Thursday, April 26, 2012

My Time of Late

I reported somewhere, either here, on my other blog, or on Facebook, that last Tuesday, April 17, I received a subpoena to give a deposition on April 25th at a certain attorney's office. The issue being litigated is a dispute between a development company and the engineering company they hired (not us). I'm involved because this project was in Centerton, Arkansas, and from 2000-08 I was the de facto city engineer for Centerton. CEI had the contract to provide those services, and I was the one assigned to do it.

The project became complicated, however, in the fall of 2007 when the developer fired their engineering company and hired CEI to complete the project, thinking it was a simple surveying task and finishing up a couple of months of construction. However, shortly after CEI (the design part) took over the project, CEI (the city engineering part) found even more items that needed correcting in the previous engineer's design, along with a number of construction warranty items that hadn't been addressed. As the new engineer, CEI (the design part) had to deal with it.

Turning the clock forward several years, those who were directly involved with the project for CEI (the design part) are no longer working for us, so the only one still on staff who could talk with the lawyers about what CEI (the design part) did was CEI (the city engineering part).

So yesterday I spent seven hours in the deposition (less break and lunch time) giving sworn testimony, trying to make an extremely complex engineering/construction situation understandable to an attorney. Actually, to three attorneys, one plaintiff, one defendant, our CEI, and a court reporter. I had spent almost all my working hours in the eight days between subpoena and deposition going through the files, refreshing my memory, and being prepared.

The deposing attorney, for the defendant, had already prepared a project timeline, no doubt as given to him by his client. He asked me, question by question, to fill in the holes in the timeline and produce documents to back-up either what he said or what I said. By the end of the day we had 21 exhibits identified, pulled from my somewhere-around 3,000 pages of files. They were well organized, to the point where the attorney called me "anal retentive", but that was off the record.

During my testimony I mentioned an e-mail where someone said something critical four or five years ago (the project started in January 2004). The attorney wanted to see it, but I couldn't find it. When you look for something in a hurry, something you know is somewhere in one of two 3-inch stuffed full binders, it's hard to find with eight people waiting on you. I couldn't find it, and was instructed to find it sometime after the deposition, back at our office, and make known to our attorney when we had found it. I spend from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. trying to find it, and did so just before 6. It wasn't an e-mail, however, but a comment in a lengthy minutes of meeting that I had prepared in August 2006.

I went home last night brain dead and exhausted.

That project required limited work by me today. I tried to get back to things that have been piling up for the last nine days, and had a little success with that, but my brain just wasn't in it. So I shifted to filing about 300 sheets of paper that have accumulated over the last three to six months, actually some much longer ago than that. Such work is best done when you are otherwise brain dead.

During this time, I've been through most of the season coordination of In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. I should be able to finish it tonight, including marking any needed changes in the printed manuscript. Over the weekend I hope to get all those edits typed. Monday will be re-printing day, at which time I'll begin rereading it, slowly and carefully, as the final edit. I plan to pitch it to an agent at a writers conference on May 4, but realizing it will have almost no chance of being accepted (and even if accepted the draconian contract provisions publishers throw up at first-time novelists will make my acceptance of that contract close to impossible), I plan on self-publishing it about a week later. I've already pulled the trigger on the cover, and have begun some research on marketing. More on that in another post, maybe on my other blog.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Life is a Nine-Day Tune-Up

So I took my pick-up in for a tune-up last Tuesday, April 10, 2012. The tune-up had been recommended a few months ago at the time of my regular servicing, and I had to wait to get a little money ahead. I received a much larger speaker fee than I expected for the Las Vegas conference, so I scheduled the servicing.

I made the appointment for 7 a.m. on Tuesday. The Ford dealership is less than half a mile from the office. I would walk to the office from there except I have to cross a busy 5 lane urban highway to do so. Some day I might do that, but the dealership provides a courtesy van, so I took the ride to the office.

I made the appointment for 7 a.m. to give them plenty of time to get the job done on Tuesday. I had no outside appointments, I normally arrive at the office at quarter to 7, so my routine and schedule fit well with that time, the earliest appointment available. Also, I thought if I made the appointment early enough, they will surely get the work done on Tuesday and I wouldn't have to arrange for alternative transportation home, or walk the 15.5 miles.

3 p.m. came by with no call from the shop. I called them. They said they were working on it, had already changed the plugs and determined all wires were good, and were about to test drive it. By 5 p.m. they hadn't called me to say it was ready. I called them again. The test drive showed it was still running rough, so they thought the distributor cap and rotor (or whatever is in a modern distributor) were bad. I authorized the work, but they wouldn't have it done until the next day. I called the wife, and could tell she wasn't thrilled about driving into town to get me, so I arranged with my mother-in-law to borrow her car, and was able to get home. I hated to ask an 87 year old person to drive the three miles in rush hour, so I delayed having her come till after 6 p.m.

By this point I realized what the shop had done. The delayed working on the vehicles of the people who didn't stay to wait on the work, and regardless of appointment time worked on the vehicles of the people who stayed at the shop and waited on the work to be done. That wasn't doing right by their customers, though I understood it.

The same scenario played out on Wednesday. No call, so I called them mid-afternoon. The distributor work didn't fully solve the problem. They were bore-scoping the cylinders to see if a fuel injector was bad. I told them I needed to know ASAP if they would have it done or not, as I had to arrange for transportation. At 5 p.m. he called me to say they weren't done with their evaluation. I drove home again in the m-i-l's car.

The same scenario played out on Thursday. I was very busy and didn't call them. By late afternoon they called me, said it was the #6 fuel injector that was bad, but it was too late in the day to order it in for tomorrow, Friday. They could button everything up and let me have it over the weekend and bring it in again on Monday. Thinking about the shuttle and breaking my Monday morning routine, I told them to keep it.

I don't want to bore you with the Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday scenarios, about leaking manifold gaskets, delays in getting parts in, work being done in the afternoon that should have been done in the morning. They called me Thursday at 9:35 a.m. to say it was ready and running like a new engine. I picked it up Thursday after work, and it is indeed running well.

On the first Tuesday I was mildly angry about the truck not being ready, although I was actually sort of expecting that. On the first Wednesday I was quite angry with the dealership over their delays in working on the truck and for not calling me. On the first Thursday I was irate, and almost blasted them on Facebook. On Friday I was livid, and considered firebombing their building. On Saturday-Sunday I forgot about it as best I could, though I worked through my anger a little. On Monday I was numb. On the second Tuesday I figured they had absconded with the truck and I would be getting an insurance settlement, and was almost happy. On the second Wednesday I was mellow, and decided I would hear when I would hear. On the second Thursday I was back to numb. When I picked up the truck I was very nice, but told them what I didn't like about their business practices.

It seems this is a microcosm of life. People will let you down. Mechanical things won't work, and will seem impossible to fix. Disappointments will abound. Yet always room can be found for joy and contentment. No need to firebomb buildings. Just work through the anger till mellowness sets in.

I must have eaten something at lunch that is making me really, really sleepy. Signing off for a power nap.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Life in our Life Group

Yesterday was a transition Sunday for sermon series and thus for Life Group curriculum. We finished a series last week with the Easter message. We start a new series next week titled, "Live like you were dying". I understand from the promotion video shown in church yesterday that's based on a song of the same title. I've never heard the song.

Yesterday was our annual Faith Promise "convention"—that is, our time to make pledges on faith for giving to world missions. I put convention in quotes because the way we do this has changed greatly over the years. It used to be we had Tuesday through Sunday services, with a banquet on Saturday. A missionary on deputation tour did the speaking, showing off artifacts and telling stories of work and successes on the mission field.

Over the years the time dedicated to the convention shrunk. We went to Wednesday through Sunday, then Friday through Sunday, then a Saturday night banquet and the two Sunday services, then just Sunday with the banquet after the morning service. Yesterday we truncated it further, having just the morning service and banquet. That's a mighty small convention.

So the Life Group curriculum was based on an article about the current status of world missions and how it has changed over the years, and how the United States is perhaps the largest country in the world that needs to be evangelized. It was my week to teach, and I must confess to not reading the entire article or the teaching notes on it. I spot-read both. Since we have Life Group after the first service, while the second service is going on, we have the advantage of having just heard the sermon. That is a great spurt to discussion, making the teacher's job easier. So I read enough to plan out a line of discussion, about all my Saturday brain allowed me to do.

The Life Group had other idea. Oh, we followed my lead as to the discussion, but upon the provocative idea that the USA needs more evangelism than most foreign countries, they picked up the ball and ran with it and I just listened. People who usually have little or nothing to say had a lot to say. Everyone in the class contributed. We discussed the USA, then our community, our church, and our Life Group. We brainstormed how to better work our congregation's local compassionate ministries into the church. We discussed directions for our Life Group, and how to better reach out to those in the church who have not yet connected to a group.

In the course of this, it became apparent that some people are struggling with various life issues. When our hour was up and most people headed to the banquet, five of us stayed behind to talk with a group member who was having a major struggle. We talked, prayed, encouraged, prayed some more, and made plans on how to help. We hope we did some good, though the struggle is deep, and may take much time to work out.

We got to the banquet late. Most of the food had been put away, along with the plates, silverware, and napkins. The dessert table was the typical end-of-dinner mess. But we found food to eat, and rejoiced that we had been involved in a God moment. May there be many more.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Taxation in the Federalist Papers

I'm reading a little in The Federalist Papers, that wonderful collection of essays written by three of our Founding Fathers in 1787-88. The purpose was to convince New York, a large and key state, to vote in favor of the Constitution, already written by the convention but not yet ratified by enough states to become the supreme law of the land. John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton were the authors, though they were all published with the pen name of Publius.

I've read some of this in the past, especially when I was researching for Documenting America. At least two chapters in that were based on The Federalist Papers (without looking I can't remember how many chapters I finally decided on). And, I read a couple of them concerning the judiciary branch of government as I've been researching The Candy Store Generation.

My other objective in reading them is to participate in the book discussion group concerning them at Goodreads. I joined the history group at Goodreads for a couple of reasons. One, I like history—no, I love history. Two, I hope someday to be able to promote my own history related books there. But to do so without active participation is spamming. So, I'm participating in that book group towards both ends.

Federalist #34 is one of the current topics and, though I'm a little late to the party, I finally read the paper and made a couple of comments. I may make a couple more. Though the discussion there has moved on to other numbers of The Federalist Papers, discussion on prior threads is permissible.

In this one Alexander Hamilton is arguing in favor of the Constitution not including a division of taxing authority between the Feds and the States, excepting in the matter of import duties. His reasons for this are: 1) who knows what might happen in the future, so the Constitution needs to be flexible on this point; and 2) the revenue needs of the States will be small in proportion of the Feds, and any division will reserve so much revenue to the States that the Feds might not be able to raise enough in times of war.

These are interesting points, and I shall have to ponder them some more. For sure Hamilton was correct in his projection that the revenue needs at the Federal level far outstrip the needs at the State level. Here are some interesting quotes from the paper.

“As this leaves open to the States far the greatest part of the resources of the community, there can be no color for the assertion that they would not possess means as abundant as could be desired for the supply of their own wants, independent of all external control. That the field is sufficiently wide will more fully appear when we come to develop the inconsiderable share of the public expenses for which it will fall to the lot of the State governments to provide.”

“As to the line of separation between external and internal taxes, this would leave to the States, at a rough computation, the command of two thirds of the resources of the community to defray from a tenth to a twentieth part of its expenses; and to the Union one third of the resources of the community to defray from nine tenths to nineteen twentieths of its expenses.”

"To judge from the history of mankind, we shall be compelled to conclude that the fiery and destructive passions of war reign in the human breast with much more powerful sway than the mild and beneficent sentiments of peace; and that to model our political systems upon speculations of lasting tranquility would be to calculate on the weaker springs of the human character."

Was Hamilton a seer? He sure had it right about how the revenue needs of the Federal government would come to overpower the States, even though he couldn't possibly have foreseen we would eventually become a predominately urban society with a whole different set of needs from the rural society of his day.

I believe I will take a few minutes and write a chapter of a future Documenting America: Constitution Edition. This will make the most of current research, even if I don't get to that volume for several years.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Life is a Spreadsheet Lost

Last night I decided it was time to prepare my Arkansas state income tax return. I finished the Federal taxes a couple of weeks ago, and decided to take a break from it. But April 17 is fast approaching, so I knew I had to get back at it.
Rather than purchasing a tax preparation program, I just do it myself. Several years ago I laid my calculator aside in favor of spreadsheets. From my work as an engineer I've learned how to put a spreadsheet together, even add some bells and whistles. Each year I add a little more to it, such as linking a cell to another point on the spreadsheet where the number in that cell was needed. This year I even added the line descriptions to the Federal forms. Every form and schedule I needed for the FedTax is included as a tab on the spreadsheet.

Last night I decided to add tabs for my state taxes, something I haven't done before. One thing I did was to learn how to use the Excel =round(num,num) function to round off all numbers to even dollars. The Feds let you carry cents everywhere; Arkansas doesn't let you. That actually turned out to be easy. So I built my tab for AR1000F, the basic form for full year residents. I added a formula for line numbers, added descriptions, grayed-out cells I wouldn't be using, changed the background color on cells where I would enter a number and cells where I had to put a link.

Each time I copied a second cell this annoying sidebar came up, displaying the last umpteen items added to the clipboard. I don't know why that comes up. It doesn't on my Excel at work, but it does at home. I assume there's a way to turn that off, but I haven't investigated it yet. When it popped up, I clicked it off. Two more pastes and it popped up again and I clicked it off again.

On and on it went, this popping up and clicking off. Through from AR1000ADJ and AR3, and back to form AR1000F again. I should just learn to let the sidebar stay up there, as it's off to the right, and shouldn't bother me. But it does bother me. I want to control the look of the screen, and that pop-up has to go.

I finished the spreadsheet and had my calculated taxes and refund, all using formulas in the right place. I saw, however, that I would probably save money by calculating income and taxes according to an allowable alternative for married couples. So I added a column for the alternate calculations, entered formulas or copied them as appropriate. The sidebar popped up and I clicked it off.

I was down to the next to the last cell. I copied the needed formula into the cell, and up popped sidebar. I clicked her down (it has to be feminine; how else can you explain all the trouble it caused), but instead of clicking on the little x for Sidebar I clicked on the little x for closing the spreadsheet. When the window popped up about saving or losing your work, I guess I didn't read it. I clicked "ok" or something, and poof, the spreadsheet was gone. And with it 75 minutes of work, because I hadn't once saved during this time.

I was crushed. I went upstairs, fixed a cup of coffee, then returned to The Dungeon. I couldn't face the spreadsheet, so did some other things for a while. Finally I went back to it and started over. I got about 1/4 done, then quit for the night. Tonight, perhaps after the movies, I'll finish it.

Life seems to me like that spreadsheet. We learn. We grow. We try new things. We append them to old things. It all works like clockwork—or a flawless spreadsheet—and you have a slightly different life. Until it all gets wrecked, often a result of something we did. The rebuilding of whatever it was you were working on might take less time than the first time, but will never result in the same satisfaction. It isn't better the second time around.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Resurrection Morning in the Gospels

Part of my work day practice is to start the morning off with a scripture reading and prayer. For the scripture reading I've been going over my Harmony of the Gospels. Each time through I find a typo or a place where I wonder if I've been faithful to the original text, and I have to check. I realize this makes my scripture reading a little like editing. I'm not really finding much, not on this third (or is it fourth?) time through, so maybe it is almost all reading and not editing.

As chance would have it, this last week I've been going through the Holy Week narrative. I didn't plan it that way; that's just where I was in the reading. I slowed down just a little to make sure I had Jesus' death and burial reading on Good Friday. On Monday I'll read the account of Resurrection Day, and will continue on from there.

I remember when I wrote this particular section. I was apprehensive, because I thought I would have a difficult time making it fit together. I was surprised how nicely the four gospels dovetailed. The problem was the visits to the tomb. Who went? How many visits were there? To whom did Jesus appear? Expecting difficulties, I was mildly surprised at how it came together.

Look at just one aspect of it: the time of day as described by each gospel writer, and to whom that time of day applied. Here's what they say.

Mark: Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they [Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome] were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?" (16:2-3)

Matthew: After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. (28:1)

Luke: On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women [Mary Magdalen, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them] took the spiced they had prepared and went to the tomb. (24:1)

John: Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. (20:1)

It was only when I did the work of writing the Harmony that I noticed the difference. Of course I knew that John described a trip that Mary Magdalene made on her own, while the other three write that Mary went with the other women. I had chalked that up to fading memories of the writers, or perhaps a literary technique of the three, combining trips to save paper and ink.

However, John really gives us a clue about this, because he said "it was still dark," whereas Mark and Matthew say it was light: "just after sunrise" and "at dawn." It is light at that time, a little after sunrise. Thus it seems that the women made at least two trips to the empty tomb that morning. Mary Magdalene went quite early. It was still dark when she started out. The other women went after the sun was up; they had some light to guide them.

Perhaps Mark didn't mean to be scientifically precise when they say "just after sunrise." And maybe he didn't have the scientific knowledge we have today to know that, due to the bending of the sun's rays in the atmosphere, it gets light before the sun actually rises. And what does "as dawn" mean anyway? Is that the same thing as sunrise, or it it first light? Whichever, as I read these four accounts closely, John is describing a trip by one woman that began before daylight came to Jerusalem. The other three are describing a trip by several women that took place after first light, and so was later than Mary Magdalene's first visit to the garden tomb that morning.

So why do the other three put Mary Magdalene with the other women? It's possible they knew that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb that day, but they didn't know that she went on her own, apart from the other women, so they assumed she was with them. It's also possible they were simply trying to save paper and ink. Books (in scroll form or in codex form, which was new on the scene about then) were expensive. Any thing a writer could do to shorten the narrative while still giving essential information to their readers. I find no conflict between the gospels in the start of the Resurrection narrative.

It's Resurrection Day. He rose from the dead. Since he's still alive, we say, "He is Risen!" He is risen indeed.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Candy Store Generation – Second Version of Cover

My friend from Suite101 who is doing this cover for me seems to be enjoying herself. I gave her some comments, including those you all gave me on this blog last week, and she has come up with this revision.

Whaddaya think?

Here's a link to the first draft, in case you didn't see it or just want to see it again.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Love your neighbor as yourself

Our Life Group lesson today was from Mark 12:28-34. This is the story of Jesus' encounter in the temple with a teacher of the law. Jesus has just escaped traps set by the Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadduccees, who had hoped to catch him saying something they could use against him. He had the best of it, though, giving apt answers to their duplicitous questions.

Now came the teacher of the law. This was a man whose job was to scrutinize the Law of Moses, and perhaps other of the sacred writings, and find laws that men should follow. They would pass these tidbits on to the Pharisees, who would proclaim them to be things all Jews should follow if they wanted to make it to heaven. His question to Jesus was, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"

Those who heard him might have thought it a strange question. His job was to expand the law, not summarize it or condense it to one easy to follow dictum. I don't know what he expected to accomplish. Did he expect Jesus to avoid the question, saying all the laws were important, or some other answer? Jesus, however, gave him an answer in line with what he asked: Love God with everything you have; and love your neighbor as yourself. One of these he took from Deuteronomy, the other from Leviticus.

Strangely—at least it's strange to me—the teacher of the law agreed with Jesus. He said those two commandments did indeed summarize all the rest, and commended Jesus for speaking wisely. Jesus in turn commended him, and said, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."

The second commandment is giving me reason to think and meditate. What does it mean to love our neighbor as we love ourself? I see two ways the words (an English translation by learned men of the original Greek). One is: Love your neighbor in the same way that you love yourself. That is the traditional interpretation. But a second possible meaning to these words is: Be yourself in loving your neighbor; or, love your neighbor genuinely, honestly. Not falsely or out of true love, because you mean it, not because you have to.

I like both interpretations. I imagine the first is the correct one, while the second is peculiar to the English translation, and that meaning probably isn't there in the Greek. But if the first is correct, we then have to consider what is an implied third important commandment: Love yourself. That flies in the face of Christian humility. We should consider others above ourselves. That's what we are taught. To love ourselves just doesn't sound right.

Yet, it is there, implied in the second great commandment. I don't think this means we should all become narcissists. I think it means we should 1) understand that we are a creation of God; 2) treat this part of God's creation with respect, as something of value; and 3) be satisfied with God's work as represented in us, i.e. realize God didn't make any mistakes when he made us.

That is something I can grasp. By "be satisfied" I don't mean to imply ending all attempts at improving ourselves. Strive for improvement, for God put within you the ability to improve: to learn, to grow, to mature, to move on. That's part of our makeup.

This was a good lesson. It caused me to think about the passage in a way I hadn't before. I like that.