Sunday, March 29, 2009

That made my day

I've been thinking lately about what makes for a great day. My inspiration was from a novel -- not a literary novel, though; it was... well, Tom Clancy.

In his 1996 book, Executive Orders, an Air Force sergeant, a steward on Air Force One, had a morning encounter with her President:

..."Any smokers aboard?"

It was the way he asked it that made the Air Force steward turn. "Want one, sir?"

The answer was somewhat shameful, but--"Yes."

She handed him a Virginia Slim and lit it with a warm smile. It wasn't every day one got a chance to provide so personal a service to the Commander-in-Chief. Ryan took a puff and looked up.

"If you tell my wife, Sergeant--"

"Our secret, sir." She disappeared aft to get breakfast, her day already made.

(p. 484)
I told the lovely Carol about that passage, how I enjoyed re-reading it, and she thought it was because that's my love language. Maybe it is. The following week or so brought these thoughts:

The sky looked right

Growing up in Hawaii I can remember only one cloudless sky; it didn't last very long, either. Where I live in California, the sky is often cloudless. You would think that after living here nearly 30 years I'd be used to it by now, and mostly I am.

But whenever I look up and see clouds like these, it gives me a sense that whatever else is wrong with the world, at least the sky looks right. As it did today.

My day made at the office

There's a meeting scheduled for 7:00 tomorrow morning. I asked my boss about it

“No, I don't think you need to be there.”

Yesssss! That made my day. Thanks, Boss!

I opened the car door for the lovely Carol, and...

“There’s my phone! I see it--on the floor!”

Yep, she lost track of her phone a couple of days back. She’d thought someone else picked hers up by mistake, and it took some time to track that person down. When she finally did, today, no joy. And then, after having dinner out, we walked over to the car and... there it was.

A great way to start Saturday morning

I woke before the lovely Carol, and went to the bathroom; it was early enough that I headed back to bed, but late enough that...

She opened her eyes, turned toward me and gave me a warm smile. "I don't think I can go back to sleep. Is that what you wanted to do?"

It had been nearly a week. And so I was completely, and happily, under her powers. Need more be said?

And for today...

We got up in time to help set up at church, but before that, I scrambled some eggs with some leftover barbecued salmon. I also poured some leftover batter into the waffle-iron. Coffee, tea, and some (yes, leftover) steamed rice completed the meal. Fish and waffles? Well, it tasted better than it sounds.

We arrived a little after eight and got to work. Rod and Betty brought in an art display, and we spent a few minutes setting up the framework. It had multiple panels: five pairs of panels, each pair being a vertical stack, sort of like a capital letter H. Adjacent pairs of panels were attached together with Velcro® straps at the top and bottom, and a gasket-like thing in the middle. I couldn't reach the top, so I grabbed a folding chair. "We have the technology..." I announced. But a couple of tall guys took care of that using good old-fashioned reach.

We heard a great sermon about "freedom from hurry" (you can listen [MP3 audio] or check out the study guide [PDF]). I'll write about that too. But before the sermon, we were treated to a quote from Prof. Rueter of DePauw University:

Westerners live in the age of instaneity. We have instant coffee, instant replay, instant polls, and Instant Messaging--all in the pursuit of instant gratification.
Bloomington (Ind.) Herald-Times, August 26, 2005
Which reminded me of this really silly thing I heard: "I put instant coffee in the microwave (oven) and went back in time!" (sticker) I leaned forward and mentioned that to Steve. We enjoyed a laugh. After the service, I hung around the coffee machine; I ran some coffee drinks down to the small gym, and did the "barista" thing a few times. And I chatted with the others working there -- we talked some about the sermon as well as about coffee and logistics. One of the men told me about staying in touch with his daughters -- he sends them text messages frequently. What a great blessing! These guys are great.

We went home and thought about dinner: I'm in charge. The lovely Carol had picked up some pre-fab fajita beef -- pre-marinated, pre-cooked. Not instant, though, so I walked over to our neighborhood store and bought some bell peppers: red, yellow, and green -- to go with ¾ pound of meat. I also picked up a can of stewed tomatoes (best before March 1, 2009 -- whoa, better go back in time!) to make Spanish rice. I started slicing up the peppers.

The phone rang; it was the ex-teenager calling from across the country. We had a long talk; we got caught up, and we explored age-old questions of male-female relationships. There are no algorithms for this, but when she asked me for a number, I gave her one: 90 days. It was very sweet chatting with her.

It was time to cook. I got the "Spanish rice" going (it's not hard, but don't burn it before doing the "sizzling rice" thing), then resumed slicing up the peppers and half an onion -- next time I'll slice up the whole onion, not just stop at half. I fried up the onion in our cast-iron skillet, then added the peppers -- whoa, too much vegetables! I switched to a wok. (Yeah, right, preparing Mexican food in a wok.) But it worked great! Added the beef and kept stir-frying. The lovely Carol mashed up an avocado for guacamole. I pulled out a few tortillas (also from the neighborhood store) and heated them up in the skillet.

Dinner was served a few minutes after five. I popped open a cold one (a Bud if you must know -- in a can).

There are just a few pleasures in this life better than preparing a meal for those you love and enjoying it with them.

"Spanish" rice

I learned this from a guy named Dave Jones, if you can believe that. He'd spent some time in South America and... well, here's the story.

  • a 15-oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes or stewed tomatoes
into a 2-qt saucepan. Add
  • 1 can water
and place on an appropriate-sized burner on medium heat. Cover and check it occasionally; when it boils, lower the flame.

If you like, you can mince
  • 1 clove garlic (optional)
    or ½ tsp prepared minced garlic
and set it aside.

Heat a little oil in a skillet on medium flame. Add
  • 2 cups long-grain rice
and stir constantly for 10-20 minutes, until the rice is about the color of wheat. Add the garlic some time after the rice is warmed up.

By now the tomato/water mix should be simmering on low heat. Add the rice, all at once, to the saucepan. It will make a sizzling noise (the rice will be hotter than 100°C). Cover and continue on low heat another 15 minutes or more. With very low heat and a tight-fitting lid, your timing can be quite flexible.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Software quality can only be understood backward

NOTE: the following is entirely hypothetical and has nothing to do with my employer

How many defects (or "bugs," to use the common but incorrect term) remain undiscovered by the QA folks, when a release is shipped to customers?

Well, you don't know; you can't know, until the customers find them. You can take guesses: last time the QA folks found X defects; Y were fixed, and the customers found Z more. This time, the QA folks found X' defects; Y' were fixed... but how big is the number Z' that the customers will find this time? We increased QA's budget, we introduced fewer new features, etc., so we think that Z' will be less than what we might otherwise predict from X' and Y', but....

But we have to make a decision on when we think the release ought to be shipped to customers before we know how many defects they'll bump into.

Thus, following the comments of that software guru Kierkegaard, we are forced to conclude that software quality can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

THREE reasons to upgrade to openoffice.org3

If you're still using 2.X... oh, waitaminute, you don't know what is? It's a free (free as in "free beer" and also free as in freedom!) office suite: writer for letters, theses, etc (think "Word"); impress for presentations (think "powerpoint®"); calc for spreadsheets (think "Excel®" or "1-2-3®"); draw for, uh, drawings... I think there's a database, too -- but I just use mysql. Why spend hundred$ to pay for Mi¢ro$oft equivalents?

OK, here are three reasons to upgrade to openoffice.org3 if you're still using 2.x
  1. Vastly superior display of Notes (M$word calls these "comments") -- see this link for further details.

    This is what drove the upgrade on our Linux boxen at home.

  2. Better handling of the new mi¢ro$oft XML-based file formats (files named "drivel.docx" or "ennui.pptx", etc.). I mean, neooffice 2.x lost everything on a pptx file, but OOo3 had no problem with it

  3. this most annoying of issues: suppose you have a paragraph style with a ½-inch indent on the first line. In OOo2.x, if you were at the start of the first line and hit the backspace key, the paragraph style for that paragraph got zapped -- the first-line indentation would become zero rather than the ½-inch or 1cm or whatever, and it was annoying to restore the correct formatting. This is happily fixed in OOo3. Yippee!

    This did, however, lead to a usability issue at our house. We have a document template with a "Text body" style (indented first line) and a "Text body first paragraph" style (you guessed it -- no indentation on the first line). If you delete the first paragraph of a chapter, the formerly-second paragraph has its first line indented. To un-indent that line, OOo2.x let you just backspace -- voilà, no more indentation... but that was a bug! Since OOo3 has the bug fixed, what you must do instead is position cursor in that first paragraph, and then change the paragraph style. Easiest way is to change paragraph style in the current style window (see this picture for example). Select "Text body first paragraph" and Bob's yer uncle.

This was such great news that I wanted to pass it along.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Morning songs

I've been waking up recently with a chorus running through my head:
I... surrender
All to you, to you.
I guess I heard it last weekend at the men's retreat. Perhaps the Holy Spirit wants me to be more attached to God and less to things I'd otherwise hold onto? It put me in mind of another, older song on this theme:
All to Jesus I surrender
All to him I freely give
I will ever love and trust him
In his presence daily live

I surrender all
I surrender all
All to thee my blessed savior
I surrender all
This hymn adds the theme of living in His presence daily... which brings me to three Bible passages, three songs (or psalms), to be remembered before getting out of bed. They're good throughout the day, of course, but especially great as the last thought of the evening or the first in the morning.

The first one, which apparently some famous people recite daily before getting out of bed, is the 23rd psalm:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
and so on. Now if that doesn't help your day get off to a good start, then how about this next one? I don't recall hearing about any famous person reciting it, but our small group leader does. It comes 80 psalms later; it's the 103rd psalm:
Bless the Lord, O my soul
and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord O my soul
and forget none of his benefits,
who pardons all your iniquities
who heals all your diseases
who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion
who satisfies your years with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle.
--- then there are some parts I don't remember ---
As far as the heavens are above the earth
So great are his mercies toward us
As far as the east is from the west
So far has he removed our sins from us
That's another great psalm. I probably should memorize it. One that I committed to memory a long time ago (I mean over a quarter-century back) is the 139th:
O Lord, you have searched me
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise.
You perceive my thoughts from afar.
You know my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue,
you know it completely, O Lord.
--- some parts I'm skipping ---
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
And so on... But I leave out the part about slaying the wicked and hating them with perfect hatred. One thing I especially like about this psalm is that the guy is honest -- he recognizes God knows everything about him, which he says is wonderful. Then he talks about hiding and running away! He wants God to kill the wicked, but recognizes that he himself has offensive ways.

But these are all good for helping me remember to live in God's presence.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Acculturated or Transformed?

We recently started reading The Enneagram by Rohr and Ebert, and I got stuck before even getting to page 1. Here was the first speed bump:
All the Christian churches are being forced to an inevitable, honest, and somewhat humiliating conclusion. The vast majority of Christian ministry has been concerned with "churching" people into symbolic, restful, and usually ethnic belonging systems rather than any real spiritual transformation into the mystery of God.
page xv
Ouch! That hurts... largely because it's true (the second sentence I mean, not the first--and more's the pity). This guy has been a priest for over 30 years. He doesn't let up, either: "Much of what is called Christianity has more to do with disguising the ego behind the screen of religion and culture than any real movement toward a God beyond the small self..." (p. xvi) Then he quotes Thomas Merton:
Their "faith" is little more than a permanent evasion of reality--a compromise with life. In order to avoid admitting the uncomfortable truth that they no longer have any real need for God or any vital faith in him, they conform to the outward conduct of others like themselves. And these "believers" cling together, offering one another an apparent justification for lives that are essentially the same as the lives of their materialistic neighbours whose horizons are purely those of the world and its transient values.
ibid., from Merton, The Living Bread (New York, 1956), xxii
Sobering words, these, reflecting a reality confirmed by reports from Barna and others. We so-called "christians" get divorced at rates similar to the surrounding culture, we have similar rates of absentee fathers, marital infidelity, ostentatious car ownership and so on.

What does this mean? Is the Holy Spirit sleeping in our modern or post-modern age? Is Christianity a sham? Are the promises of Jesus just pie in the sky?

Absolutely not. Rather, many of us attend church as a sort of social convention; we change (some of) our habits but we haven't changed our identity. Rohr again:
What we have done for centuries in the West is give people new moral and doctrinal teaching without rearranging their mythic worldview. It does not work. It leads nowhere new--or nowhere truly old for that matter. It creates legalists, ritualists, minimalists, and literalists....
Rohr, op. cit., p. xix
I resemble this remark! I've written before that I sometimes think "What's the action plan?" -- that is, I'm looking for something to do rather than someone to become--or become like (that is, Jesus).

At this point I must confess that had I read the above twenty years ago, I would not understand it. Let me offer a picture. It's as if I go through life as a series of bus rides; I can take the "J" (as in Jesus) bus or the "M" (as in materialistic -- philosophically materialist I mean, not necessarily the obsessed-with-acquisition, shop-till-you-drop kind of materialist) bus. What many of us do is take the "J" bus more often than we did before, but we still take an "M" bus quite often. And in either case, we're still getting on and off the bus when we feel like it.

What we need to do, what I need to do, is form a new picture of myself. Rather than continuing to be the same autonomous person making different choices than before, what I must do instead is see myself as a part of Christ--a cell in a living organism if you will, as opposed to being a wind-up toy soldier on a dusty old shelf. Whether the toy soldier points to the east or west, it's still a toy soldier that will be destroyed when the house burns (as this world inevitably will).

It's as if the Kingdom of God were an organism (the church being called the "Body of Christ" for a reason) and we were cells in it, members of that body.

So perhaps what Rohr is saying here (and what I'm seeing here) is not anything new, but something very old:
  • Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
    Romans 12:4-5
  • Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?
    from 1 Corinthians 6:15
  • Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.
    Ephesians 4:25
  • After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church-- for we are members of his body.
    Ephesians 5:29-30
  • Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
    Colossians 3:15-16
I've read these verses, and verses like them, many many times. Many of us, we who went through Rick Warren's "40 Days of Purpose" (based on his book, The Purpose Driven Life ) even memorized Romans 12:5 (highlighted above in yellow). But do you or I sincerely view ourselves as being members of Christ? I'll admit that I mostly don't!

Now I'll happily tell you that Jesus is in charge, and I actually do believe that "The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs the steps" (Proverbs 16:9). And I absolutely do not claim to be the captain of my soul -- Lieutenant (j.g.) maybe. Sometimes I even believe that Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20, Colossians 1:27).

But I don't think of myself as an arm or hand (or a toenail or earlobe for that matter). This is something I need to think more about, and pray more about.

Ever forward, never backward? I don't think so.

I just posted this essay on the waywords blog. I hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


This is the "mrs meadows" recipe that i got from I-don't-remember-where.

Preheat oven to 350°F or something like that.

Cream together:

  • 1# softened butter
  • 2 cups brown sugar (dark if you have it, light if not)
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
and mix well (4 minutes if by hand).


  • 2 Tbsp vanilla
  • 3 eggs (large if you have them)
and mix 'til fully combined.
Update Oct'12: Mix by hand using a wooden spoon or whisk.

In a separate bowl, mix:

  • 6 cups flour
  • 1½ tsp baking soda
  • 1½ tsp salt (less if you used salted butter/margarine above)
and add to butter/egg mixture.

Next, add in:

  • 4 cups chocolate chips
  • 2 cups chopped nuts (optional)
and mix until the chips are more or less distributed throughout the dough.
Update Oct'12: Mix by hand using a wooden spoon or whisk.

Bake about 8-10 minutes at 350°F -- or about 18 minutes at 250°F

These are totally excellent right out of the oven... or any time.