Monday, December 31, 2007

LaTeX for a resumé

So my buddy Amanda asked me if I knew how to use LaTeX. Having written a paper using it, I gamely claimed that I did. So she asked for help making a resumé using LaTeX.

So, having written a paper... I decided that Google was my friend and took a look at the first few links it gave me:
I just love this about the web -- people sharing their experiences, making their knowledge freely available to anybody with an internet connection (including however many OLPC kids).

Monday, December 24, 2007

Who am I most interested in? Who is the Lord most interested in?

hurmpf; turns out I had already written an essay for 12/27 -- a few weeks ago -- and stuck it here (dated last year). But I didn't update my other page so I thought I still had a 12/27 gap. Getting older... anyway, here's what I wrote this morning

spare essay for 12/27—also from Psalm 146

At this time of year we remember the story of a pregnant teenager and her fiancé—not the father of her baby by the way. An oppressive government decreed that they must travel a long ways, and when they arrive in Bethlehem -- talk about rotten timing -- she has the baby and lays him down in a feeding trough (a manger). Nearby shepherds are told of this event; they find Mary and Joseph and the baby, and they are the first humans to spread the good news of Jesus.

In this story, angels appear to a teenage girl and to shepherds. I read somewhere that in those days, neither women nor shepherds were considered credible witnesses in a court of law. Do you get the impression that God is especially fond of low-status people? Hundreds of years earlier, this psalmist certainly had that impression:
He [the Lord] upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free
the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the alien
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
Psalm 146:7-9
Who does the Lord seem to favor in this passage?
  • the oppressed
  • the hungry
  • prisoners
  • the blind
  • the oppressed
  • the righteous
  • the alien
  • the fatherless
  • the widow
And who today do we favor? Who do we celebrate? The headlines talk about the rich and famous; we don't read much about people at the lower end of the status scale. That's almost tautological.

More personally, who would I like to be seen with or noticed by? Who do I seek out?

Something nice about this time of year is that many of us do think about the poor and oppressed, and serve them in some way or another. This is a good thing. It would be even better if I thought about them and served them more all year long, but what I've got today is today.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Church Programs!

Not "computer programs" or "television programs" -- but like and unlike them....

Programs are unavoidable I guess, but something interesting from this book, Reveal, by Hawkins and Parkinson, is a list of questions.

Questions? Yeah.

Something we always ask -- because we're Americans? -- is "How many?" In business, how many units sold, how many employees, how much income per employee, how much profit, how many inventory turns, etc. Something that ministers and missionaries ask is, "How many?" How many came to this or that event, how many are now doing this or that activity (or practice, or spiritual discipline), how many are donating (and how much)? The Reveal book suggests a few more questions, to be asked in various contexts:
  • How is your relationship with God? (A friend used to ask, "Are you encouraged in your walk with the Lord?" Another one would sometimes ask me, "How is it with the Lord?" Unfortunately the latter is no longer interested in the Lord, which fact makes me very sad.)
  • What is helping you to grow spiritually these days?
  • What ministry is making a difference in your life? How?
  • What could the church do differently that would help you grow more?
  • How does (this or that program) help someone grow?
These are all great questions, especially that last one. One of our pastors was talking with our old adult fellowship class (that's "old class" -- it's gone now -- rather than "old adults" -- we are not really that old). She drew a chart, with stages of spiritual growth going across and various areas -- it wasn't "the Word; Prayer; Fellowship; Witnessing" but something analogous -- going down. And the question was, where do our various programs fit on this chart? What parts of the chart have a thousand points of light, and which parts are kinda dark?

The book has a different take on that chart; it's more like this:
Impact of programs on people at various stages of growth
Men's Bible Study high high med. low
worship services high high high high

This seems like a real interesting way to think about these programs, and of course you can put more than hi/med/lo in the cells.

My next question, which is really for me more than for you, is, Given my opportunity to teach how and why to read/study the Bible: which stage of growth am I aiming at, what impact on growth of people at various stages of growth, and how will all that happen?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Christmas, according to Buechner

Well, I was excited by Büchner's sermon on Emmanuel, and wanted to tell you about it. Then as I wrote, something came to me about what happened in my life (including my emotional life) just today. Perhaps I'll clean this up later; it's by far not my best writing....

This bit is from his Secrets in the Dark, a marvelous book of which I can only read maybe one chapter at a time.
Emmanuel is the message in a nutshell, which is Hebrew for "God with us." Who is this God? How is he with us? That's where the problem lies....

...[T]he answer to the second question... is that at a particular time and place God came to be with us himself....

...We all must decide for ourselves whether it is true. Certainly the grounds on which to dismiss it are not hard to find. Christmas is commercialism. It is a pain in the neck. It is sentimentality. It is wishful thinking. With its account of the shepherds, the star, the three wise men, it smacks of a make-believe pathetically out of place in a world of energy and crisis and space exploration and economic malaise. Yet it is never as easy to get rid of as all this makes it sound, because whereas to dismiss belief in God is to dismiss only an idea, a hypothesis, for which there are many alternatives (such as belief in no god at all or in any of the lesser gods we are always creating for ourselves like science or morality or the inevitability of human progress), to dismiss Christmas is for most of us to dismiss part of ourselves.

For one thing it is to dismiss one of the most fragile yet enduring visions of our own childhood andof the child who continues to exist in all of us. The sense of mystery and wonderment. The sense that on this one day each year two plus two adds up not to four but to a million... "Let all mortal flesh keep silence," the old hymn goes, and there was a time for most of us when it did.
excerpted from Secrets in the Dark, pp. 90-95
Buechner is hardly a romantic, starry-eyed or otherwise; he has what seems to me an unusually clear eye for what Christmas has to a large extent become.

He also remembers -- and brings to my remembrance -- the "sense of mystery and wonderment," as he says.

And he also points out that Christmas, "God with us," is every bit as objectionable to the unbeliever as Easter or Good Friday:
"We preach Christ crucified," the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, "a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles" (1 Cor. 1:23). He could as well have written, "We preach Christ born" or "We preach Christmas," because the birth presents no fewer problems than the death does....
ibid., p. 90
I used to be fond of pointing out that Mark and John don't even talk about Christmas, and that Matthew and Luke hardly bother to mention the same events in the Christmas story. But the key point that they agree on, and that both the apostle Paul and the Apostles' Creed confirm, is that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin.

We (the lovely Carol, and I) were talking with our north site pastor, who mentioned that the Easter, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, is just unbelievable to some people -- as it was to me for some years. But as Buechner points out, Christmas is no less astonishing.

What does all this mean to me?

One thing comes to mind, and I just put this together as I was writing this: Anything can happen! Tuesday, I got a rejection letter for a paper I submitted to a conference. This would have been an opportunity to tell other people about some great work we've done at Network Appliance in the area of software quality. But today, two days later, our pastor asked me if I'd like to teach a three-to-six week series on how to study the Bible.

Would I ever! What's more exciting, more meaningful, more important -- software quality, or "why and how to read the Bible"? (Ah, that was a rhetorical question.)

These days I have been singing, "He hath opened heaven's door / And man is blessed evermore" -- and "Now ye need not fear the grave / Jesus Christ was born to save."

Really, the good news (not just the offense) of Christ is here at Christmas, isn't it? Ha -- where is "good news" first mentioned in New Testament times? Is it not in Luke 2, "I bring you good news of great joy... to you is born in the City of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord"?

And what came to me just now was this, from "O Little Town of Bethlehem":
O holy child of Bethlehem
Descend to us we pray.
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us today.
Amen, in Jesus’ name.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Confronted by a "Moonie"

Somehow I managed to forget that I'd already written about this; following is today's revision, which will not go into my daily commentary site
When I was still quite young in the faith, a "Moonie" tried to persuade me that Sun Myung Moon might be Jesus Christ returned to earth, as his Unification Church taught, rather than the criminal leader of a corrupt cult.

The cult member read to me from Revelation chapter 12, which is in today's New Testament reading:
A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads.... The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born.
Revelation 12:1-4
He said this showed that when Jesus Christ returns to earth, it will (or may) be that he would be born of a woman.

This did not sound right to me, mainly because of passages that say otherwise (like Matthew 24:26-27 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16). It wasn't until a few days later that I saw why even this passage itself shows it can't be interpreted that way. A friend of mine made this simple statement: "If the woman is real (rather than metaphorical), then the dragon must also be real." Put differently, if the dragon isn't real, neither is the woman.

That is a very simple principle of interpretation that helped me confidently refute the cult regarding this passage. I'm not sure I could prove this, but I'd guess that some large portion of biblical misinterpretations could be traced to something just about this simple.

Something more interesting

Now here is something a little more uplifting. A few verses down, we see this:
They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.
Revelation 12:11
This feels uplifting, though I couldn't tell you exactly what I plan to do about it. The key thing I get from this is that Christ's sacrifice on the cross (i.e., the blood of the lamb) plus my willingness to talk about my experience with him -- probably about how I have found him true and good -- along with courage, enables us to overcome the evil one, just as we're promised elsewhere (1 John 4:4,5:4-5 for example).

Of course this kind of courage does not come naturally to people like (you and) me; we need help from the Holy Spirit. And I'm glad that the Holy Spirit is ready to fill us as we call out to God in our time of need (as Hebrews 4 tells us).

Okay, having written this, I think I now know what I'll do about this passage: live confidently! The dragon is not defeated by works of great power (which I can't do anyway); rather, it's defeated by simply telling the truth about the goodness and mercy of Jesus, what I have seen him do.

Wow & Ouch!

Over 30 years ago, a terse 2-sentence memo came from the Chairman of the Board to my former employer's computer division (back then, there was only one):
      I have seen some of our Model ____ literature.

      I hope you will impress upon all hands that in the future we are not to say we can do something unless we have demonstrated that we actually can do what we say we can do.

On the copy I saw, someone had hand-written: "WOW & OUCH!"

That's the phrase that came to mind when I saw this scathing indictment of the previous century:
We live in a dishearening century—“the worst so far,” as someone has said. There have never before been wars so destructive as the series of conflicts that erupted in 1914; never have tyrannies been so frenzied and all-consuming as those established by Nazism and communism. All great political causes have failed. Socialism has eventuated in the rule either of privileged ideological bureaucrats or of comfortable, listless masses; liberal reform in America has at least for a time passed away, leaving stubborn injustices and widespread cynicism; conservatism has come to stand for an illogical combination of market economics and truculent nationalism. Most of the human race lives in crushing poverty, and the privileged minority in societies where industrial abundance undergirds a preoccupation with material comfort and an atmosphere of spiritual inanity.
Glenn Tinder, "Can We Be Good Without God?"
The Atlantic 264:6 (December 1989); p. 85
Did I just hear you say, "wow and ouch" too? Eighteen years later, is there any indication that our century will be any better than the last? Evil idiots like Osama bin Ladin, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Kim Ill-something in North Korea, interacting with naive fools like Dubya and Rummy, have started the 21st century off with hatred and violence, with who-knows-what to follow....

Now I seem to remember something called the Human Potential movement, who said that progress was inevitable, that we are getting better and smarter and more ethical all the time? Have they at last gone back into the asylums they came from?

Sorry for sounding flip, but there is much to be worried about in the world today, and "Progress!" sounds rather like a bad joke. The world needs something better than Human Potential today -- haven't we seen enough of what humans are capable of?

We seriously need help from God -- and when I read words like "preoccupation with material comfort and an atmosphere of spiritual inanity" then, well, I have to include myself in the group of needy ones.
From subtle love of softening things, from easy choices, weakenings—
Not thus are spirits fortified; not this way went the Crucified!
From all that dims thy Calvary, O Lamb of God deliver me.
Let me not sink to be a clod.
Make me thy fuel, Flame of God.
(Who wrote that? -- ah, it was Amy Carmichael)

Monday, December 03, 2007

A visit to Bangalore

I went to Bangalore on business, leaving Monday and returning six days later.


A visa is required for US citizens to visit India; this process takes a few weeks. Since this was a business trip, my employer not only paid the fees, but arranged with Peninsula Visa Service to do the necessary.

"They" recommend visiting a travel clinic or something like this, at least two weeks before leaving. It sometimes takes a while to get an appointment. There you may get typhoid, polio, and maybe a tetanus vaccination. For malaria you have a choice of pills.

Travel outbound

It took about 24 hours to get there -- departure 4pm from SFO, arrival about 11am at LHR (Heathrow), a 3-hour layover then another 10-hour flight, arriving after 5am in Bangalore. Bangalore is on Indian Standard Time (IST), 5:30 ahead of GMT and thus 13:30 ahead of PST. That is, 4pm 11/27 in California is 5:30am 11/28 in India. British Airways was pretty nice; there was enough food and the service was fine, particularly on the lighter-loaded first leg of the trip. Both airplanes were Boeing 747-400 aircraft (BA fit them with Rolls-Royce engines so if you have a mechanical issue on a BA engine, there are parts-delivery challenges). Seating is 3-4-3; if you want to stow stuff under the seat in front of you, aisle seats C/H are better than aisle seats D/G; the electronics for the entertainment system take up some space. Reliability of the VOD system leaves something to be desired, but the broadcast stuff is OK. Much of the material is unsuitable for children (sex, drugs, and violence).

Baggage claim in Bangalore took quite a while. The belts (not carousel) cause an interesting flow of bags, with frequent jam-ups. The number of people on a B747-400 may have simply overwhelmed the system, too.


We stayed at the Leela Palace, a 5-star hotel that deserves that rating. I was told that it was a Big Hotel and impersonal, but when I entered the breakfast room I was greeted with a smile and the information that "they're outside" -- "they" being my two colleagues. I guess it was unusual for them to see a short Asian-looking American-accented male in jeans traveling with two more-obviously American women.


...are astonishing to western eyes. They are still developing. Yes, cows can be seen, particularly in town. I don't recall seeing crosswalks; pedestrians cross anywhere. I saw five vehicles abreast on a nominally two-lane road (alternately, the lane widths are variable depending on the amount and type of traffic); in either case, the painted lane markers are meaningless, except on the highway. Here, for example, is a nominally two-lane road:

The driving style is very cooperative, or if you prefer, Defensive (no, DEFENSIVE!); you have to constantly watch out for the other guy, who may be an auto-rickshaw cutting across 4 lanes of traffic without notice to pick up a fare. Horns are used often. Oh, and in heavy traffic situations, the oncoming lanes are sometimes treated as additional lanes in the forward direction when clear. Yes, I have personally experienced this; no, I was not driving. I couldn't drive there.

On the Hyderabad highway, where the lane markings did seem to mean something (at least when there's not much traffic), I was surprised to see traffic in all lanes suddenly coming to a near-stop. Speed-bumps! Apparently, traffic entering the highway from a side-road was frequently colliding with through traffic, so they slowed down the through traffic with these bumps.

And with all those small gasoline engines, air pollution is quite high also. Speaking of air pollution, at least our office has a backup generator to handle the frequent power outages. One of my colleagues mentioned that it used to rain a lot more than it does now. Can you say "climate change"?


The roads, which were rather in poor condition, are emblematic of the state of infrastructure. Cell-phones are everywhere, and private investment has brought thoroughly modern IT to Bangalore, but power failures are frequent (can you imagine 27 in a single day?) and you can't drink the water.


The time difference makes it feel like Bangalore is truly isolated. It's not just the distance, but the timezone difference, because it takes a lot to get someone on the phone. That's all I'm going to say here about that.


I'm not used to bargaining with shopkeepers; I just scowl and hope they'll drop their price. I got carried away when I saw some item that, well, I really wanted Carol to have. It's a surprise. No, I won't tell you what it is.

Team-building activity

We went to Club Cabana -- the analog of Raging Waters (I guess; I've never been there) for a day of team-building stuff. We drove out of the city at about 8:00am, arriving there just before 9:00, and enjoyed an Indian breakfast, some foosball, pool, bowling, games (getting-to-know you stuff, charades), then lunch, then some water play. Good times all around. I ate too much. Our trip back into town took about two hours. We had hired a minivan (driver + 6 passengers), and all the seat belts were functional in this vehicle!

Return trip

For British Airways, you have to check-in online within 24 hours of departure -- either that or take your chances with seat assignments once you arrive at the airport. I definitely recommend the former.

At Bangalore, they look at your passport and your printed itinerary, which you'd best have in hand if you don't have a boarding pass. Then they scan your checked bags. A friendly fellow offers to wrap your bags in shrinkwrap (INR150 apiece, about $4; I passed).

A nice lady in a BA uniform asked if I'd checked in online (yes) and directed me to the "fast bag drop," where my bags were taken. The man behind the counter also printed boarding passes for me. Then up the escalator to security: keep your shoes on and your laptop in its bag. Liquids? Is there a rule about liquids? Someone patted me down and I joined the herd in the (apparently) non-smoking section of the waiting "pen".

We had theoretically a 70-minute connection (arrive 12:15; gate closes at connecting flight 13:25), but because of ATC delays, we were circling east of London for 20-30 minutes. I made my way to the bus for terminals 1 and 2 -- no problem so far -- then through security (they invited me to the fast-track lane in view of the time) and I arrived in the terminal 1 gate area about 1:15pm. Unfortunately I had no idea where my gate was. Eventually I figured it out; I was in one of the terminal1 gate areas; I had taken a wrong turn about 5 minutes back! The map threw me off, too.

When I arrived at gate 52, just past the theoretical closing time, I saw a lineup of maybe 100 people, waiting to get on. Needless to say, departure was delayed.

When we landed at SFIA a little over 10 hours later, I wondered if my bags had made it in view of the tight connection. I freshened up a bit (BA provide a toothbrush/toothpaste kit on these long flights) and went through passport control. Astonishingly enough, my bags were already on carousel#7 when I got to baggage claim.

My overall impression

Traveling to Bangalore is rather inconvenient, but it could certainly be a lot worse! Once you get there, the juxtaposition of high-tech IT, ubiquitous cellphones, five-star hotels along with canvas-sided auto-rickshaws, meaningless lane markings, a general lack of curbs and sidewalks, and undrinkable water is surprising. The tradeoffs they've made on motor vehicle and pedestrian safety are much different than what we have today in the United States, but I can remember a time when seat belts were not standard equipment in cars in the U.S.

Bangalore is a fascinating, dynamic city of astonishing contrasts.