RSS Reader Roundup


For some reason in the last few days, there have been several stories in my reader that particularly interested me almost-but-not-quite enough to write blog posts about them. So instead I’ve been saving them, with the intent to write one post about the various almost-post-worthy topics. And now I am.


• I’m not sure if the person I’m stealing this from would want me linking back, so I’m not, but I liked what they had to say about less-frequent blogging as they’ve been focusing on personal matters — “And some of those thoughts I just don’t post online. There are all sorts of reasons for that quietude: the blog is an editorial board for me, not a journal. The journal is not for broad pubication. It’s none of your d@mned business, which is I’m sure a radical concept in the media-and-data-saturated environment in which we now live. Maybe I have unpleasant things to say. Maybe I don’t feel like hurting people a thousand miles away by broadcasting my irritation with them to strangers ten thousand miles away. In any case, I’ve got other things to do with my time.”

To which I say, bravo. It’s always been an interesting question for me. My previous blog was very impersonal, but this one is frequently personal. But then, there are other personal things that I don’t blog. When does it become too much? When does living out loud turn into pandering? On the other hand, when does it become dishonest to blog around stuff? I’ve written about similar subjects before, and it still intrigues me.


Astronomers are currently studying a nearby supernova, only 21 million light years away. The headline — “it’s exploding right now” — and a bit in the first paragraph — “scientists actually managed to catch the supernova within hours of its explosion” — are misleading. Yes, they’re seeing light from near the beginning of the event. But, based on the speed of light, they’re not seeing something happening right now, they’re seeing something that happened 21 million years ago.

 

And this is one of the big issues I have with young-Earth-creation theories — if the universe is less than, at a minimum, millions of years old, this star is a lie. It never existed. For years, scientists have been looking at a star that never really existed; God just put light en route to Earth to make it look like there had been a star where there never was. And I’m not comfortable with a deceptive God. I’m more comfortable believing the universe is the age God makes it look.


• Speaking of whom, I enjoyed this letter from Sojourn pastor Eric Morgan, excerpted in part:

Because the Lord was with her, Mary was highly favored by God. Because she walked with God and found favor with God, God in-trusted her with a very special gift and task. Mary was the chosen instrument God used to bring (birth) salvation into human history. Jesus, who is fully human and fully divine, came from womb of Mary…  How amazing is that to consider?
The beauty and mystery of the incarnation do not stop with Mary. They are very applicable to you and I. Like Mary, we too are bearers of God by virtue of the Spirit of God that lives within us. Just like Mary, who God used to bring salvation to humanity, God wants to use us, in the same capacity. Because the Spirit of Christ is within us, we have been highly favored to be God-bearers (theotokos) to our world. We are to bear witness of the light of the glorious gospel that will bring salvation to our world.

• I have to share this, too — Report clears NASA shuttle selection process, but doesn’t make Dayton or Houston any happier:

This report, while clearing NASA of any political meddling in its decisionmaking process, did little to assuage those denied an orbiter. An AP article about the decision with the headline “Report: NASA made right picks for retired shuttles” was retitled by a Houston TV station as “Bolden Overrode Retired Shuttles Decision”. That was based on a passage in the report where, in 2009, Bolden rejected a recommendation by a NASA team to award orbiters only to NASA facilities (KSC, Houston, and the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville), saying that he preferred that “the Agency choose locations where the Orbiters would be seen by the largest number of visitors and thus serve NASA’s goal of expanding outreach and education efforts to spur interest in science, technology, and space exploration.”

Alas.

Life On Mars


We have a new Face2Face Improv clip up online, from a scene I did with Jeremy Shelley a while back. We’re supposed to be two astronauts on Mars, and when the host rings the bell, we have to change our last line to something different.

But I also wanted to share the other big Face2Face news — the new Face2Face Improv website is now online!!

I’ll be in a show tonight at Sam & Greg’s Pizzeria and Gelateria across from the courthouse in downtown Huntsville at 7:30 p.m.; we do shows there every Tuesday night. Tickets are $5, with children 8 and under free.

We’re also planning a bigger-format show at Thespis Theater in south Huntsville for Saturday, September 17.

Come join us!


For those that haven’t seen Face2Face before, we’re a comedy improv troupe. We make up scenes on the spot, based on suggestions from the audience. (And for the more timid in the crowd, we don’t bring anyone on stage or force anyone to do anything; you’re more than welcome to just sit back and enjoy the show.) We do a family friendly show of live entertainment. If you’ve ever seen the old ABC show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” we’re kinda like that. Only better.

I can’t embed them here, but there are videos of some of my work with the troupe on Facebook that should be publicly visible. Ticket information for shows is here.

An Ill Wind (Katrina Musings)


(I originally posted this on my blog two years ago; I’ve updated it slightly.)

Me, at the Walls of Jericho

Me, at the Walls of Jericho

I feel a bit guilty for enjoying the experience.

I remember being outside that night. I remember the wind and the rain. I remember how glorious it was — the storm was the embodiment of the raw experience of being in nature, with all its power and majesty. I remember the feeling of the driving wind and the pouring rain, and it seeming glorious. I remember enjoying it.

Elsewhere, people were losing their homes. Elsewhere, people were dying.

That night was Monday, August 29, 2005. The day that Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Six years ago today.

That night, to me, Katrina was the most remote thing in the world. Sure, it was a big deal, but not one that affected me. It was a tragedy, but that tragedy was other people’s problem. When I realized where the wind and rain had come from, I felt somewhat guilty that I had enjoyed something — the remnants of Katrina that blew over Huntsville — that had caused such devastation elsewhere, but that was it. It just wasn’t part of my life.

I first felt the wings of the butterfly that weekend, in the smallest of ways, and, looking back on my attitude, the pettiest. We had made plans for friends in Jackson, Miss,. to come visit that weekend. Given the situation in Jackson, which was still without power and would be for a while, where gasoline was a precious commodity when it could be found at all, and where people were, even that far inland, dealing with substantial damage, my friend decided not to come to Huntsville, and to try to help out there instead. And I, I’m ashamed to admit, was annoyed by the inconvenience. In my defense, I still didn’t get it; still didn’t understand the scope and magnitude of what had happened.

I’m also a bit embarrassed to admit that the next time Hurricane Katrina blew into my life, it was in a positive way. My then-wife Nicole got a job on a state contract working with Katrina evacuees in north Alabama. These were people who had been transported out of New Orleans; basically, they all boarded a bus, and were driven up Interstate 65. Along the way, they were dropped off basically randomly based on how many people could be housed in a given location. Based on the luck of the draw, they might end up somewhere like the cities of Birmingham or Huntsville, or they might end up in a small Alabama town somewhere like Cullman. Nicole’s job was to help those people adjust to life after Katrina, either by helping them get settled in Alabama or by helping them move back home. (I joked at the time that her job was to go around and be Tom Petty for her clients: “You don’t have to live like a refugee.”) It was a good job for her, and a contract that paid rather well.

The next significant time Katrina and I crossed paths was in October 2006, when I visited Stennis Space Center, the first time I’d been to the coast since landfall. It was very odd seeing the changes in Biloxi and Gulfport, where I’d visited several times during my Mississippi days. In some ways, it was hard to believe it had already been a year, in others, it was hard to believe it had only been a year. Some buildings looked like they must have immediately after the hurricane, while others (like, of course, casinos) had impressive new structures designed and built from nothing post-Katrina. It was interesting talking to people at Stennis about how their lives had been, and continued to be, different after Katrina.

Katrina would arguably affect my life substantially at least one more time — the hurricane played some role in my ex-fiancée Susanna moving from her family’s home in Louisiana, and thus very possibly some role in her ending up in Huntsville. Without it, who knows whether we would have ever met. And the wings of the butterfly keep flapping …

So why did I start this post with a picture of me hiking? In the picture, I’m holding a hiking stick, one I bought in May 2006 in Jackson, Miss. I was on the only week-long vacation I had then ever taken in my career, the time and money for which were made possible by Nicole’s state contract job. In an independent coffee shop there, I saw the stick for sale — handcrafted from wood felled during Hurricane Katrina. Given the circumstances that had led to us being there, we just had to buy it. At the time, it was just a memento. I never used it as a hiking stick until last April, when I went for my first real hike, a week after Susanna called off our engagement — the wake of a further ill wind that Katrina had helped blow into my life, years later.

The stick is a reminder — of Katrina, specifically, and all the ways it touched my life, and, in general, that no man is an island, of how something that seems completely remote and unconnected can end up changing one’s life in ways you could never anticipate.

And that even when the winds and rains come, it doesn’t mean it can’t be glorious.

Children Are The Future


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Some things never change.

I started working at the newspaper in Indianola, Miss., The Enterprise-Tocsin, 15 years ago this month.

And because I started working there in mid-August, among the first stories I got to do were the annual new-teacher profiles, which was convenient, because they were very easy stories to do. We gave the school districts a questionnaire to have each teacher fill out, and then typed up their responses.

Most of it was fairly straightforward — name, hometown, education background, previous teaching experience, etc.

But there was question that was designed to be more open-ended, to allow the teachers to show some of their individual personality.

Or so we thought.

What we didn’t realize was that the question had a correct answer.

The question was, “What is your philosophy of teaching?”

We had believed that each teacher would have their own personal philosophy. But it turns out, while there are the occasional renegades here and there, there apparently is one correct philosophy of teaching.

To illustrate this, allow me to share some selected passages from responses in a recent edition of The Enterprise-Tocsin — again, a full decade and a half after I first started typing up this response:

“My philosophy on teaching is that all people are life long learners and that all students have the capability to learn.” — Travis Dent

“I believe in every child and that every child has the ability to learn.” — Natasha Dew

“I believe that all children have the ability to learn regardless of their learning style and their rate of learning.” — Linda Jones-Scales

“My teaching philosophy is that every child can learn and they are our future leaders.” — Felicia Brooks

“My teaching philosophy is that every child can learn and with the right amount of motivation from a teacher and effort on their end, they can succeed in any classroom.” — Kevin Phillips

“I believe each student is a person who wants and deserves to learn.” — Kristina Meyer

“My teaching philosophy is the all students can learn, and that effective teachers can teach all students.” — Donna Marie Donald

“Every one can learn.” — Rebecca Kellner

“My philosophy of teaching is that all students can learn.” — Venetia Dunbar

“I believe every child is unique and different and can learn if we, as educators, take them down an adventurous and innovate path to learning.” — Valerie Stovall

I wish I’d kept the previous week’s edition, which had more teachers just stating directly, “I believe all students can learn” in so many words, but the theme is still very much apparent in that collection.

And I’ve always wondered why it’s that way. Why is there one correct answer? Is it something that just occurs to all teachers naturally, or is there like an Education Philosophy 101 course dedicated entirely to teaching that one bit of data? Regardless, it appears that when it comes to that bit of philosophy, all teachers can learn.

Still Crazy After All These Years


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I remember when Steve Jobs came back.

I was working in Indianola  then, and was still very much one of the Mac faithful, despite it being a very dark time.

There was no reason that his return should have brought hope. Apple was, in fact, in bad shape. (Wired’s famous “Pray” cover was during this era — after Steve’s return, even.) And Steve’s latest venture, NeXT, while apparently technically competent, wasn’t exactly revolutionizing the world. (Nor yet was his side venture, a little company he’d bought from George Lucas named Pixar.)

But bring hope it did.

At first, the signs Apple was different, was more Apple than it had been being, were superficial. For all its grammatical offensiveness, “Think Different” just felt right. As did the underdog-fodder “Here’s To The Crazy Ones.”

And then came the more concrete signs. It was easy to believe change had arrived when the first iMacs appeared, with their convention-defying bubble shape and friendly colors. But we knew things were different when that same design aesthetic started appearing in everything from power strips to kitchen appliances. Apple was relevant again.

Over the next decade, relevant would become an understatement. Apple not only influenced, it shaped and eventually dominated. The company never returned to its first-Steve-era place as the leader of the home computer market. Instead, it made that fact unimportant. Rather than try to recapture that particular market, Apple simply repeated the same trick — creating new markets, and dominating them. And, this time, it learned lessons that had cost it the PC market, and avoided the same mistakes.

We’d been mocked. Now, the Apple logo was ubiquitous, and Apple became the most valuable company in the world. For the faithful, it was vindication. For Steve, I can only imagine.

I have confidence in Tim Cook. He has demonstrated that he can provide strong business leadership for Apple.

And right now, Steve remains on as chairman at Apple. His voice is still present; his insight still contributed.

And this is good.

Because while I have no question that Apple and its current leadership will have no problem maintaining the same levels of business acumen and technological genius, it’s the intangible I worry about.

Steve’s greatest unparalleled and world-changing skill since his return has been the ability to see what is, and to see what it could be. To look at a Walkman and see an iPod. To look at a cell phone and see an iPhone. Apple’s future is ultimately going to rest in whether the company can continue that almost-counter-intuitive innovation.

The news may have struck me differently on a different day, but yesterday, after hearing about the failure of a Soyuz rocket that morning and some of the vagaries of my personal life, it hit me hard when I heard on my way to church last night that Steve had resigned.

And it ultimately came down to this —

The world seems a little less magic.

The Lady And The Panda


Once upon a time there was a little girl who lived with her cruel stepmother and her wicked stepsisters, who made her live like a servant in her own home.

The End.

Not much of a story, is it?

Take away the fairy godmother and the prince and the glass slippers, and Cinderella’s just not that compelling if it never makes it past the beginning.

One of the lost blog posts from earlier this year was a comparison of the philosophies of Lady Gaga and Kung Fu Panda. Which one more closely reflects who you are and who you want to be?

Earlier this year, I went to a Sugarland concert, and one of the opening acts, Little Big Town, did a cover of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way. Other than finding it more agreeable than the original, which, to be fair, I had limited experience with, I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought until a few days later, when I was watching Kung Fu Panda 2, which is awesome.

And the thought occurred to me that a phenomenal amount of how you take life is rooted in whether you believe Lady Gaga or Po.

I’m all for the idea that all men are created equal, so, to that extent, I’ll agree with Lady Gaga. Where she loses me, though, is the idea that “I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way.”

And, you know, she seems to be doing well enough for herself. If she was raised believing she was a superstar and stayed on that track, then it seems to have paid off for her, and good for her.

But we’re not all raised superstars. We’re not all born that way. And, sometimes in life, we find ourselves at points of wishing we could be someone else.

And we reach those points, if all we have is the way we were born, if all we have is who we are and who we’ve been, we don’t have much.

As the soothsayer in Kung Fu Panda 2 tells Po, “Your story may not have such a happy beginning but that doesn’t make you who you are — it is the rest of your story, who you choose to be.”

Our stories are important. But every day that goes by becomes only the prologue of the story yet to be told.

Po reaches inner peace when he finally realizes. By the end, he tells his foe, “You’ve got to let go of that stuff from the past, because it just doesn’t matter . The only thing that matters is what you choose to be now.”

It’s a story that’s told constantly through the Bible. “But I’m just a ….” No, you’re not.

Someone I knew used to have on her blog a tagline about aspiring to be who you were born to be.

I have no desire to be who I was born to be. I don’t want to stop at the beginning. I want to be better.

When you reach the point where you wish you could be someone else, do it. Be someone better. Be yourself, better than you’ve ever been.

“Nothing’s unstoppable except for me when I’m stopping you from telling me something’s unstoppable!” — Po

Eats, Shoots And Leaves


A panda walks into a restaurant, sits down and orders a sandwich. After he finishes eating the sandwich, the panda pulls out a gun and shoots the waiter, and then stands up to go. “Hey!” shouts the manager. “Where are you going? You just shot my waiter and you didn’t pay for your sandwich!”

The panda yells back at the manager, “Hey man, I am a PANDA! Look it up!”

The manager opens his dictionary and sees the following definition for panda: “A tree-dwelling marsupial of Asian origin, characterised by distinct black and white colouring. Eats shoots and leaves.”

OK, so that really has nothing to do with this post, save that it’s a great grammar-nerd joke, and that on Friday I did eat, shoot and leave. (And it gives me two panda-related posts in three days, which is probably a first for the blog.)

A couple of weeks ago, my good friends Caleb and Lauren McPherson were helping me come up with an idea for an awesome birthday celebration. Ultimately, they succeeded nicely, but one of the ideas Caleb had got tabled for a couple of weeks due to waiting for a place to do it.

You see, Caleb had discovered that I had never actually fired a real gun, and decided that should be remedied. And so, on Friday, it was, rather nicely.

We headed over to Athens that morning; they have some friends that live … well, as one of them put it, “find the middle of nowhere, and go another three miles from there, and you’ll find it.” We started the day at the Farmers Market, which I mention only because I include some pictures from there in the gallery below because they were pretty.

If I recall correctly, I fired a total of five different weapons. While I did learn some basics (largely safety), I’m still too unsavvy to try to explain everything. We went from a 9mm pistol on the small side (which was one of my favorites), to the Soviet “Mosin” on the large. There was a rifle with a nice scope that made absolutely no difference in my ability to hit things. (Which varied by weapon. I was able to hit a foot-wide target from a decent distance with one; with another, I took down a small tree well behind the target area. Whoops.)

My favorite, both to fire and for being able to say that I have fired it, was the Kalashnikov. Even as a complete tyro, the fact that I was firing an AK-47 was just rather cool. After emptying a magazine, I got them to let me try it again with the stock collapsed so I could fire it from the hip. My accuracy was no good, but, really, at that point, who cares? Plus, now that, at different times, I’ve fired a Kalashnikov and smoked a Cuban cigar, I have a decent resumé in case, for any reason, I ever need to become a communist revolutionary. Which, really, if those are any indicator, wouldn’t be that bad.

Viva la revolucion!