island). We rented a car and drove up the coast to Akaka Falls which are over 400 feet tall. Along the way, we stopped on a 4-mile section of road designated as scenic. (Anything that is considered worth noting as scenic in Hawaii is not to be missed!) From the top of the trail, we were able to see sea turtles swimming in the ocean. Then, as we followed the trail, it felt like we were descending down into a jungle as the plants grew denser and things grew darker. At the bottom of the trail, there was a burst of light and a magnificent little cove with splashing waves. 

Steam rising from Halemaumau Crater
In the afternoon we drove the other direction from the ship to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. There we saw steam rising from Halemaumau Crater in the Kileuea’s caldera and went through a lava tube that at one time had been a path for lava flowing from the volcano. That evening, as the ship sailed to the other side of Hawaii, it passed by a lava fall. Sadly, none of our photos worked out due to the darkness and the movement of the ship, but it was amazing to see in person. 

The next day we docked at Kona, Hawaii. This time we tried hiring a driver to take us around. We saw Kona coffee beans growing and being made into what we think of as coffee beans. We went snorkeling in multiple places and saw lots of fish. Susie even managed to step on a sea urchin and get some of its spines in her foot. Ouch!  

The next day we docked at the island of Kauai. We felt this was the most beautiful of the islands, though they was not an easy call. We again rented a car and drove first to Waimea Canyon which is sometimes called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. At only 10 miles long, that is definitely an exaggeration, but it is as much as 3,000 feet deep, so it promised to be spectacular. As we drove up to the top, however, we ran into denser and denser clouds and finally rain. We were not able to see the deepest parts of the canyon, but were still able to see some spectacular vistas once we got below the clouds on the drive back down. 

Hawaiian Monk Seal at the beach at Po'ipu
We next visited the beach at Po’ipu for some more snorkeling. We did not notice until after the snorkeling that there was a large Hawaiian monk seal napping on the beach. At over 500 pounds with warning signs to leave it be, it is hard to believe we did not see it! Just when people were starting to ask if it was alive, in stretched, brushed its face with its flipper, rolled over, snorted, and continued to nap. In the evening, we went to a luau. We enjoyed the food (except for the poi) and the dance/production afterwards. 

Na Pali Coast from the ship
The next day, we drove the other way around Kauai. By now, we were somewhat used to all of the beauty and though we had a pleasant drive to Hanalei Bay with nice photo opportunities, we felt it was not up to previous drives. That evening, however, the ship made a trip past where the road was able to go and we saw the stunning Na Pali Coast from ship. The Na Pali Coast is only accessible by sea, air, or foot and the views from the ship were the most beautiful that I have ever seen. 
Battleship Missouri at Pearl Harbor

The ship returned overnight to Oahu where it started. We took a bus excursion to Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, and some of the surrounding area. The memorials and exhibits at Pearl Harbor were informative and moving. I am always humbled by the sacrifices that so many people have made to ensure the freedom I enjoy. 

We then took our red-eye flight to Dallas-Fort Worth and finally back to Raleigh. It was a wonderful and memorable trip. And, though it was less relaxing than I had hoped, I finished three books and got close on a couple more.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Don’t work too hard?

As I finished purchasing a cup of coffee, the person behind the counter said, “Have a great day!  Don’t work too hard!” 

A few days later, while waiting at the doctor’s office, I heard outside my door, “Don’t work too hard!” The response was, “Great advice to hear, but hard advice to follow.”
How did “don’t work too hard” become a standard farewell? It is right up there with “have a great day” and “take care.”

Somewhat related, I’ve also heard a few times of late the saying that no one ever said on their deathbed that they wished they had worked more. There are quite a few variations on the exact wording, but the sentiment seems to be conventional wisdom now. 

This feeling may come in part from the recent book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing by Bonnie Ware. The second of the regrets she studied is I wish I had not worked so hard. (The other regrets are about not living true to one’s self rather than others expectations, not expressing ones feelings, neglecting to stay in touch with friends, and not choosing to be happy.) 

How have we gone from a nation that values work and identifies with the protestant work ethic to one that considers work as more of a necessary evil that should be avoided where possible?

Is working too hard an actual danger for folks? That does not seem to be the case. Recent articles like this one from the Atlantic say we are working fewer, not more, hours than in the past. 

I concede that some folks do work too many hours and let their work consume their lives. I know that is an area I struggle with. However, I think more folks in 21st Century America struggle from the lack of meaningful work than from working too hard.

People without work lose much of their identity. Recently a friend committed suicide, due at least in part to being out of work. My dad often said that retiring was the worst thing he ever did. I watched him dwindle away without meaningful work.

I believe the reason is that we were created to work. Genesis 2:15 says, “Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” The Hebrew word translated as cultivate means to work or serve. Indeed, working is one of the ways we were created in the image of God, as He is described as resting from His work of creating the heavens and the earth (Genesis 2:2-3).

In Colossians 3:23, Paul instructs, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord, rather than for men.” The Greek word for heartily literally means from the soul. That verse is one that I try to incorporate into my life. I am to work, not lackadaisically, but with my very soul. And, not for the approval of others, but of God. It is hard to put any higher value on work than that.

Contrary to the sentiment of regretting working too hard, I can picture on my deathbed wishing that I had worked harder, that I had accomplished more.

Maybe we can make “Work hard” or “Have a productive day” be the phrase to replace “Don’t work too hard!”

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Quick book reviews (#5)

I’ve written another set of brief reviews of books I recently read. (Actually, I’m way behind in doing these and some of these books I read several months ago.) These reviews use a scale of one to five stars based on Library Thing (where I post these reviews as well). I am generally a tough grader and seldom give out the full five stars.

Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas (4.0 stars) 

I’m a fan of Eric Metaxas' writing, based on reading his biographies of William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. What Metaxas does here is combine short biographies of seven Christian men into one book. In addition to Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer, he looks at George Washington, Eric Liddell, Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II, and Chuck Colson. I found all of the biographies compelling, even the ones on men I had read about in the past. The biographies both intrigued and inspired me. My one complaint is that he did not attempt to draw any conclusions from the biographies. I expected that he would either show how each of the seven men exemplified some Christian attribute or show what they shared in common that made them who they were. Instead, it is just seven short, inspiring biographies. I found the book well worth the time and I would encourage reading it to anyone who wants to see what individual Christians can do to influence the world.

Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor by Ben Witherington III (3.5 stars) 

I found Ben Witherington’s book to be a slow read, but with enough good elements that it was worth the time I invested in it. As the title states, he tackles the topic of work, one which I think has been neglected in Christian circles. He takes a fairly theoretical and theological approach while making the concepts accessible to most readers. He does a good job of looking at differing views on work and helps show the strengths, weaknesses, and downright errors in those views. Along the way, Witherington makes interesting observations and assertions, such as retirement having no biblical basis. On that point, and most of his other ones, I whole heartedly agree. The problem with the book is when he attempts to move away from the theory of work. His next to last chapter, which pulls largely from work by Andy Crouch, was lost on me and the last chapter on finding balance between work, rest, and play did not work for me either. Despite these issues, I recommend this book to anyone wanting explore and better understand the proper role of work in the lives of Christians. 

The End of Men: And the Rise of Women by Hanna Rosin (3.5 stars)

Hanna Rosin’s book was all over the news a few months ago when it came out. It draws heavily from a couple of Atlantic articles she wrote (The End of Men, July/August 2010 and Boys on the Side, August 2012). The basic premise is that women are becoming the dominant force in everything from business to academia to the bedroom. Rosin uses a wealth of statistics, her own research, and personal anecdotes to make her case. I found her book compelling, thought provoking, and often frustrating. Ultimately, I found myself depressed by Rosin’s almost gleeful attitude on much of what she describes. I don’t find women dominating men to be any more desirable than men dominating women. Unlike Rosin, I also don’t think that women becoming as cavalier about sex as frat boys is a good development. Regardless, I would recommend the book to almost anyone interested in learning about some very important trends in our society. Or, you could save time and money and just read her two Atlantic articles! 

iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It by Steve Wozniak (3.0 stars) 

This book is Steve Wozniak’s (Woz’s) autobiography. It stands in sharp contrast to Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson, just as Woz and Jobs are very contrasting individuals. This book is not a great read (at least in part because Woz is not a great writer), but it is an interesting companion to Isaacson’s work. Woz is an unapologetic engineer and this book (from 2006) is his attempt to set the record straight. I came away amazed that he and Jobs were ever able to be friends. Woz comes across as brilliant and compassionate, but somewhat clueless. My guess is that I would much rather have spent time with Woz than Jobs, despite his penchant for sometimes cruel practical jokes. However, without Jobs, I don’t think what Woz would have amounted to much. I also think Woz probably would have been happier. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in seeing another side of the Apple/Jobs story.  

Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence by Geoffrey Canada (3.5 stars)

Geoffrey Canada’s book (an updated version of the 1996 original) is an interesting and very personal account of growing up in the inner city in the era before guns. He contrasts that with the current inner-city environment that is saturated with guns. His upbringing was by no means nonviolent or idyllic. However, the lack of guns meant that he and many others had a better chance of surviving and getting out to a better life. Canada chose to instead go back and try to help the next generation. I read this book as part of the research for my long-promised blog entry on guns. The book unfortunately offers little in the way of solutions and I came away convinced that the problems and suffering caused by guns in cities may well be an intractable problem. At least, the example of Canada’s efforts provides a glimmer of hope. I would recommend the book to anyone looking for some exposure to the issues around guns, violence, and poverty in urban environments.

I have an amazing stack of books (OK, they are really just bits in my Kindles) I’m hoping to read over my upcoming and much needed vacation. Hopefully, I will be much more prompt about writing my next set of book reviews!