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July 23, 2009

Write Portable Code

Filed under: The Bookshelf — sbj @ 7:51 pm

You may be tempted to make porting a separate stage, just like editing or debugging, but “thinking portability” in not a step – it’s an all-encompassing state of mind that should inform each specific task a programmer performs.

Sometimes I get bits of life knowledge or wisdom from strange places. A couple of years ago I had just such an experience while reading Write Portable Code (yes you read that right, it’s a programming book). While reading all about the deeply personal and insightful topic of portable code, I stumbled upon this quote:

You may be tempted to make porting a separate stage, just like editing or debugging, but “thinking portability” in not a step – it’s an all-encompassing state of mind that should inform each specific task a programmer performs.

It reminded me instantly of the phrase one of my dear friends is so fond of using; “people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.” I then internalized the thought process a bit and started thinking about personality traits, codes of ethics, morality, etc.

It seems to me that people have different kinds of ethics in different situations. Some of their decisions are situational, and guided by what is going on in the moment. Some by the culture or general mood of the era, and others by a more foundational base that is not effected by mood or environment.

That last group is what I would call the “portable code” that makes up a persons quality of character. The part of their personality that transcends more transient influences and applies, not situationally, but rather to everything they do.

These are a persons real core values. However, I think that often, the public perception of a persons values is derived more from their “reason” and “season” values (as those tend to be more evident in day to day life) than their “lifetime” values. This concerned me, and served as a call to action. I did not want to be judged on a situational or societal value system, but rather on what is truly fundamental to me.

Since then I have taken greater pains to be sure that my core values show through when I speak or write. They may not be as trendy or fun, but they are who I am. They are my portable (and therefore most robust and useful) code. They are not a step in the process, but rather the all-encompassing state of mind that informs each specific task I perform.

July 22, 2009

A Kids Guide to Giving

Filed under: The Bookshelf — sbj @ 5:54 pm

My oldest Son is thirteen years old and for years has asked for the same thing for his birthday (which comes within a couple of weeks of Christmas). Year in and year out, he wishes for people to make donations to charity, usually phrased like this “give something to the poor kids.” He downplays it by saying he received more than enough for Christmas. I’ve always been particularly proud of him for this. My youngest son gives too, just not for his birthday… he randomly picks things while we are shopping, for example, and we then donate them.

Inspired by my boys, I have a particular affinity for today’s book A Kids Guide to Giving. Researched, compiled and written (with a little help from family and friends) by a 14 year old (it was actually published when she was 20), it is a primer for getting actively involved in the process of giving back. The book includes chapters on why to give, how to give, and even how to start your own campaign. The back half of the book is a meticulously researched compendium of profiles on charitable organizations, with details including a break down of how each dollar is spent within the organization. And now… the quote:

Maybe you already knew that the environment needed help. But did you know that pollution in the ocean leads to less oxygen for people to breath? It’s true. Maybe you also know that illiteracy is a problem – but would you be surprised to hear that about 16% of the world’s adult population cannot read? Would you be more motivated to help if you knew exactly how many people in your own town couldn’t read? Find out the facts.

I have spoken before (on my regular blog) about the spirit of giving and how important that is to instill in people. It is a mindset that, generally, once established sticks with people. That belief is part of what generated my “make the world a better place” campaign.

The book itself was published in conjunction with By Kids for Kids, and organization that is well worth your time to investigate, if you are not already familiar.

If you have pre-teens or teens (my seven year old read it and loved it too), I cannot recommend this book enough, it is one afternoons reading, with a lifetime of returns.

July 20, 2009

100 Voices

Filed under: The Bookshelf — sbj @ 3:48 pm

I love quotes (which, you might be able to tell, based on the nature of this blog), so often I pick up books full of them. I’m not limited to one liners, lengthy quotes if they are complex yet succinct are just as good. With that in mind I have really enjoyed 100 Voices: Words That Shaped Our Souls Wisdom to Guide Our Future, a compilation of quotes and passages from throughout 20th century.

One of the things I loved about this book was how it broke the century down into decades and provided a miniature history lesson on each decade, using quotes to document the events that transpired. In 146 very short pages, you get a decent history of the 20th century. Not only in terms of major events, but, because of all of the quotes, you also get a good sense of the mood of the times.

When I flipped this book open, I landed on a page with this quote:

Until Justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men’s skin, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who follows my writing that I would pick a quote that deals with race or gender issues, these are probably the causes that are most near to my heart.

This particular quote comes from Lyndon B. Johnson. It gets more interesting when you find out that these words were spoken at an address at Gettysburg. It must have taken a great deal of confidence, in 1963, for the President to stand on the hallowed ground where Lincoln once gave one of the most famous speeches in history, and make that statement.

The 60’s were a gateway decade, I like to think those years were the first step in the enlightenment of this country (we still have a lot of walking to do before we are there). Forty-five years after Johnson’s speech a black man has a legitimate chance of winning the highest office in the land, this is certainly significant progress. However, it is widely acknowledged that if he does not win the election, it will be more about his race, than about his qualifications. So, while progress has been made, we still have considerable work to do.

Like President Johnson before me, I look forward to the day when emancipation is no longer a proclamation and when, indeed, it is more than a fact. I anticipate a day when it is notable for its historical significance, but irrelevant as a contemporary term in the lexicon of a truly enlightened society. When it is a distant memory, of a bygone era

July 19, 2009

Why Marriages Succeed or Fail

Filed under: The Bookshelf — sbj @ 8:58 pm

Okay, this time I did not even look at the book on the shelf, I just grabbed one off the shelf as I walked out of my bedroom (one of four primary book repositories in my house). I’m not sure that, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in May, I would choose Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can Make Yours Last of my own volition, however, that’s what we’ve got. My sister sent me this book when I was having the marital problems that eventually led to my divorce. It didn’t save my marriage, however, that was no fault of the book. So, lets flip it open and see what we find, shall we…

Yes-Butting. A yes-but is any statement that starts off agreeing but ends up disagreeing.

Ah yes, in college we used to call this “rabbiting” and any sentence that started with “yeah, but” was interrupted with the requisite reply “Yeah-but’s eat lettuce”, the offending sentence was discarded and a more constructive one was put in its place. Turns out we actually did have a handle on a couple of things in college :)

Yes-butting (or rabbiting) is a tricky little form of communication, often confused with bait and switch. For the record, while similar, rabbiting is a defensive maneuver; baiting and switching is an offensive one. In either case, however, you are softly drawing the mouse to the cheese, only to spring the trap.

Like most things that can be studied as trends in marriage, rabbiting actually tends to spring up in almost any contentious conversation. It is as destructive in a casual debate as it is in an extended relationship. It is a stepping block toward detachment and isolation. Rabbiting is a way of relinquishing your responsibilities, and the first step in being able to blame someone else for things.

Before they are willing to openly criticize someone, most people are able to place them at the scene of the crime, as not so innocent bystanders. Once they have established the fallibility of the other person, and become comfortable with it, the next step is turning the other persons bystander role into active participation. This, then, allows more direct forms of criticism. If you think about it, it is a pattern you have probably seen over and over again.

Taken to the extreme, it is similar to what the Nazi propaganda machine (led by Joseph Goebbels) did to the Jews in Germany, which led to the public acceptance of the holocaust (at least, the parts of it the public was privy too). The Naz’s first took the soft approach of painting the Germans as victims who did all the work while the Jews received all of the benefit. Only when the premise of this indirect attack was widely accepted (specifically that the jews were responsible for the financial problems of the Germans), did the Nazi’s begin the process of aggressively and directly attacking and exterminating the Jews.

The point of mentioning this, of course, is to show that at any level of human interaction, from a simple debate to a global humanitarian issue, this phenomenon exists. Being aware of it, is, of course, the best start toward avoiding falling into this trap yourself.

Like most of the advice in this little book (which is a very easy read, and has lots of self tests, which are always fun) you don’t need to be trying to save a marriage for it to be useful to you (I have re-read it a couple of times post-divorce), you just have to interact with other human beings from time to time.

July 18, 2009

The Wisdom of Harvey Penick

Filed under: The Bookshelf — sbj @ 8:26 pm

Several years ago, when I first started playing golf, someone gave me The Wisdom of Harvey Penick as a giftI’m sure it was designed to improve my golf game (and it did); however, it probably did just as much for my life outside of golf. I’m not sure if it was luck, or the frequency with which I reference the particular passage that led me to flip the book open to the page with this quote:

When I ask you to take an aspirin, please don’t take the whole bottle.

In the golf swing a tiny change can make a huge difference. The natural inclination is to begin to overdo the tiny change that has brought success. So you exaggerate in an effort to improve even more, and soon you are lost and confused again

If you think about this, it is equally true of most undertakings in life. I see this in conversations where a person has already made their point yet continues on, or in peoples attempts to maintain relationships where one person’s desperate attempts at fixing things serve as the primary motivation for others departure

It’s human nature, which brings up something else that is kind of surprising to me, specifically, how often human nature is not in the afflicted humans best interest. It’s an interesting balancing act that humans must perform, mixing in the proper amount of following your instincts while at the same time knowing when to eschew what comes naturally and take an alternate course.

Fortunately these paths and mysteries can often be solved by a simple dose of moderation, or in the wise words of Mr Penick, by not taking the entire bottle.

July 17, 2009

Ask Your Father

Filed under: The Bookshelf — sbj @ 4:10 pm

For fathers day in 2006 I received Ask Your Father: Fifty Things Your Father Should Have Told You But Probably Didn’t, it is a collection of facts and lessons for boys that your father should have taught you… but might not have. Hmmm… this is the first time I have flipped open a book and wanted a do-over. However, in the interest of integrity, I’m going to stick with my first flip. Just so we are clear, this book is not all about relationships. In includes things like how to tie a tie, how to hang wallpaper and many other handy things. This just happens to be where I flipped it open. So, without further ado, the quote:

Never underestimate the element of surprise. Tease her: be playful and imaginative. Her whole body needs attention: kiss her cheeks, eyelids, neck, ear lobes hands, backs of her knees, gently and lingeringly.

Well, then! Actually, there is some really solid advice here, which is true for a surprising amount of this particular book. In my experience, which is not slight, I’m a little afraid to admit (funny how that used to be a badge of pride and now it is kind of embarrassing, guess that’s part of the growing up process). I digress… in my experience, this advice is very good. Women are amazing creatures (If you have not read my “kiss the girl” blog, you should, if you want to really understand what I’m talking about here) who pour out love 24 hours a day. What is equally cool about them is that they do not require this in kind. Short, meaningful bursts of demonstrative behavior will satisfy them. They are dromedaries of love!!

Mind you, I do not advocate (as some men are apt to do) taking advantage of this. You should express your love any chance you get. However, guys are not wired as women are, we simply are not going to be constant fountains of emotion. This makes it all the more important that we do so well when we get the chance.

So, yes, take your time, dote on her, enjoy the moment, and express to her exactly what she means to you. Come to think of it, that would have been really handy advice to have received from dear old dad, I’m going to make sure I add it to the “birds and bees” conversation file for my two boys right now!

July 16, 2009

Letter to a Christian Nation

Filed under: The Bookshelf — sbj @ 12:33 pm

Not every book on my shelf is a favorite, in fact, some I read knowing from the start I will not like. However, I feel they must be read, in order to understand where other people are coming from and have reasoned discourse with them. One such book is Letter to a Christian Nation (Vintage) by Sam Harris.

I actually respect and agree with some small portion of what Mr Harris has to say. I just tend to disagree with his approach and the false logic he uses to do, for atheism, what he admonishes Christians for doing with regard to their own faith. A quote:

We do not have words for people that doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.

Here, he is advancing that there should not even be a word for Atheism, because it should be the standard, or “normal” state of mind. Ignoring his attempts to belittle people of faith (I try to ignore false arguments or points built on a foundation of argumentative fallacy), I have to wonder about his evangelistic efforts to communicate that it should be considered de facto that there is no God.

From where I sit, there is not solid measurable proof, only faith, on either side of the God question. Yet Mr Harris advocates as though there is. Essentially acting in a faith based manner, while decrying the similar actions of those of the Christian faith.

It’s not that I think (or care if) he is right or wrong in his opinion (that is a topic way to deep and controversial for my little book blog), but I find his hypocritical approach distasteful. One of my life long tenants has been “never invalidate or abandon your own position of righteousness.” I cannot help but feel that Mr Harris has failed in this calling. While that may be fine with him, and his followers (who, in my experience are very staunch in their support of his views), this is where he loses me.

July 15, 2009

Writers Dreaming

Filed under: The Bookshelf — sbj @ 2:37 pm

I have always wanted to be a writer (those of you who read my blogs with any consistency know why it is still a desire rather than a reality :) . Several years ago, in support of my dream I was given the book Writers Dreaming: 26 Writers Talk About Their Dreams and the Creative Process. Tonight I am flipping it open, and finding, this:

… there is a world of difference between truth and fact. Fact tells us the data: the numbers, the places where, the people who and the times when. But facts can obscure the truth…

The quote also speaks volumes about daily interactions in life. Whether it is interpersonal communications, or the disseminated word of the media, there is often a disparity between the facts as presented and the truth or reality of a situation. Numbers, theoretically the ultimate authority on right and wrong, do, in fact, lie (or, at least, can be misleading) if they are taken out of context.

Good communication, and the ability to articulate the reality of a situation requires a mix of truth and fact. One should not support the other, rather they should go hand in hand as partners throughout the communication process.

Telling the just the facts or just the truth can often, for example, lead to misunderstandings or worse, lies of omission. When Maya Angelou wrote those words, she knew the power, both for entertainment and manipulation of words, facts and truths, as indicated when she went on to say:

They become more consequential when you have the liberty to take them out of sequence.

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone harnessed those powers for good constructive purposes, as Angelou did?

July 14, 2009

1 Dead in Attic

Filed under: The Bookshelf — sbj @ 1:58 pm

One of the best books I have read in the past several years, and for that matter perhaps ever was 1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina. I will caution you, when I say best, I mean the “Shindlers List” type of best. Some of the stories in this book are horrific and some will move you to tears (assuming you are human and have not had your tear ducts removed). In all, you will be faced with and asked to accept humanity, in all its glory and despair. 1 Dead in Attic is a compilation of writings from Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose, beginning right after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and documenting the long road back to re-populating the city. Here is a paragraph from the page just I flipped to in the book:

For some it will be a foul-smelling but mildly comic discovery that they forgot to empty their Diaper Genie before they left. For a friend of mine who accompanied his mother to their home off Paris Avenue in St. Bernard Parish over the weekend, it was the discovery of two tenants in the rental side of her shotgun double – two tenants who had been dead for 33 days.

I’m quite sure I could handle either of the realities mentioned in that passage. I would not enjoy them, but I could handle them. What amazes me is what Chris Rose endured over those long weeks in New Orleans. It was fascinating watching him transform from a typical journalist to a self-proclaimed war correspondent. It was both comforting and exhilarating to watch his humanity ebb and flow yet never wain.

At the end of the book, he takes some money to one of the shops from which he borrowed supplies in order to survive. The exchange between him and the cashier, as he attempts to repay his “loan”, is simple, yet priceless.

This book is more than a tome about a recovering city, it is a story of a man who finds out what he is capable of. A man who finds the best of himself under horrible conditions and comes out better for it. It is a book on humanity, leadership, and integrity. It is a lesson in life…

July 13, 2009

The Dangerous Book for Boys

Filed under: The Bookshelf — sbj @ 3:46 pm

To start this off, I wound up with The Dangerous Book for Boys which is a lovely compendium of knowledge targeting young boys (there is now a similar book for girls).The page I flipped to was in a section called “7 poems every boy should know”, and the poem I found on that page was Robert Frost’s famous The Road Not Taken.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Interestingly, as often as the last three lines of this poem are quoted, it is seldom in the intended context. Frost wrote this piece about a friend who was in the army, and was deciding between two roads in the field of battle, fully expecting whichever choice he made would be the wrong one and lead to his demise.

If you think about that, it really changes the entire meaning of those oft spoken words. Today’s connotative meaning is usually the exact opposite of Frost’s intent for the passage. When people use the phrase today, they are talking about how they are “being their own person”. In this case, the “misuse” is probably a good thing. Many an inspiring speech, has been punctuated by these words. Their simple (despite being out of context) message conveying a strong call to independent adventurous action.

But even with its original meaning, the words convey strength and courage. The young trooper could, of course, opted to shrink from the challenge, to cower from the unknown and make no progress at all. However this was not the course or content of our representatives character, nor shall it be ours.

I say embrace the adventure of the unknown, be frontiersmen, even within our your community, be dangerous (whether or not you are a boy!). Whether you take the road less traveled by, or not… strike out… and make your life your own adventure story!

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