Baked Potato

I confess I am not a cook. Since I got married, Kelly has taken care of nearly every aspect of meal preparation. I am only called upon for the occasional omelette, bacon, or burger. I am mostly capable of following a recipe, so if something comes in a box with instructions on the side I generally feel competent to prepare it, but foods without such aids are beyond me.

Nevertheless, the other day Kelly asked me to prepare baked potatoes. There is a “baked potato” setting on our microwave, and I have used that with some level of success in the past, but Kelly wanted me to use her easy oven recipe. I preheated the oven to four-hundred degrees, popped any growing eyes off the potatoes, washed them in the sink, and, once preheating was complete, placed the potatoes into the oven. Per Kelly’s instruction, I set the timer for forty-five minutes.

At the appointed time, I put on the oven mitt and proceeded to lift the potatoes out of the oven and place them onto a cutting board. The second potato had its own plan. When I set the potato down, it promptly exploded. The skin was separated from the potato and launched onto the still open oven door. Potato shrapnel flew from one side of the kitchen to the other, leaving a trail of white potato shards on the oven, floor, and cabinets. The pulverized core of the potato remained sitting on the cutting board.

And that is why Miranda had mashed potatoes for dinner last night.

Hardware Woes

The date was February 2nd, 2018. I had noticed that one of Kelly’s favorite Chuck Norris movies was curiously truncated to a little over five minutes. No problem. I have been slowly updating our collection from .avi to .mkv anyhow. I put the DVD into my trusty workstation and a few minutes later I had Chuck Norris in better quality than ever before.

All that remained was to copy it to our house’s network storage and we would be able to enjoy Chuck from any computer in the house. But something curious happened. My file wouldn’t copy. In fact, my network storage device was curiously unresponsive to any input. Finally I rebooted it, to find that it contained no files. Since it has previously housed over a terabyte of music, movies, and documents, that seemed potentially troubling.

It did, however, remind me of something. I had set up our network storage with RAID 1, meaning that there are two hard drives that are identical mirrors of each other. If one fails, I can take it out and put in a new one that will become another identical copy. It’s relatively self-explanatory. If you have two copies of the data then as long as both hard drives don’t fail at the same time you will never lose your data. There are a few complications, but that covers the basics.

Continue reading →

The Last Jedi

It always takes me a bit of time to process a new Star Wars movie, and The Last Jedi more than most. I don’t expect that I can add much to the current discussion around the movie, but I don’t like the fact that I haven’t written anything in a while.

I should point out that I will wander directly into spoiler territory, but if you haven’t seen the movie by this point you probably don’t care, so I think we should be safe.

Many aspects of this movie have been attacked since its release, and I don’t think it makes sense to defend against most of them, since they are nitpicks or personal preference. Star Wars has always been complex. Even in the prequels, if you can get past the horrible dialog and cringe-inducing on-screen chemistry, there is a depth to the subtext that is worthwhile.

One aspect that I think is particularly deep with pathos is the interplay between Leia, Poe Dameron, and Admiral Holdo. A lot of the criticism of their interaction is based on a need to have a good side and a bad side. Depth of character is not needed or desirable. In that mindset, the whole sequence is upside down and badly written. I think that misses the point, and I’d like to share my thoughts on the underlying struggles that I see.

First we must consider the mental state of General Leia Organa. She has just lost her estranged but still beloved husband Han Solo to the futile murderous ambitions of her only son, after seeing a planet full of colleagues and friends incinerated in a senseless attack. The cost of war is becoming more than she can bear, and she says as much to Holdo. In short, she is going soft in her old age.

Enter Poe Dameron, darling of the Resistance and in many ways the son that Ben Solo never was. He is clear-minded and tenacious, personable with a charisma that makes his fellow pilots trust him with their lives. His piloting skills are legendary. Everyone assumes he is on the fast track to a leadership position, and he is a de facto general, even if the rank isn’t official.

When a devastating threat appears, Poe does what he has always done, relying on his wits and skills to turn the tide. Although the cost is high for the Resistance, he destroys the First Order’s Dreadnought, protecting many others. This turns out to have been especially fortuitous when only moments later the Resistance learns that the First Order is tracking them. If the Dreadnought had not been scuttled, its considerable firepower could have ended their sublightspeed chase before it began.

So the first question that arises is how could Leia demote Poe? He did everything right, didn’t he? His attack gave the Resistance a tactical advantage and turned an ambush into a victory. On top of that, Leia is the General of the Resistance. If she had qualms she should have stopped Poe before the attack, not reprimanded him for carrying out an attack she has implicitly sanctioned.

We need to dig below the surface. Poe’s star is rising. He is cocky and can get away with it, but he has lost plenty of comrades who were every bit as committed to the fight but not as gifted as pilots. Poe sees the world tactically. Sacrificing half the X-Wing fleet to destroy Starkiller base? A victory. Losing five bombers and a squadron of starfighters to take out a Dreadnought? Worth it.

Leia is starting to see things differently. Even in a galaxy with the Force, luck eventually runs out. His big, flashy, skin-of-your-teeth victories are good for Poe’s legend, but they’re becoming a liability to the Resistance. Poe did save the Resistance by eliminating the Dreadnought before it could follow them through hyperspace, but he didn’t know that when he attacked. He just saw a glorious tale of victory for the people back home.

Leia’s choice to demote Poe was calculated, like almost everything Leia has ever done. She recognizes that Poe is popular, and many of the fighters regard him as more their leader than the officers of the Resistance. Her choice will be unpopular, but it’s necessary and only she can do it, since as one of the original stars of the Rebellion, she is the one person the fighters respect even more than Poe. What she hadn’t anticipated was that the First Order would track their fleet through hyperspace and incapacitate her, leaving Poe feeling slighted and needing to redeem himself.

Enter Admiral Holdo. She has been thrust into the limelight by a disaster. The atmosphere is one of suspicion. After all, which is more likely? That the First Order has suddenly cracked a momentous technical puzzle or that there is a traitor in their midst transmitting their position to the First Order. Holdo plays things close to the vest. Even when she finds a possible way to save most of the Resistance, she doesn’t share it with anyone, especially not Poe, who she sees as a hotheaded rival.

This is ultimately both her and Poe’s undoing, as their inability to collaborate and trust brings the Resistance to the edge of annihilation. Poe’s ego won’t allow him to sit idly by. If he doesn’t know the plan, then clearly there isn’t one, or it’s bad. His mistrust of Admiral Holdo is completely understandable, but his mutiny, rather than being salvation for the Resistance, betrays vital information into the hands of the First Order and results in many of the escaping ships being destroyed. Holdo pays the ultimate price for her inability to overcome her paranoia.

While many look at Holdo’s suicide attack on the Supremacy as a glorious moment, it is repudiated shortly later by, of all people, Rose. Holdo’s sacrifice destroys several enemy ships and saves key members of the Resistance, at least for a moment. It was a tactical victory, one that Poe would likely have endorsed. And it is the movie’s emblem of what is wrong with the Resistance’s way of waging war.

On Crait, as the Resistance prepares for what looks to be their last stand, Poe gets one more chance to be the hero, to push his luck and sacrifice lives to capture the smallest chance of victory. Finally Poe starts to calculate the cost of losing friends to gain an advantage. With so few left, he can finally see the end result of the legend of Poe Dameron. He orders his fighters to retreat.

It’s not that Poe is a bad guy, and it certainly isn’t that Leia or Holdo are blameless. The Last Jedi is not interested in those kinds of simple characterizations. Each of them is noble in his or her own way, and each has deep flaws which hurt the very thing they all care most about.

If you want to criticize The Last Jedi, there are plenty of legitimate avenues. For example, why is there a planet where everyone dresses like James Bond? But if you’re angry about the characters it presents, maybe you should watch it again with an eye out for the subtext. This movie eschewed a lot of the endorphin-rush tricks of traditional blockbuster movies, and it is suffering at the box office and in initial public perception for it. Rian Johnson took a real risk with Star Wars, and if we don’t want a spate of cookie-cutter rehash films from now on, let’s give him the appreciation he deserves.

Acceptance

Imagine a church with two-thousand years of being neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. A group of people who had been held together through every disagreement and outward attack by their unity in Jesus, the counterpoint to the deep animosities that divide the world.

It’s not hard to see why Jesus cared so much about the unity of his followers. He never forced anyone to come to him, but if they did, he called on them to put aside their prejudice and join a new family. Yet shortly after his ascension the church was already dividing itself by race and culture. The pattern of the world is hard to break.

At that time, brave people within the church, like Paul, fought to ensure that division could not gain a foothold, even going so far as a direct confrontation with the apostles at Jerusalem. When he heard that the churches were arguing about whose teaching they followed, he made it clear. We are all followers of the same Teacher.

What if the church in our neighborhood was filled with people of different backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs, and yet they all supported each other? If, as one family, followers of Jesus didn’t need to hide who they are and chase the world’s approval because they know a love that cannot fail?

Finding a Church

Imagine that when you moved to a new neighborhood you didn’t need to find a church. You didn’t need to drive around looking for steeples, search the Yellow Pages for church listings, or get reviews from Google Maps. Instead, the church was already there. They showed up at your house and offered to help you move in. They were your neighbors who occasionally dropped by with food or invited you to come over to visit.

Even if they hadn’t introduced themselves, the church would be hard to miss. They would be the neighbors that were always spending time together. Their kids played with each other, rather than spending every evening in a sport or activity. The families spent time together, and no one seemed to ever be alone. Rather than seeing each family out working in their own yard, they would all work together, moving their tools from house to house. Of course, they didn’t just take care of each other. They also took care of anyone’s house who was willing to accept some extra help.

Although you eventually found out that one was a janitor, another a lawyer, and one was a single mother, they were all taken care of by the others. Everyone had enough, and no one tried to get more. Instead, anything extra they quickly gave to someone in need, and they knew a lot about needs. In their conversations with you, they would always ask if there was anything you needed. And after a while, you felt comfortable telling them, because you never heard them talking about anyone else’s needs.

What if you didn’t need to find a church, because the church found you?

Church

I’ve been indulging a fantasy lately. What might the church look like today if it had managed to avoid so many of the missteps (as I see them) since that first Pentecost? What if, when people suggested placing powerful bishops in each city to ensure that heresy couldn’t spread, enough Christians had stood up to say that Jesus had taught that they were all brothers, and had one teacher, the Messiah1 ? What if they had pointed to the promise that, under the new covenant, God himself would put the law into their hearts and no one would need to teach another, because they would know God himself2 ?

What if, when Constantine had secured his empire and declared it to be Christian, the church hadn’t been so demoralized by Diocletian’s persecution that they leapt at a chance at legitimacy? Could they have welcomed Constantine with open arms, but told him that the role of King was already taken? What if they told him that within the church there is no slave or master, no Emperor or subject3 . What if they had said that while a man could repent and follow Jesus, an empire could not?

What if, when some suggested that the church split, either because of some disagreement or so that they could be with people like themselves, the church had said, as Paul did so forcefully in his time, that within the church there is no Jew or Greek4 ? What if they had clung to Jesus’s promise that their unity would be the attribute that set them apart from the world5 ?

I know each of these decisions would have been costly. I doubt I could have done better, and Jesus has shepherded his church through it all, but what if…


  1. Matthew 23:8-10 

  2. Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 8:8-13 

  3. Colossians 3:11 

  4. Galatians 3:28 

  5. John 17:20-23 

Steamworks – Week 1

The Krypton Cougars are back in action. After their banner performance last year, the students were eager to learn from their mistakes and made an exhaustive list of everything they wanted to do better, presumably so they could pointedly ignore it.

Last year the battery was very hard to replace, causing much frustration during and after the competition season. One student ended up becoming the designated battery installation expert, and that could only be done in a timely manner if the robot was held up in the air. For 2017, the team decided that wasn’t nearly difficult enough, and buried the battery even deeper in the depths of the robot. It now requires two or three students to replace a battery, after moving multiple robot mechanisms out of the way.

Last year the team divided their focus between too many things, and vowed this season they would streamline aggressively. When the game was revealed, the first meeting was to discuss what game elements the team would target and which they would ignore. The team decided that the fractional point value of fuel made it unnecessary, and that the forty-point gears and fifty-point climbing were much more important. They then spent half of build season designing a hopper and loader for fuel. Which leads us to the next improvement…

Last year the robot was not mechanically completed until the last moment. The programmers were forced to program on the car ride to the competition. We agreed that this year we’d finish all mechanical changes at least a week before the end of build season, giving our programmers and drivers the time they needed. Naturally, the mechanical team decided that prototyping the fuel hopper system took priority over programming and driver practice, leaving the programmers to test their changes in the gaps. An additional motor was added to the robot, for the hopper, the night the team arrived at the competition, which the programmers did not find out about until the night before. It was programmed at the competition. The drivers got no practice time. Continue reading →

Eulogy

Steve was the type of man that our modern age believes extinct. He was an old man at forty-nine, grizzled and rough. Most respectable people shied away from him. He wore an old coat, drove a van that couldn’t pass inspection, and had a big beard that would have been white if it hadn’t been stained yellow by cigarette smoke.

Steve worked for minimum wage, doing landscaping for people better off than himself. He’d been paid more before he took the company truck out after he’d been drinking. Now he was just grateful to have a job. His wife had kicked him out, so his boss let him live in a small shack by the company office, which was an improvement over living in his van. He had no hope for advancement. He was dirt poor and illiterate. The person he cared about most, his granddaughter, wouldn’t talk to him. He was a man who had fallen through the cracks of our society.

Steve had gone to church, but he never fit in among the suit-wearing crowd. They were nice enough, but he knew he didn’t belong. His life was too checkered to past muster. His theology was a mashup of ideas he’d picked up from various questionable sources. Steve believed that God created life on the outer planets, wiping out each one as it became too wicked, and now it was Earth’s turn. He didn’t get all the big words the church-people used, but he liked to listen to Christian music. His favorite band was Skillet.

Yet to the few people who really got to know Steve, he was amazing. He was a craftsman who loved nothing more than turning scraps of wood into masterpieces. He volunteered his ample free time to build sets for local plays. Despite everything that had been done to him, Steve had a heart of gold. He was eager to help anyone, even those who hurt him. While Steve might not have known how to read, he was a force to be reckoned with at the checkerboard. No matter who he played, he’d find their weakness and end up with the last checker every time.

Steve died of a brain aneurysm the day after Thanksgiving, and to most people his life was the example they tell their children to avoid. It’s true, he made poor choices and gained little in this world. Yet something in Steve was so winsome that it really makes me question whether he didn’t know something the rest of us miss. Farewell Steve. You are missed.

The Hospital

Once there was a hospital with an amazing doctor who could heal any injury or disease. People traveled great distances to be seen by her.

One day some patients met together in the halls of the hospital and began to talk, as patients do, of their treatments.

“The doctor is quite alright, I guess,” said the man with the broken leg, “but she keeps insisting that I don’t put weight on my leg for six weeks. Doesn’t that seem excessive to you?”

“Absolutely,” said the man with the rare blood disorder. “What’s worse, she keeps prying into my personal history, asking about my parents and the environment I grew up in. What business is that of hers?”

“Frightful,” said the obese woman. “Do you know she had the audacity to tell the nurses to stop bringing me the fried food I requested?”

“No!” said another woman, who tried to tell of her plight but was overcome with a fit of coughing.

“That’s nothing,” said the man with appendicitis. “She wants to cut me open!”

The patients all agreed that the hospital was in a dreadful state and decided they should do something. They raided the supply closets for white lab coats and stethoscopes, then set about to fix the hospital’s problems.

The man with the broken leg made it his mission to fit casts to the legs of anyone who would hold still long enough, while the woman with the coughing fits followed behind handing out cough syrup.

The man with the rare blood disorder visited each patient’s room, spreading the news of his journey from being a patient to a doctor, and telling everyone where they could find their own white coats and stethoscopes. He was joined by the man with appendicitis, who taught the patients that while the doctor’s emphasis on health was excellent, her more radical suggestions were not in step with modern thought, and what really mattered was that they foster a mindset of “healthfulness”.

The obese woman took it upon herself to visit the sick in the waiting room and refer them to her fellow patients for treatment.

If you visit the hospital today, you will be met by thousands of patients in white lab coats, each claiming to be perfectly healthy and offering you a similar cure. They will lead you in a reading of the Hippocratic Oath that they have reconstructed from memory and give you your own white lab coat and stethoscope.

Rumor has it that the doctor is still somewhere in the hospital, but no patients have seen her in years.

The Entirely True History of the Fluffernutter

I have endeavored to keep this website free from the confessional gushing that makes up so much of social media. Yet I have a fantastic personal tale which must be chronicled for the benefit of mankind. You may not believe it, and that is your privilege, but here is the story of how I accidentally invented the Fluffernutter.

I was around ten years old at the time and in elementary school. My family was not wealthy, but as a special treat every Friday my parents would give me eighty-five cents to buy pizza from the cafeteria. The rest of the week my lunch came to school with me, in a lunchbox, and it always included a peanut butter sandwich.

I can’t recall a time when I did not prepare my own lunch, and peanut butter sandwiches were easy: get two slices of bread, put a big glob of peanut button on one, spread some butter or margarine on the other, and press together. Some of you are probably wondering about the butter, and the truth is I have no idea why I did that. It was just how I knew to make a sandwich and I never stopped to consider the source of this knowledge or its nutritional ramifications.

My mother had her own thoughts on nutrition, and while she had no problem with my daily ingestion of toxic levels of trans fats, she did have a problem with companies using annatto to give butter and margarine a yellowish tint. Somehow she found some unmolested butter, like she’d had growing up. This made little difference to me. It still made a peanut butter sandwich just fine.

It may come as a shock to those in the audience, but being an overweight know-it-all who wore hand-me-down clothing (without having an older sibling, I should add) did not elevate my social status within elementary school society. I sat near the cool boys who could play sports and say dirty words when the teachers were away, but I knew, and they knew, that I was not one of them.

The coolest of the cool boys was named Bryce. He always got picked first for kickball, and never packed his lunch. He noticed me eating my peanut butter sandwich with snow-white annatto-free butter and was intrigued. “Is that marshmallow?” he asked?

I should point at that I had never heard of marshmallow cream, and I could see no way that anyone could confuse butter with the fluffy cylinders of sugar that I roasted over a campfire in the summer. It was probably some cool kid joke that I wasn’t cool enough to understand. So, with the dry sarcasm that served me so well, I responded “Yes, it’s marshmallow.

Needless to say, this short exchange changed Bryce’s life. Even in high school he would still fondly recall how I had introduced him to the Fluffernutter, and since the coolest boy in school was eating them, they soon became a sensation all across the fourth grade.

I realize that some people may credit the discovery of the Fluffernutter to other times and places, but as far as my elementary school is concerned, I am its inventor.