Friday, July 27, 2007

Fixing a washing machine: Kenmore series 80, model 110.28802890

If you have a Kenmore Series 80, model number 110.28802890, and your washing machine fills and fills and keeps filling -- even though you've got the water level set on small load... and the book's advice (i.e., ensure sufficient air gap for the drainage hose) doesn't help, then the problem might be what I had. To find out, here's what you gotta do.

First, open up the control panel. If your control panel looks like this:
then pop off both end caps and remove one screw under each one:

Slide the bottom of the control panel toward you then lift it, then flip it over so you can see the underside. On the left side, behind the water level switch, it should look like this:

See that hose? If it's not connected to the water-level control -- i.e., if it's just hanging loose like mine was -- then that will tend to make your washing machine fill and fill and fill, because the water-level control doesn't know how much water is already there.

Anyway, after replacing the hose, I set the water level on "small load" and started it. After a short time, it stopped filling and started agitating. Yipee!

Update: 02 November 2008

It happened again! Same cause, too. So, two tips:
  • When you stick the hose back on, don't just jam it back on; it might fall off again. If you have a hose clamp handy, use that (don't overtighten!) -- if you don't, a piece of solid #12 or #14 wire, wrapped around the end of the hose, should help (again, don't overtighten). Also, is there anything, like a stupid-looking clip, that would tend to put tension on the hose and pull it off the control? Unhook it from said clip.
  • Second, once you replace the hose, drain the washer completely before testing. I drained it only part way, and the pressure or whatever didn't equalize. Move the control over to the spin cycle, then let it drain. Then fill again, setting "small load" and set a timer for about 5 minutes.
Better luck (to us all) next time!

Praise God from whom all blessings flow

About 9:15 Wednesday morning, Jenny and I took off on approximately this route to Big Basin. Google maps seem to think that it's 14.5 miles or so from our house to Woodside and Skyline; I thought it was about 15. Let's say it was 14.5. And about 1400' elevation gain. That was about 10:55am, and we bought a BALT sandwich (that's BLT plus avocado), a pork tamale, a lemonade, and a bag of evil crispy salty snacks (Cool Ranch Doritos® if you must know). We started riding again at about 11:30.

The "paddle markers" on Skyline read about 10.19 when we started, then went down to 0 and started down again from 17.05; there was a lot of climbing -- at least 1000' (punctuated by some downhills -- i.e. 1000' of climbing, not necessarily 1000' net). We pulled off the road at a CDF fire station -- Saratoga Summit, it said, because there was a vending machine that had water! A friendly young man came out, and asked where we'd been. We said we'd had a lot of climbing, and he told us, "Well, you're at the top here!" (Is that what "summit" means? Cool!!)

I told him we were looking to refill our water bottles. He said, "There's some here," indicating the vending machine, "but they'll charge you." A dollar! He pointed over past the driveway. "There's a tap over there by the picnic table." I drink from the tap at home, so why not here? We thanked him and investigated the water spigot. My bottle was about ¼ full of warm (not yet hot) water, which I dumped before refilling it.

There was one more brief hill, and where the mileage markers would have said about 14.00, we made the right-hand turn onto highway 9. Highway 9 was nice, and we made some 5 miles in what felt like 5 minutes, but was probably more like 10 or 15. Once onto 236, there was a lot more uphill -- I think the map warned us about 600' elevation gain (climbing, not necessarily net) -- from about 18.3 to about 14.30 on the paddle markers. The next 5 miles were a lot easier, and we paused somewhere on route 236 to eat some almonds and あられ-and-peanut mix I had packed.

It was about 6 hours from garage door (the lovely Carol closed the door for us) to finding her welcome note on the message board at Big Basin Redwoods State Park Headquarters. But before we did that -- ice cream! The camp store, across Highway 236 from Park Headquarters and a little to your right, has $3 bars and $2 bars. I chose a neapolitan sandwich, and Jenny took a banana fruit ice. They were certainly cold enough. Yum!

Over to the campsite, and we had a happy reunion. (Carol, Sheri, and Keith had left the house about noon and drove down to Big Basin.) I popped a couple of ibuprofen pills, took a shower, and pretty soon it was time to start dinner. I set up our propane stove and connected it to our least-empty canister. I found the rice that I had packed in a plastic container, dumped it into a pot, then rinsed it in the pot, ending up with what seemed like enough water. (At sea level, this formula usually works: get the height of the rice, then add enough water so that the water level is twice as high as the height of the rice. So for example, if the rice level is about 1cm from the bottom of the pot, make your water about 2cm from the bottom of the pot. This is over twice as much water as rice, because there's also water between the grains of rice.) The rice pot went onto the stove's left-hand burner, covered, on high heat.

Next I poured a little oil into another pan, dumped in the kielbasa that the lovely Carol had sliced up at home, and added the sliced cabbage, also lovingly prepared at home by The Gorgeous One. The cabbage and the sausage took quite a bit of stir-frying. Not to cook the sausage (already fully cooked) but to soften up the cabbage. Every once in a while I peeked into the rice pot to see if it started boiling yet. As soon as I saw a respectable rate of bubbling, I cranked the heat down as low as it would go.

I kept stir-frying the cabbage and sausage, sampling the cabbage frequently. "Boy, there's a lot of cabbage," I said. It was a little bitter. I kept cooking it, and someone suggested adding butter and salt. That would have been a good idea, but I didn't know where the butter was. I sprinkled some salt on it.

Meanwhile, I looked at the rice. When there was no visible liquid, I sampled a few grains of rice from the top. Bah! They were rock-like in the center! I guesstimated about another ¼ cup of water, tossed it in, and covered it again, meanwhile stir-frying the cabbage and sausage. When I could stand it no longer, I turned off the sausage pot.

In another 10-20 minutes or so, I sampled the rice again. Perfect! I killed the heat under the rice, and left table-setting for others.

I should tell you about our campsite. We were at #153, Blooms Creek. A terrific site! It was separated from the road by some bushes, unlike the other sites in the area. Some people call it the "honeymoon site" だそうです. I wouldn't go quite that far, but it was nice.

Keith made a fire, using the teepee method. I might have heard about this 20-40 years ago, but I didn't remember it. It really works well.

I won't give you all the details of Thursday, except that we went on a short (maybe 2-3 miles?) hike and had lunch on the trail; we had burgers for dinner. This morning we made it out of the park by about 11, driving through Boulder Creek (where we bought sandwiches at about 11:40 and filled the gas tank) and Felton. We continued on 17/880 into San Jose, exited at The Alameda, and after just one wrong turn, made it to the Caltrain Depot, due south (I should remember that next time) of the Fee-Arena (aka HP Pavilion). I walked my bike into the station about 15 minutes before the next departure.

The lovely Carol took the kids over to "Raging Waters" for fun in the sun, while I headed home to try to fix the washing machine, which would completely fill the tub and never get around to the "wash" cycle -- regardless whether we told it small, medium, or large load.

On the train, the bike car was practically empty! All the way to Menlo Park (34 minutes) I think I saw maybe 3 other bikes. Now that's the way to take a bike on the train!

I pedaled home, making it in under 15 minutes (I'm feeling stronger every day!) and found everything in perfect order -- except of course that the washing machine was still busted.

I'm thankful that fixing it went well. God is good.

Everyone returned while I was writing this entry -- all reported good times at Raging Waters.

For dinner, I was the chef de cuisine again: rice (this time in the rice cooker), "ma po tofu" from a mix (just add oil, ground pork, and tofu), and left-overs:
  • lamb and spinach casserole
  • Chinese broccoli and Polish kielbasa (Now that's international!)
  • Chinese broccoli and oyster sauce, served cold
So no dishwashing for Collin tonight.

An outstanding mini-vacation!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Am I a Real Christian?

Some decades ago, when I came to know Jesus, a friend gave me a set of cards with Bible verses on them. They were headed by topics: Assurance of Salvation for example, Assurance of Guidance, Assurance of Answered Prayer -- this sort of thing.

I don't think I'd say I was naive back then -- well, maybe I would -- but things seemed simpler. Am I a real Christian? Well, let's see:
This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his son. He who has the son has life; he who doesn't have the son of God doesn't have life.
1 John 5:11-12
Easy, right? Do you have the Son of God in your heart? Well, I invited him in, and he promised that he would come in, so I guess so.

But it's not that easy. Here's a different question. Consider this:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'
Matthew 7:21-23
The question is: How do you or I know that we won't be one of the "evildoers"? This makes it sound like these people will be surprised.

So here's the trouble I have with some of these verses: depending on my frame of mind, or my mood, I might feel like, "OK, that matches" or "Whoa, 'do the will of my father who is in heaven' -- am I doing that?" and get real nervous.

The lovely Carol said that the book of 1 John gives us some tests, some ways we can tell. She's right, as usual, but some of the tests are kind of opaque. For example, consider this:
The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
1 John 2:4-6
Now to what degree must one carry out his commands, obey his word, walk as Jesus did, in order to know that we are "in him"? Think back to the many who will say to Jesus, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy... drive out demons, and perform ... miracles?" Surely they must have done some of that in order to drive out demons and perform miracles, etc., but Jesus calls them evildoers! I've never performed a single miracle or cast out a single demon, so...?

So these tests aren't all straightforward.

That said, they can indicate things to us. And I do think that I can answer some of them. So here are a few. I am going to stop writing in about 15 minutes, in order to spend some up-close and personal time with the lovely Carol.

OK, so here's one of the indications:
If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just; he will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:7-9
I think this is something that's not too hard to find out. If you pray that prayer from Psalm 139, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the everlasting way" then I think that's part of walking in the light. Do I want to know whether I'm right? Or is it more important to me to prove to others (and myself) that I am right about something?

If you're not sure, do you want to find out? If you're asking God to show you, if you want to do what he wants -- and nobody does it perfectly, right? -- then that's an indication that you are wanting to walk in the light. By the way, I think that holds in 1 John 2:6 also:
Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
Remember, there is no way to earn a right relationship with God. Not a single one of us will ever be good enough to deserve the right to live with him. That's not what it's about.

Here's another indication:
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
1 John 2:15
The fact that you're reading this -- assuming you're reading it because you're interested, rather than because you want to ridicule it -- is a suggestion that you're more interested in God than in the world. If you were only interested in the world, you'd probably be doing something a lot more world-focused.

My time is up, so I'll write more on this later.

What about other religions?

One of our pastors, John, opened his current sermon series (on "Faith and Doubt") by reading from a letter. The letter asked, very intelligently and eloquently, how we could be sure that Christianity reflected ultimate truth, given that there are many other beliefs and cultures, and that people of other faiths have accomplished much good in the world, and some of their adherents live lives that seem more peaceful and developed (etc) than our own.

Last week, he answered a completely different question, viz., "Why should I believe that there is a personal god who has something to say about right and wrong, good and evil?" -- specifically why he (our pastor) believes that.

Last night, a friend brought up the question of what happens to people who do not believe in Jesus when they die. Do they go to heaven or to hell?

Here I offer short answers to the first two questions, and a meta-answer to the third.

First, how do we know that Christianity, rather than Judaism or Islam or Buddhism (etc) is the truth? Well, one reason I believe it's the truth is basically this: We can be reasonably sure that Jesus Christ said a lot of the things he did. In particular, he said that he would be killed, and resurrected on the third day. This actually happened (the tomb is empty, and people like F.F. Bruce(?) and Lee Stroebel, who try to explain away said tomb, end up becoming Christians themselves). Hence everything else Jesus said is probably just as reliable. That's my short answer #1.

Pastor John answered the second question much better than I could. He gave several reasons, of which I can currently remember these:
  1. People may say ethics are arbitrary, but their arguments prove they actually think otherwise.
    This is basically C.S. Lewis's first argument from Mere Christianity. I think the first chapter of that book is titled "Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe" or something like this.
  2. Personal beings point to the existence of a personal creator.
    He pointed out that we never put animals on trial. A dog wrecks the carpet or furniture, and we don't debate whether the dog is good or evil; the dog was just doing what dogs do. We don't computer programs on trial, either. If they're defective, we fix them, or we erase them and start over. Researchers in artificial intelligence have been trying for decades to produce "intelligent" machines, but even if they succeed, that only reinforces the point that the existence of personal beings strongly suggests that they were created by someone (or Someone if you prefer) personal. I'm sure I've left out many of the intelligent things he said about this one.
  3. The experience of joy points us to something beyond it.
    Joy is great, but it suggests to us that there's something more that we long for.
  4. God changes lives, and our lives need changing.
    Nobody has ever said, "I used to be selfish and greedy, but the Big Bang theory has persuaded me to be generous and giving." Or, "I used to kill people and do drugs, but now that I've come to embrace the ultimate meaninglessness of life, I now help homeless people to get back on their feet."
Let me know if you want a pointer to the transcript or mp3 of John's sermon.

The third question... what happens to people of other faiths? Well, if you read Romans chapter 2, you might get the impression that they'll be judged based on what they know. Romans 10 (particularly around verses 10-15) might give you a different idea.

So what's the answer? Well, it beats me. But I suspect one thing and I know one thing.

What I suspect: What you believe about this question has more to do with your personality than anything else. If you're an angry sort of person who likes to tell people what to do, you're more likely to say God will send them to hell. If you're a warm and fuzzy type, you're more likely to think God takes a more inclusive view.

What I know: God does not show favoritism. -- Romans 2:11

Fortunately for everybody, it's God who will decide these things, not you or I.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

spiritual descendants?

I wrote to one of the older teen's friends about the idea of spiritual descendants, because Genesis chapter 22 came to mind when I was thinking about her.

In Genesis 22, God meets Abraham on the mountain and provides a ram for a burnt offering (instead of Abraham's son Isaac). God then gives Abraham a promise about his descendants: that they will be like the stars in the sky or the sand on the seashore, they'll possess the gate of their enemies, that the nations of the earth will bless themselves by Abraham's descendants. This is a blessing God would love to give you and me, I said, possibly in the sense of spiritual descendants.

Whether Abraham understood descendants in the genetic/biological/physical sense only or not, Paul tells us in Romans 4 that we who believe are Abraham's descendants -- it's not just those who follow the same religious rituals (verses 11, 13, 16-17). Paul talks about being father to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 4:15), because he imparted life -- eternal life -- to them through the gospel. So there are a couple of examples anyway where the idea of being a descendant is used in a spiritual sense -- a pioneer or a mentor or an evangelist is like a father or an ancestor.

(By the way, when Paul says he's a father, he's not taking away God's role in really giving them life. A human father contributes half the genetic material, but let's face it, the new life is nurtured 100% by the mother for the first 40 weeks or so. Similarly, it is God who is the real source of life, but the mentor, the friend, the evangelist has a significant role in bringing the life forth. Of course Paul understands this; didn't he say somewhere that one man planted, another watered, but God causes the growth?)

Now somewhere in Isaiah chapter 58, it says that you will raise up the foundations of many generations (in one translation anyway) -- which some have taken to mean generations of believers, i.e., spiritual generations. The passage paints a picture of healing, restoring, building. H'm, on closer examination it looks like that "generations" stuff might be more backward-looking than forward-looking.

But it's still a great passage. "You will be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets..." -- sounds good to me! Any idiot can break things; healing and restoring are special.

And what does it take? Looking back in that Isaiah passage, we see the antecedent is "if you pour yourself out (extend yourself) to the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted" -- that is when your light will shine in the darkness, and so on. A little before that, in chapter 57 I believe...yep, 57:15, he talks about the humble and contrite in spirit. These are characteristics he values in any servant of his. Because he does not delight in the strength of man or beast, but the Lord favors those who fear him, those who wait for his lovingkindness.

And on what did he base his astonishing promises to Abraham? "Because you have obeyed me" (Genesis 22:18). We don't have to be successful, spectacular, or famous in our lifetimes, but if we obey... that's what delights God.

And this just struck me: who is it that multiplied Abraham's descendants? Was it Abraham? Ah, no. Abraham didn't even see that many descendants I think. Jacob had 13 offspring and a bunch of grandchildren, but how many grandchildren did Abraham see? So about your spiritual descendants or mine -- the spiritual fruit of our lives -- whose job is it to multiply them? Who is it that will make our lives fruitful and useful?

If it has to be you and me, then we've got a lot of pressure on us, but no -- it's God who brings about the fruit, if we remain in him.

OK, time to stop writing and go to bed. I hope this helped.

Javascript but not Klingon

Well, I just learned a little javascript, the hard way, by constructing http://cpark.users.sonic.net/oyb/, which when you load it will try to give you a page that depends on today's date. The idea is that the One Year Bible has readings for every day, and I have comments on the reading for most days. The reading for today (in your timezone I think) should show up when you click here.

That took way longer than I thought it should, but it's computers -- so what else is new?

(ah, the title for this article comes from a line in Weird Al's "White 'n' Nerdy")

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Did God call the world to come to church?

A couple of weeks ago, a former pastor came back and gave the sermon. He made the point there that "God did not call the world to come to church; he called the church to go out into the world."

So today a bunch of us -- maybe a couple dozen -- went out to clear weeds and junk from a vacant lot in a less-wealthy part of town, in cooperation with a church in that neighborhood. Gas-powered string trimmers and human-powered pruning shears were in evidence, as well as spades, and rakes to make "small" piles of the stuff. Monday some sort of machinery will be out there to remove said piles and make the lot less of a fire hazard and also less of an eyesore.

That was great, but what is our church's primary plan to get the good news into the world? We have a celebrity preacher who explains the good news very convincingly. There's a reason he's a celebrity preacher: he's a brilliant speaker. It doesn't hurt that he's a brilliant guy either. We plan to "scale" this thing by having the sermon piped to two other locations with live worship leaders, etc.

So what am I worried about? A few things. In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul says he doesn't speak elegantly or eloquently or persuasively; he wants their faith to be based upon the power of God rather than on the wisdom of men. If people come to a worship-and-teaching service and meet God there, then faith will be based upon the eloquence/whatever of the preacher. How is the power of God demonstrated? I'm about to exaggerate to make a point, but I think it's in, as Scott (our former pastor) said, it's by Christians serving our friends and neighbors and families in the name of Jesus -- much more so than by brilliant (truly brilliant) presentations in a worship service.

A corollary of that "worry" is that the strategy depends upon one or a few key individuals.

The other thing, and I've got to stop right about now, is that the model of having people come to a gathering of hundreds on a Sunday morning -- that seems to be a 20th-century model for how people appropriate truth. Can it work now, on the San Francisco peninsula?

I guess we'll see.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Good News -- the power of God for salvation

Today's reading, from the first chapter of Paul's epistle to the Romans, tells us how proud Paul is of the gospel:
I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first for the Jew, then to the Greek. For in it (in the gospel) a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."
Romans 1:16-17
Whatever salvation is, in Paul's mind it's inextricably connected to "righteousness from God."

About the time Paul wrote that, many infants, were dying because they were, well, girls. For these babies, salvation was an immediate, physical need; they needed to be saved from the elements, from the heartlessness of their parents and of the society that condoned -- even encouraged -- infanticide.

So what was salvation to these babies? What does righteousness have to do with it? And is it entirely different from what Paul is talking about?

One might claim that an earthly salvation is only temporary -- that Paul is talking about eternal salvation, but salvation for the baby girls was very limited and short-term (lasting 100 years or less). That might actually be the case, but really, what earthly good would the Good News have been to those Greek and Roman babies, cruelly left out to die?

Or, consider a more modern example -- a pregnant teenager, ejected from her home by irate parents. Such is the fate of the fictional "Victoria," who in Haruf's novel Plainsong moves in with two elderly brothers, bachelor farmers, themselves orphaned as teens. They give her their dead parents' room, feed her, buy a crib for the coming baby, and so on. By the start of Evensong, the next novel, Victoria is moving into her first apartment at college. Introducing the brothers to her new roommate, she says, "They saved me."

"Are they preachers?" the roommate asks.

I'm afraid that we evangelicals have not always had a great record when it comes to offering good news that sounds like it. Speaking for myself, I prefer to think about people looking for meaning in life, worried about their own sin -- those are questions that I know Jesus wants to answer, and I know how to at least begin describing the answer. But an abandoned baby or a homeless pregnant teen?

So rather than saying the salvation described in Romans 1 was irrelevant to a large swath of first-century Romans, or 21st century Americans, I propose this alternative: that the Good News is not only about how an individual can get righteousness from God through faith in Christ; it is fundamentally about the coming of the Kingdom of God. It is not strictly an individual phenomenon, though it does happen one person at a time. Instead, I'm going to say that as people care for the orphan and the widow and the homeless, they are part of the solution and thus have a part in the coming of God's kingdom.

When you and I meet the Lord Jesus by faith, receive forgiveness for our sins by faith, and start to walk with him by faith, he uses us (if we let him) to bring the kingdom to widows and orphans, to the homeless and unemployed, and yes, to middle-class people wondering about their eternal destiny and the meaning of their lives here and now.

Now what about the issue that Paul says the good news brings salvation to those who believe -- not "through" but "to" those who believe? I mean, it's not like the language of the time had a shortage of prepositions (and I don't know Greek better than the NIV translators do!) or anything. Here's what I think. The kingdom of God does come to an individual, but it also comes to societies, to tribes -- to nations.

And about righteousness: what those 1st century Christians did in rescuing those baby girls, and what Haruf's fictional bachelor farmers did for the fictional Victoria, and what many Christians do today for many pregnant girls who do not get abortions -- these acts of strength and compassion are part of what "righteousness" means. The word translated "righteousness" -- and it does sound rather musty to modern ears -- what it means is "like it's supposed to be." So a "righteous" knife is one that cuts well; a "righteous" wagon is one that rolls smoothly and is strong enough for the load. A righteous person is like God in being generous, compassionate, loving, honorable, and so on.

In particular, Paul says that the gospel, the good news, is about righteousness from God not connected to religious rituals.

So what would I say the essence of the gospel is? What is the good news, in other words? From Mark 1:15, it's this: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is near. The kingdom is coming, and you and I can be part of it.

And when that happens, salvation comes -- not just the hope of eternal salvation that comes to you and to me individually when we believe it, but also the healing and blessing that comes to our community in and through us.

Sounds like really good news to me!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Miscalculated

This morning, the leftover hamburger (I'd sautéed it with onions the other day) looked forlornly at me from its container in the ’fridge. I said to the lovely Carol, "If I scrambled some eggs with this, would you have some?"

She would, so I pulled out a skillet, tossed the burger in with some olive oil, and set the burner on medium heat. I beat three eggs and stirred the burger around a bit more. When it looked ready, I added the eggs and in a minute or two we had a breakfast scramble.

I put two plates on the stove and shoveled the egg/burger mix onto them. There was a bit too much -- two eggs probably would have been enough, I thought.

Then it hit me: our dog was no longer here to share this with us.

I know we should think about the good times we had with him, rather than focus only on the grief of missing him. But sometimes we just do.

15 hours later

The lovely Carol just heard a high-pitched whistling noise outside. "It reminds me of Duke's whine," she said.

I wonder how long it will be 'til it won't hurt when we remember him?

Culture, schmulture (part deux)
A thinly disguised conversation

The other day I had an interesting conversation with someone from Bangalore. When I described it to the lovely Carol (along with my comments on the cross-cultural aspects), she suggested I write it up. The names have been changed so as to make it not too obvious... especially since I'm sure I got the order and some details wrong.

I showed most of the below to "Mahesh" (he's still here in Sunnyvale) and told him my idea of using it to illustrate cross-cultural communications, and he was OK with it. He asked me again if I had any plans to visit Bangalore.

For your reading pleasure, then, here is...

The thinly disguised conversation

Bill was trying to code a lookahead regex in Perl when he heard a knock on his office door. It was Mahesh, who he met yesterday. Mahesh manages the team in Bangalore, and was visiting headquarters in Sunnyvale for the first time.

Bill turned his chair around to face the door. "Come in, come in!" he said.

"I wanted to drop this by." Mahesh produced a small paper bag, which Bill accepted. Opening it, he saw it was a very thin vase, wrapped in cellophane. He tried to stand it up on his table.

Mahesh encouraged him to take the cellophane off, then explained that the vase was made of gunmetal. The pattern was engraved and covered in silver. "Very pretty," Bill said.

"If you come to Bangalore, you will see many shops, including this one." Mahesh indicated the store's name on the paper bag.

I wonder what else he had in mind, Bill thought.

After a moment, Mahesh sat down in the big armchair and suddenly looked abashed. "I hope I didn't offend you by sitting here when you didn't..."

Idiot! Why didn't you offer him a seat? Bill mentally kicked himself. "No, no, no," he said. But now what? Mahesh wasn't the usual fast-paced conversationalist.

After a moment, Bill asked, "How long will you be in Sunnyvale?"

"Just this week," said Mahesh.

"And what are your objectives for this visit?"

"To meet people. To attend the meetings that this part of the team has." He smiled and made an open gesture with his hands. "That's all."

Taking that at face value, Bill tried, "How long have you been with the company?"

Six months. Bill and Mahesh had both worked at HP before, and so they were able to compare their impressions of their current company in light of their former employer.

Bill cast about for something else. "How do you feel about the collaboration between Bangalore and Sunnyvale?"

A brief pause. Mahesh smiled again (somewhat awkwardly, Bill thought). "Pretty OK. Well, we have a young team, not much experience -- neither here in the company nor elsewhere. I was hoping to set up a meeting with you, once every 15 days or so. It would be a phone conference -- you could do it from home -- and you could get to know what we are working on, get to know the team, and so on. Maybe you could mentor some of them. Does that sound all right?"

"Perfect," Bill replied. Does he mean every three weeks (15 working days) or twice a month (15 calendar days)? he wondered. Those details can wait, though; I'd say "yes" either way. Arrgh -- I forgot I have to set something up like that myself -- for next week, when Pete is out here.

"What time would work for you?" Mahesh asked.

The time difference could hardly be worse: 11½ hours, or maybe 12½. People in Bangalore usually come to the office "late" in the morning and stay late in the evening.

"How about 6:30 AM my time?" Bill tried. "Would that work?" Is that 7pm in Bangalore, he wondered, or is it 6pm now that we're on daylight savings?

Mahesh looked surprised. "Isn't that too early for you?"

"Well, I'm usually up by about six anyway," said Bill. "And if it was going to be evening here, it would have to be quite late." Later than I probably want to be awake, he thought.

"You know, offering to have a phone conference with the team at 6:30AM your time is no joke; they will really appreciate that," Mahesh said.

"Well, anyway, if it was like 6:30 then we could talk maybe half an hour and I could still ride my bicycle over to the train station," Bill explained.

The conversation then switched to less work-related things: where Bill lived, commuting, each man's children, etc.

Bill thought of something else. "Is there anything else we could do at this end to improve collaboration? Offer to help or something like this?"

Mahesh talked about the need to build some sort of wrapper first.

Bill nodded, while frnatically thinking, what kind of wrapper? He was usually pretty good with accents, but it took him a while to figure out that the word was "rapport." He turned his attention back to Mahesh.

"Unless the rapport is built," he was saying, "then offers of help could be misunderstood."

Drat it, Bill thought. I've blown that more than once, then.

"But once that rapport is there," Mahesh continued, "then we could get the kind of mentoring my team needs. There are tremendous mentoring resources available here in Sunnyvale and it would be a waste not to use them."

"Right," Bill said.

"After one or two meetings," Mahesh said, "some of the guys might send you email, 1-on-1, or maybe call you in your office in regular hours."

"Perfect." Bill was pretty sure that this was what Mahesh had wanted to talk about.

After a while, Mahesh thanked Bill for his time, and left.

Bill reflected on the conversation afterwards. That was pretty important, he thought. We both learned something, and built bridges.

How did Bill do?

Here's what I came up with:
  1. Though he was working on a technical task, he took time with his visitor.
  2. He acknowledged the gift verbally and appreciated it.
  3. When he saw Mahesh standing there, he probably should have offered him a seat!
  4. At least he figured out that Mahesh wanted something. Could he have asked him about it more directly? Probably not. ("What do you want from me?" probably isn't quite what you want to say. "Can I help you?" may have the problem of offering help before rapport is established.)
  5. The collaboration question was probably a good one. I also give Bill points for not asking too many questions right away. (Americans often ask too many questions, though in this case "Did you mean every two weeks?" would probably have been OK.)
  6. When Bill didn't understand "rapport," he probably could have interrupted Mahesh immediately and asked him what he meant. I don't fault Bill too much here, though; his style seems to work for him
  7. Bill never did get around to finding out whether Mahesh meant every 2 weeks vs. every 3 weeks, but I don't fault him too much for that, either; the two of them can figure that out later.

Why do you sing?

Our former (not "old") teaching pastor, now pastoring in Seattle, was approached one day by an earnest young woman. "I'm supposed to shadow someone with an unusual career," she said. She's a student, and this was a sociology or psychology assignment. She could think of no career stranger than "pastor of a church."

So she followed him around one day, and she was full of questions. "Why do you sing?" for example. She had never been to church, and this first experience was astonishing to her, like stepping into an alternate universe.

But why do we sing? I can think of about three answers.

  1. Tradition!
    Perhaps easiest to understand. It's a habit. I mean, it's what you do in church. It makes people feel good.
  2. Remembrance
    You don't have to be a churchgoer to understand that the media bombard us with messages about who we are (you're a loser unless you wear these clothes) and what we need (like "You need this car!"). To help us remember the reasons for our hope -- the key word here being "remember."
  3. To get spiritual help
    This will probably strike the unchurched as really weird. The Bible says that God inhabits the praises of his people (Psalm 22). The Bible tells of times when God does great things, as his people praise him. The walls of Jericho came down, for example, when trumpets were sounded. These were blown by priests, and it's no stretch to say this was an act of worship and praise.
Let me clarify this bit about God doing great works and showing his power. Jordan Seng talks about how works of power in the Bible (and in his own experience) seem to be related to these four factors:
  • authority. When we're obeying God, we have authority.
  • gifting. Some people have gifts in greater measure than others do.
  • faith. This does not mean, "if you didn't get healed, it's because you didn't have enough faith." No! What it does seem to mean, though, is that if everybody for 5-10 yards around thinks in his heart "nothing's gonna happen," then probably nothing will happen.
  • unction. Jordan doesn't like this word either, but he couldn't think of a better one. He also suggested "anointing" -- but the point here is that sacrifice brings power.
A little more on faith: First, it's environmental. Mark tells us that even the Lord Jesus Christ "could not do any miracles" (except heal a few sick people) in his hometown because of their lack of faith (Mark 6:1-6). And then consider the daughter of Jairus. Two points here: First, notice how Jesus threw them all out (Mark 5:40) before he raised her from the dead. They were scoffing and he wanted them out of the immediate area. For another example, Jesus sees a crowd approaching (Mark 9:25-27) and acts before they arrive, probably because they were an unbelieving crowd too (Mark 9:19).

Second, whether someone gets healed does not necessarily depend on how much faith the subject has. Back to Jairus's daughter: how much faith do you suppose she had? Not much -- she was dead! Or how about Eutychus (Acts 20:7-12)? He was dead, too. Same deal with Dorcas/Tabitha (Acts 9:36-42). She was dead but Peter raised her back to life. Note that he cleared the room first (Acts 9:40). These people were dead so they didn't have much faith. You don't have to have a lot of faith to be healed. Now, if you're certain that prayer won't cure anything, and others around you feel the same way, then, well, why are you even getting prayed for? Lack of faith inhibited miracles from the Lord Jesus Christ himself, and whoever is praying for you won't be able to do much better.

Now Jordan also told us that these factors seem to be sort of additive. Someone who's got all four factors (or "terms") working in his/her favor can see a lot of stuff happen. But if you're strong in some, you can be weak in others and things still might happen. For example, Moses had gifting and unction and faith, so even when he was disobedient (i.e., he had no authority -- when he struck the rock a second time rather than speaking to it (Numbers 20:7-12) -- it still "worked." By the way, you can tell they were disobedient by the Lord's reaction.

The disciples couldn't drive the demon out of the (apparently) epileptic boy in Mark 9:17-29; according to Jesus, prayer (some manuscripts say "and fasting") was required. The disciples were high in authority, probably OK in gifting, but they were lacking in unction. They had plenty of faith, too; you can tell because they were surprised they couldn't cast the demon out.

So that's the outline, sort of. Now, we cannot maneuver, manipulate, or bulldoze God into doing things. But we can observe the way he seems to act, and this business of faith, unction, authority, gifting -- this seems to fit pretty well.

How does singing help? The remembrance can help me in terms of faith, because I become more likely to remember the reason for hope. And when a lot of us in the same room are remembering why we can have hope, that increases our faith.

And when we remember in our daily lives -- as we go through the week and remember to have the right perspective -- because of those songs, then we are more likely to obey and therefore to have more authority -- because we're more likely to act in a way that pleases God.

Songs of praise to God seem to increase our unction, too. The book of Hebrews talks about a "sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips that give thanks to God."

Well, I hope that helps.

Culture, shmulture

The lovely Carol is at a writers' conference, where one of yesterday's sessions discussed writing about other cultures, or writing for one (North American) culture about another (Japanese, Greek, ...).

One of the participants wanted to write stories set in China, but she had never been there. When the instructor asked about culture, this prospective author compared culture to the raisins or olives in your bread.
Sorry if you just sprayed coffee on your computer screen, but I don't make these things up; I only report them -- with details changed to protect the privacy of the, ah, naive.
But it amused me to think how people from various cultures might react to this statement. Here are a few that came to mind, in no particular order:
  • Press (not clench) teeth together, open lips slightly, inhale orally. "Chotto chigaimasu ne," uh, I mean, "That's slightly, uh..."
  • Tilt head slightly, put on a thoughtful expression. Then: "Interesting. Other viewpoints?"
  • A condescending chuckle, then, "You haven't actually lived on any other continent, have you?"
  • "Arrgh! Do you realize that half the world doesn't even eat bread?"
  • "I'm sorry, but the acoustics in this room must be a little strange. It sounds like you said something about bread."
  • "Could I differ with you on that?"
  • "Class, stop laughing please! We are not here to ridicule ignorance, but rather to eliminate it."
  • "There are volumes, I mean I could name literally a half-dozen of them right off the top of my head, about how people of cultures misunderstand each other just because of those cultural differences:
    • Tannen's You Just Don't Understand, subtitled "Men and Women in Conversation"
    • Understanding Cultural Differences, by the Halls I believe, about French, Germans, and Americans
    • Managing Intercultural Negotiations, written I believe by some diplomatic task force
    • Japan's Cultural Code Words, a not entirely charitable attempt to explain the mysteries of Japan to foreigners
    • Different Games, Different Rules, by Haru Yamada. She explains why you don't get a job description in Japan.
    • Polite Fictions - Why Japanese and Ameridans seem rude to each other by Nancy Sakamoto; and of course
    • John Gray's Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus
    • Crossing Cultures, which describes some of the pitfalls of cross-cultural communication.
    The authors/titles might not be quite right, but I'm working entirely from memory here.
  • A patient sigh, then: "Yes, well, it can be tempting to think that way, particularly for those of us who haven't actually lived among people of another culture."
I'm sure you could think of other possible responses, more or less polite than the above.

But culture is tremendously important. What does it mean when someone rotates his head back and forth about a vertical axis? In North America, it usually means "I disagree," but in other parts of the world it can mean, "Keep going; I'm with you; I love what you're saying!" What does it mean when someone walks into your house with his shoes on? Depends on where. How close to someone is it polite to stand or sit? What does it mean when someone comes into your house and starts opening the shades that you have drawn shut against the heat?

Sorry, this is getting too long, so I'll stop here.

Friday, July 06, 2007

school→industry transition

A few weeks ago, actually a couple of months ago, Laurie put the arm on me to teach "new college grads" who are becoming new employees at the office. I was to teach them about our development tools and workflow, but rather than cramming a ton of how-to stuff into their already-full heads (my part is coming about ¾ of the way through their indoctrination), I decided to start with introductions and so on.

The "school to industry transition" came to mind as a topic that might be useful to them, and nobody else was addressing it, so I came up with "the four Cs" -- a different set than you've probably heard before. Here they are:

Collaboration

When I interviewed at HP, now over 3 decades back, Peter asked me what I'd do when faced with a task I couldn't figure out. I had no clue, so I suggested I'd go back to my manager and tell him it didn't look feasible. Well, he didn't call me a moron, but he did correct me. "Ask your colleagues for help!"

D'oh! In school I thought mostly in terms of independent work. One of my profs actually said that "there is only one acceptable way to do homework: alone."

In school, we're often in competition with each other. There are only so many "A"s to be given out, right? This is less of an issue with group projects, but even a team-written research paper has only one primary author.

It's true that some companies rank their employees against each other. This is rather a nasty deal and can't be helped, but I hope you work in a company that rewards team players over prima donnas.

Because at least in most technological organizations, one person alone can hardly accomplish anything! No one person understands the entire operating system, or these days even the kernel. (Linus Torvalds himself doesn't know everything about Linux.) So we have to work together... which brings me to:

Contribution

There are some things that only you can do to help your team, some other colleague, or the company. That would be a unique contribution and perhaps you should do it!

Then there are things that nobody else will do, even though they could:
  • Take minutes at meetings!
    People seem happy to let you do this. When you send notes out, people can refer to them later and don't have to rely upon their memory. Along those lines,
  • Be kind to future generations in your prose (and your code)
    So when you take minutes at a meeting, write them in a way that will be convenient to refer to later on. The headache you save may be your own! Put "action items" at the very top or very bottom, or maybe set them off like this:

    ==>Joe: verify marketing has seen the design spec by next Tuesday

    That makes them easy to see...

    Analogous comments could be made about code (if you write code), even if they're just short scripts.

  • When you like something, tell them!
    If Joe or Jane does something you like, something nontrivial I mean, send 'em a short email saying basically "thanks for your help on X; that will speed up the next phase of design" (or whatever). Use "bcc:" to let their manager know, too. Or send their boss a separate note. These are always appreciated, especially when their boss has to write their review!
  • My current employer has a "wiki" that's full of info on how to do various needful things, and anyone (inside the company of course) can edit it. If you have one, and find something in there that's wrong, fix it! Your employer may require reviews or something, and there may be guidelines for how much time you spend on that kind of stuff. Follow all those. But every question you answer (assuming that your answer is in a section of the wiki that people will look early on) will save people however much time you spent figuring it out. (Yes, I assume you're "average"; if you're faster than average, your answer will save others more time than you spent figuring it out!)

Completion

Ph.D students don't generally suffer from this malady, but undergraduates will sometimes say, "Bah, it's good enough; I'll just turn it in like this and take a lower grade on this one" -- because their other assignments give them enough points to get their desired grade, or they already have an admission for grad school or a job offer, or whatever.

If code is inadequately thought through or inadequately tested, there may be a phone call from the customer to your CEO. Test now or escalations later!

The other thing, though, is this: "completed" is defined by the customer. Reliability may be very important, but every whiz-bang feature you want to put in? Maybe not.

CSFs (Critical Success Factors)

Sorry for the jargon, but basically this means: What does it take?

What it takes, in a word, is character: Not "laziness, hubris, impatience" -- at least that's not the usual list. Instead, things like
  • conflict resolution and cooperation
  • being conscientious (not contentious); very often haste→waste, if not in technology then in interpersonal relationships
  • self-control and work/life balance. You can cram for a final and you can push hard for a short while, but you can't do that for thirty years. Believe it or not, someday you'll be as old as I am and you won't be able to do that.

    And when you have a family and children, you really shouldn't be doing that. Don't let your job cost your marriage or your relationship with the kids; it's not worth that!
  • Humility -- a willingness to learn and take feedback. How many people, when you give them a suggestion, tell you why they thought what they did was OK? They might want to learn, but they care more about thinking themselves right.

    Don't be like them! Instead, copy Einstein, who supposedly said that he'd rather know whether he was right than that that he was right about something.

Conclusion

That's my list; if you're starting a job right out of college, I hope it's useful to you. Given average talent but above-average pursuit of those four things, you'll beat out the "genius" who can't work with others most of the time. You'll be a superstar.

postscript: a book recommendation

Drucker's The Effective Executive (amazon.com link) which may have influenced my work world as much as any other book

happy 4th!

We had a great time. Constance (I cannot figure out why she is still single, unless all the single men around her are idiots) and her mom came over. The lovely Carol made apricot pie (page 99 in the Betty Crocker cookbook, except we used ½ cup of sugar instead of their suggested 2/3 cup), and a salad.

I made burnt caramel ice cream, using a recipe mostly taken from the Atlantic, and barbecued chicken. Both turned out really well so I thought I'd tell you about them.

Burnt caramel ice cream

  1. Combine:
    • 1½ cups heavy cream
    • 3 cups whole milk
    . Put about half of it in the fridge or something, and the other half in a big measuring cup or pitcher or something.

  2. In a 2-3 quart saucepan (Corby Kummer says: don't use your best one), put:
    • 1 cup sugar
    • ¼ tsp salt. Make that a rounded ¼, more like 3/8 tsp.
    and turn heat to the higher end of the "medium" range. Tip the pan, slide it around, whatever, so that everything melts and begins to brown.

  3. When the first black spots appear, you'll notice a slight smoky smell. When this happens, pour in half the milk-cream mixture set aside in step#1. It's very interesting to note what happens to the caramel mixture.

  4. Leaving the heat as it is, stir the pot occasionally until the caramel dissolves.

  5. The original recipe said to simmer it for 20 minutes until it thickens and darkens; you're supposed to be able to leave a line on the bottom of the pan when you stir it, but it never got that thick for me -- either that or I'm too impatient.

  6. The recipe also said there would be "strings" which you'll want to strain out. I never saw them, but if you do, strain the mixture from the pot into the other half of the milk-cream mixture that you had sitting in the fridge.

  7. Let the whole works chill thoroughly, a few hours.

  8. Put into the ice cream freezer, following manufacturer's directions. Be sure you have enough rock salt and ice!

  9. Once your ice-cream maker stops, put your ice cream into the freezer to harden a bit. I recommend letting it sit at least 4 hours before eating.

Barbecued chicken

Basically, put about 40 briquets into your Weber® 22-inch kettle barbecue, light them, and then separate them into two piles at opposite sides of the kettle. Take as much of the fat off the chicken pieces as you easily can -- skin the legs/thighs (and the breasts too if you dare) and place them between the coals. We're talking indirect heat here.

After about 25-35 minutes (less if your coals are too hot) it's time to turn the pieces and brush sauce on the sides that are now facing up. There's probably a nice tangy barbecue sauce recipe out there somewhere, but we just use stuff from a bottle. (I guess that comes from affluence and laziness.)

In about 10-15 minutes, turn 'em again and brush the sauce on the sides that are now facing up. A few more minutes and you're good to go.

You probably think I'm a pervert, but we had steamed rice with all this. It's a free country though; it won't offend me if you prefer potatoes, bread, quinoa, triticale, beans, or whatever...

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

She's leaving home

I hope not in the manner of the Beatles' song of that name....

But she is leaving. I just made a flight reservation outbound, two tickets SFO-JFK one-way. I'm thinking about my (one) return flight, JFK back to SFO. I could leave about ten, arriving here about 1:30 or so. Or should I leave in the evening, returning here rather late at night, for the chance to go to church one last time with my "baby" before she begins her first year of college? Heh, who am I kidding with this "baby" stuff? She's a national merit scholar, world traveler, polyglot (French, Latin, Japanese, plus her native American English sounds "poly" enough...)

The ideal thing would be a flight leaving about 3pm but it's more like 7. How could I stand it, moping around the airport with nothing to do for hours on end?

Yes, she'll be back in just a few months -- maybe Thanksgiving I hope but certainly at Christmas. Yes, she has been gone longer -- 5 months in France in 2005 -- back then we knew she was coming back. But this -- this is the beginning of the end of her time with us; from now on she'll be more away than here.

It's what we've been preparing her for all these years, I guess. Perhaps we've not been preparing ourselves for it as much as we coulda/shoulda though.

Well, one foot in front of the other. I have to make hotel reservations in any case.