Monday, September 29, 2008

I'm silly too

Driving home from church on Sunday, I snickered when someone cut off another car. Golly, that rudeness got him a whopping 20 feet -- almost 7 yards -- ahead of where he'd be if he'd just waited for that one car to pass first. "Probably that guy was in his blind spot," I decided. There was no honking, and I want to say I repented of my contemptuous attitude.

Because maybe five minutes later, I was trying to move left on the freeway when I heard a honking horn. Gaaa! Where did she come from?

Oh, she was in my blind spot. D'oh!

I guess that's mercy in action--or discipline which by the way mostly means "instruction." I apparently needed instruction, a mild reproof, for my bad attitude toward that first guy who had cut off another car.

A good reminder that we are but dust. Dusty between the ears sometimes.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Taming the tongue? It's not about calories...

My buddy Jan is working at the "Desiring God" conference; I looked at their blog and saw this intense list, which bears reading.

Friday, September 26, 2008

I'm 40!

Yes, I am 40 -- your guess whether that's octal (tout à fait, Collin!) or duodecimal or hex or something else. A few reflections:
  • Last night I wrote up a "parent statement" for the younger teen. It began like this:
    Let me begin by outlining her weaknesses; this section will be quite short. She can't do multiple integrals in her head and doesn't intuitively understand why log a / log b = logb a. She doesn't always put things away, and occasionally makes a wrong turn while driving. She manages her time no better than her 50-something dad does; consequently she sometimes finds herself pressed for time as a deadline approaches. I would not use her as a packhorse on a backpacking trip. And she has an inflated estimate of my practical and intellectual capabilities. (I have no such illusions about hers.)
  • My mom and sister both sent me birthday greetings!
  • The younger teen gave me "the first" of my presents: a forest green (a little lighter than that actually) T-shirt with a line drawing of a bicycle on the front with EPA mileage information -- infinite miles per gallon.
  • No cars were illegally parked in the alley last night or this morning, so we had an easy time getting in and out of the garage.
  • I had an easy time getting to the train -- made the left-turn traffic light!
  • a free Chronicle on the news-rack
  • the promise of finding the bagel of desire in the break room, and food and beer on the patio this afternoon
  • lunch with a "gang of four" brothers
Well, I'm almost at work now. Hopefully there won't be any fires and I can actually make progress on that proposal to improve our code-base.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Dismal Time

Economics has been called the dismal science, but that title might better fit the challenge of personal time management. Our pastor has mentioned more than once that there aren't enough hours in a day to do what "they" say you should.

Here's how it (doesn't) work:
  • Poll health care professionals for an idea of how much sleep you need. Not how much would be ideal, but just the amount of sleep that a human being should get regularly over the period of a month (say).
  • Get information from experts on how much time you should spend on work-related things: time on the job itself, work-related reading, in-service training or seminars. Not what it takes to turbo-charge your career, but what it takes just to stay current.
  • How much time should you spend on physical exercise--not "to prepare for the Olympics" -- just to stay in shape? Poll personal trainers or whoever the right set of experts is.
  • How about on your marriage and friendships? Again, we're not talking about being the best spouse in the world or the most excellent girl/boyfriend, but just maintaining.
  • If you attend a church, synagogue, mosque, temple (etc), they probably have an idea of how much time you should be spending on their prescribed activities: prayer, meditation, Bible study, etc. -- not to become a "religious professional," but just to maintain your current spiritual/religious state.
  • Of course you occasionally need to buy stuff or take it to be serviced (or fix it yourself), etc.
Add those up and it comes to something like 35 or 40 hours... a day. Over a period of months.

So you're going to shortchange something or other -- at least as defined by the experts. What'll it be?

In an ideal world, we could figure out limits on various activities, and stop when we hit that limit. These days we might track that stuff on a Palm Pilot® or iPhone™ or CrackBerry device.

But most of us aren't that organized; I know I'm not. What I do instead is kinda dumb, but it is sustainable (i.e., it's easy). Basically, I have habits. It's important to me to worship God weekly with others, so I have a habit of doing that. But I also have an idea that about 4 hours (wall-clock time out of the house) is my limit for that, based on the load it puts on me to have to be "up": friendly, sociable, etc. Meeting new people is OK, but I can only do so much of it if I'm going to have a pleasant day.

We have home improvement mini-projects that I could spend time doing, but I've found out that on weekends I need some time reading and writing, or I get grumpy. For a similar reason, I want no more than one weekend a month with church-related "special" events.

What about crafting a schedule from scratch?

All that's fine once you've figured your limits out, but suppose the school year has just started. Then I think what I'd do is write out what I think I did last week and say, basically, "How many hours did I spend on activities X, Y, and Z?"

Then tweak it. "Not enough sleep -- wanted 10 hours more spread from M-Th; spent 4 hours shopping, 9 hours in club activities, 4 hours in church, 5 hours at the movies..." and some non-negotiable time going to and from class, personal hygiene, eating....

What if you cut shopping to 2 hours every other week, cut club activities to 4 hrs/week, and for the movies, do one the week you go shopping and two when you don't? That gets you about 10 hours a week on paper, but if you're distracted with the reduced recreational schedule that might make your studying less effective; on the other hand, getting more sleep might make you more effective at studying. Basically I think you just have to try it.

And adjust as needed.

Most likely adjustments will be needed over time, because there really aren't enough hours in the week.

But the good news is...

... you have enough time today for all the things God wants you to do today.

Can I prove it? I think this is indicative, if not an iron-clad proof:
For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.
2 Corinthians 8:12 (NIV)
And as it says in the psalms: "he knows our frame; he remembers that we are but dust"

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

a beautiful day

Got up this morning rather early, a little after 5:30, and decided to take advantage of it by going for a swim. Left an email for the younger teen: "went for a swim; back about 6:45," but not before noting that my daily Bible reading from 1 Timothy 2 began with a command to pray for the government.

Drove to the "Y" in the dark, heard an interview with some senator or another where he questioned the wisdom of bailing out people who got into trouble largely because of their own actions (he was talking about investment bankers, insurance companies, and mortgage lenders). You can be sure I prayed for our lawmakers.

At the "Y", two other guys were already in the shower, waiting for the pool door to open. I was #3 into the pool. It felt good. Pretty soon I had to share my lane; I did about 600 yards and levered myself out of the pool -- last April I couldn't do that. After showering and getting dressed, I called the younger teen on the cell. Should I buy milk?

Yes! 1½ gallons please! OK, off to Safeway. I had picked up The Anti-Alzheimers Prescription the other day, and he said to drink purple grape juice, so I bought some concentrate. Three for $6 so I fell for it.

She took Sophie (our '96 Toyota) but I decided to do a little later schedule. I prepared some oatmeal and made a cup of coffee, took my medicines, then processed some work email and reviewed somebody's code. Thank goodness for DSL!

Got on my bicycle about 8:10 or so, and took a leisurely ride over to the Redwood City train. The train showed up; it was fairly crowded. I took a seat opposite a young woman in a bright blue dress, quite short (the dress I mean). I tried not to look. But it made me acutely aware that I've been sleeping alone -- three nights in a row now, since the lovely Carol left Sunday evening for a writing workshop.
...which reminds me of a story I heard the other night on As It Happens (NPR); apparently men are less intelligent when they sleep with a partner than they are when sleeping alone. Same men -- the study took childless heterosexual couples and had them sleep together 10 nights, then sleep apart 10 nights (or was it the other way round? Maybe the sequence was mixed?). In the mornings, they took tests designed to assess cognitive impairment, and apparently the men were smarter after sleeping alone, even though they claimed they didn't feel any dumber. (Apparently the women were only slightly dumber after sleeping with their men.) I don't know quite what to make of this; I sure don't feel smarter today than last week.
We got to Mountain View, where I got onto the VTA light rail. Blue went elsewhere, to my mixed disappointment and relief.

Work was unremarkable, except that I executed three code reviews and answered a bunch of questions. So maybe I was more effective. To heck with that, though; I'd rather sleep with my hand on the lovely Carol's body. She called a few times today with requests for computer help, and it sounded like she was having a good time.

Oh, I attended my last meeting of this review board at work. This is a one-year kind of deal, and last month I had sent Audrey (who runs it) this email:
I'm not unhappy, and it's not that I don't love you, and really it's not about you, but... how long is the term for this review board? 12 months?
So this month my successor came with me to the meeting for a quick transition. Afterward Audrey emailed me, copying my boss, thanking me for being helpful and industrious and all kinds of other good stuff my boss can put in my next review (to be written next summer).

I appreciated the acknowledgment, I told Audrey, but "I notice you didn't forward the 'It's not that I don't love you' or the 'Don't leave me!!' emails." Yeah, trying to be like professional or something.

After work, I called the younger teen as I walked to the train. What should we do about dinner? Pick up at the Hawaiian Drive Inn! Not J&J, she said. She would start some rice for us.

The VTA vehicle came in a few minutes, and I typed away at another posting (which I might get up tonight, I'm not sure). Pretty soon we were at Mountain View, and a petite young lady asked me if this was the last stop. I noticed her NetApp badge. Where was she going?

Caltrain. It was her first time. Which way was she headed? South, so I walked 10-15 yards with her and pointed across to the San Jose platform.

It was warm! Now that it's officially fall (as of Monday), the temperature has risen. Train came pretty soon, and two stops later, I was off. I made it across the tracks to my bike before the gates activated, and I got across Broadway with the train's help. In a few minutes I was pulling my bike through the door at the Hawaiian place.

Most of the items on the menu came with rice, but here was a "braised noodle plate" -- the winner! Everything is made to order (unlike the steam tables at J&J) and I filled in a few more squares on this morning's New York Times crossword, which was focused on "jack" -- a male donkey, a lifting tool, a playing card.

There is something about doing a crossword puzzle rather than a sudoku -- the latter can be solved by a computer program (here, here, and here) but how would a program figure that "place for a fall" should be "EDEN"? Dinner was ready pretty soon, and I rode home fairly slowly, holding dinner in one hand.

Came through the door and popped open a cold one. Boy did it taste good! Rice on plate, some barbecue stuff. Mmmm. I sliced up a cucumber, took a few lettuce leaves, and drizzled a little salad dressing over all.

The younger teen pulled an ice cream carton out of the freezer. It had thawed and re-frozen in a freezer accident (don't ask). She thought it was yuck, but I sliced up a banana (are you detecting a theme here?), dumped it over some ice cream, and drizzled some Kahlua® over all. Definitely detecting a theme here. Mmmm... Hey, I rode 4 miles and swam 600 yards today.

Could we go to the library and pick up some books? Sure we could. Sophie was nearly outta gas, so we stopped and filled her up first. The elder teen called as we were pulling out.

"The answer is yes," I heard. Ah, they're talking about a birthday present (for me!). We talked briefly about what spirit/soul/body means (1 Thessalonians 5.23-24 for example) but didn't come to any conclusions.

We then headed over to the library with a full tank. I pulled a couple of quarters out of the car to feed the meter... but our money was no good -- free parking tonight!

I went to the card-less catalog and found that Diamond's Collapse might be here -- right here in Redwood City! Collapse with a capital "C" and that rhymes with "D" and that stands for ... well, nevermind.

What's the diff? “it’s” & “its”

When should one write "it's" vs "its"? I memorized the rule some years ago, but today I noticed for the first time a parallel that should help: its::his=it's::he's

So if you can remember when to use "his" vs "he's" then you're all set:
  • He's a wise dog : he scratches his own fleas.
  • It's a wise dog that scratches its own fleas.
  • Note that the underlined green text (he's, it's) mean "he is" or "it is".
  • The yellow italic text (his, its) mean "belonging to (him or it)"

Not many things in American English are this consistent, so it's nice to know that the use of each word is consistent with that of its partner.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Good morning!

Checked the email and found a daily reading -- these only come M-F, so it's been a few days. My eyes landed on this:
Because of the Master, we have great confidence in you. We know you're doing everything we told you and will continue doing it. May the Master take you by the hand and lead you along the path of God's love and Christ's endurance.
That's from 2 Thessalonians 3, from THE MESSAGE.

Isn't that good news? May the Master take us by the hand and lead us indeed.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


From 1976-1980 I lived in the city of Palo Alto, which entitled me to use Foothills Park. Although Page Mill Road was "the steepest road in the county" according to a college friend, the part below Foothills Park was not that bad. Today, for the first time in at least 28 years, I rode my bike up the hill and into the park.

Well, almost. The ranger explained to me that our friends, who do live in Palo alto and had invited us to a picnic, had to physically accompany me through the entrance. In a few minutes, Kyoko-san appeared, and I was in! I rode over to the picnic area and was greeted enthusiastically by her husband Takeshi, Nozomi and her husband Tomokazu, Akiko and her husband Hisanori. (I think.)

After a while, the lovely Carol appeared with our friend Sherri. After hearing that I had come in on bicycle and had been met, etc., the ranger just waved her through.

These are some of the nicest folks you could hope to meet. They prepared a fabulous repast. The lovely Carol is describing it (she's typing even as I am) on her blog. But what I want to write about today is a few happy memories triggered by all this.

First, there was the feeling of riding my bicycle up Page Mill Road. Certain stretches look different than they did three decades ago. That house on the left, I think before you reach Matadero Creek, wasn't there -- or maybe it was the fence that wasn't there. It used to be just a flat spot -- maybe too many teen-agers parked there drinking or necking?

Then, passing that sign that said "Altamont" -- Altamont Hills, Altamont Lane, whatever it was -- which meant I was within a half-mile of the entrance! Then coming upon that sign "City of Palo Alto Forested Lands." Since at this point the road was still in Los Altos Hills, that was a sure sign (sic) that I was on the border of Foothills Park. And that approach to the entrance, where the fence uphill on the right-hand side slopes down to meet the rising road, just at the entrance gate. Not the Pearly Gates to be sure, but the entry to Foothills Park really is an entrance to a forbidden (to most of us) paradise. I mean it is gorgeous.

Enjoying a meal with these gracious and generous people of course brought back memories of our life in Japan, especially when they asked us about where exactly we had lived and traveled. And all that reminded me of when the kids were little.

Another memory: I think we had already returned to California, but the thing I remember was the elder teen, then about ten years old, climbing (or jumping) onto my back and announcing gleefully: 「運んでもらう!」 This is not correct Japanese, because we 「運ぶ」things, not people. But it was obviously a happy memory for me, even if I can't remember exactly where or when it happened.

About the title

懐かしい (pronounced "naht-soo-kah-sheee"--add as many "e"s as you like) is what Japanese people say when they have just experienced something that reminds them of some treasured experience from the past. It is a sort of expression of nostalgia, and does not translate well into English. I mean "Wow, this really makes me feel nostalgic!!" approximates it, but sounds stilted and unnatural, whereas "懐かしい!" is, well, it's what people say.

No, I'm not Japanese, but living in Japan taught us some phrases that just don't translate.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A taste of heaven? at the Korean Palace

It's my birthday! Well, not really, but it's conveniently close, and we had a lovely dinner with two couples, friends we met in the '80s, back when we were all in the same singles' group at our church.

We met at the Korean Palace on Stevens Creek, where I don't think we've been since 1992 anyway. It's across a little street from a Falafel Drive-In, as it was the last time we were there. The food was great, especially the little dishes of vegetables -- different kinds of kim chee, mook, sook choo namul, myuk (I don't know how you'd write those in English).

But what was truly lovely, other than the fact that our friends split the bill and wouldn't even let us cover the tip, was the sweetness of our time together. All three families had traveled recently -- Dale and Carole were in Europe, as were Jim and Colleen, and of course we've been to Alaska. We heard about each others' travels, heard how much the children enjoyed the travel, heard from each other the blessings we've received, and enjoyed the adventure of discovering new and delicious food.

And as I think of another year's passing, with all the blessings we've received (when things have gone well, and not so well), it's good to remember how the Lord has brought us through them. And, in a not-really-contradictory thought, it occurred to me that I'm another year closer to eternity with Him, when we won't have to leave the table, nor pay the bill.

Space--the final frontier

When we started our kitchen remodeling project, we moved the kitchen table out to the den, put the old microwave oven on it, moved the old 'fridge out to the patio, and so on. The project has now progressed to the point that we have a working 'fridge and microwave oven, so the old 'fridge and microwave are no longer needed--just in the way. Ditto the old table.

So the lovely Carol called several local charities -- nobody was interested in the 'fridge. Astonishing! Were we going to have to do something like craigslist? Then yesterday morning, along came someone interested in the old microwave oven. (We bought it maybe 9 years ago for under $50, and I've repaired the turntable twice. Everything works.) One problem solved.

Then in the afternoon, she found someone who needed the rest -- a relative of a friend, living on disability payments. So off went the 'fridge and the table.

Several hours later, in came the younger teen. "Everything's gone!" she exclaimed. "We have room! We have room!" She danced gleefully back and forth through the Ghost of Table Past.

Now to boldly go where no kitchen countertop has gone before...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Billy: What is "normal layout" supposed to mean?

The lovely Carol is heading off to a writing seminar, where she has to use Mi¢ro$oft Word. Normally I prefer to avoid all things M$ but since it's her...

So she sends this M$_Word doc off to the instructor, who makes some changes on it and adds some comments. We can't see the comments, though.

We look at the "View" menu: "Markup" is turned on, so we ought to be able to see things like that, right? Then the lovely Carol says, "Why is this line here? It's ugly."

By now, I'm embarrassed to admit that I know what that means; it means you're at a page boundary -- but because you're not viewing the document in "Page layout" form, you see an ugly dotted line rather than something that looks, graphically, like the end of one page and the beginning of another.

So I pull down the "View" menu and select "Page layout."

You know what's about to happen, don't you?

That's right -- the comments all appeared! With bright green boxen around them, in the right-hand margin. (How does M$ decide the colors of these things?)

So we try turning off "Markup" (also in the View menu). Comments go away.

"Oh," I say to myself, "Maybe they have options tied to the layouts -- maybe the last time we did Normal layout on this document we had Markup turned off, so now whenever we're back in Normal layout it doesn't show comments?" So we switched it back to "Normal" layout, still no comments. We turn on "Markup." Still no comments. Wha...?

We switch it back to "Page layout." Comments appear.

Since when does "Normal" mean "I won't show you the comments even if you ask for them"? How is that normal?

Oh, normal for mi¢ro$oft. I forgot.

Why do they make such weird and crappy stuff? Why do we have to use it?

"What does not kill me makes me stronger" maybe? Sheesh, Nietzsche the software architect. Reminds me of Klingon programmers.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Will it amount to anything?

A few months ago I discovered the Bible reading plan website,, and signed up for an almost-daily email that would take me through the New Testament in a year. It sends a pointer to the daily reading from 2 Thessalonians 1, which includes this tidbit near the end:
... we pray for you all the time--pray that our God will make you fit for what he's called you to be, pray that he'll fill your good ideas and acts of faith with his own energy so that it all amounts to something.
from 2 Thessalonians 1:11, The Message
The NIV renders this "fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith"--a slightly calmer wording, but the content is still dynamite.

I mean, can you imagine? The Master of the Universe, filling our ideas and acts of faith with his own energy. How powerful is that?

And so, as Peter says, if we're growing in Him, we will be neither useless nor unfruitful; our lives will have meaning. Ultimately I think we all want to know that.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Primary community?

The elder teen asked what it means, operationally, for Christians to be her "primary community." This is a great question, but like all such questions, it's hard to answer. It's like the question of how often one should read the Bible or pray, in that an overly prescriptive answer is just as bad as an overly vague one.

The trouble with a too-vague answer is that hearing it doesn't give you any idea of what to do; it's not at all practical. And the trouble with being too prescriptive or too practical or too precise (e.g., "once a day every day for not less than 15 minutes, starting no later than 7:00AM") is that the rule itself may become the goal -- definitely not a desired outcome.

With that in mind, here's how it works for me. There are not many people who know my biggest joys and anxieties, but those who do are my brothers and sisters in Christ.

In what venues do I share these with them? Well, on walks or in quiet places with the lovely Carol. I sometimes consult a paid professional counselor (MFT) who is a sister in Christ. I have meetings with a few brothers in Christ several times a month (some groups have just one guy plus me).

One major difference between my life and that of a college student is that most of my times with non-Christians is at work -- that is, an environment where our time is structured (well, sorta) and we have an agenda. In contrast, denizens of a college dorm tend to have a lot of unstructured time together -- time with no explicit/overt agenda.

So one way this might work is to arrange one's life so that there's more time with Christians. The lovely Carol suggests meeting a prayer partner, or an accountability partner (i.e., a quite-small group) for maybe an hour a week, and supplementing those meetings with unstructured time -- something "just social" or so -- about once a month.

The small group doesn't have to be quite that small, but basically I agree with this concept of building community through small groups whose objective is mutual encouragement to spiritual growth.

The other thing, the idea of having blocks of unstructured time with Christians, has also worked for me. Spending a week in Yosemite with friends, or, when I was young and single, hanging out in groups over a meal (again, sometimes just two of us -- and I have fond memories from those years) -- those all helped build community. In those days, it was a great blessing to find people I felt similar to, at least in some ways. Several from that group were in technology, and quite a few would fit the label "intellectual." (I don't much like that word, though I suppose I ought to just admit that I am a sort of one.)

Now I have to confess that if I were starting out today I'm not sure what I'd do -- probably start attending the Men's Bible Study on Saturday mornings and trying to find a kindred spirit, or Mission Fellowship maybe.

Interestingly enough, the sermon this morning (Scott Scruggs, live from San Mateo) was on community, and he made the point that we have to take initiative both to know and to be known. His sermon is better than my posting but they overlap in that effort is required, and this effort is in a direction many of us find unnatural. (That's why I use the word "effort.")

Well, I hope that wasn't too vague or too prescriptive.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Do I have to marry a Christian?

Parents and pastors have long counseled Christian young people not to marry anyone of a different faith, citing 2 Corinthians 6; the reaction might go like this:
But how important is all that faith stuff? If we get along OK 164 hours a week, what difference does it make if we do something different for a few hours Sunday morning? How much does a typical Christian couple talk about God anyway?

And marrying a Christian is no guarantee of marital bliss: someone you meet in Bible school can desert you and your children for a same-sex partner and then commit suicide. Seminary students can graduate but then leave their families--and their faith. (These are real examples!) Many Christian men, including some pastors in our churches, are addicted to pornography; some physically or verbally abuse their families. And of course there are nonChristian husbands who are faithful to their wives, treat their families gently, and don't use pornography.
If you're wondering what happened to the usual author of this blog, don't worry; I don't really believe those arguments. In fact, there is so much wrong with these arguments I hardly know where to begin. But what is my answer to them? Basically that they're based on wrong assumptions, that marital bliss is our #1 goal for example, or that guarantees either should be sought or can be obtained.

More generally, there's an assumption, shared I think by both moderns and post-moderns, that My Happiness should be at the top of the priority list. At this point I suppose said (post)moderns are thinking, "Duh!"

But is that Biblical? Two passages suggesting an alternate view come to mind immediately:
  • Know ye that the Lord he is God.
    It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves;
    we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
    Psalm 100:3 (AV)

  • You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
    from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV)
The idea that we are someone's (or Some One's) property is not a happy one to us (post)moderns, but there it is: our Owner thinks he can tell us what to do and how to live. (Come to think of it, the Lord Jesus also spoke with authority--in other words, like he expected people and things to do what he said.)

Fundamentally, in other words, the arguments are based on the wrong world view--an anti-biblical one that thinks it's OK for everyone to go their own way. How else are these wrong? Let me count the ways:
  1. If your faith only affects your life on Sunday mornings, then maybe we should have a conversation about whether you're following Jesus or just admiring him.
  2. When a couple agree on something (like their fundamental basis for life), they might not need to talk about Him explicitly very much. But if they have disparate value systems and disagree fundamentally on what life is for... well, this is not a sound basis for a long-term relationship.
  3. This is not about guarantees; you could be hit by a truck on the way to the wedding, no matter who your prospective partner might be.
  4. It's not even about prudence, though statistically, couples who pray together regularly and attend weekly worship celebrations have a much better chance of staying together.
OK, there not be as many other things wrong with them as I'd thought. But fundamentally they're still wrong-headed, because they ignore The Owner.

To the argument (not stated above) that "Oh, my brother married a nonChristian, and she became a follower of Jesus, and isn't that wonderful?" I'm--I'm sorry, but that's just dumb. If somebody falls off the roof and astonishingly survives, and in fact gets rid of a crick in the neck he's had for weeks... that doesn't mean you should go climb up on the roof when you've got a neck-ache. I mean really!

So do you have to marry a Christian? If you yourself are a follower of Jesus, then you shouldn't marry someone who isn't also following him, because such a thing would tend to impede your ability to follow Christ. I've written about this though not so much from the marriage angle. But I think this passage clearer about marrying only within the faith anyway.

In other words, if you're going to get married, then yes, you do.

A swim

The lovely Carol rolled over, and I raised my head to look at the clock. 5:42am. "Want to go for a swim?"

"OK." I walked over to the dresser. "Would you turn on the light there?"

I looked around briefly, then announced, "I think my swim bag is in the car." Before I went out, I found my copy of Buechner's Secrets in the Dark for afterwards.

Opening the trunk, I saw that it was there, and verified that the goggles and the trunks were both in it.

A minute or two later, she was in the car and we backed out of the driveway.

Driving down B____ Road, I noticed the blue reflective bumps. "I never noticed how many fire hydrants there are on this road," I remarked. There were like six of them by the time I got to the second stop sign.

The lovely Carol was amused. "The hunter," she said, referring to something she read in The Female Brain or Raising Cain or maybe How to Improve Your Marriage without Talking About It. "He has to be alert to danger in the environment.

"The nurturer is thinking about relationships," she continued, then told me about some interactions she had yesterday with one of our pastors.

It was still dark when we got to the "Y", though we could see that it was overcast. Jeff at the desk greeted us; we got our cards "beeped" in, grabbed towels, and headed for the locker room. I stripped and stepped onto the scale: 116¼ pounds before breakfast, dry and unclothed. As I finished my shower, I heard the sound of the pool door being unlocked. Perfect timing, and no one in sight!

First one in the pool! I was excited; it's been a long time.

As I swam, I recalled Bible passages. 1st length, Genesis 1:1 "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." 4th length, Romans 4:20-21 "Regarding the promises of God, he did not waver in his belief, but grew strong in faith, being persuaded that what he had promised, he was able to perform."

As I began my 7th trip across the pool (i.e., the 4th round trip), I remembered John 7:17: "If anyone wants to do God's will, he will know for himself whether my teaching is from God or whether I'm making all this stuff up." (that's a rather loose paraphrase, by the way)

Now sometimes I just sort of recall a passage and don't really think much about it. But when I got to this 7th length, I thought about the condition there. "Lord, help me to have a heart that really wants to do your will."

As I swam, I drifted a little--in my thoughts I mean. I thought about Colossians 2, where Paul warns us against being led astray or taken captive "through hollow and deceptive philosophy" (verse 8), because I recently read Hofstadter's I AM A STRANGE LOOP. Now Hofstadter is a brilliant academic and a terrific writer. I thoroughly enjoyed his GÖDEL, ESCHER, BACH when I found it in the 1980s. But he argues quite persuasively that consciousness is essentially a sophisticated illusion, a phenomenon that emerges from any sufficiently poerful information-processing system.

This is a disturbing thought. Basically Hofstadter rejects dualism (the idea that there's something more to consciousness than "just" the mechanisms of neurons and axons, or gates and flip-flops) because of some difficult questions that arise. On the other side is the killer question by Lewis: " If thought is the undesigned and irrelevant product of cerebral motions, what reason have we to trust it?"

The other thing of course is whatever the basis of consciousness or intelligence, we are still called to speak only what's edifying (Ephesians 4:29), which I remembered on my 29th length, not to grieve the Spirit (30), to put away all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander (31), and to be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven us (32).

I got out of the pool, 800 yards after I started. It's been a while and it felt good. My right shoulder hadn't given me any pain at all.

I showered and dressed and stepped on the scale again. 118¼, no sweatshirt and no shoes. I finished Buechner's sermon on Faith (from Secrets) and the lovely Carol soon appeared.

We could see that it was overcast as we drove back. We sang "Praise ye the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation..." -- despite confusion about which lines went with which verse, we have much to be thankful for.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

blogger v. wordpress (and typepad)

I've tried about three blog sites, and I haven't used them extensively, but I'll tell you what I know.
    • hosts this site (and
    • it's free
    • statistics are minimal, but you can add free counters/trackers from and and their ilk
    • you can preview your formatting while disconnected because of humongus javascript downloaded into your browser. This is the best thing about blogger in my opinion.
    • hosts
    • it's free
    • statistics and lots of other cool widgets are built-in; of course you can also add etc. if you like
    • BUT: preview inevitably results in a save to the mothership; your preview comes from there. So no offline previewing. If you're always connected this isn't an issue, but I'm often out of wifi's reach so this is a bummer.
  • typepad
    • hosts (blog of the lovely Carol) and
    • it costs like $5-$6 a month maybe?
    • At times I have felt that the site had fewer outages than, but that was just a feeling. has been pretty good lately. I haven't been using very long but I haven't encountered any outages. No idea whether this impression has any basis in reality.
    • I haven't tried doing anything offline with typepad.
Here's a table to summarize what I know (which isn't much!) about these sites:

site price bells&whistles edit/preview offline? free spartan YES! $5-$6/month ? ? free extensive No

Just how spiritual do you think I am?

Sometimes I wonder if people who read this blog think I'm more spiritual than I actually am. Or maybe, if you haven't been reading carefully, you think I've got all the answers.

I hate to disappoint you ("My fans are my life," as my friend Barry says) but, ah, no.

I may not struggle with exactly the same issues you do, but there's a lot of overlap. Do you worry too much about what other people think? I do sometimes.

Do you sometimes fail to do what you know you should? Me too.

Are your priorities skewed? Mine sometimes are; I'm a little too interested in food and sex and not quite interested enough in diet and exercise—a little too interested in technology and new ideas, and not always whole-hearted in my pursuit of spiritual transformation.

And so when our pastor talked a few days ago about being a whole-hearted follower of Jesus rather than just admiring him, I had to think.
Yancey writes that he was supposed to sign a statement of faith saying he believed this and that "without mental reservation." He commented that he barely can get out of bed without mental reservation.
By the end of the sermon, I decided that both Yancey and I are a bit too literal-minded.

Here's the thing: I read passages like Colossians 1:28-29, which talks about laboring "with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me." I don't labor in anything with all of his energy, or mine either for that matter. And I remember times I have failed in the past -- not to do the "I do not deserve to live" thing, but just to have a sober view of myself -- it is God, not I, who got me here.

You too, I daresay. The point, though, is that in case there's anyone left out there who thinks me more spiritual than I actually am, please think again. And by the way, there's no need to worry about how spiritual someone else is.

And in case you're afraid you're not spiritual enough, then I say to you: never mind all that; just follow Jesus.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sunday, Butano

So the lovely Carol had the idea to go to Butano State Park this afternoon -- go for a hike or something and enjoy a simple picnic dinner. So off we went.

We drove up Woodside Road (La Honda Road) and stopped at the convenience store where Skyline meets it. I have stopped there several times while on bike rides with the elder teen, and Carol wanted to see it.

We picked up some snacks -- a Haagen-Dazs bar (pomegranate and dark chocolate), some madelines, and a "Sesame snack."

This sesame snack is good stuff. It's Greek! Now I think a lot of us Americans don't know much Greek besides "spanakopita" and "dolmas" -- so here's another delicious thing to remember: Μακεδονικο Παστελι. What makes this stuff worth remembering is that it is not gooey, dental-health-destroying, 90%-honey-and-corn-syrup stuff. This is 2/3 sesame seeds and it is crisp and delicious. Your dentist probably reviles this stuff a lot less than he would that sticky gooey honey junk.

But I was going to tell you about Butano. We continued on highway 84, descending into fog near San Gregorio. The entire shoreline seemed shrouded in fog, so when we saw a sign saying Butano was to the left (this was Pescadero Road), we took the turn back into the sunshine.

After consulting the map a couple of times, we arrived. There is a small picnic area, and many trails. We saw a parking spot by a small creek to our left, and a sign announcing "Mill Ox Trail." We took it along the creek, then up a pretty steep hill to a junction with the "Jackson Flats(?) Trail". There were ferns and coastal redwoods. It was quite cool, though the weather report said to expect a high of 81°F today. We heard no cars -- only birds, and the squeaking of Carol's shoes.

It was altogether lovely.

There are other trails -- I remember taking the Año Nuevo trail some years back, and it was quite steep, hot, and dusty. I guess we were lucky today.

I would tell you more, but the lovely Carol reminds me that some readers are under 21, and she doesn't want me to embarrass her. So I will be discreet.

We enjoyed our picnic, and I drove home.

Sorry; that's all I'm going to say about it.

Friday, September 05, 2008

VTA flight crew

If you don't live or work in Santa Clara County, you might not be familiar with VTA, the Valley Transportation Authority. This morning, I sat down in one of their vehicles, and was typing away on my laptop when the operator came on board. He looked something like my picture of a southern sheriff: very short hair, moustache/beard, sunglasses. "Lanky" is not the word for this man's build.

As he stepped into the cockpit/cab, he was saying something to one of the passengers about laptops interfering with his GPS. His body language and smile were most un-sheriff-like.

The passenger was saying something about needing GPS if the train should happen to leave the rails.

I turned my head to face them. "All electronic devices must be turned off until we reach cruising altitude?"

He flashed me a big grin. "Exactly."

"And no cell phones at any time?"

"Ow! That lets me out!" (He had been talking on his cell as he came aboard.) We all laughed, and he closed the cockpit door to begin his pre-flight checklist.

Now does that beat fighting traffic on the Bayshore parking-lot? (And as I write this, our VTA vehicle is passing under the Ellis St. overpass; I see cars moving maybe 15-20 mph on the Bayshore.)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

A mentoring experience

About a year ago, I was introduced by email to a young fellow I'll call Pankaj, and we had lunch together for the first time yesterday. We had a great time. Here's how it happened.

I had signed up with MentorNet as an available mentor for a student or someone starting out in my field. This is a high-tech and focused version of what we used to call "penpals." The idea is that prospective mentors and mentees sign up and give their preferences: want a male or female counterpart*, how close a match to their current field of work/study they want, etc. Then, like a dating service or something, they match you up and encourage you to email each other regularly (weekly or biweekly).
*"counterpart" isn't quite right; neither is "partner", but the idea is "your mentor or protégé." (the mentornet folk use "protégé.") The Japanese word 「相手」 is what I want, but I'm not sure what the right English word is.
So I was introduced to "Pankaj" and we exchanged emails from time to time.

But MentorNet don't just leave you; they send reminders, suggested discussion topics, etc. Sometimes I used the MentorNet reminders as a starting point for discussions. Once, when I had sent emails a few days or weeks apart without getting a reply, the MentorNet reminder said that students often felt overwhelmed with their studies, with their part-time jobs if they had any, etc., so don't be discouraged if they don't always write back right away, and don't give up on them. That one was well-timed.

Sometimes Pankaj would ask me about something and I would send him a pointer to one of my blog posts. Occasionally I'd write a new blog post based on something he asked. But most of the time I tried to give him sage advice (yeah right) about careers and life. And somewhat inspired by 1 Thessalonians 2:8, I talked about life outside of "business" -- family, vacations, church, etc. And when he wrote about his travel (back to his home country), his family, etc., I responded as I'd want someone to respond to my daughter living on the other side of the continent. And I tried to imagine how his parents must feel with their son half-way around the world.

As it turns out, I didn't really have much sage advice for him. He asked me how to select a topic for a research paper, and I didn't know. He asked how to avoid getting "pigeonholed," and I didn't know that either. But I told him what I did know, and how I would think about these things.

So at the end of our designated 8-month period, when the MentorNet folks asked me how I felt about the experience, I wasn't sure. Sometimes my emails would go unanswered, sometimes I had no clue how to answer his questions, and overall I wasn't sure how useful I was to him.

Then Pankaj asked to get together in person, which I immediately agreed to.

So yesterday it happened. He came to the NetApp office and we had lunch on the patio. At one point, he paused to thank me for being involved with him, being his mentor. I mean he was effusive! He said my emails were always so encouraging (and I'm thinking, What did I say? ), that I kept emailing him even when he didn't reply for a while (I never gave up on him), etc. And, he said, he was especially happy that I didn't email him only about classes and careers, but also told him about my family, and that I responded from my heart when he wrote to me about his.

Wow, I thought, those things never occurred to me as being unusual.

What really made me feel excited was his comment that because of his interactions with me, he was now volunteering to teach a computer class -- at a community center or something. "I felt like I was busy," he said, "but I'm sure you're a lot busier than I am. And yet you took time to encourage me and give me your advice..." And so he felt that he could take time to give something to others. "I don't have the experience to be a mentor to somebody," he said, "but I have skills with computers..." and so he gives back to the community. How cool is that?

I told him that was a great thing to do, and a great habit to get into. It reminded me of the habit of giving, so I hijacked the conversation briefly to tell him about the church we attend, where there are a lot of rich people. I mean, our household income is below average there! And on the subject of giving money, this is also an area where people need to get in the habit early. They don't necessarily have to do all their giving to the church, I said, but they should give to disaster relief, helping the poor, development, to something anyway. And if they can't give $3,000 on a $30,000 income, well, it's harder to give $20,000 on a $200,000 income because it's so much more money (or whatever their target giving % is). But I finished that digression by telling him how glad I was that he was in the habit of giving his time.

During our conversation, it came out that he'd agreed in the spring to take a certain summer internship, even though that company doesn't hire its interns as permanent employees. After committing to that internship, he got internship offers at other companies--companies that might have converted his internship into an offer of permanent employment. He turned them down because he'd already given his word to the first company, even though he really wants to find "permanent" or regular employment here.

I applauded him for keeping his word, because so many people these days don't.

We talked about what it takes to find a position with a good company, and I told him that a lot of it is being in the right place at the right time and knowing the right people. I mentioned someone in our office who came in as an intern and is now on track to be a regular employee once he graduates. This ex-intern got in basically because his resume was in the pool and happened to fit what we wanted in an intern; he showed that he could do what we expect a new college hire to do. I also summarized part of the story of how I got hired at NetApp.

Of course, I said, it's important to do what we can -- study hard, search diligently, live wisely -- but those things improve our chances; they don't guarantee success. You can graduate at the top of your class, get a great offer from a terrific outfit, and be hit by a truck on your way to work.

He asked about my kids, and I told him how they are enjoying their current adventures. He said I was a successful parent, and I said a lot of that is out of our control too. We read bedtime stories to our kids when they were younger, we read the Bible to them when they got older, of course we prayed for our kids... but a lot of people do those things and have big troubles. So, as one of our teachers at church told us, we cannot raise Christian children; we can only be Christian parents, I told him. (I also translated this for him into "raise moral children... be moral parents.")

In fact, I told him, everything that really matters in life -- everything -- is out of our control. We can study and work and pray, but we can't make someone give us a job offer. We can read to our kids, pray for them, go to all their games, help them with their homework, etc., but we can't make them turn out the way we'd like.

We walked around the building a bit, I showed him some of our products, and let him have a look at my office -- he saw some family photos and some of the kids' artwork. We also talked about the kind of work we're doing at NetApp; there are lots of significant problems to address that lie outside of the filesystem itself.

I certainly plan to stay in touch with "Pankaj" in the future, but probably not as frequently. And I am going to point my browser at mentornet right now and sign up for another "protégé" for the coming academic year.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Now  I remember

One or two nights before the elder teen left for college, the four of us spent some time answering questions from The Complete Book of Questions. Somebody chose "when was the last time you cried?" and I didn't remember any since our dog died.

This occasioned some shock -- it's been a year.

Well, a day or two later I remembered this incident from when the younger teen was away.

Good thing for me she's been back for several months, and we have about a year before she leaves us.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Marriott and porn, part deux

The Marriott P.R. folk replied to my earlier letter by saying, basically, sorry you don't feel comfortable with that, and you can block that stuff if you like and still watch G-rated movies. Here is what I wrote back, with the PR person's direct quotes elided:
August 23, 2008
Dear S_____ H_____,

Thank you for your prompt reply. I apologize for the delay in following up with you; it is sometimes annoying to have a day job :)
>> Paraphrase of Marriott PR reply:
>> sorry you don't feel comfortable with that, but you can
>> block it and still watch G-rated movies.
Indeed. Perhaps I have been unclear. Here is my concern, which I fondly hope you can relay up the chain-of-command there:
That the Marriott Corp., despite its family-friendly image, encourages and enthusiastically promotes so-called "adult" entertainment at its properties.
I appreciate that this promotion is done in a way that will not corrupt young children (there's progress since the '80s).

What is offensive is the subtext of the announcement:
We have smut available! And if you're concerned that your wife or boss will see what you've been watching, not to worry! Titles will not appear on your bill!
I'm not talking about censorship (until #4 below), but here's how you guys could back off on the enthusiastic promotion of porn -- roughly in order of difficulty (easier to harder)....
  1. Don't mention "adult" in the list of films available.
    Why even mention "adult" as in "Drama, suspense, adult -- it's all here!" Why not instead "Drama, comedy, action -- it's all here!"

    I suggest this because if they're not thinking "I wanna see some skin" then you don't have to tell them you've got it. This will tend to reduce smut-viewing on your properties without unduly cutting into profits.

  2. Don't mention on the TV screen "Titles will not appear on your bill"
    I suggest this because it'll put a little damper on weak-willed men who might otherwise succomb to the false promise of skin-flicks.

  3. Actually print the titles on the bill
    In step#2 you don't tell 'em; this step is harder because some porn-viewers will become irate. They'll only do it once, though.

  4. Don't offer skin flicks -- i.e., nothing X-rated at all
    Your shareholders might complain, but taking the moral high ground should not, I hope, be an alien concept to J. Willard et al.

    Please don't say "Marriott never takes the moral high ground; we always prefer profits to prophets" :(
Where do I come off making these absurd suggestions and wasting your time?

Here is a frightening poem written in a mainstream (not religious!) magazine:

Things like this happen in our society every day.

Now the link between broken homes and misery suffered by abandoned children and spouses is incontrovertible. Pornography ("adult" entertainment, smut, whatever) is one of many factors contributing to the destruction of American families.

And any number of feminists will tell you that pornography degrades women. Do you suppose a degraded view of women's dignity contributes to domestic violence against women?

I would like to think that the Marriott Corp. is not accelerating this destruction and decay.

I hope that you can raise this concern up the chain and that the Marriott Corporation will help stem the decay of our society.


Now, in case anybody's wondering why I'm picking on Marriott in particular, well, it's because we happened to stay there. I'm not some kind of investigative reporter, trying to eliminate smut and corruption; that's not my major mission in life. But when I stay at a hotel chain that tries to promote a family-friendly image and they, well, peddle porn enthusiastically, then....