Yesterday, we attended a cross country race invitational in which one of our children participated. The weather was nearly perfect, about 70 degrees Fahrenheit with a cool breeze and lots of sunshine. Our child finished eighth with a best finish and personal best time. It was great.

What I really wanted to mention though is something that happened after the race to which I was a witness. I looked up and saw my child carrying a teammate in their arms who was obviously in severe pain. They went to their team’s gear area and immediately started caring for this teammate, trying to get them comfortable. They then went and found the mom of the hurt teammate and spent time together with her on massaging their legs. It turned out the problem was severe shin splints, and it took a long time to reduce the pain.

All of this was done with no fuss or fanfare. Our kid just took charge and did something to help another person, carrying them about 60 yards just after finishing the race themselves and throwing up due to exhaustion. Honestly, I was so impressed and proud of them, more so than whatever happened in the cross country race. To me, this incident showed their true character.

I’m a proud dad.

I am not a fan

Things, words, people, and more that I am not a fan of (an abbreviated list):

  • The Olympics. A horribly political and corrupt concoction wrapped in a veneer of happy media and sporting gluttony.
  • The words “future proof.” Just…dumb.
  • Billionaires pretending to space travel.
  • A long list of companies including Amazon, Wal-Mart, and Facebook.
  • I’m especially not a fan of Elon Musk and just about anything he does, including Tesla, a.k.a. the new BMW.
  • Apple News. About as terribly executed as it could possibly get.
  • iOS Apps (ahem, NYT) that do not support or allow Dark Mode.
  • Heat, humidity, and associated bugs.
  • Refusal to acknowledge wrongdoing.
  • Identity politics.

This and that

It is nice to enjoy a long weekend with extended family whom we haven’t seen in more than two years. No drama, no frenetic drive to do this and that, just a time to visit and relax.

Yesterday I downloaded the iOS 15 public beta as well as the watchOS 8 beta and began to use some of the new features. By and large, they are impressive. Things that I especially like:

  • Photo recognition of plants and animals, allowing me to take a photo of a wildflower, for example, and then have Photos automatically identify it for me. This was what I primarily used the separate iNaturalist app for, and now I am not sure I’ll need to any more.
  • The weather app is transformed and I’ll be using it from now on instead of Dark Sky.
  • Photos now does built-in text recognition and translation. Very nicely done.
  • Enhanced Spotlight search, which now includes photos that are identified using dynamically generated keywords. For example, input “bird,” and photos from my photo library of birds are now included in Spotlight search results.
  • Safari has many significant changes and I like them all including the ability to set up something like VPN, called iCloud Private Relay.
  • Maps, wow, very different in a good way.
  • The new Portrait watch face in watchOS 8.

There are many other new things in iOS 15 and watchOS 8, but that’s what I’ve noticed the most so far.

Yesterday, I went for a walk in a nearby state park and took these photos. It was nice to return to a place we’ve gone to since I was a child, and to see that it is still well-maintained. I also had a look at a new, nearby wind farm.

The vacation that wasn’t

My previous post was overly optimistic and positive. In reality, a week of vacation turned into a week of mostly work with a bit of vacation. Grump, grump, grump. In many ways this was because a controversy broke while I was away regarding copyright guidance I gave for the campus as a whole. (At the moment, in addition to my regular responsibilities, I’m serving as the de facto copyright officer for the school.)

I should have known better than to think I’d be able to truly enjoy a vacation.

What is interesting, however, is that I managed to do all kinds of work with only a cellular (LTE) connection. This included data heavy things like multiple Zoom meetings per day, the odd Teams meeting, and more. It even included recording an hour and a half lecture for the graduate course I’m teaching, and posting it successfully in the learning management system. I relied upon my iPhone’s cellular connectivity, using it as a personal hotspot for my laptop and iPad.

Previously, I would never have considered doing this because I did not have an unlimited data plan. I also would never have considered doing it because the cabin where we stayed does not have strong cellular connectivity. But things change over time, sometimes for the better. I do have unlimited data now, and although it wasn’t glitch-free, LTE coverage was just enough to help me get away with working entirely from our cabin.

The fact that this is what happened and that I was able to successfully work in those conditions is positive, but it is going to be rendered unnecessary fairly soon. The cabin where we often stay, as well as others in the place we visited, will soon be connected to the Internet via fiber. Once in place, that will probably be faster than the Internet connection we have at home, which is cable.

I am not advocating working remotely while supposedly on vacation. It was a pain and as the week went by, it became more and more stressful due to work controversies. But it is just an interesting thing to note that it was possible.

Vacation daze

With relatively short notice, we decided to head north for vacation for a week, and are now nicely installed in our favorite cabin on the shore of a large lake, enjoying mild temperatures in the daytime and cooler temperatures at night. I’m writing this with my iPad on my lap, sitting in a camping chair, gazing out onto the lake. Already I feel in some sort of vacation daze. That’s a good thing.

The bad thing is that I still need to work in spite of being on vacation. Yes, this is a very sensible and American thing to do. (Insert sarcasm.)

Turning back to the positive: we are here with our oldest son and our daughter-in-law, able to visit and be together for the first time in about 18 months, and it is great to have all of us together again. In addition, as previously noted, the weather is great and I have enjoyed seeing many things already, such as loons calling out on the lake, many deer, and more. There is a black bear somewhere nearby that we hope to get a glimpse of (although, not too close, please). I have already been able to do a bit of fishing as well.

Below are some initial photos, which I hope you’ll enjoy.

But there are bright spots

Life is hard, but there are bright spots. For example, yesterday when looking out my living room window, I noticed (not for the first time) a hummingbird flying around. It wasn’t looking for nectar at our window or anything; it was just in my peripheral view near the neighbor’s big oak tree, and for some reason, I decided to pay more attention. I’m glad I did, because fairly quickly I realized that the hummingbird was going to and fro and back…to its nest! For the first time in my life, I spotted a hummingbird’s nest. Gobsmacked. These things are at most a few inches wide, so for me to be able to spot it is quite exciting.

Today I looked again during the time when she (it is a female ruby-throated hummingbird) is most active, and set up my camera on a tripod and used the longest zoom I could possibly manage, at the lowest ISO in order to get a crisper image when cropped. The photo below is the best I can do and it isn’t very good. But it clearly shows this magical creature in her magical little nest, made up of many things including moss. Pretty amazing, and a welcome bright spot in an otherwise bleak time.

Sudden death

A dear friend of more than thirty years, who was my age, died suddenly last week. If you are a praying person, I ask that you hold up her husband and their children to God in prayer.

One thing I’ve learned is that grief and loss are terribly difficult but even more so in this pandemic. I cannot tell you the number of friends I know who lost loved ones during the past year or so yet cannot grieve them and honor them in ways they normally could. Somehow, that compounds the pain.

Sudden death is shocking and although I believe all things are in the Lord’s hands, I cannot seem to wrap my mind around it or understand it. Maybe that is part of the point, to learn once again how powerless and weak and out of my depth I am or can be, and thus to surrender this big thing to God.

I know my friend is with God and forever free of the bonds and trials of this world. And that is the very best thing. But I am ineffably sad.

Tick tock time

As our anniversary present to each other, yesterday, my wife and I picked up a large grandfather wall clock. See photo below. Turns out it isn’t antique as we originally thought; instead, it is a replica. Even so, we are really pleased with it, and it is the first of this kind of old fashioned clock we have ever owned. It seems now as if it has always been here. The soft tick tock is soothing, and the hourly chimes are, too.

We purchased the clock from elderly people in a tiny place about 40 miles north of Madison, WI. It was quite a long drive for my wife and I, but in the end, we felt it was worthwhile. It was bitterly cold and snowy but we navigated the roads safely.

At over three feet tall, the clock now takes up a prominent place on the wall of our living room. I hope it will be a sort of family heirloom.

A light in dark places

May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.

J.R.R. Tolkien. The Fellowship of the Ring

I love this Tolkien quote. It seems quite appropriate for the dark times in which we live. There is a lot of Christian allegory in Tolkien’s LOTR, I think, and this quote seems especially appropriate because I believe there is a lot of darkness in Christianity today, including among evangelical Christians. Last week’s events demonstrate that pretty clearly given the way in which so many of the pro-current administration mob and those at the rally that led to the storming of the capitol claim to be Christian. One of the speakers at the rally is a longstanding family friend who, in my opinion, has clearly lost their way.

Another light-related quote that is a favorite of mine:

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

John 1:5 (KJV)

Personally, there has been a lot of darkness in my own life of late, too. Relationally, my family and I continue to struggle, and it gets all of us down. At times, I feel hopelessness and despair. Not good things at all. Many days I struggle (physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally) with deep-rooted problems.

Ultimately, I believe Jesus is the Light and the Way. My salvation and hope are in him, not in my circumstances. This is easy to write but not so easy to live. Another scripture quote came to me in writing this post:

But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.

Malachi 4:2 (NLT)

That’s an amazing word picture, isn’t it? Just contemplate it for a bit.

We live in a time of darkness and chaos, where institutions and principles and truths seem continually challenged and under assault. And where true courage and principled leadership are hard to find. Recently, I finished re-watching the LOTR movies with my youngest child. I’m not as fond of the Hobbit trilogy but we have advanced to re-watching them next. I can’t help but see many spiritual truths and lessons in them. I also simply enjoy the scenery of the land to where I’d love to run away with my family if given the chance: New Zealand. Some of it, especially the background in the scenes of Rohan, are familiar to me, having been there years ago.

Where I live, the days are pretty cold and frequently dreary. However, I am thankful to notice the fact that the days are already beginning to lengthen once again. I love the light. I don’t mind the cold or snow but I do get down when there isn’t much light. Next to the chair where I usually sit, we recently placed an electric wood stove. I enjoy the warmth and light it provides on cold winter mornings, and so thought it appropriate to include here as the featured image. I took the photo very early this morning, while wrapped in a blanket and drinking a cup of coffee.