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, December 25, 2015

Spreading Holiday Cheer Can Be Easy!

Last night we had to make one quick Christmas Eve trip to the grocery store. My wife got a grocery cart only because one of the store staff helped her pry apart the last two carts (haven't experienced the grocery that chock full o' shoppers before). At the end of our trip, holiday confections in hand, I took the cart back to the rack, which was a good three or so rows away from where we had to park. I just can't leave a cart stranded out there among the parking spaces for somebody else to recover. As I approached the totally empty shopping cart corral, I very tall, older employee took the shopping cart from me with actual gratitude. He said, "Thank you. We really need these. I know it's not your job, but do you know if there are ANY available in the store right now?" I think there were none actually and admitted that. The shopping cart I had returned started back toward the store, but the employee gave it away to an approaching shopper before ever making it back inside. Returning a shopping cart brought about a little good cheer. Who would have thought.

Wishing you all peace, love, joy, and hope for the holidays. Hoping you'll find simple ways to spread all that around this season.

Merry Christmas: Do Not Be Afraid: The Five Minute Response

As the ghosts said to Scrooge, my time is short. My message must be brief. 

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas. Wishing all who celebrate another deeply meaningful faith tradition the blessings of the day for you. 

The message I have to share this Christmas morning before the family arises is simple. It came in Luke chapter 2, verses 8 through 11, from an angel to shepherds (social outcasts of Israel's world of 2000+ years ago). It reads: 

8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 

Messengers from God often began with that brief warning: Do not be afraid. It might be comical, given how often they felt they had to start that way, if it were not so important. You see the results of people being afraid all over this struggling world of ours. When we are afraid, we demonize people who are different from ourselves. We speak of them as if they were brute beasts. When we, in fear, come to think of them as less-than-human, we free ourselves to do terrible things to them as we are now free to believe the worst of them. Genocide and terror are the evil spawn of that fearful mindset. I was grieved to see an interview with followers of a candidate I will not name. These people were so fear soaked, they would believe any outrageous thing about others. Violence will ensue, and already has, even at this candidate's rallies. 

This Christmas, follow the admonition of the angel and the angelic host (by the way that can be interpreted as God's army ... an army calling for peace on earth and delivering the best of news, transformative to all humanity in its open invitation to all of humanity. Let's all work for peace, work for justice, and strive hard for an end to fear, which is truly the root of so much evil in our world. 

Have a wonderful, blessed, beautiful, fear free holiday and a productive year pushing back against fear in all its forms. This Christian is calling all humans of all faith traditions to this cause. When Christmas rolls around again in 2016, let's see how much closer we can be to loving each other without fear and the hatred it breeds.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Technology Changing Our Surroundings

Our son came home for Christmas. What a joy for us! He flew in from out West and I went to the airport to pick him up. So, what? Big deal, you say (or would if you were that sort, which you kind readers are not).

The big deal was the surroundings. It's been a while since I've been to our airport. They no longer let you into the airport proper if you do not have a ticket. There was a large area called the "meeting point" just off the baggage claim (and one flight above it). In this space to the right was an information kiosk with one person to answer questions. Above the multiple, automatic doors leading into the airport proper were admonitions against entry in red stating that unauthorized folks trying to enter that way would be charged with a federal crime. On the walls to either side of the portals of release were screens displaying arrival and departure times and status updates in flat screens.

Otherwise there were a few black chairs and lots and lots of empty white wall space. There were no news stands, no products of any kind to look at, no food to purchase. The surroundings were almost as sterile as the rooms Dave Boseman lived out the closing years of his life at the end of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Why was this so? It quickly became obvious (after I thought this is what purgatory must look like). Every person in that room except the information lady pulled out a smart phone and scrolled through their favorite sites or played their favorite games. Myself included after that short observation, made with surprise. I downloaded a game and got busy. Checked Facebook. Then I quickly realized that there was no point in coloring up that waiting area. All the color and content we desired was right there on those little pocket computers. Talk about changing the way we live.  

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

ORBCOMM-2 Full Launch Webcast

For all the details of the SpaceX Falcon 9 historic return from orbit to ground ... and the return to flight of SpaceX, getting a bunch of satellites to orbit, take time to watch this.

Falcon 9 First Stage Landing | From Helicopter

The future is now. A fifteen story tall rocket has been successfully returned to earth under control and in one piece from orbit. This opens a brand new era in cheaper, reusable rockets. If SpaceX continues on the path they intend, there will come a day when every stage of the rocket will return to earth for refurbishing and reuse. As yesterday, December 21, 2015, was the day both this happened and my wife and I saw Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, this was a great day all around.

If you're curious about what Blue Origins managed compared to this flight by SpaceX, see:
For the full story (in video) of the historic flight, see:

Monday, December 7, 2015

10 Steps to Stress Reduction

'Tis the season for stress and anxiety, fa la la la AHHHHHH!!!

I spent some time today looking up stress reducers to lessen anxiety at this busy time of year. There were many lists from a variety of medical sites. I found one list particularly useful, especially point number 2. The Cleveland Clinic provided this extremely useful list:

  1. Eat and drink sensibly: binge eating and drinking increase stress, although it may seem otherwise, so beware (a little stress inducing, that first one, eh?). 
  2. Assert yourself: Say "No" when you need to. Meeting everyone else's expectations is impossible and unhealthy. I especially like the line I'll quote directly: "Remember, being assertive allows you to stand up for your rights and beliefs while respecting those of others." 
  3. Stop smoking and other bad habits: Nicotine brings on stress symptoms (among other things). 
  4. Exercise regularly: Okay, I'll get back to it again
  5. Study and practice relaxation methods: Relax daily, choosing from a variety of options (sounds like a plan). 
  6. Take responsibility: Control what you can control and leave behind what you can't. Couples well with point 2. 
  7. Reduce causes of stress: Prioritizing your time is what this boils down to, basically. Allowing yourself to take on too many demands leads to dangerous levels of stress. Again, return to point 2.
  8. Examine your values and live by them: Make your actions reflect your beliefs and feel better. Use values when choosing activities. 
  9. Set realistic goals and expectations: You can't be completely successful at everything all the time. 
  10. Sell yourself to yourself: Remember what you do well to build up a healthy level of self-esteem. Don't let circumstances and negative people knock you down and leave you lying there drowning in stress.

There you have it. Ten ways to reduce stress. Number 2 is the biggie for me. I'll check back with you on how these worked down the road. Let me know if they work for you ... and enjoy the season.

You can see the Cleveland Clinic list (with additional information) for yourself at Don't say we aren't concerned about your health here at J.S. Brooks Presents.

Skewering Title and Pomp

Back in 1970, author Patrick O'Brian wrote his book Master and Commander about life at sea in the British Navy during the Napoleonic era. The adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey (the Master and Commander of the sloop Sophie) and his friend, Dr. Stephen Maturin offer up this observation on why we should not get so hung up on titles as we do. There is great wisdom here, particularly in the final conclusion [second to last line]. In the scene presented, officers of the ship celebrate Dr. Maturin's decision to stay on and sail with the crew, acting as their surgeon.  Enjoy:

Dr Maturin is speaking first: "There is only one thing I do not care for, however," he said as the order was passed reverently round the table, "and that is this foolish insistence upon the word surgeon. 'Do hereby appoint you surgeon ... take upon you the employment of surgeon ... together with such allowance for wages and victuals for yourself as is usual for the surgeon of the said sloop.' It is a false description; and a false description is anathema to the philosophic mind."

"I am sure it is anathema to the philosophic mind," said James Dillon. "But the naval mind fairly revels in it, so it does. Take the word sloop, for example."

"Yes," said Stephen, narrowing his eyes through the haze of port and trying to remember the definitions he had heard.

"Why, now, a sloop, as you know, is properly a one-masted vessel, with a fore-and-aft rig. But in the Navy a sloop may be ship-rigged--she may have three masts."

"Or take the Sophie," cried the master, anxious to bring his crumb of comfort. "She's rightly a brig, you know, Doctor, with her two masts." He held up two fingers, in case a landman might not fully comprehend so great a number. "But the minute Captain Aubrey sets foot in her, why, she too becomes a sloop; for a brig is a lieutenant's command."

"Or take me," said Jack. "I am called captain, but really I am only a master and commander."

"Or the place where the men sleep just for'ard," said the purser, pointing. "Rightly speaking, and official, 'tis the gun-deck, though there's never a gun on it. We call it the spar deck--though there's no spar, neither--but some day the gun-deck still, and call the right gun-deck the upper-deck. Or take this brig, which is no true brig at all, not with her square mainsail, but rather a sorts of snow, or a hermaphrodite."

"No, no, my dear sir," said James Dillon, "never let a mere word grieve your heart. We have nominal captain's servants who are, in fact, midshipmen; we have nominal able seamen on our books who are scarcely breeched--they are a thousand miles away and still at school; we swear we have not shifted any backstays, when we shift them continually; and we take many other oaths that nobody believes--no, no, you may call yourself what you please, so long as you do your duty. The Navy speaks in symbols, and you may suit what meaning you choose to the words." 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Taxi Anyone?

Stopped at my usual station for gas this morning and was surprised by what was peeking around the side of the garage at me. A classic yellow Checker Cab, and it is for sale. If you've ever wanted one of these for your own, now is the time apparently. This may be one of the "A12 Marathons" introduced in 1961 and produced until 1982, but I could be wrong. I didn't inspect the cab that closely myself. While it called to me, I have no intention of owning such a venerable vehicle. Hey, if you can tell me more about this blast from the past, leave me a comment.

Enjoy, and happy motoring.

For another classic car captured, see:

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Beware the Title "Expert"

When others try to bestow the title "Expert" upon you, it's a bad thing. When you declare yourself an expert, it is a dangerous mistake. Studies discussed on NPR today looked into what the mantle of "expert" does to a person. In studies, some people were given tests designed to be easily passed. Others were given more difficult tests. Those with the easy tests succeeded and were declared experts. Those who failed were not. As a result, those who were given that title of expert became more closed minded individuals. They felt that their status meant they had all the knowledge they needed and were not open to new material.

I discovered this for myself some years ago when I wrote my first book. It was an introductory guide to antique ceramics of a particular sort. I had read the books available, talked with collectors and dealers, and photographed their examples for inclusion in the book. It was a lot of work, but it was not an exhaustive study. However, once the book was published, some people began calling me an "expert" in that subject. I refused the title and continued to learn more, which was used in later books on the same subject. I still do not consider myself an expert, and I've covered a lot of ground in the antiques, collectibles, and art fields. I highly recommend refusing that title when someone tries to bestow it upon you. I also recommend avoiding the temptation to take on that title yourself.

This explains why so many experts when interviewed are entrenched in their positions and will consider no other point of view. That title has done bad things for their ego. In my humble opinion (and that's all it is), those who attempt to bestow upon you the title expert are those who do not want to do any research themselves. Those individuals who accept the title are often people who no longer wish to do any further research and are declaring themselves done. Those are both gross generalizations and do not apply in all cases. I'm certain some wear the mantle of expert far better than others, remaining humble and inquisitive throughout their long and productive careers. We should all be more like them.

Disclaimer: This short post in no way elevates the idea that we should all be ignorant. Their is plenty of people promoting that idea in what they say and do. Many politicians promote ignorance when they use the dodge "I'm not a scientist ..." right before saying something profoundly ignorant about a field they do not understand, will never be mistaken for an expert in, and have no desire to learn about as it would challenge their preconceived notions. Instead, learn all you can about what fascinates you but stay humble. True wisdom is discovering how much more there is to learn, no matter how much you have already discovered.