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Cover of Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and WarningIf you took World History in high school, your experience was probably like mine: the course was miles wide and only about an inch deep. This has everything to do with the amount of material that has to be covered, even over the course of an entire academic year. Therefore, I found Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning an excellent read. As the title indicates, this Timothy Snyder work covers one of the worst times in the history of our world.

This is a hard read because it is information dense. I’ve made a note to myself to go back through this book and take more elaborate notes for review and comparison because there’s just that much. However, it is definitely worth the read because Snyder covers so much that isn’t covered in typical history courses nor in most video programs on the Holocaust. For instance, right from the start Snyder traces the ideology of Hitler and the Nazi party as a whole. Certain key ideas go all the way back to Germany’s former colonization of Africa and some of the actions of Hitler and Germany mirror actions from that previous time. Another example is an exploration of why Poland should have been Germany’s ally and not the Soviet Union. Snyder then covers the events and differences in the beliefs about the state which led to the opposite, with Stalin initially being Hitler’s ally and Germany’s invasion of Poland.
One of the interesting perspectives reinforced in the early part of the book is how much of Germany’s actions (and Hitler’s thinking) was about land. My old American History instructor used to tie most of America’s actions to a pursuit of more land. It was so common a theme (think Manifest Destiny) that she would often exclaim, “Land!” when discussing motivations. For instance, the Louisiana Purchase was about land. Jefferson struggled with it because he couldn’t find anything in the US Constitution which specifically gave the President the authority to make such an acquisition, but the deal was just too good to pass up! And in reality, the colonization of America in general was about land. Hitler saw a need for the expansion of Germany for more farmland and his ideology was completely fine with the idea of seizing that land from the “lesser race” even if that meant their complete extermination. The parallels to America are not accidental because Hitler saw what the USA did to Native American tribes, both through warfare and by forced exile to west of the Mississippi River, as an example of how Germany should act. And in Hitler’s mind, there was Germany (and possibly England and the USA) and there was everyone else. The everyone else had no rights, not even to life, and definitely no ownership over resources if Germans needed/wanted them.
If I have a complaint, it’s found in the Epilogue (titled Conclusion: Our World). There the author tries to link climate change with a recurrence of events leading up to and including the Holocaust because a leader will be able to spin similar ideology as Hitler did. Logically, this doesn’t follow. That a shortage of resources or perceived need might lead to such a dictator is not only plausible but we’ve seen that played out numerous times in history. However, such a leader doesn’t need Global Warming to generate that lack of resources. One only has to look at situations like Burma/Myanmar or North Korea today to see that. Also, if the concern is about food, there’s that general concern as the population of the planet increases. This is a concern regardless if Global Warming forecasts are correct.
Would I recommend this book? Yes, I would. The complaint aside, there’s a wealth of information found in this one source that goes beyond what most folks know about the history of the Holocaust. There’s that old maxim, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it,” and with something as horrid as the Holocaust, we don’t want to repeat those series of events again. Looking at what led up to the Holocaust allows us to build defenses and warnings for events which might cause us to follow a similar road. Therefore, Snyder’s Black Earth is worth the read.
Note: I received a free review copy of this book.

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Cover for Breaking the Chains of GravityAre you interested in the history of the US space program? Do you know the history of it prior to NASA? That’s what Amy Shira Teitel covers in Breaking the Chains of Gravity: The Story of Spaceflight Before NASA. It is a fascinating read with a timeline that will likely surprise you if you’re not already familiar with the roots of the famed space program.

Teitel starts off in Germany. Why Germany? The truth of the matter is that much of the successes in the early space program were due to technology based on the German V-2 rockets. Yes, the very same ones the Germans launched against Great Britain in WWII. Not only did we use captured German technology, but many of the leaders in the US space program were former Nazi scientists like Werner Von Braun.

Teitel covers Von Braun’s motivations well as well as several other key participants in Germany’s rocket program. Military use of rocketry was something they were forced into due to the times. And membership in the Nazi party was a requirement for survival in a fascist regime. Therefore, when the war came to an end, the scientists involved and any information on the technology around the V-2, especially spare parts, were high priority acquisitions. That’s effectively what they became as the USA, the USSR, and Great Britain all vied to get at the men and materiel.

Then Teitel delves into the next plodding steps of the US space program: not knowing what to do with the Germans, the test flights with the X-1 aircraft (which was used to break the sound barrier), the conflicting priorities, the infighting between the military services, and the shock when the USSR launched its first two rockets into space. As is pointed out elsewhere, any of these subjects could and have warranted books of themselves, but Teitel delivers a nice summary in a storytelling style that connects the pieces together. She finally ends the narrative with the formation of NASA from so many disparate parts and its first few steps as the center of US space research.

I enjoyed Breaking the Chains of Gravity greatly and would recommend it to anyone who has a thirst for space, for NASA, and for how science advances in the applied realm. It’s not a quick read. There are a lot of facts, a lot of agencies, and a lot of separate initiatives to keep track of, especially in the last one third of the book. This reflects the historic complexity and, for lack of a better word, mess that represented the US space program prior to NASA. If you happen to be a homeschooling family, this would be an excellent addition to any study of space and the US efforts in that arena.

Note: I received a pre-release copy of the book for review.

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I’ve grown my hair out multiple times for donation. It takes some time, as hair grows about 1/2 an inch a month, and the donated hair must be in a ponytail. However, I know that it benefits others, it doesn’t cost me much, and it’s more a matter of biding my time. This is sort of “passive helping” towards others.

The three main hair donation channels I’m aware of are:

Each channel has different requirements and primarily serves a different group of people. Therefore, if you’ll be willing to consider your hair out to donate, check the three and see which one is the best fit for you.

Even if you’re used to short hair, it’s doable. It does require some “grin and bear it” moments as you get used to the longer hair. For instance, I tend to wear a military “high and tight” when I’m not growing my hair out due to my days at The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina. So if you’ve never donated before, please consider doing so. It takes multiple hair donations to make a single wig.

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“I’m not going to change. He/She has to take me just the way I am.”

I heard this from a friend who is adamant about not changing for anyone. This friend would potentially give up a relationship where both people have invested much time and energy. When my friend said it, I became sad. Somehow my friend has bought the lie that you can have a fulfilling relationship and never change at all. 

Yes, every relationship leaves us changed. The change might be minute. We might not recognize that a change has taken place. However, we are changed. My friend recognizes that and that isn’t the sort of change being referred to in the “no change” declaration. My friend was referring to intentional change: change you seek after to be more compatible for the relationship. 

After 20 years of marriage, one thing I can say I have learned is that I must be continually changing. My wife deserves for me to be a better husband. That means improving myself. When I look at where I should be and where I am, I shudder. I am surprised my wife puts up with me. However, when I compare where I am to where I started, I am even more surprised that we have made it this far. I love my wife. I want to be that better husband. Thus, I desire to change. 

If you’re in a serious relationship, it is implied that you care about the other person. If you’re in a dating or marriage relationship, one would expect that you would want what is best for the other person. Eventually that comes back to looking at yourself. After all, if you want the best for them, doesn’t that also mean the best partner? And that’s where change comes in. Moreover, that’s where a desire for change should be. None of us will ever be all that we can be for the other person. That should never stop us from trying to make progress in that direction.

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On workdays I don’t have a lot of time for breakfast. I had gotten into the habit of eating poorly, whether that be grabbing a couple of Pop-Tarts, stopping at a fast food joint for a biscuit (and soda, since I don’t like coffee), or getting a 3-egg omelet from the restaurant downstairs in my office building. Eating is important to getting physically fit and it’s the area I fail the most, which is why I’ve struggled a lot with building fitness and losing weight.

In one of my runner magazines, I saw a suggestion for “summer porridge,” because it was easy, healthy, and something that can be prepared the night before. If you’re not familiar with summer porridge, it’s basically oatmeal that has time to soak the liquid up overnight in the refrigerator, removing the need to cook the oatmeal. Perfect if you have a limited amount of time in the morning. Here’s my simple recipe:

1/3 cup quick cook steel cut oats
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1/3 cup fruit
1/2 tablespoon honey

Note that all the key ingredients are 1/3 cup. That’s what makes it easy to remember.
I throw the ingredients into a container, mix the ingredients together with a spoon, and then put the porridge into the refrigerator, where it’s waiting until morning. It’s been great! I find the meal refreshing, filling without being too heavy, and I stay full until lunch time. Also, I’m getting real fruit, not fruit juice (which too often has added sugars), I’m getting the oatmeal for fiber, and the yogurt helps with digestion.

Now you may be thinking, “What kind of yogurt?” I did. There are some recipes that say to use Greek yogurt and that if you substitute with regular yogurt, you need to reduce the milk. I am using regular yogurt but I didn’t reduce the milk. For me, it’s the right consistency. For my wife, it’s a little too much liquid, so you’ll likely need to adjust the milk/yogurt amount depending on what type of yogurt and how much liquid you like with your oatmeal.

As for the plain yogurt, I did see recipes that called for vanilla flavored yogurt. In my case, I’m getting enough sweetness through the fruit and the honey. Therefore, I didn’t want the added sugar that you get with flavored yogurt.

That brings me to the last item, which is the fruit. We’re in winter and fresh berries aren’t available where I live. I do have frozen blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, etc., in my freezer. I have found that if I measure out the 1/3 cup and combine, that by morning the fruit are chilled but no longer frozen. Therefore, I don’t bother trying to defrost them.

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GundamBeamSaberRecently, Lockheed Martin announced plans for a compact fusion engine, one it believes can be developed possibly in the next 5-10 years. As soon as I heard the announcement, my mind went to a series of Japanese manga and anime, all around “mobile suits” called Gundams. Ever since the first Mobile Suit Gundam, the multiple series have produced both scientific and government inquiry into the possibility of producing a Gundam. There are a lot of limiters, but the biggest one is the power source. If a compact fusion engine becomes viable, it increases the viability of a real Gundam.

In reality, we may never see a mobile suit that approaches the capability of a Gundam. The cost is prohibitive. Still, it’s incredible to dream about. To get to the point where you could conceivably build a Gundam, there’s a lot of math, science, and engineering involved. When you’re a homeschool family like mine is, especially when you have children already absorbed into Gundam, this is a useful dream. Ultimately, it means what are typically banal subjects for a lot of students can be turned into opportunities to build towards the possibility of the dream.

That’s where I’m taking it. When I first proposed the idea to my two high school boys, their eyes lit up. Slogging through Calculus and Calculus-Based Physics and college-level biology isn’t very exciting to them. However, couched in terms of Gundam, and in seeing the possibility of how to make a Gundam, well, that’s a different story entirely. This should be fun and challenging.

As far as homeschooling is concerned, it’s one of the freedoms we do have. We can consider projects and learn based on them. In this case, we’re talking about something that all of us may be working on for years to come, because it would indeed be wonderful to have the knowledge to actually design and build a Gundam. I don’t have that knowledge now. Therefore, it’s not just a challenge to my children, it’s a challenge to me as well.

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Child Cancer AwarenessNote: I feel this post is important enough to post across all my blogs.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month here in the USA. Here are some statistics:

  • In 2014, an estimated 15, 780 children (ages 0-19) will be diagnosed with cancer in the USA.
  • In 2014, an estimated 1,960 will die of cancer here in the United States.
  • That averages to between 5 and 6 children dying of cancer every day, just here in the United States.

There’s a lot of talk about “surviving” cancer, meaning you hit the 5 year mark after diagnosis. That’s a misleading statistic, as I’m about to explain. Here are some more statistics:

  • 12% of children diagnosed with cancer do not survive (don’t make it to the 5 year point).
  • The average age of diagnosis is six years-old.
  • With current treatments, 60% of childhood cancer survivors suffer after-effects.

Campbell’s Story:

A more comprehensive telling of Cam’s story can be found on this blog and on this Facebook group. Here’s the short version: Cam was diagnosed with cancer when she was 3 years old. She beat it. However, certain symptoms came back, which led to re-checks. The cancer had come back. Despite all efforts, including experimental treatments, Campbell died from cancer. Technically, she is a survivor, because she made it past five years (5 years, 2 days). However, Campbell is no longer with us. Therefore, the statistics stating 12% of diagnosed children die of childhood cancer should be higher.

If you do the math, Campbell died at eight years old. She passed away despite heroic efforts from donors to cover expenses and lobby her insurance carrier to cover the experimental treatments, medical personnel performing everything they could do (numerous brain surgeries, clinical trials, experimental treatments), positive thoughts and prayers, and even celebrities taking the time to make some of her wishes come true.

How do I know about Campbell? Campbell’s dad is a Citadel classmate of mine. Because of Campbell’s fight, I became more educated on childhood cancer. Childhood cancer is the leading disease cause of death in children. Every form of childhood cancer we can find a cure for means more bright, young lives saved. Furthermore, given how much damage current treatments do, we need better treatments for survivors. All of this requires research. Research requires funding. As a result, I’m trying to raise awareness about it now.

What We Can Do:

I don’t believe in issuing challenges. If this touches you enough to give, then please do. If not, I realize there are many excellent causes and efforts out there. Please try and give something to one or more that have meaning to you. Here’s what Cam’s family specifically asked for, because this puts research dollars forward for the doctors who were treating Cam and her particular form of cancer. You can mail donations to:

Weill Cornell Medical College with GREENFIELD Ependymoma Research in the memo field.

The mailing address:

Ana Ignat
Department Administrator
525 East 68th St, Box 99
New York, NY 10068

Or you could choose another childhood cancer charity/research fund. If you do, please check with a site like Charity Navigator to see how efficiently that charity uses the donations it receives. I know that particular charities in the past have sounded great but when you do the research… not so much. That’ll help you ensure that more of your donated money goes to research.

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If you’re not familiar with the Nirvana Fallacy, here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

“the informal fallacy of comparing actual things with unrealistic, idealized alternatives.”

I was looking for this when talking about folks who reject partial solutions because those solutions don’t bring about the perfect situation. However, it extends to a good deal beyond those cases. Basically, you avoid the Nirvana fallacy when you choose to make forward progress, no matter how small the progress.

For instance, you’ve not eaten well all day. You could say to yourself, “Well, the day is wrecked, I might as well eat whatever now.” This is falling into the Nirvana fallacy. You aren’t going to reach the  “I stuck to good eating habits all day” state so you reject what you can actually do to eat right for at least part of the day. For today, eating right 100% of the time is idealized and unrealistic. It’s unachievable. That’s why we typically say to ourselves, “Well, since today is a wash, I’ll just try to do better tomorrow.”

Attacking the fallacy is easy. Instead of lamenting today as lost and promising to do better tomorrow, we can simply choose to do better the rest of the day. It’s not the idealized state. However, it is better than continuing to eat poorly. It is moving forward. Don’t fall into the Nirvana Fallacy, especially with respect to your goals.

 

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I posted a thought on Facebook that my friend, Andy Leonard (blog | twitter), asked me to blog about. Here’s what I asked:

A haunting question: Am I giving my children memories of my love that will be an aid and comfort to them in difficult times?

Another friend pointed out that in his view, building a reliance on Jesus Christ in tough times is of critical importance. We share faith in Jesus and I agree with that. However, even if that is of primary importance to me, I know that my children will go through hard times. I want them to be able to remember that Dad has always been in their corner, has always loved them, and that they can reflect on times where they felt demonstrations of my love.

There is plenty of talk of previous generations of men who barely shed a tear, who hit their emotions behind a wall, and while that may have been the way of the past, I don’t think it’s healthy. Going back to my faith, I can’t find Biblical support for such a position, either. I can, however, find plenty of support for expressing my feelings and my love to my children. For instance:

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! – Matthew 7:9-11, ESV

The point of this passage in context is that the Father loves His children and wants to show His love. It’s not about getting whatever we want, for those who might want to misapply this, by the way. Applied to my role as a father, it tells me that I need to continually demonstrate my love for my children. The point isn’t whatever stuff they get from that love, but the memories that will be made.

What memories are you leaving for the ones who care about you and who you care about? Are they good memories of love? Is there anything you need to change to leave the memories you want to be remembered by?

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Here is where I had a lunch time meeting today:

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It’s another private spot in downtown Columbia, another place to get away. Today’s lunch meeting consisted of an alumni board meeting for my high school alma mater. It was a conference call and it was my first as part of the board. As a result, I wanted to:

  • find a place of privacy.
  • find a place of serenity and quiet.
  • get some sun.
  • steer clear of the office.

The fountain in this location is more prominent and the flowing water is soothing. This particular spot, while in downtown, is located on side streets where there isn’t a lot of traffic. As a result, I was able to focus on the conference call and make good use of the time.

Even when you find private spots, consider what is good and and bad about each one. I could have gone to the spot yesterday, but the amount of background noise would have been in competition with the voices on the phone, even with a headset. This particular spot is slightly less private (more people know about it) but always much quieter, even with people present. That’s why today’s spot was the best place for me to attend my meeting.

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