Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Dream

The other night, I dreamed it was January 7th, the first day of the winter quarter of classes. I was on campus, and had no idea where my next class was... or where my books were... but it was 5 minutes before 2:00 and I knew the class (which ever one it was) started at 2:00 (pretty darn specific dream, eh?). I didn't have enough notebooks, and couldn't find my locker, etc, etc. Ever have that dream?

Pardon the pun, but it was a textbook version of the school anxiety dream. That's pretty funny, because I'm enjoying school so much, and looking forward to the new quarter so much, so I wouldn't have guessed there'd be much anxiety. I think the dream might have been triggered by the fact that my textbooks showed up in the mail, and while I'm looking forward to classes, I haven't yet memorized my schedule - it's written down at home.

At least I was wearing pants in this one.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Weird Leonard

Between finals, Christmas preparations and getting ready for a 2-week trip to NY, I haven't done much blogging (a pattern I expect to continue until early January).

However, I meant to pass along a link to Quaid, Mounce & Ward Inc's latest article, which was recently posted in the online version of Defense AT&L's Jan/Feb 08 issue.

The original title was "The Mythical Adventures of Weird Leonards Throughout History," but the editor changed it to "History's Weird Leonards." (Weird Leonard being the dude who decided to "mount a Jet-Assisted Take Off (JATO) rocket engine onto a 1975 AMC Pacer and take it for a test drive on a dusty desert road."). I liked the original title better, so I mention it here.

Anyway, the article is a mix of modern urban myth, actual historical vignettes and our trademark rogue mischief & mayhem. We talk about paleoanthropology, Malcom Gladwell's book Blink, the movie Titanic and Alice in Wonderland, among other things. I think you'll get a kick out of it.

One of my favorite lines is: "the determination to disparage and reject intuition [in decision making] is both an unjustified rationalization and a demonstrably weak argument trap put forward by fearful, risk-avoidant bureaucrats who are usually interested in academically studying yesterday’s technology today in order to fix an obsolete problem many tomorrows from now." I love it when we don't pull any punches.

I also really liked this line: "All too often in this modern scientific age of ours, engineers and forecasters are willing to settle for being wrong as long as they are precisely and scientifically wrong, preferably to several decimal places."

But the best parts are the stories from Octave Chanute's amazing book "Progress In Flying Machines," which is a chronicle of 400 years of failed aviation experiments. It's the book the Smithsonian recommended to the Wright Brothers when they were beginning their experiments.

There's also a great illustration by the inimitable Jim Elmore. Check it out when you get a chance.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Simplicity, Complexity and Taxes

Surf on over to the Distributist Review website, for a remarkably cogent and insightful discussion of complexity and simplicity as it relates to taxes.

If you thought the various"Fair Tax" proposals are simpler, or perhaps considered abolishing the IRS, check this article out first...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Where's Rudolph?

Walking through the paint section at Home Depot, I came across their little stack of custom-mixed paints which were (I assume) mixed incorrectly. I love the creativity, imagination and care someone put into making the sign:

If only all our interactions with large organizations revealed this much humanity.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

I wonder if they sell blenders?

I drive past this shop on the way to work every day, and the sign just cracks me up. Maybe I'll do all my Christmas shopping there this year... heh.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pullman Is Right

I hope you can all stomach one more post about Phillip Pullman and his His Dark Materials books. This'll be the last one... probably.

Unlike many (most?) of Pullman's critics, I've actually read his books, a course of action I strongly encourage to anyone who seeks to say anything at all (good or bad) about them. And after giving it some deep, serious thought, I've come to the following conclusion: Phillip Pullman was right.

Well... he's right about some things, and these things he's right about are pretty doggone important. To wit, let me go way out on a limb and say I agree with Pullman that despotic, dogmatic tyranny is wrong. In fact, it's evil. And when it's done in the name of God, it's doubly evil.

See, the bad guys in the His Dark Materials trilogy are truly bad (controlling, destructive, hurtful, etc), even if their garb is ecclesiastical. Their downfall can only be applauded by people who believe in love, grace and freedom (particularly the "truth shall set you free" type of freedom).

So, Christians should have no fear of these books or this upcoming movie. Despite Pullman's efforts or intentions, his books aren't about killing God. Don't let him or anyone else tell you otherwise. They are about opposing an unloving, ungracious, merciless organization which seeks only to control and destroy. According to his critics, Mr. Pullman thinks that's what the Gospel is about. He supposedly thinks that's what Christians are really like (but I'm not going to take his critics' word for it). Nonetheless, Christians should probably go out of our way to prove him wrong... and should probably also acknowledge we may have contributed to making him think that way (if indeed he does).

But here's the ironic twist. Despite his distaste for C.S. Lewis, Pullman actually ends up illustrating one of the principles in CSL's The Last Battle. In that book, a character (Emeth) ends up in Aslan's heaven, despite having served the evil vulture-god Tash. Aslan explains to him that the good he did was actually in Aslan's service, (I don't recall the exact line). Lewis is drawing a parallel to Jesus's parable about the sheep and the goats, I believe (where the sheep did not even realize they were serving Christ). So, while Pullman may have set out to write a story about killing God, he ended up writing a book which affirms the importance of grace, love and self-sacrifice, in opposition to control and destruction.

Perhaps there's hope for Mr. Pullman after all...

Iran's assessment of the US

I agree with Dan Pink - Thomas Friedman's latest article in the NY Times is pretty fantastic. It's an excerpt of the Iranian National Intelligence Estimate of America. Don't miss it.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A Leader Is...

As I was driving my 4-year-old in to school the other day, she used the word leader. I don't recall exactly what we were originally talking about (probably Mr. Rogers), but I asked her what a leader is. Her answer?

"A leader is someone with good friendship."

I almost had to pull the car over before my brain exploded. I think it's just about the best definition of leadership I've ever heard, and it came from a 4 year old. Let's expand on it a bit.

Good friendship includes loving and caring for people as well as "tough love," honesty and integrity. It also means being well connected, in terms of networking and in terms of being aware of (and sensitive to) what's going on. It means following through, asking the next question (and the one after that). It means really wanting to know how your friends are doing.

It also means having people around you who care about how you're doing, who can give you honest feedback and who let you know when you're heading in a bad direction. Good friendship doesn't mean fraternization or cronyism (that'd be 'bad friendship'), and it doesn't necessarily mean you're friends with everyone. But I'm pretty sure good friendship is a key to good leadership.

Would you want to follow someone who does not have "good friendship?" I wouldn't. And in the end, I think that's the acid test for the quality of a leader - a person is a good leader if you would want to follow him or her. Ricardo Semler comes to mind. I've got zero interest in Semler's manufacturing industry, but I'd love to work for him. Same for Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin empire.

It's probably not enough to simply have good friendship. Skills, knowledge and some sort of competence is pretty important too. So are followers. But as definitions of leadership go, she sure came up with a great starting point.

Friday, December 7, 2007

I had a bad day...

Yesterday was a bad day.

Nothing earth shattering or hugely dramatic. Mostly just a series of inconveniences and medium-sized time sinks which popped up in a day that was already tightly scheduled. Stuff like driving my daughter to school (on a beautiful sunny day, with clear streets) only to find they'd closed for the day - apparently because it had snowed the day before? I don't know. So I had to drive the 20 minutes back to the house, then the 20 minutes back to work... so I was around 45 minutes late.

I won't bore you with the other bummers, but as I was driving home an hour later than usual, the thought hit me "I've had a bad day," and I had to laugh. A bad day? It wasn't all that bad - nobody died, nothing burned down, or anything like that. And if what happened yesterday constitutes a bad day, I'm actually pretty well off. And it's so rare for me to have anything even close to a bad day, that it's a bit absurd to complain about a mild one from time to time.

When I got home, Kim had cooked a fantastic dinner, the kids ran and gave me a huge hug, etc, etc. Basically family bliss. In the end, my bad day wasn't so bad after all.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

HP and Loyalty

One last comment on Harry Potter...

One of the primary themes in Harry Potter is family loyalty. In fact, the books are full of examples, both good and bad, of what it means to be loyal to one's family.

The Malfoys and other "pure bloods" are trying to be loyal to their family - but their loyalty is neither admirable nor right. Sirius Black, whose family also emphasized pure blood, demonstrates a better kind of loyalty - loyalty to the right, also known as integrity. He is fiercely loyal to Harry, his godson, and many other grownups who knew Harry's dad decide to help Harry out of loyalty to him and their old friendship, which is undiminished by James Potter's death.

The Weasleys' family loyalty is basically the inverse of the Malfoys' - they are rightly loyal to each other... and even to the brother (Percy?) who becomes a bit of a snob.

As I've said before, loyalty is an overrated and misunderstood virtue. To explain, here's an excerpt from an article I wrote on the topic:

When I say loyalty is an overrated virtue, that's only because loyalty is worse than worthless when it is divorced from deeper virtues like integrity and discernment. Loyalty is all fine and good if it is freely given to the right person (for example, a spouse or a diety), but demands for unquestioning, unequivocal, mindless loyalty are inappropriate and can lead to serious ethical breakdowns. Actually, just about any demand for loyalty is rather problematic. That's because loyalty is only good if it is freely and deliberately given, in a manner that does not violate one’s integrity.

Here's the thing - loyalty says a lot more about the recipient than the giver, which is probably why bosses and people in authority like to talk about it so much. From the stand point of the person who exhibits loyalty, we've got to ask some rather pointed questions.

So let's take a Nazi as a "boundary condition" example. A Nazi soldier could certainly exhibit an admirable degree of physical strength, courage or ingenuity (and many did). That is, we can wistfully say "Wow, I wish I was as clever as him" or "He sure is tough." But the loyalty exhibited by Nazi soldiers was wholly despicable, because it was given to a murderous madman.

Yes, loyalty can be a very, very good thing… but only if you exercise considerable discernment about the person or entity to whom you give it. When loyalty and integrity conflict, as they sometimes do, integrity must prevail.

The late Col John Boyd used to advise junior officers "If your boss asks for loyalty, give him integrity. If he asks for integrity, give him loyalty." That's a darn good rule of thumb, because it indicates loyalty to truth, justice and the American way, rather than loyalty to some guy.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Monkey Memory

Saw a story on the news tonight, about a memory test where chimps beat humans. Very interesting piece, love seeing monkeys doing cool things (sorry, sis!). But that's not what this post is about.

The anchor said to go to to see more videos. But when I went there, it was all about their primetime shows. So I clicked on the news tab. But nowhere on that page was there a link to the monkey videos. So I typed "chimpanzees" into the search engine, and up came a list of recent chimp-related news stories.

I picked one, and there's a little video box, up on the right side. But it only shows video about a dinosaur. Sure, dino's are cool, but I'm looking for chimps. As I scrolled down, I finally found the link to the video... or so I thought. It actually took me to a video of Julia Roberts and a paparazzi or something stupid. Finally, I found the right page, the right story and the right link.

But boy, they didn't make it easy, did they? (and I'm not exactly a n00b when it comes to this interweb thing).

They're Here! They're Here!

My big Christmas order of "The Boomer Sisters In The City" showed up today - I love getting a big box with 25+ copies of my book in it. Most are Christmas presents, but some are for a little bookstore in Plattsburgh NY.

Yay! I'm so excited!

The Mohammed Teddy Bear & Sudan

There were some things I wanted to say about the recent situation in the Sudan, where a British teacher allowed some 7 year old kids to name a teddy bear Mohammed, triggering riots, her arrest, and public calls for her execution... but Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post pretty much said it for me, in an article I just came across.

A few brief excerpts:

the West still finds it difficult to produce anything resembling a common, united, reasonable reaction to these periodic spasms of fanatical outrage, no matter what truly absurd forms they take.

the Great Sudanese Teddy Bear Controversy, like its Dutch, Danish and papal precedents, was not actually a religious or cultural affair: It was purely political. Nobody -- not the other teachers, the parents or the children -- was offended by Mohammed the teddy bear (who received his name in September) until the matter was taken up by a totalitarian government, handed over to what appears to have been a carefully orchestrated mob, and briefly turned into yet another tool of domestic terror and international defiance.

So it wasn't really about religious people being offended. It was about politics and control. The tepid reaction by many in the West isn't helping matters. Not that we should have taken to the streets, chanting and demanding the execution of Sudanese leaders, but surely there's a way to rationally express the statement "This is unacceptable." And Ms. Applebaum makes one more key point, when she addresses the impact the situation must have had on the kids in that school. What lessons did they learn?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Subversive Children's Lit

I love kid's books - mostly because they're not just for kids (and I speak as both a reader and a writer).

I was going through some old posts and found one from Oct 06, in which I declared Subversive Children's Literature Week and offered some suggested reading. If I had to pick one from that list, I'd go with The War Between The Pitiful Teachers and Splendid Kids, by Stanley Kiesel. Holy cow it's a great book, and more than any other it is responsible for inspiring my own Boomer Sisters series.

What's so subversive about these books? And what's so great about subversive literature? I'm glad you asked. These books are all designed to make people think. They encourage questioning of the status quo. They are great stories, well told, of people who dare to be themselves and who help other people on the journey. They are full of love, self-sacrifice, creativity and imagination. They do wonderful things to people who read them.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Lit from the Papa

So I've been writing about children's literature lately, and just came across a very well-done introduction to Pope Benedict's latest encyclical (Spe Salvi), on The Distributist Review blog. It's titled The Postmodernist Pope, but I hope you won't be scared off by either the name of the blog or the title of the posting. I figured it sort of fits in with my recent theme, because the Papa (Pope) is writing to his children...

John Medaille (the guy who does the DR blog) starts by explaining that postmodernism recognizes relationships as the key to humanity. Indeed! In contrast, Modernism tends towards individualism and independence. Postmodernism tends to recognize the importance of interdependence and community. That's one of the things I really like about it.

However, one of the problems with secular postmodernism is that it tends to "secretly accept back that which it purports to reject," according to Medaille. But he goes on to say that "Christian thinkers can, and have, appropriated elements of the postmodernism into their thought because they have a more secure and older notion of truth, one that is not vulnerable to either the modernist or postmodernist attack."

That reminds me of the "deeper magic" C.S. Lewis writes about in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. As a postmodern kind of guy myself, I was pretty sure this was the case, but I hadn't managed to put it into words quite that way.

But back to the Pope. In the new encyclical, "the Pope rejects the notion of the “‘salvation of the soul’ as a flight from responsibility for the whole, and …[a] project as a selfish search for salvation which rejects the idea of serving others.” Or, as my pastor in NY used to say, "It's not about us." That's something I can definitely get behind.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Harry Potter

Growing up, I read a lot of sword & sorcery novels. The Dragonlance Chronicles stand out as some of my favorites (along with The Black Cauldron, the Earthsea series, LOTR, etc). I learned a lot about courage, honor and self-sacrifice from those books. I think they really helped to shape my character, and I think it's a good thing for kids to read that kind of book.

I see similar themes in Harry Potter - friendship, courage, honor, loyalty (more on that later) and love. The latest issue of Gilbert magazine pointed out that the primary themes, "particularly in the last three books, are redemptive suffering and love's victory over death." Hey, what's not to like, for a good Christian boy like myself? And as I've said before, I really love the fact that the HP series portrays evil as ugly and repugnant. Nobody wants to be Voldemort. Nobody wants to be Draco.

Rowling herself offers two quotes that "sum up - they almost epitomize - the whole series" (her words). The first is engraved on Dumbledore's sister's tombstone: "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." That's from the Sermon on the Mount. The second key phrase is also from a tombstone, and also from the Bible: "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. (that's from First Corinthians, 15:26).

The Harry Potter series is not Christian fiction, thank goodness. Most of the entries in that particular genre are, to be generous, second rate. And even the good ones end up getting skipped over by people who aren't interested in "religious books." But the HP series is certainly full of Christian themes. In a 15 Oct interview, Rowling said the Christian themes "have always been obvious. But I never wanted to talk too openly about it because I thought it might show people who just wanted the story where we were going." So, it wasn't about hiding her real intent. It was about maintaining the story's surprise.

So, I think the well-intentioned people who criticize HP for glamorizing magic are missing out on something good and significant. Criticize the writing, call it cliche'd or juvenile or whatever. But don't call it evil.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Fairy Tales & Harry Potter

I've got some comments on Harry Potter coming soon, but I'm a little short on time this morning, so I'll leave you with these thoughts by G.K. Chesterton, to sort of set the stage for commenting on Mr. Potter:

Fairy tales do not give the children the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give a child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

And similarly, but more concisely:

Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sad Songs

Ok, this one isn't about kid's literature - it's about kid's music.

I came home from work tonight to find my 4yr old daughter listening to a Bill Harley CD, as usual (There's A Pea On My Plate). I sat down on the side of her bed to listen with her, and a new song came on. It's titled Moving Day, and has lyrics like "I go. They stay. It's moving day." She looked up at me and said "This song makes me cry sometimes. It's about moving."

And so it was.

And so we did.


Continuing on the theme of children's literature, my soon-to-be-8-years-old daughter is reading a great book titled Flush, by Carl Hiaasen (who also wrote Hoot, which was made into a movie). She has been an environmentalist since she was 4, and loves the themes of stopping pollution, taking care of nature, etc, etc in Hiaasen's books. The book is marked as for 5th through 8th grade, but she's a pretty advanced reader (she's in 3rd grade) and isn't interested in the simpler, 3rd grader books.

Anyway, as my wife and I were tucking her in tonight, as she was putting the book away, she asked "Mommy, what's a rat bass-tard?" (emphasis incorrectly placed on the last syllable). We tried not to laugh... at the mispronunciation and the simple innocence of the question.

"Well, honey," we explained, "That's a not very nice name to call someone. It's a word you shouldn't say. Oh, and it's pronounced bas-turd." (*snicker snicker* it doesn't help that one of us thinks it's a pretty funny term).

So, should children's lit use words like that? Should kids be allowed to read them? Or does the use of the occasional light profanity negate any goodness in the book? Tom Sawyer and the n-word, anyone? Necessary or not, it's there. Your thoughts?

Disliking Narnia

One of the criticisms against Phillip Pullman (and his books) is that he disliked the Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis. Interestingly, there's someone else who didn't like the Narnia series, albeit probably for different reasons than Pullman. That someone was J.R.R. Tolkien.

Tolkien and Lewis were close friends, and Tolkien was pivotal in Lewis' conversion. But he really disliked the Narnia stories (really, really disliked them), because he felt they were too explicitly allegorical.

So, if we're going to criticise Pullman for his literary taste, then let's acknowledge that on this particular issue at least, he's in good company.

My point - don't be mislead by irrelevant criticisms.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Children's Lit

I think this blog is going to spend some time talking about children's literature this week - partly because it's one of the things I write (and I've got a new book out), and partly because it seems so much in the national consciousness lately.

Let's start with the Golden Compass, a topic I've briefly addressed already. Our pastor mentioned it at church yesterday, and I was really impressed with how he handled it. No righteous indignation. No shock and awe.

He just made a simple request that the congregation pray for the author (Phillip Pullman), that he would come to know how much God loves him. And then the pastor made the radical suggestion that parents should be aware of the media choices their kids are making. And that was it.

He explained he was talking about The Golden Compass because it was a specific book which people were concerned about... but Pullman's books aren't really the point. It' s not about The Golden Compass, or even how the movie is being marketed. It's about parents being involved, talking with their kids. It's about showing love to people. Getting angry, flustered and outraged really doesn't help. As G.K. Chesterton pointed out:

"It is a very dangerous and even destructive thing to have a large supply of righteous indignation."

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Writer's Strike

I watched a few YouTube videos about the Hollywood writer's strike, compliments of Saul Colt (The Smartest Man In The World). I can't imagine that the producers are going to come out well on this strike (the last big strike cost the entertainment industry $500M).

The thing about writers is they are a) tenacious and b) good with words. Sort of like lawyers, only less well groomed. Oh yeah, they also provide the raw materials, the essential starting point, the very life blood of the entertainment industry. And they're underpaid... or to be more specific, they are not paid for things like DVD's, online content, etc - even though the companies are making money on the writer's work. For all their contributions, writers typically don't get much respect in Hollywood.

So, imagine that your opponent is a tenacious wordsmith underdog who provides you with the thing you need the most. Yikes.

My money's on the writers. It might take a while, but I bet they'll win.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

B3 is Done!

I just put the finishing touches on the third book in the Boomer Sisters series: The Boomer Sisters In The City, and I'm a week ahead of my self-imposed deadline. How about that! I'm so excited to finally have it done!

The book is a fun little mystery/adventure, mostly set in New York City. Even though it starts in August, it's a Christmas story, and as usual, there's a very cool, unique flying machine involved.

Thematically, this book is about patience, creativity and learning. It's also about the importance of family, but then so are all my books. I think it's the richest/deepest/most philosophical of the three books, and while there isn't as much peril as in the second one, it has a fair amount of dramatic tension.

It's wonderfully illustrated by the talented and generous Mandy Hoelmer, and it sells for $11.95 at Rogue Press. I hope you enjoy it!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Getting To Know Gloria Gery

I recently came across the following quote by a management consultant named Gloria Gery:

It is better to build performance into the process than into people.

My first reaction was of strong distaste. She seemed to be saying that you don't need to develop your people, you don't even need to treat people as individuals. Just build a good process, and then any old schmuck off the street can come in and perform, because it's not about having talented people. It's about having a good process. Ah, organizational bliss (and something less than bliss for the person who need have no talent).

But maybe that wasn't what she was saying. I'd never heard this woman's name before, I'd never read her stuff or seen her presentations, and the quote was context-free. So I figured I should poke around a bit. I found this next quote, which seems to parallel the previous one:

We must give up the idea that competence must exist within the person and expand our view that whenever possible it should be built into the situation. What workers need to do their jobs – information, rules, and knowledge – is often spread all over the place. Good design puts these things within easy reach and shows how to use them to optimize performance.

Hmmm... I still think I've got a fundamental disagreement with her, but that doesn't mean she's wrong. It might be a question of context and assumptions, and maybe I disagree because I'm trying to apply the concept in a place or manner that she didn't intend... and her last sentence just might redeem the whole thing.

If by "competence" she means an in-depth understanding of arcane and byzantine procedures which are unique to the organization (and therefore do not constitute what Sally Hogshead calls "portable equity"), then I agree. That's not the kind of competence we should try to develop within the person. It rightly belongs in the situation/process.

So I kept reading, and she really won me over with the following lines (emphasis added):

Most of our training is compensatory for bad system design and help desks are the balloon payment on poor system design. If we have to teach people how to use a system, it wasn't designed right in the first place. Why do we have training that teaches useless jargon? Why should we have to live with error messages like 'File sharing illegal error?' Look at the evolution of a program like TurboTax. Simplify, simplify.

Ah, if that's what she's talking about from the start, if she's saying we shouldn't expect people to be "competent" in useless jargon or able to decipher mumbo-jumbo error messages, then I just might have found a new best friend.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Kid questions...

J, my 4 year old, asked last night, out of nowhere, "Does Peter Pan have a birthday?" Today I asked what she's thankful for. Her answer: "Bunny rabbits, deer, my teacher, and turtles."

I love the way her little brain works.

A while back, she asked "What kind of vegetable is Ernie?" Clearly she's been watching Veggie Tales too much... :)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone - I probably won't post anything new until next Monday, so I hope you all have a warm holiday with your friends and family.

And to my friends across the pond and north of the border, I hope you have a nice Thursday! ;)

7 Unusual Things About Me

I've never done one of these posts before (they're sort of like a chain letter for blogging, only less annoying), but Elena aka French Toast Girl tagged me on her blog, which means I'm supposed to come up with 7 unusual things about myself. Here goes:

1) I'm a self-taught fire eater. Seriously. I've never met anyone else who does a fire eating routine, nor anyone else who ever wanted to learn. I think it's a lot of fun to extinguish flaming torches in my mouth and shoot big fireballs out of my mouth. But I only do it once or twice a year.

2) I went to college a year early, to attend a program called The Clarkson School at Clarkson University. It's for advanced high school seniors, and there were 78 of us from around the world (Australia, Africa, etc), all living in the dorms and taking regular freshman-level courses. At the end of the year, we'd graduated from high school and were ready to be Sophomores that fall. It was great.

3) I'm an Eagle Scout. I don't know how unusual that is, because there are a lot of Eagles in my line of work, but in the general population, I guess it is unusual.

4) I was born in Spain. Again, depends on the definition of unusual. Obviously lots of people are born in Spain... but most of them are probably Spaniards.

5) I'm a huge Theodore Roosevelt fan, and describe my political views as a "Roosevelt Republican." I'd vote for him in 08 if I could.

6) I once co-wrote an article titled "Everything We Know About Program Management We Learned From Punk Rock." It was published in Defense AT&L, then reprinted in Harpers and quoted in Reason Magazine. I met a lot of cool people through that article.

7) I do most of the cooking in my house (and food shopping, for that matter). It's just something I've always done. I enjoy cooking, experimenting and creating new things. Most of the time it comes out quite yummy.

So now I'm supposed to tag some people, but I'm out of time. Maybe I'll tag 'em later.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Watch your kids!

I saw this sign in a little coffee shop in New York and busted out laughing. So I snapped a photo and finally got around to passing it along. Enjoy!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Because I'm 12 years old...

I couldn't resist passing along this image from the Modern Mechanix blog. I'm not sure who runs it, but they've got a heck of an archive, and they post excerpts from old magazines, showing us "Yesterday's Tomorrow, Today."

This particular photo and article is from Popular Science, circa 1934.

What a lucky woman, to be able to give herself gas...

(and don't worry, Modern Mechanix isn't always about fart jokes)


I saw a headline recently, commenting on radiation therapy for thyroid cancer. The headline read "It kills thyroid cancer, but is it safe?"

Um, I think that's the wrong question. If it really kills thyroid cancer, then shouldn't we be asking "Is it safer than thyroid cancer?" I'm going to guess the answer to that one is yes.

Admittedly, I didn't read the actual article, so maybe they went into the whole "is it safer than other treatments" question... But the headline itself struck me as particularly absurd.

Thanksgiving Prep

I love Thanksgiving, and am very excited that we're doing the big dinner at our house this year. It's always fun to go visit family for Thanksgiving, of course, but there's something very cool about cooking the meal myself. Probably something to do with left-overs.

I've already started cooking. I made homemade applesauce yesterday, and my *favorite* cranberry-pear sauce (oh, I love cranberries!), which is so much better after it sits in the fridge for a few days. I made fudge too, but it didn't work - it came out more like frosting, and even though it tastes fine, you can't cut it into little squares. Oh well. I also made two loaves of pumpkin bread, but they'll be gone long before Thursday (in fact, we finished one loaf today). On Wed, I'm planning to make 3 pies (apple, cherry and pumpkin).

We've invited a few Turkish exchange officers to come for Thanksgiving dinner too - it'll be fun to share the evening with them.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Missing NY

As the holidays approach and we're still in Ohio, I find myself missing New York a bit...

Here's a photo of the view off the back of the Lake Champlain ferry. Looking forward to seeing it again at Christmas time!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I don't understand

This must be how atheists feel when they look at believers.

Football is pretty big around here. Like, bigger than any sport in any place I've ever lived (although Broncos fans in Colorado in the late 80's came close). Specifically, Ohio State football is pretty big, and apparently there was a significant game today -against Michigan, I think. And although this admission will probably lead to the recall of my Official Guy Card, I really don't get it.

Strike that last comment - I've seen more Ohio State shirts, facepaint, hats, etc on women than on men, so it's not just a guy thing. Whew, my Official Guy Card is safe.

Anyway, back to the topic. I've never understood the appeal of spectator sports. That's not an attempt to compliment myself on my highbrow tastes. I'm just admitting my bewilderment with the frenzy over a football team. The passion, the clothing and strange adornments, the chanting, the degree to which people identify with the team (and get their sense of identity from their attachment to the team - there are a lot of self-described "Buckeyes" around here), and the degree of satisfaction people get from watching them win (did they win? is the game still going? I don't know)... all of these things are beyond me. When the school bus dropped B off on Friday, all the kids were chanting Ohio State cheers, and we heard stories of playground chants of "Go Bucks! Michigan Sucks!" She's in 3rd grade, so that strikes me as a bit excessive.

It does look like a religion, doesn't it, even down to the chanting and the mystical beliefs? I suspect even adherents would agree. But if football is a religion, Ohio must be the football equivalent of the Bible Belt... and I'm definitely in the minority around here (and now I wait for the flood of comments from other fans, insisting that *their* area is the football equivalent of the Bible Belt).

Like I said, this must be how atheists feel, when they're surrounded by believers.

Bedtime Reading?

I came across this in the library, and the title of the journal sort of caught my eye... Who knew?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Press button...

Shamelessly swiped from Dan Pink's blog, because I think it's so doggone hilarious:


Name-Letter Preference

I found an article in Newsweek about something called "Name letter preference," which basically says people are statistically more likely to buy brands that begin with one of their initials. Research shows that Milwaukee has a more Mildreds than other places do, and the name Dennis is "overrepresented" among dentists.

They even found evidence that people whose names begin with A or B get better grades than people whose names begin with C or D. Bummer!

Now, it's not a huge effect. The 15 years worth of GPA's they studied found a gap of .02 (3.34 versus 3.36), which is small, but a gap none the less.

So, what's in a name? Apparently more than I thought...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Baby Got Back

I can't resist - I just have to pass along this link to The Distributist Review blog. And this time, it's not about economics or social justice. No, it's an interesting answer to the age-old question "Does this make my butt look fat?"

I'd include a short excerpt here, except I really want people to go read the whole thing. It's funny, insightful, brief and even, believe it or not, scientific. I hope you'll check it out.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

B3 Progress Update

I just ordered my "author's review draft" of the third Boomer Sisters book - The Boomer Sisters In The City. I'm very excited to see it in person!

I've actually got a tiny little bit of writing still to do for a little lagniappe at the end, but I wanted to make sure I have the book reviewed and edited (by Kim, my lovely and talented wife) in time to offer it for sale by December 1st. So I'll write the final few lines as Kim does her read-through.

My own "semi-final" read-through was a lot of fun. I wrote the book in June, so it had been a while. I was pleased to find that the book holds up. In fact, I thought it was better than I remembered it being (that's a relief).

I'll keep you all posted as it develops (and the artwork is fantastic).

Limiting Email

One of the things I've really come to appreciate about being a student again is that my access to email is extremely limited. I'm in class most of the day, so it's not unusual for me to check my email account once in the morning and once towards the end of the day... and in neither case do I spend more than 20 minutes at a time.

Even better, I can't get to my gmail at all during the day - and when I'm home, I want to be home and engaged with my family, so I don't spend much time reading/writing email then either.

Now, I'm not getting a lot of email these days - no status reports, requests for information, etc. Most of my official communication is via class presentations, etc. But once I'm back in a regular job, I am seriously going to consider limiting email to certain times of the day. I've heard it's a good way to manage your time and not turn your day into a series of short (or long?) interruptions.

At any rate, I like it.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Rejected - Finally!

I sent a book proposal for one of my Boomer Sister book to a publisher earlier this year. MUCH earlier this year. Several weeks after sending the package, I got a confirmation note back, acknowledging they'd received it. I appreciated the confirmation - many publishers don't even do that. The date was April 1st.

Yesterday, 7+ months later, I finally got the long-anticipated "Thank you for your submission, but we are not interested at this time..." letter.

I know I'm in good company and just about every famous book ever published was rejected a million times by countless publishers (not that I'm expecting any of my stuff to ever become famous). I'm neither surprised nor upset by the rejection, and I wasn't exactly waiting around for their response. To be honest, I'd sort of forgotten about them. But what I can't wrap my brain around is why it took so long for them to make a decision.

I know it takes a while for a publisher to read and judge all the submissions they receive, but I can't believe it really needs to take seven months. If the author forgets about you by the time you make a decision, something's wrong with the process. Something's broken. And it's not just rejections that take a long time. A friend of mine had a book accepted by this same publisher - and it took 5 months before they replied to her. Call me impatient, but I think that's a pretty long time.

On the plus side, they returned the copy of the book I'd sent them. I think that was nice.

Thank goodness for Lulu!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Bill Richardson

I don't normally get involved in politics, partly because of my profession and partly because I'm not really a political kind of guy. I think the real work and impact in life is done in the private sector, more than government. Having said that, I really, really hope Bill Richardson gets the Democratic nomination, and then I really, really hope he gets elected president (and I'm not a Democrat).

I'm under no illusion that any Republican candidate has a chance in 2008, and am completely underwhelmed by the quality and variety of candidates running for the GOP slot (Giuliani? Are you kidding?). The ostensible front runners on the Democrat side strike me as remarkably underskilled and under experienced. As far as I know, neither Clinton or Obama have ever really been in charge of anything. I'd like to have a president with a bit more experience than that. Look at Teddy Roosevelt (best president ever!) - he was police commissioner of NYC, governor of NY and undersecretary of the Navy, then VP before becoming president. That's the kind of person I'm looking for.

Richardson comes pretty close to TR's resume. He was governor of NM, UN ambassador, secretary of Energy... you get the picture. I also like Richardson's track record, his attitude and sense of humility. I like his position on many things, in particular his position on Energy (he was Secretary of Energy for goodness sake).

I won't try to summarize him on the issues - you can check them out online and decide for yourself.

Hey, That's Not News!

I generally don't watch much TV news, for any number of reasons (time, interest, quality, etc), but occasionally I'll catch some of it.

I recall hearing a newscaster once actually ask the following question, in context of some bad economic news "Is it time to panic now?" Um, is there ever a time when the answer to that question is yes?

And then there's the "political news," which these days seems limited to two topics: a) how much money the various candidates (by which I mean Hillary and Barak) have raised, and b) Who is in the lead of the latest poll. Wouldn't it be nice if the news reported something relevant to the issues, like "Candidate X came out in support of Issue Y today, explaining she/he would do Z... Another candidate said the opposite." Instead, we get to hear about Brittney Spears' latest misadventure - poor kid.

If newspapers and television news are seeing their customer base diminish, it's not just the internet's fault...
Interesting posting on The Distributist Review blog today. Here's a snippet:

Perhaps at one time we could conveniently rely on convenient labels; that time is past. And anyway, the labels really applied to ideologies—not to real ideas—and you don't really battle a bad ideology with a good ideology, but with a good idea, with a truth.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Re-reading Jerry Harvey

As part of my research for the aforementioned paper on cyberwar, I'm re-reading a book by Jerry Harvey, titled How Come Every Time I Get Stabbed In The Back, My Fingerprints Are On The Knife? It's an amazing, insightful book, which I have referred to many times in the past, in other projects. This morning, it's providing the key (THE key) to understanding a cybersecurity exercise I witnessed over the summer.

In a chapter titled This is a Football, he explains something called "the anaclitic depression blues," which is a term he uses to describe "a particular, circumscribed form of melancholia that we often experience when the individuals, organizations or belief systems that we lean on or are dependent on for emotional support are withdrawn from us."

Clinically, anaclitic depression is most often seen in infants who don't receive sufficient physical contact and support from adults. They end up lethargic, tense, fearful, don't eat or sleep much, and have a high mortality rate. As Harvey explains, only slightly tongue in cheek, they "begin to behave like adults who have been involuntarily separated from their employer."

I highly recommend Jerry Harvey's books to anyone who is (or hopes to be) in a leadership position, or anyone who wants to understand how people behave in organizations.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Running out of words

Wow, I've been writing a lot lately.

I'm putting the finishing touches on a 6-page article for Defense AT&L (topic: Postmodern Program Management). I'm about 8 pages into a 15+ page research paper on cyberwarfare. Plus I co-wrote a 15 page paper on China's cybersecurity doctrines and capabilities. Next up: short essays on military deception and psychological operations in history. Oh yeah, I'm also doing my final edits on the third Boomer Sisters book (Don't forget - it's coming on 1 Dec!)

I'm enjoying it all and learning a lot. It's some really good stuff... but I haven't been able to write anything on The Helper In The Sun (and I really want to!). Sigh. Maybe next week?

(And the only thing I could think to write for my blog is this post.)

Tomorrow is D-Day

And the "D" stands for "Dentist." I'm not looking forward to the grinding, drilling, needles, etc... but I am looking forward to having the filling repaired, so I can finally chew with the left side of my mouth again (and cold drinks will stop hurting).

Monday, November 5, 2007

B3 Update

I'm more than 1/2 way through inserting the illustrations into the third Boomer Sisters book. It looks fantastic, and I'm so excited to see the finished product!

I'm still on track to have it available for sale by 1 Dec (and under the Christmas Tree for those of you who were good little boys and girls this year).

Loving Neighbor

Commenting on the biblical injunction to "love your neighbor as you love yourself," someone recently pointed out that everyone knows we love ourselves a little bit too much.

And that's what we're supposed to do for the people around us, isn't it? We're supposed to love them "a little bit too much."

Just imagine...

Sunday, November 4, 2007

B3 Illustrations

Mandy Hoelmer (the lovely and talented artist who illustrates my Boomer Sisters books) recently sent me the pictures for the third book in the series, the soon-to-be-published "The Boomer Sisters In The City." I'm aiming to have it finished, edited, and available for sale by Dec 1st, just in time for Christmas!

And remember, your local public library or elementary school would love it if you donate a copy... (and so would I).

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Chesterton on Power

Just one more reason I love G.K. Chesterton - his writings are amazingly relevant to life today, some 100 years after he wrote them. Here's a snipped I copied from another Chestertonian blog:

Anomalies do matter very much, and do a great deal of harm; abstract illogicalities do matter a great deal, and do a great deal of harm. And this for a reason that anyone at all acquainted with human nature can see for himself.

All injustice begins in the mind. And anomalies accustom the mind to the idea of unreason and untruth. Suppose I had by some pre-historic law the power of forcing every man in Battersea to nod his head three times before he got out of bed. The practical politicians might say that this power was a harmless anomaly; that it was not a grievance. It could do my subjects no harm; it could do me no good. The people of Battersea, they would say, might safely submit to it.

But the people of Battersea could not safely submit to it, for all that. If I had nodded their heads for them for fifty years I could cut off their heads for them at the end of it with immeasurably greater ease. For there would have permanently sunk into every man's mind the notion that it was a natural thing for me to have a fantastic and irrational power. They would have grown accustomed to insanity.

GKC ILN March 10 1906

Friday, November 2, 2007

Running late!

No time for long post today - check out the comments section in the previous post instead for a bit more conversation about Pullman's books (and books in general).

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Athiest Novels - Oh My!

You might have already received an email warning about a new movie coming out, based on Philip Pullman's book The Golden Compass. It goes something like this:

There will be a new Children's movie out in December called THE GOLDEN COMPASS. It is written by Phillip Pullman, a proud athiest who belongs to secular humanist societies. He hates C. S. Lewis's Chronical's of Narnia and has written a trilogy to show the other side. The movie has been dumbed down to fool kids and their parents in the hope that they will buy his trilogy where in the end the children kill God and everyone can do as they please.

Now, my wife and I read the trilogy a few years ago, and the description of it as anti-religion is pretty accurate... sort of. Pullman is clearly not a fan of religion, and he has characters make broad statements like "Every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling." Well, if that was true, then I'd be anti-church too.

However, it's a strawman argument in novel form, because the church the heroes oppose is a power-hungry, secretive, controlling, murderous political organization, nothing like the Church I'm a part of. The "God" they kill at the end of the third book is a withered, ancient invalid who can't speak or even sit up... nothing like the God of the Bible. Aside from the name (I think he was called Yahweh in the book?), there was nothing God-ish about him. I don't think people of faith need to worry too much about either the book or the movie... unless they belong to a secretive, murderous organization that worships a dusty, impotent creator. In that case, they'd better look out!

(and as my wife pointed out, if your kids see the movie or read the books, it would be a good opportunity to have a discussion about novels and novelists, about coercive religion compared with your faith, etc...)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

War - It's Not Just For People Anymore

When I heard George Carlin comment that people are the only species on earth that kill other members of our species, I sort of wrote it off as artistic license, not a scientific statement. He's a comedian, so the things he says don't have to meet the same standards as, say, a document from RAND.

So, imagine my surprise when I was reading a part of a report from RAND, and it said that humans are the only species that has wars. Um, doesn't anyone else watch Meerkat Manor? Those little buggers charge into another meerkat group's territory, kill the babies and drive away the grownups, then make themselves at home. If that's not war, what is it?

My sister might not want to read this next line, but chimps are even more warlike. Here's an excerpt from a NY Times article about a chimp war:

Logging of tropical forests in the central African country of Gabon appears to have touched off a savage territorial war among chimpanzees in which four of every five chimps die, says a field biologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society. ...chimps, the animals most closely related to humans, are known to be highly jealous of territory, patrolling and defending borders constantly. Even without logging, violent clashes are known to erupt in which chimps kill each other with their bare hands and feet. In at least two documented cases, large communities of chimpanzees have systematically hunted down smaller ones and killed all members.

And another one from the Telegraph (British newspaper):

In the Seventies, Prof Wrangham and Dr Goodall watched a group of chimpanzees split into two factions. One group killed every male and some of the females in the other group. The victims had recently been their companions.

I'm not trying to pick on chimps or meerkats or any other fuzzy, adorable little creature. I'm just trying to set the record straight. Humans aren't the only ones who fight wars. I suppose we could define war so tightly that the term only applies to people, but what would be the point of that?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Share the Love...

I've mentioned The Real Tuesday Weld before, and continue to be mesmerized by this music. I heard "Bathtime in Clerkenwell" in Wordplay, a film about the NY Times crossword puzzle. That was a cool surprise (and a fun movie - made me want to do crossword puzzles!).

Anyway, I just left a review on Amazon, because there was only one review there for the new CD, The London Book of the Dead, and I wanted to speak up and say "Hey, this is good stuff! I appreciate it! People should check it out!"

I mean, how can you not love lyrics like "I believe in people who I believe believe in love...", right? Or how about these lyrics, from Bathtime:


How about you? When you encounter music/movies/books/etc that you love, who do you tell? Ever write a fan letter or leave a review somewhere?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Real Meaning of Halloween

I'm probably already considered a heretic in some circles, so I've decided it's time to come out of the closet entirely and seal my fate as a lost soul. What's my grave theological flaw, you ask? What heretical position have I embraced, risking my eternal destiny? In a nutshell: I don't think Halloween is evil. In fact, I rather enjoy it.

Here's the thing: when small children dress up as princesses or Power Rangers or Apple iPhones or whatever the cool costumes are this year, then run through the neighborhood asking for candy, they aren't engaging in some sort of satanic ritual. They're just looking for candy, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Now, I'm not a big fan of the grotesque, bloody, oozing-eyeball kind of mask for people of any age. Further, I really think kids costumes should be kid friendly (what a concept!). I don't want my daughters dressing up as demons or anything like that (they're Pocahontas and Madeline this year), but I also think it's perfectly fine for them to celebrate Halloween. We carve pumpkins, dress up, and eat too much candy. It's fun for everyone.

I've become used to churches having "fall harvest parties," complete with costumes, bobbing for apples and lots of candy, but it sort of bugs me the way they shun the name "Halloween." (God forbid we celebrate All Hallow's Eve - the Eve of All Saint's Day!) Around here, they call it "Beggar's Night," - which for my neighborhood, will be on Tuesday, Oct 30th! I can't believe it. It's just sad.

You can read the whole history of Halloween over at Wikipedia, but the history isn't really the point. Yes, Halloween has origins in an old pagan celebration, but that doesn't mean it is an old pagan celebration. It's a modern celebration, so the real issue (in my mind) is this: what are the kids doing today? And the answer is: they're dressing up in costumes and eating candy.

I don't have a problem with that.

Book Sales

The first book I ever wrote was titled "The Radical Elements of Radical Success." I spent 5 years writing it, and am mostly proud of it. It got some very nice reviews and was even excerpted in a book on organizational storytelling, but as I've mentioned before, I do have somewhat mixed feeling about it.

It's definitely not the typical success-lit kind of book (which I can't stand)- in fact, I tried to turn the success genre on it's head. (although I think there is probably too little humor and too much earnestness in it - classic success-lit errors!). But my feelings aside, the doggone thing continues to sell!

I'm not talking about large quanties or daily purchases, but there is a regular trickle of sales, a handful or so each month (sometimes I earn enough royalties to buy a pizza... so I do).

I'm glad people are buying it, but these purchases mystifies me. Who is buying these books? How did they hear about it (I haven't done much in the way of marketing, spreading the word, etc)? What made them decide to buy it?

Of course, I also wonder what they think of it after they read it, but that thought comes later.
The question I would most like to have answered is simply "Why?"

(You can get your copy at RoguePress or on Amazon)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

"Later" (a true story)

Time: 9am, yesterday
Location: on the phone

"Good afternoon, this is the dental clinic."

"Hi, I'm experiencing some tooth pain and would like an appointment."

"The next available appointment is 1200."

"Oh, I've got class at that time. Do you have an available appointment for some time after 1:00?"

"Sir, I can only offer you the next available appointment. If you want a later appointment, you will have to call back later."


"Really? But I'm on the phone with you right now."

"Yes sir, that is our policy. I can only offer you the next available appointment. You'll have to call back later if you want a later appointment."

"How do I know you'll have an opening later when I call back?"

"Oh, I'm pretty sure there will be an opening."

"Then doesn't that mean there's an opening now? Why don't you just give it to me this time, instead of later?"

"Sir, it's our policy that I can only give you the next available appointment. You will have to call back later to get a later appointment."

"Actually, I can't call back later. I'm going to be in class from 10 until 1, and this is already the second time I called to try to make this appointment. Did I mention the tooth pain?"

"Do you want to talk with a supervisor?"

"Yes please..."

(Supervisor gets on the phone - a different person than the supervisor I spoke with on Wed, who gave me the same "it's our policy" line. I re-explain the situation.)

"Sure, I can get you in at 1:40 - that's the last appointment for the day."

"That would be great. Thank you so much."

Questions for discussion
Can you imagine any reason whatsoever for the policy on appointments?
What sort of magical powers are required to become a supervisor, enabling one to disregard the reasons from the previous question?
Do you think the supervisor knows about the policy, or is the phone person just making it up?
Who is responsible for this situation: the person who makes the policy, the person who follows the policy, both, neither, or someone else (me, perhaps)?
Bonus Zen Question: If the only appointment offered is at a time the patient cannot attend, has an appointment actually been offered?

(PS - They checked me out, took some X-rays, and I'm scheduled for a 90-minute filling replacement on 7 Nov. Yippee!)

Friday, October 26, 2007

NaNo- No Go...

Well, it looks like I'm not going to be able to do National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year. Kinda bummed about it, but I know it's the right decision.

Previous years I ended up spending around an hour a day, usually very early in the morning. Well, my "very early mornings" are already spoken for, and the rest of the day is pretty doggone full this quarter.

Now, that doesn't mean I'm not going to write - in fact, I'm probably writing more now than ever... but a lot of it is for class.

I'm still hoping to do some work on The Helper In The Sun, but finishing it during the month of November isn't the goal anymore. Maybe next quarter will be easier...

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Welcome to my new blog! It's really just a continuation of the old one at a new address...


Love and Sin

You've probably heard the old addage "Love the sinner, hate the sin."

It hit me the other day that, if you have to chose only one of the two, go with the first part...

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Chik-Fil-A Signage

I love this sign I found near a Chik-Fil-A playground area - yet another example of humanity, humor and common sense. As G.K. Chesterton pointed out, seriousness is not a virtue.