Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I Can't Live by Rules - I Live by Prayers

The Rules to Live By in this life are pretty simple. I like the Ten Commandments. Follow them and you’re probably going to be okay. I mean really follow them; don’t just pretend.

If your heart’s not in these, then you might be in trouble. You could resort to the shortened version of Rules to Live By from Luke 10:27. “And He answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” (KJV)
From The Life of Jesus Christ by J.J.Tissot, 1899
That isn’t all that easy either, though. Sometimes it’s all I can do to love myself.
For Rules to Live By, though, I was most excited to find Micah 6:8, my favorite verse. “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (KJV) The nice thing about that one is that there are three simple things to do and you can fulfill God’s requirements. This single verse is worth its own discussion.

No matter what I do, I can’t seem to consistently do what is right. So I need The Prayer in my life.
My Darling Wife taught me this prayer. She didn’t mean to teach me the prayer, but I heard her pray it a number of times and it stuck.
The prayer is simple. The prayer is direct. The prayer is almost as good as my own favorite prayer, which is simply “God help me” (one that I use a lot).
Here is her prayer, and now mine. “Lord, if I’ve done wrong, please show me. If they’ve done wrong, please show them.”
There’s a lot of power in this prayer, and the results are rarely comfortable. I remind myself that an honest man is willing to look at his own faults. I suspect my faults are so glaring I am the last to see them.
So whenever I have a disagreement with Darling, which is seldom, I’ll sputter and growl and eventually say this prayer. (I suspect she is saying the same prayer at the same time!) After some time I’ll go and apologize for my behavior.
And that’s okay. As long as I’m willing to be wrong – and make amends – I think my heart is in the right place. When I am no longer willing to say that simple prayer and abide by the answer then I’m in trouble.
Because I sure can’t live up to the Rules to Live By.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Six-Book Trilogies and Vernon's Corollary

Though I don’t watch the HBO series The Game of Thrones my oldest son persuaded me to read the books. I bought the first four books for the Kindle™ so I can read them on my phone and iPad, anywhere. Each device keeps track of my latest reading location. Fantastic!

From Wikipedia, the books so far

The novels are collectively referred to as A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. The five available books are A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. The novels are captivating, and the writing is good, but I find myself wishing it was a tighter story.
This isn’t the first time I’ve thought that.

From Wikipedia. I loved this cover.

In 1990 a book called the Eye of the World captured my imagination. Written by James Oliver Rigney, Jr under the pen name of Robert Jordan, this book catapulted me into The Wheel of Time universe and in the following two years I read the next three books with delight. Then I stopped, for two reasons. Firstly, the time between books became annoying. As the lag went from months to years I tended to forget what happened previously. More worrisome to me was that the story continued to grow. What was originally a six book series continued to expand. A story that originally centered around a few kingdoms expanded to encompass continents. At the time of Jordan’s death in 2007, eleven books were published. Brandon Sanderson was brought on board to complete the series with a final three books, the last to be released in 2012.

From Wikipedia, the paperback version.

In 1997 it happened again. Terry Goodkind released the paperback version of Wizard’s First Rule and I was hooked. Drawn into the fantasy realm of The Sword of Truth series I eagerly read the next three books, but fell prey to the same malady as before. The time between books caused me to lose my reading momentum and the world was growing, the story becoming larger instead of coming to a close.

The One Ring rang true, then the story ended. Epic.

The beauty of The Lord of the Rings was that it was a trilogy. When I first read it I actually started with the second book. I didn’t know any better - I don’t think I knew what a trilogy was then. The story had boundaries, and even though each book was long, there was no time lag between reading each part. An epic story, an epic cast, and an epic ending.
So I’m a big fan of well-written stories, and even enjoy the epic ones. And though there might be a lot of people who are interested in the generation by generation history of a fictional realm, I’m not. I don’t know the history of my own world that well; why do I want a detailed history of an author-created world? Give me enough to support the story, perhaps a trifle more, but when the story ends, let it end. That’s Vernon’s Twenty-first Rule of Verbiage, and it’s a good one.
Perhaps I need Vernon’s Corollary: If a trilogy is six books long, that’s probably five books too many.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Maine Made My Heart Sad

About a year ago I read an article about Maine. The author, Bob Wasserman, is a fellow Mensan, though we’ve never met. The tagline on the article was “After 25 years of losing himself as an engineer stuck in cubeville, it was time for this Mensan to rediscover the joys of being alive, even if it meant going it alone.”

He says he loves to write, that writing is his passion.

I was looking in a mirror, darkly.

I’ve been working so long now that I know of a lot of people who died before me, though only a few at the workplace. As I listened to the air recirculation motors and squinted my eyes at the fluorescent lights above me, I thought, for just a moment, that I was in the beginning of the movie “Joe versus the Volcano” and could feel my life sucked out of me.
A Volcano freed Tom Hanks

When he stated in his article that he had a serious case of Nature Deficit Disorder, I understood exactly what he meant. So I read his article and looked at the dust-colored cube walls that surround me and my heart almost stopped.
We seek the peace, the freedom.

Bob talked about how he stayed outside for months, sometimes even sleeping outdoors, to reclaim his roots, his link to nature. The air, the food, the movement, the absolute freedom brought joy to him. Reading about it struck a knife through my heart. I yearned to go to Maine, to chop wood in the cool air, to eat the strawberries and walk to town for fresh-baked bread.

And then my heart stopped once again, and I returned to work. Just like today.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Free Posts

Over the years I have written a lot of stuff, most of it just bits and pieces. Now that I am committed to a schedule for posting blogs, there will no doubt be some days when I have little to say - I'm out of words. On those days I'll reach back into my archives and pull out something that was salvaged from my past, or partially salvaged. I've done that twice so far, one with a post about Deming and one with a post about the unknown continuation of Jabberwocky (by me).
Jabberwocky Creatures, from Wikipedia

I have written accounts of most of my school years. They may not interest anyone (except me and possibly my children) but since I'm the only one reading this blog (hello? Anyone there? Anyone? ... Anyone at all?) it doesn't really matter, so they are potential grist on those lean days.

This isn't my old schoolhouse in Burnside, MI, but it could be

I won't post any today. Well, except for this. And since it is less than 300 words, it's a good post, by declaration.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Rocket Science

Before coming to work on the International Space Station (ISS) I worked in one of the specialty chemical companies along what is affectionately known as “Chemical Row,” a section of highway not far from where I currently live. This section of the Gulf Coast is a major petrochemical area, so a lot of people work in the industry.

I worked there for seventeen years, as a young engineer in a lot of different areas. One of my bosses from there, a very clever guy, is now CEO of the Corporation and is about to make about a hundred million dollars on a buyout, give or take a few million. Crazy stuff. 

But the ISS had appeal for the glamour of the job as well as the technical challenges. I was here when the first part of the Station went up, when the first section was manned. I am still here now that the Shuttle isn’t flying any more. 

That won’t last long, I guess. NASA won’t need most of us, and they’ll downsize more of us. This area really is full of rocket scientists. The really good ones, willing to leave, will find work elsewhere. The rest of us will hang on until we are let go. That means an earlier retirement than I planned, but not necessarily an unwelcome one. It’s a challenge, and I like challenges.

So my buddy and I started writing apps for the iPhone (iFamily, really – iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad) and we like doing it. Our first app was finally approved and I used what little social media skills I had to send the word out, but we’ve managed to sell less than ten apps. We didn’t even hit double digits. 

I confess to some measure of disappointment here. We worked for a few months on the programming and learned a lot, but it was the business side that was kicking me around the block. I mention that a bit in a previous blog post

It would be nice to be interviewed. I sent a note to my daughter about it. I don’t know what other interview questions might be asked, but I know the one I’d want to end with.

So, ultimately, what is your goal with application development?
That’s a tough question. Right now I work for a contractor for NASA, but the job situation here is perilous. We expect, now that the Shuttle is no longer flying, that most of us will be laid off in the next year or so. What I was hoping was that I could develop another means of support, but there’s more than just the technical aspects of creating apps. There’s sales and marketing and an entire business side that is difficult to fathom. This application development isn’t easy stuff. It’s not like it’s Rocket Science, you know.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Writer's Rules: Vernon's Rules of Verbiage

A few years ago I came up with some rules for writers. Since the age of ten I've written things. Usually snippets. Most are lost in the waste left over from too many moves, too many new destinations, too few fresh starts. When computers came around I used the new technology to accumulate some writings, but most of those are lost as well, vanished in crashed drives or moved computers. 

My daughter writes. She writes well. My youngest brother writes. He writes well. His stories captivate me. At this time neither one is published. Neither am I. 

Somewhere in my fuzzy brain, after one too many discussions of stories and plots, I drafted some rules to follow when writing. I have one rule when discussing writing with other writers.

Our pact as writers - give the honest appraisal and be nice. (The short form: No BS) 

I also crafted three simple rules for developing a good story. It's generic, but it works.

1. Create a great, but imperfect main character. Know where he/she comes from, how they think, what they like, what they dislike. Give them strong moral fiber and unwavering principles.

2. Create a world or situation which conflicts with the character. This is the tension that drives the story.

3. Resolve the tension. 

I then wrote out a list of rules to follow, for which I still await feedback from other writers, but I think I covered them all. 

Vernon's First Rule of Verbiage: Write. A writer writes.
Vernon's Second Rule of Verbiage: Be a story-teller first, a writer second.
Vernon's Third Rule of Verbiage: Fiction is hard. It must be more believable than real life.
Vernon's Fourth Rule of Verbiage: Make the story matter.
Vernon's Fifth Rule of Verbiage: You're not the reader; you're the writer.
Vernon's Sixth Rule of Verbiage: Think like the reader.
Vernon's Seventh Rule of Verbiage: Don't confuse or vex the reader. 
Vernon's Eighth Rule of Verbiage: If the story bores you, the story will bore the reader.
Vernon's Ninth Rule of Verbiage: You can suspend reality for a story, but be internally consistent.
Vernon's Tenth Rule of Verbiage: When the reader sees the profound, smile and be thankful.
Vernon's Eleventh Rule of Verbiage: Sometimes two dimensional characters are necessary.
Vernon's Twelfth Rule of Verbiage: Every character deserves a unique identity.
Vernon's Thirteenth Rule of Verbiage: Create an imperfect great character.
Vernon's Fourteenth Rule of Verbiage: The main characters must have unwavering principles behind their actions.
Vernon's Fifteenth Rule of Verbiage: A good villain is just as important as the hero.
Vernon's Sixteenth Rule of Verbiage: If you want to put it in while writing, do it.
Vernon's Seventeenth Rule of Verbiage: If a character introduces himself/herself while writing, go ahead and include him/her in the story (if they fit).
Vernon's Eighteenth Rule of Verbiage: Take it out if it doesn't fit, no matter how cute you think it is.
Vernon's Nineteenth Rule of Verbiage: Grammar is important.
Vernon's Twentieth Rule of Verbiage: Main characters can die, but there should be a good reason.
Vernon's Twenty-first Rule of Verbiage: When the story ends, let it end.

I revised the rules a few times, but they are pretty stable now. For now, they’ll do.

Really, the first rule is the hardest. No BS.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

To understand the present, try to understand the past

When the Nazi war machine rolled over Poland it overcame stiff resistance in the city of Lodz. On September 8, 1939 the Polish forces in Lodz were defeated and Lodz became Litzmannstadt. As in many other Polish cities, the German inhabitants welcomed the Reich with open arms, paving the way to become the influential citizens of the city. The native Polish residents were now second-class citizens. The Jewish inhabitants fared even less well.

We don't know much about Hertha's life when she was younger. She was a young girl when the invasion occurred, merely 14 years old, pretty and part of a moderately wealthy family. Life for her continued almost normally for a few more years. Only a few times did the change of leadership impact her directly. She told the story, years later, of seeing a young Jewish girl severely beaten by other townspeople and trying to help the girl. Even as an old woman, when she told this story she wept. 

Litzmannstadt provided fabric goods for the Nazis during these years, with labor supplied by the ghetto occupants. Because of this, the Lodz ghetto was the second largest Jewish ghetto in Poland, with over 200,000 local Jews and more brought in by rail. Many ghetto inhabitants left by rail also.

There are few artifacts from that time. We do have one photo which shows a young Hertha with her family.

We don’t know how much the war affected young Hertha. We do know that she took a fancy to a wealthy older man, owner of several of the mills around town. Born in 1907, Adolf was eighteen years her senior, but she caught his eye. In 1943, at the age of 18 Hertha married Adolf. They moved into his estate house near one of his larger mills, a pond outside the front door.

We don’t know how long they had to enjoy their time together before the house became headquarters for a new group of people. The Nazi commander and his men took the house over, and, as Hertha said many times in the following decades, they made her a servant in her own home.

The Nazis were not good men. They shot people on a whim. They fished in the pond with dynamite. They treated Adolf with disdain and more than once attacked him in fits of anger. Hertha was a young woman. We have few stories of this time. We do know that at one point some of the other servants overheard the commander discussing with his men the plan to kill Adolf, then, eventually, Hertha as well. That night Adolf and Hertha bundled themselves in as many layers of clothing as they could and became refugees, fleeing to the part of Germany that was controlled by the Allies. Aside from the few things they could carry, they left everything behind.

We don’t know precisely when they left. We do know they were in a German refugee area in 1941, because we have a doctor's record for Adolf.

The Allies arrived a few months too late in Litzmannstadt to preserve the life that Adolf and Hertha planned to build.

Penniless and homeless, refugees in the small German town of Oberkirchen, Adolf and Hertha started a family. Though there was not much need for a Master Miller, Adolf was also a skilled carpenter, as well as a capable man with anything mechanical. His sons would inherit his skills.

In the early 1950s a small church community in Texas paid for Adolf, Hertha and their three sons to come to Texas. For a few years they lived in a small town north of the city of Houston.

In the late 1950s their family was complete and they were settled in Houston as home. We do have a photo of Hertha and all her children, probably from the early 1960s.
Hertha, her four sons and Darling
My story with Frau starts decades later.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Humility, or Proud to be Humble

Humility is a very misunderstood form of Grace in one's heart.

Thinking less of yourself than is legitimate is not humility. In a perverse sort of way, it is a pride. Thinking more of yourself than is legitimate is, indeed, false pride. What we want is a balance, or as is stated in Romans "Do not think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but think so as to have sound judgement, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith."

In the sermon today I heard that God won't use someone with the best skills, but will always find someone who is humble.

Anything we have can be taken away from us. Our looks (which will fade with time), our intelligence (I knew a brilliant man who could barely tie his shoes after his car accident), and our relationships (and we all know that one). But what cannot be taken away is what God gives us freely, a relationship with Him.

So be careful of pride. It strikes the young, who are invulnerable. It strikes the elder, who have served long and faithfully and now feel entitled.

Be grateful for all the gifts God gave you. Use them to benefit others and not to promote yourself.

I have to remind myself that every day.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Reason Rightly or Do Wrongly

There is a post on the Escape from America Magazine site titled “Do you want to Become an Expat Retiree for the Right Reasons?

The author offers ten good reasons to become an Expat. I’ll paraphrase.
Fascinated by other cultures
Willing to leave loved ones
Willing to learn another language
Willing to use alternative transportation
Willing to shop differently
Have a sense of adventure, especially for food
Willing to deal with cultural diversity, which might seem like adversity
You are self-sufficient
You love new cultures and being part of them
You want to assimilate.

Ignoring the political commentary, since I’m not sure I agree, but that’s okay, the author offers a list of NOT good reasons to become an Expat.
The USA is headed for fiscal disaster and you want to avoid it
The value of the US Dollar is collapsing, and the economy is tanking
The USA is becoming Socialist
Your white race is being diluted by immigrants
The UN is taking over the USA
NAFTA is destroying the USA
The government wants to take all your guns
We pay too much tax, and our tax money is misspent
The USA is becoming a police state
You want to get away from the author (and those like him)

The key lesson here is to make sure you’re leaving the US for the right reasons. I get that. I like the USA. For one thing, I spent over half a century becoming acclimated to the culture and the people, diverse as they are. I like the freedoms this country has to offer. Now I could blather on how our freedoms are being compromised, but I guess if we don’t fight to retain them, we deserve to lose them.

So ignoring the politics (trying to ignore the politics) in the article, it seems simple.
Move to another country if you are willing to immerse yourself in another culture, and become part of it. 
Don’t move to another country if you want to avoid financial pain. Financial pain follows you!

When I was a much younger fellow, not even a full-grown man, I wanted to move to other countries and walk through them, assimilating the culture and becoming as much a native as I could. I still think I’d like to do that. But I confess it is the financial that motivates me right now.

What I’d like to do is afford to retire somewhere in the USA. My concern (and the focus of International Living Magazine, an entirely different site) is that I cannot afford to retire in the USA and might want to find somewhere else to retire. Might NEED to find somewhere else to retire, or I won't be able to retire. But maybe that isn’t enough…

I don’t know. As usual, I ponder and ponder.

And someday, Lord willing and prayerfully hoping I am physically able, perhaps I’ll do a walkabout through another country. And maybe they won’t know I’m not a native after a while.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Well, it's a prime, but not prime time for Apple submissions ...

I am struggling with our APP submission to Apple. Let me back up.

A few months back my buddy Rex and I, along with Darling, decided to venture into the crazy world of application programming. We had an idea that seemed like it would be good - we still have that idea - but it was beyond our meagre programming abilities at that point. 

Nevertheless, we came up with a project that uses only a fraction of the capabilities of the iPhone but allowed us to step in and program. We based it on a spreadsheet I wrote years ago.

The spreadsheet generates random technical sentences. Every engineer I worked with thought they were funny. Expanding on that idea we created Techno-Jargon. Mathematically it has over 100 MILLION unique sentences it can generate. We have a list of 102 adverbs, 103 subject phrases, 100 verbs and 100 object phrases. So do the math. In practice, though, the adverbs only add a bit of flavor to the phrase. The verb can make it funny, but there are quite a few verbal variations that are similar. Still, the subject and object phrases are hilarious, so there are at least 10,000 sentences with some substance. Some even make sense.

My daughter Elizabeth provided all the adverbs, verbs and phrases, using the Systems Engineering pages on the internet as fodder.

Nonsensical or not, the sentences take some head-scratching to figure out.

o When successful, the precedent set by the company's employees perpetuates the total system rationale.
o Predictably, organizational process standardization fully comprehends the emulation of essential characteristics previously noted.
o In case of unforeseen consequences, the intensification of testing methods detects the philosophy of commonality and standardization.

I took those directly from the company website at

So here was the project plan, simplified version:
Concurrently A) write the program and B) make an official company (Undefined Logic, LLC).
Get a bank account. 
Get authorized by Apple. 

By then we had two apps done and a third in work, though that was mostly due to Rex's persistence. I was busy doing Apple stuff and web pages and Darling (President Darling, actually) was handling the bank stuff.

Last Friday Apple approved us as developers and I thought we could have the first app submitted by Saturday. What with code-signing and certificates, etc, etc, etc I am not able to get the thing to Apple. So now I am recoding it in the new version XCode 4.02 and hoping I can get all the certifications lined up. 

This isn't what I wanted to do - I wanted to learn the coding, but I guess there's paperwork in every task, and that's what is bogging me down.

I'll stop now; I have an error in the code, even though it is almost a direct copy. Wait, that's technical. I guess I do get to code! 

<Update: I did figure out the technical problem. The code needed to have a Framework added to it - something Rex figured out in the first working iteration. The program is now completely rebuilt and functional once again. I still have errors submitting to Apple!>

<Update again at 11:30 PM. I just need long stretches of quiet, I guess. All issues are resolved, app is uploaded and Waiting for Review! Thank you, Good Lord, for watching out over me. 
It should be easier next time, but the process was so convoluted this time, I'm not sure what I did right and what I did wrong! I need a better process flow! 
At least all my Debug and Release codesigns are finally good!>

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Prime Number Days

Being neglectful of my blog has bothered me somewhat. Not as much as it might, considering I have other things on my plate, but enough that I’ve decided I need a blogging schedule and should stick to it. Therefore, after much consideration and rumination, I will make a post on every day of the month that is a prime number.

Not counting the number 1, since by definition, one isn’t a prime number. This will force me to make numerous posts at the beginning of the month, when, supposedly, I have more energy. This is a total fallacy, since the beginning and end of months have little meaning to me anymore.

However, one must make some sort of schedule, and this is it, by personal decree.

Today is the second, therefore a prime number, hence a post.

My workplace has had a thirty-day challenge for physical fitness. Not being the most physically of the fit, I did finish a bit over my goal of five thousand steps a day. That isn’t much, and for younger people out there it is entirely laughable, but it is an accomplishment and qualifies me for the company prizes. I want to win the lounge chair.

Most of the “steps” were converted from riding my bike. I don’t ride far, and I don’t ride fast, but I do ride, as long as the temperature is less than 95 degrees F when I get home from work. Which rules today out. If I don’t ride when I get home, I usually get busy and don’t ride at all.

Our company was approved as an Apple Developer last week. That was cool. So UNDEFINED LOGIC, LLC is functional. We have an APP ready to go, and I cannot get the certificates and authorities and the stars and moon and sun to align so that I can submit the stupid program! I didn’t sign up to do the business end of this operation – I wanted to learn to code so that I could implement my ideas. However there are only three of us working for the company and I am the one who got stuck with it. Once I get the first one submitted it should be easier and I can go back to learning how to do the coding.

One other minor note and I’m done for the first of the Primes. Things are tight in the Aerospace world. Apparently they are worse than I originally thought.

A NASA automatic system notification email was distributed to some employees with the subject line:  “ATTENTION: Your identity will expire in 60 days.”  All employees are to disregard this notification.  No action is required.

So now even our identities are at risk!