Tuesday, January 31, 2017

“Did my best” doesn’t mean “Time to slack off”

Did I work hard for my success, or have I just been lucky? Have I always done my best? And will I tomorrow?

These ideas aren't fully developed, but here's where I'm heading: Looking back, I see that I have been astonishingly fortunate in life, but that doesn't mean I should rely on that luck to continue; if I want to continue being fortunate, I need to be diligent and alert to make the best of my fortunate circumstances. Similarly, if we think everyone is pretty much always doing their best, as Brené Brown and others say, that doesn't mean I shouldn't try to grow so that my 2017 best will be better than my 2007 best, say. And since I always like to think of what this means for those who follow Jesus, it struck me that the preceding is similar to the point that just because my past sins are forgiven, that doesn't mean I should just sin when I feel like it (Romans 6:1).

David Brooks writes in a 2012 NY Times op-ed column, “The Credit Illusion”:
You should regard yourself as the sole author of all your future achievements and as the grateful beneficiary of all your past successes.

As an ambitious executive, it’s important that you believe that you will deserve credit for everything you achieve. As a human being, it’s important for you to know that’s nonsense.

What does he mean by all that? I can’t improve on Brooks’s writing, but I can summarize: Looking backward, you should recognize that a lot of your success is more about pure dumb luck—being born to the right parents, taking a class from the right teacher/professor, etc.—than it was about your brilliance and hard work, as I’ve written elsewhere. But looking forward, you need to focus on what you need to do to make the best use of the advantages that have fallen into your lap.

A similar oddity applies to the concept that people do the best they can; Curt Thompson writes in The Anatomy of the Soul (2010) about his mother, orphaned at age three. He had been angered, he said, by his mother’s passivity and resignation, but as he listened to her with a willingness to be touched by her story, he began to weep.

As if the proverbial scales had fallen from my eyes, I saw that she had not simply chosen to live her life the way she had. She had done the best she could without anyone to attend to her heart, to her emotional states, to her distresses and hopes. Her anxiety, fear, and passivity were not intentional; they were her coping strategy. Beginning at age four, she had developed strategies to ensure she didn’t tick anyone off, and this eventually included God. It was the only way she knew to ward off the overwhelming feelings of desertion, and she had maintained this defensive posture into adulthood. She had not actively chosen this path but rather had reacted unconsciously.
Curt Thompson, The Anatomy of the Soul (xv)
It was not only Thompson’s mother who had done her best, he realized: “I began to see that I, too, had lived my life as well as I could. No longer was I so ready to condemn myself as being not quite enough.” (op. cit., p. xvi).

Brené Brown presented a more generalized conclusion: that basically, everyone is doing the best they can. MaryAnn McKibben Dana writes about this, summarizing chapter 6 of Brown’s Rising Strong. One of Brown’s big ideas is, those who agreed that “everyone is are doing the best they can” were also on her list of “wholehearted” people: those willing to be vulnerable, and who believed in their own self-worth.

One such person is her husband, who says life works better if you think that way.

I say it’s similar to the luck “vs.” hard work thing, because when we think about the future, we need to make the effort to do our best, to be our best selves, to step up and, as New Testament authors write, “make every effort” to be our best and to do our best.

Speaking of the New Testament, we find there a similar division in how we think about the past vs. the future: in John 5, we’re told that (Jesus speaking) “he who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come into judgment; he has passed out of death into life.” In 1 John 1 we read that “if we walk in the light…the blood of Jesus… cleanses us from all sin. …If we confess our sins, he… will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So we are forgiven.

But how am I to live today? I should make every effort to obey what Jesus said—not because I won’t be forgiven, but because I am forgiven and because I’m also adopted as a child of God, and hence I want to be like him: to be characterized by love and mercy and justice more than by intelligence or competence or good looks.

So looking back, I want to be at peace that I did the best with what I had and who I was at the time. Looking forward, I want to grow and change to become the best person I can be—the best husband and father and brother and son, the best employee and mentor, the best neighbor and friend. So that, in the future, “the best I can” will be better than my best was last year, or what it is today.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

THREE recipes for apple pie?

The recipes are linked in the table headers, but I noticed some difference in the relative amounts of various ingredients.
   Betty Crocker    Taste of Home   Pillsbury 
oven temp 425°F 375°F 425°F
sugar ⅓ ~ ½ cup ½ cup +
½ cup brown
¾ cup
flour ¼ cup 3 Tbsp 2 Tbsp
cinnamon ½ tsp 1 tsp ¾ tsp
nutmeg ½ tsp ¼ tsp +
¼ tsp ginger
⅛ tsp
salt ⅛ tsp - ¼ tsp
apples 8 cup 6–7 cup 6 cup
butter 2 Tbsp 1 Tbsp -
lemon juice - 1 Tbsp 1 Tbsp
egg white - 1 large -
Enough of this; time to bake. (I'm going with Betty Crocker.)
Update: It went well. A few more points:
  • The crust. The lovely Carol froze two crusts’ worth of pastry dough, which she kindly thawed for me. I rolled one out and laid it in a deep dish 24cm (9½-inch) pie plate. (plate?? It was glass, otherwise I'd have said "pie tin")
  • Apples. I used a modern convenience, an apple peeler and corer like this one; it worked wonderfully. We had four fairly small "Granny Smith" apples. I found one apple-like fruit, which I also peeled/cored/sliced. It was a pear, but I threw it in anyway. Then more random apples, for a total of about 7 cups. yes, I slacked off...
  • Oven. Preheated to 425°F.
  • Everything but the butter got combined in a big bowl, then piled into the empty pie shell. Then melt the butter and dot the filling with it.
  • Rolled the other pie crust out (remember to roll from the center outward), laid it on top, and tucked it under the bottom shell, trimming the excess. Poke some holes in the crust
  • Cover edges with foil strips, about 3" wide, and bake 25 minutes
  • After 25 minutes, remove foil and check occasionally for the pie crust to brown and the juice to appear in the holes.
    At about 40 minutes, the crust was brown but juice wasn't coming out. So I turned the oven off and checked it maybe 10 minutes later, when I removed it.
It tasted pretty good to me :)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

What makes a good programmer? Or an enjoyable career in programming?

Going through my old magazines, I found What Makes a Good Programmer? by Cegielski and Hall. My nephew is considering a career in software, so I cut it out from my dead-trees issue and brought it with me on a visit. The article is rather academic, and in my mind the title is a bit ambitious. Here's the short version.
Students who took a course in object-oriented programming were given psychological tests before the course began, and the test measurements were compared with their performance in the (16-week) class. The authors concluded that three psychological factors correlated well with student performance in the OO programming course:
  • Theoretical value belief, a personality trait that values proof during the problem-solving process. Basically, theoretical value belief means you think the scientific method (form a hypothesis, run experiments to test your hypothesis, etc.) is worthwhile; you don't put much weight on ideas that aren't proven.
  • Cognitive ability, basically you're smart enough.
  • Personality, and these traits in particular:
    1. High self-esteem
      basically you think well of yourself. This might be important if, when you face a problem, you think you're smart enough to figure it out (rather than give up).
    2. High self-efficacy
      meaning you believe you can apply the resources needed to push through challenges.
    3. "Locus of control"--
      you see yourself as being able to make things happen; you don't see yourself as just a victim of circumstance.
    4. Low neuroticism
      meaning you don't focus excessively on negative aspects of yourself.
The authors had some assumptions, which have escaped me, but I think the surprising thing was that theoretical value belief was a better predictor of OO programming performance (in the class anyway) than raw cognitive ability.
Naturally I have a few comments on the article. Although performance in an OO programming class is easier to measure than success in a multi-year programming career, it really is a different thing. Come to think of it, studies have been done on longevity—comparing for example the proportion of male and female programmers who are still in the field N years after graduation, and so on. It might be interesting to correlate that with the psychological parameters mentioned in the 2006 article.

And as I mentioned to my nephew, one thing that wasn't studied, but makes for an enjoyable career in programming is, well, enjoyment of the programming process! This includes analysis, design, coding, testing, debugging, and documentation.

I obviously enjoy the craft; my latest recreational thing has been hacking a Python script to solve the soma cube. (I hesitate to mention this because you really don't have to enjoy it that much, really…) I was quite pleased to find that my script found 240 unique solutions. But that's already more than you wanted to know.

I also obviously enjoy writing about programming and debugging, too, as shown in this 2014 blog post about a freebsd kernel panic and other posts related to computers.

Oh, and this post from last August about my life as a computer guy.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Why follow God if he doesn’t guarantee health or wealth?

During a spiritual conversation, I happened to mention that God doesn’t guarantee career success or wealth or health or those things people often call “the good life.” He said, “Then why should I follow God?” I emailed my answer, a trimmed version of which follows.
Dear Luke,
I’ve given more thought to your question, “Why follow God, if there’s no guarantee that things will go well?” We already talked about the inevitability of certain problems and the uncertainty of life, but I remembered this passage.
I have seen something else under the sun:
The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all. 
Ecclesiastes 9
There is no course of action that guarantees wealth, health, happy children, etc., but I can do things that make those outcomes more likely: love my wife (Ephesians 5), not exasperate my children (Ephesians 6), listen before speaking (James 1) and so on.

But the main thing I want to emphasize is the passage which says that in all things God works to make us more like Jesus (Romans 8:28-29). Just a simple example: suppose I was getting killed by a bunch of people. That happened to Jesus, and he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23). Or, back to Ephesians 5:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 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.
So, I want to be like Jesus, who gives his life for the church; who prayed, “Father, forgive them.” Sure, it’s nice to be rich and to have a good job, etc. But when I die, will I be happy to see God?

Will I hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant”?

Will I have real life (Jesus said in John 17: This is life eternal, to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he sent)?

If I say I want that, then I’ll want to follow him today.