The Thirty Minute Blogger

Exploring Books and the Writer's Life, Faith and Works, Culture and Pop Culture, Space Science and Science Fiction, Technology and Nostalgia, Parenting and Childhood, Health: Physical and Emotional ... All Under the Iron Hands of the Clock and That 30 Minute Deadline

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween 2014: "Engage Bob!"

Ghostly Sentries Guard Our Door
This is the first empty nest year for my wife and I. I was thinking I wasn't going to be involved with Halloween. No pumpkin carving for me. By the time I get home all but the die hard last of the trick or treaters will be home. But, bless my wife, she bought a pumpkin yesterday ($5 for a big one ... last minute deals on jack o' lanterns to be are GOOD), pulled out the decorations, and got the carving knives back in my mitts. I found this sort of 1930s style face in one of those carving books, picked up tools my kids had used but I hadn't, and soon I was engrossed and feeling some of the old joy of the season. I had an epiphany. I was reminded of the scene in The Incredibles where Bob Parr (Mr. Incredible) is moping and Helen Parr (Elastigirl) yells at him "Engage Bob!" It is definitely worth the time and effort to engage in a holiday you have always enjoyed when you're a little blue, going through some life change, and thinking it's time to give up some things. Heck, no! Get back in the game. Engage! It's a lot more fun.

Okay, but they're friendly ghosts, welcoming kids, not scaring them

So, to help you engage, here are a couple of Halloween offerings.

Snap Judgment's Spooked V: Innocence Lost for after the kids have gone:

And here's a spooky video with a setup. Some years ago, in summer, we were camping in a state park in Indiana. One night we drove past a rural cemetery to discover it was dotted with spectral blue light here and there among the tombstones. Here is a video confirming our sightings. At that point we had yet to experience solar lights ... and still puzzle over the significance of their graveside use.

Finally, if you feel the urge to go dig where you shouldn't this Halloween night, perhaps looking for a brain for your latest creation, this church is prepared! See:

Have a wonderful, engaged Halloween night!
Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Coping with Food Insecurity in the US: A Local Story

My church and I are partnered with the Interfaith Food Cupboard in Lansdowne, PA. What happens there is an example of what is happening across the US. Far too many people are suffering with food insecurity in this, "the wealthiest nation in the world." That means many people here simply do not have enough to eat and often don't know where the next meal is coming from. It is an invisible problem in most areas. Driving down the street, walking though a neighborhood, biking down to the corner store, you just don't see it.

However, our food bank, serving one school district and limiting families and individuals in need to one three day supply of emergency food A MONTH is struggling to keep the shelves stocked with canned and boxed foods with decent shelf lives to give away to those who desperately need it. I know what you're thinking, "You're getting played. Most of those people are probably just scamming the system." Some people do, but check out these mythbuster explanations from SNAP before you make that determination:

Check out these figures for the number of unemployed in the US: Now consider yourself lucky if you do not have to cope with this devastating problem personally. Think "there but for the grace of God go I" and contribute to your local food bank. Food insecurity hits adults and children alike, young and old, both genders, anyone who has fallen on hard times in a rough economy. We need to do more to help.

We're not even touching upon the 21,000 who are estimated to die of hunger worldwide every day. We'll start small for now and work out from there.

For more information on what our local food cupboard accomplishes (and needs), see:

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Orbital Sciences Antares Explosion at Wallops from 3000ft

Ill-fated Orbital Sciences rocket explosion at Wallops Island, Virginia, launch site on October 28, 2014. The video was taken from a Cessna 177 Cardinal flying at 3,000 feet. The magnitude of the explosion shows just how much power a rocket contains ... most often successfully ... in order to achieve orbit. My regrets to everyone at Orbital Sciences. Hopefully they will discover the reason for the failure and be back in business again soon. As they said in the report after the rocket's destruction, if you live in that area and find a fragment, do not touch it and report it to the authorities immediately. Rocket fuel is not good for your health. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the incident and the supplies headed for the International Space Station were not critical to the survival of the astronauts or the functioning of the station in the immediate future.

If Knowledge Is Power, U.S. Students Being Denied Its Strength

Let's begin with a figure: 33.5 percent of the population of the United States goes on to college. Roughly 59 percent of the freshmen who enter will graduate. The remainder of the population, unless compelled to read widely on their own, will be sadly misinformed about many aspects of life, from history to science, given the state of high school textbooks. Much of the history of our nation is either left on the proverbial chopping block to make good citizens or skewed by bias in one direction or another. See the PBS article here on the Texas School Board's decisions as one egregious example:  There is no hope of your student learning about one of the great foundational theories of science, evolution, below the college level here ... even though it is crucial to much of what science does.

Students in the Denver area in 2014 protested conservative changes proposed for their history books, emphasizing "...topics that promote citizenship, patriotism and respect for authority, [the students responded] in a show of civil disobedience that the new standards would aim to downplay" according to the AP: Rightly so. Being misinformed about any aspect of life can be dangerous. It leads to bad decisions down the road and knee jerk reactions against challenging ideas, ideas often necessary to confront an increasingly challenging future.

Take a look around you. Review recent history and ask yourself if some of our decisions have not been based, biased, or skewed by such tailor made education that denies many of the facts needed to choose differently. We need to do better. Our students deserve better, as the protesting students in Denver reminded us all.

Some other time, we'll have to explore why school boards who set agendas and work on curriculum tend not to be education professionals. As one school district wrote, "The school board consists of lay representatives – people who live in the community and are selected by the community (or, if it's an appointed school board, selected by either the mayor or county freeholders). They're your neighbors: parents, grandparents, local business owners, retirees – ordinary citizens. They are non-partisan and they receive no pay or benefits for their public service." Does that seem to be a poor decision to anyone else? Is this another byproduct of insufficiently honest and open education? For more, you can see:

So, if knowledge is power, our students are being denied that power purposefully and to the detriment of us all. Many will never learn more and will make decisions based on limited, not-entirely-accurate information.The consequences are dire. These are the kinds of things that concern me every time elections roll around or major decisions concerning everyone and the future have to be made. It seems to me we are reaping the whirlwind.

D.I.Y. Triumph

Without knowing it, we've been working toward this goal for years! Then it happened ... and I was amazed. For the first time in many years, we managed to complete a home repair project with absolutely NO additional trip to the hardware store. For the very first time, we had everything we needed to meet the unexpected challenges as they arose and complete the project in one invective-laced session. We have a new kitchen sink faucet ... even thought the old one put up a valiant fight to remain where it was. Ironically, we still thought of the previous faucet as the "new" one, which we had replaced some time ago.

I'm sending this along to give all you other "do it yourselfers" hope. The unbelievable does happen. Good luck and happy home-owning.  

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Arguing Minutia: What's the Point? The Five Minute Response

I joined a group on Facebook to gain insight into their thinking. They will remain nameless, a courtesy I'm not sure they deserve ... but one I want in return. I almost regret my insights.

This group would bring up some very interesting questions. However, the responses were soon wandering off into the weeds. The answers would often argue over some tiny bit of minutia embedded in the question. Once answers started coming in, the same result occurred with tiny bits and pieces of the answers. The questions themselves were never resolved. Using this approach, the questions were never truly faced.

For me, and perhaps I'm just a prickly sort, the worst offense was declaring that if ANYONE, ANYWHERE had ever contended any part of any bit of information, any piece of knowledge, any theory, then that information, knowledge, or theory was in doubt. That approach would make any scientific or religious information completely invalid ... not to mention politics or any other human endeavor in an argumentative age.

I've left that group to their strange, fractious, and unfocused arguments shaking my head and wondering about the fate of humanity. And that's the five minute response.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Writer's Corner: Coping with Critics

This post is particularly directed at new writers. You have worked long and hard to finish a work of some sort ... article, opinion piece, short story, novel, you name it. Your dream has come true and some newspaper, magazine, publisher has picked it up. Your work hits the presses. It is a very exciting time. You are walking on clouds and loving writing more than ever.

Then it happens. Your baby sent out for readers to enjoy meets the critic. Someone out there doesn't like some aspect of what you have done. They are letting you ... or the world ... know about it. Now, here's what to do. Sit down, take deep breaths, and try to relax. Try not to take it personally. Let the feelings of pain, panic, and grief wash over you and know, really know, that you are not alone. Everyone who has ever written, who has ever performed, who has ever done anything for the public has suffered as you are suffering. You are not alone. Do NOT hurt yourself over this. The pain will diminish in time and you will be stronger for it. Really. You will learn how to cope with this. I can tell you quite honestly, the first time my first book received a bad comment, it made me sick. I went home and to bed. But, I got over it.

Here's what you can do. Once the emotional pain has subsided, go back to the critic's message and try to examine it for what it is and who sent it. Is there anything there that is useful? Is the critic a knowledgable pro from whom you can really learn? Had you overlooked something in the writing, something missed by you, your editor (it happens, nobody can know everything and we're all human), anyone else involved in the process? If so, you can fix it later or file it for future use in other work. This will make your writing better and your skin thicker for future critics. If there is no merit to the complaint, forget about it. We live in an age of trolls, those strange creatures compelled to comment on things they know nothing about and who wish to do so with great emotion (weird). You may need to get a friend who knows your work to help you see if there is any merit to the critique the first time through.

In a number of cases, you may discover the critic is just plain wrong. Or you may find you are living in a period where critics are compelled to find something wrong with everything and make mention of it. You'll need to decide if the critique has merit and what you should do about it. Also, remember this. You are a person of worth and talent. You are worth more than whatever the price of that work you created cost the reader and that price does not give any reader, any critic unlimited access to you and your life. You don't come that cheap. Good luck with your future writing. You'll get through this. We all do.

For some sound and time tested advice on dealing with trolls, see:

Writer's Corner: You May Not End Up Where You Expected

Writing is at times a mysterious artform. You don't always end up where you expected when you started the process. Sitting down, you thought you knew where this story, article, or sermon would end up, what form it would take, what outline it would follow. The notes you took, the backstory you created, the strategies you employed all said you would be headed off down one particular path. And yet, somewhere along the line, your story, your article, your narrative, your sermon decided to misbehave and take you elsewhere. Now, you have choices to make. You can go where you are being led. You can force the misbehaving material back on track. Or you can abandon the project in anger, mutter imprecations, and go do whatever you do to soothe frazzled nerves.

Forcing things back on a particular track is not a good idea. Now, admittedly, you have to consider who you are writing for, the nature of the deviation, and the expectations of your client or audience before making a final decision. However, if the nature of the unexpected change of course is not catestrophic to your topic or your thesis, then forcing may be the wrong way to go.

Abandoning the project is not a helpful option ... unless you discover your research is dead wrong, your thesis is in error, or your storyline has holes in it big enough to fly a starship through. Then going for ice cream might be appropriate. Learning from that bitter exercise will come ... in time.

So, go with it. See where that unexpected change takes you. You are likely to make the happy discovery that your work is better for it. Bits and pieces have been coming together as you worked. Connections you didn't realize where there get made and the work improves. This is why you cannot work out any writing in your head alone. You can't map it all out before you sit down and start the work. Allow the happy discoveries and changes in course develop and see where you go. Good luck.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Slice O' Life: From Order to Use in Tiny Window . Hard to Believe It Worked!

I was hosting a meeting the other night. Powerpoint and a projector would make a useful combination to get things moving. I researched projectors, settled on the Epson EX5230 with 3500 lumens for the church environments where I will be using it. You can understand that as rooms with lots of windows and lights. But, this isn't about the projector (which for someone used to slide projectors of yore, works amazingly well), it's about the order.

I went to Staples, where these projectors resided ... or so I thought. That was a mistake. You could order the projectors in the brick and mortar building, receive an online discount, and have the item delivered for free. It was the day BEFORE the meeting. I was dismayed to make this discovery, asked if anyone else might have them in stock, the worker gave an uncertain, apologetic shrug, and I had a decision to make.

I asked how long it would take to deliver said projector. "We can have it to you tomorrow by 4 in the afternoon was the response." Now, I don' t usually gamble, but that day I did. I placed the order, received my receipt, and walked away feeling less than confident in the outcome. Still, I went home, created my Powerpoint presentation, and felt a little foolish. I pulled together physical props in case the projector never showed and made ready one way or the other.

The day of the presentation, I was tense. The hours crawled by slowly. Then, at 3:45 PM, the office doorbell rang and there was the delivery man, probably my age or a little older who refers to me as "young man" with an Epson box under his arm. I signed, rushed the projector into my office, and folloinw the easy setup instructions, had the device working in 15 minutes. I was ... and still am ... amazed it all worked out. The meeting went wonderfully. The projector worked perfectly. I intend to follow up with the online instruction manual to learn more about it now that there's time. It's an amazingly different world we live in today. I don't recommend my approach. It's bad on the nerves and requires serious backup planning ... but it worked.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Top 10 Most Annoying ...

I've been away a while now. My new career limits my time significantly. Sometimes, that's annoying. Speaking of annoying, here are links to a wide variety of the top ten most annoying things. What would you add to the list???

Top 10 Annoying Phrases:

Top 10 Annoying Facebook Tactics:

Top 10 Annoying Things About Plane Travel:

Top 10 Most Annoying Online Gamers:

Top 10 Annoying Homeschool Questions:

Most Annoying Academic CV Errors (only 7, what are you going to do???):

Most Annoying Travel-bragging Facebook Posts:

Top 100 Annoying Job Interview Questions:


Top Most Annoying Email Habits:

WOW! We have a whole lot to be annoyed about! This is just a sample! Some of the annoyances were way too specific and ... well, weird ... for inclusion here. Still, what is annoying YOU these days???

Bonus round: Most Annoying People on the Internet:

For me, personally, the most annoying of the annoying is the online troll who comments on posts and videos he/she has not read and/or does not have the education to understand. Without appropriate knowledge and lacking any sort of hubris or filter, he/she plunges ahead with canned challenges and questions that aren't truly questions but are designed solely to belittle and/or prove his/her superiority. Because of such folks, and my time restrictions, I have cancelled peoples' abilities to comment on my Google+ sites, particularly the one for my church blog. It's a shame, but necessary. Wow, how that annoys me!

Orion: I’m on Board – Nichelle Nichols

Nichelle Nichols, Lt. Uhura on Star Trek in the late 1960s, promotes NASA's newest spacecraft, Orion. As mentioned in the clip, she last did this for NASA decades ago when the organization was seeking astronauts for their space shuttle during its final stages of development. It is wonderful to see her spanning the decades of spaceflight like this.

For more Star Trek connections with the space shuttles, see: and

For more on the Orion space capsule, see:

For a post on the space capsule, see:

For advances in spaceflight, see:

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Meaning Is Tricky

We are an irritated people these days. We seem divided on EVERYTHING. Part of the problem may be that we just don't understand each other's meaning as clearly as we think we might.

For example, if you are of a certain age, TMI will never mean too much information, but will forever be Three Mile Island, the nuclear plant that gave us such a scare back in the day.

All those little magnetized ovals for cars featuring initials for various island beauty spots ... well, those are easily misidentified by those who never go to such islands. For me, when I see OBX, I do not see Outer Banks (especially since there is no X present) but OBNOXIOUS. Sorry, it is no statement on the island, those who live there, and those who love it for vacation ... it is just what comes first to mind ever since I didn't know what it stood for. My wife sees "OUT OF THE BOX" in the same OBX.

We've all seen the misunderstandings that take place (often generationally, yes) when commonly used acronyms online are not correctly understood, like the mother who informs family via email or phone that a favorite aunt has died and ends it with LOL, thinking it means lots of love.

We haven't even approached the misunderstandings that come from growing up in different regions, different cultures, different neighborhoods, different races, different genders, you name it. There are just so many ways and so many times when we are rubbing each other the wrong way, and we don't even mean to ... really. So, why don't we all walk a little more gently with each other. Community is a beautiful thing that we were meant for (now how are you going to interpret that from your background ... or belief system) and we should encourage it to grow. Let's not be instantly reactive with each other. Let's listen more, ask for more information when needed, and approach each other with the idea that we might actually learn something from the other person. Let's set aside the need to "win" every encounter, turning every conversation into a meaningless, mindless contest and every issue a black and white, win or lose only proposition. Most of all, let's be mindful that meaning is tricky. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Changing Names When "Heritage" or "Tradition" No Longer Fit

There comes a time when people need to revisit their "heritage" and take "tradition" down off the pedestal for a closer look. Such is the case for western Maryland's/Pennsylvania's "Negro Mountain." See this link for all the details:

To make a long story short, in the 1750s, this mountain received its name ... and that name actually was "Negro Mountain" just as it appears today on the signs. It was named in tribute to a slave who, during the French and Indian Wars, sacrificed his own life to save a number of white settlers from a Native American attack. Now, our heroic slave could not have his name applied to the mountain in tribute because he was a slave, someone's property, and you just didn't name things for property in the 1750s. That was traditional, that was heritage and everybody followed it. In 2011, government decided perhaps it was time to revisit heritage and tradition. Perhaps centuries later we could honor the man for his deed by naming the mountain for him. His name was "Nemesis." How could anyone NOT want to have a Mount Nemesis in their state? Unfortunately, a tedious divide developed between urban folks and rural folks. Urban legislators saw the wisdom in the renaming. Rural legislators rattled the tired old bones of tradition and heritage. Leave our maintain alone. Worry about your city folk violence and drugs. It's a sad story, pathetic really in the 21st century.

In 1 Corinthians 13, in a remarkable examination of what love is and is not, the apostle Paul states:

8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly,* but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

I think it is time for us all to put an end to childish ways, to grow up a little, to let go of hurtful names and nicknames. As for me, I'm putting away the name of the football team I grew up with. I'm calling for Dan Snyder and his organization to put an end to the name "Redskins" for something more respectful to all, something that hurts no one. Tradition and heritage have their place ... just not when they inflict pain using cruel slurs or disrespect a man who sacrificed his life for others because in the 1750s the tradition was you couldn't use his name. We need to grow up. We need to be better than that.