Power Source (Prayer Devotional for the week of October 13, 2013)

Back in the day when the only thing cell phones did was make calls (Gasp! I know, right?), the kids were given a hand-me-down phone to play with after the owner upgraded to a newer model. The battery had been removed, and it was useless for any practical purpose, but they enjoyed playing make-believe with it. (Come to think of it, my brother and I also used to play telephone make-believe, except we used hairbrushes and bananas, because the one phone in the house was attached to the wall.)

Anyway, the point is that without battery power and a service plan, a mobile phone is worthless. It doesn’t matter how many cool apps you’ve downloaded or how tech-savvy you are; if you have no power, then it might as well be a rotary dial.

Our faith can look a lot like that dead cell phone example, can’t it? Some of us may have received hand-me-down religion from our parents or grandparents, but without a personal connection to the Power source, second-hand faith gets us nowhere. Others of us may have started off our faith-walk on a good foot, but somewhere along the way, our batteries have drained, and we’ve lost reception. Sometimes we hold the phone to our ear and pretend like everything is hunky-dory, but it’s just a façade – and we don’t want others to see through our make-believe.

Acts 1:8 promises that the Holy Spirit will lend his power when we walk with the Lord, but real life doesn’t have a Wi-Fi heads-up display to let us know how in tune we are with God. There is no handy-dandy battery icon to show when we need a spiritual recharge. It’s something that we need to do regularly, like getting in the habit of plugging in your phone before you go to bed each night. If we stay charged by reading God’s Word and having conversation with him in prayer, then when he calls us (pun intended), we’ll be in tune to listen.

Google Reader blues

I made a comment on Twitter yesterday that I took a vacation day, and Google Reader announced closure. You’d think I could take one day off and the world wouldn’t come to a screeching halt! LOL

Seriously, though – I have 211 subscriptions in my Reader feed. Granted, I don’t read them all daily (or even weekly, and typically I just skim/scroll through headlines), but it is my main way of compartmentalizing RSS news and blogs. I have categories for higher ed, research, general news, personal interest, writing resources, food blogs, updates from friends in ministry and other favorite blogs. Several of the feeds are inactive, so at least this transition will be a good time to take care of some housekeeping.

It’s a minor inconvenience to have to find another RSS tool, but it’s not the end of the world. What’s silly is that one of the first things I wanted to do when I heard about Google’s announcement was to pick up the phone and call my brother to ask his advice. Four-plus years after he died, and I still think of him for tech support. 🙂

Alas, I’ll just have to be a big girl and do some research on my own while I keep an ear out for reviews and recommendations for other RSS readers. If you have suggestions, I welcome your ideas!

Voyager and our own journey (Prayer Devotional for the week of September 16, 2012)

Something remarkable is going to happen within the next year. In 1977, NASA launched two probes named Voyager 1 & 2 to explore our solar system, and – eventually – beyond it. Well, eventually has arrived. These two spacecraft are about to enter interstellar space.

Voyager 1 & 2, whose computers pack a miniscule 80 kilobytes of memory (80 kB is smaller than a typical digital photo), have provided scientists here on Earth with invaluable data about our outer planets. Even after all these years, the spacecraft still send daily information back to Earth.

Pause a moment and wrap your head around this: For the first time ever, something that human beings made will exit the solar system.

It is an extraordinary accomplishment, and something for which the scientists should be rightfully proud. And yet, we still know so little about our universe. Earth is just a speck of dust when compared to even our own Milky Way (where our Sun is one of roughly 400 billion stars), much less the farthest reaches of space.

Here at Crossroads, we are launching a sermon series today on finding balance in life. It seemed fitting to begin our prayer devotional for this topic with a candid reminder of just how insignificant we really are, in the grand scheme of the universe. So, when it seems like the whole world is coming to a stand-still because the drive-thru barista got your complicated latte order incorrect, a client yelled at you, your boss blamed you, only a few folks “liked” your weekly negative Monday morning Facebook post and you just don’t know how you can make it through another week, reflect on the psalmist’s words:

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,  what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-4, NIV)

As much as we may wish that the world revolved around us, it simply doesn’t. We may feel like Voyager 1 & 2, whose outdated software pales in comparison to today’s technological gizmos, and yet look at what they are accomplishing! It may have taken 35 years, but these spacecraft are hurtling out of the Sun’s gravitational grasp. When it feels like your own journey is off-kilter, remember the One who will never, ever let you out of his grasp. “He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit” (Psalm 147:4-5, NIV).

DIY bunkbed repair

I’m filing this under the “Techie” category, simply because I’m so proud of myself for making it work! 🙂

Use toothpicks to fill stripped wood screw holes!

Four of the boys sleep on bunkbeds, and the eldest has his own futon. One of the bunkbeds has a metal frame, and the other is wood. I’ve noticed in recent weeks that the wood bed was getting wobbly, so I decided to investigate this weekend. I tried tightening the bolts (2 on each corner, so 8 total), and 6 out of the 8 were stripped!!

That was really scary, and I said an earnest thank-you prayer that the bed didn’t fall apart with someone (or two someones!) on it. The bolts are about 4″ long, so they would have had to wiggle a lot to work their way out, but still … something had to be done immediately.

I Googled “how to fix stripped wood screw” and was directed to a page with some great DIY tips. I decided to try the toothpick trick, and it worked!

Reinsert the bolt and torque it down; the toothpicks work as shims to fill in the stripped hole.

In essence, you insert 2-3 toothpicks into the stripped hole, then reinsert the bolt and torque it down till it’s good and snug. I did go ahead and disassemble the bunkbed and made it into two twin beds, because the boys were getting tired of the bunkbed, anyway, and I figured there would be less pressure on the bolts this way.

P.S. Super huge thanks to my almost-13yo who helped me separate the top & bottom bunks! It was certainly not a one-person job, and with my gimp knee, I was doing good just to get up off the floor from working on the bolts! 🙂

Ta-da! Nice & snug bolt!

Don’t panic …

Hearkening to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, one of the most quotable lines in sci-fi fandom is: “Don’t Panic and Carry a Towel.” If you haven’t read the book, then it won’t make much sense (and even if you have read the book, it still takes a bit of imagination!). The premise seems to be: Don’t panic, because there is always a logical solution or a way out.

I’m in the middle of a huge transition that makes me want to grab hold of my figurative towel like a security blanket. Gears are in motion; processes are processing out of my control. I’m along for the ride, hoping and praying that I won’t be left holding the bag (or my towel, as it were) when the dust settles. I feel confident that the pieces will fall into place, though there are still many what-ifs to deal with.

As I get older, I realize more and more that our Almighty God is a God of “what-ifs.” Even when I wonder how things will work out in the end, I know that I need to trust and obey. I’d like to think that I’m getting better at trusting and obeying, but I suppose it depends on the situation … it’s a lot easier to “obey” when the end result seems to be all in your favor. It’s a lot more difficult when sacrifices are involved.

Even still, I trust him. I have to! I can’t do this thing we call “life” all on my own strength and cunning plans … I have to trustingly rely on his will to come to pass. And, if I’m in his will, then it will all work out, in the end.

What Am I Worth?

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock this week, with no Internet connection and only the sound of crickets to keep you company, you’ve probably heard a little news story about Facebook going public today. After the company’s opening trade on the NASDAQ this morning, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is said to be worth upwards of $20 billion (<<that’s a “B”).

Let’s see … once you subtract my student loans, the mortgage and one car note from my “assets” (we’ll throw in life insurance & retirement savings, for good measure), then hopefully my net worth is slightly higher than zero.

It makes me uncomfortable to hear all the talk about how much Zuckerberg is “worth.” I don’t know the guy, personally, so this is just my very distanced impression of him, but he seems pretty down-to-earth. From what I understand, he’s dated the same gal for years, so he doesn’t strike me as a ladies’ man. He goes against the grain of traditional office attire (something I don’t have the guts to do, since unlike him, I’m not the CEO). He seems like a typical Gen-Y young adult.

Sure, he’s filthy rich … he was even before this morning’s IPO … but is that what he’s worth?

Although it sounds appealing to be independently wealthy and not have a financial care in the world, I don’t think I would like the attention that comes with it. I don’t ever want to be defined in dollar terms. My self-worth is defined by far more than how much (or how little) money is in my checking, savings and retirement accounts. And, as much as I want my kids to grow up and have successful careers, it is more important to me that they find a meaningful life passion. Teaching, ministry and many other careers have invaluable “worth” that goes far beyond dollars.

IT & A/V Tech

Dear Nathan,

You would be so totally stinkin’ proud of me right now! I wish I could pick up the phone and call you to brag. I’m thinking about adding IT & A/V Tech to my resume. 🙂

In addition to clearing out three large bookcases, all of the boys’ school papers and random cr@p that they’ve collected in the study because it seemed special at the time, we also had to disassemble the computers in the study and electronics in the living room (ie, tv room) in preparation for the flooring work this week. (They moved the furniture, but it had to be emptied, and they don’t handle electronics. Fair enough!) The new laminate floor looks so nice, and it will be much easier to maintain than carpet.

Mama came over after dinner tonight and supervised the younger three as they restocked the two kids’ bookshelves, while Nos. 1 & 2 helped me rewire the house. I say “the house” because we literally reconnected everything: the cable box, modem, wireless router, video game consoles, Tivo, dvd player & surround sound speakers (which had previously only worked when the dvd player was on, but I made it so that they work with the tv!). We had to try a couple of different configurations to get the audio working properly, but honestly, we had it up and going in a surprisingly short period of time!

I was so impressed with us. We whooped and cheered for ourselves when the tv came on – in color, with sound – and all of the peripheral devices seemed to work. The surround sound thing was a bonus accomplishment.

I may not be able to move tomorrow from all the bending, leaning, crawling around and carrying relatively heavy things, but it was worth it. I’m back online; we have tv again; and the boys can play video games. The digital world in which we live is, once again, in balance. 😉

I even took some of my big-lil’ brother’s advice and twist-tied the slack wires to help keep them organized. (See — I did listen to you … sometimes!) Seriously, though – you can act like it’s no big deal, because you could’ve totally done it right the first time (yeah, yeah – I know), but I can see right through you … I know you’re proud of me. 🙂

I love you & miss you each and every day.

P.S. Guess what we found as we were stacking books? Surviving Fights With Your Brothers & Sisters. Heehee … Mama suggested that we add it to our devotional/reading time before bed, and I agreed. I don’t know how much it really helped us change our behavior back in the day, but at least we were more mindful of how mean we were to each other (mostly you toward me, of course! Heh)! 😉

Wednesday Words: The Art & Science of Management

For my class on Human Resources Management this semester, we had to break up into teams of 4-5 for various group assignments and a huge collaborative term paper. The catch was that out of a list of about 8 topics, none of them could overlap (not the team topic nor our individual topics). So, with a team of five, that left little wiggle room for selections. At any rate, I ended up with Compare & contrast: the art & science of management.

We just finished our term paper in the last couple of days, which means now I can focus almost totally on my own paper. (We do have one more group assignment due in a week, but I opted to write the conclusion, so I don’t have to fret about it just yet.) I normally would begin working on term papers much sooner than now; in fact, I worked out a detailed schedule after the holidays in an effort to stay on track this semester. As it turned out, though, I made great headway on my assignments for my other class, so  I focused on finishing those early, rather than trying to do papers for two classes simultaneously. So, now I have less than three weeks to write 20+ pages.  O.o

I’m looking at perspectives on philanthropy from the “art” and “science” angles. Specifically, I’m exploring some management models that I think can be helpful for nonprofit organizations as they try to adapt to new technologies, which can impact their fundraising efforts. If you’ve followed my research at all (and I totally don’t blame you if you haven’t, even though I find it fascinating), then you know that I’ve been looking at emerging technologies and how they are used in charitable giving. For a paper that I originally thought might be a waste of my time, I’m now realizing that I might be able to approach it from an angle that will aid my future research!

So far, I just have an outline and one page of the introduction … I need a few thousand more words …

Virtual currency … in layman’s terms

I realize the idea of virtual currency sounds kinda like play money, so I’ll try to explain it a little more clearly. Let’s say that you go to a pizza arcade where they use tokens instead of quarters. Everything from games to food to prizes has to be redeemed in tokens. So, you find the coin machine and purchase 4 tokens for $1 (or 40 tokens for $10, etc.).

There is a stuffed animal behind the prize counter that you really like, and it costs 4 tokens. The difference between this pizza arcade and the ones you might be familiar with is that the person behind the counter doesn’t actually work for the arcade; she leases the booth space to sell her stuffed animals for tokens (like a flea market type of setup). You pay the 4 tokens, receive your new stuffed animal and go on about your merry way. The booth vendor has just made 4 tokens, but she can’t spend them outside of the pizza arcade, because regular stores only accept dollars, not tokens.

So, the question is: Did the booth vendor make income on that sale? If yes, how can you prove it? She has no dollars to show for her efforts, only tokens that aren’t worth anything in the outside world.

Ok, so let’s say the booth vendor takes the 4 tokens that she earned to the pizza arcade manager and asks him to exchange them for a $1 bill. Now, has she made income? Yes! She now has a dollar that is worth something in the outside world.

This example might seem like small potatoes in the grand scheme of global commerce, but let’s say that instead of selling just one stuffed animal, she sold 50 … or 500 … or 5,000. Now, the money starts to add up. The current position (of the U.S., that is … other countries have differing opinions) is that as long as she keeps her earnings in token form (maybe she treats herself to pizza and video games in the arcade), then it’s a wash. However, as soon as she converts her tokens to dollars, then she needs to be conscientious about taxable earnings.

The moral of the story is that virtual currency may not seem “real,” but it has real value.

Wednesday Words: Macro to micro

It seems like ages since I first started brainstorming about my dissertation topic, but I’m still a couple of semesters away from officially beginning it. I’m at the point now in my coursework, though, that my term papers should start pointing in that direction. In other words, if I gear the subject matter toward my topic, then that will be beneficial to my future research.

One of the classes I’m taking this semester is an Information Technology class (more about managing IT from a practitioner’s perspective than the nitty-gritty of programming, etc.), and our term paper is supposed to be a research proposal for a technology issue. Perfect! I thought this would be a great opportunity to test the waters with the case study that I started outlining last year.

A case study is just that: a study of a particular case, not a broad overview of an entire subject. Because of my familiarity with the virtual world of Second Life and the interesting (to me, at least) effort by the American Cancer Society to hold a virtual Relay for Life within Second Life, I thought that would make a great case study on how philanthropy is adapting to emerging technologies.

This subject matter is so new, so unique that there is very little (actually, I’ve found nothing, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve exhausted the entire body of work available in the world) on the topic of philanthropy via virtual currency. There are a few articles on virtual currency, in general, but I wanted to explore how this case with the ACS has potential to break the mold of traditional fundraising, while at the same time, cracking open the door for my future research on policy issues concerning virtual currencies. (There are some discussions about whether “virtual” transactions should be taxable events, even if they occur solely inworld, like a value-added tax, so to speak. This raises the issue that if you can tax it, you ought to be able to deduct it. In other words, charitable contributions made in a virtual economy should be deductible, if commercial transactions become taxable.)

If I haven’t put you to sleep yet, here’s what has ruffled my feathers. I asked a techie friend (not a classmate) to read my research proposal for a second set of eyes before I turned it in for a grade, and before he even read the paper, he made the off-handed remark, “I know you’re a big fan of Second Life, but you might also consider …” and then went on to make a couple of perfectly legit suggestions about other research angles. I guess it rankled me because it seemed like he didn’t take me seriously, as if I’m just goofing off researching about games (speaking of which, there is a slew of research on social, psychological and even economic influences of games, not to mention game theory applied to other subjects). But, that’s beside the point. I responded to my friend, “I’m not like a ‘rah-rah’ fan, but I think it has fascinating research potential.”

And, it does! The last thing we need is for policymakers to try to figure this out on their own; after all, they have a tendency to wield an axe in order to carve a toothpick. We need to explore the ins and outs of what it means to make transactions in a virtual economy and how that translates into the so-called “real” world. It’s not about one particular virtual environment; it has broadly sweeping impact on everything from Facebook credits to XBox Live Points to, yes, even Linden dollars (L$) in Second Life. Imagine if you had to start paying taxes on “income” from app games. Sounds outlandish? Perhaps not.

Even for such a new subject, the topic is too broad to say that I’m researching virtual currencies. What about currencies? What type of currencies? What country’s policies, for that matter? I have to drill down and focus on some micro-issues, rather than the big macro subject. To me, it’s like being a scientist who studies a particular aspect of the ester bonds of DNA polymers and someone says, “I know you like ester bonds, but you should not overlook nucleobases.” (<<Yeah, I totally pulled that from Wikipedia; I’m not a geneticist in my spare time.)

I guess the point is that I have to narrow my focus, and right now, I’m looking at one particular issue concerning virtual currencies in one particular venue. That’s what’s so neat about research … there are so many more issues to delve into over time!