Picking up a pen again. Anticipating things unseen.

17 Dec

I’d have written something a long time ago if I was sure how to go about it.  I’m still not sure how to go about it, but this will have to do.

Well, that’s not true.  I actually write a lot of stuff, I just don’t write it publicly.  For the things that I have learned really matter, I’m not ready to put billboards in my yard.  For the things that make me laugh or angry, the banalities of life or the sanctimony you encounter on Facebook from the undiscovered geniuses of our day – it just hasn’t felt right.  But I’ve kept writing for me.  It’s one of the only ways I stay sane, or try to.  For someone that wants to dive headlong into discussions, it hasn’t been easy.  Those streams of idiocy and sanctimony seem to be running especially strong.  It also seems that each day brings another big event that offers a glimpse at the truly big issues of our age.  I have a lot of stuff to say about all of that, stuff that is likely wrong as often as it is right.  I have a lot of things to ask about all that, not that I think that anyone else has answers but because I’m sure I don’t have a clue.  I guess I am still trying to figure out how to do some of the things I have always done and yet honor the fact that nothing about this place seems the same as it always was.  It’s something that the people who understand will understand completely, and everyone else will think they understand but won’t.  I pray it is a long time before they do.

That’s about all I have today.

That’s not true either, because this might end up being the longest post in the blog’s short history – but I’m cheating.  Below is the original version of a post that I wrote back last summer that I decided to send in to our denominational magazine “Messenger” instead.  The folks at the Magazine had to make a few changes for space in the article that appeared in this month’s version; however, I am not so constrained.  For some, it will be too much ‘church-talk’ by half, and that’s ok.  No offense taken.  In that case, I hope you can see the bigger theme about belief and hope in general if you decide to read any further.

Hope you and yours have a Merry Christmas and happy holiday season.  Hug them tight.

Anticipation

In June, I looked up through the dusty van side window and wondered just what I was doing.  We were bumping along the road from Imperial to La Florida, pausing sporadically to navigate the Peruvian government’s efforts to channel irrigation ditches under the road.  In the plain from the base of the Andes over to the Pacific, there seems to be a general rule:  If it’s not irrigated, it’s dead.

A group of twenty-two people from the Frederick Church of the Brethren had set out on a trip to Peru to build houses for the Fuller Center for Housing, and I’d been able to sign up because of a member’s last-minute scheduling conflict.  At the time I signed up, it seemed like a good idea.  To be entirely honest, at that time, a month after I lost my wife and best friend Monica, getting away anywhere for whatever reason seemed like a good idea.  By June, though, I’d long since learned that wherever you go you end up carrying your own bags – for the stuff that doesn’t have handles, the joy, pain, laughter and tears, there are no skycaps or storage lockers.  That’s what I was thinking about as I looked through the window at the headless chickens hanging in the market stall; that I wished I could’ve left myself at home.

I’d like to be able to say that the thought passed and didn’t return, but that’s not the way it works.  The people who know what I’m talking about know exactly what I’m talking about.  Some thoughts don’t pass, they just take breaks before they swing back around strong than ever.  As the van moved through the market, thoughts gradually shifted to gratitude for the amazing opportunity to do meaningful work with a great group of people.  I also wondered what lessons the trip had in store.

Travel teaches.  Whether going to the next town over or a town a half a world away, there are lessons to be learned.  In my experience, international travel teaches best.  Our culture is so dominant and pervasive that it takes quite a jolt to wake us up to lessons we should be learning daily.  Going somewhere completely different provides that jolt for me.  Others might think they can simply be intentional at home and pick up those lessons.  I think they are wrong.

For me, each trip has a few lessons that linger.  The lingerers are the one you find yourself thinking about weeks later, the kind that dominate long drives and quiet walks.  One of the lingering lessons from Peru came early, building on things I’d seen on other trips.

woman and dog resized

It’s always funny how you can go to one place and see traces of another – not unlike seeing family resemblances.  An analogous experience happens to me all of the time when listening to music.  If I’m listening to folk and Bluegrass, I’m hearing pubs in Ireland.  If I’m in a club in New Orleans or in front of a women’s choir in Nigeria I get a feeling that I’m only a step and a steel drum removed from the Caribbean.   Anthropologists will chalk that up to migration patterns, but I think there are other threads at work too, threads that cause those Celtic-infused tunes to share DNA with the roots music coming up from Jamaica – threads of common experience and shared struggle.

Well, that connected-ness is what I saw when driving through Imperial.  Whether in the rudimentary form of a new home going up or a finished house or business, all had rebar shooting out of the tops of their walls and columns (for the uninitiated, rebar – short for ‘reinforcing bar’ – is the steel used to reinforce concrete when building).

re-barThere is a perfectly practical reason for leaving rebar exposed.  When building additional stories or levels, it is imperative that columns be ‘tied’ together, that the reinforcing steel from the lower level be tied into the upper level so as to make a continuous reinforced column the entire height of a structure.  Building any other way would end up with individual levels stacked on top of each other instead of joined together, a recipe for the shortest game of Jenga ever.

The practical didn’t grab my attention.  The sight wasn’t unique.  I’ve seen rebar sticking out of concrete columns everywhere.  From Ecuador to the Dominican Republic to Jamaica to Nigeria to Peru.  What grabbed my attention was the fact that in the midst of great struggle people are building for today with one eye fixed on tomorrow.  In so many places where people have no idea how they are going to complete the first story of their houses (places where most can’t imagine having a ‘house’ of their own) or how they will afford building materials, where they are often living under grass thatch roofs next to their building site, they are still making preparations for the second and third story.

Our group in Peru would occasionally hold our nightly devotions on the roof of our Imperial Hotel.  But it wasn’t a roof, it was the floor of the hotel’s eventual third story.  Our Innkeeper lived in a grass shack there amid partially completed brick walls, piles of gravel and sand, and columns sprouting rebar like a steel garden.  It was on one of the first nights at the hotel that I stood on that ‘roof’ as the Southern Cross sparkled down on the neighboring buildings and thought of one word that seemed to sum up those rebar groves –  anticipatory.

It is an anticipatory culture that makes preparations for tomorrow in the uncertainty of today.  It is a culture not only of anticipation but of expectation that can see a second and third story without having a completion date set for the ground floor.

Something in those anticipatory columns made me think of the words of the writer of Hebrews.

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.   If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.   Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.  Hebrews 11: 13-16 (NIV)

It is an amazing passage.  The role call of faith – the cast of characters and deeds for the greatest acts of the Old Testament split in half by a four verse aside.  The movie stops mid-scene to answer folks who might be thinking ‘of course those people were faithful, they were chosen, they’d been ‘blessed’.’  The writer wants to quell that notion before going further.  Don’t miss the lesson the writer says, those heroes of the faith did the things they did and lived the lives they did without receiving all of the things promised, they were faithful because they saw those promises in the future.  That anticipation and expectation fueled those great acts of faith.

I think the message the writer wanted to convey is that anticipation and expectation fuel faith as much as recognition and appreciation.  While recognition of and appreciation for the way God has worked are essential to faith, anticipating and expecting promises seen in the distance is the fuel of faith.  Not anticipating or expecting a certain time or place or event, but anticipating and expecting that there is a loving Creator that is working to bring about second stories that we aren’t able to see.

That notion of only seeing things from a distance is disquieting.  It’s far easier to skim past verses like those in Hebrews or Philippians 3:12, where Paul states that he had not “already obtained all this, or [had] already arrived at [his] goal [and yet pressed on] to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of [him].”  At least it seems that in large part the church has skimmed past those passages.  We tend to speak those words without much conviction.  Too often we are a very much ‘here and now’ church, we want the i’s dotted and t’s crossed before we step out.  We want the financing secure before we hire the architects, we want half of the money raised before we begin the capital campaign.

And here the lesson gains nuance, because other verses discuss counting costs and making preparations.  Here is also the point at which we must remember that for people of faith the Bible is a book, not a collection of bullet points.  Verses exhorting us to be a people of anticipation and expectation must be read in context lest they be used to justify inaction and a disregard of this life in lieu of contemplation of jeweled crowns and golden streets.  Verses exhorting counting costs read outside of the anticipation and expectation of promises in the distance are easily relied on to justify a faith that isn’t Faith at all but merely a reliance on ourselves and those things we can clearly envision wearing ‘holy’ clothes.

When anticipation and expectation are removed from the faith equation, everything unravels.  Actually, anticipation and expectation are not just removed, and that is even worse.  What too often happens is that we keep the notions of anticipating and expecting, but we switch out the object of our anticipation.  Instead of seeing the promises of a supernatural Creator in the distance, we turn inward and if anticipating or expecting anything at all, anticipate and expect those ‘promises’ we think we can realistically bring about.  That continues the march towards a secular Christianity centered on ourselves.  Instead of anticipating and seeing the distant promises of a living God and being comfortable with the awesome uncertainty that faith in a creative force completely outside of ourselves necessitates, we use the language of faith and expectation while meaning something less.  We then shorten our strides to match our reduced vision.

In that world of substituted promises, future church growth is constrained by experienced growth or lack thereof, future giving is constrained by experienced trends, future life is limited by experienced stagnation.  When anticipation is limited to us instead of a wondrous God, it also becomes inextricably linked to the world we live in.  Perhaps a better way of illustrating that point is to simply look again at the verses in Hebrews.  The heroes of the faith looked towards promises in the distance.  They were headed towards a land whose builder and architect is God.  The writer makes clear that the land they headed to was not merely a place or a place they had been before, because they could have physically traveled anywhere they desired for better land and water and food, even backwards.  No, this land they were expecting and the promises they saw in the distance were not of this world, they were of God’s making.  I don’t think, however, that the author is making the point that it is the ‘place’ that you focus on, heaven if you will, I think what the author is trying to highlight is the fact that whether it is a life beyond this life, a world beyond this world, or blessings in store here tomorrow, those heroes of faith were trusting in, anticipating, and expecting the workings of an external God.

But what does that mean for us?  Thinking back to those columns in Peru, how do we make sure we are – or go back to being – a people that build for today while anticipating tomorrow?  How do we go from seeing exposed steel at the top of our columns as signs of our lack of completion to signs of wonders in store.  How do we rejoice in our ‘unfinished-ness’?

chalk and nails resized

I think spending time pondering scripture, like those verses in Hebrews, is a start; but at some point you have to ask yourself the real question that lies at the heart of this anticipation issue.  Do you believe in a Creator that is not you?  Regardless of the words used to answer that question, how does your life answer it?  Often pastors will ask churches what their spending habits say about the importance of the church in their lives.  I think a far more pressing question to ask is what your hope and your anticipation say about your faith.  Do your ‘building habits’ show that you’re expecting more?  Even while surrounded by the broken and too few building materials of your ground floor, are there indications that you’re anticipating a second story?

In your life, as you look around and see very little standing, surrounded by terrible loss or broken relationships or financial hardship, do you believe that you are in the hands of a loving God that has something in store for you?  Where you are anticipating – is it anticipation of something specific you have envisioned, or is it anticipation of the working of a God that has plans you are not yet in on?

As unfinished Peruvian buildings flashed past outside the dusty van window I wished that I had tidy answers to all of those questions.  I didn’t and don’t.  I have, however, grown more comfortable with the idea that exposed steel doesn’t necessarily mean we have failed to complete a project — it might mean some projects are not ours to complete.

 

 

Attorneys: The quest for Free CLE

11 Jan

cle

Ok, I know I have taken a huge break from posting.  I hope to remedy that soon when the schedule opens up a bit; however, in the interim I wanted to do a solid for other attorneys out there in the ether (despite the fact that only one or two might see this).  For them, this will be worth it; for the rest of you, not so much.

Back in 2008, I attended the National Security Law Institute at UVA, a two-week course in the summer.  It was a great experience and I met a lot of really top-notch folks from several government agencies.

Those weeks amounted to 56 hours of CLE credit.  For non-lawyers, CLE are continuing legal education credits that some states require to maintain your license in addition to exorbitant costs and fees.  Virginia requires twelve hours annually, two of which must be in ethics.  Ok, the lawyer jokes write themselves, I understand.  Focus.  Being to get 56 in one fell swoop was a coup, especially getting them in a fascinating area of law.  While in private practice, the firm (the terrific Virginia firm Wharton, Aldhizer, and Weaver in my case) took care of CLE costs.  In the government, it was a bit more difficult.  Getting a yellow legal pad and pens was a bit more difficult too.

I filled out the forms, trusted the process, and basked in the glow of my 56 hours.  Well, not really.  You can only carry over 12 credits to the next year, so my 56 went down to 24, and since none of the 56 were in ethics, the 24 actually became 20.  There is a lot to be said there about diminishing incentives to further education, but whatever.  It is the club that I joined.

Even with my 20 hours, I was doing well.  Imagine my surprise in late 2009 when I got a letter saying that I was deficient in CLE credits and needed to act quick or be suspended.  Somehow, the folks at the bar had not received my 56 hour gold card.  I was a little miffed, since in the intervening year I’d decided to try to make the dive back into private practice or government practice that more resembled practice (yeah, fall 2008, great timing, tell me about it.) and had ended up doing contract work with no one offering to cover the costs to duplicate CLE credits.  I tried to find the old course certificate copy, but with a lot of other real life things going on at the time, I just threw up my hands and decided to drop down to Associate status in Virginia — there are two classes of bar membership in the Commonwealth, Active and Associate.  Active status  is the only status that requires CLE hours and is for those actually practicing in Virginia or on Virginia matters.  Since I lived in Maryland and wasn’t working on Virginia matters, dropping status saved me hours, a chunk of annual dues, and the hassle of avoiding a suspension.

Well, after interminable amounts of time waiting for federal positions (offers in hand contingent on Congress getting budget things figured out — seriously, name anything more dysfunctional than Congress) where all I’d need is my DC Bar (No CLE’s required!) or other in-house corporate positions that always seemed in the works just not working, and wanting to work on some Virginia matters that I’ve either had on pause or been asked about, I need my real Bar Card back.

Uh Oh.  I called the Bar this week and asked how many rosaries were needed.  More than I thought.  7.5 deficient credits need to be made up for 2009.  Since I dropped to Associate status after November 1, 2009 (at the first of January 2010) I needed to make up all of the hours required for 2010.  Also, I’d need to submit all of the hours for the year in which I was going back to active, before I brought my license active.  For the history/poli-sci people out there, that is 7.5 + 12 + 12 (including 4 in ethics) = 31.5 !$%@#&? hours of CLE.

That’s a lot.  Plus, I don’t have the time, inclination, or benefactor to drop a couple K to go to a conference.  I’m not interested in paying $150 per credit hour.

There is hope for the small practice or solo attorney out there who is in a similar crunch.  There are actual Free CLE or very cheap hours out there that don’t involve insurance sales pitches.  We’ll see what the bar says when I send these in – but I think they are legit.

First, go to MCLEZ.com.  They are one of the online providers that offer ridiculous deals on state specific bundles during the year.  I paid $57 for their normal $89 Virginia state bundle.  The bundle included everything you need to fill your Virginia requirement, your 12 hours total including 2 of ethics and 4 of live programming (or live Q&A).  There was a mix up in the live programming, so I have to wait for two additional live programs to be scheduled.  For the hassle, they gave me two other regular courses at no cost.  They were great to deal with.  When complete, MCLEZ will account for 14 total hours of CLE.  Just signing up with MCLEZ; however, will get you a sample course for free.  Make that 15 hours!  My courses?

– Dealing With the News Media

– Lawyers as Board Members (could have used this earlier)

– Detecting, Investigating, and Documenting Fraud

– Best Practices for Clear Contract Drafting

– Innovation or Exploitation:  The Limits of Computer Trespass Law

– The Privacy Paradox

– First Amendment, Torts, and Privacy

– What’s Wrong With SOPA?

– Avoiding and Resolving Conflicts of Interest

– Tourism and Hospitality Law (Ok, but the others were legitimate.)

Now, go to PLI.edu.  I was looking for some regular courses on subjects I need to learn more about, but they offer free courses as well.

– Bankruptcy, Mortgages, and Foreclosures Oh My.  How’s that for 3 hours?

– What about Tax Issues related to foreclosure.  I’ll see your 3.

– Interested in issues surrounding working within Immigrant Populations?  Try 6 hours.

– As a bonus, check out a review of SCOTUS’s Kiobel Decision.  How’s that for an hour?

Now continue on to NACLE.com.  They are another online provider that offers state-specific bundles.  They also offer a free course for registering your e-mail address with them.  I’m sure they will spam me, but in exchange I received a pretty entertaining one-hour CLE on advertising.

So, with my 15 MCLEZ hours, 13 PLI hours, and 1 NACLE hour, I have 29 hours of CLE (including 3 of my 4 required ethics hours and half of my live requirement) for $57 and an assurance that they’ll be accepted in Virginia.  We’ll see.  When added to a live course that I actually really want to take, that will end up being a pretty cost-effective way to get 33 hours of CLE.  Plus, the Bar told me that if I send in that old 56-hour certificate, they might use that to satisfy the 2009 hours.  I’ll believe that when I see it.

For all of the above, I am going by representations on the websites that the hours will be accepted in Virginia.  I have not yet sent in the forms.  I have no idea whether the credits will fill requirements in other states or for other purposes.  Each course has its own mechanism for ensuring that people are actually taking the course and has its own process for certifying your actual attendance.

That being said, 31.5 hours?  Book ’em Danno!

 

A Story About Mandela We’re Not Being Told

8 Dec

mandelaI remember lying on my grandparent’s living room floor in front of the TV — whoever thought that TV’s in those big wooden cabinets were good ideas? — when Nelson Mandela was released from prison.  I remember clearly the excitement of the throngs that surrounded him on the street.  There are the ‘I remember where I was when …’ events that stand out because people have been living the story, and then there are the ‘I remember where I was when …’ events that stand out not because you had lived and breathed the back-story but because you felt the enormity of the event and the emotion and because of them knew a little of the back-story without knowing it.

I was 14, interested in current events, and knew about apartheid, the boycotts, and Mandela … but I hadn’t lived the story, so his release fell into the second of those two ‘I remember’ categories.  My understanding of the back-story has been primarily informed by that singular event and Mandela’s life since.  The Mandela I know was born on that day of his release, unified a nation, became a President, and was an icon to everyone (it seemed).  My Mandela’s back-story got filled in by news coverage, adoration by public figures, and media (Rugby anyone?).  Maybe others are far more informed than me, but I doubt it.  Half of the people living on the planet were born after Mandela’s release. Continue reading

Church Planters With Green Thumbs?

6 Dec

PUMO_1624015Later this morning the NuDunkers will dig into the topic of church planting in, of, and around the Church of the Brethren.  The group has been admirably intentional with how they frame their discussions (taking place on Google+ – here is the group page) with participants diligently tossing back and forth blog posts on selected topics before periodic showdowns.  Remaining as diligent about homework as I was in High School, I’m throwing this into the mix at about T minus ninety minutes.  If my bulletproof coffee doesn’t kick in, I could see it careening to T minus sixty.

I’d encourage anyone interested in the topic to take a look at the thoughtful – and timely – homework already turned in.  Over at Colliationes, Josh Brockway discusses love’s exponential growth and misconceptions about zero sum games and how they might apply to interests and fears about planting churches.  At Restorative Theology, Brian Gumm discusses a proposal for a church plant in the ‘slow church’ model (I’m not sure, but I think I’ve been to several of those already … sorry, I couldn’t help myself).  And after a rather hectic fall, Andy Hamilton (at Hermes Table) tells of his family’s current call to church planting — and their move from cold Ohio to cold Massachusetts to do just that.  There are other great posts as well, but I see that I’m headed to T minus 30 (talk about slipping into form!) – for one, Matt McKimmy has an observation that raises a question I am particularly interested in – ‘how do church plants occur within existing congregations?’  A friend in Sarasota who pastors a large church and I have dug at the corners of that question in great conversations that take place far too infrequently.

All of the posts seem to contain a common thread.  Perhaps, though, it is a common thread that I bring as a reader to each post – so I should let the writers off the hook.  The common thread is a question:  ‘Just what is being planted?’  For me it seems that the idea of church planting is anathema to many because they can’t imagine anyone else being interested in what they experience as church – either because what they experience is lacking in life and energy and they remain a part of it out of habit or a sense of obligation, or because what they experience as the value of church is tied to long-standing relationships and ties to a particular place that by simple definition can’t be replicated from scratch.

The idea that many of us have in part not been a part of a Church community despite being parts of many church communities is pretty big.  It is not that different from what some people were saying back in 1525 or 1708.  It is encouraging to see those questions repeatedly kicked around by the NuDunkers and others.  I can’t help but imagine that if people experienced the church as it was meant to be experienced, we’d be overrun by planters – and growth like beneficial kudzu.

11/22/63

22 Nov

imagesA couple of months ago, I read Stephen King’s 11/22/63.  Those that don’t like King can drop out now, I won’t be offended.  I also won’t know.  Anyway … for those Constant Readers still with me:  I avoided the book for a long time after it came out, having little interest in a novel that used an event like that as a prop. I finally got around to the book, and I’m really glad I did.

In addition to being a fascinating source of information about the assassination itself and the period of time leading up to it, it poses a lot of pretty deep questions about the sources of hate, the sources of violence, and the tiny threads that can either snap apart on the breeze or twist together, form a rope, and drag us down (or maybe pull us up).

The threads twisted that day in Dallas.

This week I watched Showtime’s terrific History of the Eagles, Part 1 as the fabulous guitarist Joe Walsh reminisced on the band’s implosion.  Walsh (quoting an unnamed philosopher who I suspect looks a lot like Walsh) offered up a bit of brilliance that applies to a lot more than band break-ups:

As you live your life, it appears to be anarchy and chaos, and random events, non-related events, smashing into each other and causing this situation or that situation, and then, this happens, and it’s overwhelming, and it just looks like what in the world is going on. And later, when you look back at it, it looks like a finely crafted novel. But at the time, it don’t.

Whether you are talking about Dallas in 1963 or Memphis a bit earlier; whether Washington in 1865 or 1881, Buffalo in 1901; Sarajevo in 1914; or Manhattan on a bright Tuesday morning in 2001; what initially appears tragic coincidence in hindsight appears delicate choreography.  A question King poses, that I’m still trying to get my arms around, is ‘if you could go back, are there threads you could break that would keep the rope from twisting together?’  That question really takes on power when you break it out of King’s construct – because that’s his real intent – and ask yourself what threads are beginning to twist today?  Everyday we are all surrounded by the threads of Walsh’s anarchy and chaos, threads that one day will appear to have been chapters, paragraphs, sentences, words, or even letters in finely crafted novels – both tragedies and comedies.  Which threads need to be broken and which need to be strengthened?  Once they twist, will the ropes drag us down or pull us up?

I’ve got a lot of thoughts about those threads.  In fact, I tend to think that most of our informed (and informed is the $100 word in this sentence Constant Reader) public debate – from both sides of the aisle – is about which threads to break and how best to break them.  Those thoughts are best saved for other days.

For today, it is sufficient to say that the threads twisted in Dallas and wonder where they are twisting now.

 

 

Talking ’bout talk

25 Oct

imageI guess if I had a blog handbook and if that handbook had a chapter called ‘starting out’ and if that ‘starting out’ chapter had a list of tips for the first three months, none of those tips would include ‘make sure posts are long’ or ‘take extended breaks from posting’ or ‘try to include posts of interest to as few people as possible’.

Well, I’ve nailed two out of the three missing tips, so why not make it a hat trick?

Before I finish figuring out what not to post about our recent trip to Italy, I wanted to throw a few thoughts into the ring of the recent NuDunker conversations regarding how we do talk in the church.  Mainly I want to do a quick drive-by posting.  I’m still trying to catch up on posts since I went out of town, but I started in reverse order and just finished Josh Brockway’s post over at Collationes about meetings after meetings and how they relate to mystogogy (a word I’m confidant he made up). Continue reading

Everyone Wants To Get Fat

6 Oct

krispy burger“Everyone wants to get fat.”

I didn’t know if he was talking to me and wasn’t sure I’d heard him right anyway. Both questions were answered as he looked me in the eye.  “Everyone wants to get fat!”

It was Saturday and I’d been walking through the City with a friend when we stopped at a sports knick knack shop – not the shirts and spikes variety but the ‘… Fan Parking Only’ sign kind. The shop owner had an eccentric quality – like he wasn’t that far from being a character in a book … one whose basement you’d want to avoid.

While walking out the shopkeeper apparently decided to let me in on Chapter 1 of his manifesto.  A bit louder and more nasally he repeated “Everyone wants to get fat!”

What do you do with that?

“Who?” I said. Continue reading

7 Random Apps to Make Things Better

10 Sep

apple

Yay. September 10th.

The Great and Powerful Apple will announce what product they’re going to let us (or maybe people in China) purchase. The announcement is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. EST and you can link to it here. In that festive ‘Apple Announcement Day’ spirit, and fresh off my high from having the folks at the Genius Bar in Georgetown fix my iPhone rather than have Verizon employees puzzle over it like the first people to see fire, I thought I’d post a list of apps that could actually make your life a bit better.

breathe2relax

Breathe2Relax

The best deep breathing exercise I know of is the one Dr. Andrew Weil suggests – Exhale completely. Inhale through your nose while counting to 4 in your mind. Hold the breath for a count of 7. Exhale through your mouth while touching your tongue to the place where your front top teeth connect to the roof of your mouth for a count of 8. That’s one breath. Do that up to, but no more than 8 times.

Although not as good, the Breathe to Relax app helps you do deep breathing with the aid of your phone using visual and audio cues. Free.

sleepcycle

Sleep Cycle

I’m sold on this one. I’m not going to try to give the sales pitch, but the general idea is that the app uses the technology in your phone to monitor your sleep quality, waking you up at a ‘more ideal’ phase of your sleep cycle rather than a hard and fast set time on your alarm clock.

What?

Here’s what happens. My regular alarm on my phone is set for 5:10. I am usually awake looking at my clock when it goes off so that I can turn it off as quick as possible. I don’t use ‘snooze’ because I don’t like it and, in fact, believe it was invented by the devil. Since being sold on the idea of Sleep Cycle, my alarm on my phone is aimed at 5:20 but is set for a range between 4:50 and 5:20. When I’m going to sleep I plug my phone in and switch it to airplane mode but rather than set it on the table I put it up at the top corner of the bed. The person inside the phone uses a bunch of fancy gadgets to monitor when I am awake, asleep, and really asleep during the night. Then, when the alarm range in the morning comes around, the phone figures out where I am in that sleep cycle and sets the alarm off when I am close to waking up anyway. It could be 4:51 or it could be 5:19, and either way, so far I have felt a lot better when I’ve woken up.

Go with me on this. I know mornings. For instance, I know that it will make a 4-minute difference (enough time to use my french press!) in your commute if you get to the roundabout light in Silver Spring 5 seconds after the light goes green rather than right when the light turns. I value feeling better in the morning and, in its second week, this has helped. Cheap.

songkick

Songkick

Pretty cool. Songkick analyzes your iTunes library and alerts you to upcoming concerts in your area by people you like or probably would like.

amazon

Amazon Instant Video

You probably should have Amazon Prime. Sure the price seems high, but if you do any online shopping at all, take a look at your shipping costs. Amazon Prime is good for free two-day shipping on most things you’d be buying. Whn you have Prime, then the Amazon Instant Video app is a must-have if you spend a lot of time stuck on trains or in airports. Their library used to seem limited to a few things you wanted to see and the entire run of Dr. Who. Now it has lots of stuff. Free.

skyguide

Sky Guide

For anyone who looks up and wonders about constellations or what that bright star is, Sky Guide tells you.

bible

Bible

A really great app. From the different translations and audio available to daily material to reading plans for every occasion and interest, I think this is a must-have. Free.

mapmyrun

Map My Run

Both this and Nike+ Running are good; however, Map My Run gets the nod for more features you like and less aggravation. Whether you are a runner or walker, the app lets you map your course as you go. Nike+ Running syncs with music in your iTunes library during runs or walks but for mapping courses and finding courses nearby that others have mapped, I think Map My Run is about as good as it gets.

Alumni Football, the Worst Idea Ever?

4 Sep

So, Colin Ferguson thinks he’s got it figured out – you know, the reason why everything is going the way of Lindsay Lohan’s career. I wonder if he came up with his theory after reading about Alumni Football games. I doubt that’s what happened since every European I run into tunes out American football talk as a matter of principle.

alumnifootball

Months ago, I heard whisperings of an upcoming alumni football game between my high school and our rivals. I immediately saw it for what it was – a boon to business for area orthopedic surgeons. The idea, though implausible, was amusing. Imagine it, a full-contact football game between alumni – recent grads, the elderly, and even those who had never played but always wanted to suit up. What could possibly go wrong? No chance I said.

I was wrong. The Facebook invites have gone out. The game is scheduled and I’m wondering if we have completely lost our minds.

Continue reading

Daily Dose: Un-paused. A funny clip that explains exerything.

29 Aug

 

After the VMA’s this past weekend, I ran across this clip that explains modern culture in 3 minutes and 19 seconds.  I think he’s right, and not just because I think UK accents make people sound smarter.  Bloody right.

A few worthwhile reads from Slate and others:

Has President Obama painted himself into a corner by drawing “red lines?”

Action in Syria – unwise and illegal?

Scientists have not run out of elements – they have apparently run out of element names.

A book review in the Washington Post for those interested in effective writing for short-form social media.  The first review on Amazon was not a fan letter.  The review, though, got me thinking about my favorite books on writing – so I decided simply to put them all on one page.

Wow, the combined GDP of the developing world has surpassed that of the developed world for the first time ever.

Let the merriment begin!  The Maryland Renaissance Festival 2013 kicks off.  The person related to me by marriage still refuses to attend.

Go O’s.

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