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!